Road Trip: Trains, Wines, & Monticello
This is the final part in a series about my road trip in June 2016:
Thursday: Train ride through the Smokies. A coworker, Sandy, had heard of a steam train we could ride through the Smokies. Unfortunately, that train was not available during the week we were in town, but we did arrange for a similar experience. We were first seated in the second-best car on the train, with air conditioning and nice bathrooms with dedicated staff to assist and entertain. Unfortunately, the seats were not particularly comfortable and had even less leg room than an airplane. Even with a nice couple sitting across and knee-to-knee with us, we had to change cars. So we went to the third-best (if we don’t count the snack car), which had fans and windows you could open. The legroom wasn’t any better, but the seats were easier to deal with and the car was empty enough we could sit by ourselves. I was dosing myself with cold medicine and cough drops, and struggling to manage my cold, but the views held my interest. Better still, earlier on in the trip, I had mastered my panorama feature on the camera, so I was taking some interesting shots. At times, I even got daring and dangling my arms out of the train to get a curvy picture of the train making turns around the mountains.
Friday: The Biltmore Mansion and winery. Several people recommended we head to Asheville North Carolina and see the Biltmore Mansion. Ann was already keyed into the idea because it is one of the only privately-owned mansions open to the public that is dated back to the Robber Barons and Gilded Age era of the late 19th century. From the opening gate to the valet parking just in front of the mansion was a four-mile drive through woods and well-manicured gardens. I perfected my “wrap my arm around the roof of the car to take a picture” technique as we made our approach. Just the view of the Mansion itself, and the gardens in front or the mountains out back, was breathtaking. Inside, the Mansion took on more of a museum feel, similar to how the Buckingham Palace felt, with areas roped off and lines snaking around the same few rooms. The only way up to the higher floors was a lovely spiral staircase, but we were more interested in the servant’s rooms on the lower levels. We finally made our way to the gift shop, and the candy store next door. We really could have spent the rest of the day there, but we still had a lot on our itinerary. Around noon, we headed over to the Biltmore Winery. It was a bit of a challenge to find, even after we made our way out of the nice gardens and scenic woods that lay between the Mansion and the Winery. There, we participated in a free wine tasting, and then I over-indulged by buying two bottles of white wine. The rest of the afternoon was spent driving up I-81 to Charlottesville. Once we got to our hotel, the exhaustion and the frustration with the front desk was a little too palpable, but fortunately the beds were comfortable enough
Saturday: Monticello. A last-minute addition of mine to the schedule. It was, in part, motivated by a desire to cut the ride home into pieces. The experience the week before of an 8-hour drive that got us only part of the way to Tennessee justified my desire. The other part of my motivation was not believing I had ever been there before, although in hindsight it’s possible I visited during my safety patrol trip in 5th grade. I got several good panorama shots while there. I don’t think I complained too much about walking around, coughing furiously, and being stuck in the far-more familiar humidity of northern Virginia instead of the nice mountain air we had during the last week. The newer visitor center was especially well done. Like so many other places on this trip, we could have spent a lot more time there, but we both had the desire to be home at a reasonable hour and still had almost three hours in the car to go.
All the same, the 9-day trip was well worth it. I got a lot more practice with taking photographs on my new pocket camera, and got to see places and states I may never see again.