Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Asheville Trip Part 1: The Sights

How Joe and I have lived in Tennessee for 5 years and not made it to North Carolina before now, I will never know. But we had a great time during our week in Asheville. It is just as awesome as everyone says! Our main plans were as follows: relax, go hiking, drink good beer. And we were successful.


Our first day, we decided to take a trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the sights and go on a few shorter hikes. Fortunately, the Visitor Center was not far from where we were staying, and we easily picked up a map and pinpointed the direction we wanted to go. We climbed up and up and up through the mountains and were treated to stunning views of valleys below until we hit our first destination: Mt. Pisgah.


We stretched our legs on this 3-mile roundtrip hike. There were definitely some steep spots, but it wasn’t long enough for us to get too discouraged. The upside to the summit was a nice viewing deck. The downside is the giant satellite tower that doesn’t go a long way to contributing to the feeling of being out in the wilderness.


I was still hungry for some more outdoor time, so we continued south on the Blue Ridge to Devil’s Courthouse.


It was a short half-mile but very steep climb to the top from the parking lot, but it was beautiful with the rocks jutting out.


After that climb, it was time for us to head back into town to slake our thirst at Highland Brewing Company, but I’ll get to beer and food in a separate post.

We had decided that one of our days we would do a long day hike, and Jen at Peanut Butter Runner had written about the Greybeard Trail at Montreat. Since we were staying on the east side of Asheville, we were only a short drive from Black Mountain. On our way there, we picked up some sandwiches for lunch and ate a filling breakfast before hitting the trail. At about 9.6 miles roundtrip, we were looking at a good 4-5 hours of hiking, and we wanted to have plenty of water.

The first section of the hike was a moderate uphill along a creek. Knowing we had a lot of ground to cover, we took it easy. Then we hit a set of switchbacks, which was a nice change of pace, especially when we came upon this waterfall.


After the switchbacks, the path kept getting steeper and steeper. We started to see a few other groups of people who told us the top was just ahead. Our legs were on fire, and we wanted to eat our lunch. Finally, we arrived at the summit, which, frankly, was a little disappointing. It wasn’t cleared, so you had to peer over some bushes to see anything.


Something something about how it’s the journey not the destination. Those sandwiches and cookies tasted pretty darn good to fuel our hike back down. I always think going back down the mountain is going to be easier, but between watching my footing and burning quads, it doesn’t feel that much easier. At one point, we both acknowledged that we were grumpy and warm and ready to be back at the car. Once we arrived, we were so happy to see our vehicle, especially since it drove us straight to Pisgah Brewing Company. Hikes + Beer = happy.


The next day we hit up the most popular tourist attraction in Western North Carolina – the Biltmore Estate. Initially, I was not that excited. The tickets were expensive (even though we purchased them at Costco before we left), and I wasn’t too thrilled about encountering tour buses full of people after our past few days of lovely quiet in the woods. I’ve seen Monticello and the Belle Meade Plantation. How much more is there to see of old, historic houses, right?

I was so, so wrong. We paid an extra $10 a piece for the audio tour, which was helpful, even if we looked like idiots holding that thing up to our ears all the time. I would’ve paid the ticket price just for the art inside the house: tapestries, Albrecht Durer prints, and ceilings imported from Italy. It being spring, the flower arrangements in the house were glorious as well, and of course, the gardens were in full bloom.


It’s quite a bit of time on your feet between the house tour and the gardens, and then we walked down to the little lake. You could easily spend all day there, but we were getting hungry and drove the 5 miles down to the village part of the estate for lunch and wine tasting.

The next day we spent downtown, walking around and shopping.

Next up: Food & Drink!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Miami Beach Mini-Trip

I am so far behind on the blog, so let me try to play catch up a bit. Joe was invited to present his research poster at something-something conference in Miami, so I tagged along because a) it was the week after Holy Week/Easter and I needed a break and b) with our cold, damp spring, I needed some sun. I scored a Priceline hotel in Miami Beach – The Gale – a recently opened property that was a good deal. Unfortunately, the myriad of TripAdvisor reviews were correct in noting that the music from the club in the basement could be heard at all hours of the night in the hotel rooms. Party! Definitely a downside. But the upside was a rooftop pool with this view:


I love Art Deco architecture.

When we first arrived, we strolled down to the Lincoln Road pedestrian mall in search of food and beverages, and we found both. It’s not Miami unless you’re drinking a mojito, and these were happy hour mojitos which are even better.


Everyone had sworn up and down that we had to go to Yardbird, and I managed late reservations. Honestly, I was a little disappointed. The food was good but not great, and I have issues with paying $35 for the same food that my grandmother probably cooked for Sunday supper after church. Both Joe and I agreed that the best course was dessert – a sort of crisp topped with peach ice cream. And speaking of grandmothers, that was the closest to my grandmother’s peach ice cream recipe that I have ever tasted outside of my dad making it. The cocktails were good too, but coming from Nashville, I’m just not that impressed by a decent bourbon list and Southern home-style cooking.


The next morning, we got up early, grabbed breakfast, and went to the beach. How early? Early enough that the beach chairs and towels weren’t quite ready for us yet. Oops. Joe had his conference that afternoon, so we headed in, cleaned up, and journeyed downtown. While he presented, I found a nearby park to sit in the shade, watch the ships come in, and read my book. I really had a hankering for fresh seafood while I was in a coastal state, and I settled on reservations at Catch that evening.

Again, our reservations were late, and we are not late night people, so after hitting the rooftop pool for some more sun time, we had to find a way to entertain ourselves. The obvious answer was to grab a pre-dinner cocktail.


Right across the street was Bar Centro in the SLS hotel, a Jose Andres establishment. I couldn’t resist the Clean & Dirty martini with olive spherification and olive brine air. I can’t recall what Joe ordered, but he enjoyed his too. We had great seats at the bar and were digging the environment around us. The few snacks we ordered were phenomenal: conch fritters with a liquid center, frozen bleu cheese sandwiches with lemon marmalade, and patatas bravas with spicy tomato sauce and aioli. Then, this happened:


Liquid nitrogen caipirinhas. There is a guy who goes around making them, like someone would make guacamole at your table at a nice Mexican restaurant. It involves a bowl and liquid nitrogen and is quite the show. The result was delicious. In retrospect, we should’ve just stayed at Bar Centro, but we had reservations, so we walked down to Catch.

By this time we were tipsy and already sort of full from our bar snacks, but we ordered up food anyway. Most of the menu is meant to be shared, tapas-style. Our favorites were the unique sushi rolls. It was majorly pricy, especially for a meal we didn’t really need. The restaurants were all too dark for decent pictures, so I don’t have any photographic proof.

While it was nice to get away to sunny weather while it was 40 degrees and raining in Nashville, Miami Beach is SO not my scene. I remarked to Joe that it didn’t seem like it had much of a sense of place food-wise, and we didn’t rent a car so we didn’t have the freedom this trip to scope out local seafood or authentic Cuban places. On top of that, we had a TERRIBLE experience with our shared ride to Fort Lauderdale and our flight was delayed back to Nashville. But we got some sun!