Sunday, June 30, 2019

Settling in (Nashville Part 4)

Over the next few days we started to really settle in at the apartment... 

Friday, June 7th

After our long day out of the CMA Fest, Elissa, Rick and I slept in.  It was raining and none of us were too keen on getting up really early.  Instead of testing out Elissa's bus route at 6:00 am, Rick and Elissa opted for the 10:00 bus instead.  She wanted to do it once while we were there so she knew what she needed to do.  Rick then drove behind her in the rental car so he could pick her up once she reached the zoo.  After testing the bus route, they ended up going to run a few errands while they were out.  

While Rick and Elissa were gone, I relaxed at the apartment.  I opened the shades and watched a squirrel running around in the back yard after the rain stopped.  I could hear the birds chirping.  Elissa's apartment is right on the end of the building and next to the woods so it's very quiet and peaceful.  I enjoyed nature for a bit before getting up to take a shower and get dressed in my comfy hang out clothes.

When they came back, we decided to hang out at the apartment for the rest of the afternoon.  Elissa poked around putting things away and organizing.  Rick worked on a few things on his computer.  I got my new laptop out so I could get caught up on a few Happily Ever Hatter messages and other business stuff.

Later on, we all got dressed and ready for dinner.  One of Eliot's and my good friends, BJ, has a friend named Sara that lives outside of Nashville.  Ironically, she's only a few miles from where Elissa is living for the summer.  He got Elissa in touch with his friend Sara and the girls made plans to have dinner while we were there.

Elissa, Rick and I met Sara and her Dad at a little Italian restaurant called Villalba near the Taco Bell we'd gone to the other day.  The food was amazing.  I had a delicious ravioli.  We had a great time with them.  We all talked and laughed as if we'd known each other for ages.  Before we knew it, about two hours had passed before we finally said our goodbyes and left the restaurant.

The three of us drove back to the apartment where we went back into chill mode.  We watched a little television.  I did a few more business things on my computer and Elissa worked on her Galapagos journal before we all went to bed for the night.

Saturday, June 8th

Saturday was Rick's last day in Nashville.  His flight left mid-afternoon so we decided to get up early to tackle the last things we needed to before he left.  First, we went to the zoo to add Elissa to the membership card.  Then, we went for one last shopping trip to both the Dollar Tree and Walmart to pick up the last things we had added to our apartment list.  While at Walmart, I discovered the Nashville merchandise and left with a few stickers and new spirit jerseys for myself and Eliot.

After that, we headed to the Nashville airport.  We parked in the parking garage and headed inside.  Rick had to add me to the Hertz rental car agreement since he got the car before Eliot and I arrived in Nashville.  I signed the rental paperwork for our brand new GMC Acadia, then he handed the keys to the car off to me.

Elissa and I said goodbye and he made his way up the escalator to check in for this flight back to California.  It was hard to part ways with him there.  I knew Elissa was a little anxious, and honestly, I was a bit too.  I'd been riding in the front seat so I had a pretty good idea of the area, but it was still going to be an adventure.  We plugged her address back into the GPS just in case, and we made our way back home. 

Once we got there, we decided to stay there the rest of the day.  I got something to eat and we settled in.  Elissa opened up the window shades to her first floor patio and before we knew it, we had a visitor.  A black cat was walking across her patio.  She opened the door and pet him through the screen- afraid he might come inside if we moved it.  A few minutes later, we met Elissa's next door neighbor, the owner of the cat.  We talked with him for a minute or two before he and the kitty returned home.

We eventually decided that we needed to do laundry again and it made sense to do it while we were at the apartment complex anyways.  Elissa and I changed into our bathing suits, gathered up our laundry and drove down to the front office area.  We put our clothes, towels and bedding into two washers and headed to the pool.

We went to the pool next to her fitness center and when we got there it was empty.  We eventually ended up sharing it with three teenage girls, but it was pretty quiet down there otherwise.  I was surprised no one was in the pool or fitness center considering that it was a Saturday.  The apartment complex had a gorgeous fitness facility and I was really impressed with the pool area.  It had a nice grill, a seating area and plenty of space to entertain.  There was also a little rock fountain feature.

Elissa and I swam the entire time our clothes were washing.  The water was a bit cold, but once you got in it wasn't bad.  We finally checked the time and got out when it was time to switch our clothes over to the drier.  Then, we headed back to her apartment to take turns showering before going back to pick our laundry up.

That night, we did a bit of organizing.  We put our clothes away.  She put the 2015 live action Cinderella on her computer for us to watch.  While we had that on, she started to put up a few of the small decor items she had bought at the Dollar Tree.  She also hung up a few posters and pictures she had.  I hadn't seen the movie in a while so I mostly watched that.  When the movie was over, we did a few more things around the apartment before heading to bed to get ready for the next day.

Sunday, June 9th

Sunday was Eliot's 31st Birthday.  I felt a little bit guilty that I was still in Nashville and he was home all alone but he assured me that he'd have a good day.  (Truthfully, I think he was excited to have a little quiet time of his own.)  Of course, since it was Eliot's birthday that meant it was also Donald Duck's birthday.

This year was Donald's 85th anniversary and the Disney Store was celebrating by releasing an entire Donald Duck collection of merchandise.  In addition to that, they were giving out a key to the first 100 customers to make a purchase at each of their locations.  Earlier in the trip, I'd gone onto Google Maps and looked at where the Nashville Disney Store was.  Ironically, that's how I found out where the Grand Ole Opry was; the store was in the Opry Mills Mall.  When we'd gone to the mall a few days earlier on the 4th, Eliot had walked over to the Disney Store before heading to the airport so we knew it wasn't far from the Food Court.

Photo Source
Elissa and I got up early so we could go to the Disney Store to get the keys.  My brother Jeremy was also going to his local store and he said it was busy there.  Elissa and I got to the mall about 45 minutes before it opened.  She went to get us Starbucks while I stood in the unofficial line.  Thankfully, while in line, I got a text from Jeremy that he was able to get the Donald spirit jersey after someone else put one in his size back on the rack.  It was the only thing Eliot really wanted from the collection.  Elissa and I headed inside once the store opened.  It was a mad rush for the check out register, but we did both make our purchases in time to get our free Donald keys.

After, we decided to walk around the mall for a bit since we were already there.  I went into Hot Topic and ended up purchasing the Toy Story Woody vest that I'd seen online and had been admiring.  (They actually had my size so I was even able to try it on!)  I also left with 4 new Disney Princess necklaces since it was buy two, get two free!

Next, Elissa wanted to go to Rue 21, so we went there for a bit.  She tried on a bunch of clothes and got a few new pairs of shorts and some shirts.  We then wandered around for a bit longer before calling it a day.  I was pretty hungry though, so we went to Panda Express in the Food Court before heading home with our purchases.

The rest of the day, we hung out at her apartment.  We had talked about going back down to the pool.  Unfortunately, there were a bunch of thunderstorms coming through the area so it rained on and off.  Instead, I opted to take a nap since I was dead tired at this point in the trip.  I fell asleep to the sound of the rain.

An hour or so later, I got up just in time to watch Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals with the Bruins and Blues.  I half paid attention to the game while Elissa sat at her dining room table working on her Galapagos journal.  After the game, we watched the fireflies blinking on and off in the back yard outside of her sliding door.

Before bed, Elissa laid out her clothes for her first day of her internship.  She got her sunscreen, bug spray, lunch bag and backpack ready.  We set our alarms for 5:45 so she could be ready to leave on the 6:24 bus.  Then, we said goodnight.

I called Eliot to wish him a Happy Birthday one last time.  While on the phone, I placed the JCPenney order for our San Jose Sharks gear.  They were running a sale on their sports stuff for Father's Day so we wanted to take advantage of that to get a few new things to prepare for next season.  I also bought us a few Boston Red Sox Mickey shirts since we've talked about going to a game down in Boston this summer.  Then, we said goodnight to each other and I went to bed.  °o°

Saturday, June 29, 2019

She's Gone Country (Nashville Part 3)

Over the next few days, we really got a feel for Nashville... 

Tuesday, June 4th

Sadly, Tuesday was Eliot's last day in Tennessee.  I still had a list of things that I'd wanted to do while he was there, so we got up pretty early to tackle the day.  We all showered and got ready.  Then, Eliot and I packed up his luggage up and Rick and him put it in the rental car before we set off on our adventure in Nashville.  We set the GPS for the Parthenon and Centennial Park and away we went!

I sat in the front seat and helped Rick navigate on the way in.  We got stuck in a little bit of traffic, but we expected that with the CMA Fest (Country Music Association) and CMT (Country Music Television) Awards happening over the next few days.  We were in Nashville the same weekend as most of the biggest country music artists.  There was definitely a lot of commotion, but it was really cool to see it all!

We arrived at Centennial Park and were lucky to find a parking spot right near the Parthenon.  I'd really wanted to see it because I've been to the original Parthenon in Athens, Greece.  Once we arrived, it was clear that something was going on there as well.  There were vans, cords, what looked like equipment and people moving it all around and setting something up.  (We later found out that Carrie Underwood was performing there the next day as part of the CMT awards!)

After looking at the outside of the Parthenon for a few minutes, we realized that you could go inside where there was a museum.  The four of us decided to check it out.  It was really interesting.  We learned the history of the Parthenon both in Athens and in Nashville, why the replica was built and more about Centennial Park.

Eliot and I were a bit shocked when we got upstairs.  There was a giant golden statue of Athena that stood 42 feet high.  To put it into perspective, the statue of Nike that she holds in her right palm is 6 feet high, about the size of the average person.

We took a bunch of pictures upstairs before heading back downstairs to catch up with Elissa and Rick.  Eliot and I purchased a few souvenirs for our magnet and ornament collections and I also got my post cards for my scrapbook before we left.

Eliot, Elissa and I took a few pictures of the outside of the Parthenon before we returned to the car.  On the way back to the main road, I couldn't help but admire the beauty of the park.  Eliot and I agreed that it was a little warm for our taste, but it would be perfect to visit and explore in the spring or fall.

We headed further into the city towards Bridgestone Arena so we could see where the Nashville Predators NHL team played.  Unfortunately, we were about two blocks from it when we realized that the road was closed for the CMT Awards.  Apparently, they had blocked off a bunch of streets so there could be performances outside.

I quickly plugged in our last destination and we headed away from the downtown area and towards the Grand Old Opry.  None of us realized that it was as far outside of the city as it ended up being.  We eventually got there and found a place to park in a huge parking lot before heading over.

There was so much going on.  They had little food carts, places to sit, a stage set up, and people all over.  We took a few pictures outside the Opry.  Unfortunately, we didn't have time to take a tour due to Eliot's flight.  Instead, we went into the Grand Old Opry store and purchased a few souvenirs.

While there, Elissa realized that one of the country artists she likes was going to be there that night taking pictures and signing CDs before his performance at the Opry that night.  You had to purchase one of his CDs from the store in order to get the card to meet him so she got that and planned to stay.

We were running out of time before Eliot had to get to the airport for his 6:30 flight so we decided that I'd stay with Elissa while Rick took Eliot over to the airport.  I was starving at this point, so we all rode over to the Opry Mills Mall Food Court to get something to eat.  After that, we went back to the car and got ready to split up.  Elissa and I said our goodbyes to Eliot and Rick dropped us off near the Opry before taking Eliot to the Nashville airport.

Elissa and I walked back across the street.  At this point, they were preparing for the Opry show that night.  They had metal detectors and security that we had to pass though.  Then, there was a concert going on on the outdoor stage.  After walking over, Elissa discovered that it was Teagan Marie.  We still had a little bit of time so we watched her as well as the next performer.

Eventually, we needed to head over to the Josh Turner CD signing line.  We met a few nice people that we talked to while in line.  We were surprised that it moved pretty quickly.  The Opry had people taking the photos so they could make sure the line continued to move.  Before we knew it, she and I were inside getting our CDs signed and taking our picture.  He was really nice.  I let Elissa take one by herself and he told me to come over for one afterwards.

After that, we called Rick and he was on his way back from the airport.  Elissa and I slowly made our way back over to the Opry Mills Mall where Rick had parked.  We met up with him after crossing the street from the Opry to the mall.  Then, we walked around the mall for a few hours checking out the stores.  Elissa and I looked at cowboy boots.  We explored some specialty Nashville stores.  We bought a few things for Elissa's apartment at 5 Below.  Elissa bought a salt lamp and I got a beautiful rainbow butterfly wind chime at another store.

At closing time, Rick, Elissa and I went back to the car and plugged the apartment back into the GPS.  We took a quick detour to Walmart since Rick had gotten a notification that Elissa's pots and pans had arrived for pick up.

Then, we went back to her apartment.  I ate my pink music note sugar cookie from Dollywood and headed to bed.  I was so tired that I found it hard to stay awake.  Eliot and I had been sharing a queen size air mattress for the past two nights and I hadn't been sleeping very well.  Thankfully, I waited until Eliot texted me that he had landed safely in Portland before drifting off into a really deep sleep.

Wednesday June 5th

I was out cold, but as I slowly came out of my sleeping stupor, I could hear Elissa and Rick moving around out in the living room and kitchen.  Elissa and Rick knocked on my door and let me know that they were going to be down at the laundry room cleaning all of her clothes from her Galapagos trip.  They also grabbed a few things for me.

I stayed in bed and was lazy for quite a bit.  I played on my cell phone.  Eventually, I got up and took time to organize some of my stuff in the bedroom.  I slowly ate my breakfast.  I called to check in with Eliot at work.  I talked to my Mom on the phone for a bit.  Then, I took a shower so I'd be ready when they got back to the apartment.

Once they returned, we made our shopping plans.  We'd already decided that we'd take Wednesday as our "down time" day to relax and go shopping.  It made sense to go to the dollar store first, since we were planning to load up on groceries at Costco.

We went to the Dollar Tree down the road.  I ended up finding a few treasures that I bought to bring home with me.  I was afraid that they would't have them home and I'm glad that I got them.  (After checking our local stores last week... I was correct in my assumption.)  One of those was the David Tutera Disney Fairy Tale Weddings book that I've been looking at since before Eliot and I were married.  It's still available on Amazon, but I couldn't say no to only paying $1 for it.  In fact, they had two so they both came home with me!  Elissa also found everything she had on her list.

After we checked out, we put Costco into the GPS.  It was leading us to the highway but it was pretty much at a standstill.  We decided to improvise and take our own detour.  The other way took us through Brentwood and we passed a section that had the most beautiful houses.  Elissa and I marveled at the stone mansions as we passed them.  I did a quick search online and discovered they were about 1.5 million each.  I could see why... they were absolutely gorgeous!

We eventually found the Costco.  Elissa got a bunch of food to stock up as best we could.  She had limited space in her freezer, but we did a pretty good job.  After checking out, Rick got a hot dog and Elissa and I both got churros.  Then, we went back to her apartment to drop everything off.  Rick and Elissa unloaded the car and I divvied stuff up into the freezer, refrigerator and the pantry.

Elissa wanted to go to Cracker Barrel for dinner.  It's one of her favorite restaurants and there was one nearby.  I didn't realize that Cracker Barrel started in Tennessee.  It seemed like it was a necessary part of the Tennessee country experience.  Both Elissa and I left the restaurant with plenty of leftovers.  We also both left with purchases from the country store.  She found small games and couldn't say no to the mini Lincoln Logs kit.  I opted for a miniature Lite-Brite.  I was obsessed with mine growing up.

After dinner, we returned to the apartment to relax for a bit before heading to bed.  We had plans to go to CMA Fest the next day so we wanted to get plenty of sleep!

Thursday June 6th

The next morning, Rick, Elissa and I got up, got ready and headed back into the city to go to CMA Fest.  It was taking place at the Music City Center which we had passed the other day while downtown.  We finally found the entrance to the CMA Fest Fan Fair.  It was a giant Expo of country music.  I was a little bit overwhelmed.  Eliot's family is really into country music and I was a bit out of my element.  I know more country music then I give myself credit for, but this was next level.

Rick had a custom made vinyl record that he was going to get for his brother, so we decided to split up.  Elissa and I wandered around the expo floor checking out different booths.  We both signed our names on this giant coloring wall.

Elissa found a few artists she wanted to get pictures and autographs from.  I deferred to her since she knew who these people were.  We didn't really know how it worked but the nice volunteers explained it all to us.  A lot of the really popular artists had sign ups or meet and greet lotteries prior to CMA Fest starting.  Since we hadn't planned to be there, we stood in an overflow "hopeful" line.  It worked though.  We ended up meeting Matt Stell and Mitchell Tenpenny.  They were both really nice.

Apparently, Elissa and I missed the CMA Fest puppies.  Miranda Lambert had an adoption center and there were puppies over there.  Elissa and I got to see where they were though.  We also saw the Radio Disney stage at the end of the night.

Once CMA Fest was over, we decided to walk around to see what else was going on in downtown Nashville.  We walked past Bridgestone Arena and ended up going into the Nashville Predators Store.  The store was huge!!!  The Sharks have a store at their arena, but this one must have been at least 3-4 times bigger than that.

Afterwards, we headed over to Broadway.  There were so many bars and restaurants that lined the street.  Every one we passed had open windows and a live band playing music.  It was exciting but also a little overwhelming.  Due to the CMA Fest, the road was all closed off and there were food and merchandise trucks instead.

We ended up going into the Geico bus after seeing a few people with lanyards.  It was a bus with the history of the CMA Awards.  At the back of the bus, there was a "photo booth" where you could take a picture that they printed onto a small poster.  Then, they also emailed it to you. It was pretty cool and a nice souvenir to take home.

We continued to explore as it started to drizzle.  I honestly thought the misty rain felt really good.  They were giving out free pizza at the Hunt Brother's food truck so we all got a free slice of cheese pizza.  We stood outside of the Hard Rock Cafe and listened to their live band sing an Imagine Dragons song before it really started to rain.

We decided it was time to head out so we walked back to the car in the rain.  It was still pretty refreshing.  We stopped at a Starbucks on the way to get a drink.  Then, we got back to the car and headed towards the apartment.

We swung by Walmart to pick up a few more things that we'd added to our apartment list.  Then, we went to get dinner at the Taco Bell near Elissa's apartment.  We wanted to see how far it was from her place and if it was walkable.  After dinner, we went home and watched the rest of Game 5 of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals with the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues.  Once the game was over, we all headed to bed.  °o°

Friday, June 28, 2019

Welcome to Nashville (Nashville Part 2)

Our Nashville story continues with our first official day in the Nashville area...

Monday, June 3rd

The next morning, Elissa and Rick were up early for her orientation at the Nashville Zoo.  Rick took her over there and let Eliot and I sleep.  Since we were staying in her bedroom at the apartment, we didn't hear them getting ready and leaving from where they stayed in the living room.  Rick ran a few errands while he was out while Eliot and slept in and relaxed once we finally got up.  Eventually, we took showers and got dressed so we'd be ready for whatever we decided to do for the rest of the day.

Rick came back to the apartment a little bit before we had to pick Elissa up.  The three of us headed over to the zoo right about the same time she said she'd be done.  After we finally found a parking spot, she joined us at the car.  Elissa got her medication into her and we decided that we'd stay and explore the zoo.

Rick bought a family zoo membership so Elissa could go visit anytime she wanted to while she was there.  It made sense since the admission worked for the rest of us, and for Nori when she was going to visit Elissa later this summer.  In addition, I planned to use it again while I was still in Tennessee after Eliot and Rick left.

After getting the membership, we took a quick look around the zoo gift shop.  Elissa fit into the junior zookeeper outfit for kids so we took a silly picture to commemorate her summer internship there.  Eliot, Elissa and I found a few souvenirs to come back for later and then we all set off on our Nashville Zoo adventure.

We started by heading in the direction of the new Veterinary Center which was at the top of the hill.  (If you haven't caught on, Tennessee is all hills- pretty much everywhere you look.)  At the facility, you can watch veterinarians as they work on and with the animals.  The zoo has baby clouded leopards you can watch there but they weren't in the windows of the Veterinary Center when we visited.

After visiting the facility, we walked towards the rhinoceros and giraffe exhibits.  Then, we made our way past the Festival Field and the Soaring Eagle zip line.  We stopped to sit down in the shade for a few minutes when we reached the Zoofari Cafe.  Eliot went to refill the slushie he'd bought on the way up to the Veterinary Center.  (He got free refills all day so he was going to take advantage of it.)  Rick explored the cafe and came back with mac and cheese which he, Elissa and I all split.  After one more slushie refill, we headed towards the zebra, ostrich and antelope exhibit.

On the way, Elissa showed us the amphitheater and where she'd be working.  She will mostly be working outside of the zoo with the outreach programs.  But when she's at the zoo, she'll work her way up to taking animals out to do interactions with zoo guests.

We continued on the path towards the zebras and passed by the kangaroos.  Eliot and I went inside while Elissa and Rick waited in the shade on the pathway.  I didn't realize that you were able to see them up close until we were inside and reading all of the posted signs.  They were all over the hill, laying in the shade taking naps.  There was one laying near the exit area with a line formed near it.

Guys... you could pet the kangaroo!!!

I was so excited.  Eliot and I both took turns rubbing it's back and taking pictures.  He was so soft!  I could have stayed there all day.  I'm so glad we went in to see them!

Once we reached the top of the hill, we were at the shared zebra, ostrich and antelope exhibit.  We watched them for a few minutes before walking over to the new Tiger Crossroads exhibit.  Eliot and I both love tigers so I was really excited to see them.  

We found one that kept going from the grass, to the glass and back to the grass.  It looked like it was hunting something, but we couldn't see what.

After watching the tiger for a while, we headed towards the last section of the zoo.  We passed a guinea pig village which was really cute.  I loved their little bridge!

We stopped at the restrooms near the bear exhibit.  The women's restroom actually had monkeys in it!  I didn't really believe it at first, but there was literally a monkey exhibit inside of the bathroom.  (Eliot had said there was a snake in the mens' restroom at the front of the park... and he wasn't a fan.  He hates snakes.)

I enjoyed watching the monkeys for a few minutes.  There were two babies and they kept jumping on top of the other monkeys.  They were so cute!

After that, we visited the Andean Bears.  One of them was really active and kept walking up to the glass so we could see him up close!

Eliot and I enjoyed seeing the clouded leopard.  We've never seen the animals at a zoo so active before.  We think it's because it was feeding time and the animals all knew it.

Elissa, Eliot and I walked across the rope bridge on our way to the last few exhibits.  At this point, the zoo was closing soon, so we started to speed things up a bit.  Elissa wasn't feeling great since her prescriptions hadn't fully started to work, but she was a trooper.  We'd seen pretty much everything.  The only part of the zoo we didn't see was the Grassmere historic home and farm.

We headed back towards the front of the zoo and the gift shop.  After making our souvenier selections, we purchased them and went back to the car.

After the zoo, we decided to go to the movie theater to see Aladdin.  Of course, Eliot and I had already seen it, but I was excited to see it again.  Plus, it was something where we didn't have to walk and we could relax.  We all thought Elissa needed a break to chill.  We all enjoyed the movie and I caught many more things the second time.  (In fact, I'm not opposed to seeing it one more time on the big screen!)

On the way home to the apartment, I was starving so we stopped at Hardee's to get something for Eliot and me.  It's the same as Carl's Jr. and I love their burgers!  We don't have either of those restaurants here in New England, so I was dying to get one while I could.  I had seen a few of them during our travels and I swore they were taunting me.  Once we got back to the apartment, Eliot and I devoured our burgers and we all hung out for a little bit before heading to bed.  °o°

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Dollywood (Nashville Part 1)

Alright, after getting caught up with business stuff and some housework, I'm finally diving into my Nashville trip recap.  Here it goes... 

Friday, May 31st

Our trip to Tennessee adventure started on Friday, May 31st when Eliot and I flew from Portland to Nashville.  In the week leading up to our departure, we'd worked tirelessly to make sure we packed as much of Elissa's stuff as possible into our allotted 4 checked bags.  Thankfully, we were flying Southwest so we were able to take her comforter, pillows and other small things that we could fit into our giant LL Bean bags.

Our flights down were pretty uneventful after the drama of having to switch them around.  Apparently, our plane was damaged in a hail storm in Denver so Southwest cancelled our fight the day before we had to leave.  Once we got re-booked, the rest was smooth sailing.  Unfortunately, we had a longer layover in Baltimore than originally planned.  However, Eliot was thrilled to get both his pizza and Auntie Anne's pretzels.  I opted for cinnamon sticks and a fruit and yogurt parfait.

The plan was to fly down Friday night, get the rental car and to stay in a hotel near the airport.  Then, Eliot and I would get the keys early Saturday morning, drop off the extra bags and head back east 3 hours to go to the Dollywood theme parks.  Eliot's always wanted to go and I was easily persuaded since there was also a water park.  Elissa was not getting into Nashville until later Sunday, so we could spend a little bit of time playing before we had to move her in to her apartment.

Once we landed, we went to get our luggage at the carousel.  After Eliot grabbed all of the bags and put them in a pile next to me, the reality of dragging 4 giant bags, two carry-ons and our backpacks suddenly hit me.  No sooner did I look at Eliot and ask "is that a cart?  How are we going to get all of this over to the rental car" then a man in a teal San Jose Sharks shirt walked up to us.  It took me a few seconds to compute... 

It was Eliot's father Rick.

I didn't recognize him at first without his Captain Half-Beard look.  (He shaves half of his beard off for the Stanley Cup playoffs and then shaves it all once the Sharks are out of them.)  Eliot gave his father a huge hug and I stood there dumbfounded for a few seconds.  Apparently, Rick had seen us walk in and I looked right towards him, but since we weren't expecting him to be there, I hadn't even seen him.  After a good laugh at myself, we walked to the rental car with Rick helping with all of the bags.  

Rick had flown in on Tuesday and was careful not to post anything online that would give away his location.  He'd spent the past few days working remotely and starting to get a few things for Elissa's apartment.  Elissa was in on the surprise, and she knew that he'd be there when she arrived.  Thankfully for her, it wasn't hard to keep it a secret while she was in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands without cell phone reception.  Eliot's mother also knew about it, but Nori had a much harder time trying to keep us in the dark.  We had to keep asking her things about our rental car reservation and hotel for Friday night.  I didn't even notice that the "hotel confirmation" she sent me didn't have a confirmation number, only the prices like the step before you actually hit purchase.  It was definitely a surprise.

Since Rick was there, Eliot and I didn't have to stress about getting the apartment keys and then driving out to Dollywood.  Instead, we packed up all the luggage, jumped into the car and started driving east.  Rick was still somewhat on California time, so our midnight arrival didn't bother him.  We drove about an hour or so east before we arrived at our actual hotel, a Days Inn in Cookeville, TN.  After checking in, we all fell asleep so we could get up early the next morning to finish the drive to Pigeon Forge.

Saturday, June 1st

We got up the next morning, showered, had breakfast at the hotel continental and got back on the road.  We were making pretty good time to arrive at the park at 10 am as we planned... until we reached the Eastern Time Zone sign and realized that the park was back on Eastern time and that we were already an hour behind.  

To make matters worse, we got stuck in stand still traffic on the highway.  As we sat there, Eliot dozed while Rick and I watched as a helicopter landed probably a half mile or so ahead of where we were parked.  We assumed there was an accident, but this didn't look good.  After more than an hour, the helicopter finally took back off and traffic started to move.  The police were still there and the car was totally off the road almost 90 up against a tree.  I really hope whoever was in it was ok.  It definitely scared me.

We continued our trek east, stopping only to take a quick break at a McDonald's.  We drove through Knoxville and eventually made it to our exit.  As we got closer to Dollywood, we started to realize just how many attractions there were out there, or so we thought.  We eventually arrived, got parked at the water park parking lot and headed into Dollywood's Splash Country.

Once inside, Eliot and I changed into our bathing suits.  (Rick had decided to walk around while we were swimming for a few hours.)  After covering ourselves in sunscreen and putting everything in our locker, Eliot and I headed towards the water slides.  We were swiftly turned around when the life guard told us everything on that side of the park was closed because someone was sick.  That also explained why the lazy river was abruptly emptied a few minutes earlier.

With most of the rides closed that we wanted to go on, Eliot and I went into the quickly filling wave pool.  We ended up sitting in the shallow water for probably 20-30 minutes relaxing before all the rides slowly started to open again.

After that, we headed to the Wild River Falls tube water slides.  I went on them once and decided to watch Eliot as he went down two more times.  As much as I love water parks, all of the stairs and walking uphill hurts my bad knee so I take breaks while Eliot goes on them over and over.

Next, we went over to the Slick Rock Racer mat-slide.  Eliot loves the similar ride at Walt Disney World's Blizzard Beach and he was so excited that they had one here.  I went on it with him the first time, and then I sat and watched as he went down on it over and over.  Unfortunately, the walk up to the ride was uphill and at that point, my knee wasn't too happy with me.  But I enjoyed the scenery as I sat there.  We've never been to a water park that was built into the terrain around it.  Finally, after about 7 more times, Eliot had gotten his fill.  We left that ride with him "undefeated" in his races.  

After grabbing a cold water at one of the concession stands, we headed into the lazy river.  It was packed at the entrance; Eliot had to wait about 10 minutes to get us a tube.  Finally, we got our tubes and headed in.  We relaxed and floated around the river twice before calling it a day.  Then, we met up with Rick, got changed and bought a few souvenirs at the gift shop before leaving and heading back out to the car.

It was about 5:30 as we rode back over to the Dollywood parking lot.  Once we saw how far back the front of the park was, we realized why we had to re-enter the parking lot from the front.  It was so far back from the main road!  As we got closer to the park, we also could see the mountains all around us.  The scenery was truly stunning.  We parked the car and headed into the park on the tram.

Once inside, we decided to stop for food at the first place we found with food all of us would like.  It ended up being a cute little country sit-down restaurant called the Front Porch Cafe.  I loved the biscuits they served before our meal came out.  They were so good!  For dinner, I had a turkey club sandwich and fries.  My lemonade was served in a mason jar cup.  After a long day of not eating too much, it was delicious.

After dinner, Eliot really wanted to go on a few rollercoasters.  (I don't know how he does it right after eating, but he was good to go!)  He headed towards Lightning Rod since it was near the front of the park and not far from where we ate.  Rick and I explored the area around it while he was in line and on the ride.

Next, Eliot wanted to head towards a few of the other coasters.  I enjoyed the theming of the park on the way over.  The terrain was gradually getting steeper as we climbed uphill so I decided that I'd find a nice bench at some point.  After we passed a cute little chapel, I found a little bench in the shade that was calling to me.

Little did I know about what that bench was right next to.

As I sat there, I listened to the brook flowing behind me.  Rick explored the shops around us in Craftsman's Valley.  I watched two squirrels running around right behind my bench.  Eventually, Rick sat on the bench next to me and we talked for a few minutes.  He said something about the bird calls we could hear and that they sounded like eagles.  Naturally, I just assumed that they were pumping sounds into the scene like Disney does with music and sounds in their parks.

I could not have been more wrong.

I decided to get up to read the sign that was a little ways from us.  It was about eagles... and there was a giant net behind it.  It slowly started to dawn on me that the sounds weren't over a speaker system; there were live eagles there!  It took me a few minutes, but I started to see movement behind the nets.  You had to look for them, but you could see their white heads in the greenery.  After a while, I'd found nine of them.

I stood mesmerized by their beauty.  Rick and I were pretty much the only people there- most of the other guests just walked by on their way out of the park.  A few of them stopped when they realized that we were looking at something.  The eagles moved around a few times and called out to each other occasionally.

Eagles are very significant in my Mom's family.  Nana and Papa's camp is near a wildlife sanctuary.  Every year, eagles come to nest in the special boxes that were built for them in the park.  Nana and Papa always loved watching them.  After we lost my Papa a few years ago, eagles took an extra special place in our hearts.  Every time I see one, I can't help but think that it's a sign from my Papa.

I spent what felt like forever watching them.  I almost forgot that the park was closing soon and we were still waiting for Eliot.  But no one bothered us.  Rick ended up finding another area that had two non-flighted bald eagles you could see close up.  I went over with him to watch them for a bit.  Then, I also went into the eagle gift shop for a few minutes and I talked with the nice lady at the register inside.

Eventually, Eliot came down the mountain from his rollercoasters.  I showed him the eagles and we watched them for a few minutes.  The park was closed at this point and the employees were making their way out.  The nice lady from the eagle store saw me and came over to say hello to Eliot.  She gave us a little more history on the eagles and how they release the babies back into the wild.  She also told us about the bird show the next morning when we said we'd be back the next day.

After that, we needed to start making our way out of the park since we were pretty much the only people in that section.  I took a few more pictures on the way out.  We spent a few minutes at the store before calling it a night.  At this point, were all totally exhausted from all the driving and going to both the water park and amusement park.

Nori had booked us a hotel nearby so we plugged it into the GPS and headed out of Dollywood.  What we didn't realize was how many hotels or attractions were in Pigeon Forge.  We found this road that was full of them.  We dubbed it "the Strip" as we rode past hotel, after hotel, after mini golf, after go karts, after hotel, after gift shop, after mini golf and so on.  Eliot and I decided that we definitely had to come back again.  We eventually made it to our hotel, the Americana Inn, and got settled in for the night.

Sunday, June 2nd

The following morning, we got up, got dressed and packed everything back up into the rental car.  After checking out of our room, we went to the hotel's continental breakfast to grab a bite to eat.  On the way back to the car, Eliot and I both picked up a stack of brochures for the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area.  There was so much to do between "the Strip" and Gatlinburg nearby.  We wanted to check them out so we'd have some ideas of things to do when we come back to the area someday.

When we arrived at Dollywood, Rick and I headed towards the bird show area next to the bald eagle sanctuary.  Eliot ran up ahead of us so he could try to get a ride or two in while the park was still quiet.  The show didn't start until 11 and we were inside the park right at 10:30.  Rick and I browsed through a few of the stores in Craftsman's Valley.  I ended up buying my Mom a gift at one of the country stores.  By the time we were heading over to the bird show, Eliot was just coming down the hill to meet us.

We enjoyed watching the Wings of America Birds of Prey show where we learned all about raptors, aka birds of prey.  We got to see many of the birds up close as the handlers brought them into the audience.  My favorites were the little teeny owl and the bird that took donations and put them into the box at the conclusion of the show.

Once the show was over, Eliot and I went into the eagle merchandise store.  I had a few things that I wanted to purchase.  We made our selections and then purchased everything from the nice lady we'd talked to the previous day.

After, Eliot wanted to get in a few more rollercoasters before we left Dollywood.  We walked up the mountain so he could go on the Wild Eagle rollercoaster a few more times.  While he was doing that, Rick and I found a spot in the shade to enjoy the ice cold waters we'd got on the way up.  We sat in this little park area while a band was playing live blues music.

Once Eliot returned, we made our way down the mountain.  We were almost at the point where we needed to leave the park to go pick Elissa up from the airport, so we had to make a decision on what to do.  Eliot and I had worn our bathing suits under our clothes anticipating that we'd be going to the water park for a few minutes to cool off before leaving.  However, we also had talked about going on the train ride.

Eliot left it up to me since I don't usually do many rides at theme parks.  I still really wanted to do the train, and since we weren't really going to have much time to enjoy the waterpark to begin with, I made the choice to skip it.  I'd already had my fun there yesterday anyways.  I'm so glad I went with the train.

The ride on the Dollywood Express was gorgeous.  The steam engine took you on a five mile trip through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.  We got to see pastoral scenes with little country homes and how they would have looked back in time.  We also got to see the new Wildwood Grove section of the park which was the only section we didn't get to see in person.  It also looked like there was more land for Dollywood to build future additions on.

After the train, we walked back to the front of the park.  Eliot split off to go on Lightning Rod one last time while Rick and I went to the bakery to buy him a few music note sugar cookies.  Then, we headed to the gift shop where we agreed we'd meet up.  I gathered a few souvenirs and waited under the air conditioning register until Eliot arrived.  He helped me pick out a few flavors of fudge to purchase along with the souvenirs.  We took the tram to the parking lot and said goodbye to Dollywood and Pigeon Forge.  We'll definitely go back someday!

The three hour ride back to Nashville didn't seem as long as the ride out.  Eliot slept for a good portion of it.  I dozed here and there, but I did my best to stay awake to keep Rick company.  I did see when we passed the Eastern Time Zone to Central Time Zone sign this time.  Then, Rick and I watched as the car clock and my cell phone switched over.  I saw the log cabins that I'd fallen in love with on the ride out to Dollywood.  Thankfully, I was awake when we passed them on the way home so I could search for their website on my phone.  We only stopped once to take a quick stretch and potty break.  Ironically, it was at the McDonald's that was literally right in front of our Days Inn Hotel in Cookeville from the first night of our trip.

Before going to the airport, we made a quick stop at Elissa's new apartment.  Rick, Eliot and I quickly unloaded all of the extra luggage to make room for her bags.  I changed out of my bathing suit and put regular clothes on.  Then, we made our way over to the airport.  We're pretty sure we saw Elissa's flight land on our ride over.

Finally, we arrived at the airport, parked and met up with Elissa at her luggage carousel.  She had just returned from her week-long school trip to the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador.  Unfortunately, she had gotten pretty sick while there and by the time her flight landed, all of the walk-in clinics were closed.  On top of being sick, she was pretty sure she had pink eye, so we took her to the emergency room at the hospital near her apartment.  Rick, Eliot and I sat in the waiting room for about an hour while she was checked over by the doctor.  Thankfully, they were able to give her a few prescriptions and she'd be all set within a few days.

After that, we went to Walmart to pick up some food for dinner.  Then, Elissa finally got to see her new apartment.  We all had something to eat.  Rick and Eliot worked to set up the new television and Elissa showed me a few of the things she bought while on her trip.  We set up our air mattresses and got settled in for the night.  The weekend was a great start to our Tennessee trip, but we were definitely exhausted!  °o°