2022 In the Rear View Mirror
By Bob Tagert
As is our practice every January, we revisit our Road Trips from the previous year. In 2022 we were finally able to hit the road with less worry about masking up and the stigma of the pandemic lightened up. Whew!
February – Harrisonburg, VA
February found us on the road to Harrisonburg in the central Shenandoah Valley of the Commonwealth. The city has come to represent a large community of ethnic and linguistic diversity in recent years. Over 1,900 refugees have been settled in Harrisonburg since 2002. Language learning software Rosetta Stone was founded in Harrisonburg in 1992 and the multilingual “Welcome Your Neighbor” yard sign originated in Harrisonburg in 2016. This part of the Commonwealth is home to James Madison University and Massanutten Ski Resort. It is also in close proximity to the Shenandoah Wine Trail wineries and lots of outdoor activities. The food scene in Harrisonburg is as diverse as its residents – a good place for you “foodies” to visit.
March – Leonardtown, Maryland
We decided to “Rediscover a most Exceptional Place”…Leonardtown. Many of you may recognize the name Leonardtown since it is famous for sponsoring the annual oyster-shucking championships held at the St. Mary’s County fairgrounds. Although most of Southern Maryland is surrounded by water, the only water access to Leonardtown is Breton Bay which leads to the Potomac River.
Today, historic Leonardtown remains the only incorporated municipality in St. Mary’s County with its own elected mayor and town council. The town is experiencing a renaissance of its downtown as witnessed by the recent and continued openings of several new restaurants and businesses, some which are located in historic buildings. The ever changing Leonardtown Wharf is open as a public attraction for both locals and tourists, Facilities for boating, kayaking and canoeing are in place and future additions are in the works. Be sure you check out all of the murals that abound in the small town.
April – Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel
In an uncertain world where everything seems to change daily, we decided to take a trip to a true constant…Rehoboth Beach and the ever constant Atlantic and the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel. The Boarwalk Plaza is perfectly located on the boardwalk and only two blocks from Rehoboth Avenue…the main drag. The early spring is a great time to go as prices are reduced, accommodations are plentiful and street parking is free. Another bonus is that children are still in school and the whole vibe is laid back with a peaceful easy feeling about it all.
As you enter the Plaza you will be created by a doorman who will help you with your luggage and get you squared away at the front desk. This is when you will notice the other reception committee. A trio of parrots…Emro, Peanut and Moose. Chances are good that Emro will be busy working at the front desk perched on a computer screen while Moose (the smallest bird)may be prancing on top of his cage looking for attention and Peanut (the largest) will be quietly observing everything from his perch while letting out an occasional whistle and offering an off-hand comment ever so often.
After checking in with the welcoming committee, we took the elevator to the fourth floor and our ocean front room. There are only four floors to the hotel and the fourth floor is reserved for adults only, which in the summer months is a bonus. The rooms are spacious with every comfort that you will need. The fourth floor also has access to the roof where there is a very nice hot tub. The Plaza is a full service hotel featuring a large indoor/outdoor spa pool. Victoria’s Restaurant is award-winning and is one of the only ones in Rehoboth open for breakfast, lunch and dinner 365 days a year.The Pub and restaurant have outdoor dining right on the boardwalk.
May – Fairies, Gnomes, Otters and Rays – Solomons, Maryland
As some of you who read us often, you know that we distribute the Old Town Crier to Solomons and St. Mary’s County in southern Maryland. On this trip to southern Maryland we visited two amazing family oriented destinations – the Annemarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center and the Calvert Marine Museum. Annmarie is most certainly a magical place even when the Fairy House and Gnome Home exhibits are gone. Fortunately, they will be on display during the month of May throughout the ¼ mile walking path that meanders through the woods on this 30 acre property. There are both adult and children’s creations set up in various sections. In additions to these whimsical exhibits, there are some very impressive sculptures in several mediums. Some of the sculptures are permanent while others are on loan from the Smithsonian Institution and the National Gallery of Art.
Anyone who knows me very well knows that I’m not exactly the first person to want to go to a museum. However, this is one I could visit a couple of times a month if I lived closer. Why?? Because of the resident otters – Chessie Grace, Chumley and Calvert. These three entertainers are river otters so they are different than most of the ones you see in those cute Facebook posts. Those are most often sea otters who are two to three times the size of River otters and are the ones who float on their backs when at the waters surface. River Otters swim belly down and remain in that position when they are at the surface. These guys put on a show in their outdoor “pool” on a daily basis and worth the trip alone.
June – An Afternoon in Another Old Town – Winchester, VA
In the last two years, Old Town Alexandria has been tweaking their pedestrian walkway in lower King Street. Last year we decided to visit Winchester and visit their Walking Mall. It showed us that Winchester had faced some of the same issues that Alexandria was encountering. In the early 1970’s Loudoun Street was the heart of Winchester’s shopping district. A few of the downtown businesses came up with the idea of converting the street into a two block pedestrian walkway. An advisory board was created to oversee the special district, In 1974, the Loudoun Street Walking Mall was born. Today the Loudoun Street Mall features cultural events, concerts, outdoor screenings of classic movies, lamp posts with banners displaying weeks by local artist, holiday celebrations and much more.
There is a Civil War Museum and many historical locations throughout the Mall as well as in the blocks surrounding it. We went to visit the Mall during the week as we understood that it is pretty crowded on weekends. The first thing I noticed was the four Autopark’s around the Mall which provided abundant sheltered parking at a very low $1 per hour rate. One of the out popular events to happen in Winchester is the annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival. This year it happens from April 28 to May 7. Make sure you check it out. Also if you are a country music fan, you can tour the home where Patsy Cline grew up.
July – Our favorite part of Charm City – Fells Point, MD
Fells Point is located along the Patapsco River near Baltimore.. In 1726, English Quaker, William Fell bought land he named Fell’s Prospect. This eventually became Fell’s Point. I first discovered Fell’s Point when I crewed on the Schooner Patricia Divine in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race from Annapolis to Norfolk, Virginia. Fells Point was the gathering point for out boats before the morning parade to Annapolis for the start. Looking forward to a few days of round-the-clock racing, we took a little liberty and visited the town of small shops, restaurants and an array of really cool bars. We spent the majority of the night at the Cat’s Eye Pub, truly a sailor’s kind of place. Back then, the area was undergoing a revitalization period and the results show today. The main attraction is still the selection of watering holes and restaurants along Thames Street, the main drag. Like Old Town Alexandria, they have all adjusted to the additional outdoor dining space (result of the pandemic protocols) that take up former parking spots. There are also a number of fine establishments a block or two off of Thames Street. One of these popular places is Bertha’s Mussels. Berthas was established in 1972 when the area was run down and trying to find its way…similar to the struggles in Old Town Alexandria around that tie.
At one end of Thames Street you will find places like Duda’s Tavern, Fells Point Tavern, The Horse You Came In On, and Bayou Blues. In the next block you will find the likes of Kooper’s Tavern, Waterfront Hotel Bar (WTF Waterfront Tavern), Thames Street Oyster House and the Cat’s Eye. This is what legitimate Pub Crawl organizers dream about! If you decide to stay the night, check out the Admiral Fell Inn!
August – Mountain Lake Lodge: More than Just the Home of Dirty Dancing – Pembroke, VA
That is, the movie Dirty Dancing! With the 1987 iconic movie celebrating its 35th year, we decided to take our Road Trip to the primary filming location most of us are familiar with – Mountain Lake Lodge. Don’t be fooled, however, there is so much more to Mountain Lake Lodge than Dirty Dancing fame.
Mountain Lake Lodge is located in the southwest mountains of Virginia in Pembroke. Nearby is the campus of Virginia Tech, the New River, the Appalachian Trail and plenty of mountains. At approximately 4,000 feet on Salt Pond Mountain you will find the stone lodge, rustic cabins and cozy cottages that make up Mountain Lake Lodge. Upon our arrival, after a winding uphill climb, we arrived at the lodge nestled in a bowl at top of the mountain and surrounded by the old growth forest. The stone lodge is very impressive on first sight and more so after entering the beautiful hotel. We checked in and were given directions to our cottage in the center of the complex. Our accommodations were very comfortable and complete with a balcony over looking the volleyball and badminton courts, the two pools, Baby’s cottage and in the distance the dry lake.
If you are familiar with the Dirty Dancing movie, you will remember the classic lift scene in the lake. When we arrived at Mountain Lake I began looking for the lake but could not find it. The lake was in a drying stage. My disappointment turned into appreciating the wonders of nature as I learned that Mountain Lake was in a cleansing cycle that had been going on for six thousand years. The lake is estimated to be about 6,000 years old, and geologists believe it must have been formed by rock slides and damning.Because of the narrow channels, or fissures, in the lake bottom, the level has a history of changing dramatically depending on the water flow through these channels. The lake is more than 100 feet deep when the lake is filled. There is water very close and kayaking and tubing on the New River is a great added adventure available to guests at the Lodge. They have partnered with Paul Moody and his on-the-water venture…The New River’s Edge.
September – Glamping in the Shenandoah Valley with Spacious Skies – Luray, VA
So what is Glamping? Glamping is short for “glamorous camping” and has become a mainstay of outdoor recreation over the past decade. If your essential list contains thins such as a real mattress, running water or an actual toilet, you can still find numerous options that bridge the gap between traditional camping and the comforts of home. Spacious Skies is a serene slice of heaven, conveniently located just 20 minutes off of I-81 and about four miles from Skyline Drive and Thornton Gap. The complex is nestled in the farmland atop a hill. Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, the views are spectacular. The campground is close to Luray Caverns, the famed Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, the Shenandoah River and several Civil War sites. In addition to camp sites and the Yurts they also offer both shaded and open sites that can accommodate all sized RV’s and trailers and they are big rig friendly. Each site includes a picnic table, fire ring, 30 or 50-amp electrical services and sewer. They have deluxe patio sites and deluxe tent sites as well. The Yurt comprises the “glamorous” part of Glamping. “Yurt”- a circular domed tent of skins or felt stretched over a collapsible lattice framework and used by pastoral peoples of inner Asia. Instead of animal kins our yurt was canvas covered with a front door and two flap Windows that are screened. The yurt we were in was approximately 21-feet in diameter with a clear dome on top with a ceiling fan in the center. There is a bathroom with a sink, shower and toilet, a kitchen nook with entail utensils, a fridge, microwave and the ubiquitous Keurig coffee maker and it is air-conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter. The queen size bed was in the middle and there were also two very comfortable chairs at the foot of the bed. For about $120 a night you have the sense of being a “real” camper with the basics comfort of home. Lots of other amenities abound at Spacious Skies Shenandoah.
October – Riding the Rails on the Potomac Eagle, Romney, WV
To get a jump on folks seeking fall foliage in October, we hopped on the Potomac Eagle for a leisurely trip through the heart of the West Virginia Potomac Highlands and the South Branch of the Potomac River in Romney, West Virginia. The vintage diesel locomotive took us on a three hour round trip ride through the beautiful mountains and fields that border the South Branch of the Potomac. The journey begin at Wappocomo Station located next to a charming homestead and a sprawling view of the mountains. Once you get out of the station, the train tracks are about 25 to 50 feet back from the river. The summer foliage (September) was still thick and made for difficult views of the river except when the train came to the occasional clearing and then views of the rapids and kayakers were spectacular. Soon the fields and pastures began to disappear as the mountains closed in on the river from both sides. We had entered a part of the canyon named The Trough. The Trough is a 6-mile long wooded gorge carved by the river as it continues northwestern course with several bends in the river and large boulders dislocated from the ridges above dotting its shores. The steep slopes of the Trough are forested primarily with oaks, hickories, Virginia pine and large quantities of paw paw, with several rock outcrops visible on both sides of the river. The two wooded ridges that define the Trough make it inaccessible from either side. Entry into the Trough is only by the South Branch Valley Railroad, by boat or on foot. The area is also well known as perfect habitat for Bald Eagles. The rock outcrops as well as tall trees make for perfect, protected nesting for the Eagles and the river provides their favorite food…fish.
The entire trip is accompanied by a live narration. Not only is the history interesting but the narrator can point out eagle nests on the other side of the river. Binoculars certainly make for better viewing. On our return trip we had a young bald eagle keep pace with the train as he flew alongside up the river…therefore the name Potomac Eagle. Potomac Eagle offers 7 different types of trips with pricing at all levels so there is something for every budget. There are dining options that range from the snack bar and a Box lunch to a 4-course meal served in a luxurious Club Car during the ride.
November – Swanendele Inn: A Southern Maryland Gem –Ridge, MD
For our November Road Trip we ventured to the end of St. Mary’s County Maryland to the town of Ridge and the elegant Swanendele Inn. When we arrived at the Inn we were greeted by owner Gerald Meyerman. This proper Dutchman walked with us to the front entrance and explained that Swanendele was Dutch for “Valley of Swans” and named after the resident pair of swans that call Saint Jerome Creek home. The property was purchased in 2001 by Meyerman and his wife Victoria O’Hara – Alexandria residents at the time. The couple were impressed by the natural beauty of St. Mary’s County and the property features 800 feet of waterfront on St. Jerome Creek. The couple planned and built the Inn between professional assignments overseas, resulting in the opening of Swanendele in June of 2019.
Although the Inn resembles a beautiful building from yesteryear, the house also features modern systems and conveniences, including geothermal heating and cooling, ultraviolet filters in all air handling units while preserving the warmth of a large loved and lived in family home. Both Gerald and Vicki have lived and worked all over the world in professional capacities. The furnishings and artwork at Swandndele represent the many destinations of their travels.
As we continued our walk with Gerald we found our way to the front entrance of the Inn. Set at a slight angle, the entrance seemed smaller than the actual size of the Inn. This illusion quickly faded as we ascended the stairs and entered the main room. A large two-sided stone fire place greeted us. Either looking straight through the hearth of the fireplace or a little to either side you could see the wooded lawn and St. Jerome Creek through the glass wall on the other side of the room. This place is massive with verandas as well as wrap around porches. The suites and bedrooms are on the second floor and appear to wrap around the main room where a balcony encircles the entire floor. The bedrooms are large and well-appointed with every convenience you can think of. The views of the property are breathtaking from the pine tree studded grounds to the serene views of Jerome Creek with oyster men plying their trade. Swanendele is an exceptional property run by exceptional people and it resides where it should…at Lands End.
December – Home for the Holidays – Old Town Alexandria
In December we stayed home as is the tradition and wrote about our home town, Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. Her story has been in these pages each month for the last 35 years! Come Visit!
We are looking forward to many new adventures and treks to places we haven’t featured as well as some visits to those that we haven’t been to in a while!
Note: These are brief descriptions of each road trip from last year. If you want to read the complete columns go to our online version at oldtowncrier.com and pull them up from the archives.