My sistDSC03192er-in-law likes to sing … and can sing.

Which is why she goes to the opera.

Every year.

I said I would go with her sometime and this week was THAT time. I don’t like opera, but I had never actually seen one, so I figured it would be a good experience. We chose the Barber of Seville because I knew a little about it so it seemed as if it would be a good “first” opera for me. Because I like to go to things I’ve never gone to before.

So, this past Wednesday we headed to the city for the matinee. I had done some research and learned that there was a bistro in the Lyric Opera House that you could eat at ONLY if you had opera tickets. The menu looked good, so we decided to try it.

First of all, I knew the opera house was close to Oglivie Station, but I didn’t know just how close … like within feet of each other – well the river is in between, but that’s about all. Along with many other opera goers, we found out way to the third floor … and the bistro. Dining at Florian’s definitely seemed to be the in thing to do.

I had a quiche. Sally had a Mediterranean tart. Then because going to the opera is a once-a-year event, she ordered the opera torte and I ordered the passion fruit meringue. Everything was super delicious.

I had prepared for my experience by reading the synopsis of the opera so I went in understanding what the story was about. They also have a screen above the stage with the subtitles, so I found myself reading the subtitles and watching it as I would any play, rather than paying attention to the music. The music did nothing for me. But I did enjoy the acting and the story. Sitting next to a friendly couple who chatted with us during intermission was also nice.

Do I like opera any better than I did before? No.

Did I enjoy myself? Yes.

Would I go again? Yes.

The Shirley Plantation

From Berkeley, we went down the road to the Shirley Plantation (another in the group of homes called the James River Plantations). The land was first settled back in 1613 and was used for growing tobacco.Then in 1638, some of the land was given to Edward Hill. Over time, Edward acquired more land and then eventually passed it to Edward Hill II During the Bacon Rebellion in 1676,  he sided with Governor Berkley so the rebels invaded his home. In 1700, Edward III took over and he had another son, (you guessed it) Edward IV. Unfortunately he died, so Shirley Plantation was given to his daughter Elizabeth who married James Carter. (Isn’t this all fascinating?)

James and Elizabeth built the current home and called it the “Great House.”  Interestingly, eleven generations of the family have lived in the home and it is now the oldest active plantation in Virginia. Shirley Plantation is also one of the oldest family-owned businesses in North America. In fact, you can only tour the bottom floor because the top floor is still lived in by the Hill Carter family.

One of their claims to fame is that one of the daughters – Ann Hill Carter married Light Horse Harry Lee in the parlor of the mansion. The couple were the parents of General Robert E. Lee.

Remember what I said about tour guides? The girl at Shirley Plantation was our very favorite. Easy to listen to and informative. Among other facts, we learned that young brides would scratch their initials in the window glass with their engagement rings.

Not a Presidential home – but enjoyable with beautiful grounds.

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Berkeley Plantation

Because of the trees, it was difficult to get a good view of the house.

Another Presidential site – Berkeley Plantation on the James River in Virginia.

But so much more than a presidential home.

Way back in December of 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at the site, 20 miles from Jamestown. One of the “laws” on the charter was that a “day of thanksgiving” be observed every year.  Captain John Woodleaf held the first service.

A few later, however, many of the settlers were killed in a massacre (and about one third of the total number of settlers in the entire colony).

Years went by – about a decade or so – and one of the First families of Virginia – the Harrisons moved into what became known as the Berkeley Plantation. The Harrisons … Benjamin V, (as in signer of the Declaration of Independence and Governor of Virginia) built a three-story Georgian style brick home overlooking the river. And, William Henry Harrison (you know, the President) was born there and his grandson, another Benjamin ( and President) also lived there.

Unfortunately, the Union troops took over Berkeley during the Civil War. In fact, President Abraham Lincoln visited there twice.

Oh, another historical fact about Berkeley? Taps (as in the  Army taps) was written on the Harrison’s wharf and first played at the plantation.

The tour guide at Berkeley was informative and interesting. We met a lot of those kind of tour guides on the trip.


DSC_0628We had visited the church and the cemetery (see posts – which I have not yet posted) and were looking for some place for lunch. As I looked down the list of Petersburg, Virginia places to eat – I noticed the Hiram Haines Coffee and Ale House. What was interesting about Hiram’s was that this where Edgar Allan Poe spent his honeymoon days with his 13 year old cousin, Virginia. Not that I had ever thought about where Poe had spent his honeymoon and I’m sure Sue hadn’t either … but so be it – it had something to do with literature … so we headed to Hiram Haines. Seems that Hiram was a poet and editor of the American Constellation and had met Poe because of their literary connections … and Haine’s wife and Poe had grown up together and were good friends. So when Poe was looking for a place to take his new wife – he ended up at Haine’s Petersburg resident/sometimes newspaper office/sometimes hotel. Anyhow – that’s where we had lunch. The place is quirky, filled with Poe memorabilia and books … lots of books. Books line the walls from top to bottom. Stuff hangs from ceilings (like a chair) and a raven sits over the front door. You can buy t-shirts and mugs … and coffee. So, we enjoyed a rather, unexpectedly different type of lunch – that was a lot of fun.


Early morning. Hopewell, Virginia.

We headed to Appomattox Manor, a former plantation. During the battle of Petersburg, the the manor became the Union Headquarters. The house sits on a point where the James River and the Appomattox River come together.

The home was owned by Dr. Richard Eppes. When the war started, he joined the Confederates to become a surgeon at the Petersburg Hospital. His family stayed until the Union army took over (1861) and then they fled to a safer place. When the war came to Petersburg, they left again – this time to Philadelphia.

When Dr. Eppes came back after the war, he found his house ruined and the plantation destroyed. His family was not able to come back until 1866.

We wandered around, but there was a limit what we could do because the house was under construction and a lot of workers were on scaffolds and ladders.   But still interesting and a fun walk.
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Sherwood Forest

We also went to Sherwood Forest last fall.

Sherwood Forest was the home of John Tyler, 10th president of the U.S..  The name is no accident. Tyler considered himself a political outlaw like Robin Hood and so named his home Sherwood Forest.

To me the most fascinating thing about Tyler’s estate is that it’s a private home and you can’t tour inside without an appointment. Ok, that’s not so fascinating, the fascinating part is that the house is occupied by … the Tylers. Think about this – Tyler was president from 1841-45 and his grandson still lives in the house. (Figure THAT out!)

We did not make an appointment (kind of wish we had), but you are still free (for a price) to walk around the grounds.

I’m thinking this is one of the most beautiful presidential homes I’ve visited, if not THE most beautiful.

Another interesting fact about Sherwood Forest is that it’s the longest frame home in America at 300 feet (from goal line to goal line on a football field).

We enjoyed simply wandering around the grounds.

Skyline Drive – Up, Up and Away

Another place we visited back East was Shenandoah National Park. We didn’t have time to do the entire Skyline Drive, but did drive through part of it and ate dinner at the Skyline Resort. Although the scenery was beautiful, the sky was somewhat cloudy and the air rather foggy so the visibility was limited.

But still great fun.

The dinner at the Skyline was topped off with their famous (truly, it’s what they’re known for) blackberry ice cream pie.

If our trip had been a few weeks later, the trees would’ve been in full color and I’ve heard that is beyond magnificent – but then again, I have also heard that the park is packed during the peak color season.

 So, we’ll be content with our quiet, mid-September meandering drive.

Belle Grove Plantation – Historic and Elegant

DSC02706This story starts more than a year ago (and the blog post should’ve been written four months ago) – in the fall of 2012. A friend and I had driven out to Virginia for an AMC (Awana Ministry Conference) and had stopped at several historical places on the way … such as Monticello and Appomattox. When I got home, I blogged about our trip (as usual). I noticed that one lady in particular often liked my historical Virginia posts.

And so I went on her blog to see what she was all about. That’s when I first came in contact with Michelle Darnell and learned how she and her husband were renovating Belle Grove Plantation – the birthplace of James Madison. The plantation (in Port Conway, Virginia) was at one timed owned by the Conways – the family of James Madison’s mother, Nelly. (Nelly and James Madison Sr. didn’t live at Belle Grove, but she came back to her mother’s house to have her baby.) Although the current home was not built at the time of Madison’s birth, it is believed that the small house he was born in was on the same spot as the current home and it is officially recognized as James Madison’s birthplace. (The original house burned down and the current house was built in 1791.)

Then I learned that Belle Grove has another claim to fame – John Wilkes Booth and his companion, David Herold, escaped down to the Port Conway area and crossed the Rappahannoch River nearby. The detectives followed Booth’s trail to the river and some of them stopped (for a couple hours or so) at Belle Grove for food. One detective who had some serious wounds, spent the night in the front hallway.

This was all fascinating – and I would regularly check her blog to see how the renovations were coming along. With my “hobby” of visiting presidential sites – actually staying at the only one you can possibly stay at – would be very cool.

However – I figured it would be a long time before I got back to Virginia.

But then I got invited to another conference in Virginia in the fall of 2013 and this conference was very close to Belle Grove.

I emailed Michelle. The Belle Grove Bed and Breakfast would be open by then. I made reservations.

My friend Sue was with me and we arrived at Belle Grove on a cloudy afternoon. We drove down a long driveway to the circular drive. Michelle was out front, sweeping the steps and immediately came over to welcome us. The B&B had only been open for a few weeks … and we were the only guests there that night. (I don’t think that will happen too often.) She gave us a tour of the house (it’s huge) and then showed us to our rooms.

My room had a bedroom, a hallway with a couch (straight from the set of the Lincoln movie) and a black and white bathroom with a claw-foot tub.

DSC_0086Sue and I were hungry so we got back in the car and headed across the river to a place Michelle recommended – but first we also did the John Wilkes Booth “tour” – seeing a house in town where he had stopped and also the marker on the highway at the place where he was caught (which is now in the median strip).

We went back to the house and sat out on the second floor balcony for awhile, watching the lightning flash above the river … but then the rain started blowing on us, so we went in.

We went to our separate rooms. I sat on the bed, the sconces on the wall giving a warm glow to the room as I listened to the rain splattering on the windows. I could imagine it being 1800 and sitting there and writing a letter to a friend or family member on another plantation. Or maybe it’s 1865 and I’m writing in my journal about the events of the day …

The next morning we woke to a delicious breakfast of baked plums and lemon blueberry pancakes. As we ate, we chatted with Michelle …

We took a final walk around the grounds and checked out the summer kitchen – still very much like it was back in the day.  The Darnells hope to make a museum about life at Belle Grove.

So, if you happen to be in Port Conway (Port Royal) Virginia – I highly recommend you stop by. Even if you don’t stay overnight, you can take a tour of this beautiful home.

With much sadness we had to leave … but what a once-in-a-lifetime experience … and to think I discovered Belle Grove because of my blog.