Tag Archive | Asheville

The Grand Tour – Day 2 – Downtown Asheville!

After leaving the Biltmore Estate, we went into downtown Asheville to check out the local flavor. It was actually a lot like home, certainly a bit different than other Southern cities I have visited. I hadn’t heard much about Asheville except that is was a cool city, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  There were lots of hippies and tattooed, pierced people with dyed black and pink hair, and several crystal (the spiritual stones, not meth) and head shops.

Downtown Asheville

Asheville Side Street – So Quaint!

We wandered around for awhile and looked in the galleries and bookshops and eventually settled down for dinner at a restaurant called The Market Place. Our meal was amazing! Chef William Dissen’s goal is to make healthful food that is locally sourced, and he succeeds! If you ever have an opportunity, GO TO THIS RESTAURANT! I had the wood grilled coulotte steak, duck fat fingerling potato hash, local farm egg, and house made thyme ketchup. My steak was so wonderfully tender! Jon had the Wreckfish, with caramelized mushrooms on a bed of Swiss chard.  Wreckfish is so named because they are frequently found in and around shipwrecks – I had never heard of this fish before – but they are apparently also known as Stone Bass.  I paired my meal with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc called The Seeker. It was so fantastic that Jon tried to trade his Chardonnay with me. I said no, so he had to order his own glass. We sat outside at our table near the sidewalk where it was warm but not hot, and enjoyed our meal. We felt a couple of raindrops, but it didn’t rain!  You can find The Market Place website here, if you want to drool over the other meals you can find there.

The Market Place Restaurant – Amazing Food!

Waiting for Dinner at The Market Place

Jon’s Wreckfish Meal

My Grilled Steak – YUM!

After dinner, we did some more wandering and then went back to our home for the night and had a swim in the pool. We horsed around like kids and swam laps, and watched some cable TV before bed. That’s a real luxury for us, since we only get limited cable at home!

The Grand Tour – Day 2 – The Biltmore Estate

On our second day, we woke up around 7:30 in the morning and Jon went for a run. I did some leisurely lounging around and getting ready for the day (I believe in actually being on vacation when I’m on vacation). Then, we headed out for our big attraction of the day – The Biltmore Estate! I had dreamed about the Biltmore for a long time, and had never had the opportunity to visit, until now! And my mom still hasn’t gone (not that I would try to make her jealous)!

George Vanderbilt, who built the Biltmore, was the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Granddaddy Vanderbilt had amassed a fortune in wealth from shipping and railroad businesses and investments. Upon his death, he left the majority of his wealth to George’s father, who grew it more, and then died nine years later. Which leads us to George. George inherited all his father’s money, and never really had a career, other than being a socialite (the Paris Hilton of the Victorian era!) George got $7 million and the proceeds from a $5 million trust fund. When you think about how much that would be in today’s dollars, he was doing pretty well!

So George took a vacation to Asheville and the Blue Ridge Mountains with his mother, and fell in love with the beauty of the area. He wanted to build a grand, self-sustaining estate in the image of the great French Chateaux. So he dove right in, buying up the land – 125,000 acres in all That’s 228 square miles, in case you can’t imagine how big 125,000 acres is.  I can’t imagine it either.  He didn’t go any less grand with the house – it has over 250 rooms (with 43 bathrooms!) The house itself is 175,000 square feet (over twice the size of Hearst Castle) and is the largest privately owned home in the United States.  The construction of the house started in 1889 and it was completed in 1895.  Keep in mind, he was a bachelor at this time – he must have had a lot of friends he wanted to invite over!  He didn’t marry his wife until three years after he moved into the house, in 1898, and they only had 1 child.

Even though the estate now only consists of (only!) 8,000 acres, it is HUGE! When you drive in, you drive 2 miles through the woods (along the creek) to get to the parking lot, then take a shuttle to the house (about another mile). When we got there it wasn’t very busy yet, so after taking the shuttle to the house, we walked up to the end of the formal lawn, up the stairs to a vista point and got some photos with very few people in them! Jon thought the main lawn and foundation were a bit boring when compared to the rest of the mansion (I have to admit, the fountain is rather plain).

The Biltmore Estate

Next, we went down and toured the formal gardens.  One area has several formal fishponds and statues. I made friends with a koi in the fish pond – I think he wanted to come home with me!

The Formal Koi Ponds at the Biltmore

A Closer View of the Koi Pond

My Fishy Buddy

One of the Many Cherub Fountains at the Biltmore

Biltmore’s Formal Garden

The Biltmore also has an Azalea Garden with over 1,000 azaleas plants and hundreds of varieties. The garden is the life’s work of Chauncey Beadle, who came to Biltmore in 1890 on a 30 day contract, and ended up staying on the estate, working for the Vanderbilt family until his death in 1950. Seeing so many azaleas (and the estate has a lot of rhodies too) reminded me of home (with higher humidity). Once we were done touring the grounds near the house, we went inside.

The mansion itself is a self-guided tour that takes you through many of the home’s 250 rooms. You can also pay extra for additional guided tours. As we went through, we saw lots of the home’s features. The grand dining hall had 70 foot high ceilings and a pipe organ! There is a bowling alley and an indoor pool.  The indoor pool at Hearst Castle was way nicer though – you can check out my post on our visit to Hearst Castle here. George Vanderbilt owned a library of over 23,000 books! He kept a list of all the books he read since the age of about 12 – when he died he had read 3,169 books!  I think I have just under 200 books on my Goodreads account, but I could read a lot more if I didn’t have to work 40 hours per week – hey, if anyone wants to be my anonymous benefactor, I’m taking applications! We toured bedrooms that were very opulent, but then there were a lot more bedrooms that were plainer (kind of like the dormitory bedrooms for rich people). We went through two hallways that just had door after door of bedrooms!  You can’t take photos inside, so here are a few more of the beautiful exterior of the home.

This is the Outside View of the Grand Staircase at Biltmore

The Front Door and Above of Biltmore Estate

Unfortunately for George and his wife Edith, he died in 1914 from complications from an appendectomy at the age of 51. Edith was left with their teenage daughter Cornelia. Edith sold 85,000 of the original acres to the national government to establish the Pisgah National Forest, and then over time sold more of the acreage to support herself. In 1930, the family opened the home up to public tours, although they still lived there until 1956. Now, no one lives there, although the family still owns the estate.

Driving Through the Formal Garden

Strangely, when you leave the Biltmore House to tour the rest of the estate (and get to the winery), you have to drive through the Formal Garden.  It feels really odd to be driving through this beautiful garden with tourists walking all around you.  Then you drive for another roughly 5 miles to get to Antler Hill Village. This is the Biltmore Estate’s shopping mecca. We stopped for the winery, because how could you be at Biltmore and not try their wines!? A tasting is included in your estate admission, which I was expecting to be a cursory tasting of a couple of wines. Not so – they had over 20 wines on the menu, and you could taste them all if you wanted!  Jon was driving, so why not!?  I will post about my Biltmore wine tasting separately next!

The Grand Tour – Day 1 – Etowah to Asheville

When we last left off, we had just gotten to the Etowah Indian Mounds, just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.  Etowah was a native American village site as far back as 900 AD, which was used by the Mississippian culture (it got the name Mississippian culture because the first village sites they found from this culture of Native Americans were in the Mississippi River Valley). The culture built mounds for the village leaders to live on top of, and they erected structures of ceremonial significance on top of the mounds. The Etowah site has 3 mounds, and the rest of the site is the village site, where their daily living would take place. Excavations show several structures were on top of the two larger mounds. The smallest mound was a burial mound where they excavated and removed 330 graves. A lot of the artifacts that are on display in the museum are grave goods that they found during the excavation of Mound C. The state of Georgia has built staircases up the mounds so you can climb (or crawl, depending on your fitness level) to the top. The three mounds range in height from 63 feet (135 steps), 25 feet (46 steps) and 10 feet (34 steps – not sure why this one needed quite so many steps!). I counted the number of steps on the two smaller mounds, but I trusted the little boy who told me he had counted the steps on the largest mound.

Mound A at Etowah Indian Mounds

Me on the Steps of Mound A

Looking at Mound B from the Top of Mound A

The Etowah site also had a community square area at the base of the largest mound where people traded goods and played chunkey, which was a game played with carved stones that had ceremonial significance to the tribe. Players rolled disc shaped stones along the ground and then tried to throw a spear as close as possible to where the stone would stop.  Games of chunkey were played by warriors, and doing well elevated their status in the community.

The Mississippian culture is a bit of a mystery to archaeologists.  They know that the culture are ancestors of the Muscogee (Creek) Native Americans, and that the Creek consider Etowah to be on of their most important ancestral sites.  Trading occurred regularly here, and trade items as far away as California have been found at the site.  The culture is believed to have been a warring tribe and the site was set up with several defensive mechanisms – an orchard was planted in staggered rows to prevent enemies from shooting flaming arrows into the village, and a fortification wall was built around the village as well.


Two Marble Statues that were Found in Mound C

Two Marble Statues that were Found in Mound C

It was a hot and muggy day and it was a pleasant relief to head down to the river and into some shade. There we saw where the Indians had created a fish trap – a V-shaped line of rocks in the river. They would put baskets or nets at the point of the V to catch the fish (I will remember this strategy if I am ever stranded in the wilderness or marooned on a desert island – with a river of course!). The fish trap that we saw is a re-creation made like the ones that were found by the hundreds at various parts of the river, and it was neat to see, but it is only visible when the water level is low.

Recreation of the Fish Traps Used at Etowah

After leaving Etowah, we got back on the road to head to Asheville, NC. I thought that since we had been heading north, we could just continue on our way north to Asheville. Not so. We had to backtrack south and east through northern Atlanta to get to Asheville. And we hit rush hour traffic. So, at this point, almost no sleep was catching up with us, and we got into an argument… That was kind of a low point… Fortunately it didn’t last too long… (the argument… the traffic lasted FOREVER!) Once we were out of Atlanta well out of the traffic, we stopped along the way at the Jaemor Farm Market, where we split a BBQ pork sandwich and got some Hot Peach sauce and some Peach flavored licorice. Even though the licorice wasn’t local (it was made in Ohio) it was delicious. I figured it still counted as something I tried that I couldn’t get at home too!

Jaemor Farm Market – Home of a Great BBQ Pork Sandwich!

We headed into the mountains and saw all sorts of neat places – antique shops and little stores and things. Of course, they were closed by that point, so that will have to be another trip!  You could go camping and fishing and hiking…  It really seemed like a great area for a summer vacation, and one that we will certainly have to visit again.  Plus, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is in this area, and we eventually want to visit all of the 47 National Parks in the US.

By the time we got to Asheville, we were both exhausted zombies. We checked into our Best Western and went to the ingles grocery store (yes, I didn’t capitalize the i on purpose! – they didn’t either) and got deli salads for dinner.  We went back to the room, had our meal and some wine, watched a little TV and hit the sack, for a very good night’s sleep.