Saturday, May 30, 2015

Now, where was I?

I think this is day 23 of this trip and I am falling behind with my blogs and photos. I think I left off in Charlotte, and then what? It's beginning to run together.

Asheville! That was next. We spent two nights in Asheville, NC at the Beaufort Inn. This was a little splurge and celebration that Roy was onboard for the rest of the trip. Here he is in front of the Inn.

Such a beautiful place. Victorian in the best way. Not one of those chintz and fake flower places full of pictures of angels— just elegant and lovely.

What a treat! We spent some time downtown in Asheville. The Grove Arcade building was beautiful, with some nice shops.

This yarn shop had me in it's spell. Aren't these scarves beautiful? We walked to the Appalachian Crafts Center and were underwhelmed by its pretty ordinary offerings of huckleberry jam and aprons and pottery and such. Asheville is a nice town, but did not, in my opinion, quite live up to its reputation as such an artistic center. Lots of galleries, but nothing wowed me.

We spent the next day at the Biltmore Estate— purported to be the largest private residence in the United States.

No photos are allowed inside, but we took the tour and were duly impressed. It is difficult to fathom living in such a place and mind boggling to consider the expense and manpower maintaining it would be. But it was fun to see and very beautiful. The gardens were especially lovely.

Visiting such a place makes you ponder such excess and what it means, and what it does to or for the people wealthy enough to exercise a whim like that. I learned that such spending quickly depleted the immense Vanderbilt fortune. They are not the wealthy family they once were. Easy come, easy go... I suppose there is a lesson there somewhere. But we certainly had a lovely day there enjoying their folly.

We left Asheville and headed into the Blueridge Mountains and Smoky Mountain National Park. It is a leisurely winding drive, with many places to pull out and enjoy the view. What a gorgeous corner of the world!


So much stunning stonework along the highway, all built during The Great Depression, by the CCC.


As you exit the National Park you are in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which is a horrific assault of manic tourist attractions—Ripleys Believe it or Not, Museum, Guinness Museum, an Aquarium (why??) and every kind of junk food, whizzy-gifty-whatnot shop known to man. It seemed truly awful, just as a drive by. We visited a few artisans at the artist community just outside town, but didn't find much to keep us in the Gatlinburg area and moved quickly on. We spent the night in Cherokee, NC on the Cherokee Reservation.

The next day we continued south into Alabama, stopping in Chatanooga for one of the best meals of our trip and a look at the Chatanooga Coo-choo!

Last night we were in Birmingham at the worst hotel of our trip, on a desolate, hot, rocky hillside adjacent to the freeway, in a rainstorm. The free continental breakfast consisted of cardboard biscuits and a vat of vomitous, sausage gravy. Couldn't beat it out of there fast enough. Found a Starbucks and a Target to buy another pair of shorts and a tee-shirt for the increasingly hot weather here in the south, then on the road again. We've had a good day today, which I will detail next post. Tonight we are in a beautiful high-rise hotel in downtown Mobile.

'Night y'all....


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Southern History and Hospitality

Lexington, Virginia is a lovely old town, steeped in history. A really beautiful place for a long walk.

This is Stonewall Jackson's house.


And this is Robert E. Lee's church.

Washington and Lee University.

Lee's Chapel. He was a president of the university.

Right next to Washington and Lee University, is Virginia Military Institute. The lawns actually flow from one campus into the next.

That's Stonewall Jackson.


From Lexington we drove to Charlotte, North Carolina where we picked up Ray's brother, Roy, who flew in from Montana to continue the trip with us. It was so great to see him! Reminded us of meeting up with Roy more than 40 years ago in Rome and traveling together. In Charlotte we had the good fortune to stay with Roy's brother-in-law, John, who just moved to Charlotte. We had also been contacted by my brother's wife's sister, who lives near Charlotte, who invited us to go with her and her husband and another couple, to a winery for the day, yesterday. OK, have you followed all this? The cast here includes: me; Ray; Ray's brother Roy; Roy's brother-in-law John; my sister-in-law's sister, Linda; Linda's husband Brian; and Linda and Brian's friends Carol and Rob. Whew! (Pay attention— this will be on the test!) Anyway, a big group, mostly strangers to one another. But it turned out to be a wonderfully fun and compatible group. We had the greatest day together at the beautiful Raffaldini Winery. We tasted wine, drank wine, listened to music, drank in the views, laughed, told stories and by evening we were all best friends and shirttail relatives!

Ray recently installed drip lines in our garden and his greenhouse. He had to check out how the experts do it.

Sometimes the best days just kind of magically happen. Good wine, beautiful setting and, most important, good people.



















Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Atlantic Ocean, Monticello and headed south - Day 17

Wednesday we arrived in Delaware at the home of our friends Carla and Bill. How sweet to spend a couple days with them. Carla has been my friend since college and we have stayed in touch, crossing paths over the years and unlike some friends from years ago we somehow seem to always have things to talk about and laugh about and find mutually entertaining—easy and comfortable friends. And as Carla said, we wonder what happened to the years inbetween.

Delaware is the point at which we have come to the edge of the continent and we make a right turn. A trip to the beach was needed to complete the cross-continent piece, though it was cold, windy and rainy.

Yesterday we started on the southern leg of the trip and spent the night in Charlottesville, VA at the home of Kristin and Art LaFlamme. They are preparing for their move to Portland and as we were traveling east these past couple of weeks, Art was driving west, and as he was asleep last night in Portland, we were asleep in his home in Charlottesville.

The other home we visited in Charlottesville was Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. I have long wanted to go there. I knew I would love it and I did, but it was not what I expected. I knew it was an architectural marvel. I knew it was filled with Jefferson's innovative ideas. I knew it had a farm and a garden. I didn't know it was breathtakingly beautiful.

No photography is allowed inside the house, except in the dome room at the top, but our tour of the house was fascinating from top to bottom and we left knowing so much more about Jefferson and the family. Our guide in the house was quite wonderful. She had great stories and shared bits from letters written by members of the family that added so much to imagining a very human family occupying this splendid house.

Monticello means "little mountain" and the views all the way around are what you see below—trees and misty blue hills in the distance. No words to describe it... No wonder Jefferson preferred his home to anyplace on earth.

We took a tour of the gardens as well. Unlike the exceptional house tour guide, the garden guide was so obnoxious that we finally ditched the guided tour and enjoyed the gardens on our own. Perhaps if we had stuck it out we would have learned why there were terra cotta domes in the rows of kale. Perhaps the saddest thing I learned was that after Jefferson died, the house and land were sold to pay off his debts and his surviving family, who had lived all their lives in this house, had to leave. A portion of a letter written by one of the granddaughters about the loss of both the man and then the home was heartbreaking. Monticello now belongs to a foundation that has restored it and has recovered a good many of the original contents of the house. A piece of our history that was nearly lost forever.

We spent most of today at Monticello, then drove down the beautiful Blueridge Parkway.

Tonight we are in Lexington, VA. Tomorrow Ray's brother, Roy, joins us in Charlotte, NC for the second half of our trip. We can't wait to see him!


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

From Chicago Onward - Day 13

Our last day in Chicago started at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Odd, I have to say. There was not much that really engaged me here. But two artists did, in very different ways.

The installations of Colombian artist, Doris Salcedo filled one whole whole floor. At first I was confused by a maze of what seemed like a storage space filled with stacked tables, then disassembled hospital furniture and stacks of folded men's shirts. I stopped to read the guide and then watch a video and slowly her meaning began to unfold. Loss. Absence. The aftermath of people being displaced; violence; orphaned, abandoned children.

See the small rectangles on the wall? These were actually openings into the wall. Inside each opening was a shoe, or a pair of shoes. The artist learned that female victims of violence in Colombia were often identified by their shoes. These were actual shoes from Colombian women. Stretched over each opening, and sutured in place is a covering of translucent animal skin. Haunting and beautiful.

After the heaviness and sorrow of Salcedo's work, I really appreciated a small but joyful collection of Alexander Calder works.

Isn't the lightness and grace of this mobile lovely?

In the afternoon we went to the incredible Field Museum and saw the old elephants....


Sue, the tyrranasaurus...


And a wonderful exhibit about Vikings. We saw many wonderful Viking objects, and most of my photos were shaky, but I do have these:


And scissors! Did you know that real Vikings never wore helmets with horns on them? Now you do, and so do I.

And with that we could do no more. So much more that could have been seen or done in Chicago, but we tried to focus on what we had not seen before. I know. It is almost sinful to leave without a trip to the Art Institute, but I have been there before and I hope I will go again. My feet and back could not have held up.

Back on the road. Yesterday Ohio, today that little knob of West Virginia that pokes up between Ohio and Pennsylvania, then into Pennsylvania.

We stopped in Wheeling, WV for lunch and poked around there for a bit. It is a really old town. The last battle of the Revolutionary War was fought in Wheeling.


This suspension bridge was built in 1847, and at the time it was built was the largest suspension bridge in the world. It is still in use. I drove across it today, twice.

We left the freeway and took back roads through farmland, once we got to Pennsylvania. Beautiful and peaceful.

Tomorrow we will see our friends in Delaware. I can hardly wait!