At the end of June we escaped Florida, Covid free, and headed north to Winchester, Virginia. It took us two days to make the 720 mile drive. We’ve made the trip from Florida to DC many times but we still enjoy it because of the lovely scenery as the marshes and water vistas change into rolling hills.
We stopped just south of Fredericksbug, Virginia, for the night. The hotel was very clean but I still wiped sinks, doorknobs and light switches down with disinfectant just to be extra safe. Dominoes delivered pizza to our door without any interaction. And from our hotel window the sunset was spectacular as a result of the huge dust storm that had crossed the Atlantic from Africa.
As we got closer to Winchester we saw a sign that made us wonder if we had just entered the area where losing presidential candidates come to live.
Soon we arrived at our quaint cottage, more than a hundred years old, right in the heart of the historic section of town close to just about everything. We lugged our things in and in a short time were settled for the next two months.
I began most days on the front porch with my coffee and a good book. At noon each day we listened as the church bells played a hymn which was my indicator that it was time for me to get on with my day. The house has a great backyard and garden. This proved to be a perfect place to give Bob his regular haircuts. It was also a good location to watch 4th of July fireworks!
We found, as history buffs, there was lots to see and do in the area. We felt pretty comfortable donning our masks and checking out a lot of the sights.
Winchester was settled by Quakers in 1729. Washington’s Office was just a block down from our Airbnb. Amazingly, during the civil war there were several battles in Winchester, and the area changed hands more than 70 times! That’s more than any other town in the country! Kernstown Battlefield was the site of two battles. The drive back to the visitors center was lovely and we shared the center with just two doscents. We did a lot of reading of placards and looking at exhibits but passed on taking a tour of the battlefield on a golf cart. That seemed like an unnecessary risk!
There is a national cemetery, which is the site of the Third Battle of Winchester, right in the center of town. Both Presidents Rutherford B Hayes and William McKinley fought in this battle.
The houses in all directions from our Airbnb were spectacular Victorian homes with expansive lawns.
In addition to the beautiful homes, there are about a dozen places in Winchester that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We didn’t venture inside many but we still were able to learn a lot by reading information markers. One of my very favorites is the Handley Regional Library.
I prefer to read an actual book to an electronic reader. Like I’ve done in many other locations, I contacted the library online about purchasing a temporary card. I got an immediate response from librarian Adrienne Davis with a form to fill out. She told me that I could return the form electronically and then go in and she’d have the card waiting for me. I got a second response from her saying that because I had a local Airbnb address, there wouldn’t be any charge. She went on to explain how I could register and use their digital library as well! When I entered, a woman standing near the entrance explained that patrons could only remain in the library for an hour and then handed me a small piece of paper with their rules.
She directed me back to the circulation desk where a woman recognized my name, handed me my card and showed me where I’d find books I had reserved and handed me the ones I had requested just a few hours earlier. Besides being so helpful, the Handley Library itself is an absolutely beautiful building. Jon Handley was a judge who visited Wincester on several occasions and after his death in 1895 he left $250,000 to the city to build a library.
We found many interesting places in Winchester. For instance, we drove past Patsy Cline’s home.
And not far from that was Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters.
Not far down the street from that was George Washington’s Headquarters.
When we first drove past the Hanley High School, I couldn’t figure out what it was. It looks more like a college than a high school. It is gorgeous and the grounds it’s located on only enhance its beauty. In 2009 they completed a 72 million dollar renovation!
We were thrilled when Patrick, our youngest, said he was going to come visit. The afternoon after he arrived we decided to visit The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley which is close by our cottage. They were featuring an outdoor sculpture exhibition, Big Bugs, by David Rogers. Again we were masked, and it was easy to socially distance.
Each sculpture I came upon became my immediate favorite…until I saw the next one! I found it fascinating that the sculptures were made out of things found in the forest! There is also an inside gallery. One of the most interesting rooms is the Bodice Project which asks the question: Who am I now? It addresses the struggles and triumphs of those who face breast cancer.
We also spent an enjoyable day in the Shenandoah National Park, one of only 11 national parks east of the Mississippi. I love mountains! It took us several hours to traverse the 105 north south route of Skyline Drive from Port Royal to the southern terminus. There are many pulloffs along the road each with a vista better than the last.
From there we cut over to I 80 and headed back to Winchester stopping in Harrisonburg at the Capital Ale House for dinner on their open air deck. This was the first time we’ve eaten out since March 14!
Winchester is only an hour and a half from Gettysburg so we decided it too would make a good day trip. I bought the Gettysburg Driving Tour App ($9.99) and it was money well spent. Even though we have been to the military park numerous times, we saw and heard stories that were totally new to us. It’s much more detailed than the auto route signs that are posted along the road. One of the nicest things is that the GPS allows the text to follow your driving explaining the significance of sites when you are actually near them. Gettysburg resulted in between 23,000 and 28,000 casualties. More than 3,000 soldiers were killed, the most of any battle in any war the US has been involved in. As we proceeded through the park in our air conditioned car, it’s difficult to appreciate just how horrendous the fighting must have been for three days in the muggy July weather with all the bugs and none of the current medical knowledge!
As we drove through the town of Gettysburg we were amazed by the size of the crowds, most of them without masks. But we did see some instances of folks trying their best to stay safe like this family eating in the parking lot of Friendly’s.
For some reason Google Maps directed us back to Winchester via rural back roads. We even encountered a covered bridge!
The next day we drove Patrick back to his home in DC. Crossing into DC we immediately noticed a difference with virtually everyone wearing a mask. It seems so strange that the politics of an area can determine how we view a pandemic!
A short walk from our Airbnb was a pedestrian mall with various shops, monuments and restaurants. There’s even a museum with a playground on its roof!
Although we never went into any of the shops we did try a couple of restaurants that had outdoor seating and felt very comfortable doing so. Wait staff was masked and tables were never close to one another. Our favorite was Violino Ristorante Italiano. http://violinoristorante.com/ We went here for dinner on our 53rd wedding anniversary. Talk about authentic; the owners are from the Italy! We ordered two selections from the antipasti menu: Mozzarella Santa Lucia and Bruschette! Delizioso! Bob ordered the Filleto Alla Rossini (prosciutto wrapped fillet) while I opted for the salmon! Both were amazing!
I had been trying to decide what to do with my hair for several weeks. It was last cut in March, and I felt like I was turning into a bush! I read reviews of area salons on Yelp. Then I called one; my focus was singular. How safe would it be? The owner said he operated the shop by himself. It was a small shop and there would be no other customers in the shop while I was there. Ok, I decided to try it. Great choice! The minute I opened the door of the DeRouge Salon I felt safe.
Upon entering Daniel pulled up his mask and greeted me. Although I’ve never worn my hair quite this short, it’s obvious I won’t have to worry about getting my haircut for a long time!
We really liked the location of Winchester as we were about an hour and a half drive from DC, and also about an hour and a half drive from Rockville where our son Stephen and his family live. This allowed us to the opportunity to visit with our family outdoors in a safe environment.
On our last weekend in Virginia we drove to Rockville to pick up some items they graciously stored for us and drop off some things we didn’t think we’d need in the next few months. From there we drove into DC and picked up Patrick. As many times as we’ve visited DC I never tire of the monuments and buildings. Two my favorites are the Smithsonian Castle and the Carnegie Library now turned into an Apple Store. (After the pandemic is over, I definitely want to check that store out!)
It was a pleasant day and in most neighborhoods people were out and about masked and enjoying the day. We passed an interesting Afghan restaurant with a saying written by French poet, Victor Hugo, across the American flag. In our minds, this represents the US at its best!
We noticed a huge difference in the number of people when we drove into the more touristy areas down town; they were virtually empty. It seemed so very strange!
Although we’ve spent a lot of time in the Washington DC area, Winchester was a new experience for us. We saw a lot of historic sites, met a lot of nice people and truly enjoyed our stay. Now we head back to the midwest, back to the shore of Lake Michigan, where we will spend the fall months before deciding where we should head before the snow flies!