(Yeah, I know….those of you who hop over to mm regularly know that I’m posting this in the new year rather than the 31st. The OCD part of me just wouldn’t allow my 12th neverdone of 2008 to be filed, wrongly and in perpetuity, with 2009. Forgive me, please.)

As close as I live to the famous historical landmark, I’ve never visited Biltmore Estates in Asheville. I always wanted to go, not so much because I thought I’d have a blast, but just to be able to say I’d been there. I sort of viewed it as something that senior women’s church groups did to really blow out a load of fun. The most appealing thing to me was the wine tasting, and even that I viewed with a take-it-or-leave-it flavor.

Well, good buddy A recently said, “Let’s go!!” So, on a fine fall day right before Christmas, I took a day off work to hightail it up the mountain with her.

The curvy drive to the big house was beautiful, with a well-manicured woodsy wildness characteristic, I remembered from my college architectural history classes, of the picturesque movement in architecture and landscape design. I always liked the naturalness of that particular theory and practice as compared with other schools of thought, but there still seemed to be something “off” about it. Untouched but pruned. Genuine but contained. Pure but processed.

We parked and took the shuttle to the house. Rounding a curve and entering a small gate, I caught my first glimpse of the structure….and was surprised that it was so small.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Small?? It certainly is not small. My friend said, “Wow. You must have a BIG imagination.”

Jumping out of the warm, comfy van, I meandered my way along the facade, photographing the gargoyles and stone carvings. That sort of stuff just fascinates me. I found one little stone group of bad-attitude creatures just perfect for magicalmonkey — the head-honcho gremlin in the center is naked and looks like he has an erect little wallywanger. Ha!

I could’ve stayed out there for two or three hours, but the main attraction was supposed to be the interior part, so we sauntered on in. I can’t decide if the no-photography rule was frustrating or freeing. It certainly helped speed our visit along! Inside, most interesting to me were the architecture and architectural details. I enjoyed the period furniture, holiday decorations, and everyday-life items, but they didn’t hold my attention for long.

As usual when I visit very old buildings pregnant with history, I found myself imagining the people from long ago who walked the halls of the place when it was just a big ol’ summer party home. Did a young female servant ever squeeze in the little window cubbyhole across from her bedroom, wistfully watching wealthy guests arrive in carriages? What went through the Vanderbilts’ minds as they hung out beside the massive window in their bedroom-suite family room, surveying the miles-long rolling hills of their backyard? Down the hall, were eccentric guests playing naked, perverted games in their own private suites, tossing clothes, bedcovers, and linens willy-nilly about the room?

Moving out to the gardens and greenhouses, I wielded my camera once again and went to that happy-creative place in my head. Statues and trees and plants, oh my! My very patient bud A had an awesome amount of tolerance — anyone who indulges my Nikon and me for that long deserves a huge whompin’ “Fabulous Friend” award. I’ll post the better shots later, after I’ve had time to cull the 250 or so images.

Then on to the winery, where we greeted nightfall. During the free belly-standing-up-to-the-bar wine tasting, I discovered a couple yummy white wines. Now if I can just remember their names for future reference….

By the time we left, I’d scored a little holiday shopping as well as a brand spankin’ new awesome-deal season pass.

Yep, I’m sold and I’m going back! Who’s in?