Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Biltmore Estate

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." - Mark Twain

So, last weekend there wasn't a lot of writing done in the King household.  In fact, there wasn't much of anything done here, as we were away.  Wasn't a lot of writing done in that "away" place either, though, which is slightly (but only slightly) bothersome.

I visited the Biltmore Estate some time ago, back when my former employer stuck me in Florida for a summer with nothing but classes to take and weekends to go play.  Damn those tough employers, right?  On one of those weekends, though, I struck out north and ended up in Asheville where I toured the Biltmore.  It fascinated me, and when I moved my current family up to Richmond I set a goal to some day show the mansion and estate to them.

I got a chance.

Why last weekend?  I'd wanted to go before Christmas because of what I've heard of the amazing decorations of the season, but we had too much else planned in December.  I checked a couple of weeks ago, though, and saw that they have a Tiffany display through the end of January.  Heide's a sucker for Tiffany stuff, so it was an easy decision.  Besides, we still needed to finish the last Eragon book, and had just about 10 hours worth of book to listen to on a 12 hour drive.  Nearly perfect, right?

And it was, really.  We ran into some fog on the road.  That was it for troubles for the trip.  Well, that, and the gal who served us lunch at the Stable Cafe brought us potato soup instead of tomato soup, but she swapped it right out and gave us a discount on the bill to compensate.  Man, I love awesome service.  All things considered, then, it was a GREAT weekend.

So what is it about the Biltmore that's so visitable?  For one thing, it's just--big.  Really damn big.  If you haven't stood in front of it, you have no idea.  The house inside isn't measured in square feet.  No, the house is four acres.  Inside, not out.  Ish, anyway--it's four acres plus or minus an average large house.  An acre, by the way, is 43,560 square feet.  Most people just round it up to 44,000, because when you get that much space who cares about a spot measuring roughly 20 by 20? 

Okay, so four of those large spaces.  Officially, 175,000 square feet.  My current little spot of heaven in Virginia is 1,350 square feet.  Do the math.  Or don't--I already have.  You could fit 129 of my apartment--and I have what's truly a fairly large apartment--in that house.  Should I mention that I left off a point six, which is effectively another living room and kitchen?  Nah, no point, right?  Get above a hundred or so of my current living spaces, and it's just--well, it's just big.  Really.  Damn.  Big.

So what does this have to do with writing?  I know you're thinking that.  Hold it, though--trust me, I'll get there.

It's big, indeed.  But it's also complete.  I suspect most people fantasize about a home with a space for everything, but this house has it.  Literally.  There are 255 rooms.  There are 53 bathrooms, and keep in mind that it was built at a time when most homes had zero.  But bathrooms aside, there's a huge dining room.  No, I said HUGE.  Big enough, in fact, that it has a full pipe organ and several major animal trophies, including a friggin' moose head, and you really don't notice when you walk in.  There are tapestries in there that are tremendously old.  The tapestries, interestingly enough, tell the story of the love triangle between Mars, Venus, and Vulcan.

Interesting, considering the storyline in Return of the Gods, no?

Anyway, it was interesting walking through all the different rooms.  With over 250, there's plenty of room for pretty much whatever you want.  There's the owner and his wife's bedrooms, for example, complete with a private study joining the two.  I hadn't thought much before about why wealthy landowners would want separate bedrooms from their spouses, but after touring the Biltmore and listening to the audio guide, I get it.

Oh--and there's a library.  Did I mention the library?

The owner of the house apparently had a 23,000-volume book collection, comprised of books in eight different languages.  Half of those books are contained in the library, which contains--no surprise, right?--books in a floor-to-ceiling configuration, just like in the library owned by Mars.

Makes me wonder where I got the idea.

So anyway, we left the estate with my lovely bride looking at me sideways.  Did I pattern any of Return of the Gods after my first visit?  It's quite likely, honestly.

Is that cool, or what?  Plus I'm using some of the design ideas for the construction of the elf castle and cathedral.  All things considered, then, it was a very useful trip. 


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