A Travellerspoint blog

October 2008

Fall in Downtown Asheville

A fun "girl's weekend" getaway!

sunny 18 °C

My grad school roommate, Amy, lives in Charlotte. With me in Knoxville, Asheville makes a great halfway point. If you have never made it over to Asheville, NC you are really missing something. The entire area is wonderful, but this weekend was just spent in Asheville's incredibly artsy and vibrant downtown. We stayed at the downtown Sheraton, which put us walking distance to everything. We only had one day, so we barely touched the tip of the iceberg that this great downtown area has to offer.

However, in just 24 hours, we managed lots of walking, shopping, eating, drinking, and sight seeing. Here's a little taste of fall in Asheville.

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Saturday morning was a little gray and overcast, so we decided to start Saturday morning with some shopping. Downtown Asheville is literally TEEMING with unique little shops. Some of the great areas to find shops are along Broadway Ave., Wall Ave., and the Grove Arcade. There is also a great downtown Farmer's Market at the French Broad Coop. We didn't have time to see it all, so we opted for the funky, artsy shops around Lexington.

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What did we find? What DIDN'T we find. There were treasures everywhere. L.O.F.T. was an incredible store, filled with whimsical ornaments, handmade soaps, funky jewelry and shirts, and even gourmet peanut butter. Yeah, they had peanut butter with chocolate chip cookie dough. It's really good if you eat it right out of the jar around midnight. Rags Reborn was a great little store too. It was just a tiny corner shop, but it was filled with handmade wooly scarves, hats, sweaters, and jewelry. What's a girl not to love?

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After a bit of shopping, we stopped at Scully's for lunch. Great food, great drinks, and I had a wonderful view of the street scene outside. The light was flitting through the bright red maple leaves on the other side of the window, bikes were lined up on the street, and people strolled by walking their dogs in bright knit sweaters. It was just great. Okay, I may have just THOUGHT it was great because I had some lunch drinks, but I was on vacation and as such, lunch drinks are perfectly ok. So says I.

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Since the sky had cleared and the sun had come out, Amy wanted to do Biltmore for some outdoor fall photo ops. I had only been to Biltmore once before, in the pouring rain, so I was up for it. It's just a couple of miles from downtown, so we were there in no time. The jury is still out on Biltmore for me. It's $51 to enter (we got lucky and the lady in front of us gave us an extra coupon she had that got us in for $38). In my opinion, it's well worth $20 or so, but when you are paying $51, I expect a roller coaster or some talking monkeys or SOMETHING. So, I do find it a little overrated, however, if you are into gorgeous estates, it might be right up your alley.

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We walked through the gardens and to the Bass Pond. We walked around the house, but opted not to tour inside. We've both been in there before and frankly, if you've seen it, you've seen it. My favorites have to be the Conservatory with the orchid room. I do love orchids. I also love the big koi pond. I simply love the colorfish fish, but I feel bad when they come up to the surface and look at me, waiting for some food that I obviously don't have.

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Since we didn't want to go in the house, we decided to go to the Biltmore Farm, since neither of us had been before. I am a sucker for animals, so she literally had to pry me away from the horses and goats. The two big work horses, Bert & Ernie, were my favorites. There were also two insane little kids that kept running around and butting each other with their horns. Yes, they had horns. GOAT kids, not people kids, silly!

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We were pretty tired from all the walking at that point. And I smelled like a horse. So, we decided to head back to the hotel for a little siesta before dinner.

We went to Mayfel's for dinner, because we both wanted some good country cooking. Don't get me wrong, Mayfel's is still adorable and trendy, but did they ever have some good fried chicken and biscuits! Fantastic. You really can't make a bad restaurant choice in downtown Asheville, I don't think. There are so many places, and each is an independently owned, completely unique place. The only problem is that, being downtown, each restaurant is fairly small, so they get crowded and stay crowded, but hey, good fried chicken is worth a wait! After dinner, we went to Decades for a few drinks since it was very close to the hotel, you know, in case we had to crawl back on our knees. Amy threw back some pretty good pomegranate martinis while I opted for Firefly's Sweet Tea Vodka with lemon. Have you tried that yet? Made in Charleston, SC it is a southern girl's perfect drink. Genious!

We managed to make it back to the hotel without having to crawl, so I considered it a successful night!

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The next morning, we walked over to Early Girl Eatery for breakfast. This place is super crowded on a Sunday morning, so we did a little strolling and shopping in the Wall Street area to kill some time. What great shops! The street was lined with ginko trees that were turning bright yellow. Against the impossibly blue sky, it was simply gorgeous. After buying some dog snacks at the Pet Boutique, it was time to grab our breakfast table.

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We ordered like two women that had just gotten out of prison. I don't know what we were thinking. Pumpkin pancakes, grits, eggs, bacon....and I really wanted a biscuit too but I tried to show a little restraint. It was seriously delicious and we ate every stinking bite. I rationalized it by say that since we were eating at 11:30, it was really two meals. So, I ate the equivalent of two meals. I see nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.

After "brunch," it was time to say our goodbyes and drive back to the real world. It was fun, let me tell you, but it's always good to be home, isn't it?

Until next time....

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Posted by vicki_h 18:01 Archived in USA Comments (0)

35 Miles of Fall.....

Biking the Spectacular Virginia Creeper Trail

sunny 15 °C

I have said it before, I will say it again, I am no cyclist. I have been on a bike 3 times in the past 20 years, for crying out loud. I wasn't even that good on a bike as a kid.

So what in the name of all that is holy possessed me to ride the 35 miles of the Virginia Creeper Trail? Simple....the promise of fall's beauty meeting me with a bright, beautiful smile at every turn. Oh, yeah, that and the fact that I thought the entire thing was downhill.

First let me say, it WAS spectacular. Second, um, it WAS all downhill....for the first 25 miles. The last ten....were....UP. Oh well, if it was easy, I guess it wouldn't be as special, right?

The first stop was at the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop in Abingdon, VA.

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We had been here the weekend before and rented a couple of bikes for an hour or so. Realizing the AWESOME POTENTIAL the Creeper Trail held, we just had to come back and do the entire thing.

Suckers.

No, seriously, it was awesome. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Would I know there was a price to pay for all that beauty, you betcha'.

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A bike shuttle took us and our bikes up to the top of Whitetop Mountain. The ride took about an hour along winding, Virginia roads. We were offloaded with our bikes. Most people ride down to the town of Damascus, VA. That requires a 18 mile downhill ride. Nice. We opted for the whole enchilada: 18 miles downhill to Damascus, about another 7 miles to Alvarado that are fairly level, then 10 miles uphill to Abingdon. The Virginia Creeper Trail sits in an old railway bed that housed the Virginia-Carolina Railroad from 1900 until 1977. It snakes its way from the border of NC to Abingdon, VA. It passes through several small towns, woods, over waterways, and through private farmland.

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The first "stop" was at Green Cove Station around mile 4. There was a community center and the original old train station building, built in 1914 for $2,600. Maple trees surrounded the station in a blaze of orange and children were busy making piles of leaves and buring themselves inside.

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After a quick stop, we powered on. Okay, there wasn't much "power" to it, since it was all downhill. Whatever. We then rode about 12 miles through beautiful forests and through some absolutely stunning Virginia farmland. Wow. The sky was deep blue and the trees were exploding in bursts of russet, gold, and crimson. Every so often, a gust of wind would send golden leaves flying from the treetops onto the trail. It was very quiet. Even though it was a peak weekend, the trail never felt crowded. Others might bike up beside you for a moment, but they quickly passed and moved on. Rarely did we have other people within eyesight for more than a minute. It was peaceful. I could hear the breeze rustling the leaves and I could hear the crunch, crunch, crunch of my tires on the gravel.

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At mile 16, we came to the Iron Bridge. I would assume the bridge is what remains of an old RR trestle, but I don't really know. We knew we were getting close to Damascus, the halfway point.

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After going just a couple more miles, we found ourselves in Damascus, VA. What a quaint little town, filled with historic homes and sidewalks lined with flowers and picket fences. We were told that when the railroad pulled out in '77, the town had little to generate income. The Creeper Trail has apparently breathed much needed life back into the small town. It was bustling with cafes and bike shops that catered to the trail seekers. We stopped for a sandwich and were right back at it.

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The next 10 miles were fairly level. The trail passed through beautiful farmland and ran alongside a beautiful creek? river? stream? Obviously, I have no idea what the rules are regarding water. Let's just say there was water running alongside the trail and it was lovely.

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At approximately 25 miles, we came to Alvarado Station. There is an old general store and not much else, but it provided a great place to stop and catch our breath before starting the gradual uphill climb to Abingdon.

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Just after Alvarado, a long wooden trestle curved its way over the the south and middle forks of the Holston River at the head of South Holston Lake. We passed between tall rock ledges, through deep woods that were starting to get dim as the sun crept lower and lower in the sky, across fields, past old barns and tiny cabins. I do have to admit, that for a non-biker, such as myself, the last 5 miles were a little tiring. By that point, I was spent. Okay, truth is, I was freakin' exhausted and considered it more of an exercise in survival at that point than an enjoyable bike ride. So, there aren't any photos of the last few miles, because, at that point, I didn't really give a crap about the camera. I was just trying to get out alive.

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I think if we had slowed our pace a little and taken a few stops along the way, it would have been much easier. However, we got a late start (noon) and needed to get back to Abingdon before 6:00 pm. Having no idea how long it would take, we didn't make many stops, the stops we did make were really short, and we hauled it pretty much the whole way. We were back in Abingdon by 5:00 pm.

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It was a great ride and I want to do it again. Sure, I have body parts that are hurting today that I wasn't even aware I had, but I recommend it for any age and level of physical ability. Anyone can make the White Top to Damascus ride. Most can make the Damascus to Abingdon ride.

I already have plans to do it again in spring. Next time, though, I may opt for a cushier seat......

Posted by vicki_h 09:57 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Abingdon, VA

A quick autumn excursion.

sunny 18 °C

This weekend we flew the plane over to Abingdon, VA. A quick 30 minute flight and we were nestled in this quaint little town, that was literally bursting with fall color.

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Abingdon is primarily known for it's famous Barter Theater and the old Martha Washington Inn. Having been several times, this trip was just for a little R&R, so we didn't hit the show and we opted to stay at a quaint B&B just off Main St. The Love House was very cozy. It had everything I was looking for in a stay: comfy room with a fireplace and a huge soaking tub, lots of old charm, walking distance to everything, and a snack room with the best gingerbread chocolate chip cookies ever.

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Main Street in historic Abingdon is lined with gorgeous historic buildings that are now filled with quaint shops, art galleries, cafes, and antique stores. Maples line the streets and in October, they put on a brilliant show in oranges, reds, and golds.

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I had to make a stop in the new Ellis Soda Shoppe. Housed in an old Pharmacy building, this great eatery kept all the beautiful old oak shelving and fixtures from the original pharmacy. There was even an old wooden pharmacy window. They've got an old fashioned soda fountain counter in the back and they serve up a good old fashioned sundae.

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After some strolling, a little shopping, and a huge Tin Roof Sundae, it was time to work off a few calories. We went to the bike shop and rented a couple of bikes and rode them over to the Creeper Trail.

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The Creeper Trail is 35 miles long and is a very well maintained path for biking, walking, or jogging. We saw folks riding, walking their dogs, and kids were running along the treeline jumping enthusiastically in the air trying to catch the leaves as they fell. The trail winds through the woods, past beautiful rolling farmland, over creeks, and across bridges. I'd love to do the entire 35 mile trail, but since it was sort of a last minute idea, we only had time to go 5 miles before we had to turn around and go back.

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I have to admit, I am a tad awkward on a bike. Okay, I am a lot awkward on a bike. If I go slow, I get all wobbly and pathetic, so I have to keep my speed up, which makes me tired. I had a great time, though. The views were just beautiful and it was cool and breezy. I loved seeing the dappled sunlight flitting through the treetops as the breeze caught the golden leaves and swirled them around overhead. It was such a beautiful fall day.

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After the bike ride, I took a long walk and just enjoyed the views. I found some abandoned old house that were being taken by colorful vines, old brick buildings covered with bright green ivy, old wooden barns covered with Virginia Creeper that was changing in a brilliant display of color: red, orange, yellow, and green.

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After reading for a while by a nice fire and having some of those GREAT gingerbread cookies, it was time for dinner. I chose Wildflour Cafe, a few miles from Main Street. In an old farmhouse, the chef creates a very unique menu with offerings like Baked Grits with Gouda and Shrimp, Parmesan and Vegetable Pasta, or Sundried Tomato Crostini.

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The next morning, the inn served a fantastic breakfast. Wow. I don't think I have ever had a 3 course breakfast before. It started off with a fresh fruit plate and orange juice. Melon and berries with a mint garnish started things off great. Next was a baked egg dish with peppers, onions, and cheese; breakfast potatoes; and bacon with hot coffee. This was followed by pancakes topped with maple syrup and baked bananas topped with whipped cream. Can you say yum?

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After breakfast, needing to walk some of that food off, we headed to White's Mill, just 4 miles down the road, but 200 years back in time.

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We were able to tour the old mill which, by the way, STILL produces buckwheat flour, grits, and cornmeal. Three stories tall, it still houses most of the old wooden millworks. What a fascinating and beautiful piece of history.

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Then it was time to head home. We were only there 24 hours, but what a great day it was. It was a great jump start to fall. It was a wonderful weekend to welcome this beautiful time of year. A time of year that is so wonderful and lasts such a short period of time. A time of crisp mornings, filled with the smell of burning leaves, blue skies framed in golden leaves, corn mazes and pumpkin patches. So....get out there and enjoy it...it will be gone before you know it.

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Posted by vicki_h 18:10 Archived in USA Comments (2)

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