Hardtimes in the Appalachian Mtns.

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Where I stayed
Powhatan National Forest

Flag of United States  , North Carolina
Thursday, April 28, 2011


    HARDTIMES IN THE APPALACHIAN MTNS



      So here we are, encamped in the Hardtimes loop at Lake Powhatan Campground in the Pisgah Nat. Forest, just a mile off the Blue Ridge Parkway and close to Asheville, North Carolina.   Apart from cleaning the park’s six bathrooms twice a week, hard times these are not.  The cleaning takes us 5 hours a day, usually less, and for that we are paid the handsome sum of $8.16 an hour, not apiece but altogether.   We also get the right to a full-hookup camp-sight for a month (for which we end up paying about $6.50 a day) and the use of the park’s one washer and dryer.  But we are happy with this arrangement because this park is beautiful beyond description and only minutes from Downtown Asheville. The dense, leafy forest is a mix of oaks, pines ash, maple, hickory and other hardwoods.  It is totally quiet and songbirds are everywhere.  The bathrooms and showers are new and squeaky-clean and the cool, crisp mountain air is invigorating and a welcome relief to the heat and humidity of the Southern lowlands.  There is a small lake and a mountain stream nearby, both stocked with trout.  There are bike trails throughout the park and many hiking trails.  It sounds like and is a little slice of heaven.  But here I must digress, for I have not yet said a word about the last two towns we visited: Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina.   At this time it’s almost too much to relate.      
     Where do I begin to tell of how wonderful Savannah, Georgia was and how amazing a town Charleston, South Carolina is?  Savannah is a town built around squares or small parks, nearly two dozen in all.  Each is beautiful, with lovely gardens, fountains, statues, the massive trunks and spreading arms of old oak and magnolia trees, some of which have  seen generations come and go.  All around the parks are buildings and houses glowing with Southern charm.  The many architectural styles;  Greek Revival, Georgian, Federal, Renaissance and more, transport you to another time, when horse drawn buggies and lavish parties were all the rage.  We toured the Owens home, Circa 1830 or something like that.  It was designed and built by a British architect in England and shipped to America piece by piece at tremendous expense.    No one on this side of the ocean had ever seen anything like it before with it’s thick, plastered stone walls, amazingly ornate moldings and indoor plumbing, achieved with a series of indoor cisterns, three of them on three different floors, which collected rainwater and piped it throughout the house for washing dishes and clothing and for bathing.   
     The South is full of “oldest this and first that.”   Oldest Black Baptist church, oldest bank, oldest hardware store, oldest college, oldest shopping mall, first cotton gin, first paddlewheel riverboats, first railroad, and on and on.   We found ourselves immersed in the history of the country:  Sherman slept here, George Washington ate there, General Grant gave a speech on these steps, General Beauregard gave the order to fire on Fort Sumter from this house, the Declaration of the Confederate States of America was signed here, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis debated there, etc., etc.  We have learned so much more than we ever knew about the beginnings of our country.
     Walking through old-town Savannah was like stepping back in time and this feeling was even more-so in Charleston, where nearly everything has been lovingly preserved and reconstructed. And the food, the glorious food!  Charleston was the best foodie place we had found so far on the trip.  There were endless restaurants, all homegrown, no chains, and all of them good.  We walked for days through the streets, mostly following the walking tour and reading all the historical placards in front of the notable houses and buildings.  We ate at sidewalk cafes and coffee shops, where Chance could join us, attracting all the attention he usually does from adoring passer-by’s.   Chance is so good with everyone and returns every bit of affection he gets. 
     We toured the famous Aikens Urban Plantation, where slaves tended to the owners and their children, did all the cooking and washing and mending, tended to the livery stock and the gardens, etc.  The Aikens home has been preserved but not renovated, so the bare bones simplicity of the place was exposed without all the lavish furniture and furnishings.    It gave us a more intimate feeling for what life in Old South was like in the early 1800’s.  The more important slaves quarters were attached to the house, on an upstairs wing, and were small and spare, with only a fireplace and a couple of windows in each small room that looked out on the courtyard and the stables.  The lath and plaster was exposed in places and the within the small rooms with their unpainted walls was a ghostly presence of the poor blacks whose only luxury was each other.  The less important slaves lived in cramped stalls above the livery, suitable more for chickens than humans.  
     The other Urban Plantation home we visited was one of the most resplendent mansions we have ever been in.  The parlor, the library, the dining room and bedrooms all lavishly furnished with the finest crystal, silver and European moldings, tiles and marble fireplace surrounds, fine carpets and draperies.  Docents in both homes led the tours and answered questions, making for a richer experience. 
     In an effort to get this latent blog published, I am hoping some of the photographs will speak for missing text.  Next up is Asheville, North Carolina, which has been surprisingly different from anywhere else we have been.  There is a non-conformist, funky kind of sophistication here which is delightful.  Again, almost no chains are evident.  There is a big emphasis on local, home grown food, art and services which we really like.
       

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