Hendersonville North Carolina Hits It Out Of The Park

I’m not sure why we selected Hendersonville to stay. We were on a trip around the North Carolina mountains and it was in the neighborhood of Asheville and Chimney Rock. It also had two wineries with good reviews nearby. It was probably the wineries that sealed the deal…

For a small town Hendersonville North Carolina hits it out of the park. Main Street is what every town should aspire to. The main business district is probably ten blocks long and each block has its own public space. Most include planters and outdoor tables and chairs. We’re not sure what the locals do in January but in the summer they dine alfresco along Main Street. This strip of town offers a number of highly rated restaurants, a couple of coffee shops, an excellent bakery and several attractions that include a shark aquarium and a mineral museum (this is mining country).

We’ve run across cities decorated with brightly painted statues in a number of places that have featured cows, horses and dolphins and they seem to add something to scene. Hendersonville has bears. Perhaps a couple of dozen spaced up and down Main to good effect.

Main Street also has its own Mast General Store  and if you haven’t visited a Mast Store you are in for a treat. The Mast Store dates back to 1883 where it opened in the small community of Valle Crucis, which is now North Carolina’s first rural historic district. According to the owners traversing its creaking floorboards, you’ll find country gourmet foods, cast iron cookware, speckleware, old-fashioned toys, footwear for all walks of life, hardware, and even a pair of galluses, if you need them (and candy – lots of candy). For a number of reasons, most of them good, The Mast General Store has expanded throughout the Carolina mountains and is a tourist destination all in itself.

We spent the afternoon visiting two wineries, Burntshirt Vineyards and Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards  both worthy of a little time. We really liked the dry rose at Burntshirt and took some home with us. Also Burntshirt has a cafe and tasting room in Chimney Rock about a little over an hours drive north.

After checking into our hotel we discovered that the town had a free rock n roll concert and Corvette show that evening down on Main Street (every Friday in summer) which ended up topping off a pretty good visit.

If you are looking for a recommendation on where to eat – this is the Blue Ridge Mountains and home to arguably some of the best barbeque anywhere. We had dinner at the Flat Rock Wood Room, which had an extensive menu and really good pulled pork. We also were recommended to Moe’s down on Main but truth is we’ve been pleased with North Carolina barbeque almost everywhere we’ve gone.

In the future if you find yourself poking around the Carolina mountains add Hendersonville to your itinerary – you won’t be disappointed.


A Few Days In Florence

Above: Ponte Vecchio Bridge

If you are visiting Italy you should not pass up a visit to Florence, the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region. From many Italian cities, including Rome, it is easy to reach Florence by express train for an extra night or two stay.


Michelangelo’s David

The city is the birthplace of the Renaissance where Michelangelo carved many of his masterpieces and where Dante Alighieri lived and the Medici family ruled. Galileo lived in Florence most of his life while Donatello, Giovanni Boccaccio and Leonardo da Vinci are also on the list of notable residents. It is difficult to stroll the narrow streets and cross the many piazzas without feeling that you are walking through history. Add that to the museums, art galleries, shops, cafes and great restaurants and it is impossible not to fall in love with Florence.

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Flore

Last year we caught a train up from Rome and walked the few blocks from the Santa Maria Novella train station to our hotel, the Hotel Mia Cara. We enjoyed our stay at the  Mia Cara and it was right on the edge of the historic center of Florence making it convenient to walk to many nearby points of interest. The famous Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Flore), Ponte Vecchio bridge, Uffizzi Gallery, Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens are only short strolls away. If you are an art lover and are interested in history, this is the perfect Italian destination because there is so much to see and it is mostly located in a concentrated area.

Piazza della Repubblica

Ten recommended destinations:

  1. Gates of Paradise, Lorenzo Ghiberti (1425 – 1452) at the Museo del Opera del Duomo (originally the doors of the baptistery)
  2. Madonna della Seggiola, Raphael (1513 – 1514) at the Pitti Palace, Palatine Gallery
  3. The Medici Palace, Michelozzo di Bartolomeo (1445 – 1460) near the Church of San Lorenzo
  4. The David, Michelangelo (1501 – 1504) at the Accademia (a copy is also in the Piazza Signoria)
  5. Primavera, Sandro Botticelli (1482) at the Uffizi Galleries
  6. The Perseus, Benvenuto Cellini (1545 – 1554) Piazza Signoria
  7. The Florentine Pieta, Michelangelo (1547 – 1553) at the Museo del Opera del Duomo
  8. The Slaves, Michelangelo (1525 – 1530) the Accademia

    Dante Alighieri
  9. The Mosaics in the Baptistery, (1240 – 1300) Baptistery in Piazza Duomo
  10. Madonna della Seggiola, Raphael (1513 – 1514) – in the Pitti Palace, Palatine Gallery

There are a series of three walking tours detailed at the web site visitflorence.com. Walking directions are provided along with background information on the art and sites along the way and even suggestions for good places to enjoy coffee and gelato as you stroll.

Mercato di San Lorenzo

Shopping opportunities are everywhere in Florence from street markets to exclusive shops. The city is famous for its’ leather as well as jewelry and embroidery. Check out bargains at the Mercato Nuovo, a leather and souvenir street market as well as Mercato di San Lorenzo for food specialties. Not to be missed is shopping on the Ponte Vecchio bridge and the small shops near the west side of the bridge.

Street vendors

Stretching between Piazza Duomo and Piazza Repubblica is Via Roma featuring Florence’s main department store, Rinascente along with Gucci, Cartier, Hugo Boss and many more premium shops. The home of Florence’s up scale designers is Via Tornabuoni. This street spotlights many of the famous fashion houses, as well as historic churches and plazas. Near Via Tornabouni, are Via Porta Rossa and Via della Vigna Nuova, offering more upscale fashion shopping.

While in Florence take time to sample la dolce vita (the good life) with frequent stops at sidewalk cafes for cappuccinos, gelato and wine. One of Italians favorite pastimes is sitting at cafes and watching the world go by.


From Florence you can take a quick side trip to Pisa. It is only a short train ride away with trains leaving about every half hour or so from Santa Maria Novella train station. The Regionale Veloce trains are the ones making this trip, which takes about an hour each way with ticket prices about $10. From the station in Pisa the cathedral and the leaning tower are only a moderate hike away. There are also numerous organized day tours outside the city at reasonable rates that include a day trip by train to Cinque Terre, a beautiful seaside town south of Genoa along with bus tours into the Tuscan countryside.

Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Observation patio with fire pit

Our favorite hotel inside Walt Disney World is Animal Kingdom Lodge. We have traveled all over the world and have enjoyed stays at a number of resorts and with only a few exceptions, besides Animal Kingdom Lodge, have we really considered the resort the actual destination.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge is truly unique. Disney has made ever effort to offer the guests of this hotel a real taste of Africa. Most of the rooms look out on the savannah where you regularly catch sightings of giraffes, zebras, wildebeests and any number of exotic birds. The hotels grounds and decorations offer a genuine sense of being in Africq.

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The two main restaurants Boma and Jico take great care to provide an authentic taste of African fare while still provide a refuge for more traditional pallets. In addition staffing at the hotel also brings in groups from Africa, usually for a year contract, to provide guests with insight into the cultures and environments of their home countries. During a stay you will find a number of special events from lectures to night-vision sessions watching the animals.

In addition Animal Kingdom Lodge is also a deluxe resort with the additional benefit of being located inside Walt Disney World with all it has to offer. Unfortunately it is also one of the highest priced hotels on the Disney property with a standard room normally priced between $500 and $600 a night – still a lot cheaper than going to Africa.

For restaurants the family offering is Boma, a buffet restaurant offering a selection of “tastes” of Africa. Jico is the fine dining experience featuring food with an African heritage and a wine list of exclusively South African wines. There is also Sanaa next door at the attached Kadani Village Villas offering a menu of Indian cuisine while gazing thru windows onto the savanna.

The Port of Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam


General Information – Ho Chi Minh City, as it is officially called, is a sprawling city located on the delta of the Dong Nai River but even locals still call it by its original name, Saigon. With the rapid industrialization recently of Vietnam a number of port facilities have been built along the channels of the Dong Nai River and usually they are referred to by the name the name of the nearest town Phu My. Currently there are a number of locations where cruise ships can dock. These are all working industrial ports where cruise terminals are generally not available but Vietnam is planning expansion to meet this demand.

Ho Chi Minh Skyline
Ho Chi Minh Skyline

The SPCT Port is one of the locations where cruise ships have docked and is about fifteen to twenty miles from Saigon. More recently ships are using the SP-PSA Saigon International Terminal which, by road, is over thirty miles from Saigon.

In either case there is virtually little within five miles of the dock area to accommodate visitors and getting into Saigon will require either a tour or a taxi. Most cruise ships offer tours into Saigon as well as down to the Mekong River and more.

Transportation – Most cruise passengers take advantage of buses arranged by their ships. Usually taxis are available and a one-way trip into Ho Chi Minh will cost about 700,000 Dong or about US$30 (be sure and confirm the price before starting out). Additionally Uber is becoming popular in Vietnam so if you are inclined refer to your app. We have heard that Uber drivers are somewhat scarce near the port though but common in town.

Showroom on Dong Khoi St.
Showroom on Đồng Khởi St.

Currency – Currently the US Dollar is worth about 23,000 Vietnamese Dong but the good news is the Vietnamese gladly accept American Dollars.

Attractions – The primary destination is Saigon where you will find the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Central Post Office, the War Remnants Museum, Independence Palace and many cultural centers. Saigon is a shopper’s paradise with bargains at every turn. The city has a number of major markets with An Đông Market being the most popular for general merchandise. There is also Đồng Khởi Street and surrounds for upscale shopping and restaurants.

Be sure and see more at Visiting Saigon.

Asheville Heart of the North Carolina Mountains

Tucked away in the western North Carolina mountainDowntown Ashevilles is a city of remarkable blended cultures. Its roots are firmly planted in the Appalachian soil tilled by early Scots-Irish settlers. Clogging and bluegrass are still at home here in its lively music scene but so is jazz and rock n roll.

This mountain city is an interesting blend of cultures and traditions. Partly it’s streets seem like a refuge for the hippies of Haight-Ashbury but is also home to a number of stunning architectural gems as well as enchanting districts of winding streets, mixed in with shops, restaurants micro breweries, hip wine bars and galleries of mountain arts and crafts.

Downtown AshevilleWelcome to Asheville, the mountain city, home to one of America’s greatest and largest privately owned houses, The Biltmore Estate. The house was built in the late 19th century by George Washington Vanderbilt II a member of the railroad and steamship dynasty. Asheville is also a major waypoint on America’s favorite national park, The Blue Ridge Parkway which features the North Carolina Arboretum and the Southern Highland Folk Art Center.

After visiting the Blue Ridge Parkway, the mountain gardens, the Biltmore Estate what you realize is that walking around downtown Asheville is just fun. Shopping at the Mast General Store, visiting galleries like the converted old Woolworths store, sampling hand crafted chocolates and having happy hour at a local wine bar all adds up to a great day.

Beer, Hard Cider and Wine Oh My

Part of my families’ history is found in the North Carolina mountains and I remember visiting years ago and finding it almost impossible to find any Downtown Ashevillealcohol to drink. They called them “dry counties”. Well things have really changed. Asheville and the surrounding counties are home to a remarkable number of breweries, hard cider mills, distilleries and wineries:

  • Asheville Brewing Company – boasts a large list of craft brewed beer.
  • Archetype Brewing – West Asheville’s newest.
  • Asheville Distilling Company – located right next door to Highland Brewing.
  • Ben’s Tune Up – is an interesting spot is downtown with house brewed beer and sake.
  • Blue Ghost Brewing Company – just outside of Asheville offers a range of micro brews and barbeque.
  • Blue Mountain Pizza and Brew Pub – in Weaverville offering homemade ice cream, food and small batch craft beer for over 20 years.
  • Burial Beer – a micro brewery and a local favorite.
  • Brother Joe’s Coffee Pub – serving coffee by day and beer at night is the brewing location for Thirsty Monk in South Asheville.
  • Bhramari Brewhouse – located on the South Slope with good beer and good food.
  • Catawba Brewing – South Slope with live music.
  • Eluvium Brewing Company – a new Weaverville brewery.
  • French Broad Brewing – specializing in European Ales, with music three nights a week.
  • Green Man Brewing – known as the Green Mansion featuring Dirty Jacks, Green Man’s original tasting room.
  • Ginger’s Revenge – Ginger’s Revenge located on the fringes of the Asheville River Arts District specializes in alcoholic Ginger Beer.
  • Habitat Brewing Company – Habitat does small batch classic style craft ales.
  • Highland Brewing Co. – Asheville’s first brewery, features entertainment, a rooftop bar, and a meadow for concerts.
  • Hillman Beer – Located on Sweeten Creek Road in Biltmore Village, Hillman offers indoor and outdoor seating and entertainment.
  • Hi-Wire Brewing – located half a mile from Biltmore Estate.
  • Lexington Avenue Brewing – offers a variety of very good beers in downtown Asheville on Lexington Avenue.
  • Mills River Brewery – offers a wide selection of craft beers.
  • New Belgium – located in the Asheville River Arts District is the second location for a Colorado micro brewery.
  • Noble Cider – Asheville’s first hard cider company, Noble Cider specializes in craft cider made from freshly pressed apples.
  • One World Brewing – located down an alley in Downtown Asheville.
  • OysterHouse Brewing Company – a micro brewery and restaurant in West Asheville
  • Pour Taproom – Originally started in Asheville, Pour can now be found in Greenville, Charleston, Durham, Knoxville and Santa Cruz.
  • Sierra Nevada Brewery – opened a brewery just outside of South Asheville in Mills River. Features an impressive tasting room and restaurant .
  • Sweeten Creek Brewing – offering food and micro brew beer.
  • Thirsty Monk Downtown – since 2008 on Patton Avenue has three floors each offering a different theme. Also a Thirsty Monk Biltmore Park location.
  • Turgua Brewing Company – located in Fairview, has a focus on making beers featuring locally sourced ingredients.
  • Twin Leaf Brewery – a family friendly brewery on Asheville’s South Slope features beer and board games.
  • Urban Orchard – West Asheville’s first hard cidery offers cider and local craft beers, and light eats.
  • UpCountry Brewing – includes a stage for music, a restaurant, arcade and indoor/outdoor seating.
  • Wedge Brewery– in the River Arts District and Wedge at Foundation near Riverside Station is a favorite in Asheville.
  • White Labs Kitchen & Lab
  • Hop Brewing Company – in Buncombe County operates out of a train caboose.
  • Wicked Weed – Asheville’s iconic downtown brewery is now owned by AB InBev.
  • Zillicoah Beer Company – is one of Asheville’s newest breweries.

Downtown AshevilleThe region also offers a number of very good wineries including:

  • South Creek Winery (2240 S Creek Rd, Nebo, NC)
  • Belle Nicho Winery (525 Patton Valley Dr, Nebo, NC)
  • Silver Fork Vineyard (5000 Patton Rd, Morganton, NC)
  • Lake James Cellars (204 E Main St, Glen Alpine, NC)
  • Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards (588 Chestnut Gap Rd, Hendersonville)
  • Burntshirt Vineyards (2695 Sugarloaf Road, Hendersonville)

Broad River Inn Chimney Rock

front of Broad River Inn Chimney Rock
Broad River Inn Chimney Rock

A couple of weeks ago we planned a trip thru the Blue Ridge and Smokey mountains of North Carolina and made reservations at the Broad River Inn Chimney Rock. Chimney Rock and nearby Lake Lure are somewhat isolated and have virtually no major chain hotels, so you have to pick from small local accommodations.

looking up at Hickory Nut Falls
Hickory Nut Falls

We made our selection based on a few reviews and what a great choice. The reviewers didn’t give the Broad River Inn enough credit. It seems the owner and family are new to this property and they are putting in a lot of effort to fix up the place and make guests feel welcome.

Our room was beautifully decorated, our bed was very comfortable and the owners placed a chilled bottle of wine in our room along with some chocolates and snacks.

Bedroom at Broad River Inn Chimney Rock
A room at Broad River Inn Chimney Rock

They include with the room a cooked-to-order breakfast and a daily speciality coffee from their attached coffee shop. Not to overstate anything the breakfast was incredible. Eggs, bacon or sausage and cinnamon monkey bread was our choice the first morning along with a yogurt parfait. The next morning – cinnamon bun french toast. The breakfast was almost worth the cost of the room.

Looking up the main street of the small tourist town of Chimney Rock
The small tourist town of Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock is a small tourist town nestled down in Hickory Nut Gorge with the attraction being the namesake rock formation standing on a cliff above the town. The buildings on the main street seem to alternate between small restaurants and souvenir shops. The Broad River Inn also runs an attractive miniature golf course along the edge of Broad River and you will find a good day of hiking and exploring at Chimney Rock Park.

The town of Chimney Rock runs into the end of Lake Lure which features its own collection of accommodations, restaurants, boating and a nice sand beach. While out of the way this area has enough to do to keep a family entertained for a few days. Broad River Inn Chimney Rock is also a good anchor for touring the wider areas growing selection of good wineries.

Some convenient links to follow:


You Must Visit This Arboretum in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Arboretum in the Blue Ridge Mountains is a feast for the senses.

The North Carolina Arboretum is located on The Blue Ridge Parkway near the Asheville entrance at mile marker 393. The site offers acres of cultivated gardens and groomed trails featuring some of the most beautiful, native plants in the region. Admission is free but there is a $14 per car parking fee.