Sunday, October 15, 2006


We're back.

I don't like to announce when we are about to leave, for security reasons. Paranoia left over from the 70s, I guess. But we went away for a week vacation. Much needed. My friend says "But you don't do anything to take a vacation from!" ACtually, I do, and mor eon that in later blogs. And Terri sure DOES work hard. We needeed a break and time undisturbed together.

This vacation was unlike any we've taken... and very nicely enjoyable too. We literally went from the Mountains to the Sea. Hiked the monuntains for fall color, walked the beach and in the waves of the Atlantic on Georgia's Tybee Island, outside of Savannah.

I will add to this post as time permits. Here in Austin we've come back to rain and I've been waiting for this to make the concrete-hard soil easier to manage so I can plant some seeds for the spring. I am the seed man. I plant. Birds choke back their laughs as they eat everything, and so, in sping, nothing. But I try. If you see pictures, then I finished my report. Pictures don't go into these blogs as easily as they should.

We flew Austin/Atlanta/Knoxville, Tenn. and drove through the Smokies to Asheville where we stayed at the Biltmore Inn.

Lobby of the Inn

More of the Inn

Still more

The Vanderbilt estate is the 8000 acre remnant of what once was 125,000 acres, and the estate castle (not the Inn) is the largest private residence in the US. 65 bedrooms, if memory serves.

The Biltmore Estate House/Castle

Home Sweet Home


We took the grand tour but no pictures inside are allowed. This was extreme... firsts in abundance. Opulence. Innovation. Grand design. It is said Vanderbilt, who made his fortune in railroads and shipping, was worth $96 Billion in today's dollars. Gold leaf on burlap wall covering in his bedroom, as one example. Giant rooms. 65 fireplaces. Napoleon's chess set, an example of priceless antiques, yes? Indoor bowling alley, swimming pool. Tapestries, art, custom everything... even refrigeration! in 1895, which was quite the thing when this house was built (I don't remember the year.) Electricity throughout... and that's in 1895.

They had a really cool tour gizmo - you wear this little electronic piece with headphones and when you enter a room you key in the code of the room and the audio explains the room, sometimes with music and sound effects. VERY professionally done, from the announcer to the whole technology. Even great fidelity.

Our Inn was on the grounds but only a few years old. It shall be forever known to me as the place with the Best Oatmeal I Ever Ate. They make it from scratch. Whatever that really means. (We think it means they grow the oats and grind? hull? them on the grounds!) It was direct from heaven. With cherries. Another day I had the Oatmeal Brule, almost as good. Sure, the steaks, etc., were wonderful too, but when something as common as oatmeal is elevated to beyond earthly delight, you are in a rare place!

One afternoon we had a Tortolini which was among the several best meals I have ever eaten.

The Blue Ridge Parkway runs about 300 miles up and down the Smokey Mountains and we did maybe 50 miles one way and back. It's beautifully maintained (The fine $1000 for roadside litter!) and quite the adventure as vista after vista await around every corner. We ate at Mt Pisqua with a stunning view.

We then drove to the highest point in the eastern US. It's on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I would have thought the north east could top it (Mt. Washington comes to mind), but I don't write the advertsing copy. It was over a mile high and the leaves were aflame that high.

Fall smells like a pencil sharpener full of shavings.

Over our week, we saw a satellite, dolphins, a badger, deer, steer, freighters, rabbits, fields of cotton, tobacco and we think peanuts... little shacks and trailers on blocks with the proverbial rusty cars, a 250 year old live oak, spanish moss drapings, and antebellum mansions. We drove through some really rural really southern towns (at the speed limit.) We drove 120 miles of road construction ("Fines double - $100 minimum") and saw clay as red as, uh, almost as red, as the confederate flag which we saw at the recruitment location for the Sons of the Confederacy.

Several freighters came upriver right by our hotel in Savannah.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Biltmore Estate.
This is like a manicured farm. Now get this - when built, the fields were all barren. The architect had millions of trees planted. By today they are magificent and cover many of the hills in splendor. Words don't really do them justice. GIANT trees. A vision realized. Frederick Law Olmstead was the man behind it all - and also the man who designed notable spaces from Central Park to Montreal's Mount Royal (thus the name in english). Oh - and DC... and so much more (look him up: Here's his story
My pictures cannot compete with the professional ones. Take your pick of the links if you want more.

We found this funky (great) restaurant in Asheville on the last night - we were seated in the window. There I had The Best Margarita I've Ever Had - something with berry juice and fresh lime, the glass rimmed in sugar. We watched a hip couple share a joint just outside the window. "Asheville," get it? The place was packed. I had veal meatballs in some sort of bean soup. Hard to describe what Terri had, but it too was incredible.

Asheville itself is somewhat run down. Not cool run-down. Junky run-down. We expected an artist community (and one of the best places to retire, according to books we had read before we uncovered Austin) but it's just unimpressive in any way. Sorry, Asheville. Nice geography. Run down hodge podge design.

Then we drove to Augusta. Having seen the beauty of the Masters golf tournemant every year, we thought the city must be a garden of eden. Wrong. Augusta looks like a war or flood zone after the troops and water have left town (and we can't blame them!) Literally every other storefront on the main street downtown - EVERY OTHER STOREFRONT - is empty or boarded up. Zero charm. Disgusta.

We did find some nice mansions on a hill, but even one house away from the hill (on sidestreets) the neighborhoods deteriorated notably. Happily, we left after one overnight.

By the way - cars throughout the south tailgate. I think they are NASCAR fans who are actually DRAFTING! It's like they want to get on your car-butt and hang there!

Savannah. WOW.

Now here's what you think of when you think classy southern city. We walked and walked and enjoyed the historic district, the victorian district, the river walk (there are even paint color codes now) and the city was alive with tourists. Savannah has some long legs into history and was once one of three places on the planet where the price of cotton was set. Some of riverwalk was built form stones used as ballast on ships.

One of our adventures took us to a restaurant that used to feature big bands... had been around for a LONG time. Our waiter was a nice kid who was lost in space... they were out of this or that, apologies, etc. Then he disappeared. Turns out (said his replacement who noted they DID have the lobster special) that over time his neighborhood had deteriorated, and since his dad kept calling the police (say it: "PO-lice") to report the local drug activity, the local drug bad guys shot up his house right while the waiter was waiting on us, hit his father, and his dad had been ambulanced to the hospital... no further report.

We did no sightseeing after dinner. This was a few miles from downtown.

Savannah was friendly, with great atmosphere and food. However the wind must have been blowing from the refineries down to the city because there was a sulfurous smell that was tough to ignore all the time. Like a fart in an elevator. I feel compelled to point it out since on a tour, it almost made me nauseous, but overall, we loved the city. Here's a city with vision both forward and backward as they have preserved their heritage.

Here is a city with charm. And 20 miles away, the Atlantic ocean... Where I immediately became a kid again, and while Terri sat, took a long walk through the wavelets like I did as a kid.

A stark reminder of coastal living.

Friday, Terri's brother and sister in law drove up from Jacksonville for a nice breakfast visit.

Throughout the trip, since our mountain-to-sea 650+ miles were by car through towns small and smaller, we came to ask how and why. How could this town happen? Why were these people still living here? What did they do? Answers we'll never know. Our big city ways don't understand the slow pace and familiarity of small town life, where generations live out their chapters under the spread of a large oak.

We flew back through Atlanta. On the flight to Austin was the body of a soldier slain in Iraq.

1 comment:

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