Last weekend we had a fantastic time at Stacey E's wedding. He's a good friend from high school youth group and we also lived together our first year at UCLA. He married the lovely and very kind Kristin who grew up in North Carolina but met Stacey when she moved out to take a job in Bakersfield, CA.. Just about five years ago Stacey had been hit by a drunk driver when he was driving at night and nearly died. Knowing this was simply another reason to be overjoyed for the two of them.
Their outdoor wedding was in a very nice rural setting with lots of trees and nearby meadows for great photo ops and about an hour north of Charlotte. This was our first time to North Carolina and we were impressed by how green everything is. Also, southern people are definitely some of the nicest in the world and their customer service (by and large) can't be beat. They truly are courteous and the contrast between the "habadashery shop" in North Carolina (where the proprietor was amazingly friendly and thoughtful) and the Men's Wearhouse tux experience I had a month ago were dramatically different to say the least.
On Sunday morning Ivy and I drove over to visit what is known as "America's Largest House" in western North Carolina near the Smoky Mountains and the Appalachian trail. This "house" is actually a castle (known as "Biltmore") and was built by George Vanderbilt in the late 1800s. We went on an audio tour of this place and it was amazing and beautiful inside and out--the gardens surrounding the house/castle were designed by the same famous landscape architect who did Central Park in NY.
What always amazes me is how many cool things in this world I've never heard of--and that includes the Biltmore mansion. It was also fascinating to learn how the Vanderbilt men built their fortune: Grandfather Vanderbilt amassed $100 million in shipping and then his son (George's Father) doubled! that amount in 10 years as he expanded into railroads. From what I know of this family (I'd like to read a book about them now) they sounded like they actually did a lot of good with their money (e.g. creating a university) and employing lots of people. Ivy and I discussed whether it was a good or bad idea for George to have built this mansion. I came out thinking it was a good idea because so many people are still enjoying it today and it's a beautiful example of world-class architecture. Ivy found it wasteful overall and she thinks he should have created another university instead (though it's nice to have at least a few wasteful Euro-style castles in the US). We're both very glad we visited and recommend it. We wish we had more time to visit the coast but hopefully there'll be that chance someday.