Friday, 8 March 2013

Knoxville, Tennessee...

Flying over Texas. The view from seat 17C.
First, the flight. The plane boarded and began to taxi towards the runway and then the pilot announced that he was turning back to the gate. Why? There was a smell of smoke in the cabin (according to passengers) and he figured it best to check it out. Fair enough, but, of course, that now meant that, yes, he had to check it out and who would accept some flimsy excuse for simply turning around and taking off? Not me.

So, back at the gate, we eventually disembark, safe in the knowledge that the plan was to find a replacement aircraft and get us to Knoxville just as soon as possible. So we – 'we' being me and my fellow passengers – are led to what looks like some kind of temporary refuge for United passengers who discover their aircraft is not safe to fly. All the while we were there some announcement or other said that, for example, passengers travelling to 'Oak City', that's Oklahoma City, should go to gate 4 where a replacement aircraft... and so on and so forth.

What worried me was when they called the Knoxville flight we ended up on the same plane we'd earlier abandoned. "We checked a few light bulbs, ran the engines at full thrust and we can't detect anymore smoke," said the captain and we all sat back and thought, well, it's his word against what?

The flight took off and it was fine, generally speaking. There was a lot of cloud high up so it wasn't as smooth as I'd have liked it, but after my traditional 187ml bottle of wine, I fell asleep, waking as we started our descent into Knoxville, which was cloudy and overcast.

Weatherwise, the difference between Knoxville and San Antonio was staggering. In San Antonio, it was the summer. I mean it was hot. In Knoxville it was like the UK – cold and grey, although, apparently, it's going to be 60 deg F tomorrow (Friday). All well and good, but I had to put a jumper on before I ventured out to investigate the downtown area.

Another boring view, this time from the Knoxville Hilton.
Knoxville is more my cup of tea, if I'm honest. It's a little bit more 'arty' and 'left wing', compared to San Antonio's 'big steak, Gung Ho!, John Wayne' kind of attitude, which I didn't particularly like. Don't get me wrong, San Antonio was lovely, and the B-Cycles were excellent, and don't get me started on the climate, but I liked Knoxville, it was more what I'm about. The receptionist on the front desk at the Hilton in Knoxville told me there was not a bike share scheme, but there was one in Chattanooga, where the train comes from.

The absence of bikes for hire was, in some ways, a relief, although, to be honest, after all the food I've been eating, the exercise would have done me some good. What amazes me about the Americans is their ability to turn healthy food into unhealthy food. Yesterday lunchtime, in San Antonio, I found a small back street place in which to eat. It was pleasant, but the food, while fine, was a prime example of how the Americans take something essentially healthy – chicken, vegetables – and make it unhealthy.

The chicken was fried and the vegetables were too; so a slice of carrot, a nice healthy carrot, was made unhealthy by the fact that it was battered. If it's not battering, it's smothering something with a creamy sauce unnecessarily. Still, that's the American way and while, a short time ago over my dinner, I was thinking about how the Americans in Knoxville were pretty slim-looking – until I remembered the guy at the airport (a blob in clothes) and the old woman downstairs in the reception (a female blob in clothes). She wasn't a member of the hotel staff, she was guest.

I found my way to Market Square where I chose Bella Luna as my dinner venue: a nice, Italian place and, to be fair to them, not the usual American cuisine. I ordered steak with green beans and sauteéd potatoes – nice with a glass of red wine. I loved it there and might return tomorrow, although it's pretty sad dining alone. I hate it. I long to be home, eating my wife's excellent food – nothing excessive, nothing fatty, just good, healthy food. I do miss home and it's emphasised when I see a dad with his daughter or a husband, wife and kids out for a meal. I wish I was doing the same, but instead I'm sitting there, alone, messing around with my mobile phone – which has no signal at all – or thinking deep thoughts about work.

Room 1317 at the Knoxville Hilton downtown.
The hotel is fine. At least they permit international calls, unlike the El Tropicano in San Antonio. The reason I went out to eat was because the hotel restaurant didn't look up to much. I think they're in the middle of refurbishment and the 'restaurant' (the Orange Martini) looked a bit dreary. Bella Luna was nice and I might get back there tomorrow night.

So, no bikes to ride. A blessing in disguise. As for Knoxville, it's good. Whereas San Antonio was full of Mexicans and South Americans and is famed for its 'big everything' – nowt wrong with that, at least it was warm – Knoxville, for me, was better. A little more arty and understated, judging only by the Market Square shops and restaurants, and it was more my cup of tea.

The hotel's good too. Although, the view from my hotel window is not up to much (see photo). San Antonio was six hours behind the UK; Knoxville is five hours behind and my next stop is Los Angeles, via Denver where they are seven hours behind – it was eight but the clocks went forward, or back, I can't remember. Still, that's not until the weekend.

Note to self: turn off the noisy air con system otherwise it will mean a broken night.

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