Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Grams was one of those students who always dreaded the first day of school because every year the teacher had us write that essay "What I Did On My Summer Vacation." The problem was, we never took a summer vacation. While my friends went to Disneyland, Disney World, New York City, etc., we always went to the exact same place. Every June, as soon as school was out dad took his two week vacation we drove eight hours to North East Texas to visit my grandparents.

My grandparents lived about 30 minutes apart. So during the two weeks were were there we spent plenty of time at both places. Granny, my paternal grandmother, lived way off the beaten path in a tiny house nestled in the piney woods. My maternal grandparents lived near Lake Texarkana (it's now called Lake Wright Patman) where my Grandaddy ran a bait shop.

Those summer visits were so routine for us, that I didn't realize then what wonderful getaway vacations they actually were. There was lots of time for us to just do nothing, which I now know is what my parents loved about it. There was also lots of time to visit with the myriad of aunts, uncles, and cousins who lived nearby. Daddy usually went fishing at least once, which I know he loved.

This summer, we used our vacation budget to go to my niece Andrea's wedding in North Carolina. I've already written about the wedding here.  But as long as we were in North Carolina, it was a must to take a side trip over to Asheville to see the Biltmore Estate.

I've seen the Biltmore Estate on television for years and wanted to visit the house that's described as America's largest house. When they call it that, they're not kidding. I knew it was big, but really I had no idea how humongous it is. Seriously, it's bigger than most hotels. Think about it ... 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. There's a swimming pool, bowling alley, and gymnasium in the basement. In addition, the basement also has servant's quarters, kitchens, pantries, walk-in refrigerators, guest quarters, changing rooms, and even unused rooms.

Sadly, I have no beautiful photographs of the interior of the home to share with you, because photography is not allowed. Only a small portion of the home is open to visitors. The family has not lived there since the late 1950's so much of the home has fallen into disrepair and is not safe for tourists. But let me just tell you that it's HUGE. Even the parts that are open to tourists are unbelievably large. I knew the Vanderbilt family was wealthy, but until I saw the Biltmore Estate, I had no concept of how wealthy they were. It was so big that I got tired of walking through it long before we finished the tour. Their website has a short video that shows some of the rooms that are open to the public. I was very interested the displays they had that show how they are recreating the fabrics and wallpapers that were original to the house. They are beautiful and I wish I had photos to show you, but here are some exterior photos that will give you some idea of its grandeur.

After touring the house, we moved on to the gardens where I was able to take pictures. The gardens are spectacular. They were my favorite part of the visit. The house is surrounded by a huge grassy lawn, but the rest of the estate is all gardens and forests. We were very interested to hear that, when the house was built, the entire property was clear cut and all the trees were planted. The forest is beautiful and was amazing to this coastal plains girl. The knowledge that the estate was planned right down to the trees in the surrounding forest really made me understand what an undertaking the Biltmore Estate was and how much attention to detail there was.

I've never seen such beautiful gardens. These photos are from the "walled garden." The prevailing scent when we were there was lavender which I love. I could have just sat in the garden and smelled the lavender forever.

We also enjoyed the rose garden which was also in beautiful bloom. As you can see, some of the rose bushes where as tall as me.

If you have the opportunity to visit Biltmore you should definitely go. But be prepared to walk a lot. Lots of stair climbing is also required. There is an elevator available inside the house, but it's very small and you'll have to wait in line for it. Even the gardens are up and down flights of stairs (not just a few steps). We were all exhausted from the stairs and the walking. 

So, unlike the vacations that my parents took us on, this vacation was in no way relaxing. It took about a week for my knees to stop hurting from the stairs. But Biltmore House really is something to see. I had no idea what the term "gilded age" really meant until I saw this house.

On the day after the wedding, we arrived in Greenville a couple of hours early for our return flight. We decided that we should venture into Greenville and find something good to eat to finish off our trip to the deep south. We searched for nearby restaurants using our navigation system. We knew that Carolina barbecue has a reputation for being different from Texas barbecue so we chose a barbecue place that was highly rated on the navigation system.

The Tom-Tom directed us to Smokin' Stokes. It's such a small place that we drove right past it and had to turn around and go back and look for it. It was kind of funny that once we got there, they offered "Texas beef." The barbecue was excellent. I tried their Cheerwine Barbecue Sauce which was really good. Apparantly Cheerwine is a burgundy red soft drink that's made in North Carolina. The one thing we found consistently everywhere we ate in North or South Carolina is that you have to order your iced tea unsweetened or you automatically get Carolina Sweet Tea. The owners greeted us, took our orders, and served our barbecue. These guys learned to barbecue on the contest circuit. It was delicious. If you're ever in Greenville, SC find this place and eat some Carolina style barbecue. It was the perfect way to end our trip.


  1. What an awesome trip! Your photography is beautiful. I love taking photos of flowers.

    That house tho -- I can't even imagine why anyone would need or want a building that big for one family. Wow.

  2. That place is beautiful and so are the gardens but sure glad I'm not the one to try and have to clean it! Thanks for letting me live vicariously through your travels as I will not likely ever get there.