I love Oakland, I really do. But I’m nursing a hot little town-crush on Asheville right now. We just got back from a trip to North Carolina, where we visited my dad and his wife in Charlotte, and then, on the advice of a ton of people who have told us it’s a great town, we spent a couple of days in Asheville. We weren’t really sure what to expect – it’s a long drive through a lot of green (beautiful!) countryside, and it seemed like it would be pretty small and remote. Well. It is small, but it has enough energy and bustle and music and good restaurants to give a major city a good reputation. One walk through town on a Friday evening and this was what I saw: lots of interesting, bustling restaurants (with outdoor seating, my favorite), music on every block (many good street musicians, live bands in many restaurants and most bars, and a weekly drum circle made up of about 20 drummers and what looked like half the town out shaking their booties), a large number of great pubs with serious beer at good prices (at least by SF standards), and tons of galleries and public art. Oh, and more chocolate shops than I’ve seen in recent memory. What more could you want? It’s a beautiful town full of old brick and art deco architecture, combined with a hippy/punk vibe and an emphasis on handcrafts and organic food and clothing. Pretty much up my alley. Granted, it was Labor Day weekend, and there may have been more going on that usual, but I thought it was a gem.
We stayed at a gorgeous Bed and Breakfast (oh yeah, that’s the other thing – there are about a million of these. They seem to be the accomodations of choice and, at least on Labor Day, seemed to run about the same price as the scarcer hotels) called the Hill House, built in 1885. The porch alone totally won me over, and I tried to spend as much of the short time we had in a rocker looking out over the gorgeous gardens. It was fun to play “South” for a bit. I could definitely get used to that.
The Hill House was just a few blocks from town, so we were able to get around almost entirely by foot. This was ideal, because you really get to appreciate all the amazing murals and public art that covers Asheville – pretty much every block had some cool mural or indie art exhibit, or just beautiful graffiti art, starting with the overpass when you come into town.
Oh, and did I mention the street musicians? There were probably 3 per block on Friday night – gypsy accordion bands (my favorite), old time fiddlers, songwriters, trios, a skillet player (I kid you not – see photo)… tons!
We got to try a few great restaurants, including Tupelo Honey, which specialized in local and organic southern food with a twist and offered flights of local brews, and Zambra, which served some of the best and most interesting tapas I’ve had.
On Saturday we drove north to Hot Springs and spent some time hiking the Appalachian Trail. My mom had told me that my ancestors trekked over the Appalachians to Kentucky after the Revolutionary War, and I was trying to imagine covered wagons traveling that terrain. Amazing that they made it, but I’m sure glad they did. The trail we took went along the French Broad River for a bit (before shooting straight up and then plunging straight down) and all I could picture was a hefty dame with marcel curls and a feathered cap drinking a pastis. I wonder why they didn’t call it the Broad French?
Sunday was an arts festival downtown, and there was yet more (great) music, art and handmade stuff.
We saw The Swayback Sisters first thing, and I was totally enchanted by their harmonies.
Blackjack. Possibly the best rock and roll cover band I’ve ever seen, and they’re only 14. My jaw dropped when I saw who it was making all that sweet noise.
Sunday afternoon we headed back to Charlotte, but took a detour so we could drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, through lots of these: