Monthly Archives: September 2019

A Tale of Two Houses: Biltmore Estate and Carl Sandburg Home

While in the Asheville/Hendersonville area, we toured two historic homes. The Biltmore mansion is enormous, opulent, and designed to impress. The Carl Sandburg home is simply that – a home; cozy, warm and intimate. They were as different as they could be, yet equally fascinating.

The Biltmore mansion is known as America’s Largest Home. The 250 room mansion, built in the French Renaissance Chateaux style, was constructed by George Vanderbilt in 1895 as a country retreat. Quite modern for its day, the estate is equipped with 33 guest rooms, 45 bathrooms (at a time when indoor plumbing was rare!), opulent public rooms, an elevator, and the very latest in high tech (for the time) amenities. There is even an indoor heated pool, bowling alley, and gym. The place is just enormous!

Outside the mansion are the extensive gardens and grounds. We tromped all over them, exploring the beautiful conservatory, rose and azalea gardens, and down to the bass pond, waterfall, and boat house. We walked miles exploring it all. But wait, there’s more! Hopping back into our vehicle, we drove several miles to the winery and associated village area where we sampled the estate wines. (Drinkable, but nothing special). We literally spent all day exploring different aspects of the estate.

The Biltmore is unusual in that it is still family-owned. Most gilded-age mansions were ultimately sold off as rising taxes and labor costs made the expense of maintaining such a beast unsustainable. However, the Vanderbilt family managed to hold onto it, developing the estate into a slick, diversified money-making operation. There are multiple shops, restaurants, winery, hotels, conference center, and of course, the mansion museum. Special exhibitions, tours, and events keep even locals coming back for more. And the cost of admission isn’t cheap at upwards of $70 per person!! But, impressive it is, most certainly.

At the other end of the spectrum is the unpretentious former home of Carl Sandburg, known as the Poet of the People. Already an award-winning author, poet and biographer, he purchased the existing home and its 245 accompanying acres to live in for the last 22 years of his life, from 1945 to 1967. It was a writer’s retreat, a family home, and a working farm for breeding Mrs. Sandburg’s internationally-known prize-winning goats. When Carl died, his widow sold the farm to the government to become the Carl Sandburg National Historic Home – the first historic site to honor a poet.

When the family moved out of the home in 1967, they took only their clothes and a few personal items. Everything else – furniture, books, papers, décor — was left just as they had lived there. Walking into the home is like entering a time capsule. TIME magazines are stacked along the staircase, the dining room table is set for dinner, and working papers are stacked on their office desks. Although comfortable, the furnishings are nothing special. We were told that Mrs. Sandburg bought a lot of it at garage sales! What is impressive is the sheer number of books in the house. There are book cases in every room, in the halls, in the basement …. everywhere! 12,000 books!! As an author, Carl used these books extensively for research purposes, plus he subscribed to a number of newspapers and magazines. While touring the home, one feels that the family has just left for a walk in the garden and could return at any time.

The grounds are equally unpretentious, yet scenic. Trails lead around a small lake and up to a scenic overlook at the top of the small mountain. Another trail leads to the barn and dairy complex, where the National Park Service still breeds a small herd of goats descended from Mrs. Sandburg’s famous prize-winning line. It was very peaceful. A guided tour of the home costs a nominal fee ($5), but walking the grounds is free. In fact, we saw several people walking or running the trails for exercise.

Two estates that couldn’t be more different. The imposing Biltmore, built by a wealthy industrialist, has been developed by its heirs into a slick diversified operation, requiring hefty fees for entry. The Carl Sandburg Home, owned by the unassuming “Poet of the People”, was sold for a modest sum by his widow to create a national historic site, open to all.

It seems fitting.

“The secret of happiness is to admire without desiring” ….. Carl Sandburg

DuPont State Recreational Forest

The Asheville / Hendersonville area in North Carolina has been a favorite destination of ours for years. But since we usually stayed in Gatlinburg (1.5 hours away), touring this area has been limited to quick day trips. We eagerly looked forward to exploring this area at a more leisurely pace.

One of Jeff’s all-time favorite mountain biking spots is at the DuPont State Recreational forest. A day trip from our Gatlinburg cabin to DuPont was a 4 hour round trip commitment, so he usually only managed one visit during our family vacations. This time staying nearby, I believe we went 4 or 5 times! I’m sure he’ll post a video review at some point.

The amenities at DuPont have evolved considerably since Jeff first began visiting here in the mid 90’s, around the time the DuPont land was sold to the State of North Carolina. Early on, there were gravel parking areas and maybe a Porta-let, if you were lucky. Now there is a bonafide Visitor’s Center and several actual restrooms. Sweet!

Since I was along for these visits, Jeff was able to use me as his Sherpa. I dropped him off at the highest trail head and drove back downhill to the visitor’s center to park. While he romped on the bike trails, I hit the hiking trails.

DuPont forest is most known for its beautiful waterfalls. During my visits, I explored many of them: Triple Falls, High Falls, Hooker Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Grassy Creek Falls. The trails aren’t especially difficult; my average hike was 5-ish miles with only moderate elevation change. But the waterfalls are absolutely beautiful and it’s a wonderful way to get your Fitbit steps in! So beautiful – photos don’t really do it justice.




Campground Review: Lakewood RV Resort, Flat Rock, NC

035Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Lakewood RV Resort
  • Dates of stay: September 9 – 23, 2019
  • Location: 15 Timmie Lane, Flat Rock, NC 28731
  • Type of campground: 55 plus Private / Independent
  • Cost: $46.43/night (weekly rate)
  • Additional fees: none
  • Stay limit: none
  • Accepts mail / packages: yes
  • Cell reception: ATT average
  • Website:
  • Pros: clean amenities, planned activities
  • Cons:  bit tight in spots for big rig

Full Review

The Asheville/Hendersonville area has long been a favorite of ours. Usually though, we ran over here as a day trip from nearby Gatlinburg which limited our access. So we opted to stay here for a couple of weeks to really enjoy all that the are has to offer.

Lakewood RV resort is located a bit south/east of Hendersonville. It was a further away from Asheville than we really wanted, but we had difficulty finding a big-rig friendly resort that was nearer. Even this campground is tight in spots for our 43 foot rig. Our assigned site required very careful backing in to avoid a tree limb just a foot off the drivers side and you’ll want to be an experienced driver to navigate the interior roads. But that was the ONLY downside. Everything else about the park was very enjoyable.

This park is a 55 plus, adults-only community. We didn’t search that out —  it just turned out that way. About half of the community are homes (park models) and the other half transient or seasonal RV sites. I would say the majority of residents are at least seasonal, with quite a few that live there year round. Sometimes that is a recipe for trashiness, but the resort was immaculately kept up and the residents were friendly and welcoming. It really feels like a community. And, there are planned activities!! Water aerobics, happy hour, bingo, chair volleyball, nickel bingo, dominoes, poker and game night, cornhole, bridge …. the list goes on. One night a local winery did a wine tasting event (for a fee). Frankly, I had a ball here.

Once we shoehorned into our site, it was great. There was plenty of space to park our toad and motorcycle. The parking area was gravel, but there was a concrete patio with a picnic table. The full hook ups worked just fine – water, sewer, and 30/50 amp electric. The electrical box was located at the rear of the site, but our cord could reach it just fine. There were just enough tree branch obstructions to attenuate our satellite TV signal, so we watched over the air channels during our stay. The campground does offer cable TV, but it requires a (free) cable box and complicated set up. We couldn’t figure out how to make it work with our complex motorhome wiring. There is campground wifi available, but our ATT hotspot worked better (which isn’t saying much).

The amenities are lovely. The bath facilities aren’t new, but they are immaculately clean and work wonderfully well. The club house area offers a heated pool, large meeting facilities, shuffleboard, and an exercise room. No annoying door codes here either! The park is under new ownership as of a year ago, and the new owners have aspirations to make the park a premier destination. They are certainly on the right track.

The cost was average at $46/night at the weekly rate, but the amenities and activities made it feel like a bargain. Hendersonville is nearby, with a variety of shopping and dining options. Asheville is about a half hour away with attractions such as the Biltmore mansion and art district. I would definitely stay here again.

Bottom Line: Friendly 55 plus park with lots of activities at a reasonable price.


Nosing around Nashville: Part 2

Nashville is known as Music City and for good reason! Nashville has historic musical venues, a thriving downtown music scene, recording studios and music stars, all in a mish-mash of genres including Country, Bluegrass, Rockabilly, R&B, Rock, and Gospel.

002Stroll along Nashville’s Broadway bar district and your ears will be assailed by music literally blasting from every open door and window. In fact, I found the decibel rating to be completely unacceptable inside most venues. 105 plus decibels, really? The OSHA permissible exposure to those levels is only about one hour without hearing protection (and beer doesn’t count as hearing protection). Frankly, I can’t even hear the nuances of the music when I’m being sound-blasted, so what’s the point? Whatever happened to a guy or gal with their acoustic guitar crooning a ballad in front of a single microphone? You know, so you could actually understand the lyrics? But, I digress. We did manage to find a venue or two with smaller bands and a less than deafening sound level.

Just up the block a ways is the historic Ryman Auditorium. Originally built as a church, the facility hosted the Grand Ole Opry radio show from 1943 to 1974. The auditorium still shows its roots in its layout, architecture, and pew seating. I felt right at home as we took in a show by Mandolin Orange, a talented duo with a fusion bluegrass/folk acoustic sound. Their mellow tones and thoughtful lyrics posed a fascinating counterpoint to the blasting music and drinkin’ going on a short piece down the road.

010For more music history, nothing covers it better than a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame. As a musician myself, nothing fascinates me more than exploring the roots and evolution of the spectrum of musical genres we know now as “country’.  Even today, talented music composers continue to graft and meld various musical styles to create something fresh and new. One of my favorite exhibits was a film exploring country music on TV, from the earliest black and white shows up to today. It was fun seeing clips from shows I remember from back in the 60’s and 70’s. Remember the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour or Hee Haw? I guess I’m showing my advanced age! (Hey, I got the senior citizen discount, so it’s not all bad.)

003No trip to Nashville is complete without a visit to the Grand Ole Opry. In its current home since moving from the Ryman in 1974, the longest running radio show in US history keeps on truckin’. The variety show operates as a well-oiled machine. Once the cherry red “On The Air” sign illuminates, each guest artist arrives in their turn, performs 3 songs, and politely exits. While the stage crew resets for the next artist, the announcer conducts short interviews or reads commercials. It’s all very polished and timed to the second. It’s also highly entertaining and worth every penny to see. I picked a night during which Scotty Macreery was performing. I remember Scotty as a 17 year old contestant on American Idol, which he won that year. At the advanced age of 25, he is now a seasoned performer with several number one hits under his belt.  I love Scotty.

Ear-splitting bands notwithstanding, I found the overall level of musicianship to be generally outstanding. I’ve never experienced such a concentration of musical talent in any one place. The impact and musical legacy of those that came before is evident in today’s performers. Music City, indeed.

In the center of the current Grand Ole Opry stage is a six-foot circle of hardwood, lovingly cut and transplanted from the Ryman Auditorium stage. This circle, where so many of the greats in country music stood to perform, creates a tangible link to Opry’s history. When the devastating flood of 2010 submerged the stage under several feet of water, it was uncertain whether the circle could be salvaged. Miraculously, although much in the theater was destroyed, the circle remained in good condition. It was meticulously refinished, and re-installed into the restored stage. It remains as a beloved and revered piece of the Grand Ole Opry magic. As the song goes:

“Can the circle be unbroken,

Bye and bye, Lord, bye and bye”

May the circle remain unbroken.

Nosing around Nashville: Part 1

Nashville is a thriving, bustling city with abundant history. Our stay here has been a busy one as we have attempted to sample all that the area has to offer. Only one factor somewhat inhibited my enjoyment — the weather. After spending the summer in cooler climes, Nashville’s heat wave slapped me up the side of the head. The unseasonable mid-90’s temperatures coupled with Florida-like stickiness sent me scurrying for air conditioning during the hottest hours.

009Before the Civil War, Tennessee was a slave state and that history can be explored at both Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage as well as the nearby Belle Meade Plantation. The Hermitage is Jackson’s final home, and 3rd farm. Both he and his beloved wife rest here. Admission includes a guided tour of the mansion, and self guided tour (with free audio guide) of the grounds and outbuildings. The visitor’s building includes a movie and interesting exhibit detailing Jackson’s life and times. Andrew Jackson has long been one of Jeff’s favorite historical figures, and we spent a good half-day exploring everything. Jackson’s legacy is mixed – he was a victorious general and a President that advocated for the common man. Yet he also was responsible for driving the mass re-settling of First Peoples (i.e., the Trail of Tears) and was a slave owner during his lifetime. The exhibits did not gloss over the controversies, but laid them bare for all to ponder.

Belle Meade Plantation is a smaller, glossier example of an antebellum farm. It’s claim to fame is thoroughbred horse breeding. Most of the Kentucky Derby horses racing today can trace its bloodline back to Bonnie Scotland, a Belle Mead Plantation stud. In fact, Bonnie Scotland’s descendants include Secretariat, Sea Biscuit, and California Chrome. The tour includes the mansion and grounds, and a free tasting at the Plantation’s winery (mostly sweet, fruity wines). It’s also an interesting tour, but if you only have time for one, I’d do the Hermitage.

009The Civil War comes up close and personal at nearby Murfreesboro at the Stones River National Battlefield. We lucked into a ranger-led tour of the site who called it the Rodney Dangerfield of Civil War battlefields – highly significant, but often underrated. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war with over 30% casualty rate (23,000 men), the highest rate of any single battle. The location was tactically important as key supply line, and the Union needed a victory at that point. Although the battle itself was inconclusive, the Union poured resources into creating a major supply depot that was used for the rest of the war. Ironically, Tennessee was the last State to secede and the first State to be recaptured by the Union forces. The tour guide did a great job of bringing the battle conditions to life in our imaginations … and the horrors. War is awful.

A long-time Jack Daniels fan, Jeff just had to make a pilgrimage to Lynchburg, home of the distinctive Tennessee whiskey. We had visited the distillery way back in 1984, as we moved from Indiana to Florida. Much has changed since then. There is now a polished visitor’s center, and the tours are not free! The tour itself was longer and more extensive than I recall, exploring more of the grounds and family history than previously. Our walk through the production areas, however, was familiar territory with the giant fermentation vats, distillation units, and slow-dripping charcoal mellowing tanks.  In 1984, you weren’t allowed to buy alcohol there, as it was a dry county. It’s still a dry county, but now you can purchase a variety of special-issue bottles at the Jack Daniels gift shop and even have them engraved, if you so desire. At least the water and lemonade are still free!

Venturing to downtown Nashville, we stopped in at the Nashville Farmer’s Market to peruse the many offerings. It’s a sizeable market, with a variety of products and is open every day, all year around. Adjacent to the Farmer’s Market is Centennial Park. It’s a huge green space right in the heart of the city, perfect for strolling. An enormously long Tennessee timeline runs along one side, while gardens mirroring Tennessee’s actual topography extend along the other side.  Also next to the Farmer’s Market is the Tennessee State Museum, a brand new facility which just opened in October 2018. It’s not completely full yet, but it has gotten off to a great start with modern and engaging exhibits of Tennessee’s history and culture. The market, park and museum are all free by the way, including free parking at the Market.

The same cannot be said of parking closer to the hot sections of downtown Nashville. Parking is quite pricey there, ranging from $30 – 50 per day at the surface lots or garages. There are a few parking meters, quarters only, $2.25/hour with a 2 hour max. Ouch! If you’re staying near town, Uber or Lyft look mighty attractive. We were just far enough out of town to make that not as practical, but we simply limited our downtown excursions to times when meters aren’t enforced – after 6 pm Mon-Sat and all day Sunday.

Another Nashville landmark is the Parthenon reproduction. Yes, the Parthenon. Built for the 1897 Centennial Exposition, it was originally intended to stand for only 6 months, but it was strengthened and maintained by popular demand. An enormous 42 foot statue of Athena is the focus, just as in ancient Greece. The interior also houses a small art collection. Not exactly what you’d expect to see in Nashville, but there you go.

Next up:  Nashville’s music scene!

Campground Review: Safe Harbor RV Resort, Nashville, TN

014Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Safe Harbor RV Resort
  • Dates of stay: Aug 30 – Sep 8, 2019
  • Location: 3343 Bell Rd, Nashville, TN
  • Type of campground: Private / Independent
  • Cost: $67.80/night
  • Additional fees: none
  • Stay limit: none
  • Accepts mail / packages: Yes
  • Cell reception: ATT good
  • Website:
  • Pros: great location and amenities
  • Cons: Pricey

Full Review

Nashville has been on our bucket list to visit for some time, and this new RV resort is within a half hour of the city center (traffic depending). It’s a bit pricey at $68/night, but the quiet location looked awesome.

The RV park is laid out on a peninsula that juts out into a large lake, so nearly every site has some kind of water view. It just opened a year or two ago, so the amenities are brand new. Check in is done at the office at the front of the property, before a gate that lets you into the rest of the facility.

The long hilly one-way, one lane campground interior road requires some careful navigation with a big rig. Our site required us to traverse all the way to the end and around to our back-in concrete site. The site is long and just wide enough to just fit our bus, motorcycle and truck. Alas, the pad was not quite level, with about 1% grade back to front. Doesn’t ANYONE know how to lay a truly level site?? We haven’t had a level pad since Petoskey.

The utilities work perfectly, with water/sewer and 50/30 amp electric hookups. The campground also offers quite an extensive free cable TV package, but we are using our satellite TV and local digital over the air channels. All of the sites are open and satellite friendly. The free campground wifi is surprisingly robust and usable and a higher-speed wifi package is available for a fee. Trash is picked up daily from every site.

The new amenities are gorgeous. The bath house shower facilities are separate complete bathrooms – spacious, clean and beautiful. There are additional toilet facilities in the building next door and at the pool area. The pool area offers a sparkling blue pool, kiddie pool area, and lounge/pavilion. Other amenities include shuffleboard, corn hole, playground, dog walking areas (not fenced), and coin laundry. The Park also offers rentals of golf carts, paddleboard, and kayaks.

We were here over Labor Day weekend and the Park provided band entertainment at the pool area on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. The staff is friendly and helpful. I had packages shipped here and when I walked to the office to pick them up, a friendly staffer gave me a golf cart lift back to my site. It really is a beautiful park with lake views everywhere and beautifully-kept landscaping and amenities.

Really the only downside is the price, but I believe all of the campgrounds in the area are similarly expensive. The pricing seems overly complex though, based upon site, dates and length of stay. It should be noted that not only is there a gate code for entry, there is also a separate security door code for the bath houses and laundry.  If the Park was located downtown or in a sketchy area I could see it, but the neighborhood is quiet and upscale. Seems a bit of security overkill to me. Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here if we passed this way again.

Bottom Line: Beautiful park and amenities, if a bit pricey.

Gatlinburg Quickie

025We carved a few days from the front end of our planned Nashville visit to attend to some cabin business. Let me catch you up.

You see, we had a fire at our cabin a couple of months ago involving the washer/dryer unit. It was a relatively small fire, as these things go, but a fire event nonetheless. Our cabin guests at the time attempted to extinguish it, unsuccessfully, and called the fire department. Thankfully no one was injured, and the actual fire damage was limited to the washer/dryer unit and part of the laundry closet. The smoke damage, however, was considerably more extensive. Our property management company quickly mobilized a mitigation company and we immediately engaged our insurance company. However the restoration process has gone less expeditiously than we had hoped.

So, we felt an in-person visit was needed, to get our arms around where – exactly – we are in the process and help move things along.  We had a productive two days, meeting with contractors, inventorying contents and assessing overall progress. It was sad to see our beloved cabin in disarray, but I’m confident that it will be fully repaired and re-assembled more beautifully than ever.

The trip wasn’t entirely business though. We managed to take a short motorcycle ride through the park one day and completed one of our favorite hikes (to Charlie’s Bunion) on the other. It was such a beautiful day, we just HAD to get out on the trail! We had  gloriously clear visibility at the Bunion and even encountered an adolescent bear on the trail!

After our brief visit, we moved on to Nashville – music city! More on that in our next posts.