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    Journey to Dixieland: 15 days to discover the most authentic soul of the Deep South

    Who I am
    Joel Fulleda
    @joelfulleda
    SOURCES CONSULTED:

    wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

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    Today we publish the beautiful travel diary of Valeria, who has grinded miles and miles with one goal: to discover the most authentic soul of the deep South of the States.

    In this itinerary in the land of Dixie, Valeria explores states such as Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, coming into contact with the musical roots of America (country, blues and jazz), her most popular distillate (the Jack Daniel's), its historical roots (the plantations, the pre-war villas and the testimonies of the struggles for civil rights), and unexpected natural beauties (the park Great smoky mountains and the panoramic road Blue Ridge Parkway).



    Index

    • Route map
    • From Atlanta to New Orleans
      • 8 September: Departure
      • September 9: Atlanta, Georgia
      • September 10: Antebellum Trail, Georgia
      • September 11: Montgomery to New Orleans
      • September 12: New Orleans
    • From the Louisiana plantations to Clarksdale
      • September 13: The plantations of St. Joseph and Oak Alley and the villas of Natchez
      • September 14: Vicksburg, Indianola and Clarksdale (Mississippi)
    • Da Memphis a Nashville
      • September 15: Memphis
      • September 16: Memphis
      • September 17: Nashville
      • September 18: Nashville
    • Jack Daniel’s, Great Smoky Mountains e Blue Ridge Parkway
      • September 19: Lynchburg, Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain
      • 20 Settembre: Gatlinburg e Great Smoky Mountains
      • 21 Settembre: Great Smoky Mountains National Park e Blue Ridge Parkway
    • Return to the Antebellum Trail
      • September 22: Athens and Watkinsville
    • Conclusion

    Route map

    From Atlanta to New Orleans

    8 September: Departure

    Direct flight from Milan to New York, then stopover and internal flight to Atlanta. We land around 19.30, immediately greeted by the hot and humid climate of the south, which will accompany us for the next 15 days. We collect the car at the Alamo, Dodge Charger sedan, and set off for our hotel. We are too tired and jet lag confused to think about having dinner, so we go straight to bed.



    Hotel: Clarion Inn & Suites Atlanta Downtown, a good compromise between price and proximity to the center.

    Our tips for sleeping in Atlanta

    September 9: Atlanta, Georgia

    Civil Rights Museum

    Let's start with Martin Luther King Memorial. Here is MLK's home as a child, the church where his father preached, and of course the tomb, a touching monument in front of which an eternal flame burns.

    We change genre and move to the center, al Coca-Cola Museum. A fun and colorful exhibition space, which tells the story of the most famous drink in the world. In addition to advertisements, films and the safe that contains the secret recipe, you can also taste different types of carbonated drinks. They are all cloyingly sweet, but it's impossible not to try them!

    Let's take a walk to the Centennial Park, the park created on the occasion of the Olympics. The statue of Le Coubertin, the fountains of the five Olympic circles, and the medal table, with all the winners of the various competitions, stand out.

    We dedicate the afternoon to Civil Rights Museum, which explores the complex issue of equality and racial segregation. Stories that put the chills, in particular, the sensory experience of the Lunch Counter. You sit on the stool, put your headphones on and close your eyes. You are a black in a white bar, you try to have a drink sitting at the counter, but the people around you insult you, kick the stool, spit in your face. How long can you resist? I lasted 30 seconds, and I came out very shaken.


    Coca Cola Museum
    Tomb of Martin Luther King

    Leaving the museum, we take a walk downtown. It's Sunday and everything is closed, the center is deserted and we don't like it that much. We pass by the Ferris wheel and go to the headquarters of CNN. We will not do the tour inside, but just a tour of the huge hall, full of shops and bars.


    We finished earlier than expected, so let's go by Walmart to stock up for the road trip: polystyrene fridge, drinks, snacks, plastic cutlery and everything else that can be useful. Back at the hotel, we arrange everything by car, together with the travel program and the USB stick full of country music, we are ready to hit the road!

    Great burger dinner The Vortex.

    September 10: Antebellum Trail, Georgia

    Milledgeville

    First day on the road. Today we will explore part of theAntebellum Trail, a route of about 120 km that touches the seven towns spared by General Sherman on his march towards Savannah. In these cities it is still possible to see houses and buildings from before the Civil War, a period called "antebellum".

    The first is Madison, where we take a walking tour of the villas, assisted by the map taken at the Visitor Center. Some are truly stunning, blindingly white, with huge colonnades, and surrounded by a lush garden. The heat and humidity are unbearable, but we hold on.


    Second stage Eatonton, smaller. Here too we stroll among the historic houses, but we like this city less than Madison.

    We continue with Milledgeville, a university town defined as "the beauty of the South". It may be the young atmosphere, the trendy shops and the many clubs, it may be the red brick buildings, but we really like Milledgeville. Each building deserves to be photographed, not only the houses but also the institutional buildings, such as the town hall and the university. A curiosity: he lived here for a few years Oliver Hardy, the famous Ollio of the famous comic duo.

    Madison
    Builder

    We leave Milledgeville for Gray/Old Clinton, two houses and a barn surrounded by dense vegetation. The village practically no longer exists.


    Last stop Builder, to which we spend too little time. In fact, we limit ourselves to visiting the Hay House, a splendid historic mansion in Renaissance style, built on top of a hill. A very special house, since it already had running water, an indoor kitchen and electric lighting.

    Now we just have to travel the 300 km that separate us from Montgomery, capital of Alabama.

    Our lodging for tonight is fabulous Lattice Inn, a classic southern house used as a b & b and run by the wonderful Jim. There are only two rooms, and Jim pampers us properly.

    For dinner, we try the meat of Dreamland BBQ.

    September 11: Montgomery to New Orleans

    Martin Luther King Church

    Our friend Jim makes us find a sumptuous American breakfast, all prepared with his own hands. It is pleasant to chat with him. We talk about the differences between Spain and the USA, politics, music… all very interesting because we hear the opinion of a person who lives in one of the most controversial places in the country, still plagued by racial discrimination.

    First let's go and see the White House of the Confederacy. Montgomery was the capital of the Confederate States before Richmond (Virginia), where President Davis lived with his family. The visit is free.

    Let's move on from Capitol Hill and from Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. This very important church is where Martin Luther King gave his most famous speeches (apart from I Have a Dream, which he gave at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington), and organized marches and demonstrations. We arrive late for guided tour, but the caretaker decides to let us go up to see the inside of the church anyway, a real kindness.

    Continuing towards the center we stop at another symbolic place, the Rosa Parks bus stop. This is where, in 1955, Ms. Parks refused to give a white seat on the bus. Her arrest sparked a protest, which went down in history as a "Montgomery bus boycott".

    Next stop on museum dedicated to Hank Williams, founding father of country music, who died at the age of 30 on New Year's Eve in '53. The museum, the statue and his tomb nearby Oak Wood Cemetery are a must for two country music lovers like us.

    We leave Montgomery at lunchtime, a long crossing of 500 km all the way to New Orleans.

    Our accommodation is the Creole Gardens B&B, very particular. It's all colorful, with a nice inner courtyard, and each room is different. But, above all, it is a former brothel, on which the legend of a ghost also hovers.

    The car parks in the center of a New Orleans they have crazy prices, so we take an Uber and let us drop in Bourbon Street. I was so curious to see this famous street, but unfortunately I am very disappointed. Only the decadent remains of the bohemian and decadent atmosphere. Tourist bar with half-naked girls and cocktail "washing machines", souvenir shops and of dubious quality, full of people who want to sell you anything, even in an insistent and aggressive way ... definitely not what I expected.

    Fortunately, looking up you forget all this. The wrought iron balconies decorated with plants and flowers are a real show. In addition, just move one street further, a Royal Street, Chartres Street, Decatour Street, to find a more authentic atmosphere.

    We have our first Creole dinner at Gumbo Shop, and then we go in Frenchmen Street, the mecca of Jazz. Here there are many clubs, the most famous is it Spotted Cat, where it seems to go back to the 20s.

    There are too many people and so we prefer to change places. We walk a few meters and enter a less crowded place, but with high quality music. It is a dream to be here in New Orleans listening to jazz while sipping a cold beer.

    September 12: New Orleans

    New Orleans City Park

    The day begins with a walking tour of the Garden District, the area of ​​stately homes and the famous Lafayette Cemetery. Here is also the house used for the TV series American Horror Story, in the season of witches.

    The houses and their gardens are spectacular, a little less so are the streets and public areas in general. We can see that the city is still struggling to get up from the terrible blow of Hurricane Katrina. We leave the city momentarily to go and do the tour del bayou, the set of rivers, marshes and canals typical of the Mississippi delta.

    We chose the Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours. The boat tour is fun and interesting, the landscapes are amazing among the alligators and Spanish moss. All very nice, until our guide pulls a gagged baby alligator out of a locker and invites us to touch it, pick it up and take pictures.

    A practice from which we obviously refrain, a beautiful and good mistreatment that will make me go wrong the rest of the tour. Be warned, however, that bayou tours are all like this.

    Tour del Bayou

    Let's go back to town and go to the City Park, my favorite New Orleans attraction. We have lunch of café au lait and beignets in the charming park bar (I know, latte and fried pastries are not the best with 40 degrees, but I had to try them!) And then take a tour in this lush green space. Huge oaks covered in Spanish moss, small rivers and canals, romantic bridges, open-air sculptures and temples. This park is a true paradise, and we wish we would never leave.

    Let's go back to French Quarter, in the hope that Bourbon Street will improve by day. In reality, with the bars closed and the remnants of the night's revelry abandoned on the street, it is even more squalid than at night. Paradoxically, the most iconic place in New Orleans is also the ugliest.

    We walk up to Congo Square, where black slaves used to party on Sundays. This is, by right, the birthplace of jazz. We then go back to the beautiful Jackson square (cover photo). The square is dominated by the Louis Cathedral, the small park in the center is surrounded by low brick buildings with classic wrought iron balconies, street artists crowd the streets. It almost seems to be in Paris. In fact, New Orleans is a very European city when it comes to architecture.

    We move along the Mississippi, where there is a pleasant pedestrian walk, we visit the French Market and do some shopping, then go back to the hotel and go to dinner at Cheesecake Factory, for us a kind of pilgrimage of every trip to the USA.

    Our tips for sleeping in New Orleans

    From the Louisiana plantations to Clarksdale

    Oak Alley Plantation

    September 13: The plantations of St. Joseph and Oak Alley and the villas of Natchez

    Oak Alley

    We leave New Orleans, which struck us with its contrasts, and go to see the historic plantations. Not cotton, as the climate here is too hot and humid. Sugar cane was actually grown on plantations in Louisiana.

    We visit two of them, plus one from the outside. If you are interested in learning more about slavery, I recommend the Whitney Plantation. We didn't visit it because the tour times didn't match our schedule, but it's the only plantation where the topic is taken really seriously.

    La Evergreen Plantation, which we only see from the outside, appears in Tarantino's Django Unchained. The two plantations we visit are instead there St. Joseph and the best known Oak Alley.

    La St. Joseph it is very interesting because the furniture is authentic, even if rather spartan. In addition, it is a still active plantation. There are few visitors, the guided tour is intimate, interactive and interesting, even if it focuses only on the events of the owner family and not on the life of the slaves.

    La Oak Alley it is famous for the huge avenue of oaks, symbol of the South. The villa is very beautiful, even if the furniture is not original. The visit is more commercial and touristic, but our guide is good, and he also focuses a lot on the slaves and their absurd tasks inside the house.

    For example, a young boy was tasked with manually operating a huge fan in the dining room as long as the diners were at the table. The lunches could last even 5-6 hours. Outside there is a huge park and, in addition to the tree-lined avenue, you can see some exhibits including an exhibition on slavery.

    We set off again in the direction Natchez, a small town on the Mississippi steeped in history. Traffic makes us arrive too late for the guided tours of the antebellum villas. However, we are very lucky. Passing in front of one of them, the Choctaw Hall, the owner sees us and lets us in, offering us a tour of the most beautiful and richest villa ever, even better than the plantations.

    Brandon Hall Plantation
    Sunset over the Mississippi

    We enjoy the sunset from a park on the Mississippi, and go to dinner at the King’s Tavern, a historic building. We then spend a wonderful evening in another symbolic place, theUnder The Hills Saloon. It was once in the slum area of ​​Natchez, among drunken sailors and prostitutes. Today it is a place where live music is played almost every night.

    We immediately attract the attention of the locals. In particular, a gentleman in his sixties, the former sheriff, who takes a liking to us and invites us to his table. He tells us a lot of anecdotes about the history of the city and the civil war, and he wants to know everything about life in Spain. This is by far the best night of the holiday.

    Our hotel is there Brandon Hall Plantation, a charming former plantation used as a B&B and location for events. It is surrounded by a huge park, the rooms are furnished as they once were, one more beautiful than the other, as are the common areas. An authentic experience for those who want to experience the real South.

    September 14: Vicksburg, Indianola and Clarksdale (Mississippi)

    Vicksburg Memorial Park

    We get up early and explore our beautiful hotel and park. There is also a pond, and some fawns that graze free. We would stay here all day, but even today we have a full agenda of things to see, and so we have to leave immediately after the big breakfast.

    We go up the Mississippi towards Vicksburg, city seat of the most important battle of the Civil War. Vicksburg was a crucial hub for moving people and goods along the Mississippi; its conquest by the Union dealt a severe blow to the Confederates, and paved the way for the final capitulation of Gettysburg.

    The history of the city is told by murals along the river, which depict daily life and major events. The center is nice, always with the now familiar red brick buildings and antebellum villas. However, it is really too hot to enjoy it, so we get back in the car and head to the Vicksburg National Memorial Park.

    Located in the site of the battle, the park collects artifacts and testimonies of the Civil War, as well as numerous memorials. The warship is interesting USS Carry, and very touching the cemetery, on top of a hill overlooking the Yazoo River.

    We leave Vicksburg and continue north, to be precise we are headed to Indianola. This nondescript village is home to BB King, the immense blues guitarist who was able to conquer even the white public. The museum, where he is buried, tells his story of him, from farmer and shoe shine to world famous artist, who even met Pope John Paul II.

    Crossroads

    The journey continues in the direction Clarksdale, another town on the Mississippi with strong ties to music. Here the legend of the guitarist was born Robert Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowing how to play the guitar like no one ever. The point where the call exchange took place Crossroads, and is indicated by a small memorial. Robert Johnson died in 1938 when he was only 27 years old, he is therefore the progenitor of the "27 club”, A term used to refer to the numerous artists who passed away at the age of 27.

    • Would you like to know more? Follow this route along the Blues Highway

    Our hotel is an anonymous Quality Inn, old dirty and run down. To be avoided.

    We have dinner in an iconic restaurant, the Ground Zero, owned by Morgan Freeman. This is also half a disappointment, the place is new, but you want to give it a fake lived-in look. In addition, they charge $ 10 each for live music, even if we dine here (normally you only pay if you don't consume).

    Da Memphis a Nashville

    Memphis Beale Street

    September 15: Memphis

    Tomba di Elvis

    Let's start with a quick tour of Clarksdale. Aside from a few cute murals, the city is rather ugly and poor. He mainly lives on the link with music, but it is evident that there are many economic difficulties, the shops are almost all locked up.

    Today is finally the day we will meet the King. We head straight to Memphis, where we will stay two nights. We booked an adjoining hotel Graceland, so as to be more comfortable for the visit.

    • Would you like to know more? Follow this itinerary along the footsteps of Elvis

    The villa is on one side of the road, which can only be visited with a guided tour, while on the other side there is everything museum dedicated to Elvis, a huge complex that we will see later. We booked the first tour of the day for the villa, where they take us with the shuttle even if we would only have to cross the road.

    Graceland is perfectly styled with the Elvis character. Exaggerated, colorful, eclectic and also quite kitschy. The rooms are all themed, the most famous is the Jungle Room, furnished with thick green carpet, wooden totem poles, furry armchairs and climbing plants. Elvis's grave is in the back by the pool. We see that the King is much loved, even 40 years after his death. Even today, people place flowers and small objects on the tombstone, some gather in prayer.

    Sun Studios
    Graceland Jungle Room

    We spend the rest of the morning exploring the freezing museum. The air conditioning is unsustainable, and we often have to go outside to regain the sensitivity of the limbs. We see everything from cars to costumes to countless accolades, and even insights into Memphis and Elvis' influence on modern musicians.

    After a quick lunch from Subway let's go see the small but fundamental Sun Studios. All the greatest musicians of the time have passed through here, from Elvis to Johnny Cash to Jerry Lee Lewis, and the list goes on and on. We visit only two rooms, but deeply imbued with the history of rock'n'roll. There is still the piano played on the occasion of the "million dollar quartet", a short impromptu session on December 4, 1956, when Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis accidentally found themselves together in the Studios.

    We move to the center. We start from the Peabody Hotel and along the Main Street we cross the former cotton market district, finally descending to the Tom Lee Park, a pleasant green area on the Mississippi.

    We have dinner at Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken, a simple and spartan restaurant / rotisserie where we eat an exceptional fried chicken, accompanied by typical southern side dishes, such as cole slaw and beans.

    After dinner we go in Beale Street. Each building houses a bar with live music, we would like to try them all! But we don't really need it. Just down the street there is a big screen, which shows the concert that is being held in the theater next door. We spend a wonderful evening dancing and singing in the street, with the screaming ending of the fireworks.

    September 16: Memphis

    Lorraine Motel

    In addition to Elvis, there is another character who made the history of Memphis, unfortunately because here he found his end.

    Let's go talk about Martin Luther King, murdered outside his room Lorraine Motel on the evening of April 4, 1968. The Motel now houses the Civil Rights Museum, where we get to even before it opens.

    The polar temperature inside does not prevent us from spending a couple of hours studying and analyzing the racial question, from the aforementioned Montgomery protest to the Selma marches, from the shameful riots in Birmingham to schools, universities and separate clubs for whites. and blacks. Injustices that, although illegal today, remain in someone's mentality.

    After this touching visit we return to Tom Lee Park on the Mississippi, to set foot in Arkansas. On the other side of the river, in fact, the state changes. We travel the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge, from which you have a nice view of the Memphis skyline, until you get to the other side. We touch the ground of Arkanas with our shoes, but there is not much else to do here.

    We go back downtown for lunch, and then back to the Peabody Hotel, as yesterday we arrived too late to see the ducks. Since the 30s, the historic hotel has been home to 5 ducks, which populate the fountain area in the lobby from 11am to 17pm, and are a very popular attraction.

    We take a ride to Beale Street, which is quite sad in the afternoon, and to the memorial statue of Elvis. We also enter the Rock & Soul Museum, although it is a bit repetitive after having been to Indianola, Graceland and Sun Studios before. Since (strangely) we have time, we take the opportunity to do laundry and a little shopping at the supermarket.

    We dine on barbecue meat at the restaurant Central BBQ, where they serve strictly spareribs without sauce, and then we try to replicate yesterday's excellent evening in Beale Street. Unfortunately today there are no events, and the atmosphere is a little more sluggish.

    All accommodations available in Memphis

    September 17: Nashville

    Nashville Broadway

    We leave Memphis early and leave immediately for Nashville, which is about 350 km away. The first stop of the day is actually out of town, a Hendersonville. It is the Memory Garden and Funeral Home, the cemetery where they are buried Johnny Cash e June Carter. For two country music fans, this is a real pilgrimage.

    After paying our respects to Johnny & June, let's go check in to our hotel, the great Club Hotel. A little out of the center, but close to the Grand ole opry, where we will go tomorrow.

    Let's go straight to the center and to the Johnny Cash Museum. Definitely smaller than that of Elvis, it is a concentrate of the history, and of the works of the great country singer, whose life was also told in the film "Walk the Line - when love burns the soul". Clothes, awards and autographed texts of his songs are exhibited, as well as finds from his villa on the lake, destroyed by a fire.

    Johnny Cash Museum

    So let's take a walking tour of the center, from the main street, the Broadway, going through Fort Nashboro and up to the Capitol Hill and Bicentennial Park. On our way back we stop to see the Ryman Auditorium.

    For dinner, of course we choose a country music venue, the Wildhorse saloon. The food is barely decent, but to make up for it, live music sessions alternate with dance sessions, which we obviously participate in (actually, we've been dancing country for years).

    After dinner we take a tour of the Broadway clubs. Each building houses a bar / restaurant with live music, mostly owned by country greats such as Alan Jackson, Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley. And the beauty is that admission is always free, even without a drink.

    Eventually we stop at Luke Bryan’s 32, property of the homonymous cantate. We listen to some music, dance, but above all we enjoy the view from the terrace on the top floor. Yet another unforgettable evening of this journey, in which I leave a piece of my heart at each stop.

    September 18: Nashville

    Nashville Skyline

    Day entirely dedicated to Nashville and the country.

    Let's start from Centennial Park, outside the center in the university area. The park was created in 1876 for the International Independence Centennial Exhibition. Among the many attractions stands out the copy of the Parthenon, which celebrates Nashville's importance as a university city. A rather gaudy monument, which however fits well into the context. Near the pond there is also a memorial to the suffragettes.

    We return to the center, to the Country Music Hall of Fame, the museum dedicated to the country music of yesterday and today. For us it's obviously super interesting. Through costumes, musical instruments, listenable pieces and information panels, it traces the history of this genre, from the dawn to the present day, culminating in the "rotunda”, The circular space that contains the effigies of the greatest country singers in history.

    Country Music Hall of Fame

    After lunch we do some shopping, we are in Nashville and we can't go home without some new boots! Let's go back to the hotel to settle down, I immediately put on the boots I have just bought, in view of the evening at Grand ole opry. But first, let's drop by Cooter's, the museum of Hazzard, where we also buy some themed souvenirs and take a picture of the legendary car General lee.

    At 19 pm the show begins at the Grand Ole Opry, the temple of country music that hosts live and radio shows. Every evening 5-6 artists perform, some big names and some new proposals. Today is a special occasion, in fact there will be the investiture of Justin Lynch as an official member of the Grand Ole Opry, an important recognition that also confers some special rights to the singers.

    The evening is fabulous and we have the opportunity to see singers live that will never be seen in Spain, very exciting. We end the day by going back to Broadway, tonight we change clubs and go to theOle Red, Blake Shelton's pub.

    All accommodations available in Nashville

    Jack Daniel’s, Great Smoky Mountains e Blue Ridge Parkway

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    September 19: Lynchburg, Chattanooga e Lookout Mountain

    Chattanooga Point Park

    Breakfast and off, immediately departing for Lynchburg, the birthplace of Jack Daniel's. By a paradox of history, the best known whiskey in the world is produced in a dry county, which is a county where the sale of alcohol is prohibited.

    The landscape around Lynchburg is really as we imagined it: red barns, white fences and immense green meadows. Here too we have booked visit to the distillery. Places are limited and it is good to get your ticket in advance. We chose the tour without tasting, after we have to drive.

    The tour of the distillery is interesting, our guide is very prepared and tells us many anecdotes, including the one related to the death of Jack Daniel. A very short-tempered man, one day he got angry because he couldn't open the safe, kicking her hard and hurting his foot. The wound became infected causing septicemia, and the end of the entrepreneur's life.

    After the tour we do a tour and a few purchases in the tiny center of Lynchburg, and we get back on the road towards Chattanooga. The city, bordering Georgia, overlooks the Tennessee River, and is famous for a Civil War battle. Our hotel is the River View Inn, a romantic b & b with a panoramic terrace on a bend in the river.

    Rock city park
    Lynchburg

    After settling in, we immediately go to visit Lookout mountain, which is located in Georgia. It is a wealthy town, with stratospheric villas built into the hillside. Our destination is the Rock City Garden, a park with a walking path between huge granite boulders, Tibetan bridges, and decidedly kitschy sculptures.

    It is more a destination for families with children, in fact we are a bit disappointed. The only noteworthy attractions are the waterfalls, and the "see seven states" vantage point, from which you can see 7 states on clear days, and if you are able to tell them apart.

    Let's go downtown for dinner, pizza at tonight Community Pie, on the recommendation of a friend. After dinner we take a walk to the riverside, the city is really nice.

    20 Settembre: Gatlinburg e Great Smoky Mountains

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    As already mentioned, a major Civil War battle was fought in Chattanooga, on the hills where it stands today. Point Park. We visit the small museum, the park and the memorials, enjoying the splendid view of the river.

    Before leaving, we go back to the center to see the Chattanooga choo choo. The old station has been converted into a hotel, where you can sleep in specially equipped wagons. However, everyone can pass by the hall and go to the platforms to admire the Choo Choo Train, the steam train that inspired the 1941 song of the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

    We leave Chattanooga and arrive in Gatlinburg, all porte del Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Incredibly, this is the most visited national park in the United States each year, more than the Grand Canyon or the Yellowstone.

    Gatlinburg is a kind of amusement park for tourists, filled with souvenir shops and attractions like the mirror maze and mini golf. It's all already decked out for Halloween. We are especially interested in the park, after so many cities we want nature. The Great Smoky Mountains is actually very busy, the road to Cades Cove is long, slow and busy.

    We stop near the campsite to make a first trekking route, the Cades Cove Nature Trail, which is honestly nothing special, very similar to our woods. Let's drive there by car Cades Cove Loop Road scenic drive, but even this does not satisfy us. The views are beautiful, but repetitive, plus there are too many people and even stopping to take pictures becomes problematic.

    So let's change the area and go get the Roaring Form Motor Trail, a road of about 20 km in the middle of the woods, from which various paths unravel.

    We don't have much time and we choose only one, the Noah “Bud” Ogle Nature Trail. The path is very simple and passes by Ogle Farm, in settlement of 1879 with wooden farm and barn, built by Noah Ogle, said Bud. Further on, beyond the stream, you come to the mill used to grind corn.

    We take the car back and finish the journey, stopping at the most interesting points, when we see some old farms or beautiful viewpoints. We enjoy the sunset over the mountains with a small group of young Amish people.

    We go back to town and indulge in a tasty Mexican dinner from No Way Jose’s, where they kindly allow us to have a beer even though we only have an Italian identity card. We also try our luck at the shop Moonshine, but here it goes wrong, without a passport we can't do whiskey tastings, nor buy it. Foolishly, we left our passport at the hotel.

    21 Settembre: Great Smoky Mountains National Park e Blue Ridge Parkway

    Blue Ridge Parkway

    We enter the park early in the morning and follow the scenic route US-441 S. We are approx 2000 meters and it's cold, but after all the heat suffered on this holiday, we're not complaining.

    We stop to take pictures in some panoramic points, such as the Carlos Campell Overlook, Chimney Top e Morton Overlook, and then we park at the beginning of the path for Clingsman Dome.

    The uphill path leads to an ugly concrete viewing platform, from which, however, you can enjoy one splendid panorama of the forests and the mountains. The clouds on the tops of the mountains look like steam, that's why they are called Smoky Mountains.

    The next stop is the Mingus Mill Trail, a short and very simple path from which you get to a mill dating back to 1886, inside which there is a demonstration of the production of corn flour.

    We continue up toOconaluftee Visitor Center. From here we will leave the park, but first we still have time for a quick walk. From the tourist office we take the path that runs along the river and goes up to Cherokee. We don't have time to complete it, we walk to where we feel like it and then we go back.

    We leave the Great Smoky Mountains and take the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the busiest scenic roads in the United States, 750 km long. We will cover about 150 of them, from the beginning up to Pisgah Access, because then we will have to go down to Athens.

    The road is full of viewpoints, all with splendid views over the woods and the blue outlines of the mountains, optical effect from which the street takes its name. The problem is that there are too many, every 500-800 meters, and this quickly confuses us. It is clear that we cannot see them all, but how to choose?

    We first try to do one out of three, but even then it doesn't work, it's a constant turn off the car, get out, take pictures, go back up… So we decide to stop only when it seems to us that the landscape changes. Not that there is much variety, to be honest, but with this strategy we can see a little bit of everything. The most beautiful viewpoints are Waterrock Knob e Richard Balsam Overlook which, with its 1850 meters, is the highest point of the road.

    Leaving the Blue Ridge Parkway at the intersection with 276, we have another 250 km to go to Athens. We return to Georgia for our last night in the southern US.

    we will sleep at Quality Inn & Suites, typical American motel, but recent and well maintained.

    Athens it is a university city, and you can also see it from the large number of night clubs and young people around, also because it is Friday night. We have dinner at South Kitchen + Bar, where I finally taste the fried green tomatoes.

    Return to the Antebellum Trail

    Athens Ware Lyndon House

    September 22: Athens and Watkinsville

    Last day of travel, but luckily we have the flight late tonight, and many things still to see.

    Athens is part of the 7 cities of the Antebellum Trail, the historical path we had undertaken at the beginning of the journey. For logistical reasons, we have broken it into two parts, and today we will visit the last two cities, Athens e Watkinsville. Let's start with a tour of the huge university campus, which reminds us so much of the films set in American colleges. There are even houses with Greek letters on the door! Even though it is Saturday morning, you can see that this is a very lively city.

    Here too there are some antebellum villas. The first is the Waddel-Brumby House, which doubles as a tourist office. It is in fact the only house that we also visit inside. The others are scattered around the city, we have to travel by car. The most fascinating is undoubtedly the Ware-Lyndon House, today an art gallery. The structure is in red bricks, with a beautiful finely worked wrought iron portico and on the back there is a small Italian garden. Basically, the quintessence of the South!

    La Taylor-Grady House, which we cannot access because there is a wedding, is by far the most majestic, with its imposing classical-style colonnade, while the TRR Cobb House remains a little more secluded.

    Finally, let's go and see "the tree that belongs to itself”, An all-American curiosity. The owner of the land bequeathed the tree to the tree itself, along with the surrounding land, for a radius of 2 meters. The original oak was felled in 1941, the current one was planted in 1946.

    Watkinsville Eagle tavern

    We head to Watkinsville, the last destination of the journey. Little more than a street with a few buildings, it has some interesting attractions. The first is the Eagle Tavern, a historic inn in which there are still some original objects. The other is theAshford Manor, an 1893 villa used as a B&B.

    Just outside the city, we make a very last stop atElder Mill Covered Bridge, one of Georgia's 13 covered bridges, and the only one along the Antebellum Trail.

    Now we just have to do the last lunch from Cracker barrel, buy some "healthy" snacks to take home, such as Oreo and M & Ms for any taste, and go to the airport to catch the plane that will take us back to Milan

    Conclusion

    It was intense, in every sense. Many km, by car and on foot, many things to see, but above all it was intense from an emotional point of view. The South does not have the breathtaking views of the South-West, but personal experience, in contact with the wonderful locals, makes this journey priceless and irreplaceable.

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