Category Archives: United States

Carmel to Big Sur

We spent several days in a B&B in Carmel by the Sea, just south of the Monterey Peninsula.  It’s a charming place, full of cottages and gardens in idyllic nooks and crannies. The beach was fabulous, and dogs accompanied almost every local everywhere they went. We loved walking on the beach in the morning and watching all the local pooches run, chase each other, and literally frolic in the surf. You’d be hard pressed to find happier dogs. Life is good.

However, I won’t miss the oppressive traffic everywhere we went, the difficult parking and the lack of sidewalks which make walking hazardous.

Despite all that, the scenery is spectacular and well worth a visit. We drove from Carmel to Big Sur, about 30 miles to the south. We stopped many times along the way, including at Point Lobos State Reserve. There’s no way to describe the beauty, so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. I took dozens, and I had a very hard time paring it down to the ones below.  I blame it on the abundance of wildflowers : )

We’ll start with Point Lobos. It’s a relatively small area, but it has several trails and Bob and I covered most of them over a couple of days. I probably walked about ten miles all over this park.


Point Lobos is on a small peninsula, so three sides jut into the ocean. Here you can see the fog (not smoke!) rolling off the land and out to see.


Anther view of the small bay.


The wildflowers were stunning. Yellow seemed the dominant color, but there were also purples, oranges, pinks, and reds.


If you look closely, you’ll see a number of harbor seals.



More of the fog.


And a close up.




Here we are 🙂



More from Point Lobos.


Remember those happy California Cows from the commercials? Here’s where they live. On the Big Sur coast!


There were several places to stop and explore the coastline on the drive to Big Sur. Here’s an idea of what some of it looked like. The problem was always the parking. We often parked a quarter to half a mile away on the side of the highway. The walking was treacherous, but there were tons of people doing it and the traffic could only move about 25 mph.


Here are some of those orange wildflowers.



The coastline was stunning.


So were the wildflowers!


This is us at Julie’s wedding 🙂


Here we are with the Garcia’s and the father of the bride!


These next pictures are from the second day we spent at Point Lobos. Some of the rocks have the craziest patterns in them.


This whole bay intrigued us. The rock and the erosion made us feel like we were in an amphitheater honoring the ocean. In the crevices were tide pools full of interesting critters.


Maybe I’m dense, but I’ve never thought about where blackberries come from. Here’s the life cycle of a blackberry in a single photo!


I love the color! It makes me crave apricots. 🙂



This is a bit of an illusion. The seagull is on the mainland, the nesting birds in the background are on Bird Island.


Us again!


I loved these strange little red-stalked things. Kinda felt like they were alien plants.


Look close! There are at least ten harbor seals on that little island!


5,250 Miles.

Okay, the Blue Ridge Parkway was kind of a bust.  We tried to drive its entire length, but we ran into a detour that took us off the road for about 50 miles.  Then, when we got back on, we realized Spring really hadn’t sprung, yet.  There were very few budding trees and everything was gray and wintery.  Also, none of the visitor centers were open — so no bathrooms.  They were kind enough to leave Port-A-Potties in the parking lots, but beyond disgusting doesn’t even begin to describe them.  So after a morning of frustration, we just plugged our next destination into the Magellen.  After hours of driving, we were only 15 minutes closer to that destination than we were that morning at the hotel!  Ugh!

That destination was Charlottesville, Virginia, where Thomas Jefferson’s home is.  It’s called Monticello.  You’ve all seen that home:  its on the back of every nickel.  Take a look at the pictures and see for yourself.  They’re here.

I learned some very interesting things.  First, about the house.  I always saw pictures of the house, like what you see on the nickel, and assumed that was the entire house.  Not so.  The majority of the house is actually in the basement.  The construction was ingenious (no surprise, Jefferson designed it himself).  The main part of the house that we’ve all seen is where Jefferson lived and conducted his work.  Inside are bedrooms, a receiving room, a parlor and a dining room.  The rest of the necessary rooms to run a house are one floor below under long walkways that extend out of the sides of the house and then make right hand turns and extend even further from the back of the house.  These “basement” rooms include the kitchen, a smokehouse, the ice house, several privies, slave quarters, storage rooms, and more.  All the areas are well lighted, well ventilated, and they stay nice and cool. The roofs are covered by earth, but the land drops away so the sides of the rooms are completely open.  See the pictures, it was very interesting.

The second thing I learned blew my mind.  Maybe I’m naive, but I just never thought about it.  You’ve probably heard that after Jefferson’s wife died in 1782, he had a slave mistress for 4 decades with whom he had 6 children (4 lived to be adults).  After lots of scholarly debate and some DNA evidence, it is largely accepted that this is all true.  What I didn’t know is the woman in question was 3/4 European ancestry and was reported to be exceptionally beautiful, white, and she had long, straight hair.  What’s more, she was a half sister to Jefferson’s beloved wife.  That means the children she had with Jefferson were ⅞ Eurpean. In fact, when the children came of age (about 1810 to 1825), Jefferson allowed them to leave the plantation and 3 of the 4 passed into white society, married and carried on with their lives.  The fourth one identified himself as mulatto and married a mixed race woman.  His family continued to intermarry through the generations and his is the only branch of the family that is of color.  One of the other sons formerly changed his name to Jefferson and he and his son spent years of their lives working in their state legislatures (Ohio and California), and it was known that they were the son/grandson of Thomas Jefferson.

I found this whole dynamic fascinating.  What’s more, the children apparently looked just like Jefferson.  On several occasions, guests at dinner looked from the servant to Jefferson and obviously realized the connection.  One minister who was a guest at Monticello wrote in his diary his disapproval of Jefferson holding his own children in slavery.

Apparently the lives of all the slaves at Monticello were pretty good.  Jefferson’s own children were allowed to stay in the house and were assigned light household duties when they were children.  When they became teenagers, they were assigned to their mother’s brother (also a slave) who was a master carpenter, so they learned a trade that they could use to support themselves outside the institution of slavery.  His daughter became a weaver.

When Jefferson died, his two youngest children were teenagers and hadn’t been freed yet.  Jefferson’s will freed them, as well as their mother’s brothers. It didn’t free Sally, their mother.  However, Jefferson’s daughter (the only surviving child that he had with his wife) allowed Sally to leave with her sons and she lived as a free white woman for the remaining 10 years of her life.

The question I had is what was the nature of Jefferson’s relationship with Sally?  Did he love her?  The general thinking is that yes, he did.  Their affair began when Sally traveled to Paris with Jefferson’s daughter as a lady’s maid. Sally and the daughter stayed for a time with Abigail Adams and her husband in England. During that time, Abigail wrote to Jefferson stating the maid who had accompanied his daughter was a handful. I forget the words she used, but the gist was Sally was a hot little number and looking for trouble. She’d need a lot of supervision to keep her out of trouble.

I’m guessing Jefferson wasn’t immune to her charms. 🙂  When Sally entered France, she became a free woman under French law. She could have stayed, it was her choice.  Instead, Jefferson begged her to return to the US with him and he promised to treat her well.  He also promised to free all her children when they came of age.  She agreed and he kept his promises because Sally had an easy life working in his home at light chores.

For more details, see the Wikipidia entries for Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and Jefferson-Hemings Controversy.

Photos of Biltmore Estate


I forgot to warn you: there may be many pictures of flowers and beautiful landscaping to follow. I couldn’t help myself, everything was so incredibly beautiful!


Main entrance to the house.


Side view of the house. This was taken from the stables (which have been converted into shopping and restaurants.



This is the grand staircase, just to the left of the main entrance. Inside is the main spiral staircase. Down its center is a chandelier that lights each floor and the chandelier is three stories from top to bottom. Also notice the outside stairs. They don’t lead anywhere, but there are little doors along the way so someone on the inside stairs could step outside. The outside stairs were really just decorative and they anchored the inside staircase to the wall they shared.


This is one of the patios. Its covered with (I think) grape vines which haven’t started leafing, yet.IMG_1939


A view along the back of the house.


I can’t say why, but these rolling hills are really beautiful. I know the picture doesn’t capture it, but come visit for yourself and you’ll see what I mean!


This is the other side view of the house, the one opposite the stables. I took it from the end of the enormous (like at least a football field long, enormous) patio. The fuzziness in the middle of the house is that grape vine-covered patio we saw earlier.


I walked down a staircase at the end of that enormous patio and found this beautiful scene.


Here, more grape vines (I think!) cover that walkway that runs along the lower wall of that enormous patio we saw a couple pictures back.


Another view of the house from the gardens.


Here we are!


Finally! My camera comes close to capturing the really green trees. Those that have started the leaf, anyway. There are plenty that are still bare.




This is the covered walkway that runs through the gardens and leads to the Conservatory.


Field of flowers.


Another view of the walls.


I don’t know what this plant is, but I love it.


This is the rose garden. Unfortunatly, its not ready to bloom, yet.


Here’s the conservatory. Its really just another name for greenhouse, but this is an especially beautiful, and really big, greenhouse. You can even see the trees inside through the windows.


Here are several photos from the greenhouses.





I have a thing for fluffy-looking plants. Don’t know why, just do.








A view of the main house from the Conservatory.



The Conservatory and greenhouses.



The stable courtyard withe stables in the background. That clock is the master clock for the entire house. George Vanderbilt insisted on a punctual household, so he installed wall clocks throughout all the servant areas. When the minute hand on this clock moved, it sent an electric pulse to all the other clocks so their minute hands moved, too. It kept the entire house synchronized.




This is the covered entrance to the right of the main entrance, near the stables. This is where carriages would come if it was raining. Behind me is another entrance to the house.


This is a view of the backyard where the servants worked. Here is where deliveries were made and where guests’ trunks would be unloaded. The farthest building is the back of the stable and the unmarried male servants all had their rooms on the second floor of the stable. To get to work, they walked down the spiral staircase in the black extension, walked across the brick courtyard, and went in the back door, which is underneath me.


Another view of the back courtyard. Notice the circles, like manholes. This house has central heating (yes, it was original to the house in 1895!). It was heated by 3 huge steam turbines that ran on coal. So, they’s take the covers off the manholes and they’d dump the coal down the shutes to the coal bins. We went on a tour of “below stairs” and saw the turbines, as well as the “Dynamo”—the machine that generated the DC current that powered all the electric lights in the house. Eventually the hosue was converted to AC power when that became the way of the world.


The gift shop in the stable was overwhelming. Too many beautiful things to even see individual things.


This wine comes in a cut glass bottle.


Here’s the house. On the right, behind the trees, is the stable. On the left you can kind of see the grape vine-covered patio. From that extends the football-sized patio. I should mention that just to the right of the main entrance is a little pointy roof. That is the Winter Garden. It’s a large area just off the entrance hall that made of glass—yes, that pointy ceiling is glass—and its full of all kinds of exotic plants and some beautiful sculptures. It is jaw-droppingly impressive. Of course, to the left of the entrance hall is that grand spiral staircase with the incredible three-story chandelier. It was overwhelming.


More of the grounds.




Yes, they have Segue tours. I kind of thought it was a joke, though, until I actually saw them.


Field of flowers.

Biltmore Estate

Okay, everything I said about the entrance fees, ignore me.  The Biltmore Estate is worth every penny.  It’s an unbelievable place, and you can see my pictures here.  It took 6 years to build and it was opened in December, 1895.  It was built by George Vanderbilt (the grandson of the railroad tycoon) when he was still a bachelor.  It has 205 rooms and 1.4 million (yes, million!) square feet.  It is the result of a collaboration between the architect, George Vanderbilt, and the landscape architect—who was the first landscape architect.

George decided to marry about 3 years after the house was complete.  Can you imagine coming home from your honeymoon to that house?  Apparently all the people who worked on the estate (there were hundreds, maybe more than a thousand) lined the road leading to the house to cheer when they arrived.

There were only about 30 servants in the house but the estate also had a nursery that sold seeds via mail order, an enormous dairy (100s of cows) and it was a working farm.  So there were many employees and their families that lived on the estate (although, not in the house).

I don’t have pictures of inside the house because I couldn’t take any, but it is mind boggling.  No one knows how much it cost to build, but it had to be millions and millions, even in 1895.  It was a huge boost to the local economy at the time.  Likewise, all the servants were always paid New York wages, which was way more than comparable jobs locally.  Obviously, jobs at Biltmore Estate were prized.

The gardens were spectacular.  They were designed by the same man who designed Central Park in NYC.  In addition to the gardens, he made plans to convert the 125,000 acres of the estate into something beautiful.  He recommended creating the small organized park (which is still beautiful today—see the pictures!), farming the river bottom lands, and converting the rest of the tired farmland to forests.  Toward that end, they planted more than 2 million plants and trees on the property.  Ironically, the landscape architect’s vision is only now realized after 100 years of growth in that forest.  It’s all incredibly beautiful.

The Estate was the Vanderbilt’s family home and they entertained extensively until 1915 when George died.  His wife and daughter (who was only 13) continued living in the house, but they moved into a smaller apartment within and closed off most of the rest of the house.  When the daughter married in 1924, she and her husband lived there and entertained, once again.
When the Depression hit, the family wanted to stimulate economic growth in the region, so they opened the first floor of the house to tourists.  That was in 1931.  The last time a family member actually lived in the house was in 1951. Today, George’s great grandson and great granddaughter (who are brother and sister) both live on the estate grounds with their families.  They run the businesses related to the house, including the winery that was started by their father in the 1970s.

It seems we are running out of time before we have to be in Boston.  We were going to drive the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but after spending some time on it yesterday, we realized that will be a tedious trip.  It may be beautiful, but a narrow, two lane road with a top speed of 45 mph is not the way to cover the next 400 miles.  So, stay tuned to see what we decide to do next!

Smoky Mountains Photos


Everything was getting green. I really hate my new camera because it doesn’t capture how deeply green the green plants are.



Here’s where the stream is diverted into a flume.


Here’s the flume leading to the mill. This is a grist mill. Grits were, and still are, a staple food in these parts.





I think the blooming trees are dogwoods, but not completely sure.



Yes, our Bob was here, but he was a good boy, unlike the previous Bob.


Here was are in the Smokies!


A view of Gatlinberg, Tennessee, from our hotel room. You can see a little of the water vapor hanging in the air that gives the Smokies their name.


A little chocolate monkey topped with really big guns? Sure, I’ll have one of those. ???


We saw turkeys everywhere. There were three in this group and they were very vocal. Here you can see two of the three.



Lots of beautiful streams are everywhere.



So much potential! I wish I could go back in a month when the other trees have leaves.


Here we are in a higher elevation becuase Spring has barely started.


Did I mention I hate my camera? This area was vividly green, so green it almost hurt. It was really beautiful.


Here’s a little more of the green, but it was eye-popping.



10 people lived in this little house. Part was built in the 1890s and the second part was built in the 1930s.


Here’s Bob : )


This is the steam behind the cabin.



Here’s a little more of the green.


I’d love to come back to the Smoky Mountains. I see the appeal of this place. The beauty here really grows on you. However, this national park is the most visited in the country—even more than Yellowstone. Even this early in the year, it was pretty crowded and traffic was slow.



So pretty.


The park was established with the help of the Rockefellers. Here’s a memorial honoring that fact. We also have the Rockefellers to thank for the fact there is no entrance fee into the Smoky Mountain NP, it was a stipulation of their donation.


The Appalacian Trail! I’ve always been curious about this trail. I have to say, it was pretty treacherous.


The first little bit from the parking lot had a guard rail, but it didn’t go far and the drop off was pretty steep.



And the footing was anything but sure. You had to really watch it. Also, the dirt was pretty wet and everything was slippery.


Here’s Bob on the Appalachian Trail! He was a good sport because this was on my bucket list and he was humoring me. Otherwise, he probably would have skipped it. Especially since the part we were on was steeply uphill. : )





Here we are at the Appalachian Trail. Here, the trail follows the NC/TN border.




Next up was Clingmans Dome and here we learned the meaning of steep incline. It was brutal!


But the top had this nifty tower.


On the ramp to the top of the tower.


The view from the top of the tower.


The Appalachian Trail passes by Clingmans Dome, too. Did I mention there were lots of really serious hikers around? They were intense.


A close up of a bend in the Appalachian Trail. I’m telling you, it can be treacherous! Most of those serious hikers I told you about had two things in common: two walking poles and a folded egg crate to cushion the ground when they slept.


Another view from Clingmans Dome.


Smoky Mountains

4,800 miles so far!

The last couple of days have been lots of driving and hiking.  We’ve gone from one end of the Smoky Mountains to the other.  On Saturday, it was cold, blustery and raining.  What a difference a day makes!  Easter Sunday dawned bright and clear and the park just came alive.  You can see my pictures here.

It’s still on the early side of Spring here.  Some of the trees are blooming, but most don’t have leaves yet, especially in the higher elevations.  However, with sunshine, the park really is beautiful.  Its beauty grows on you and I can see why so many people come back or even move to this area.  It has great appeal.

I even like Gatlingerg, Tennessee, where we spent Saturday night.  The guide book describes it as Heidi meets Hillbilly:  vaguely Bavarian meets hick mountains.  It was cool, with great energy.  I have a picture or two in the photos.

Easter Mass wasn’t so easy in Gatlinberg, however.  We located the Catholic church near our hotel and drove by on Saturday night.  The Mass times were posted and nothing indicated they changed for Easter.  Bob checked the church’s website: same thing.  We even checked with the front desk of the hotel and that guy also confirmed the Mass times.  But when we got there nice and early, we found a brand new sign announcing Mass started an hour earlier.  People were streaming in from all directions on foot because there were several hotels in the areal.  All of them, along with us, were shocked to find Mass was moved back an hour.  It seems when we travel over Easter, Mass always gets screwed up.

Today I crossed an item off my bucket list.  I walked on the Appalachian Trail.  I have to say, it’s pretty rough; like you could easily break your neck rough.  We walked about a quarter mile along the trail which follows the NC/TN state line in this area.  See the pictures, because its rough.

We also climbed to the top of Clingmans Dome, one of the tallest mountains in the park.  There was a nicely paved road to follow, but the incline was insane.  Thank goodness the views were all worth it.  I saved you the climb and put the pictures in the photo gallery.  : )  I know I’m going to be sore tomorrow.

By late afternoon, we were ready to sit for awhile.  We did lots of hiking today.  So, we hit the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the sights. I have some pictures here.  We only went about 85 miles, as far as Asheville, NC, and we ended up staying in the same hotel we were in on Friday night.

Tomorrow, we’re really looking forward to the Biltmore Estate.  I’ve always wanted to see it and I’d kick myself if I let the steep entrance fees stop us.  So, that’s the plan!

The Old Forts of St. Augustine

4500 miles traveled so far.

After Cocoa Beach, we stopped in St. Augustine and learned a little about the history of that area.  It claims to be the oldest continually occupied city in the US, dating back about 500 years. I know the Indians that live on Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico dispute that claim since they have continually occupied their city for 1500 years. You can see my post about them here.

Anyway, we explored a couple of very old Spanish forts and had lots of fun meeting people and talking history.  You can see my pictures here.

On Good Friday, we spent the day in the car driving from St. Augustine to Asheville, North Carolina.  It’s a really neat city, I wish we had more time to explore it.  I was really looking forward to visiting the Biltmore Estate—the home of the Vanderbilts— but it’s supposed to pour rain tomorrow and the tickets are $69 a person!  I think that’s the first time an entrance fee has really made me stop and consider whether it was really worth it.  It seems comparable to the Hearst Mansion and they only charge $25.

In any case, stay tuned because we’re venturing into the Great Smokey Mountains National Park tomorrow and I hope to have some good stuff to share with you.  Just in case you’re wondering: no, we don’t plan to stop in Dollywood.  Sorry.  : )

St. Augustine–Photos of Old Forts :)


To get to Fort Matanzas (aka Fort Slaughter), you have to take a short boat ride. I took this from the boat as we approached. We saw several dolphins in the river, by the way.


I thought the corner bastion was quite decorative and interesting.


A view of the river from the gun deck. The fort protected the river that lead to St. Augustine and allowed the residents there to be re-supplied, even when the ocean port was baracaded.


Here we are! It was chilly, only in the low 60s.


A view of the bastion from the gun deck.


Inside the fort. It’s not a very big room. They think only about 10 men would have been posted here.



Bob is climbing the ladder from the bedroom to the roof.  It’s the same ladder that’s in the picture above him.


A view of the top of the bastion from the roof.


Here I am in the doorway of the bastion.


I like these trees in the parking lot.


They look like eyes, or maybe peacock feathers.


This is the Castillo de San Marcos, a much larger fort that protected St. Augustine. Here hundreds of men could have been stationed. It was built in the 1500s by the Spanish to protect Florida which was its colony. Florida wasn’t made a part of the US until the 1820s.



There were many re-creation actors at the Fort.

Below are some pictures from the top of the walls.





I was amazed at how intricate and decorated the cannons were. All of them are elaborately engraved.


A view of the fort from the top of the walls.


It has corner bastions like Fort Matanzas. Here’s Bob in one of them.