We stayed at a Microtel for the first time, because it comes up as the number mid-priced motel. Why is beyond me. It really puts the "micro" in hotel. I suspect that the rating is based on the suites and/or the breakfast (which is superb), as our room was, indeed, micro. It was just wide enough for the queen bed (no kings on offer) and the two "end tables" (shelves attached to the wall). The "desk" was really just a counter with a single straight-back chair. The closet was about 2.5 feet wide. The room reminded me of a mid-priced stateroom on a cruise ship; very efficiently designed to use every inch of space. The bathroom was almost as big as the bedroom; toiletries were minimal (shampoo/conditioner combo, bar soap). However, everything was spotless; the carpet is one of the few hotel carpets I've felt comfortable walking on barefoot. The room came with a mini-fridge (no freezer) and microwave, and the window seat built over the air conditioner/heating unit was an unexpected bonus -- although we had to use it to pile our luggage on, as there was only one suitcase rack and no floor space. The bed was very comfortable, with excellent linens. The room was perfectly adequate for one person who isn't going to spend any time in it, but a sure recipe for divorce for two people for more than one night.
The next morning I discovered that I had forgotten to pack any underwear -- no bras, no panties, other than what I had worn the day before. Just the first of several things I thought about packing and then forgot as I was distracted by someone asking me for help. I had one brief thought of going back home -- it was only about 1 1/2 hours, after all -- before common sense asserted itself and I check online for the nearest Kohl's, which was in Hattiesburg, near WalMart. So, after the complimentary breakfast in the lobby -- neither one of us could resist the lure of biscuits with sausage gravy -- we hit the road north. Yes, I was wearing day-old underwear, but I took a shower!!
The detour to WalMart -- we never did find Kohl's; Hattiesburg has an aversion to street signs; it's anyone's guess which unmarked road was "Rockabye Lane" -- added a good hour to our trip, but at least we got gas at Sam's, so we arrived at Cheaha State Park around 4:00. The drive up the mountain felt longer than it actually was, because, of course, we had no idea how much farther we had to go and Alabama seems to have been infected with Mississippi's road-sign aversion. There is no indication on the freeway that there is even such a place as Cheaha State Park, and no acknowledgement after leaving the freeway, either. The first direction sign to the park appears at the final turn. Several turns were made out of blind faith -- but we were ultimately rewarded by arriving at the gates of the park, where we checked in and were directed to our cabin -- Cabin number 1. A slow drive up a one-way road (with one wrong turn), and there we were at our CCC built stone cabin, down a flight of CCC built flagstone steps.
Mount Cheaha Cabin video
|Who needs to go on a hike after climbing these several times a day?|
|The quintessential cabin in the woods|
|Fireplace and foot board of bed|
|A bit prosaic, but important!|
Dinner at the hotel restaurant was adequate, if hardly exciting, but the architects more than compensated for it by making the western wall entirely windows. No food could compete with the view of the mountain sunset, in any case.
Almost hit a deer on the way back to the cabin. I looked to the right to see the deer that Mike was pointing out to me, and only just managed to stop the car before hitting the one that was crossing in front of us. Another was on the left side of the road, about to pass. They are clearly have no fear of cars, and probably not of humans, either.
We had picked up a couple of bundles of wood at the store, and Mike built a lovely crackling fire in the fire pit – after borrowing matches from our neighbors in Cabin 2. I was not the only one to forget things! We were also scrambling to find paper to use as kindling; old directions and hotel reservation letters were recycled to serve the cause.
Both of us were awakened during the night by the sound of something scrabbling on the roof. Mike insists that it was tree branches; I say that it was a varmint. Much later, when we got up, Mike looked out the window and called me to to see a black cat sitting on a rock six feet or so from the cabin, just staring at the window. As soon as he opened the door, the cat was off up the hillside. An omen? A ranger's cat? The spirit of our little foster cat, Phantom, who disappeared while we were away?
Breakfast in the cabin, a walk along the boardwalk, a visit to the observation tower, and we were away on the second leg of our journey, all too soon. So many trails we did not have the time to hike, so many sunsets we did not have the time to enjoy. If it were a couple of hours closer to Baton Rouge, it would become a regular week-end getaway.
Another complicated route over county roads to reach the freeway, but once on it, an uneventful trip to Gatlinburg, where we again had to follow a series of directions that did not exactly match the reality of the road, but we managed to arrive at the Buckhorn Inn with only one minor detour. A secluded complex of cottages, inn, and houses in the hills above Gatlinburg, a bit more off the beaten track than we had anticipated.
We were quite disappointed to be told that we had been upgraded to Cottage 7, as we had been looking forward to the unique Tower Room – but truth be told, having seen the so-called tower, we were not as disappointed as we might have been. It really only rises about 20 feet above the parking lot; the private balcony is barely above ground level, and it faces the parking lot. The photos on the Inn's site are all take from the downhill side of the Inn, exaggerating the perspective of the Tower.
Any lingering disappointment vanished on opening the door to cottage 7 and seeing the full living room with gas fireplace and kitchenette with mini-fridge, stove top (no oven), microwave, coffee maker, and the usual dishes and utensils, to say nothing of the king-size bed and a bathroom with a jacuzzi tub. It was decorated in a slightly "twee" manner with lots of little birds tucked around in twig nests, etc., which, at the same time, dispelled any sterile hotel room atmosphere.
We had opted not to pay $35 each for a four-course "gourmet dinner." I don’t know whether we are becoming jaded or fussy diners or we’re just terribly, terribly cosmopolitan, but the so-called “gourmet” food at the Inn did not impress us as anything more than average. The dinner which we passed up was essentially Chicken Cordon Bleu (using prosciutto and Boursin -- I personally wouldn't tell anyone that I was using Boursin if I wanted to impress them; I love it myself, but I recognize it for what it is), spinach pasta soup, green salad and apple cobbler (or pie, I forget now). Beverages not included.
Besides which, reviews had suggested that dressing for dinner was expected, and after a 7-hour drive, all I wanted to do was take off my shoes, put my feet up, and enjoy a nice glass of wine and nibble/munch on the cheeses and crackers, cookies and fruit, that we had brought with us.
A nice soak in the jacuzzi guaranteed a wonderful night's sleep. Breakfast was good; unusually for a B&B, we ordered off of a menu -- Mike had the "country eggs benedict," which used cornbread rather than an English muffin, I had scrambled eggs with bacon; both came with fried potatoes, fresh fruit, juice of your choice, coffee (of course), biscuits and a coffee cake. Far more than we could possibly have eaten, so we left the biscuits.
After breakfast, we strolled around the mile-long nature walk on the grounds; expecting it to be paved, we did not take our sticks, and could have used them. We were the only two out and about, even though it was something like 9:00, except for the two mute swans who inhabit the pond. The male swan puffed out his chest and his wings, intimidating us with his size (;->) and protecting his mate. Had we been so inclined, we could have visited the arts and crafts studio/gallery/shop that borders the property. Others were within walking distance.
The e-mail confirmation we received mentioned that a 10% gratuity to be added to the bill and it was repeated in the literature in the cottage; it was "voluntary" in that you could refuse to pay it, but it was added to the bill in advance of check out. I shall now go off on a rant about tipping in the U.S. -- it is no longer a recognition of excellent or superior service; it is an excuse for employers to pay a token salary and then expect their customers to foot the bill for their labor costs. Why not just increase the bill by 10% and pay your employees a living wage? Then we customers really could recognize outstanding service by leaving an additional, truly voluntary, remuneration.
The irony is that I would have gladly left more than the 10% because of the upgrade, but I resented being told how much to leave, and since she had the bill ready when we checked-out, I paid what was shown as owing. We took a quick look at the few items for sale in the "gift shop," but most were of the "twee" variety, and the sweatshirts were 50% polyester -- but priced like 100% cotton.
Back in the car and off for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a very short drive to the south on well-marked roads (just follow the signs).