A Travellerspoint blog

Orange in Asheville: Autumn Leaves & Live Music

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What a wonderful way to celebrate my favorite color - bright fall foliage and jamming live music in a famous venue that is...orange.

I purposely visited Asheville during mid-November in order to see the autumn leaves in the brilliant, vibrant shades of marigold, tangerine and crimson. And wow, it was such an amazing treat to walk around the quirky, artsy town in Western North Carolina while admiring the distant Blue Ridge Mountains! The cold weather, the crackling leaves rustling on the ground, the smell of pumpkin-flavored goodies in the downtown shops - I felt grateful to have a real autumn experience.

Yes, the leaves change colors in my hometown of Dallas, too, but it is not the same as what I saw this week in the mountains on the East Coast. What causes the insanely beautiful, warm-hued pigmentation on the leaves in the Asheville area, and how is it different from other parts of the country (and the world)? The town's tourism website has a great article about the science of autumn leaves, as well as gorgeous images of the region from September through November. (Warning: Clicking the weblink may cause the spontaneous urge to listen to John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" and to book a hotel & plane ticket for North Carolina. It happened to me, and if you're lucky, it could happen to you, too.)

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Speaking of music...and the color orange, merely hours after exploring and zipping (literally) around Asheville, I walked over to The Orange Peel - a famous live music venue in town - to see the band O.A.R. in concert. Of course, the band was great - plenty of upbeat, crowd-favorite songs that stretched into extended jam sessions.

But let me tell you about the opening act, singer-songwriter Andy Grammer. Think Jason Mraz's sound, meets Howie Day's one-man band talent with a looping pedal, meets Matt Nathanson's humor...and Justin Timberlake's beat-box skills. Yes, quite a combination. I was a little unsure at first, but I ended up being impressed by his musicianship (again, one person layering guitar, drums, piano & vocals) and how he engaged the crowd. I liked the songs "Back Home" and "Sinner". And the icing on the cake: The closing song was a cover of Coldplay's "A Sky Full of Stars". And I got to experience all of this in an orange room, and then walk back to my hotel afterwards amongst Asheville's lovely orange trees.

Posted by rachwells 18:21 Comments (0)

Zipping across Asheville, North Carolina

On my first full day in Asheville, North Carolina, I jumped right into it - literally. From 70 feet above the ground, swooshing on a cable at 35 miles per hour, I watched the blur of the gorgeous mountains and city skyline. The adrenaline rush felt amazing, and I could not stop smiling.

When I arrived early at the zipline site, I sat on the porch and excitedly admired my surroundings. Conveniently located one mile from the city center, Asheville Zipline Canopy Adventures has views of both downtown and the scenic mountains and treetops. Yes, the course is close to a hotel resort, but honestly, when I was up on the treetop platforms, I did not much notice the buildings - I saw various shades of warm-hued leaves in the trees and majestic mountains in the distance, and it was a great view.

The tour group included myself, a family of 4-5 people, and another solo traveler. Because almost all of us were first-timers/novices, we all could relate to the feelings of nervous excitement, and we all cheered each other on throughout the tour. Our two guides very patiently prepped us for the zipline process, and each of us even got to practice on a "mini" line which was only a few feet off of the ground.

By far, the toughest part of ziplining is knowing when and how much to brake. Your right-hand glove has a black rubber pad on the palm, and in order to brake, you are supposed to reach your right arm backwards - with an open hand - and gently glide it on the cable. The guides used hand signals and told us which points on various ziplines it would be best to start braking. After the first few ziplines, I started getting the hang out it (no pun intended). Good thing there are 11 ziplines on the course, because once you start, you keep looking forward to the next one. The ziplines get longer and higher throughout the course, the longest one being 1,200 feet. Another neat aspect: There are a few lines where two people can go at the same time, side-by-side.

Obviously, I thoroughly enjoyed my ziplining experience...and I want to go again. And I would have done another zip line while visiting the Asheville area, perhaps deeper in the mountains. However, knowing that the weather forecast predicted much colder weather for later in the week, I did not want to drive in those conditions in unfamiliar territory by myself. Yes, I will fly through the air on a cable, but I'm nervous about mountain driving. Don't worry, if you look really close, I'm sure you may see me swooshing through the trees somewhere else in the country in the not-too-distant future.

Posted by rachwells 18:51 Comments (1)

Rescued with Coffee in Ladue, Missouri

After a fun evening of exploring St. Louis and getting mentally prepped for the long drive to California, I checked out of my downtown hotel the next morning and hailed a taxi in order to meet my sister at her conference center on the other side of town. The driver seemed a little bit confused at first when I gave him the destination address, but after a minute, he told me he knew exactly where to go.

For the first 20 minutes, we easily breezed through traffic westward toward suburban Frontenac, located 15 miles outside of St. Louis. Then, disaster struck. Upon approaching Plaza Frontenac, an upscale shopping center, the cab driver told me that we had arrived at my destination, which I knew was not true. Once again, I told him that the address for the conference center was on North Geyer Road...and that I was not going to the mall.

"Geyer? Are you sure you want to go to Geyer? On the mountain?" the cab driver asked me. I am not very familiar with St. Louis geography, but...a mountain? That did not sound right, or anywhere close to where I needed to go.

It increasingly became apparent that the cab driver had no idea where he was, so I asked him to make a U-turn to take me back to Plaza Frontenac. I (unhappily) gave him the $40 fare, which included an extra $5 for the last-minute U-turn, and then he dropped me off at Neiman Marcus. I knew I was only 1-2 miles away from the conference center, but I did not remember which direction to go. Lugging my heavy backpack, I walked around the parking lot of the shopping center trying to figure out if I could recognize any of the street names. After several minutes of looking around, I felt fatigued and flushed from the extreme humidity, which is saying a lot from someone who grew up in North Texas.

Then, I spotted a coffee shop across the street, and my sweaty, under-caffinated heart swelled with joy. I still had no idea how to get to the conference center, but I knew that iced coffee, air-conditioning and wi-fi would greatly help my situation. I felt much better after I got my large iced vanilla latte (with an extra shot of espresso, of course) and sat down at a table.

From the coffee shop, I called my sister to tell her that I either could walk the rest of the way (which would take forever), or she could come pick me up. Although normally I love to walk, I was so thankful when she chose the latter option because it was way too hot outside for a long hike. Never have I been so happy to see a Volkswagon Golf and the familiar face of my best friend. We gave each other a big hug, chatted for a few minutes inside the coffee shop and then formally began our long drive westward towards California!

Posted by rachwells 19:14 Comments (1)

Through the Arch, and Westward Bound, Once Again

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Is my life like a Kerouac novel? An endless On The Road journey to-and-from the West Coast? Hey, I am happy to be along for the ride, even if just once more towards the lovely Pacific. My sister needed an extra driver to help her get to L.A., and I was happy to oblige. In preparation for the trip, I stuffed as many clothes, multi-media devices and bite-size toiletries as I could fit into my carry-on backpack. It was a tight squeeze and a slight strain on my shoulders, but I managed to pack "light" for the fast-pace, cross-country journey.

First stop: St. Louis. In the early evening as the sun waned across the lovely city skylight, I strained my neck as far back as possible to look up at the famous Gateway Arch. Known as the Gateway to the West, the 630 foot structure and the surrounding park served as a coincidentally fitting starting point for the impending long drive to California. I let my mind wander for several minutes, thinking about how many pioneers in American history began their own westward voyage just a few steps from where I stood. When I felt like I had sufficiently savored this unique moment, I took a deep breath and walked ceremoniously under the Arch, east to west. Don't laugh at me! It was a symbolic gesture to get myself mentally prepared for the long drive.

And so the exciting westward journey begins...again!

Posted by rachwells 18:45 Comments (1)

Quirky Antique Charm in Jefferson, Texas (Part 1)

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As my sister Rebecca and I drove into town, I instantly noticed the 19th century brick road, the grand architecture of the main street buildings and the "Reindeer Rest Stop" sign near the year-round Christmas store. That's Jefferson. A historic riverport town in Far East Texas (almost to Louisiana), Jefferson proudly preserves and celebrates its classic, Southern heritage. We explored the local shops including antique stores like "Granny Had It" and the Jefferson General Store, which has an old-fashioned soda fountain and sells five-cent coffee and eclectic souvenirs. My sister bought a $5 mystery grab bag of vintage jewelry down the street, and we browsed early editions of classic books at Gold Leaf Antiques and Big Cypress Antique Emporium. One of my favorite finds in Bell's Books was a hardback story called How to Live with a Calculating Cat.

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For lunch, Rebecca had the turkey with coleslaw, while I ate the pulled pork sandwich with sweet potato fries at Joseph's Riverport Barbecue. Both of us thoroughly enjoyed our meals. I particularly appreciated that there are large squirt bottles of barbecue sauce at each picnic-style table so that every person can "sauce" his or her main entree the way he or she likes it. Even though our tummies were stuffed after delicious barbecue, we still stopped at the Jefferson Fudge Store for Rocky Road fudge and a Mint Chocolate truffle...because it was all too tempting to resist.

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And what did we do after getting sugared-up? We looked around at Scarlett O'Hardy's Gone With the Wind Museum. Located in a beautiful neighborhood barely outside of the main shopping area of the town, the museum is surrounded by magnificent, historic two-story houses (many of which are Bed & Breakfasts) and a pretty little park. The museum's incredible collection of items includes autographs of the cast, an exquisite miniature dollhouse, tons of themed-merchandise and much more. One of my favorite parts visiting the museum was seeing show posters and editions of the book in many foreign languages.

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Though I already knew that Gone With the Wind is a classic book and movie, I did not realize until this museum visit just how much the story became a pop culture phenomenon in its time and has had a lasting legacy. Apparently, the book has never been out of print since it was first published 78 years ago, which is quite amazing. After looking at each of the museum displays, my sister and I got our photo taken by the dollhouse, and we chatted with the very nice owner who answered our questions and spoke passionately about her favorite pieces in her collection. Overall, I really enjoyed my experience at the museum, and I would recommend checking it out. (Call ahead of time to inquire about the hours of operation.)

So, why is this blog post titled Part 1? Rebecca and I had a great time during our exploration of Jefferson, but we only scratched the surface during this afternoon visit. The town offers much more, including ghost tours, bayou tours, train rides and nearby Caddo Lake, and thus, we hope to return to Jefferson later this summer to experience at least a little bit more of the town's quirky, old-timey charm. Stay tuned!

Posted by rachwells 21:23 Comments (3)

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