Roanoke vs. Asheville

Wayne and Gennesse in the morning on the Parkway

Roanoke and Asheville were the entrance and exit points to the Blue Ridge Parkway for us. I had heard of neither before going to them. We hit Roanoke first. Walking down the street on our first night in search of dinner, we saw this.

Asheville is better

Again, I’d never heard of either of these two cities before, and knew absolutely nothing about them, but I started to get a sense that there may be a bit of a Springfield vs Shelbyville vibe here.

I liked Roanoke well enough. When we asked the receptionists at the hotel what we should see while we were in town, she said “Well, of course, you have to see the Star!” ‘The Star’ is the “World’s largest man-made illuminated star”. There is actually a larger man-made star in Texas, BUT it’s not illuminated! So of course we went up the hill to see the star. It was nice, we made it up the hill just in time to beat the sunset crush, and were gifted with a beautiful view of the city at dusk under the gentle hum of this neon wonder (1700 W!).

The Star

I also liked that Roanoke was paying service to some of it’s Black History. Crossing Virginia, we were on the Civil War Trail a fair bit. Don’t get me wrong here – it’s absolutely fascinating – but there are many memorials and cemeteries and battlefields, but little reference to the history of slavery in the area. It feels like a big chunk of context is missing from the story. So I was very happy in Roanoke to find a plaque celebrating black film makers from the area, after having walked across the Martin Luther King Jr. bridge. Kudos to you Roanoke!

Civil War Memorial

Four spectacular days of cycling the Blue Ridge Parkway later, we arrived in Asheville. After going for dinner, some of us went downtown to check out the local scene. Well, downtown there was a huge African American & Caribbean festival going on, the Goombay Festival. It was excellent! Two stages for music & spoken word artists, batiks, food stalls, all authentic African wares. The festival lasts three days, and is one of the largest festivals in Asheville. So we were there at the right time.

After talking with the person at reception at our hotel in Asheville, he said the city was known for three main things: Food, Music, and Beer. Let’s just say the city delivered big time. The food was excellent, everywhere. Live music, between the festivals, street musicians, bands playing in bars and restaurants, was everywhere and of high quality. And the beer – the sheer number of craft breweries and microbreweries in the area means you need to be good to survive.

Warren at Wicked Weeds

And so, in the Asheville vs. Roanoke rivalry, we came down on the Asheville side. The graffiti spoke true to us. If you’d like to judge for yourselves someday, cycling between the two cities via the Blue Ridge Parkway is definitely an excellent way to do it!

Tom on the Blue Ridge


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