We flew out to Charlotte NC via Dallas. The best price ($208 plus tax) was on a plane that left at 11:58pm and got in at 10 am in the morning. This seemed like a great plane because we’d get to sleep and the journey would go faster. That would be a great plan as long as I don’t take into consideration the time zones ( I didn’t). It looked like on paper we’d be on the plane for 6 hrs to Dallas so we’d get some sleep. I should know better because I’ve flown to dallas many times. We were on the plane 3 hrs then had a layover. I think my head is really sensitive to cabin pressure because sometimes I feel sick on a plane and sometimes I don’t for no apparent reason. The one I’m sick on may be a perfectly smooth flight and the one that I’m ok on could be rough. Anyway the three hrs to Dallas ended up being three really long hours because I didn’t feel well and had to make a run for the bathroom. The second plane was perfect and I slept on it. We landed in Charlotte and got a cab to the car rental agency where we picked up a car and drove to Asheville NC, the home of the largest private residence in America. They should warn you not to drive after not sleeping for a day but they don’t. I got about halfway there and pulled off the road and slept for a few hours before driving on. We got to our motel 6 (I’m cheap) and slept some more. Stomaches were growling so we headed out to a china buffet. I really needed to get to an internet access point but since we’re in America this seems almost impossible. The Quality Inn across the street was advertising free high speed interenet so I went over and asked if I could use it. I think they thought I was one of their guests because they said yes and later asked me to come back at 6 for breakfast! Anyway the wireless on my laptop isn’t working but they had a lamp with an RJ45 port on the bottom (no joke!) which was hot so I plugged in. I left my printout of important phone numbers at home so I got into my email and got the ones I really needed. Tired I returned to the hotel and slept.
Washington D.C. - 2006 (5)
We decided to turn in the rental car in Charlotte and take a train to Washington DC for two reasons, it was actually cheaper (thanks to a 20% off promo code I found on the internet for Amtrak) and it’s a pain to have a car in D.C. We’re used to using the metro to get around anyway so it wasn’t much of a problem. The only problem was we needed to turn in our rental at 1pm and our train came at 1:50 am the next morning! We start off on the wrong foot by thinking we’re in Europe and started searching for left luggage facilities. In Europe you can leave your luggage places for a few euro. The man in the library recommended we try the grayhound bus station. They did have lockers but only about 10 for the 1000 or so people there so we took a taxi to the train station where we checked our bags in ahead of schedule. We then walked back to the city center and ate dinner an an Italian restaraunt which wasn’t bad. We were trying to kill time so we asked the waitress if there was a movie theatre around, there wasn’t but she gave us tips on how to get to one. So armed with a bus schedule we head for the other end of town to watch a movie. We end up watching two movies which took us to about midnight. We called a taxi to pick us up and waited the 25 minutes needed for them to get there. Then we waited another 10 minutes. We couldn’t call them again bacause the theater was now closed and the phone was inside. We had about 50 minutes left before our train left with our luggage. Since I don’t have a cell phone we headed for the main street to see if we could find a pay phone. We didn’t but we did find an all night diner and the man behind the counter let us use his phone to call again. It would only be 10 minutes this time. We wait 10 minutes and no taxi shows up. I’m getting ready to make this a really expensive night and offer a bunch of money to one of the people eating just to take us to the train station. Right before I did that the taxi showed. Thankfully it only took us 15 minutes to get to the station so we had about 20 to spare.
It’s been about 10 years since I’ve ridden an Amtrak train so it was interesting to contrast them with my more recent train experiences from Europe. I’ve ridden Englands worthless trains, the French TGV, German ICE, Italy’s Eurostar and many other eastern European trains. I have to say the Amtrak really isn’t bad other than the fact that it’s slow and only comes by once or twice a day. The seats are comfortable and spacious, the food isn’t bad and the service is pretty good. In Europe once you get on that train everything else is up to you. With Amtrak they keep an eye on you to make sure you get off at the right stop. They will wake you up too if you’re sleeping.
Anyway sleeping was about as comfortable as sleeping on an airplane but without the headrests that wrap around your head. So I didn’t get a lot of sleep but arrived anyway in D.C. at about 10:00 am.
For breakfast we went to the Waffle House which is a southern chain of breakfast cafes. It was then I realized that the south did in fact break away during the civil war and become a seperate country. The ladies that worked in the Waffle House were mostly missing their teath (the further south you go the fewer teath they grow…) and had accents so strong I could hardly understand them. At one point one said she need a billy goat or bush hog to get her going. The way she said it was hilarious so I laughed and pretended I understood her when in reality she might as well been speaking hebrew or something…
The reason we came down early before the wedding was so we could go to Asheville to see Biltmore. I planned a trip in 97 to see Biltmore but my daughter was born with medical problems and we didn’t go. I love French architecture and the Biltmore house is probably the best example of it in the U.S. It’s also an insanely large house on a very large estate. George Vanderbilt was a scholar and traveler so he wanted what he saw in Europe here in the states so he had a French Chateaux built in North Carolina. The area around Biltmore reminds me of the hills around Chinon or maybe the foot of the Austrian Alps around Neuschwanstein castle. In the end it’s a nice place to put an estate. We arrive and enter the 175,000 square foot house and immediately realize that even though it looks French on the outside this is an American house. It’s very easy to compare it to Versaille but that wouldn’t be a fair comparison because Versaille cost as much as half of the yearly income of every resident in France for one year to build. I doubt that Biltmore cost that much because the interior isn’t nearly as ornate. That’s fine because Versaille is really overdone. Who needs gold plated walls anyway? Biltmore is much easier to take than some of the French Chataeuxs but it’s also more apparent that although rich the Biltmores weren’t kings. Overall the Biltmore house was an enjoyable experience and I recommend anyone going there if they’re interested in that sort of thing. If you always wanted to go to the Loire Valley in France but just couldn’t make it this may suffice. If you do go make sure you check out the rose gardens and other parts of the estate.
We left Biltmore and ate at the Texas Roadhouse which was pretty good. We’re realizing very quickly that we should only be ordering one plate for both of us because the portions are huge. I think we carried half our food (at least) out in a to-go box. Our waiter said Statesville was only about 40 minutes away but we soon found out it was almost two hours. Maybe he just never leaves Asheville and doesn’t know…
The Adams Morgan district is quite eclectic and nice. One of the guidebooks said you’d end up here to eat no matter where in D.C. you stayed so it only made sense for a gourmand like myself to just stay near the food. Don’t you agree? There is the aforementioned Mexican restaurant (Mixtec), several Ethiopian, one Ghana, one lebanese/Indian, a couple Indian, one Syrian, one Falafal fry stand, one American and a spattering of other restaurants here. Definately the place to be if you like to eat. There was even a McDonalds for those people born without taste buds.
We ate breakfast at the Inn and headed straight to the National Mall. We didn’t go to Claires to get accessories, or the Bon to pick up any sweaters or any of that in case you were wondering. The National Mall is a really wide strip of grass which is lined with museums of the Smithsonian Institute and the ends are capped by the Capitol building and Lincoln’s memorial on each end. This is where the sights are and it was going to be a beautiful day!
We started our tour of the Smithsonian Institute by going to Smithsonian Castle where we picked up our info book and got directions. The Smithsonian castle is a building that’s “castle like” that was built in the late 1800’s. Our first stop was the National Gallery of Art which I don’t believe is really part of the Institute but I could be wrong. We wanted to go there because people compare it to the Louvre and it had a Da Vinci painting, the only one in America actually. We later found out that the only people that compare the National Gallery of art to the Louvre are those that haven’t been to the Louvre. American pride wants us to have a museum equal to the best and I’m here to say that it probably isn’t possible so they should just move on and try to be something else.