Staying in Cherokee, the plan was to go hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains.
The weather still wasn’t playing ball.
To be fair we aren’t normally put off by the weather.
To be fair we normally have clothing for any weather close at hand, with only backpacks to fit in two weeks’ worth clothes we were limited on how much we could take.
The driving rain, heavy cloud and mist meant we had to scrap our plan trek the Chimney top mountain trail and rethink our next two days.
So instead of two days hiking…we drove four hours to Corbin in Kentucky (any idea why?) to spend the night there before heading back down to Nashville.
Going to Corbin was a bit of a pilgrimage….you see, it’s the birth place of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
I appreciate some of you will read that and think it sounds utterly ridiculous….I think when am I going to be that close again? Why on earth wouldn’t I go?
The drive up saw us go past Dollywood!
That place is huge. Sure, it was shut, but there was no way in hell I wasn’t getting a picture of Dollywood.
Fun fact, we probably shouldn’t have driven on to the car park of a closed theme park/resort. The security guard didn’t look too impressed or like he was convinced by my “we’re a bit lost” line; in my defence there were no barriers to stop us.
Anyway, after a minor detour onto the car park of Dollywood, and a four-hour road trip with some interesting radio stations, we arrived at our destination The Sanders Café and Museum.
Where Kentucky Fried Chicken began.
It’s like walking into a time machine. Everything’s been restored so it looks exactly as it did in the 1940s. The petrol pumps are there, there’s a model motel room, a model of the original kitchen, the original dining room and a load of memorabilia.
Obviously, you can get a KFC as well and you must.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some really bad KFC’s, it is the most hit and miss of the fast-food franchises in England – the chicken will be tasteless, dry and devoid of herbs and spices. The KFC we got in Corbin was the best I’ve ever eaten, it tasted like it used to – delicious.
It’s also an interesting museum, I mean how does someone go from being a steam engine stoker, to an insurance salesman, to starting a fried chicken empire? If you find yourself near or around Corbin, check it out and the nearby Sanders Park in town, though you won’t come away with the secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices.
For the afternoon, we headed up to the Cumberland Falls national park.
It is the perfect place for adventure enthusiasts. There are hikes surrounding the Cumberland River Valley, there are countless places to horse ride and companies offering white water rafting and canoeing.
The park is home to the historic Dupont lodge and the Cumberland Falls Resort Park, the latter of which had strong Kellerman’s (Dirty Dancing resort) vibes. Again, it’s a national park that is perfect for families of all ages.
The falls themselves are spectacular. It’s a 125-foot-wide curtain of water falling 60 feet into a gorge. Time your visit for a full moon, because at night, during a full moon you get the added treat of a Moonbow. Incredibly rare and something that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the Western hemisphere.
On your way out, if the shop is open….buy yourself a portion of deep fried Oreos! Yes, I’ve had to hit the gym hard since getting home, I have no regrets though.
Corbin to Nashville
Fun fact number two of the post ALWAYS read the reviews on Trip Advisor properly….
If someone has written “my deployment to Iraq was more comfortable”, then it’s probably not somewhere you’re going to want to stay.
I’d taken charge of finding somewhere to stay while Scott did the driving. I’d gone straight for the cheapest option in Nashville, aware that we were burning through money.
Pulling on to the car park, my stomach dropped; I’d made a huge error here.
It looked rough.
I didn’t feel safe in daylight, so God knows how I’d have felt coming back in the dark. There was music blaring out of some of the rooms and when we went to see if we could leave our car on the car park and check in later (yes, we were still thinking about staying there), there were people screaming at reception staff.
At a guess, the guy who was running the franchise of this hotel, was renting out rooms on the side.
After what we’d seen so far, we were stood outside waiting for an uber debating whether or not to stay when a fight kicked off in the car park…
Scott: “Fuck it, cancel it, we’re going somewhere else”.
I have never left somewhere so fast before in my life. We managed to find another hotel across town that included breakfast, was closer to where we wanted to go and didn’t come with the added “entertainment” of a brawl.
The only problem being, I soon realised I’d left my driving licence with the receptionist at the health hazard place. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that someone has probably stolen my identity and I’m now more than likely banned from America.
Driving across Nashville multiple times was a fun way to spend an afternoon! Sorry Scott.
Life lesson, pay more for somewhere clean and safe, it’s worth it. No one wants to share a room with cockroaches while clinging on to their belongings for dear life.
Disastrous night sleep in hell hole averted…we were ready to get a little bit country!
How I imagined Nashville….
Quite chilled. Lots of bars with live music but a laidback vibe. I imagined being able to move about from bar to bar lazily and listen to bands.
What Nashville is like…
I have never seen anything like it.
I did not expect Magaluf on speed x 100.
When we eventually got an uber into the centre and pulled on to Honky Tonk Highway, I was not prepared for how big a party was going on….at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. To be clear, I’m not a square and can party with the best of them but I thought Nashville would be too much for me.
It looked like it should have been 3 o’clock in the morning not the middle of the afternoon.
There were people everywhere. I lost count of hen party booze bikes. I couldn’t help but stare at Kid Rock’s five floor bar with all the windows open and music blaring out – apparently it can hold two thousand people.
First stop for us was obviously food, if you’ve been following my posts about this trip then you should know by now that food played a huge part in the journey (a whole separate food post is on its way, eventually).
If you’re after BBQ in Nashville – and you absolutely should be – head to Martin’s BBQ Joint in the heart of downtown and share a BBQ tray. You’ll regret it if you don’t. Also, here there is a huge beer garden that does have that more laidback atmosphere that I’d been expecting in Nashville.
Admittedly, I am not the biggest country music fan. I am, however, I big Johnny Cash fan.
If you are too, go to the Johnny Cash Museum.
It has the biggest collection of Johnny Cash artifacts and memorabilia in the world. There are over 1,000 pieces in the museum, including the original stone wall from his house by the lake in Hendersonville.
Fun fact number 3, Barry Gibb bought the house from the Cash family after Johnny and June died in 2003. Not so fun fact, the house burnt down during renovations.
There’s a mixture of exhibits some more interactive than others, you can hear how different his music sounds on different recording equipment. You learn all about his career in the air force, his famous Flotsam prison concert, his TV shows, his first marriage and of course how he met and fell in love with June Carter.
You need to give yourself a minimum of two hours here to take everything in. It can feel a bit cramped and small in places, I can imagine it may be a bit of a nightmare if it is especially busy.
It honours his life and takes you through his life and career. It is fascinating and worth the ticket price.
There is a lot to see in Nashville, especially if you are a big country music fan, The Grand Ole Opry and the country music hall of fame are good places to start if you’re planning to hit all the sites, it may be best to go by foot, despite the crowds. That way if you hear a band, you like the sound of playing in a bar, you can try and pop in and watch for a while.
Now, I didn’t expect us to be out long in Nashville, I had thought it would be a bit much, I mean it was wild.
We headed upstairs in the Johnny Cash bar (where else), where it was a little quieter and expected to have two or three drinks. That was our intention until a rock band started playing and we kind of got into the music; they were excellent.
It was Memorial Day weekend, so they played an electric guitar version of the Star-Spangled Banner and everyone in the room got to their feet and took their hats off – I can’t imagine being in a pub in England and the same thing happening with God save the queen, unless a football match is on and still, I don’t think everyone would stop and stand up.
So, our plan of two or three drinks went out of the window….
What happened next, was unexpected.
I’d headed downstairs for a cigarette and noticed a different band playing…a country band. I think they were playing Country Roads and the singer had made the promise of doing Jolene.
I legged it upstairs to tell Scott I’d be watching the act downstairs and for him to come find me when he’d had enough rocking out.
I think he expected me to be stood at the back of the room somewhere, quietly watching.
Instead, I was on the front row, dancing away, singing along at the top of my voice with hundreds of other people.
In the space of 10 short minutes, I’d gone from “not a really a country music fan”, to a full-on convert.
We’d both gone from “we’ll be home early” to walking back to the hotel at 1 am having danced for hours, sang loudly and having fully joined in the Nashville party….something neither of us expected to happen.
It was such a fun night, filled with live music.
If you find yourself in Nashville, don’t write it off as being too wild, keep an open mind, it’ll surprise you, it surprised us.
We loved it and are so glad we joined the Nashville party.
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm