Monday, July 28, 2008

Exploring Asheville

Asheville is a relatively small town (about 800,000*), but it has a vibrant downtown life with lots of people strolling about and quite a few restaurants and shops. Lots of arts and craftspeople live here. We took a trolley tour that wound through different neighborhoods and deposited us at Grove Park Inn where we had lunch. At an elevation of 2,100 ft., it sits up high and looks down on the city of Asheville and the Blue Ridge Mts. beyond. We had a delicious lunch on the terrace with a wonderful view and a cool breeze. It's very grand and imposing; Scott Fitzgerald used to stay here when he came to visit Zelda in the sanitorium. They also boast that they have the best spa in the world, but we didn't get to verify that (sadly). *Bill tells me this number should be 80,000; 800,000 would be a BIG town. Who knew?

The view from our table

After lunch, we rejoined the trolley tour and saw a lot of things downtown for which I have photos but absolutely no memory of the names of things. You have to take notes and snap pictures at the same time, I guess.
We liked Asheville and found it very accessible and friendly. You could easily spend a week or so in this area and find plenty to do.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

More To Do

The Biltmore Estate is quite large. Thousands of acres of landscaping, winding paths and trails, ponds, lakes, waterfalls, woods, and even the French Broad River wind through it. It is 3 miles from the entrance to the house. When you're finished with the house and gardens, there is more to do. Above is the winery where they show you a little film and give you an even littler tour of some barrels and vats and then guide you toward the wine shop

Inside, there's a nice wine-tasting area where you are offered 8 free tastings of the wine that is made from the estate vineyards. Then you are encouraged to buy. We did. We bought a bottle of Merlot "pleasantly dry and deliciously fruity," a bottle of Syrah "robust plum flavors sparked by pepper and spice. . ." and a bottle of Sangiovese "rich fruit flavors with hints of oak, berries and chocolate." Yum.

Next they have a farm area that is nice for kids. But it was hot and we're not kids anymore.

Along the way, we passed the Deerpark Restaurant where we would have eaten, but it was too early.
They have another more casual eating spot called "The Bistro," but we decided to head back to town and explore Asheville a bit.

On the way out, we took a spin by the Biltmore Inn where you can stay in style if you have lots of bucks.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My Favorite Thing

I love to tour houses, but I like gardens just as much, maybe more. Since I was so all-in after Sunday's house tour, we decided to hold off on looking at the gardens until Monday. (Your one-day pricey ticket can be upgraded to two days for $10.00--a good deal). So we got an early start on Monday and arrived at the garden while it was still nice and cool and relatively empty. I know it was hot everywhere last week, but it cooled down nicely at night (you're up in the mountains) and warmed up steadily all day long until it was frying by about 2 P.M. Anyway, the gardens were a pleasant surprise after the magnificence and size of the house. They were pretty compact and easily doable in about an hour. The beautiful Conservatory in the photo is like a jungle, plants everywhere and just enough room to walk the aisles.

As you start up the path there is a shady grape arbor all the way to the end.

See the lattice-framed windows on both sides of the arbor. They look out to perfectly symmetrical beds on either side; in other words, the right hand side is the mirror image of the left. I was quite taken with those framed windows.

The beds are arranged in long borders around the perimeter and divided up into large beds with grassy areas between them inside the borders.

The back stone wall was espaliered with different varieties of apples and pears. From Wikipedia:

Espalier is the horticultural technique of training trees through pruning and grafting in order to create formal "two-dimensional" or single plane patterns by the branches of the tree. The technique was popular in the Middle Ages in Europe to produce fruit inside the walls of a typical castle courtyard without interfering with the open space, and to decorate solid walls by such trees planted near them. Evidence exists suggesting that the technique dates back much further, perhaps even to ancient Egypt. The word espalier initially referred to the actual trellis on which the plant was trained to grow, but over time has come to be used to describe the technique.

There is a garden shop (of course) behind the Conservatory which had some interesting plants for sale.

This is Brugmansia--very dramatic flowers with a delicate, lovely scent. The flowers can be fatal if ingested, however, or at the very least cause hallucinations and disorientation. I don't think they'd be a good choice to grow where there were little children or pets.

I wish I knew what this is. The leaves look like rhododendrons, but it's late for them to be blooming and I've never seen one with this shape flowers. I didn't stop to check out the name and now I wish I had. Very pretty.

This is streptocarpella and I do have this in my garden. It's getting big and overgrown now, so I'm going to try and put some cuttings in a bag like they've done here. It's just one of those green plastic bags they sell for begonias or impatiens, but I like it with the streptocarpella.

Finally, I liked these rain chains they were selling in the garden store. You hang them from your downspout and when it rains, it makes music. I might have to get one of them.

I have a few more pictures I'll post tomorrow about some of the other places we went on the estate. There's a lot to see.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Le Grande Chateau

Just got home from a few days in Virginia and North Carolina, the main purpose of which was to visit the Biltmore Estate outside of Asheville, NC, a place we've always wanted to see. Well, it certainly is all it's cracked up to be. Huge. The statistics say the house covers 4 acres, totaling 175,000 square feet. It consists of 250 rooms that include 35 guest and family rooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, and three kitchens, an indoor pool, a bowling alley, and exercise room. There is a self-guided audio tour that really is a must. We saw all numbers of people wandering the rooms without them and they just looked lost and confused. In spite of the self-guided tour that you can do at your own pace, the experience is quite a workout, although they don't show all 250 rooms (thank goodness). I was exhausted after the tour and we decided to save the rest of the estate for the next day, you go upstairs and downstairs and down into the cellars, and wind around and around and it takes hours. Since there is of course no photography allowed inside the house (which always disappoints me bitterly although I've learned to expect it by now), here are a few shots from outside. If you'd like to see some of the inside rooms on the tour, click here and then click on "start slide show."
This is the front door

Up the front wall are many intricate carvings

Or sitting around on the front porch

This fish reminds me of the one at Longwood; they probably knew the same fish carvers.



Beautiful containers that you'd need a team of horses to move
It really does look like a fairy tale castle. We were impressed, but decided we wouldn't have wanted to live there. First of all, it's so big that it's just out of our imagination how people actually did live there, plus you would have needed so many different outfits for all the activities and formal meals, my wardrobe couldn't handle it. Furthermore, you couldn't possibly go without your personal maid and mine recently quit. And finally, no air conditioning. Nice to see, but if I get invited, I'll just have to think up some excuse.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Dreary Fourth of July

Oh, it was a dreary 4th of July here. I had to take the flag down right after I took this picture because it started to rain hard and it would have gotten soaked. Now, Saturday morning, it's still rainy and foggy and damp and chilly. The other funny thing about yesterday was that I didn't hear any firecrackers going off all day. Usually they are popping relentlessly, rain or shine. I know because they always used to terrify my pets and I couldn't wait for the day to be over. Not yesterday. Nothing. No noise. Odd. I did hear some organized fireworks going off way after dark, but it was damp and soggy and I was glad I was home and dry. I think the holiday has a different feeling this year what with the scary economy, our poor troops in that Godforsaken war, and all the environmental issues we face. This isn't the country it used to be.