We decided to break up our trip northward with a stop at Peaks of Otter Lodge, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Roanoke, VA. We’ve stayed there before, and have enjoyed the lodge, with its lakefront location, decent restaurant and overall quiet vibe. Our previous attempt to stay there was thwarted by the remnants of a hurricane, which forced us to change plans and cancel our reservation.
We headed north on the Parkway, enjoying the sunshine, cooler weather and lovely clouds. As we approached the lodge, however, it became apparent that a storm had recently passed through the area. Leaves and twigs littered the road and everything was wet. Water falling off the trees made it seem like it was still raining.
We arrived at the lodge with high hopes, only to be told that the lodge was without power because of the storm. And due to the somewhat remote mountain location, there was no guaranty when or if the power would be restored. Not to worry, though, right?
Soon afterward we decided to make drinks. We always travel prepared, so all we needed was ice. But of course the ice machines are powered by electricity, so while there was probably plenty of ice in the hopper, it wouldn’t dispense. So I took my trusty ice bucket to the lodge to get it filled. Fortunately they still had plenty of ice, so all was not lost.
But…between the time we checked in and when I returned to the lodge for ice, a decision had been made that the bar and restaurant would not be opening for dinner. So much for the nice dinner. Faced with the prospect of a cold chicken salad wrap from the lodge or driving into the nearest town for dinner, we opted for the cooked dinner in town. But first…drinks! Yay for ice!
The lodge is located at a high enough elevation that even though the rooms have air conditioning, it is seldom needed. So it was no problem for us to sleep there. And since sunset was late at this time of year and we had our tablets fully charged with books pre-loaded, it was easy for us to pass the time. Did I mention that there is no cell service at the lodge? And with no wifi, we were really “off the grid.”
So it was a little bit like camping, except that we were in a bed in a room with a roof and a door. And as it turned out, even though there was still no power in the morning, somehow there was hot water for a shower! Ultimately the biggest hardship was that we were unable to get coffee or tea. But we lived to tell about it and to head on to our next destination, Lewisburg, West Virginia. More to come!
A frequent stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia is an overlook called “The Saddle.” So named because it sits on a ridge with a eastern view toward a deep valley and a western view toward Buffalo Mountain.
We’ve visited The Saddle probably dozens of times over the years, occasionally getting a nice sunset there. The view toward the east would probably make for an interesting sunrise, but in all our trips there we haven’t been close enough for a morning visit. I may need to remedy that at some point!
There is a tree next to the parking lot that I have photographed over the years. I was interested, and a bit disappointed, to see that it is for all intents and purposes, past its useful life. The decline was pretty obvious over the years, but is very apparent now. I suppose it is just a matter of time before a big wind, or a chainsaw, carries it off.
Kathy & I just returned from an abbreviated version of our somewhat annual “Friends and Family Tour.” ‘Somewhat annual’ because it hasn’t been continuous, ‘abbreviated’ because we only saw a few of our friends and didn’t take quite as much time as we have in the past several years. But we saw some good friends, met a long-time friend in person for the first time, and generally had a nice week.
The first stop on our journey was Mabry Mill, a landmark on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. For good reason, the mill is one of the most-visited and most-photographed spot on the Parkway. We were fortunate to have visited on a weekday morning, so things were not too crowded, and the weather was a refreshing 70 degrees. Quite a departure from the upper 90s we were experiencing in Charlotte!
We’ve visited Mabry Mill dozens of times, and I have photographed the mill in all seasons. This time it was mostly snapshots, but I still ended up with a few interesting shots.
I’ll have more words and photos to post as I get through the week’s files.
If you have any interest in cameras and find yourself in central Virginia, the Camera Heritage Museum in Staunton (pronounced STAN-ton) is a must-see. Located in a former camera store, this place is crazy full of cameras of all kinds, and the stuff in the showroom is only part of the collection. According to the guy we talked to (mostly he talked to us!) they have store rooms throughout the city with more cameras. They just don’t have room to display them all. They claim to be the largest camera store open to the public in the US, and although I have nothing to compare it to and even after visiting the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, I believe it!
Check out their website. It tells you more than I can ever tell in a blog post. But you definitely have to see it in person to really appreciate it!
Kathy and I embarked this past Friday on our Great New England Road Trip, spending our first night in a very non-New England (but still lovely) Staunton, Virginia. Beverly Street in downtown Staunton, Virginia (pronounced ‘Stanton’) is blocked off so restaurants can do outdoor dining. I shot this after dinner at Emilio’s, an excellent Italian restaurant located on the street behind my vantage point for this shot.
The photo is a teensy bit soft as it was taken handheld at 0.8 seconds, ISO 6400. 😉
Several weeks ago in my Art vs. Decor post I included photos from the NASCAR Hall of Fame here in Charlotte. I got a number of favorable comments about those photos which are among my favorites. They are favorites partly because they represent some of the “landmark” locations in Charlotte, but mostly because people who ought to know where they were taken are often stumped because it isn’t the usual view.
After working on the “Frozen Moments” photo I was perusing the folder for another visit to Roanoke, VA and came across these photos of the Taubman Museum of Art. While designed by a different architect, there are some obvious similarities between this building and many other famous landmarks across this country and around the world. Interestingly, the Taubman is essentially “right next door” to Billy’s restaurant from that rainy photo. I had much better weather for these photos! 😉
As it turns out, The Taubman was designed by architect Randall Stout, who had his own firm when he designed this building and others, but had spent 7 1/2 years with Frank O. Gehry and Associates. Gehry is known for his works that include The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and it is evident to me that Stout was heavily influenced by that aesthetic.
By the way, the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte was designed by another famous firm, I.M. Pei, known for many famous buildings, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the “Pyramid” at The Louvre in Paris.
Kirk Tuck recently used this phrase in regards to making choices between camera options, specifically about different lenses. The full quote follows:
The “science” of optical design can not have changed a tremendous amount in four or five years so you have to understand that the “new versus old” shift is largely a recalibration of compromises. Buy the new one and watch your left biceps atrophy. Buy the old one and suffer the dreaded effects of manual portage. Suffer the ruinous added weight of the original for the extra 1% of quality in the corners or choose the lightweight version and forever wonder how much optical magic they had to remove to get the lens corpulence under control.
It occurred to me, however, that the concept applies in a much broader context, especially in recent months.
Every decision we make requires some effort to balance the options, to compromise. Do I want the camera with the big sensor that is huge, heavy and requires a large suitcase to cart around, or am I better off with the compact camera with a smaller sensor, small but excellent lenses and “good enough” image quality? We want to travel – we love to fly but not not any time soon. We have spent a lot of time on cruise ships but won’t for a while. Our trip to the beach worked out really well – just like living at home but with better scenery. 😉
We love to eat our but have limited our restaurant outings. We’ve gotten even better at preparing simple but delicious meals at home – much to the delight of the bathroom scale!
Kathy and I are currently in the process of planning a road trip to the Pacific Northwest. The places we’re planning to visit are the places where we’re less likely to encounter big crowds. As crazy as it sounds, we’ll probably drive within a few miles of Yellowstone or Glacier National Parks, but have no intention of stopping. First, crowds are not our thing. We probably would be doing pretty much the same thing even without all the Coronacrisis hoopla. But second is that we don’t want to have to deal with the logistics of large crowds. Third is that when we do go to those parks we want to be able to spend several days or even a couple of weeks there. That isn’t the plan for this time.
Our recent drive to Ohio and Wisconsin taught us that we can eat, sleep, pee and get gas just about anywhere. Sometimes it requires a little compromise on location or timing, but it can get done. Ultimately, once we solve that basic equation we can go just about anywhere!
People ask us why we don’t buy an RV. For some people it’s the perfect solution. For us, we like knowing that when we get to the motel, tired after or driving or exploring all day, we don’t need to spend another hour setting up camp. I can have cocktails made within minutes after arrival! And the next morning, we grab a cup of coffee, drop the keys at the front desk and get on our way again. Neither option is right or wrong, just different ways to calibrate the compromises.
None of our choices are either/or or yes/no. We need to consider what we can do instead We have to look at the options and recalibrate our compromises. Our priorities, if you will. It can be hard, particularly for those of us who don’t care for change. But the effort is worth it, because there are still plenty of things to do once we have worked out the details.
It’s not often we get to stay at a brand-new hotel. It’s even more rare to be the very first people to stay in a hotel room. But that was our experience at The Sessions Hotel in Bristol, VA. The hotel had just opened a week or so before our visit, and a paper in our room asked for feedback since we were the first ones to occupy the room. Cool!
When we were making our plans to return home from Wisconsin, Bristol was in the right location for our last night’s stay. We had been to Bristol before, but had only stayed at the usual next-to-the-freeway chain hotels. When I searched on hotels, one of the search results was ‘The Sessions Hotel, A Tribute Portfolio Hotel’ by Marriott in downtown Bristol. The price was a little higher than the freeway-side options, and the location was shown as being right in the center of town. Whenever possible we like to be “in town” so we can walk to dinner and shops instead of searching for a place to park. So what the heck?
Bristol is a historic town situated on the VA/TN border. In fact the VA/TN state line runs right through the middle of State Street, the main street through town. Bristol’s primary claim to fame is as the Birthplace of Country Music, so named because of “The Sessions,” recording sessions that took place in Bristol in 1927. These recording sessions launched the widespread appeal of musicians who, up until that time, had been known only locally in the areas where they performed.
According to the Marriott website, the Tribute Portfolio is a collection of boutique hotels designed to reflect the character of the city in which they are located, operated independently but under the Marriott umbrella. Each hotel has its own theme, decor and vibe.
The hotel occupies three buildings that previously housed a mill and warehouse. The public spaces and rooms were all designed around the theme of The Sessions. Music-inspired artwork, furniture and accessories abounds in the public areas, and each room is uniquely decorated with the theme of a specific recording.
From the hotel website:
“Situated in the heart of the Birthplace Of Country Music, our boutique hotel is named after the 1927 Sessions made by Ralph Peer and a few others. Bristol’s energetic passion for country music is reflected throughout the hotel’s thoughtful décor with curated pieces and musical offerings. Experience a free-spirited environment in repurposed buildings where rustic meets contemporary. Rest comfortably in uniquely designed rooms and suites with exposed brick and modern furnishings. Indulge at Southern Craft restaurant, an upscale wood fired smokehouse, offering award winning barbecue, classic favorites and sides. Sip cocktails on the rooftop bar and lounge by the cozy fire pit overlooking the city of Bristol. Get pampered at the Vision Salon and Day spa with invigorating spa treatments and body rituals. Host a special event in our indoor or outdoor music venues with a music stage or attend one of the concerts at our Bristol, VA hotel.”
Our room was Room 224, which was a Junior Suite. The room was named after the tune “Tell Mother I Will Meet Her,” recorded by Ernest Stoneman. The room number plaque outside the room had a replica of the record label, and in the room was a framed copy of the lyrics. The “Do Not Disturb” sign was a wooden record with “Time For A Rest” imprinted on it.
We didn’t explore the hotel much since we were only there overnight, but we certainly enjoyed our room. We did not, for example, sample the rooftop bar, but we did have breakfast at the adjacent restaurant. A lot of the amenities were still being finalized, as there were still painters touching up some of the rooms and hallways during our stay. Our conversation with the manager indicated that there are plans for an outdoor music venue and other additions in the near future.
Overall the hotel was nicely done. The decor and furnishings are of high quality, and the bathroom is the kind that makes you want to call a bathroom remodeler as soon as you get home! The hotel is a couple of steps above the typical “chain” hotel, and just the kind of thing that Kathy & I look for when we’re looking to get away but don’t want to drive too far. Bristol isn’t exactly known as a foodie mecca, but we don’t consider ourselves foodies anyway. There are plenty of unique, interesting and local places to eat – just the kind of place we look for. Who could pass up a hotdog or two from a place called the Earnest Tube (as in the musician Ernest Tubbs) or a place called The Angry Italian? We did pass them up this time, but would definitely put them on the agenda for another visit!
Bristol and The Sessions Hotel is definitely on our short list of places to return to when we are looking for a few days away. We hope they can start the live music back up soon. It would be a great place to visit this fall when things cool down and the leaves heat up!
I’ve been going back through old image folders looking for unprocessed photos that are worth spending time with. I recently came across some photos from a visit to Chincoteague, Virginia in 2010.
The ocean was particularly angry one morning, and I remember standing on the beach shooting the surf while trying to keep myself and the camera dry from the salt spray. In order to slow the shutter speed down enough to show the motion, I had stopped my lens down to – according to the metadata – f40. I didn’t remember having a lens that stopped down that much, but sho-nuff the old Canon 100-400 did!
Of course, at f40 every dust spot on the sensor is going to be visible, and on some of these photos there were dozens, perhaps a hundred or more. It’s a pretty safe guess that the reason these photos hadn’t been processed was because of all the spots. I’ve never been meticulous about cleaning my sensor, and it shows. But one of the advances in Lightroom that I am now able to take advantage of is the Spot Removal tool. The technology has improved dramatically over the last 10 years, to the point where I was able to salvage this photos. It involved a lot of clicking and a certain amount of adjusting, but a lot less futzing than I would have had to do back then!
It’s not exactly an obsession, but one of the things I look for when we travel (other than lighthouses and covered bridges) is train stations. They are generally very easy to spot, as their architecture tends to be quite unique. They are usually, but not always, located next to railroad tracks. Sometimes they are still active passenger depots, but more often than not have been converted to offices, civic centers or meeting halls. I’ve seen some that are police stations, city halls and even restaurants. Most heartbreaking for me is when I see one in disrepair. It takes a lot of money to keep these places up, but they are an important part of history and I love to see them being used and maintained.