Thursday, October 10, 2013

Moving On Up From Mayberry

October 8, 201
Dobson, NC to Hot Springs, Virginia
You can get from Dobson to Hot Springs in a bit over a couple hours, but we make it an all day excursion (on purpose).

First stop is Mount Airy, the birthplace of Andy Griffith--a thirteen mile drive from Dobson, through rolling hills covered with cows and soy bean fields.  Carol and Burt warned us about Mount Airy, but we had to see the inspiration for Mayberry ourselves.  Replete with every trapping of a tourist trap, the town turned out to be a very short photo op stop.  The charm is long gone.  The guy who does tours in a 1950s police car just like Andy’s was not nearly so smiley and cordial as Andy would have been when we unknowingly parked in “his spot” out front of Wally’s Service Station. 

From there it is just a short hop onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is a national park, so all the roadside facilities are closed.  We are thinking that perhaps there might be more color along the high ridges here, but find that Fall, alas, is just barely blooming here. A stop at Mabry Mill, a year-round photographer’s paradise, validates our decision to sample the Parkway, but we are ready to hop off and make some time at the next opportunity (especially since our only rest stop options on the Parkway involve hugging trees).

We end up in a general store in Floyd for lunch.  Most of the display cases and racks are on wheels so they can move them out of the way for the Friday night concerts on the stage in the back of the store. Charming--so authentically totally not Mount Airy.
Then we wind our way through the mountains to The Homestead in Warm Springs, arriving just in time for a spot of afternoon tea served in elegant lobby, The Great Hall, as they call it here. 
We stroll the meticulously landscaped grounds--so many lovely spots to sit beneath an arbor or by a running thermal spring or pool.  A group of women in white robes chats around a fire pit in the spa garden.  There is a bush with purple polka dotted berries beside the croquet court that makes me think of a scene from Alice in Wonderland.  Every view here seems like it could be a postcard.
Shortly before dinner, Dick realizes the dress code for the evening requires not just a coat, but also a tie. He launches a search for a loaner tie from The Homestead.  Alas, there is no loaner tie, but the head bellman offers to loan Dick his tie. Dick demurs and heads for the men’s shop, where he learns that the cheapest tie there costs $85.  Having at least fifty ties at home, and cherishing a lifestyle that requires wearing a tie only a few times each year, Dick cannot bring himself to drop $85 on a tie for just one night, and he turns to the head bellman, who, being a good judge of character, has followed him to the shop.  Dick accepts his offer of a loan of the tie, and gives him a $20 tip, then the bellman teaches Dick how the tie works.  Technically, it does not tie at all--it has a zipper.  You slip it over your head, then zip it up. Voila! Sure beats those old clip-ons!
Our club’s private dinner is perfectly prepared and served, the conversation is lively, and no one but me looks askance at Dick’s tie. Our Fall outing is off to a roaring good start.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wine Awaits at the End of the Road

October 7, 2013
Savannah to the Yadkin Valley Wine Region of North Carolina
In search of Fall color, and fun with friends, we are on our way to a Landings Auto Society outing at The Homestead in Virginia.  The official Society soiree begins tomorrow, but we are getting a head start, along with four friends.   

Our destination is Shelton Vineyards, in the Yadkin Valley Wine Region of North Carolina.  The Yadkin Valley is home to about forty vineyards, but most are not open on Mondays or are far off our track to The Homestead.  Shelton Vineyards is the perfect stop for us--once we get there, we are done driving for the day.  The family that owns the vineyard also owns a Hampton Inn just a couple miles down the road--the only Hampton Inn in the country with a wine bar, they proudly proclaim--and we have dinner reservations at the Vineyard’s fine dining bistro.
The entry drive to Shelton Vineyards is beautiful--rows of vines stretch over the rolling hills on both sides of the drive, and rose bushes mark the end of most rows.  The bugs that can be bad for grapes are also attracted to rose bushes, only more so.  The rose bushes are not just here for their beauty--they are early warning systems to prevent grape pestilence.
We learn this interesting fact, and lots more during a tour of the 33,000 square foot winery, which is built into the side of a pretty steep hill, providing a natural wine cellar and gravity fed wine processing system.  Two brothers developed the winery on tobacco farming land back in 1999 as a sideline to their “real business” of construction.  The next generation of their family is in charge of it now.   

Ah, the aroma of fermenting wine in the oak barrel filled cellar is heavenly. The winery offers people the opportunity to sponsor a barrel of wine.  For the cost of an empty barrel (the most expensive--French oak--goes for $695), you can have a plaque with your message stuck on the barrel, claim a case of wine from that barrel once a year for four years, and at the end of the four years, carry your empty barrel away as a keepsake.  Many weddings, anniversaries and birthdays are proclaimed therein.  One of our favorites is a barrel that a couple bought in honor of their sons, whom, their plaque claims, drove them to drink;, another barrel was a gift to Richard Petty from his wife--he signed the barrel.

After learning all about how the wine is made, we proceed to the tasting room, where our guide, Linda, gives us all souvenir wine glasses and proceeds to pour us samples of five different wines, plus a couple bonus samples she has left in bottles that were used for a special tasting over the weekend.  The whole tour and tasting experience is just $5, although we end up spending quite a bit more on wine and gift shop purchases.

After a short respite at the Hampton Inn, we are back at the winery to enjoy a spectacular sunset behind the vine-covered hills while dining on creatively prepared locavore food at the Harvest Grill. This must be the finest restaurant for miles around (or maybe the only restaurant for miles around), because it is packed tight on a Monday night. 

Back at the hotel, we pick up milk and cookies from the lobby (our favorite part of staying at the Hampton Inn), and all retire to our rooms to rest up for our drive to The Homestead tomorrow.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


August 15, 2013 
Cape Charles, VA to Savannah, GA
It's a long way and a long day, but we are happily home once again.

Friends and Fire

August 14, 2013
The highlight of today is a visit to our boating buddies, Roxanne and Lennie, who we think of often, but have seen just once since we all finished the Great Loop.  They live in Rehobeth Beach, Delaware, in a home with panoramic views of the marsh and Rehobeth Bay beyond.  We while away a few hours on their back deck, catching up on life after the Loop (like us, they have sold their boat and settled back into a landlubber life ashore).

Our lunch out on their back deck is the best meal of the trip--beginning with watermelon gazpacho, continuing with tasty crab cakes that Roxanne has made from a local restaurant recipe (no breadcrumbs to dilute the luscious taste of the crabmeat), and ending with killer chocolate brownies.   

All too soon it is time to hit the road again, and Roxanne sends us off with some of those tasty brownies for the road.  Although Dick has studied the map with Lenny, and discussed some good options for lollygagging our way down the coast, once we get driving and talking about options, we find we are both starting to feel a bit eager to get home. 
We end up deciding to stop just before the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, and by just before, I mean within half a mile of the toll booths.  The Sunset Beach Resort Hotel is decidedly shabby in all its public areas, and the wifi is not working, but we can’t bear the thought of getting back in the car and driving twenty miles across the bridges/through the tunnels to get to the other side and start looking for another hotel. (All the other hotels we have passed on unlucky Route 13 look even more grungy or are out of business--reminds us of Route 66.)
Our room is a pleasant surprise--extremely clean and nearly tasteful in its d├ęcor, with smooth sheets and fluffy towels.  Just as we are feeling relieved and reassured about our accommodations, Dick gets a disturbing phone call from our alarm company reporting that our attic heat sensor has gone off.  The fire department is on the way.  While visions of the house in flames dance in his head, he calls our friend Fred the fireman, who is getting paged to the alarm at our house at that very moment.  Fortunately, it turns out to be a false alarm, probably tripped by the severe storms that have been pelting our island for days. Fred gives us an on-site report on the action, and assures us that all is well at home.
We wander down to the Sunset Grille on the resort’s private beach.  It turns out to be the shabbiest looking amenity of the whole place--a shack that smells of cooking grease, precariously perched on a deck that is in danger of being swallowed by a sand dune. We grab a picnic table and order our meal, and once again we are surprised--the food is really good. 
And the sunset is excellent.

What a perfect ending to this day--the sky is on fire, and our house is not.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Very Vagabondy Day

August 13, 2013
We are back in the vagabond groove today, with more adventures than we could possibly imagine springing up at us from every direction.  And it all happens in Maryland.
We begin in LaVale, with rain falling and mist clouds rising from the hollows of the mountains all around us.  This calls for coffee, and we find the perfect spot, Mountain City Coffee House and Creamery, clinging to the side of a mountain slope crowding the town of Frostburg.  The place has a spiritual vibe--which jives with how we are feeling about java this morning.
And, we must have some kind of spiritual mojo going on, because the next thing you know, here we are beside “God’s Ark of Safety,” an authentic ark being built right here in Frostburg at the special request of Jesus, as delivered in the 1970s to Pastor Richard Greene.  Building progress has been slow over these many years since, despite Pastor Greene’s travels all over the world to share the plans and raise money to fulfill the promise.  But, it appears that the project is not just about the product, but the process, as well.  A visitor who viewed the ark was cured of bronchitis, a worker was healed of a sun allergy.  These are miracles we can believe in!  The one miracle we are skeptical about is the miracle that this 450 foot long, 75 foot wide, 45 foot high vessel will ever be completed.  
The crowning jewel of the day, and the reason we are in the Frostburg area in the first place, is our photo safari through the last remaining intact silk mill in America--the Lonaconing Silk Mill.  Established in 1907, the mill stopped production in 1957, and it appears that at the end of the last day of work, everyone just left all their tools and papers and work clothes behind and walked out the door, then the owners locked up without bothering to clean up or reclaim any excess inventory.
In the intervening years, the paint has cracked and peeled, windows have cracked and broken, the roof has sprung many a leak, and the hundreds and hundreds of spinning and weaving machines have developed a deep layer of rust.
What a glorious playground for photographers!
We will throw in a few of our photos as we tell the story of its fate after the plant closed.
On the recommendation of a politician friend of his, Herb Crawford bought the 48,000 square foot mill thirty years ago with the intention of renting it out as a sewing factory, but the plan fell through when the politician “got caught with his hand in the cookie jar,” as Herb says. 
 Herb has been trying ever since to get some foundation or government agency to save this historically significant building.  The county is interested, but has no money.  Same story from Maryland officials.  Some guy wants to take the place off his hands for $400,000, and then take the place apart, selling off the pieces for scrap and reclaimed materials.  Herb is trying to hold off on selling to someone who will not preserve it, but he is retired, and was counting on this building to be his retirement fund.
And, trying to take care of the building looks like it is a big job, too--he spent the whole time we were there just going around the building emptying buckets that had filled with rainwater that had leaked in from last night’s rain, and using a wet vac to clean up the particularly big and deep puddles that missed a bucket.  Water is still dripping and puddling as we leave, although it stopped raining a couple hours ago.
Just a block from the Silk Mill, a fifty foot chimney rises over a tidy little municipal park.  We are curious, and stop to explore (of course).  We learn from a very detailed historic marker that this is the Lonaconing Iron Furnace, built in 1837, and in operation only until 1855. In its heyday it employed 260 workers and produced sixty tons of pig iron per week.  It was historically significant for being the first furnace to make iron from coal and coke, rather than charcoal. Alas, it closed down in 1855 when easily available deposits of iron ore were depleted around here, and Pennsylvania iron furnaces were nearer to coal and railroads, giving them a significant product production and distribution advantage.
Down the road a ways, near Cumberland, Dick uses his amazing restaurant radar to determine that this divey place, Bunnie’s,  is actually a restaurant.  We enter with some hesitancy, especially when the door spills us into a claustrophobic bar room with three guys you don’t want to be close to drinking at the bar.  They go quiet and look at us, and we at them, until a hostess quickly jumps out from the shadows and shows us to a perfectly lovely dining room in the back, where some more appealing local types are dining.  The lunch is the best we have had on this trip.
We began the day in the rainy mountains of western Maryland, and we end it watching a golden sunset on the Chesapeake Bay.  We are in Kent Narrows, where crab houses (and working boats) line the shore--our dinner target is clear.  The first crab house we choose has run out of crabs, but recommends their finest competitor, where we grab our mallets and pound and pick our way through a shared tray of a dozen large crabs.

Our mouths are tingling from Bay Seasoning as we finish, so we (like most other people here) order the restaurant’s signature dessert--a Nutty Buddy made in-house.  It looks like the Nutty Buddy of our childhood has grown up and gone on steroids. But somehow we each manage to finish one.
What a DAY!

Monday, August 12, 2013

On Our Merry Way to Maryland

August 12, 2013
After we see Natalie off in Richmond, Virginia, we have a long drive ahead of us to Cumberland, Maryland, where Dick has scheduled a unique photo shoot experience for us tomorrow.

We don’t have time to do the whole drive on two lane back roads, as is our preference, but we do a goodly portion off the interstate grid, and are rewarded with rolling rural vistas, lots of contented cows a-grazing, country churches with inspiring message boards out front (“If God is your copilot, exchange seats”), and other noteworthy sights. As we pass through Rockingham County--self-proclaimed “turkey capital of Virginia” and the state’s top poultry production county--a semi-truck passes us piled high with small wire cages loaded with big white chickens.  The cages are so tiny and the chickens so large, it seems there is scarcely any room for the chickens to move.  Try not to think about this too much, or you may lose your appetite for chicken. 

Our favorite find of the drive is this barn in West Virginia:

Although Mail Pouch barns are a rare sight today, back in the peak of the company’s barn painting program in the 1960s about 20,000 barns bore their advertising message.  Mail Pouch retired the barn painting program when their most prolific barn painter, Harley Warrick, retired in 1992.  Harley estimated that he painted 20,000 barns during his career.
Perhaps this barn was one of his creations.

All Good Things Must End

Natalie’s Ten Year Old Trip
Day 8
August 12, 2013
Today we have to bid Natalie farewell, as we send her flying back to her family in Cincinnati. 

We have enjoyed great adventures with Natalie over the past week, and we miss her already, as we leave the Richmond airport with an empty back seat, and she is on her first plane ride all by herself.

History to the Max

Natalie’s Ten Year Old Trip
Day 7
August 11, 2013
We begin the day at the Colonial Pancake House, where Seniors can order from the Children’s Menu, so we are all on the same page.

Then we drive down the Colonial Parkway (which Granddad and Gayl last traversed by bicycle about six years ago while riding Bike Virginia) to Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America, established 1607. 

A costumed ranger playing the role of John Rolfe, the Englishman who married Pocahontas, gives us an orientation to the island, as if we are newly arriving colonists from England.  We learn about all the reasons past colonists failed and died over the first twenty years of colonization, and about  how much better everyone isf faring now that (1)he has married Pocahontas and created a peaceful connection between the English and the natives and (2) the society is less communal, so people work harder, recognizing that they will personally benefit from their labors.   While he is talking (and talking, and talking), we are sitting on benches overlooking the James River, and watching the car ferries cross, reminiscing about when we rode the ferry with our bicycles.

(A couple interesting things that our John Rolfe guide fails to mention about his marriage to Pocahontas--it was the first interracial marriage in American history, and Nancy Reagan is a descendant of their union.) 

After his talk, we accompany Natalie as she embarks on a hunt game that Jamestown has created, with a very cool comic/activity book that we use to find clues hidden throughout Jamestown.  We can complete this mystery in less than two hours, along the way we learn a lot about Jamestown and how archeologists find clues to life in the settlement, and the reward for solving the mystery is a cool Jamestown drawstring backpack.  We like this game!

After lunch, we are back in Williamsburg, intent on completing RevQuest. Just when we thought we had completed the game yesterday, we learned at the last stop that there was another whole stage to the game.  When we continue today, we find out that we had been hoodwinked into helping the British in the first half of the game, and now we have  to redeem ourselves though another series of clues and ciphering activity.  Finally, we complete the game and earn our reward, a commemorative coin with a secret word engraved on it that would let us continue to play further, if we like.  This whole episode sort of reminds me of that scene in the movie Christmas Story when Ralphie gets the long awaited secret decoder ring, only to find that the secret message is “Drink your Ovaltine.” 

Just after we get back to our room to get ready for dinner, the sky opens and provides our daily afternoon downpour.  The rain stops just before we pile into the car to dinner.  Our timing with rain is quite amazing.  The rain has not stopped us yet, even though it has poured down every afternoon but one of Natalie’s ten-year-old trip.   

And, we see that there is more rain showing on the radar after dinner, so we all carry ponchos for our 8:30 ghost walk, but we don’t see any rain (or any ghosts, either), as we follow our guide through the dimly lit streets of Colonial Williamsburg, stopping to listen to tales of modern sightings of ghosts hearkening back to the 18th and 19th centuries.   

We try to get to bed early--we have to be up at 6 a.m. tomorrow to get Natalie to the airport.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Non-Stop Williamsburg

Natalie’s Ten Year Old Trip
Day 6
August 10, 2013
This action-packed day begins at the visitor center at 8:45, watching a film that provides us with our orientation to RevQuest, a game where we play the role of patriot spies trying to find clues that will help us defend the colony from the British.   Over the course of the day, we will find “friends” wearing black and white striped ribbons at several different locations throughout the town, and use different methods they provide us to decode encrypted messages.  It is a fun way to explore Williamsburg while learning about different ways that spies of the time tried to communicate in secret.

We join a bunch of patriots and sympathizers debating on the village green.  It seems that many kegs of powder were removed from the magazine last night around 3 a.m. on the governor’s orders.  We join the patriots in storming the Governor’s mansion, then stop after the governor threatens us all with dire consequences (like being hanged as traitors).    

We tour the home of George Wythe, a man who revolutionized educational methods and taught many of the patriots like Thomas Jefferson. In the back yard of the house, we do a fun science experiment developed by Joseph Priestly, and Granddad plays a strategy board game with a costumed interpreter.  She beats him handily. 
 Out in the garden, we learn another game that was played by young people, using a spindle that has a ball with a hole attached to it by a string.  The costumed interpreter makes it look easy to get the spindle point into the hole, but we find it very difficult.  The interpreter says, “If you only own one toy, it better be a little bit hard.”

We tour the Capitol on a special tour led by a very eloquent Thomas Jefferson, Governor of Williamsburg.

After the Capitol, we go directly to Gaol, where we stay in a gloomy cell longer than expected, due to a rain shower.  

The rest of the afternoon is spent dashing from building to building between heavy storms.  As a result, we know way more about the silversmiths’ work than we would ever otherwise have learned.  We spend a very long time there while the rain comes down in torrents and the electric candle lights flicker more than normal. Ironically, we all hold our breath, worried that the power may go out, and give us a truly authentic historic experience.

Natalie delighted in finding things that were not appropriate to the time, but we were most appreciative of the air conditioning in the buildings on this day with temperatures in the high 80s and humidity hovering near 100%.
Before the day is through, Natalie earns a pin by doing activities at five different places on the kid’s map.
We dine at Chowning’s Tavern, where a musician plays music from the 1700s on a fife, a wooden flute and a dulcimer while we enjoy a meal that might well have been served back then.
The server tells us that the water she offers us is not authentic, since water drunk here back in the 1700s would make you sick if it didn’t kill you, due to their lack of sewers and other sanitation measures.  So, everyone drank beer instead.  Women here made beer in three strengths--weak for their babies, a little stronger for children, and very strong for adult consumption.  Natalie stuck with water. 
We also learn that 40% of the taverns around town were owned by women, and many were respectable places for women to eat and drink, but not this one.  Chowning’s served working men, and men that came from far and wide to be tried at court here for their offenses.

We decline our server’s offer not to charge us for our dinner if we leave Natalie behind with her to become an indentured servant.  She thinks Natalie would be a particularly good servant, since she has such nice teeth. She explains other people’s tooth options to Natalie--poor people were just missing teeth with no replacement, wealthier people could have wooden false teeth carved to fit in their mouths, and some people would even purchase teeth from others with good teeth like Natalie, and have a skilled artisan insert them into carved gums.  This option in particular really grosses Natalie out.

After dinner we attend a dance by candlelight at the Governor’s Palace.  The costumed characters perform some of the very intricate dances for us, but they invite members of the audience to join them for over half of the dances, which are performed in lines and circles--very elegant versions of square dancing.  They teach us “honors” (how to bow and curtsy), so we can be mannerly on the dance floor when beginning and ending our dances with them.  All three of us have a turn on the dance floor for at least one dance, but Granddad gets chosen twice, a fate he bemoans.  

On the way back to our hotel, we stop into Bruton Parish Episcopal Church to catch the last few pieces of a magnificent candlelit organ concert. The music was out of the timeframe of the rest of our day (all 19th and 20th century), but the church dates back to 1715, and has been renovated to look just as it did back then, including candle sconces along the walls next to every pew and a massive candle chandelier above.   

We can’t imagine how anyone could pack more into a day at Williamsburg than we did!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Zip-a-dee-doo-da it’s a Ziplining Day

Natalie’s Ten Year Old Trip
Day 4
August 8, 2013
Another day, another adventure, and today’s highlight is ziplining.
 Not just any ziplining, but a course that runs along the rim of the New River Gorge,
on deck, waiting for our turn to zip the gorge
photo taken by Dick while zipping
with nine breath-taking (I call them scary) zip line runs that feature deep chasms far below the lines,

plus two swinging sky bridges designed to cause coronary thrombosis. 

the bridge stretches to infinity--the ground disappears below
 The final feature is a free fall line from a 55 foot tower (this comes after the second sky bridge which is longer than a football field and only one board wide, with gaps between boards wide enough to stimulate the thought that gasp is almost the same word as gaps).  

Natalie flips upside-down during her final zip

So glad it is almost over
 After our ziplining follies, we return to our base at the Glades and work on finding the rest of their geocaches.  One of them is along a trail that we soon realize we have entered from the wrong end.  Not one to turn back from a challenge, Granddad starts us bushwhacking through the underbrush, scrambling up what looks like a deer trail to the top of a ridge.  When we come to a dead end and anticipate the possibility that we may have to turn back, we scramble around the obstacles and find another tiny opening that brings us closer to the cache.  We are sure we are the first searchers to follow this treacherous route. 

Natalie observes, “The easy way is for losers.”  We laugh, hard, then decide that this could be a good motto for Team Glover.

Of course we find the cache, and it is not an easy hide.  Then we hike back to the car following the real trail (longer, but much easier, and quicker, too).  Along the way we pick up lots of beautifully colored leaves, and Natalie artistically arranges them on the luxuriant moss for a pretty photo op memory of our walk in the woods.

When we go to redeem our Glades Geocaching BINGO card for our prize (we have BINGO three ways, and would have the card filled if three of the sites had not been compromised), we are a little disappointed to find that all our hard work has only earned us one free bowling game at the resort bowling alley.  Once again, the reward is more in the process than the prize.
We try to eat dinner out on the deck of the Glades Resort restaurant where we ate on our first night here, but we are interrupted mid-meal by yet another rainstorm.  We stick it out under the sun umbrella over the table for a while when the rain is wimpy, but give up and go inside when the wind starts driving the pelting rain against us.
This is our last night in wet, wild and wonderful West Virginia.  Tomorrow we leave for Colonial Williamsburg, which we hope will be less wet.