Le Road Trip From Nashville to Asheville

I had a book event to do in Music City last week, and afterwards Top Cat and I took the scenic route between Nashville and Asheville on scenic interstate 441 takes you through Pigeon Forge, TN.

Pigeon Forge is the Atlantic City Boardwalk of the Great Smoky Mountains, so Top Cat and I felt right at home.

Pigeon Forge is named for the forge on the Pigeon River nearby. It was so hot in Tennesse — 97 humid degrees — that  if this iceberg had been real I would have thrown myself all over it:

Dollywood was within spitting distance, but we were too damn hot and bothered to make a side trip just so we could show off our big city irony.  The highway traffic was amusement enough, watching the passing big rigs haul livestock, produce, flammable liquids, and other big rigs:

And then we entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I took this shot of low, cool, misty clouds…

…and didn’t even notice this guy celebrating the drop in temperature until I reviewed the pictures at home:

But I did notice this adorable Indian-American family pile out of their RV, and I hollered at Top Cat, “Pull over! Pull over! Pull over!!!!” And I pretended I was taking photos because I was thrilled with the scenery, which I was, of course.

Think about being stuck in an RV on a road trip with your pain-in-the-ass in-laws and assorted snot-nosed teenaged-siblings. Think about  what it would take to get your motley crew to agree to go along with a sight gag like this. Whoever you Sub-Continental Indian-American peoples are, I LOVE YOU.

The major tourist attraction in Asheville, North Carolina is the Vanderbilt pile, called Biltmore, the largest private family home in America:

This is the back porch (yeah, it has gargoyles):

This is the 8,000 acre back yard:

This is a corner of the formal gardens:

I thought it was odd that there was no way to view this parterre as it is supposed to be seen, that is, from above (so you can appreciate the intricate patterns that the flower beds make). Luckily, in Asheville’s downtown, there’s a compensating aerial view of Beautiful Buncombe County, North Carolina, from the Sky Bar:

If I had figured out, on Monday night, that the Sky Bar would be closed on Tuesday, this would have been a stunning photo of the glorious Monday evening sun set over the Great Smoky Mountains at 8:15 pm, instead of a bright Tuesday afternoon at 4 o’clock shot. For missing my opportunity for an Asheville Sun Set, I consoled myself with a visit to Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar, the best damn bookstore in the world:

This ain’t the half of it. I took more pictures of the Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar than Biltmore. In a future post I will show you every nook of this lovable, private, cavernous, libertarian, elegant, and homey cathedral of books and booze because if there’s a book store in Heaven, it looks like the Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar. On the other bouqiniste forum….

…I thought it was odd that Asheville, a thoroughly charming city, had such a cheerless public library:

I wonder if, by making the public library look like the IBM Home Office, it’s to discourage loitering by the multitudes of hippies that are to be found in every inch of downtown Asheville? [This is Pritchard Square, below, home of Asheville’s 24-hour, 7-day Drum Circle, of which I was too polite to take pix of the really seedy street people to be found here.]

Top Cat and I were scouting Asheville as a possible venue for our deuxieme acte, so we spent four hours looking at properties with a real estate agent who kindly drove us from one end of Greater Asheville to the other. Here’s the strangest thing about Asheville:

At a red light on Swannanoa River Road, we (Top Cat, Me, and the Real Estate Lady)  pulled up behind an Oldsmobile being driven (more like being absent-mindedly steered) by a little old lady who seemed to be lost in thought about the good old days when Bing Crosby ruled the Hit Parade. The light turned green, and the old gal didn’t budge, so after two whole seconds I said to our real estate guide, “I think you better honk your horn and wake that lady up.”

The real estate agent (Janice), a gorgeous native of the gracious south, said to me in her sugar-sweet lilt, “Oh, we don’t honk horns here. We’ll just wait until she notices the  green light.”

Several thoughts went through my mind at this point.

The one that made me look least like an asshole was: Hey! I only have one life to live and I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste precious seconds of it coddling …

…come to think of it, all of my thoughts made me look like an asshole.

Afterwards, Top Cat and I went to lunch at Asheville Public Restaurant and I had second thoughts…I could live in a place where they make chandeliers out of Coke bottles:

What surprised me was that even in this very hip and trendy Asheville bistro, the menu was heavy with pork products. Southern people love their ham and bacon, no matter how Occupy Wall Street their esthetics might look. Oh lordy, I need my south-of-the Mason-Dixon-line readers to guide me: what’s a person to do in Dixie when she don’t eat pork????  Do y’all just drink dinner??? [I could live with that.]

And Sandra, honey, I know you were just having a bad day when you commented on my last week’s post about Nashville when you told me to keep my sorry ass away from Music City ever again [see last Friday’s Comments]. I raise my glass [of surprisingly good estate wine, seeing as it was baked on the tarmac of Nashville airport for nine hours] to you, you cranky old fussbudget native of Nashville, bless your heart.



15 Comments, RSS

  1. Janet July 27, 2012 @ 8:29 am

    No matter where you go, there you are. Delightful post today. Love your sensibilities. Loved the family of Striped Shirts.

  2. Cheryl July 27, 2012 @ 10:33 am

    Aww…Vivian..admit it. You loved the “dress alike” family because they looked a little French in their modified Bretons. Very “situationally aware” on your part!

  3. Alexandra MacKenzie July 27, 2012 @ 11:01 am

    Asheville looks like a fine place to live, but if you want mild summers, mild autumns, winters, and springs with low humidity, come to the Great Pacific Great Northwest! It has been in the 70s here while the rest of the country bakes.

    Our family made road trips every summer, usually to Great Falls, MT (I’m sorry the only thing I really remember about Missoula is “the place we stayed overnight if our parents were too tired to make the drive in one day”). I was always a bit terrified whenever we went over Lookout Pass — it never occurred to me that it might mean “hey, look out there — gorgeous view” instead of what I thought it meant — “OMG LOOKOUT FOR THE SHEER DROP OFF THE EDGE OF THE ROAD!”

    Fun times.

  4. Shelley July 27, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

    I must second Janet’s recommendation…for moderate winters and cool summers, the Great Pacific NW is your place (or even Winers as you said…although that

    Summer doesn’t usually arrive until after the 4th of July sometime, and it’s generally quite comfortable. Mid-70s to mid-80s this year, and cooling off to the 50’s overnight, at least recently.

    Lots of gray, overcast winter days, and an abundance of lovely rainstorms, good for lounging by the fire, drinking tea (or wine)!

    And Portland has some great bookstores too!

  5. Shelley July 27, 2012 @ 3:06 pm

    I need an edit button…not even sure what I was trying to say about “Winers” above…Oh well, we’ve got lots of good wineries and vineyards nearby (so we can be moderate winers or excessive winers, or whatever we feel like!)

  6. Deborah July 27, 2012 @ 3:51 pm

    One family trip took us through Tennessee (I’m not sure where we were going), and I remember stopping at a local diner kind of restaurant & hush puppies came with my meal. I had never seen nor heard of them before, but they were delicious! I’ve had hush puppies many times since then, and they have been mediocre, at best.

    I also remember visiting a friend in Raleigh NC & being taken out for “pulled pork” sandwiches because that was the big thing there.

    I’ve been longing to visit my brother in the Seattle area to get away from this hellish heat. If I win the lottery, I’ll buy a place on one of the San Juan islands there.

  7. Rachel July 27, 2012 @ 7:55 pm

    Sounds like you have been having an excellent time. Ashville is lovely, but it is so far away from everything, whatever everything is. I have travelled the Blue Ridge Parkway several times in my life. On two of those occasions we were in a *hurry* although the second time we missed the wedding anyway. So, as the navigator, my job was to say to the driver *I know, it’s beautiful, but DONT LOOK, JUST KEEP DRIVING.* North Carolina used to be very generous with arts organizations and education funding. I dont think any place is like that any more. Sigh.

  8. Tracey July 27, 2012 @ 11:00 pm

    The bookstore is more welcoming and inviting than the library.The library should get a bar.

  9. Bobbi July 28, 2012 @ 7:30 am

    Books AND BOOZE??? This is the geniusiest idea in history. I can’t wait to see it all.

  10. Nadine July 28, 2012 @ 12:47 pm

    That book store looks like every readers’ dream. It looks big, too, so it must be popular. Who’da guessed such a wonderful place would be in NC?

  11. Ann Turkle July 28, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

    Splendid that you got to Asheville. I spent 14 years in the area (Swannanoa and Black Mountain too) while I taught at Warren Wilson College. If I did not have firm family ties in Vermont, I might have considered staying in NC, but it does get wicked hot in the summer. One of the pluses of being in the area is that year-long passes are available from Biltmore House. I treated the grounds (extensive, walkable) as if they were my own, often going there a couple times a month. I have a vivid imagination. (There’s a decent bistro there too.)

    Asheville is a porky sort of place priding itself on barbeque, but had you had more time to explore I’m sure you would have found alternatives. I’m going to stop thinking about this now because my little Vermont village has a so-so pizza place and one called Wicked Wings. You get the picture.

  12. jacqui July 31, 2012 @ 12:55 am

    You know what tickled me? The (chilled) jelly glass jar along side the bottle of estate wine so carefully watched over from NC to NY. I too have a collection of “bonne maman”

    And as you already know your criteria fits the entire Pacific Northwest. uh, west of Cascades.
    Especially the San Juan Islands.

  13. parisbreakfast August 1, 2012 @ 6:49 am

    spending four hours looking at properties with a real estate agent anywhere sounds like an interesting way to get to know a place from a different perspective.
    I must try that sometime…
    Bonne idee

  14. Vicki Abbott August 3, 2012 @ 6:33 pm

    Moderate win(t)ers, cool summers…how about Portland, Oregon? You loved it on your last visit.

  15. Nancy October 7, 2012 @ 10:28 pm

    Cool Summers….Wonderful Falls…..Not bad Winters……AND very little humidity….COLORADO!!!! AND Denver is home to one of the best bookstores in the US….Tattered Cover. We are Western and are Independent thinkers……come visit and fall in love with Colorado!

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