Iconic Road Trips: Blue Ridge Parkway Paradise

The Blue Ridge Parkway is famous for a reason. It’s a 469-mile stretch along the Blue Ridge, which is a mountain chain within the Appalachian Mountains. The mountains out west might be more grandeur, but I grew up in the Appalachians, so this drive has a special place in my heart. Contrast to the jagged, towering, snow-capped mountains you’ll see in the western parts of the U.S., the Blue Ridge Mountains are subtler in their majesty. You’ll see rolling hills upon rolling hills all the way into the horizon while driving the Blue Ridge Parkway. The park connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the Shenandoah National Park. When you feel moved to stop and take photos of the jaw-dropping landscape, you’ll find there are plenty of places to pull over and do just that. Buy some homemade jam, salsa or an assortment of other treats when you stop. These kinds of Blue Ridge specialties are widely available along the route and unlike so many gimmicky regional foods many of these offerings are worth the price.In addition to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park, you’ll pass through the Pisgah National Forest, Stone Mountain State Park and George Washington National Forest, among other destinations.

North Carolina readies for ‘Hunger Games’ opening

hunger games north carolinaAnticipation for the movie version of “The Hunger Games,” which will be released next week, has been building for more than a year – and no more so than in North Carolina, where most of the film was shot.

At the North Carolina Governor’s Conference on Tourism this week, Governor Bev Perdue cheered the first movie of the dystopian saga, which stars Jennifer Lawrence as the rebellious Katniss fighting for her life. While “The Hunger Games” has become North Carolina’s largest film set on site (previous biggies were “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Dirty Dancing”), another 119 films are being shot in the state, Perdue said.

If you’re looking to follow in the stars’ footsteps, you’ll have to rent a car; shooting sites range from Charlotte (a stand-in for The Capital) to DuPont State Recreational Park, site of the Arena, to the tiny town of Shelby, where the Reaping scenes were filmed. During the shoot, the stars were based in Asheville, in the western part of the state.In anticipation of visiting fans, the VisitNC website has put together several “Hunger Games” resource guides, including a four-day itinerary and a Pinterest board. While businesses such as the Nantahala Outdoors Center in Bryson weren’t used during the filming, the state is cleverly tying them in with the movie’s survivalist message (you, too, can train like Katniss!)

So will the movie generate the tourist dollars that the state hopes to receive? The odds are ever in their favor. Just look at the boom in visitation that a certain Washington town named Forks received after the “Twilight” movies came out.

Travel writer Chris Gray Faust covers value luxury vacations on her award-winning blog, Chris Around The World.

Eco-tourism gets edible with the Ritz Carlton, Charlotte’s, giant green gingerbread house

giant gingerbread house The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte, in North Carolina, is taking their eco-friendly hospitality to a whole new level. From Thanksgiving Day through December 28, 2011, the hotel will showcase a life-sized “edible eco-manor”, designed by architects and made by pastry chefs using all-natural and organic ingredients. The structure will be 12 feet high by 14 feet wide by 10 feet deep and will also feature LED lights and a green “moss” eco-roof.

So what goes into making a giant eco-friendly gingerbread house?

  • 350 pounds of organic white, brown and confectioner’s sugar
  • 70 pounds of organic egg whites
  • 300 pounds of organic bread flour
  • 100 organic eggs
  • 24 pounds of molasses
  • Four pounds of salt
  • Four pounds of baking soda
  • 120 pounds of shortening
  • 24 ounces of cinnamon
  • Two gallons of organic milk
  • Eight ounces each of nutmeg, allspice and cloves
  • Nine ounces of ginger

This unique exhibit complements The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte’s, already eco-friendly programming. The property is LEED-certified, meaning that the hotel’s construction and design follows the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design guidelines. Some sustainable practices of the Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte, include building materials that use 30% less energy than most hotels, reduced water usage by 35%, a green, vegetated rooftop, recycling more than 80% of construction waste, and having bicycles as available transportation for guests, among other initiatives.

For more information on the hotel’s green programming, click here.

10 days, 10 states: Drum circles and Hogzilla in North Carolina’s “cess pool of sin”

“A cess pool of sin” -North Carolina State Senator James Forrester, in reference to the city of Asheville-

On a cold autumn evening in downtown Asheville’s Pritchard Park, I find myself in the company of an inebriated man doing his best to imitate a silverback mountain gorilla. With his arms hovering just above ankle level, the bearded, shirtless gentleman plows his way through the forest of people collectively losing themselves in the rhythms of the Friday night Asheville drum circle.

Much as I encountered during my stay in Austin, Texas, Asheville is a progressive bubble of free-thought and cultural diversity in an otherwise conservative surrounding. Nestled at an elevation of 2,200 ft. in the Appalachian Mountains, Asheville is the final stop on my “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights” road trip, and I couldn’t be happier to be here.

Though I consider Asheville to be one of my favorite towns in all of the 50 states, not everyone is as accepting of the drum circle dancing, microbrew swilling, buy local promoting mentality that’s so alive and well.

In much publicized comments made by State Senator James Forrester, the Senator vehemently championed the notion that the city of Asheville was a “cess pool of sin”. Unfazed by the verbal bullet, the cheeky citizens of Asheville have instead latched on to the catchy alliteration and have begun selling t-shirts, bumper stickers, and mountain themed memorabilia that glorify their supposedly sinful existence.

Sipping on a pint of Wee Heavy-er Scotch Ale in the city’s lively downtown district, I write the sinful activity off as research towards familiarizing myself with the city’s well known microbrewery culture. Though Asheville boasts a modest population of just over 80,000 people, no less than 9 breweries operate within the immediate region. Thrice garnering the title of “Beer City USA”, Asheville also made the list of Gadling’s official “24 greatest cities in the world for drinking beer”.

%Gallery-140241%Though the corner stool of a dimly lit brewpub is as good a place as any for quaffing local stout, in a quirky town such as Asheville, there are far more creative options for enjoying your succulent brew.

Options such as inside of the purple painted LaZoom comedy tour bus.

Notorious amongst locals as being a slow moving historical tour that strangely enough involves an angry, bicycle-riding nun, the tour is also famous for having a license allowing history buffs to drink beers while on board. Genuinely funny and staffed by energetic Asheville locals, it’s the history class you’ve always dreamed of.

Drinking on a moving bus? Definitely sinful.

So where else can I find this supposed sin in this supposed cess pool of a town that I just happen to love so much? Well, if gluttony is a sin, then a trip down to 12 Bones Smokehouse is probably the first place I would look. With a work week that would make even the French envious, 12 Bones is so popular for their southern style BBQ they’re only open for business five hours a day, five days a week, all of which have a line stretching deep into the parking lot. In well documented photos adorning the walls, even President Obama isn’t immune from racing down to 12 Bones for a lunchtime BBQ fix.

My 12 Bones item of choice? A “Hogzilla” sandwich that consists of pulled pork, a whole sausage, multiple strips of sugar bacon, and melted pepper jack cheese on a hoagie bun. Add in a side of baked beans and collard greens, pay a meager $7.50 for the privilege of calling it your own, and partake in a gluttonous feast so good it might even be in the neighborhood of sin.

Good BBQ. Good beer. Beautiful mountains. Quirky locals. Fresh mountain air. Asheville, North Carolina is decidedly my kind of town, and if this is the definition of sin, then throw me deep into the cess pool.

Kicked back in a lounge chair on the banks of the French Broad River, the third oldest river in the world, I breathe a deep, 3,600 mile sigh that’s half contentment, half exhaustion. Over the last 10 days I’ve bathed beneath waterfalls in Umpqua, Oregon, and stood outside of the oldest house in America in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’ve hiked the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, Utah, and trekked deep into the foliage of Georgia’s Tallulah Gorge.

The result? Affirming the notion that of all the countries in the world to set off on a road trip, there are few better places to start than right here in our own backyard.

This is the final stop on Kyle’s “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights” series, but by no means the end of the adventures. Stay tuned to Gadling for where he might pop up next.

Travel in the southern United States for free with Megabus

megabus gives free transportationWho doesn’t love free travel? With a new hub in Atlanta, Georgia, Megabus is giving away 10,000 free seats to travelers using their new routes during trips taking place November 16 to December 16, 2011. The eleven cities included in the new route leaving from Atlanta include:

  • Birmingham, Alabama
  • Mobile, Alabama
  • Montgomery, Alabama
  • Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Memphis, Tennessee
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • Gainesville, Florida
  • Jacksonville, Florida
  • Orlando, Florida

To take advantage of the offer, just enter the promo code ATL10K when reserving your seat online.