Sunday, July 22, 2012

A 4-Day Vacation Summed Up In 1,400 Words

We just got back from vacationing in the mountains with Mary's sister Ruth and her hubby Kevin. Thought I'd give you a quick summary of where we went and what we did. But just in case you don't give a rip, I'm keeping it fairly short. Like, 1,400 words short. Here goes nothing...

THURSDAY -- We drove to Asheville from Durham (where Ru and Kevin live) -- Mary and I had spent Wednesday night in a hotel. The girls had made an appointment to get a facial in Asheville at 2:30 that day, which left us just over an hour to grab a bite to eat once we got into downtown Asheville. Traffic there -- both pedestrians and automobiles -- is CRAZY! We decided to eat at a place called Barley's Taproom & Brewery. Their lunch special -- 2 slices of pizza, soda included, for $5.25 -- seemed really good. We also thought it would be pretty fast. After all, pizza is the special, we ordered pizza, it only makes sense. Turns it out, it wasn't fast at all. A few dozen dirty looks toward the kitchen and/or our waitress later and our food finally arrived. Turns out, it was worth the wait. It was truly tremendous pizza. We ate fast so the girls wouldn't miss their facial appointment (which was several miles away), and arrived just in time. Us boys didn't plan to wait for the girls at the salon, so we hit the road, exploring downtown Asheville and the River Arts District. We saw the river (French Broad) and crossed it four times, twice going and twice coming back. An hour later, we went back and picked up the girls and we all enjoyed ice cream and/or milkshakes on our way to the cabin. Our cabin, sort of a house, sort of a log cabin, was located in Chimney Rock, a good 30 to 40 minutes south of Asheville. Kevin expertly drove us through switchback after exciting switchback on our way to the middle of nowhere (or so we thought), and we arrived safe and sound (after briefly getting stuck in the steep gravel driveway) at the cabin. It was nice. A fully functional kitchen (or so we thought), two sizable bedrooms, a living room with a flat-screen TV (sadly, with only the basic cable channels -- no ESPN), and a lovely front porch. We needed groceries for the next few days, so while the girls chilled out and started to unpack, Kevin and I headed to the "nearest" full grocery store, which ended up being almost six miles away in Lake Lure. On our way there, we passed through the town of Chimney Rock and then Lake Lure, where we were surprised to find not only a plethora of "touristy" shops, but also a good number of interesting-looking restaurants of all shapes, sizes, and styles. Then there was the lake itself -- a big, beautiful, sprawling man-made wonder in the middle of soaring, majestic mountains. It  had its own beach with lifeguards and everything. Incredible! We finally found the grocery store -- an Ingles -- and stocked up on the necessities (mostly food, drinks, and snacks). While Kevin and I were in the grocery store, the sky opened up and a torrential downpour commanded our (and everyone else's) attention. Fortunately, it had slacked off to a drizzle by the time we got out of the grocery store. We made ourselves some supper, nothing elaborate, and settled in for the night.

FRIDAY -- Biltmore day. Wednesday had been Ru's birthday, and she'd never been to Biltmore -- so we went. We had breakfast at the ridiculously elaborate McDonald's across the street from the entrance, then proceeded to the Biltmore. We toured the house first, which for Mary and I was the third (maybe fourth?) time seeing it, and Ru and Kevin's first. We lunched at the Stable Cafe, which -- if you've never been there -- is a big horse stable that was converted into a restaurant. The food was decent, but grossly overpriced, as are most things there. Then we toured the gardens for as long as our tiring legs could stand it before heading back to the car. That night we dined at the Bayfront Grill, overlooking Lake Lure. It was a million-dollar view, and pretty darn good food.

SATURDAY -- Mary cooked breakfast that morning. We'd bought bacon and pancake mix, and a squirt-bottle of fake butter. Unbeknownst to us, the only pan in the cabin was not a non-stick pan, and the fake butter we'd bought contained no fat. Uh-oh. Mary's first attempt at making a pancake without any fat resulted in -- understandably -- a gloppy mess. We scoured the cabinets for anything usable that might have been left behind by previous renters or by the cabin's owner. The only thing we found -- but couldn't use -- was a bottle of canola oil that was several years out of date. That's a no go. Finally, being the scientist that she is, Mary got the idea to try and cook the pancakes with bacon fat. She'd already had the bacon in the oven, and it had fully cooked. Little by little, drop by drop, she did just that. The pancakes cooked in bacon fat -- of which there were many -- were delicious! (And so was the bacon, incidentally.) We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon checking out the souvenir shops in Chimney Rock, as well as an antique store or two. We lunched at the Riverwatch Deli where Kevin and I both had Western North Carolina-style barbecue pulled pork sandwiches. They're tomato-sauce-and-mustard-based, unlike the vinegar-based barbecue we're used to in eastern North Carolina. Though it was different from what I'm used to, it was still good. After we'd all had our fill of shopping (Kevin and I well before Mary and Ru, I might add), we headed down the road a bit to Lake Lure, where we took a one-hour scenic boat tour of the massive lake. It was beautiful, and quite fascinating to hear the history of the lake. For you '80s fans out there, we saw the area of the lake where part of the movie Dirty Dancing was filmed. Many of the houses on or just above the rim of the lake are humongous and incredibly lavish. Many of them are multimillion dollar houses. Heck, even a lot out there is probably over a million dollars. The weather was perfect and the breeze when the boat went faster was delightful. After the boat tour, we headed back to Chimney Rock for ice cream, then back to the cabin to chill out for a bit. Later, we headed back out to the town of Lake Lure, where we intended to eat at another restaurant overlooking the lake, La Strada. Upon passing it a few times before, Kevin and I had thought it was a Mexican restaurant. When we suggested it as our Saturday night dinner location, the girls readily agreed. It wasn't until we sat down and opened the menu that we realized -- oh, it's not Mexican at all, it's Italian. That was okay, we figured, though we'd had our mouths set on chips and salsa, among other Mexican delicacies. We ended up ordering breadsticks, which can be run-of-the-mill at most places. These, however, were the best breadsticks ever. I mean that, too. Ever. We gorged ourselves on breadsticks until the meal came. Turns out the pasta that three of us had -- and the pizza that the other one had -- was also the best we'd had of any meal since arriving in the mountains. We were pleasantly surprised to have been wrong about the type of restaurant we'd gone to, as it turned out to be quite amazing. Later that night, Kevin and Ru made a fire in the fire pit out front, and Ru and Mary made and ate S'mores. Kevin and I didn't really feel like them, but the girls said they were tasty.

SUNDAY -- (That would be today.) We packed up our stuff, tidied up the cabin, and hit the road, heading home. Seven hours later (well, only five for Kevin and Ru), we were home. Tired, but refreshed at the same time. It was a good vacation.

Do I REALLY have to go back to work tomorrow?

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