Gatlinburg Tennessee is a tiny holiday town full of fake moonshine, gun shops, plastic tourist toot and more refined sugar than I’ve ever seen before in a square mile radius. It’s also one of the gateways to the Smoky Mountains National Park. (That’s Dolly Parton’s homeland y’all.)
Though we’d initially planned to go whitewater rafting, my activity booking abilities let us down, so Vikki and I decided to take one of the adventurous hiking trails recommended by the visitors’ centre. Given that the same guide was also suggesting ‘driving nature tours’ (for when you’re just too fat to walk), we weren’t overly surprised when our strenuous 8k turned out to be no more arduous than a stroll around the Selfridges shoe sale.
Pretty soon torrential rain began bucketing from the skies and our wifi connection threw a tantrum, so the only sensible option was to get drunk. The first place we stumbled across was Dick’s Last Resort, which turned out to be an American chain featuring rude staff as its USP. Paying to be insulted might sound like an odd concept but Vikki soon got into the banter vibe and after three Margaritas, the whole bar was hurling abuse at each other. Sadly I couldn’t get over my long-ingrained manners and after shouting ‘Oy lazy! Where’s my drink?’ at the barmaid, I couldn’t resist adding a ‘thanks so much this looks lovely’, as she slammed it down in from of me. (She later informed me I sucked at the rude banter game and was about as intimidating as a kitten.) After being accused of being ‘a pair of those lesbian types’ by an ultra-conservative mid-west drinker with bad tattoos, who loudly warned his partner that we might try to grope her bum, we moved on to the Hillbilly karaoke down the street. And if you’ve never seen 20 toothless drunk rednecks screech ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ into one microphone on a Monday night, you’ve never lived. One particularly bright spark from Kentucky was delighted to hear we’d come all the way from England, adding that ‘it must be a real long drive’.
The next stop was Nashville, one of the great music cities of the south. Doing everything it promises on the tin, this place is home to incredible live music, atmospheric bars and a fabulously entertaining toilet attendant, who enveloped us in warm-breasted hugs the second we picked up the hand sanitizer.
The rain had followed us from the mountains, so the following day was spent avoiding downpours and wandering around the Johnny Cash museum and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Whilst both are reasonable tourist attractions, I found the entrance fees steep, even by US standards of unabashed, unapologetic tourist robbery.
Escaping the rain once again for fried chicken, drinks and just a little more country music, we were treated to the delights of the mid-afternoon Nashville crowd. One woman, who claimed to be a descendant of the insect world, ran barefoot into the bar and began casually stroking my arm. A mini tornado of bohemian skirts and saturated floaty scarves, she was wearing a collection of beads heavy enough to drown her if she’d accidentally fallen in a large puddle.
“I’m a butterfly! I’m a butterfly! I’m a fucking butterfly!” She proclaimed, whilst continuing to stroke my arm in a manner which quickly become uncomfortable. “We’re all so beautiful and magical. You’ve got such an amazing soul. I can feel it.” Honestly? I think her inner eye might have been out of tune because if it’d been listening properly it would have realised my soul was tired, drenched, and wishing this giant can of uncontrollable crazy would either a.) stop confusing me with a stray cat or b.) give me some of whatever she was smoking.
The next day we moved on to to Memphis, another must visit spot for all live music enthusiasts. Renowned for its cocktails and old-school luxury, the famous Peabody hotel was first on our list for drinks and food. Despite being saddled with a barman who had the personality and charm of an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, my happy hour cocktail was the best ‘pink drink’ I’ve ever had and the pizzas were fantastic, if a little overpriced. Much like Nashville, Beale Street was alive with music, entertainment and street dancers, so we spent the rest of the night getting happily shitfaced on vodka and country tunes.
Determined to visit Graceland, Vikki insisted we cure our hangovers at Dyer’s Diner, favourite dining venue of the Hairy Bikers and a possible contributor to Elvis’ untimely death. If you like your burgers thrown at you by surly wait staff and dripping in 100-year-old, coronary failure-inducing grease, you’ll probably love this place. But as a self-confessed organic salmon and green stuff kind of girl, the deep-fried cow carcass did little to ease my headache and nausea pangs from Beale Street revelry.
Whilst Dyer’s Diner might be worth a miss, Graceland was one of the best attractions we stopped at. Home of music legend Elvis, a visit to the house comes complete with an audio tour and a stop at the jungle room, a 1970’s inspired treat of home décor. Though Elvis’ taste in furnishings may be questionable, this tribute to his life and home is pretty spectacular, even if you’re not a big fan.