Wednesday, May 16, 2007


This is one of those vacation we should have done with the kids but were too broke to accomplish. And I was afraid I'd kill the boys. I remember well the long drive to Washington DC and back with them. I remember Mr Wonderful (aka Mr Cheap??) paying for an adjoining room in Scranton when we were too tired to make the final push for home just to get a few hours on the other side of a wall from the little charmers. By then we were lucky they were still alive. Dan walked into rush hour DC traffic, just stepped off the curb without even noticing, oh, THE LIGHT? The CARS?? Eric beat on Dan anyplace too public for me to murder him. Girl ... well, actually Girl I don't remember as doing anything which means she either quietly instigated all of the above, or she was just "Being Girl". I think when you're the youngest of four and the other three are all boys it's almost easy to be good. If nothing else you can sit back and remark to yourself on the incredible stupidity of people who actually think mom the nature lover won't notice that they're throwing pebbles at squirrels on the Mall.
Yesterday began at the foot of Skyline Drive at a place called Skyline Caverns. This was a nice one-mile walking tour through a living cave environment. At once point we were 300 feet below the surface, under the Blue Ridge. You're not allowed to touch anything as your body oils will inhibit the growth of formations that occur in the cave. This is the only not-horrible image from the experience. Really glad I bought the ViewMaster. I love ViewMaster. We learned about cave formation in a whopping group of four which was really nice. We got there at opening. We were followed by a huge tour bus that disgorged a significant number of tourists (like we're not?). Anyone who's ever worked in retail, be it donut shop or cavern knows the small shudder of fear that enters your body when you see a tour bus. It's a love-hate thing. They come, they have a great time (and you make sure they do!), they shop like mad, they leave. But they're usually not a particularly quiet group of folks which can be disruptive to people who are not part of their group. I was shakin' in my shoes that we'd be tacked onto their group. The wonderful young lady at the register assured Mr Wonderful (who looked green at the sign of the bus) that we'd tour alone after the tour group had gone on ahead. The caves are beautiful. One warning - twice during the tour the lights go out completely, only for a few seconds. This can freak some people out, especially small children. It really did not bother me which I found odd. And the tour ends with 24 stairs, which I found refreshing and rewarming, but not everyone would agree.
Next we headed up Skyline Drive, which is a National Park Service road that runs the length of the Blue Ridge's northern end. The drive affords lovely views, camping and other activities, wildlife in abundance; nature just an arms reach from your auto window. Sadly I found it stifling after years of hiking in the woods with no cars or roads or guys in uniforms. It felt canned and un-natural. Like nature in a box, all tidy and kept in line by the park service and the long snake of blacktop running through the midle. There's lots to do and see, and it'd be a great plae to spend a summer vacation with outdoor kids. There are cabin rentals, horseback rides, educational exhibits. The Applachain trail runs along the ridge as well and crosses over the drive at many points along the route. Bikes are not allowed anywhere but on paved roadways. The roadways are narrow and lack a breakdown lane. And there are hills. And I hates hills. But, if you're into that kind of thing, the fee to use the drive is cheaper per week than a club membership. We say some pretty serious cyclists climbing some pretty serious hills.
Our next stop melted my little heart right out of my body. I have a bit of a love for a particular wine and a particular winery. Barboursville Winery is well-known in the region; my favorite wine is called Octagon, which has won all sorts of awards, and most recently was served to the Queen on her visit to Williamsburg. (I want a t-shirt printed that says "I loved Octagon before the Queen drank it.") She had the 2001 vintage which I just happen to have in my cellar. The place is just beautiful. All the romantic images of wine country and horse country rolled into one. An exceptional restaurant (closed Tuesdays, wound't you know??) and guest cottages make is a wonderful location to stay. We did not stay, but I did taste. In all I tasted 16 wines. (Sips. And lots of water. That's how.) I found new loves. Their Nebbiolo Reserve should not be missed. For foodees I can see it paired with a nice charred piece of meat. Also the Cabernet Franc Reserve. And the Chardonnay Reserve which is oaked for a bit which totaly changes the wine and imparts more of the complex flavors I love. The Reisling was good as well, off-dry, so more to my taste. The dessert wines were...well...I would not buy a bottle of either. There were two and neither stayed in my brain. They made me miss the Nebbiolo and the Octagon.
During the tasting Mr Wonderful wandered a bit and took some pictures. I was going pretty slow. I am 4'11". 16 wines is a lot, even sipping. Every once in a while he'd come back in and ask how many more we had to go and the guy would send him back out to pet the horses (no joke, he told him to run away and play). He did, and they bonded. After tasting I immediately placed a phone call to my favorite procurer of the grape and gave her a list. I found out that the Massachusetts sales rep has left his position. Back into the shop I went and asked a few questions. I came away with the business card of the sales manager for the winery, so there is hope. I sense that the popularity of the product will increase since the Queen's little visit. I hope I am justified, because I love the stuff. While on the phone I chatted with Mr Wonderful's new buddies. By the way...there's still four bottles of the '01 Octagon at Ryan and Casey Liquors in Greenfield. Just sayin'. And also she's got the Malvaxia which has become so scarce that it's no longer on the tasting menu. It's a dessert wine, but a good one. Feels like honey in your mouth and finishes very clean as if it'd never been there at all. The tasting notes say something about pineapple, but all I get is this luscious sweet apricot flavor.
Next we drove to Monticello, the Virginia estate of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, third president of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia. That's his self-written epithat. I'd add slave-owner and intemperate nut-job. But then the brilliant ones always are, aren't they? He had a long relationship with one Sally Hemmings, a slave. Upon his death he freed five of her brothers. The tour narrator points out that all five of them had been well-trained while owned by Jefferson, and left fully able to support themselves as a result. I am not sure how this knowledge is supposed to mollify. It is theorized that he fathered all six of her children. While he lived in his lovely estate home with his white daughter and 11 white grandchildren, his other kids were growing up in the cabins, slaves, with their enslaved mother. He was aware of the dichotomy but did nothing to change the situation. One could argue that his contributions outweigh the abuses. I'm a big fan of the Declaration myself, having been lucky enough to be born here and lived a life under the red white and blue, most of it blissfully unaware of the luxury and priviledge I daily take for granted. But it seems sad that his legacy is tainted by his inability to take on the issue of true freedom head-on. He owned human beings. He also died in debt, and the entire estate and furnishings and all were sold, including most of his personal effects. At tour's end we drive past the gravesite of Jefferson and various relatives. I wanted to ask how many graves bore the name of Hemmings, but I already know the answer.
We headed further south east, and landed at Williamsburg, Virginia from whence I write this post. Today we visit Colonial Williamsburg, and possibly Williamsburg Winery, which we can apparently include in a 12 mile bike loop that runs right past our hotel. I think. Anyway It's close enough for a little drive to jump on the bikes!

1 comment:

Persnickety said...

Interesting post. Sounds like a great trip. I'll have to look for that Octagon wine.