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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Night in Asheville

For years I've heard Roanokers say "Roanoke needs to be more like Asheville." After visiting the city, I have no idea why. Maybe it's because I'm not into aging hippies, micro-brews, restaurants that allow dogs, and everything touted as green, green, green. Green is fine, but when the hotel you're staying at doesn't wash the sheets everyday, uses horrible towels, teeny tiny mushy pillows, low-flow showerheads and has lighting that gives the room a gloomy glow, all because they're "green" that's a little too much for me. It probably wouldn't have bothered me so much if I hadn't stayed the night before at the luxurious Harrah's resort.

I have to say the food was pretty good as most places served local fresh fare. I tried dishes I normally wouldn't have, such as a trio of meat with pistachio nuts terrine at a quaint restaurant in the Biltmore Village section.

That part of the city was cute, and definitely geared to tourists. The brick sidewalks were interesting at first, but after walking on them for a couple of minutes our feet started to hurt. Once it downpoured it became even more challenging.

If I was a resident I couldn't imagine visiting that area often, as other than eating at that particular restaurant, there's only so many times you could visit a Christmas Shoppe and other touristy stores. I did find a beautiful pair of earrings in an estate jewelery store, so it was definitely worth getting lost and seeing the underbelly of Asheville on our way there.

Everyone told us we had to go downtown so that's we did for dinner. As luck would have it we found a spot on the crowded street. After my husband parked, we were met with applause from a crew of teens when we exited the car. I asked what that was all about and one kid replied, "That was the best parallel parking we've ever seen. You got it in one shot!" Ummm, ok. We're from New York, we know how to drive.

We walked up and down the crowded street checking out the menus. Most of the restuarants were over-priced which is what one would expect for most downtown cities. We chose an Italian one that had homemade bread, which did not impress us. But, the aracino and proscioutto wrapped stuffed figs appetizers did! We didn't order dessert because I had noticed a European bakery a couple of doors down. We bought a yummy linzer tart, a bland shortbread cookie, a slice of turning-bad cheesecake, and a hazlenut Napoleon. The only Napoleon thing about that pastry was it looked like one. Napoleons should be made with pastry sheets, not cake! It reminded me of Fresh Market's bakery...everything looks delicious, but doesn't taste like you hope it would.

After dinner we walked around some more and saw the usual lousy juggler and street musicians. We were impressed with this old guy playing the blues more than anyone, so we gave him a couple of bucks. Besides older hippies, there seemed to be a lot of "punk rock" or "goth" teens, which reminded me of New York City thirty years ago. My daughter might like Asheville, but I know my son would hate it as much as my husband did. I suggested we walk off the beaten track and see what else there was to explore. Bad move. Just a couple of blocks away the area is very sketchy, and the park reminded me of Elmwood -- a lot of homeless people with mental disabilities. See, Roanoke, you and Asheville have something in common already!

We decided to go back to the room and for a second thought about going into the redneck bar near the hotel. I wanted to soak up more local color. Drinking too much wine will do that to me. Luckily my husband talked me out of it. "Do you really want to go into a place where a guy is standing outside with no shirt on?" Guess not. We tried to get a good night's sleep on the mint-sized pillows and climate-controlled-challenged room, but couldn't. When we found out the hotel was raising the room rate to more than double what we had paid if we wanted to stay an additional night (talk about green!) we laughed, and said we'd find another one that hopefully wasn't so green/expensive. Well, that was the plan anyway.

The next morning was already a scorcher and my husband asked how much I really wanted to see the Biltmore Estate. Turns out, not enough to pay $60 each, walk in the heat, and spend another night in Asheville. My lack of photos shows how impressed I was. Sure, Asheville is pretty, but Roanoke is prettier. Asheville has mountains, but so do we. I saw more slums surrounding Asheville than I have in Roanoke, so all in all, I have to give Asheville a big, eh. Maybe it's because I come from New York City and I look for different "cultural experiences" than Roanokers do, but really, Roanoke should be happy with their own identity and not worry about being more like another Southern city.


  1. I have to agree with you, Ashville has nothing on Roanoke. I was not impressed with the restaurants where I ate when there, nor the art galleries or art. Parking wasn't good and I just didn't like the layout or feel of the town..yet, so many people seem to gravitate and love it there. Wonder why?

  2. Haven't the foggiest idea Cheryl! Maybe because they haven't lived in Roanoke or New York City ;)

  3. My brother-in-law lives in Asheville, so I have a visitor's perspective but there again I also visit Roanoke to see a friend, and as I live in Key West I recognize a lot of the gentrification and hipness issues that plague Asheville and Key West. Not Roanoke, because Roanoke remains unknown.
    The difficulty for cities that have been discovered are the people who arrive and want to change what they find and change wrecks the original values of the town. So that requires the visitor to dig deeper to find what they seek. People come to Key West, cruise Duval Street and leave figuring Key West sucks. So it does if that, and the Southernmost Point is all they see. Asheville isn't as charming and pleasant as Roanoke not least because they struggle with being known. Roanoke doesn't have that problem, but if it is ever discovered it too will be subject to flash visits and negative judgements as visitors root through the debris of hip gentrification. The good bits will be hidden and reserved for locals.
    Asheville isn't as nice as Roanoke but it's not terrible. Not all of it. I'm just lucky I know about Roanoke before it got discovered!

  4. I agree Conch...I'm sure I would have liked Asheville much better had I the inside scoop from knowing a local, but I don't think the city "sucked." More than anything I question why Roanoke would want to be it. Never been to Key West, but that's on the bucket list!