Monthly Archives: May 2011

Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina

The first thing that got my attention as I was driving into North Carolina from Tennessee,  was the beautiful landscape. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t that great. Fog and rain wasn’t helping to really appreciate it, but even though, I still found it charming. If beauty can shine through bad weather, how stunning must it be on a clear blue sky and sunshine.

As I arrived to my hotel that evening, I had a sensation of peace and serenity. Something about the atmosphere and the area. Being surrounded by those green mountains was really relaxing. It wasn’t just me. Asheville is known to be a healing resort. The first therapeutic health center was in 1880. Visionaries, poets, explorers, notable statesman and other luminaries have always been drawn to Asheville and have contributed to the development of the city.

This city is as welcoming as diverse.

Asheville has a rich heritage of Architecture: Neoclassical styles, mix of Art Deco and Arts and Crafts movement. Unique buildings like the Grove Arcade, the Basilica of St. Lawrence, the city hall, the Asheville High School, the Jackson Building, to mention just few, are the testimony of greatness. More art deco architecture built in the late 1920s and early 1930s can be found in downtown Asheville than in any other southeastern city outside Miami.

The most impressive house of all, is without a doubt the Biltmore house, built between 1889-1895 by and for George W. Vanderbilt, the richest man in the world at the time. In the late 1880 he purchased 120,000 acres (48,560 hectares), today the family still owns 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares). The 250 rooms-estate has 175,000 sqft (16.300m2) and can clearly give you an idea of the extent of his fortune for the time. This is the largest private house in the USA and is simply magnificent. I couldn’t take pictures of the inside, but I will describe some of the rooms that stayed with me. The reception room which has a large dinner table that seats comfortably about 65 people, an organ like you see only in churches and huge fireplaces on each side of the room. The Vanderbilt loved to organize dinners and parties and especially during Christmas, they had the biggest tree and held receptions for family, friends as well as one for all the people working on the property with gifts for all the children (still held today). The library has more than 10,000 books on the shelves, and apparently 12,000 more are in storage. Mr. Vanderbilt had collected through his multiple trips to Europe pieces of art and furniture that are of an incredible value today. Sculptures of European Princes, paintings and drawings from young unknown (at the time) artists (a little Renoir hang in a corner of the family dinner room), a table game and chess set that belonged to Napoleon, 16th century Belgian and Flemish tapestries are just a few examples. The indoor heated pool was spectacular, especially considering the period. The Biltmore house was built with plumbing and electricity. I couldn’t help admiring the three kitchens (for those who ignore it, it is for me the most important room in a house). One kitchen for pastries, one for rotisserie and another for regular cooking. It is definitely nothing compared to some royal European castles, but it is nonetheless a remarkable house for a business man.

George W. Vanderbilt also built a village near the estate for the men working on the construction of his property along with a church. It has a unique style of houses that now are homes to boutiques and restaurants. The Biltmore Estate and village is not only  a sign of opulence, but it has refined taste and true beauty. The property include the house, the gardens, the equestrian center, the winery, the hotel (opened in 2001), the Antler Hill Village (where you can admire an iron forger with 50 years of experience demonstrating how he goes from an iron stick to a beautiful vine leave key chain, amazing!) and the farm. You can bicycle or horse ride around the property that is open all year around and offer different view each season.

But Asheville is not just the Biltmore Estate, although it takes at least two days to enjoy the entire property. It is a splendid city to visit.

If you are passionate by art, collector or simply curious, there are several art districts, some have old warehouses transformed in artists’ studios that you can visit. Others are packed with galleries or antique boutiques (about 100 in the city). There are numerous art events through the year, as well as performing arts festivals. The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, held in August in downtown Asheville, is the oldest of its kind in the nation

If you want an upscale-relax treatment, the Grove Park Inn resort and Spa is listed number 13 of Travel+Leisure magazine spa worldwide and the most luxurious in the city. It is on top of a hill, and you can admire sunset over the mountains while dinning in the fine restaurant of the resort. It also contains the world largest collection of furniture and lighting fixtures from the Arts and Crafts era.

If you like organic food, Asheville has a large selection of distinctive restaurants as well as many food festivals. You can enjoy every type of cuisine at all kind of prices.

If you want to admire beautiful landscapes and hike (or not) the Blue Ridge Parkway that surround the city is quite impressive and has amazing views. You can also go whitewater rafting. I didn’t get a chance to see, mostly because of the weather, the Great Smoky Mountains, but there are UNESCO World heritage site and the country’s most popular national park with more than 514,000 acres and from 400 to 600 black bears. People say the scenery is simply breathtaking!

If you didn’t get it by now, I have completely fallen for Asheville. It is my very first city-crush of the trip and I do recommend it to everyone. My last half day (obviously) was full on sunshine and blue sky and made me very sad to leave, but give me the occasion to see that beauty under the sunlight and I was just overwhelmed. That feeling of peace was extraordinary to find in a city that has everything to offer. To me, it felt just magical… I just cannot wait to go back!

To see the pictures please click here

See you next in Lake Lure and Wilmington!


Music City: Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville, Tennessee


Nashville or the Music City celebrates Country in the Honky Tonk, few blocks on Broadway with bars next to each others, with live music. It is interesting to see the difference between the day and night. There are bands all day long and all night. I was there on a Saturday day and night, which was pretty crazy. A lot of drunk people, bachelorettes (wedding season definitely on), waiting on line to get inside one of these bars, or surrounding young artist playing in the street. What I like the most is that each bar has a speaker outside, so you can hear the band playing and choose where to go. Some have also a TV showing the stage. Others have different rooms or floors with different bands at the same time. It is definitely the place to have fun, listen to some good Country and eat some good southern food. I did a couple of bars but on Saturday night, I met up with a friend living there and we went to The Wild Horse. Probably one of the largest bar in honky tonk. When we arrived a band was playing their own song (mostly the other bars are cover bands) and people were Line Dancing. Unfortunately, we got there almost at the end and I couldn’t get the steps! Then we assisted at a hula-hoop, for a moment there it seemed we were somewhere else, in a place far deep in the country! So much fun!

I didn’t expect it but I walked into a store wanting to completely immerse myself into Country style and buy cowboy boots… I couldn’t imagine it will cost me as much as a pair of high fashion designer sandals!! I mean the boots started at $300 and up… No so affordable to be a cow girl!

Country Music Hall of Fame

The Country Music Hall of fame is definitely a must see for the fans or curious. The building itself is amazing and the architecture is all about music symbols. The shape view from the air, is a bass clef (𝄢). Looking at the front of the building, the right corner of the building is like the tail of a 1950s Cadillac (usually owned by famous singers). The windows reflect the piano’s keys.  The left cylinder represents a drum. The round discs represent the different sizes of vinyl and CDs and the diamond shape antenna is the one from a radio station. The museum retraces the origins of Country (believe it or not it was Church Gospel) and how it has evolved through the years. Country music has more sub-genres than people can imagine: country soul, country rock, country pop, neocountry, etc… too many to list here. For all those who think they don’t like Country music, I think you’ll be surprise to discover one or more songs you might like in the large selections under Country genre. The Ryman Auditorium has a fabulous history and has been many things than just a concert room for country singers. It has been an auditorium for politicians, lectures of poems, seminars; a stage for theater, opera and dance performances. It has also been a church for a period of time. It has been completely restored inside and outside. Even the benches from the time has been restored and replaced. It is advised to bring a cushion to the performance though. All kind of artist or band have performed in that Auditorium. Many years ago, the director was asked to give a chance to a young man named Elvis who will covered another artist’s song. He was reticent to the idea, but finally accepted and it was a total disaster. Elvis was almost thrown out by the public and never returned perform at the Ryman again, not even once he was named the King of Rock.

I didn’t get a chance to see a performance at The Grand Ole Opry (which was once held at the Ryman) or the Ryman Auditorium, I guess will be for the next trip! 😉

Nashville is not just about the music though. The architecture downtown Nashville is beautiful. Buildings that have been built before the civil war, others added after, but they manage to look good all together. The different parks, the different areas, the many Universities and Colleges. There is a bit for everyone. Probably the most surprising fact is the number of Churches! Of course we are in the Bible Belt, but I had no idea Nashville was considered like the Protestant Vatican (Or the Buckle of the Bible Belt). There is over 700 churches in the city, plus all the different Christian organisms and companies. If you though Music was the principal income of the city, like I did, you were wrong. The first source of income is Health Care, then Publishing (Headquarters for most religious publishing companies) and in third position comes Music (yes you guessed, Christian Music Recording Labels on top of all the others non-religious related).

Bicentennial Mall State Park

My favorite part was the Bicentennial Mall State Park down the Capitol Hill. It outlines the important dates of the history of Tennessee and was created to celebrate the 200 years of Tennessee’s admission in the Union (1796) as the 16th State. That park is so beautiful and reflects the pride that all states have on their history.

Along that park, there is a daily Farmer’s Market with the most beautiful fresh vegetables, fruits, dairies, flowers, plants and other fresh products. I would have bought everything if I wasn’t in a hotel and leaving the day after!

The Centennial park is beautiful too. The Parthenon is the only building in the park and was created as a replica of the original in Athens for the Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition. It is now an Art Museum.

Nashville suffered an important flood over a year ago. Nowadays, only the Opry Mills, which is a large commercial center, is still working on the renovation. For the large majority, the city has quickly found its way back thanks to all the help received. Tennessee is known as the Volunteer state, historically for the volunteer Tennesseans who fought during wars, nowadays it has survived its reputation with different type of voluntarism.

There are two other main attractions outside of the city. The Belle Mead Plantation and the Hermitage, house of Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the U.S. Unfortunately, it is not allowed to take pictures inside the houses which is really a good business to make people (I intend people like me) buy the book with the pictures.

The Hermitage House, entrance wall paper

Belle Meade: was built in 1853 and was the House of the Harding Family which was famous in the whole country for breeding champion Thoroughbred horses. The house is beautiful and still have most of the original furniture. It has been restored for most part except for the front columns that still has bullet’s holes from Civil War since those are impossible to restore.

The Hermitage: was originally built in 1819 and was the house of the 7th President of the USA, Andrew Jackson. Little after his wife death, he had the house remodeled in 1831 and after a destroying fire, he had the house redone with a Greek Revival style, which is what has stayed until today. The entry wall has an amazing original wall paper made in France that tells one of the Greek mythology. The paintings, the wall paper and some of the furniture are originals.

Those houses have many similarities. They both have high ceilings, which was to let the hot air circulate so it wouldn’t be too hot during summer. They have separate rooms to entertain guests (one for ladies another for gentlemen), play rooms for kids. They both had the kitchen separated from the house, to avoid the house to burn down from the fire in the kitchen as well as keep cooking odors away. They both have several wooden cabins for slaves in the lands surrounding the houses. Both families had some educated slaves, which was illegal and some of these slaves remained as “employees” of the house after the civil war. In both houses, the guides were wearing costumes of the time, which help picturing how it could have been at that time to leave in this kind of houses, large and luxurious. It is definitely very beautiful and very Southern and I can not wait to see more of the Antebellum houses.

Nashville has definitely brought me some surprises and I was really happy to finally discover it. As a fan of country music it was really nice to learn more about a genre that is so defined by the American culture. What I like the most about country music, is the smooth tone of voices of some artist, especially women and then the lyrics are usually so easy to related to because as they say so well, it always comes from the heart.

To see Nashville pictures click here

I also have selected (with great difficulties) 10 of the hundreds songs I like… hope you will enjoy too…

Crazy – Patsy Cline
I need you now – Lady Antebellum
Landslide – Dixie Chicks
Grandpa tell me bout the good old days – The Judds
Home – Blake Shelton
Always on my mind – Elvis Presley
On the road again – Willie Nelson
I hope you dance – Leann Womack
All I want to do – Sheryl Crow
This is country music – Brad Paisley

See you next in Asheville!

Something about American culture…

Dear All…

Before I post my new articles on Nashville and Asheville, I’d like to share 2 things with you.

First of all, I’d like to THANK everyone for your nice comments and support to my blog. I didn’t expect it at all and it really makes me feel blessed. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Second, I would like to share with you a video, for those who didn’t see it on my Facebook.

It is the Commencement Speech Denzel Washington gave to the graduate of 2011 of the University of Pennsylvania. The overall message is so nice and I related so much to what he said, I felt the need to share it with you.

This speech and whom is giving it, it is what I think makes American culture special. There is always someone who speaks up about what life is, who tries to be a good example, who show that you need to fight and not give up. Americans are driven by this mentality of always pushing themselves further. Unfortunately, like anything, once it is taken to the extreme it could be wrong or dangerous. Whether it’s a politician, a writer, an artist, a sport player, they all try to be a role model for the next generations to come. I don’t know, maybe I have been away too long from Europe but I don’t recall it being the same overseas. Here, celebrity is something out of control, but some of those people used it to good ends and inspired others. It can be about success, it can be about illness, it can be about challenges life put you through. They might not be Hero, literally, but they are definitely someone to look up to. The fact that an actor, even so amazing like Denzel Washington, is giving a speech at an  Ivy school proves my point. It doesn’t matter what made you famous, but if you did good people might listen and might simply follow your advices because you did succeed!

I know, I sound very cheesy, and to some degree, I have always been a little bit so there should be no surprise there! I have said it a lot lately, this new chapter of my life is definitely inspired by this American mentality. Anyone can find in themselves the strength to get up and stand for what they believe in, to fight for what they want to accomplish because as they say it so well: no pain, no gain! I might not agree with all the causes, or some behaviors, but I respect the value that comes from it. I have been living here for more than 5 years now, so it is probably normal that I get influenced by the culture and got to appreciate it. Like everywhere in the world, there is good and bad. Some people unfortunately always brings out only the bad. I want to point out the good. The good in people, the good in cultures, the good in everything that surround us. Because that positive mentality is what, I think, makes you go forward and to a better place. No need to be too good, but essential to keep a right balance and remember that there is always both in everything and everyone.

Back to Denzel Washington’s speech. He’s not saying anything out of the world, but sometimes the simplest things are the truest and so here it is. The beginning of the speech is a bit rocky but hold on to it because it gets better. Enjoy it!

Denzel Washinton\’s speech at UPENN – 2011

Louisville and Maker’s Mark Distillery, Kentucky

First Stop: Louisville, KY

Louisville is definitely the city you wouldn’t expect to be. It’s a pleasant surprise.

The first thing I will outline is how nice and polite people are. Everyone will greet you with a smile and a warm “Hello” in the street. Now, I understand that to some of you this might not be exceptional, but for those who have been in NYC (visited or lived, especially lived) will understand that it is so unusual to actually feel that kind of warmth from the people in general that when you do, it is just… nice.

The Old Louisville is so fascinating to me. It has 1400 houses that are Landmarks, all in one neighborhood, and most of them, if not all have a ghost story. Some of these houses were build late 1800 and are simply beautiful. I took the ghost tour in the evening, thank god it was still daylight otherwise I might have just freaked out. Not that there is anything scary but to imagine the quantity of paranormal activity going in those streets and on top to hear those stories in the dark… no thank you! But in daylight, I enjoyed it although I wouldn’t ever consider living in a house known to have a living spirit in it.

Downtown Louisville seems to be like most of the cities I have seen so far in the US. Tall buildings in sync with some beautiful old administrative building and, probably the most surprising, many museums. It seems that Louisville has a large art scene. They promote art in all its form: theater, poetry, painting, sculpture, craft art and glass work. There is a Glasswork building where you can see artist working the hot glass, others working the cold glass and then architects using Art-glass for the buildings. Beside Art, Louisville has true passion for horses (famous Derby every first Saturday of May), sports and Bourbon! Louisville is considered as a multicultural city and has a lot to offer culturally and historically.

The Muhammad Ali Center is quite an experience. Native of Louisville, he is not just a boxing champion but also a champion for the fights he has waged outside the ring. I was very touched by his spirituality, his engagement to be a role model and his battle with Parkinson disease. He’s an Hero and Louisville is very proud of the center, and I can see why. The messages are very powerful and aim all toward justice, tolerance and respect. I had known to this day about his boxing, about being a leader for the African-American community but I had no idea how inspiring this man is, or should be, to everyone, regardless their ethnicity, religion, gender or age. Which is what he promotes, doesn’t matter where you are from, respect and tolerance should be your motto. A message that I like very much myself and have been trying to embrace for few years now. Be Fair. Don’t take anything for granted. Try not to judge, because you never know every details, always try to see the other side of the story. Be impartial is difficult, I know it very well. But whenever I can, I try to bring objectivity and balanced it with the subjectivity. Work in progress…

I had only one day to visit the city but I enjoyed it. I went to the Kentucky show, which is a promotional 35 min documentary on the state of Kentucky and I have to admit, I was blown away by the landscape. I wanted so much to drive around the state, but although my schedule could be flexible, I can’t start to let go on the very first day.

Second Stop: Loretto, KY

I have then decided that since Bourbon is THE liquor of the region, to stop at least in one distillery before heading to Nashville. What a ride! I chose Marker’s Mark distillery, in Loretto, an hour and half south from Louisville. There is a Bourbon Trail that include 6 distilleries. On the brochure, Maker’s Mark was saying how much they love to have visitors since they are so hard to find. INDEED! I thought it would give me the opportunity to see some of Kentucky country side. I drove more than an hour on a very curvy road under a storm that prevent me to see anything further than 1 feet in front of me. But when I finally found the distillery, I wasn’t disappointed. It was really a nice experience and as the tour was done, the sun was out…

I won’t retrace the whole history of the Maker’s Mark, because I will invite any Bourbon aficionados to actually take this trip. Great landscapes, great history of Bourbon making  and to conclude the tour: tasting.

Well, you can imagine if I had to drive off the highway for an hour and so, I had to go back to it… but different road. The country side is really the same as any, large field of grass, some cows, some horses… Big houses in the middle of nowhere, far behind in the background beautiful green dunes. Randomly, I found on my road the birth of place of Abraham Lincoln. Nice surprise again but nothing much to see really.

Anyway, I made my way to Nashville and I can’t wait to go enjoy some good country music. That will be for the next post.

I will finish with this quote from Muhammad Ali, still known as Cassius Clay at the time:
“I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want”.  New York Times, February 29 1964.

To see Pictures:  Click here