Exploring Asheville’s Grove Park Inn, my son’s unexpected visit, and more.

 

Looking up at the front of the Grove Park Inn, Asheville, NC

I had a pretty exciting (and hectic) weekend.   My son came up from Tampa with a friend of his (Rudy) in tow.   I really wasn’t prepared for the visit, since he announced it just three days before their arrival.    He had to take Rudy to the airport in Atlanta and decided to come up to NC to visit his mom and newly married sister (and new brother in law), since we are not that far away from Atlanta.

Friday night after I got home from work they were already at the house.  We ate at the new Galactic Pizza near my home (their Italian food and especially their pizza is amazing).  The space theme decor is super cool as well.

Inside of Galactic Pizza, Asheville

Closeup of the laminated outer space theme bar counter

The next day was pretty quiet, since my daughter and her husband both had to work, so my son and his friend went out to visit some of my son’s old friends from school, and I had a chance to clean up the house and do a little shopping.   Saturday night was Game Night.  They had brought two friends back with them to the house.  All seven of us crammed into the small living room, ate a huge bucket of Bojangles’ chicken, and played some online games (you have to download an app to play) and they were pretty fun, but after awhile I developed an intense headache and felt tired so I went to bed early while they continued to play more games deep into the night.    I was really feeling my age that night!

Sunday we had the best time.  We got up pretty early, and after a quick breakfast and some coffee, decided to head to the mall.  My son bought his partner some gifts, and I splurged and bought myself this adorable Betsey Johnson pink flamingo suitcase that was on sale (it was the last one left so I *had* to have it!).   I needed some new luggage anyway, and since I’m taking my yearly trip to Florida in two months (I can’t wait), the pink flamingo motif was perfect.  I’ll probably get the smaller matching case later, which would be perfect for smaller items and cosmetics, but I’ll probably order that online and get a cheaper price than I could at a store (and it was out of stock).

 

I also stopped in Hallmark while my daughter and her husband were busy and bought them this as a late wedding present (they got married several weeks back, but I never got around to writing a post about it). I think it looks like them a lot.  Both of them were touched.

 

After the mall run, my daughter left for work and her husband left with her, and so my son, his friend and I decided to go exploring the world famous Grove Park Inn (purchased by Omni Hotels and now officially referred to as he Omni Grove Park Inn) The hotel was built on he side of Sunset Mountain (part of the Blue Ridge) and completed in 1912.  It was built in the popular and beautiful Arts and Crafts architectural style that was fashionable at the time (and has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years).  Its red shingle roof has an organic look to it, and the facade is constructed of stone found right here in the mountains.   It has been added to over the years, with an additional wing added, but it all fits together seamlessly and the hotel has become enormous!  You can easily get lost in it.

Looking down from the hotel (it is built into the side of a mountain)

Looking up from the bottom. Yes, there are actual waterfalls, and these are natural features, not manmade.

 

Many notables of both the past and present have visited the hotel, and adorning the hallways are photos of the various famous visitors.   There are several excellent (but expensive) restaurants, and beautiful architectural detailing everywhere.

One of the most impressive things about the Inn is the huge stone lobby with its vintage rocking chairs and sofas, and especially its two gigantic fireplaces on either end.  There are outside porches extending from the lobby, and the views are breathtaking,  overlooking the nearby mountain ranges.   You feel like you are in the sky.

There is a vintage 1913 (?) Ford Model T (?) in the lobby.  Someone correct me on this if they know the exact model and year.  I forgot to take down that information.

You can get an idea of the view from these pictures.   I wish the day was less cloudy/foggy (and cold!), but it was still lovely.

And here is the three of us:

The hotel also may be haunted!  There is the famous legend of the Pink Lady, who was staying at the Inn in 1920, and died from a fall to the Palm Court from the balcony in the central part of the Inn (the floors above the main lobby). Her room number was 545, and to this day, people are either drawn to that particular room because of its macabre history, or they avoid it!   None of us encountered the Pink Lady or any other ghost that day (yes, we did walk past Room 545!)

Scale model of Grove Park Inn displayed in one of the hallways

Another famous thing about the Grove Park Inn is the annual Gingerbread House Competition, which takes place every Christmas season.  It’s a fairly new event, which started as a tiny competition for local people in the late 1990s, but has now become a huge sensation that people from all over the world travel to see.   Everything in the Gingerbread Houses must be edible, although it doesn’t need to all be of Gingerbread.

Here are two views of last year’s winner.  This construction includes (edible) gears that actually move!

 

The best part came last.  We descended all the stone stairs down the mountainside (seen above in some of the photos) and at the very bottom is the Grove Park Inn’s Spa, which is actually built into the rock itself.  It’s basically contained within an underground cave system, and as you walk along the stone tunnels leading to the Spa, there are  waterfalls here and there, trickling water collected in small pools along the rough stone walls, and even a few actual geodes embedded into the rock.   (It was too dark to get a good photo of those).   As you approach the Spa itself, you can smell the scents from inside.   We didn’t go inside, as we didn’t have a pass and hadn’t paid for a day at the Spa (how I would have loved that!), but what we saw was still impressive.

I do have one good picture of one of the tunnels leading to the Spa. Beneath that is a photo from Omni Hotels’ website, showing the Grove Park Inn Spa’s underground pool (which is manmade but might as well be a natural feature).

The underground pool at the Spa. (credit:  Omnihotels.com)

One day I’m spending a day here.  It’s on my bucket list.

This morning my son left to return to Florida.  I’m off work today so I’m spending the rest of the day working on my blog, something I’ve been sadly neglecting.  This is my first post.

 

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Hypercube.

This is the coolest thing I ever saw.   They’re not for sale yet, but they will be soon.   I want one, but I’m sure they’re beyond my budget.  As high tech as they look, they’re really not.   It’s just a cube with all six panels contructed of a one sided mirror which is a one way window on the other side, and then lined with LED light strips.

Pictures from Myrtle Beach.

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I spent three days at Myrtle Beach and unlike last year, the weather was perfect every day!  I would have loved to spend an extra day since the day dawned so gorgeous on the morning we left, but I don’t think my sunburned skin could have taken any more!

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We didn’t do much, mostly just lazed on the beach, took long walks, and ambled along the boardwalk, but relaxation is what a vacay is all about, not staying busy every second.

I just love the ocean.  It’s so soothing to my body and soul.

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Myrtle Beach sunset.

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Since Myrtle Beach is on the Atlantic Ocean, if you get up early enough, you can catch incredible sunrises.  The second morning we were able to do just that.  These photos were each taken about five minutes apart:

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Day trip to Sunburst, NC

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Blue swallowtail butterflies.

Probably the best kept secret in my neck of the woods is a swimming hole in Sunburst, North Carolina.  It’s about 30 miles to the west of my home, deep in Haywood County, near the Tennessee border.  It’s actually part of a river system near Lake Logan, in the Smoky Mountains.   It’s one of those places that mostly just the local people know about, since it’s not advertised anywhere, there are no signs leading to it, and there is no admission to get in.   Which is wonderful because it never gets too crowded, and you almost feel like it’s your own little secret happy place.

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You just park by the side of the road and walk down to the water (you have to be careful — it’s very rocky and lots of roots too).   But once you’re down there, you’re in for a treat.   The water is cold, and probably the clearest freshwater I’ve ever seen — or tasted.   There is no cloudiness to it at all.   You can drink it and it tastes fantastic.    In fact, I filled my water bottle with it to take back home with me.  Next time, I’m taking a gallon jug!

I went up to my waist in the water (I didn’t jump off the rocks like the kids in this video were doing — and the water does look quite deep in the middle) and when you emerge you do feel rather tingly all over — I’m not sure if that’s due to the coldness or the minerals in the water.  It has a very “soft” feel to it, and I did feel very relaxed for several hours after this trip, so I wonder what good, healthful minerals it might have been infused with.

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There were blue swallowtail butterflies everywhere!  Here is the video I made.  Please excuse how amateurish it is — I’m new at making videos and haven’t figured out how to get it to fill the screen yet.    I just posted this one and the Clearwater Beach one on my Youtube account, which I’ve always had but never had anything of my own on it before.

My Clearwater and Tampa, Florida trip.

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Sandbar at Anclote Key Preserve.

More than two months ago, my daughter and I spent 8 days in Tampa and Clearwater Beach, Florida.  I never got around to writing about my trip, even though I kept promising to.  Well, I finally got around to it.  Better late than never, right?

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Horseshoe crabs — one of them crawled right over my feet!

I got to see my son while we were in Tampa, even though he had to work most of the 4 days were here, but we did all go out to dinner a couple of times, spent some time lounging at the hotel pool and hot tub.  On our last day together, we all went to ZooTampa.  It was a bit pricey, but worth it.   We got a late start, but still managed to see almost the entire zoo, except “Australia.”  The sections we saw were “Florida,” “Africa,” “Asia,” and “Primates.”   The zoo is very large so if you go, be prepared to spend lots of time walking!  Stay hydrated.   As we passed through the indoor reptile area (a welcomely cool respite from the heat), there were colorful decorations all over the ceiling that resembled deep sea creatures and looked as if they were made of glass — but they were actually sculptures made from recycled soda bottles and other plastic trash!

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We loved seeing all the different animals (there were even river otters — my favorite — in the “Florida” section).  My daughter seemed quite taken with the pink flamingos, who were very entertaining and funny.   There were so many of them!  We spent a long time just watching their antics.

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One of the days my son was working, my daughter and I decided to drive to Tarpon Springs, a small Greek fishing village which is known as the Sponge Capital of the US.  It was my third visit there.  It’s one of my favorite places in the Tampa Bay area. On a whim, we decided to take the Sponge-O-Rama cruise out into the Gulf.  It’s a two hour cruise and pretty cheap at only $20 per person.   We had to wait a while for the boat (a sort of ferry) to fill up, but when we took off, the water was pretty choppy from recent storms, and I had to hold on.  Drinks were served but it was hard to hold onto them without them splashing everywhere.  After we got out into the Gulf, the dark water from the marina and inlet suddenly turned bright aquamarine.   For a minute I thought someone had slipped some LSD into my beer!  But this is the actual color of the water.

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The boat’s captain, a youngish Greek man who had been raised in Tarpon Springs and worked with the boats all his life (his name was Atticus!) explained the reason why the color of the water changed so abruptly isn’t so much due to the depth, but because once you leave the river and enter the Gulf proper, the water changes from brackish (almost freshwater) to salt water.  The mangroves dotting the area suck up the nutrients from the water, making it clear.   He pointed out other things we were seeing along the way.

Finally, about three miles out into the Gulf, he pulled the boat over next to a large sandbar.   This was part of Anclote Key Preserve State Park, a group of very small mangrove islands so remote there is no way to get there except by boat.  The sandbar is a semi-permanent fixture, with a few low growing plants and grasses and a lot of seaweed washed up on the sand.   The sand was absolutely blinding white, like snow, and surrounded on all sides by the clearest aquamarine water I’ve ever seen.  In the shallow areas the water was so crystal clear you could barely see it.  Our group (there were about 20 of us) spent about 30 minutes exploring, collecting shells, or swimming.  We were each given a plastic grocery bag to collect shells in.   I didn’t spend much time shelling.  After a few minutes, I ran out into the pristine warm salt water and just let it engulf me.   The whole experience was exhilarating, even though 30 minutes wasn’t nearly enough time!

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The above photo is my absolute favorite.   The juxaposition of the white sands, aquamarine water and fluffy white clouds stirs my soul.  I have made this photo the background on my laptop!

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Our combined seashell booty.

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The marina at Tarpon Springs (notice how much darker the water here is)

We drove to Clearwater for the remaining 4 days.  The 10 mile drive over Tampa Bay into Clearwater is very pretty.   We stayed in a cute hotel right on the beach, but the weather during our stay could have been better.   We only had two days of good weather, but being right on the boardwalk, there was still more than enough to keep us busy.   Our first night, we ate at Clearwater’s most famous eatery, Frenchy’s South Beach Cafe.  The beach was wonderful, and not too crowded.  One day we decided to drive out to Treasure Island in St. Petersburg, even though it was raining.  Hey, why not?   It rained during the drive, and the entire time we were there, but the beach was still pleasant and the water warm.  We didn’t stay long, but it was nice having the beach almost completely to ourselves.

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Frenchy’s South Beach Cafe, Clearwater.

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Treasure Island in the pouring rain.

The sunsets over the Gulf were incredible.    I just can’t get enough of Gulf sunsets, and here are the pictures proving that.

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Sunlight from sunset reflecting off the clouds to the east.

On our second day, we had beautiful weather (even though the morning forecast had predicted rain), so we decided to book the Pirate ship for its Champagne Cruise, which takes off in the late afternoon.  There are two champagne cruises; ours was the first.  The next one takes off at sunset.   I would have liked to go on that one too, but we’d already had way too much champagne.  Yes, I confess both my daughter and I overindulged (you pay your $40 for the cruise, and the drinks are unlimited), but we had so much fun, and the views from the ship were amazing (a few are pictured below). The pirate theme was fun, and the appropriately costumed staff were friendly.  The nice young man pictured below (I can’t remember his name) even hung out with us on the upper deck for a few minutes.

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Me with view of the beach in the background

One thing I noticed this time was how good I’m getting at finding my way around the Tampa – St. Petersburg – Clearwater metro area.   It’s my third trip to this area, but this time I was finally getting comfortable just driving around and finding my way from one place to another.   I’m generally not good with directions and navigation, but  because everything’s pretty much laid out on a grid here, it’s a lot easier to get around the area than where I live, where there are mountains and no grid to speak of.

It seems so much longer than two months ago I was in Florida, but in some ways it feels like it was just yesterday.   To end this post, here’s a little video I made just after sunset of the patterns of the surf (it’s actually the first video I ever made from my phone).

Checking in!

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This is a VERY short post so no one worries about me, since it’s been almost a week since I last posted.

We are here in Clearwater Beach, FL having a WONDERFUL time.  I’m very frustrated at the moment though, because I just made my first little video of the moving Gulf water after sunset and the interesting patterns it was making, but even though it’s possible to post it here, it isn’t possible to remove my real name from the video (which I have never used on this blog).   So I won’t be able to post it after all.  Grrrr!    Trust me, it was very cool.   If I can find a way to remove my identifying info, I’ll definitely put it here.

I have about a gazillion photos, so I’ll be writing a longer post using some of those pictures in the next few days, or I just might wait until I get home on Sunday.   It’s so nice to see my son and swim in the warm Gulf waters again.

The picture you see above is from Anclote Key, a remote sandbar several miles out into the Gulf of Mexico and accessible only by boat.  More about that later!

I hope all of you are well. See you again soon!

 

A fun day.

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Side view of the Hundred Year Old Cabin, Arden, NC.

Yesterday was my daughter’s birthday, but this year has gone by so fast (and because of the continued cold weather, I was having trouble believing spring had really arrived), so I almost forgot about her birthday. It just sort of snuck up on me.   So I realized yesterday I hadn’t made any plans or gotten her anything.

I stopped by a cupcake shop on the way home and got six different types of cupcakes, then had her pick her favorite one (red velvet cake).  Then I placed a candle on top of it and brought it out to her while we sang happy birthday (I did not get a picture of that but I should have — the cupcakes were adorable and so colorful).

Then I told her I wanted to go for a drive and wanted company.   What I had in mind was a 3 mile trip to some river cabins I’d always been curious to see.     She and her boyfriend joined me, thinking the trip would be boring, but it wasn’t at all!

There are seven adorable rental cabins tucked away in the woods by the river.   Six of them are new, and all perfectly charming (we could actually go inside two of them), but the one that fascinated me the most was the Hundred Year Old Cabin.   We didn’t get to see the inside of it, but it’s very photogenic, as you can see below.

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Back view of the Hundred Year Old Cabin

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Front view of the Hundred Year Old Cabin

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Two photos of one of the newer river cabins.

We got to try out the hammock on one of the cabins closest to the river.   It was a beautiful day, and so relaxing just swinging in it and hearing all the nature sounds.  It was hard to believe I wasn’t on vacation and only a few miles from my home .

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We walked around the campgrounds for a while and took some pictures of the river, then we headed to Panera Bread for her birthday dinner.

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Virtual road trips!

Youtube is my go-to place for … well, just about everything.   Youtube is a wonder and one of its most wondrous gifts is the ability it gives you, the viewer, to travel anyplace in the world you would like to go, and you don’t need a dime.   The #1 thing on my bucket list is to travel the world.  But since I can’t afford to literally hop all over the world on a  whim, I can still get a pretty good facsimile of the real thing by taking a virtual road trip on Youtube.

You can take a virtual road trip almost anywhere in the world on Youtube.  Just type in “driving in” or “driving to” [fill in country, state or city].”   Chances are, there is a video taken from someone’s dashcam of the actual road trip.  Many of these are accompanied by music.   Obvously, some are much higher quality than others.  I prefer the ones where the driver isn’t talking, and just allows you, the viewer to enjoy the view from the car.

Here is an amazing video (it’s almost seven hours long) of the drive from Los Angeles to New York City.   It’s all here, speeded up (and deleting the parts where the driver had to stop).  Viewing it in full will take a long time, but you don’t have to worry about inconveniences like a full bladder, having to stop for gas, or the discomfort of sitting in a car for hours at a time.   While driving through Nebraska, he pulls over to watch the solar eclipse (this starts at about 3:29:12).   I do wish music had been added, but you can play your own driving music while you watch this, if that’s your preference.  I  also like to enlarge the video to full-screen, which makes the experience even more realistic.

I spent yesterday also “driving” through many parts of Europe.   I was surprised by the fact that driving in most European countries is identical to driving here in the states.   You will see the same green road signs and mile markers, road markings, and exit design.   The same road rules that apply here also apply in these countries.   The UK and China (there may be others) are exceptions, because people drive on the left hand side of the road instead of the right.   That seems very strange (and dangerous) to me.  But in mainland Europe, people drive on the right hand side, the way they do here.

Here is an incredible drive from the Austrian-Italian border through the Italian Alps to the town of Tolmezzo.   The drive covers about 258 km (160 miles).

I find watching these videos a great way to relax, have fun, and satisfy my curiosity about what it’s like driving in places I’ve never been.

Porch is done! (well, almost)

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When the floor is painted, it’s going to look amazing.

Today was a good day for my mental health.  I spent the entire day not reading the news, not watching the news, and not even thinking much about the news.  Believe me, I needed the break from that.  Trump sucks the oxygen from you; the shitstorm of bad news coming out of the White House every day consumes my mind and most of my free time, and it all gets to be too much sometimes.   Life does go on.  Things need to be done.  There are many other things in life besides Trump.

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Looking inside.

After going to church (I haven’t been to church in about 5 weeks),  I came home and made French toast (it’s best using sourdough bread — it doesn’t fall apart).  Then Zach came over with some more supplies and I sat on the porch and read a book while he worked on the porch.   Today he finished enclosing it and put up the screening.   It looks fantastic!  It’s so much more inviting and is much cooler too.  And hardly any bugs!  I know I’ll be spending a lot more time out here than I did before.

All that’s left now is to paint the cement floor (it’s going to be a glossy dark charcoal grey) and put the finishing strips on the outside to hide where the screens had been stapled on.   He’s also going to be building a small sheltered area to store the lawnmower and a small grill.    All that’s left after that is the fun interior stuff — repainting the table and putting in a couple of area rugs and doing other small things to make the space look as inviting and cozy as possible.

In the very late afternoon, while he worked, I decided to go to the pool for about a half an hour.  I like it best that time of day because the kids have all gone home and I get the entire deep end to myself!

A Trump-free day is always a good day.

 

Rollin’ on the river.

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On Friday, I had a day off.  The plan was for me, and my daughter and her friend to go tubing on the French Broad River (yes, that’s it’s actual name).    We started off around 1 PM, parked our car, signed up at Zen Tubing and paid our fees — 3 rented tubes and another one to carry our small cooler.  We also purchased a waterproof box to carry our cell phones.  Then a bunch of us boarded a jitney bus that took us about 3 miles to where we picked up our tubes and headed off.

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It’s a good thing I decided to buy some cheap water shoes with treads because the rocks as you’re getting in the tubes are very slippery!

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Soon we were on the water.   There were straps where you could attach the tubes so they wouldn’t separate, but at first they kept getting tangled and it seemed like we weren’t moving at all. But we actually were moving, because when I looked back behind us, the boarding point was very far away.

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Soon we were in the groove and rolling down the river.   The trip is about 3 miles (back to the rental and sign-up place) and takes about 2 – 2 1/2 hours.    It’s incredibly relaxing and the tubes are comfortable.  Soon I was leaning back in my tube and just taking in the gorgeous scenery all around.

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The cold water felt good on my feet as I spashed them in the water.  Blue dragonflies   were everywhere, landing on our tubes, on our cooler, on my body!    A lot of them were mating in mid-air (which I wrote about in my last post).     I should have taken a photo of them but they’d always move before I had the chance.   They did become slightly annoying in some areas, because there were so many. But other than that, the trip was perfect, and so relaxing.

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In some areas the slowly moving water became more like rapids, and going over those was a lot of fun.   At one point we got caught on some rocks and my daughter’s friend had to get out of his tube to get us free (the water in the river is surprisingly shallow, and we were told never gets over about 5 feet, even in the middle).

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In some areas there were rocks you could sit on, and at one point we did.  We got out of our tubes and climbed up on the rocks (again, they were so slippery I had to put my shoes back on) and took some pictures.   We looked over at the side of the river and saw some kids swinging from a rope into the river and swimming in it (you can see that in the below picture):

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The French Broad isn’t really great to swim in.  I’d heard it’s infected with e-coli, so you definitely don’t want to drink it.  But for tubing or kayaking it’s perfect.

Finally, we reached our destination, and we were all sunburned but I felt so relaxed.   Afterwards, we stopped for ice cream and headed home.  I’ll definitely go tubing again soon.