2016 USA – North Carolina and Tennessee

A diary should be written every day….this one is 2 weeks overdue and what an exceedingly busy fortnight it has been.  Some things may be forgotten or inaccurate, but here goes. I’m now sitting at Chicago O’Hare airport waiting for next flight to Los Angeles.   Left Flat Rock, Nth Carolina at 8am this morning for the 50 minute drive to Greenville, South Carolina to get the plane. A lot more flying ahead…LAX to Sydney, then Qantas home to Adelaide…….

I flew from Ottawa to Asheville on 1st October.  It was so good to be picked up there by Camino friend, Nicole and her new husband Bill – and then to drive together up to Bob and Sue’s home in Flat Rock. It’s 4 years since Bob, Nicole and I walked across Spain. So fantastic to all be together again in North Carolina!! 

Canada (Nicole), USA (Bob), Australia (me)

It was a truly wonderful reunion weekend, beginning with Saturday night dinner at Bob and Sue’s – with flags for our 3 countries on the table! – and lots of laughs and reminiscing. Next morning, our very kind hosts took us for a sumptious Sunday brunch in the gracious old plantation-style Club house, overlooking the golf course, on the huge, wooded estate where they live.

Bill, Nicole, me, Sue, Bob: Breakfast at the Club

Then it was off for a drive through the beautiful country roads, apple orchards and wineries around Hendersonville region.   There was also time to enjoy photos and memories of our Camino sojourn, while enjoying Bob and Sue’s warm and wonderful hospitality in their lovely home.  

Camino buddies from 2012 …. now in North Carolina USA
Bob at home, Flat Rock, North Carolina

Sadly, Nicole and Bill had to return to Colorado and work ….but Bob, Sue and I continued to enjoy being retired.  Bob took me for a drive up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a fantastic road through the mountains which runs from Tennessee (?) to New York State, crossing the Appalachians at one stage.  (Memory of details gets hazy as time goes by … but I have vivid recall of wave after wave of mountains, rugged and blue, in the distance.)  Had lunch somewhere up high with magnificent views. Very enjoyable. We also dropped into Blue Star Camp where Bron (my daughter) had been a Camp Counsellor some years ago. Amazingly it was just down the road from where Bob and Sue live.

Also, serendipitously, the Western North Carolina Friends of the Camino group had an evening meeting and a coffee morning during these few days.   A great opportunity to meet and talk with other pilgrims and share information about our Australian group gatherings.   I became completely motivated to do another Camino after hearing a fantastic presentation about the Elbaniego and Vadinrense Ways, and the Camino San Salvador between Leon and Oviedo….both stunningly beautiful, but challenging mountain paths.  

Carl Sandburg’s home … behind Bob’s place in typical North Carolina rural countryside

Up a hill behind Bob’s place, is a national historic site … the old home of Carl Sandburg. We made a visit and I learned much about this man, whom I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t heard of before. Along with recognition as the “People’s Poet”, Sandburg was a lecturer, journalist, champion of labour right, creator of American folktales, collector of folksongs and Pulitzer prize winning biographer of Abraham Lincoln. A gracious old homestead and still a living farm.

Asheville is another particularly attractive small city in North Carolina – with some of the best bookshops ever. (My list of favourite bookshops in the world is growing ever-longer). There’s a kind of alternative vibe in Asheville … vegan restaurants, hipster cafes, a fascinating feminist museum (called A-SHE-ville, of course), live music in the streets and some interesting characters around the place. It’s also home to Biltmore Estate, supposedly the largest home in America on an 8000-acre estate – though I preferred the bookshops and cafes.

The last phase of my time in USA was the road trip with Pauline (friend from England.)  Bob continued his ‘driving-on-the-right’ lessons with me while we drove to Charlotte to pick Pauline up.  Very trusting, and hugely generous, is my friend Bob!!!   He insisted I take his car for Pauline and me to roam the highways and by-ways of neighbouring States.

YEARS LATER …. written in 2021

Well that was the end of the diary entries for this fantastic around-the-world trip. France, Jersey, Canada and North Carolina all in the space of a month.

Pauline and I completed our driving tour through rural USA. We’d originally planned to travel south to Charleston and Savannah, on the coast of South Carolina, but a massive cyclone swept through on the very day we were to set out. People were being evacuated from their homes, roads were being closed etc – so it was definitely not an option for us. We headed west instead, to the yee-ha country-and-western music state of Tennessee. And I absolutely loved the hokey feel of it all. Pure, classic cowboy country!

On our rockers at the Quilt shop

There were rocking chairs on every verandah, little white Baptist churches in almost every field, huge displays of pumpkins for Halloween, beautiful patchwork quilt stores (and gun stores) in the towns we passed through … and everything else we’d ever seen in movies and magazines from southern USA.

Nashville was exactly as I’d imagined it …. bars all along the street with music pumping out, flashing neon signs and shops packed with studded boots and Stetsons. Also the fabulous Country and Western Museum dedicated to all the famous (and not-so-famous) musicians who’d made their mark in Nashville. And the equally wonderful Johnny Cash Museum. (I’m a Cash fan from way back!) We even managed to get to the Grand Ol’ Opry for an evening show. This is an absolute country music institution and still going strong more than 90 years since it started.

Other highlights of the road trip included Chattanooga … and yes, the original Choo-Choo is there. Also a drive through Cherokee country in the Blue Ridge mountains, a pit-stop in Sevierville, Dolly Parton’s home town, and a visit to one of the Civil War historic sites.

We were there only weeks before the US elections …. so Trump flags and banners were flying high everywhere. Tennessee and the Carolinas are strongly Republican states. We even strolled into one of the campaign offices somewhere, but were completely ignored, so must have been sending out Democrat vibes. ….

Cherokee country,
Great Smoky Mountains

Wish I’d recorded everything at the time, but hope a few photos will re-create the Tennessee country atmosphere.

Have to say, I still love the USA!!