December 22, 2011

The Vine Cottage Inn - Hot Springs

Even though we were going to Hot Springs to see The Homestead, we decided not to stay there. Instead, we chose to stay at this lovely bed and breakfast called The Vine Cottage Inn that has been in operation since the early 1900s. It is located literally a block from The Homestead.
We were greeted by the innkeepers – Jo and Jonah – who have been running the B&B for about seven years. Very hospitable and easy going couple.
We were shown to our room called “16” – a very easy name to remember. Michael and I were caught off guard when Jo told us we didn’t have a key to our room, but instead a courtesy lock for when we go to sleep.   Being from a major city, we were not 100% comfortable with it at first, but got use to the idea.  They also leave the front door to the inn unlocked all night. Talk about trusting thy neighbor!
We found out that Hot Springs is only home to about 500 people, and crime is pretty much nonexistent. It is extremely refreshing to know that there still exists a place where you don’t have to think twice about “Did I lock the door?”
So here we go - the pros and cons of our experience at The Vine Cottage Inn:
·         The innkeepers are just amazing people – extremely nice and hospitable
·         The breakfast was by far my favorite – Scone, French toast, fresh fruit, sausage, eggs over easy, juice and coffee. You could tell it was made with love.
·         The location – extremely close to The Homestead, and the many other outdoor activities available in Bath County Virginia
·         24/7 Coffee, Snacks and Bottled Water! Ding Ding Ding!
·         Fireplaces were always lit
·         Extremely cozy – felt like I was staying at my grandmother’s house for the holidays
·         Felt very safe
·         Free Parking

·         No keys to the bedrooms – although Hot Springs is extremely safe, you don’t know the other people who may also be staying at the B&B.
·         Room 16’s bathroom was a little small. Michael is 6’3’’, so for him he felt like a giant in it.

The Vine Cottage Inn

The Homestead right down the street - literally

Off to Hot Springs Virginia

After we spent the night in Asheville preceding the wonderful visit to the Biltmore Estate – we were off early in the morning to Hot Springs, Virginia, the fourth stop on our road trip.
Hot Springs is home to The Homestead, a resort built in the 1700s.  It is pretty much located on top of the Allegheny Mountains. The Homestead is known for decorating heavily during Christmas, thus why we wanted to stop. It is also a “middle” point to Williamsburg, Virginia – the last stop on our trip.
On the way to Hot Springs we enjoyed scenic views of the mountains, and even stopped to take some nice photos at photo opp areas marked alongside the highway.
We had to pass through Tennessee and West Virginia to get to Hot Springs. I guess the GPS knew we were looking for scenery as it was a beautiful drive.

Candlelight Tour – Biltmore Estate

After spending all day at the Biltmore, and having an amazing proposal in the gardens, Michael and I returned at night to experience the candlelight tour.
The candlelight tour at the Biltmore is pretty much the same tour that we experienced during the day, except you experience it at night.  All the Christmas lights are on, the fireplaces are lit, and there are some wonderful instrumentals and carolers in the center garden within the house.   Unfortunately, if you only do the night tour you cannot do the audio tour, which is amazing. Thank goodness Michael and I already did the audio tour, so we knew exactly what we were looking at, and the history behind it.
We didn’t spend as much time in the house during the candlelight tour just because we spent so much time during the day. It was well worth seeing though: Very enchanting – like you are in a dream. (Again, no photos allowed inside).
The Biltmore at Night

Our Engagement - 12/18/2011

I was walking the gardens of the Biltmore, or what I would like to call the piazza as there was really no "gardens" there, just rocks and some statues. I was taking pictures of the Biltmore when Michael waved me over to this beautiful little gazebo overlooking the mountains - "Come look - it is so beautiful over here."

It took me a few minutes to come over as I was trying to take some artsy pictures with the camera. After a few good shots I walked over to look at the mountains. When I was looking out over the wall a gift appeared in front of me - "You get one more present on this trip", Michael said as he presented to me a wrapped rectangular Christmas gift (Before we left on our road trip he gave me an iPad so I could blog and browse the Internet during the days on the road - thus is why he said "one more").

I was really surprised as I was totally not expecting another gift since he did such a great job with the first one. When I opened the present, it turned out to be a scrapbook that Michael created via an Apple scrapbook program through iPhoto. When I flipped through the book I came to realize it was a collection of photos we have taken on all of our travels together with sweet captions that marked almost every page - such as "I love this girl so much!" and "We have had some great times together".  And of course Michael had a couple misspellings, which I caught right away - but you know, I LOVED IT because that is him.  It brought even more character to this wonderful gift.

Toward the end I stumbled upon a world map with the caption "Are you ready to travel the world with me Ashley?" and the next page said "Are you ready to sail the world with me Ashley?" I started getting an inkling that the next page was going to ask me probably one of the most important questions I will ever hear in my life - my heart started pounding and I flipped the page:

"Ashley... Will you" - I turned to Michael and was like "Seriously?" (But of course in an excited way). Michael said "Turn the page!" - So the next page finished this amazing question with "Marry Me?" - I turned to my right and Michael was on his knee asking the question over again - and without hesitation I said "YES!"

We hugged and kissed, and started crying (tears of joy of course!). This lady who was right by Michael finally realized what just happened - "OMG Congratulations! Let me take some pictures!" as she pretty much grabbed the camera off of Michael.  The pictures of the mountains behind us were the photos she was able to capture.

And a great part to this story is that literally a few seconds after Michael proposed at the Biltmore, a woman came out wearing a wedding dress, with photographers following behind, as 12/18/2011 was her wedding day. Talk about an AMAZING omen!

One of the pictures I took while Michael was waiting under the gazebo

This was the mountain view under the gazebo
Looking through the scrapbook Michael put together

December 21, 2011

The Biltmore Estate During the Day

The third stop on our road trip was to Asheville, North Carolina to visit the Biltmore Estate built by George Washington Vanderbilt in 1895. This is the largest private home in the United States, which sits on acres and acres of land.

We chose to stop and visit the Biltmore because they decorate this lavish home so beautifully during the Christmas season. Unfortunately, they do not allow photos inside the house so we were unable to capture the beauty of how they celebrate this wonderful holiday...I will try to summarize the beauty:
Miles and miles of pine garlands with red bows and white lights wrap the 3 story spiral staircase, each room, fire place mantels, ceilings, and more. Poinsettias are strategically placed throughout the house (or should I say mansion), giving it that warmth feeling with its red vibrant color. Christmas trees are in almost every room of the house, with the largest one being in the main hall which reached 32 feet.  The house was decorated wonderfully to give you that Christmas-ie feeling!
We took the audio tour, which I STRONGLY recommend. It is only $10 more per person. It gives you a background of all the rooms you will visit. It also told the story of how George Vanderbilt obtained his riches, and why he built the house. George seemed like a really kind man, who treated all of his workers like family.  The best part of the audio tour was how it took you back in time with its detailed descriptions of the rooms and the activities that use to take place in the home.

The Biltmore during Christmas time (and really any time) is a must see in the United States. That grandeur home is such an icon and I hope it is still here for hundreds of years so thousands more can truly take in its beauty.

Biltmore Estate - Asheville, North Carolina

December 20, 2011

McAdenville - Christmas Town USA

McAdenville was our second stop on our five stop road trip. The reason we chose McAdenville is because its nickname is Christmas Town USA. The whole town is decorated with Christmas lights – every house, tree, church, and building lights up the night’s sky.
The most popular way to see McAdenville’s Christmas lights is by car. However, Michael and I chose to walk it. It is about 2 miles of Christmas light decorations and takes about an hour and half to walk the whole thing.
Definitely get there right when night falls, because the later it gets, the worse the traffic gets. HOWEVER, Michael and I found a shortcut by mistake. The shortcut (which I would recommend to anyone who wants to walk McAdenville) is to enter at the middle of town (use side streets, instead of exiting off of I-85). There is plenty of parking available. Do not go to the middle of town if you want to drive as you cannot access “the line” of cars from the middle.
Also, don’t expect vendors of any kind in McAdenville. There was no food available; however, one church was selling coffee and hot chocolate (I think). So definitely come with a full tummy, or expect a late dinner.
Overall our expectations were definitely met. It was beautiful, charming, and very festive. And the best part of all was the passerbyers greeted us with a warm smile and a “Merry Christmas!”
McAdenville, North Carolina

The Robin’s Nest Bed and Breakfast

Now this is what I call a Bed and Breakfast! (Robin's Nest Bed & Breakfast) We were welcomed by the spunky and energetic Mrs. Robin (thus the name of the B&B). She showed us around the house, and then up the stairs to our room named “The Blue Jay Room.” 
The Blue Jay Room was HUGE! Queen sized bed, with a Christmas tree to the right. And OMG the bathroom was a dream. A huge clawfoot tube was the central focus, with beautiful hardwood floors and charming décor. 
The B&B overlooks downtown Mount Holly.  We had to stay in Mount Holly, as McAdenville (the place we were visiting for the Christmas lights) was a residential neighborhood with no hotels.   Mount Holly is about 10 minutes away, which was perfect!
So here we go, the pros and cons of our experience at the Robin’s Nest Bed & Breakfast:
·         The breakfast was AMAZING! Moist quiche, with homemade banana loaf, fresh fruit with yogurt, sausage patty, coffee and orange juice.
·         24/7 Coffee! Thank god for the 24/7 coffee (plus to-go cups!)
·         The Blue Jay Room was beautiful and big
·         The innkeeper was extremely nice, and easily accessible
·         Afternoon snacks were left out to munch on throughout the night
·         Small and quaint
·         Location was perfect to McAdenville
·         The Clawfoot Tub in the Blue Jay Room (for those who love to take nice long relaxing baths)
·         Train passing in the morning. Although this is not the B&B’s fault – the train is an inconvenience for those who like to sleep in
·         No bottled water available (at least what we could see)

Michael and I definitely want to come back to the Robin’s Nest as there were tons of other places to explore close to Mount Holly.  

Robin's Nest Bed & Breakfast - Mount Holly
First Floor of Robin's Nest Bed & Breakfast

December 19, 2011

Downtown Charleston during Christmas

I was EXTREMELY surprised by the lack of Christmas decorations within historical Charleston.  There were a lot of wreaths with red bows, but really not a lot of lights. Some businesses had Christmas trees in the windows, but again, there was really no “holiday feel” within Charleston.
When doing research, Charleston was one of the cities that came up to visit during Christmas Time. The city itself was very charming, and I loved exploring it during the day. But as soon as night fell, the city was dark with hardly any Christmas lighting to see. There were a few buildings here and there, but nothing that gave you that warm feeling of Christmas.
Speaking of “warming”….Charleston was very warm during our visit. High of 78 degrees during the day and at night it was cooler, but not really. I would definitely compare it to Miami weather – which is what we were trying to escape.
Overall our stay was very pleasant and fun, but if you are looking for that Christmas spirit, I would not recommend Charleston for that. Great city to visit, don’t get me wrong, but didn’t really have that Christmas vibe we wanted.
And like Ghost Hunters say – ON TO THE NEXT! (McAdenville, North Carolina)

Horse Stable - one of the only places with Christmas lights
Wreath with Red Bow Number 1


Holiday Festival of Lights - James Island

Since the Holiday Pub Crawl didn’t work so well for us, our next Christmas Stop was James Island County Park which hosts the Holiday Festival of Lights. We went on night two of our two day excursion to Charleston.
It was very quaint. The entrance to the park was by FAR the best part of the lights in my opinion; however the other areas you get to drive through were nice as well. It is about 3 miles of driving you do around the park through different themed areas of lights. Taking pictures is really hard because of the darkness.  We were using Michael’s nice Nikon camera, but to be honest, taking pictures via the phone came out better (less blurry).
Once you drive through the lights you can park your car and enjoy the activities they have.  Most activities are kid oriented (Santa’s Lap, Carousel Ride, Rock Climbing etc), but if you are feeling giddy, it is enjoyable for adults as well.
They have a fire pit area where you can create smores (you can buy the kit or bring your own supply). They also have “carnie” food – big turkey legs, hot dogs, pretzels etc. 
The Enchanted Forest was neat because you could walk a path through the woods decorated with lights, huge Christmas trees, and dancing Christmas lights that blink to the beat of Christmas music. That was the most enjoyable for me because you were not being rushed by other cars behind you.
All in all the experience was nice!  There were a lot of families there, as well as older and younger people. Definitely a MUST if you plan on spending some time in Charleston during the Christmas season.


Holiday Pub Crawl BUST

So I was hoping the Holiday Pub Crawl I mentioned earlier was going to be the kick off to our Christmas time celebration in Charleston – but I was completely wrong.  Well I wasn’t – the company falsely advertised the “Holiday” in  “Holiday Pub Crawl."
We were told that this “3rd Annual Holiday Pub Crawl, Back by Popular Demand!” was going to include holiday themed cookies and treats, along with an altered tour to take us to more “Christmas Lit” areas in Charleston. They also indicated we would receive two appetizers at two of the pubs/bars we were going to visit, along with samples of local beers and drinks.
When I ordered the tickets ($30 per person = $60) the middle man ticket seller told me that the tickets were nonrefundable even if it rained. That should have been a red flag. But I was so excited based upon the description I read, and what the seller was telling me about the tour, that I purchased the tickets anyway.
When we got to the tour place to check in, Michael pointed out a highlighted note that said “It is illegal for our tour guides to buy you drinks at the bars,” which really says “No drinks are included on this tour.”  NO DRINKS INCLUDED? What kind of Pub Crawl is this anyway?? So that was upset #1.
  • Upset #2 – I asked the lady at the front desk what was the “Holiday” for in “Holiday Pub Crawl.” She told me that it was because we would receive a FREE holiday drink recipe (which they found online) and some hot chocolate (Packets of Nestle Chocolate Powder).
  • Upset#3 – Michael and I ate a light dinner at the Cru Café because we knew that we would be receiving appetizers at two of the 3-5 bars we would be visiting. We only received one appetizer, and it was pretty much loaded potatoes in nacho format (which we split among 6 people) – YUCK!
  • Upset#4 – Although our tour guide (Ben) was extremely nice, and very knowledgeable about Charleston’s history, the actual history part of the tour was totally underwhelming. I do confess that the other people on the tour were not making it easy for the tour guide to truly talk about the history he had planned. So in this case I put the blame on the other people.  Although they were very nice, their main goal was to just go bar hopping, and not really learn anything.
  • Upset#5 – We saw NO holiday lights whatsoever (as promised prior).
Needless to say this tour was a total FLOP! I think they totally took advantage of the Holiday aspect because they knew people like me were wanting a holiday feel during vacation in December.
In the end I felt like I just spent $60 to have fake friends to go drinking with…

Happy that the tour was almost over!

Exploring Charleston

Although this road trip was planned to explore the "Christmas-ness" of cities, Michael and I wanted to check out Charleston during the day.

Charleston has many great places to explore, as well as many great places to eat. And anyone who knows Michael and I, we love trying new eateries.

Great places to explore in Charleston:
· Kings Street (many great antique shops, as well as main stream shops)
· Battery Park
· Tradd Street (Beautiful Row Houses, plus the smallest house in South Carolina - Great to see by bike)
· Rainbow Row (Off of East Bay Street there is about 2 blocks of row houses painted in a rainbow like color scheme - very nice backdrop for pictures)
· North Market Street (Great bars along this area - however there is  an open air market that is VERY touristy, so don't be fooled by their "discounts")
· East Bay Street by North Market (Great bars)
Great Eateries and Bars:
· Cru Cafe 18 Pinckney Street (Amazing Fried Oyster Salad and Grilled Swordfish with Shrimp and Grits)
· Pearlz Oyster Bar 153 East Bay Street (You have to try the Oyster Shot – Raw Oyster, Pepper Vodka, cocktail Sauce with a squeeze of lemon – if you like that sort of thing)
· Patat Spot Friet & Falafel 41B George Street (Amazing French Fries with a variety of dipping sauces – everything is made to order!)
· Tommy Condon's Irish Pub 160 Church St (Great beer selection with a lot of local beers brewed right in Charleston)
· Freshberry Frozen Yogurt Café 39 George St. (Creamy yogurt goodness – that is all I have to say!)
· The Blind Tiger 38 Broad St. (Great atmosphere, rustic outside area – definitely brought me back to my college years! Did I mention $2.50 New Castles!)
· TONS MORE, but Michael and I only got to experience these.
Exploring Charleston on Bike
Mansions by Battery Park


December 17, 2011

The Governor's House Inn - Charleston

So arriving into Charleston we went straight to our Bed and Breakfast to check in. It was called The Governor's House Inn located off of Broad Street (one of the major roads in the city). 

We stayed in the room called "St. Michael's" which overlooked St. Michael's church. Needless to say Charleston is filled with MANY churches, which is why it is called the holy city.

The room was very nice, and was located on the third floor. It was a trek, but well needed exercise considering we were sitting for almost 6 hours (would not recommend if you have problems climbing stairs).

The location of the B&B was fantastic - it was central to everything.

So here we go - the pros and cons of our experience at The Governor's House Inn:

  • Breakfast was good - they alternate one sweet/ one salty meal every other day. I do not like sweet breakfasts (bananas foster), but was able to choose an alternative meal.
  • Cat named "New" - although this feline friend was 14 years old, he had spunk like a kitten. Slow moving, but extremely nice. He roamed the Inn like he owned it.
  • "Free" Bikes - they lend bikes out for free to see the city. Amazingly comfortable cruisers, Michael and I were able to see many parts of the city. However, do not ride a bike down Kings Street - it is filled with many people on the sidewalks (a lot of shops) and traffic is not friendly toward bikers (learned the scary way).
  • St. Michael's Bed - Either I was extremely tired at the end of the day, or that bed was just amazingly comfortable... I will go with the latter.
  • Unlimited water bottles - Michael and I love water, and they supplied many bottles no questions asked. Not like hotels where they charge $12 per bottle.
  • Location (as mentioned above)
  • FREE Parking!
  • Staff was a little disconnected. Although attentive - they were not the most "warm" individuals - well at least to us.
  • No 24/7 coffee - Like water, Michael and I are addicted to coffee. They did not have 24/7 coffee like some B&Bs we have stayed at in the past. Out at 7:30am, taken away at 10:00am.
  • Afternoon snacks were on a tight schedule as well - meaning out at 4:30pm, taken away at 5:30pm. You would think they would leave out the made daily snacks until all was eaten. Nope - not the case.
  • Tacky - yes yes yes B&Bs are suppose to be homie with charm, and with a little mismatch here and there...but the actual common areas (not the bedrooms) were a little outdated and, well, just plain tacky. It lacked a warmth that I have felt at other places.


December 15, 2011

Arriving in Charleston, South Carolina

Michael and I made it after 5.5 hours and 3 (maybe 4) pit stops along the way. The entrance to Charleston isn't very quaint, but once you cross the bridge to downtown historical Charleston you are sure to be delighted. Feels like you are going back in time - I compare it to Savannah, GA, only bigger.

We arrived at our awesome Bed and Breakfast which has a 12 foot Christmas tree at the foot of the staircase. I look forward to tonight's activities since that is when we are really going to see the Christmas side of Charleston.  We are having dinner at the Cru Cafe and then heading to a Holiday Pub Crawl to get a taste of the local taverns, stroll the streets decked out in Christmas gear, and of course hear about the history of Charleston.

Ready, set, go!

The car is packed with my 5 pieces of luggage (can’t help it), the car is decorated like Rudolph, and we are leaving from my little beach house in Ormond by the Sea, Florida. We have about 5 hours from Ormond to Charleston, which is our first destination on our Christmas City tour.
Being the Type A personality that I am, I have outlined an entire itinerary of what we will be doing throughout the trip, where we will be staying, and what Christmas stops we will be making. I will upload this itinerary at the end of the trip (no stalkers please).
All I can say is we are 100% ready to tackle this road trip – with hopefully a few surprises along the way.  

December 14, 2011

December 12, 2011

Adorning our sleigh! Aka: the Golf TDI

Yup I'm dressing up the Golf with faux Reindeer antlers and a big red shining nose....
The trip is quickly approaching and we can't wait to begin exploring the best Christmas cities and towns!

December 08, 2011

My Favorite Christmas Song

Please stay tuned for my road trip that will take place from Dec. 15-23, 2011. I will have tons of pictures, videos, descriptions, hotel accommodations, activities, and amazing sights to share! So if you are interested in learning about awesome Christmas cities to visit during the holidays, definitely check back after Dec. 15th!

Until then, enjoy "Baby it's cold outside".

I just love this Christmas song because it brings a smile to my face. Although this is not the classic version, the fact that it is from the movie ELF makes it even better.