Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Biltmore Estate - Asheville, NC - Day 3

About 8 PM last night, our photo was delivered from the Biltmore House. So, here we are in all our splendor and glory! Note the audio tapes hanging from our necks and the "tour guide" in my hand. Aren't we just the epitome of tourists?

As for today, Dave was rudely awaken by me pulling the curtains open to reveal the beautiful sunshine. It was only 8 AM, and his eyes took not to kindly to the sunshine. However, he dutifully rolled out of bed as he was looking forward to the adventure we had scheduled for today.

We decided that eating breakfast in the dining room at the hotel was our best bet for getting an early start without getting up before sunrise. Our budget felt otherwise, but nevertheless, we had a very posh and tasty breakfast. Dave chose Eggs Benedict and I had scrambled eggs, bacon, cheese grits (just can't seem to develop a hankering for that southern dish), and a biscuit.

We rushed back to the room to ready ourselves for our Legacy of the Land tour this morning. We had to be at the House (about a 20-minute drive from the hotel) by 11 AM. We decided to try and make the 10 AM van ride and get there early to people watch. We made it with a couple of minutes to spare and hopped on board.

Our van driver this morning was much more informative than the one we had yesterday. As we traveled the grounds, Jim (driver) shared much of the finer details. For example, the roads to the House are winding on purpose so that the guests to the House (in the horse and buggy days) would have about an hour's drive from the train station to the House. This trip was highlighted by stops along the way for a picnic lunch. The winding roads were developed to relax the guests from their hectic east-coast business lives to the forsaken North Carolina territory. At the time Mr. Vanderbilt purchased the land, it was barren land. All of the timber had been farmed. He created streams and sitting areas and his forestry staff planted over 3 million trees and plants on the estate.

Did you know that the Biltmore Estate is on the historic registry, not because of the House, but because of it's forestry school and history? That's some trivia for you buffs.

After departing from the van, we were told that we were to meet the Legacy van near the House gardens. So, being good little tourists, we walked up to the veranda to bask in the luxurious life as Mr. & Mrs. Vanderbilt created for "our" enjoyment. Here's some views and some of the unusual vine trunks that support the vegetation canopy.

This photo of the walled garden is taken from the veranda.

This picture is of the esplanade.

At the top of the hill is a statue of Diana--the goddess of the hunt. Mr. Vanderbilt would have his horses and their carriages go up the ramps to the top of the hill to begin the hunt. There are steps in the center of the ramp that are perfectly suited to a horse's gait. Then on each side of the steps the ramp is smooth to allow the carriage wheels to go up the ramp unhindered. It's amazing to me the thought that went into each and every aspect of this estate. These estates were built with entertaining guests in mind. Everything was included for their benefit.

At the beginning of the Legacy tour, we had a nice explanation of the view and how Mr. Vanderbilt acquired the land for the estate. As the guide told stories along the way, I was struck by how generous he was to the residents of the area. He not only paid them far more for their land than it was valued, but he moved homes, churches, communities, and purchased that new land for their use. Then, he provided jobs to all residents in the area. If they needed a skill, he paid for their training. Seems Mr. William Vanderbilt did not want to have the reputation for being ruthless that his grandfather, Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt, had established for himself.

We then headed for the van and began our tour. After a brief stop at where the village had been that Mr. Vanderbilt moved, a stop at the reservoir that took care of the House's needs, and a stop at the gatekeepers cottage (I'd take it, it was more like a mini-estate), we headed for the lover's pond.

Mr. William Vanderbilt loved to take Mrs. Edith Vanderbilt on canoe/boat rides on the pond. Side note: Mr. William was only married to Edith for 14 years before he died of complications from an appendectomy. They were very much in love and adored each other. They had only one daughter, Cornelia. Her two grandsons now own the estate. Once has 8,000 acres and runs the House (and now the Inn), and the other took 7,000 acres and runs the dairy and winery. They hope the house will remain in the family as long as it stands.

Back to the pond: During heavy rains, the pond would fill with silt. So, Mr. Vanderbilt charged his caretaker with figuring out a way to contain the silt within one area, while allowing the waters to flow into the main pond area. I'm sure I can't explain it satisfactorily without a tour guide's expertise, but the following picture may help you visualize the details that follow.

If you look at the picture above, you can visualize some of what I'm about to share. There is a pipe with an opening about a foot in diameter under the water level (to the right of the arched bridge) that carried only water (no silt) under the road and across (to the left) to the main pond. This pipe was only used when the silt level was too high. Because this system of elaborate "automatic" shutoffs and controls was developed over a hundred years ago and no plans have been found to date, no current engineer has been able to completely recreate all the details of its operation. Now, that's progress!

The following picture is a bridge over the main pond. I have to admit, I'm so proud of this photo. The reflection and the ducks (under the arch) are just too perfect!

Here's a picture of us with the Estate's Lagoon and the House in the background. Aren't we just so cute?

There were so many details shared about the lives of the residents and the history of the land, I can't begin to share it all with you. But, if you are ever in Asheville, I strongly suggest you stop for a visit--and be sure to take the Legacy of the Land tour. It will add richly to your experience.

Back at the House, we took our "return" passes and obtained our video tape and headsets to see the second, third, and fourth floors of the House. Of course, no pictures can be taken in the House, so I have little to share in the way of pictures.

Here's the website for the Biltmore Estate, which I should have provided earlier. But, as they say, "better late than never."

Here's an outside picture of the spiral staircase that we had to come "down." We, of course, went "up" but it was done in small increments so not as tiring as it might be otherwise.

I took a couple of pictures out of the windows and unfortunately, I didn't realize I had the incorrect setting selected on the camera, and I received some "screening" in the pictures. The is the top of the atrium (where Dave and I had our picture take at the beginning of the tour).

Here's a great picture of one of Dave's gargoyles taken from inside the fourth floor of the House.

I was surprised as we continued our tour inside just how many people were taking pictures of the interior. I would have loved to done so because I found out that there are no pictures of the third and fourth floors in their books for sale. These floors had just opened this year and I was told that it will be another year before the books include those floors.

After our spiraling-down experience, we headed for the gift shop. If you've read our USA Tour blog, you know I must purchase my charm. I also found some great key lime cheese ball flavoring. Yum. I think I dipped into their sample at least 4 times, and each tip contained more "dip" than the previous cracker had held. That would have been fine for me for dinner, but Dave, not being into the "weird" foods, wanted something more substantial. So, our next stop was the Stable Cafe. Well, truth be told, we headed for the Stable Pastry Shop. We purchased a couple of sandwiches and some exquisite pastries to take back to the room for our dinner.

Meals, treats, and souvenirs in hand, we headed for the van pick-up station. Of course, we had just missed the van and had to sit and people watch for about 30 minutes. My nostrils were so consumed by the drift of the sandwiches and pastries, it was pure torture to wait.

When the van arrived, we hopped aboard for the 20 minute ride back to the Inn. And, as luck would have it, I sat in the same seat with the nail sticking out of the back of the seat. This time, my new trousers were snagged as I got up from my seat.

therefore, instead of heading to the room to eat that dinner that had been keeping my stomach growling for almost an hour, I headed to the front desk to report the damage. Because I had reported this yesterday, I felt it should have been fixed and it would not have happened. After waiting about 15 minutes for the manager, he came out and said he'd credit our room for the cost of my trousers. See, once again, it pays to say something. Dave sat in the lobby while his Pam Police did her thing.

Finally, at nearly 6 PM, we were off to our room. I think Dave and I could have gnawed our way through the box by this time. Our breakfast had long worn off and we had only had a few free sample dippings since then. The sandwiches were super yummy. And, I won't even begin to tell you how scrumptious the pastries were--else you'll be drooling on your keyboard--not a pretty sight!

We settled in for our evening of TV watching and enjoyed the peaceful view out of the window. So far, it has been a great 40th Anniversary trip--18 months later!

We plan to leisurely drive home in the morning. We have to be home in time to meet the lawncare guy so he can mow without letting Kalli out of the back yard. We are missing our four-legged children and are anxious to hug their necks, feed LD's fish, and settle into our humble home unadorned with gargoyles and spires.

Our next journey will probably be in the summer of 2010, when we hope to extensively travel the east coast. However, in a month, we may be building our next home. I will keep a journal of that progress (mostly so as we age, we can remember the details). This will be our third home-build, but we have no journal of the others--only some occasional photos. Again, thanks for taking this trip with us.

Adios and hasta lavista.

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