A little rebel goes south
By Naughty Mickie 

It was that time again, time to do the "visit the mom" thing. Why my parents ever moved to a little town in South Carolina was beyond me, but at least I didn't have to live there. I did have to visit though.

I had planned my trip before the 9/11 tragedy, so I could have probably gotten out of it. Instead, I decided that this would most likely be the best time to fly and packed my bags.

My brother picked me up at the Spartanburg/Greenville Airport and we went to my mom's house to drop stuff off and then back out for dinner at Cracker Barrel. Okay, it's a cheesy name, but the meal was good. The restaurant serves typical southern food, such as catfish, fried chicken, okra, chicken and dumplings and more. Best of all, there's an eternally full glass of sweet tea. If you've never had sweet tea, it's best explained as tasting like a five-pound bag of sugar to a quart of iced tea and it's addicting!

The next day, we were off to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. George Vanderbilt opened the doors of his opulent home for his family and friends in 1895. It has many amenities not in the typical home of that time period, such as an indoor swimming pool with underwater lighting and walk-in refrigerators. It is also filled with art and furnishings from around the world, including the 18th century Pellegrini canvas ceiling painting, "The Chariot of Aurora," and a chess set and gaming table once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte.

Each room has a separate theme and color scheme. I particularly liked the Mrs. Vanderbilt's bedroom, which was all in gold. The banquet hall was very awing too, it was so huge- 72'x42'x70'. The dining table could seat 64 people. I teased my brother, saying, "Could you please pass the butter?"

Almost all of the rooms in the estate are open to the public, but a few of them are in stages of renovation. You can wander through these rooms too and see how things are coming along.

The 125,000 acre estate has gardens that look as if they have come out of a storybook. There are rose gardens, an Italian garden with three formal pools, a conservatory full of exotic plants and more.

There is also a winery (where we toured and tasted), shops, a restaurant, a hotel and an equestrian center. It may seem expensive to visit Biltmore (around $100 for the three of us), but it is a small price to pay to marvel at so many beautiful things. The estate receives no government funding, so the admission and other sales goes toward renovations and keeping it open for the public to enjoy.

I highly recommend making a day of it to visit Biltmore and the winery. Heck, I even saw a wild beaver splashing in one of the creeks-- if that isn't worth the price of admission?! Hours change with the seasons and there are often special events that are included at no extra charge, such as Michaelmas: An English Harvest Festival, which was on when we were there. To plan your visit or learn more about Biltmore, go to www.biltmore.com.

My mother and I had also decided to take a short trip to Atlanta. On the first day, we went to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens and we couldn't have picked a nicer time. It was mid-week, so we had the place almost to ourselves and the sun was out with a light breeze. The new children's garden had recently opened, so we decided to explore that first.

The garden had several different areas, a bog, a dinosaur garden, a butterfly garden, a gnome grotto, a clubhouse, a farmer's garden and more. It was very well done and lots of fun too! There's places to sit and watch children play, nice learning centers and plenty of cute statuary.

The main gardens are scattered with huge metal sculptures of frogs in fanciful poses and include a fern forest, a swamp, a rose garden, a wooded area, a Japanese garden, a conservatory and other unique areas. I especially enjoyed the conservatory. It was like stepping into a rain forest in Equador or Madagascar, there were many plants from these countries, along with loose birds, lizards, frogs, turtles and fish. Upstairs, it housed a wonderful desert area with lots of different cacti and succulents, along with pitcher plants and other weird flora.

For dinner that night, we went to Mary Mac's Tea Room, a restaurant that has a history all its own. The walls were lined with photos of famous people who had eaten there and a piano player tinkled jazz and blues in the corner. I had an awesome mint julep and selected a traditional meal of chicken and dumplings with hoppin' John, okra and black-eyed peas. Since we were first-timers, the waitress brought us greens soup. Now don't crinkle your nose-- it was actually very good and didn't taste only of greens, it had undertones of ham and other yummy things. As for desert, I really really wanted some, but there was no way I could eat another thing.

The next morning, we were off to Stone Mountain Park, which boasts the world's largest carved relief. You can camp over at the park or stay at one of its hotels. There are many things to do, so many that it's really better done over several days, rather than one like we did. There's a train, a paddle boat, a museum, a cable car, hiking, golf, a plantation, boating and more.

The train takes you on a leisurely chug five miles around the base of the mountain and is great for scenery-lovers. The paddle boat is also relaxing and glides along the lake, passing by the covered bridge, the old mill and the bell organ that was built for the World's Fair. We braved the cable car to the top of the mountain and were rewarded with a view beyond compare-- it seemed like you could see forever.

The plantation is a definite don't-miss on this stop. There are historic homes from around the South which are representative of what life was like back when. It was interesting to learn that a country doctor who dedicated his life to providing care for Native Americans lived almost the same as the plantation slaves. It must have been harsh to spend winter crammed in a one-room shack without any entertainment other than your family. I don't know how they did it-- most of the families I know would kill each other over a lost remote control.

The museum is filled with Civil War objects, from guns to flags, to mess kits and uniforms. There was also a wonderful Native American art exhibit on display when we were there.

Discover Stone Mountain by visiting it on the Web.

Other stops on my trip were to Westpoint Stevens in South Carolina, the world's largest start-to-finish sheet manufacturer. I learned how raw cotton is transformed into products for Martha Stewart, Ralph Lauren, Disney and other major companies. I visited the Anderson newspaper-- of course, I had to see how they did things. The writers and staff were extremely pleasant and we had a nice chat.

On Friday night, my brother decided it was time to take on the town. We put on our rocker duds and headed down to the local club. I taught my brother to drink beer, shoot pool and dance-- all's left is swearing, but I think he has that handled. There was a live band that was terrific-- they played everything! Flawlessly, the group went from a classic rock tune to country to hip hop to an original and back all over again. I was surprised to find this much talent in this tiny town.

On my last day, we went to Walhalla South Carolina State Fish Hatchery and saw trout growing to be released into lakes around the state. The fish seemed happy and splashed around through the water in the sunlight, anxiously waiting for their chance to swim in the wild. On the way back, we paused at a state park and took a long walk through the pines, watching the geese that had settled on the lake for a lazy afternoon.

It was a nice trip except for one thing-- I had to say good bye.

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