And the road goes on forever...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Lure of Times Past, part 2

Touring works up a thirst and hunger so we go a-hunting for Charles City and a place to have lunch. There isn’t much to the tiny burg of Charles City but the Courthouse Grill is well worth the stop. With icy cold Yuengling draft on tap (an excellent ordinary beer at non-microbrew pricing made in Pottsville, PA), southern influenced simple fare and friendly people, we enjoy the ambiance and convivial atmosphere and original architecture dating from 1872, including wide plank pine flooring with a decided slope to starboard. What a lucky find! A group of bikers talk about their ride on the “Five and Dime”: Charles City is on Highway 5 and next up after lunch they plan to catch the free car ferry over the James River to Suffolk and continue on Highway 10. We wistfully tell them we marvel at the good riding here with all the roads and highways. This area has even more roads than Wisconsin and that was the most we had seen previously. Of course, it’s now been years since we’ve straddled our bike and our time as bikers seems a far distant past but the lure is still there as we hear them roar off.

From there we walk across the street to the historic buildings of Charles City and find America’s third oldest courthouse still in operation. They’ve done a marvelous job with an unmanned visitor center which I didn’t catch what life it lead previously, but it featured the most fascinating heavy metal door and casement, almost like a bank vault door. All this area played a major part in the Civil War as we find evidence farther along our travels.

We meander past other plantations; some wanting too much money to tour so we just shoot a few photos of some exteriors and move along. Berkeley Plantation had a large crowd gathered to tour as it is available to see inside and boasts having been the birthplace of William Henry Harrison (Tippecanoe) who became America’s ninth President in 1841. His father, the second owner and son of the original builder, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and three times Governor of Virginia. At one point on the grounds in 1862, President Lincoln reviewed Gen. George McClellan’s Army of 140,000 Union soldiers. Word has it that there were more people living in this area during the Civil War than there are today. Popular place.

At Kittiewan, proving that not all southern plantations are built of acres of brick, we note that some landed gentry were of more modest means; including Doctor William Rickman, who served as the head surgeon to the Continental Army in Virginia. By chance spotting a cemetery sign, we hike a hillock through the forest and stumble upon his gravesite and a smattering of small red flags, more than likely denoting archeological significant finds since this plantation is owned by the Archeological Society of VA. We entertain and quickly dismiss the thought of all the goodies we might find with our metal detectors around here!

We hope to add another significant plantation to our touring but are unsure at this point if we will be able to blog about it with pictures. Fortune smiled upon Marc last week as he made his rounds checking gas lines and after walking up a long graveled driveway he arrived at the magnificent Carter’s Grove Plantation, built in the 1750’s. The very nice caretakers who live full-time on site (I want their job!) allowed him to wander and take some exterior photos and we now possess a private invitation to return for a tour of the unfurnished interior. Carter’s Grove used to be open to the public before its purchase by a private individual from CA for $17 million dollars in 2007. He plans to refurbish it and turn it into a Thoroughbred horse racing farm. Marc said the style is the same as Westover and the grounds are not as extensive but we are more interested in the interior anyway. This photo shows what it used to appear like when furnished; it should be magnificent.

The Lure of Times Past, part 1

We arrive down the winding dirt road of two miles to find the James River in its stunning and calm morning glory, only the wave left over from a passing boat lapping the shore. We decided this morning to head out just wandering; towards Charles City, which is renowned for several major plantations. We’ve stumbled upon the first by mere chance; a highway sign, but things bode well since we’re the first to arrive and will have it all to ourselves.

Westover Plantation is probably one of Virginia’s oldest, dating from 1730 and built by William Byrd II, who is buried on site under a monolithic monument in his lovely gardens. Today it is privately owned by the Fisher family who are in residence but graciously allow others to share in their bounty by touring the grounds and gardens and some outbuildings at will for the nominal sum of $2. It is still a working farm, growing seed corn and soybeans, redolent of the lush Virginia countryside.

It is very beautiful here and captures our hearts and imaginations as we explore under the two hundred year old elms and tulip poplar trees which sport their own individual lightning rods so they are not destroyed in thunder storms. One has to wonder about a family given such grace as to occupy this space, yet generous enough to share it to the point of seeing strangers wandering their grounds daily.

We marvel at the outbuildings we are allowed to enter and love the detailing of things like all the old iron gates; both carriage and garden. A laughable 5 hole communal “necessary room” complete with fireplace makes our day. (to be continued)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Solace

While surveying the other day out in the country I had to do the line and meter to the Hog Wild Smokehouse. It looked interesting enough I suggested it to Marc as a stop for lunch or dinner since it is less than five miles from our campground and he is always on the hunt for authentic and real southern BBQ. It has a roadhouse feel, having in prior incarnations been a biker bar, and features a simple inside dining area with about 16-18 tables and an outside porch with another five or so. The website reviews were all positive since the owners do authentic New Orleans style pork and Creole, having grown up in Louisiana. The big deal is the six secret sauces they feature and the variety of flavor enhancement that offers. They smoke the meats on site right behind the restaurant.

If you’re in the area and a BBQ fanatic, do yourself a favor and drop by. You won’t regret it. The reviews were spot on and we greatly enjoyed our Hog Wild Platter featuring half a chicken, half pound pulled pork (or brisket), a pound of ribs, slow-cooked baked beans, coleslaw, 6 mini-cheese cornbread muffins, Cajun spiced plank fries and hot baked cinnamon apples, offered up for $28. Of course, seeing alligator nuggets on the menu for the first time we had to also indulge in some of that yumminess, not having had any since our trip in 1992 to Disney World. It has always had me wondering why alligator is never available to us in the west.

Marc was so taken with the Cajun Voodoo sauce, offered up at $4.75 a bottle; that he is returning today, having made special arrangements with the owner, to purchase an entire gallon of the stuff so he can can it into pint jars! When we leave Virginia we’ll be taking a taste of her along with us.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Agony

We just finished up a very tough week here in Virginia on our new job. The humidity continued unabated for the most part which made the work uncomfortable in the high temperatures, especially as we got quite a few showers which then turned the air into a suffocating steam bath. We continued our battles with our PDA devices, both of which acted up to the point where they took them away and had to reprogram them. They sent Marc out another one via Fed Ex, so early in the week we were both trying to work off his and later in the week, both working off mine. It was a convoluted process requiring lots of input of data on our off-hours at night as we tried to better understand the mysterious ways of this damn software and what is required of us.

The maps we’ve been given generated by the gas company are notorious for not containing all the information we need so as we survey we must ad hoc in repeated entries. I stumbled upon an entire new subdivision of about 150 homes that only had one home listed. The reason this makes our jobs so much harder is that then we are required to approach every home to see if it has gas service. This wouldn’t be a big deal in a western type subdivision but here homes are well spaced and in the country where we’ve been working, often have long rambling driveways so we are walking ourselves to death, sometimes for nothing. Absolutely nothing. It’s a disgusting way to survey and shouldn’t really have to happen save for the fact that someone higher up the food chain is not doing their job of properly inputting all this data that we worker bees have been gathering for years. Techs in this area tell us, the maps go unchanged for years, never showing all the homes they’ve added to the system. Supposedly, this is the reason this gas company has us use the PDA’s in the first place. Make sense to you? Me either!

To add injury to the insult, due to the humidity and rampant growth of vegetation we walk in tall, wet grass much of the day. Sopping wet feet have taken their toll and I was in the agony of serious blistering on both feet—some almost pressure sores. Due to the extent of the pain I am in, we have decided for yet another weekend that we will do no touring even though there are some tours we would dearly love to see. I’m afraid if I do that I won’t be able to walk at all next week. So other than a Costco trip and a trip to replace my GPS which has already bit the dust after only a month, we will spend a quiet weekend in the RV trying to catch up and rest.

I wish I had more exciting things to relate to you but so far this assignment is just grinding us down and has our aggravation (a.k.a. bullshit) meter pegged to the max. I do however have some photos snapped along the way of some of the various neighborhoods and things we see along the way. Some parts are actually very pleasant and others downright scary. For instance: surveying two feet away from 60-65 mph traffic on a four lane highway as we’re following a main. Then it gets even scarier as we have to turn our back to that traffic and walk back the entire way as the main only runs on one side. I happened to snap the first photo along such a road at a merciful break in traffic to give you an idea of where we must walk.
Those are not my favorite maps!