U.S.A. "South East" - September / October 2013

Below you will find a list of pictures, taken on our U.S.A. "South East" trip from September 28 to October 20 2013.
The most interesting images will have a red bullet in front of them. In a hurry? Just want to see the pictures? Check out the slide show.

September 28: Home - Atlanta - New Orleans

We had to take a taxi to the airport as we had to arrive there early. After a quiet flight we arrive in Atlanta around noon. We had to go through customs and immediately back again through security to go to the gate for New Orleans. 15.15 we landed. Our luggage arrived quickly and then we went to the Avis desk to pick up our car. Turned out to be a Chrysler 200. We started the navigation app on the phone and drove to downtown New Orleans. Our hotel (New Orleans Courtyard Hotel) was easy to find and we arrived there by 5p.m.. We went out for dinner as we wanted to go to bed early (5p.m. already was midnight for our bodies). The lady behind the desk at the hotel advised us to go to Coop's on Decatur. The food (Seafood Gumbo) was nice indeed and we each had an Abita to go with it (Jockamo for Arjen and Restoration for Patricia). On the way back to the hotel we bought some groceries at a supermarket. We went to sleep at 8.15.

September 29: New Orleans

We slept long and well. After breakfast, we first went to see St. Louis Cemetery No 1. Many old tombs there, one of which is supposed to be the last resting place of Marie Laveau, a famous voodoo queen. We then did a walk through French Quarter. Very nice houses with beautiful balconies and hanging plants. We also visited the Cathedral. Then we walked to Woldenburg Park at the Mississippi. The only steam boat of New Orleans lays there. Turned out that it would be leaving for a trip shortly after so we decided to buy tickets for it. Alongside the river there are many industrial areas, but you also have nice views of the New Orleans skyline, old plantations and battlefields form the civil war. The ship itself is also very nice to see. You can even visit the engine room and see the steam engine in action. Back in New Orleans we had lunch (Po'boy shrimp sandwich, a local specialty). We walked some more through the streets of French Quarter and then went on to Louis Armstrong Park and Congo Square. Via the supermarket we went back to the hotel. After having dropped off the groceries, we walked to the French Market. It was different from what we had expected. Many small shops with jewels, cloth, statues, etc.. We had a Blackened Voodoo at the French Market Cafe and then went back to the hotel. We planned the route for the next two stops (Lafayette and St. Francisville) and booked the hotels (booking.com is very handy for trips like this). After a shower we went for dinner to Yo Mama's. A suggestion from the Lonely Planet was their peanutbutter burger. As Arjen loves peanut butter, he decided to go for it. Delicious! We had an Abita to go with it (an Amber this time). After dinner we walked to Frenchmen street as we were told we would fine many nice bars with live music there. Very true. We ended up in one of the bars and enjoyed the music. We decided it was time for bed, but outside we ran into a group that was playing blues/jazz outside and spent another hour listening. Very much fun! As we were tired we went back to the hotel, but we could hav spent some more hours there.

September 30: New Orleans

We had breakfast, did some groceries (trying to avoid the showers) and were picked up at the hotel for an excursion we had booked back home already: a visit to the swampland and a plantation. We were driven to the Cajun Pride swamp area. We took a boat ride of about 90 minutes, learning a lot about the swamp, the gators (we saw a lot of them) and Discovery shows that claim to be authentic, but apparently are not. We also saw some turtles and racoons. The guide had brought a young gator aboard. 4 years old and about 2 feet long. We were allowed to hold it. Then we were driven to Laura Plantation where we had a tour. The guide explained about the house, the sheds the slaves used to live in, the family history. Some others of our group visited Oak Plantation, when we picked them up, we had a great view of the famous alley. We had a bit of traffic on the way back to New Orleans (the Saints were playing at the Superdome that evening). We bought some food at a grocery shop and ate back in our hotel (to get some healthy food). We went to sleep quite early.

October 1: New Orleans - Larose - Houma - Lafayette

After breakfast we went to the grocery shop to get something for lunch as we would be having it somewhere on our way to Lafayette. We had plotted a scenic route in our navigation app. We checked out at the hotel and first dove to Larose, then on to Houma. We couldn't see as much swamp as we had expected, but nonetheless it was a very nice route. We arrived at the Atchafalaya Visitor Center and booked a boat trip to the Henderson Swamp for the next morning and watched a short movie about the Atchafalaya Basin. We then drove to Lafayette - a nice route through the swamps. We checked in at the Travelodge. Our Lonely Planet book suggested Johnson's Boucanière; nice food, but more of a fast-food place than a restaurant which we had expected. Back at our hotel we booked the hotel for Natchez (2 stops ahead) and used Tripadvisor and the Lonely Planet guide to see what we would do and how we would drive there for the next few days. We then went to the bar across the street (Blue Dog Cafe) for a beer (Jockamo for Arjen, Purple Haze for Patricia and the second round an Andygator for both of us). Like the previous time we visited the states, we notice that the beer culture is changing; more and more special beers of high quality are entering the market.

October 2: Lafayette - St. Francisville

We checked out and made a first stop across the street at a Firestone's. Yesterday the car signalled that the tire pressure of one of the tires was low. One of the guys helped us and after only a few minutes we were on our way to the Atchafalaya Visitor Center. Our guide was already there. As we were the only two on the trip, we immediately drove to his boat. The sky was overcast when we took off, but soon the sun came out and we had perfect weather. The guy took us through the swamp, told great stories about the origins of the basin, the gators. We didn't see that many, but this was in the wild and not some farm as on our excursion from New Orleans. Back at the visitor center, we had a coffee and watched the short movie for a second time (worth the time as we had now seen some of these places ourselves). We had bread with Jalapeno Cheddar cheese in the car. Again we had plotted a scenic route to our next stop using the navigation app. We drove the I10 for a few miles, then took the LA415 alongside the Mississippi. Shortly after 1p.m. we arrived at Hotel Magnuson in St. Francisville. Fortunately we could already check in and drop off our luggage. We then drove to the Myrtle Plantation. At 2p.m. we could join a tour around the house. Many stories about its history and some ghost stories too (it is one of the most haunted houses).
Back at the hotel we made a start at changing our plans for the next week as the government shutdown seemed more and more likely and Mammoth Cave and the Smokey Mountains could be closed... And we decided to buy the navigation app (Sygic) as the trial period was about to end and it was very useful for planning our routes.
Via a grocery store we drove to "The Carriage House", the restaurant next to the Myrtle Plantation. It was very nice, but we were glad we had decided to share the main course (way to much food for us Europeans).

October 3: St. Francisville - Natchez

We checked out and drove to the Rosedown Plantation. The grounds open at 9a.m., but the first tour starts at 10a.m.. We could walk through the gardens and between the buildings. Beautiful place! This early in the day the squirrels, spiders and birds are still around. The tour led us through the rooms of the main house. Very nice. Almost entirely restored in the 50's-60's.
Around 11.a.m we headed for the Clark Creek Natural Area. We had lunch (like most days: bread with Jalapeno Cheddar cheese). We started walking around 11.45a.m.. We had chosen the primitive trail of 2.6 mile. A nice route. The first part 2 girls joined our route. Because of the dry weather, the falls were less than impressive... The trees and animals were interesting though; we saw a lot of frogs, squirrels, lizards, spiders and armadillos. And mosquitos unfortunately. around 2.45p.m. we arrived back at the car. We had the rest of our lunch and then drove on to Natchez and checked in at the Days Inn. After a shower we went for one of the top spots according to Tripadvisor: Roux 61. Again, very good food but too much...

October 4: Natchez - Indianola - Greenwood

There are many old plantation houses in Natchez. We made a tour around 20 of them. Some of them could be visited, but we decided to simply walk around them or stop at the street (some of these are in use as office and can't be accessed). Around 10.30a.m. we drove to Indianola; the first part of the route via the Natchez Trace Park Highway. Nice scenic route. Then via highway 61 and 82 to Indianola. We saw a lot of cotton fields on the way there. Around 2.15p.m. we arrived at the BB King Museum. Lucky us: that day entrance was free. Around 3.30p.m. we drove on to Greenwood (the Best Western). We had dinner (Mexican) at "La Terraza"; Great food and portions we could handle. Back in the room we had a beer (Deep South Pale Ale) and made plans for the next couple of days.

October 5: Greenwood - Memphis

We made an early start as we wanted to do a lot this day. By 7.50a.m. we were driving to Memphis. We made a small detour to be able to visit Arkansas too. By 10.45a.m. we had found the location of Sun Studios. We had to wait for the next tour to start and could check out many memorabilia in the meantime. The tour led us through the small studio where we could see many more memorabilia and listen to some audio fragments of some of the artists that were discovered here (including Elvis). We could also visit the recording studio itself. After lunch we drove to Graceland. We had expected more people there. We are not big Elvis fans, but it is still very impressive to be inside the house and see all these memorabilia (such as the planes, suits, cars, golden records, etc.) and hear about his history. We then drove to the hotel (Comfort Inn), checked in and took a shower. We drove to Patrick's for dinner (nice!). Back at the hotel we had a beer and made plans for the next days.

October 6: Memphis - Nashville

Our next stop was another city famous for its music: Nashville. We drove via Corinth where we picked up the Natchez Trace Parkway again. Like before a scenic route. Unfortunately the weather wasn't that good (a bit of rain), so we couldn't see the autumn colors in sunlight. Just after 2.30p.m. we arrived at the hotel (Knights Inn). We dropped off our luggage and then drove to the Opry Mills Mall. Arjen bought a Tommy Hilfiger sweater (that brand is much cheaper in the US than in Europe). We then drove through downtown Nashville to have a look at the buildings/architecture. We parked and went to Broadway, a street with many bars with live music. We had a beer (Blue Moon) at Crossroads and listened to two bands. After that we went to Merchants for dinner. Around 9p.m. we arrived back at the hotel where we had another beer - the last of the 6pack we bought in Greenwood.

October 7: Nashville - Cub Run - Horse Cave - Bowling Green

Although Mammoth Cave was closed because of the government shutdown, we still decided to drive to that region as there ar many more caverns in that area which are not owned by the fedral government, but the by state or even are private property. We first drove to Cub Run. Turned out we were the only one for the next tour. We left the shop at 10.30a.m. and drove a few minutes to the entrance of the cave. It was a very nice cave. Many formations in different colors and you could get really close to them. We also saw a few bats. After just under an hour, the tour ended. We then drove to the Hidden River Cave in Horse Cave. We had lunch and then visited the museum. It explains a lot about pollution and the history of caves in the area. At 1.15p.m. the tour started. The entrance to the cave is a collapsed sink hole. around 2.30p.m. we went back to the car and drove to Bowling Green, where we checked in at the Red Roof Inn. We bought some groceries for the next couple of days (bread, cheese, etc.). We went to Toot's for a cocktail and dinner. Back at the room we made plans for the next few days. Because of the ongoing governement shutdown, we switched from Smokey Mountains to the Natural Bridge State Resort park for some hikes.

October 8: Around Bowling Green

We didn't have to pack our luggage as we would spend another night in Bowling Green. After breakfast we drove to the Lost River Cave in Bowling Green. We took the 10a.m. tour. First a short walk to the cave. On the way we saw some blue holes - holes in the limestone, filled with water giving them a peculiar blue color. The cave itself was a very large dome with only a few formations. The fun part was that its bottom is a river, so you visit it by boat. Back outside we walked the small trails and saw more blue holes. Around 11.30a.m. we drove to Park City to visit the Diamond Caverns. We had lunch first and had a look around the shop. At 12.45p.m. the tour started. The cave has 3 layers, the first two are open to the public. It's a very impressive cave with beautiful formations. A very worthy end of our "cave days". After the tour we drove a scenic route back to Bowling Green and stopped at the Starbucks for a decent coffee and some treats (we shared a blueberry scone and a double chocolate brownie). We went back to our room. For dinner we went to Garcia's (Mexican). We had the Cancun enchilada and they had frozen margarita's as the Tuesday special, so we had one of those to go with it. Back at the hotel we watched a base ball match (ML division series were on their way).

October 9: Bowling Green - Cumberland Falls State Park - Somerset

We had planned to go south towards the Smokey Mountains by now, but as the government was still shutdown, Patricia found another nice spot to go hiking: Cumberland Falls State Park. We left Bowling Green around 8a.m. and arrived at the Cumberland Falls State Park visitor center around 11.30a.m. (we lost an hour as we drove into a new time zone). First we walked to the viewpoint overlooking the Cumberland Falls. We then parked the car at the start of trail 9 and 10. We first did the Eagle Falls trail (about 2.5 mile). A nice walk through the forest (chosen as the best trail of Kentucky), but it did not provide a very good view of the falls. We then did the Blue Bend Loop (about 4.5 miles). We didn't see anybody else - nice and quiet. We saw many mushrooms. The last part was alongside the Cumberland river. There we encountered a snake (back a the visitor center we learned it had been an Eastern Hognose). It didn't move at all, so first we thought it was dead, but when we gently touched it with a branch of a tree, it started moving. round 4 we arrived back at the visitor center and got maps for the route for the next day. We wanted to combine two routes, but no one was able to tell us how long the route would be if we would do that.
We drove to the hotel in Somerset (Super 8). For dinner we went to the Cracker Barrel where we had a very nice rainbow trout with sweet potato.

October 10: Somerset - Cumberland Falls State Park - Corbin - Somerset

Just after 9a.m. we left the hotel and drove to the Cumberland Falls State Park where we arrived at the lodge where we started our hike around 10a.m.. First we took route 6 to the visitor center. From there we picked up route 1 alongside the river and into the forest. Where we picked up route 2 there was a sign that read that the Dog Slaughter Falls were 1 mile in a different direction. We followed that route for a while but turned back too early (we didn't pay attention to the distance on the way down). Route 2 led us through the forest and then back to the river a few miles upstream. On the way we entered a fire house (we couldn't go all the way to the top as the entrance was blocked by a gate). Via trail 5 and 4 we arrived back the car around 3p.m.. We stopped at the visitor center for a drink and then drove to Corbin - to visit the very first KFC. It still has the original kitchen on display. We had a small snack and then drove back to Somerset where we arrived shortly after 5.30p.m.. We had dinner across the street at Sonny's BBQ. Back at the room we determined what we would do the next couple of days.

October 11: Somerset - Natural Bridge State Resort Park - Stanton

By 8.20a.m. we were driving. We went to the ranger station near the Natural Bridge State Resort Park, hoping they would have maps with hiking trails, but alas. We then went on to the Natural Bridge State Resort Park where they did have maps. We made a combination of several routes and passed the Natural Bridge, walking both on top of it and underneath it. The bridge is some 40 meters long and high. We then went to the starting point of the Henson Cave Arch (not very interesting) and the Whittleton Arch. Back at the car, we drove to Stanton to check in at Abner's Motel. We decided to have dinner at Mi Finca. But when we arrived there (on foot) it was no longer located at the place where Tripadvisor said it would be. So we headed back for the car to go to a pizzeria. On the way over there we noticed a sign saying Mi Finca - accidentally we had found its new location. We couldn't get a beer to go with our dinner. After dinner we went to a supermarket to get some beers, but we learned that we were in a dry county - one where no alcohol is sold. We went back to the motel and planned our route for the next day.

October 12: Stanton - Red Gorge - Stanton - Lexington - Stanton

We had a toaster in our room, so we could make our own breakfast. We took the scenic route to the Red Gorge area. We had planned several hikes to the various arches in the area. First up were the Silvermine Arch and Hidden Arch. On the way to the latter we saw 2 deer, only a few yards away from us. Next up was Rock Bridge, but even though the site said it was open, it was apparently closed because of the government shutdown. So we drove on to the Chimney Top Rock and the Pricess Arch, only to find those routes closed too. Turned out that all sites easily accessible from the main road could be visited, but sites that all roads off the main road were closed. We wee able to go to Angel Windows and Whistling Arch. The parking area for Sky Bridge was closed, but it was only a mile off the main road. Some of the park staff were protesting as they were not paid . They helped us find a decent spot to park our car and let us through (on foot) to the road leading to the arch. It was one of the biggest arches I've ever seen. Very beautiful too.
We then drove the rest of the main road, through the Nada tunnel, beck to the starting point and then back to the motel. We took a shower and found it was only 2.45p.m.
We searched for the nearest movie theater and found one in Lexington, "only" about 50 miles away from us. Gravity would start around 5p.m., so we drove to Lexington, had a coffee at Starbucks and then went to see the movie in the Kentucky Theatre - a very nice building. After the movie, we went for dinner at Gumbo Ya Ya - again a very good suggestion from Tripadvisor. Around 7.45p.m. we drove back to Stanton.

October 13: Stanton - Gatlinburg

We took the scenic route, avoiding the highway for as long as we could. We stopped at Bean Gap to enjoy the panoramic view, mad a small detour to set foot on Virginian soil and when we finally joined the highway we decided to go for lunch at a Subway. Normally you can't avoid them, but the first two exists that mentioned a Subway, we found them closed or about to be opened. The third one fortunately had one. When we started driving again we soon hit traffic. We had not thought of the fact that this would be the end of the autumn break for the US, with many people driving towards Gatlinburg. The last few miles took us quite a while, but eventually we arrived around 2.30 at the Econolodge. We dropped off our luggage and strolled up and down the main road (Park lane), watching candy being made, tasting moonshine at "Ole Smokey Moonshine" - quite a show that's worthwhile watching even if you don't drink.
Back in the room we made plans for the following days before we went out for dinner at the "Smokey Mountain Brewery". We had small tastings for 9 types of beer to go with our main course. Very nice!

October 14: Gatlinburg - Asheville

We checked out and went to visit "Ripley's Believe it or Not". Then we took the Skylift to enjoy the view of Gatlinburg. We had lunch and then started driving through the Smokey Mountains. Strange to see all parking areas closed off with tape because of the government shutdown. After I while Arjen remembered he had not seen his MP3 player when packing that morning, so we turned around. Back at the Econolodge, the gut cleaning the room said he had not seen it, must have been thrown in the laundry bin, which was already on the way to the cleaners. Right.... But of course I can't prove that's not what happened. So at 1.40 p.m. we headed for the road through the Smokey Mountains once more. We stopped at some of the viewpoints to enjoy the autumn colors that were now very much starting to show. By 4.30p.m. we arrived at the Ramada River Ridge hotel. Booking.com already mentioned that it would be hard to find and we too had to ask for directions even though we were almost there. We bought some groceries and back at the room we planned the route for the next day: part of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We drove to "Nine Mile" for dinner, which we enjoyed a lot! We had a locally brewn beer to go with it; a Pisgah (Arjen the Pale and Patricia the Porter). We went to bed relatively late at 11.30p.m..

October 15: Asheville - Blue Ridge Parkway - Asheville

We took our time for breakfast and around 10.20a.m. we started driving, entering the Blue Ridge Parkway after a few mile. At first it was foggy, but after a while, the windy road took us above the clouds so we could enjoy the fantastic view of the trees and bushes, ranging in color from green to yellow, orange and red. Magnificent. We stopped at many of the overview spots to enjoy the views. At the Craggy Gardens viewpoint we noticed there was a summit you could walk to a bit further on. Of course we had to go there. It was a short walk to the Craggy Dome (altitude 1.845m / 6,085ft.). Further down the parkway we stopped to see the Linville Falls. The road to the visitor center was blocked - again, because of the government shutdown - so we had to walk an extra 3.5 mile. We walked up to three different viewpoints. Definately worthwhile the effort. We then drove some more of the parkway (in total we drove it for about 90 mile) before we took the exit at Blowing Rock and headed back via Boone, Elizabethtown and Johnson City. Around 6.30p.m. we arrived back at the hotel. We took a shower and went to "Sunny Point Cafe" for dinner. Again: nice food and another local beer to go with it (Arjen the Bells Two Hearted and Patricia the Highland Oat Porter).
Back at the hotel we planned the route for the next day.

October 16: Asheville - Tallulah Gorge State Park - Clayton

Around 8.20a.m. we started driving. First to the starting point of the Blue Ridge Parkway as Patricia wanted a picture of its signpost. We then drove in the direction of Sylva, then Cashiers, Mountain Rest and then Clayton. We passed our hotel, but it was too early to check in, so we drove on to Tallulah Gorge State Park. By 11.45a.m. we arrived. We went to the visitor center for some information about the park and the hikes. We started by on the northern rim at viewpoint 2. Then we went 310 steps down to the river. Then 221 steps up and down to Hurricane Falls. Then 347 steps up again on the south rim. We had lunch sitting on a bench. Then we walked to Oceana Falls and back, to Tempesta Falls, across the dam and back to the visitor center. We were back at the car around 2p.m. and drove back to the hotel in Clayton (America's Best Value Inn). We went to the supermarket to get some groceries and back at the hotel we watched TV - this would be the last day of the government shutdown. We had diner at Manrique. In the eveing we watched TV as there was not much to do in Clayton and the weather was not nice enough to go out for a walk.

October 17: Clayton - Moccasin Creek State Park - Black Rock Mountain State Park - Clayton

After breakfast we went for groceries at the supermarket. After that we drove to Moccasin Creek State Park to collect the description of the Hemlock Falls trail. On the way to the starting point we saw a deer. We started walking the short trail (2 mile) around 10a.m.. At the end there was a nice, small, waterfall. Back at the car we drove to Mountain City / Black Rock Mountain State Park. By then it was raining a bit harder and we were advised not to take the most interesting trails as they were to steep and slippery for this weather. So we did the Tennessee Rock Trail. By 12.30p.m. we arrived back at the car. We drove back to the hotel to use the internet to see if there was anything interesting to do in the neighbourhood. Alas... So we stayed in and decided what we would do the next day in Atlanta. We had dinner at Mama G's across the street (quite nice!).

October 18: Clayton - Atlanta

After an early breakfast in our room (our own bread was better than that of the motel) we drove to Atlanta. We took the highway and for once not the scenic route. We arrived early at the parking lot of the hotel. By 10.20a.m. we arrived at the Georgia Aquarium We spent 5 hours there wathcing all the different fish in the many bassins, some of which where enormous! We also watched the penguins and otters being fed and the dolphin show. After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we walked through the olympic park to a biergarten for a german beer. After that we went to see and hear the fountain show, but it was too light so we decided to go for dinner and check back later. We had dinner at Thrive (sushi for starters, yummie!) and then back to the fountain for another show. By then it was dark enough to be able to enjoy it better. Back at the hotel we had our last beer (Blue Moon).

October 19 & 20: Atlanta - Home

After breakfast in our room we walked a bit through the city center (totally deserted on a Saturday morning). We went back to the hotel, got our luggage and drove to Atlanta International Airport and delivered the car at the rental company. In total we drove 2,859 mile (4.601 km) during our trip. We had to wait a while, but luckily we had wifi and were in touch with friends and family back home. By 6.15pm we were airborne. The next morning we arrived in Amsterdam and could catch a train home quickly.