I have been dying to share details and photos of our trip to Asheville (in DECEMBER) for some time now.
We went with two of our favorite friends from when we lived in Pittsburgh. We don’t get to see them nearly enough but when we do we end up taking a cool trip to somewhere new, so that works out really well. We also traveled to St. Maarten with them a few years ago! It’s really nice to have a couple friend that you are compatible with travel wise. We are all pretty laid back and enjoy the same kind of things and are interested in seeing the new and different.
We ended up staying in West Asheville, mostly because we waited until the last minute to book a place and there were few places downtown and the ones that were available were pretty expensive. West Asheville is across the bridge and has more of a residential cozy neighborhood feel. There are a few smaller breweries and restaurants but overall we really enjoyed staying there and the Uber to main downtown was only about $10, so it really was worth it.
We drove to Asheville from Wilmington and got an early start. We ended up getting there a little too early and needed to kill some time before we checked into our Airbnb. I was looking up breweries on the way in the car and we ultimately decided to make a stop at Sierra Nevada to kill some time. This place was seriously impressive! The brewery really had a huge ski lodge kind of feel. It was also packed af on a Monday afternoon (granted it was the week between Christmas and New Years). We got lucky and found a spot at the bar and decided to do one of their flights.
I tend to like wheat and fruity beers, so I stuck to those. As we were sitting there, plate after plate of food was brought by and it all looked amaaazing. The beers were also delicious, except for maybe the lemon verbena. It was a bit too lemony for me. I was surprised by how much I liked the tropical IPA! Up until this point, I always found IPAs to be bitter but I think the fruitiness of this one made it a little lighter.
After our beers we checked into our apartment and looked up a West Asheville spot to walk to while we waited on our friends. We found a trippy hippy little spot that weirdly reminded me of Morgantown. It was here that I had my first sour beer. The bartender forced my to try a sample before she would pour me a full one, I guess people order the sours not fully knowing what they are getting themselves into? The sour reminded me more of a cider or kombucha or something like that, tart/vinegary/fruity. I loved it!
After we met up with our friends we decided to head downtown for dinner. We went to Wicked Weed and enjoyed an array of hummus, a cheese plate, burgers and salad. It was all really good!
After Wicked Weed we apparently stopped by Asheville Brewing Company, I only know this because I had the following picture on my phone, no recollection of this place whatsoever.
We then walked over to Top of the Monk. This bar is split into three floors, each which has a unique theme and beers. We started at the bottom which featured Belgian beers. Megan and I did another flight.
Later we ended up heading upstairs to the fancy bar. They had a speakeasy theme going on and specialized in cocktails. I think this was some sort of gin and grapefruit? I saw in the menu that you got a key to the snack chest with each drink, so after I ordered my drink I went over and unlocked some olives. Turns out, we only got one key PER GROUP and I used it on OLIVES of all things, which is totally polarizing and there weren’t even four of them. #theworst. By the time we were done with our drinks here it was absolutely pouring so we got an uber and headed home.
The next morning we decided to head to the famed Biscuit Head for breakfast. Leading up to this trip we all asked family and friends for restaurant recommendations and EVERY SINGLE PERSON recommended Biscuit Head. We tried to get as there as early as our hangovers would allow but still ended up waiting in line for a while.
It was completely worth it though because the food was god damn fantastic. They obviously specialize in biscuits, and have an entire bar dedicated to biscuit toppings. Every combo of honey, jam and butter that you could ever imagine. I had a REALLY hard time deciding, mainly because of their multiple types of gravy and the fact that a GRAVY FLIGHT was an option. Gravy is like, one of my top 3 favorite foods (of course it’s a food, don’t tell me otherwise). There is also a GRAVY OF THE DAY (bestill my beating heart) but I ultimately went for the Brisket Biscuit, which was smoked pulled brisket, goat cheese, and buffalo hollandaise on a biscuit, topped with a poached egg. It was AMAZING. The biscuits were so large and buttery. I’ve only ever attempted biscuits one time and they turned out like inedible dense little pucks. These biscuits were the complete opposite of that, fluffy yet rich. A real feat of chemistry. Everybody’s food was really amazing, there wasn’t a bad thing between the four of us.
So yes, in case you can’t tell I think this place is a must-do in Asheville. They currently have 2 Asheville locations and have recently opened a GREENVILLE SC location(!!!!!). SO MANY CAPS but I’m just so passionate about biscuits and gravy guys.
This day was also our best day of weather, so we decided to take our full bellies outside and hike some of these famed Smokey Mountains that we kept hearing so much about. We thought we would do a nice hike, but there are SO many mountains around Asheville it was really hard to narrow it down to an area, let alone a single trail.
I ended up finding this site on my phone, which seemed very helpful. But Nick seemed to have an idea of where to head for the entrance of the National Park, so away we head.
I don’t want to criticize, because I certainly didn’t want to navigate..but Nick decidedly did NOT know where he was going. I think we had to turn around 2-3 times, and we ended up climbing some mountain that a Toyota Corolla should never have attempted.
We hiked around for about 30 or so mins and decided to head back and find some waterfalls. More beautiful mountain driving later and we found ourselves at a random roadside waterfall.
After all that adventure we were more than ready for a freakin beer and found the cutest little gem, Frog Level Brewing Co. This place was in the middle of the tiny little downtown of Waynesville, NC and had an awesome outdoor area. It actually ended up being one of our favorite spots! There were about 8-10 picnic tables along the river behind the place. The scenery plus the Salamandar Slam IPA made for a very happy crew. In addition to the beers, we got some chips and chipotle hummus (which was amazing). We were pretty hungry from our hike and it had been a while since our late breakfast, so it really hit the spot.
So….I know this seems like a really unnatural place to end this post, but this is getting really long and we did a lot of activities and breweries, so I cannot even fathom how long you would have to listen to me blather on if I actually attempted to finish out this day. So I’ll wrap it up here and save the rest for next week’s travel post!
This post is part of the Wanderful Wednesday link-up, be sure to check out the other posts!
Wellll I planned on recapping our December Asheville trip for this Travel Tuesday, but with all the moving, I am not even close to going through all of the pictures on my camera. So that will have to wait for another day. Try to contain yourselves.
If you missed it, we are in the process of moving from Wilmington to Greenville, so I thought it might be a good time to list some of our favorite Wilmington spots before they are all a beloved distant memory and I have no recollection of the beautiful beach dream that I’ve been living (not dramatic at all). This past weekend was likely my last weekend in Wilmington for the forseeable future, so we spent some time hitting up my favorite spots.
Aka, the best part of the area. There are three main beaches in the Wilmington area, and even more if you look across the river in Brunswick County or north at Topsail. For the sake of this post, I’ll focus on the three around Wilmington.
Wrightsville Beach is probably the most popular beach near Wilmington. It’s easily accessible from downtown (a straight shot on 74), has a ton of restaurants, is home to “The Loop” (a popular running route), has more beach houses than hotels (which helps keep the beach less crowded), and is generally a “nicer” beach. You will also see more boats and activities like kayaking and stand up paddleboarding, thanks to the lovely Intracoastal Waterway. If you are looking to really explore Wilmington and/or are an active vacationer, Wrightsville is your jam.
Carolina Beach is a little further away from Wilmington proper and is more….touristy? than Wrightsville. There are more souvenir shops, kitschy beach themed restaurants/buffets and bars, more high rise hotels, etc etc. This reminds me of the beaches that I would vacation at as a kid. There is a boardwalk with an arcade and a small amusement park. Definitely a family vacation vibe. If you have kiddos on board, Carolina is a winner.
Kure Beach is just past Carolina Beach and is the quietest of all three. It has less restaurants (but still enough to get you by) and shops than either Wrightsville or Carolina. There is also free parking so Nick and I hit this beach a lot (is there any harder pill to swallow than having to pay for parking at the beach where you live? In Virginia Beach there are some lots where you can park for free as a resident, get with it Wrightsville.). If you plan to be a total beach bum and want quiet and serenity, Kure is the beach for you.
Oh, the food. The glorious, glorious food.
This is definitely one of the things I will miss MOST about Wilmington. For the first six months we lived here, we talked nonstop about how much we loved the weather and the food. We couldn’t shut up about it. We annoyed and alienated all of our friends. But it’s ok, because we filled that void with MORE FOOD.
Fish Bites – This isn’t a surprise to anyone that knows us. This is stop 1 on our Wilmington tour when people visit us. Fish Bites is very unassuming, it’s in a shopping center in the middle of Wilmington, far from downtown or any of the beaches. But it’s our number 1 recommendation if you are looking for simple seafood. We had family members want to go here 3 times in one long weekend visit, it’s that good. Their fresh catch is my default choice, and I highly recommend the coconut sauce with that (unless it’s tuna). They also serve raw oysters during oyster season that are delicious if that’s yo thing. The mussels appetizer, the crab dip, the zucchini fries, all amazing. I could go on and on about this place, but I’ll spare you. Just be sure to go. We tell everyone we know about it and have never gotten anything less than glowing reviews in return.
Catch – Catch is located on Market St., also in a shopping center and not near downtown or the beaches (I guess I have a type?). The chef was featured on Top Chef Texas and is a bit of a local celebrity. It’s a bit more expensive than Fish Bites (~$30 per entree) but the food is a little more high end/modern/creative as well. Their menu changes frequently, so my recommendations are probably useless, but their asian-ish entrees are always amazing.
Las Olas – Mexican food is my favorite food. Period, the end. And for me, Mexican food really comes down to the salsa, and the salsa here is FANTASTIC. It’s super fresh and super cilantro-y. Their seafood tacos are amazing, and you have to get the Street Corn as a side. Nick and I used to live across the street from this place when we first moved to Wilmington, and I could have eaten here weekly. Or daily. The owners of this restaurant own a couple other in the area, I’ve tried k38, but not Tower (which is located in Wrightsville), and it was just as good.
Britt’s Donuts – I will preface this recommendation by saying I don’t even like donuts. Whaaat? I know. But here I am, recommending a donut joint. We heard about Britt’s from our apartment maintenance manager when we first moved here, and after the conversation I promptly forgot all about it, because I am anti-donut. We were checking out Carolina Beach a week or so later and walked right by it and I was all “oh yeah, that’s that donut place that guy was telling us about.” We were between meals and decided just to have one each to see what the BFD was. OMG IT WAS HEAVEN. These are the lightest, sweetest, fluffiest donuts you will ever have in your entire life. They only make one kind, but it’s the only kind you will ever need. They created the absolute perfect donut and it would be an insult to you to serve you anything else. There is usually a line all down the boardwalk during the summer, but it’s worth it. I recommend getting at least half a dozen per person. My brother-in-law holds the current record of eating an ENTIRE dozen in one day.
Mott’s Seafood Channel – I know, this isn’t even a restaurant, but it is hands down the best fish market in Wilmington. If you are visiting and have access to a kitchen, do yourself the kindest favor you possibly can and make dinner in one night. And buy that dinner at Mott’s Seafood. It’s located near Wrightsville Beach, and after trying a ton of different fish markets in the area, it’s the only one we go to now. Their seafood is always SO fresh, and we have fun trying all kind of different things according to what’s in season. The employees are especially helpful and we always ask what is the freshest/what looks good. If you happen to be visiting between October and May GET THE STUMP OYSTERS if they have them.
SO, those are my “must-do” places in the Wilmington area, and now I’ve successfully bummed myself out about not being able to visit them again.
I’m going to go be sad about not living at the beach anymore, K bye.
Athens. The birthplace of modern society, democracy and philosophy. It’s interesting to read travel recaps and tips/advice for visiting Athens because there seems to be one of two themes, the “Athens was kind of gross and I didn’t love it” and “Athens is amazing and gets such a bad rap”. So I was a little apprehensive and curious to see which side of the fence I would fall on. My boy Rick Steves doesn’t love Athens, so I went in with my expectations slightly lowered.
We arrived in Athens after another 4 am flight (zzzzzz) and were taken straight to our apartment, which was within rock throwing distance to the Acropolis. We set our bags down and geeked out over the apartment a little bit (another amazing patio, my patio game was so strong on this trip), then got our heads together to figure out the day. We decided to head to the Acropolis (I think we were so enticed since it was RIGHT THERE and felt the ancient draw), which ended up being a poor planning choice. By the time we left, it was around 10 am. We walked around to the front entrance of the Acropolis and bought our tickets.
Those white chairs are our patio. This view is from our walk up to the Acropolis
At the Acropolis, you buy one ticket (for €12) with approximately 12 stubs. There are separate entrances to a lot of the specific areas and other sites throughout Athens, and each entrance costs you one ticket. However, you get one specific stub to the main Acropolis area (with the Parthenon) so that you can only enter that area once. The remaining tickets are valid for :
Olympieion (Temple of Zeus)
North and South slopes of the Acropolis
Our crew was starting to get a little hangry, so we decided a snack would be a good choice before heading in. We got some little (overpriced) sandwiches from the snack shop out front. They were just ok, but they got the job done. While we were eating, we watched the droves of tour buses come in and drop people off. We briefly debated if we should do something else with our time since it was going to be obviously crowded, but we ultimately decided to head in.
SO. MANY. PEOPLE. We knew it would be crowded, but wow it was really, super duper, extremely crowded. There was no freely walking around to be had. We were basically part of a large mass/line that just moved along from site to site. Once we got up to the main Parthenon, it opened up a little bit and we were able to walk, but there were still people allll around. We immediately knew that we had made a mistake, but given that we had used our one entrance to the Parthenon, we fired up our Rick Steves audio guide and made the best of it. The temples here are amazing to see. The Parthenon is MASSIVE, and the view of Athens from up high in the background cannot be missed. I also particularly liked the Erechtheion (a temple dedicated to Athena and Poseidon), the statuettes here were very well preserved. Something interesting that we learned in the audio guide was just how many times the Acropolis has been attacked. To hear it all laid out, it’s a wonder any of it is still standing!
After we left the Acropolis, we headed to the Acropolis museum. The entrance here is separate, but a great deal at only €5. The Acropolis museum was recently redone and was beautiful, open, and modern looking. Here they had a lot of the sculptures and pediments from the top of the Parthenon in front of a picture, so you could get a great idea of what the whole thing looked like. It also delved into some of the pre-golden age of Athens art and sculptures, which derived a lot of inspiration from Egypt. The museum isn’t huge and took us about an hour to get through.
One of the things we talked about in the islands was that we didn’t see a lot of the “typical” Greek foods that we were expecting, like gyros, hummus, pita, grape leaves, etc. In talking to others, we concluded that those are more typical of mainland Greece, so we were excited to get our fill of those foods here. We set off to Kostas, a small souvlaki place. Kostas has been operating since 1950 in Athens and has a limited menu and a long line, both signs of great quality food! They cook all the of food fresh, so the line doesn’t move extremely fast, but it’s well worth the wait. We were chatting in line with a woman that was originally from Athens, but lives in Germany now for work, and she said when she’s back hom she always makes a point to visit Kostas. We each got one souvlaki and a beer, but the souvlakis are on the smaller side, I probably could have split a third with Nick.
After Kostas, we walked back to the Acropolis area and walked through the Ancient Agora. The Agora is down the hill from the Acropolis and was the central meeting place in Ancient Athens (probably similar to the Roman Forum in Rome). We got to the Agora around 3, and it was practically empty. Such a refreshing change from our crowded morning at the Parthenon. We again, used our Rick Steves audio app to guide us through. The Agora was a lot larger than I expected and had a lot of buildings and art to view. This ended up being one of my unexpected favorites from our time in Athens, I highly recommend making some time for the Agora during your visit.
We apparently went through the Agora backwards (the main entrance is in Monastraki area, we came in on a back road), so we ended at Monastraki and decided to walk around and check out the shops. The shops here were filled with some of the more popular Greek items, leather sandals, oils, olives, jewelry, etc. We ended up finding a really cool local foods shop (in our quest to locate some beer to carry back…) and got some meats and cheeses to enjoy as a snack, and also picked up some Greek yogurt for breakfast the next day. I was pretty excited about having an actual legitimate breakfast option. We also ended up getting some fruit (figs and grapes) from one of the food carts in the main square. We also decided to pick up some lunch for ourselves for the next day (we went on a tour to Delphi) from Thanassis Souvlaki, another highly rated Souvlaki shop in Athens. We had these wrapped up to-g0 and put them in our fridge when we got home for the next day.
When we got back, we started our normal routine of showers and enjoying beers on the patio before heading to Scholarchio for dinner. I would not consider Scholarchio to be a great local joint, but the food was quick and fit the bill. And more imporantly, we were in bed nice and early after our 4 am wake up time. The menu is set up that you can order a set amount of dishes based on the number of people in your party. Since we had 4 people, we got to pick 10 dishes (from 15 that they brought out on a tray) and each got wine for €15 per person. All in all, not a bad choice if you are nearby and want a quick meal! We got meatballs, stuffed grape leaves, moussaka, greek salad, calamari, braised lamb, tzatziki, and fried zucchini among other things that I don’t remember. The meatballs and the grape leaves were our highlights!
The next day, we had an excursion to Delphi on the agenda. We were heavily considering going to Delphi before our trip, but talking about it with some of the other folks on our wine tour in Santorini really sealed the deal for us. A couple on their honeymoon did an excursion during their stay in Athens and absolutely loved it, and even raved about the tour group that they used. We got the name of the tour company (G.O. Tours) from them and booked our trip during our first day in Athens. The tour ran us €86 per person, but we were assured it was well worth it.
In the morning we got up and had our super legitimate breakfast of yogurt, figs, honey and pistachios. It was everything I had been dreaming about for a week and a half. We met our group at a local hotel at 9:00am to get picked up by the bus. It seemed like the buses went around and collected people from their various hotels around Athens and brought them all to this main spot. From there, people got off the buses and were re-boarded according to their tours. It was pretty interesting and seemed like a good logistical way to accomplish that (the industrial engineer in me was very pleased).
The ride to Delphi is about 2+ hours from Athens. On the way there, the tour guide told us a few stories and tidbits about both Athens and Delphi. The most surprising was that the Greeks prounounce it Del-pheee rather than what I am used to, Del-f-eye. Just kidding, there were way better stories than that. According to our tour guide, Delphi was formed by Zeus. He wanted to find the center of the world and sent two of his eagles in opposite directions, with the theory that where they met would be the center of the world. The two eagles met in Delphi, and the rest is history. After Zeus found the center, Delphi was taken over by Python, a son of Gaia (Earth). Eventually Apollo defeated and slayed Python and the people built monuments and performed games in his honor. Delphi is probably best known for being a major site of the Greek oracles. The oracles were women that Apollo was said to communicated through. People would travel far and wide to visit the oracles with questions. The woman would speak and the priests would translate her answers. Our guide said that the priests usually used clever wording and vague answers to get around not actually knowing the future :).
The bus stopped once at the halfway point for a bathroom break and snacks. Here Nick and I split a couple of pastries, baklava and kataifi (the bird’s nest looking item). I also had a cappuccino.
When we made it to Delphi, there were a few other buses and tours coming in, but nothing like the Acropolis the day before. The road up to Delphi is windy. The setting of Delphi is absolutely beautiful, it’s surrounded by mountains and olive trees and we got some of my favorite pictures here.
After our tour guide walked us through, we had about 45 mins of free time to walk around and revisit anything that piqued our interest before we met at the museum. The museum was fairly small, but with our tour guide I felt like we got a great overview of the traditions and examples of art in Delphi. Most of the art was in the form of sculptures that were built to honor Apollo and other gods.
After we left the museum we were let off in the town by Delphi, where the majority of our tour group went to a local hotel for lunch. We had heard from our Santorini friends that the lunch was just ok (and would run €20 extra per person) so we found a nice outdoor area and ate our sandwiches before shopping around a little. I’m so glad that we did, because Debbie and I had our best Athens score here! We both were looking for some olive pottery, but were being pretty picky about it having to be made in Greece and of good quality. I got a bowl and Debbie got a few olive oil dishes.
Our ride back to Athens went by quickly (and I may have even snoozed a little). Our tour guide and bus driver were a little concerned about traffic getting back, as there was an upcoming election that week for Prime minister and a speech was planned that night in one of the main squares so lots of traffic was expected. We asked to be dropped off in Monastraki, but the closest they could get us with road closures was a few blocks away. Which was totally fine! We got to walk a little back through Monastraki and see a few more shops. We decided to take another route through town and hit up a restaurant that I had read about called Melilotos. Melilotos is considered to be “Modern Greek cuisine” and had a great sounding menu. We ended up getting four things to split, including a salad with goat cheese, stuffed chicken, pasta with mushrooms and chicken, and pasta with beef and truffles (this was the clear favorite). Everything was delicious! One of our favorite spots in Athens.
We stopped again at our favorite shop on the way home and picked up some more yogurt. We chatted a little with the owner there and sampled a few different kinds of nuts. We ended up getting some more pistachios. The owner told us that all of the foods and snacks they had in their deli case were made by his grandmother daily and brought in.
More drinks and patio sitting once we got home!
For our last day, we slept in a little, ate another yogurt and fig breakfast, and headed out to the National Archaeological Museum. The museum is the largest in Greece and has the largest collection of Greek artifacts. The museum is organized by historical period and medium and goes from Prehistoric, through Classical and ending with the Roman period. The museum has both tour guides and audio guides available. However, the cost of the guided tours isn’t very clear and seems to depend on the number of people that you have present. Of course, all of this was irrelevant for us, as we had our Rick Steves audio guide fired up and ready to go. My favorite statues were the ones in the Classical and Hellenistic period that depicted the Greek gods (this was a personal favorite). We also got to see the actual frescoes that were retrieved from Akrotiri. We took about two hours in this museum. In my opinion, this is a must-see if you are visiting Athens! It gives you a great view of the history of the mainland and a lot of the islands as well.
We originally intended to find a nearby place for lunch, but struck out with two locations being closed. We eventually decided to just go with something easy and open, and ended up at a pretty touristy location, Smile Restaurant. This place checked all of my normal “do not eat here” boxes, a lot of advertisement, pictures of the food, menus in multiple languages, advertisements for other tours around Athens, etc. But it was also pretty highly rated on Trip Advisor (#39 out of 2000+ restaurants in Athens) and we were hungry. I was pleasantly surprised with the food and I finally got my pastitsio that I hadn’t been able to find anywhere. Nick and Bob got the souvlaki, and we also ordered the Greek salad and the Special Smile Salad.
After lunch, we set out to cross off the rest of the sites that came with our Acropolis ticket, as well as the Olympic Stadium.
We started with the Olympic Stadium (officially called the Panathenaic Stadium), which housed the first instance of the modern Olympics in 1896. The original ancient Olympics were held in the Greek town of Olympia. It’s only €5 to enter the stadium (and that comes with a free audio guide and the opportunity to run around the track!), but we were more interested in continuing on to some other sites and didn’t want to invest the time.
Our next stop was the Olympieion and Temple of Zeus. We saw the columns that make up this site from walking around town, and they seemed to be the largest and very well preserved. Seeing them up close was really cool. They are located at a big intersection in Athens, so it’s really neat to see the old and the new so interspersed. To get some background on these sites, we listened to parts of the Athens City Walking Tour from the Rick Steves app. You are able to select specific tracks from the tour, so we just did that for whichever site we were at.
Right around the Olympieion, you are also able to see the Arch of Hadrian. Hadrian was an emperor of the Roman empire, but held a great admiration for the city of Athens. He did a lot of work to restore and preserve the city, and aimed to make it a cultural center of the empire. The arch was built by the Greeks to honor Hadrian and all he did for their city.
Next we headed to the Acropolis to see if we could sneak back in to the main area during a non-crowded time. This was a no-go, so we explored the North and South slopes. This was really neat, there were a lot of intricate caves where people used to place statues and trinkets to honor the gods on their trek up to the main Acropolis. We also got to enjoy some more great views from this vantage point.
We decided to head to dinner close by again, we were all a little worn from all the activity of the whole trip and wanted to have a relaxing last night. I actually don’t even remember the restaurant we went to, and have no pictures of the food, so it must not have been that great. We took one last walk through Monastraki and headed back for some beers and patio sitting, the perfect way to cap off our trip!
All in all, I really enjoyed our time in Athens and Delphi. I would certainly add Athens to your Greek itinerary, there are things that you see here that you don’t get from any other place in the world. It was inspiring to me to be among such important and ancient artifacts, and in a spot where so many events and people existed that affect our culture and way of life, even today. However…I can kind of see why some people dog Athens. The easiest comparison is to Rome, they both are large cities that have similar ancient culture and ruins. Athens certainly isn’t as pretty as Rome (SO MUCH GRAFFITI) but I found it easy to overlook that to appreciate the food and the culture here.
And that’s it for our Greece trip! Next I want to do a “planning” post with tips and tricks that we found useful, specific to Greece. Then it’s on to recap our December trip to Asheville, NC
Have you ever been to Athens? What was your favorite site? Did all of the graffiti turn you off at all?