Saturday, February 2, 2013

Arden & Asheville - North Carolina

Apple Butter
Instant Grits
Aug. 10, 2012
As a last stop on the way home from our 2012 Florida road trip, we chose Asheville, North Carolina.  There, even before we left the hotel in the morning, I felt like I was on vacation, mostly because of the hotel's breakfast.  Instant grits in place of oatmeal and apple butter packets instead of jelly.  So southern!

Brown's Pottery - Arden, NC
Before arriving in Asheville, we got sidetracked and stopped in a small town called Arden when a pottery store on the side of the road caught our eye.  Brown's Pottery is a family-run ceramics studio that sells hand crafted vases, mugs, dishes, pots, and face jugs.  When the current owners, Jeanette and Charlie Brown, found out that my mom is an art teacher, they insisted on showing us their backroom and giving us a tour of their pottery facilities.  They welcomed us and graciously explained how they made the ceramic pieces, showing us nearly every step of the process.  Along the way, they pointed out two types of potters: Studio potters and folk potters.  Studio potters have formal training, whereas folk potters pass down the craft through the generations of their family.  Brown's Pottery is run by folk potters.

Face Jugs at Brown's Pottery - Arden, NC
In addition to creating mugs and plates and beautifully glazed platters, they make face jugs.  These special pieces cost around $200 - $1000 each and are all different from each other.  They all have different expressions and bright eyes, and their very white teeth are made from cracked pieces of china.   While some other pieces can be made from a mold, a face jug must be made by hand since each one is different. 

I have always sort of wanted to learn how to throw pottery on a potters' wheel, so I was fascinated to watch Charlie work on a piece he was designing.  He shared with us his story about a recent stroke and how he had been slowly recovering.  Only very recently had he been able to resume his work, albeit with limited hours, at the shop.  In the corner of the showroom stands an enormous vase.  Jeanette told us that Charlie's grandfather had made the vase years ago to show off his talent and introduce himself to the buyers market.  Even today, we were impressed by the size of the 6+ foot vase, which they said was spun on a potters' wheel. 

Jeanette and Charlie Brown at
 Brown's Pottery in front of the 6-foot tall vase.
Mugs for Sale - Brown's Pottery
I bought a mug, and Mom bought a serving platter.  Then we thanked them for the impromptu tour and continued on toward Asheville.  Brown's Pottery was really the gem in our day in part because it was so fascinating, and in part because it was unexpected.  The shop looks like a warehouse from the outside, but the tradition and art inside captivated us.

Anyhow, we eventually arrived at the Biltmore Estate, which is considered to be the main attraction in Asheville.  The Biltmore Estate employs a huge percentage of Asheville's population and does quite a bit to support and sustain the area.  The estate is so enormous that it's difficult to imagine one family owning all of it.  What's even weirder is to realize that the family who lived there, isn't a royal family of any sort.  They're just people with a ton of money.  Actually, they're the Vanderbilts, and they used to live at, and still own, Biltmore Estate.

Welcome home?
We began our tour by driving through their extensive grounds on the path the the house.  Well, it's more of a mansion.  No, actually, it's about the size of a palace.  I understand that royal families get taxes from entire countries, and therefore can live in gigantic palaces.  I understand that some hardworking and lucky people make a fortune in their careers.  I had a difficult time understanding how one family, the Vanderbilts, came into such a huge amount of money to own this place.

Biltmore Estate
Biltmore Estate
 What I didn't expect to find upon entering the house was that it seemed like a pretty comfortable place to live.  Instead of stone walls and daunting gargoyle-lined hallways, there was a ton of huge, comfortable-looking furniture, lots of art, lots of curtains, and pictures of the family.  The place seemed half like a palace that was decorated in a more modern, American style, and half like a normal family's home...just larger.  There was even a portrait of the family on one wall where half the family members were looking the wrong way, and their dog was stealing food from a table.  That almost sounds like my family!  But seriously, the view from one of their stone-carved balconies reminded me of the view from el Alcázar in Segovia.  Normal families don't have views overlooking the countryside and mountains like that because you have to be on a fourth or fifth story to be high enough to see all that.

Not what you find in a normal family's garden.

Did you know they have a swimming pool too?  It's complete with separate changing rooms for each individual guest (my kind of place!), and there are extra hallways for the people who worked in the house to bring each guest towels and new clothes.  Even their kitchen puts my little kitchenette in Hyde Park to shame.  I mean, that's not really a surprise.  My kitchen is so tiny that I have to prepare food on my kitchen table, which is in the living room (the only room that's not the bedroom).  In lots of contrast, the Vanderbilts have kitchens, plural.  Each one is staffed with chefs and lots of food and lots of counter space and a dishwasher.  A dishwasher - that's what I now call "living in style".  No worries though, I fully intend to find myself a place to live that has a dishwasher sometime soon-ish.

Serving Platter Lily Pads
After we were done staring around in amazement on our tour of the house, Mom and I climbed back into the car and drove to the next part of the Vanderbilts' property where their winery is located.  The admission ticket to Biltmore Estate is for both the house tour, the gardens, and the winery.  We spent some time in their exquisite gardens, but it was really too hot and humid to stay outside for too long that day.  They had these funny lily pads that reminded me of serving platters because the edge curl up.

Biltmore Estate Gardens
At the winery, Mom and I tasted a one or two wine samples, and honestly, I don't remember what they were because I'm really not a wine connoisseur.  Remembering how much we liked the moscatos in Napa, we asked to taste their sweetest wines, and they were pretty good.  I especially appreciated spotting a sparkling pink wine in their shop, called Pas de deux.  It even had pointe shoes on the label.  How perfect!

With a ton of driving ahead of us, we decided not to complete the wine tasting.  Instead, we hit the road for home, and stopped somewhere near Frankfurt, KY for the night.  Mom and I are great road trip buddies, and chatted a bit about future road trips to Sanibel Island and future places to stop on the way to/from  Miami.  I keep not-so-subtly hinting that the Bahamas are only about 50 miles from Miami.  I know, it's a charmed life.  And I love it!

V is for Vanderbilt


  1. Looks like a wonderful trip! I'm not a wine snob either but I love sweet wine, and that place seems like a lovely little winery.

    1. Hi Sofia,
      Yes, touring the Biltmore winery was really fun. Thanks for your comment!