Recap of 2013
As is my custom, the January road trip will be a review of the places I visited last year. Complete articles can be found on our website from previous issues, however, not all have been archived yet.
Although it was cold last January, I braved the weather and visited the Bloomery Plantation Distillery just outside of Charleston, West Virginia as my subject for the February issue. This is not a spirits distillery, but an operation for making traditional Limoncello, which does include spirits. The distillery location was once a part of the Willowdale Plantation and the name “Bloomery” comes from the iron works at Bloomery that was once located on the banks of the Shenandoah river that is near the business. Owners Linda Losey and her husband Tom Kiefer bought the property in 2001 and successfully reaped the harvest of their imported lemon trees from Italy. An old log building from around 1840 has been restored and serves as their production space as well as the tasting room. Nice cozy fireplace, perfect for this time of year.
In March I went to the Cross Street Market in Baltimore’s popular Federal Hill. Cross Street Market is not your average market, but more of a gathering place for the locals who live in the community or nearby. At the Charles Street entrance (this place is a block long and under cover) is what might be considered a beer garden. Folks arriving were meeting friends here for a leisurely pint before crossing the sign that read ”No Alcohol Beyond this Point.” The market hosts dozens of vendors selling everything from sushi to steaks, wings to over stuffed sandwiches, fresh seafood and poultry to chocolates and cigars. The produce and flower stands are jam packed with fresh fare. It is a little overwhelming at first, but after you make your initial run through and get the lay of the land, is easy to just go with the flow.
In April I wrote about one of my favorite small towns, Culpeper. When I say small town, I am talking about the historic district, which is comprised of East Davis Street and Main Street (Route 522). There is another part of Culpeper that has the box stores, but I like to just visit the Old Town section. Like Old Town Alexandria, Historic Culpeper is home to unique shops and fine restaurants. The newly renovated State Theater is now featuring national acts as well as business gatherings. The shops and restaurants are unique and there are no two that are exactly alike.
May took me to Solomons, Maryland for the unofficial, official welcoming of summer with the annual opening party at the renowned Tiki Bar. The new palm trees have been brought in and the sand has been regarded after a winter of lying still. Even though the Tiki Bar closes for the winter months, the rest of Solomons Island is open year round and features a diverse selection of restaurants as well as shops. Bordered on one side by the Patuxent River and the other by the Chesapeake Bay, Solomons’ is a point of land that is becoming know as our little Key West and the playground of Alexandria.
In June I took a real road trip and visited Hampton Virginia and Virginia Beach. These two towns are close together geographically, but different in culture. Hampton is steeped in history from the early days of the Revolutionary War to their own Air and Space Museum. At the end of Virginia Peninsula stands Fort Monroe. Built as Old Pointe Comfort between 1819 and 1834, fort Monroe was the largest moat-encircled masonry fortification in North America and was designed to mount 142 cannon. At the Hampton History Museum, explore the chronicle of man in America through the story of this city by the sea from early Native American culture to man’s reach into space. Hampton also sits across the harbor from the largest naval base in the world…Norfolk, Virginia. If your timing is right you might see a new aircraft carrier heading out on deployment or a nuclear submarine returning home.
On the other side of Norfolk and bordering the Atlantic Ocean is the playground of Virginia Beach. To me, Virginia Beach is just a nice pleasant beach resort that seems to lack the chaos of other beach towns. Part of the reason is that most of the beach shops and bars are one block away on their own main drag. Lots of great restaurants and bars abound here as well as some fantastic sculptures along the boardwalk.
July found me driving down through Virginia’s Northern Neck. Avoid Interstate 95 and instead head into Maryland, past Waldorf, across the 301 bridge at the Potomac and into Colonial Beach, Virginia. Colonial Beach is a laid back town that sits on the banks of the lower Potomac River. Showcasing the second largest beach front in Virginia, Colonial Beach was a popular resort town in the early to mid-20th century, before the Chesapeake Bay Bridge made ocean beaches on the eastern shore of Maryland more accessible from D.C. and Northern Virginia. Traveling south you will come to Popes Creek, the birthplace of George Washington. Farther south on Route 3 you will encounter Westmoreland State Park, Stratford Hall, the town of Montross and finally to Coles Point Marina and Troy Claytons’ (owner of Geranio) new restaurant, The Landings.
In the hot month of August I took a drive to Luray Caverns, which sits south of Front Royal in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. I thought this would be a great place to go in the summer because the temperature of the caverns is 54 degrees year round. They forgot to include the humidity factor. The caverns are truly a magnificent creation. The formation of the caverns began after the limestone of the Shenandoah Valley was formed as a result of the inland sea, which took millions of years. The entire cavern is confined to a zone only about 100 feet thick. When I went in August there were hundreds of tourists visiting and our tour group must have been at least 50 people. This is a great time of the year to go…temps are the same but a lot less people.
In September my friend Reed Hellman wrote about a day in the life of the Godiah Spray family in St. Mary’s County, Maryland circa 1661. All of this took place at St. Mary’s City, Maryland. His story included the days activities, dress as well as what was eaten during that period. He even had a few receipts from the day. Until 1695 St. Mary’s City was the capital of he Providence of Maryland, and today is a living working history of that time.
In October I visited the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. As we all know, last July marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. This town is worth the visit. Not only are the battlefields well preserved, but also the rest of the town reflects the importance of where they stand in history. Period restaurants like the Dobbins House Tavern take you back in time. The citizens of Gettysburg, understanding the importance of their town’s role as a symbol for the struggle for a united nations, have resolved to preserve the town’s historic integrity. The result is the combined commitment of local, state and federal government, businesses and townspeople to promote economic growth through historic preservation.
In November I went to where the Blue Ridge Mountains meet the Shenandoah River…Front Royal, Virginia. Front Royal is a relatively large Virginia town, but has at its’ heart the historic district. History abounds here and the pace of life is a bit slower. As spring approaches the mountainsides will be coming alive with the colors of spring. Spring and fall are always the right times to visit these mountain and waterfront towns, however in the winter there are far less visitors and you can set your own pace and have any table you want.
In December, as I always do, I returned to Old Town Alexandria and wrote about her many charms. Full of history and grandeur, there is no place else to be than the annual Scottish Christmas Walk. A city founded by the Scots, Alexandria can sure turn out the bagpipes for the holidays. With a thriving business community, new waterfront plan in discussion and the newly approved MGM casino slated to open across the river in 2016, there is much to look forward to in the future.
Written by: Bob Tagert