Friday, June 29, 2012

Asheville & Greensboro, North Carolina

This blog post will be the first in a series to catch you up on what we have been doing for the past few weeks when we haven’t had time to write anything because we were sightseeing and socializing. After we left Douglas Dam and went to Knoxville to get our RV brakes fixed, we went to Asheville, North Carolina. Not only is this a beautiful area, hilly and loaded with trees and flowers, we also have friends there we wanted to see. They were on a cruise with us a long while ago and when we got married 4 years ago, they surprised us by flying out to CA for the wedding. They are Rachel and Connie, 2 sisters, and Jenny, Connie’s daughter. In May Jenny got married to Cory. So our first day in Asheville, these four came over to our rig and we all caught up on each other’s news over Happy Hour drinks.
Cory and Jenny are having a baby boy in about 5 months, and they already are raising the 4 year old twins Cory had with his first wife. Quite a big change in Jenny’s life! Cory and Jenny had to go see his grandmother in the hospital, so they couldn’t join us when we went out to dinner with Rachel & Connie.
The second day we were there we went to the Biltmore Estate, which was the home of George Vanderbilt, and was finished in 1895.
George was one of the grandsons of Cornelius Vanderbilt, so he inherited his money from his father. He only had one daughter, Cornelia, and she married an Englishman named John Cecil. This family lived in the house until 1930 when they opened the house to the public. It is still owned and run as a family business. It is quite impressive to drive in through the grounds, because they still own 8,000 acres, although at one time the estate covered about 15 square miles. Happily, the acreage was sold to the government and is now a preserve. It is fairly expensive to tour this home - $58pp. But if you go on the website and book tickets 7 days in advance, you can get $15 off. Or, if you buy your tickets at the Asheville Visitors Center, you can get $10 off. There is so much to see and do there, that touring can take an entire day. The outside is very impressive and has some interesting things like gargoyles and other figures as part of the façade.
To one side there is a covered courtyard where they sell reasonably priced food, and have restrooms and things like a coffee and pastry stall, an ice cream store and a gift shop. You can do some wine tasting in the gift shop and the wines were made on the estate in the old dairy building. When you enter the house, you pick up an audioguide which is free, and then you tour the home moving along at your own pace, listening to the information and occasionally reading some extra information boards. No photograph is allowed in the house. But I managed to take this picture when we went out on one of the balconies:
The house reminded us a lot of visiting Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA as a lot of the furnishings, art, and even parts of the structure were purchased in Europe and brought over for this house. You get to see quite a few of the rooms, including the downstairs kitchens, pantries, and servant quarters, and the guest areas upstairs. We also paid extra for a tour of the estate grounds with a guide where we saw some of the areas not normally seen by visitors. One place we stopped was at the lagoon where there was an excellent view of the back of the house:
and the guide took one of us there
Upon returning to the house, we walked through the gardens, which are extensive and very well kept. Here I am in one of the covered walkways leading to the main garden:
The main garden has lovely plants and walkways, and there is a greenhouse with some of the more exotic plants inside.
There is also a shop here where people can buy gardening needs including plants. And there is a terrace where you can stop for a snack or drink. We had a picnic down by the lagoon, and then went to the separate part of the estate called Antler Hill Village and Winery. Here there are shops, a historical exhibit called the Biltmore Legacy, a winery, delectable pub fare and ale at Cedric’s Tavern, several medium to upscale restaurants, live entertainment on the Village Green, and a barn area which displays farm life in the early 1900’s. This area is open much later than the Biltmore house and gardens. We did some more wine tasting at the winery and were impressed with many of the wines. About 30% of the grapes come from the estate and the rest are brought in from California. No wonder we liked the wines! There was also a display of George Vanderbilt’s car
It is a 1913 Stevens-Duryea model “C-Six”. There are only 10 in existence today. Too bad he didn’t have very long to enjoy it since he died in 1914. While walking around Asheville, we explored Riverside Cemetery where Thomas Wolfe is buried. He who “Look Homeward Angel”. William Sydney Porter, more commonly known as O. Henry, is also buried there. These are the hometown boys who “made good”. We also went to the local Farmer’s Market, which had lovely fruits and veggies for sale.
We had never bought fresh beets and prepared them, so we got some and first Elaine sautéed the greens with some olive oil, garlic, and toasted pine nuts. Delicious! Later we fixed the beets themselves and they were also very good. Not at all like the pickled ones we had tasted before. The last thing we did before heading out of town was to do the downtown walking tour with the explanation sheet we got at the Visitors Center. There is a lot of history there, and also interesting sculptures, and the area is being rejuvenated with local restaurants, gift shops, and micro-breweries.
In fact, there are more breweries in Asheville than anywhere else in North Carolina! There is a brews tour that looks like fun, but we skipped it this time. Our friends Martha and Gene Merryman are from the Greensboro area and we were delighted that when we called them, they not only were parked there in their RV in their daughter’s driveway, but they arranged for us to park in the neighbor’s driveway. We took turns fixing dinner and eating with them in Debbie’s dining room:
Late last year they purchased a new RV, a 42 foot Country Coach with 4 slides, and although it was used, it looks brand new.
The second day Martha, Elaine and I drove to Ashboro and picked up Pat, Martha’s sister, and we all went to Seagrove.
European settlers brought the traditions of pottery making to this area (called the Piedmont area) in the later 1700’s. There were abundant clay deposits near Seagrove, so lots of them settled there and originally made utilitarian ware such as jugs, crocks, pitchers, etc. Now they are using lots of different techniques to make items that are closer to art work than kitchen utensils.
There are nearly 100 potter’s workshops in this little town!! First we visited a cooperative gallery where the work of many potters was displayed and sold. Then we visited the workshop and gallery of 2 of the potters Pat knew and whose work was excellent. The first one was Ray Morgan, and here are his vases:
Then we had lunch at the little local café, and tried some North Carolina cooking. The afternoon potter we visited had a really extensive workshop and here is a picture of one of his kilns:
He was in the process of making 700 pieces that had been ordered by a big corporation for their employees as a gift at the annual party. After several enjoyable days in Greensboro, with Martha & Gene, playing cards in the evening, and even going to a movie, we moved on to the Outer Banks. That adventure will be discussed in our next post. By the way, the movie we went to was "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel", and it was delightful. It is about a bunch of Brits of retirement age who go to Jaipur, India to live in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which has been turned into a home for the elderly. We spent a month in India in 2010 and a few days in Jaipur, and watching this movie was like a trip down memory lane. We recommend seeing this movie, if it comes to your area.

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