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Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

Visiting the Biltmore was part of my destiny.  Not exactly in the case of fated destiny, stars aligning, and all that jazz but more of a coerced destiny created by interested parties.

Like my grandmother, who, upon discovering that I had never been to this grand home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, was so aghast at the notion that she threatened to ‘kill me’ if I didn’t visit.  (True story.  That really happened.)

And like Suzanne’s mother, who was similarly dismayed when she learned of my apparent transgression.  Instead of threatening to kill me like my dear old grandmother, however, she purchased season passes for us.  That seems a little more rational.

This is probably only the second time that I have had a season pass to anything in my life, the first being a swim club membership in 6th grade that I obtained solely to have the opportunity to talk to a girl from class who wrote “can’t wait to see you at Splash this summer!” in my yearbook.  Guess what?  She wrote that in literally everyone’s yearbook.  Stupid circa-1995 Chris.  Anyway, I did feel somewhat cooler holding my newly minted Biltmore identification card and was immediately filled with wonder as to what exactly being a season pass holder entails.  Turns out, it’s a lot.  And after seeing the house, I can’t wait to partake.

Suzanne’s mother wanted a photograph of my reaction when I first came upon the house after emerging from the wooded approach.  We didn’t end up snapping one, but if we had, my expression would have been somewhere between “you got three numbers and the powerball on your lottery ticket” and “that girl REALLY did want to talk to you at Splash all summer.”

The Biltmore is awe-inspiring.  The sheer size of the place is only dwarfed by the immensity of the grounds it sits upon.  It doesn’t seem real at first.  It’s hard to wrap your mind around the thought that someone actually lived in this place.  It isn’t a Disney castle.  It was a highly functioning, highly innovative working estate home, serviced by scores of maids, cooks, butlers, and the like.  The history of the inner workings of the house is legendary and I will touch upon it in good time.

There is so much to tell about our experience within the house and on the estate itself that one post cannot do it justice.  We’ll have a couple more coming this week.  For now, I just hope that the accompanying photos give at least an inkling of its grandeur. I can’t wait to experience it in the spring.

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Seeing Joan’s post over at her Charleston Daily Photo blog reminded us that we, too, have recently paid the Palmetto Carriage Company’s Big Red Barn a visit on one of our endless roams through the streets of Charleston.  We were drawn in by the glowing orbs and dim hue of Christmas lighting inside the stable.

Anybody who has ever been to the Holy City of the South knows how ubiquitous carriage tours are on the lower peninsula.  If you were in a car and not accustomed to such things upon your first encounters, you were probably pretty miffed when you sat behind one of these things as it plodded down the street at 2 miles per year.  I was, at first.  Not anymore.

I have only been on one of them in my life and that was years ago.  Being a pedestrian when one of them passes by can supply a quick lesson on a familiar structure or an anecdote on a piece of Charleston lore.  Over time, you begin to create your own knowledge bank of these stories, criticisms, and, well, embellishments, although I’m not knocking those by any means.

I have been told by a couple of good friends who worked for one of these companies while in college not to completely believe 25% of what I hear from some of these drivers, which probably goes without saying and absolutely they do not mean they are lying to patrons, at least willingly.  Charleston is an interesting place full of wonderful history and nuanced nods to different social, cultural, and political climates, but a little hyperbole about these events doesn’t really hurt anything sometimes.  On Wentworth Street, the stream of carriages is nearly constant and the factoids from the mouths of the operators blend into the environmental stimuli of the neighborhood in the same way chirping birds and passing vehicles do.  From what I have gathered, most of the carriage drivers are pretty knowledgable and only stray into the realm of popular myth sparingly while within their script, a foray that is obviously more common during impromptu critical analysis questionnaires from the eager history buff in the back seat.

In a recent instance while walking the ol’ beast down the street, I overheard one poor driver attempting to explain both the geometry of descent and combustibility against a facade of a cannonball fired upon a single residence South of Broad during the Civil War.  The fumbling answer he delivered showed a complete lack of knowledge in the science of basic physics and a lack (probably fortuitous) in recognition in the timing of an appropriately worded response, “Sir, I don’t know the answer to your ridiculously detailed question about 19th century ballistics” but I certainly appreciated him giving it an enthusiastic try.  I’m sure some of the questions these people are asked trend towards the absurdly esoteric.

Speaking of walking the ol’ beast down the street, there was a time in Finley’s younger days (also known as 5 months ago) when she became an attraction on the carriage route in her own right.  The situation always occurred at an impasse in the flow of the tour’s information, mostly at a red signal at the intersection of Pitt and Wentworth Streets.  At a temporary loss of filler, more than a few befuddled drivers would scan the sidewalks or treetops for some sort of remark to keep the momentum going on the knowledge train.  Truth be told, Finley was pretty damn adorable in those days (to literally everyone.  She still is to us but interactions with others on the streets have definitely changed.) and was an easy target towards which to divert attention in those brief awkward silences.  The acknowledgement by the driver to his passengers that my dog was, indeed, awesome prompted an almost formulaic conversation, with the only real variations being in the amount of and exact questions asked of me towards the end of the interaction:

Driver: “Aw, everyone look at that cute puppy. HEY!!!!” (directed towards me after driver realizes I have heard his directive) CUTE PUPPY!”

Me: “Thanks.”

Driver: “I love lab puppies.”

Me: “Me too, but this one is a golden retriever.”

(At this point, the rest of the passengers are talking amongst themselves.  Ladies are swooning.  Photos are being taken of me, in a ratty sweater looking like I just crawled out of a bomb shelter, and my puppy.  Photos are probably very crooked like the rest taken that day on that camera.)

Random passenger #1: “What is his name?”

Me: “Her name is Finley.”

Random passenger #1: “I have a lab just like her at home!”

Me: “That’s strange since this dog is a golden retriever but neat.”

Random passenger #2: “I bet he loves this city!” (This was nearly always postulated.  Seriously.)

Me: “I think she does.”

Then came an assault of questions from at least 2 or 3 other passengers about my dog.  Bizarre questions seeking strange amounts of detail and questions acting as near intrusions into my private life from people I have never met sitting 4 feet above me on a wooden apparatus being pulled by some an animal.  I was on the spot.  The weird thing is, it didn’t really seem all that awkward after the first couple of times.  Probably the same way the drivers of those carriages felt after a couple of times of assuming the position of history teacher jockey on the streets of this fair city.

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