Sorry I missed yesterday. You have no idea how hard it is to think about your last vacation while you're on your next one. I know how sorry all of you must feel for me ;-)
Sunday May 20, 2007
We’re up early again and I’m all excited about our (my) big day at the Biltmore House. Visiting the Biltmore Estate is the “Jennifer” part of this trip. This is noteworthy only because, for the most part, the entire vacation is usually the “Jennifer” part of the trip. As a rule Scott is a good hubby and mostly just follows where I lead. That’s because I do all that planning. Scott seldom has much more than the vaguest of ideas about what he’ll be doing on any given vacation. He ends up with all sorts of surprises, not all of them pleasant. That’s what can happen when you neglect your travel planning to busy yourself with such trivial matters as earning a living. You can suddenly find yourself seated in the Garden View Lounge behind a table full of frou-frou china and dainty little sandwiches filled with cucumbers and mysterious smears of fishy tasting goo. Too bad, you should have quit watching the Sopranos long enough to pay attention to your wife before you agreed that an afternoon tea would be fun.
The Homewood Suites offers a free (there’s that word again) breakfast to its guests. There was bacon, sausage and scrambled eggs as well as the usual bagel/muffin/cold cereal stuff. Not exactly brunch at Brennan’s but pretty good for a hotel breakfast and, best of all, it’s FREE. We take full advantage of the opportunity to fortify ourselves against the rigors of a visit to the Biltmore House. The breakfast room also has a computer set up for your convenience. After breakfast I hop on for a quick mail check and a look at what’s going on with all you unlucky folk stuck at home. And to rub it in that I’m on vacation and you’re not ;-).
Once again it’s a five minute drive to the entrance to the Biltmore Estate and a twenty minute trek down that epic driveway. I’m kind of expecting the ticket-taker to tell us “Hey, you used these tickets yesterday. What kind of cheapo trick are you trying to pull?” but he ushers us right through, just like the regular, non-cheapo people.
The parking lot is quite a ways from the house. Far enough to need a shuttle for the less mobile among us. We’re not admitting that it might be a good idea to use the shuttle yet, so we hump it up the trail to the house. It’s pretty far We’re too stubborn for our own good.
Whoa! This is one ginormous house! You round the corner and then, whoa, there’s this huge French Renaissances Chateau pile in front of you. If you really want to let everyone know just how obscenely rich you are this place will definitely do it for you. I wonder what it would be like to pull up to that massive front door every day. Do you just walk in and shout "Honey, I'm home! What's for dinner?" We settle for getting another couple to take our picture in front of all that magnificence.
By the time we actually make it through the door it’s 9:30 and starting to get crowded. The whole tour is very well organized with Biltmore staff lined up every six feet or so directing everyone about. We decided to buy the audio tour with our tickets and I highly recommend doing this. I felt like we got so much more out of the tour because of it. The information in the brochure they give you is very skimpy. I suspect they sell more audio guides that way. I’d still get it if I were you. I’m not usually good with audio tours. I never seem to find the right button. Last month Liz, my mother and I went to the Femme, Femme, Femme exhibit. It was okay as exhibits go but it came with an audio tour. My problem was that there I would be, standing looking at a typically sappily Victorian Bouguereau picture while listening to a fascinating commentary on a raucous Toulouse-Lautrec. I was expecting to spend the morning listening to stories about life below stairs as I stood midst the splendor of the grand ballroom. Fortunately for me the Biltmore’s audio guide was much easier to work with than the one at NOMA and I made it through with only one bizarre side trip to the bowling alley while standing in Mrs. V’s boudoir.
Here’s the story. The Vanderbilt family was insanely wealthy. Really, really rich. Absolutely rolling in it. At on point George Vanderbilt’s father was worth over 96 billion (yes, that’s billion) in 2007 dollars, and this was in the good old days before the IRS started ruining it for everyone. 96 billion dollars, that’s a 96 with NINE zeroes after it folks. People are always saying they wouldn’t know what to do with that kind of money. I do. First I’d buy Scott a new hip without even asking Blue Cross what they thought about it, then I’d get a keeper for PawPaw, a professional who doesn’t mind having spaghetti thrown at him. Then I’d buy a pied-a-terre in Paris, an apartment in New York and a cabin on that cruise ship that just travels the world 365 days a year. After that I’d go on a spree.
George didn’t do any of that. He took his part of that 96,000,000,000 and built the Biltmore Estate instead and now we common folk can go and gawk at exactly just what that much moolah could accomplish. For a fee, of course, the Vanderbilt’s didn’t make 96,000,000,000 without a keen eye for the bottom line. Our George doesn’t seem to have inherited this talent though. He chose to build a working estate, ala 17th century Europe, at a time when the Industrial Revolution was in full swing and the scions of country estates all over Europe were marrying the daughters of American paper clip magnates just for a little infusion of ready cash into the noble family coffers. You might say that George was a man behind his time.
I won’t go into a lot of elaborate detail about each of the rooms on view at the Biltmore House except the say that there were a lot of them. The Banquet Hall has some very nice tapestries and a fireplace that would hold our entire family room. Scott liked Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom best. It was decorated in “Geaux Tigers” purple and gold. My favorite was the Old English Room. I like it because it features a picture of Sir William Cecil, one of the more illustrious of the Vanderbilt ancestors-in-law. That’s what you did if you happened to be some uncouth American with a gazillion bucks and no family tree to speak of. You married some impoverished Brit who happened to be the distant progeny of some other Limey who, a long, long time ago, was important enough to make it into your tenth grade history book. Sir William nabbed his place in Chapter Seven by doing all of Elizabeth I’s dirty work and there was a lot of it too. Anyway, it was enough to nab a Vanderbilt for his great-great-great-great-great grandson and get his portrait up in the Old English Room at the Biltmore
Another interesting aspect of the Biltmore House is its bathrooms. They’re not particularly inspiring but there are 43 of them. That’s a lot of bathrooms, especially for a late 19th century house. In 1895 you were lucky if you had one. Consuelo Vanderbilt (whose mom blew an obscene wad of cast to buy the Duke of Marlborough as a present for her little girl) was shocked at the state of the potties at Blenheim Palace. Marble staircases and Old Master portraits are all very well and good but they’re not of much use when one gets hold of a bad bit of Beef Wellington.
Speaking of beef, it was getting on for lunch time. I’m afraid I’ll have to post the rest when I get a chance. Today I’m off for one of my favorite places on the planet, Disney World! A bit pedestrian compared to the natural wonders of the Smokies, I know, but I’m the pedestrian sort.