Saturday, September 16, 2017

Asheville and Maggie Valley

We're on a road trip--to Asheville, where we toured the Biltmore Estate, had some fine barbecue, and enjoyed a tootsie restaurant called Rhubarb; and then to Maggie Valley, out at the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where Eileen was invited to a picnic and program for survivors of bladder cancer at the Cataloochee Ranch.

Right now, we've broken up the trip back at Roanoke, about halfway to Washington, and the location, as befits an old railroad town, of a wonderful museum devoted to the finest of railroad photographers, O. Winston Link. The museum named after him is located between the Museum of Transportation, itself right beside what are now the Norfolk Southern tracks and the historic Roanoke Hotel.

Asheville itself, of course, is a charming artsy town with a thriving downtown filled by shops of all kinds, including a fine bookstore called Malaprop's. Those of you who have taken the tour of the Biltmore Estate know that it's the largest house built in the U.S., designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, who also built New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the grounds by Frederick Law Olmstead, of Central Park and other great green spot fame.

The Vanderbilt who built the pile, which does look as if it somehow migrated to 125,000 acres in Asheville from the Loire valley, clearly knew who to hire. He also had John Singer Sargent down to do the family portraits. Otherwise, his artistic taste was somewhat stodgy, with heavy European furniture and many, many prints, most not up to the level of the few Durers he acquired; there also are some marvelous tapestries from Brussels that are definitely worth extended viewing.

My favorite bit of Hunt's design are the angled windows on a grand staircase that takes one up to the next two floors from the overwhelming first level. They are delightful to see both from the inside and the outside as the kind of folly that makes structures like this one memorable. We also enjoyed seeing the vast gardens, although much of the planting was finished by this time of year.

Moe's Original Bar-B-Q, near Biltmore Village, is also the real deal. Fantastic brisket and ribs, with a clearly local crowd, and not from the arts district. We arrived at the Cataloochee Ranch after a drive through Maggie Valley, a typical town at the edge of a national park, and then climbing about 1,300 feet on a three-mile curving ride up to 4,000 feet.

It was the 9th annual such assemblage and provided a helpful occasion for attendees to receive updates on developments in medical and treatment research, as well as to exchange experiences about survivors who received different treatments and those who live with and care for them. The views of the mountains at that elevation are spectacular and a fine time was had.

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