Monday, February 17, 2014

A Jewel in the Valley


I inherited wanderlust from my mother. If I had my way, I would travel somewhere half of my life, and use the other half planning the trips. And although a 100 mile drive to Staunton, Virginia for a weekend doesn’t exactly qualify as globetrotting, it was a lot cheaper than Paris.

Pam and I celebrated Valentine’s Day at a marvelous Hotel called the Frederick House.  It’s actually more like a Bed and Breakfast, only it is made up of three separate houses that provide over 25 rooms. Our accommodations in the Patrick House were a huge two room suite, beautifully furnished and appointed with everything except a coffee-maker, my only complaint of the weekend.

At this point I should mention what a trooper my wife is. She woke up Thursday morning, the day before our trip with a cold which only got worse Friday, the day of our departure. Instead of just staying at home and resting, she chose to go, figuring that if she was going to be sick all weekend, she might as well be staying in a beautiful hotel. Despite much sneezing and coughing and general icky-ness, she soldiered on, outside, in 30 degree weather, walking everywhere we went without one complaint. What a woman!

Staunton is a small town in the Shenandoah Valley that was once the frontier of our state, since it was where the railroad ended. It was a supply dump for the Confederate army during the Civil War, but oddly no battle was ever fought there which had the happy result of preserving its beautiful Victorian mansions built mostly by rich railroad men. Today it has a population of 24,000 souls, and if our trip experiences are a fair representation, all of them love their city. Everyone we encountered and I do mean everyone, from the owners of the Frederick House, to the guy behind the counter at the visitor’s center, to the guy who drove the 25 cent trolley, to random people on the streets; all were as friendly and helpful as people could possibly be, each of them clearly proud of their town, and for good reason.

We arrived around 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon; 24 hours after the town got pelted with 18 inches of snow. Not only were practically all of the downtown streets plowed but most of the sidewalks as well. I was surprised at how hilly the place was, but despite the tricky terrain, the city government had the streets safe for cars and pedestrians in less than 24 hours.

So, what is it that one does in Staunton, Virginia for two days, you might ask? Here goes, and try to keep up:

  1. Had a terrific dinner at Aioli’s, a Mediterranean restaurant, a short walk from our room.
  2. Went to a play, Shakespeare’s As You Like It, performed by a superbly talented group of actors and musicians at the Blackfriars playhouse, a Globe Theatre replica built back in 2001.
  3. Took a tour of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and birthplace.
  4. Walked through the newly redecorated Stonewall Jackson hotel.
  5. Toured two Museums
  6. Took a trolley ride around and through the city with stops at the most memorable buildings and homes.
  7. Walked the length of Beverly Street, the major boulevard in downtown, and probably the biggest reason that Staunton was voted by Smithsonian magazine as one of the best small towns in America. Beautiful, clean and entertaining.
  8. Took in a movie at one of those old downtown movie theatres that only has a couple of screens, and tons of legroom!
  9. Had a fabulous lunch at the Clocktower, and delicious lasagna at Emilio’s.
  10.  The Frederick House provided breakfast each day, which was amazing. The menu was printed on the back of their coffee mugs and featured only 6 choices, but the four that we tried were perfectly prepared.
  11.  Attended a glass blowing demonstration at a place called Sunspots.

My best story of the weekend involved me losing my gloves. I absentmindedly left them on the seat beside me during my first trolley ride. An hour later we stood at the trolley stop hoping that we would get the same driver and trolley as before. When I got back on, three women were sitting right next to the gloves and asked me if they were mine. They seemed so relieved that I had found them. If that had happened in downtown Richmond, in an hour’s time those gloves would have already been exchanged for crack!

So, once again Pam and I discover another jewel of a town in the Valley. How blessed we are to live in this state?