Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Asheville is all about Ambience

My daughters and I spent a recent week-end in Asheville (North Carolina), a Southeastern town I love to visit! We were there during the Bele Chere festival (no, not misspelled French – it’s apparently an old Scottish phrase, meaning “beautiful living”), where we were joined by some 299,997 other festival-goers. If you like street festivals with food, crafts, art, beer and more, Bele Chere (always the last week-end of July) is not to be missed.

My daughters: one always serious, the other goofy. 

I had read “Look Homeward Angel” long before I knew Asheville was Thomas Wolfe’s home town. Once I realized this, “Old Kentucky Home” became one of my favorite places to visit.

Thomas Wolfe's typewriter - only a writer would photograph it!

Another house in Asheville that attracts many visitors (may more, I would imagine, than Thomas Wolfe’s childhood home) is Biltmore Estates. Having been there twice before, I begged off when my younger daughter took her sister there for her first visit. It was, after all, her birthday trip and this was her choice. I, meanwhile, spent time downtown at the Grove Arcade and Woolworth Walk – much more to my liking.

Our hotel room had a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance; spectular even at dawn.

In addition to art, Asheville is famous for its food. Skip your hotel breakfast (we did!) and stop at the Green Sage Coffeehouse & Café (corner of Broadway and College, downtown) for the green sage plate and you will forget there is such a meal as “lunch” that day, and if coffee is your favorite breakfast drink, the restaurant’s organic fair trade coffee will delight you.

On a day that lunch is part of your plan, oneamong many wonderful places toenjoy it is Bristro 1896 - Pack Square, near the corner of Pattion; the recent day we were there, I had the fish tacos and my daughters, respectively, had shrimp and grits and the Reuben sandwich. Wonderful!

A dinner experience that week-end had its good and its bad aspects. The food (Indian) at Mela was fabulous, but the restaurant’s air conditioning system was on the blink and we rushed out after our last bite, to head for our hotel’s showers and fresh clothes. We all thought Mela’s staff should have said something when we walked it. We might have stayed anyway, but at least it would have been our choice. As it was, we did not realize how uncomfortable it was until after we had ordered and, captive, our food was beginning to reach our table.

If you love books – or even if you don’t – you must visit Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café. And buy something! Independent bookstores are an endangered species in our country and we ought to try and keep them from becoming extinct.

I could go on for hours, but it’s much better if you just go and visit Asheville yourself. It’s a great place to visit – and if someone were to offer me a job, I would be sorely tempted to move there.