Another One Rides the Bus

1, 2, 5, 7. Move it or lose it. Get on the bu-.

I’ve written often about my wanderlust and many of the places I’ve traveled to satisfy that itch but oddly enough I’m not a fan of driving long distances or more than an hour and a half drive. I’m sure my visiting mom and dad most weekends during undergrad might negate that since it was 2 hours one way. So, most of the time when I travel it’s with someone else driving and that suits me just fine. Of course, I am also tasked with playing navigator as well. Thankfully there are other ways of traveling, and that’s today’s topic.

The obvious idea is flying from a nearby airport to an airport near the destination city. This still depends on renting a car and learning the layout of the destination city so that still means at least navigation skills to get around. An alternative to this is coach bus tours. Mom and much of dad’s family took a trip to Mackinac Island in Michigan almost a month ago and seemed to enjoy their trip.

Coach bus tours have the advantage of restaurants, lodging, and activities all being included as part of the package you pay for in addition to the driving and navigating. There are at least some stopovers in travel cities so you can explore little shoppes and choose a restaurant for lunch or dinner in these stopovers.

It’s been at least 15 years since I’ve been on a bus tour, but it was a great tour. The family was able to spend Thanksgiving in Philadelphia and New York City while my little brother was in the high school marching band. As my brother was with the band, they marched in Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and we spent the next few days being tourists in New York City.

Looking through some of the nearby coach bus tour catalogs, there are appealing trips I’d like to take. Guess I’ll have to save up and also be sure to have a substitute while I’m away from the pulpit, because #clergyproblems.

Among some of the more interesting trips are to the Southwest, Branson, and even Mackinac. I know that it’s been somewhere around 20 years since I’ve been to Mackinac and I’m sure visiting as an adult would have different interests than when I was in high school. The trips to Branson and the Southwest are particularly appealing because those are destinations I’ve never traveled to and are somewhere on my travel bucket list.

I have also considered the Educational Opportunity (EO) tours available to clergy for overseas trips particularly to the Holy Land and other Mediterranean destinations, or the Methodism tour in England. These are of course pricier, so I would really need to save money for these trips.

Whether traveling by bus, plane, or by car I’m always ready to expand my horizons and visit destinations that I’ve not been to before or it’s been several years since visiting them.

 

Have you ever traveled on a coach bus tour? Where is your favorite destination to travel on a coach bus tour?

Music City Musings

Viva NashVegas!

I’ve been pondering where I live, where I like to travel, and where I’d like to live recently. As I consider that, one place has come to mind. Particularly the city I have in mind that I could see moving to in the coming years is Nashville. Today’s entry deals with my thoughts on the Capital and largest city of Tennessee.

Nashville has appeal for me, because it’s far enough South that winter isn’t completely as severe as the Indiana winters I’ve known all my life. Yet, Nashville is close enough that visiting with family is doable. I’ve seen this as I have cousins on both sides of the family that live in the East side of Nashville.

I’ve visited Nashville several times and discovered interesting places to visit each time. Some of these trips were with family, and others as part of National Honor Society field trips in high school. Visiting with family and the school field trip both include more cultural and historical attractions than some of the other attractions.

When discussing historical and cultural sites to visit, both The Parthenon and The Hermitage are worth exploring. The Parthenon is a replica of the original structure in Athens, Greece. Featuring a 42’ tall Athena statue along with several other smaller statues depicting Greek historical and mythological figures leading to Athena.

The Hermitage is the home of Pres. Andrew Jackson. The grounds are open for exploration and include guided tours for the historically inclined. The Hermitage features the main house, slave quarters, an icehouse, a smoke house, and a memorial to Rachael Jackson.

Visiting the first fort in the area, Fort Nashborough is also worth exploring. The fort was originally a stockade for prisoners and eventually gave way to the first settlement that would become the city’s humble origins.

With any travel, food is always included. I’ve had Nashville Hot Chicken everywhere but its namesake. I’ll admit my tolerance for spice has waned in the last few years, so I’m not exactly a fan. The Loveless Café is a restaurant on my bucket list since it features Southern cookin’ that I enjoy. During what essentially was a layover driving back from vacation in Alabama, my dad and I also discovered a great barbecue spot. It has to be good, if the owners are probably some very distant Strouds. The restaurant also has a location near my cousin who lives in Lebanon, on the far Eastern side of Nashville. As a wannabe foodie, Nashville is a foodie hotspot, so that’s appealing to my sensibilities to be sure.

Of course, as Music City, Nashville features The Ryman Auditorium, the Grand Ole Opry House, and the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Grand Ole Opry began in radio studios downtown, but eventually outgrew the studio and moved to the Ryman Auditorium and eventually to the Grand Ole Opry House. Some editions of the Grand Ole Opry are still located at the Ryman. The Country Music Hall of Fame features important memorabilia of Country Music legends. Local music venues include The Bluebird and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Several country music groups, and individuals also have opened music venues and bars in recent years downtown. Being in the heart of country music is also a draw to me.

I’ve always enjoyed my visits to Nashville and making a return trip is appealing to me. I’m smart enough to know that if I were to relocate to Nashville, my small-town comfort would probably lead me to live in Lebanon or Mt. Juliet like my cousins. Living in those suburbs would allow me the affordability of smaller communities and its worldview, while being close enough to the big metropolis of Nashville.

Do you have favorite memories of Nashville?

Current Event Friday #63

Safe travels, and possibly avoiding one nation may ensure your travels will be safe.

I’ve written through blog posts about my travels and with poetry about my wanderlust, but one destination is not on my wish list or previous travels. The concerns about that location thanks to recent crimes is today’s #CurrentEventFriday.

If you’ve missed it, in the last month 6 American tourists have been killed in the Dominican Republic. The tiny nation in the Caribbean has become a destination besides The Bahamas, Bermuda, or Jamaica. After these dangerous trips for Americans this may be changing.

The Dominican Republic (D.R.) is half of a Caribbean island known collectively as Hispaniola along with Haiti. Both nations suffer from poverty and corrupt governments since their independence from European nations. While Haiti gets more of the headlines thanks to a series of natural disasters causing more suffering and strife, the D.R. isn’t much better.

Also causing concern in the D.R. is the recent aggravated robbery of Dominican baseball star David Ortiz. One of the more well-known and successful players from the island nation, Ortiz makes for a target of robbery and violence.

While the crimes have made headlines, travel agencies have had to answer concerns of prospective travelers. Most travel agents point to the U.S. State Department travel advisory system to answer those questions. For the most recent travel bulletin from the State Department, the D.R. is as safe as Germany, France, and Italy. These countries are at a level 2-Elevated risk. I’m not sure how up to date the advisory is kept or how the advisory is arrived at. I wish the State Department would adopt a clearer system; comedian Ron White has his thoughts on a new system. There are two steps: 1) Find a helmet. 2) Put on the damn helmet. Fairly simple and clear, so of course the U.S. government is unlikely to adopt it.

I probably was never going to go to the D.R. anyways, but with these recent concerns, it makes that decision that much easier. I know people have traveled there before safely, but I’m convinced that the nations that are less effected by income disparity are much safer.

Would you travel to the Dominican Republic? Do the recent murders change your thoughts?

Still Wanna Get Away

I enjoy escaping to the moutain fun of the Smokies and the beachside of Florida, but Texas is on list as well.

 
If you read last week’s Poetry Wednesday was about the one that got away — Texas. Today’s entry is all about the Lone Star State and my affinity for the state. Yes, I know much of my original poems are about vacation and getting away, I admit that I have wanderlust. I love where I grew up in the Hoosier state and my family is all in close proximity, but wouldn’t be opposed to living elsewhere. Given that I’ve spent much of my time in the Kentuckiana region of the state, I identify more with Southern sensibilities than Midwestern ones.
 
I mentioned in my earlier travel post about vacations, and I mentioned taking a vacation with much of the paternal side of my family to Texas. It’s that vacation that serves as my basis for this post. While much of vacations I take are entirely for pleasure and escapism, this vacation was also tied to being a family reunion of sorts. My paternal grandfather’s brother moved from Indiana to Texas sometime in the fifties and half of his children still live there along with their families. Traveling to Texas allowed my father and aunt to visit with their cousins on this trip. For myself and my first cousin-once removed this afforded us the opportunity to meet these same cousins for the first time.
 
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We took this trip at the end of May in 2015, which definitely provided us with the opportunity to encounter the Texas summer which I will attest is different from Indiana summers. Yes, the heat may be hotter, but the humidity is not as oppressive as Indiana.
 
Our vacation was spent mostly near the Dallas & Fort Worth area at Waxahachie, TX. First of all, that is an awesome name for a town in Texas. We chose to stay in a hotel in Waxahachie so that we would be close to our cousin’s in Grandview, which is south of Fort Worth. We spent the first night after arriving visiting our cousin and his wife and by great coincidence another cousin who was visiting from Colorado.

 

Yes, I am linking Dallas and Fort Worth which I know might not sit well with residents of both cities, since we spent one day in this super-metropolis I have joined them together. Full disclosure, both cities are distinctive and travelers could spend an entire vacation in either city and have fun.

 

The first stop on our tour of Dallas included Dealey Plaza. While an important area of downtown to visit, its importance is due to tragedy. This is the site of the assassination of Pres. John F. Kennedy I November of 1963. Several plaques mark the area around the highway the motorcade was traveling that fateful day. In addition, a mark on the street denotes the location of the vehicle which Pres. & Mrs. Kennedy were at when the bullet struck the President. The Texas school book depository was preserved as a museum for tourists to see the place where the alleged gunman Lee Harvey Oswald was said to have taken the shot. Enterprising folks have also produced souvenir newspapers commemorating the events and sell them to passersby.

 
After visiting Dealey Plaza, we trekked to the Dallas Museum of Art. I will admit I don’t make a habit of visiting art museums since much of what passes for art in modern times is barely art and hardly aesthetic. There is at least a separate floor that contains painting and sculptures from the classical eras that resembles my estimation of art.
 
After lunch, we traveled to Fort Worth to take in its particular sights. While Dallas is more cosmopolitan, Fort Worth is more historically Texan. Established early on as a stockyards for Texas ranchers, the town still includes displays of Longhorn cattle both live and in statue form.
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We visited several shoppes in the historic stockyards that sell the typical trappings of Texas: beef jerky, boots, cowboy hats, hot sauce, etc.
 
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After visiting the shopping district in the historic stockyard, we visited the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame. This museum features décor and artifacts from the time of the Texas Revolution to the modern day. The artifacts are categorized by connections to transportation, the rodeo, music and film, and other famous Texans. The sidewalk along the museum contains several commemorative plaques memorializing significant Texans.
 
We opted to spend the next day in Waco. For what it’s worth we did not see Chip and Joanna and we didn’t visit their Magnolia buildings. Maybe next time, that can be included.
 
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We did visit Baylor University and the Truett Seminary in Waco. Many friends from undergraduate who went on to ministry in the Southern Baptist Convention spent time at Baylor for their theological education and I wanted to see the college they attended.
 
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A Dr. Pepper Float at the cafe attached to the Dr. Pepper Museum. 
 
During a visit to Waco, it is impossible not to visit the Dr. Pepper Museum. This soft drink that is distinctive from other sodas is important to the history of central Texas and the bottling plant is still in Waco. The museum features historical marketing items of the soft drink as well as history of the soda’s creator and the process of preparing and bottling soda.
 
[Austin Weird]
 
After our day to Waco the day before, we traveled to the capital of Texas—Austin. The motto of Keep Austin Weird didn’t need to be encouraged as our family is probably weird enough anyways. 😉
 
We visited the home of the Longhorns at the University of Texas. I tried to encourage my younger cousin-once removed that upon her graduation she should attend UT since her school colors were similar to the Burnt Orange of the University.
 
After spending time looking over the campus and having lunch, we met with one of our Texas cousins and her family. Her husband works for the Dept. of Parks and Wildlife in Austin commuting from San Antonio. We were treated to dinner by them and we were able to reminisce with these cousins who we rarely see in person but thanks to Facebook can maintain relationship with.
 
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And now for something completely different—food. Most serious Texans enjoy eating Whataburger for breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner. We were able to enjoy this for lunch shortly after crossing into Texas and it didn’t disappoint.
 
We were able to also eat Tex-Mex during our visit and enjoyed their offerings which are different than the ‘authentic’ Mexican that we find here in Kentuckiana.
 
I regret that we didn’t get to experience Texas barbecue, but we did try Memphis on our way home and even barbecue Dad and I had discovered on a previous vacation that is connected to a very distant cousin since it bears the same surname as ours. Again, Texas is a large country masquerading as a state and finding reason to return will give opportunity to try their barbecue.
 
I mentioned Dr. Pepper as well, and it is one of the official drinks of Texas. Big Red is also a popular quaff enjoyed in these parts as well as back home in Kentuckiana.

Worth visiting while interstate bound from point A to point B in Texas is Buc-Ees. This convenience store or grocery I’m not quite sure what exactly to call it has almost anything you could want at their deli, gift shop, candy section, snack shelves, and also plenty of gas pumps to fuel your vehicles as they need their own energy.

 
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Travelers will also notice the ubiquitous presence of Texas-shaped foods almost everywhere. While most hotels offering free continental breakfasts have added waffle irons to make your own waffle, Texas is not to be outdone by offering a waffle iron bearing the shape of their state.
 
We have been fortunate that most of our Texas cousins are on Facebook so we can see what is going on in their lives and in their fair state. We also were happy to have a few of those cousins come visit last summer here in Indiana. I also enjoy following prominent politicos on social media who live in Texas to maintain a vicarious connection to the Lone Star State. Besides these opportunities, I enjoy talking to another pastor in our continuing education program who travels from Texas for his schooling about his homeland. As the saying goes, “Everything is bigger in Texas” and so are the ways I can stay in contact with the state. 
 
Have you ever been to Texas or thought about visiting?

Poetry Wednesday #38

Today’s entry “Away” for Poetry Wednesday is all about my wanderlust

“Away”

I have been ‘round the world

I’m far away, when I travel and even when I rest at home.

Further than the winds wanderlust in my head has swirled

 

I have winged my way through the clouded sky to the seas white with foam

Tomorrow, I’ll set out along the sea, the boat making way

Hide that I’m a tourist and do as the natives do when in Rome

 

Let’s get lost, down the overseas path, find some lost little cay

Too much of everything back home, need to wash it away, maybe as far as Shambala

My trip is over I’m already waiting and saving to leave each and every payday

 

Morning awakens me with amber and crimson  just like last night’s sunrisen Tequila

Let’s roll to another joint, let’s head on down those narrow little roads

My feelings and motions race to more travel deep in my mind, way back in the amygdala

 

I want some girl who’ll thrill me and come away with me before my mind explodes

For soon, too soon life halts ‘neath it’s crushing loads

 

© Ryan Stroud 2019

Getting to The Big Easy Isn’t So Easy

What city is at the top of travel bucket list? Read below and find out.

I’ve written a couple posts about recent places I’ve traveled and reviewed restaurants and attractions in those locations, but I want to talk about one I’ve barely been. I’m tempted to say I’ve never been to this location and want to go, but I did go when I was about a year old, so my memory and knowledge is limited to one or two old photos and reminiscing from my parents.

If you’re not a vexillophile like Sheldon Cooper at least my title hopefully gives you a clue about the location — New Orleans, Louisiana. The image featured on this post is the flag of the City of New Orleans in case you didn’t know.

I know I’m not the only one who wants to travel to New Orleans, and I’m also not the only one who’s been that’s for sure. Based on the number of city guides on Fodor’s, The Travel Channel, and numerous posts on Pinterest I’m in good company.

I did make a trip about 10 years ago to D’iberville, MS and the surrounding communities of Gulfport and Biloxi for United Methodist relief efforts years after Hurricane Katrina but didn’t make it to New Orleans even though it was about an hour and a half away. Even Ross has been more recently to New Orleans, thanks to his time spent in Mississippi for a summer.

Traveling to New Orleans is definitely something I’ve romanticized. I like much of Cajun cuisine including gumbo, jambalaya, and boudin. Although I like those dishes, I will admit I’m not a fan of the chicory coffee. I can’t say I’ve had beignets to know whether I’d like them, but I assume just based on other people’s posts and videos of them eating beignets they are sinfully delicious. I’ve had bananas foster flavored dishes but not the official dish available at Commander’s Palace.

Besides the cuisine of New Orleans, I know that there are attractions like St. Louis Cathedral, shops on Bourbon Street, the French Quarter, historical Jazz attractions, steamboat commemorative exhibits, botanical gardens, and the St. Louis Cemetery. Also of note are museums dedicated to the contributions of African Americans in the city. I know I’m only scratching the surface, but not having been there for 30+ years and having no memory makes it hard except to read the travelers’ guides.

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I write all this about my desire to travel to New Orleans as I stare at this framed promise and encouragement. Travel does await, hopefully that includes a trip to New Orleans in the very near future. Until then, I take this inspiration from someone well acquainted with New Orleans, Mark Twain who had this to say of travel, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So, throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in you sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Hopefully it won’t be twenty years until I get to New Orleans and regret not going sooner. I’m sure I’ll be there before then and I already can’t wait.

What about you is there somewhere you haven’t explored or discovered, but dream about? Have you been to New Orleans?

The Mountains Are Calling…and I Must Go

On top of Old Smoky…

It’s Spring Break for most secondary and elementary school children and college students are returning from Spring Break the last couple weeks. It’s also officially Spring, but the 3-4 inches of snow here in Kentuckiana would seem to indicate otherwise. I know I’ve posted lately about getting away and being tired of the snow and winter, but I’m in need of a getaway for sure. I know that Florida and the Gulf Coast sounds nice, but the travel costs might not be that affordable.

That brings me to another option — Gatlinburg and the Smokies. I mentioned something to Mom about taking a trip next month and I suggested that if my Brother and Sister-in-law wanted to take a vacation closer but still fun they might consider the Smokies. I had been when I was a young boy but hadn’t been for almost 25 years until going last November.

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I learned that if you’re spending most of your time in Gatlinburg itself, having a hotel in town or at least very close is the best option. We stayed in a hotel just off the main drag in Pigeon Forge which was fine, but it meant having to search for parking each time we visited Gatlinburg. Parking comes at a premium. So, while I’m talking about being in Gatlinburg, let’s talk about where to go and what to see there.

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The cheapest and most obvious place to go is Great Smokies National Park. The mountain roads are a gradually winding path along a large area with several scenic vistas and sites to hike through the park. We chose to drive through the main road and onto Clingman’s Dome just across the border into North Carolina.

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Complementing the scenic views in the park and offering other vision opportunities is the Gatlinburg Space Needle. Located in the arcade in the heart of downtown the Space Needle allows for the ability to look out upon town and the nearby mountains. Also of note to see in terms of natural beauty is located at Ober Gatlinburg. Modeled after an Alpine Ski Resort, the attraction uses a state-of-the art tram to reach the summit from downtown, the resort offers opportunities for skiing, boarding, and tubing, and an indoor skating rink along with souvenir shops.

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When you visit Gatlinburg many of the attractions besides the souvenir shops on every corner are the various Ripley’s attractions. Yes, that Ripley, the namesake of the Believe It or Not! fame. Of course, the hallmark attraction is the Believe it or Not! Museum. Containing some of the strangest and unique attractions from Robert Ripley’s collection, it’s an amusing time to see all the oddities. In addition to this Ripley attraction, it’s worth a trip to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Housing all kinds of saltwater fish, freshwater fish, and other aquatic animals the aquarium is worth spending a few hours touring.

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Also, worth visiting is Cooter’s place. Ben Jones the actor who played Cooter on the Dukes of Hazard operates an indoor mini-golf course and go-kart track. Also included are several artifacts from the show including mementos of Corydon’s own James Best.

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As I mentioned yesterday I have a love affair with food. Luckily, I could enjoy a lot of the food offerings in Gatlinburg without much guilt since Gatlinburg is laid out in a compact area. Getting your walking exercise in is no problem. We were there during Thanksgiving and found many restaurants open on Thanksgiving Day. We enjoyed Howard’s Steakhouse. It’s one of the oldest restaurants in town and it’s a quaint little tavern with tasty food and a fun staff that likes to sing along to the 70s and 80s music. The Thanksgiving meal was spot on, and I would venture that the steakhouse fare would be worthwhile too. We also visited Bennett’s BBQ, which is part of a group of restaurants in the area. The BBQ joint is also co-branded with a pizza restaurant also in the restaurant group. I had the combo platter which included tender brisket, smoked sausage, ribs, along with Texas toast, spicy mac ‘n’ cheese and deep-fried corn. Way too much, but we ended up spending so much time exploring the park that we missed lunch and being gluttonous was excusable. We also enjoyed dinner at Blaine’s. I had wings with salad and baked potato. The wings were just spicy enough, if not a little messy but still worth it.

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Also, while we participated in wine walk at the various wineries in downtown. They each have different offerings worth exploring and finding a particular wine you like. Along with the wineries is the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery. It’s a distillery offering mass-appeal flavored grain alcohol. Tastings are offered for a small cost, but the bartenders have fun and the drinks are strong but handled well.

Pigeon Forge/Sevierville

I included Pigeon Forge and Sevierville as one section since their city limits often blur together. Most of the main highway thru both towns are dotted with dinner theatres, dollar outlet stores, min-golf courses, and pancake houses.

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Worth visiting as sole attractions are the Titanic Museum. An exact replica with a self-guided tour and exhibits about the ill-fated voyage complete with docents in period costumes. The interactive features help you to have a fuller sense of what it would be like to be on the ship. You’re assigned a real passenger with a biography when you embark and find out at the end of the tour if you survived. As I mentioned, most of the main thoroughfare includes mini-golf courses and we chose to play at Prof. Hacker’s Mini-Golf Adventure. Each course has its theme, and Prof. Hacker is a geologist/archeologist and there’s clues about his adventures in each section of the course. Also, worth exploring and losing an entire day is the Tanger Outlets. Yes, it’s just a large outlet mall, but still good bargains at major retailers like Old Navy, Nike, Converse, and several others.

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We found several restaurants worth recommending in Pigeon Forge/Sevierville. One that’s worth noting is the Apple Wood Restaurant & Grill. The restaurant is part of a larger compound that is included on the Apple Barn & Cider Mill location. The restaurant serves down-home comfort food. I had a massive club sandwich that was very filling. Add the complimentary apple fritters and Apple Julep (a combination of various fruit juices). We also made sure to visit the Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge. The restaurant includes an old grist-mill and several themed pioneer style shops. The menu includes more down-home vittles that include a cup of our Corn Chowder, corn fritters, salad, homemade mashed taters, green beans and a choice of desserts. Kentuckiana folks, think like Joe Huber’s. I had the Chicken Fried Steak, which was a double portion that was more than enough, and tender, and very peppery. The chowder was rich and full of vegetables. The corn fritters use a hush-puppy batter and are offered with a maple butter (think bacon & syrup together). We also ate at Big Daddy’s Pizzeria, they’re part of the co-branded pizza joint at Bennet’s BBQ in Gatlinburg. The location in Pigeon Forge is standalone. I had the meat combo pizza. It’s an woodfired hand-tossed crust with a mild tomato sauce.

Of course, we took in more attractions and restaurants while we were there, and I’m sure if I make a return trip, I’ll find new places worth visiting.

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Be sure to look out for the locals while visiting. They especially like coming to see what the tourists have brought for them to rummage through. They’re a little fierce and sometimes grumpy so approach them with caution.

 

What about you…are the mountains calling you too?