Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Asheville, North Carolina

Ok so I said I wanted some cooler weather but that did not mean I wanted to experience 29 degrees (F) at 9am! Whilst staying in Blowing Rock we were greeted in the morning with a layer of ice over everything, including the car, which gave the appearance that it had snowed overnight! That being said the weather was kind to us and was generally in the high 60’s. Let me take you through the drive, the food and the sights.


Driving with an 18 month old child that likes to run around wasn’t easy and poor Lucy had a couple of melt downs when she just couldn’t take being strapped down anymore. In between she enjoyed watching Colin Buchanan on DVD, listening to her kindermusik CD using Dad’s headphones and reading her books. We all enjoyed listening to Charlotte’s Web being read by E B White, watching the leaves change colour as we headed west and having a pit stop at the Tractor Supply Co at Monroe (stocking motorized toy horses, deer feed and tractor tyres).

We drove via Charlotte on the way to Asheville which was a slower but more scenic route. We saw trailer homes, the Pee Dee river and a beauty supply company selling ‘human hair’. We even saw a town called Shelby! There were many many traffic lights on the approach to Charlotte which made the going slow (plus it was pouring with rain). The way home was via Interstate 40 which was fast (70mph) but reasonably boring. Both sides of the road were lined with rows of trees and once we were out of the mountains it was no longer scenic.

One of the cool things we wanted to do on this trip was to drive the ‘Blue Ridge Parkway’. It is one of the top 10 scenic drives in the US so it was something we did not want to miss. We drove two separate parts of it and we were amazed at the beauty of the trees as the leaves changed colour. One of my favourite moments was when the wind was gently blowing yellow leaves out of the trees above us which then flew around in the breeze and sunlight before landing on the road in front. Spectacular! Despite the drought and the unseasonably warm weather in October it was still a site to behold.


Dining out fell into two main categories: national chain restaurants and single site operators. The chain restaurants as expected were fast, convenient, and clean with food of mediocre quality (Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Dairy Queen and iHop) The only exception being Waffle House which was extremely dirty and had a ‘smoking’ section which means little when patrons walk through the restaurant to the exit with lit cigarettes.

Fortunately we did a little foodie research before traveling and discovered a couple of gems including Corner Kitchen (Biltmore Village), Crippens Country Inn (Blowing Rock) and Melanie’s Fantasy Food (Boone). The highlight was the watermelon salad at Crippens that consisted of watermelon, fresh mozzarella, basil, rocket, toasted almonds and balsamic vinegar served with lavash. The single sites on the whole were excellent but we were very disappointed with Eastern Lights (Durham) which was a well recommended Chinese restaurant that was far too Americanised (though the Gwo Tieh “pot stickers” were awesome). We even got a Southern fix at the Farmers Market Restaurant (Raleigh) with biscuits and hush puppies, fried ham steak, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, grits and mashed potatoes (notice the fried theme!)


Biltmore Estate
This estate inspired our whole vacation and it lived up to its reputation. A family owned property built by George Vanderbilt in 1895 it is the largest home in the US. With around 4 acres under roof and 5 stories tall the house is amazingly large with 61 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms. It houses an indoor pool, a gym, a bowling alley, an architectural model room, library, observatory, billiards room and tapestry gallery. The kitchen comprises of 5 refrigerated rooms, the house keepers pantry, the canning room, the vegetable pantry, the pastry room, the rotisserie kitchen, the main kitchen, the kitchen pantry, the small pantry, servants dining room etc etc! The thing that amazed us about this place was the electrical innovations for its time. The house was awesome but not as good as Windsor Castle, the gardens were pretty but not as breathtaking as Versailles but nothing we have seen compares to the amazing things done here with electricity – pool lights, refrigerated rooms, and electric dumb waiters. Unfortunately with Lucy in tow we couldn’t do the behind the scenes tour which would have revealed so much more. Instead we picked up a picnic basket at the Bake Shop and headed off into the gardens exploring the hot house and playing in the fallen leaves. We ended up at the bass pond where Lucy watched the ducks. We then headed over to River Bend Farm (still part of the Estate) where Lucy patted horses, sheep and donkeys but was mostly fascinated with the chickens and owls. We ate ice cream, watched a blacksmith in action and wandered around a corn maze.

Mast General Store
“Quality goods for the living, coffins and caskets for the dead”. A small town department store on the national register of historic places specializing in camping and hiking gear but also full of tourist knick knacks. The first store opened in 1883 but this Asheville post is the youngest branch opening in 1940.

Peanuts – Pumpkin Patch Express
We boarded the Great Smoky Mountains train in the quaint village of Dillsboro for a trip to the pumpkin patch. The train traveled alongside the river (where the train wreck in The Fugitive was filmed) to the pumpkin patch where we bobbed for apples, took photos with Lucy & Charlie Brown, had a hay ride, patted the goats, and roasted marshmallows. And we picked a pumpkin too! Lucy was dressed in her ladybug costume and she looked SO GORGEOUS!!! The photos don’t adequately capture how beautiful she looked.

Malaprops Book Store
A fun bookstore with the poetry section at the front and the fiction section at the back it was an oasis I could have hidden in all day.

Blowing Rock

Linville Caverns
Underneath Humpback Mountain runs a river that has formed a limestone cavern. Now a tourist attraction but previously a hide out for deserters from the civil war we took a guided tour inside. There are blind rainbow trout living in the 42 degree water and Lucy was quite keen to jump in to take a closer look at them. We also saw a couple of bats hiding in nooks in the ceiling. The stalactites and stalagmites were impressive and there was one particular point that a column was formed where the two met. If only the guide who had a really strong southern accent had spoken slower we could have learnt a lot more.

Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock is a huge piece of granite 26 stories above Hickory Nut Gorge displays awesome views. Although there are trails to hike up we took the easy option and caught the elevator – yes an elevator in a national park, inside the rock itself! We had to go up a staircase of about 30 steps to get right up the top and boy was it windy and cold up there! Lucy wanted to do some rock climbing herself and was unhappy when we restricted her. It is a long way down! Well worth the visit and if we ever get back here we are definitely doing some hiking.

Blowing Rock
Given that we were staying in Blowing Rock we thought we should check out the actual ‘blowing rock’. A big disappointment and in fact it is so ordinary we walked past it the first time without even realizing. Lucy slept through the whole thing and we got her back into the car asleep and kept driving without her even knowing we had stopped.

Durham & Raleigh

Duke University
Pronounced ‘dook’ by the Americans we stopped in at the chapel of this famous college. Although in the middle of the city the campus had the feeling of a country estate as there were so many trees around. The chapel impressively stood at the end of a drive lined with trees. Brick work, stained glass windows and huge wooden doors. Lucy liked the sound of her screams echoing around inside so we couldn’t stay for too long but she enjoyed running around on the grass chasing squirrels.

Raleigh Farmers Market
Compared to Wilmington these markets are large but still weren’t all that impressive. Lots of pumpkins, mums and tomatoes available. The restaurant was great and we did some caching here (1 successful and 1 yet to be found). Probably more produce available on the weekends.


We got back home in time for our church’s ‘Fall Festival’. Instead of celebrating Halloween we had a night full of activities based on Pilgrims Progress. Lucy was so gorgeous firstly wearing a burden, then arming herself for the journey with a sword and shield and then traveling to the celestial city. It was so cool and she got lots of prizes, petted puppies and made a puppet. It was much more fun than trick or treating and she didn’t eat any candy (though she did have pepperoni pizza for dinner).

And thus ends our mountain vacation. I’ll leave you with some awesome pictures of the fall.

No comments: