North Carolina Part 2 – Big, Big Houses

While we were going places to talk about my travel, and still starting to travel together, Sue does have an extensive travel history of her own. She’s just much more shy about sharing it all. She had been in the southeast before, long before she met me (and not on a motorcycle), and there had been somewhere she had passed on visiting then and regretted it later. Since we are done with regrets, once Sue shared this story with me it was added to the made-up-as-we-go itinerary.

I’ve heard of Biltmore – anyone who likes watching the History Channel will have – but have never been, much for the same reason Sue had passed on it when she was younger – It’s expensive! Well, we were gonna go, so found a campground nearby, that also sold tickets, and planned to go. For a while we thought it would be good to ride the motorcycles in, but we were a day late and wanted to be at the Expo venue that night. We also had agreed to pick up a friend at the airport who was flying in, and give her a lift. Since that meant Cliff was going to have to move, we decided just to bring the whole thing in.

We already had our tickets, but didn’t really know what to do once we got there so we ended up where you went to get tickets. Thankfully, we didn’t wait in line was soon where rolling again. Biltmore is on a massive estate – there are smaller national parks – and the road in was carefully sculpted by Frederick Law Olmstead. He was a landscape architect Sue was familiar with (and I’d never heard of). She was a fan, and I had to admit it was a nice road in, once I knew he’d planned it, and the rest of the grounds, from scratch. And I really mean from scratch, they redid everything for the 4 mile drive into the grounds.

We didn’t get to see the house right away. Since Cliff, with the trailer, is larger than the average car so they sent us to the bus lot. The bus lot was another ten minute drive, but we followed the shuttle bus which collected us and brought us back to the front door.

There was rain in the forecast, so we decided to walk around the grounds first. The grounds are huge. It’s really hard to get a sense of the size of the place but there are four or five separate gardens. That doesn’t count the hike to the stocked lake for fishing. We didn’t have time to hike there, limiting ourselves to some of the gardens (yeah, these aren’t small gardens either) before heading into the house.

After a while, the gardens started to blend together. The green house (that large building above) was interesting all by itself.

Sue found a happy place for herself too –

Everyone was getting a bit tired and hungry. The maps and guide said there was a cafe in the greenhouse (okay, it was actually called the preservatory, but everyone knows what a greenhouse is) but it was closed. We had to walk back to the house for lunch, and we were just about as far away as we could be without starting the hike to the lake. We started walking back. It took a while and when we got there we were faced with a couple of food choices. I forced us inside, since I didn’t want to leave Sue out in the sun (there are reasons) while we had a sandwich. The wait in the restaurant was about as long as everyone needed to go to the bathroom and wash up.

We were hungry and most of the food was gone before I remembered to take a picture. This was Sue’s first exposure to the vinegar BBQ they have in NC, and while she had said she didn’t think she would like it, she changed her opinion almost immediately. I also got some sweet tea.

Not as good as the stuff in Georgia, sweet tea in the South East is as regional as the BBQ and I’ve had my favorite picked out for years.

After lunch we headed into the building itself. They don’t allow pictures inside, and we spoke about hitting the gift shop on the way out for the book. I had the walking tour guidebook, and read for us as we went from room to room. Most of the house is still closed off, and I wondered if people live there. The house is still privately held after all, though no longer by the Vanderbilts (It is a relation, though), and we saw only a small part of it. It’s a very big house, more than 500 rooms, and the 50 or so on the tour was more a sample than anything. It was a good sample, and their staff was everywhere to answer questions and make sure no one was taking pictures. One even complimented me on my reading.

Kaylei, Sue’s oldest, called us out on time. We were in the servants area, being impressed with the kitchen, when she asked what time it was. It was, in fact, just after the time we’d planned to leave to make it to the airport. We decided to finish out the tour and be late to the airport, something that would come back to haunt us later.

The drive out was just as long as the drive in, but it did go past the house. Sue got out to get a quick picture –

As you might notice, there was some weather coming in. We hadn’t been following the news or weather, and were about to hear about Joaquin.


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