Archive for the ‘Vacation/Travel’ Category

Surprising Gifts in the Form of Kind Words

May 4th, 2010 by Skyla Grimes

In today’s world, there is an emphasis on reviews. Many people do or don’t buy or try a product or service based on someone’s personal opinion about that product or service. In my world, the world of travel, hospitality, and tourism, there are many sites out there for people to leave anonymous reviews of me and my B&B. Trip Advisor, Yelp, BedandBreakfast.com, just to name a few. Not to mention someone’s personal blog or website.

Someone has a bad experience or just a bad day and they can ruin a business’s reputation. Or at least make it difficult to overcome. I have received my share of good AND bad reviews. After the initial upset caused, I have been able to take a step back and really look at what the reviewer is saying. In some cases, their issues were totally valid and I have sought to remedy problems. Things like an a/c unit that is not working properly or someone not wanting to share table space with other guests or not liking something I cook are easy enough to fix. Personality conflicts and not liking my style of running the Inn are not so easy to change, but I try my best. As a result, I have definitely seen a change over the past several years in the number of unhappy guests versus happy guests. It’s not that I received a large number of bad reviews, but when you receive one or two a year, it leaves an impression.  The ultimate goal as an innkeeper is to offer a welcoming house for guests and to enhance their lodging experience with a genuinely pleasant and accommodating attitude.

I think I have come a long way from the first 2 years of B&B ownership and a background in Human Resources where policies are policies and you don’t break them and where everything has its place and any deviation caused stress. Taking the review comments from unhappy guests and comments from the happy ones too, I feel so much better now that I listen more and don’t get so worried about the small stuff. If a guest breaks something, I don’t break out into hives anymore; it’s no big deal. It can be replaced. I have gotten rid of some of the fees that I used to charge for things like early check-ins and large group cleaning gratuities. Let the airlines and hotel chains nickel and dime their customers with lots of extra fees.

Many of the changes I have made over the years have come as a result of positive feedback rather than negative feedback. When someone criticizes your way of doing things, it’s easy to ignore their comments or become so defensive that you can’t hear what is being said. But when you have a conversation with a happy guest and they ask if you can change something about your Inn, their room, their breakfast or its operation, it is so much easier to take their words to heart, because you know they are coming from a place of caring about you and your business and because they plan to come back!

My suggestion to anyone getting ready to rip into a business via an anonymous review would be to try speaking to the owner, innkeeper, or manager first. You may find that a few kind words go further than a scathing post on everything you hated about your experience or the product. If that doesn’t work (sometimes a request is out of the control of even the person in charge), then a post with objective information and suggestions for improvement will still probably go further than nothing but negative comments. Even humor goes a long way.

I wanted to share a couple of cards from guests I received recently. How many people sit down and spend a few minutes writing a card to another person, a business? And to receive two cards, one in March & one in April, was so touching that I felt the need to share with my readers and guests how much I appreciate them once they leave the Inn. This is the reason why people looking for a personal experience should consider staying at a B&B versus a hotel. We WANT to establish relationships with our guests.

The first card was sent just before Easter from guests who have been to the Inn 4-5 times over the past couple of years. I had not seen them since the fall so to receive an Easter card was thrilling. The guests wrote: “Thanks so much for remembering us with a gift certificate! That was so thoughtful of you and sweet! Spring has finally come to Indiana; February was our cold, snowy month. We just love you and Blake House and are looking forward to coming down to Asheville again in 2010.”

The second card was sent mid-April from a guest who had stayed here a couple of years ago and had come back to visit family in the area. She wrote, “Dear Leslie, Thanks for launching me into Spring 2010 in royal style.  Loved my stay at your beautiful inn. I’ve tormented many with tales of your fabulous breakfasts. (The only attempt I’ve made at imitating was the baked grapefruit.) A success! Best regards. P.S. I’ll be back!”

As an innkeeper, I meet a lot of people; some are just passing through Asheville for one night and some stay for several days. My hope is that everyone enjoys their stay, no matter the amount of time. But if you don’t, you can talk to me and I will listen. If you do, I thank you most ardently for any kind words you say or write, whether you choose to share them with others via online review sites, or if you only share them with me in a sweet card or email.

I love Asheville! I love this Inn! And I love everyone who shares part of their life with me and this old house.

Biltmore: More Than Just a Big House

April 28th, 2010 by Skyla Grimes

Did you know that Biltmore offers more than just the largest private home in the country and its own winery? I did, but I didn’t know it offers as much as it does. With your General Admission ticket you get to explore the house and gardens, the new Antler Hill Village, restaurants, shops, and acres and acres of walking and biking trails.  In addition, you can take guided tours, specialty wine experiences, and lots of outdoor activities. These additional experiences cost more, but if you planned on doing some of the activities while in Asheville, why not enjoy them on the Estate? Here’s a list of all the neat stuff you can opt to do to enhance your experience:

  • Audio Guide to the Biltmore House: $10 – I advise my guests that if they have never been to Biltmore, this self-guided audio tour is worth the price as they will receive so much more information about the house, family and history than what they get from the brochure alone.
  • Behind-the-Scenes Tour: $17
  • Family & Friends Tour: $17
  • Rooftop Tour: $17
  • Guided House Tour: $17
  • Legacy of the Land: $19
  • Antler Hill Farm Guided Tour: $10
  • Red Wine & Chocolate Specialty Wine Experience: contact Guest Services for pricing information
  • Signature Tasting Specialty Wine Experience: contact Guest Services for pricing information
  • Bike Rentals: $10/1 hour; $30/4 hours – daily trail passes are $5 without bike rentals
  • Carriage Rides: $35
  • Fly-fishing School: $125/2-hour lesson; equipment and materials provided
  • Guided Segway Tours: $75
  • Guided Horseback Trail Rides: $70/adults; $60/children (8-17)
  • Land Rover Experience Driving School: starting at $250 per vehicle for 1-6 hour adventures
  • Land Rover Ride-Along Expedition: $25
  • Kids’ Land Rover Adventure Course: $55 (ages 4-10)
  • River Float Trips: $35/guided raft trips; $25/self-guided kayak trips
  • Sporting Clays School: $175

For any of the experiences listed above, you will need to contact Guest Services in order to make reservations and to check for pricing as it may change from time to time: 800.543.2961. Not all Experiences are available year-round, so a quick call or a visit to the website can provide the dates for whatever you want to enjoy.

My 5 Favorite Dog-Friendly Activities

April 21st, 2010 by Skyla Grimes

Asheville is definitely a dog-friendly city and there are a plethora of activities in WNC where a person can take their pooch. I certainly have not experienced them all, but wanted to share my 5 favorites.

  • Gray Line Historic Trolley Tours - there are a couple of trolley tours and one comedy tour in Asheville. I am familiar with the Gray Line tours (red trolleys) and I know they allow well-behaved dogs, no matter what size. The trolleys are roomy and the aisles have plenty of space for your dog to sit. My suggestion is to sit as far back in the trolley as possible so nobody trips over your dog. I carry trolley vouchers at the Inn and they are well worth the price. Adult tickets are $20, children (3-12) pay $10. There are 9 stops on the trolley route and the buses run March – December (March is on a half schedule). Riders may exit the trolley at any or all stops and your trolley admission also gets you into the Thomas Wolfe Memorial (sorry, no dogs allowed inside). Some of the trolley stops include the Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, the River Arts District, Biltmore Village, and downtown Asheville.
  • Chimney Rock Park - This State park is located 30 minutes southeast of the Inn. Open year-round, the park offers 4-5 different hiking/walking trails, from easy to moderate. The only place dogs are not permitted is the elevator and cafe located at the base of the Chimney Rock. However, you and your dog can still get there by taking the amazing amount of stairs that wind up and around the side of the cliff walls. My dog Hummer (a 90-lb weimaraner) made it with little effort, but it may prove strenuous for older, short-legged dogs. If that is the case, there are several easy to walk trails; one leads you to the base of the waterfall. The Park offers all sorts of cool activities from bird watching, to photography lessons, rock climbing to an Easter Sunday Sunrise service. Cost to get into the park is $14 for adults, $7 for children, free for dogs! I carry $1 off discount coupons at the Inn.
  • Asheville’s Urban Trail – The Urban Trail is a 1.7 mile walk through downtown Asheville with 30 points of interest, spread over 5 historic periods in time. The self-guided walking tour starts at the Asheville Art Museum at Pack Square, but tourgoers can start at any point and end at any point. I carry trail guides at the Inn and guests and dogs are free to stop along the way at one of the many restaurants in downtown Asheville that offers outdoor seating so that you can refresh and re-energize before completing the tour.
  • North Carolina Arboretum – The Arboretum is a 434-acre natural preserve with 65 acres of cultivated gardens and 10 miles of hiking and biking trails. Parking is $8 per vehicle and the first Tuesday of each month is free. There are nine different trails rated from Easy to Difficult. The Arboretum offers permanent and temporary exhibits, a unique bonsai collection, and educational programs for adults and children. The Arboretum is located approximately a 10-minute drive from the Inn and will provide a wonderful outdoor experience for you and your pet at a very reasonable price.
  • Biltmore Estate – No Top 5 List would be complete without mentioning the Biltmore Estate. While dogs are not permitted in the house, the rest of the 8,000-acre estate is open to your canine friend, including many walking trails.  If you want to enjoy the house, I recommend making use of the Estate’s kennels, located in Parking Lot C. This lot is typically used by RVs and buses, but there is plenty of parking for regular vehicles and you can catch a shuttle bus to the house from this lot.  The kennels are self-serve and free of charge. There are 8 kennels, very nicely maintained and sturdy, enclosed on all sides and located under trees, thus providing additional shade. The kennels also have water bowls for your pets, plenty of room for them to move around, and locks for you to take the key.  I snapped several photos of the kennels so you can see what they look like in advance of your visit…
    Biltmore KennelsBiltmore Kennels Biltmore Estate

There are many, many more dog-friendly attractions and activities around Asheville. I carry maps and hiking guides that include specific information on hikes that are appropriate for dogs. So if you are wondering what to do in Asheville with Fido, start with my Favorite 5 list and if you get through it, I can promise to provide more options for you.

Hope to see you and your dog in Asheville soon!

 

Go Blue Ridge Card: A little Known Money-Saver

April 1st, 2010 by Skyla Grimes

Although Asheville is a relatively small city, it is a popular tourist destination. When I speak to potential guests on the telephone, I find myself educating many on all that Asheville, and the surrounding cities and mountains, has to offer.  Asheville is not just the downtown area, although downtown is definitely a must-see, must-experience part of the city.  I also have to explain that for most people, you can’t really experience all this area has to offer on foot; you really need a car (or some other long-distance type of transportation) to get around to everything. Therefore, being a B&B in South Asheville about a 10-15 minute drive from “downtown” is not a bad thing because guests are going to be driving all over this area anyway.

For example, southeast of Asheville is Chimney Rock Park and Lake Lure; south of Asheville is “South Asheville” and all the development going on including the opening of several restaurants, spas/salons, shopping areas and movie theaters plus Hendersonville (the apple capital of the south) and Flat Rock; southwest of Asheville is Brevard with all its glorious waterfalls, Dupont State Park and Pisgah National Forest with pieces of the Blue Ridge Parkway and tons of hiking; west of Asheville is “West Asheville” and its new revival of the area shops, restaurants, and artist community; further west is Waynesville, Cataloochie Ski and Elk area, and the Cherokee Reservation; northwest of Asheville you have several starting points for white water rafting and other water adventures; north and northeast of Asheville are lots and lots of cool places and mountains to explore including the Blue Ridge Parkway, Boone and Blowing Rock, Linville Caverns, Mount Mitchell State Park, Grandfather Mountain, and several ski locations; and east of Asheville is Black Mountain.

There is so much to include in the list, but I assume the reader gets the picture.  Asheville is much more than just downtown Asheville and in order to really get the flavor of this area, visitors need more than a couple of days. However, I totally understand that people may not have a lot of time and want to pack in as much as possible during a short or long stay.  That’s where the Go Blue Ridge Card comes in.

The Go Blue Ridge Card is one card for about 30 different attractions. One card, one fee, up to 30 places to visit! You can get a 2-day, 3-day, or 5-day card and days do not have to be used consecutively. You have up to 2 weeks to use all of the days on your card.

Some of the attractions included in the card are: BILTMORE ESTATE, Grayline Trolley Tours of Asheville, Lake Lure Tours, Chimney Rock Park, Grandfather Mountain, and Wildwater Rafting, just to name a few.

This is a HUGE savings if you plan to visit more than 2 attractions on the list.  The cost of each ticket is as follows:

  • 2-day: $84.99 (adult); $54.99 (child – ages 3-12)
  • 3-day: $114.99 (adult); $59.39 (child – ages 3-12)
  • 5-day: $159.99 (adult); $94.49 (child – ages 3-12)

To add a little excitement (and incentive) to guests, during the month of APRIL, I am offering a SPRING BREAK MID-WEEK DEAL:

  • stay 3 nights in any room priced $130/night or higher (Sundays – Thursdays), receive a complimentary 2-day GO BLUE RIDGE CARD.
  • Stay 4 nights in any room priced $130/night or higher (Sundays – Thursdays), receive a complimentary 3-day GO BLUE RIDGE CARD.
  • Stay 5 nights in any room priced $130/night or higher (Sundays – Thursdays), receive a complimentary 5-day GO BLUE RIDGE CARD.

This special may not be combined with any other discounts, specials, or offers. Complimentary card is for one person and reservation must be booked between 4/1 – 4/24 for stays to be completed by 4/29.

5 Reasons Why a Bed & Breakfast is a Great Option for Business Travelers

March 21st, 2010 by Skyla Grimes

Very few business travelers consider staying at a bed & breakfast when traveling for work and they are really missing out! The average B&B offers so much more than a place to sleep and breakfast the next morning. More and more, they are expanding their offerings to include hosting events, fundraisers, cooking classes, and to entice the mid-week business traveler. Following is a list of five reasons why businesses should consider sending their employees to a bed and breakfast for their next trip:

  1. According to the Professional Association of Innkeepers International (PAII), 94% of B&Bs have private bathrooms for each room. It used to be that many times, guests had to share a bathroom with other guests which could not only be inconvenient, but embarrassing. Not so anymore. Innkeepers have recognized the need to offer private bathrooms along with private bedrooms so the instances of shared bathrooms are few and very far between. As an innkeeper, I am still surprised at the number of calls I receive where the caller is asking if my rooms have shared or private bathrooms. This is obviously a perception that can be laid to rest for the most part, but if the traveler has any concerns, most B&Bs have websites with room photos and descriptions which should indicate if a bathroom is private or shared.
  2. The 2009 PAII B&B Industry Study also indicates that 93% of bed & breakfasts offer FREE high speed (wireless) internet access. Many hotels still charge for internet access, but I don’t know of one bed & breakfast that does. At a hotel, if you want free internet, you have to wait in a line to use one of the few, highly-sought-after computers down in the lobby, sometimes floors and floors away from your room. How convenient is that?
  3. Not every business traveler is looking to hang out in the hotel bar when not working. For that person, the average bed & breakfast offers not only internet access in common areas, but games, free movies, a guest refrigerator with either free or reduced drinks, free snacks, magazines, and books. These personal touches in the bed and breakfast really go a long way to making the traveler feel welcome and valued during their stay. In many cases, special requests for something can and will be handled free of charge by the innkeeper.
  4. When traveling in an unfamiliar city, it can be nerve-wracking and time consuming to figure out where things are.  The average innkeeper is intimately invested in the city and is happy to speak with the traveler and point out favorite restaurants and attractions. They carry a large selection of brochures and maps and in many cases can give personal recommendations on must-see places. At a hotel, good luck getting recommendations on anything. There’s a good chance that the front desk personnel aren’t even familiar with the immediate area because they live no where close to the hotel.
  5. Finally, let’s talk about breakfast. As the second part of the bed and breakfast equation, the breakfast part is quite important. Every business traveler has different needs when it comes to breakfast and every B&B can work around those needs. Although every B&B has a different set up and schedule for their breakfast, just because the full breakfast is served at 9 am doesn’t mean that the business traveler has to miss out.  Speaking for my Inn, some business travelers can stay for the 9:00 breakfast, but many have to leave before then. I would never send a guest away hungry unless that is their preference. I keep a breakfast room stocked with continental breakfast items including oatmeal, milk/cereal, fresh fruit, bagels/cream cheese, and coffee. Not only is there a one-cup coffee maker upstairs for guests to help themselves to 24 hours a day, but there is a second coffee pot downstairs in the Breakfast Room with 24 hours access. In addition, I always ask my guests who are leaving early if there is anything special I can have for them to take like muffins, OJ, etc. Most B&Bs will offer the same type of option as well.

While I covered just 5 reasons for business travelers to stay at a bed and breakfast, there are more. Consider the fact that parking at a B&B is most likely more convenient than a hotel.  A B&B may even have space for small meetings. Invite your business comrades over to the B&B to get away from the office. The Innkeeper maybe able to set up a catered lunch for your group. I definitely recommend coordinating any onsite meetings with the Innkeeper first, but what a nice way to get out of the office for a couple of hours without distractions and noise. Lastly, many B&Bs offer access to or assistance with sending faxes and making copies (small quantities). Check with the Innkeeper to see what business services they offer. Most are FREE of charge, unlike the average hotel.

The average nightly rate at a B&B is around $150/night, but that varies widely by location, time of year, and room. Bed and Breakfasts WANT mid-week travelers and may offer a corporate discount or some other type of business traveler perk. Don’t assume out of hand that the bed & breakfast is too expensive because you will be surprised with the value you get for the cost. By the time the hotel has nickel and dimed you, you will probably have just paid as much as you would have by staying at the local B&B. However, you would not have gotten the friendly, knowledgeable service you would have received from the small historical house around the corner.

Asheville Festivals – Something For Everyone

February 20th, 2010 by Skyla Grimes

Asheville offers an almost year-round festival schedule and you will find something for just about everyone from flowers to arts to sports to food to gay pride. I wasn’t even aware of some of these events until I decided to put together this blog and started doing some research. Starting in late January and going to November, this city stays busy!

Listed below are all the festivals I found, in chronological order, with a link (if I could find one) to the official website:

January

  • Asheville FringeArts Festival (held in late January – sorry, this one has already passed for 2010) – provides artists with opportunities to explore the edges of their work, collaborate across genres and bring new and innovative performances to culturally adventurous audiences.

February

March

  • Jazz After 5 Concert Series - Jazz After Five concludes Friday, March 12 from 5-8 pm, held at Pack Place. The Jazz evenings raise funds for operations of the Asheville Downtown Association and last year collected donations for Manna Food Bank. Attendees are encouraged to bring non-perishable items to the concert and to leave them at the collection points.

April

  • Festival of Flowers – April 3 – May 16 – The Biltmore Estate – This year is the 25th anniversary of the “festival.” Herald spring at Biltmore with acres of blooms to boost your spirits and more Biltmore to enjoy than ever with the new Antler Hill Village.

May

  • Asheville Herb Festival – April 30 – May 2 – WNC Farmers Market – The WNC Chapter of the NC Herb Association represents the incredibly wide variety of herbalists and herb businesses in North Carolina: herb growers and vendors, natural gardening and landscaping specialists, and makers of herbal ointments, balms, soaps, teas, medicines, and other products.
  • Festival of Flowers – April 3 – May 16 – The Biltmore Estate – This year is the 25th anniversary of the “festival.” Herald spring at Biltmore with acres of blooms to boost your spirits and more Biltmore to enjoy than ever with the new Antler Hill Village.
  • Lake Eden Arts Festivel (LEAF) - May 6 – 9 – Camp Rockmont, Black Mountain, NC – a non-profit organization connecting cultures and creating community through music and arts.
  • Downtown After 5May 21 – 5 – 9 pm – Lexington Avenue, between Hiawassee Street and I-240. Free live music and dancing starts at 5 pm with food and drink available for purchase.
  • Mountain Sports Festival – May 28 – 30 – Events are all over the greater Asheville area, but the Festival Village is located at Carrier Park on Amboy Road, along the French Broad River in West Asheville. From intense trail running to laid-back disc golf, from adventure racing to the Iron Kids events, from high speed track racing to whitewater kayak clinics… there is something here to entertain and challenge you!

June

  • Downtown After 5 – June 18 – 5 – 9 pm – Lexington Avenue, between Hiawassee Street and I-240. Free live music and dancing starts at 5 pm with food and drink available for purchase.

July

  • Shindig on the Green - July 3, 10, 17, 31 – 7 pm – Pack Square green in downtown Asheville – This mountain tradition features an always-enjoyable variety of  Big Circle Mountain Dancers, Clog Dancers, Bluegrass and Old Time String Bands, Ballad Singers, and Storytellers.
  • Downtown After 5 – July 16 – 5 – 9 pm – Lexington Avenue, between Hiawassee Street and I-240. Free live music and dancing starts at 5 pm with food and drink available for purchase.
  • Bele Chere – July 23 – 25 – downtown Asheville – Bele Chere is a street festival with a wide variety of arts, music, food, beverages, events, and children’s
    activities.

August

  • Mountain Dance & Folk Festival – August 5 – 7 – 7 pm – Diana Wortham Theater – Since 1928, mountain fiddlers, banjo pickers, dulcimer sweepers, dancers, balladeers and others have come to enjoy themselves “along about sundown” the first weekend in August.
  • Shindig on the Green - August 14, 21, 28 – 7 pm – Pack Square green in downtown Asheville – This mountain tradition features an always-enjoyable variety of  Big Circle Mountain Dancers, Clog Dancers, Bluegrass and Old Time String Bands, Ballad Singers, and Storytellers.
  • Downtown After 5 – August 20 – 5 – 9 pm – Lexington Avenue, between Hiawassee Street and I-240. Free live music and dancing starts at 5 pm with food and drink available for purchase.
  • Goombay! - August 27 – 29 – downtown Asheville – this African-Caribbean festival brings a variety of family-oriented entertainment from steel drums to African-American dancers to local Gospel groups to contemporary rhythm bands.

September

  • Shindig on the Green - September 4 – 7 pm – Pack Square green in downtown Asheville – This mountain tradition features an always-enjoyable variety of  Big Circle Mountain Dancers, Clog Dancers, Bluegrass and Old Time String Bands, Ballad Singers, and Storytellers.
  • Organic Fest – The website is still showing 2009 information, but check back for 2010 updates. The festival celebrates everything organic with live music, organic food, vendors, arts and crafts and a kids garden parade.
  • Downtown After 5 – September 17 – 5 – 9 pm – Lexington Avenue, between Hiawassee Street and I-240. Free live music and dancing starts at 5 pm with food and drink available for purchase.
  • Brewgrass Festival - Saturday, September 18, 2010 – Martin Luther King Jr. Park, Asheville, NC – Each year in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina, we gather over 40 American breweries to showcase more than 120 different beers. We add a great lineup of national and regional bluegrass musicians and also feature a variety of area food vendors and plenty of water.

October

  • Blue Ridge Pride – October 2 – downtown Asheville – This event will encompass multiple events throughout the first week of October and culminate with an open festival at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in Asheville, NC. In addition to live entertainment throughout the day, there will be vendor as well as educational booths.
  • Lake Eden Arts Festivel (LEAF) - October 14 – 17 – Camp Rockmont, Black Mountain, NC – a non-profit organization connecting cultures and creating community through music and arts.

November

  • Asheville Film Festival – website is still showing 2009 dates, but check back for 2010 updates – The Asheville Film Festival is produced by the City of Asheville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department. The festival offers screenings, panel discussions, special presentations, and more.

(Little) Known Facts About Asheville

February 11th, 2010 by Skyla Grimes

For a city with a small population of about 75,000, there is still a lot to learn about Asheville. I have lived in South Asheville for just over four years and I am always picking up interesting tidbits of information about this great city.

For example, Asheville has four nicknames. The two most commonly known are “Land of the Sky” and “Paris of the South.” But did you also know that Asheville has been called “San Francisco of the East” and “New Age Mecca?”  In addition, over the years, the city has picked up the following titles: “America’s New Freak Capital” (Rolling Stone Magazine), one of the “Best Places to Retire” (Money Magazine), “America’s Happiest City” (Self Magazine), and  “America’s Best Vegetarian-Friendly Small City” (PETA). All of these titles and nicknames demonstrate that Asheville has a lot to offer and that we are not just a city of hippies and street musicians.

Architecturally, Asheville has one of the largest collections of Art-Deco buildings in the country. Take one of the historic trolley tours around town and they do an admiral job of pointing out a good portion of these buildings and several architectural details that one might miss otherwise.

The climate around Asheville is considered moderate with normal highs in the summer in the upper 80s and normal lows in the winter in the upper 20s. Part of that is because the city is sandwiched in between the Blue Ridge Mountains (also called the Appalachian Mountains) to the north and east and the Great Smoky Mountains to the west. The 2009/2010 winter has been an anomaly with over a foot of snow and weeks of temperatures in the teens and 20s. I will be more than happy to see the end of this winter. Looking ahead to March, we should start seeing average temperatures from the mid-30s (lows) to upper 50s (highs).

March is also a great time to book a spring vacation because it is that transitional month when there are more activities and stores open, the flowers are starting to bloom, and prices at many places are still low (prime winter sale time). After Easter, you will start to see a jump in room, ticket, and activity rates. So when people ask, when is the best time to come, if you are looking for the best deals and the most bang for your buck, I suggest a March getaway.

Holiday Tour of Historic St. Augustine Inns

December 15th, 2009 by Skyla Grimes

Although I lived in Florida for 8 years, I never had a chance to visit St. Augustine. What a shame! It wasn’t until this past weekend that I finally went, and although it was technically for business, there was a lot of pleasure involved in the trip.

St. Augustine’s Historic Inns host an annual charity tour of the Association’s 25 B&Bs and my mother and I decided to take the tour this year. The main reason was because the Asheville Bed & Breakfast Association, of which the Blake House Inn is a member, is looking to start an annual tour as well. While the Association has had holiday and garden tours in the past, we are hoping to start an annual event. Since the St. Augustine tour has been going on for 16 years, it’s obvious they have a good thing going down there and after speaking to the Chairperson earlier this year, I felt it would be a good idea to see the tour in action.

Leaving the business aspects for the Association to consider, we had a wonderful time.  The tour is over a two-day period and you see half the Inns on the first day and the other half on the second day. The historic district of St. Augustine allows you to walk from B&B to B&B and for those who may not want to, there are two trolley tours that have regular stops near several B&Bs on the tour.

When we arrived in St. Augustine, the weather was chilly and in the 40s and 50s. By Saturday, the first day of the tour, the weather had warmed up a bit, but there was a virtual downpour all day.  That did not keep the tour goers away and there were crowds at just about every B&B we visited. Some of the Inns were side-by-side, but the walking tour takes about 2 – 2 1/2 hours to complete.

One very cool thing about this tour is that there was a different restaurant represented at each In

n and besides viewing guestrooms and common areas (all done up in their best holiday finery), tour goers got to sample food from all over the city.  It was definitely filling and we went to one of the restaurants from the tour for dinner. We would never have gone to or found this restaurant had it not been for the tour.  A few of the B&Bs also had products and items for sale from local artists and stores. We visited several of the stores as well.

The second day of the tour was completely different, weather-wise. The day was sunny and the temperature was close to 80. We were sweating halfway through the second day, but we made it nonetheless.  I even snapped a few photos at some B&Bs if they offered something I liked, mainly in their decor or holiday decorations.

A Florida Snowman

Snowman, Florida-style.

Look! Even Florida can have a snowman. This was an ingenious decoration at one of the B&Bs. It looks pretty  simple to make.  Now why didn’t I think of it?

Oh, and we did stay at one of the B&Bs on the tour. The Casablanca Inn on the Bay met our needs quite nicely.  One thing about St. Augustine that I picked up on very quickly as I was looking at places to stay, is that parking is a definite issue. Most places do not have adequate on-site parking so several B&Bs will share a parking lot, and the lot can be 3-4 blocks away from the Inn itself.  What I also found to be common is that many of the Inns consist of several buildings (the main house and a Carriage House and/or multiple cottages), possibly connected, but not necessarily.  When I came across the Casablanca Inn, I noticed that they offered a Secret Garden which is behind the main house and across a street, but that the Secret Garden Suites each had a parking space on site while parking for the Inn was a block or two away and around the corner.  So, we got to park right next to our

Casablanca Inn

Christmas lights at the Casablanca Inn

Suite and didn’t have to search around for a parking spot.  I’m sure that parking is a major bone of contention for many innkeepers.

Our Inn overlooked Matazanas Bay and at night, the city is lit up with holiday lights and decorations. The B&B tour coincides with the city’s Nights of Lights and one thing that St. Augustine offers are horse-drawn carriage rides and night ghost trolley tours. This is a city that stays up late.

In all, we had a very enjoyable visit and I have a lot of good information to report back to the Asheville B&B Association. Who knows what we’ll come up with.

The Anything But Lazy Days of Summer

July 7th, 2009 by Skyla Grimes

Our typical “busy” season runs from Memorial Day through New Years, with a few gaps in between where things slow down. By busy, I mean that most weekends are full and mid-week is 40%-60% occupied.

This year, I have been holding my breath with the slower economy, but can actually report that May and June were good months. Still, there is a little way to go before we get back to where we were last year since the first quarter of 2009 was very slow.

If I can report any trends in travel as I have seen it this year, there have been two major differences. One, people are not traveling for as long as they had in past years. Average stays during the summer were 4-5 nights and this year, the average is closer to 2.5-3 nights. Secondly, I am not seeing as much advance reservations. It used to be that people would make their summer plans 3-6 months in advance. This year, that advance planning is about 1-2 weeks before they come. That makes me a little nervous since I am not getting booked on weekends, in some cases, until the week of.

Other trends are that people are not traveling from as far away and most of my guests are visiting from the east coast. People are also looking for bigger bargains and cheaper rates. While my rates are slightly lower from 2008 for several rooms, I am looking for ways to increase the guest experience while here rather than simply offering the cheapest room. Most people who stay at B&Bs are looking for a different experience anyway and recognize the added value that they get when staying at a B&B versus a standard hotel.

As with any old house, the work is never done, so I am staying busy this summer maintaining the gardens and updating/renovating throughout the property. I just bought a new fountain for under the pergola and as soon as I get a pump and install it, guests will have another water feature to enjoy as they walk up to the house. I recently had a dead pine tree removed from the corner of the front porch and just planted 3 purple crape myrtle bushes in its place.

Summer is also the time of year for the majority of our weddings and receptions. We had a wedding/reception in June, July 4th weekend had a reception and we have 2 weddings coming up at the end of July and mid-August. I try to keep the number of events to a small number each year since every event causes wear and tear on the house and property. I average 6-10 events a year with the majority being between May – October. We also have elopements here and other small gatherings and events so that keeps things exciting.

Since I try to do as much work around here as possible, I love to barter with other local service providers for their work. I’ve gotten landscaping done through barter and am open to anyone who has a service they’d like to trade.

Ireland Post Mortem – Part III

May 25th, 2009 by Skyla Grimes

After leaving Blarney Castle on Day 5 of our trip, we traveled north to Mallow to catch the City Gold Train for Dublin. I had never been on a train before so this was a unique experience by itself. Although we were all in First Class and served lunch on our 2 1/2 hour train ride to Dublin, the meal left a lot to be desired. Plane food is definitely better than train food, but our seats were comfortable and spacious and I was able to nap for a bit.

After arriving in Dublin, we caught up with our tour bus which Jackie (our driver) had driven from Blarney Castle to Dublin, a 4+ hour drive for him.

Anyway, once in Dublin, we had a scenic drive through the city, passing by many historic sites and places before reaching The Westbury Hotel for 3 nights. We had a few hours to wander around close to our hotel which is in the center of the shopping district on Grafton Street and our tour guide, Maggie, was nice enough to provide a list of her personal recommendations for stores, museums, etc. so we checked out some local bookstores and basically walked around the area getting our bearings. On our first night we took a tour of the Jameson Distillery (pronounced Jemison), plus a private dinner and entertainment by local players and dancers. Very lively and engaging after a long day, they kept us awake considering it was almost 11 pm by the end of the evening. The two big distilleries/breweries in Dublin are Jameson’s Irish Whiskey and Guinness. Both offer tours and dining and seem to be big draws. I don’t care for either whiskey or dark beer so I would have happily passed, but dinner was delicious and the conversation at our table was great, so it all worked out for me.

The nexy day was a half day where we toured St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity College to see the Book of Kells in the morning then we were on our own for the rest of the afternoon.

While I don’t get too into churches, I was still amazed with the history of the Cathedral and the interesting stories that go along with it. Some of the tiles in the church date back to the 1100s and the stained glass windows are breathtaking. The second photo shows where the knights used to sit in the church, although their seats are no longer used.

There was an old door on display in the church called the Door of Reconciliation. In the late 1400s, two Irish clans were fighting and one clan ran into St. Patrick’s Cathedral for sanctuary. Although the outside clan had the church surrounded and had a bigger fighting force, as a gesture of truce, the leader of the clan on the outside hacked a hole in the door and put his arm through the hole in the door in order to shake hands with the leader of the clan inside. Rather than chopping his arm off, the leader inside shook hands and this door became a symbol known as “chancing one’s arm,” which means performing an action in the face of probable failure.

After leaving the church, we went to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. In addition, my son would be happy to know that the dining hall scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed in the college’s dining hall which are open to the public as well. Not being a religious person, I had no prior knowledge of the Book of Kells, but was suitably impressed upon seeing them and learning their history.

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was transcribed by Celtic monks circa 800. It is widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure. Trinity College is its permanent home and displays two of the four volumes at a time, one with text and one with illustrations and the pages are turned every so often to prevent fading. Kells is the Abbey where the books were housed in Ireland for the longest period of time during the medieval ages, although the manuscripts were produced in monasteries throughout Ireland, England and Scotland. At some point, the book was stolen by Vikings and when it was recovered, the bejewelled front and back covers were gone, but the book was largely intact. There are many theories on when and where the manuscripts originated, but the popular belief is that it was begun in Iona and then moved to Kells.

After viewing the manuscripts, we moved through the old Library which is no longer used, but is interesting by itself because of the rows and rows of bookshelves and the busts of famous writers and dignitaries. Just seeing the ladders that were used to access the books on the high shelves was cool to see.

Once our tour of Trinity College was over, we had the afternoon to ourselves. Mom and I chose to go to the National Gallery and the National Museum, both free of charge. We were told the Gallery currently had a painting by Vermeer called Girl With A Pearl Earring. Unfortunately for my mom, it was a mistake. there were several Vermeer paintings, including one with a lady and her maid and the lady has a small pearl earring, but not the famous one. So, we did not spend much time in the gallery and went around the corner to the National Museum which had all kinds of artifacts from Ireland’s history, including the “bog” people. The bogs in Ireland have been host to many artifacts and have preserved people for hundreds of years. The ones we saw in the museum still had hair, a tooth here and there and leathery, but largely intact skin and bones. There was even a container of butter that had been found. The bogs in Ireland cover about 1/6 of the island and the bogs were largely used as a fuel source by turning the peat on top into “bricks” for burning. By themselves, the bricks have no odor, but as they burn, they let off a rather foul odor. The bogs were also used to keep food cold, but they were also used as burial places.

There were artifacts and clothing from centuries ago in the museum and we really enjoyed the time we spent there.

That night, I journeyed out on my own for an Irish Pub Crawl. It started at one pub (Gogarty’s in the touristy Temple Bar area) and went to two other pubs where the group followed two musicians who sang traditional Irish songs and played traditional Irish instruments. I was thoroughly impressed, although I decided to go back to the hotel after the second bar (Ha’Penny Bridge Inn Bar). I don’t drink a lot and after two pints (which are larger than American beers), I was feeling a little lightheaded and did not want to be wandering the streets of Dublin by myself as it got darker. Not that I had anything to worry about, but I wasn’t willing to take any chances in a strange city. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed the part of the crawl I went on and the musicians were funny and talented. Other than chatting with a couple of Americans from Atlanta and Dallas on a golfing vacation for a 40th birthday, I was not looking to hook up with anyone. These pub crawls do not typically attract the locals anyway and are set up for the benfit of the tourists. Now, if I had been in Dublin a little longer, I’m sure I would have found the local hangouts and attempted one of those.

Our last day in Dublin took us to Glendalough, the world’s best preserved monastic site. Just the story of how the monastery was established was incredible, even without seeing anything. Glendalough is in a glacial valley in County Wicklow. The settlement was founded in the 6th century by Saint Kevin who was a hermit priest and he would go into a mountain cave and live there by himself during times of self-reflection. Part of the monastery was destroyed in the 13th century by English troops, but there is much that has survived the centuries. It was an entire monastic city with workshops, guest houses, an infirmary, farm buildings and dwellings for a large population. We noticed that the graveyard has graves from the 1900s so it is currently being used.

After we returned from Glendalough, we had the afternoon free and decided to visit Kilmainham Gaol. The main reason was a fascination with the story about the 1916 Easter Rising. It was an insurrection staged during Easter Week in 1916, mounted by Irish Republicans. Their goal was to end English rule and establish an Irish Republic. Organized by the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), which later became the IRA (Irish Republican Army), the uprising lasted only 6 days before the British military quickly took back the key Dublin locations that had been seized. The IRB eroniously believed that with Britain’s participation in WWI, they would not have enough power or energy to take back the city, but they were wrong. The group was also waiting for an arms shipment from Germany, but this was intercepted by the British. The main headquarters for the leaders of the uprising was in the General Post Office, centrally located within the city, but it was eventually destroyed by shelling and gunfire. A total of 90 people were court martialled and sentenced to death, including the 7 signatories on the Proclamation of Independence. Fifteen were executed by firing squad between May 2 and May 14th at Kilmainham Gaol and their cells are now memorialized with their name plates. One prisoner, James Plunkett was permitted to marry his sweetheart just hours before his death and she was given a cell in which to wait until her marriage, then afterwards until her husband’s death. One of the leaders was seriously wounded during the uprising and was brought from the hospital and tied to a chair for the firing squad since he was unable to stand.


Not long afterwards, between 1919 – 1921, the Irish War for Independence continued Ireland’s struggle against Britain. By July 1921, a truce was arranged and a treaty was authored with the 6 northern counties of Ireland remaining under British rule while the 26 counties to the south became the Irish Republic and began to govern themselves. Disagreement over the fact that not all of Ireland was independent lead to a Civil War between 1921-1922. There is a lot more history to this, but this is the gist of what I learned about northern and southern Ireland. One of the main reasons that northern Ireland chose to remain a British territory is probably because it is thought that there is more British integration in the northern counties.

The history of Kilmainham Gaol, no longer operating as a prison, was fascinating, and there have been several Hollywood movies filmed in part there.

Our last evening in Dublin included a farewell reception and dinner at our hotel where everyone exchanged email addresses and contact information with others within the tour. The next morning, we had a 6:15 am pickup for the airport and arrived home at 10:30 pm. I had breakfast to serve to guests the following morning and it took me about 2 days to reacclimate to the States. I found myself needing an afternoon nap the first couple of days, but I missed my son and my pets so I was glad to be back. As I write this, I am amazed that we have been back for a week now. There is so much more of Ireland to see and experience and I hope to go back some day.

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Tags

»