Planning our trips can be pretty stressful; I feel totally responsible for our enjoyment. So imagine the pressure I put on myself this year trying to figure out how to celebrate our 30th anniversary. Added to the difficulty of planning for this momentous occasion was the fact that April 28 fell on a Monday. YES, A MONDAY! Possibly the worst day for finding anything open, particularly a good restaurant or any “happening” music venues.
The solution: we decided to deem the entire weekend from April 25-April 28 our anniversary. It takes the pressure off a bit. I’m also finally starting to let go —a little. I scope out things to do, places to go, then I try to sit back and let serendipity take our hand and lead the way. And that is exactly what happened.
By the time we finished working on our blog and uploading our videos at the Asheville campus of North Carolina State University, it was Friday at 3:00 and we were famished. I had hoped that we would be able to eat at Cúrate, an award-winning Spanish tapas restaurant in downtown Asheville that had caught my attention on TripAdvisor. My “picture,” though, had been a lovely dinner —not one at 4:00 p.m. However, as Manny pointed out, it was the perfect time for “la comida,” the main meal of the day in most Spanish speaking countries. That’s my Manny, always a positive slant on every situation.
It was our first foray into downtown Asheville. We wondered —and worried a little— about the likelihood of finding a parking spot for Serena, the ideal being a double spot that we can just pull into. Friday afternoon, and the narrow streets were thick with tourists. But my new best friend Serendipity took over. Just as we crested the popular Biltmore Street at Patton Avenue, a car pulled out of the end spot, leaving just the right amount of space for Manny to drive right in. Then, to our delight, we discovered that the meter was broken, so we were able to park the entire afternoon and evening for free. Thank you, Asheville, for the unexpected anniversary present!
We arrived at Cúrate at 4:00, a time (and as it turned out, probably the ONLY time) when no reservations are needed and the long and narrow restaurant was almost empty. The menu was a small yet comprehensive array of authentic Spanish tapas, better than we ever found in weeks of searching in Spain.
Each dish was thoughtfully prepared, fairly abundant for a “small plate”, and served at just the right pace by our very professional waiter, Eric. We accompanied our meal with a delicious and reasonably priced Tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero region. The stand-out dish for me was a house special of grilled local baby scallions called “ramps” accompanied by a savory Catalonian romesco sauce. I wished there was more of that sauce left over so I could have slathered it on Manny for dessert.
But the restaurant had other dessert plans for us. Eric presented us with a complimentary “Pañuelo de Notilla”, an edible “handkerchief” made of that versatile and peculiarly popular chocolate phenomena, Nutella.
By the time we left at 6:30, the place was hopping with people standing at the tapas bar or squeezed around the small tables, eating and drinking merrily, their voices crescendoing with happy banter while a line of hungry diners waited outside.
It turned out that 4:00 was the perfect time to eat!
Too early for the music scene, and needing a little siesta, we unfolded Serena’s sofa bed, pulled down the shades and napped while being serenaded by an excellent ensemble of local musicians, the Big Nasty Jazz Band, right outside our door.
We continued the evening at a place right around the corner called Cork & Keg. It is a funky establishment with an interesting concept: half of the store is a wine, beer & cheese store, and the other half a bar and hangout for their customers that showcases local talent. The group that night was called One Leg Up and they turned out to be a great combination of country and gypsy jazz à la Django Reinhardt.
I still was hoping to find something out of the ordinary to do, to make our 30th a super memorable anniversary.
When I discovered the charming town of Hot Springs, a stop along the Appalachian Trail well known for its hot mineral waters, I knew I had a contender.
As I researched further, I found that the Hot Springs Resort and Spa also owned a beautifully wooded campgrounds directly across the street. So, we hopped in Serena and headed an hour north of Asheville.
Although private, the campgrounds had the look and feel of a state park, sites far apart and very woodsy, with the sound of the rushing French Broad River as background music. Downright idyllic. The campgrounds also had another incredible asset: a great guy named Bill who greeted, registered, advised, befriended and basically took care of the campers.
It was thanks to Bill’s suggestion that we reserved the coveted hot tub #5, the most private of the tubs with an ample wooden deck and chairs, located at the confluence of the French Broad River and Spring Creek.
Manny and I luxuriated in the hot mineral water for over and hour, then ambled back to have our couple’s hot stone massage.
We were thrilled that both our therapists were excellent. We’ve had many massages in our years, and were delighted with Duane and Belinda.
They not only used the smooth, warm stones to loosen the muscles, but employed them to knead out our knots and kinks.
They took their time, intuiting our needs, and totally exceeded expectations.
We left the spa feeling rejuvenated and surprisingly full of energy.
In the evening, we had our own tapas night in Serena, entertaining Bill and his delightful girlfriend, Gina.
They are kindred spirits, wanting a life outside the ordinary, a life of exploration and adventure.
We had a wonderful evening eating chorizo, Serrano ham, Spanish cheeses and olives, and a delicious “Tortilla de Patatas” —one of Manny’s specialties— drinking hearty red wine and sharing our lives and dreams.
What a memorable 30th Anniversary!