As promised, after a grand total of approximately 36 hours at home, a still-fatigued-but-willing-to-push-through-the-fog Team WestEnders stowed their freshly refilled suitcases in the car for one more trip to close out 2014. This time we pointed ourselves west for just over 200 miles, to a little town called Asheville, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We'd heard a ton of recommendations about it already--and everyone who mentioned it included in the same breath, "Have you gone yet? You should really check it out!" So we caved to the...tourist pressure...and planned our very first excursion to WNC. (That would be "Western North Carolina", which I finally figured out after seeing it multiple times on signs and such along the way. Apparently, it's an official regional title kind of...thingie...)
And while I have to admit I found it a bit...wearing...to be back in a vehicle again so soon after surviving the Escape from Northern Virginia, (if that makes it sound like a battle...it absolutely IS...every damn time...) this trip was waaaaaay easier. First of all, it was only about 3 1/2 hours, which comparatively feels like a quick hop to us. Also: very little traffic to speak of...and totally uncomplicated highway navigation. At the outset, when he heard that we'd be taking the Subaru this time, Derek had declared in a totally dramatic, extra-loud complaining voice, "Mom's car? Oh nooo--that means no stopping to pee, no road drinks...NO FUN!" So before I get a completely undeserved reputation as a...Driving Dictator...let me state that we did, in fact, take a break to use the facilities...and (perhaps even more importantly) caffeinate the yawning person behind the wheel with a gallon or so of Diet Pepsi.
Upon entering the outskirts of the city, we stopped for lunch at an unassuming little delicatessen, where we all got tasty and satisfying sandwiches. Thus fortified, we felt ready for our...assault on Asheville (in a friendly, sightseeing sort of way, of course). Today's agenda was really just to park the car and traverse the town on foot, as the entire area encompasses no more than 10 blocks. Our only obstacle was the weather, which was colder and windier than we've come to expect from our Central North Carolina Wintertime norms. Even though Derek and Riley had (naturally) worn shorts, and I was the only one sensible enough to have donned my warm (ish) coat, we braved the conditions anyway--by walking briskly and popping into many, many shops during our self-guided exploration.
Fortunately, there was quite a lot to catch our attention--from the interesting architecture (lots of brick buildings, cool details worked into the stone, sculptures all over the place, murals on many walls) to the myriad of quirky boutiques and galleries to the diverse array of eateries and brewpubs dotting the landscape. For example, we stopped in at one store that sold nothing but crystals and gems. And--treasure trove for browsers--a used bookshop!Then...we accidentally wandered into a place that sounded potentially entertaining, called Octopus Garden...which Husband and I quickly ascertained was a...um..."smoke shop". Whoops! Cue our very hasty retreat! But our favorite had to be Mast General Store, stocked with everything from warm outdoor clothing to camping gear to cookware--and boasting an old-fashioned candy shop setup with barrels of loose sweets you could mix into bags and take home. The best of both worlds: useful...and F-U-N!
At this point the sun was setting, which we knew would only bring the temperature down further. And we were pretty much window-shopped out for the day. So we opted to locate our hotel, forage for food at a nearby grocery store, and do some well-deserved chillaxing for the evening. (Here I would like to state for the record that we did NOT partake of the offerings at Rocky's Hot Chicken Shack (soooo not making that up) where the neon sign outside proclaimed "Show some skin...it's Tatoosday!" I did mention it was a spirited little 'burb, yeah?)
So, as I've been sternly informed, "important Bowl Games are being televised"; therefore you can guess where the Male Posse is parked right about now. And that's fine--we'd better rest up, because today was only the introduction to our Asheville mini-vacation. Tomorrow--after partaking of the obligatory free breakfast, of course--we plan to hit the ground...well, not "running", but at least "hiking". That's right, watch out...mountains...we're coming for you! Okay, how about AFTER some sleep...and coffee...