December 17, 2001 - Biltmore Estate
When we arrived in North Carolina, we spent the first night at one of the national forests in the Asheville area that hasn't been closed yet for the winter (North Mills Forest Park). We parked right next to one of my favorite sounds - a babbling brook. We arrived in time to do a little walking around and it was really nice and quiet with a walking trail following the brook. We finally figured out where winter had been hiding - something we hadn't experienced since we left Maine. It was a foggy and cold morning when we left for the 15 mile trip back toward town and it seemed like the road had shrunk since the day before. I got a little scared for the first time in a while driving that huge hotel of mine on such little roads with reduced visibility, but she got me through like a champ.
Yesterday we visited Biltmore Estate and I was absolutely amazed that a man-made thing could be so beautiful. George Vanderbilt opened his home formally for the first time with a grand party on Christmas Eve in 1895 and they continue to make the estate a holiday showcase to this day. Every open room of the 250 room mansion boasts its own Christmas tree decorated in a theme and precious one-of-a-kind ornaments. The furniture is some of the most elaborate I've ever seen and the artwork, murals and tapestries are breathtaking. Everywhere you look you could spend hours just exploring that one little nook and cranny - and the house is just filled with interesting big and little nooks and crannies. It was raining the day we went and the gardens were not an option for visiting, but what little we saw made me promise to be back when the azaleas are in bloom. It took six years to build this amazing showcase, and I bet you could spend six years exploring it without ever getting bored. It contains 4 acres of floor space and it originally sat on 125,000 acres with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains that could make you cry. Some of the 65 fireplaces are bigger than some apartments and I was really sorry that none were lit when we were there.
It is a massive operation with a winery, conservatory and every kind of garden imaginable. Even the obligatory gift shops were so well done that you just had to stop in to see what they offered - of course, I had to have a memento of this visit. I would definitely recommend this stop for anyone anywhere nearby this area. It's not a cheap tour, though. But we were really lucky that the visit didn't cost us a dime - a $72.00 value. As soon as we pulled into the campground, a lady came and offered us free tickets for the house tour. They had taken the Christmas Candlelight Tour the night before and that included admission for the next day's tour of the house which they couldn't take. We hadn't planned on touring the house until the next day, but hey - we're not Vanderbilts and were not about to pass up that freebie!
December 18, 2001 - Blue Ridge Day
Going down the Blue Ridge Parkway at first I was whining because I thought it would be so much better if it were spring when the trees were budding or summer when the trees were full or fall when the trees were colored - anytime other than winter time when they were bare. But then I shut up and began to appreciate what was before me at the time it was there. The trees being stripped of leaves afforded a view through the branches of the far distant mountains and waterfalls that popped up that would not have been visible were they full of leaves. The shadows that the twisted branches cast on the trunks of other trees lent visual interest at every turn. Since we just got a good rain yesterday, the huge rock formations shimmered with thousands of little waterfalls alongside the road.
We drove underneath clouds, then through them, then on top of them. At the highest peak we reached, the trees were covered with ice making crystal sculptures of every twisted, naked branch and icicles dripped off the myriad of tunnels as we drove right through the mountains.
We hiked and huffed up to Linville Falls and down through the sweet smelling pine forest. All in all a perfectly great day! We didn't get to go visit Grandfather Mountain, though, and I was pretty disappointed about that. When we got to the visitor's center, we were informed that with temps in the 20's and 50 mph winds on the mile-high suspension bridge, it was not a good idea. Oh well, another reason to come back to visit this gorgeous area during another season.
December 19, 2001 - Mountains
Well, we got to see more of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and that was a very good thing. Keala and I agree that mountains are a necessary ingredient in the next place we decide to actually settle down in. Especially after having lived in Hawaii, I always thought of myself as an ocean-girl, with that being the most important thing. Now, though, I realize my preference is for mountains, if I have to choose. After being in these mountains, I think I know why. Towering mountains and expansive oceans are equally magical, but mountains are ever present, ever visible - it doesn't take a special trip to go visit them - you just can't miss them. And they grant an ever changing show and viewpoint. When you are near the top of the range and can stand and look far out and across and can see nothing of borders - they just seem to go on forever. The deep valleys and high peaks are equally visible from this vantage point. Being here evokes a sort of heightened awareness of how unlimited we all are. Then as you move down from their height and you see them in the distance, still vast and seemingly untouchable now, the consciousness shifts to experience feeling small and dwarfed by them. Either way, mountains are magical reminders and examples of perspective being all important.
December 20, 2001 - A rip off!
We arrived back at our Charleston campground home only to find out someone had stolen my yard and my tiki torches! Boy, was I pissed off! The authentic fake almost-grass-like-if-grass-were-blue mat that made up my "yard" was gone along with my authentic tiki torches that I had just filled with bug-repellant oil. I was pissed off that someone actually had the nerve to steal my stuff - I was pissed off that my faith in humankind had been a little shaken. RV parks are statistically one of the most crime-free places and we had left things out like that before when we took short trips. It would have been quite obvious to anyone familiar with RV'ing that we were coming back, so it was definitely a deliberate act, not an honest mistake thinking we had left and forgotten the items. And strangely enough, I don't feel quite as safe as I did before this. Silly, I know, because I guess it probably wouldn't have happened if the house was still on the lot - maybe that changed the rules for the thief, but to me that's still like somebody justifying stealing your flower bed because you weren't at home for a couple of days. And it did nothing to help my holiday spirit when the campground owner explained that thievery always increases around Christmastime. But I guess it doesn't have to make sense - and it's an added expense I don't need at the time. I did not sleep well that entire night and was disappointed in myself that I was even trying to remember some of my cajun heritage in order to cast a gris-gris or voodoo spell on the thief or something. So then I was pissed off that I was so pissed off and that I couldn't just let it go and shake it off. I tried to tell myself maybe they needed my yard more than me, but I was not convinced.
December 25, 2001 - Christmas Presence...
My first Christmas on the road - I woke up this morning like a little kid with total awareness of it being Christmas and having so many presents they won't fit in my motor home, much less under a single tree. My greatest gifts are:
A traveling partner who reflects a different me in his eyes than the one I see when I look in the mirror - one who doesn't make me feel less attractive or desirable because I've put on weight or when I don't have on makeup - who brings me flowers so often for no occasion, who faithfully puts out the bird feeder facing my house so I can enjoy their antics - who knows the stars by name and introduces them to me - who makes me laugh until my knees buckle - who laughs at my impatience by saying I must have gotten tired of waiting in line when God gave out patience and therefore just never got any - who decorates a sad little "Charlie Brown" tree between our homes with bright Christmas lights - who validates my every feeling: "Of course you're scared (or angry, or whatever), that's good - that's exactly how you should be feeling right now..." thereby never making me feel like a bad person for what I'm feeling at any given moment. This, of course, helps me get over it sooner rather than denial which helps things linger.
A mother who encourages and applauds my travels even when it means I'm far away from her for Christmas. Kids who still call me and need a "mommy fix" every now and then - just enough to make me still feel needed even though they're totally self sufficient. A granddaughter who, although she is growing up way too fast, is still my baby and lets me hug her to death whenever I see her. A brother and family who have always been here for me and still makes me feel that safety net they've always laid out for me. Friends who love to hear of my adventures and take the time to let me know about theirs.
So many presents I have and I am thankful for you all. I hope that all my friends and family out there have as merry a Christmas as I have. Thank you for being part of my life this year.
January 14, 2002 - Itchy Wheels
I've been kinda lazy about writing in my journal lately. Maybe because I've gotten into the work day boredom and haven't felt like I've done anything major enough to write about - maybe I've been obsessed with downloading music from the net, taking advantage of rare continuous internet connections, whatever - I'm moved to write tonight because I'm so excited about the prospect of traveling again. I've discovered again that 3 months in a place is long enough - the itch gets really noticeable about then and I just can't wait to drive my house down the road again to the next adventure. We leave Charleston next Wednesday, the 23rd, heading for Florida's sunny (hopefully) shores.
This weekend and Monday and Tuesday will be the final sightseeing spree of Charleston. We've made some small treks lately, but a lot of what we've been able to do lately has depended on the weather. We did see a small bit of the rare southern snowfall, and although the snow didn't stay on the ground, the icicles weighting down the fronds on the palm trees was an interesting sight. It was actually quite comical - like you could here them saying "Hey, what don't you understand about the word tropical? Turn the sun back on!"
It was also funny to hear the Yankee newscasters being entertained by us pitiful southerners battling those half-inch "drifts" and poking fun at us for having closed the schools and public buildings for such a light snow shower. Well, I enjoyed our little flurries - it was quite wonderful to see the tiny flakes floating softly through the air only to disappear when earthbound.
Actually, I haven't minded the cold too much and we had a nice enough weekend recently to take the ferry out to Ft. Sumter National Monument. It was a short but great trip out there, with seagulls flying right beside and behind us catching snacks we tossed to them, amusing us with their theatrics and aerial acrobatics. We enjoyed the tour of the fort - it was interesting to stand in the ruins of the first battleground of the civil war. What was once a three story structure was virtually decimated and became a dilapidated half story pile of stones. The guide talked about milestone moments that happen in our lives - those events that lead up to events that end up in either disaster or glory - Ft. Sumter was certainly one of those in our history.
I'm also glad we didn't miss seeing Angel Oak. I've seen pictures of this massive tree since we arrived here and knew I'd want to visit it, but I had no idea it was so truly magical. Its limbs are bigger than most trees and stretch out, up and down in crazy configurations, sometimes being buried in part in the soil, then breaking through again to crawl across the ground before lifting up again. They estimate it to be about 1,400 years old with a circumference of 25-1/2 feet, the longest limb being 89 feet - an absolutely amazing tree! I couldn't help but hug it just for surviving so long.
I've been doing a lot of research on our route through Florida and am most excited about getting to swim with the dolphins. There are several places that do this and I'm not yet sure whether I'll do it in Orlando or the Keys, but it's on my list of "just gotta do's". Despite the impracticality of it financially speaking, I can't let that stop me from such a unique experience. From some of the travel channel episodes I've seen about this experience, I've decided it is not something I care to miss if given a reasonable opportunity, so I'm just being reasonable.
Don also insists on going to visit Mickey Mouse at Disney World, so I'm glad to be traveling with such a big kid! I can't believe I'm finally getting to see Disney World! That was another totally out of reach expectation in my life - po' folk kids like us just accepted that was out of the realm of possibility, but here I am at 50 years old finally living outside of my childish vision of reality! I'm gonna kiss Donald Duck when I see him!
January 23, 2002 - Changing life: changing plans
We would be about ready to hit the road about now, but Don got word a couple of nights ago that his 92 year old mother has been hospitalized in Houston and is not doing very well. He took off yesterday morning to go see her, so I'm staying put in Charleston until he returns, probably next Monday unless something else changes. I already miss him to an unreasonable degree, and am worried about him driving such a long distance in such a hurry. My prayers have placed him and his mother in God's hands and now all I have to do is trust that all will be as it should and that I recognize what is best when I see it even if it doesn't agree with my limited vision and judgment of what is best.
So, if I have to stay in Charleston a bit longer, it's a beautiful day for it - sunny and warm with infinite blue skies. Yesterday Keala and I toured another of the big plantations here, Middleton Place. Although we preferred Magnolia Plantation, its more primitive gardens and swampland walks to Middleton's more formal approach, we enjoyed our day very much. As we walked along the river banks, we got to see a baby blue heron fishing for its lunch. He let us get within 5 feet of him and never seemed in the least disturbed by our presence. It was the highlight of our day, along with sitting under Middleton Oak, a tree estimated to be at least 800 - 1,000 years old and documented as a trail marker for the native indians when they were making their way to Charleston for clam season. We were both disturbed by the beautiful statuary that had been used for target practice by the men in blue when they tore through the plantation during the Civil War. I mean, come on, all may be fair in love and war, but art knows no politics and there's no excuse for destroying such beauty.
This extended stay will also give me more time to "crop" some more with my new-found friend, Pam, who introduced me to the fine art of scrapbooking. I had no idea of the artistic and creative pages that can be fashioned as opposed to my jumbled idea of what a scrapbook was, and this is a perfect medium to display some of the mementoes and pictures we've accumulated so far in this journey.
January 27, 2002 - Leaving Charleston
I've spent the day getting Inspiration all hitched up and she's raring to go! We leave tomorrow morning for a short drive to Savannah, where we'll stay at the Skidaway State Park. I'm reallllly looking forward to being in a nice, woodsy setting again. The weather's nice enough to ride bikes on the trails around the lake at the park and it'll be so nice to be a little less crowded. This KOA has been the most commercial, un-pretty place we've stayed so far - convenient for work, but that's about all I can say for it. I guess I still haven't forgiven it for my yard being stolen. It turns out this campground is very unusual in that there have been quite a few break-ins, TV's stolen, etc. One 40' motor home was broken into and driven away. I don't know if they ever found it, but how rude to come home to find your home gone!
After seeing at least a little of Savannah, we head for St. Augustine, Florida. Keala tells me it's really a great little historical place and my friend Pam told me they have a Sunday buffet at an old town restaurant that spans 3 floors! Sounds like our kind of place for sure.
From there it's on to Orlando to visit Mickey Mouse. I'm not sure how long we'll be in that area yet - depends on how long it takes us to really "do" Disney and all the surrounding fun things and how long I'll have to work to pay for the admissions of all the things I want to do!
I love being free enough to play it by ear this way! At some point we'll drive to the Keys - OK, enough planning - on to sleep now so I can get a fresh start in the morning!
|Copyright by Malia Lane - all rights reserved|