Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Grinch That Saved Christmas


So I will let the cat out of the bag since the surprise no longer exists...

My Christmas gift for my wife was to be the following:

A cabin at Lake Lure, NC. This cabin had a fireplace, one bedroom, all the typical features you'd need when staying in a "house" away from home, including a hot tub, and of course seclusion.

My plan was to stay there Sunday through Wednesday. Biltmore all day Monday, Blue ridge Parkway all day Tuesday (and some of the Biltmore village), and head out to Chattanooga on Wednesday... all with fine dining in between. Sunday night, I was to cook her dinner at the cabin.

Saturday night before we leave, I get an email from the owner of the cabin. An ice storm on Wednesday has left the community that the cabin resides in without power to this very moment. Water is pumped in by a well, so without power, there is no water, and without power, there is no cooking.

Immediately, I make reservations for the Baymont inn about 1 mile from Biltmore. Big mistake.

I call the owner that night and we talk, she says for me to call her Sunday morning as we are leaving. I can always cancel the Baymont reservations. But the Baymont is growing on me because instead of a 60 mile drive to the Biltmore, I am looking at a 2 minute drive. So we go to Panama Street C of C early service at 6:45. Not as bad as I thought it'd be, then we head out. On the road, I call her. Good news! Power is coming back on at the cabin. Bad news, I am still sold on the closeness of the Baymont.

It was at this point I had to reveal the entire plan to my wife and let her decide. The more we discussed it and thought about it, the more the Baymont sounded right. Besides, Ill get rewards points for it since it is owned by La Quinta.

So we call the cabin owner and tell her we aren’t going to make it. She understands, but she must keep the $130 deposit. I understand and am cool with that since, due to the hotels price, I am actually making out ahead. We arrive safely (Although, much of the gas stations were out of gas as we got close. The ice storm created a gas run) and have dinner in the Biltmore village, at the Corner Kitchen. Not bad. But not great. I wouldn’t go again. Afterwards we head to the hotel and (censored)...

Monday was a BLAST! See my Webshots page for more of the pics besides the ones you see here. We spent the whole day at the Biltmore estate. Sure, we went there on our honeymoon, but we were stupid kids then. This time, I scheduled us to go to seminars on property; we went to the winery, the horse pens, the gardens and to the bass pond. We basically got as much as we could for the ticket price. The tour was pretty new to us as well. We went to a "party entertaining" seminar for 30 minutes, then a 30 minute cooking class. Then, at 5 pm, we went to the winery's cellar and had a wine and chocolate tasting session. It helped solidify something my wife and I have known for quite sometime; we still hate wine. We were at the Biltmore from 9am to about 5pm and we used every minute of that time doing something.

We had lunch at the Bistro that is on property (thanks Mullins!) and afterwards we had a VERY enjoyable dinner downtown Asheville with some friends that live there in Asheville. The gal used to cut my hair and Larissa's hair when they lived in Montgomery. She also played volleyball with Larissa at her former community college. Brittany’s husband (Brett) was a guy Larissa also knew from school and I had never met, but we all got along great and our dinner lasted for 2 hours because we talked so much.

They invited us to their home afterwards (at 9:30pm) and we accepted. Brett tried to convince us (Like Mullins and Chuck always do) that it depends on the type of wine you drink and he offered us some sort of white wine... which we still hated.

Tuesday proved to be less enjoyable, but not horrible. And it had a very happy ending. I had about 5 hours sleep. This king bed in Baymont was old and it sagged in the two spots where people typically sleep. I can’t stand this. So after a fitful nights sleep I wake up around 8-ish and my wife and I go out to drive the Blue Ridge parkway (which, by the way, is extremely fun, even if you never get out and just drive it.) Well, due to the ice storm, about a 10 to 15 mile stretch was the only part open. Luckily, the folk art center was on that stretch and we spend over an hour there. Great stuff there. My wife bought 3 books about backwoods cooking and we took some pics of some looms of different shapes and sizes. I’m still bushed at this point, so after driving as much of the parkway as we can, we head back to the hotel so I can nap. Our bed sheets are in the floor, as if the housekeeping staff is mid-way through cleaning. So we go out to the Biltmore villiage for a bit of walking, shopping and eating at the tea room there. After lunch, we go back to the hotel so I can nap. Sheets still in the floor.

I go to the lobby, express my dire need for sleep and we sit and watch the weather channel in the lobby (Well, my wife reads her new books). I get back to the room finally and am too wound up to sleep. My mind races. I whip open the laptop and go to the Grove Park Inn's website. I make a phone call and tell my wife to pack the bags. I get hit with a $25 fee for checking out too late, but I don’t care. All I can remember from the conversation with the Grove Park Inn lady was "Soft down queen size mattress."

We've packed up and we arrive at the Grove Park Inn in about 10 or 15 minutes. Ironically, this inn is about 3 or 4 miles from the very bed and breakfast we stayed in on our honeymoon. We do manual parking, though valet is available. If I go again, I'll be bringing a few extra bucks with me. Valet would be worth it as the parking lots are confusing and on a very STEEP incline (and I scratched up the back bumper of my wife’s car backing up in one of them, so yeah, the valley cost and tips is worth it to me). We are in awe as we enter this place. It is the size of the hotel in Steven Kings book "The Shining" but much nicer. There is a fireplace in the main lobby that it big enough for 6 men to stand in, without crouching. We check in with the greatest of ease as a HUGE lobby behind us is full of people just sitting around, enjoying the fireplace and the view opposite of us of a valley below.

We get into an old timey elevator (which, surprisingly, uses the very same shaft that the huge fireplace uses to vent out the smoke) and hit the 5th floor. The elevator operator tells us all we need to know about our floor (except the ghost) and shows us to our room. The rooms all have doors made of real wood paneling, which gives the place a ski-lodge feel. In fact, the whole PLACE has a ski lodge feel. Describing the hotel and the rooms is impossible. You just have to go there. The rooms are like nothing I have ever been in inside a hotel. I honestly felt like I was staying in a very rich friend’s home and not a hotel. The bathrooms did NOT feel like a hotel bathroom. And the bed was... zzzzzzzzz. Huh?Wha? Oh, sorry, the beds were awesome. The whole place puts the Gaylords Opryland to shame. In fact, it put any hotel I have ever stayed in to shame.

Fortunately for us, they had the gingerbread house contest in this hotel a few weeks ago, and many of those houses were on display in the inn (And the contest was filmed and broadcasted by Food TV). Albeit, these houses spread far and wide, but looking at them would give us a chance to see the whole Inn. After unpacking, we set out to see the eatable homes and set out to get lost in the hotel, which we did, which was fun! We came back and prepared for dinner. Given the fact that the vacation was nearing an end, funds were tight. And the restaurants in the Grove Park were pricey. As we prepared to hit the Tupelo Honey Cafe in downtown Asheville, I emailed Mullins, telling him that everything he said about the Grove Park was true. He emails me back telling me to ask the elevator operator to tell me about the ghost and the haunted floor...

...Which I do as soon as we head out. We go down to the lobby. I see the elevator dude, a tall black man. I ask him if he knows about the haunted floor; "I do" he replies. I ask him if he knows about the "pink lady"; "I do" he replies. I tell him I would like to see them sometime; "I'll take you now if you want!" So he closes the gate on the elevator and back to OUR floor we go. He walks out with us to room 545 and tells us the story of how the lady was staying here back in the 1920s and committed suicide off of the overlook there in the middle of that hall. She haunts our floor, just moving things, turning lights off, etc. I asked if anyone ever stays in that room; "It is the most requested room in the whole hotel" he tells me. After he takes us back down, I shake his hand and give him a few bucks for the personal tour. Honestly, he deserved 5 or 10 bucks since he was the only elevator operator at the time and due to his courtesy, others probably had to take the stairs.

Dinner at the Tupelo Honey Cafe is OUTSTANDING! Downtown Asheville is full of hippies, freaks, yahoos, homeless guitar players, and gay-friendly well wishers... I’m told the city as a whole is quite conservative and just like any other southern city, but downtown is where the yahoos congregate. Within all of this is a restaurant that people do not want to leave that has true southern flare! We waited half an hour to be seated (Like I said, people just never wanted to leave) and it was worth every minute of it.

This place will serve grits with almost anything, yet it was full of "hip" looking people, enjoying true southern food. It was, by far, the best meal of the trip, thanks Mullins (again).

Even me backing into a rock wall and ruining my wife’s back bumper didn’t ruin this vacation! The night in the grove park was nice, and the ghost didn’t bother us one bit. We wished we had stayed longer. Moral of the story: I want to go back to Asheville (Unlike after our honeymoon) and I want to stay at the grove park in for many days in a row. I have no desire to stay in the $1,000 a night rooms because our bottom-of-the-barrel room was the nicest hotel room I have ever been in. I look forward to tagging along with Jules and Mullins next time they head up there. And I hope some of you other folks wanna go there too. I rank it as vacation fave number 2. Under my #1 trip, Disney with the Sippers. Kingston Plantation trip in Myrtle Beach would be ranked number 3.

14 comments:

mullinz8 said...

I’ve realized that the Grove Park Inn is one of those few places that words can’t really do much justice for, at least not by my hand. When you talk about the size of the fireplaces it just doesn’t register how large that actually has to be. The view off the deck in back is one of my favorites from all my travels. The large wooden doors, cozy rooms and irrepressible sensation that as you stated you feel like you’re in someone’s home makes the place more than just a hotel.

Getting lost in the hotel is easy as difficult as that may sound. I hope that you made it down to look at the spa entrance and hallways. Literally you walk through what seems like ancient water bored tunnels with real inset amethyst geodes. The smell is wonderful on that level too; it’s a mix of cucumber and mint that has always seemed bizarre but always refreshing and relaxing at the same time.

The grub at GPI is second to none and the bill has a way of reflecting that though with a full belly and a satisfied palate payment seems well worth the glutinous ecstasy.
Outside the GPI I’ve found as Jamison attested, that the Tupelo Honey CafĂ© is an amber hue Heaven of culinary delight! One word usually grunted over an empty plate says it all, yum!

Jamison I think we should plan a weekend some time after our March get together to head into the hill and suckle the tit of opulence at the GPI, spa and all.

I’m glad you had a good time and the Opry is a wonderful experience but it still feels like a hotel. Side by side it pails in comparison.

Yeah, I think I could live in Asheville…

mullinz8 said...

Great pics Jamison.
Sometimes if you know someone the Land Rover folks will take you out for free, right Chuck. We didn’t have time to drive but it was really fun.

Jamison said...

alas, posts! I was afraid that since my blog was buried way down here that no one would see it. Sadly, the blog has replaced conversation for me and I just want to share my good times with friends... so I do it with blogging instead of calling and telling you all about it.

this way, if someone says "How was your Christmas?" I can now say "See my blog"

Mullins. I am there. GPI in the spring would be outstanding.

midnitcafe said...

Nice picks indeed. Might I even say Brewesque pics?

bigsip said...

Glad it all turned out well, Jamison. We were praying it would.

Jamison said...

I feel they are Brew-esque too... ive told you this before that you are my photographic inspiration...

Actually, we are looking to decorate our livingroom walls with some black and white photos and I figured rather than pay for some, Ill take some good pics and convert them to B&W in photoshop, and print them!

The camera is 7 megapixels, but all pics were taken in 5 megapixles, so hopefully 5mp will print nice 8x10s.

tnmommieof2 said...

ah, the grove park.....love it...
and yes, the spa is awesome. if we can make it in the spring, we should plan that facial larissa and i never got at opry....

the last time we were there, matt was schmoozing with the golf guy and i had a free spa pass...only i didn't use it. i went out onto the big deck in back of the great hall, sat down with a book and a drink, and the next thing i knew 3 hours had passed!!!! matt couldn't believe that i didn't go to the spa when i had a chance, but sitting out on that deck is just so relaxing..

and i've always wanted to see the pink lady...

Jamison said...

LArissa woke up to use the bathroom at about 2am then when she got back into bed she remembered the ghost and it took her about 30 minutes to get to sleep... i guess that is a haunting of sorts...

bigsip said...

What's your basic room rate per night there?

Jamison said...

Internet rate, smallest room, crappy view (window was too high for me to even see out of unless i was on tip toes) is $159.00

Even that room was better than any hotel room I have ever stayed in. Including any bed and breakfasts I have stayed in.

That have a website, www.groveparkinn.com

the photos on the web suck. They are like early-90s photos like youd see in a sears mailout. Lots of snobby, rotten people stay there too. We saw a man chewing out a bell hop because he wasnt moving fast enough. I wanted to stranggle the man and say "YOU ARE ON VACATION! RELAX!!!"

Clearly he was mad that his wife talked him into the $1,200 a night room (which do exist there)... I would be too I guess...

bigsip said...

Yowch!

$160 per night ain't too bad for a really nice place. $1200 is just silly...

mullinz8 said...

When you go you need to ask for a room on the back side of the inn over looking the Golf course. On the other side of the Inn there is nothing. Jamison also stayed in the historic part of the inn. I think the rooms might be a bit less if you’re in the newer wings.

When I was shooting for 18 & over we stayed in more contemporary rooms, still they were very nice but not true GPI styled rooms. (If you’re keeping score the pilot is on financial hold but I might start putting it together late Feb)

If the GPI trips works out then we’d obviously like to invite everyone who wants to come to join in! I’d love to fine a nice table surrounded with those big leather couches and set up a game of poker or something, order a few drinks and kill an evening with my best mates.

Jamison said...

that was another cool thing about the inn; nice little "living areas" all over the place facing magnificant views, all within eye-shot of a bar (should the mood strike you)

bigsip said...

Sounds like a good time!

I think our trips/vacations are fairly tied up this year, though.

With Rachel due in August, we're planning on staying put all year, except for a short trip to see some family in north FL.

Gotta save vacation and $$$