Sunday, September 30: Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 3

Today was the shortest of our BRP segments, at about 80 miles from Fancy Gap, NC to Roanoke, VA (1) (2). We headed north, stopping at a few cutouts and exhibit points to see what there was to see.

Overlooking what?, September 2018

Like Saturday, we traveled at a lower altitude and over less mountainous terrain than on Friday. Again farms dominated the landscape on either side. I took a short hike – 15 minutes – to a promised overlook, which turned out to be a small stream with no discernable overlook. But it was nice being in the woods, even for a few minutes, and I got an interesting picture of the highway bridge we had driven over.

Puckett Cabin, September 2018

We passed a number of sites that had either old cabins or re-creations of old cabins. One of interest was Orleana Hawks Puckett, who lived in or around the spot from 1837 to 1939 – 102 years. At age 50, she took up midwifery and reportedly delivered upwards of 1,000 babies until her last year. Pretty amazing.

Mabry Mill, September 2018

Our next stop was Mabry Mill, the self-proclaimed “most photographed site” on the BRP (3). Regardless of the veracity of that claim, it was both interesting and photogenic. And fairly busy, with cars being directed to the overflow lot (4).

Wool for weaving, and basket weaving, September 2018

The mill itself was built by E.B. Mabry between 1903 and 1910. E.B. operated a sawmill and woodshop, while his wife operated the grist mill. All three were housed in the structure above. Rangers give interactive talks and demonstrations about the mill and rural crafts. We saw a ranger weaving a basket.

Yes, my camera lens was clean, September 2018

We planned to make another couple of stops, including climbing up Roanoke Mountain (in the car). But the weather, which had been overcast, descended and we found ourselves driving through heavy fog for quite a while. Even after we arrived into Roanoke Valley, the clouds remained low. So we bagged that plan and checked into the hotel.

Hotel Roanoke, September 2018

The Hotel Roanoke is a structure that the railroad built in the late 19th century and donated to Virginia Tech in 1989. It was subsequently remodeled and enhanced into a conference center. The room is nice (5) but small. Our Hampton Inn room last night was much larger, but more simply furnished.

View from our room, bridge to downtown, September 2018

After depositing our bags in the room, we walked across the tracks on a pedestrian bridge and had lunch downtown in a Thai restaurant. It wasn’t great Thai food.

(1) We also drove about 20 miles from our hotel in Dobson to the Parkway, and 7 miles from the Parkway to our hotel in Roanoke.

(2) I recalled that Roanoke was somehow a part of the early settlement story of our country. Turns out that the Roanoke Colony was by the Outer Banks, about 250 miles from the city of Roanoke.

(3) How could anyone know that? Is there an official registry somewhere? No one has asked me for a count of my pictures along the Parkway.

(4) The overflow lot was actually closer to the exhibit buildings but farther from the gift shop.

(5) Sally didn’t like the room at all; I did.

Saturday, September 29: Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 2

Yesterday’s trip on the BRP was all about mountains. Today, while the Parkway stayed it’s course along the Blue Ridge, the landscape changed. It became less hilly, and there were farms along the sides as we continued north. There were also fewer “sites” to stop at. Despite that, the vistas were beautiful.

Capturing the view, September 2018

It’s clear that I like to capture that beauty in photographs. But others have their own approach. Most people do take photographs, of course, and most of them use their phones. But a few do it the old school way – using paint, ink or pencil to capture their vision.

Pastoral scene, September 2018

My favorite “big picture” from today was smaller than yesterday’s.

We stopped at a cutout labeled “Cascades” (1), which had a sign promising a gentle 30 minute round trip walk. So off we went. We came to a stream and a small wooden footbridge after about 15 minutes, but the path continued on, down stone steps. And we could hear the water falling below. Sally headed back up, while I continued down.

Falls Creek rapid, September 2018

At the bottom of the steps I was about midway down a cascade of perhaps 100′ (2). Sadly, there was no good photo to be had there. Instead, I took a more intimate picture back at the wooden footbridge.

We were starting to think about lunch by now, and decided to head to the Blue Ridge Music Center at MP 213. Since they promise live music all day and an exhibit on music development in the Appalachian region, we assumed they would have food.

No such luck.

The museum was interesting but very small. The blue grass music was decent, but the musicians looked ready to fall asleep any minute. So we left and headed onto Mt. Airy, NC. Why Mt. Airy, you say?

Mt. Airy or Mayberry?, September 2018

Mt. Airy is where Andy Griffith grew up, and it was his childhood memories of a small, rural town that informed his first TV shows, “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Andy in Mayberry”. Mt. Airy is Mayberry.

Barney Fife doppelganger, September 2018

Mt. Airy has taken Mayberry to heart: the are stores and shops named after all the main characters. There mid-60s sheriff’s cars crusing the street. There are at least two Barney Fife’s walking around, and we saw one Gomer Pyle. Quite kitchy. We passed on the theme restaurants and found a wine bar where we got some tasty food.

Hampton Inn, September 2018

We found our hotel down in Dobson. It’s a Hampton Inn, quite nondescript, but clean, spacious and comfortable.

(1) Cascade Falls is located at MP 272, and is in E.B. Jeffress Park.

(2) The Wikipedia entry says 250′, but I’m sceptical.

Friday, September 28: Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 1

We left our B&B in Asheville this morning. We’ll miss some aspects of the Inn: the cozy feeling, the bright room, the friendly hosts and other guests. We won’t miss the breakfasts served family style; not the family style, but the food itself. This morning was some sort of quiche or omelette with corn. I ate it, Sally pretended. And not the uncomfortable chairs in our room, which were okay for lying back and sleeping but not for sitting and reading, watching TV or eating.

Today’s plan was simple: drive about 100 miles up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Blowing Rock, NC. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a “National Parkway”(1) that runs 469 miles through North Carolina and Virginia. It is two lanes the whole way, with numerous scenic overview cutouts and other places to stop and enjoy the outdoors. It has been the most visited unit of the National Park Service almost every year since 1946. It mostly follows the Blue Ridge of the Appalachian Mountains.

We entered at Mile Post 385, and plan to follow it to MP 0.

Great tree along the Parkway, September 2018

As this was our first time on the Parkway, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. My best guess was that it’s like driving through any of the big National Parks out west, only longer. We stopped at some scenic turnouts, and then at a couple of specific sites.

Craggy Gardens looking east, September 2018

Craggy Gardens was the first stop, and the first time I went to the wrong viewpoint initially. I stopped at the picnic area, and saw a sign for a trail heading to the viewpoint almost a mile up the hill. Fortunately, I turned back after a short while as the sky looked completely socked in. After heading back out on the Parkway, we came to the viewpoint – right on the highway. No hiking required!

Looking west from Craggy Gardens Viewpoint, September 2018

Our next stop was Mount Mitchell, which at 6,684′ is the highest peak east of the Mississippi (2).

View from the top (of Mt. Mitchell), September 2018

On our way up to the peak, we stopped for lunch in the state park that surrounds the mountain. It was simple and edible. The views from the peak were very nice (3).

Linville Falls, September 2018

The last major stop was Linville Falls. Again I managed to go to the wrong viewpoint first. In fact, I managed to go to both of the viewpoints I didn’t want before finding the one I wanted. And believe me, the trail signs couldn’t have been more clear. I was just not reading them correctly.

We finished today at our stop for the night, the Chetola Resort. To get this far on the trip, we’ve driven just over 2,000 miles, averaging almost 60 mph and 28.7 mpg. Today we averaged 34 mph and 19.5 mpg over 110 miles. To say life moves slower on the Blue Ridge Parkway is an understatement.

Chetola Resort, September 2018

The resort is a pleasant surprise. Their online pictures don’t do our room justice (4). There were drinks and snacks on the hall when we arrived, and we had a nice dinner in the restaurant downstairs. No need to search for a place to eat!

(1) A National Parkway is like a National Forest or National Monument. It is administered by the National Park Service.

(2) Mt. Washington is #11 at 6,288′. All of the top ten are in the Blue Ridge area.

(3) I actually stopped in the parking lot below the peak. But not very far below.

(4) I think mine are better, but you can be the judge.

Thursday, September 27: The rain held off (mostly)

We had two or three objectives for today: See Biltmore, walk around Asheville, and have a decent dinner. We accomplished all three, though not without a bit of juggling.

(A portion of) Biltmore Estate, September 2018

Biltmore is the massive estate of George Vanderbilt, grandson of the Commodore who built and made a fortune from the New York Central Railroad (1). The statistics of the place are staggering: 250 rooms, 180,000 square feet, 7,000 acres, … . One can go on and on. George built it starting in 1895 as a summer place to escape the heat of the city. It is still owned by his descendents, the Cecils. Between the Great Depression and increased taxes, his heirs were forced to open it to the public starting in 1930.

Today it is a major tourist attraction, including hotels, restaurants and shops along with the tours. Sally and I both found it interesting and well run (at least the portions we visited and one restaurant as well as crowd management).

Interiors at Biltmore: ornate, September 2018

The architecture and decorating is over the top, although not nearly at the level of Hearst Castle. Vanderbilt literally spared no expense in creating the house and furnishing it. Even the servants’ quarters and work areas were spacious and airy.

Chihuly was here, September 2018

The 7,000 acres remaining today are a small piece of the 100,000+ acres that were originally part of the estate. In 1914, Vanderbilt’s widow, Edith, completed the sale of 84,000 acres to the Federal government to form the nucleus of Pisgah National Forest. The grounds that remain today were landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted (2), and consist of formal gardens and a larger park area. There is a Chihuly exhibit in the gardens area – this guy is everywhere we go.

A bit of Broadway in Asheville, September 2018

We were hungry by the time we finished the house and gardens, so we went into the nicer restaurant in the old stable building. I wasn’t expecting much, just high prices, mediocre food and lots of garlic. But the prices were reasonable ($13.95 for a roast chicken dinner), the food was fresh and tasty, and Sally had several choices free of poison. And like the rest of our experience at Biltmore, it was efficient and friendly.

We drove back into downtown Asheville (after a 20 minute drive just getting out of the estate) and walked around a bit. But the weather was gloomy with periodic drizzles, so we went back to the Inn. I made an executive decision not to fight another restaurant battle (i.e. calling around to try and find a garlic-free option) but went to the Whole Foods, bought some wine and prepared food, and we ate safely in our room.

(1) There’s a statue of the Commodore on the south face of Grand Central Terminal looking down Park Ave South.

(2) Olmsted famously designed Central Park in New York City.

Wednesday, September 26: Wet again, yet again

For our last morning at Blackberry Farm, the tentative plan was to spend some time going around the grounds. Either an easy stroll in the woods for Sally & me, or maybe driving our golf cart to look at some of the things we passed during the geocaching hunt yesterday.

It was not to be.

Rain, rain go away, September 2018

We woke up to rain. Enough rain that we called the desk to have a real car (1) pick us up and drive us down to the unformal dining room for breakfast.

Unformal enough for you? (2), September 2018

Enough rain that driving the golf cart anywhere was not just unpleasant, but unsafe – they don’t brake very well on wet pavement. In fact, I found they can barely keep from sliding down some of the steep pitches on the cart paths. Enough rain that the thought of any outdoor activity was shelved.

Smokey Mountains looking smokey, September 2018

So we had breakfast, looked at the clouds hanging over the mountains, enjoyed the hunt paintings in the dining room, packed and headed out for another rainy drive in Tennessee.

Zen Room, Chestnut Street Inn, September 2018

When we got to Asheville, we were hoping to leave our bags at the Inn and go for a walk in town. But – it was drizzling, so we took a look at the town through the windshield wipers and went back to the Inn to listen to our Fearless Leader ramble (3) for an hour.

(1) One of the Lexi.

(2) They use white table clothes for dinner. This is the breakfast/lunch setup.

(3) He did much more than merely ramble, none of it good.

Tuesday, September 25: The tour

Blackberry Farm really is a very nice place. Nothing is a problem – except the weather.

It rained, I know it did, September 2018

We woke up this morning to another wet day, with high humidity and evidence of rainfall. It didn’t actually rain while we were out, but I had to dry off the seat in our golf cart and put a blanket down before we ventured out to breakfast (1) (2).

Geocaching gear, cache box in middle, September 2018

We had planned to try geocaching before lunch. Geocaching is a games where you attempt to locate a cache based on geographic coordinates and perhaps a clue. In the larger world, a cache can be established by anyone, who then publishes it. They will often leave a small notebook for geocachers to sign, and hide a trinket or charm in the cache.

We found the cache near this scary turkey, September 2018

Here, we were given a small stamp and a booklet to record our finds, and each cache contained a stamp and a booklet to stamp and sign. We were also given a Garmin GPS preprogrammed with the coordinates of each cache. The GPS only gets you within a couple of dozen feet of the cache. then it’s up to you to find it. The picture shows our equipment and the small metal box which is hidden at each location.

We found the cache near this gardeners’ shed, September 2018

We expected to spend an hour or so, but after 1 1/2 hours we broke for lunch. It was 3:30 when we finished, having found all but one of the eight caches.

We failed to find the cache near this chapel, September 2018

Part of the fun in this context is that you are forced to travel around the entire property (in your golf cart), as the caches are hidden by the various activity sites.

Faux-old paintings as the decor, September 2018

We had a nice dinner in the un-formal dining room. You’ll recall the formal dining room required men to wear their jackets into the dining room; this one does not. The food is similar, although the menu is different. The wine list is only a dozen pages long, rather than 100. The decor was old English, meaning lots of bad paintings of fox hunting on the wall. The formal room was rustic – it’s built as a large barn, with open beam construction and a very high ceiling.

Can you have too many extra towels?, September 2018

Many people, including us, periodically ask for extra towels from housekeeping. This being Blackberry Farm, they just kept coming.

(1) In typical Blackberry Farm style, our cabin comes with special hand towels to wipe down the seats, and a special blanket to place on the still damp seat.

(2) Truly first world problems, I know.

Monday, September 24: Soggy Blackberry

Our streak of not-great weather continued today in Walland, although it actually didn’t prevent us from doing what we wanted.

Little cabin in the woods, with a little golf cart in the woods, September 2018

Blackberry Farm is very spread out, and our cabin comes with a golf cart. Our first excursion was last night, when we had to find The Barn (the so-called formal dining venue) in the dark, after checking into our cabin in the afternoon and not leaving until dinner. Suffice to say we made a few wrong turns.

But this morning we had no trouble driving to a different part of the property for breakfast. After a bit of thought we elected to eat outside, as did most of the guests.

Blackberry scenes, September 2018

After breakfast I took a soggy walk in the humidity. The grounds are beautiful, even with overcast skies.

Chef Rachel, September 2018

Our planned activity for the day was a cooking demonstration with one of Blackberry’s chefs. While it is advertised as a group activity, the group today was just Sally and me. And Rachel, our chef-instructor. She gave a great explanation of how she was preparing our customized three course meal, and the three of us had a great time chatting for 2 1/2 hours. And the meals she prepared for us were delicious.

Fungi at Blackberry, September 2018

We are right on the edge of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park with it’s extensive outdoor activities and 900 miles of trails. Blackberry has their own hiking trails, about 9 miles worth. I used about 4 of them this afternoon, which was plenty for me. The hike wasn’t that hard, and the temps were in the low 70s, but the humidity was about 100%. I was soaked by the time I got back – and the drizzling rain didn’t help.

Fly fishing shack and instruction, September 2018

They have plenty of other activities: archery, skeet, tennis, fly fishing, biking, etc. We’ll concentrate mostly on the gourmet food. Which is how we finished the day, with another great meal in the Barn.

Marred only by having to drive the open golf cart back to our cabin in a light drizzle.

Sunday, September 23: Back to Black (berry Farm)

After ten days of never using the gym facilities at any of our stops, I decided to use the gym at the Hermitage. Unfortunately, the hotel leased the gym and spa to Netflix for filming today, and it was closed. Rather than take their offer to use a nearby public gym, I decided to take a walk outside. It was almost-raining, and I figured even if it started drizzling, I’d wind up less wet than if I used the treadmill.

Nashville City Hall and Courthouse, September 2018

Well, I figured right. I wound up less wet, even though it started raining pretty steadily about 15 minutes before I got back. While I was out, I did come across Nashville’s government plaza. The architecture and layout was quite impressive.

By the time we left left Nashville it was raining lightly, but as we headed east on I-40, it turned into heavy rain. Visibility was poor, the road was slick, and cars (and trucks) were staying below the speed limit. About halfway to our destination, the rain eased, the road dried, and we all resumed the national speed limit of 10% above the posted limit.

Between the rain, the 200 miles, and the one hour time change as we came back into Eastern Time, we didn’t arrive at Blackberry Farm until after 4:00. This is one of those places where they spare no effort to cater to your needs. Once you pull up and walk into reception, your car disappears and all of your bags are quietly put into one of the house Lexuses (Lexi?). You sign a bunch of waivers, payment agreements, cancellation policies, etc. on an iPad (1), and then you get driven to your cabin in the woods.

A cabin at Blackberry Farm, September 2018

Which is very nice. But designed for the twentieth century. The room actually has a fair number of outlets, all in the baseboard along the floor, and none close enough to any table to be able to charge your devices without placing them on the floor (2).

There were other initial problems in the cabin which needed attending. There was some very nice cheese left as a welcome snack, and which contained garlic (3). The soap and shampoo were laced with lavender, which we also had to call about (4).

Dinner was at their “formal” restaurant. Formal has a silly definition: jackets required for men. Now, you’re thinking ” what’s silly about that?”. But grasshopper, you are thinking the colloquial use of that phrase, which is shorthand for something like “men should wear a jacket, some nice slacks and a button down shirt or the equivalent”. But here it means exactly what it say: the gentleman who escorted us to our room said one merely must wear a jacket. Jeans and a t-shirt with it are perfectly acceptable.

That’s what the man said.

And that is silly.

(1) I felt like I was at the Hertz counter: “please initial the CDW, please initial here to decline buying a full tank of gas, please …”.

(2) Which they were happy to rectify by sending someone over with an extension cord.

(3) Which they were happy to rectify by sending someone over with a fruit plate, and removing the poisonous cheese.

(4) Which they were happy to rectify by sending someone over with Bars of Dove soap.

Saturday, September 22: Some Nashville sights (and music)

Today we did two touristy things (1): we went to the Gulch, and we went to the Parthanon.

The Gulch is your typical trendy redevelopment zone. Once the site of Nashville’s train yards, it was mostly vacant for the second half of the twentieth century. About 10 years ago, much of the land was bought by a developer and it is now a “hip and trendy neighborhood”. There are high-rise condos, boutique stores, and restaurants. we walked around for an hour or so, and I had lunch (2).

Look, I’m a butterfly, September 2018

At a couple of spots we saw people queuing for something,. One was a bakery. The other was a mural where people, wait in a (long) line to take their picture in front of. It’s even featured on the cover of one of the promotional books in our hotel room, featuring a current country music (3) star.

Women’s power, September 2018

From there we ubered over to the Parthanon in Centential Park. Not the actual Parthanon, as that’s in Athens. We saw what’s left of that one when we were there. This full sized replica was built in 1897 for the Tennessee Centenial Exhibition. Inside is a massive statue of Athena, which is alleged to be a reconstruction of the statue which stood in the original Parthanon. This is mere speculation (4) of course, as the statue in Athens was destroyed millennia ago.

Also nearby is a monument to the suffragette movement, as Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, giving woman the right to vote in 1920.

Justine Blazer poses for the camera, September 2018

After we returned to the room, I went for my daily fix of music on Broadway. Damned if I didn’t hear yet another rendition of (wait for it …) Don’t Stop Believing. Enough already!

We had dinner in the Capital Grill in the hotel. To my surprise, it is called that because we are located right by the state capital, and not because it is part of the world-class Capital Grill chain. It is also not as good as any restaurant in that chain. But it was okay, and I had a single barrel Jack Daniels after dinner. That was quite good.

It turned out to be a good decision to hit the bars on Broadway earlier, as a steady rain developed by dinnertime. So my Tennessee music experience is over, at least for now.

(1) As if everything else we’ve done on this trip wasn’t “touristy”.

(2) Sally wasn’t hungry.

(3) She’s wearing cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and holding a guitar. I assume that makes her a country artist. The book doesn’t specify.

(4) Slightly more than speculation, perhaps. There are contemporary descriptions of the original, as well as likenesses on coins and elsewhere to use as guides.

Friday, September 21: More better blues (and country, and rock, and pop)

Friday we went to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

I took no pictures.

I usually don’t take pictures in museums, not because they don’t let you, but for one of two reasons:

– the scenes are usually uninteresting

– taking a picture of a picture (or sculpture, or …) doesn’t appeal to me

The museum itself was moderately interesting. If you are a real fan, then they have a pretty solid collection of artifacts related to your favorite artists: guitars, shoes, boots, belts, costumes, hats, suitcases, etc. There are a few interpretive displays to help understand how the blues combined with Irish music to create traditional country music. There’s little interpretation of how country morphed into today’s blend of country, pop and rock.

Don’t stop believing … how crowded it gets, September 2018

In the evening we went back to Broadway to see some more music in the bars. Like last night, what we heard was far from the music that used to be broadcast from the Grand Ole Opry. The song we heard more times than any other was (wait for it …) Don’t Stop Believing. I always liked this song back in the day (it was released in 1981), but I’m suffering from severe over-exposure now. It’s everywhere – weddings, bar mitzvahs, political rallies, Memphis, Nashville, on my Pandora mixes. Enough already!

A really good, really loud band in a really crowded venue, September 2018

Here’s some more of the playlist from last night:

  • Play That Funky Music (Wild Cherry)
  • Country Road (John Denver)
  • My Girl (Tempations, Rolling Stones, and everyone else)
  • Everybody Wants To Rule The World (Tears For Fears)
  • Drops of Jupitor (Train)
  • Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)
  • You Shook Me All Night Long (AC/DC)

There were also straight country songs, but they were outnumbered by the rock and pop stuff

I really don’t mean to criticize the musical tastes of people around here. I liked most of the music I heard, country and not-country. I just find it amusing that Don’t Stop Believing is the most popular (by the number of performances I heard) song in the home of country music. In one bar, the band (who were very good) asked the audience “do you want to hear more country, or pop, or rock” and rock won by a substantial margin.

The crowds are out of control, September 2018

It was crowded Thursday night (don’t these people have to work?), and Friday even more. And by 11:00, people were losing their inhibitions somewhat.