Blueberry Tart

1 09 2015

blueberry tart

Been wanting to try a food pic with the tablet for ages!


27 08 2015

Prato Scene v2

Tablet practice – quick study, fuzzy brush, based on photo I took at Prato a few years ago.

Tea at The Grand Floridian

20 08 2015

Sometimes you really just want – no, need – some cucumber sandwiches and tea and a scone with cream. And then you realize there’s almost no place where you live to satisfy that craving. Last time this happened, I went to the Gryphon in Savannah, a lovely time I wrote about here. This time, I wanted something a little closer to home.

Luckily, the Disney hotel the Grand Floridian has an afternoon tea and is only about 2.5 hours from home. Ta da!

Fancy flooring upon arrival:

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So this tea is more complex than the Gryphon. You have to make a reservation (easy enough online) and guarantee with a credit card. (If you don’t show, it will charge I think $10 per person). You don’t pay online, just pick your day, time, and guarantee it.

Things were a little weird at the hostess desk. I think the hostess might have been having a bad day. Anyway, we got seated pretty quickly at the Garden View Tea Room. It’s pretty small – bordered by windows on one half:

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…with the other half facing open and out into the hotel lobby. Mostly they have cute little circle tables:

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Right behind our table was this cool thing:

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The menu has several “combo” options versus being able to order piece by piece. I think this is pretty standard for afternoon tea. We chose the Bedfordshire Tea, which has sandwiches, scone, and desserts along with the tea. Other choices added champagne or similar for a higher charge. The Bedfordshire is $30/person, so the bill for two is around $75 with tax.

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Tea comes out first:

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I got the Princess Breakfast Tea. I mean, duh, we are at Disney after all. They put little burgundy tea cozies on all the tea pots to keep them warm. Then out comes your sandwich plate:

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Gotta say, this plate was my favorite part. Bits of fruit, an onion tart (sweet though), 2 pieces of lavosh (a cracker), 2 large pieces of cheese, and 4 sandwiches: egg salad, chicken curry, pickled golden beet with goat cheese, and cucumber. Curry was my favorite. Filling and yummy!

Then comes the scone plate. I became obsessed with clotted cream after England, and it’s almost never used in America, so I get really excited when I find some. The scone plate has a scone (obviously) – ours was golden raisin, a strawberry tart, and a trio of spreads: apricot, cream, and lemon something.

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Honestly, I was a little disappointed in the cream. I think it might have been butter. It kind of tasted like it. The lemon thing tasted really off. The rest was okay, and the scone itself was delicious.

By this point, you’re full, but there’s still dessert! You choose between a small plate of pastries or a bowl of strawberries topped with cream. Of trifle, whatever that is. We picked pastries.

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I was in love with the cute swan (had a tropical fruit mousse), but the chocolate thing ended up tasting the best:

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The strawberry smelled like nail polish remover. I’m hoping they dipped it in alcohol, because otherwise I’m not sure that was safe to eat.

Stomachs full, we walked it off around the lobby:

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They have a fantastic chandelier like the Gryphon, albeit in an entirely different style. They also both have a stained glass piece:

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At 3:00 they bring in live musicians. They started with a piano player and a woman singing songs from The Little Mermaid (both very good). Later they had these guys:

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We took a stroll outside too.

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This last isn’t the greatest pic, but it shows how just a short walk from the tea room you can walk out on a sandy beach and see the Grand Floridian’s wedding villa and the neighboring Polynesian Resort:

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Verdict: Good, enjoyable, but the quality of some of the food needs some work for the price. I’d rate the Gryphon higher both on food quality and décor, but Disney always makes a fun experience. Glad I went.

10th Kingdom

18 08 2015

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Some silly recent stuff from my sketch book. Has anyone else ever seen The 10th Kingdom? It came out in 2000-ish but I just re-got into it and it’s just as adorable (and admittedly as corny and weird) as I remembered. So underrated! Go watch it! Cripes, the world is seriously lacking in twisted/modern fairy tales like this.

Mini Cornwall Collection

13 08 2015

Well, the 4 mini Cornwall paintings are done!

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Counter clockwise from top left:
1) Lock from inside the House at Mount Edgcumbe, right near Plymouth, England
2) The domes at the Eden Project, near St. Austell
3) Boat and bird by the waters around Mount St. Michael
4) Houses and pastures of Tintagel, seen from atop Tintagel Castle

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They are so cute and little! May be putting up to sell on Etsy soon. Admittedly, the lock painting doesn’t fit in as well with the rest of the others, since the others are all very green and outdoor scenes, but each painting represents my favorite outings on our England trip. I went for a brighter, more green-toned look in the outdoor pieces than my photos generally had because I love the brightness of greenery. Fun project…maybe next I’ll do mini paintings of London or Strasbourg.

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Biltmore!: Part 3 (Rooftop Tour, Antler Village and Winery)

10 08 2015

We returned to Biltmore for a second day for the Rooftop Tour (first day here and here) and also visit Antler Village and Winery for its 30th anniversary party. The Rooftop tour is pretty inexpensive itself and also got us free general admission free on the 2nd day. :)

Again, you have to pick a specific time, and you meet your tour guide and group in front of the house. Interesting things to see while waiting…

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It’s a fairly quick, easy tour. Some stair climbing that may be a problem for some folks (including climbing to the top of the grand staircase!)

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The tour guide we had was really knowledgeable and great at sharing details. Unfortunately I was so busy taking pics and switching between my limited 50 mm and my sad iPhone camera that I didn’t retain all that much.

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Looking down into my favorite atrium:

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And looking over at the former stables…their roof, at least:

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This copper top is actually the outside culmination of the massive multi-level chandelier that hangs over the grand staircase:

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Notice George Vanderbilt’s initials as decoration on the roof:

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The guide informed us that these used to be gold at one point. Hard to picture Biltmore with it’s beautiful and stately grays and greens in shiny gold, at least for me.

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I love that tiny initialed weather vane (assuming?) above. And this shot below straight down over the fountain beside the right of the front entrance:

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The tour takes you to one of the large balconies (I’m sure there’s a better name for them) on the backside of the house. On a regular self-guided house tour, you get to walk onto one…this one lets you onto the floor above that. A cute little bird came in to see what the tour was all about:

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Then he flew down for a closer look:

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And then a friend joined him.

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So cute! After the Rooftop Tour, we drove to Antler Village, which is still in grounds but not within easy walking distance. Antler Village consists of modern shops and restaurants, the winery, some farm areas with animals, and some old style barn-type areas with old equipment on display and some demonstrations (e.g. blacksmithing). It rained while we were in that part of it, so I didn’t get many pics. I did think this floral horse was cool:

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The petting zoo had closed when we ventured out after the rain, but there are always animals about:

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By then it was definitely time for some wine. The last time I’d been to the winery I’d been sadly underage. :(

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Tastings are free, though they have some upscale tastings that cost something – we did the general one, which has a lot of options!

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And of course, it was their 30th anniversary.

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After wine, we decided to grab some food at Bistro. It’s on the extremely pricey side, but is very nice and all. My eyes were bigger than my stomach, and I ordered not only the (what turned out to be humongous) French onion soup:

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…but also this pasta dish with goat cheese. I’m a sucker for anything with goat cheese.

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Honestly, it was okay. For the price and caliber of restaurant, I’d like to say “it was spectacular,” but I think they went overly muted and actually a bit bland on the pasta. It was definitely different with ingredients that felt fresh and healthy though, which is a plus.

After dinner, we were so full, we waddled into the courtyard where people were gathering to listen to a jazz band and walked around a bit.

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The whole Antler Village is modern, but well cared for, so very pretty to see. Here’s a statue in front of Cedric’s Tavern, the other main restaurant there:

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Cedric is the dog (Vanderbilt’s dog, of course!)

Free ice cream was served – wine ice cream! It was actually really good!

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Then at night, the band halted for the anniversary speech. I believe it was Bill Cecil, the CEO and one of Vanderbilt’s descendants, that came out to speak. I tried to get a shot:

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The night ended with a fantastic fireworks display.

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Not a bad way to end a birthday trip!

More Mini Canvas

5 08 2015

I have 1 more Biltmore/travel post to go, but it’s time for some overdue traditional art. A while ago I started a small project of a mini collection of mini canvases (2 inches x 2 inches each) showing scenes from my trip to Cornwall, England. I wrote about the first here, a lock at Mount Edgcombe. Here’s the second, a boat from Mount St. Michael:

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They’re based on photos I took there and aren’t designed to be exact (e.g. I took out the people and other birds, as well as narrowed in on a square versus the whole rectangle, as you can see below), but let me tell you, it is HARD to paint that small, especially without very small brushes.

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A couple more to come in the next week or so. :)

Biltmore!: Part 2 (The Gardens)

30 07 2015

If you aren’t sick of greenery by now after my South Carolina and Pisgah Forest photos, you might be after this post, because I’m completely dedicating it to the gardens of Biltmore, a must see if you visit.

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The gardens by the conservatory (greenhouse) are an easy walk down from the house under this wisteria draped trellis (above) and some winding sidewalks, peppered with blooms and trees on either side. Immediately in front of the conservatory are tons of roses!

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Well, roses in May. Tulips earlier in spring. And I’m not sure what else the rest of the year, but I’m sure they come up with something. They’re very artful.

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Case in point: these sculptures of Victorian-attired women made entirely out of plants!

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But the roses? I’ve never seen so many in one place.

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You can even glimpse the house if you look closely:

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Once I’ve smelled as many roses as possible, it was time to visit the conservatory:

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I didn’t get many pics inside honestly (the limitations once again of a set 50 mm lens), but here’s an idea:

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The flowers outside are just as beautiful:

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The main gardens conclude in an outdoor quick-bites place (like with lemonade and small eats) and, the level below, a gift shop. However, the grounds are so expansive, there are plenty of trails you can walk on to see yet more gardens. I wanted to go on the Bass Pond Trail, since I’d never been before. We spotted some brilliant azaleas (they were finishing their season when we arrived):

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…and a beautiful outlook on a lake:

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There’s a little boat house, though we didn’t venture closer than this:

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…and some varied plant life:

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A long walk on uncomfortable shoes and in heat, but pretty scenic for sure. It eventually leads to a man-made waterfall. After much more walking, we eventually headed out for the day, intending to stop by Biltmore Village (a shopping district outside of the grounds, very commercial, like shops you’d find in a mall; I wasn’t impressed) before heading back to Asheville. Luckily, before leaving property, we noticed a small turn onto a dirt road that leads to a little clearing by a lake, and this spectacular view:

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Back of the house. Perfect picnic spot!

The next day we returned for another new experience: the Biltmore Rooftop Tour! Stay tuned. :)

Biltmore!: Part 1

28 07 2015

The day after our waterfall adventure, we made our way to my favorite place in Asheville: Biltmore Estate.

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Biltmore is amazing! One of the few and last remaining great American estates, it was built by George Vanderbilt in the late 1800s, and includes many acres of beautiful grounds and gardens, the stable house with shops and a restaurant, and of course, the iconic house itself. I’m pretty sure (if memory from my visit as a 9 year old serves correctly) it has 32 guest rooms. Trivia fact there. It also has an indoor swimming pool and bowling alley… and dumbwaiters… thought those were pretty cool at age 9 too.

Anyway, you can easily search for Biltmore history and facts online if you want; so here I’ll just give a photo overview of my recent visit.

Upon arrival, we had to pick up our tickets from the Ticket Office where this dress was on display:

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They were having their “Dressing Downton” event with clothing from the TV show Downton Abbey on display throughout the house. No pics allowed in-house, so this is the only shot I grabbed of that stuff, but they had plenty inside – a few outfits in all the big rooms. I believe the exhibit finished at the end of May.

After tickets, we parked and walked the forest path to the front lawn. If you get there later in the day, it’s best to take the shuttle, which goes to the front of the house. Exploring the front of the lawn:

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I’m always blown away by how gorgeous it is!

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See the patio area to the left of the pic above? We walked around it a bit before our ticket time (you have to pick a specific in-time to visit the house):

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Learned from a tour guide the following day that the statue above is Joan of Arc. She’s decorating the outside of the grand staircase. The windows actually open, and technically, you could step out on those thin ledges (but they don’t let visitors do that.)

If you walk past the patio and further to the left, there’s a very pretty covered outdoor area with vines that steps down onto a large grassy area with sculptures and views like this:

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Finally it was time to see the house! They will let you snap picks in the entryway, but that’s it:

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I’m a little in love with the colors in the pic above. :) Probably because it was spring time, there were flowers like this all throughout the house. The flowers and Downton dresses were lovely to see, but honestly the house is more than gorgeous without them. Vanderbilt was a massive art collector; my favs are the tapestries from the 1500s and the portrait of Mrs. Vanderbilt by Boldini. It’s a shame they don’t allow pics, as I’ve always felt the postcards and things they sell don’t really convey the full beauty of the place.

Once you’re done seeing the house (took us quite some time considering we had about 8 or 9 groups of kids on field trips), you exit near the stable house, to the right of the main house. You can see its horse-housing origins, but nowadays the place is a collection of touristy shops with candy, Christmas collectibles, and fancy souvenirs:

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… and also home to a really delicious restaurant, the Stable Café. It got super crowded, but we got there early enough to beat the main traffic.

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V for Vanderbilt! Here are some staff members gearing up for lunch. I’m assuming the shiny white brick is original; it’s got a cool look.

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You sit either at tables or at booths converted from horse stalls. What to order? Well, I’ve never had anything I didn’t like. This time I had to try the chicken salad:

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The verdict? Yum! Despite the fact that I was more than full, I also had to try the potato soup:

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Not a very exciting photo, but totally delicious! We were so full, we had to skip dessert and walk it off in the gardens. However, we came back right before close to circle back to the sweets (worth it)!:

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Above: peach fritters (or something like that) with blackberries and, barely in the pic, corn ice cream. Yes, corn! It was surprisingly really good. A very southern gourmet style. And because it was my birthday (and you can eat what you want on your birthday, of course), we got a second dessert: 13 layer vanilla cake with grapefruit crème and candied ginger and some kind of champagne sauce. OMG.

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Oh. Yes.

Now I’m hungry. Stay tuned  – next Biltmore post will show our journey through the gardens….

Waterfall Heaven: North Carolina

24 07 2015

Following our adventures in South Carolina and in Asheville, written about here, we next dedicated a day to the great outdoors in the Asheville area, primarily because the Pisgah Forest nearby has some amazing waterfalls. Waterfalls always fascinate me, largely because we don’t really have them in Florida where the land is extremely flat.

Our first stop in Pisgah was Looking Glass Falls.

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Oh yes! Everything I’d hoped for. You park on the street (plenty of space when we arrived), and head down some stairs to a viewing platform. Naturally I hopped down from the platform to walk around on the rocks in front of the falls, which plenty of people were doing. I couldn’t get the whole thing in frame with my 50 mm lens. Below you can see more of the rocks above the falls.

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Beautiful, clear, cool water.

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Above, looking down-stream from the falls…

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It feels kind of like a jungle paradise (from the perspective of someone who’s never been to a jungle paradise, admittedly), because when you look at the falls from ground-level, it’s almost this enclosed space. Plus, there’s all this mist floating around. See the haziness below? Mist.

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I had to get a few phone pics to get the whole falls in:

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Above, that’s taken up on the first lookout point before you go down the stairs. Definitely, go down the stairs.

Next we drove further on, maybe 1 mile, to see Moore Cove Falls. This is much less obvious than Looking Glass. Looking Glass has a sign and lots of parking. Moore Cove is sort of nondescript with smaller parking, and the falls are at such a distance from parking that you can’t immediately tell that’s where you are. You park and walk, I don’t know how long, maybe .8 miles?

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Above, a view from the walk. It’s steep in a few places, but mostly not bad.

Just when you’re thinking “maybe I’m in the wrong place on some trail that goes on for miles and is nowhere near this waterfall,” you see it peek through the trees.

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I have no pictures that come anywhere close to conveying how cool this site was. Because of the size and then, if you walk behind the falls, the closeness and the sharp contrast of lights/darks, neither my narrow-lensed camera or my cell was really up to the task of capturing it. But trust me, it’s worth seeing in person.

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There’s a little lookout area where you get this view, above. I know it doesn’t look that big. But it’s very tall, and you can actually walk around and behind the falls.

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It’s like this huge cave/alcove thing, very cool temps inside. Huge outcroppings of rocks. Below just shows a portion – couldn’t get the whole thing in frame.

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One of those things you have to rely on memories to capture, but the experience made it my favorite waterfall of the trip.

The way back was very pretty:

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After a short excursion in a little town (no pics, sorry), we headed back to Asheville to see the botanical gardens. Online, they sound very small-scale compared to the Arboretum, which I’ve been to before and is truly huge and worth seeing. But the botanical gardens are well worth it. It’s free, for one, and even though we got there too late for the visitor center to be open, we could still stroll through. the place was actually pretty big and peppered with quiet groups of people and individual students reading and resting.

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Some of the landscape feels designed, and some feels very wild. There are many small trails winding around and up through hilly areas. Through one secluded walk we found this little wood hut thing:

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My favorite part by far was the scenery around a wooden bridge with the rocky stream, trees, and blooms below:

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The whole gardens had this aura of peace, with cool, flower-scented breezes carrying delicate, sunlit flower petals and seed pods through the air. There was also a bit of unexpected cuteness:

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Can you see him? The little chipmunk that appeared over the tree root with an acorn (or something?) in his mouth? In Florida, we have plenty of squirrels but no chipmunks, so I was super excited. He, on the other hand, was a little panicked and got away form us as fast as possible:

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Oh well! I wish I could take the botanical gardens home with me. Definitely see them if you’re in Asheville! We wrapped up our nature day, taking an early night to prepare for the next day’s adventure…a trip to Biltmore Estate.


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