Day 209 – Barrett-Jackson Auction

Despite having come to the land of sunshine and outdoors, we are spending our first day in Arizona at an indoor event – the Barrett-Jackson car auction in Scottsdale. Walt and I both love vintage cars and I’ve longed dreamed of attending the huge Concours d’Elegance show in Pebble Beach.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: going to a car auction where all of the 1,500 or so cars are for sale is a lot more dangerous than going to a car show. Sort of like going on safari when you should really just be watching the National Geographic Channel at home.

But we’re very practical people. We don’t have room or a need for another car right now. And we certainly don’t need a vintage car.

Plus, I tend to fall in love with the really expensive cars (e.g., 7 figures instead of merely 5).

And, as a failsafe, in order to bid at the auction, Barrett-Jackson requires pre-registration and proof that one has funds. Since we haven’t done that, we simply buy day passes and walk through the cars for hours on end before watching the actual auction for a while.

No harm done.

But, oh the cars!

The auction is taking place at a convention center, to which huge tents have been added for the “salon” cars (the crème de la crème) and a couple hundred or so of the “better” cars with 5 additional outdoor tents, each holding more than 150 cars.

My Dream Car

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The first salon car that I see stops me in my tracks: a 1961 Jaguar E type convertible. It is slate gray with red leather interior. I don’t actually need to see any more cars. This sleek, long-nosed convertible is the car of my dreams, in my exact color scheme and everything. It’s a 12-cylinder, manual transmission. It could only get better if I could start it up and take it for a spin.

Walt humors me by taking my picture next to the Jag before we move along.

And he is immediately caught by a 1930 Cord (I didn’t know what one was either, but it was gorgeous.) More pictures.

More Beauties

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There’s several Rolls Royces, a phenomenal old Cadillac, dozens of early Mustangs and Corvettes. Shelbys, 1950s T-Birds (yum). I take a photo of a De Lorean, one of my Dad’s favorite cars. We are just in awe of how beautiful these cars are. The bodies are sleek, the paint glistening.

As we continue, we see things we didn’t expect, such as old Volkswagen buses, tricked-out Jeeps, and lots and lots of trucks – everything from 1939 Dodge Power Wagons to 1907s Chevrolets. Walt tells me trucks are hot right now. Too bad for me. I have a bit of a dream of getting a 1950s Ford or Dodge pickup truck cheap and restoring it (in my gray-and-red color scheme) with modern power steering, disc brakes and an upgraded (although not too-powerful) engine so I have a really cool putting-around-town car that can haul groceries and plants and such. Someday.

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After cruising up and down the aisles of the tents outside, we head for the actual auction. Again, no worries that we will “accidentally” bid on something. There are plenty of staff guarding the chained-off sections of sitting where the pre-approved bidders get to sit. We are on bleachers to the side of the huge room.

I’m enjoying the people-watching more than the auction (you get a better view of the cars as they’re auctioned if you’re watching it at home on the TV). Just like any place where crowds gather, there are all sorts of people wearing all sorts of clothing – from super fancy to super casual.

We leave, empty-handed, having thoroughly enjoyed our first day in Arizona.

Days 204-207 – West to Sedona

We’ve been keeping our eye on the weather, of course, and we get an early start out of Hilton Head because there’s an unusually snowy, icy winter storm headed through Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee tonight. It’s hard to believe there’s bad weather ahead because we drive the first 900 miles under crystal-clear blue skies.

We had planned to spend the night in Vicksburg, some 700 miles from Hilton Head. We ’re planning to be in Sedona in four days and with three 600-700 mile driving days followed by a short hop up from Tucson on the last day. While we’re crossing Mississippi, I re-check the weather to see if dipping South to Baton Rouge will get us below the storm. It will work for a bit, but Houston and San Antonio are both expecting lousy weather and since we know the further south we go, the less ability cities will be have to recover from ice and snow (eg., no plows, no ice, no will to do anything but wait for it to melt), we decide to stick to our planned route on I-20 across northern Louisiana and into Texas.

We decide to aim for Tyler, Texas. The day has been sunny and in the 50s but as the sun sets, the temperature starts to drop. By the time we are 30 miles East of Tyler, it is raining and dark and we are both anxiously watching the thermometer in our car that registers the temperature outside. It drops pretty quickly through the 50s and into the 40s. The rain comes and goes but it’s been a long day of driving, it’s dark, our car is not made for ice (not that any car is) and we are very happy when our Tyler exit comes into view. We had picked a hotel just off the highway so barely 15 minutes after leaving the highway, we are checked in and having a snack in our room, checking the weather channel.

The weather forecasters turned out to be mostly right. Starting 40 miles west of us and extending all the way east to Mississippi, I-20 is iced by morning. There are pileups and wrecks off the road. We can see the highway from our room and there is no traffic on it. We resign ourselves to spending a day in Tyler and set to work finding a way to get to Sedona on the same time schedule even though we’ve lost a day. The good part is that we are more than 200 miles further west than we had planned. The bad part is that if we could have traveled 40 miles further on Monday night, we would have been out of all the ice. Dallas, which had been expecting the ice and snow, somehow ducked it.

The weather is clear and dry headed west so we decide to ditch the Dallas-Midland-Tucson route we had planned and instead head for Albuquerque via Amarillo. We figure if we drive about 11 hours, we can make Albuquerque for the night and that will put us just five hours or so from Sedona, which will mean arriving on time. So that’s what we do.

The first few miles out of Tyler are a bit challenging. The highway is mostly clear and dry but then there are patches of ice, limited to the left passing lane but, unfortunately, we learn this as we are passing a line of tractor trailer trucks. Walt is driving and handling it very smoothly. I’m holding the door and praying. Did I mention that of the three car accidents I’ve had in my entire driving life, two were on ice and one was in rain? I panic on ice. We get back safely in the right lane and stay there until it is clear that there is no more ice on the road. Our day, though long, passes uneventfully and we are very grateful. The Albuquerque-to-Sedona trip goes just as smoothly and we arrive at our Vacation Rental By Owner townhouse in time to get unpacked, grab dinner out, and go grocery shopping before falling into bed.

Our rental is very nice and spacious with views of the famed red rocks out our back windows (there’s a great patio for when the weather warms up a bit, too).

All in all, we are well pleased with our choice and can’t wait to go explore the area.

Days 200-203 – Hilton Head

Our last stop before heading to sunny Sedona is a brief visit to Hilton Head and Walt’s sister and brother-in-law. Lisa and Dave have a new house and we get to be their first overnight guests. The weather is still not cooperating fully; while we have lots of sunshine, the temps aren’t going above 50 degrees, which isn’t cold but it also isn’t golfing or walking-on-the-beach weather.

Walking  Food Tour

 

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Anticipating this, Lisa and Dave have booked the four of us into a walking/eating tour of Savannah. We bundle up and head for our first stop, Smith Brothers Butcher Shop, which is so much more than the name implies. In addition to gorgeous looking meats, the shop sells all sorts of beverages (alcoholic water, anyone?) and bacon ketchup among all sorts of goodies. Our guide, Country – called this because of her Southern-country accent, which beats her real name of Dorothy – is funny and upbeat, just everything you’d in want a tour guide. The sausages we start with are andouille, blueberry and Tuscan, all freshly made and yummy, even to someone like me, who is not a sausage fan. Walt’s in heaven.

After enjoying the goodies, we head out to our next stop, a little pit barbecue place that I’m sure never pops up on Trip Advisor but is tasty. I’m a little disappointed that the chalkboard menu lists all sorts of cakes (chocolate pound cake, red velvet cake, etc.) but because the restaurant is actually closed for a few weeks so the owner can have a vacation, there is no cake. Ah well. Walt’s still in heaven.

There are five more stops, including a fabulous chicken sandwich at Zunzi’s, bread pudding at Cha Bella, crab pie at the Seafood Shack. We are stuffed at by the end and glad we have a couple of miles to walk back to the car, although we can’t resist taking a longer route so we can stop by Chocolat by Adam Turoni, highly recommended by Country, for a few artisan chocolates to take home.

Camellias and Football

It’s playoffs weekend so we head home to watch some football.

The next day we’re off to the Coastal Discovery Museum for a walk and some history (great exhibit on pirates) and to see the huge live oaks and (yeah) blossoming camellias.

Then it’s back home again for more football and a great dinner out before we pack up for tomorrow’s trek westward.

Days 193-199 – Charleston, SC

Well, we thought we were all set to leave Asheville but just the night before we were due to leave, the national news said a huge storm was headed up the East Coast from Florida to Boston. The local Asheville weather forecast was just for cold but Charleston is expecting ice and snow. I’m a nervous traveler in poor weather and we agreed there’s no reason to get on the road and risk getting into trouble.

Our Asheville landlords are great about the change of plans, telling us to stay the week if we need to. We just need the extra night and then we’re off to what turns out to be a still-frozen Charleston. The interstate is snowy and a little icy – but nothing like it was the day before – for about the last 30 miles into the city. We see lots of cars and trucks that clearly had slid off the highway the day before but everyone seems to be going slowly today and we make it to our new rental no worse for the wear.

Unfortunately this iced-over city is not the Charleston we were expecting. Our rental townhome is lovely and walking distance to all sorts of shops and restaurants but most of them have hand-written signs saying they are closed due to the weather. We pick our way over the unsalted sidewalks and finally find a few places that look open. The Ink and Ivy restaurant provides us with a nice dinner and we head home, hoping, but not expecting, a thawing tomorrow.

No such luck on the thawing. The day is sunny but when we head out at 11 a.m., it’s barely hit the freezing mark. Still, we walk the length of King Street, ducking into a few open shops and making it all the way down to the battery at the tip of the peninsula before heading for an oyster restaurant, Pearlz, recommended by our Charleston host. I’m afraid to get my hopes up that it will be open, but it is and we enjoy oysters and gumbo and cod sliders before heading back out into the cold and retracing our steps up King Street. At the end of the day, we’ve walked about 7 miles (but only 1 floor of elevation gain).

We wake up the next day to another weather-related disappointment: our tour of the H.L. Hunley submarine has been canceled. Tours of the Civil War-era submarine only take place on the weekends because conservators are working Mondays to Fridays to restore it (I guess when you sit on the bottom of the ocean for 136 years, you need a few decades of work). There are no tours this weekend and we won’t be around next weekend. We are really upset; it was the thing we most wanted to do (besides eat good food) while we are in Charleston, but there’s nothing to be done.

Time for Plan B. We’ve realized that one of Charleston’s small distilleries is just down the street from us, so we book a noon tour and tasting. We’re the only customers in the distillery, so we spend about an hour learning about the grains and process Hi-Wire Distilling uses to make its vodka, gin, bourbon, amaro, etc. Then we taste a few items and head out, with a stop at nearby Revelator Coffee for me. The weather is still chilly but the sun is out, as are more people. The Charleston Museum is also not far away, so we check out the exhibits: textiles, silver, ironwork, furniture, as well as a huge section devoted to Charleston history.

Our next stop was supposed to be for me: a visit to the Pounce cat café where visitors can interact (and adopt) kitties. Walt sternly reminds me that we are just going to visit and “we’re agreed that we are not leaving with a cat.” I hadn’t even thought about adopting; we are traveling cross-country in a convertible, there’s barely room for us, never mind a pet. When we arrive at the cat cafe, there’s a sign saying they are booked for the next few hours and to make reservations online. I had no idea we wouldn’t be able to just walk in and pet a few strays. When I check the website, it also says there’s a $15 fee (which includes a glass of wine or beer) and a one-hour time limit for visits. I content myself with peeking in the window for a minute and move along. I miss having a kitty but not that much.

We decide to head back to King Street and see if another host-recommended restaurant is open and, on the way, we just happen to bump into Christophe Artisan Chocolatier (I swear I did not remember which street it was on when I told Walt to turn right on Society Street). A coffee and a treat later, I’ve forgotten all about the cats. Sorry guys.

We shop our way up King Street, mostly browsing through antique stores, until I hit a used bookstore; one of my big weaknesses. I seek them out in every city and never come home empty-handed and today is no exception.

A little more walking, a casual dinner and we are back to our cozy rental for the evening.

For the next day, I’ve already made brunch reservations at High Cotton with a bluegrass band accompaniment. The restaurant is lovely, the food is fabulous (a heavenly cherry-cheese-almond Danish, eggs Florentine with fried oysters). We walk down to the Nathaniel Russell House for a tour. The historic house is famous for it’s “flying staircase” and it really is an amazing, three-story marvel.

We mosey back to our car. The weather is sunny again but no warmer than the day before so any snow and ice that are in the shade are not melting. We stop at a grocery store for crackers and peanut butter and fruit – we have no need to eat a full dinner tonight.

After four days, the weather is finally warming up to a more seasonable high 50s, so we hop the first tour boat out of Charleston to visit Fort Sumter. We only knew the barest details of the fort, what most people know: it is considered the spot where the Civil War began. We learn a great deal about the history, although I think Walt and I are more fascinated by the fact that it was a manmade-island, built mostly by ballast-rubble brought in from New England. I’m also, as always, fascinated by the cannons, which are being saved from the seawater that washes over them during hurricanes. You can actually adopt a cannon to help the conservation process. How cool is that?

We spend the rest of the day doing a little exploring outside of Charleston before heading to Swig and Swine for barbecue. It was so good.

The weather has definitely improved so we head to Magnolia Plantation, one of several historic plantations on the banks of the Ashley River. The gardens, for which the plantation is most famous, are not in bloom (the camellias should be but they got whacked by the ice) but we enjoy walking the grounds and touring the house.

We have to drive past Swig and Swine to get “home” but resist temptation and instead check out an Italian restaurant on King Street, also recommended by our host. It’s Restaurant Week in Charleston so we get a great deal on a three-course meal, including leftover pizza for breakfast.

It hasn’t been the week we expected in Charleson – except for the food, which was as wonderful as we’d hoped – but we’ve had a good time. Now we’re headed to Hilton Head Island, to visit with Walt’s sister and brother-in-law before we head west.

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Days 186-192– Asheville, Final Week

Post-Christmas the weather is too cold for us to do much more than hibernate and get ready to hit the road again.

We’ve had a great time in Asheville but we are ready for a change. A couple of months ago, we booked another rental out west, this time for two months. It’s our other finalist for a retirement home, so we’re eager to check it out.

First, we have to eat up the food in our fridge in Asheville, sort our stuff and try to figure out what we can cram into the car. We have significantly more clothes than we did last summer, when we had carefully curated wardrobes. Unfortunately since it’s so cold (didn’t even break freezing yesterday) here right now, we still need our winter coats, hats, gloves and sweaters. Since we’ll be in Arizona until April, we will also need to keep our warm-weather clothes.

We’ve already stuffed our backpacks full of our hiking gear and sent them home with Bobby and Lauren, who will ship them to Arizona in a couple of weeks. After we each spend a night fretting, we agree to sort out our skiing clothes (we plan to spend a week or so in Colorado in late spring) and ship them to Walt’s sister’s house in Denver.

But we still have more clothes and stuff, including our golf clubs, to cram into the car than we did last summer. We shall see how it goes.

I realize that we have been “homeless” or “home free” as Walt likes to call it, for a full six months now. Our old home in Virginia feels so long ago.

We talk about how we feel about pulling up from our Asheville home, after having spent three months here. We’ve developed regular hangouts – the municipal golf course, Biltmore Fitness to work out, Moe’s Original Bar B Que down the street, the Well-Bred Bakery in Biltmore Village for cookies, the Corner Kitchen for the occasional indulgent breakfast, the Red Stag Grill for a special dinner out, etc. I get my afternoon cuddles with Charlie, the neighbor’s friendly black cat.

Walt and I have developed a routine and rhythm of sorts that’s much more like “living” somewhere than we felt all summer when we were traveling most every day or so.

We’ve enjoyed Asheville tremendously but we both agree that we’re ready to hit the road again. We’re looking forward to a week or so in Charleston, SC, just seeing the sights, enjoying the food and (if we’re lucky) playing a little golf. Then we’ll visit Lisa and Dave, Walt’s sister and brother-in-law at their house in Hilton Head before heading out west via a southern route. We spent one afternoon planning our route and booking hotels for our 3 1/2–day trip, so we’re set for that.

I’ve also spent some time looking up things to do in Charleston and booking a few meals already.

So we need to clean up the house, do a final load of laundry, finishing shoehorning everything into the car and head off to our next adventure.

Days 179-185 – Asheville, Week 12

We get in one last sunny day of golf – not our best scores but we’re playing golf the week before Christmas – and realize we need to get ourselves together for Christmas. Our landlord hosts have given us tabletop decorations, a wreath and a tiny, lighted Christmas tree but we have to wrap our presents because Lauren and Bobby are coming for Christmas.

First we head off to a local Asheville tradition: the “34th Annual Bernstein Family Christmas Spectacular.” It’s hard to explain exactly what this is. There is a play and there are dances and musical numbers but there are also independent sketches and live “commercials” that are hilarious – the ad for a local pet store that has two reindeers wishing they were pets whose owners shopped at the store instead of “seasonal contract employees” of Santa’s. The whole thing is for-adults-only and laugh-out-loud funny.

Walt keeps asking me what we’ve gotten them for stocking-stuffers. We don’t have our stockings (or any of our own Christmas decorations, save for the Biltmore photo ornament of us with Dave and Lisa from their visit). Walt just replies that “Santa brings the stockings.” If so, then why is Santa also bringing the stocking-stuffers?

So off we go on a little shopping expedition. We add Italian panetonne bread so we can use it for French toast on Christmas morning, flowers for the table and wrapping paper, ribbon and tags round out our purchases.

Presents wrapped and placed near the tree, we spend the day cleaning the house so everything looks good.

We’ve bought tickets to visit the Biltmore Estate with Lauren and Bobby because it’s just the thing to do in Asheville, especially this time of year when the house is so fabulously decorated. The only tickets we could get were for the late afternoon, so although we won’t get the extravagance of all the lights in and around the house, we get to see a lot more detail in the house and, even better, the fabulous views out the windows and on the terraces. Mr. Vanderbilt certainly knew what he was doing when he picked out the original 80,000 acres of his estate (some 8,000 remain today) and placed his house.

The views down the rolling meadows and off to the mountains in the distance are exactly what I would choose for myself. In fact, I fantasize briefly and out loud that Walt and I could build a little house in a corner at the foot of a huge stone terrace. We’d have the views but wouldn’t be seen from the house. Who’s to know?

Walt gently steers me away from the proverbial edge and I am consoled by dinner at our favorite barbecue place.

We plan to spend Christmas Eve day doing a hike but, again, we are thwarted by closures on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Oh well. We stop at an overlook for the views and then, since we’re actually so close to one of our favorite possible homesites, we drive there to show Lauren and Bobby where we might like to build our retirement home. They approve of our potential choice – great views, close to town, nice neighborhood. We also show them a nearby house that is very much in the style we’d like to build. They approve of our modern taste, as well.

We’re still trying to head toward a hike, but we decide to make a stop at the Grove Park Inn and the gingerbread competition. By the time we’ve meandered through the entries scattered about the hotel, admired the huge boulders in the fireplace and the views, we decide we’ve done enough walking to warrant a stop at the gingerbread stand. Lauren and I get hot cocoa and the guys get beer. I had brought cookies we bought at our favorite Biltmore Village bakery, thinking we would have them post-hike, so here we are, outside on the terrace, drinking our beverages and eating our cookies in the sunshine.

We bask for a while before heading off to show them another piece of property that has caught our eye. Showing off the two potential homesites solidifies in my mind which one I prefer, which is an unexpected benefit.

For dinner tonight, we’re back at the wonderful Red Stag Grlll, enjoying a sumptuous four-course meal.

In the morning, we find that Santa has brought stockings – and filled them with the gifts we bought and wrapped – as well as what I call the “dreaded Christmas hat.”

Let me explain. For our first Christmas together, Walt and I were headed to hike Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. While we were in Dulles Airport a few days before Christmas, we kept seeing people wearing red “Santa” hats – you know the ones with the pom-pom on the end. Unbeknownst to me, Walt bought one in the airport, stuffed it in his pack and kept it hidden until Christmas morning. I woke up to find the hat sitting on top of my sleeping bag. I put it on and wore it to breakfast. Luckily, our head guide liked and I gave it to him. I thought I had seen the last of Walt’s little joke… until the next year when another appeared before I got out of bed. He made it a rule that I can’t open any of my presents until I wear the Santa hat.

I was sure I had escaped this year. But it wasn’t meant to be. Don’t worry, I’ll post the picture of me in the dreaded Christmas hat. I like hats but am not a goofy hat type of person, which, I’m sure, is why Walt thinks it’s so funny. I put up with the torment because it’s so rare coming from Walt. Usually I’m the one torturing him with made-up names and funny sayings. The hat is about the only time I can think of that he’s adamant that the joke must be on me.

We had a lovely morning with Lauren and Bobby, opening gifts, eating our panetonne French toast before they headed back to Durham.

After all that food, we wanted to get another hike in but the weather has just been too cold, so we’ve settled for going to the gym and otherwise just staying inside.

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