Downton Asheville, NC.

Christmas in May. At least that is what last weekend felt like; aside from two entirely-too-brief airport rendezvous, I had only laid eyes on my dark-haired beauty once in four weeks.

Before you start hemming and hawing, “What a sap, can’t go four weeks without seeing his gal.” consider your own emotions if you were separated from your TV or play gamestation or Xcube 360 or whatever you kids are calling it these days. Afsi is the source of most of my laughter and excitement, the typical 400 miles between us notwithstanding. Being separated instead by some 4,000 nautical miles and limited to occasional facebook messages (and one phone call from Scotland!) made for a long month.

I filled the weeks with one more Tough Mudder in DC and a trip to Denver, catching up with great friends. On the same day Afsi and Alyson were sitting at 9,700’ in the Swiss alps, I was snoeshoeing at 10,000’ in the Rockies. Not a bad way to spend your time, I assure you. But while I was filling all my days with distractions and activities, I was constantly looking forward to May 10, when I would get to reintroduce myself to this incredible woman and hope we had passed the biggest test of our relationship.

Rather than picking either of our home cities, we had chosen Asheville, NC to visit Biltmore and get in some quality relaxation. I found a cabin up in the Blue Ridge mountains in Saluda and we were to drive separately after work on Friday. After a rough week, the last thing I wanted to do was ask Afsi to drive 5+ hours in the mountains in the dark, but she held out and finally found me standing in the middle of the road, swinging a lantern outside the cabin grounds.

The cabin was cozy, the grill was hot, and the steaks were delicious. It seemed like we had the mountains to ourselves and the quiet was exactly what both of us needed. It was the perfect compromise: my need to get on “woods time” and Afsi’s love of hot running water.

Couldn't not add this baller photo Afsi took of breakfast. Look at the steam. Look at it!

We whipped up a killer breakfast Saturday morning and drove about 45 minutes to the Biltmore Estate- by scenic route through small-town NC, passing through the flea market capital of the US and rediscovering the ancient lost brand of Ingles grocery store. Google maps led us astray, it may have believed we were qualified to enter the Estate through the resident’s gate, but eventually I found myself staring wide-eyed at an astounding tribute to human achievement.

She just heard the tour would be "just like Downton Abbey"
The opulence (not that I, too, wouldn’t want my initials in gold leaf surrounding my castle spires) and elegance of the House are breathtaking. Afsi served as my tour guide so I could freely gawk at the fixtures, fireplaces and awful portraits of miserable-looking children. While confirming repeatedly that yes, those were real flowers, and no, that is not real food, Afsi patiently led me through the rooms of the Estate. I had the presence of mind to book a “Butler’s Tour” behind the scenes of the house, which our guide likened to a tour through the famous and fictional house of Downton Abbey. All the characters were familiar: the Butler, the Lady’s Maid, the Housekeeper, the Cook. It was amazing to imagine how both sides of that Estate lived.

We walked the gardens, enviously envisioning our own yards looking so exquisite. 

Alliteration, ‘sup?

It is remarkable what one can accomplish with a mere 800 laborers tending the lawn 365 days a year. I would really only personally need 20 or 30 at my house to achieve the same perfection. Maybe even settle for 15 full-time. I could lend them to Afsi every other week. Applicants comment below.

We moved on from the greenhouses, home to dinosaur plants and ugly cacti alongside beautiful irises and snowball plants, to the Estate winery. Just 10-12% of the grapes used in “Biltmore wines” are grown on-site. The rest are imported from Napa. Our shock at the farce hidden behind the label was eased with new knowledge of wine/champagne-making and several samples of the local brew.

It was no easy task finding our dinner restaurant of choice. Google again routed us what I would call the “back-way”, taking us on an alleyway tour of Asheville. The restaurant was surprisingly delicious Italian fare and despite our early supper, we were treated to the talents of a live pianist playing some of our favorite songs. My review: Two biceps way, way up.

Sunday was windy and brisk. Momentarily forgetting about the occasion, we attempted to find a brunch spot in downtown Asheville that did not have a wait. After circling downtown a few times to find parking, we settled in at an outdoor patio. Afsi about froze to death so we ate quickly and took a drive up along the Blue Ridge Parkway. At the first stop, we met a very kind older man who gave us tour tips and guided us along several sightseeing spots on the drive to Mt. Pisgah. He hinted at an ailment which required frequent hospitalizations. These Sunday hikes were apparently a weekly tradition after church. His friendliness was welcomed and our thoughts go out to him.

We took a quick hike in hopes of finding a mysterious lodge mentioned by our elderly guide and several signs, but whomever was in charge of marking the path must’ve gotten distracted by the view. We did not make it by foot to the lodge, but we did still summit a small mountain and drive to the lodge, just to ensure its existence.

Then came the inevitable goodbye, at the romantic Moose Cafe. Thank God it was tempered by the most delicious apple butter I’ve ever sampled. (That is an open invitation for others to test their own recipe on me).