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 CafĂ©. 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.

South Carolina Adventure: Hagood Mill and Twin Falls (and a bit of Asheville, NC)

22 07 2015

For my birthday in May, I made a 5 day fun trip to the Carolinas. I used to go to North Carolina every fall with my family as a kid since my mom loved the changing tree colors (which we mostly lack in FL), but I’d never really been as an adult (with a decent camera of my own.)

Cake made by a talented employee of mine - how sweet! No pun intended. Day before the trip.

Cake made by a talented employee of mine – how sweet! No pun intended. Day before the trip.

We drove up through South Carolina first to see the old family cemetery (yes, I realize how creepy it sounds) in the Easley/Pickens area – the Jameson Family Cemetery where my great-great-great-great grandparents are buried, and a few paces down the road happened across a U-Pick strawberry farm!

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Check out this loot, only after a few minutes of picking! We only did about 1/2 a basket since we would still be in the car most of the day with no refrigeration.

I’d found, thanks to Trip Advisor, that the cemetery area was only about 11 minutes away from Hagood Mill, which looked too good to pass up. We sat on picnic benches and ate our strawberries. It was a truly gorgeous site:

You can see the mill behind the stones. You can walk through it anytime, but they turn the wheel and make grits and things that they sell every other Saturday.

You can see the mill behind the stones. You can walk through it anytime, but they turn the wheel and make grits and things that they sell every other Saturday.

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View from up in the mill. Of course, had to sneak a few cell phone shots since I only brought my 50 mm lens which is really narrow.

View from up in the mill. Of course, had to sneak a few cell phone shots since I only brought my 50 mm lens which is really narrow.

I was enchanted by all the beautiful flowers – don’t quite know what they are, but they were covering the place in beautiful whites and pinks:

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Is it just me, or does that wooden box above look creepily like a coffin? I couldn’t get close enough to really check it out. Anyway, highly recommend checking out Hagood Mill. Even if it’s on a day when the mill isn’t turning, it’s a beautiful place to wander around. While we were there, there was even a group of musicians meeting up to play country/classic on the porch of one of the cabins.

After, we headed further north to a site nestled right in the mountains – and incredibly hard to find – Twin Falls. There are places called “Twin Falls” in various states; this one’s in South Carolina, and online directions are very tricky because the roads are very curved and with super tiny signs. And there are NO signs that say Twin Falls. I think that’s really weird, because it’s actually a big site, and worth seeing:

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Lots of greenery on the path approaching…

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This doesn’t properly convey the size at all; it was very impressive.

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We climbed down from the lookout to get the last couple shots, which may be difficult for some people  – a bit of a steep jump down and then some slippery rocks, but not that bad.

After Twin Falls, we said goodbye to South Carolina and rode onto Asheville, North Carolina. The bulk of our visit was spent outside the city (as I’ll show you in a few future posts), but I’ll include our little in-city experience here:

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These adorable pig statues (pigs are the cutest!) are in the heart of Asheville. We passed them on our way to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, which I’d seen online and had to visit. Their descriptions of the different types of hot chocolate they had were drool-worthy.

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It took a while to find it, as the Garmin took us first to their old location. But here we are – so cute!

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Just a portion of their dessert case. I opted for a macaron, naturally, and an oaxacan hot chocolate that I’d been dreaming of since I’d looked up the menu online.

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The macaron was good, but I have to admit, the hot chocolate was – to put it plainly – a little gross. Not really sweet at all and full of clumps/graininess. Maybe I just don’t know what real hot chocolate is – I almost never drink it, so it’s entirely possible – but I honestly didn’t like it. Service was interesting…we ordered two hot chocolates and they brought us only 1 and were very confused about the other one. But, if I could, I’d try this place again. They had other things on the menu that looked good, and it’s a cute place with lots of seating.

Anyway, leaving there we walked around downtown a bit, peering into shops that were mostly closed in the evening:

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How cute are these dresses?

But my favorite storefront:

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Made we want to watch Alice in Wonderland all over again.

The next morning we went to another Trip Advisor find, the Sunny Point CafĂ©. This place not only met, but exceeded all expectations! Can’t recommend enough!

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Not much parking – have to find a space on the street. We were there around early-brunch time and it was pretty packed. We gave our name to someone on the patio and waited outdoors. Not too bad a wait though, maybe 15 min.

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Part of the menu, above… I was very hungry, which always makes it a hard decision, but I was really pleased when my choices arrived:

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Scrambled eggs, plain but just what I wanted (ala carte), delicious cheddar grits, and the most wonderful “organic cornmeal hotcakes,” which are gluten-free and have a slight orange flavor, topped with a berry butter. I can’t even describe how good those were. Like nothing I’ve ever seen back home.

After breakfast, we walked back to the car through the restaurant’s garden. Yes, they grow a lot of their own items right there!

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So pretty! Then it was on to our waterfall adventure, which I’ll write about next time…

Cat Hair

16 07 2015

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Really fast, silly sketch…but I’ve been gearing up new travel photos for next week. A preview:

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Christmas in July… Wait…

7 07 2015

Talk about overdue – back in January, right after my trip to Key West, I turned around and went on a trip to Rochester, Minnesota. It was business, but it was also my first time in the Midwest (or as I call it and any place that gets truly cold, from a native Floridian’s perspective, “the North.”)

Look at that! A patchwork blanket of whiteness. Total 180 from Florida.

Look at that! A patchwork blanket of whiteness. Total 180 from Florida.

I only had my cell camera, so not the best pic quality. And if snow is a normal thing to you, may want to skip this post. But for those of us that NEVER get to see snow…it is pretty darn exciting.

my footprints...

my footprints…

First time ever making a legit snowball :)

First time ever making a legit snowball 🙂

Naturally, had to make a snowman. He is beautiful.

Naturally, had to make a snowman. He is beautiful.

Here's a much better snowman than mine...and yes, I creepily took pics of someone's front yard. Sorry, not sorry.

Here’s a much better snowman than mine…and yes, I creepily took pics of someone’s front yard. Sorry, not sorry.

See the mini snow people in the pic above too? 🙂 I was like a little kid in the snow, having fun in the way that you do when something is a novelty and not a daily reality of life (am not envious of anyone that has to drive in snow and ice!)

Rochester is a pretty small town; a few business make up the bulk of it. We had to check out Mayo Clinic, one of the biggest – it has a long history in the town, and part of that history is preserved in an almost museum-like setting that’s not at all what you picture when you think “hospital.”

Impressive front door.

Impressive front door.


Gorgeous elevators...

Gorgeous elevators…



In a way, it’s a relief from the concrete, steel, and glass that every professional building is composed of now.




Anyway, the highlight of the whole city, in my opinion, is this place right here:


Oh yeah, Pannekoeken! This restaurant just happened to be in the ground floor or our hotel, so we went for the first time more for easy access than anything else. But everything they serve is tasty, and the star of the show is, of course, the pannekoeken itself. Pronounced “pan – uh – koo – kin” (and I know that because they bring it out to you, running, while singing it), it’s a Dutch baked pancake filled with whatever sweet or savory thing you want.

Here it is, in its freshly made glory:

My apple pannekoeken

My apple pannekoeken

If you ever go there, you MUST have one. They don’t have these anywhere down South that I’ve ever been. They also have spectacularly giant muffins, which are also good:

giant pumpkin muffin

giant pumpkin muffin

Food in Rochester is pretty good overall, in my opinion. But the snow is what I wish I could get a bit more of:


Silver Lake Park… that snow was so bright, I could have used sunglasses.





After a couple days, we had to go the way of those geese in the pic above and head back home. Where it is now about 97 degrees. Gotta love it.

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