Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sometimes You Win

And sometimes you get home from the family vacation and say, shit, that trip was a C- at best. If you hadn't guessed, we just did the latter. I'm not feeling particularly chronological today so we'll backtrack soon and talk about an Easter of the most mediocre type, steel drum shenanigans, and the things that did go right on our Spring Break adventures. But today, we'll go over everything else....

We planned to go to Asheville over break and see the Biltmore. We were holding off on hotel reservations and planning around the weather. Once we saw which days were forecasted to have the best weather, we would find lodging. Sunday through Tuesday were looking great and we set out on the internet to find a hotel. As ever, a family of five gets jammed since you are regularly determined to be too many for one room, forcing us into either a) two rooms or b) a suite, neither of which is cheap.

But there was another option this time. It was a resort at Lake Lure, about 20 miles from Asheville, that had two bedroom little houses, complete with kitchen! It would be a bit of a drive we figured, but our agenda wasn't that full so it would be ok. We'll take two nights, paid in advance.

After our kids ate their Easter chocolate for breakfast, mmmm nutritional, we dove to Asheville. We knew we wanted a full day for the Biltmore so we planned to do another activity on arrival. Chimney Rock state park was close to where we were staying and had great reviews. We pulled into the small town and drove up to the gate, $30 in hand for admission. The Park Ranger took our money and then told us, "Oh, by the way, Chimney Rock and Needle's Eye are closed." While some other trails were open, the actual attraction was unavailable. We got our $30 back and exited the park.

Not surprisingly, if Chimney Rock is closed, there really isn't much to do in the town of Chimney Rock. We made the best of it and played down by the river.



After mucking about there for a while, we decided to go to our hotel, which, theoretically, was not far from Chimney rock. By the time we arrived, however, we realized that the drive from Lake Lure to Asheville was not a 30 minute straight drive but an hour long trek through the mountains with virtually no straightaways but instead switchback after switchback, leaving the entire family with headaches and nausea upon arrival. We had made a fatal error. And better yet, had pre-paid for that fatal error.

Once you arrived at Lake Lure, you sure as hell didn't want to go back out on that road to get anything to eat, not that there was anything approaching close by anyway, so we took the kids to the pool and then got some cafeteria grade food from a restaurant on the resort property. The ambiance of the whole place was perhaps best demonstrated by another patron who, while watching the Masters, commented on Bubba Watson's attire thusly: "He's wearin' pink." Clearly, we were using the term "resort" rather loosely.

The following morning, we drove the brutal drive to the Biltmore. While it was only an hour, it felt like so much more. Here, I am going to fast forward over the day since the visit was actually the highlight of the trip and what I am in the mood to do is expand on irritants. I'll get back to the visit later.

After a full day at the Biltmore, we decided to pick up some food at a Whole Foods and head back to the resort. There was no way we wanted to make that drive in the dark. By the time we got home, we were all feeling queasy, hungry, and tired. And to the complete disappointment of the children, it was too late to swim. 

The next morning, our time at the Rumbling Bald Resort was coming to a merciful end. We planned to take the kids to the North Carolina Arboretum, which had, according to reports, a fantastic collection of bonsai trees. Our plans, they were received with universal disdain. Our dear children really really really wanted to do was play with the giant chess set and swim in the pool. 

We didn't know it at the time, but we were on the verge of another fatal error. 

What the hell. We didn't have much planned, we'll do what the kids want. So we packed up the car and drove to the fitness center. They played with the chess set before declaring it was pool time.


We walked onto the pool deck at 8:55am and were promptly informed by a gaggle of old women that water aerobics started at 9. Well f dash dash dash. They were nice enough to let the kids play (quietly, at one end, no splashing) but you know that wasn't what the kids wanted. And as that kind of swimming really wasn't any fun, they were done 15 minutes later. Which means we threw off our entire morning for 10 minutes with a fricking chess set and 15 minutes in the pool.

Into the car for another brutal hour drive and we arrived at 11am at the Arboretum. Yes, we should have recognized that we were too close to lunch to start a new activity but by now I think we were in full on self destruct mode and were determined to have some family fun gosh darn it.


The gardens were lovely BUT, you knew there was a but, the bonsai trees were largely not on display. They apparently don't like winter. 


We were able to see them in the greenhouse but the setting lacked beauty. It wasn't so much a bonsai display as a working greenhouse where you scooched in-between rows and shuffled along to see the trees. It would have been nice if they had mentioned that, oh yeah, half the year our bonsai display isn't really open.


Add that the whole family was hungry, the children were fighting over cameras and were were all just about fully baked and it was one of the least zen nature experiences ever. There was no way in hell we were hiking, so we exited stage left and went to find lunch.

[As an aside, if you are in Asheville and plan better than we did, the NC Arboretum was really nice. And if one has a lunch and the time, it has over ten miles of trails. I actually, in spite of our experience, recommend it.] 

We used the Trip Advisor app to find the Sunny Point Cafe, which was a gem and the culinary highlight of our trip. We, when departing Roanoke, had said to ourselves, maybe we'll stay an extra day. 

Not. So. Much.

All in all, our travel time in and around Asheville was over four hours across the 2 1/2 days, which is longer than it took is to get there. It was trip-destroying.

On our way home, I asked Tim's indulgence in an ever so brief side trip. The movie The Hunger Games was recently filmed neat Asheville and the internet told me that we were passing right by where they filmed the District 12 portions. Sure enough, Henry River Road had some very recognizable backdrops:





The best part of that detour? It was a very short drive.

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