Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Biltmore Fangirl

Just like athlete's foot, I'm baaaaaack! I got in yesterday afternoon and was welcomed by a heat wave of epic So. Cal. proportions. An interesting change of pace considering I spent the last part of my time away in the cold and damp of North Carolina. And while the Getaway With Dee was pretty much met by a steady stream of rain, that doesn't mean I didn't have a fabulous time. Proceed with caution, as this blog post is likely to sound like one giant Love Fest.

I got in to North Carolina on Sunday and checked in to the fabulous, beyond words Inn On Biltmore Estate. People, I cannot stress enough that if you have the means and opportunity that this hotel was off the hook. I have never, in my life, had a more positive hotel experience. The staff was amazing. Professional, courtesy, helpful, just obscenely excellent. It was like they required the entire lot to attend hotel hospitality school. Oh, and did I mention they serve afternoon tea? As in, a real pot of tea. Not a tea bag stuck in lukewarm water. I'm talking loose tea in a real tea pot, finger sandwiches, lemon curd, and clotted cream afternoon tea. Swoon

That alone was worth the trip. See how easy to please I am?

Anywho, the festivities kicked off with the Gilded Age party on Sunday evening. So many fantastic costumes! Dee and her daughters looked especially amazing. Parlor games were played. Desserts were consumed. Books were swapped. The best part of the evening? When Dee demonstrated how a Victorian lady got dressed. Dear Lord! Now I've always known that women during this time period wore an obscene amount of undergarments, but I think it takes it to another level to actually see a dressing in person. How many of us have read historical romances over the years where the lusty hero takes the heroine up against a tree in the garden, in a closet, on a back staircase etc.? Yeah, so would never happen! It would take the guy 30 minutes alone to wade past all her clothes!

Monday was a bit of a free day. I took a quick stroll through the Biltmore Estate and snapped a couple of sub par photos before my digital camera battery gave up the ghost. The estate itself sits on roughly 8000 acres, and the house (I believe) takes up 4 acres all on its own. It also illustrates the difference between "merely rich" and "obscene, gaudy wealth." The "house" is stunning, and is still owned by the Vanderbilt family. I saw one of Edith Vanderbilt's Louis Vuitton trunks with my own beady lil' eyes. This was also the day that a bunch of us toured the winery on the estate, and I resisted the urge to not buy about a dozen bottles of the stuff.

Monday evening was our private tour of the house. We got a "behind the scenes tour" and the tour guides designed it around Dee's latest book, Maid to Match. Which means we saw the kitchens (amazing), the servant's quarters (pretty nice actually!), and the guest rooms. This tour, top to bottom, from basement to 4th floor, took roughly 2 hours! It required a lot of walking, and a lot of stair climbing, but it was so worth it.

That private tour pretty much signaled the end of the getaway. Everyone said goodbye, and we all went our separate ways. I flew back to Cali Tuesday morning, and hit the ground running....until about 7:30PM when I promptly passed out and slept the whole night through. I'm not sure who said vacations were supposed to be relaxing. Mine never seem to be at any rate!

I had such a wonderful time at the Biltmore, that I'm dying to go back. It was simply that amazing, rain and all. Honestly, if you love historical romance, it should probably be required by law that you go. Although seeing a place like this just makes me more angry that American-set historicals are currently seen as "uncool" and "unmarketable" (unless, of course, you write inspirational romances, and then the setting is OK. Yes, I am riding the Bitter Bus, why do you ask?). I'm no writer, but even I was aware of the hundreds of stories screaming out of the walls of this estate.

I can't thank Dee enough for picking my name out of the drawing she had at RWA, and I'm so glad that My Man told me I had to go, and that I better not even think about declining this prize. It was really a fantastic trip, one that I'm not likely to forget anytime soon. As soon as I catch my breath, and get those photos on the disposable camera I had to buy developed, I plan on posting more pictures to my Flickr account (yes, I'll post the link when I do!). In the meantime, I'm currently trying to figure out how to make millions of dollars so I can build myself a library like George Vanderbilt had. Seriously, if they would let me, I would so move in.


Dev said...

I'm jealous! It looks like a wonderful time. I've got Deeann's back list in my TBR - I think I need to pull a few out and read them.

Evangeline Holland said...

I would have died to attend Dee's getaway, since I love all things Vanderbilt, but it simply wasn't feasible! (sobcrywhine) But I appreciate your awesome recap and your photographs--and Dee has three blindingly gorgeous daughters!

Wendy said...

Dev: I need to read more! I've only read Maid To Match, and really enjoyed it.

Evangeline: I can't really caption photos on Blogger (and make it look decent!) - but the young lady in white, on the left is Dee's daughter-in-law. The other two are her daughters. Not only beautiful, but so nice as well!

I can't recommend enough that you visit the estate some day. Especially if you're a Vanderbilt junkie! It's truly amazing!

nath said...

Wow, it looks awesome and sounds like you enjoyed every minute of the trip!! :D Seems like you're going to appreciate historical romances even more in the future :)

CindyS said...

The library!! *swoon* I'm not sure I would have left that room the whole weekend.

Dee's family wore those clothes beautifully. Can't wait to see more pics.

Glad you had fun and your Man wouldn't let you miss it.


Susan/DC said...

Sounds like a wonderful vacation and Ms. Gist was a wonderful hostess. Personally, I think that if all romance novel covers were as gorgeous as those on her books, sales would triple.

As to the impossibility of heroes taking the heroine up against the wall if she's in Victorian undergarments, ITA. I always picture her hoops flying up into her face, sort of like a scene from Carol Burnett as Scarlett O'Hara (another reason why I prefer Regency clothing to Victorian).

Leslie said...

This is on my list of places to go when I can afford it. :) It sounds amazing from the exceptional staff to real tea!

I would have loved to see the dressing demo. I can't imagine wearing all those clothes.

Speaking of wine, I checked out the Biltmore's website and through Sept. 30th you can enter to win a case of wine. It's on the homepage, lower right side. :)

Lori said...

Oh, sounds like a dream come true. So fun!

Welcome home!

Amy said...

Every fall, John and I always say that we're going up there for a tour. I'm told it's stunning with the fall leaves in full glory, and it's merry activities on the entire site during the holidays.

Maybe this year. Heck, that might be a good getaway for after the wedding.

Dr J said...

We have promised ourselves a trip to the Biltmore Estates, hotel, etc. when we have been visiting our daughter in Alabama but just didn't get it done. We must!! This looks like you had a wonderful time. And thank the weather gods, it IS cooling down now in So. Cal. I noticed last evening our flag was blowing in the right direction again--on shore flow has again arrived! Great blog--love your them!

SarahT said...

Wow! Your trip sounds amazing! I've added the Biltmore to the very long list of places I'd like to visit in the US but haven't seen yet.

I've read three Deeanne Gist books so far, and I've enjoyed them all. I'd recommend them to all fans of historical romance. Don't be put off by the inspirational element.

Anonymous said...

Janet W: Wow and then wow some more! I've stayed in that city so many times ... so why never the Biltmore? Well there was this darling inn ... sadly burned down. And then the rival to the Biltmore (mind blank) for big biz conventions of the high end variety. So I have run out of excuses! I'm actually going to be in NorCaro this coming month but I'll be way in the western highlands at the Snowbird Lodge.

So if you go on another fabo estates adventure, try the mansions lining the Hudson River. They're same era and equally fascinating. Thanks for the cyber mini-vacation: and to your ball team: there's always next year!!

joykenn said...

Wendy if you've never visited the "cottages" in Newport, RI you can't imagine the wealth of these people. The Breakers built by Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt was their "modest" summer home. Its a mere 70 room Italian palazzo--very modest, only 65,000 sq. ft. The children have their own playhouse on the grounds that's nicer than most homes with a kitchen and everything. The strange thing about these "cottages"--each more elaborate and ornate than the next--is that they only used them for the "season" which was about 8 weeks. Then they went back to NY to party and socialize there. Amazing the amount of money they spent. Funny how when we imagine that time WE never wind up being one of the 45 servants that they brought along with them to take care of them.

Wendy said...

Nath: It was a bit like stepping back in time!

CindyS: Not only the library, but there were books stashed in other rooms of the house. George Vanderbilt had a huge collection. Even bigger than my TBR! LOL

Susan: Getting around the hoops alone would be a daunting task! I love the Victorian "look" but quickies would be an impossibility!

Leslie: I need to go enter that contest! I'm not much of a red wine drinker, but I enjoyed the free tasting of several of their whites.

Lori: Had a great time, but I am glad to be home.

Amy: ZOMG! You and John so need to go sometime. It would make a wonderful honeymoon :)

Dr. J: It was so weird stepping off the plane into the So. Cal. heat - especially after the cold and damp of N.C.!

Sarah: I need to read more of her books. I was really impressed how well she blended the "inspirational" elements into Maid To Match without beating the reader over the head with a "God stick."

Janet W: I think it's well worth seeing - especially if you're a bit of a history junkie like I am.

Joy: Well with my family tree - I definitely would have been one of those servants :) After seeing the estate it's easy to understand why the family opened the home to tourists in the 1930s. It would take at least 30 servants IN THE HOUSE to keep the place running smoothly. And that's not even counting all the people you'd have to hire to maintain the grounds. Yikes!

One of these days I have to get to Rhode Island and other parts of New England. I've never been farther east than New York state. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Wendy, I visited the Biltmore estate circa 7th grade--probably the summer of 1985--and it was wonderful! I've been waiting for this post ever since you announced you'd won this fabulous get away, and I'm so glad you had a wonderful time. It's definitely a place I need to get back to at some point!

Marie-Thérèse said...

What a wonderful trip report, Wendy! The Biltmore is now on my list of "must-see before I die" vacation destinations.

I read Gist's 'Maid to Match' last month (picked it up due to your recent review) and thoroughly enjoyed it. As you said, the inspirational aspect is quite subtle and the view "downstairs" and behind the scenes in a great Victorian home is something you just can't find in a standard mainstream historical romance. I had a few minor quibbles about voice (Mac's especially wasn't 100% convincing to me) and pacing towards the end but overall thought the characters were lovely and the story engaging. The book left me wanting to read more by this author very soon.

Hilcia said...

Wendy, WOW! Just a beautiful getaway. I'm with Leslie and wish I could see the dressing demonstration -- the real thing must be amazing.

The only Gist I've read is The Bride in the Bargain and I really enjoyed it -- the historical details were magnificent and as you say "no beating with a stick..." :) I still have Maid to Match in my TBB list.

Wendy said...

Elissa: It was wonderful! And now I'm left wondering when the heck I can go back. I definitely want to go again one of these days....

Marie: It was that "downstairs" perspective that I found so refreshing about the book. I don't demand 110% historical accuracy in my romances (hey, it's fiction after all) but the way the serving class is generally portrayed tends to run towards the laughable. I really thought Gist did a wonderful job with that aspect of the story.

Hilcia: The problem with going to the Biltmore is now I'm DYING to reread Maid To Match - and I just don't have the time right now. It was so neat to see some of the rooms in person that were featured in the story....