Due to my own planning errors I was driving the four hours from Raleigh, North Carolina, and calling Robert at Hotel Domestique to give me directions because my phone was almost out of juice and I could not rely on Google maps. (Forget the pathetic Dollar Car Rental map). Robert was very gracious. “Drive carefully. Don’t worry about the time. I’ll be here.” AT 1:00 a.m. I pulled in exhausted from driving through torrential rains and navigating on smaller highways with a minimum of signage. (I like more encouragement along the way). He carried my bag to my room and opened the wooden door with a real key. This was my first impression:
The next morning I woke up to the sound of music wafting up from the dining room where a delicious complimentary breakfast is served. The decaf coffee was really, really good. Very rare occurrence. My poached egg was done just right. I was tired and excited to get out on my bike. The front desk said they would set me up with a GPS programmed with one of the shorter rides. Oh, and the co-owner of the hotel (and inspiration), George Hincapie, was going to be leading a “climb” if I wanted to join them. Umm, thanks but no thank you. (I couldn’t imagine keeping up with George Hincapie or the sleek group of Toronto cyclists (average BMI 18).
I did see George Hincapie arrive and greet some other guests who were friends. I suddenly felt awkward about meeting him with the only agenda “meeting someone famous who I admire.” If you are not familiar with George Hincapie’s resume… he is best known for being an exemplar “domestique”. This involves working your fanny off for the general classification rider (Yellow Jersey). He has worked for several Tour de France overall winners, most controversially Lance Armstrong. He has just published his own memoir, The Loyal Lieutenant. I like him best for his time on Columbia High Road, the team based out of San Luis Obispo most famous for being the most successful lead out train for sprinter Mark Cavendish. The hotel restaurant is called “17” for his 17 Tour de France finishes. This boutique hotel is styled after a modern (up-to-date) French chateau complete with vineyards. It is already popular with cyclists across North America.
I took off on my own ride and discovered how ill prepared I am for the Yorkshire hills. I have my work cut out for me!
I returned and cooled off on my balcony, showered in the amazing bathroom and went downstairs to rustle up some lunch. I really, really wanted to try the restaurant for dinner. Alas, they do not serve until after 1 a.m. They do not have a lunch menu so much as a collection of paninis. I chose the goat cheese and spinach with tomato spead. It was yummy and hit the spot.
Listening to the car radio for hours educated me about the literal and figurative divide between South and North Carolina. The hotel is located near Traveller’s Rest. I learned from my new friend Pleasure Sawyer that this is in Upstate where Charlestonians go to get a break from summer heat. It is close to Greenville, SC. Hotel Domestique is also close to Asheville, North Carolina. However, it might as well be a world away. People in Asheville are quite happy to be from Asheville and when I stopped at a terrific local bookstore (for later post on Asheville) and they did not carry George’s book and had never heard of him.
I loved my time in Asheville and got back to the hotel around 9. The parking lot was full and a party was in full swing. I asked the front desk clerk if I could get a cup of decaf from the restaurant and she had me follow her to collect it. She pointed to a large group of festive people and said, “George is having a few friends in tonight.” I was ready to go to my room, pack up my stuff for my early morning launch back to Greensboro at 4 a.m. I was tucked into bed at 10 and the party was still in full swing. The music was clearly discernable in my room and when people left the party and said their farewells in the lobby it sounded like they were in my room. Suddenly the french doors to my balcony were not such a great thing. At 11:15 I called my pal Robert at the desk and asked if the party was ending by midnight. He offered to ask them to turn down the music and I dithered. I could hear the much quieter breakfast music so I was not sure it was worth it. Then Habitat for Humanity called me to ask for a donation! Argh. Now I was really awake. I used all of my relaxation tricks and the next time I woke up and checked my phone it was completely quiet and 1:15.
One lesson I learned at a Model United Nations conference in college. If the people making the noise in a private party at hotel would just invite their neighbors… the neighbors will likely say no (if they are like me) and will resent the noise so much less.
I was out the door with my farewells to Robert about 4:10 a.m. I had a 3.25 hour drive to the airport to return my car in Greensboro, then a quick trip by cab to the Amtrak station (because they are never co-located, right?!) When I stopped for breakfast at 6 and called Robert and asked him to have the manager to call me to discuss the noise.
Around 10:30 I got a call from Webster. He apologized and asked me more specifics about my experience. It was a great example of above and beyond service. Of course, sleep deprived should never be mentioned in the same sentence as hotel. He even said he would bring it up with his boss George. Wow. And he comped my last night. Wow! Did not expect it. It was a relief because I love this hotel. I want to be able to recommend it unreservedly. Since Webster asked such detailed questions I bet they address the noise situation and they made it right for my situation.
I will definitely stay again. However, I will fly into Atlanta or Charlotte and drive a lot les! And I will use their hotel’s excellent road bikes.