Road Trip

Pets, Places, & Things, Road Trip

Home for the Holidays 2022!

By Bob Tagert We have been writing Road Trip articles for at least 30 of the almost 35 years we’ve been in publication. They began as a story about a destination near Alexandria. Then we got into Day Tripping when I had my 1974 Fiat Spider which was perfect for a day’s excursion. As our publication grew we expanded our focus and ventured farther out. Most of these involved an overnight stay near the destination and in fact, sometimes the destination was the the place we stayed. Our recent visit to the beautiful Swanendele Inn in Southern Maryland is a good example. A number of years ago we decided to write about our beautiful Old Town Alexandria every December as this is a time to stay home with family and friends…Welcome Home. I will start with a brief history of what it was like when I arrived in 1977. Old Town was approximately six blocks long. It was King Street from the Potomac River to Washington Street. There were a few restaurants on the other side of Washington Street but only a few…the concentration was near the water in the old seaport town which was founded in 1749. Old Town, as we know it today, was in its infancy. The town’s daring merchants transformed a neglected area and gave it a heartbeat. When I arrived, there was live music in almost every restaurant, mostly local folks playing their own music while covering favorite songs for their dedicated customers. Parking was plentiful and pedestrian traffic was minimal…but what a good time! Today, over time and like the Old Town Crier, things have changed. The town is now one of the most vibrant waterfront cities on the east coast. Some of the places that provided music are now gone replaced by more…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Road Trip

Swanendele Inn – A Southern Maryland Gem

By Bob Tagert For this month’s Road Trip we decided to head south in St. Mary’s County to where the water meets the road where our ultimate overnight goal was Swanendele Inn in Ridge. The drive down Maryland Route 5 is about one and a half hours through St. Mary’s County and it takes you past scarred fields from this year’s harvest and the many remaining tobacco Barns from the days when Maryland was a top producer of tobacco. In comparison to those barns standing like headstones to a lost industry, you will pass beautiful Amish farms and maybe catch a wave to an Amish family out for a buggy ride. When we arrived at the town of Ridge we turned into the driveway of the Inn and were met 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. 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 Inn 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 Vicky have lived and worked all over the world in professional capacities. The furnishings and artwork at Swanendele represent the many destinations of their travels. On one of…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Road Trip

Where the Potomac Eagle Rides the Rails – Romney, West Virginia

By Bob Tagert To get a jump on the 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. 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 begins 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 that we encountered 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. Although the foliage was dense in some spots, by the time this column is read, fall will be upon us and the leaves will have started to turn and begin to fall. Since October and November in the West Virginia Highlands will be colder, the viewing will be much better as well as more colorful. 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. The two wooded ridges that define the Trough make it inaccessible…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Road Trip

Glamping at Spacious Skies Shenandoah Valley Campground

By Bob Tagert 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 things 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. Last month we returned to one of our favorite places, the Shenandoah Valley near Luray, Virginia. We are familiar with both sides of the mountain at Thornton Gap since we do the Blue Ridge distribution each month. Our normal route is to come in on the east side at Sperryville and then cross the mountain into Luray. This we did, and when we reached Spacious Skies Shenandoah Valley Campground we discovered that it was only a few hundred feet from Route 340 which runs between Luray and Front Royal. When we returned home we took Route 340 north to Front Royal and then picked up Interstate-66. This reduced the driving time substantially. A very pleasant discovery. We like to take every back road possible on our treks to Road Trip destinations and then the “fastest” way back on the trip home. The good thing about “Waze” and GPS is that you can pick and choose part of your route coming and going. The Grounds. Spacious Skies Shenandoah Valley is a serene slice of heaven, conveniently located just 20 minutes off 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…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Road Trip

Mountain Lake Lodge…More Than Just the Home of Dirty Dancing

By Bob Tagert That is, the movie Dirty Dancing! With the 1987 iconic movie celebrating its 35th year along with young people and dance, we decided to take our Road Trip to the primary filming location. Most of us are familiar with the movie and when we had the chance to visit and stay at the site of the movie we took advantage of the invitation. 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, VA. Nearby is the campus of Virginia Tech, the New River, 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 and surrounded by an old growth forest. The stone lodge is very impressive on first sight and more so after entering the beautiful hotel. We checked in and they gave us directions to our cottage in the center of the compound. We were given a cottage named Norfolk. All of the cottages and cabins have names from back in the days they were built. Our accommodations were very comfortable and complete with a balcony overlooking the volley ball and badminton courts, the two pools, Baby’s cottage and in the distance the dried up lake (we will get to that shortly). The cottage included a king size bed, stone fireplace and a jacuzzi tub. The tub came in handy after a day of kayaking on the New River. Even though the evenings were cool, it didn’t warrant a wood fire in the evening, however we did…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Road Trip

Fells Point – Our Favorite Part of Charm City

By Bob Tagert With gas prices still high, we decided to take a road trip closer to home. About 55 miles north-east of Alexandria you can find Fells Point along the Patapsco River near Baltimore, Maryland. In 1726, English Quaker, William Fell bought land he named Fell’s Prospect. This eventually became Fells Point and it appears that you can spell it Fell’s or Fells. I’m going with use Fells. My relationship with Fells Point began over 30 years ago when I crewed on the Patricia Divine, a two-masted schooner, in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. The race actually starts in Annapolis and ends along the waterfront at the Norfolk Mall in Norfolk, Virginia. The boats gather in the Patapsco River around Fells Point a day or two before the race to prep for the great race. This is how I first discovered Fells Point. Looking ahead to a few days on the water racing we all 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 takes 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. Bertha’s was established in 1972 when the area was run down and trying to find its way…similar to the situation in Old Town Alexandria around…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Road Trip

An Afternoon in Old Town Winchester

By Bob Tagert Another month and another Road Trip to explore what lies beyond Old Town Alexandria. Since I arrived in Old Town some 45 years ago there have been many changes, but none like what we have seen in the past two years. In that short time the closing of the 100 block of King Street occurred and the beginnings of a pedestrian mall, so to speak, was created. This was not a sudden epiphany, but had been studied for years. The cause and effect of the pandemic hurried things along. Although the end effect of the street closure and additional outdoor space for businesses is yet to be determined, we decided to take a road trip to Winchester, Virginia and visit their Walking Mall. It shows that Winchester encountered some of the same issues that Alexandria faces now in the beginning. In the early 1970’s Loudoun Street was the heart of Winchester’s shopping district. A few of the downtown businessmen 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.     Like Old Town Alexandria, poor downtown drainage resulted in frequent occurrences of high water along the newly created pedestrian mall. The mall remained in a state of flux until 2013 when the city replaced the downtown’s underground water system, which at the time was the third oldest in the United States. Today, the Loudoun Street Mall features cultural events, concerts, outdoor screenings of classic movies, lamp posts with banners displaying works by local artists, holiday celebrations and much more. There is a Civil War Museum and many historical locations throughout the Mall as well in the blocks surrounding it. We went to…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Road Trip

Fairies, Gnomes, Otters and Rays: It’s Family Day In Solomons

By Lani Gering This month our Road Trip to Solomons is taking a little bit of a turn. Instead of highlighting the cool bars and restaurants and the fun shops and waters sport activities we normally do when writing about this little Oasis, we focused on two amazing family oriented destinations in Southern Maryland – Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center and the Calvert Marine Museum. We thought this would be fitting since we celebrate Mom this month and Mom means Family. Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center Annmarie is most certainly a magical place even when the Fairy House and Gnome Home exhibits are gone. Fortunately for you, however, 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 addition 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. Currently there are 30 pieces on loan featuring the works of Antonio Tobias Mendez, Barbara Hepworth, Cesar, Robert Engman, Jean Arp, Kenneth Snelson and Francisco Zuniga. The Arts Building is virtually a rotating exhibit space with an Art Lab for children to create in and a very eclectic gift shop and a sunny patio. Classes for all ages and abilities are offered in the Studio School. Everything from pottery to dance is taught by professional artists and educators. Be sure to check their website for the many events and classes that are offered. This is also where you check in and pick up your map for the walk. I was fortunate to be able to visit…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Road Trip

Rehoboth Beach and the Boardwalk Plaza – It’s Good to be Back!

By Bob Tagert In an uncertain world where everything seems to change daily, we decided to take a road trip to a true constant…Rehoboth Beach and the ever constant Atlantic Ocean. I can remember the years of going to Ocean City, Maryland and then Rehoboth Beach to enjoy the sunshine and the beach activities. Today I have grown into more of a spectator than participant but the consistency of the ocean rushing onto the beach and then receding has not changed while the world around us seems to be falling apart at times. The sun and the moon still rise every 24 hours over the beautiful Atlantic Ocean. That magic and romance we felt back then is still there today although a bit more jaded. In time measured it is clear that we change much quicker than the world around us and that is why a return trip to mother ocean is necessary. Our weather window of March 16-18 looked to cover all the bases. 70 degrees and sunny on the 16th, 50 degrees and rainy on St. Patrick’s Day and another 70+ degree day for the return drive on the 18th. After a late morning start we took a pleasant window-down drive from Old Town and arrived at our destination just in time to check into the beautiful Boardwalk Plaza Hotel. This was not our first trip to the Plaza as we have visited before and there seems to be no reason to look for any other accommodations. The Plaza Hotel is perfectly located on the boardwalk and only two blocks from Rehoboth Avenue…the main drag. With the aforementioned spectator mentality, we find mid-March to the end of April to be a perfect time to go. Prices are reduced, accommodations are plentiful and street parking is free. Another bonus…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Road Trip

Leonardtown, Maryland – ReDiscover a most exceptional place!

By Bob Tagert With spring right around the corner, we thought we would take a road trip to Leonardtown, Maryland, which is in and is the county seat of St. Mary’s County. For many years, Leonardtown has been famous for sponsoring the annual oyster-shucking championships that are held annually 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. In 1708 Phillip Lynes, then Mayor of St. Mary’s City, Maryland’s colonial capital, designated fifty acres of land at the head of “Brittons Bay” to be divided into 100 lots. He further ordered that one lot be set aside for a courthouse to be built at an expense not to exceed 12,000 pounds of tobacco. Maryland’s history of the tobacco trade is preserved today with the preservation of many tobacco barns that dot the countryside. Twenty years later this plot of land was named Leonard Town in honor of Benedict Leonard Calvert, who was Maryland’s governor during this period. In the decades that followed, Leonard Town became the place where local residents conducted their official business with the colony. Farm products were regularly shipped through the port at Breton Bay. Today, Historic Leonardtown (the names were combined during the Civil War) 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 openings of several new restaurants and businesses, some which are located in historic buildings. Keeping it traditional, there is an order Mennonite farming community located a few miles to the northwest, where community members sell furniture, crafts, produce, and other homemade/homegrown products. The ever changing Leonardtown Wharf is open…

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