My birthday is less than a week away and this is one of those milestone birthdays; one that begins with a four and ends in a zero. So to commemorate the occasion, we decided to take a road trip, something the three of us had not done together in well over 13 years (and that was a weekend in Cincinnati for a family wedding).
Originally, I wanted to go west to San Francisco's Napa Valley. But after pricing airfare, car rental and hotel accommodations, I decided something within driving range would be more cost effective and we'd have money left over to do stuff like eat somewhere other than Burger King or McDonald's.
After some research, I settled on Asheville, North Carolina home of the famed Biltmore Estate. The Estate has its own winery so that sealed the deal. My husband is allergic to wine so this trip would not have been any fun for him, so it's good that he stayed home.
The Biltmore may be THE attraction in Asheville, but the town is nice enough on its own. I really dig its artsy/artisanal/conservationist/organic/locavore vibe. Several locally owned eateries use ingredients that are either made/grown in and around Asheville or North Carolina in general. And that includes liquor and ice cream. I am now a fan of the French Broad Chocolate Lounge and Posana Cafe. People in Asheville give a damn about their food. And their jewelry; I scored a very cool necklace made from old nickles, a bracelet made from old soda bottle caps, and another bracelet made from old watch faces and dimes.
We stayed at the super cool Grand Bohemian Hotel. I would stay there again in a heartbeat. And their spa was on our floor, just down the hall and around the corner from our room. The massage/body wrap/facial I received was heavenly.
The tour of the Biltmore was pretty neat, if not staggering on a grand scale. It's just massive and completely unexpected and beautiful. The gardens, of which we only saw two, were gorgeous and the aroma of the lavender separating the rose garden from the medicinal garden was heady and intoxicating on the warm, sunny Summer day.We decided not to return home the way we had come; the only other city of interest on the way north is Nashville, Tennessee, a place I'd never been.
The three of us are not fans of country music. Oh sure, when I was a kid my mom took us to Bluegrass concerts (I probably saw Alison Krauss at some point) but contemporary country music (you know, artists like Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, et al) are not my cup of tea. There's not a lot to do in Nashville if you don't like the music issuing forth from every.single.bar on Broadway Ave. Other than shop and people watch.
Our hotel, the Hutton, was almost the antithesis of Asheville's Grand Bohemian: sleek, modern, linear. Very chic. A nice welcome to the city I wasn't sure I liked to begin with. The vibe in Nashville is very different from Asheville. Like the difference between C-U and Chicago. Nashville is harder, grittier, not as forthcoming as Asheville, and there's a whiff of desperation in the air there that was missing in the mountains of North Carolina. Or that impression may just be because my mom, sister and I witnessed a shoplifting at the convenience store while I was getting some cash from the ATM within the first 30 minutes of entering the city.
We did the touristy thing: go down Broadway to the entertainment district. And we were entertained, but not by the folks you'd think. We ate BBQ at Rippey's (it was OK) and had an ice cream at Mike's. After a couple of hours of avoiding hustling doormen and skanky ladies we retired to our hotel. The next day we visited the Parthenon replica at Centennial Park, which is surprising and awe-inspiring. It gave me hope for Nashville; that it isn't just the glitz and grit of Music City, that it has depth. Shopping was on our agenda and we did just that. All day. Then had dinner at the tres fab Germantown Cafe.
Sunday was an all-day drive home. We were exhausted but very happy. I can't think of a better way to spend time with two of my life-long favorite people: my beautiful mother and sister. I am blessed to have them as family and, possibly more importantly, as two amazing friends.
We're already planning the next excursion: Mexico in three years to celebrate Mom's turning 70 and Katy's turn at becoming 40. I should start my passport renewal process tomorrow...
Until then, I'll sip a glass of wine from the Biltmore's winery and relive those good times.