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More in Amtrak Travel. Falling for North Carolina in Charlotte and Asheville!

More in Amtrak Travel. Falling for North Carolina in Charlotte and Asheville!

Old Jun 28th, 2021, 04:54 PM
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oldemalloy—Thank you, it’s good to be on the move again!

starrs—Yes, right around my hotel were some charming homes; I loved some of them on the hill going down to the River Arts District.

tdudette— I wasn’t expecting there to be many options but was surprised how few public transit options there actually were. Thank goodness people in Asheville like to use Charlotte Airport sometimes (for the greater number of direct flights out of Charlotte).
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Old Jun 29th, 2021, 02:29 AM
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Gretchen—That’s interesting that the mock pit stop was fun even for some who are not NASCAR fans! And as you say, a unique experience; I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it in my nearly 50 years!

Well, it was a 6 year old boy and his dad!! That particular duo can make almost ANYthing interesting, but it has to do with "CARS". One of the major tourist attractions for fans in the smaller towns north of Charlotte is touring the actual garages that the NASCAR cars are engineered!!
Sorry about the bus--what a mess and our transportation "system" is a mess. Glad you found the shuttle.

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Old Jun 29th, 2021, 02:34 AM
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Daniel, those pit crews are amazing. My late DH had a Saturn car but it had a flat tire so he left it with me to call AAA. Being an independent (and some say cussed) New Englander, and armed with the Saturn's excellent directions, I did it. Remember to loosen the lug nuts before you jack up the car. Tires are heavy! I broke many fingernails and ruined my blouse wrestling the spare (and it was a real tire then) out of the trunk.
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Old Jun 30th, 2021, 07:23 AM
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About a decade ago, there were 3 cities in the US Southeast that I felt I must visit that I had not been to before: Charleston, Savannah and Asheville. Charleston and Savannah I visited for the first time in 2011-2012, so a long time ago now; these appealed to me as good Christmas to New Year’s destinations thanks to their milder winter climate, unique food scene and accessibility via Amtrak, which unlike Asheville, had an actual stop on Florida-bound and Palmetto trains. (I am a train aficionado.) This year, at long last, I made it to Asheville.

*Downtown Asheville*

Staying at the Downtown Inn & Suites, I could quickly see that I was in a walkable city surrounded by the handsome looking Blue Ridge mountains. The downtown core exudes a lively and eccentric vibe, with musicians (one excellent violinist!), a Friday night drum & dance session in Pritchard Park, a juggler and an elderly Marilyn Monroe impersonator who couldn’t sing, among others. Some of the streets offered an almost Old World charm, especially with the stairwells cutting through buildings and the diagonal Wall Street by the iron sculpture, where diners spilled out onto the sidewalk. The restaurant scene is quite vibrant and I enjoyed my meals at Tupelo Honey (southern fare), White Duck Taco (fusion tacos but also some more traditional in style) and Twisted Laurel. I visited the Asheville Museum of Art, which was fine, but I felt a bit overpriced for what was on offer. I feel compelled to say though that my favourite part of visiting Asheville was not so much the downtown itself, but more the activities I did with Asheville as a base, thanks in no small part to a college friend who had her own wheels.

These activities included the following:

*The Gray Line tour*

I highly recommend Gray Line’s historic Asheville tour, one of the better ones of its kind, with an excellent and engaging tour guide. The tour begins in the Montford neighbourhood adjacent downtown Asheville, a lovely green area with many Victorian homes. I found it fascinating the number of notable 20th century figures who lived in Asheville, including ohenry, Zelda & F Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe. Zelda died in a fire in a mental hospital in a posh-looking area of Asheville, where apparently at one point she was given horse’s blood as treatment (what?). The author ohenry apparently hated Asheville, preferring New York, but his wife had him buried in Asheville anyway, possibly out of spite.

The tour also passes by Grove Park Inn, a uniquely stunning grand hotel with gorgeous grounds in a stunning setting where numerous 20th century celebrities have stayed from William Jennings Bryan, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison in the early half to Daniel Day Lewis and Jerry Seinfeld later. We also went through Biltmore Village, with the “poshest McDonald’s in America” which we were told has/had a grand piano and passed by the River Arts Center, with its galleries and unique graffiti. The River Arts Center stop on the tour by the French Broad River inspired an evening stroll along the river in this area from my hotel and a delightful supper overlooking the river at a picnic bench by White Duck Taco. Apparently the French Broad is the 3rd oldest river (have to read how one would know this) with quite cold water, even if those enjoying water activities might lead one to believe otherwise.

*Fryingpan Tower*

My friend was an amazing host. My second night, she treated me to Tupelo Honey and during supper offered to take me on a hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband. We ended up at a site known as Fryingpan Tower, which was absolutely stunning views of the Blueridge Mountains from atop the tower. I should warn that while the views were spectacular that climbing the tower was much more terrifying than I imagined—I recommend that if you have even the mildest fear of heights to either not climb up the tower or to focus only on each step in front of you as you climb and hold on to the banister tightly. I looked down at one point while climbing and I won’t lie— the momentary terror was acute! I never looked anywhere other than the next step until I got to the platform at top. Afterward, I treated my friend & her husband to 12 Bones Barbecue, which my friend told me was a favourite of Barack Obama!

Over lunch, she offered to take me to the Biltmore Estate on her season pass and I took her up on her offer. The Biltmore is definitely worth its own entry...

*Coming Up: My Day at the Biltmore Estate*








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Old Jun 30th, 2021, 07:31 AM
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View from Fryingpan Tower

Grove Park Inn
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Old Jun 30th, 2021, 08:02 AM
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Oh dear. You're reminding me that it has been too long since I drove the Blue Ridge Parkway/Skyline Drive.
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Old Jun 30th, 2021, 09:10 AM
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The Grayline tour sounds great, Daniel...lots of information non-guides don't have. My pals took me to see that grand piano! Looking forward to Biltmore.
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Old Jul 1st, 2021, 06:21 AM
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Thursdaysd— I went to the northern Virginia Skyline Drive stretch many times in my teenage years. I remember appreciating the beauty and a hike called Old Rag, but it’s been so many years! I’d have loved to do a compare & contrast between the western North Carolina stretch and the Virginia Appalachian portion for those debating between which of the two to visit, but my memory is too sketchy about the latter. Expect most would be happy with both and I tend to just try to appreciate the beauty of wherever I am at any given moment.

tdudette—The tour guide joked that it might seem a bit incongruous to take in a recital as you enjoy your Happy Meal.

Last edited by Daniel_Williams; Jul 1st, 2021 at 06:35 AM.
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Old Jul 1st, 2021, 06:29 AM
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Daniel - I used to visit Peaks of Otter nearly every year, so the stretch north of Roanoke might be my favorite - but it's also the closest. The area around Mt. Pisgah definitely feels wilder.
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Old Jul 1st, 2021, 06:36 AM
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I am enjoying your report on your current adventures. Are you headed back north soon or can you extend your stay in the US? My first Amtrak trip in 15 months was May 1 to 8 from Chemult Oregon to Yuma AZ via Los Angeles for some dental tourism. I walked across the border into Mexico 3 days in a row. I even found a geocache in Mexico on Cinco de Mayo.
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Old Jul 1st, 2021, 03:48 PM
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Hi Tom—I haven’t booked my return to Canada yet, although need to start thinking about it soon. It feels good to be riding the rails again! Oregon to AZ and into Mexico sounds like quite an adventure!

Last edited by Daniel_Williams; Jul 1st, 2021 at 03:51 PM.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2021, 04:56 AM
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*Biltmore Estate*

I really didn’t know much about Biltmore Estate prior to visiting. I foolishly thought I could just “catch an Uber” to the front and that I would see see a big mansion that people talk about with nice furnishings.

Well, since my friend drove me to the Estate, I could quickly see that arriving by Uber would not have worked. From the Biltmore Village, it was several miles of driving before we arrived at the admissions and several miles of driving more before we got to a parking lot from which you catch a shuttle to the Estate. There was an alternate parking area near the gardens that my season pass-holding friend used closer to the Estate, but arrive by taxi service?, forget about it. There are 3000 acres, an immense swath of land surrounded by gorgeous mountains in many directions.

The grounds offer numerous types of gardens, including a conservatory that had the most phenomenal miniature train running through it, which tooted its horn periodically and went over miniature trestle bridges while working its way through the multiple rooms of the conservatory, passing in places the model replicas of the Biltmore Estate. These replicas were made out of plant-based material. There’s also an Italian garden dotted with Roman statues, ponds with koi swimming inside, gorgeous latticing with grapes growing and a hilltop with beautiful views of the estate with a statue of Diana & her dog. Olmsted of Central Park fame worked on the grounds.

The home itself is phenomenal. I would quite happily live in the stable and the servants’ quarters were I think arguably nicer than my apartment. There are 16th century Flemish tapestries, portraits by their personal friend Singer Sargent and contemporary Renoir, dumb waiters and a stunning library. Most surprising though was the bowling alley and indoor swimming pool, definitely not usual adornments of an early 20th century home!

*Back to Charlotte*


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Old Jul 2nd, 2021, 05:54 AM
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The Biltmore Estate (the grounds, not the house) is Fredrick Law Olmstead's masterpiece -
https://www.fredericklawolmsted.com/
I love the grounds as much as I love the house.
Also known for designing Central Park, among other works. My 2nd favorite = his linear parks in the Druid Hills area of Atlanta.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2021, 11:20 AM
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Miniature train in Biltmore conservatory


George Vanderbilt’s favourite room: the library


Biltmore replica made out of plant material
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Old Jul 2nd, 2021, 01:50 PM
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I'd heard of the Biltmore estate but had no idea of its scale. (That's what we have revolutions for, no?) The detail about the train in the conservatory interested me because our New York Botanical Garden sets up a train show at Christmas it its conservatory. The trains run around models of NYC landmarks -- all made of plant-based material from the gardens. I wonder if they got the idea from the Biltmore.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2021, 03:31 PM
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Nice shots, Daniel.A truly incredible place. Owning a railroad makes moving trees and other supplies much easier, eh?!

Fra_ same in D.C. Botanical Gardens.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2021, 03:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Fra_Diavolo
I'd heard of the Biltmore estate but had no idea of its scale
The largest private home in the country.

I heard on a tour that the estate originally encompassed everything in sight of the house.

I googled to find this -
The original acreage of Biltmore was approximately 125,000 acres and included property later sold to the federal government to create Pisgah National Forest, one of the first national forests east of the Mississippi.

And the "fact" before that -
"Biltmore was a pioneer in sustainable land use practices in 1895 and has long operated its farm and field-to-table program. Biltmore is also credited as the Birthplace of American Forestry."

At least it was money well spent to honor the earth it's located on.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2021, 06:03 PM
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Fra_Diavolo—I was very ignorant on Biltmore. I knew it was a “mansion” and something people saw when in the Asheville area, and truly not much else. And there’s so much more to it that I didn’t go into; the beautiful gymnasium with rope ladders & needle showers for massages, the numerous changing rooms for guests when using the pool, the winery, the walk-in refrigerator, the bass pond, a Halloween Room (related to Russian folklore and bats, not so much our Halloween), many innovative & unheard-of things in early 20th century homes. Definitely glad I visited—far more than a “mansion”, an experience.

Starrs—Yes, in George Vanderbilt’s day, the excellent audio informed us that the property extended as far as Mount Pisgah, a peak visible, but in the way far distance. Apparently, Edith Vanderbilt had to sell an enormous amount after his death, to its much smaller yet still enormous size.

tdudette—I just learned that the Vanderbilts got their fortune through railroads and steamships. I hadn’t thought about it but you must be right that both helped obtain things for the Biltmore. I also learned that they were supposed to be on the Titanic but changed their reservation!

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Old Jul 2nd, 2021, 06:20 PM
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Thanks Daniel for the trip down memory lane. I had forgotten about climbing Fryingpan Tower. We had reserved a car and were upgraded to a Ford Excursion, which was pretty luxurious. We thought that was cool until a gas shortage due to a hurricane drove prices to over $5/gallon. And long lines if you could even find gas. Anyway, we drove around the area quite a bit. Lots of porch-sitting going on the the mountains.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2021, 06:31 AM
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Daniel, I am still enjoying your wonderful report.
We loved out visit to the Biltmore Estate. It is amazing that people lived like that.
The grounds are spectacular. We were there during tulip season and it was gorgeous.
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