If you like the fast-paced life and rhythm of big cities, you should probably avoid most of Tennessee. With the exception of a few big cities, the State primarily consists of small, rural towns. To me, the true heart of America. You will not see many fancy people walking the streets but instead ordinary, common folk like the man in this photo. A simple, middle-class, hard-working American. He passed me on a quaint street in Bristol, said "howdy" and I asked to take his photo. "Sure, ma'am." In this part of the country, people will commonly call you by a lot of names - "ma'am," "sir," "sweetie," "honey,"....true Southern dialect.
Right before Christmas, I spent five days driving through Tennessee. We'll start the series of reports today with a short post about Bristol, the first stop on the journey.
1. Bristol sits on the Virginia/Tennessee border and it's a "twin city." There's both a Bristol, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee, as evidenced by the sign.
2. The boundary between the two cities is the point where Virginia and Tennessee divide. The boundary point runs straight through the main part of the town known as State Street. Several different attractions in the U.S. where you can stand at a certain geographic point and be in two States simultaneously. In most places, such markers will exist to let you know where the boundary lines are drawn.
3. One indication you're in a very small town is the parking prices. In Bristol, it's only 25 cents for two hours!! Compare with Washington, DC, where you will pay on average $20 to park for two hours and up to $30 for the day.
4. The payment method for parking here is unusual. I've never seen anything like it. In the lot, a number is placed on each parking spot. Find your number, go to this yellow box, use the metal tool and slide the quarter in. Antiquated system, but for 25 cents there's no room for complaints.
5. You can walk the main part of town in under one hour. It's full of charming little shops, all of which were decorated for Christmas. In this part of the country, people are passionate about college football. Trees and snowmen in the shop windows often had ornaments, scarves or other novelties with the logos for the most popular college football teams in Virginia and Tennessee - the Virginia Tech Hokies and University of Tennessee Volunteers. By the way, Tennessee is known as "The Volunteer State," and this slogan appears on license plates. I don't know how many Russians follow the National Football League (NFL), our pro football league, but star quarterback Peyton Manning studied and played for the University of Tennessee during his university years. American football - my favorite sport! :) Manning's team is in the final playoff game this weekend, trying to get a spot in the Super Bowl.
6. Do holiday shops exist year round in Russia? In America, some shops specialize only in Christmas items and remain open all year.
7. Even in rural parts of America, there's always plenty of food options. A lot of small coffee shops, delis, cafes and pubs on State Street. I remember on the long drive from Moscow to St. Petersburg we would go long distances with absolutely no food places or gas stations. Rare that this would happen in any part of the U.S., although in some remote parts of the West you can drive long stretches with absolutely nothing around. I experienced this myself in Wyoming.
8. Classic delivery car for local bakery.
9. In the center of the town, there's a nice veterans' memorial.
10. Names of fallen soldiers are inscribed on a stone walkway, covering casualties from all major wars.
11. Most people associate country music with Nashville, Tennessee but part of Bristol's fame is that it's the birthplace of country music. The small town makes sure everyone knows it, with a lot of nice wall murals dedicated to country music. It's also home to one of the major NASCAR races held each year, and similar murals exist in the race's honor.
13. A rail track runs right underneath the big Bristol sign in photo 1.
14. Cute train station, also decorated for the holidays.
15. Local resident. Two dogs, exactly the same breed! Twin dogs, walking in a twin city.
16. Street named in honor of Jimmie Rodgers, the "father of country music."
17. One of the town's slogans is "believe in miracles." I saw it on several signs and in windows. Nice sentiment but sometimes difficult in life.
18. After Bristol, we continued onward for a short stop in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. This area I've visited multiple times with my family. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park - the most visited national park in America. Honestly I'm not sure why. I think the parks in the West have more visually stunning landscapes.
19. Full of streams, winding roads and bare winter trees. Temperatures still weren't very cold in early December. Unpredictable weather patterns in this area and my home State of Virginia. One day spring, the next day winter.
20. You can get lost in the trees on many dirt and gravel roads. Beautiful in these remote spots, away from all of humanity.
21. On one of the desolate roads we discovered a graveyard on a hill, anyone can enter by unlocking the gate.
22. Some people may find graveyards unnerving or spooky, but I like them. Especially older ones but most of the burials here were from the 1900's. Real sadness to see the tombstone of a young child. In larger American cemeteries, there's usually a designated spot for child burials.
23. Mountains, sky and wildflowers. A nice combo!
24. I continued onward into the sunset towards the small town of Crossville, home of the world's largest treehouse, which I'll tell you about later.
How about you? Do you prefer big cities or rural areas when vacationing? Many interesting places in Tennessee! I'll tell you all about them next week. Stay tuned...