Photography by-Colleen Cahill Studios

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Oh how I love Virginia!

After months and months of dreary Oregon weather, and canceling our trip last summer to Washington, DC and Virginia for a visit to the hospital (that was not nearly as fun!), it was time to get back on track and hit the road.

We landed in Washington, DC on the first day of the 100th anniversary of the gift of the cherry trees-Cherry Blossom Festival.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and the trees were in the midst of full blossom.

We decided to return to the Churchill Hotel in Dupont Circle for our base of operations while in the District of Columbia.  The staff was, again, delightful and we were soon upgraded to the VIP floor of the hotel with one of the best rooms in the house.  The view from our room was fabulous!  Thank you Churchill Hotel!

Meeting up with our daughter, we had a lovely dinner at the hotel while plotting our next few days of fun.

The National Catherdral was just down the road from our location so the following morning started with a tour of the building and grounds.  The cathedral was still under renovations from the quake, and we were surprised at the level of damage sustained by the building.

Coming from the west coast an earthquake of that magnitude rarely does such significant damage in these parts so we were amazed at the extent of the destruction.

We also found some interesting nooks and crannies, as well as the crypt of a former president, Woodrow Wilson!  We are not certain what the little door is for, but I dubbed it the leprechaun door for purposes of discussion.

Next it was on to Arlington National Cemetery in the afternoon.  It was a hazy day made all the more somber by the sheer volume and scope of the men and women buried in our nation's cemetery. When you see the mass of lost soldiers it is a humbling reminder that freedom is NOT free.

Day two it was off to view the cherry trees.  Blossoms were everywhere!  Gorgeous shades of pinks filled the trees and looked like giant pink popcorn balls.  We walked around the National Mall, presidential monuments, visited the George Washington Masonic Temple, and had a wonderful late lunch in Alexandria, VA.

After a sad farewell to our daughter (it is always hard to leave her), we started on our driving trek to parts west and south.  Destination?  Homestead Resort in Bath County.

We arrived in early evening as the sun was setting over the Allegheny Mountains.  It was the most beautiful sight in the world to me!  The Homestead literally is a step back in time.  Huge columns delineate the large porch lined with white rocking chairs.  Inside, the great hall welcomed us.  Gorgeous columns line the interior as well, while sitting nooks with huge fireplaces created a dozen or more "sitting rooms" for guests.

After checking in, Cam and I went for a walk around the historical complex (dating back to 1766).  The setting is just breathtaking!  Twenty-eight presidents, dignitaries from far and wide, royalty, and celebrities have all rested their heads at the Homestead.

Celebrated from very early times as a place of rest and healing, the warm mineral springs of the Homestead have soothed the ills of many including President Tomas Jefferson, for whom the local hot spring fed bathhouses are now named after.  Of course we took a soak and I can tell you it was lovely!

Lake Moomaw is a mere fifteen minute drive from the Homestead.  And what a gorgeous drive it was!  Blooming Dogwoods dotted the natural landscape, as well as a pretty tree we learned was called the Red Bud (it is more of a pinkish lavender to me!).

Lines of stacked stone walls dating back as far as the pre-Revolutionary War days could be seen around the perimeters of gorgeous old plantations, and delineating long abandoned farmsteads and fields.  Arriving at the lake we could make out the topographical contours of the surrounding mountains as the new buds on the hardwood trees had only begun to spring, the leaves still tucked away.

Along the drive home we spotted a spring house dating back centuries, still inviting passersby to fill up a container with its fresh, clean, mineral rich waters.  History was all around us!

A two-story chimney caught our attention along a roadside.  We stopped to examine it.  This was a substantial home (for the period) as it had two fireplaces (one above and one below).  A great fire destroyed many buildings in the area over two centuries ago, and we suspect this was one of them.

Climbing up the hill to the stack, it was clear to see that, yes, indeed a long ago fire had consumed the dwelling it once served.  Shards of broken glass were scattered about the area.  Looking a bit closer, the avid tea-cup collector in me spotted half buried pieces of china from a much earlier period.  I felt like an archeologist digging around to uncover more bits of broken glass.

The broken bits of china belonged to the house.  While I photographed the pieces to get a glimpse of its pattern for future reference, we left the shards where they belonged; back in their spot behind the chimney.

Hot Springs is a magical place.  Plantations mingle seamlessly with modest homesteads. The peaceful calm and serene feeling one encounters cannot be described in words.  It has to be experienced.

We spent six days exploring the area, meeting the local residents, and soaking in all the splendor that is Bath County.  We did not want to leave.

But we had places to go and things to see so we hit the road for parts east.  Heading towards Charlottesville, we stopped along our way in Lexington, for a bit of lunch.  The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) is perched high on a ledge as one enters the city, standing as an imposing castle like fortress.

Entering the city proper, a charming southern town emerges.  Store fronts and buildings still retain their original architectural splendor.  The Palms restaurant (circa 1836) afforded us a delicious lunch. I can honestly say I enjoyed the best shrimp chef salad (Shenandoah Valley salad) in my life!

Arriving in Charlottesville, we were greeted with
students everywhere as it was college visitation weekend at the University of Virginia.  We decided to enjoy the sights on the outer reaches of the city.

Ash Lawn Highland, President James Monroe's home, was a real treat.  We were surprised at the small scale of the home from the outside as compared to his colleagues, presidents Jefferson and Madison just down the road.  But it was the inside which made it clear this was definitely a president's home (no photos are permitted so I cannot share that area).

The grounds are in eyes view of Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's home) and include boxwood gardens, a statuary garden, ancient oak trees, barns, slave quarters, and the garden plot as it would have looked over two hundred years ago.

One cannot go to Charlottesville without enjoying a meal at Michey's Tavern.  Michey's is a stones throw from Monticello and Ash Lawn Highland.  After leaving President Monroe's home we headed for a pilgrim's dinner at the renowned Revolutionary War tavern.

Apparently never introduced to the dish in his lifetime, my husband has decided Virginia pulled pork needs to make its way to Oregon.

Saying goodbye to Charlottesville, we headed north to the piedmont area of Washington, Virginia, the "first city of Washington"thusly named.  The tiniest of towns (population 147), it was as though we drove into a scene from a storybook.

We made our way to our final destination, Caldonia Farm, circa 1804, a few miles down the road from Washington, VA.  Caldonia is referred to as the "mythical name" for Scotland, though as the wife of a Scot I can tell you there is nothing mythical about Scotland.  It is as real as you and me!

The proprietor was delightful and we were given the run of the plantation to explore and enjoy.  We immediately decided it was time for a hike!

Stacked stone walls dating back to pre-Revolutionary times still stand tall and strong in the area (that is "Stonewall Gilmour" standing next to one of the walls he helped repair while we were there!).

The home included a main house with a nearby slave quarters/summer kitchen, since turned into a visitors cottage.  We decided we wanted to rest our heads where former slaves had slept, and we indeed spent three nights in the upstairs "slave dorm" (seen here).  It was a cozy cottage, and to Cam's chagrin we encountered no specters from a bygone era.

We hiked the massive grounds following the stacked stone walls around the property.    We happened upon the family cemetery of the original owners of the farm, the Dearings.

Delineated by a sturdy stone wall, we viewed the family headstones of nearly a dozen Dearing family members.  Included in the modest cemetery were small headstones, some with initials carved in them-some without, rested at the foot of the plots.  I thought perhaps they were for children who died at an early age.  I was wrong.

Speaking to the proprietor we learned the small stones were the headstones of the family's slaves.  Apparently in the day, it was a sign of respect and honor for a slave to be buried in the plantation owner's family cemetery.  The Dearings apparently were considered "good" slave owners who provided well for those who cared for the Dearing family and property.

It was a long two weeks of so many sights and experiences.  One cannot in a couple of weeks truly appreciate all that Virginia has to offer.  This was our third trip to the area, but definitely not our last.

Already Old Dominion is calling us back...