There is something to be said for impetuosity - particularly when someone is impetuous on your behalf, and you just allow yourself to get caught up in the whirlwind. Such was my weekend away from Manhattan, the plans for which were only cemented late Thursday night. Nothing like making a late entrance, hey?
There I was 2.30pm on Friday afternoon, leaving the office with Sharlo and we met up with The Great Dane, who had booked a rental car (with GPS) and had the road trip all organised. We were headed for a beautiful house just outside of Front Royal in Virginia. A good friend of The Rodster at work had agreed to host the first of his many farewell parties, and a bunch of the Rodster's friends (including The Great Dane) were headed for VA to kick off the celebrations.
The weekend got off to a VERY slow start, because it took us nearly 2 hours just to get of Manhattan! We were crawling at a snail's pace all the way to the Holland Tunnel (and then through it), but even once we were on the other side, the bumper-to-bumper traffic extended through New Jersey. It was excruciating! But soon enough we were on the open roads and cruising through Pennsylvania, into West Virginia, and then - at a little before midnight - we finally arrived at our destination.
It was hard to tell what J's house really looked like when we arrived - it was just too dark to appreciate how picturesque her property is, and what a stunning outlook it enjoys. So we just settled down inside and drank beer after beer, relaxing into the start of the weekend. Some more house guests arrived about 40 minutes after us, and a few more beers were consumed, before we all gave up for the night and retired to bed.
Saturday morning we were all up early. J had scheduled breakfast service between 8-9am, which was an excellent way to get us kickstarted for what turned out to be a MASSIVE day out. I was up in time for breakfast and had a lovely hot shower to get my blood pumping properly. The beers from the night before set up residence in my frontal lobe so I wasn't feeling the best; but the hot coffee and home-made oatmeal did the trick. Despite the frosty cold, I sat out on J's verandah and gazed over the road to the Fox Meadow winery, and the sheer expanse of beautiful trees beyond, only a taste of the majestic Shenandoah National Park, not far from J's front door. Some of the trees had started to turn a soft yellow and orange colour, while some stubbornly remained green (at least for now). The effect of hills and hills of such beautiful and diverse colour is instantly calming.
Before long, me and Sharlo and been able to negotiate a ride with a couple of other Aussies and an American friend, who were also staying at J's house, and we set off for our day. First stop was the famous Apple House, an institution in the area. We stocked up on the much-celebrated apple donuts, but also grabbed some pumpkin ones - just to taste. They were both pretty yummy, I have to say.
Further down the road we came to Front Royal, and helped to celebrate the Fall Festival. We called into the Visitor's Centre to get our bearings, but then wandered down the community market on Main Street and looked at the jewelry, handicrafts and local foods on sale. We walked down Chester Street and explored Balthis House, which has the proud title of being the oldest house on the oldest street in Front Royal. A little way down the street is the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum, and of course we went through that too. As far as gift shops go, the Confederate Museum was sadly lacking the tacky merchandise I usually enjoy. That said, it had more than its fair share of historical literature; pro-Virginia materials; and brochures on anything you ever wanted to know about the US Civil War but were afraid to ask.
Judging by the camouflage hunting jackets and pants being sported around the Fall Festival, residents of Front Royal are outdoorsy types. They are also proud Republicans, happy to stake political signs in their front yards declaring allegiance to the Romney-Ryan campaign. But the Front Royal residents I met over the weekend are also hugely family-oriented, with fantastic southern accents and friendly manners to boot. They can also smoke a mean BBQ pulled pork sandwich, which I enjoyed immensely as I sat by the gazebo and listened to a guitar band entertaining the crowd.
Having ticked the cultural boxes of downtown Front Royal, we were happy to spend the rest of our afternoon playing tourist and injecting some money into the local economy. And so it was that we ended up at Rappahannock Cellars for a delicious tasting. It was there that I learned that Virginia is well-known for its Viognier and its Cabernet Franc, so I have stored that knowledge away in my brain for the next time I find myself at a bottle shop with no idea what wine to buy. I walked away from Rappahannock with several bottles of wine, clinking happily together in the boot of the rental car. But we weren't quite done yet. We drove back to J's house and walked across the main road to Fox Meadow winery, where I was a little less happy with the wines I tasted, but stoked with the food/wine pairing format of the tasting itself. And you seriously cannot fault the view that Fox Meadow enjoys. "Stunning" hardly does it justice. There is something really lovely about spending a Saturday afternoon enjoying a glass of wine with still-warm baguettes, slathered in spicy Virginia plum chutney and topped with thin slices of Vermont horseradish cheese.
Back across the road we went for dinner and Farewell Party v1.0 with the Rodster, his wife, and a bunch of their friends. We had a huge BBQ spread with all the salads and dessert trimmings you could think of. The cold had started to creep in so we all tried to stay warm, but before long we were back inside for the karaoke party. I had stopped drinking at the winery, so I was well-qualified to play Karaoke DJ and encourage the sing-alongs, but by that stage the crowd didn't need much prompting.
It was great to wake up this morning feeling bright and chipper. It was just a shame that the weather didn't match my mood - it was very crisp but also very overcast this morning. We seemed to have all the good weather luck yesterday. But despite the grey skies, the air at J's house was so fresh and clean. It felt really good to breathe it all in deeply. But spells are made to be broken and in an effort to get ahead of the Sunday traffic, we left J's house at a little before 11am.
It was weird to have the weekend be over so quickly, but I think I surprised myself at how easily I relaxed once I got out of Manhattan. I love nature, but I don't often go off in search of it all the time. We were saying how in future, we need to make more plans to go away on weekends, even if it's just an hour down the road - just an excuse to get out and spend our Saturday doing something much more soul-satisfying than laundry or groceries. Here's hoping we can stick to that plan.