I have a lot of love for America. I’ve lived there twice and been on several holidays to explore it’s amazing landscapes and enjoy a variety of dining experiences. One of the best things about America is the potential to have a road trip. Road trips are great. You get to see lots of different places, eat lots of snacks and go somewhere new before anyone even has the chance to be bored. For all these reasons, and many more, I decided that there was no better way to celebrate being 40 than exploring yet another part of this great country.

This summer there was a solar eclipse that was visible across many parts of America (there will be a future post about this). It seemed perfectly obvious to combine that with yet another American adventure. Add into the mix lovely friends that just happen to live in Maryland, and you’ve got yourself the start of a most excellent plan.

This is basically the route we took:

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This is basically what happened:

Day 1: Arrived in Maryland and had to declare the apples we had been eating (don’t travel to America with apples). It was very late but thank goodness for patient friends with tasty food and warm welcomes. Fun fact- King Williams School in Maryland was the first school to be opened in America.

Day 2: We started the day with a delicious brunch with friends whilst putting the world to rights. We then packed up their very cool, very large truck and collected our not quite as cool or large rental Kia. Meanwhile, the children had fun exploring our friends’ beautiful house. Fun fact: the house is quite likely to have been involved in the Underground Railway. Plus they have a swing in a tree.

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Next it was time for the very long drive to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Luckily we were able to find some entertainment.

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We also had a lot of fun enjoying Walkie Talkie contact between the two cars. Code names changed a few times over the trip, and sometimes Walkie Talkie privileges needed to be revoked due to appalling joke telling, but mostly they were very useful (and fun).

Unfortunately we had very little time to explore Pittsburg, other than eating a nice meal and enjoying the view. Fun fact- Pittsburg has 466 bridges.

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Day 3: Always remember to check hotel pool times before you promise children a morning swim. A slightly later start than we had planned and then it was on to Columbus, Ohio. Columbus is a beautiful and very clean city. It is also home to a fantastic science museum. I highly recommend it. We got to watch a 3D movie about space exploration, played with water, explored a submarine, used electro-microscopes to look at gross things and felt slightly sick in a simulator. After the museum closed we were very lucky to discover a food truck festival in progress. It seemed rude not to join in so we tasted many things…including pink lemonade and vodka. Fun fact: In 2013 Columbus was named the most intelligent city in he U.S.

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Day 4: Time to start on the audiobook collection- The Giraffe and The Pelly and Me. We made a quick stop in Cincinnati to visit a park and check out a visiting fire truck at a local birthday party (They let us join in- I promise we didn’t crash the party). Fun fact: Cincinnati used to process more pork than anywhere else in the country. It’s nickname is “Porkopolis.”

Then it was on to Louisville where we got to stay in our fanciest hotel for one of our shortest stays. However, we did get to enjoy pool time and a random Christian concert in a shopping centre. Louisville was very busy with people visiting for the eclipse and many of the restaurants were closed because it was Sunday. This resulted in us settling for a burger place for dinner. We were very lucky to even get served because the staff were very stressed over a recent order of eight burgers. You heard me…EIGHT. I’m not sure they realised our order also totalled eight, or we would have been asked to leave. Fun fact: 90% of the U.S.A’s disco balls are made in Louisville.

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Day 5: This was eclipse day so you’ll have to wait for my next post. However, in addition to seeing the eclipse, we also put on our own play.  It involved a chicken called Big Butt Bob stealing a pet goat from some other chickens that had to be rescued by super chickens. It was a smash. This was also the day that we arrived at our lovely, and slightly creepy, airbnb house. A lot of fun was had exploring and i think everyone looked forward to the prospect of staying in the same place for two nights instead of one. Fun fact: 47% of Gallatin’s population are male. Which makes 53% female (I couldn’t find may fun facts about Gallatin. There was one about a cholera epidemic in 1873 but that didn’t seem very fun).IMG_4973

Day 6: Today we went to Nashville. I’m a little bit in love with Nashville. It was very busy with eclipse chasers and the atmosphere was brilliant. We visited a boot shop and I really, really wanted to buy a pair of boots. Sadly the kids got bored before I had the chance. This may be an excellent reason for me to come back. We also visited the Johnny Cash museum, ate food in Margaritaville and visited a concrete Parthenon (it was built for the World Exposition in 1897). In the evening we just managed to get into the Wildhorse Salon so I could enjoy drinking out of a glass boot and learn some line dancing. Once home, we got out the ukuleles and sang country songs whilst Rob played keyboard on the iPad. Perfect day. Fun fact: East Nashville hosts an annual costume art festival dedicated to the tomato.

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Day 7: We were sad to leave Nashville but excited to be heading to Pigeon Forge for Dollywood fun. This time we were staying in a proper American motel. It was the kids favourite hotel because the pool had a slide. I was very excited to see a Golden Corral restaurant opposite our hotel. If you haven’t eaten in one, you must. It’s the biggest buffet I have ever seen and it even serves candy floss with the deserts. It has been 14 years since I last ate in one and I think it’s best that I wait another 14 years until I go back. We had a lot of fun wandering around and seeing all the local attractions and shops (apart from a creepy doll shop). Unfortunately the fun ran out when we discovered that our tickets for Dollywood would not be valid. We’d arrived just in time for the winter schedule during which it close every other day- devastated. Tammy, who refunded our money, was also devastated, ‘My heart just breaks for y’all!’. Thankfully, we were able to book some alternative fun and I now have yet another excuse to come back and buy my boots. Fun fact: Pigeon Forge is named after a distinct species of bird (not so fun for the bird).

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Day 8: No Dollywood. However, we did get to visit the Goats on the Roof rollercoaster where there really were, goats on the roof. You could feed them by peddling a bike pulley to raise a tin of goat food to the roof. You could also ride an amazing rollercoaster down the side of the mountain. We did it twice. We then went to The Island. The Island had a dancing fountain, a mirror maze, a laser maze, bumper cars and moonshine. Everyone was happy. Fun fact: It is illegal to use a lasso to catch a fish in Pigeon Forge.

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To make up for not being able to enjoy the splendour of Dollywood, we got tickets to see The Dolly Parton Dixie Stampede instead. Our seats were bought last minute and thus terrible. We watched a lot of backs. There was also a moment of horror when we discovered that no alcohol would be served at the venue. I’ve actually seen this show once before (when I lived in North Carolina and we took the kids from school) but for everyone else it was a very new experience. You essentially sit on long benches around a big arena. Vast amount of food are placed in front of you whilst you witness the most American show you could possibly imagine. Incase you have any doubt, the show ends with the cast parading around on horses whilst wearing suits made out of the American flag that light up. They then sing about how amazing America is. Throughout the rest of the show there is friendly rivalry between the North and South. Our friends’ children were even picked to chase chickens over a line. They were then given a very nice copy of a Dolly Parton book as a reward. Finley thought the shows host was brilliant and wanted to meet him at the end. He was still wearing his light up suit when I told him that Finley would like his job. He told Finley he could have it.  It’s certainly a show worth experiencing and the kids absolutely loved it. I think I’d prefer tickets to Hamilton. Fun fact: Although Dolly Parton owns the theme park Dollywood she’s too “terrified” to ride any of the rides.

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Day 9: Today we left the bright lights of  Pigeon Forge and headed to the Virginia mountains. After another long drive we arrived at our campsite and explored our tiny, basic and brilliant little cabins. The kids were sent to the park with a Walkie Talkie while the grown-ups made fire. We then cooked hot dogs and corn on the cob followed by smores. As the the sun went down we played ukuleles and covered ourselves in bug spray. Fun fact: Virginia’s academic calendar is determined by the schedule of local theme parks.

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Day 10: Last day on the road. Before heading back to Maryland, we stopped off at the Shenandoah Caverns for a tour. The caves were beautiful and Carlos, our guide, was excellent. The caves were discovered in 1884 when two brothers noticed cool air rising from a hole in the ground. They decided to explore it with some rope and candles. They liked it down there so much they managed to keep it a secret for about a year. It was opened as a tourist attraction in 1922. After the tour we had lunch in their lovingly reconstructed diner. After lunch we spotted some giant animatronic bears that encouraged us to visit American Celebration on Parade. We did visit but I think I may be having nightmares about it for years to come. It was a series of old fashioned shop fronts that housed models of fairy stories and holiday parades that came to life as you approached them. Let’s not talk about it anymore. Fun fact: The Shenandoah Caverns is the only one in Virginia with a lift.

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Day 11: Back into Maryland today. The children enjoyed some more tree swinging and a lovely walk along the river watching people float on rubber rings. We then went to have a famous snow cone covered in marshmallow. It made me very happy. Fun fact: Ice houses in New York used to sell ice Florida. The wagons carrying the ice would pass right through Baltimore. Children would run up to the wagon and ask for a small scraping of ice which they would then flavour at home. A snow cone was born.

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A huge thank you to our amazing friends for helping us get to all our different destinations; carrying a truck full of snacks; teaching us how to camp America style; showing us how to play the ukulele; being fantastic company; and for taking us to Walmart where I saw this:

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