Asheville’s Calling

SONY DSCThe ads are cheesy. An iPhone rings and the caller I.D. says Asheville, N.C. The tagline from this tourism board commercial is “Asheville’s calling. Will you answer?”

Asheville has been calling me for a while but not because of the ad campaign. I have not been able to get out of town for a while and I am desperate for a mountain fix. I need a change of scenery and a day trip is just what my inner travel junkie negotiated with my wallet.

What those people calling from Asheville want is for everybody to take the budget busting tour of the majestic house and gardens at the Biltmore (some will know it was the mansion in the Peter Sellers movie “Being There”) or spending a spa day at the Grove Park Inn. Been there. Done that. No money for it right now. Instead, I’ll rustle up a less pricey, less touristy, more local experience.

I-26 South of Asheville NCIt’s a foggy morning as my husband Mike and I leave Charlotte for the easy 2-hour drive. There are at least 4 ways we can go. This time we decide to take I-85 to U.S. 74 to I-26 with a brief coda along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Most times trips to western NC take a detour through the upstate of South Carolina because the gas taxes are significantly cheaper in SC.  But now that we have a fuel sipping Toyota Prius we can bypass that. The trip used to suck down almost a full tank in my old Honda Element. Our elegant Blue Bombshell, however, cuts the consumption in half.

The fog finally starts to lift just in time for our approach to the Blue Ridge Parkway. With the new car, we purged our old-school paper maps. High tech is great. Until we lose our Internet connection. For technophiles, it’s a jolt up here in the hills where the cell tower connection can disappear around the next bend of a mountain road.

French Broad RiverThere are no signs to guide us. WTF? But we know the general direction we’re headed.  Our meandering along the French Broad River (which is REALLY broad) brings us successfully (phew!) to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We stop to walk out on a bridge to get a bird’s eye view of the river far below.

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a movement in a crack in the sidewalk pavement. A bat pokes his head out and quickly ducks down into the hole. I am patient. I will get a shot of him on the way back to the car.

The French Broad runs swiftly: been a lot of rain lately. Since it’s a weekday in early May, rafting and tubing is still a few weeks away. After a few minutes of the soothing music of the rushing river we head back to the car.

Bat peeking out of crackMy little bat friend is back checking us out and stays up long enough for me snap a shot of him before we mosey along the last few miles to Asheville.

Blue Ridge Parkway SignThis stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway is two lanes of pavement embraced by a thick stand of trees that block out civilization (and cell tower signals.) The fog is gone and the sun peeps through the tree canopy. We do a little daydreaming about what it would be like to do a motorcycle trip for the 469-mile length of the parkway.

It’s about 11 am when we arrive at the Moog Music Factory. There are free 40-minute tours but they run at 10 am and 3 pm. As we hem and haw about coming back at 3, we are offered a 5-minute quickie, which we pounce on. Another man joins us a few minutes later and our tour pretty much ends up being about 40 minutes.

Bob MoogRobert “Bob” Moog (pronounced with a long ō, not the commonly mispronounced oo) passed away in 2005 but his legacy lives on in this factory in Asheville. Our guide gives us the Cliff Notes version of Bob’s life and the Moog synthesizers that found fans in Beatle George Harrison and Keith Emerson of the band Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The Moog synthesizer revolutionized music because it gave musical groups access to a whole new range of sounds performed through a single keyboard.

Moog Music Factory Back RoomIn this digital world, the Moog synthesizers are analog and built by hand. They still can only play one note at a time. Moog was proud to keep the business in the United States with as many of the materials as possible resourced locally. In addition to the Moog synthesizer, Minimoogs, Moogerfoogers, Phattys and Theremins are made in the back room by a just few people.

Moog ThereminTheremins are the funky instruments that make the scary ooo-weee-ooo sounds in horror flicks. They look even weirder than they sound. I almost blew out my eardrums playing with one in the showroom. Léon Theremin, allegedly a Russian spy was for sure a gifted inventor. Our guide compares him to the inventors who make gadgets for 007. He also figured out how to interlace pictures in the 1920s, which is the basis of how TVs work.

Bob Moog MuralOutside, there is a huge mural of Bob Moog painted on the side of a building.  My muse Mike steps into his armpit and I get some great shots of my favorite musician (Mike not Bob). Now it’s time to eat.

Chai Pani Asheville NCI want to try something different so I opt for “mindblasting” Indian Street Food at Chai Pani. How can anyone pass up a tagline like that? It’s getting hot reviews including a write-up in the New York Times. Mike and I agree that Indian food is probably our favorite variation of ethnic food. But this isn’t the usual curry house. This is street food. My eyes are wide and my stomach is empty and I want to try everything.

I’ve narrowed it down to 3 things:

Kathi Kabab RollThe Kathi Kabab Roll. It’s an Indian Wrap filled Ashley Farms chicken seared with onions, cilantro & tandoori spices with rice, roasted lentils and tamarind & green chutneys in a griddled wrap (a wheat tortilla brushed with egg) served with masala fries and a homemade ketchup and the yoghurt-based sauce called riata. ($8.99)

Or…

The non-vegetarian Thali daily special which is Malabar Chicken, the closest thing to Northern Indian cuisine and what is served in standard Indian restaurants in this country. ($9.00)

Or…

The Masala Potato Uttapam, a savory crepe made from rice & lentil batter – the one I want is topped with a savory potato hash, masala & chutneys and served with Sambar – a spicy, tangy vegetable stew. ($8.99)

And then the guy behind the counter throws another tantalizer into the mix.

Corn BhelAn Indian street snack called Corn Bhel. It’s a vegan dish with fresh roasted corn, cucumber, cilantro, tomato, onions and flour crisps (puris) tossed with cilantro-cumin-lime dressing. ($6.75)

This is a really hard choice. He convinces us that if we want to try something different we should ix-nay the Thali special since we can get something similar almost anywhere. Done. Malabar Chicken is out of the mix.

Mike and I decide to split everything. I think we should just get the remaining 3 choices so we can graze but counter guy says it will be way too much food because we’d be ordering 3 entrees. We go with his suggestion of the Corn Behl and have him halve the wrap. At the last second I start to swap the corn for the crepe but stop and stick with the original decision. Mike smartly stands by while I twist and turn.

All I can say about lunch is that we both want more! It is simply delicious. A crepe came to a nearby table and I know that next time – and there WILL be a next time – I will try that AND have that wrap again.

Irish WolfhoundWhat made the lunch even better is that next to our outside table is a couple with a 125-pound, 8-month old Irish wolfhound puppy. When he stands, he can look me in the eye. I have always wanted an Irish wolfhound but could never bring myself to get one because of their very short lifespan of 6 to 10 years.

Imagine my delight when the owners tell us that there are about 200 more wolfhounds at a dog show a couple miles away. That immediately goes on our to-do list but we still have time on our parking meter and want to check out the Woolworth Walk.

Woolworth Walk SculptureWoolworth Walk is Asheville’s largest gallery displaying the work of local artists. As the name says, guess what, it’s in a refurbished Woolworth’s. The artwork is eclectic. Each stall is a different medium. I am drawn to Steebo Designs‘ giant rusty metal faces and a wooden head sculpture called Chief Four Moons that resembles Mr. Potato Head.

The Walk even has an old-fashioned soda fountain built to resemble the original Woolworth Luncheonette. Established in 1938 and restored in 2001, they serve a lot of the original menu items. Think club sandwiches, egg creams and ice cream sodas. After the lunch we just had, it’s not even a temptation.

Woolworth Walk LuncheonetteOutside, there are several choices for street music. In front of Woolworth Walk is a guy with a hammered dulcimer but he’s too busy yakking with someone to play. Across the street is an interesting looking bluegrass group. Along with the guy playing banjo is another one playing spoons, a young girl playing a tiny washboard and a woman dancing with hoops. I am immediately transported back to the hippie dippy 70’s. Gotta love Asheville.

Irish Wolfhound Dog Show ParticipantsMeter time is up and I want to see the doggies so we head over to the Crowne Plaza Resort. Irish Wolfhound sleeping in hotel room bedWe find the Irish Wolfhound Club of America Dog Show on the back lawn of the hotel but there is a break in the action and most dogs are lazing around in makeshift pens. We walk around the grounds and see hundreds of pounds of dog sleeping on beds in many of the ground floor hotel rooms.

Basilica St. LawrenceNext stop is the Spanish Renaissance-style Basilica St. Lawrence. Completed in 1909, it was designed by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino. Its claim to fame is the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America.

Basilica St. Lawrence Asheville NC ExteriorI like the exterior as well. The red brick with interesting lines that gives a hint of the curve of the dome. A columned walkway frames a nice view of the surrounding mountains.

French Broad Chocolate LoungeThe last time we were in Asheville we discovered the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. Stepping into the Chocolate Lounge is like stepping into Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory only for the adult palate. Cakes and cookies and truffles. Oh my! This decision is much easier once I spot the ice cream list. I dive into a chocolate shake made with 2 scoops of Belgian dark chocolate and 1 scoop of Madagascar vanilla bean ($6). It’s silky smooth and goes down in nearly a single slurp. Mocha and Shake

Mike orders a chocolate ginger cookie ($2.75) and washes it down with a double shot of mocha espresso ($3). This chocolaty coffee is so much more complex than it sounds. The dunk of chocolate on the ginger cookie put it over the top on the orgasmic meter.

Chocolate Ginger Cookie

Feeling like the kid who fell into Wonka’s chocolate river, I’m happy that the only open parking spot we found was a few blocks away. I need to walk that scrumptious shake off before we get in the car for another couple of hours. Even with four hours of the day spent driving, we are still home by 6:00. Our only wish is that there was a Chai Pani nearby because we would definitely be having that for dinner.

About Journeys By Jill

I have spent most of my adult life working in and around TV, film & radio production. As an avid traveler, I have a goal to visit at least 100 countries using the Century Traveler's Club Country List. At the moment, I have 54 to go. My favorite form of travel is to get off the beaten path and discover weird & wonderful attractions. Basically, I wing it. I'd love for you to come along for the ride.
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7 Responses to Asheville’s Calling

  1. Patricia Bell says:

    Wonderful Jill. I am happy in CA but you made me homesick. The Indian food made me hungry even though I just ate a large meal. I have missed the Woolworth Walk but it is now on my bucket list. You are gifted my friend. Thank you.

    • Pat, you would love this place! That said, all of your stories remind me of my California days with so much to explore and so many interesting things to do. I’m very happy for you but I miss you lots!

  2. annetbell says:

    Jill, I enjoyed this post very much. I grew-up in Staunton, just up the Parkway and spent many summers, as a child in Brevard at camp. Thanks for the memories!. . . . . Namaste. . . . .Anne

  3. My pleasure Anne! Thanks for the kind words.

  4. annetbell says:

    wow Jill, I am blown away that you are reading all my past posts! That makes me happy as I worked very hard on them , but had few readers at first, like everybody else! Hope you are enjoying them. Let me know if you have questions! Namaste. . . . . . .. . Anne

    • Anne, I have always wanted to go to see the Taj Mahal but haven’t made it to India yet. I was interested in your experience since you spent several months off the beaten tourist path. I love the juxtaposition of the colors and the grittiness. I’ll get there one of these days. Happy travels!

      • annetbell says:

        Well, we were rather ambivelant about seeing the Taj to be perfectly honest, but it was amazing. Just like the pyramids and the Grand Canyon…..we were filled with awe with it. I will send you the link to the YouTube video that the students wanted to do at the Taj of us Ghanga Dancing….I don’t think that is spelled right! Oh dear, it is on facebook…I hope I can do it! Namaste. . . .Anne

        I am so happy that you like the blog. We were so blessed to spend so much time. I wanted to write on authentic aspects of India…..at least to me and hope others would enjoy that , too. It has been a wonderful journey!

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