But with the ongoing pandemic (is this ever going to end?), we’re leery of close encounters with other people. The excellent restaurants, the bookstore champagne bar, and the myriad breweries…alas, not this time. We readjusted our desires, and focused our attention instead on places where we could comfortably enjoy Asheville outdoors—the enchanting North Carolina Arboretum, and the colorful, weirdly wonderful River Arts District.
The North Carolina Arboretum
We discovered The North Carolina Arboretum on a previous trip to Asheville, when the stick covered hills of early spring left us uninspired to pursue hiking in the mountains. The arboretum is lovely at every time of year, with 65 acres of exquisitely curated gardens and more than 10 miles of hiking trails.
We visited the arboretum in mid-August and again in mid-September, and it was interesting to see the changes from summer to early fall. On our second visit we met up with our dear friend Winn, who has recently sold her home in southern Oregon for the same reasons we sold ours—drought, smoke, and wildfires.
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The River Arts District
The River Arts District houses more than 200 artists’ studios, and is a visual feast of graffiti and street art. Once a ghostly, abandoned area of warehouses and factories, it’s now vibrantly alive. It’s colorful, somewhat gritty, somewhat weird, and very cool.
On a previous visit to Asheville, we enjoyed hanging out at one of the local breweries in the River Arts District and lingering in the galleries. This time, we just walked the colorful streets, paid a quick visit to a farmers’ market, and picked up smoked turkey to take home from 12 Bones, the barbecue joint made famous when the Obamas visited.
We enjoyed our colorful excursions in Asheville. But the traffic is intense, and when we made a brief foray into the crowded downtown area, we quickly got ourselves out of there instead of exploring on foot, as we usually would do.
The combination of the pandemic and living on the remote Forgotten Coast of Florida for the last year-and-a-half has affected our desire for city adventures and our sense of ease in crowds. I know there are many people who avoid cities like the plague (pandemic or no pandemic). But we’ve always enjoyed city adventures. I hope we haven’t lost our edge.