Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Visiting the Biltmore House at Christmas

Solo travel on Christmas and Thanksgiving in the USA 
can leave you hungry.

Unlike summer or fall national holidays which are peak vacation times, Christmas and Thanksgiving often find travelers close to home.   Stores and restaurants close early and the familiar casual restaurants that are prevalent in the USA are not available.

My trip to Myrtle Beach, NC last year was a shock when you could only find coffee at the few open gas stations and one star bucks with a very long line.   Dinner posed the same problem.   The few restaurants were over crowded and not 'solo friendly'.      Happily a massive Chinese restaurant was open and full!

So this year I selected Asheville, North Carolina for my holiday adventure.   From previous visits I knew it was a pedestrian friendly city with many downtown hotels.   But I made a BIG mistake.   Always pick a hotel with a full service restaurant!  Even fast food restaurants closed early.....plan ahead.

Nevertheless, a visit to Asheville for Christmas included a visit to the massive Biltmore estate and ground are.well worth the trip.

Christmas in the mountains to visit the Biltmore House 
You will find far more information and facts at the Biltmore House site, I shall only share a solo visitors' experience at a very popular site in Asheville, North Carolina.

Approach the mansion from expansive lawn
Wikipedia has a great detailed description of the largest primate home in the USA with more than 250 rooms and 40+ bathrooms on over '8,000' acres.   Even the winter views of the mountains and expansive grounds were captivating.   However, I was here to see the building.   Not the usual tourist goal, but after visiting many outstanding palaces and museums in Europe,  the comparison to this massive property would be interesting.

My favorite room is the palm court just off the entrance hall

The building construction (to me) is as interesting as the decor.  Through this fascinating ceiling and support beams you can view wonderful grotesques many with unique expressions.

Try to remember to look up so you dont miss the details

The multi story stair case, according to a docent, was designed so women descending would not show their ankles

The massive dining room is said to seat up to 64 guests

 The public rooms designed for entertaining, were wonderful without the 'gold' covering you find in other palaces or billionaire condos.

                    Special guests may have been assigned to the larger rooms with private baths:

The library holds a portion of the collection

Billiard Room

The owners suite
Mrs. Vanderbilt's rooms

Although additional tours will show you the roof or servants portion of the home you can see a great deal in the basement:  kitchens, laundry, bowling alley, indoor heated pool, gym and underground halls and back staircases on the general house tour.

After walking over a mile and dogging the crowds attempting to photograph some of the rooms,  I opted for a visit to the stable shops, cafes and the gardens.  One of the red coat (guest helpers) told me about 6k visitors came one day this week!
                                                 The views from the terraces and most of the rooms are captivating.

Exterior of building

Vanderbilt toured Europe for ideas for his 'masterpiece'.
This part of the home reminds me of the Bovolo staircase in Venice.

The front lawn!

A view from the conservatory up to the house

Consider a two day visit so you can include the outlying villages that require a short drive from the main house.
You can hike the many trails on the property and although I saw people with bikes the roads within the estate are narrow and without bike lanes or any walking trails.  

This was a disappointment since you can not walk from the property to the other parts of the estate.   However there are several cafes and restaurants adjacent to the main house and much of the area is flat and easy to navigate.  (note:  I only saw an elevator to the second floor of the house so inquire if you need these services) 

And of course more carvings:

After walking over a mile and dogging the crowds attempting to photograph some of the rooms,  I opted for a visit to the stable shops, cafes and the gardens.

Additional architectural carvings:

Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Thankful Village in the Cotswolds, UK

While on a HF Holiday walk in the UK, 
our walk guide mentioned the village of Upper Slaughter was one of the Thankful Villages

I always search for something new, anything I have never read about or been told and this was totally new.  My guide for this walk
mentioned 'thankful villages' which prompted a search for more information.  The title was coined by the writer Arthur Mee in his 1930's book, "Enchanted Land".  


Some of the paths are well marked while other you may just follow the worn path in the field
During WW I and WW II the United Kingdom suffered staggering losses of service men and women.  War memorials to those who gave everything for the wars are in most towns and cities in Britain.

                        The rolling pastures and field on the way to Upper Slaughter.

Upper Slaughter does NOT have a war memorial.  All the service men and women from this village returned after the war qualifying Upper Slaughter as a thankful village

St Peters Church, Upper Slaughter

The village was quiet.  Perhaps the rain kept everyone, except the hikers, inside.   The church was open and other visitors were exploring.  There was a table with bottles of water and shoe laces for sale if hikers were in need.   Such a quiet, peaceful spot.

My visit was over Remembrance weekend.  There was a parade and ceremony in Bourton on the Water but Upper Slaughter had no celebration. 

An article in British Heritage stated there were more than 16,000 villages in Britain but only 53 had all their soldiers return from the WWI.   Doubly tankful villages, all soldiers returned from WW I and WW II, only number 14, and Upper Slaughter is included.

The Village may not have strong cell phone signals or just enjoys this tradition.

                      I hope to return one sunny day for outstanding blue sky photos!

HF Holidays have a large assortment of walks that show a solo traveler more English towns and villages.  

Have you visited a thankful Village?   Share your visit in the message section, remember it must be in English please.   Advertisements can not me posted.


Sunday, July 22, 2018

"How to Beat Loneliness When Traveling Alone" by Mapping Megan

          Solo Travel is not always lonely travel

Another great post by Mapping Megan that I am happy to share with you:

Solo travel is an incredible, life changing experience, and I look back on my experiences as a solo traveler with extreme fondness. But like anything in life, travel has its ups and downs, and one particular experience that you’re also likely to encounter is loneliness.
Each of us is likely to experience loneliness in everyday life, but we rarely expect it when we’re traveling. Or for those of us who do expect it, the terrifying thought is what keeps you from getting on the plane.
And when the feeling inevitably creeps in, we feel uncomfortable talking about it, almost like it’s ungrateful to feel lonely while you’re on the trip of a lifetime.

I’ve heard travelers say things like they shouldn’t feel lonely because they’re in Paris. Or who wants to hear from a friend who is struggling with depression while vacationing on a gorgeous beach?
But it’s time to put an end to the notion that exciting cities or lovely scenery act as a magical force-field to loneliness, because it’s not true. Acknowledging that you’re allowed to feel lonely when you’re traveling is extremely important, because it then empowers you to beat it.
And you can beat it. There’s even an app!
Read the story here:  

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Solo on a HF Walking Tour in the Cotswolds, UK: mud, rain and great photo opportunity

Outside the wonderful city of London there are amazing treasures to explore.   Last Spring I spent a few days on the Isle of Wight at a country home  with HF Holidays.

This fall, when there was an opportunity to spend a HF Holiday weekend in the Cotswolds at Burton on the WaterI signed up for my last fall weekend in the UK.  

A quintessential village often called the 'Venice of the Cotswolds' can be reached by train from Oxford to Morton on Marsh and a short bus ride to the center of the village.  

Harrington House, the HF property is a short walk from the bus stop in the center of town.  

The river Windrush runs through the charming center of town.     There are walking paths along the waterfront with benches, several cafes and overnight accommodations.  During the day it can be busy with tour buses stopping for a few hours.  At night the village is quiet.  

On this weekend HF holidays offered several walks from basic,  about 3 miles to a longer walk of nearly 10 miles.

I had been training for 6 weeks trying to walk 5 to 8 miles a day but NOTHING prepared me for the 'easy walk' I joined the first day.
Rain and mud does not cancel a walk.  With a bagged lunch supplied by HF (a great assortment of sandwich or salad, fruit, nuts, snacks etc) my small group of 3 followed our experienced leader towards Upper and Lower Slaughter.     

Our excellent walk guide knew a great deal about the history of the area and the two villages we visited and even the type of sheep we passed.

This story is best told in photos.  Most of the weekend was cold, wet and grey but that did NOT deter the UK walkers.    There were only 3 solo travelers and I was the only non British guest.  And everyone seemed to be an accomplished walker.

A short walk outside the town we found the path to the Slaughters.
Beyond this point we were in the lush, green fields, sheep pastures and muddy tracks that did not discourage the locals from spirited dog walks.  

Not long into our walk we came to the first movie set village with stone cottages, an old water wheel mill and a country shop.  Here we stopped for a coffee and the only WC stop on the walk.

Further on, the next smaller village had the distinction of being a 
'thankful village'.    There will be a separate story on what a 'thankful village is'.

The walk was very fast paced.    The other walkers were not interested in taking countless photos of the amazing views so I often fell behind.    

As the path crossed from one pasture to another there were gates to keep the livestock from escaping.     The newer gates were a simple metal turnstile but several of the older gates were still constructed of wood.   

Warning:   Wet, moss covered wood is VERY slippery as I found out.    Slamming into one of these gates may leave you with a terrible bruise.   Just glad it did not break my leg!

The golden stone used in the buildings in the Cotswolds is almost a yellow.   On a sunny day the light reflection would be spectacular.     I shall look for a future 'walk' for photographers.   

Three of the delightful guests who were very welcoming and kind enough to explain the British only stories or terms that I did not understand.      There were others who were part of groups that also were welcoming to a solo travelers if you are outgoing.

The second day of walking was an independent day.   With a damaged leg I was limited to what I could do and on Sunday there are NO BUSES and only taxis with advanced booking.     I did find a local who offered tours but she was fully booked.  On my next visit I will be sure to book in advance.
So glad the tea rooms were open.  The British do understand tea and cakes.

Contact HF Holidays for there many walking events in the UK and abroad.    As a solo traveler I recommend enjoying a 3, 5 or 7 day event.   This is a great value for room/board/walks and a good break during one of my 3 month trips.    The HF booking staff was very helpful to find a booking that worked with the only weekends I was in the UK.  The house staff was equal to the 4 star hotels I have stayed in and willing to answer questions and offer suggestions. 

And I must include a comment on the food:  Breakfast and dinner is served in the dining room and guests may sit wherever they choose.   You indicate in the morning what main course and desert you prefer so that there is minimal waste in the kitchen. 

The meals were wonderful.  You could have a full English breakfast or just toast and cereal.  Dinner was a 3 course event and gave me an opportunity to try Britsh food I would not cook at home.  The only item I shall not repeat is a sticky pudding.


Monday to Friday: 9am-7pm

Weekends & Bank Holidays: 9am-1pm
Find the best number to call here

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 8732 1220 Fax: +44 (0) 20 8732 1240
Address:  HF Holidays Limited
Catalyst House
720 Centennial Court
Centennial Park
United Kingdom

All the photos and opions in this story are my own.