"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hills & Dales Estate: Lagrange, GA

Here you see the grand and gracious estate of Fuller E. Callaway.  In 2004 his family's home was opened to the public, and that was only one of the many gifts that Mr. Callaway has given to the people in and around Lagrange, Georgia.  I won't go into detail about that, but will just say the he was a philanthropist extraordinaire, and his legacy continues on in the community, in a big way.

Rick and I decided to visit on the recommendation of other full time RVers and authors of a blog I read: Living Our Dream.  It was a perfect day for this visit, which took most of the afternoon. We had no idea how big it was!  Despite the fact that I had read the blog about Hills & Dales, it was about a year ago, and I had forgotten the details. So when we pulled up to the visitors' center, we thought is was THE house. Silly us. Here I am snapping away before I realized it just was the visitors's center, which was nice, but nothing compared to the actual house. By the way, most of the pictures in this post were taken by Rick, including the marvelous one up top. I used up all my batteries at the visitors' center. : )

Inside there was an interesting collection of memorabilia from the three families who have lived on this property, and plenty of historical info. The woman who built the original garden was Sarah Ferrell. When she passed on, Fuller Callaway Sr. bought the property and in 1916 completed the home designed by architects Hentz & Reid, who were leading architects in the south at the time. Fuller's wife Ida rebuilt and expanded the gardens. When she passed away her son's family took over the estate, and her daughter-in-law Alice continued the work on the gardens.  So in essence, three women designed, developed and loved this garden into its current state.   

Following good orientation film at the visitors' center, our guide Sondra (below) took just the two of us on the tour, which started with a tram from the visitors' center to the home. She was so full of historical and local knowledge, and you could tell she just loved the place. By the end of the tour we felt almost as if we knew the Callaways and had been guests in their home.

There is no photography allowed in the house but other than that restriction, the estate is very welcoming. There are none of the typical ropes restricting access to the furnishings or any of the rooms on three floors. Although they ask that you don't touch or sit on anything, they let you roam anywhere you want. It all feels welcoming and homey, despite being a grand and beautifully furnished home.  

This is the side entrance, where we went in. The design of the home is Italianate, which was all the rage at the time.  The inside of the home has been left pretty much as it was when the last Callaways lived in it. When the house was built in 1916, Fuller Callaway wanted every convenience for his family, so it has everything available at the time, including a central vacuum system.  Despite this, hundred year old plumbing and electricity needed to be upgraded before the house could be opened to the public. Here's another view of the entrance. 

After our tour of the inside (about an hour) we were on our own for the gardens, which like the inside, were completely open and accessible to visitors.  Below is the view of the house from what was once the pool. It has now been filled in for liability reasons. The estate is not fenced in, so local college students have been known to wander through after hours. 

The garden had the same homey, welcoming feel that the house did.  It is an old fashioned formal style garden, the plantings are deep and mature, and well shaded in many places by a wide variety of trees. This is a sweetly scented Chinese fringe tree.

Here's what is called the "Ray" garden, with beds extending out from the central gazebo.

Here's a view of the other end of the house, from the herb garden. The house is a long thin rectangle, with the wide side facing the main garden to maximize the views for those inside looking out. It does look very Italian here.

Arbor next to the herb garden:

There is a wonderful greenhouse, also completely open to visitors. It was one of my favorite places on the estate. We were really impressed with the orchids.  By the way, the house is filled with flower arrangements straight from the garden. They've got a marvelous head gardener who supervises a team of eight (as I recall) others.

Another view of the inside of the greenhouse:

The iris garden outside the greenhouse:

The choices of flowers in the gardens are so tastefully coordinated in color and shape with the boxwoods and trees.  Here is one of many shaded walkways through the gardens. 

The garden is extensively terraced, as the house is situated on "hills and dales." The terraces are divided and subdivided by boxwood parterres, which means earth embroidery.  Sarah Ferrell, the original gardener and visionary, laid out extensive designs inspired by Biblical themes and symbols. 

This large maze-like parterre spells out GOD. Another smaller one nearby says GOD IS LOVE.

The exit from the garden is marked by this sweet bird gate.

Instead of taking the tram back we followed the naturally landscaped walkway down the hill, under tall magnolias, along a stream back to the visitors' center. 

Visiting Hills & Dales is a delightful experience (they also have an unusually informative website). Although it is a small garden compared to nearby Callaway, its artistry, intimacy and charm make is a very special place.  Similarly, the house is small compared to the Biltmore, but it is so much more homey. Rick and I think it's now one of our favorites, and would recommend it to anyone who loves beautiful scenery, gardens and homes. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Callaway Gardens, GA: Day Two

One of the nicest features of Callaway Gardens is the extensive network (ten miles!) of bike paths throughout the park. So on our second visit we brought our bikes and took to the trails.  That's me riding my super duper Specialized mountain bike with front and back shock absorbers. I am a very spoiled girl. I don't ride it like a dirt bike, but I do love the cush of the full suspension.

Riding around the Gardens by bike gives you a totally different experience than walking or driving. Not just because you are peddling; the trails cover different territory, so you see different things, like the many lakes on the property. One of the places we went was marina on Mountain Creek Lake. They have a very unusual and ingenious boat house. Here it is from the inside:

It's built in an open ended semi-circle, with a canal running through it where the canoes and paddle boats can dock. It's a one-way street, so to speak, so as to prevent traffic jams, and it's completely covered. Here's how it looks from the outside.

Next door is a restaurant and an outfitters for fishermen. No need for a license to fish here, as all the lakes are on private property.

The path also winds through the Overlook Gardens and other forested areas where there are lots of the native azaleas blooming. In a few places we spotted Oregon grape holly, or mahonia aquifolium. What a beautiful bush! They bloom yellow earlier in the season. The berries are a cross between green and blue - almost turquoise - a very unusual color in nature.

We finished our day at the 3:30 Birds of Prey show.  We weren't sure we wanted to go, but were really glad we did. We've seen birds of prey sanctuaries and talks before, but this one was unique.  Here is the knowledgable and witty docent/animal handler with a black vulture. We saw four raptors: the vulture, a red tailed hawk, a great horned owl and a Harris's hawk. 

So based on these pictures you're probably thinking: "What's the big deal?" Right?  Well I wish I could have caught the greatest part about it. All the birds flew from corner to corner of the amphitheater at the commands of the handlers, and when they did, they skimmed only inches from the heads of the audience members. Sometimes they flew between people's heads! It was really wild. We got to see these birds in flight closer than we ever could in the wild, and it gave us a chance to really study their appearance and behavior. They were grand. Even the vulture.

I don't know if we'll be back to Callaway before we continue our journey north, but if we do, I think we'll go back to see the Birds of Prey Show again, and Rick will try to get some pictures of the birds in flight. That would be cool. I'll share if we get any good ones.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Callaway Gardens, GA: Day One

Here we are for two weeks in the Georgia hills, at the Pine Mountain RV park in the town of the same name.  Our main purpose for being here is to visit Callaway Gardens, so that's what I'll be sharing in the next couple of posts.

We started our visit at the Discovery Center (their name for the visitors center) to get oriented and determine how to proceed. Callaway Gardens is a very large place, with several sections that we wanted to be sure to see, and several that we thought we'd put off for another day.  Admission to the park during this high season for the azaleas is $25/person ($20 for seniors) so we wanted to make the best of our time.

The Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center (above) is beautifully situated right on the largest of about eight lakes at Callaway.  In addition to an orientation film, a gift shop and a cafe there is an awesome display of hand crafted local wildflowers made completely of copper. Very impressive.

Although one can bike or drive around the grounds, we chose to walk it on this first day, to get a close up sense of the place.  (We also didn't have a good grasp of just how huge the place is!) There are boardwalks and docks surrounding the Discover Center, and various kinds of attendant local wildlife. We were there early, with almost no one else around, and as we walked out onto the bridge that spans one side of the Center to the other, a whole flock of turtles rose up from the bottom of the lake to greet us.  We were kind of puzzled about why they were paddling along with us as we crossed the bridge, behaving not at all turtle-like. Then we noticed the turtle food dispensers situated along the railings.  (Readers may recall how I feel about feeding the animals.) Hmmph. We must have been their first feeders of the day.

Our walk took us along the many well marked trails winding through lots of woodsy areas...

as we headed for the Callaway Brothers' Azalea Bowl, where we expected to see gobs of spectacular azaleas.

Not bad...There were quite a few bushes in bloom, but many were past their prime (as you can see the the foreground of the above photo), and we hypothesized as well that many of the blossoms had been hit by the bouts of cold and even freezing weather Georgia has had this spring.  

The native azalea species were doing much better than the exotics and Asian species, and we enjoyed the range of colors and more airy bush shapes of those as we walked through the woods. We also enjoyed three (!) snake encounters. That's more snakes than we saw the whole time we were in Florida. We saw a banded water snake near the visitor center, what I think was a black racer crossing the road, and this unidentified guy near one of the walkways. 

Another loop of the trail took us around a lake and out to the oft photographed and painted Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel. (Most of the park features seem to be named after Callaway family members.)

The inside of this nondenominational Christian chapel was small, peaceful and colorful.  All of the stained glass windows had purely natural motifs, as seems fitting. The four side panels represented the four seasons. Rick got this nice picture of one of the two largest windows.

Then on to the John A. Sibley Horticultural Center, which houses a variety of wet and dry environment tropical plants, as well as a changing display of flowering garden plantings. I especially liked this hanging garden arrangement.

There were some tropicals, like this one, that I don't recall ever seeing before, not even in Hawaii.

The conservatory is a nifty indoor-outdoor building with these enormous paneled doors, as well as walls and ceilings that can open and close as needed to maintain the right temperature and humidity. 

The succulents were planted in an unusual way along a stone wall that you can see in the photos above and below. 

It looked like it might have been inspired by the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns, (pictured below).

The conservatory housed some orchids too.

We took a lunch break back at the Discover Center Cafe, which was not noteworthy, but gave us a needed rest before we hiked over to the Day Butterfly Center.

It was very similar to the butterfly house we recently visited in Gainesville, but we both liked it better. It was aesthetically more pleasing, and they weren't so fussy about the rules. (The Gainesville museum was a little overbearing - giving you a lecture before you entered about all the things you couldn't do.) And yet, I  didn't see anyone visitors brutalizing the butterflies here. 

My favorite part of these butterfly places is the nursery. They almost always have windows through which you can see the chrysalis supply, and watch the butterflies emerging. The one above is a blue morpho - very popular at these places because of its large size and bright blue inner wing color. Rick got this incredible close up of this butterfly, but I don't know its name.

Hanging in the round foyer of the butterfly building was a spectacular naturally themed chandelier - just one part of what I meant by aesthetically pleasing. 

Our last hike of the day just took us back through the wooded areas as we headed for our car. The woods is sprinkled with blooming domestic azaleas, dogwoods, red buckeyes and this tree that I'm not familiar with. The blossom is only about 1.5" in diameter and kind of hidden under the leaves. Anyone know what it is?

After a lot of walking, we were pretty pooped and ready for a restful evening back home.  The RV park overlooks two beautiful small farms and we get a great view of the sunset most nights. 

Until our next visit to Callaway...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Two macros of my life

We are now in Georgia, for two weeks at the Pine Mountain RV Resort, in the town of the same name. I'll write more about it when I have more pictures. Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day and we just hung out and relaxed. We both feel so relieved that our RV is in working order again.  I didn't realize how tense we'd been about it until it was all over.  I don't even want to write about it.  I'll just say that the bill was small, as it was a mistake the RV repair shop made, and our extended warrantee actually covered some of an additional repair issue.  Phew.

I explored the town of Pine Mountain a bit. It's only about a mile up the road. It has about a block of the kinds of stores women stereotypically like to shop in: antiques, clothes, kitchen stuff, interior decor, etc. I don't know what the men who visit this town do. I saw a few stereotypically sitting outside the stores on benches. Poor guys. 

Today it's raining, so I did some experimenting with the Sony Alpha 65 camera. I'm trying to learn about the various features, slowly. I was working with the macro option.  Here's my dear subject.

I wandered around our home looking for other things to take macro shots of.  It's interesting to see in a new way the objects you put your hands on or use in some fashion every day that you take no notice of. This is the pin of the "5th wheel" that goes into the hitch in the bed of the truck. 

Georgia is a lot prettier than I expected. We're in a real spring here in the western hills, in contrast to Florida where there is so much green all year round, that spring kind of sneaks in after their 15 minutes of winter. The leaves here are about half out, and the dogwoods and azaleas are in bloom. As soon as we get a nice day we're going to Callaway Gardens and FDR State Park. Will post about those places next probably.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Finally Heading North

I hope I'm not being overly optimistic here, but our RV is supposedly ready to role. We're picking it up later today and will head north to St. Augustine and then on to western Georgia. We spent last night in a nicer motel across the street, thank goodness, and had one last great pizza form Hungry Howie's.

Let me just say a few words about Hungry Howie's before I close. It's a chain that we've found mostly in the south that is often part of a gas station, or near one. It's nothing fancy by any means, but it makes a really good, consistent and inexpensive pizza (a large for about $6!). Much better than any other national chain, in my opinion. In fact, it's my favorite all around, and I'm a New Yorker who is very fussy about her pizza.

Hopefully my next post will not be from Titusville!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Motel Limbo Redux

FYI, none of the pictures in this post have anything to do with the content. I took them early one morning at Ellie Ray's RV Resort and I'm sharing them with you because the actual content is such a drag.  If you don't want the news, just look at the pictures. It's good to have choices. 

In our blog stats there is this entry from before we actually started traveling, entitled Motel Limbo, and it is one of the most popular posts ever, for no clear reason. I'm thinking it's just the name. Does it sound like pornography? Is that why it gets so many hits? Well, it's a pretty dull, short post with no photos, so don't bother checking it out. But, here we are again, in a motel, playing limbo. How low can we go? Probably not much worse than this particular Days Inn.

We're back in Titusville at this Days Inn because our RV is once again in the shop, and this is the closest motel that will allow us to have Kona with us for a reasonable fee. (Now there's a pet peeve tangent I could go off on but won't.)  Some readers may recall that we had an issue with our bedroom slide that required a very time consuming fix for a little problem. Well it looks like they did not put the slide back with all the hatches properly battened, and various hoses and wires are hanging down into our hydraulic slide compartment in a way that they shouldn't. As a result, every time we open and close the slide all those hoses and wires are being pinched, pushed and pulled into odd places and angles. There may even be some kind of water leak in the area from a smooshed hose.

We're trying to be good sports and recognize that this is all just part of the full time RV life.  But on top of this issue we also have (or had) a fresh water plumbing leak into our undercarriage and one of our furnaces wasn't working this morning. We have no idea how long these repairs will take. So we're hanging out in this poor excuse for a motel for who knows how many days, eating at Cracker Barrel, watching TV with all the commercials (sans Tivo) and basically breathing through it.  It's not that bad and certainly could be a lot worse.

So, let's all be grateful for the rays of light and love in our lives, even during the dark and dreary times. 

And breathe.