When I decided to transfer schools for my journalism classes and wound up at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, I hemmed and hawed and hemmed some more. Practically everyone I know from my hometown goes there (there were 30 alone from my graduating class); I didn’t want my college experience to be Tullahoma High School, v. 2.0. Also, UT isn’t particularly known for its academics; partying, sure, but I was always something of a nerdy kid-turned-teen-turned-college student. I tried to transfer to UNC-Chapel Hill, but they only took fall transfers, meaning I’d have to take a semester off. I wasn’t on board with that. I went and interviewed at UVa, which was a lovely, lovely campus, but again, had no journalism program. What would have been the point in leaving one prestigious academic institution without a journalism program for yet another prestigious academic institution without a journalism program where I’d no longer be on academic scholarship but rather, paying out-of-state tuition? So, begrudgingly, I found myself in Knoxville, Tennessee … and loved every minute of my 16 months there, but particularly on game day.
I’ve had the chance to take SVV through Knoxville a few times before, but it wasn’t until we were home earlier this summer that we really got to enjoy it. We spent five glorious days at my sister’s house over SVV’s birthday (aka the Fourth of July), and in the off chance you find yourself also in those parts sometime in the coming (warm) months, I thought I’d give you my short list to enjoying Knoxville. (Also, this will be the first time in five years I haven’t made it back for a football game—*boohoo*—so this is a bit of nostalgia on my part.)
Have a pint at the Crown & Goose. This authentic British pub, run by (you guessed it) a homesick Brit and his son, will make you feel like you’re back in England again. Have a dash of shepherd’s pie or bangers and mash and you’ll no doubt have a bit of traveler’s vertigo by the end of the night.
Eat barbecue at Calhoun’s by the river. Drink a pumpkin ale for me, as not nearly enough establishments have pumpkin ale on the menu in fall/winter months.
Tailgate in Circle Park. Play in the leaves. Have no shame.
Continue your walking tour down to the Old City.
Have a pizza at Barley’s. And then a pint or seven. The multi-level taproom also has a number of pool tables and dart boards upstairs, and often live music down.
Wear orange. Because, let’s be honest, when else is a shade this bold going to be appropriate? (While you’re at it, drink Miller Lite. The two go hand in hand.)
Spend an afternoon in the newly renovated and thriving Market Square. Have a calzone at the Tomato Head (possibly my favorite restaurant in existence) for lunch or a full-on dinner at the new Cafe 4. Peruse the local goods in shops like Earth to Old City and Bliss. Frolic in the fountains (you don’t have to be five years old to do so).
Destroy a burger at Copper Cellar on a Thursday night (when they’re half off). This might be one of my favorite burgers ever and you can bet your bottom dollar that I go back for one every time I’m in town. The hot pretzels with white cheese dip don’t suck either. Neither do the spinach maria with artichokes or the spicy baked macaroni with spinach. Or the blue cheese mashed potatoes. (I could go on…)
Learn the lyrics to Rocky Top. If you plan to spend any time in these parts, it will behoove you to not be the idiot standing around not even knowing the words to the chorus. I’ll help you out here: “Rocky Top, you’ll always be…home sweet home to me…good ol’ Rocky Top (woo!), Rocky Top, Tennessee…Rocky Top, Tennessee.” (Wash, rinse, repeat. Truth be told, that’s the only part you need to know, though I’m not going to lie the “get their corn from a jar” part sure is fun.)
Paint the Rock. But only do so during nighttime when no one can see you. This is one of UT’s long-running traditions, and it’s always exciting to see what message will don the landmark next.
Go for a drive through the Smokies. Ooh and ahh over the myriad of colors prevalent this time of year. If it still happens to be boiling out during your visit, take a float down the river in Townsend, where a number of tubing operations rent out inner tubes and drive you to the starting point. (You’ll also be put face-to-face with Tennessee’s finest. I say that with a heavy trace of irony.)
Get your kitsch on in Dollywood. Nuff said. Then continue your tawdry tour of the area by venturing into Gatlinburg with its, erm, eclectic offerings such as Hillbilly Golf, the Knife Museum, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum.
Lastly, give Neyland Stadium a kiss for me. We may not have a prayer of a chance this season, but that doesn’t make this place in all its orange-and-white glory any less magical.