Our 1999 Vacation
- Washington D.C. and Virginia -

Come join us on our excursion to Washington D.C. & the Virginia countryside. We had a great time, and hope that you not only enjoy exploring this vacation page,
but that you get some useful travel tips as well. Have fun!

Day One - On Our Way

Our first B&B of the trip: Apple-Betty & Cinnamon

We landed at Dulles, got our rental car, then found our way to the first Bed & Breakfast of the trip: Apple-Betty & Cinnamon. It was located in Arlington, very close to Washington, and only a few blocks from a MetroRail stop. We stayed long enough to unload the car and meet our innkeeper Geraldine, then we drove into the city for the afternoon. For more of our photos and info about the B&B, click here.

Parking the Car in Washington, D.C.

After our experience, we seriously recommend that you *never* attempt to drive into the city and park your car there! There are parking lots, but like this one that we parked in, you're required to leave your keys in the ignition so that they can continue to sandwich the vehicles in like sardines. After the first day, we discovered the Metro, which was a much better solution.

The Smithsonian Institute

The first place that we went was the main castle of the Smithsonian Institute to get information for the next few days. It was truly impressive. Although there aren't any displays there, the architecture is incredible.

Air & Space Museum

Since this was our first day, we were in information-gathering mode - still, we decided to take in the Air & Space Museum section of the Smithsonian. Extremely impressive items were there: a lunar LEM module, Lindburg's Spirit of St. Louis, the Wright brothers' plane (shown in the photo), and many other displays. We also stopped for lunch at their restaurant, the Wright Place.

Dinner at the Rhodehouse Grill

Hungry and tired from the journey, we went in search for nourishment. Fortunately, we landed at the Rhodehouse Grill. Great food, and Mitchel was able to get a chicken wing fix: Thai Peanut Wings and standard Buffalo Wings. The restaurant has a special beer brewed exclusively for them, the Rhodeside Special Ale. It was a delicious amber ale, strong in malt flavor and a beautiful copper-red in color.


Day Two - Back to Washington

Taking the Metro

We tried the Metro, Washington's subway, and were duly impressed. For our notes on how to use it, click here. We got off at the Smithsonian station, right in the heart of the mall. To start the day we went in search of tickets to various tours in the area. We stood in a fast-moving line at the Holocost Museum and got tickets for noon, then rushed over to the Washington Monument and scored tickets for two PM, and then headed for the Bureau of Engraving, another tour that had been recommended. It was unfortunately sold out, so we didn't get to make it on this trip.

Tourmobile

Our hostess at the B&B told us about a great way to tour the city. We fought the idea of taking the "Tourmobile", since it sounded so touristy and hokey, but this has to be one of the best tickets in town. You pay $16/Adult, and get to ride it as much as you want all day. It stops at all major attractions, where you can get off and spend as much time as you want, then catch a later tour (the busses run every 15 minutes). The guides on board are very knowledgable and tell great stories, so this rates a major recommendation from us!

Jefferson Memorial

Even though it was undergoing preservation construction while we were there, the Jefferson was still beautiful. We took the time to read all the qoutes inscribed in the walls, and were impressed with his statue and the view of the Potomac's tidal basin. At the time, we didn't know that we would keep crossing paths with Thomas Jefferson throughout the vacation.

Lincoln Memorial

It was a short ride over to the Lincoln Memorial, where we climbed the granite steps up to stand at the feet of President Lincoln. He was majestic sitting there, looking out at the Washington Monument and the dome of the Capitol. This memorial was as majestic as we thought it would be.

Holocost Museum

It's genuinely hard to describe this experience. It was enlightening, disturbing, and extremely powerful. Some of the haunting things that we saw were an actual railroad car used to transport the Jews to the concentration camps, many of their personal belongings that were confiscated by the Nazis, and many audio-visual presentations that drove home how horrible this atrocity was. Go early to get your tickets - they are free, and are used only to regulate the flow of visitors through the museum. Allow at least three hours for your tour. This definately should not be missed.

Washington Monument

The monument is currently being rennovated and is surrounded, top to bottom and on all sides, by a layer of scaffolding. You can still go to the top, though, by getting your free tickets early in the day. Security is also tight, so there is a delay as bags are searched and everyone is paraded through a metal detector. It is an impressive structure. If you decide to visit the monument yourself, though, click here for more details.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

We didn't even know that this memorial existed, but it is extremely impressive. Basically across the street from the Lincoln Memorial, it has nineteen life-sized troopers that are representative of the Korean War period. They are clad in foul-weather panchos and full battle gear, and appear to be emerging from the protection of the woods behind them. The theme of this memorial is "Freedom Is Not Free."

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Bearing tribute to those who served in the Vietnam War, this 494-foot granite wall rises to ten feet and bends in a 125-degree angle at its center, forming a shallow amphitheater. The names of more than 58,000 members of the U.S. armed forces who died or remain missing in the Vietnam War are inscribed on the wall - the emotion and reverence of those who visit is readily apparent. For a more detailed account of our visit, click here.

Arlington National Cemetary

This cemetary has veterans from every war that has involved the nation - over 245,000 servicemen and their families rest here, from generals to privates, and even presidents. The changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier was a striking salute to the fallen Americans. We also visited the eternal flame at President Kennedy's grave, saw the Space Shuttle Challenger memorial, and even visited the grave of a home-town boy, Audie Murphy.

Dinner at the Rock It Grill

We were feeling more and more comfortable with the Metro, so we took it out to Alexandria, VA, where we had a walking tour booked. Before that, though, it was definately time for some food. The first interesting place that we came to was the "Rock It Grill," which was seemed to be a bar and grill for the locals. The food was not bad, and the fact that we were starving made it even better.

Ghost Tour

This one-hour tour is given by a knowledgable guide dressed in colonial attire, who lights the way with a hand-held lantern through the streets of historic old Alexandria. Many legends, haunting tales and amusing stories make this a fun excursion. The tour departs nightly in front of the Ramsay House Visitors Center, and concludes in a graveyard. It was a lot of fun, and our guide was an amusing character.


Day Three - the Museum Day

National Museum of American History

To start the day out, we took the metro into town and walked the short distance over to the National Museum of American History. Along with displays showing the history of transporation, we saw many artifacts of Americana, including the inauguration gowns of the First Ladies, and the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner".

National Museum of Natural History

This stop contained dinosaur skeletons, all manner of taxidermied and cataloged creatures, and a general history of life on the planet. We also saw a priceless array of gemstones, including the Hope Diamond.

National Gallery of Art - lunch at Garden Cafe

We both agreed that this was one of the highlights of the trip. It was incredible to see works by all the masters - Michaelangelo, Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh - all housed in one building. We walked around in total awe. We even had lunch at The Garden Cafe in the basement of the building. It was one truly magnificant experience. In this photo, you can see Mitchel starting to really appreciate art.

Capitol

The Capitol was a little disappointing. We stood in a very long line, went through yet another security check, only to find out that the rotunda was closed for renovation. Everyone was ushered in to a make-shift tunnel of canvas, that dumped us into one of the side-wings of the building. We did get to visit the Senate and House chambers, though, which made the visit worth it. This is probably a much more interesting stop when it's not under construction.

Dinner at the Silver Diner

We took the Metro back to Arlington and our car. Since we hadn't had dinner, the next order of business was to find somewhere to eat. It wasn't long 'til we ran across a place that looked really neat, so we parked the car and went in. Now, our general rule of vacations is that we don't stay at chain hotels (barring last-night airport stays), and we don't eat at chain restaurants. We found out that the Silver Diner is a chain, but one that was localized, so we were happy. The food was exceptional, typical American diner fare, and the service was great.

Day Four - Doing the Outskirts

Marine Corps Memorial

It took some time for us to locate the Marine Corps Memorial, since we were looking on all the maps for the "Iwo Jima Statue". We were fortunate enough to have a beautiful morning to visit this magnificant tribute to the Marine Corps.

George Washington's Mt. Vernon

Everything that we'd heard told us to arrive at Mt. Vernon early - before the tour busses. We got there and only had about a fifteen minute wait to tour the house. After that, we took the audio tour of the grounds which was well worth the time and small additional fee. The whole visit lasted a couple of hours, and we enjoyed it a lot. The multi-media presentation "Washington is no more" should not be missed.

Alexandria, Virginia

After Mt. Vernon, we drove out for another visit to the town of Alexandria. It's a wonderful city filled with historical places, wonderful food, and unique shops. The "Old Town" district surrounds the old town square, as seen in the photo, and extends down to the waterfront of the Potomac River.

Portner's in Old Town, Alexandria

We drove to Alexandria for the rest of the day, and ate at Portner's. In the 1880's the Portner's building housed a fire station, but now is a delightful restaurant that takes its name from the Robert Portner, a historical businessman of old Alexandria, and exemplifies a typical American 19th century saloon. Their signature beverage is Portner's Lager, a cool, crisp brew made by the local Old Dominion Brewing Company.

Gadsby's Tavern Tour

This tavern was built in the mid 1770's, and George Washington frequently enjoyed the hospitality provided by tavern keeper John Gadsby. Other prominent visitors that were entertained here include John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and Marquis de Lafayette. The tour takes less than half an hour, but includes a lot of interesting and historical information about the tavern and that time period. On the ghost tour that we took on a previous night, we were told a ghost story about the tavern - click here if you're interested!

Virginia Beverage Company

The huge, copper takes of the Virginia Beverage Company caught our eye, so we had to wander in to check it out. The beer was well-crafted, and the atmosphere was extremely relaxing (after a long day at this point), so we took time to catch our breath and enjoy their selections. here.

The Alexandria Waterfront

Alexandria has a Potomac River waterfront boardwalk with shops, musicians, mimes, and everything else that you'd expect. While we didn't spend much time in all the commercial things there, we enjoyed the scenery of the river - you could even see the buildings back in Washington!

Dinner at Gadsby's Tavern

We had the best dining experience of the trip at Gadsby's. The food was outstanding, our waiter was super, and the colonial fiddler was the crowning touch. Everything was marvelous. If you visit Alexandria, don't dare miss this experience! One of the nice touches is the bread that they serve - and they give the recipe out to the public. Click here to try it for yourself.


Day Five - Down into Virginia

Old Town Fredericksburg

We were so busy exploring all the shops in Fredericksburg that we didn't take any photos, so our parking permit will have to do. The visitor's center issues these free permits that turns any of the two-hour-only slots into all-day parking. Which is good, because there was so much to see. Lots of unique shops, antiques - our favorite was Dog Dayz of Fredericksburg, where we loaded up on dog-stuff.

Hugh Mercer's Apothecary Shop

Dr. Mercer's office is faithfully restored, complete with leeches, and a room for the gentlemen to get their wig re-powdered after a treatment. Suprisingly enough, his treatments weren't that far off. He prescribed willow bark for a fever, and today we know that medicine as aspirin! About three-quarters of his colonial treatments are still being used today. Not the leeches, of course...

Rising Sun Tavern

This was a working colonial tavern, and accomodated both ladies and gentlemen of the era. The ladies were locked in a private room to protect their virtuous name, while the men were free to gamble and imbibe in the main hall. The building is authentically restored, and is a great stop on your visit to Fredericksburg.

Lunch at The Smythe's Cottage

This diner and tavern offers colonial fare in a charming setting, with delicious regional dishes. Don't dare miss the peanut soup! We had a great meal and enjoyed the service. The cottage is withing walking distance of the Rising Sun Tavern.

The Battle of Fredericksburg

This Civil War battle was fought on December 13, 1862, and was an unsuccessful attempt by the Union army to move south against the Confederate capital at Richmond. The Fredericksburg battlefield, monuments, and cemetery commemorate this historic battle.

The Iris Inn

The next B&B was in Waynesboro, Va - the Iris Inn. Nestled up in the hills, this bed and breakfast overlooks the valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are observation decks where we watched the sun set several nights, and the accomodations were excellant. For more about the Iris Inn, you can get additional photos and info by clicking here.

Dinner at South River in Waynesboro

This was a good/bad dining experience. Our innkeeper recommended this eatery, which was less of a unique restaurant and more of a big-chain-wannabe. The food was outstanding, but the service was slow to non-existent. With all the other great places that we found, we'd return to this one only in a last-resort situation.


Day Six - Jefferson Country

Monticello Tour

Jefferson's home is such a landmark that we got there as soon as they opened the gates to beat the tour-bus crowds. This was one of the trip highlights! Jefferson was fascinating, and definately ahead of his time with the layout of Monticello. We really loved this, and it was every bit as interesting as we had expected.

Historic Michie Tavern

Right up the road from Monticello is Michie Tavern, established in 1784 and restored for tours (and lunch!). Along with live costumed, guides, each room in the tavern has an audio guide to tell the stories of the inn. After the tour we ate lunch at "The Ordinary", the tavern's dining room. The recipes for the meals date back to the 1700's, and the food was delicious. We really enjoyed this stop!

Jefferson Vineyards

Thomas Jefferson said, "Wine being among the earliest luxuries in which we indulge ourselves, it is desirable that it should be made here and we have every soil, aspect and climate of the wine countries..." In 1773, Jefferson gave some of the land adjoining Monticello to Italian winemaker Fillippo Mazzei to establish a European-style vineyard. The Jefferson Vineyards produce some of Jefferson's favorite varieties of vinifera wines on the exact same soil.

Barboursville Winery

This beautiful winery is located on 830 acres of rolling Virginia hills near the Blue Ridge mountains. They give tours on the weekends, so we missed that part, but their hospitality center was open for tastings. The wines were very good, and we brought home a few bottles.

The Old Ruins at Barboursville

The Barboursville mansion was destroyed by fire on Christmas Day, 1884. It is the only building in Orange County known to have been designed by Thomas Jefferson. The mansion was built for James Barbour, Jefferson's friend, who served in various offices such as the Governor of Virginia, a U.S. Senator, Secretary of War, and Ambassador to the Court of St. James (and more). Today the ruins stand near the Barboursville Winery, and is also their bottle label.

Horton Cellars

This winery had the most beautiful building and grounds that we saw on the trip. The owner, Dennis Horton, greeted us and personally poured up samples of their wines. Our favorite was one of their blends that they named Dionysus, and it could very well be the most complex wines that we've ever had. We had good wine and a very nice visit.

Dinner at McCormick's Pub & Restaurant

McCormick's is named for Cyrus Hall McCormick, inventor of the reaper. In 1915, the McCormick family donated most of the funds used to erect the statly building that the restaurant now occupies, which was originally the Staunton YMCA. Walnut lumber cut from the McCormick homestead, "Walnut Grove", near Steele's Tavern, Va, was lavishly used to create everything from the mantle piece, doors and woodwork to the curving bar and built-in tall case clock that hasn't stopped ticking in over eighty years. The food is delicious, too!

Day Seven - Getting Lost and Seeing Virginia

Ash Lawn Highland

We'd heard a lot about James Monroe's home, and so we started out the morning there. It was authentically restored to Monroe's time, and the tour was enjoyable and informative. After we finished the house, we walked around the beautiful grounds. We even spent some time visiting with a craftsperson in period costume who explained the art of spinning to us.

Montpeliar Tour

The home of James & Dolly Madison is extremely impressive on the outside. It was last owned by one of the DuPont family members, though, who modernized it - the inside is extremely disappointing. We got lost on the way there and drove around Virginia for almost an hour, and that was much more interesting than the tour of Montpeliar!

Lunch at Toliver House

While we were at Montpeliar, we heard about a restaurant in Gordonsville in a restored 1787 house. We found the Toliver House to be a delight. in the last two hundred years, the house has been a private residence, general store, boarding house, and now, a restaurant. The name Toliver is the Anglicized form of Taliaferro, an old Virginia surname found on the earliest recorded deed of the property. The food and hospitality rounded out a perfect stop on our trip.

Oakencraft Vinyard

This stop was just outside of Charlottesville, and the grounds were beautiful - we had to stop and wait for some of the ducks to finish crossing the drive to get to their pond. The first grape vines were planted at Oakencroft back in 1978, and their wines reflect the twenty+ years that they've invested in their vineyard.

Barrack's Road Market

The trip was winding down, so tonight was going to be the first assessment of how we were going to pack everything up to get it all home. With that in mind, we stopped by a local deli, Barrack's Road Market and Delicatessen, to get subs to take back to the room. This little place was down the road from Oakencroft, and made a delicious dinner for us to have later.

University of Virginia

Thomas Jefferson did the original design for the University of Virginia, and it really resembles the archetecture of Monticello. We arrived just in time to see the lecture room under the dome, the statue of Jefferson, and of course, this front view with the giant "Z" that we heard is the sign of the university's secret society. People who are in need supposedly tape their requests to the statue of Jefferson on the floor below the rotunda, and the society anonymously picks up those notes and helps out those who are less fortunate.

Blue Ridge Brewing Company

Just down the street from University of Virginia is a brewpub that we visited before heading back to our B&B for the evening. It had a good selection of hand-crafted beers and a pleasant brewpub atmosphere. Click here if you'd like to see their selections.


Day Eight - On to Vaucluse Springs

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park

We got on the Skyline Drive just east of Waynesboro. It winds along the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and we expected it to be beautiful. What we didn't expect was the variations that we would have in the atmosphere. It was foggy that morning, and as we drove into some clouds (and we really were in the clouds) we couldn't see past the front of the car. Other areas were clear and sunny. We stopped at almost every pull-off viewing area to take a look, and had a wonderful time. The total time for the drive was supposed to be about four hours.

Lunch at Big Meadows Stop

There were a few places to eat along the way, all managed by the National Parks service. That translates into generic food. Mitchel had a generic burger, while Tami was served a generic turkey sandwich. It was mass food service at its best, but since we were getting hungry, the meal was genuinely appreciated.

Luray Caverns

Over two decades ago, on our honeymoon, we went through a couple of different caves. We figured that would probably hold us for the rest of our lives, but we'd had a strong suggestion to visit Luray Caverns. Since it helped to break up the Skyline Drive, we took a chance and stopped. It was well worth it! The formations and colors were fascinating, and we welcomed the diversion. The whole thing took about an hour in the cavern, an easy walk in the cool air.

The end of the Skyline Drive

It was a beautiful day, winding our way along the tops of these mountains. This photo shows one of the valley views - we saw some landscapes that were just breathtaking. Along the way, we also spotted a black bear, deer, quail, and many other species of Blue Ridge Mountain wildlife. We both agreed that this was a day well spent.

The Inn at Vaucluse Springs

For our final Bed and Breakfast, we drove into a secluded area outside of Stephens City, VA, and found a beautifully restored manor house and its supporting buildings. These have now been collectively converted into "The Inn at Vaucluse Springs", which takes advantage of the countryside seclusion to provide a perfectly relaxing atmosphere. If you'd like to see our further comments about the inn, click here.

Dinner at One Block West

One of our hosts at our B&B recommended several places to dine in the area, and we chose a restaurant in Winchester named "One Block West" that reportedly had a very talented chef. We found it in an alley in Winchester, Virginia. The food was wonderful, and a gentleman playing guitar in the main room of the restaurant set a very relaxing mood.


Day Nine - Wrapping It All Up

Route 11 Potato Chip Factory

We heard about this place and just had to stop - it's a real, live, gourmet potato chip factory! There is a window into the chip cooking area that lets you watch them being made, but since it's pretty much an automatic process, that part is mediocre. What does shine is the different chip styles that they have for guests to try! Quite possibly the best potato chips that we've ever eaten.

Belle Grove

The house in the distance was built in 1794 by Major Isaac Hite, Jr, brother-in-law of President James Madison with design assistance from Thomas Jefferson (T.J.'s name just kept cropping up in our vacation). The fields in the picture were once filled with Union troops, which the Confederate army found resting and attacked here in front of the house. The tour of Belle Grove was full of historical tidbits, and we were up-close and personal with the rooms and furnishings of the house. Well worth the visit.

Shopping for antiques, and lunch at Hotel Strasburg

As we were taking a leisurely last day on vacation, we followed the road down to Strasburg. It's a small town filled with antique stores and such, and had a beautiful old hotel that we chose for lunch. The restaurant and lobby were restored to the elegance of its original construction.

Naked Mountain Vineyards

This winery is on Naked Mountain, which was probably named by George Washington, since he was the original surveyer. We visited this place specifically after our waitress at One Block West recommended that we have a glass with dinner last night. Their chardonney is outstanding, so of course we added a couple of bottles to the ever-growing collection of things to take home.

Our biggest task finally lay before us... how to cram everything that we bought, along with our clothes, into the same bags that we came with. We stopped and got sub sandwiches and chips so that we could focus on this job, then checked in to the Dulles Airport Marriott. The alarm went off at 4:30 AM the next morning, and we were headed for home!


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