Travel with Awe and Wonder: The Asheville Brew

by Christy Anselmi /
Christy Anselmi's picture
May 08, 2023 / 0 comments

This summer, my husband and I undertook a move. A relocation from Massachusetts to Arizona has been undertaken by others, no doubt. We decided to make things a little more interesting than a direct route. We headed north. Our circuitous route is winding us through Newfoundland, Portugal, and North Carolina. When one would think to take the southerly route from the Carolina’s to Arizona in the winter months, we will make Bugs Bunny’s famous right turn at Albuquerque to get to Bozeman, Montana. Then, we’ll drive to Arizona. Our 100 pound Golden Doodle, Kipper, was not consulted in the making of these plans, but we plied him with treats for the first three years of his life to the point he considers us his pack and blindly follows our direction. Our two sons weren’t consulted either. But, given that they abandoned us in their selfish quest to get a college education, we felt at liberty to leave a note on the front door explaining why other people now live in their house.

Travel with Awe and Wonder: The Asheville Brew

Our drive to Asheville was uneventful except for a brief stop in south-central Pennsylvania to visit my cousin, his lovely wife (Melissa), and their two young children. Kipper, our 100-pound Goldendoodle, was matched in size and playful temperament by my cousin’s dog, Daisy. After a greeting that involved Daisy jumping in our Jeep with Kipper, Kipper and Daisy jumping out of the Jeep, knocking over four-year-old Bram who was completely not bothered and proceeded to gleefully chase the dogs, gifts delivered in the driveway to seven-year-old birthday girl Rosalyn, it began to rain. 

Kipper, ready to run! From Travel with Awe and Wonder: The Asheville Brew
Kipper, ready to run!

Melissa invited us all in... including wet, jumping, adrenaline-pulsing Kipper. Kipper didn't exactly have the presence of mind to say, "Oh, goodness, thank you but I couldn't possibly. My feet are wet and a tad muddy and I'm slightly hyped up and would not make good social decisions right now." Daisy catapulted into the house when the door was opened, followed by a Kipper torpedo and a Bram bullet-train. It was like a medley of movement on an epic scale. Nascar through their entire main floor, wrestling in the living room, hurdles over the sofas... two 100-pound dogs and Bram, happy as can be.

It would not be overstated to say that Gandhi presents as a basket-case compared to the patience and serenity that Michael and Melissa exhibit as parents. Resulting are two engaging, exuberant, joyful, and resilient kids. What a delightful afternoon followed by a very early bedtime for John and I.

John has been doing most of the driving while I do most of the map reading on our international and cross country trek .

Okay, Google Maps is doing the heavy lifting in terms of suggesting routes, but I can be seen with my nose behind a paper map for long stretches of time to get the lay of the land.

From my navigational investigations, I frequently request alternate or additional routes ("Ignore the female British voice coming through the car speakers and exit NOW!"), supply John with unrequested information ("There is a small lake just past those trees that we won't be able to see from the road called Burson Lake"), or ask hundreds of fact-based questions ("How many states does the Appalachian Trail run through?" and "Which States border North Carolina?"). Then I remember that Google is smarter than John. ("Fourteen!" and "Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina.") Sometimes there are moments of silence in the car as I contemplate the map. Occasionally I interject information into the verbal void that catches John between moments of contemplating the Denver Broncos’ draft choices and the upcoming University of Wyoming Cowboys football season.

In those rare moments that I am not interrupting his strategy sessions, John seems to enjoy hearing about some of my findings. Like when I reported the relationship between the Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Appalachian Mountains. In brief, the Smoky Mountains comprise the southern part of the Blue Ridge Range, and the Blue Ridge Mountains are the same as the Appalachians, but only to Pennsylvania, at which point the Appalachians are on their own through Vermont.

The Smoky Mountains. From Travel with Awe and Wonder: The Asheville Brew
The Smoky Mountains

Intermittently, I take off my geography professor hat and throw on my DJ Phat Geo Mama hat. One of two beats cue up the first driving day onward to our next location:  Yo, Yo, we got the Indigo Girls in the house with Get Out The Map. Or, dropping in with his sick beat is Deep Down Willy Brown...Give it up for my boy Nelson with On The Road Again!! But Phat Mama ain't done yet! Billy Joel's Allentown rocks the house through Southern Pennsylvania. We got John Denver's Country Roads when we hit the Blue Ridge Mountains. James "The Man" Taylor at the North Carolina border. And pullin' into Asheville, we bring the house down with Wagon Wheel by Darius Rucker.

If you like music and you like small venues in which to see local musicians perform, Asheville is the place for you! This town is bursting with an active, local music scene. In our first two weeks in Asheville, we have seen four groups in three venues. We have frequented The Guitar Bar of Asheville twice. 

An Asheville hidden gem. From Travel with Awe and Wonder: The Asheville Brew
An Asheville hidden gem

The entire space is the size of a large kitchen with a seating capacity of approximately 20. No worries about an obstructed view of the stage here! You might desire obstructed views of the lead singer's nose hairs, but you certainly won't question if he is lip syncing. The first time we went to The Guitar Bar, we entered to an age-diverse group: a thirty-something woman, three people on bar stools in their late 60s, a small cohort of 40-something females, a clean-cut late-20s guy testing sound equipment, and a tiny woman with big glasses in her mid-70s. Two things John and I love about small venue concerts are there is no cover band and the lead act starts at 7:30pm. Seven-thirty start plus a two hour concert equals our head on the pillow by 9:50.

On our first night at The Guitar Bar, the band started assembling on "stage" at 7:20. Sauntering over to pick up the bass guitar was that tiny woman with big glasses in her mid-seventies. To me, bass guitarists are the chill, unassuming, slack hip, backdrop of a band. This bassist was front and center and looked like she might shush you in a library.

Rockin' with the band. From Travel with Awe and Wonder: The Asheville Brew
Rockin' with the band

And that's what I'm finding about Asheville. Expect the unexpected. It is bohemian and refined, glitzy and rustic, congenial and gruff. It is moody, happy, edgy, trendy, exuberant, discreet, hidden, and at the fore-front.

This town seems to want to defy definition, throwing everyone together and trusting the brew will work. Downtown brings you in contact with sugar-daddies with botox babes, neo-hippie parents with a kid or two toddling the park in a diaper, Patagonia couples, goth girls, grunge boys, country club families, and homeless people. It's "Well, bless your heart," (Southern for, "Ass****!"), with New England foliage.

Wonderful, wacky Asheville! From Travel with Awe and Wonder: The Asheville Brew
Wonderful, wacky Asheville!

Wonderful, wacky Asheville! From Travel with Awe and Wonder: The Asheville Brew
The hills of North Carolina...New England of the South

The area where John and I find ourselves living is called The River Arts District. To break down that tricky moniker, the district is by a river with many art galleries. Many towns have a cluster of sidewalk art galleries in locations that invite tourists to browse. Oftentimes, in other cities, these galleries are staffed by a well-manicured and slightly pretentious proprietor who owns the gallery space and fancies herself an expert judge of purchasing character. 

The River Arts District, where art and community intersect. From Travel with Awe and Wonder: The Asheville Brew
The River Arts District, where art and community intersect

Asheville does it a little differently. The gallery spaces are the working space of the artists, and they are often shared spaces. Because of those two things, you, the browser, can talk directly to the artist about his/her/their inspiration, technique, and motivation. I have had many of these conversations with local artists in Asheville and, if I liked their artistry upon cursory first glance, I like it so much more once the artist brings the personal into the equation.

Remember...the artists in Asheville are renting a small section of a shared workspace. That means Mary Cassat (aww) could be painting next door to Francisco Goya (in his dark years...eek!). Whimsical, next door to serene, adjacent to disturbing, across from ‘huh’, diagonal to parental discretion is advised. It’s all haphazardly meshed together without a cohesive flow or organizational design, and the mingling seems to work.

Asheville’s town slogan should read: Be who you are, next to whoever is next to you being who they are.

The buildings that house the art galleries are old industrial mills and factories that have been refurbished...sort of. The contractors left the exposed brick and creaky original hardwood floors (charming, chic!), and allowed commissioned and spontaneous graffiti artists to festoon the outside of the buildings (edgy, raw, chaotic!).

Asheville example of beauty merging into raw edginess. From Travel with Awe and Wonder: The Asheville Brew
Asheville example of beauty merging into raw edginess

If local is "in" these days, Asheville either started the trend or enthusiastically adopted it as its guiding force. The town is not bespectacled with demanding "Buy Local" signs. It's not brazen.

It's self-assured. Authenticity doesn't feel like it's a marketing ploy, it feels like the town is saying, "Oh. I hadn't considered there might be another way to live." With, on average, five local coffee shops in a one-mile radius, you'd think each would want to edge out the competition. When I was hemming and hawing over which baked good to get at one such local coffee bar, the OWNER said, "Have you tried the caramel pecan bar at Ulta Coffee? They are homemade and SO delicious!" Her coffee shop is one block away from Ulta...a direct competitor!

The town seems to politely say, "There's room for all of us," and, "It never occurred to us to get in anyone else's way."

We were lucky enough to be in the North Carolina mountains at the same time as longtime Atlanta friends, Jenn and Bob. We stayed up too late one night (How did it get to be 9:45!!??) analyzing our personality types with this conclusion: each and every one of us is uniquely (and sometimes annoyingly) so very much who we are. Like Asheville, we decided we’re okay with that and isn’t it really a beautiful thing anyway.

Their dog Luna didn't get the Asheville vibe. She was less about letting every dog reflect his/her own individual persona and more about identifying Kipper's annoyingly enthusiastic personality, then establishing strict boundaries that left Kipper trying to figure out 1) how to get past Luna in narrow hallways, and 2) how to play with a dog that embraced him as one would embrace a cactus. It was a very different bond Kipper developed with Luna than she had with Daisy. Though the untethered expression of personality with Daisy was invigorating, Luna’s insistence on structure and self-restraint will be good training for Kipper when we live in Arizona, where all the other living things in his yard will be cactuses.

Kipper hugged this rear seat position and faced forward the entire car ride as Luna eyed him menacingly, growling a steady, low warning all the way. From Travel with Awe and Wonder: The Asheville Brew
Kipper hugged this rear seat position and faced forward the entire car ride as Luna eyed him menacingly, growling a steady, low warning all the way


Please click the photo below for a collection of my Travel with Awe and Wonder columns:

Travel with Awe and Wonder: A Compendium

Christy Anselmi, the Travel with Awe and Wonder Editor for Wandering Educators, taught kindergarten and first grade for 13 years in public schools in Atlanta and Massachusetts. She took a two year diversion to teach and learn in a Montessori school in Bozeman, Montana and a 10 year sabbatical to raise her own children. Christy has an abiding interest in early childhood education and how to provide developmentally appropriate experiences to engage young people in connection and communication. Raised by parents who got Christy involved in travel at a young age, she developed a curiosity about what is around each corner. Married to a Wyoming man who developed his own wanderlust after years in the Army, the two (along with two sons) have lived in five states (Georgia, Montana, Utah, Kansas, Massachusetts, and soon to be Arizona) and one country (Germany). Christy is a life-long noticer of intriguing scenarios, phrases, and ironies in everyday life. Finally putting pen to paper, she has a growing passion for insightful travel-experience writing.