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Virginia - Old Company

October 17 - October 20
Written October 18 - 20+

Dear Diary,
This is the story of our America Trip - Virginia edition. 

Much of this detail is probably unnecessary for visitors, but we do want to keep track of "everything".  That's the whole point of a diary, especially one created by forgetful seniors!  To skip forward, here are some shortcuts:
-- Lynchburg
-- James Madison's home, Montpelier
-- Great Falls National Park
-- Dinner with friends

On Wednesday the 17th we left Maryland for Lynchburg, Virginia.  The drive started with an hour of Washington DC traffic and then added almost four hours of boring American driving.  After a decade in autobahn-world, driving 50 or 60 miles-per-hour on wide, straight roads puts us to sleep.  Not a good thing.  Lynchburg is unusual in that it is not connected to the rest of the country with an Interstate freeway, just with "normal" two- and four-lane highways.  This might have been better in the top-down Boxster, but it was a yawner in the Hertz Ford.  Enough whining.

In Lynchburg, we checked into the Kirkley Hotel, a large "convention" hotel.  Everybody there has been the almost-saccharine-sweet friendly we have come to expect in Lynchburg.  It is a style that actually takes some getting used to, kind of like visiting an English-speaking foreign country.  OK though. 

From there, I went over to Areva for an appointment with the personnel people. I checked in at the reception desk, got my "ESCORT REQUIRED" badge, and waited.  For years, I would have buzzed in, wandered the halls, and chatted with folks.  No longer, I guess.  Too bad.  Terri, my expatriate contact in Personnel for 10-years, retrieved me from reception and we had the brief, pleasant business discussions we have had every couple of years.  In fact, Wednesday's topic had been discussed for three or four of those years, without a mutually-acceptable solution, but we may have made enough progress this time.  We'll see.  We both ended the meeting with: "Nothing personal, but I hope this is the last meeting".

Before dinner with friends, Marianne wanted to drive through downtown Lynchburg to see what was new since her last visit a year or two (or three or four?) years ago. The answer was: not much.  Lynchburg's glory years were probably in the later 19th or early 20th Centuries and when I first visited  20 years ago.  Generations of decay  had set in.  Downtown was half paved-over parking lots and a fair amount of boarded-up shops and businesses.  Today, it seems the decay has stopped and, even if prosperity is limited, there does seem to be evidence of a positive direction.  (As evidence, we found a new-for-us downtown restaurant called Jimmy's on the James for a glass of wine and were quite favorably impressed with the menu, people, and space.)

d121017_03_BobEtc.jpgd121017_04_SandraEtc.jpgAfter wine, we visited our friends Sandra and Bob and their kids.  They showed us the lot they had bought for building a new house and we wished them well on starting a house-construction project.  Better them than us!  Dinner was at The Dahlia, a neighborhood bar-bistro that served good, Southern comfort food.  No diets allowed.  Fun.

Thursday was a slow day, the type of day that retirement allows.  We lingered at breakfast, reading news, writing email, talking.  Mid-day, we went shopping for a few things we needed and looked at things we didn't need.

Friends Roger and Joanne picked us up for dinner at the Bedford Social Club, a favorite of theirs.  The Club is in an old-for-America 19th Century building in the town of Bedford and offers eclectic, local dishes.  The food was good, the wine very good, and the evening zoomed by.  (And, next time, I have to remember pictures.)  When we were dropped off back at the hotel, we tried to convince Roger to take Joanne to visit Germany, but I think we need more work to do.  We WILL remember.

d121019_02_driveUp.jpgOur only fixed goal on Friday was to be back in Northern Virgina by cocktail time, so we had plenty of time to make the four-hour drive.  About half-way up from Lynchburg, we stopped at Montpelier, President James Madison's home.  The historic house has gone through a $25 million restoration project that returned it to the  condition of 1820, when Madison retired from the presidency.  We had visited earlier, during the work in 2005 and 2007, and it was interesting to see the final result.

The tour was led by a very friendly guide who managed to mix in a history lesson with corny jokes.  We learned about Madison's role in the country's founding and better understood the phrase "writer of the Constitution".  I was particularly impressed when we sat in the library where the early political theorist actually wrote the outline that he later used to frame the constitution.  Madison was clearly the original policy wonk.  (I wonder, would he back Romney or Obama today?)

We were allowed to take pictures outside and the fall colors helped brighten the scene.
Montpelier -- front, view from front, start tour
Slaves quarters from wing porch, inside kitchen, outside kitchen
Dolly and James
d121019_45_dinner.jpg After our history lesson, we had a pleasant fall-color drive to Oakton, Virginia, a suburb of Washington DC.  We found Nancy and Steve's house easy enough, just one wrong turn, costing 10 minutes.  There we settled in and started sharing travel and political stories.  Nancy and Steve have always had good stories, from when we first met in Kiev through our  visits to Trier, Strasbourg, and Pommersfelden in the years in between.  Mixed in with the stories, we were served a wonderful dinner and more good wine.  This rich lifestyle will have to be moderated or we will return to Germany too large for our waiting winter clothes!

Saturday started slowly, as it should with two retired couples.  (Actually, Steve restarts part-time work on Monday, so this is his last "fully retired" weekend.)  Nancy offered a nice "German breakfast of coffee, boiled eggs, vegetables, and cold cuts, making us feel "at home". 

Breakfast lasted almost until lunchtime, but since we said we needed walking before more eating, we drove up to Great Falls National Park.  It was a colorful Fall day and the walk along the Potomac River was a great break from eating.  I'll let the pictures tell the story:
Great Falls National Park

However, after a couple of hours of walking, we did indeed need to eat again!  Steve drove us over to a wonderful Washington DC landmark, L'Auberge Chez Francois, in hopes of having a bit of wine and a small snack in their less-formal, outdoor "Brasserie".  The bad news was that the lunch hour had closed and the dinner hour, even for the brasserie, was  still an hour away.  The good news, really good news, was that Steve saw the owner Jacques just as we were leaving and mentioned our dilemma.   Jacques immediately led us to the Brasserie patio, sat us down, and had his staff offer us whatever we wanted.  It was the most charming hospitality we have seen from a restaurant in a very long time. 
L'Auberge Chez Francois
After "lunch" we drove back through the palaces of this part of northern Virginia.  Palaces, really.  There was mile after mile of huge homes, set in woods or rolling hills, some larger than our German palaces, Italian Palazzos, or French Chateaus.  These are the homes of the royalty that run Washington DC.  It does make me think.

Back home, we rested before our next event, dinner at the Bowens.   Then it was back in the car and a half-hour drive to John and Mary's home inside the Beltway.  Again, we passed nice homes, but just "nice", appropriate for the Washington folks who implement the plans and programs of the DC royalty.

Mary and John had invited Peter and Chin, more friends from Kiev, and the evening was interesting, as it always is with this group, as people moved easily between discussion of politics (all fans of Mr. Obama), US government (three career-government minions), retirement (some are retired and some will be shortly), family and world events.  I do miss these discussions.  Marianne and I remain foreigners back home in Germany, barred by language and shared-history from evening discussions such as this.
(I probably need more pictures from the other guests!)

Now it is Sunday and we will be packing up and heading back to grandsons Ryan & Sean's house, in Maryland, so this closes our Virginia segment.  Looking back, I must say that we need to figure out how we can stay in touch with all our Virginia friends, in Lynchburg and around "the beltway".  I'm not sure how we will accomplish this, but we need to try.


John and Marianne


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