Fly to - Washington DC (Capital Region)
Travel date - Oct 2010
Having had 'Capital Region' product live on our website for some time now we felt it prudent to revisit the region and look to see in what areas this part of our product portfolio could be improved. With this in mind Roger Thompson, Charlotte Gill and Sarah Goss flew directly to Washington D.C. to commence further direct research.
Thu Oct 07. 2010 - Roger Thompson
Thu Oct 07. 2010began with the now expected exemplary performance laid on by British Airways for its customers ~ Terminal 5 grows ever more efficient as time passes by and you can generally rely on B.A. for their very professional in-flight service ~ all told the flight departed 30 mins later than expected but arrived pretty much on time due to time made up with strong tail winds.
Arrival at Washington/Dulles airport could have been better however ~ whilst undergoing renovations continue, disruptions and delays to passengers arriving and passing through immigration proved to be a relatively long and arduous process ~ not good and we wait for news on the completion of current work being carried out so that we can reassure our own customers that normal expected entrance procedures to the U.S. are reinstated.
Normal current transportation options from Washington/Dulles airport into the city of Washington DC which incidentally can take up to an hour would be by taxi (approx. USD70.00), supper shuttle coach (approx. USD20.00 per person) or private sedan/limousine (prices on request) ~ however there is currently under construction a new rail link that will not only connect airport with city, it will do it in a way that makes the journey very cost effective and very much a practical one, given you are not carrying too many pairs of shoes in your luggage.
Accommodation in D.C. is at the Omni Shoreham hotel located at Rock Creek Park on the north side of the city ~ large as it maybe compared to some smaller boutique properties, the property is actually quite majestic, very good value for money and very accessible to the many various neighbourhoods that makes D.C. such a vibrant city. The Omni has proved to be a good default property in D.C. and given it has actually improved again since we were last here, this hotel will continue to feature heavily in our Capital Region programmes ~ coupled with the fact of course that because of our relationship with 'Omni Hotels' across many areas of North America, our preferred rates with this quality brand get better and better ~ all of which means better value for money for our clients.
Having arrived at the hotel at 17.00, time for a quick wander around the immediate neighbourhood of Woodley Park & Adams Morgan but unfortunately time to visit any of the many attractions that the city has to offer have had to be postponed for another day ~ the feeling of this part of the city is one of vibrancy, youth and energy ~ lots of people out running, cycling, walking and the streets littered with busy alfresco café bars give you a feeling of a small part of Paris.
No time to savour too much, instead time to get ready to join 'Spirit Cruises' for a cruise up/down the Potomac river ~ as long as you do not expect 'fine dining' on board, the 3 hour experience was an enjoyable one, particularly given that D.C. is experiencing its very own 'Indian Summer' and the weather here is approx. 70 degrees during the day. A lot of the historical monuments can be seen from the deck of the boat and we have to say that there is a lot of merit for a an 'evening' rather than a 'day' tour of the city, given the ambience that the city is exuding, both from the streets and the water.
Thu Oct 07. 2010 - Charlotte & Sarah - the alternative view
After an incredibly simple check in process with British Airways 24 hours before we were due to depart, we printed out our boarding cards and made our way to Heathrow's Terminal 5. My experience with Terminal 5 so far is on the whole faultless with regards to a structured check in procedure – a very short wait at the bag drop zones and well managed security protocols. Following a rigorous security check (yes I had worn every piece of jewellery I owned and the biggest non-regulation boots I could find, much to the amusement of the growing line of people behind me), we found ourselves breakfast airside, before heading to our departure gate.
The flight itself was uneventful, 7.5 hours (slightly longer than usual) of pure 'on demand' new release films, up to date TV programmes, some slightly questionable choices of music on the Ipod and even more questionable 'spinach and mushroom risotto' we arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport. Just to note, 'World Traveller Plus' really is worth the upgrade, at least for the return journey (see picture), the extra space for pre/post holiday 'snoozing' is justified!
Once we landed, we rode on what can only be described as a 'monster truck' to the terminal building where we encountered a fairly long immigration queue. This, we felt, was accentuated by the 3 other international flights that had landed shortly before ours but we were dealt with efficiently none the less – and were queuing for approximately 1 hour (we Brits do love to queue don't' we?!). We were told that Washington Dulles Airport is currently working on a smooth and more efficient baggage handling system, which is due to be completed in the next few months, however our bags were already waiting for us on the carousel as we passed through Immigration and we exited the airport to find the Alamo rental car shuttle. A short walk away, a 5 minute coach ride and we arrived at the rental depot to find a small sea of rental vehicles (see picture). The 'pick up' process took about 20 minutes once the Alamo representative had eventually found us the Sat Nav that we had pre-booked. Inevitably we were up sold 'Road Side Plus' (their way of adding even more insurance), but felt that we wouldn't need it and the additional $5.99 per day was not justified.....famous last words I'm sure!
Now, picking your rental vehicle for most, would be one of the easiest decisions of the day. But, no. Personally I wanted a "really shiny and pretty red one with a soft top so we can cruise around town" but from a functional point of view, I managed to track down our Intermediate SUV with USB ports and a very practical cream interior (!). Something to note here, all category SUVs (Intermediate/Standard/Full Size) were parked in the same area and you are literally pointed to that area by the staff and you can pick up any one you want. The Kia Sorento that we eventually chose is really only suitable for a family of 4 and no more...after my giant suitcase and the other's tiny 'weekend bags' there was only room for 2 in the front and 2 in the back.
The drive from the airport to the Omni Shoreham took us approximately half an hour, the first 15 minutes are unfortunately fairly bland highways but once you're off these it turns into a lovely winding drive behind and through Rock Creek Park. If you think 'Oxbridge University Campus' you wouldn't be far off, countless 'outdoorsy' runners under the tree canopies which line the roadside, alongside a small river genuinely gives you the distinct feeling that Washington is going to be great......and you would be right. From pulling up to the Omni to driving around Adam's Morgan and Georgetown, cruising by the Potomac River and turning the corner to be greeted by some of the most spectacular architecture and history, Washington really is just breathtaking. Every district is different, catering for all ages and interests and with so much to learn you will honestly feel that 3 nights would certainly only just do this city justice.
The Omni itself is located on the edge of Adam's Morgan and right opposite one of the Metro stations, which is very handy to transport you to the historical heart that is 'The National Mall' – where the majority of the National Monuments and museums are. The hotel is opulent from your first entrance and the staff members are incredibly courteous. Upon check in, we were greeted by Danny, who checked us in with a bit of flare...when asking if we were intending on "all sharing one room" we had to politely explain that we were work colleagues and although it's obvious that we all get on very well, Roger is not in fact "our dad"(!).
The rooms are large, especially ours which hosts two queen beds with enough extra room to swing at least 4 cats. Oddly though, the bathroom is smaller but perfectly manageable. If you are an outdoors person, which it seems many Washingtonians are, then the hotel is situated right on the back of Rock Creek Park, which provides you with ample walking/running routes...to be tested tomorrow morning!
So into the evening, after meeting Theresa from Destination DC, we get ready for a treat in the form of a 'Spirit Dinner Cruise' down the Potomac River. As we arrive at the pier, approximately a 15 minute drive direct from our hotel, we are greeted by a huge 'James Bond' style cruise ship that any rap star would be proud of. Brittany 'Whitney Houston', our waitress certainly made us feel welcome and serenaded us with her voice (definite X Factor contender!), along with 'DJ Rick' AKA Barry White. Their efforts certainly did not go un-noticed! So, cruising slowly along the Potomac River during the sunset is definitely a view to remember, Washington from the water is stunning. There are no high rise buildings on the Washington skyline, as it is a rule that no building be taller than the Capitol Building and I can honestly say this creates such a serene atmosphere. The water is still and the wind is light, we are educated by Theresa as to the buildings we pass, among them The Pentagon, The Lincoln Memorial (from a distance), the National Monument and the Capitol Building itself. As myself and Charlotte learn about the sights around us, we suddenly realise that we had lost Roger....and then we notice that DJ Rick is playing the 'Hokey Cokey'....!
We would definitely recommend a cruise down the river as it really is a fantastic way to see the sights. The whole cruise lasted 4 hours, so may not be something you would want to do on your first night, but possibly done on your second or third night, may be just right. We can also recommend other day/night cruises which may be more suitable if you are looking for a more formal evening.
We departed the ship at 10pm and made our way back to the Omni where we settled in for the night knowing the busy day we have tomorrow....
Friday 8th October
After a good night's kip, we wake and leave the hotel bound for Arlington Cemetery. We arrive at 8am, just as it opens, to an incredibly serene atmosphere. Arlington Cemetery is just something else, it's such an eye opening experience with sombre undertones. We would suggest that you get here early before the crowds if only to get the most of the peaceful atmosphere. There are a small selection of tours available, the shortest takes about 45 minutes and visits the Kennedy's Grave Site and Eternal Flame, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Arlington House, the home of Robert E Lee. The bus tour guides are knowledgeable; the information is delivered with some intensity so as to enlighten you to the reality of what is around you but essentially they are presenting you with the final resting place of those American men and women who have died to keep their country free. This excursion comes highly recommended by the CNA team. Getting to Arlington is easy – you can use the 'Hop On, Hop Off' Tour buses which include Arlington in the many stops they make around the city or if you are close to the National Mall it would only be a 20-30 minute walk. If you already have your rental vehicle as we did driving only took 10 minutes from downtown DC and parking was ample (a small charge does apply).
We left the Cemetery after a couple of hours and headed to Mount Vernon. This can be incorporated into a tour along with Arlington Cemetery, please feel free to contact any of us in the office for details/prices. Mount Vernon was the home of George and Martha Washington, both of whom are considered heroes in American history. Their home is well preserved although very much a 'tourist attraction' and incorporated in the American school curriculum. Here you can take an audio tour or self tour depending on the amount of time that you have. A couple of hours is plenty and we would recommend visiting around lunch time – between 12 and 2 the house and grounds are at their quietest. There are numerous employees around whose job it is to 're-enact' George Washington's life which is entertaining and informative. You have the option to watch a small film before touring the grounds which again is interesting for those with a curiosity for American history. After the tour we stopped next door at the Mount Vernon Inn for a spot of lunch, please don't expect 5* Michelin Star here, it really is very simple grub.
Next was an activity that we had all been looking forward to. We all have a deep fascination with the history surrounding the great land that is America, and so we wanted to ensure that we saw as many of the sights as possible. A fantastic way to do this is by bike – we literally 'Biked the Sights' which was AWESOME!! We picked up our bikes along with our tour guide at the Old Pavillion Post House, met the rest of the biker group and set off towards every National Monument Washington has going. There are a lot. They seem to commemorate most things, I was surprised we didn't visit the ''National Oprah Monument' or the 'National McDonalds Monument', but we saw all the rest! Our guide, Amy, was superb, she kept us safe and ensured that we all returned in one piece – Washington really is incredibly bike friendly so once you've grasped the pedestrian crossing/traffic light system it is such a safe activity. They even supply bikes with child buggies attached so we would definitely recommend this for families. There were certain Monuments that really 'stuck out' for us – the 'Lincoln Memorial' left us in a contemplative mood. This particular sight, made famous by many movies (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, The Firm, All the President's Men.....feel free to add more) and it's view over the 'Reflection Pool' and the National Monument is spectacular.
We also visit the White House (from a distance) which is absolutely fascinating – did you know that there are ALWAYS at least 2 snipers on the White House roof that pace back and forth searching for baddies – just like the movies!! We stop at the Korean War, Vietnam, World War II, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Einstein Monuments.....we took advantage of the Einstein one as you're allowed to climb all over it, and rubbing his nose supposedly brings you 'smarts' i.e. intelligence. Charlotte was there for over 30 minutes.
The bike tour lasts approximately 3 hours, after this we decided to take the Metro back to our hotel. Well as simple as this should have been, we complicated it to the point where we stood looking at the ticket machine for at least 10 minutes before understanding what fare we needed and how much it would take to get us home. I decided it was just like the Krypton Factor, but harder. Roger lost his patience, which is unusual......and fed the machine $10, just before I pointed out the $2.40 sign to the left. The metro looks like something out of 'Blade Runner' (what people in the 80s believed the future was going to look like!) but it's functional and apart from the above blip, is simple to follow. The Metro station is just over the road from the hotel, so a quick freshen up and we make our way out for dinner.
We were recommended a lovely little Italian over in Georgetown called Filamena's, which the concierge at the Omni organised for us. Now Halloween has already hit the US so the restaurant was decked out with 'Chuckie' and his companions (see picture) so it was slightly unusual but the atmosphere was buzzing and you could quite obviously see how popular it was with the locals. We had some excellent authentic food and some equally excellent wine.
Saturday 9th Oct 2010
This morning we awoke to another beautiful morning and, in spite of the wonderful food we ate last night, were all keen for a spot of breakfast before a full day ahead. Just across from the hotel, and barely a two minute walk, we found a cafe serving everything from muffins and bagels through to sausage eggs and bacon. As it was such a beautiful morning we opted for seats out on the patio where we could watch Washington waking up as we enjoyed our coffee. It was quite a treat to sit out and enjoy breakfast outside on a warm October morning and we set off eager to see what the day would bring.
Although we already had our car for most this would be the morning when people would head to one of the nearby car rental depots to pick up the vehicle before leaving the city. As you would expect, leaving Washington on the highway was not the most scenic drive I have experienced but barely an hour West of the city the landscape begins to unfold and the buildings give way to wooded rolling hills as you approach the Skyline Drive. Leaving the Highway, the Skyline Drive is just over 100 miles of road which follows the ridge of the mountains through the Shenandoah National Park. Entrance to the park was just $15.00 for the vehicle and passengers – a bargain when you consider this gets you multiple entries to the park for up to 7 days. Winding our way through the warm autumn sunshine we could easily see why this park was designed specifically to give motorists the feeling of looking at the landscape from the sky – the views were breath-taking. There are pull-outs every few miles where you can admire the view and, of course, take some fabulous photos. Being October the leaves on the trees are beginning to hint at a wonderful display of colour yet to come. Usually the colours here would peak between 10th and 30th October and you can already see that the 'Fall Foliage' here is going to give New England a run for it's money! In addition to the stunning views the park is also home to wildlife including deer and black bears. In spite of keeping all of our eyes peeled, the closest we got to spotting a bear was the 5 foot toy bear, sporting a National Park Service hat and a neckerchief, standing outside the gift shop at the Skyland Lodge! As well as dropping to the Visitor's Centre for some background and information about the park it offers countless scenic spots – ideal for a picnic – and many walking trails. I'd certainly suggest a great way to get out of the car and experience the park would be to take a short hike along one of the many trails.
About a third of the way down the Skyline Drive we took a diversion and headed West out of the park to Luray to visit the caverns there. The caverns themselves are an underground wonderland shaped by centuries of water seeping down through the rocks to create dramatic and imposing formations. The path is fully paved and an audio tour is available to guide you through. The downside was the number of other people who were also enjoying the caverns... if was certainly busy although this may well have had something to do with the weather and the holiday weekend. I'm not sure any of us felt this was an essential or 'must do' stop however if you do have an interest in all thing subterraneous then this could be the place for you!
Back on the road we headed back into Shenandoah Park and continued South along the Skyline Drive. Towards the more southern end of the drive – for approximately the last 30 miles there was noticeably less traffic and we all agreed that this was our favourite part of the drive. At the end of the Skyline Drive we continued West through Waynesboro to Staunton 'Stanton' (don't pronounce the 'u' or the locals will quickly put you straight!). Our accommodation for the night is in the charming Old Virginia Inn where we were welcomed by Eve who owns the Inn and Sheryl Wagner from the Staunton Visitor's Bureau. The rooms at the Inn are in a separate building and share a very comfortable lounge with a large fireplace. The rooms themselves are also incredibly comfortable and Eve has paid attention to the details, the result is a charming and homely feel with bags of character. I'm looking forward to breakfast in the morning already...
The Inn is a short drive outside Staunton 'Stanton' and we head in to the town to have a look round and get some dinner. Staunton itself is a distinctive and historic town with a lively community feel to it, walking down the main street you in some ways feel transported by in time; all the shops and restaurants are charming independent ventures with none of the big 'high street' names you would expect elsewhere. Within Staunton itself there are some great accommodation options which but you just a short walk from all that the town has to offer.
We were treated to some great food, wine (for the girls) and beer (for Roger) at the Mockingbird. The ethos behind the restaurant is to provide wholesome locally sourced food and the menu reflects this perfectly. The restaurant also has an adjoining venue where it hosts bands to provide live music which we are assured is well worth a visit – we will have to take their word for it though as we had tickets to see one of Shakespeare's finest, 'Taming of the Shrew' at the American Shakespeare Centre at Blackfriars Playhouse. The Playhouse itself is a charming and intimate venue re-creating Shakespeare's original indoor theatre. It truly reflects the time of Shakespeare with the result that, no matter where your seats are, you are drawn into the performance. The actors were excellent and had us all enthralled and laughing in no time at all. This was a wonderful way to spend an evening and there are currently performances most evenings here. If you are interested in seeing one of the productions during your stay – which we would highly recommend – please speak to one of the team. Feeling that this was a fitting end to what had been a scenic day we headed back to test the comfy looking beds back at the Inn.
Sunday Oct 10th 2010 - Charlotte Gill & Sarah Goss
Following a late but cultural evening, we awoke early to enjoy the sunrise from our rooms in the annex of the Old Virginia Inn. Eve, had pre-prepared for us a 2 course fully home-made breakfast consisting of a fruit cup and French toast with bacon – an excellent way to fill up for the busy day ahead.
We headed out towards Charlottesville en route to visit Monticello – the exquisite home of Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately time did not allow for us to stay in Charlottesville itself however, we did have the chance to stop and wander through the main street which had a very European cafe culture feel with its tree lined avenue and historic buildings. Time was also taken to re-visit the Omni at Charlottesville to ensure that this property still represents the best value for money, given its superb location. The inner child in us all couldn't resist the temptation to 'release the artists within' and graffiti over a purposely built chalkboard wall at the end of the main cafe lined street. All of us agreed that Charlottesville would be the perfect place to spend a warm evening sitting outside for dinner and watching the world go by.
From here we headed back on course towards Monticello, where we enjoyed a 15 minute informative biopic of Thomas Jefferson's life before taking a scenic walk up from the Visitor's centre to the house. This is a ½ mile walk (mostly with a steady uphill climb) which takes you through a wooded area and past the gravesite of Mr Jefferson himself and his family (there are also shuttle buses that will take you to the house for those who would prefer this). We all felt that the tour system worked well, you would be in a group of no more of 25 people with your own guide to explain the "Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness" that defined Jefferson's life. This led to a much less 'crowded' feel than Mount Vernon – if you are tight for time, we would recommend Monticello as our preferred choice of the President's houses that we have visited in the Virginia area. The guided tours last for approximately 50 minutes and depart promptly every 5 minutes - you will be allocated a time when purchasing your tickets at the visitors centre, please be aware that during the busier periods (May – October and national holidays) there may be a wait for your tour departure.
Moving on for a bit of down time, we drove over to the Kluge Estate Winery, where we were able to participate in a wine tasting, consisting of 6 wines all produced by the estate and originating from the Albermarle wine region. This is considered one of the top 25 tasting rooms in the US and many of the wines that we tasted were award winning – this was a lovely setting to stop and have a spot of lunch under the tree canopies in the garden area, and for those who like a cheese or two, this is a lovely accompaniment to the self tasting experience. 'Designated Driver' (Roger) mentioned that he also enjoyed the experience of watching everyone else drink, and we mentioned that we enjoyed all of his wine.
Upon leaving the Estate, someone mentioned the word 'shopping'. Roger, upon hearing this, 'put his foot down' to arrive in good time to peruse the likes of Macy's, Nordstrom and Banana Republic at the 'Short Pump Towne Center'. Ironically, this is an out of town shopping centre but hosts the big names and is good for a couple of hours of shopping. Within our hour, I had managed to purchase several items that I absolutely 'needed' that cannot be justified in any way, shape or form.
Next we set off for the short drive to Richmond, where we arrived at the Omni. Now, we were delightfully surprised to be greeted by Robert De Niro (look – a – like) at the door, we assumed that Hollywood was pretty slow this time of year! The Omni in Richmond is situated perfectly for the vibrant neighbourhood that is 'Shockoe Bottom', which is full of bistros, restaurants and bars and is also right next to the James River.
We had arranged to meet Janie from the Richmond Metropolitan Visitor's Bureau for dinner, to set up our schedule for the following day....more to follow on Richmond after tomorrow's exciting schedule!
Monday Oct 11th 2010
This morning we met the delightful Janie for breakfast at the Omni where we were also joined by Lauran from the hotel. Having fuelled up on eggs in every style you can imagine we headed out with Janie to Historic Tredegar to the American Civil War Center to learn about Richmond's significance in the American Civil War. Unless you are a history nut, many would not know how important the role that Richmond had to play, and many would not know that it was in fact Virginia's 3rd state capital (after Jamestown and Williamsburg). We did learn something, my History teacher would be proud!
You could easily spend several hours browsing the information and watching the short historical films which put the war into the context of the period in America's history. Unfortunately we didn't have sufficient time to explore all of the exhibits in detail but were able to get a very real sense of how important the American Civil War was in shaping the country we know today. Your own personal level of interest in the Civil War will dictate how long you will spend here - we would suggest that 2 hours would be enough to 'blow your mind'with information.
Whilst at the Center, which is located on the banks of the James River, we were also able to walk over the old railway line to the overlook opposite which tells the story of the Burning of Richmond through quotes from residents and notaries at the time. The view from here is what we would call 'industrial beauty', as you can clearly see the original bridge supports from the bridges that were burned by the confederate army when they retreated from Richmond. The noise from the river drowns out the city around, to leave a serene atmosphere. Now, Richmond is famous for many a weird and wonderful thing outside of the historical element, for example, did you know that the James River which runs through the city of Richmond (think the Thames) actually produces up to grade 5 rapids at certain times of the year? If you're feeling adventurous you can feel free to grab yourpaddle and go, or if you would prefer you can simply watch others tackle the white knuckle ride! We also saw plenty of segways out and about as small groupstoured the historic sites and we all agreed that this too would make a great way to explore the city.
Having brushed up on our American Civil War history we drove a few miles West to see Richmond's Monument Avenue. This is area is home to some of the oldest buildings in Richmond and was a leafy boulevard lined with large historic family homes. Along the avenue, as the name suggests, are monuments to Richmond's most famous residents from Jefferson to Arthur Ashe (for those who have never heard of him, as myself and Charlotte had not, he is a famous tennis player from the 70s who won 3 Grand Slam titles during his career). This particular monument seems odd within the avenue of 'heroes' but he was born and raised in Richmond so I guess he's worth a mention. Our time in Richmond has highlighted that you really do need a car to explore the city thoroughly as many of the distances between the sights are too great towalk. We would certainly say that from the Omni hotel you could walk across to the Virginia State Capitol building (designed by Thomas Jefferson, guided and self guided tours available) and you will find plentiful restaurants and bars in the Shockoe Bottom (or Shockoe Slip as the locals refer to it) district, within walking distance. We chose one of these for lunch – Bouchon, a French bistro where the food was excellent as well as being good value for money.
Once lunch was scoffed, we got back into the car and set off for Williamsburg –this is a fairly scenic drive, essentially it's a dual carriageway most of the way. The drive itself is no more than an hour so we got to Williamsburg in good time to explore the town on foot. The Williamsburg Inn, which is nestled perfectly in the Historic area, is a lovely period building with tastefully decorated rooms. There are many different options here to stay, ranging from the Williamsburg Inn, which is considered a 'Premium' hotel, to value properties such as the Governor's Inn. Although the heat was getting to us (it's a cool 90 degrees here!! I do hope it's raining back at home) we wandered from the hotel to the centre of the historic downtown on Duke of Gloucester Street. Here it really is like stepping back in time, horses and carriages, men and women folk in traditional dress, all in character, olde world shops and randomly, a giant bull named Red.
Now I really did have some pre-conceived ideas as to how Williamsburg was going to look....I was pleasantly surprised. The streets are very well kept and the building all incredibly authentic, you even get the chance to look into many of the old taverns and tailors and apothecaries to learn how it was all done way back when. The costumed locals put on short street plays where you can interact with the actors and they tell you the mighty story of Williamsburg's Colonial past. In this instance, General Lafayette (a Frenchman) told his story of how he sided with the American's against the British to help them gain their independence. The American's cheered.....we realised that the British lost against the Americans so, arms folded and silence from our end!
Having explored the historic district which is essentially a few blocks and so relatively compact, we headed back to the Inn. Here we enjoyed an early evening glass of wine out in the courtyard underneath the magnificent oaks. The courtyard overlooks the grounds and golf course and is the perfect place to relax and unwind after exploring Williamsburg. At dusk we returned back to Duke of Gloucester Street to join a ghost tour. We were met by Martha our character guide for the evening and the rest of the group . Armed with only a candle lantern we set off to our first haunted venue... characters in costume shared with us their stories and the atmosphere by candlelight certainly transported us all back in time. The tour lasts approximately an hour and children are not permitted. This was a great way to experience Williamsburg but not so scary that we weren't all able to enjoy the comfortable beds at the Williamsburg Inn.
Tuesday Oct 12th and Wednesday Oct 13th 2010
We woke early and all took advantage of the beautiful setting at Williamsburg to partake in some early morning exercise. Williamsburg at dawn is a lovely place for a run (would you believe that some of the inhabitants are still in costume/character at this time?) – the swimming pools at the Williamsburg Inn are also the ideal place for an early morning dip. Having worked up and appetite for breakfast we devoured our salmon and eggs from the buffet breakfast with gusto!
Following breakfast, and all raring to go, we met Mike from 'Colonial Williamsburg' who represents some of the historic accommodation in the toen.
Williamsburg has a variety of accommodation options available - we took a step back in time and visited some of the other 'Colonial Houses' which are dotted around the town. As the name suggests the rooms are located in the historic houses but have been fully modernised and all now have air-conditioning and en-suite facilities. We would consider these rooms to be ideal for anyone looking for that authentic Williamsburg experience, however something to bear in mind is that the building's dimensions which are very much in keeping with that period of time – people were apparently a lot shorter 300 years ago! We would also highly recommend the Williamsburg Lodge, located pretty much next door to the Inn, and shares many of the facilities including the spa and golf course on site.
Having immersed ourselves in Williamsburg for a day we were keen to see where it all began and set off along the 'Colonial Parkway' to Jamestown. The Colonial Parkway is a scenic drive that joins the three towns in the Historic Triangle (Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown) and enables you to travel between the three along the banks of the James and York Rivers away from the traffic and trappings of a modern road. Jamestown itself dates back to 1607 and was the first permanent English settlement in the USA – odd place to choose really as much of it is swamp land but hey ho, the island itself is certainly picturesque.
The site today is based around the informative visitor centre and the ongoing archaeological excavations at the site. As well as an introductory film you can also join Ranger led archaeological talks or just take a self guided walking tour of the site. Jamestown is quite different from Williamsburg as very little has been re-created – a couple of hours here would certainly suffice.
Roger was very keen to move on to Yorktown to take his auto battlefield tour (!) and find exactly how in the 18th Century, under the leadership of Lord Cornwallis, the English were defeated and surrendered to the revolutionary forces. Aside from shaming us Brits in our military defeat, Yorktown again provides a visitor centre with a short film which is very useful to the less initiated among us in providing the background to battle and nicely sets up the battlefields. Having just watched the film it was easy to imagine the uniformed troops dug in behind the earthworks and defending their positions from the trenches. You can tour the battlefields from your car, at each battlefield site a plaque provides descriptions of the significance of each location. Again, a couple of hours here would be sufficient to take in most of the site.
If you are particularly interested in the historical side of things and taking in some of the events and re-enactments whilst in the Historic Triangle we would recommend taking some time on arrival to look at the events on offer and plan your time accordingly. Tickets must be purchased for the historical events and access to the historical buildings in Williamsburg and cost approx. $30. Tickets for both Jamestown and Yorktown are $10, however special events may be at additional cost.
Having increased our knowledge of America's Colonial past ten-fold (some more than others!) we decided it was time to head to the coast to rest our weary brains. Virginia Beach was the next stop on our route and was just a little over an hour from Yorktown. Virginia Beach sets itself up as a relatively inexpensive resort destination and certainly provides a contrast from the historical towns we have come through so far. One of the main reasons for the revisit the Virginian Coast was to ascertain if our current route still represents the most appropriate option. Part of this research included stays in three different properties namely, the Sheraton Hotel, the Hilton Hotel and The Ocean Beach Club – all within 2 minutes walk of each other. Whilst all three are of a similar standard only 'hands on' stays such as these, will allow us to ultimately exude the individual benefits of each to any of our given customers.
There are a number of optional attractions that one can enjoy during their stay here, one of the most surprising is a visit to the forested 'First Landing State Park'. This park is accessible by either land or water, given this; we decided to trial the benefits of both. Needless to say for anybody who enjoys time by the water, kayaking, canoeing or even gently cruising along part of the Lynnhaven River represents an ideal way to view the surroundings. It became quite clear after the first 20 metres, that 'Matthew Pincent' and 'Steve Redgrave' we were not; even paddling in a straight line took most of our concentration. We would definitely recommend this for those who have at least a mid level of fitness – all levels of fitness can be catered for so if you fancy a cruise via motor boat, this is also an option. Other activities available include bike rental, so you can cruise the 'boardwalk', a visit to the Aquarium and its IMAX theatre, deep sea fishing, hiking the trails in the Sea Shore State Park or a surf in the sea – you can hire these locally. To the South of Virginia Beach over the Rudee Inlet, you will find the South Beaches. This quiet and cosmopolitan area is bursting with family friendly activities as well as a host of local shops and restaurants. If you fancy a round of golf, Virgina Beach is also the home to more than a dozen golf courses which are open to the public. From coastal marshes to sand dunes of Sandbridge you can tee off on course designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
Onwards from Virginia Beach we took the road over the magnificent Chesapeake Bay Bridge and tunnel (considered one of the seven engineering wonders of the world) and onwards through the scenic Eastern Shores of Virginia to Maryland and St Michaels. We arrived at the Magnificent Inn at Perry Cabin after dark but were all very impressed with our rooms upon check in and are quite sure we will be more than looked after for here as we near the end of our time in the Capitol Region.
Thu Oct 14. 2010
By morning I was still discovering new rooms within my rabbit warren of a room, and I awoke with a feeling of excitement of the day to come. This started with a scheduled breakfast early at the Inn with Debbie (Talbot County Tourist Bureau) and Brian (the Inn at Perry Cabin's Sales Director). I had high hopes for the food here as it had previously been recommended to me, and I was definitely not disappointed. The number of recent Hollywood films which have been set at the Inn attests to its picture perfect location - the view from the breakfast atrium overlooking the bay is spectacular and the perfect place to start the day.
We then left and headed to the Maritime Museum which is located a stone's throw from the Inn. Unfortunately, the weather decided to dampen the day by throwing as much rain as it could however, the Museum is a perfect activity when... "the weather outside is frightful, but the Maritime Museum is so delightful"...Gerry was the perfect Glaswegian/American host and passionately described to us the amazing feats of the men and women of the Chesapeake Bay area. In addition, they have a very 'cool' lighthouse (which has been moved several hundred miles from its original location and lovingly restored to help us as visitors to understand the complex lighthouse system that was necessary within the rivers and inlets of Chesapeake Bay). There is even a boat restoration yard which is very much in use today and you are even able to get your hands on and help the locals restore some of the neglected vessels! This museum would keep any maritime enthusiast entertained for a good few hours and will even keep the attention of those who are not so 'boat' orientated happy, with its varied and interactive exhibits.
Sadly we had to leave Gerry behind and we made our way over to Easton – which is an approximate 9 mile drive from St. Michaels. Easton is a larger town than St. Michaels but it still retains a lot of the quaint charm with its boutique shops and historical streets. We had lunch at a lovely restaurant called 'Masons' which also doubles as a 'chocolatier' or candy shop as it was referred to by the locals! This was a warm and intimate venue and we would highly recommend it to anyone staying in the area or just for a spot of lunch. Easton itself would make a fantastic alternative to St. Michaels due to its location and charm. For theatre goers, art lovers and foodies Easton definitely serves as the right backdrop for the finalé to your 'Capital Region' itinerary. We work with a number of intimate B&B's as well as slightly larger 'Inns' such as the 'Tidewater Inn' located perfectly to all downtown amenities. Do not forget that for pure unassuming self indulgence look no further than St. Michaels and the Inn at Perry Cabin – for access to preferred rates and quite simply the 'pièce de résistance' call and speak to our dedicated 'Capital Region' specialist team.
Fri Oct 15. 2010
Although all feeling sad that we had to leave the Capital Region, our spirits were undoubtedly raised by the prospect of stopping in Annapolis on our journey back to Washington Dulles Airport. A trip over the Bay Bridge and a short journey later we arrived in Historic Annapolis where we met Bill Adams from the Visitor's Bureau and 'Squire Douglas' our in character guide who was keen to show us all that Annapolis has to offer. Squire Douglas kept us all entertained as we walked through the heart of Annapolis taking in the sights including the Capitol Building and the Naval Academy. If you are intending to visit any of the 'official' military buildings, you must ensure that you have your photo card ID so they are able to identify you - without this you may be refused entry. The Naval Academy was well worth a visit and offers an interesting perspective on past and present Naval history, and you will see many of the current officers wondering around the campus in uniform....for those (ladies) who enjoyed 'An Officer and a Gentleman' make sure you visit! The centre of the city is compact and perfect for walking (an approximate 3 miles square) and has an array of quaint boutique style shops/cafes for your perusal. Take a ride on an 'eCruiser', an eco friendly electric car, which is available to all for free (excluding the tip for the driver) and will take you anywhere you wish within the Annapolis town area.
Whilst in Annapolis we took the opportunity to visit the Historic Inns to ensure they still offer the best accommodation option here. The Inns consist of three historic properties, the 'Governor Calvert House', the 'Maryland Inn' and the 'Robert Johnson House', all of which are centrally located and offering a range of historic accommodations. the Governor Calvert House is the main Inn, where reception is located and is located opposite the Governor's house and the Robert Johnson is just around the corner for those who would prefer a quieter scene. Another short walk to the Maryland Inn, which seems to be the most 'authentic' of them all (we would not recommend this for anyone who is unsteady on their feet), where we had lunch at the 'Treaty of Paris' which is connected to the Inn. Once we had finished lunch we were escorted back to our car by Bill, where we left for the 1.5 hour drive back to Washington Dulles Airport.* Summary ~
It has been almost 4 years since we first set up a dedicated preset programme to the Capital Region and quite simply this latest visit to include the region almost in its entirety has been an incredibly valuable exercise. Places do change and now is the time to re-invigorate our own itinerary. In simple terms we firmly believe that there are many and varied alternative options that can be considered, all equally important and ultimately dependent on taste and budget. It is critical having spent valuable time and effort that we are able to initiate this revitalised itinerary with optional alternatives to suit if not all, the majority of tastes. To put things into context, travelling on this trip with a twenty something, thirty something and forty something has meant that a cross section of tastes and outlooks have had to be accommodated – the 'Capital Region' has not disappointed. For the discerning traveller this is a fantastic alternative to the well trodden paths of the North East.
Ironically, the 'South' begins in Virginia and whilst steeped in centuries of history your holiday does not necessarily have to be a step back in time in all areas as there is so much more to do and see. Washington DC and specifically the districts of Georgetown and Adams Morgan serve the twenty something crowd incredibly well. The Skyline Drive and its activities coupled with the bohemian towns of Staunton and Charlottesville certainly provide ample opportunity for the slightly older crowd to remain active and enjoy good food and evening entertainment, such as theatre and live music. For the more mature travellers who have not engaged in all the hiking, walking, cycling, kayaking, sailing and horse riding that is on offer, there are slightly less active options a plenty in the area known as Chesapeake Bay, simply the area of the Capital Region as close to authenticity as is offered anywhere.
In the back of our minds throughout this trip has been the temptation not only to enhance our existing programme to the Capital Region but given the close proximity of the other major North East Coast cities, utilising the Amtrak Rail network is the potential to combine the Capital Region with the likes of New York and/or Philadelphia too within a two week itinerary.
It will of course take a bit of time to collate all the relevant and accurate information for our new programmes and therefore, if this is an area of North America that is of interest to you please do not hesitate to contact either Charlotte, Sarah or Roger on 0115 961 0590.