Getting out of Virginia proved to be a challenge that neither of us anticipated. We began the day with a final check-in with Charlie and his staff at WESR, with the intention of hitting the road by 10AM, for an 8 hour drive to Asheville, NC. The meeting part went fine…but as we were leaving, they handed us some gift certificates for a couple of their favorite local merchants.
In one fowl swoop, (I know…it is supposed to be foul…and then, not even foul, but FELL if you are using the idiom correctly….but I just wanted to see if you were paying attention), our morning went into a gastric tail spin.
The first certificate was for a little shop in the adjacent town of Ononcock, another cute, historic town that seemed to be cut right out of the 1950s. I had the certificate for the bakery, and so we agreed to be “efficient” so we could get on the road.
15 minutes later, we both met back at the car, Deb with a bag full of stuff that I still haven’t seen, and me, with a two ice teas and a dozen donuts.
I know. What the hell were we going to do with a dozen of the widest selection of scrumptious cinnamon rolls, twists, eclairs, and pecan raisin rolls, with just two of us in the car? We each selected one, and decided it would be prudent to put the rest in the back seat. Why (one might ask) did I buy a dozen donuts? Because the math said so. I had a $10 certificate…they don’t give change…the donuts (no matter what size or flavor) were .80 each- and a DOZEN was $8. I am victim of my own “deal making.
Next stop, the Blue Crab Bay Co. to get some soft shell crab. But we ended up spending a half hour there, trying “crab dip recipes” before settling on a couple of overpriced spice packets and some insanely good “Seasoned Virginia Peanut Brittle,” and by now…it was 11:30.
As we headed down the ever-narrowing Peninsula, the Easternmost part of Virginia, we started talking about the blue softshell crabs that are the primary feature of the fishing in these parts (along with the obvious oyster crop), and realized that we hadn’t really had any.
Just in time…on the last stretch of highway before we crossed the last strip of land and onto the Virginia Tunnel Bridge, this place showed up…
We were there…and the only logical thing to do, was to get the “Blue Crab Sampler” for lunch…because now, it was well past noon, and we could justify eating lunch.
And so we did.
The blue crabs…are soft shell. You eat the whole thing. The legs are like little French Fries…(that is baked apple in the foreground). We shared this meal…and were stuffed (because we had eaten donuts a 1/2 hour earlier). I know…but, they were free.
So the sign was not completely right, unless they consider Alligator “seafood.” But, I guess I am splitting hairs…especially in a place where the other primary product seemed to be hemp. I made mention of the legalization of recreational marijuana back in our home state, and the lady at the counter just smiled, and said, “we’ll be ready.”
By the time we actually got out of there, it was pushing 1:30, and our ETA into Asheville was looking like at least 9PM, even if we were able to hit it hard on the Interstate.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is an amazing feat of construction, and Funhouse terror. There are miles of beautiful bridges, spanning the bay from the Eastern Shore of Virginia to Virginia Beach, with two deep, extremely narrow tunnels…with two single oncoming lanes of traffic, including giant trucks, doing their best not to blow one another off of the road in passing, or scrape the mirrors off of one another’s vehicles at 50 MPH.
By the time we hit Virginia Beach…it was almost 2PM…and the 7 remaining hours seemed daunting. Because they were.
First…a huge traffic jam in Virginia Beach. Then, unending corridor highway driving (tall green parkways block the view for miles at a time), punctuated by the occasional roadside stop for gas (we knew we were in North Carolina when Daniel Boone showed up).
And finally, as the darkness began to envelop us, and we began climbing into the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains…our first “Severe Weather” hit. I huge lightning storm, with a 60 MPH crosswind and driving rain, slammed us hard. Cars were scattering everywhere…some stopping in the middle of the freeway, while others (including us) did our best to dodge them and keep moving.
We finally arrived at our B&B at just a little before 10PM…drenched, and a little rattled.
However, the next day greeted us with bright sunshine, which climbed into the 90s, with about 90% humidity, by around 11AM. Our primary stop for the day was yet another testament to one man’s vision, which slowly but surely turns into a passion, and then an obsession, and then… BOOM! You have the Biltmore Estate!
The Biltmore Estate is about as close as anyone has come to building a European Castle for “American Royalty.” With more than 250 rooms, 178,925 Sq ft, and 125,000 acres (that is not a typo) of grounds and surrounding land, the estate is the largest privately owned home in the United States…by a ton.
I was all set to go off on opulence, and the disgusting nature of the one half of one half percent, flaunting their wealth, when I found out some interesting things.
First…Fredrick Vanderbilt was an amazing philanthropist. Second, he was deemed as one of the first true conservationists of his time (along with the primary landscape architect, Frederick Olmsted who is also known for designing Central Park in NYC). And finally, that the Vanderbilts decided to open the house to the public, as a way of promoting tourism in the remote Blue Ridge Mountain “village” of Ashville, NC during the Great Depression. (I’ve never understood what was so great about it…it sounds like a horrible time for all involved…except the bootleggers).
So instead, I just marveled in the majesty and wonder of a place that is simply unlike any other you will find in the country. Even Hurst Castle doesn’t touch this place…it is truly awe inspiring.
I took more than 90 pictures…I will just give you a taste…
The size and scale of this place can only be put into perspective by looking at how the main entrance dwarfs the full size shuttle buses.
No “Castle” is complete without gargoyles and Saints…this place was loaded to the gills with them.
The Italian Garden…
A very small portion of the sprawling formal rose and azalea gardens
The working Green House is roughly the size of a small stadium…it goes on forever, each room segmented to a different climate and specialty.
The atrium that sits just inside and to the left of the huge opening.
The Dining Hall comes complete with a huge…pipe organ
A small portion of the expansive library
A picture of the first logging to clear the land for the construction to begin.
In the basement, there is a creepy, huge brick room, with the walls painted in a “Halloween” motif by the family for a New Year’s Eve party in 1912. The family must have had a blast…but it has a macabre, sinister feeling to it.
The huge indoor pool in the basement, which flanks a long corridor of beautiful, oak changing rooms, an exercise room, and a four lane bowling alley.
The expansive main horse and carriage stables have been converted into several floors of restaurants and gift shops.
What we thought would be a “late afternoon light snack” turned out to be a huge, overwhelming “Appalachian Sampler” that was more than enough food for both of us.
Ribs, chicken, pulled pork, beans, collard greens, pickles, and bread. That is a SINGLE order.. it was amazing.
The “youngest generation” of Vanderbilts have done an amazing job of turning this estate into a full-blown, family destination, with horseback riding, kayaking, hiking, swimming, biking and more… CHECK IT OUT HERE.
Unbelievably, we were scheduled to meet friends for dinner at 7PM…after a full day of “sampling.” Needless to say, I had a very light, plate of stuffed mushrooms, (along with an unusual drink called a “Tommy Noble,” at the very hip, and totally amazing “Smoky Park Supper club” which boasts being the “largest building built out of shipping containers.” Yes…it is a “hipster heaven,” even for Asheville, which boasts the kind of arts, music, and dining options that would make “Portlandia” proud.
Ashville, as it was described by our friends, is a “Blue Dot, in a Sea of Red” when it comes to politics. I have to agree. The rest of the state feels very much like the “South” with just a hint of Trump thrown in. Asheville is one of the most progressive meccas I have experienced in years. It is authentic, vibrant, and just plain amazing.
Needless to say…by the end of our 17th day, we vowed to start watching our diet more closely, and avoid anything with the word, “Sampler” in the menu title.
We bid Asheville a fond farewell early the next morning…intent for a day sailing on the good ship, “Noah’s Ark.”
Nope. Once again…that isn’t a typo. You wanna talk obsessive and driven to grandeur? Wait until you stroll “below decks” at the newly opened “Ark Experience” in Williamstown, KY. But first…we had a date with the Colonel.