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?