The Retirement Trip
Sept 27—Oct 4, 2010
Don & Debra Teator, Tim & Judy Adams


Tim & Judy, Debra & Don, at Biltmore Winery


The idea formed in late spring 2010 – the Retirement Trip, my retirement trip. Where would I (and Deb) want to go that we had not seen before, or wanted to visit again, at a time when the crowds might be sparse, in good weather, within reasonable cost.
           There was already a list of possibilities, built up over the last ten years from our Day Trip / Overnight list, that has been revised after each summer, after we have nipped a few off the list, added the new ideas, and re-entered good ideas to visit again.
           One choice stood head-and-shoulders above the rest – The Biltmore Estate, a site-to-be-explored at some date in the nebulous future. We had avoided it because of summer heat and summer crowds, and we would “do it” some day. The time had come.
          Fleshing out the rest of the schedule, we targeted recent list newcomers Longwood Gardens (Kennett Square, PA) and Montpelier (Orange, VA). Other wild cards included the Portrait Gallery (DC), Brandywine Museum (Chadds Ford ,PA), and a couple of others that could serve as backup sites.

Adding to the mix was the idea of traveling with Tim & Judy Adams, longtime friends and day trippers, the idea being quickly accepted, and plans started.
          The first decision was how many days to spend in Asheville. After some debate, we decided on two midweek nights, followed by a somewhat impromptu decision to spend two nights in Gatlinburg even though we knew little about it. The other sites we would work around, with the main consideration of stopping in DC to see Chloe and Sienna, the Adams’ grandchildren.
          As it would turn out, we never fulfilled our proposed Day One idea of seeing Longwood Gardens, because of wet weather, and then never saw the Garden at all because of wet weather on the way back, thus necessitating a bit of improvisation for the early and late stages of the trip. Even the days in Asheville, and especially Gatlinburg, were shaped with a bit of flex.

------ In the end, our schedule went as follows:

Day 1 (9/27/10): Freehold NY – DC – Fredericksburg VA
     --Portrait Gallery / American Art Museum (DC); grandkids (DC)
Day 2 (9/28): on to Orange – Charlottesville – Greensboro
     --Madison’s Montepelier (Orange); Horton Winery (Orange)
Day 3 (9/29): on to Asheville
     --the Visitor Center; downtown; Blue Ridge Highway Visitor Center; Blue Ridge Arts & Craft Center
Day 4 (9/30): at Asheville
     --the Biltmore Estate; the Biltmore Winery; the Biltmore Legacy building
Day 5 (10/1): on to Gatlinburg
     --the Biltmore Gardens; Blue Ridge Highway miles 385-470 (the southern end); 
     --Rt 441 through the Great Smokies;   Gatlinburg (in late afternoon)
Day 6 (10/2): at Gatlinburg
     --Roaring Brook Trail; Arts & Crafts block; Ober Gatlinburg Tram and Alpine Slide
Day 7 (10/3): on to Martinsburg WV
     --ride through Pigeon Forge, all of 81 through VA
Day 8 (10/4): back home
     --Shepherdstown; Antietam

            A list of lodgings and eateries comes later in this account.
            For now, here are memories of the trip, possibly in order of big to small, or something else, as it pops up.


The Biltmore Estate

and Italian Garden

Winter Garden

Walled Garden, Conservatory area (above, right)


The anticipation leading up to the trip, and even during it, was a pleasant buzz. We had planned a few months ahead, a month ahead, a week, a couple days, the first mile, the first day, even to the last climbs into NYS.

The Biltmore Estate was as grand as all of the PR, advertising, and personal references. From the long winding trail that breaks into a last second view, the view from the Esplanade, the framing of the lawn and fountain, the entry lobby, Winter Garden, all of the oversized but approachable rooms, the audiotape ($10) fleshing out life enough to imagine living there, the sense of mortality, rise and fall of families, to all of the other details of construction, residence, and current status, all of it was as fascinating as any other building I’ve been in. I was also struck by the money making nature of the place too.

Almost as impressive were the gardens at Biltmore. Just when living life is large enough, to have a plan for gardens and a Conservatory is grand enough to make that a separate day, which we did. The tropical plants, color schemes, the Italian Garden, trails all added to the impressive view we had.

James Madison’s Montpelier added another chapter to our visits to Presidents’ houses. Of the first eight, we still have Monroe (we were close enough to stop in) and Jackson to visit. A few pieces on TV, and then PBS’ show on Dolley Madison, certainly whetted our appetite to visit. The human relationships, politics, health problems, family dysfunction, the soaring of the human spirit are imbued within the walls of the house, with bonuses of the walled garden, the view of the mountains, and the DuPont horse track.

All along our route, the value of people who made a difference or who added value to our day cannot be understated. So many times, the world can be a blur of faces, and the four of us comprised a close-knit pack of four that could easily shut off opportunity to mix. Still, we enjoyed server Chris at Log Cabin Pancake House with her sincere Honey, Babe, Sweetie, and was a one-person mood brightener; there was Sebastian, son of the owner, server at La Trattoria, personable, college student, with goals that probably reminded us of that stage of life; the park ranger at Antietam who made history come alive in an understated, quirky way; the server/bartender at Sharpsburg’s lunch restaurant and his goals in college and life, as well as his brother appearing on The Apprentice; and there are the dozen or so service staff, who made our life as pleasant as possible for the few minutes that our lives intertwined, and probably will never cross again. Another character we became accustomed to, even if just a technologically produced voice, was that of our GPS.

The Antietam battlefield, today looking like a long stretch of common fields and fences, awes the viewer with its ghostly, and ghastly, history of blood and death and struggle for survival – both national and personal. The videos and driving tour supplied a few hours worth of education and ‘entertainment’ on a wet-ish day.

In the background, or, at times, at the forefront, was weather. We had hoped that average temperatures and conditions would greet us, and generally they did. The couple days in Gatlinburg were perfect tourist days. And we often managed to work around rain, or the threats of rain, with indoor visits. Of some note was the very cool day eating our picnic on Mt. Pisgah, with us clutching our food from blowing away. Otherwise, the several hours of driving through the rain made for poor visibility for the driver and his passenger. In mid-trip, we were worrying about the tropical train of rain that eventually dumped 20 inches on eastern NC, not so far from us, but we missed all of it.

An unplanned but pleasant surprise of the trip was the driving the southern ninety miles of the Blue Ridge Highway, with its turns and unprotected road edges and jaw-dropping outlooks, with layers of ever-lightening shades of blue toward the horizon. The 45 mph speed limit was often too fast, and we acknowledged the sense of accomplishment of building this mountaintop highway.

Not to be underestimated is the long-running Adams-Teator relationship, an interestingly compatible affair that has run nearly thirty years, both at home, day trips, and a rare long trip like this one.

Much appreciated by all was Tim’s driving 100% of the nearly 2,000 miles of the trip. His skill made our viewing more enjoyable, and I hope he was able to see his share of the sights.

Seeing a city for only a couple of days means forming an opinion on first impressions, and we liked Asheville. Often hailed as a retirement haven, Asheville presented many good first impressions, from the mountain views, to a cozy downtown, to many blocks of pleasing residential areas, a useful visitor’s center. The Grove Arcade, with its line of shops and restaurants, got our first attention, and we enjoyed the corner curbside dining at Carmel’s.

Food, of course, is always a constant backdrop. We tried to eat inexpensively, even if all our meals were eaten out, even though we had a condo kitchen for two nights. We don’t usually do separate checks but that was the general rule this time, and the Teators even outspent the Adamses once. I was trying to not overeat, especially since we performed so little aerobic exercise.

The Portrait Gallery / American Art Museum in DC was a welcome three hour stop on Day One. Memories of faces after faces after faces, many familiar, still remain. Of special note was the Steven Spielberg & George Lucas collection on Norman Rockwell and the influence Rockwell had on them.

As with any trip, the sleeping in a different town most nights is a change of pace from what usually happens. One of the few advantages of the condo was the closeness to town and the chance to explore without driving. Of course, it feels good to get home, but it was invigorating to see new territory also.

The Roaring Brook Trail had just opened the morning we were in Gatlinburg, and what an interesting and worthy effort. Recreating the old-time mountain living experience, the Trail made about ten stops, pointing out the kind of life the mountain people lived from early settlement up until the creation of the national forest that forced them off their land. The hike to Grotto Falls (2.8 mi round trip) was a very welcome piece of exercise and scenery.

Which brings me to Gatlinburg. After driving miles of scenic mountains and overlooks, slapping across our face was this country-ish Las Vegas, with its lights, over-commercialization, and busy-ness. Yet, we were fascinated that such glitz could be pocketed in this mountain bowl. And, only a few miles away was Pigeon Forge, and Dollywood, with its mega-sprawl.

Geography must be mentioned, even after all the pieces said so far. Mountains, whether close or far, seemed to be within view of the car most of the way, and we compared them all to the Catskills, our home territory. There was little flat land, and waterways played only a very small part. 

And we got to see Chloe and Sienna, and Mom & Dad (Noel and Mari), and the house (my first time seeing it), and it was a pleasant experience to see all, as it was especially for Grandma and Grandpa.

Our interest in wineries took us to the Horton Winery (Orange VA) and Biltmore (Asheville NC). We did our usual, tasting several wines, and were tempted to buy a few (well, Tim did). The tour at Biltmore was well done, and three of us sampled the additional premium tasting. The Charlottesville area has a couple dozen wineries.

Helping acquaint us to the area were the various visitor centers, one each in Asheville and Gatlinburg, and an additional one on Asheville’s edge – the Blue Ridge Highway center (with its grass roof). All were staffed by competent and friendly people. In addition, the Blue Ridge Arts & Craft center (ok, the Southern Highlands Craft Guild, or was it the Folk Art Center) showed off local talent.

As with any trip, the nature of the roadway certainly affects the experience. The major federal highways whisk cars quickly but something is to be said for the smaller roads. Rt 29 from Charlottesville to Greensboro, despite being a divided four lane road, got us off the super-wide highways. The roads from Fredericksburg to Orange gave views of classic Virginia country, as well as the entry points to Chancellorsville and the Wilderness battles. Somewhat regretfully, we seemed busy enough to not take time to tackle the country roads off the state highways.

Then there are the smaller details, the small memories that are just as much fun. Another trip with the Adamses invoked other trips we had taken, together or separately. Tracing our route on a map reminds us how large America is. We worried a bit about the amount of rain falling at home. GPS is such a technological wonder, and we appreciated the time it usually saved us. On a different note, Dee (Buddy’s watcher) called, asking about one of Buddy’s habits (not to be described here). And we all sort of whined that Judy did not have a Smart Phone yet, thus enabling her to find out whatever we had questions about. There are more but I hope I have captured enough details and broad strokes to invoke sharp memories years from now.

Overnight lodging is always a factor, and we tended to go for comfortable, but inexpensive hotels. In order, we stayed at (cost per couple, not counting all the add-ons):

  --Best Western, Rt 3 East (Fredericksburg) ($71);
  --Comfort Inn (Greensboro) ($66);
  --Comfort Suite (Asheville), two nights, including Biltmore tickets ($270 total);
  --Laurel Inn condo (Gatlinburg), two nights ($150 total)
  --Comfort Inn (Martinsburg) ($80)

The prices reflect a 10% discount for AAA/AARP membership (except condo).
          The hotels were clean and cheery, with the usual TV, coffee maker, refrigerator, microwave, hair dryer, etc. The condo was a definite step down, showing its age and lack of thorough maintenance (loose lampshades, aging windows and sliding doors, aging furniture, etc.).  Except for the first night, adjoining rooms made for an easy get-together in the morning and evening. And, almost every place started a reminder about the hot topic in the news most of the summer – bed bugs.


James Madison's Montpelier - Orange, VA


A View from Blue Ridge Highway, NC

Tim & Judy behind Grotto Waterfall


Bud Ogle's Cabin - Gatlinburg



Judy, on Ober Gatlinburg's Alpine Slide


Food was always out, except for the few snacks we had brought along in the cooler. And even though we ate out for all our meals (except one take-out), we tended eat at less expensive, casual places, with an occasional splurge with a mid-price. No upscale dining during the trip.
           And breakfasts, mostly, were at the hotels, with the self-proclaimed continental breakfast. No one will ever mistake them for epicurean fare but they are sufficient enough to be welcome, with choices of toast, rolls, cold cereal, (warm instant cereal in WV), hard boiled eggs, a few choices of juice, (French Toast in WV), scrambled eggs, sausage, (biscuits & gravy in Asheville), waffles to be made in the waffle maker, choices of coffee, tea.

––– The list of restaurants:

Day 1
=> lunch – Baja Fresh, Delaware House, on I-95
dinner – Outback, Fredericksburg (GPS said Ruby Tuesday)

Day 2
=> breakfast - hotel
=> lunch – at Montpelier cafe (with the bees)
=> dinner – Ruby Tuesday, Greensboro (could have had hotel’s Manager’s Special)

Day 3
=> breakfast – at hotel
=> lunch – Carmel’s, Asheville (outside, street corner, Grove Arcade)
=> dinner – Stone Ridge Tavern, Asheville (server from Oswego) (‘Adirondack’ style building)

Day 4
=> breakfast – at hotel
=> lunch – Cedric’s Tavern at Antler Village, Biltmore (classiest style)
=> dinner – light snacks, Don & Tim went to Little Caesars for pizza takeout

Day 5
=> breakfast - hotel
=> lunch – from Biltmore, Subway – for Mt Pisgah picnic at mile 409 (cold, windy)
=> dinner – Hellbender’s, Gatlinburg (live music, open wall to deck, chilly)

Day 6
=> breakfast – Log Cabin Pancake House, Gatlinburg (server Chris – sweetie, babe, honey)
=> lunch – Morning Mist Café (on Gatlingburg Arts Trail)
=> dinner – Howard’s, Gatlinburg (on stream, football game)

Day 7
=> breakfast – Log Cabin (again; the only repeat)
=> lunch – Subway (at gas station on Rt 81)
=> dinner – La Trattoria, Martinsburg (beside hotel; server Sebastian – charming)

Day 8
=> breakfast – at hotel
=> lunch – Colonel Bender’s Tavern, Sharpsburg (server football coach, brother on Apprentice)
=> dinner – Wendy’s (Wilkes-Barre)


A week-long trip is a rarity in the Teator household, and thus will be remembered as a most worthy retirement trip. And, thanks, Tim and Judy, for the sharing.  

The end