As we were arriving in Asheville, I shit you not, we were greeted by a full rainbow arching over the city. It’s like they knew we were coming and rolled out their big gay welcome mat. The downtown area was so eclectic and charming as every business (food, shop, and other) was locally owned; no chain stores! The mountains presented sights unparalleled by any other natural scene I had ever witnessed up to that point. Asheville had that “welcome home” feel anywhere you went. We fell in love with the city, and we even booked another week-long trip a year later. These are some of the activities we engaged in during our first trip. The photographs posted in this blog were all taken by disposable cameras (and later uploaded and edited). I believe traveling (and life in general) should be lived in the moment, NOT through our phones. We chose to do without any distractions by keeping our cell phones off and away and only checking for emergency messages every few hours. Because we didn’t have any fancy cameras at the time, we kicked it old school with good ol’ disposable cameras. The pictures didn’t turn out half bad, and the greatest part was we were completely in the moment with each other. I highly recommend disconnecting to reconnect. (Don’t worry, future posts have more appealing photos, you know, with actual pixels) Anyway, continuing on…
La Zoom Bus Tours
La Zoom is a comedy bus tour in which you are driven around the city of Asheville in this big ass purple school bus. The bus tour takes you around the city while a wacked-out tour guide acts so outrageous, you will find yourself whispering to your companion, “Is this real life?” as you bust a stitch laughing. They have several comedy tours to choose from including a kid tour, city tour, band and beer tour, and a haunted tour. Gina and I chose to book our spot on the haunted tour because the world of the paranormal is right up our alley (check out our paranormal team website here! – end shameless plug). Our guide, Ghoulish Gary, was obnoxious, witty, psychopathic, and all up in your space. There was a time or two one of the front row ladies got a face full of junk as he hopped up on the bus seats and did all that he could to make his passengers uncomfortable, yet totally entertained. He seemed to take a liking to Gina. He got so close to her face, I thought she was going to have to pick him out of her teeth. La Zoom guarantees that you see a ghost on this tour, and boy did we! I’m pretty certain these “ghosts” were all summoned by ONE GUY. The actor would dress up, always as a female “ghost”, and put on his performance. This made for a unique comedy skit. The guy playing the ghost would then somehow get from point A to point B to point C and so on, change his costume, then be prepared to perform again at each location as we arrived. It appeared by how winded and sweaty he became toward the end, that he possibly ran from one location to the next! I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes it that much more entertaining believing he did.
*I recommend La Zoom tours for anyone seeking a unique comedy experience! For those who consider vacation to be lived through beer goggles (No judgment here!) Bring Your Own Beer or Wine aboard! La Zoom is not recommended for anyone with personal space issues (speaking for the haunted tour only).
Chimney Rock State Park
During our first go around in Asheville, we succumbed to a few touristy activities, one being Chimney Rock State Park. One of my most favorite things to do is hike, and based on our research, Chimney Rock promised to provide us with that opportunity. Outlined by the photographs posted to their website, I anticipated a breath-taking view at the end of the hike. And that proved to be true; the view was incredible, but the “hiking” to get there was not what I had in mind. Essentially, the hike to Chimney Rock is a billion step, man-made stair case to the top. Not only was I disappointed to find out that my hiking back pack wasn’t really necessary, but we chose a very busy time to visit Chimney Rock. As we climbed the stairs, we were constantly crossing paths with other tourists or getting stuck in traffic behind slow pokes. It was busy and noisy, two things that hiking typically allows us to escape from. Chimney Rock wasn’t a total let down, however. Part way up to the top, there was a little overlook called “The Opera Box” which genuinely made you feel as if you were sitting in the Opera Box in the theater of nature (Wow, that was thick lol). Once at the top, the view was spectacular. Unfortunately, we didn’t stay long because the overlook area was only so big, and the people kept flowing in.
*I recommend visiting Chimney Rock out of peak season, and I believe it to be a great destination for families with younger children (8-14 ish). Avoid the Chimney Rock gift store, and rather, make the short drive to the teeny town that you pass on the way to Chimney Rock called Bat Cave, NC for cheap souvenirs.
French Broad Rafting and Ziplines
White water rafting on the French Broad River, specifically with the company French Broad Rafting and Ziplines (There are a few other “rivaling” companies in the area) was a nice little adventure. It’s a 25 minute drive from Asheville, but it was well worth the cruise. They have a 5 mile or a 9 mile trip that are both reasonably priced and include lunch. Because we had so much yet to explore in Asheville, we chose the 5 mile trip. The tour was about 4 hours long, and we hit rapids between level 1 and level 3. The 9 mile trip offers level 4 rapids, but unfortunately, we didn’t have the time L. Our guide’s name was Tim, and he is one of the most charismatic, genuine, and hilarious people I have ever encountered (In fact, when we went back to Asheville the following year, we rafted again and requested him!) He was very knowledgeable about the history of Asheville and the land which the French Broad River passes through. If you have never gone white water rafting before, just note that it is about 70% floating down the river, checking out the sights, and chatting, and about 30% actually taking on the rapids. It is also hit or miss how exhilarating the rapids are; it is dependent upon wind, water level, weather, etc. Though our rapids were exciting and left me soaked, they seemed fairly average; on the flip side, Tim told us a story about a time when even he was nervous to take the route when the rapids were roaring! You never know what you’ll get. Gina and I were right up front, and we were drenched like drowned rats. We loved it! At one point, Tim allowed us to get out of the raft and take on a rapid while floating on our backs! I won’t kid you, I was kind of nervous…Especially with all his talk about the possibility of foot entrapment and, oh, you know, drowning…But we did sign a waiver, so what the hell. I went for it. As I’m gushing through the rapids, I can hear Tim yelling at us “Nose and Toes!” As in, keep your damn nose and toes up out of the water or you could die lol. Spoiler alert: I survived. After lunch, which were burgers and hot dogs on the grill (they have vegetarian options too!) we set on our way down the river again. On our first tour, we had some time to kill on the last stretch. Tim pulled us up on a small little strip of land, and there, we hunted for beach glass, one of my favorite activities. Here, Gina and I really bonded with Tim. He said he liked to stop at that spot every so often to collect beach glass so he could give it away to the local artists and jewelry makers in town. He expressed to Gina and I how much he admired us and our relationship, and he even found a piece of beach glass shaped like a heart and gave it to us. Overall, the rafting experience was one of my favorite activities on our vacation. I was burnt to hell the first time we went because I neglected to bring extra sunscreen with me (clipped a small bottle to my shorts the next year!), but other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed my time. I do need to say as a final thought on this, DON’T BE A LOSER! TIP YOUR GUIDE! They don’t ask for tips, but they are accepted and appreciated!
*I recommend purchasing a sunglasses strap so you don’t lose them if you bail out; they sell some in the gift store for cheap. I’d say definitely schedule an early morning trip; the sun gets hot on the river in the afternoon. Also, SUNSCREEN! SUNSCREEN! SUNSCREEN! Oh, and don’t worry about pictures (unless you have a go-pro. That would be kick ass!). There’s a section during the trip where a photographer catches you in action down a rapid. You can purchase your photos on a flash drive back at base.
Along with French Broad Rafting, we also chose to take the ziplining trip through the same company. We scheduled our ziplining for a different day, which I am thankful for since we were pretty exhausted after the rafting! We were able to purchase a package for both the rafting and ziplining which made it cheaper. (Fun fact, booking a trip through French Broad Rafting and Ziplines also gets you a discount on the La Zoom Bus Tour – So yay! Fun and savings!) The ziplining course was pretty rad. There were several lines which went from one tree top to the next, all various lengths, and we also got to repel from a tree top. Our instructors/guides were two young women who appeared to be in their 20s. It was clear they both loved their job immensely. They were so vibrant and friendly, and they were open to exchanging personal stories. When Gina and I were tossing around the idea of possibly living in Asheville, I decided that if we moved, I would absolutely apply to work the zipline course. I couldn’t say for absolute certainty, but I am pretty sure two of the female instructors that day were “family”. One had an equality symbol tattoo, and it made me instantly happy.
Anyhoo, if you choose to go ziplining, here or anywhere, please get the most fun out of it as you can! Hoot and holler as you glide through the trees; trust me, it’s invigorating. Life is too short to care about what other people may think of you! Again, just as the rafting, please TIP your guides!
*Recommended for those seeking a little thrill on their vacation. To save some money, check out French Broad Rafting and Ziplines deals in which you can combine Rafting and Ziplining, and also get a discount for the La Zoom Tour. I suggest splitting the two activities up into different days, but you can do it all in one if you choose.
Man’s Ruin Tattoo
I want to start off by saying I don’t know if this is how they always run their business or if it was just an off day, but Gina and I were very put off by our experience here. When Gina and I checked into our hotel room, we came across tons of pamphlets on display for local activities. She picked up a pamphlet which pictured Rosie the Riveter. The advertisement was for a tattoo shop called “Man’s Ruin” (how complimentary). She looks at me and says, “Want to get a tattoo?” I’m not sure if she was more excited or surprised when I expressed to her that I was completely on board. The tattoo parlor, naturally, boasted an all-female ran tattoo shop. A few days later, when I decided I wanted the ever cliché equality symbol, and Gina decided on a Zia Sun Symbol tattoo, we visited the tattoo shop. We were greeted rather callously by the woman at the front desk. We presented the woman with photographs of the tattoos we wanted. She told Gina that the symbol she wanted needed to be modified as the artist would not (or could not) tattoo the lines as close as they were together. Okay, we thought, maybe it is because she doesn’t want the tattoo to look poorly in the coming years. However, she never explained her intentions. We decided that modifying Gina’s tattoo wasn’t that big of deal as the basic concept would still be relevant. We then asked for an estimate on how much each tattoo would cost. Mind you, both of our tattoos are only about 2-3 square inches, black ink only. Maybe we just wreaked “tourist”, but they wanted to charge us $180 for my tattoo, and over $200 for Gina’s Tattoo. We both looked at each other with that silent “I don’t think that sounds right” look. However, we were determined to get tattoos from a tattoo parlor that screamed “Lesbo!” lol. So, we agreed to the prices. THEN we were told that the tattoos needed to be paid for up front, cash only, and they the closest ATM was about a block away. And to top it all off, we weren’t even introduced to the artist (who we saw was in the back – no costumer). Needless to say, we high tailed it out of there. The place just screamed scam, rip off, sketchy, and unfriendly. Again, I don’t know if this was just an off day, but regardless, paying customers should be treated much more appropriately than we were.
Ace of Spades Tattoo
Still bound and determined to walk away with a new tattoo, we researched other tattoo shops in the area. The closest shop was Ace of Spades. We whipped over there, and I parked out front with my hazards on as Gina ran inside to see if they had time for two walk ins. They did! Our experience at Ace of Spades Tattoo shop was impeccable. The front receptionist was extremely friendly and lively. She chatted with us so casually, like we were all old friends. She also offered us dinner and attraction recommendations. We quickly were able to meet one of the two tattoo artists. The artist’s name was Lantz, and at the time, he was an apprentice. He was down to earth and comfortable to be around. He advised us that the main artist, Brian, was currently with a customer but would be done soon. In the meantime, Lantz printed out our tattoo designs and discussed with us how and where we wanted the tattoo’s done. After speaking with Brian, Lantz greeted us again, and he shyly asked me if he could be the one to do my tattoo. He advised he was an apprentice, and he wanted to get all of the practice he could. He said he would even give me a great discount. I thought, what the hell, what could go wrong? It was literally two thick black lines. I happily accepted his offer, and he was visibly grateful. When Brian was finished with his client, he came out and introduced himself. Gina showed him what tattoo she wanted, and he agreed, no questions. When she told him that the other shop wanted to modify the design, he told her that there was a very slight possibility that the tattoo would need to be touched up in the future because of how close the lines were, but it wasn’t going to be so dramatic that he would refuse to do it. He expressed that he was very proud of the work he did, and he would not put a permanent piece of work on anyone that he felt would someday look terrible. Brian’s price for Gina: $140. Almost half of the price the other tattoo shop wanted to charge her. We also didn’t need to pay up front, and they had an ATM right in-house. Longer story short, we had an incredible time with Brian and Lantz at Ace of Spades, and our tattoos turned out great! They made such a good impression on us that when we took a trip back to Asheville the following year, we both got another tattoo from them.
You Made It!
Because I believe in transparency and honesty, I’m gonna be honest and say I didn’t realize how long this post was going to turn out! If you’ve made this far, thanks for being a champ! You’re a true fan! Check back as I wrap up our time in Asheville. Great places to eat, our visit to the Biltmore Mansion and Estate, and a guide to the Blue Ridge Parkway for the avid sight-seer and hiker.