Just Back From... a Music-Themed Drive Through Tennessee

July 20, 2010
Courtesy Jane Roser
Girlfriends Jane Roser and Brenda Hillegas hit the road in cowboy boots for a summertime tour of honky-tonk clubs, roadside diners, and quirky attractions.

Great local meal... Brunch at Flapjacks Pancake Cabin in Pigeon Forge: wild mountain blueberry pancakes, flaky buttermilk biscuits, and water served in mason jars. [PHOTO] After our hearty meal—at less than $10 a person—we were in Great Smoky Mountain heaven.

Our favorite part... The free Sunday-night songwriters' showcase at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. [PHOTO] It's located unexpectedly in a strip mall far from downtown Nashville but has jump-started the careers of musicians like Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney. Two of my friends, Adrian Hardkor and Ken Francis Wenzel, were playing their second show while we were in town, and we brought along my Betsey Johnson associates to cheer them on. It's a place where people go to appreciate the music, not to chat (T-shirts sold with the Bluebird logo on the front read "shhhhh" on the back).

What we should have packed... Heavy-duty sunscreen. It was hotter than Hades in the shade in Tennessee—100 degrees every day. What we shouldn't have packed? Our Nashville guidebook. We never used it. Everything we needed was either a happy discovery or on my iPhone.

Total rip-off... While we loved Dollywood, at $55 apiece plus $8 for parking, it was too pricey for what we got. We spent most of the day walking around trying to find rides. They were very spaced out, and the park maps only seemed to be located at the entrance.

Fun surprise... In Lebanon, we stopped for lunch at Uncle Pete's Super Truck Stop and Restaurant—and who should saunter over to our booth and sit down next to me but Uncle Pete! He told us about his signed photos of country music stars and how Dolly Parton once stopped in during a snowstorm and stayed to sign autographs. Uncle Pete owns over 4,000 mugs, including ones for every state and 40 countries. [PHOTO] He broke the world record in 2000 for the largest mug collection and has drunk out of each one.

Best purchases... The $3 guitar-shaped flyswatter I got at Ernest Tubb Record Shop [PHOTO] and the cowboy boots Brenda found at Boots 'N' More on Broadway in Nashville. At Boots 'N' More, we spotted a cardboard box lying on the ground filled with sadly neglected shoes and labeled "everything in this box $20." Brenda came away with a pair of cute, cream-and-pink low-top cowboy boots that were originally $179.

Overrated... Beale Street. The street musicians were fantastic, [PHOTO] but it was very touristy. The shops all carried the same overpriced Memphis memorabilia, and the police barricaded the end of the street off and carded everyone who walked through. We felt like we were on spring break in Miami, but without the beach.

Worth every penny... The Drive-By Truckers concert, part of Knoxville's Sundown in the City outdoor concert series. [PHOTO] It was free, but I would pay money to see this band! They play southern rock with a twang. Market Square was set up with tents lining the park. We saw people leaning out of the shop and bar windows that overlooked the stage. At dusk, a crowd was dancing on the rooftops. We were front and center and got a good view of an older fan wearing a hat made out of a PBR box [PHOTO] and a girl sitting on her boyfriend's shoulders who flashed the band to the applause of the crowd. It was a "Did that really just happen?" moment.

Hotel we liked... The fabulously quirky Hotel St. Oliver in Knoxville. [PHOTO] You take a leather-clad elevator upstairs, where a real metal key lets you in (after a few sticky tries). The rooms are filled with antiques, old framed photos, and a surprise at every turn. We loved the sculpture of a metal eagle on the claw-foot table at the end of the bed and the sepia-toned photos in the bathroom. I felt like I had stepped into the Professor's house in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and would discover a wardrobe with Narnia hidden behind some musty, fur coats. The view from the window looked out on Market Square, so we could watch the bands getting ready for sound check.

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7 Travel Secrets of Top Show Dogs

SADIE THE SCOTTISH TERRIER (See a photo)The Reigning ChampSadie ranks number one in the U.S., and the terrier from Rialto, Calif., is on the go every other week, three to four days at a time. Her entourage is never short of paper towels, wipes, and grooming tools, because you never know when a fan may request an impromptu photograph.Handlers' tip: Handlers Gabriel and Ivonne Rangel accustomed Sadie to being inside a soft carrier from the age of one. The Rangels say: "Make sure your dog gets used to a crate before a trip. Start by using it daily for just a few minutes at a time. Once he or she is more relaxed (maybe after a week or more), take your dog in the carrier to a favorite spot, like the park." WALKER THE TOY POODLE (See a photo)Mr. High-MaintenanceTraveling to nearly 150 dog shows per year, Walker is like George Clooney in Up in the Air: He expects to be doted upon constantly. "He hates rain, wind, hot, and cold, and he wants everything done in the same way for each show," says his handler, Kaz Hosaka. "He's a sweet, spoiled boy. A sissy boy."Handler's tip: "I once got on a plane without my dog making it. Never again! If one of my dogs has to travel in cargo, I ask a gate agent to communicate with the luggage handlers to confirm the dog is in the hold before I board. The agents are usually nice about checking." MALACHY THE PEKINGESE (See a photo)The Weekend WarriorTo keep his standing as the number one toy dog in the U.S., Malachy hits the circuit every weekend, usually by car. He's a good traveler but—like any Pekingese—is prone to overheating.Handler's tip: If nature calls when there's an airport security checkpoint between you and the outdoors, what to do? "A Wee-Wee Pad [fourpaws.com, from $8] is a way to avoid passing through security twice," says his owner-handler, David Fitzpatrick. Lay a pad on a bathroom floor. TOMMY THE MALTESE (See a photo)Old-World CharmerThis winner of best of breed awards at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship has visited Italy, France, and Croatia, where he seemed quite at home—perhaps because of his European ancestry.Handler's tip: "Some fliers don't realize that the dog has to come out of the carrier at the security checkpoint," says Tommy's owner-handler Tara Martin Rowell. "My advice is—with shoes and laptop and the rest of your gear—to wait until the last possible moment to let the dog out." UNO THE BEAGLE (See a photo)The Veteran FlierIn 2008, Uno earned his barking rights: He is the first beagle in the century-plus history of Westminster to nab the big prize. His "foster father," David Frei has been Uno's flying companion for years, and he offers this advice: "Be prepared for absolutely anything to happen. Uno was once picked at random for additional screening in the airport. Even the TSA workers, not known for their sense of humor, were smiling about this."Handler's tip: Pets earn rewards on Continental, JetBlue, and Pet Airways, but not on most other airlines. One work-around: Pet carry-on fees can be $100 or so. If you charge them on a rewards credit card, you'll indirectly earn frequent-flier miles toward your next trip. MANFRED OF SWEDEN, THE YORKSHIRE TERRIER (See a photo)The FashionistaBased in Malmö, Sweden, Manfred puts the "trot" back into "globe-trotting." He's recently been to Antwerp, Los Angeles, and New York City. The internationally famous pooch always travels with stylish outfits, such as a lambskin biker jacket or a Rolling Stones hoodie, because he's the mascot for the dog fashion house that bears his name.Handlers' tip: When leaving the country, bring all of your dog's records of shots and vaccines, because no dog owner is immune to being quizzed by the authorities, says Björn and Ann Gärdsby, Manfred's owners. You otherwise risk having your dog quarantined.Bonus tip: When traveling by air, always carry a leash with you—in case the airline loses your checked luggage.

Hidden Corners of Europe

PORTUGALSerra da Estrela Thirty minutes west of the Spanish border, the Serra da Estrela has long been known as Portugal's answer to the Pyrenees for its ragged peaks, fortified towns, and medieval schist villages. Lately, however, the 600-square-mile region has received a makeover from Lisbon and Porto natives who have begun weekending here in place of the more popular coast. Minimalist hotels and high-toned spas sit just up the road from terraced vineyards and olive groves, making for that perfect marriage between old and new. Where to Stay The Casa das Penhas Douradas is a 21st-century take on a traditional Portuguese mountain house. Done in a clean-lined Scandinavian style, the 17-room hotel has timber-paneled walls, an indoor pool, and floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the surrounding peaks. In the evenings, guests gather by the fire for local Dão wine or assemble at a communal dinner table, where owner João Tomás is known to hold court (casadaspenhasdouradas.pt, rooms from $128, includes breakfast). Local Flavor At the Pousada Convento de Belmonte, a refurbished 13th-century convent, Brazilian chef Valdir Lubave blends New World and Old World cuisines in creations like fragrant pea soup with basil ice cream or guava soufflé (conventodebelmonte.pt, entrées from $14). MACEDONIA Ohrid Like Prague and Dubrovnik before it, this lakeside town just north of Greece has all the makings of Europe's next affordable hotspot. Built at the edge of Lake Ohrid, in Macedonia's southwest corner, the city pairs the charm of the Dalmatian Coast (terra-cotta-roofed homes tumble down hillsides to boat slips on the water) with reminders of its Ottoman past. In the Old Bazaar, a warren of labyrinthine streets, merchants hawk silver jewelry and "pearls" made from fish scales. Around town, Byzantine churches sit silently in narrow alleys and on limestone cliffs. During the day, visitors row boats to secluded pebble beaches, while at night, they gather at the waterfront promenade to sip coffee and watch partygoers stream into the dance clubs lining the shore. Where to Stay Opened in 2008, the Grebnos Stone-House Apartments are just two blocks from the shore, and each room comes with a sun-drenched terrace. For the true (if slightly primitive) Lake Ohrid experience, guests can also stay in owner Pavel Pop Stefanija's tiny cabin on a private beach in the nearby village of Trpejca (grebnos.com, rooms from $45, cabin-stay included). Local Flavor Within the Old Bazaar, vendors set up daily to peddle Macedonian street food like leblebija (roasted chickpeas), shopska salata (veggies and sirenje cheese), and greena rakija (spiced brandy). AUSTRIA Dürnstein On the banks of the Danube, in the shadow of a castle from the Middle Ages, Dürnstein is one of those impossibly quaint towns where everything, from the baroque clock tower to the cobblestoned alleys, seems lifted straight from the Brothers Grimm. Just an hour downriver from Vienna, Dürnstein is an under-explored retreat and a gateway to the surrounding Wachau valley, a grape region prized for crisp Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners. To experience the area like a local, take a seat inside a Heuriger, a cozy tavern that sells only indigenous wines, namely those from the most recent harvest. Authentic establishments hang fir branches above their doorways to welcome the thirsty, while Schrammelmusik (traditional fiddle-and-accordion folk music) plays from within. Where to Stay Open from March to November, the 16-room Hotel Restaurant Sänger Blondel, which is named after Richard the Lionheart's legendary minstrel, is located squarely under Dürnstein's clock tower. The Schendl family has owned the house since 1729 and hosts Thursday-evening zither concerts, often under the shade of the chestnut trees out back (saengerblondel.at, from $61). Local Flavor Although the Wachau is known for its grapes, it is the Marille (apricot) that sets the region apart. In early April, the valley erupts in pale-pink blossoms, and the fruit begins showing up in strudels, pork dishes, and Marillenknödel (apricot dumplings rolled in butter-toasted bread crumbs). Wieser Wachau Shop & Café, with locations throughout the valley, sells apricot soap, schnapps, and marmalade (wieser-wachau.at). SWITZERLAND Binn Life moves slowly in the village of Binn—and that's by design. Years ago, the residents of this tiny Alpine town (pop. 150, two and a half hours from Bern) decided to stave off development by preserving the surrounding valley as a park. Today, Binn remains a time capsule of village life. Gravel lanes wind between neat pine chalets. Flower boxes filled with geraniums hang from every window. Up the Binna River, visitors will find even smaller hamlets and picture-perfect meadows, where they can spread out a picnic of local wine and raclette cheese and listen to the cowbells ring down from the high pastures. Where to Stay Built in 1883, the 35-room Hotel Ofenhorn embraces its history. Its four Nostalgic Rooms have original hardwood floors, antique furniture, and art nouveau wallpaper, all of which recall the days when a young Winston Churchill stopped through while on a painting tour of the Alps (ofenhorn.ch, from $108, includes breakfast). Local Flavor About a mile from Binn, the riverside Restaurant Imfeld is a thoroughly traditional establishment with a menu that includes fresh trout and Valais air-dried beef—prepared by rubbing salt, herbs, and spices into raw beef and leaving it to dry in a wooden barn for at least six weeks (011-41/27-971-4596, entrées from $9). FRANCE Pèrigord Noir While provence is justifiably famous for its rosé and rustic gîtes (holiday rental homes), that celebrity comes at a high price. Nearly a straight shot across the country, close to Bordeaux, the cluster of market towns known as Périgord Noir offers weekly cottage rentals at nearly half the cost—and the small-town experience is no less picturesque. Cut through by the sweeping arc of the Dordogne River, the area is best known for its dark oak forests, hillside vineyards, medieval châteaux, truffle-infused cuisine, and, of course, the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux. Where to Stay A 20-minute walk from the town of Trémolat (pop. 600), Les Volets Bleus is a restored 300-year-old farmhouse and converted barn with exposed-wood beams, a stone fireplace, and room enough for 12. Guests are free to explore with rental bikes (delivered to your doorstep), paddle a canoe along the Dordogne, dine on duck and crepes at the night market in nearby Cadouin, and stroll the surrounding acres of peach, fig, and walnut trees—the latter used throughout the region to make vin de noix, or walnut wine (myfrenchfarmhouse.com, from $1,596 per week). Local flavor At Les Truffières, a farm-to-table restaurant in Trémolat, Yanick Le Goff serves everything from barbecued duck and lavender-tinged aperitifs to a house-made foie gras (011-33/5-53-27-30-44, six-course family-style meal with wine $34, reservations required).

5 Surefire Ways to Offend the Locals

GREECEDON'T: Thrust your palm, fingers extended, toward someone in a downward swat.THE MESSAGE: Called the moutza, this crude hand signal is a holdover from the Byzantine era, when judges ridiculed guilty people by wiping ash on their faces. Nowadays, it means "Screw off!" or "That's ridiculous!" The message comes across as serious and offensive, not playful.DANGER ZONE: You may instinctively make this gesture when refusing something, such as a shot of ouzo in a bar.WORK-AROUND: Say óchi ("no") and efharistó ("thank you") or make a blocking motion instead. If you are declining the offer of a drink, for instance, cover your glass with a hand. And if you're really trying to make friends, just accept the drink. SOUTHERN ITALYDON'T: Point your two hands toward the ground as if you're holding two pistols, with the back of your hands visible to the other person.THE MESSAGE: You're threatening to beat the person up—or saying you could beat them up if you wanted to.DANGER ZONE: Gesturing toward a spot in front of you, such as a place where you want a bellhop to drop your luggage.WORK-AROUND: Wave your hands toward the spot instead. THAILANDDON'T: Point your foot at a person (especially someone older than you) or at a religious icon, such as a statue of the Buddha.THE MESSAGE: Feet are the "lowest" part of the body, according to the spiritual hierarchy of Thai Buddhism, so you're basically insulting someone or something as the lowest of the low.DANGER ZONE: At a temple, where visitors often pause and sit on the floor, you may be tempted to stretch your feet outward after a long day.WORK-AROUND: Sit cross-legged, you farang. UNITED KINGDOMDON'T: Create a V shape with your index and middle fingers, with the back of your hand directed at the other person.THE MESSAGE: Winston Churchill may have popularized the "V for Victory" symbol worldwide, but this gesture, performed in reverse in England, Scotland, or Wales, is similar to giving someone the finger in the U.S.DANGER ZONE: Requesting a table for two at a restaurant or ordering two drinks at a bar, you may unconsciously flash two fingers this way.WORK-AROUND: Say "two" instead, or remember to raise two fingers "peacefully," in the palm-outward way a hippie would flash the peace sign. BANGLADESH AND IRANDON'T: Flash the thumbs-up sign.THE MESSAGE: It means about the same thing as flipping the bird in the U.S.DANGER ZONE: Without thinking, you may give someone a thumbs-up when you're eager to show your approval but don't know how to speak the local tongue.WORK-AROUND: Learn how to say "yes" in the native language instead.

Larry Swingen

We are Larry and Barb Swingen from Malta, Mont. I teach vocal music, and Barb teaches kindergarten in the public schools. We have loved to travel since starting with our kids early on during our summer vacations. When they were young, we would load up the minivan with the tent and gradually go for longer and longer summer road trips. Eventually, we had visited each of the 48 contiguous states in America and were traveling for as much as two months for a trip. Each summer, we would hone our skills of packing so that we had what we needed and wanted (within reason) but left as much other stuff at home. We found ourselves practicing our packing on an annual time frame, just as I would practice piano and voice myself and with my students daily. Now that our kids are adults, we have started to travel overseas (without them!) and find ourselves continuing to hone our skills of frugal packing. Barb is the organizer in the family and loves thinking things through, preplanning, and then planning for our travels. We are finding more and more that we need less and less as we travel. Our souvenir choices have adapted as we've practiced, from objects to consumables, and now mainly to photos, which, besides being compact and easy to carry, bring great memories of our travel encounters. We love teaching; we both feel strongly about being lifelong learners ourselves. We find that we carefully think through what to bring on our travels based on the reasons we have carefully come up with to travel. Traveling light lets us meet our goals to be with people in their own cultures. Thanks, Budget Travel for this opportunity to share our packing style.