Elena’s Travels

I feel as if I’ve hardly been here in August—and looking at the calendar, that isn’t far from the truth! Of course, while traveling I still have the eye and mind of a Regency author. I couldn’t help noticing some recurring themes that resonated with the Regency: excess and elegance.

The cruise was much as my husband and I expected: fun, relaxing, a bit tacky at times but the ship was big enough that we could avoid most of the silliness. No belly flop contests for us, thanks! Nor did we pig out at the buffets or overindulge on umbrella drinks; we were interested in only one sort of excess. 🙂 But many of our fellow passengers were less restrained; it makes one think of those Regency dinner parties with umpteen courses or gentlemen’s gatherings where multiple bottles of wine were consumed per person. Although I think we looked quite nice on the formal night, the greatest elegance was provided by the gorgeous sea life we saw on our snorkel trips.

Once we’d retrieved the kids from the grandparents, we toured several attractions with friends and relatives in North Carolina. Our first visit was the Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee, NC. Though the area holds a profusion of kitschy-looking gift shops, the village, a recreation of a nearby village circa 1750 or so, is well worth visiting. The setting is lovely, a beautifully shaded hillside and there were demonstrations of beadwork (I would have loved to take lessons), shooting a blowgun, basket weaving, mask carving and more. I was particularly struck by the simple and eerily beautiful animal imagery of the carvings.

The following day we went from rustic simplicity to civilized excess at Biltmore House, the Vanderbilts’ 250 room “family home” in Asheville. The tour was interesting and very long. Areas used by the family and guests are sumptuously decorated, sometimes overdone to my taste; the servants’ areas were also interesting and appeared to be more comfortable than in most stately homes I’ve visited. My favorite room was the library, one place where excess is never a bad thing. 🙂

Our next major stop was Monticello, a place that offers less pomp but far more real elegance along with a vivid sense of Thomas Jefferson, his personality, his family, his conflicted position regarding slavery, his many interests both scientific and artistic. My children were impressed that he said he “could not live without books”. Perhaps my favorite part within the house was the dining room, with its French style chairs and fireplace with Wedgwood medallions. The garden tour revealed a number of plants I wasn’t familiar with, including the lovely caracalla bean plant pictured here. In 1792, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Benjamin Hawkins about the Caracalla Bean saying it was the “most beautiful bean in the world.” I have to agree.

Now we are back, my children are (hopefully!) enjoying their first day of school and I’m trying to return to Normal Life. If I can remember what that is!

If you’ve visited any of these places, what was your most or least favorite part? If you traveled this summer, did you see anything you thought excessive, or elegant, or even excessively elegant?


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14 years ago

Alas, nope, haven’t been to any of these places. . . and as for this summer, well, just been to the bookstores when the cash situation permitted, and to eat afterwards. LOL Last week was good, I was able to get a couple of books of my usual budgeted list, so I’m still happy this week, since I’m reading them! 🙂


Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Lois, I’m with you! I’ve never visited these places either and I’ve lived in Virginia for a brazillion years! I’m particularly ashamed of never having visited Monticello, about 100 miles away, but then, I’ve never visited Lee’s Mansion in Arlington, VA, which is practically next door.

The Biltmore house is also on my list of places to visit! I’m very curious as to how it stacks up against the country houses I visited in England. I can tell you that Mt. Vernon seemed shabby and small in comparison. One can almost hear visiting English gentlemen of the time period snickering behind their handkerchiefs at sight of the First President’s estate.

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Lois, new books (and free time to read them) are always a happy thing!

Diane, I haven’t been to Mount Vernon but Monticello is likely on a similar scale, much less grand than most English country houses I’ve visited. But what it lacks in size is more than compensated by its beauty. Biltmore House, on the other hand, is vast, and they are restoring more of it all the time. I think it is larger than either Chatsworth or Blenheim, if I’m remembering them correctly. But of course even when talking of homes, size is not everything. 🙂

Margaret Evans Porter
14 years ago

I’ve been to every one of those places, and you accurately captured the advantages of seeing them.

But I’ve never been on a cruise–or, frankly–wanted to be on one. I prefer to roam when I travel, and be free enough to let impulse guide me. As well, there’s usually a research component–either for novel or an article–to my trips, and I don’t think a cruise would be conducive.

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

Your summer sounds great, Elena! I’ve often wanted to visit Monticello or Biltmore, but have never had the chance. (I went to North Carolina a couple years ago, and saw Tryon Palace–much like Williamsburg–but not the part of the state Biltmore is in. I didn’t get to Roanoke, either)

And I have never been on a cruise! Are the cabins tiny? That’s the thing I worry about, being a bit claustrophobic. 🙂 But a relative told me they give you unlimited lobster and crab, not to mention chocolate cake, so I was teeny bit tempted..

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Margaret, I know where you’re coming from re cruising. My husband and I enjoyed ours but not so much because of the cruising per se. It fit our needs this summer because we were both feeling a bit stressed and wanted a more relaxing and less decision-filled vacation than we usually like. Also, we weren’t comfortable leaving our kids with the elderly grandparents for more than 4 days and we didn’t want to spend too much of that time driving or flying somewhere (the port was about an hour’s drive away). So overall, it was fun once but we probably won’t do this sort of cruise again.

Amanda, I heard most of the cabins are very small. Since we were celebrating our 20th anniversary we splurged on a suite with a balcony, which was not huge either but quite comfortable. The food was pretty good at dinner but actually more interesting at the buffet–stations with Thai, Indian and other ethnic foods along with more typical fare. And some very nice desserts. 🙂

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Re the cruise, something I didn’t mention before were the shows. They were quite good, especially two comedians who did stand-up during our cruise. Still, it is a very “canned” vacation.

Cara King
14 years ago

Love that library!


14 years ago

I’ve been on a couple of Caribbean cruises. I love dressing up for the Captain’s Dinner. We hung out at the casino and piano bar.

Louisa Cornell
14 years ago

The highlight of my summer was the trip to San Francisco for Nationals. Needless to say, I HAD A BALL!!! It was so much fun to meet all of you and to act like a real live writer for a week! And I really loved the dressing up as it harkened back to my opera days.

I have never been on a cruise, but I think I would like to do that before I take the long dirt nap. I can’t swim, but as I have NO plans to fall overboard I should be fine. I will, however, trample small children to get to the lifeboat in the event of a disaster. 🙂

I have never been to any of those places, but I have visited some gorgeous antebellum homes in the South. There is a small town in Alabama called Eutaw (pronounced like the state Utah) There are over 50 pre Civil War homes in that town and its outskirts alone.

Still, those homes – Monticello, Mount Vernon and especially the Biltmore Estate are on my list! Then again I would also love to return to Chatsworth. The only time I saw it I was 9 years old and I don’t think I was capable of appreciating it the way I would now.

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Jane and Louisa, I love dressing up too. On the formal night, there was a wide range, some couples still casual but some in tuxes and floor length gowns. We went somewhere in between with a suit and cocktail dress.

14 years ago

Your vacation sounds lovely, Elena! In particular, Monticello is one place I’ve wanted to go for years that I’ve not yet made it to. With all his problems and contradictions, Jefferson is still one of the Founders that I most admire.


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