‘Sweeeet Caroliiiiiina…’

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In one of our many road books, upon the cover of which are blazed words such as BEST and ROAD TRIP and JOURNEY and 1001 and most importantly I suppose AMERICA, there are guides to which drives upon which roads one should partake if one wishes to get the most out of a journey of such ilk.  Coupled with my travel wife’s extreme internet research skills, these books have become our bread and butter when it comes to how to get to such and such a place by means of the most scenic of routes.  And so it was that when we had sufficiently thawed out enough following our 2nd night sleeping in minus temperatures, in our less-than-glamorous surroundings of WalMart’s finest of car parks, we headed towards what was described in our myriad travel books as one of America’s most beautifully scenic drives (http://www.blueridgeskyline.com).

Our destination on this day, which just so happened to be the New Years Eve approaching 2011 was the home of Laurie and Jack, parents of the man Daniella’s good friend was soon to be wed.  We had met ‘the man’ once before, on a brief night out in our home nations capital, prior to his and his wife to be’s departure to India and Thailand to partake on various meditation, yoga and I guess all round spiritual experiences and he seemed a pleasant enough chap, although that goaty…!!!  What I didn’t expect, the night I met him was that less than a year later I would be sleeping in the bed that he grew up in, a bed his parents would have read him bedtime stories in, that he would have had wet dreams in as a pervy teen, that he may even have popped his cherry in.  My first thought was ‘I hope they’ve changed the sheets’.  My second thought was ‘What’s that stain’ and my third something along the lines of ‘if they turn out to be even half as cool as the Mettlers of Philly, than we’ve lucked out… or in… (I still don’t quite get that phrase).  Actually my real first thought was ‘a shower, how amazing’.  People, we really take for granted the simple things in life like a shower, a bed, a safe haven.  Nevermore will I assume that these things are a part of life that I don’t need to be thankful for.  Even now, at this early stage of our journey, I realize how important those three things are to our comfort and our enjoyment of this humble life!

There is though something a little strange about turning up to someone’s house that you have never met and whom you feel a little sorry for to have had you forced upon them, just to facilitate a little cleanliness and sleepiness and warmthiness.  I don’t know how it must feel for your son to call you one day and say ‘Hi Mom, hi Pop, just to let you know, two young Englishes you blatantly have nothing in common with are going to come to your house on New Years Eve and destroy any plans you had to see the New Year in with revelry amongst friends.  They’ll be staying for the weekend, wont you be good enough to cook for them and engage in conversation so as not to make them feel like they have gatecrashed your lives and made you wonder what you have done to deserve it?’  This thought alone filled me with pity for our upcoming hosts.  The fact that said son was trying to hook us up with his friends so we could not only turn up to his parents place, spend 10 minutes ‘getting to know them’ and then get them to drive us to a party 20 miles away ON NEW YEARS EVE, but then come back at 3 in the morning, wankered, smashing their precious bone china whilst trying not to trip over the Worlds biggest dog and unsuccessfully being as quite as possible by ‘shooshing’ each other loud enough to wake up Mr Van Winkle from a seemingly record-breaking slumber, made me feel even more of a git.  May I just add something?  This was New Years Eve…

As I keep telling myself and my travel beau, the adventure is in the journey, not the destination and so it was onward with not just a taddlesworth of excitement towards one of this countries most rural and scenic of journeys, the Skyline drive.  And to get to the skyline drive, we had to take what to this day has been one of my favourite journeys undertaken behind the wheel of any vehicle, the drive on the old Indian Valley Post Office Road.  Although I am driving a vehicle with a 5.8 litre engine that weighs about as much as the Empire State Building, which is in a vehicle that resembles a tank and handles like a 747, the narrow roads of this wonderfully rustic feeling route were no match for me or my trundling bungalow.  And so it was that we wound and wiggled our way, once again, through the charming countryside of Virginia, with its religious signage and flag-clad front porches, with not so much as a bison horn’s tribute to the Appalachians who used to call this land their home, although I suppose naming part of the drive The Appalachian Mountain Trail does remind one of the cheated and butchered true owners of the land!!  (nothing like having something named after you to appease hundreds of years of brutal savagery against your people).  Round right winders we drove, narrowly evading the grasps from roadside relics that thought they had seen everything until history’s most cumbersome fairy came into view.  But on Trixiebelle flew, pausing only briefly for her guides to gaze in awe of streams and creeks that gurgled about a history we were straining to see.  Hills that would have had wild stallions groaning for a more even keel were put to bed as we climbed up and up towards the sign that said the Skyline drive is closed due to inclement weather…!!  “Big steaming piles of horse crap, all that way for nothing!!!”  Oh well, you take the rough with the smooth when travelling and in all honesty, there’s very little rough when you’re experiencing some of the most awe inspiring scenery.  It would have been something else to have driven on one of Americas most iconic roads but as we headed to our New Years Eve soiree with Laury and Jack, I felt like I already had.

So we turn up, we meet and greet, we pat quite possibly the biggest dog ever to have not swallowed a man whole on the spot

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and we realize that you cant possibly meet two people who are putting you up for the weekend then bugger off out to dance the night away with tequila in one hand and someone elses friends grasping the other.  So, in true time honored fashion for people in the prime of their lives, we went to bed at ten o’clock and by 5 past were snoring our adventurous little conks off…

I’m always interested in peoples little quirks, especially those that are of a superstitious or ‘spiritual’ nature.  Some people believe that opening the back door of their houses followed by the front will let out the old year and see in the new, others that this brings money and good fortune for the year ahead and others still that deem it the last chance to escape the family and get one in before last orders.  There are those of us who go out to parties to try to make something special of the fact that we are entering a new year that in the real calendar terms of time on Earth isn’t even the true beginning of the year, and those that like to see the New Year in with their families, reminded of those in their lives that they care most about.  Then, there are those who have nothing to look forward to because their lives are crap…  Laury and Jack were none of the above.  Their plain, heart-felt ritual every year is to light candles for each person in their lives that they love and wish them the best for the year ahead.  Right touching it were.  And you know, even though they knew us for all of about 2 hours, they lit candles for us too and we in turn gave a candle to them and before you knew it, the house had burnt down all around us and firemen were dousing what was left of our singed clothes, hanging preciously to our sopping but charred bodies…!!!  In reality, it was a very atmospheric gesture with not a fireman in sight, much to my travel wife’s disdain.

Our time with these two lovely peeps was short but sweet.  We took in a movie on New Years Day, True Grit, another stella performance from Bridges, ate delicious fare, some of which we cooked and drank delicious red wine, the likes of which I’ll probably never be able to afford (Jack, a wine buff, is an attorney!!)  And although a small, selfish part of me was glad for the comfy bed and steaming hot shower, a bigger part of me was happy to have met and spent time with two people whom the chances of me meeting in life beforehand would have been slim.  It’s another fine example of how travelling to new cultures can bring you in contact with people you otherwise wouldn’t expect to meet.  And although they weren’t Patagonian Llama Farmers or Ghanaian Goat jugglers, they were made from a different cloth and we had a swell time and that’s about all that matters about that…

On our way out of North Carolina, we hit Asheville City Centre to see what all the fuss was about.

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And quite frankly, considering we had heard that this was one of the most liberal and progressive places in the U.S, it seemed like a relic of Old Camden Town from years gone by.  The New Age culture that has crept up on the blind side of our society in recent years and is poised to Bastardise all that it originates from is alive and well in Asheville.  Call me a purist (go on, ‘…I like it a lot’!) but taking something as historical and meaningful to a culture like Yoga, Meditation and other forms of Eastern well-being practices and turning them into a money-making business that includes selling shit jewelry to White, Middle-Class Americans (and Europeans and Oriental tourists and anyone else with money to burn) who think that a piece of Quartz embedded in a cheap minimally-carated ring makes them New Age and Progressive, is taking their understanding of Eastern Culture a tad too far down Wrong Street for my liking.  These days, Yoga Instructors, Indian Head Masseuses and Pilates instructors are ‘a dime a dozen’ as they say in these ‘ere parts but those who actually practice the true Yogic Paths the way the East has for thousands of years are one in a million.  And Asheville seems to be a place capitalising on the West’s Bastardisation (I reserve the right to use that phrase at least once more in this paragraph if I deem necessary!) of these such practices… Bastards……isationalists…!  Still, if poopy people want to part with their money for the potential placebo effect of inner-calm taught by jabbering stretchy bods, who am I to bemoan their misunderstandings?

However, though Asheville clearly wasn’t to my liking, they had a few places that had a bit of quirkiness to them and they also had the greatest exhibition of gingerbread houses I had ever seen.  Just check these out…

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All pieces made from Gingerbread, what what…

Alas, it was bigger fish that we had to fry than Asheville and so with the warmth and kindness of a mind doctor and an attorney in our hearts and with Gasheville certainly not, it was one Logan Wentworth we were gunning for and the Shenandoah Valley through which we were aiming.

Bring it on, Knoxville, Tennessee, show us what you’re made of (and may it not be over-priced pendants, tie-dye and Nepalese Yak wool pull-overs)

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