A half day rolling drive through the foothills of the Smokies, brought us to Asheville, a town that could easily be transplanted to the San Francisco area in terms of appearance, culture and approach to life. People have been coming here for outdoor recreation and healthful vacations since the 1850's when doctors prescribed the fresh air, cool climate and sulphur springs as treatments for tuberculosis and other ailments. The arrival of the railroad in 1880 brought the rich and famous to enjoy the area. The Vanderbilts built a 250 room vacation home here. More on that later.
We are camped on a riverbank which would be delightful if we weren't overpowered by the highway noise nearby. But for $20/night we can tolerater a little noise. There is so much to do around here, we probably won't be in the campground much. After a visit to the tourist info center, we had so many brochures and maps, we felt overwhelmed. They sent us on a walking tour of downtown, anchored by the outdoor art that commemorates historical events and famous residents. We passed many classic old buildings that had been lovingly renovated. Gentrification is the name of the game here. This still feels like a place with money. The streets were lively with shoppers and people just moseying around. Many shops sold handmade goods - produce like honey or jam, items carved from wood, jewelry, and hand woven shawls to name a few. Antique and art galleries were also plentiful. Incense wafted onto the sidewalk. Street performers banged drums, strummed guitars, played harmonicas. A number of colleges are in the area and Asheville is also a popular place to retire, so the ages of people out and about ran the gamut.