Saturday, May 31, 2014

2014-12 Asheville North Carolina (week 3)


A short report on my last week in the area.

the view down the country road leading to my campsite
I sit under my campers awning reading a book about a woman who has moved to Greece to find herself.  I’m being transported to another land even as I enjoy a different perspective in my temporary home in North Carolina.  A bright blue sky overhead with the thinnest of clouds drifting by, a gentle breeze touches my arms.  A butterfly flits on by on a crazy path with no apparent destination in mind.  Cars whiz by on the road some noisy with guttural sounding engines, others so quiet all I hear are the tires on the pavement.  An open window expels a brief conversation and music as the car passes on down the road.  On my outdoor speakers, Willy Nelson competes with the traffic sounds and birds chirping.

The Social Security Office with Dogwoods in bloom

The Memorial Day weekend is over, I was able to avoid all the usual large holiday crowds but on Tuesday, it was back to the real world.  I’ll be 65, ekk!, yes it’s true in July, and I had planned on applying for Medicare online.  Well, wouldn’t you know it, I got half way through the form and it said since I’d selected the option that I am retired, I couldn’t select the button that I have Insurance.  Hmmm.  But I do have insurance and darn good insurance and I want to apply for Medicare because it will provide a few added benefits to my plan.  Soooo, I ended up inline at the Social Security office on Tuesday morning to sort out the application form.

After getting a harsh briefing from the security cop before entering the building that no weapons were permitted inside, probably a really good idea as lots of people might get a bit testy waiting for service, we were all led inside and given numbers for being called to the cattle call windows in due time.

My number “465” was called after about 45 minutes and I was directed to isle A, cube 7.  The guy checked out my basic information and told me to go back into the waiting room and someone would call my name.  He wasn’t qualified to help in Medicare issues.  A short while later I was called back and a second worker went through my request for Medicare part A.  At first he said I didn’t have enough hours.  I told him I wasn’t applying for Social Security, only Medicare and that I had fully paid into it since 1985 having been a Government employee.  He hit a few more keys, finally approved it and gave me a print out of our conversation and information.  Obviously covering his behind as they say.  Thank you very much.  I was out of there in all of an hour, not bad for what could have been much worse.  Sure hope he processed it correctly.

I love this sculpture by Dale Rogers
Since I was in-town, I headed over to the Grovewood Gallery and auto museum.  They have over 500 artists works on display and it’s quite a good collection.  Wonderful staff working the place, which made me feel very welcomed.  I chatted with a very nice employee who also happens to be an artist.  I was given permission to take pictures which is always nice so that I can share them with you.  The second floor contained quite a bit of hand made furniture and was most beautiful.  The Grovewood Gallery complex also contains a small museum that tells the history of the tech school that Mrs. Vanderbilt started to train the children of the workers building the Biltmore a chance to gain skills in craftsmanship like weaving.  There is now a car museum in the old mill shop with a fine collection of Cadillac’s.

flower made of wood shavings

Artist: Pam Brewer

wonderful one of a kind pieces

loved these lamps

many are museum quality pieces

I decided to go onto the Blue Ridge Parkway to revisit the Folk Art Center where there is a large collection of folk art for sale.  All created by artists from the surrounding area.  They wouldn’t let me take pictures this time around but I can assure you, they have a wonderful collection of art pottery, glass and woven items.  They even featured a museum exhibit on the second floor of the top students from a fine arts college that teaches all these artisan skills locally.  But unlike a museum, these pieces are all for sale.

natures own art work

I had planned on spending the day driving along the parkway and visiting some interesting sites, but after taking the Blue Ridge Parkway to get to the Folk Art Center and realizing I was on one of the more particularly winding and twisting parts of the roadway, I decided to head back into Asheville and just enjoy a nice lunch and bit of browsing downtown.  This is when I wish I had a companion along with me to encourage me to go that extra mile on down the road... oh well, I'll save that for the next time I'm in the area.

Note on Asheville parking.  It's all metered parking downtown, but they have many parking garages one block off the main street and the first hour is always free and a minimal charge after that.  So take advantage of the parking garages when in town.

The rest of the week has been spent just enjoying the local area with afternoon rain showers, ideal for an afternoon siesta.  I met the owner of the small campground I’m staying at and he told me that he also has 4 private campsites next to his house across the street and down in a valley next to a stream.  After having met me he said I could stay on one of those sites anytime I came back into the area.  A special privilege as he usually reserves them only for friends and relatives.  What a kind gesture.

Cadillac in the car museum

I’ll be driving to Sevierville Tennessee on Sunday.

More pictures on Picasa.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

2014-11 Asheville North Carolina (Week 2)


Asheville North Carolina (week 2)

Campground:  See previous report

Asheville North Carolina, you don't see many murals
around the city so I thought this one stood out

We’ve had a couple days of cooler weather and some rain, but since I’m here for almost three weeks it doesn’t hurt to have a few down days.  Just cozy up to a good book, turn the fireplace on and some good music and that’s how we full timers enjoy those cool rainy days.

Hominy Valley Rv Park

I’ve enjoyed a few buffet type meals as they are very popular here in the south.  Usually pretty good meals and the price is good as well.  Surprisingly good Mexican restaurants as well.  Tupelo Honey’s a restaurant in downtown Asheville is always a favorite.

On Monday with the sun back out I headed into Asheville to learn more about the city and take a trolley tour.  Something I always recommend in towns like this as it gives the tourist a chance to scope out the city without having to do all the driving.  The tour begins at the Visitors Center.  We toured the historic home district, downtown, the arts district etc.  Well except our trolley stopped running ¾ of the way through the tour.  The gas pedal fell off.

Historic district homes

view from trolley

one of the first mental health clinics

Historic District

first highrise

waiting for a second trolley to come pick us up

Vanderbilt had this church built

My next big tour was to the Biltmore Estate.  Have you been there?  This is my third time with a lot of time in-between my last visits.  I was excited to do the main tour which you can take as a self paced tour.  I recommend getting the audio for an extra $10 to learn about each of the rooms as you go through them.  Of course you probably know it’s the largest private home in the United States and is still in the Vanderbilt/Cecil family.  General admission, special Architectural tour and audio, total cost:  $75.97

Biltmore Estate, largest private home in the U.S.

I learned some great facts and tidbits about the home and will list some of them here:

  • Built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt
  • It took six years to build, mainly of steel and brick covered with limestone and slate roof
  • 250 rooms, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces
  • The first home in the area to have electricity.  They didn’t know whether AC or DC electric would win out as it had just recently been invented.  So Vanderbilt had both AC and DC lines installed throughout the house to take advantage of which ever system won out.  Starting out using DC, Thomas Edison built their power plant.
  • It takes a staff of 1,800 employees run the place today.  Yearly taxes alone is 5 million dollars.  I estimate they bring in over 65 million dollars in ticket sales alone each year.
  • The main dining room is seven stories high.
  • The salon and music room were not completed at the time the building was completed.  The music room was completed in 1976 and this is the first time I’ve seen it.  During WWII, The National Art gallery in Washington had many paintings removed and hidden in this unfinished room for safe keeping, after the war the paintings were returned to Washington DC.
  • The home has an indoor swimming pool and bowling alley.
  • 29 foot deep foundations and footings took two years to complete.
  • When completed George had run out of money.  Opps

It is definitely one of the best preserved homes I’ve seen and it was a joy to have the time to spend at my own pace exploring the home.  The tapestries, The Renoir paintings, the Library, so much beauty to see and explore.  I particularly loved a basement room called the Halloween Room.  The old stone walls painted with colorful scenes painted by the guests for a New Years party.  The room now contains great photos of the construction of the home.

To see some of the Interior shots of the home go to the Biltmore Estate website.

The Biltmore also has a great winery which I hope to get to in a few days.  I ran out of energy on this tour.

the Architectural tour went behind the scenes

courtyard dining in the old stable area

the gardens are in full bloom this time of year

our Architectural tour started here

and continued on the roof

wonderful detail everywhere we look

it's way down there

servants each had a private room on the top floors

I think I can fit through there

gargoyles once thought to scare off evil spirits 

the great lawn out front

Vanderbilt once owned all the land to the mountains 

I’m spending my time here just enjoying the mountain scenery, driving around town and exploring side streets just to get a feel for the area.  I’ve got to tell you, the many neighborhoods surrounding the city have the neatest little bodegas, restaurants, coffee shops and small businesses tucked into these neighborhoods.  After the Memorial Day weekend, I’ll explore some of the surrounding towns and drive a bit more along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Toured the Grove Park Inn
view of Asheville from the Grove Park Inn/golf course

more pictures of downtown Asheville on PICASA