Greenville and the Biltmore Estate

I had such a great time in Greenville. It’s a charming city with good food and a scenic river. And while there’s plenty to do inside the city, if you’re only in town for a few days, you must take the hour and a half drive to Asheville and see the Biltmore Estate.

Start with breakfast at the Tupelo Honey Cafe

Tupelo Honey

Tupelo is an institution in the Carolinas with cafes in Greenville, Asheville, Charlotte and Raleigh. They’ve even branched into Tennessee. Their food is fresh and delicious, their biscuits are made from scratch so they do the South proud and if you love it, you can buy a cookbook to take home with you. This local restaurant chain started in Asheville and their produce still comes from Sunshot Farms nearby but the location in downtown Greenville is delightful as well.

Alternatively, try Homegrown in Asheville


That’s a breakfast pot pie with scrambled eggs, sausage and country gravy topped with a biscuit. Awesome and amazing. There’s no getting away from biscuits in the South so just embrace it! As their name suggests, Homegrown makes locally sourced slow food and does it “right quick.” They support local farmers while also making fresh food affordable and delicious. Their quirky little restaurant is a treasure so pay them a visit.

If you’re driving up from Greenville to see the Biltmore Estate, be prepared to make a day of it.

Biltmore Estate

Built by George Vanderbilt in the late 1800’s, the estate has 250 rooms on 3 floors, 65 fireplaces, an indoor bowling alley and pool. The surrounding 8,000 acres of land back up into the Pisgah National Forest and include a village, a winery and an inn, so there’s plenty to see. You can choose from several guided tours as well as audio tours that last around 90 minutes. The $60 tickets are not cheap but include a tour of the winery and unlimited tastings at the bar

Vanderbilt wine

What with the priceless Singer Sargent paintings, the gorgeous landscaped gardens and the general Gilded Age excess, I found the Biltmore to be intensely glamorous. It feels like a house built by happy people who loved living there and a house with a happy history has a very different feel from some of the tragic mansions I’ve visited in the past. I would put this estate in my top 10 tourist experiences for the year.

We stopped at Cedric’s Tavern in the estate’s Antler Hill Village and I recommend you do the same

Cedric's Tavern

The tavern is named for a beloved family dog and serves rich Southern food (try the pub cheese). There’s likely to be live music while you’re there so get one of the Bilmore beers brewed specifically for this pub and hang out for awhile.

There are many scenic driving routes around Asheville that will take you through parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains so you want to take a leisurely route either coming or going, check out this website for recommendations.

Back in Greenville, take a walk by Reedy River to stretch your legs.

Greenville river

The Swamp Rabbit Trail runs for 18.7 miles long this river and is a multi-use greenway good for bikes, runners and strollers. This waterfall is right in the middle of town and can be easily seen from several vantage points. It’s lovely place to spend the early evening and parts of the trail are well lit even after sunset.

Greenville has a number of great restaurants for dinner. For great burgers in a casual setting, go to Grill Marks

Grill Marks

That’s pimento cheese all over that burger, in case you were curious. Mark and Larkin Hammond own several restaurants in the Greenville area and this upscale burger joint is really tasty. The burgers are perfectly cooked and come piled high with luscious high end cheeses, bacon, mushrooms, barbq sauce or whatever suits you. They also offer adult milkshakes with booze in them and a kind of indoor/outdoor seating with a large covered patio.

For something less casual, go to the The Lazy Goat

Their location on the edge of the Reedy River makes for perfect dinner time views and their food is Mediterranean and inspired. Make a reservations and definitely try the roasted mussels and chorizo.

If you have more time, stick around Greenville and have brunch at the Green Room (try the  Crab Benedict) and definitely go eat Thai food at Lemongrass Thai. I spent two weeks in Greenville and could happily have stayed for two more. I hope you enjoyed your day in the Carolinas!

Awards, observations and more rain

Woke up this morning to the smell of coffee and cinnamon rolls. I had breakfast with my aunt and uncle while my uncle mapped out the next few days of my trip for me and printed out directions (thanks uncle John!) and then my cousin Kimberly and her two little girls came over.

Is there anything cuter than a one year old ? Probably not.

And Alithea, the 4 year old, kept interfering with my Uncle John’s mapping by drawing lines from the streets back to their house to make sure that I knew how to get back to them. She didn’t want me to leave.


I left (reluctantly) in the pouring rain (again) to drive to Savannah because I had a hotel reservation and yoga plans. Had it not been raining, I would have attempted to find this UFO Welcome Center I’ve heard about but I didn’t know if it would be “open” in the rain (to non-aliens at least) so I bypassed it in favor of driving straight to Savannah.

Travel observation #1: Point A to Point B driving is boring.

I arrived in Savannah in time to check in and go to class. Bikram Yoga Savannah is a beautiful facility but lacks the warmth of the studios I attended in North Carolina. Emotional warmth, that is. The class was plenty warm. I missed the neighborly community feel of the NC classes – due in large part to Bruce and Trudy’s welcoming natures, no doubt – but the Savannah class had nice elements. Jamie was the first teacher to learn my name and verbally correct my form in class.

Getting called out in Bikram classes is common and I like it. It means the teacher is paying attention and is invested in my practice. Jaime corrected a few of my poses in really helpful ways.

My Bikram lesson of the day: Focus.

All I could think about was fried chicken. And shrimp and grits. And collard greens.

I had trouble focusing on yoga and as a result had LOTS of trouble with the balance poses. I have terrible balance and standing on one foot takes concentration in the best of times. If I’m not concentrating, forget about it. It’s very easy for me to get distracted – in my head and by people around me – and today I kept falling out the poses and having to try again and again to hold still.

The rain didn’t help either. During class a thunderstorm hovered right over the top of the building and dumped buckets of water. Ever been in a building with a tin roof during a serious thunderstorm? It sounds like a jet engine landing on top of you. Jaime had to yell over the sound and the windows were completely greyed out with water. These storms aren’t kidding around.

When the rain cleared up somewhat I went out to find dinner. I have two places that I want to eat here and both were closed tonight. Of course! I’ll have to eat at both tomorrow, which is a lot of fried chicken… So I ended up on the beautiful river walk eating mediocre red beans and rice at a place I won’t name and went home in the rain.

It best be cleared up tomorrow! You hear me Savannah??

As a complete aside, I’d like to give an “Inconceivable” award to the man who penned the sign “Antique Tables Made Daily” that I drove past today. And also send a long distance slap to the man with the license plate “Pusshook” and the bumper sticker “My other car is a pirate ship” and tell him to snap out of it. Sir, I don’t know you but I can tell you definitively that you aren’t and it isn’t.

That’s all I got. Tell Paula Deen to expect me tomorrow because I’m coming in hungry!

Carolina back roads and the Button King

In a break of routine, I did Bikram first thing this morning. It’s tough to get hot and stretchy early in the morning. My body doesn’t want to do it. It pretty much took everything I had just to get out of bed and get to the studio in Winston Salem where I discovered that the owner, Trudy, is married to Bruce, my teacher from yesterday in Greensboro.

Trudy’s a lovely chatty warm lady who made me feel very welcome. She and Bruce own and operate two Bikram studios about half an hour from each other and have considered opening a third. It’s fun to get involved in this relatively small Bikram community. Everyone’s eager to hear what it’s like in other studios and my teacher Michelle, gave me a message to pass on to a teacher in Savannah Georgia when I get there tomorrow.

I’m attracted to teachers with an emphasis on the higher path in their teaching. The lower path is the function of the body and the higher path is the function of the mind and spirit. Bikram – the man who codified the Bikram yoga style – trains his teachers to emphasize certain things and use very particular phrases that form a blend of higher and lower path teaching. But within this framework, individual teachers bring their own style and focus. Insel and Bruce had a strong emphasis on the higher path and talked a lot about what our spirits and minds were doing while our bodies worked. In some regards, a more philosophical approach. Michelle had a stronger lower path approach and was very specific about body placement and the importance of the class doing the poses in sync. While I prefer the philosophical emphasis because I always want to know WHY I’m doing something, as a beginner I need the lower path teaching equally as much right now.

My lesson of the day: Be Still. A hard lesson. I’m getting better at physical stillness between poses – or at least more aware of it – but mental, spiritual and emotional stillness are things way beyond my reach. I’m hoping that the lower path of stillness will lead to the upper path of stillness.

I left the studio and wished I could crawl back in bed. It’s been a long couple days of driving and sweating and seeing stuff and I’m a bit sleep deprived. However, I had an agenda and an end point in South Carolina to see my aunt and uncle, whom I haven’t seen in several years so I got on the road instead.

And it started to rain. And rain. And RAIN. End of the world, torrential, might need a boat kind of rain. Can barely see out my windshield, can only see the taillights of the car in front of me, need to slow down kind of rain. I passed a 7 car pile up started by a taxi hitting the guard rail so hard that parts of the taxi cab were thrown 100 feet away. Scary accident hydroplaning kind of rain. I don’t think I’ve ever driven in rain like that and at one point I just pulled over and waited it out because I couldn’t see far enough ahead of me to drive.

But the storm kept passing over me, or I chased it or something because it would downpour and then clear up as I drove and then downpour and clear up. During the clearer parts I drove the back roads of the Carolinas where tall trees are getting strangled by the most beautiful purple flowering vine.

It’s gorgeous country back there with the farmlands and ancient trees and twisting roads in and out of the hills. And tucked way back in the hills in the tiny town of Bishopville, SC lives Dalton Stevens. Please say hello to the Button King.

He might be the cutest man alive.  His museum, a small church that triples as a recording studio and live music hall and his house are a stone’s throw apart on several acres of land out in the country. I dragged him out of his house to show me his button museum and after posing for me and showing me his button covered pieces, he sat down in his armchair and said “Go on and sit down. I’m gonna tell you some stories.” And then he told me about how he had insomnia so badly in his early 50’s that he started stitching buttons on a suit because his family was asleep and he needed to do something quiet.

His work eventually retired him on disability after doctors couldn’t cure his insomnia and by that point the button fever had a good grip on him and he discovered contact cement so he started covering other things with buttons like cars, clocks, a piano

A toilet.

A coffin for his future use, the red buttons are his favorites.

He’s a musician so he’d show up at local events around town and play his button related songs in his button regalia, Star magazine came down to take some pictures and Johnny Carson saw the pictures and called him to be on the Johnny Carson show. Since then it’s been buttons by the bucket full. He’s featured in the Guinness Book of World Records in some unique capacity and just last week some men from Finland came in to film a cell phone commercial with him in his museum.

He’s 81 now and plays for “old people” at the nursing home in his spare time when he isn’t recording, performing with his band, filming commercials, doing magazine spreads and covering other things with buttons. He says he still doesn’t sleep much but he naps in his armchair and he gets a lot of button work accomplished. He was a complete delight and I’m so glad he gave me an hour of his day.

As I left and the sun was going down, my aunt called with the words every traveler wants to hear: “Where are you? You gonna arrive hungry? Cuz I have lots of food.”

Close and yes, yes I am. Be there soon.

Tomorrow, Savannah.