Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Spotsylvania Trails

The post-Hurricane Irene weather has been beautiful, and we spent some time yesterday exploring the Salamander Loop of the Ni River Trail in Spotsylvania. This 1.75 mile trail was completed last summer, the first project of the Spotsylvania Greenways Initiative, an organization devoted to creating a system of trails throughout the county. The trailhead is at the rear of the River Run Business Park, just off Rt. 1 across from Massaponax High School. It’s an easy trail through the woods, no huffing and puffing required, suitable for kids and dogs. Nice and shady for a summer walk. And we even saw a salamander.

Below: Shady trail, Farm Pond, wild morning glories.

We’ve also been taking walks on the paths created behind the Lick Run Community Center on Rt. 3 West, on the Mullins Farm property just past Chancellor Elementary. These paths wind through land on which the Battle of Chancellorsville was fought, and there are exhibits and signs along the way that describe how the battle unfolded. The rolling hills are dotted with mature trees, and hundreds of young trees have been planted. Save this walk for a cool day, since it’s mostly open land with little shade.

Below: Lick Run Community Center, history display, rolling farmland.

Monday, May 30, 2011


On the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, we attended the fifteenth annual luminaria at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, honoring fallen American soldiers. A luminary bag with candle is lit for every soldier interred in the cemetery, for a total of 15,300 flickering lights. The idea for this memorial event started with area Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and it’s the scouts who set up the bags, place the small American flags, and light the thousands of candles before dusk. I remember the days when my kids were scouts and we helped set up the site, and I’ve driven past the cemetery on the night of the luminaria before. But this was our first time walking the grounds as darkness fell. Taps are played every half hour, and despite the crowds, a respectful quiet was maintained throughout the cemetery. We avoided the large group tours that were being conducted, and found quieter areas to walk. After the usual cookouts and start-of-summer activities, the luminaria is a moving, peaceful way to commemmorate the day.

Scouts keep the candles lit:

Darkness starts to fall:

A lone Marine bugler plays Taps:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mt. Olympus Farm

On Saturday, in search of a driving destination on a nice day, we settled on what was billed as the “Mt. Olympus Farm Earth Day Festival.” Now, we really weren’t expecting much in the way of a festival, but a drive in rural Caroline County seemed like a good bet. The farm is right off of Rt. 1, near Ruther Glen, and turned out to be very picturesque, with rolling hills and a sizeable lake.

Mt. Olympus Farm is similar to Miller Farms in Spotsylvania County. There are pick-your-own berries, plus a variety of veggies available in season. They also have two large greenhouses with annual and perennial plants for landscaping, herbs and vegetable plants for the garden. Plus, there’s a farm market with fresh produce, preserves, local dairy products, eggs and meats. The farm is family-friendly, with picnic tables and a small play area set up for the kiddies.

Strawberry plants for sale:

The earliest of the farm-grown berries:

The Earth Day Festival featured some local vendors, a few animals, face-painting for the kids, and food for sale. There was nothing particularly Earth Day-ish about the event. Next year, Cub Scouts, you might want to serve your Earth Day burgers in something other than styrofoam containers. And how about recycling bins for the cans and bottles? We sampled a few local treats, and brought home some excellent biscotti made by the Biscotti Fairy.

Biscotti Fairy goodies:

Mama minding her newborn lamb:


and their wool:

Harbinger of things to come:

After strolling around the grounds a bit, we checked out the produce in the market. I was surprised to see so many vegetables displayed with the “Virginia Grown” sign. I’m not naive enough to think that tomatoes and cucumbers were harvested from Virginia fields in April. But I am trusting enough to believe that if the sign says “Virginia Grown,” then somewhere in the state, there’s a greenhouse turning out tomatoes and cukes. When I asked where the veggies came from, it turns out they were trucked up from Florida. When I suggested that the Virginia Grown signs were misleading, I was told that “those are just the signs we use” and that the farm-grown produce would be coming soon. A lovely farm, but they need to get their labeling right.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Historic Garden Tour

April in the Fredericksburg area is the prettiest time of year. The trees with their baby leaves are that lovely apple-green color, and the dogwoods, redbuds and azaleas are in bloom, so even on my shady, deer-munched, untended piece of land, there’s spring color to be found. So it really is a perfect time for Historic Garden Week in Virginia, which includes garden tours in 32 locations, all presented by the Garden Club of Virginia.

The Fredericksburg area’s historic garden tour this year was in Spotsylvania County. Several of the properties were historic, and some were modern subdivision homes, all with varying amounts of landscaping and flower beds. This year’s tour was focused on the homes’ interiors, and on the many beautiful floral arrangements that graced each home, rather than on lush outdoor gardens. The variety of arrangements was an inspiration to me, because while many relied on cut flowers with showy blooms, just as many focused on native woodland plants, flowering trees and shrubs. So even a non-gardener like me could get ideas for filling vases with spring branches and buds and blossoms.

Our first stop on the tour was historic Millbrook. George Washington's sister, Betty Lewis, moved to this property after she was widowed, and could no longer afford the Kenmore mansion. She lived here for two years before her death. Her original house burned down, and this one replaced it in 1836.

The rear garden at Millbrook:

Stevenson Ridge, a B&B, is made up of a number of historic buildings moved to the site for use as guest lodgings and event venues. Riddick House at Stevenson Ridge is a circa 1812 home which was originally part of a North Carolina plantation.

The interior of one of the cozy cottages at Stevenson Ridge:

This home, in the Bloomsbury subdivision, had extensive landscaping, all personally tended by the homeowner, a woman in her 80's:

The front flower bed of another Bloomsbury home:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Savannah Stopover

This year, on our annual trip to visit my mom in Port St. Lucie, Florida (been there, blogged that), we stopped for two nights in Savannah, Georgia. Armed with our invaluable walking tour guidebook ($6 well spent), we spent almost all of our time in the city walking around the downtown historic district, and I can’t remember a city center more picturesque than this one.

The city was laid out in the 1700’s around 8-block wards, with a square at each ward’s center. As the city grew, new squares were added, and today, 22 remain. This means that you can’t walk more than a few blocks before coming to the next square. Each square contains some artistic centerpiece: a statue or monument or fountain, surrounded by well-tended landscaping, brick pathways, and live oak trees draped in Spanish moss. And around each square, the city’s finest civic, commercial and residential structures were built, so that if you sit in a bench in any of the squares, you can just look around in all directions and see the city’s most historic and impressive buildings: a lavish antebellum home here, a church there, a beautiful inn next door.

The historic district is filled with attractions for visitors: historic home tours, history and art museums, trolley tours and carriage rides, shops and restaurants geared to tourists, boat cruises on the Savannah River, and visitor centers scattered throughout. Luckily we were there mid-week in late February, when the tourists weren’t out in force. I would be wary of the place on a sunny Saturday in spring.

The city is also home to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), an institution that has bought up and transformed many of Savannah’s buildings into college spaces, so we did see lots of students out and about. The one thing we didn’t see much of were city residents going about normal, non-tourist activities. Other than businesspeople hovering around a few out-of-place modern office buildings, there didn’t seem to be many locals around town, other than the employees of businesses serving the tourist trade. If Savannah has a tagline, “historic preservation for the tourists” would sum it up well. Tourists or no, as travel destinations go, Savannah is a marvel of history, culture, and natural beauty, all wrapped up in a pedestrian-friendly bow.

This is the trolley tour we took, one of several operating in the historic district. A good way to get a guided orientation before taking off on foot.

Original home to the Savannah Cotton Exchange (c. 1887), one of many historic buildings along the riverfront.

Hamilton-Turner House, c. 1873, now an inn. The city is chock-full of similar historic homes.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, c. 1896. Impressive interior, and no admission fee!

The fountain in Forsyth Park, erected in 1858.

The Olde Pink House restaurant (c. 1789), where we had dinner in a lavishly decorated dining room. And more fountains and gardens and trees and squares...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Burnley & Barboursville Vineyards

On our way to Stanardsville in January, we visited two area vineyards. Our first stop was Burnley Vineyards, a small, home-grown winery established in 1976, with 32 acres of vineyards, and a tasting room in a converted house. We tasted quite a few of their 15 wines, and settled on a Rubix, a port-style dessert wine. An unusual choice for me, because I’m definitely more of a pre-meal drinker than post-meal. But I enjoyed it enough to consider exploring more dessert wines in the future.

The friendly face at the Burnley tasting room.

After Burnley, we stopped at nearby Barboursville Vineyards, a much bigger operation that includes event space and an upscale restaurant. Like Burnley, the winery was founded in 1976, but historic buildings at the site date back to the early 1800’s. One of the historic homes on the property has been turned into an inn, next to the ruins of the original estate, designed by Thomas Jefferson. History plus wine draws a lot of visitors, and I’ve read that on summer weekends, the tasting room is so crowded that it’s impossible to find comfortable room at the tasting bar. We were there on a dead-of-winter weekday, and were two of only a handful of folks in the large room, so we were able to taste lots of wines in a leisurely way. Barboursville has a wine for every taste, but be careful. When a winery has something like 20 wines available for tasting, you really do need to pace yourself if you expect to drive away safely.

Barboursville's large tasting room.

The sign at the ruins says: "Historic landmark designed by Thomas Jefferson for Governor James Barbour. Built 1814; destroyed by fire Christmas Day, 1884."

The 1804 Inn includes this building plus several small restored cottages.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lafayette Inn

January is our anniversary month, and for the past few years, we’ve been taking romantic getaways to historic inns to celebrate. This year, we targeted the Lafayette Inn in beautiful downtown Stanardsville, Virginia. We’d seen it on a brief stop in the town not that long ago, and when friends stayed there overnight and gave it pretty good reviews, we thought we’d give it a try. We went with realistic expectations, and had a lovely visit.

We’ve been to a lot of Virginia inns, many of them quite upscale. Oh, not of the Inn at Little Washington caliber, since that’s way out of our budget. But many places with the pricey antiques and the trillion thread count linens and the spa bathrooms and the his-and-her robes. The Lafayette Inn isn’t quite like that. It’s an old building, owned by a lovely couple trying to provide a quality experience without breaking the bank. So it’s a bit quirky. Some of the antiques are pricey, and some look like Sears circa 1963. No robes, nothing-too-special linens, the room was chilly, the fan in the small bathroom squealed, and the hot water ran out mid-shower. But the hosts were friendly and enthusiastic, they brought us a split of champagne and some gourmet chocolates as a welcome gift, and the gas fireplace worked like a charm. My husband and I have been married for 33 years. We enjoy spending these little getaways together. We’re not overly sensitive to things like noisy plumbing or rumbling street traffic or creaky floorboards. Just give me a room with charm and a working fireplace and a bottle of wine and a good book, and I’ll be happy all day.

There’s nothing much in the town of Stanardsville. We visited a couple of nearby wineries (more about that later), meandered through the Noon Whistle Pottery, and took the 5-minute walking tour of the town. But that’s all we really needed. We enjoyed dinner in the restaurant of the inn, where the innkeepers do most of the cooking, serving up mostly Southern comfort foods with a slightly gourmet touch. We ate till our buttons popped (enormous portions of tender pot roast and braised pork shank), and then were able to just hoist ourselves upstairs to bed.

Our room, the "Jefferson":

The lovely dining room:

Full breakfast in the morning. More diner than gourmet, but filling:

Here's an example of one of the more quirky pieces:

View of not much from the 2nd floor balcony:

The Noon Whistle Pottery:

Another local business:

Stanardsville streetscape: