Over the weekend Ben's parents came to town for their first visit at our new house. They were good sports, even though the accommodations are severely lacking in the "hominess" area. We celebrated his dad's birthday with a dinner out at a neighborhood restaurant that dishes up your southern grandma's comfort food and enjoyed some of Ben's homemade pecan pie (albeit slightly runny) and ice cream. Since we're new to this hosting guests in Charlotte thing, we weren't really sure what to do with them, especially since we haven't "done" much ourselves. Luckily they were content to take long walks in our neighborhood and through another local park.
On Saturday morning we headed out to spend some time in Asheville, a mountain town about 2 hours away. Along the way we stopped to do some hiking of which Mia was a big fan! For the better part of Saturday afternoon we walked around downtown Asheville, milling and browsing through the plethora of cute artsy shops that Charlotte so severely lacks. It was a bit like being back in Colorado. People actually said hello to us on the street, their dogs visited with Mia, and street performers kept us entertained. Basically it was Boulder with a lot less overt hippie and a bit more yuppie. We both really liked it though. I suppose it's the closest we'll be getting to that rocky mountain feeling. Ben thinks we should spend all of our weekends there. I think it would just make more sense to flip this house and get the heck on back to Colorado.
Saturday night, late, we drove over to the Biltmore Estate, the largest home in America. It was all decked out for the holidays and so very beautiful. Since we had decided pretty late to purchase our tickets we got the last entry time available - 9.30, which was well past at least 2 of our bedtimes!
The story is that back in the late 1800's George W. Vanderbilt constructed this huge estate in a partnership with architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (best known for his work at Central Park). The Biltmore House officially opened to the public in 1895 and quickly became a family home when Vanderbilt married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser. Their only child Cornelia was born in 1900. After Vanderbilt's death in 1914, Edith and Cornelia continued to call Biltmore home, with Edith assuming management of the estate. When Cornelia and her husband the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil married during the Depression, they chose to open the house to the public in order to increase area tourism and help maintain the estate. Today the Biltmore remains a family business, with Vanderbilt's grandson William A.V. Cecil owning the estate and great grandson, William A.V. Cecil Jr. serving as chief executive officer. Along with 1,800 employees, they continue the preservation of this national treasure.
To say that they place we huge is an understatement. I'm certain that we only saw a few wings of this monstrosity, but what we did see was highly impressive with hand carved moldings and ornate furnishings, fabrics & wallpapers. The home is said to have 250 rooms, including a bowling alley, indoor swimming pool, gymnasium, music room, a library that houses only half of Vanderbilt's 23,000-volume collection, and a multitude of guest rooms and servant bedrooms. They say that although it is now open to the public, it still remains a "family home." I'm not sure I believe it. It's hard to see a modern family getting comfy in dining room with a 7 story high ceiling. I'm so curious to know if there is a wing or 2 that the Cecil family hangs out in that has normal Pottery Barn-like furnishings. I hope there is - that is the only way this family would seem "normal" to me!
Not only is the house pretty darn amazing, the grounds are a work of art in themselves. After his parent's hit the road back to Pennsylvania on Sunday, the 3 of us headed back over to enjoy a bit of outdoor Biltmore. Antler Village turned out to be a smaller version of Vail Village, so we didn't spend much time there, but we did enjoy some of the walkways that cut through the 8,000 acres.
It was really quite a nice visit even though the whole place is much too grand for us simple folk. I can't say that I'm even envious of Vanderbilt family - I think I'd find myself much more comfortable and inspired in Martha's house!
4 months ago