Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Travel: Biltmore Estate

For as long as I can remember, I desired to visit the Biltmore estate. Through every family road trip in my childhood and teenage years (and there were many!), I pored over maps and traced routes through the Southern states... always hoping, pleading and persuading my parents--unsuccessfully-- to detour through Asheville, North Carolina and spend time at this fantastic residence.

Why my overwhelming desire to see Biltmore?
Maybe it's my fascination with castles. Maybe the French chateau influenced architecture. Maybe the famous gardens. Maybe it's the fact that "the Biltmore estate" sounds enchanting and mysterious and a little romantic! Biltmore is the largest privately-owned residence in the United States. It is 250 rooms of astounding, over-the-top luxury (honestly, gold wallpaper in the master suite??). And it is probably the closest I will get to a castle in the foreseeable future... so when my short vacation to the Carolinas landed us near Asheville, I dared to hope.... and it was true... Biltmore, here we come!

Photography is not permitted inside the mansion. Sadness. Only the images in my mind remain. Sad that I can't share *those* with you! This is my lone house detail shot.

I had to content myself with many, many glorious garden photos.

Now I prefer my historical sites without other human contact. I like the feeling of stepping back in time and experiencing another century. However, Biltmore is insanely popular. There were lines and crowds and automobiles in the driveway (Ugh). I was slightly mollified... the Tuesday morning tour time + slight rain definitely worked in our favor, and the gardens were mostly deserted. Yay!

The tulips were breathtaking! Onward to other gardens. And the hothouse...

My favorite part? (Besides the 10,000+ volume library in the mansion, of course!)

Rambling through the more wild woodland trails.

We toured the house, enjoyed a steaming latte on the patio while waiting for the rain to die down, browsed the gift shops, taste-tested some specialty foods, hiked through the gardens and various trails... all in less than 6 hours. Our accomplishments were mighty impressive, I must say! While waiting for our ride, I wanted to get close to this gazebo. I like gazebos! And this one had a statue overlooking the house... So I went running full speed up the hill. I snapped a few photos and arrive breathless & panting. Worth the climb? To-be-determined! :)

And because I try to include a photo of myself... HAPPY

Biltmore, you were all I hoped for... until we meet again!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Portraits: Shekinah

This lull in the photo blog has been partially due to a spontaneous mini-vacation to North & South Carolina! The South is such a funny place... full of sweet tea, overpowering Southern accents, trees much greener than Pennsylvania and very, VERY nice people! Included in those "VERY nice people," is this wonderful young girl, who I am glad to call my new friend!! :)

Meet Shekinah (I love her name, too!)..

This girl is a sweetheart. She loves Jesus, the country and singing songs. With a powerful knock-your-socks-off kinda voice and passion to match, keep your ears open... because you may hear her music in the future! :)

The poetic way to describe this photo shoot... "woodland nymph".. it was simply a stroll through the landscape of her family's home, but I loved how her clothes complemented the surroundings. She just *fit.*

And one last shot.. of those beautiful blue eyes!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Personal: Forty-Six Hours

Have you ever spent FORTY-SIX hours with teenagers? In a tiny mountain cabin? With no cell service, email or indoor plumbing? I have! Last weekend, actually! :) I'm a volunteer youth leader at my church.. my job entails planning events for the whole youth group, like our annual Spring Retreat!

Forty-six hours. What could we possibly do for Forty-Six hours? LAUGH alot. Lounge around on couches. Make crazy jokes about Sour Patch "kids." Roast marshmallows. Talk about Jesus. Eat ALOT. Sing pretty songs around the campfire. Talk about bears and wild-life. Investigate the nearby wire bridge. Read the Bible. Paint fingernails (girls!). Giggle late into the night. Discuss constellations. Wake up too early and drink coffee. Swing. Throw footballs. Attempt to chop firewood. Laugh at others' attempt to chop firewood. Toss previously mentioned firewood while stacking. Wash hair in the creek (girls again!). Play games. More times of singing & preaching. And more EATING! Lots of sugar. hahaha :)

It's always been a joke in the youth group that every time we go away to the cabin (or on a retreat), it rains. Like clockwork, the rain comes down and we spend most of the time trying to keep warm and dry. This year was a little different... We arrived on Friday night and it was SNOWING. I kid you not! WOW. Just wow.

One last walk down the lane... and the Forty-Six Hours comes to an end.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Local Life - Cafe on the Park

I've decided to do a semi-regular feature on the blog about interesting places & things around my locale. Travelling is fun, but I think that central Pennsylvania is a fascinating place. Within the span of a few minutes' drive, it's rural, small-town, historical, quaint, eclectic and so many other funny words. Experiencing local places (especially when there's food involved) is quickly becoming one of my favorite pastimes. So without any more delay... the very first feature of..

LOCAL LIFE *insert theme music here*

Every weekday morning, I drive by this tiny little cafe in downtown Bellefonte. Within that 10 minute window of time when I leave for work, this little cafe will either be completely dark or a few lights shining or starting to hum with activity. It's a day-cafe: serving breakfast and lunch and all snacks in between. For months after moving to Bellefonte, I never visited. Oh, I wanted to visit! My roommates and I talked about visiting, going for lunch or ice cream... but it never happened (with photos).. for the simple reason, it was always closed by the time I got home from work! Eventually, I had one quick Sunday lunch there (the pierogies & salad is very nice)...

And then FINALLY, on a warm Saturday in April...
me + Cafe on the Park = spent some quality time together.

That day, I met some friends at Talleyrand Park, located just across the street from Cafe on the Park. I know, the cafe's name kinda gives it away... Anyway, the park was buzzing with activity.. Little kids tripping over their feet to chase ducks and swing on the playground, a multitude of volunteers "hiding" brightly colored Easter eggs in plain sight, scary costumed and video-camera toting college students filming for a project (yes, I asked), families out for a walk in the park, babies sunning themselves quietly in their strollers, tourists obviously overdressed for the weather. There was warm sunlight + my camera + good conversation with friends...

Which all made me thirsty for a good chocolate milkshake. Hence, my visit to Cafe on the Park! It looked like everyone else had that idea, too... so service was a little slow.. it's a Saturday! People are supposed to slow down & relax anyway! :)

This place has interesting, unique decor.

A soda fountain bar of shiny polished wood.. Kids LOVE to climb up on those stools and watch the action.

Funny note! Obviously, they still had food when I got there....

My conclusion? Cafe on the Park is like that chocolate milkshake I experienced on a warm April Saturday. It may look unassuming.. but it tastes GREAT!
For more information, go to their website: Click here!

Go! Eat! Smile! :)