Sunday, April 26, 2015

Almost Heaven... West Virginia

Just a few weeks after the wedding of Adam and Courtney, Jim and I took a road trip to attend the wedding of our niece, Natalie, in Norfolk, Virginia. We decided to make a little vacation of it, and spend a few days before and after the wedding enjoying some rest and relaxation.

We started out the trip with a stop in Columbus, Ohio, to see a guy about a bed, then turned south toward West Virginia. The rain didn't make for the prettiest drive, but it was nice that we weren't on a schedule for a change, and we could take our time.
When I saw that we would arrive in Athens, Ohio, around lunch time, I did a quick search for places to eat and found O'Betty's Red Hot. (What did we do before iPhones? I guess we just had to read billboards!) Athens is home to Ohio University, and O'Betty's is a tiny hole-in-the-wall spot that we would never have found had it not been for my friend Google. :) The website says O'Betty's is located in the smallest building in Uptown Athens.
The charming (tiny!) dining room is a tribute to burlesque stars past and present, as well as a museum-quality collection of hot dog memorabilia.
The menu items are each named after burlesque stars, and Jim and I both ordered Blaze.
She did not disappoint. I think it was the best hot dog I've ever eaten. I didn't know what it meant when the website described casings that 'snap' when you bite into the dog, but I know now. And it's a good thing. And don't even get me started on the Cajun Spiced Fries. Almost heaven. And we weren't even to West Virginia yet.
Good thing I had eaten a good lunch, because as I took over my turn as driver, the rain picked up. And it just kept raining. We crossed the Ohio River into West Virginia. Still raining.
Four solid hours of the worst rain storm in which I've ever driven, including pelting rain, thunder, lightning, hail, and water running down the mountain and over the road, as I maintained my death grip on the steering wheel. And Jim? Four solid hours (or was it six?) calmly playing Candy Crush, occasionally looking at the radar on his phone to let me know that we were still in the eye of the storm. Thanks Jim, thanks for the update. :)

See that sign there? It says 'Runaway Truck Ramp.' Not too reassuring on a sunny day, but even more worrisome during a monsoon level storm. And do you think that little pile of sand could actually stop a runaway truck? I don't want to know.
Although the drive wasn't as picturesque as it might have been, we did arrive safely at The Greenbrier, hoping to be pampered during our two-night (Groupon!) stay. A lovely sight, indeed. When the front desk clerk asked if we would care for champagne? Why yes, yes I would, thank you.
We checked into our beautiful Dorothy Draper decorated room, then took a little walk around the main resort building.

Our Groupon included slot vouchers for use at the casino, so we went down to learn about that, and get the lay of the land. We stopped at the concierge desk so Jim could reserve a tee time, and we made reservations for a Bunker tour the next afternoon.

My first question to the (intern) concierge was "Where's the football field?", which elicited a blank stare from her before she thought to answer that it is not open to guests. I guess I'm the first one to have asked her that question. In case you're also confused, the Saints held their training camp there last summer, and plan to continue at the Greenbrier for the next several years. They built a lovely facility for it just down the way and across the road from the resort. Anyone care to join me in West Virginia in August? :)

Dinner that evening was in The Forum, an Italian restaurant at the resort, after which we watched the movie, Into the Woods, in the Greenbrier Theatre.

The next morning, Jim was off early for golf on the Old White Course. The course is the location of the Greenbrier Classic, which we will enjoy watching over the July 4th weekend. Between dips in the lake, of course. :)

I made a late morning appointment at the spa, then set off for a walk around the property. I started out toward the spring house, and picked up the Valley View Trail, which winds through and around the golf courses.
I remember playing shuffleboard with Pampaw and my brothers at Wits' End in Florida, but haven't seen a shuffleboard court in years. Later in the day, I saw a dad and his kids getting ready to start a game. I think it was a first for them.
The quiet beauty of the morning was interrupted by the construction of Center Court at Creekside, scheduled to open in late June, and to host the Greenbrier Champions Tennis Classic in September. Pete Sampras is Tennis Pro Emeritus at the Greenbrier.
It was a beautiful morning, after the previous day's rain, with the mist hanging over the mountain like a veil.
Howard's Creek runs through the property, and catch and release fly fishing is permitted.
I wish the photos could also transmit that peaceful sound of water slipping over stones, inviting us to breathe deep and soak in the beauty all around.
The Meditation Trail offers the opportunity to relax and connect among the beautiful Allegheny Mountains.
There are some beautiful homes out there, too. I could get used to living in a place like that. :)
I came upon a fountain offering Anthony Cave Spring Water, so I had a sip. Felt younger immediately.
There are many cottages for rent at the resort.
And forsythia! So beautiful!
My walk took me past the Golf Club, with this cool tee sculpture outside.
I also found Bubba Watson's parking spot, which was only fitting since it was Masters Thursday. :) They even have 'Bubba Tees' on the Old White TPC. They're waaayyyy back there.
Near the end of my walk, I saw a little girl getting a ride on this cute little horse. He reminds me of another little horse I know. :) When I got closer, I asked her what her horse's name was. Bingo. What a good boy.
This is the north facade of the main resort building. Our room was on the third floor, just to the left of the center portico.
The front entrance.
The West Virginia Wing is pictured below. It is under this wing, that a bunker was built, beginning in 1958, as a secret fallout shelter to house Congress in case of a nuclear incident or other such catastrophe that would necessitate the evacuation of Washington D.C. It was built to house 1100 people (members of Congress and staff), and was kept in a constant state of readiness for 30 years.

The West Virginia Wing is also where the Saints stay. :)
Finally a little blue sky, and a pretty picture of the main resort entrance.
After my walk, I was ready for my appointment at the spa, which is located just past the indoor pool. People have been coming to the Greenbrier since 1778 to bathe in the white sulphur spring water. I made a reservation for a sulphur soak. When in Rome, you know. I'm not sure I felt totally rejuvenated, but it was nice for a $60 bath. With an attendant. :)
I also had a Greenbrier pedicure. Not as good as Julie's, but still nice.
After Jim's refreshing golf game, and my relaxing trip to the spa, we gathered in the Trellis Lounge to begin our Bunker Tour. Our tour guide was a friendly gentleman who grew up in Washington, Indiana. I know. Always a small world. After confiscating our cameras and cell phones, he took us on a fascinating 90 minute tour of the Bunker, which was 'hidden in plain sight' for 30 years. It was so very interesting to learn that it was kept in a constant state of readiness, including food and water, medical supplies, and communication tools, for all that time. And it was kept secret. You can read more about the Bunker here and here.

We enjoyed a late afternoon break on the back terrace with a view of the West Virginia wing...
and a beverage...
and a selfie. :)
Dinner that evening was in Prime 44 West, a resort restaurant which honors the career of West Virginia native Jerry West.
This jersey hung right above our table.
Each meal includes a serving of cornbread in a little cast iron pot, which is made from the prize-winning recipe of Cathy Justice, wife of resort owner Jim Justice. The recipe is on the back of the ribbon.
Our waiter has worked at the Greenbrier for many years, and told stories of serving golfers who come to play at the resort, including Tiger Woods, who sat at the table right next to ours. He didn't see much of the football players, though, as they eat their meals together in one of the banquet halls. I may or may not have asked every one some of the hotel staff if they got to know the Saints when they were there. I heard a great story about our Drew from the girl who gave me my pedicure. :)

Because of a mix-up with Jim's order, we were offered a free dessert and selected Bananas Foster, one of our favorite New Orleans treats. It was prepared table-side by our waiter, and differs a bit from the traditional recipe in that it includes a sponge cake base.
That's a lot of Bananas Foster! Delicious!
Before leaving the resort on Friday morning, Jim and I took another walk on the Valley View Trail, with a little detour around the Golf Club.
Flowers blooming...
more forsythia...
and one more look at the spring house.
Jim's golf bag had been delivered from the club to our room prior to check-out, and was sporting a fancy new tag. A sweet reminder of our visit to the Greenbrier. Almost heaven.


Terri D said...

My sister, sister-in-law, and brother all graduated from OU in Athens. I'm sure my sister knows that restaurant. I'll have to ask her about it.

The Greenbrier looks and sounds beyond delightful!! How fun that it is where your Saints do their training! I have heard of that "secret" government bunker, but have never seen pictures of it. Thanks for sharing!

Linda Kay said...

A lovely drive, even in the rain. Sometimes that's when pictures turn out the best.