Two young 50-something females. One big adventure exploring the Americas. Have liquidated everything they own and packed a Saturn Vue with bare necessities to set out on this journey. Planting seeds at each juncture symbolizing their new growth. With an open mind and heart, ready to get a true view of this world.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Riches in Richmond

After our scenic byway drive into Richmond, we are treated with royal treatment for dinner at Kathy's friend, Scott's welcoming and beautiful home. It is the quintessential Virginia hospitality event. A tour of his townhome reveals a fireplace in every room, amazing artwork, including a dining room ceiling mural he had a fellow artist friend create, and a crystal rich table set for our culinary pleasure. The meal that he brought forth perfectly matched the ambiance, one that certainly rivaled anything I've attempted, and it was pure heaven being a guest in his home.

First course was a mushroom risotto (one of my favorite dishes anyway) and it proved to be one of the best I've ever had. I could have licked the plate, I think perhaps someone might have. A perfectly prepared salmon was the entree accompanied by samosa-like patties that were indeed out of this world good. When it seemed not possible to reach any higher levels, Scott presented the finale Grand Marnier souffle - oh, yeah, complete ecstasy. As those who really know me, another absolute favorite dish of mine, and this one ranked right amongst the top of any I've ever had.

Wine flowed freely and champagne completed our incredible experience. Along with much laughter, good conversation and just an overall relaxing and inviting time, we can't thank Scott enough for providing such a wonderful evening for us. The man knows how to host a dinner party!

Morning brought a later than usual wake-up call, as the former night's festivities went far into the wee hours. This was to be spring planting day in Kathy's garden. Celeste and our dear friend, Vicki, were both there to aid in this very productive day. A most appropriate spot for the sunflower planting was found and, with the proper fanfare, played out for the camera. The effort proved fruitful as the front yard woke up a bit from it's winter dormancy.

A final farewell to family here in Richmond brought my sister and nephews together for a casual bite at the infamous Sandston Bistro down the street from their home. After really delicious lamb gyros and hamburgers, ice cream cones were had by all to commemorate the fun week we'd all been fortunate enough to share. It was difficult to say goodbye!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Colonial Parkway to Yorktown

Our final morning in Williamsburg brings a very cold yet sunny day. We literally have to scrape the windshield before heading out, a far cry from the poolside weather that welcomed us only a week earlier. The drive along the Colonial Parkway heading to Yorktown is absolutely stunning. Saving this scenic drive for our finale seems to be a very good decision. Arriving here, we find further beautiful scenery as the set for this very important historical landmark.

The battlefield by the visitor's center is expansive and, as other monuments in this area, bordered by the magnificent James River. We meander here before making our way to the town of York. This is a very interesting area, combining yesteryear with a very pristine today. It felt quite Disneyesque. In fact, save a few walkers, the neighborhood was void of any life. All homes, gardens and streets completely immaculate. Honestly, we have never witnessed anything quite like it.

Winding from the stark neighborhood down onto the waterfront landing brought yet another disparity. The newer side boasted shops and eateries, again with relatively few patrons. Truly looked like a Disney park, but no people. I know, hard to form a vision of that! A stroll further down the river brought into view a more lively area with the Yorktown Pub, a down home establishment filled with human beings! We embraced this evidence of life force and joined the party!

It was apparent early into our visit why this place was hopping. Charlotte, our server, was everywhere welcoming and advising her guests. $2 Land Sharks were the special beverage option and fresh seafood from the waterway we gazed upon was being offered in abundant variations. Crab puffs melted in our mouth and the local rock fish was just delicious! This laid back eatery was successful on all counts. What a difference a few steps from Stepford land had provided.

Walking off our lunch, we ventured further along the river front and then hiked back to the visitor center where we began the driving portion of our tour for the day. The back country was not only beautiful but brimming with further history lessons, which admittedly we had forgotten from our youth. We took our time taking it all in, savoring the scenery and renewed knowledge. Viewing the sites of our country's final battle for our independence is a timely reminder of what we all take too much for granted these days.

As we retrace our path along the Colonial Parkway, we come upon an even prettier route along Hwy 5 into Richmond, the street lined with flowering pear trees and plantations is breathtaking. Virginia is a visual dream to take in and we have one last detour before landing in Richmond for the evening. Westover plantation shares its gardens with the public daily, so we veer off the main drag into another world. The 2-mile trek on an unpaved road suddenly brings us into a Tara-like entrance and find us yet again on that mighty James River. Time truly stops here. How have they managed?

Reluctantly, we leave this last page of our history review. We are certainly wiser.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Girls Day Out

Lunch at the Williamsburg Winery is our first excursion today. We are joined by my sister, Kathy, and her friend and fellow conservator, Amy, as we enjoy a truly delectable variety of sandwich options, homemade sweet potato bisque (oh, so good) and, of course, the obligatory wine taste. All choices are exceptional (including the suggested wine pairing) and we linger for several hours in this lovely location as ladies who lunch are inclined. Such leisure!!

After our dining indlgence, we are off to Colonial Williamsburg's DeWitt Conservation lab, where we are fortunate enough to know people who can get us a tour here. Trust us, better than any regulated tourist option offered for the peons out there. We are introduced to Albert, the furniture conservator, who worked with both Kathy and Amy in times past. Albert is 72 years old, having served this place for nearly 40 years now. He is a wealth of knowledge and enjoys with relish showing us all the nooks and crannies of this jewel. And, what there is to see! As we can only imagine by what we view, this is a premier conservation facility, and peering into all of the different modes of this art is awe inspiring. Furniture, paintings, textiles, musical instruments, upholstery. Each room brings a different object and conservator, a different perspective, a plethora of gorgeous artwork.

Celeste is intrigued and envious of what these lucky people get to do as their job everyday. If only.... The tour is one of the highlights of our trip for her and she can't get enough of what is offered. Imagine getting a behind the scenes tour of all that Colonial Williamsburg holds dear. A glimpse of how all of these marvels have been and will continue to be preserved for our enjoyment. This work combines art and chemistry to an entire new level and it's exhilarating to behold! These conservators are beyond gracious in their work and hospitality while we eavesdrop.

Our fun tour continues with a visit to the William and Mary campus. We explore the grounds and peek inside the chapel at the Sir Christopher Wren building. There is a graduation of sorts going on so we can't fully engage, but we are able to view the rest of the building which gives us a good sense of the chapel's architecture, as well. It is just beautiful and the grounds surrounding provide an incredible backdrop as we stroll through.

This full day is coming to an end but Amy is very helpful in aiding our forthcoming travels. Our trip along Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah National Park and subsequent detour into West Virginia's Berkeley Springs area will be our little detour before arriving in D.C. for the cherry blossoms. Our fortune now is Amy lives just outside of Berkeley Springs, and able to give priceless tips, direction and suggestions. Thanks, Amy!

The ladies need to return to their homes and we part with much gratitude for the fun and educational experience. This has been a real treat!

Step Back In time

A short drive this beautiful spring morning brings us to the first settlement in the United States, Jamestown. The weather and location provide the scenery for a most perfect day. Located directly on the James River, this national park is a wealth of information about the early settlers here and the self-guided walk through the settlement makes for a truly rich attraction destination. Another chance to use our all access park was especially nice since the fee requirements run $10 per person (worth every penny, by the way).

Archeologists run an active dig on-site and a smart little museum displays artifacts found. Just one of many fine points promoting the efficiency of this park. Ruins, monuments, burial ground, and fully intact church continually beckon and time spent here extends as we attempt to take it all in. With our delayed departure, lunch time brings the option of a quick bite at the quaint cafe on property, also riverside, with several enticing options. Quick, friendly service guides us to the best pick and we enjoy a delightful alfresco snack before resuming our tour.

Further exploration reveals a five-mile driving tour which winds along the river and marshy land, information markers dotting the trail pointing out notable historical significances. One spot delivers a short walking path out to the point, noting the opportunity for witnessing soaring eagles. Unfortunately, none are present today, but the stroll and view still memorable. Continuing along the route, another discovery is of a small cemetery in an isolated location, bringing home the reality of trials these early explorers must have encountered. Definitely, a time for pause.

From the drive, we have one final detour, as the Glasshouse is located right before the exit of the park. A winding walking path through a wooded area, also along the river, brings us first to the site of the excavations of the original glass house functioning in the 1600's. And, then into a present day operation, demonstrating the glass making techniques of this time period. Quite a fascinating little show, and we are mesmerized for several minutes, as one always finds themselves around fire. Beautiful glass vases are being created today and we marvel at their delicate and fine-tuned craft.

We catch the ferry at the next landing over to transport us to yet another step back in time. The free 15-minute ride brings us into Surrey County, a present day establishment that has managed to function as if in a long ago era still today. It is later than we had originally planned, as our Jamestown excursion proved lengthy, so we are limited in our tour here. However, there is, as always, a bonus.

Six miles out of the town center, Bacon Castle sits on a well manicured farmland, smokehouse, slave quarters, old well pump and barn dotting the acreage. As the hour is late, the house and volunteers are long gone, but the grounds are still open for our exploration. We tour unsupervised and have a real sense of trespassing into a world long ago removed. The empty fields, save a neighboring cow pasture, create a mood of complete solitude. We find ourselves looking over our shoulders, a presence lurking. No one is there, but....

Several miles away, we find ourselves at yet another private destination. The Chippokes Plantation State Park we enter around 5, discloses a closing time of dusk. We realize we may have 60-90 minutes available here, so we delve in fully. The park is huge, and there is not a soul in sight. At the far end of the park, an historical site has been preserved with all of the old plantation's out parcels. Again, we have the sense of trespassers, as we tour the grounds unattended. And again, there is an over the shoulder glance at every turn, is someone there? It is quite intriguing and we savor the moments as we continue down garden paths just beginning to brim with spring foliage and take short detours to the every present river's edge.

Dusk is descending as we pull ourselves away from this magical find, a small trail discovered a bit too late as we exit. We could have used many hours longer here but we are out of time. As we head back into Surrey proper, the Surrey Restaurant and Country Inn promises a true Virginian supper and delivers as advertised. We indulge in peanut soup, chicken fried chicken with mashed potatoes, collards, green beans and yeast rolls. Heaven! Sweet iced tea washes it all down and we are too full to dapple in the dessert choices - what a shame!

Post-sunset skies welcome us as we board the returning ferry, re-entry to the real world we fear will be difficult this evening. We have had such fun frolicking in the past!

Sunrise and Spring

An early morning coffee and stroll down the boardwalk to the beach reveals a sunrise trying to equal the sunset of the previous evening. What a spectacular day dawns this first day of spring. Taking the Pine Island Sanctuary Audubon Trail across the way seems most appropriate and provides the perfect setting. This brisk hike invigorates and prepares us for our departure from this beautiful town of Duck. Finding a spot for our sunflower planting is easy, and that done, we head out. We hate to leave.

Our travels will take us to Williamsburg today where we get to meet up with my sister and nephews. The day is just beautiful and the drive lovely. We're only a couple hours away and arrive in time to take in the Michelangelo exhibit at the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the William and Mary campus. Touring this with Kathy, the premier expert on this artist, is something everyone should have a chance to do. Her friend, Scott, a fellow conservator, has joined our party and we thoroughly enjoy this delightful little museum that is so very well presented.

Grounds on the college are beautiful and within walking distance of downtown Williamsburg. A leisurely stroll provides a very scenic backdrop as we find a spot for a late lunch. Delicious sandwiches are had at Seasons, great conversation, catching up and much laughter. The perfect afternoon is upon us and we enjoy it fully. A short trip brings us back to our home for the next week where we set up camp and enjoy some more time with everyone on our huge balcony. This will be enjoyed often over the days to come, we're sure.

Our transition travel day has been successful and we look forward to a relaxing week visiting with family and exploring this very pretty and historical area.