The Caves Visit Colonial Williamsburg

BPS08112016_0001TRAVEL BUG TALES:  MY FIRST STAY AT A RESORT

I still remember my wonder as my family’s baby blue Pontiac pulled up to our accommodations in Colonial Williamsburg.  A little browsing around the internet leads me to believe we stayed at what is now called the Williamsburg Woodlands, a budget-minded choice for families, but to me it seemed like Waldorf Astoria.  Let me tell you about it.

Bellmen and Multiple Pools

As I said last week, my family was not the resort type.  We usually stayed in Holiday Inns.  These practical motels would have a few two-story buildings clustered beside the road around a modest pool.  Some would be a little bit nicer than others, but it was very, very low key.

The colonial part of Williamsburg is tightly controlled by a foundation.  This protects the authenticity of the historical city, but it also keeps Holiday Inns at bay.  I remember Mother being almost frantic about our arrival at, what was then called, the Colonial Williamsburg Resort Motel or some other similar name.  She’d been nervous about the expense of staying at the resort, but she felt the proximity to the historical attractions justified it.

I’d been traveling with my parent’s for over a decade by this time, but we’d never had a bellhop deliver us and our luggage to our room.  I remember my father getting out of the car to check us in and then being escorted through the property by a uniformed bell hop.  I wasn’t even sophisticated enough to understand this was a big deal, but I do remember being absolutely blown away by the property.  There were multiple pools and each one was huge.  The property featured many walkways, inviting benches in shady nooks and amenities like croquet and tennis.  I knew I was living the high life.

When we reached our room I wasn’t quite as impressed as I had been with the other parts of the property, because our room looked a lot like our Holiday Inn rooms.  It didn’t phase me too much, because  I was all for taking a swim in one of the pools I’d seen, but my parents were beat.  This was the day we nearly lost Susan at Mount Vernon, so they’d already had about all the monkey business they wanted out of us.  Instead of swimming, we got cleaned up and headed to the cafeteria…yes, I said cafeteria.

The property had a huge cafeteria serving meals for the budget-minded.  We’re talking trays with partitioned sections to separate the various foods on your plate and a slot for your silverware, just like many schools use.  The tabletops were Formica and you picked up your condiments at a station very much like fast food restaurants have today.  I was getting less and less impressed with this resort.  Perhaps they had a nice restaurant tucked away somewhere, but my family never went there.

I was dying to check out the pools and other amenities, but I knew the drill.  Once we had our baths there would be no swimming.  We’d gotten cleaned up to go eat and we were supposed to stay that way for the next day.  I’m sure I was displaying all kinds of teen-aged angst, but in truth I was never much of a rebel.  We’d been promised that we could swim the next day, but that didn’t pan out either.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you why.

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The Hofburg Palace Treasury

3V T (14)TRAVEL THERE: HOW DO YOU SPELL EXCESS?

Exiting from the Hofburg’s Imperial Apartments in Vienna, we discovered it was still raining on our parade.  A little morning precipitation had been disheartening.  To discover drizzle still dominating the day was downright frustrating.

Mourning the Loss of Plan A

I know my husband.  It’s all well and good to spend a few hours in a museum and the Imperial Apartments were extraordinarily fine museums, but I’d better have something else besides museums on the agenda.

Plan A was designed with just that in mind.  Next door to the palace is the Volksgarten.  We’re talking European next door, not American.  That means right across a small street from the exit of the Imperial Apartments is this popular garden.  We were supposed to catch our breath from all that royal grandeur in a lovely garden which just happened to have a coffee kisok right there.  It was perfect or at least it should have been.

The glorious Volksgarten is not so inviting in the pouring rain.

The glorious Volksgarten is not so inviting in the pouring rain.

Instead, the main thing we wanted to do was get out of the rain.  I half-heartedly offered up chocolate at Dremel or a visit to the Dortheum, an auction house he’s shown an interest in.  I know either one would have been a good choice, but right then all he wanted to do was get out of the rain.  Well, he’d probably have been perfectly happy to take a taxi back to the boat and see what kind of pastries were available at the free coffee bar.

Because he loves me, he wanted me to see the most important things on my very long list of must-see attractions, but he wasn’t thrilled about it.  A part of me whispered that I should get this man back to the boat and let him browse the coffee bar, but I was afraid that if I did, I’d miss everything else on my list.  He doesn’t approve of me wandering around strange cities without an escort of some kind and once he was back on the boat, I’m betting dynamite would not have gotten him off it for yet another subway ride and more stomping around in the rain.

As I stood there with all of this floating around in my mind I mourned the possibilities I’d wished for.  I’d imagined Bill in the Volksgarten, with his cup of coffee in hand, oooohing and aaaahing over all the wonderful options we had to choose from.  Instead the chill of the mist was invading our crevices and Bill became impatient with my list of attractions.  “What are we closest to that’s inside?” he wanted to know.  “The Treasury,” I replied,”but it’s a museum.”  He said, “lead the way.”

Back into the Hofburg

Thanks to my friend, Rick Steves’ Eastern Europe guide book and DK Eyewitness Travel’s Top 10 Vienna, I knew my way around the palace.  I led Bill through a tunnel to the In der Burg courtyard, through the Swiss Gate to the Schweizerhof which held the Treasury.  Part of me whispered I was making a big mistake, but this was number two on my list of must-see’s and it was out of the rain, so I didn’t know what else to do.  I think this was one of those lose-lose situations and there had not been a correct answer to the drizzle dilemma.

We were wowed by the Treasury.  Bill’s fatigue was dispelled as he began photographing everything in sight.  I kept trying to put it all together.  This was the fourth day of the cruise and all four days had been dominated by the Hapsburg Dynasty.  We’d already seen so many remarkable sites associated with their wealth, grandeur and power.  I couldn’t get over the fact that the Hapsburgs toted all this stuff around with them wherever they went.  I’d assumed that each of their many castles had it’s own set of china and flatware, but instead the emperors and their entourage packed it all up in velvet and silk lined leather boxes to carry it with them.  After all, an empress never knows when she might need several hundred silver charging plates.

As if the Silver Collection of the Imperial Apartments had not held enough treasures for any dynasty, we were now in a treasury which was chockablock with more golden, silver and jeweled wonders.  At some point my disbelief checked itself out and I just wandered around awestruck.

I’ll share some of the pictures Bill took.  Then you come back next week and hear how my dream day in Vienna continued to disintegrate.

 

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Saint Rocco’s New York Italian at Trinity Groves

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Margaret Hill Hunt Bridge sits between Downtown Dallas and Trinity Groves

TRAVEL HERE: MY NEW GO-TO ITALIAN PLACE

On a Sunday afternoon, after a museum visit, Bill and I spent about forty-five minutes driving around downtown Dallas.  We thought maybe in one of those places we used to hang out we’d find something new and exciting, but mostly we found construction sites for more multi-use developments.  It was far too hot to enjoy anything al fresco, but we were out of options for new and exciting, so we made our way to Trinity Groves.

Giving It Another Try

Bill and I have tried to have fun at Trinity Groves several times and have always been under-impressed, even though we see huge potential for the area it’s just not hopping 24/7 like we think it should be.  Perhaps on Friday or Saturday evening it fulfills it potential, but that’s when we’re usually in Heath enjoying a glass of wine on our patio.  There’s something about a great view out your back door that discourages fighting for parking spaces and tables on weekend evenings.  Still, we like being plugged into our city, so we venture out on Sundays and various weekdays.

On this particular Sunday afternoon it appeared we’d bombed out again.  Granted 5:30 is a little early for dinner and very late for lunch, but the whole Trinity Groves complex was empty of anything except a few employees standing inside restaurants polishing glasses and wrapping silverware.  Drinking and dining just weren’t happening.

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Delicious dining at Saint Rocco’s New York Italian

Saint Rocco’s

However, we were hungry and tired of being hungry.  Since a place called Saint Rocco’s had just opened for the day we strolled inside.  The hostess was very glad to see us and placed us in a seat where we could see the whole restaurant.  It was something to see.

The decor is black and white with touches of red.  Black and white tile floor, black table and chairs with white tablecloths.  A large bar separates the restaurant from the food prep area.  Shelves of large cans of tomatoes and other staples add a hint of color.  We liked it!

And Then There Was Food

The menu has all the usual Italian food choices, but don’t get discouraged.  As soon as they delivered the warm delicious bread to our table, we knew we’d wandered into the right place.  Even the olive oil they gave us to dip the bread in was special.  Then we washed the bread down with a little Moretti’s and life was good.

While we waited for our meal the manager came around to chat us up.  She was a darling thing with a charming accent and we immediately liked her.  Bill asked her what the difference was in Italian and New York Italian.  It was something I’d never thought about before.  Had you?

Our gracious host explained that when Italians came to the States, they couldn’t get the ingredients they used to make their family dishes at home, so they had to find replacements.  Italian family recipes made with American ingredients are collectively New York Italian and they are beloved far beyond the Big Apple.

Bill and I both chose classics.  He had the Eggplant Parmesan and I had the Alfredo.  He was glad he had plenty for two meals, but I wolfed mine down in one fell swoop.  I loved it and here’s what I loved, the sauce, which was delicious, was used with restraint.  Most Alfredo dishes are drowned in too much sauce.  In this dish I could taste everything and had a delightful sauce to compliment it all.  The pasta was perfect, the vegetables were perfect and the sauce was perfect – and they were all presented in perfect proportions.

Confession, the dessert experience was disappointing.  Apparently, there is a shortage of dessert menus, because when we asked for one the waitress slipped it out of an apron pocket.  We landed on a choice, but it was one they no longer offered.  Before we had time to reconsider the other choices, the waitress had slipped the menu back into her pocket.  We took it as a sign we were not meant to have dessert and asked for the check at the first opportunity.

We’ll Be Back

Dessert mishap aside, we’ll be returning.  The atmosphere is nice, the prices are reasonable and the food is out of this world.  The service was good enough and we loved the manager.  Maybe next time we visit we may finally have an al fresco experience in Trinity Groves to rave about.

 

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A Vacation of Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson

lobster_dinnerTRAVEL BUG TALES: OUR AMERICAN HERITAGE VACATION

This vacation is one I touched on while reviewing Primarily Presidential Destinations four years ago.  FOUR YEARS AGO!  I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for that long, but there you have it.  While traveling we saw Lincoln historical sites, Mount Vernon, Monticello and Arlington National Cemetery.  If you want to read about those destinations, then you should follow those links.  In this blog I’ll chat about some of the things which happened in-between these historic landmarks.

Looking at Different Parts of the Menu

Sometimes I feel like an exotic bird among birds of a different feather. It’s like someone dropped my egg into a nest of another species.  We’re all birds, but we’re not alike.  At first no one noticed and they were always good to me even when it was obvious I didn’t quite fit in.  Some of the differences were apparent on this wonderful trip my Mom had carefully planned.

Along with the attractions listed above, we visited places like the Smithsonian Institute and drove all over D.C. , but I didn’t want to just visit museums and drive around.  I felt like there was more to this travel thing than that.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, because this was the most sight-seeing we’d ever done, but everything felt canned.  To an extent I still feel the same way.  I have a great time on vacation and I explore things other people never find, but the real excitement seems just out of my reach.

Take the night we went out for an elegant dinner in D.C.  I have no idea exactly what the restaurant was, but we were very dressed up and the menus were ginormous.  Within moments after opening the menu my Dad announced we’d all have the ground round.  Our usual dining experience was either the local cafeteria, Shoney’s Big Boy or a BBQ joint, so I was thrilled to be in this place with linen tablecloths and candles.  However, I wondered how my dad could know what I wanted before I even finished reading the menu.

I suspect my dad looked at the right side of the menu before he checked out the descriptions on the left.  We sat by quietly while my dad ordered our dinners and obediently ate what was served, but I’d seen the word “lobster” before they took away my menu.  I didn’t know what lobster was and I wasn’t quite ready to let go of it, even after I’d been served my ground round.

I Finally Got My Lobster 

I can only guess what it must have been like to be my parents over the next two or three days.  I probably asked 3,297,000 questions about lobsters.  Somewhere around question number three million I was able to ascertain the undesirability of lobster at a meal was not related to the crustacean itself, but actually to something called “market price.”

When I figured that out I must have posed a question like this, “So, if I found lobster on a menu and it had a price listed instead of just market price, could I order it?”  “Theoretically,” my father replied.  I probably didn’t understand exactly what “theoretically” meant, but I realized it wasn’t a no.

To my parent’s dismay, it wasn’t long until lobster salad showed up on a lunch menu.  I was old enough to understand less than and greater than.  The price of the lobster salad wasn’t the cheapest thing on the menu, but it was in line with the other items, something else my parents must have discussed with me during the lobster conversation.  I confidently informed my family I would be having the lobster salad for lunch.

Oddly, it was my mother who started making a case against the lobster.  She warned me it would not be a whole lobster, but pieces of lobster in a salad and it might give me the wrong idea about lobster.  I imagine I had a look on my face my husband is familiar with. They’d laid down the circumstances in which I could have lobster and I was going to have it.

Dad certainly recognized the look on my face, so he announced I would be having the lobster salad – and that was that.  The lobster salad was good.  It would be years before I’d dip a lobster claw into drawn butter, but for the time being, my parents could talk about something other than crustaceans.

Come back next week and we’ll go to Historic Williamsburg.

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The Rest of the Imperial Apartments

In between the wonders of the Imperial Apartments

In between the wonders of the Imperial Apartments

TRAVEL THERE: COMING DOWN OFF MY DECORATIVE ARTS HIGH

So we’re in Vienna on Viking’s Danube Waltz Cruise.  I’ve just been through the Silver Collection of the Hofburg’s Imperial Apartments and my excitement level is at about 27 out of 10.  The Hofburg allows you to take all the photographs you want in the Silver Collection, but you have to put your cameras away for the Sissi Museum and Imperial Apartments, so you’re imagination (or the internet) will have to provide the visuals.  

The Sissi Phenomena

Austrians love their Empress Elizabeth and I can’t exactly figure out why.  Her story starts out pretty well.  Beloved daughter of obscure Bavarian royalty enjoys an idyllic childhood.  In her early teens, she tagged along on a trip with her big sister, who was being checked out by the Crown Prince of the Hapsburg Dynasty as a potential mate.  Once old Fredrick laid eyes on Elizabeth, big sis was toast.  Within days, Freddy and his “Sissi” were engaged, to the extreme joy of everyone in Europe, with the exception (perhaps) of big sis.

A few days later, the story changes.  Sissi is a drama queen.  She starts wringing her hands and emoting all over her diary.  Poor pitiful princess finds being adored a real challenge.  The rest of her life is one big panic attack.  I’m sorry.  I’m not suggesting panic attacks aren’t serious, but Little Miss Sissi makes a career out of them.  Pretty much her whole life can be summed up by the famous Garbo line, “I want to be alone.”

Now the woman’s life was punctuated by tragedies, but she’d already cast herself as the Queen of Melodrama long before any of them occurred.  By the time her son committed suicide, mama was already far along down the road to nutcase.  This is a woman who spent three hours on her hair each day and she thought her most important duty in life was to keep her eighteen inch waist.  No wonder her son was desperate for female affection and committed suicide when his mistress was going to be taken from him.

In spite of her complete failure in the wife and mother department (she did give birth to several children, but then promptly ignored them) she was adored by her rather stick-in-the-mud hubby and idolized by her subjects.  I just don’t appreciate all her hand-wringing.  I prefer somebody like Empress Maria-Theresa, who gets out there and does something more with her life than fix her hair, watch her waistline and write dreadful poetry.

So, with the opinion I have of the woman, you can imagine I was not thrilled with the “Sissi Museum” section of the Imperial Apartments.  It was interesting to see some of her clothes and other personal items, but I would have been happy with a small sampling, instead of room after room of Austrian swooning.

The Imperial Apartments at the End of the Trail

By the time we actually reached the Imperial Apartments I was worn out.  We’d been through the excitement of finding our own way to the Hofburg from our longship via Vienna’s underground and Graben Strasse.  I’d exulted over every item in the extensive Silver Collection and then been held hostage by the Sissi Fan Club, but we weren’t finished.  Now we entered the actual Apartments all tricked out as they had been during the reign of Emperor Fredrich and his tragic Empress Sissi.

Confession, I was underwhelmed.  Yes, they were beautiful apartments exquisitely furnished, but it just wasn’t my taste.  I much prefer Schonbrunn Palace or the delightful Linderhof.  Maybe if I had liked Sissi more or hadn’t been so overwhelmed by the Silver Collection, I might have enjoyed the Imperial Apartments more, but that’s the way it goes.  All three sections are included in the price of admission, so check them all out, but if your time is limited and you love Decorative Arts, spend your time at the Silver Collection!

So where did we go next on our rainy day in Vienna.  Come back next week and find out.

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A Hot Sunday Afternoon in Dallas

TRAVEL HERE: DRIVING AROUND AMONG OUR MEMORIES

So it was a hot Sunday afternoon in Downtown Dallas and we were hungry.  We’d spent several very enjoyable hours re-familiarizing ourselves with the American galleries at the Dallas Museum of Art, but it was about to close.  I mentioned Trinity Grove, but also pointed out it was far too hot to take advantage of the al fresco dining that seems to be a primary draw to the area.  So Bill decided to drive around downtown for a bit and visit old haunts.

Downtown Ain’t What It Used To Be

Back in the Twentieth Century, Bill and I both used to spend a lot of time downtown.  In the seventies I was in credit card banking with a small independent bank and Republic Bank processed our transactions and cards.  I made frequent visits to the building topped by a rocket and covered in star-studded metal panels.  After branch banking came to Texas, I moved on to the copier industry and found myself downtown even more often – almost daily in fact, as I popped in and out of offices training folks to use copiers, fax machines and phones.

The old Sheraton in the shadow of the Southland Life Building

The old Sheraton in the shadow of the Southland Life Building

Bill had his days downtown, too.  His first venue was the Hilton where he financed his schooling by waiting tables at The Beef Baron and helping out at banquets.  Then he started his computer company and like me, popped in and out of downtown buildings.  He was selling, delivering and installing computer equipment to feed the copiers and fax machines my company sold.

We both have fond memories of those days so as we pulled away from the DMA, Bill took a drive through downtown.  First, we drove by the Hilton.  The venerable old motel is being transformed into a multi-use development with stories and stories of apartments.

We were impressed by the rail system and the many parks which have been inserted into the landscape.  Both of these additions are great improvements to the downtown we remembered, but we weren’t crazy about all the one-way streets.  Thankfully there wasn’t too much traffic or we might have grid-locked the whole place.

We drove over to the Omni Hotel to see their new multi-restaurant venue, but we weren’t tempted to hassle with the parking or valet, so we ignored our growling stomachs and decided on some more sight-seeing.

Neither are The West End and The Brewery

Bill decided to visit the West End.  A few old standards like The Palm and Spaghetti Warehouse were clinging to the sidewalk, but it was a sad tourist trap.  We regretted the loss of those days when all the hot restaurants were clustered in the West End and complimented by a multi-story shopping and entertainment venue.

Robert LeeI fondly remembered another Sunday afternoon when we happened upon Robert Lee Kolb, one of my favorite local entertainers, playing on the outdoor stage.  As I stood on the edge of the crowd Robert Lee began singing the song he always used to play when I’d walk into Beethoven’s, his club in the Bachman Lake area.  The strains of the familiar tune startled me.  I looked away from my husband who I’d been chatting with to find Robert Lee staring right at me with a huge grin on his face.  It’s one of my favorite Dallas memories.

Disappointed to find the West End is about to become yet another multi-use development, we drove over to the Victory Park area and tried to figure out how to find our way into The Brewery, another hang-out we both loved before we knew each other.  For many years, The Brewery was famous for The Starck Club, a place where I have spent many an hour, but I was a regular to The Brewery before The Starck Club made it famous.  Newport’s was once one of my favorite seafood restaurants and it inhabited one end of the complex for decades.

Before The Starck Club appeared in The Brewery, I discovered Robert Lee Kolb down in an establishment called The Cellar, because it was a cellar.  From there I followed him to The Greenville Avenue Bar & Grill and further down Greenville Avenue to Dick’s Last Resort, before it moved to the West End.  Friends tell me he was playing at The Dixie House down in Lakewood back when I was in high school, but that was years before I hit Dallas’ clubbing scene.  My friendship with him began at Beethoven’s, where I’d show up with one or more members of my gang several times a week.

So that was the Sunday afternoon nostalgia tour.  Now Bill and I were hungrier than ever.  It was about 5:30, so the heat was unbearable, but we decided to go to Trinity Grove anyway.  come back next week and I’ll tell you about it!

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Hotel Reservations the Old-Fashioned Way

holiday inn imagesTRAVEL BUG TALES: WHAT? NO EXPEDIA!!

Expedia and Trip Advisor are my friends.  Trivago and Kayak are my allies.  It’s no wonder people used to rely so heavily on travel agents.  Many more either stayed home or bunked with relatives.  Heading out on the road was scary.  Even with pictures and reviews available on the internet, I’ve ended up in some strange accommodations.  What my mom pulled off with Mobil Guides, her letter-writing campaigns and a few phone calls was amazing.

From Investigations to Reservations

Over several months of research, Mom’s itinerary would come together.  She and Dad would map out our route and decide where along the way we’d need to spend the night.  Then Mom would hit the Mobile Guide.

Back in those days there were not a million hotel chains with a gazillion locations.  You basically had three types of places to stay.  The top tier was the first class resorts and hotels.  Those were a bit beyond our budget.  The bottom tier was the mom-and-pop locally owned hotels and they could be a real adventure.  Everything else was pretty much Holiday Inn or Best Western.

Mom was all about Holiday Inn, but in those days there was no 1-800-HOLIDAY.  I can’t say for sure whether Mom actually made reservations for all our stops or not.  I know she didn’t when we made the trek back and forth between Georgia and Texas, because some of dad’s spontaneous choices were the reason she got Mobil Guides in the first place.  I do however know for our 1969 vacation she did make some reservations, namely in D.C. and Williamsburg, but it seems they also depended a little bit on luck.

See, you couldn’t check your GPS for traffic or TXDOT for detours.  Mom had to build room for ooops into her itinerary.  The speed limit on interstates back in those days was in the 80’s, so as long as you could travel on one of those you were golden, but there weren’t as many interstates in those days.  You also had to use state roads or farm-to-market routes and no one knew what that would lead to.

Construction was a nightmare.  Signage was iffy.  Detours were awful.  Dad once missed the sign to get back on our route and we traveled at least an hour out of the way.  Our travel days always began at the crack of dawn and Dad would call a halt before he had to drive in rush hour traffic.  With all these variables, we’d just keep an eye out for the next Holiday Inn.

The Reservation Process

I mentioned a few weeks ago Master Card and Visa were still in the future back in those days.  American Express and Diners Club were still in their infancy and middle class folks like my parents didn’t have them.  So when Mom did make reservations it was somewhat of a challenge.

To make a guaranteed hotel reservation you had to send a check or money order.  One of the benefits of the Mobil Guide was reservation procedures were often listed in the guide.  You could always call, but it was a long distance call and your reservation wasn’t guaranteed until they had the money in hand.  So, in much the same way that Mom solicited travel information, she utilized snail mail to get her hotel reservations.

Dear Sirs: Please find enclosed a check in the amount of $X to reserve a standard room with two double beds on June 3, 1969.  There will be two adults and two children in our party.  Also enclosed is a stamped self-addressed envelope for your letter of confirmation. Sincerely, Ruth Cave  

I remember the excitement we felt as the letters of confirmation arrived to be a few notches above what we expressed when travel brochures arrived.  The brochures just meant we were thinking about visiting.  Letters confirming hotel reservations meant we were actually going.

Are you loving your online reservations yet?  Let’s start traveling next week.

 

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