Asheville – What Not To Miss!

Sam and I had never been in a small town – not for an extended time, anyway, and arriving at the tiny, bo-dunk airport in Asheville came with a feeling of apprehension. The air was hot and humid and our cab driver was the Han Solo of cab drivers, jutting between traffic and tuning his police scanner to ensure we wouldn’t get pulled over. When we arrived at our little hotel, he smugly suggested a tip, adding, “Well you survived, didn’t you?”

We did survive, and despite the ride we got a pretty good impression of Asheville. Looking out of the window you couldn’t see an end to the green. The trees were healthy and thick and they crowded the mountains like a blanket. Rivers rushed along streets and under bridges and people were inner-tubing or kayaking – not the professional grade kayaking you might be picturing, more like the improvised “your cousin Billy has a slab of plastic that’ll float” type of kayaking.

Our hotel was a bit dingy, but cheap and close to bus stops so it did the trick. Our nightly routine here was getting a coffee at the iHop across the street; then coming back to our room and reading or watching Fresh Prince. If you travel, bring a book. Sometimes Fresh Prince isn’t on.

Downtown Asheville

DSC05169Downtown Asheville was about 5 minutes away from our hotel by bus. This was the only part of the city that actually felt like a city: tall, brick buildings and tons of little shops. Asheville’s community is passionate about preserving independent businesses, and everywhere in town we found signs plastered on the windows urging consumers to “Unchain Asheville”. While we were there, we tried to visit as many of these little establishments as possible. Our favorites? I’m glad you asked.

Best Shops

We love our food and we love our coffee, so top of our list are two cafés and a restaurant.

Wicked Weed Brewing

IMG_9050-1Beer and good food and even better ambience. We ate here twice, once as the sun cast heavy shadows over the narrow streets and we were able to enjoy all of it because of their amazing half indoor/half outdoor bar seating.

Double D’s Coffee

DSC05143The coffee was alright, a bit sweet, but the charm here is the fact that the café has been set up in an old English double decker bus.

The Rhu

DSC05205Again, the coffee wasn’t great but our experience was amplified by the fact that if you sneak upstairs to the third floor, there is an unused events space that was empty. Large windows and wooden chandeliers create an inspiring atmosphere and we spent some time reading here before a barista found us and kicked us out.

In addition to food and coffee, there are plenty of boutiques and knick-knack stores. My favorite shop was called Horse + Hero where we got a couple of shirts with amazing art by Andy Herod.

Best Views

In Asheville you can’t get away from the beautiful green mountains, but for some of the most picturesque moments you have to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains. We rented a uHaul truck to get around for $20 and also used it to visit the Biltmore Mansion, built by the badass George Vanderbilt. Make sure you do the wine tour here and then go pet some farm animals to sober up.

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Additionally, in order to get some good panoramas of downtown we climbed a fire escape to get some height. Drones are cheating.

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Overall, we were a bit underwhelmed with our visit to Asheville. To be fair, we did minimal research on the town and went in expecting something… grander. More to do, I suppose, for eager urban explorers. This was one of our first “let’s just go”/on the whim trips, and we’ve learned a lot since then. Maybe if we went again now we’d discover the secret charm little towns like Asheville keep tucked beneath layers of two-lane streets and single story homes.

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-Zach

Our Experience in Amsterdam & Paris

I don’t remember when it first hit me. Maybe it was when the sun was on my face and I was hearing the splatter of fountain water in the gardens by the Louvre; maybe it hit me watching Sam pick through stones and shells on the beige beaches of Soulac; or maybe it was way earlier than that – sitting at a café by the canals eating poffertjes and drinking dark coffee, Dutch Coffee, feeling inspired and enthused from our visit to the Rijksmuseum. In any case, it hit me like – not like a brick wall, although it was sudden, but more like something pleasant and wonderful. It hit me like tickle, I suppose, when the hairs on your arms stand up and your stomach tingles and your palms prickle. It hit me like that and the notion was that my life is good. You get a feeling like that occasionally, and it is fleeting just like all feelings, but that’s what makes it good. And on a trip like this you keep track of those moments and when you get home you will always be able to remember everything about them. The smell and the sounds. The ambience. The feeling on your skin and inside of your skin. This is why travel is important.

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Looking for shells in Soulac Sur Mer

I also remember the scary moments, and the stressful moments, and those moments will stay with me forever too, and they’re just as important because contrast is the most beautiful thing in the world. But for now let’s focus on the good.

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Ducking under bridges in Amsterdam’s canals

At the beginning of last month, Sam and I flew to Europe. We were going to visit Holland and France with a day in Brussels, Belgium, and maybe swing by Switzerland depending on how long we intended on staying in any given place. We booked nothing, no trains or hostels, with the intent of traveling with as little restriction as possible. Only 2 things were certain; we would see my grandmother in France and meet up with my mother in Holland, and then again in France.

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Our view from the Eiffel Tower

This was Sam’s first time out of the country and my first time out there alone, as an adult, no longer the Dutch child I once was but now more American and far hungrier to explore and to experience life as I’d remembered it and, undoubtedly, romanticized it. Because of this, I didn’t want to plan the trip around family – it was too tame, too familiar, and I wanted adventure – I wanted that backpacking experience that broadens horizons and shakes up your soul.

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Swinging 100 meters above Amsterdam

It was two weeks of figuring our train routes and tram lines and learning about French culture (Dutch culture wasn’t much different) and hunting for wifi and vegetarian food and, above all, beautiful places to take mediocre photos of. That’s the physical aspect of it. Emotionally it was two weeks of challenging ideals and fine-tuning our plans for the future and just talking, endlessly over coffee or tea or beer or wine (always with a drink, I’m saying), endlessly discussing options and laughing at each other, endlessly having time for each other, and occasionally bickering and making up and laughing at each other again. Because that’s the other thing about travel, is finally getting to be with each other 24/7, and you never get that chance at home so you have to indulge in it like a good wine.

And it’s nice to kiss someone you love and then look up and see the Eiffel Tower behind them, you know?

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But after all of that, after the long days of walking and eating and catching last minute trains and all that European adventuring, every night we returned home to a piece of my family. And that’s unique, and bizarre, because I didn’t want that and I would’ve worked hard to avoid that originally, but it ended up becoming a part of the trip I cherished most.

Family reached out to me when they found out we would be in town and worked around their schedule to meet with us. To take care of us and to share a piece of their life, a shard of their culture with us. It was family I hadn’t seen in 10-15 years, yet felt oddly close, comfortingly familiar.
And out of the 2 weeks we were in Europe, we ended up only booking one hotel, a bed and breakfast in Bordeaux, while the rest was spent in the company of Kiefts. It broadened my horizon in different ways – reminding me that there is goodness in company, that going out of your way for someone else can be rewarding and that being alone isn’t always the best way to enjoy things. A difficult pill for a writer to swallow.

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Sam bicycling by my oma’s house

Anyway, the summary of experience is that life was good, is good still, but was really good there and then, and in more moments than I can count but moments that we will write about here.

We’ll share more detailed posts soon, and if you’ve been to Europe you might relate, or maybe tell us what we missed so we might catch it next time we go, and if you haven’t gone maybe this will convince you to go; everyone ought to.

-Zach

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Cliff Jumping in Las Vegas!

There’s not a lot of this in Vegas – waves crashing over pebble shores, breezy winds, gentle sunshine, you get it – so when we found it at the end of a two lane street in the middle of the desert (and on my birthday, no less) it felt about as close to paradise as I could ask for. Welcome to Nelson’s Landing.

We came here for my birthday to do the only things it’s known for: cliff jumping and getting weird sunburns.

Of course, Nelson’s Landing isn’t actually in the middle of nowhere –  it’s as simple as following the US-93 south before the NV-165 exit. This means you could be paddling away from the summer heat just an hour after you get off work and that makes Nelson’s Landing a ton more attractive. I mean, if the bare desert cliffs don’t do it for you already.

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Sam and I took the Bonneville out there and jumped off a couple of short cliffs before daring the 20-foot tall one. There are no signs for the heights or anything, we just estimated it based off the butterflies in our stomachs!

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To get there, we parked at a large dirt lot at the end of the road and walked until we hit the water. From here you can follow a trail to the right that leads you along the edges of the cliffs until you find a height you’re comfortable with. Before you jump, remember to test your spot to avoid getting KO’d by shallow or otherwise dangerous water.

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Nelson’s Landing isn’t the picturesque kind of experience you imagine when you think of cliff jumping, but that doesn’t take away from the thrill and for as close to the city as it is, it’s the perfect summer getaway. Just don’t forget to pack water, sunscreen, and food!

-Zach