Oct 21

America – On the road for 30 days (Part II)





The last time we left off we were in Raleigh, N.C catching up on some much needed rest and with new found friends. We spend a good two nights there renting an Airbnb apartment in the heart of the city. On the 19th Sept we continue our adventures and head further south towards Ashville to meet up with yet another of R’s gamer friends, ‘Lt. Shard’ who is a chef in real life. He has kindly invited us to dine at the restaurant he works for and we gladly accepted.

We had breakfast kinda on the go. We stopped in at the local Barnes & Noble bookstore to pick up a road atlas just in case we fuck up our GPS for whatever reason or simply lose the signal. I do like America’s supermarkets because they are big, spacious and they have amazing confections at the bakery. Also, they do amazing muffins. Pre-made wraps and sandwiches are pretty good too which make it very convenient when you need to eat out of your car for a few days. Oh, and also corn snacks … I prefer corn snacks to potato chips which is probably why American supermarkets appeal since they sell so many varieties of corn chips. One word: Cheetos. The crunchy kind.





American food is really exciting. It’s all I ever dreamed it would be … fluffy pancakes and waffles for breakfast. Thick sandwiches for lunch and for dinner you can always rely on the good ‘ol American style pizza. Diners really are my thing coz most still have that homey feel to it, the kind you see in movies complete with red booth seats and more seating at the bar. Prices can be expensive sometimes, especially when you have to follow that up with a 20% tip after each and every meal.

My favourite meal in America will always be southern-style cooking because it’s hearty, soulful and it usually has a wide variety of cooked leafy greens. Slow-braises and gravy … these are all right up my alley. I would go so far as to say Creole cooking is also something I like but they tend to be on the spicy side for me.

Today we are dining at The Golden Fleece Mediterranean Restaurant – 111 Grovewood Rd, Asheville, NC 28804, USA. – all the way up in the green forested hills above the town. I was anticipating this meal with great excitement and wanted to make sure I had space enough in my tummy for the evening … and what does my other half do? He declares he is hungry and NEEDS to stop for a barbecue lunch. What?? We just stuffed our faces with barbecue last night!

And so we find ourselves here at Phil’s Bar-B-cue Pit – 

Inside we were greeted with such enthusiasm we felt instantly at home and chilled. The air smelled of delicious smoked meat and vinegar. We placed our order at the counter and picked a table. Then trays of food started to arrive and it all looked and smelled so delicious. I had the smoked wings, non-spicy. R had an entire platter of barbecued meats complete with fries + mac & cheese. Have I already mentioned we have dinner reservations for 7 p.m?






Come 18:30 hrs, after checking into our motel – The Blue Ridge Motor Lodge – 60 Tunnel Rd, Asheville, NC 28805, USA (somehow this hotel seems to have been renamed the Beaucatcher Boutique Hotel since we were last there). Reviews online seem to be less than pleasant but from personal experience we found our room to be very comfortable and we had no complaints.

Anyway we drive off in search of the Golden Fleece Restaurant, mistook our GPS directions and turned into the carpark of the Omni Grove Park Inn. That place looked faaancy. We were under the impression that the Golden Fleece Restaurant was within the hotel complex but when smartly dressed valets came to park our car for us (they even had gloves on!) …. we knew we did not belong here. Haahaa. So we skidaddled out of there and found the Golden Fleece Restaurant across the road from the fancy hotel.

Food was very very good and flavourful. The char grilled octopus and the rack of lamb were both tender and cooked to perfection. R ordered the ribeye steak and couldn’t finish … sacrilege! That’s what happens when you stuff your face full of barbecue 3 hrs prior to dinner. We met up with R’s chef friend and it was all good, he had time to sit with us for a while as it was mid-week and the restaurant was not crazy busy. I was sooooo full I had to practically waddle back to the car. Crawled into bed and updated some social media before lights out. We had an early start the next day … heading up into the Great Smoky Mountains for the day and finishing up in Nashville, TN.

Warning: there is a drama story about to unfold.





So the day dawned dull and overcast, the tops of the trees were shrouded in heavy mist and it really felt like being in an alpine town. We were getting ready to depart and pecked up the SUV. We had filled the car with gas the day before to ensure that we could enjoy our time in the mountains without having to worry about fueling up.
Before leaving Raleigh a couple nights back I vaguely remember a conversation between some of R’s friends and himself about there being a developing issue with a gas distribution pipeline down in Alabama (I was probably too busy taking food pictures to pay any attention). The pipeline was leaking and workers had to shut it down to fix the problem, posing a potential threat to gas supplies to 6 of the lower southern and eastern states. His friend’s advised us to fill up on gas before heading up into the mountains. The problem didn’t seem very serious but we topped up gas anyway as it was the sensible thing to do as we were about to cover a lot of ground that day.


Fast forward two days later, on the 19th Sept, the day we were about to embark on our journey up into the Great Smokies. We decided it was prudent to pack the car with a few snacks just in case we got hungry and did not find anywhere suitable to stop for food. We pulled into a convenience store / gas station and were greeted with an ominous sign.

This sign greeted us at every single station thereafter, from North Carolina and into Tennessee. NO GAS AVAILABLE! The gas distribution pipeline that was leaking in Alabama is one of two major pipelines that connect more than two dozen refineries in Texas and Louisiana with cities in the East, from Atlanta to New York. The Colonial pipeline provides nearly 40 percent of the region’s gasoline and usually runs at or near full capacity” – Fox News U.S.





Still we did not grasp the severity of the situation. We were like, “Meh … there will be other stations along the way should we need it”. Besides, we were leaving N.C and heading to Tennessee anyway … and we had a full tank of gas as of right now. I will leave this story here for now and get back to it later.


Our first port of call after leaving Asheville behind was Cherokee Indian Reservation. I did not know what to expect but when we arrived I found the place to be a mix between the overly cliche and serenely beautiful. Maybe tourist season was over and so the place was not crowded and all along the main drag there were shop fronts with tepees, feathered headwear and casinos. It was a quiet day and the sun was shinning but the air was quite cool.  Even along the way to Cherokee the road trip was very enjoyable, all around us were trees and hills enveloped with fluffy clouds. The autumn season was well and truly here and many towns had hay bales,scarecrows and pumpkins decorating the streets; sooooo cute.





The river running through the town was pretty tho, all sparkly and jewelly in the sunshine. We got out of the car for a bit of a leg stretch and to take in some fresh air.

We did not have time to explore the shops or visit the Cherokee Museum but from what I have read (the bare minimum), the Cherokee people were once part of a larger group of Iroquoian speaking tribe up north around the Great Lakes. After they moved south the tribe was generally concentrated in southwest North Carolina, southeast Tennessee, the western parts of South Carolina and northeast Georgia.





Eventually we snaked our way along windy country roads towards the official Great Smoky Mountain visitors centre. We like visitors centres because I am a brochure junkie and I like looking at random souvenirs … and R wanted a toilet break before we got up into the woods.
Now, at the shop I bought a pair of shitty plastic binoculars to spot wildlife with. While I was at the cashier I noticed these little blue booklets being sold – it said ‘PASSPORT’ on the front. So curious me picked one up and flipped a few pages. It had some pictures in there but nothing else but blank pages. I was like what is this??? The park ranger at the desk kindly explained to me that these “passports” were little commemorative books for national parks around the USA and the blank pages are where you stamp your entry to a national park so you will always remember when you visited. SO COOL!





These passports cost $10.00 and are sooooo cute, I could not resist but to buy one. The park ranger did bring my attention to the fact that all parks were celebrating their 100 yrs anniversary since the first national park became a thing in the United States and that they were also selling a limited edition collectors item BIG passport book which was $30.00.
For three times the price and size of the small pocket version you get more pictures, a hardcover, spiral bound book with lots more space for stickers and stamps. At the time I thought $30 was a bit steep and I consoled myself with buying the little pocket one instead.

Regret washed all over me the minute we got back in the car.

Needless to say, at the very next ranger station we came across R very graciously bought me the big book because he knew how much I wanted it. Yaaaay! Now I have all the space for stickers (which you collect annually and they are sold at all national park shops). Everytime I find myself back in the United States you can be sure this book travels with me at all times.





America declared Yellowstone a National Park and protected area more than 140 yrs ago, making it the world’s first national park. Since then the National Parks Service has added more than 400 more parks to that list in an effort to conserve and preserve some of America’s most scenic spots for the enjoyment of all Americans and visitors alike. With the passport book you not only get a unique souvenir, you also get a printed guide to most of America’s greatest historical treasures, parks and monuments. There are maps and highlights of things you need to see in the vicinity you are in, and they are divided into regions.

When you visit a park or national monument you go to the front desk and simply ask a staff member for a rubber stamp and ink pad. The you flip to the appropriate page in your book and stamp ~ now you have officially visited and ticked off that place and you can move on to the next.

The book is handy because it lists some parks and historical sites I never knew existed. Then we go check it out and learn something new in the process.
There will be times when you visit a lesser known park or monument or historical site and it won’t be listed in your passport book. No need to panic … there are a few blank pages for each region within the book for extra stamps.

All I can say is – BEST BUY EVER!


Moving on, we entered the park and spent a lovely day just being amongst the trees and forests, breathing in the autumn air. Eventually, we came to Clingman’s Dome, the highest mountain in the Smokies, at an elevation of 6,643 ft. At the very top is an observation deck that offers 360° views of the hills and valleys below. R decided this was something he wanted to see, so off we went. Looked easy enough, just a slow upward hike on a well surfaced trail up to the observation tower … easy peasy.

However, I had forgotten just how unfit we both we and the trail was apparently on a steeper incline than initially assessed to be. I had only gone about 200m and I was already feeling really hot and out of breath. Old people and children were tackling this faster and in better state than me!! I wanted to turn back but was effectively shamed into completing the climb. At the top of the hill we were not done yet … we still had to scale the tower. I was almost dead at this point but the air was much MUCH cooler up here and it felt good to cooldown.





When we finally crawled to the very top of the tower with my last dying breath we were greeted with …. ABSOLUTELY ZERO VIEWS!!!
The mist was so thick that we could see absolutely nothing in any direction! Glad that hike was worth it.  :p

Views were better from the carpark!

Anyway, it was still a nice drive up there … and the gift store is where I picked up my Collector’s Edition Passport book.

Later in the day we made it to Cades Cove, a must visit when you are in the Smoky Mountains. Cades Cove is on the Tennessee side of the mountain and it is a gorgeous valley surrounded by hills and grasslands. In the autumn when all the leaves have turned to amber and reds I hear you can get some pretty stunning photos here. But that was not to be for us as the trees were still green.

We drove all around the park for over 3 hours and did not see any wildlife … so much for buying binoculars. However, on our way out we came across a large bunch of cars parked on the side of the road with many people gathered in a small copse of trees. We didn’t think anything at first … surely it couldn’t be bears. But it was! Way up in the tree tops was a mama bear and her 3 cubs happily munching on leaves and berries totally unfazed by the gathering crowds below. I was not able to get any clear photos coz they were too high up and mostly covered by foliage. Doesn’t matter, I still saw a bear(s).




Towards evening we left the park and headed onto the motorway towards Nashville where we were to meet up with Ted, another one from the gamer bunch. Decided to stop over for dinner but did not know what or where to eat. Opted for anything that popped up along the motorway that looked edible … too hungry to be fussy. Then all of a sudden we actually pass a sign that said ‘German Food’. Wait, what??

So we spin the car around and stop to investigate further. They weren’t kidding … they were serving proper German food, wienerschnitzel and potato salad. SOLD!
We walked in and a delightful German man greeted us and promptly took our orders. Food was good, I must say and it really hit the spot. Could not have chosen better for that evening.  We walked away very satisfied indeed. Sadly, for the life of me I did not take a photo of the place nor did I take down the name.





Now, remember that gas leak story I asked you to remember earlier? Well, now that we have spent the entire day driving from Asheville, all over the Smoky Mountain NP and was now driving towards Nashville we were obviously low on gas. We stopped at a couple of gas stations just outside Nashville but discovered that they had run out of gas earlier that day. Bummer. So trying not to panic, we decided to just drive on to Nashville, find accommodation and sort the gas thing out later.

Got to Nashville and the traffic in the city was heavy. Looking for accommodation also proved to be somewhat of a challenge – they were either fully booked or ridiculously expensive. One Premier Inn wanted to charge us $480 for two nights!! We were running out of options and yes, you guessed it … gas. I was definitely panicking now; we only had 20 miles left in the tank. All this driving about looking for accommodation was not going well.

Eventually, R decided to leave the city center and move further out to look for budget accommodation just in case we were stuck here in Nashville and needed to extend our stay at the hotel. Ended up out near the Grand Ole Opry, at the Days Inn – 





The next day I was no less stressed out. How are we ever going to find gas?? We only have 20 miles left in the tank and we needed to drive about looking for a station.
R on the other hand was cool as a cucumber ~ he simply got dressed and Googled the nearest gas station which happened to be just round the corner. We got into the car (I was praying by now) , we drove over there ….. and got gas. WTF?!??!

When he got back into the car it was the smuggest expression you’ve ever seen, I wanted to slap him. But he got us topped up with juice so I let it slide.

We spent the day driving about, got lunch in the city and didn’t really do much … not that Nashville lacked attractions rather, we were trying to manage cash reserves as we were only halfway into our 30-day trip. Randomly visiting multiple unplanned attractions would be eating into the budget … and I soooo wanted to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame. By afternoon we were back at the motel and took in some rest before we had to head back in to the city to meet Ted for dinner. He asked us what we fancied and R said he wanted MEAT, so Ted went away to take care of the rest to make it happen. A table was booked at the Stoney River Steakhouse & Grill – 3015 West End Ave, Nashville, TN 37203, USAWe were expecting this to be a family diner-style restaurant but when we got there man, this place was sophisticated and elegant. In a nutshell, it was an upscale, posh steakhouse and grill. The place looked AMAZING … there was definitely a wow factor there. 





We were greeted by sleek looking ladies at the front desk who confirmed our reservation and then led us into the main dining area which looked swish. Black and gold decor everywhere. We got the booth seats (yaaaasss!) and were introduced to our waiter for the evening … and oh was he ever so pleasant. The menu was explained to us and everything was taken care of from start to finish. We left a hefty tip.

Now, dinner was very good but the highlight was dessert, hands down. Our server recommended we order the carrot cake as it seemed to be a favourite amongst the other diners, but I went with my gut feeling and ordered the chocolate chip blondie. Thinking it would be a generic square cut of cake with some ice cream and chocolate sauce, I was happy enough when R said he won’t share my dessert as he rarely cares for sweets after a meal. But then 40 mins later this SKILLET landed in the middle of our table and for a moment we all stared at it in silence. It came fresh out of the oven and the pan was still radiating heat. In the middle sat what I can only describe as a giant cookie cake that smelled INCREDIBLE … and it was piled high with a giant baseball sized scoop of vanilla ice cream, more chocolate chips, caramel AND chocolate sauce, pecans, whip cream. We died.

Three spoons were brought to the table … we all tucked in and despite our best efforts we still could not finish it. I would have asked for it to be bagged up for me to take away if I could. Omg, I have never had anything like it. It really had the consistency of a warm chocolate chip cookie that was crispy round the edges and ooey-gooey chewy the more you got to the center of the pan. The photo doesn’t even come close to doing this dish justice. If you are going to order this dessert, be sure to bring 4 friends with you or skip dinner entirely and just order dessert.





Oh how we struggled to get up from our seats after that meal. R. thought his steak and lobster dinner was divine. Lucky I only ordered the crab salad for my main course coz I knew I wanted dessert that evening. Dinner was SOOOO GOOD that we paid for everything including Ted’s meal as a thank you for bringing us here to this restaurant. Ted will forever be remembered fondly as the person who enabled us to have one of the best dinner experiences of the entire trip … I still dream of that chocolate chip blondie from time to time. We raved about this place for weeks after to all of R’s gamer friends. If you want to experience the food of Stoney River you don’t have to come all the way down to Nashville – I believe they have multiple outlets in various states, so do checkout their website.





The next day we packed up the car and said goodbye to the Days Inn and hit the road towards Illinois. We were now well and truly done with our southbound leg of the trip and we were heading north. From here we were going to spend a couple of nights at my aunt’s place in Waterloo, IL and then do a big drive up to Kenosha, Wisconsin where we were to have the big meet up with the bulk of the EVE gamer boys for an four days. This gathering was the main purpose of our visit to the states but the journey leading up to the weekend has been nothing short of spectacular … I love America already.

I have written a separate article on our time with the boys during the Team Pizza Weekend, Kenosha, WI while we chilled and got to know one another, staying in a huge lakeside house on the shores of Lake Michigan. It was one heck of an amazing weekend in an amazing house that R. picked out and since then I think we have all become really close friends. Since then we have all met up again with some of them at CCP’s Fanfest 2017. People from Canada, Switzerland, Ireland (us) and from all over the United States landed in Iceland and had another fun week together … but that’s another story for another time.

For now, I will end this part of my story and see you all in my next post on the next leg of our journey … this time in Canada as we go in search of the ultimate north America autumn experience – leaf season! Until then, I bid you adieu. Hugs and kisses.



… to be continued.













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