Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Trip to WV

So this past weekend was the big trip to West Virginia to visit the Wellses and Annette, and introduce Melissa to everyone. The scheduling changed a bazillion times due to my work schedule, Melissa's work schedule, Annette's work schedule, but eventually everything worked out. It even turned out that Melissa's and my schedules jived so we could all carpool and even better, when I emailed her to ask if that was cool, she said only on the condition that she could drive, which you know was A-OK with me! Totally stress-free weekend thus ensued. Anyone wants to make me happy, utter those three magic words to me: "Let me drive." I'm yours.

We arrived in WV in the mid-afternoon, having left Woodbridge at around 2:00. We made several stops for gas, drinks, and potty breaks (which is how I know I'm getting older!), and got to the cabin just after 4pm. They had left it open, which was incredibly nice of them so that we could just roll on in and not have to worry about registering or waiting for the Wellses to arrive. The cabin slept 6 adults and was totally beautiful! We stayed in Cabin Number 1: Rainbow Trout. There was a room with 2 twin beds and a room with a queen, both of which were on the main level, and a loft upstairs with a king sized bed and jacuzzi tub. On the main floor was also a great big room which served as kitchen/living room (with gas fireplace)/dining room. The main wall, as you can see, was totally made up of windows, and look at the amazing view:

So after we unpacked, Melissa decided that we needed to go up this hinky little forest service road into Dolly Sods. According to the Forest Service website, "The Dolly Sods Scenic Area was created in 1970 to protect the unique scenic qualities of the area north of Forest Road 19. Today approximately 2,000 acres along Forest Road 75 is managed by the US Forest Service as a scenic area. The Dolly Sods Scenic Area is the most accessible and most visited part of the Sods."

It was just hinting at getting dark, we decided to roll on up there and see what was what. The signs warn it is impassible if there is snow, but we were feeling adventurous and kept going up, up, up. It really was quite lovely up there. We had rolled into WV listening to John Denver on Melissa's iPhone, and it seemed like the perfect soundtrack for everything while we were there.

After a while of driving around up there, we were flagged down by a passing Jeep and the driver, a slightly panicked looking young man rolled down his window and said, "I'm lost. I'm trying to get to Washington." We were in shock, as evidenced by Melissa saying, "Washington, D.C.?" and cackling maniacally when the poor dude nodded affirmatively. He looked even more distressed when we informed him he had at least a 3 hour ride ahead of him. He'd been following his GPS. This is apparently a major no-no in rural West Virginia--many of the websites we went to for the weekend's festivities said, "Don't use a GPS to get here" and a couple we ran into later were taking their GPS back to the store after it got them so turned around it took them hours to get where they were going!

Well, eventually it got kinda slippery up there, so we turned around. We decided to check the cabin to see if anyone had made it, but no one had, so we decided to haul it on out to a Pizza Hut we'd passed. This Pizza Hut was the jumpingest place in town--it was PACKED to the rafters. I made the mistake of needing to use the facility while I was there, and it was disgusting. I literally wanted to Purell the heck out of my hiney when I was done in there. Ugh. The pizza was pretty good though, so no complaints. We headed back to the cabin and Russell and Amy had arrived, so that was cool! They headed out to grab some dinner and we decided to go in the hot tub that was out back. It was then I discovered the need for a new bathing suit--the legs of my old one are SHOT! So I will be getting a new bathing suit come beach time. The hot tub was AWESOME though. Wow was it nice.

Afterwards we hung out with Russell and Amy, who'd brought back their grub, and then we all started getting a little nervous because it was late and no Annette yet! Well, Annette also succumbed to the bad GPS and to poor directions, so she was just quite late. But she made it and that's all that mattered to us! The celebration could begin!

Just as soon as I got some shut eye. I was tired. This usually happens to me on the first day of a trip--once I get away from home, from work, the routine, and can let my hair down, it just all comes out and I need some zzzz's. Unfortunately, Friday night I got the worst night's sleep EVAR! Seriously. The room was so stinkin' hot, I just lay there all night, dozing in and out of sleep, but not really sleeping. It was also quite noisy in Cabin 1: Rainbow Trout due to its proximity to the highway and the number of trucks steaming past, especially in the wee small hours of the morning. Melissa reported in the morning that she had a similarly terrible night's sleep, so I didn't feel too bad.

When I got up and came out of the bedroom, which was like a little cave, I was blinded by the bright sun streaming through the windows. It looked like a glorious day, so I got dressed and decided to take a walk around the cabin sites and get some fresh air and exercise. I grabbed my cameras and started hauling. It was COLD outside, but the fresh air was great. I am not partial to the mountains, as you know, I'm a beach type of girl, but the presence of the little stream/river was comforting and the scenery was gorgeous. I walked down off the road and followed the edge of the water, and managed to keep my shoes dry--a major feat (haha) since I had economized and only brought one pair of shoes with me!

I got back to the cabin and we assembled a makeshift breakfast before heading off to start our day. We hit a Bob Evans for lunch, where I had the Wildfire salad and it was HOT BBQ sauce. Like OMGWTFBBQ sauce, as the young people say. It was good, no doubt, but it was HOT.

And then we began our trek to Helvetia. Each year, people gather in Helvetia, WV to celebrate Fasnacht, wherein they parade around in scary masks, dance around the bonfire, and set Old Man Winter alight. I was especially excited about this because it was rumored that there would be many Swiss delicacies to enjoy and I thought I'd cover it as part of the 80 Plates experience. We arrived there after 3:00. Everything was supposed to kick off at about 3:00 and dinner would be served as a buffet at 5:00pm at the only restaurant in town, The Hutte. However, it would seem the townsfolk didn't get the memo about Fasnacht because it was D-E-A-D dead when we arrived. So I did what I always do in such situations--took pictures. There was one little craft shop open, and we did go in there, but there was not much to see, really. The lady who ran it was very warm and personable however and more than happy to chat. I found the loose teas and herbs, and thought I might grab some to experiment with, but they were local to Ohio, not Helvetia, so I didn't bother. Usually on these trips I like to buy a souvenir to take home with me, but nothing really struck my fancy, so I declined a purchase there. Russell and I made friends with the town goat, who seemed kind of unhappy that we hadn't brought him something to eat!

Afterwards, Melissa and I started walking the town. The Cheese Haus and Healing Honey shops were closed, although through the windows of the Honey shop we could see a Fasnacht mask, which was pretty cool. We went to the General store, which was closed, but Russell, Amy, and Annette had the magic touch, for when they joined us, the store opened! There was a post office in front, with old post office boxes on one side and current ones on the other. The back had all kinds of supplies--canned and boxed non-perishables, T-shirts, birthday cards, and the like. But what caught my eye was the Alpen Rose Garden Club's cookbook, Oppis Guet's Vo Helvetia. I have no idea what that means, but that's the title of it. Flipping through it, I found a chapter entitled "Out the Bunghole" and I was sold, because even though it's about wine in the cellar, it's clear that Helvetians don't take themselves too seriously.

We wandered the historic town square, which was deserted, and peeked in the library, which was also closed, as was the nearby town museum. The local dance and brats and beer were in the Star Hall, but it didn't appear that anything was going on there and in fact, as we were standing around trying to think what else we could do, the band meandered past us on the town bridge, carrying a bunch of beer along with their instruments. Melissa and I decided to take a walk down the road that led along the creek and past the Cheese Haus, and walked a good 10 minutes before turning back due to nothing really being down there.

By now it was 4:50 or so, so we gathered up our group and convened on the steps of the Hutte to get ourselves some dinner! The Hutte promised an extensive dinner menu and I was hungry just looking at it! Hutte chicken, homemade sausage, parsley potatoes, green beans, carrots, applesauce, sauerkraut, onion pie, salad, homemade bread, Helvetia's own Swiss cheese, and peach cobbler--YUM! But we were in for a rude awakening! When the door swung open at 5pm on the dot, the woman running the place said, "What's your reservation under?" and we said, "We don't have a reservation." She was not pleased. "We didn't know we needed a reservation." "Oh dear, oh dear, just a minute," she said and pondered the situation. "We're from out of town?" I tried lamely, before realizing that probably everyone there was from out of town and it was unlikely to melt her flinty little heart.

Finally she said, "I can seat you but you'll have to eat and leave in an hour. I will have to insist you leave in one hour." Anything, just let us in! She did so and led us to the back room, where we had a large round table. The waitress came in to get our drink orders and the hostess came back with two other people and said, "Here, you can sit with these other people who DIDN'T HAVE RESERVATIONS EITHER."

Well, at this point, I was utterly charmed--this woman was a riot! Melissa posted a picture of her on her blog--go check it out. She's wearing feathers and a mardi gras mask. So they brought us our drinks and told us to go ahead and enjoy the buffet. The Hutte is a small restaurant that has been built inside a house. There are lots of little rooms, but not much room to maneuver around the many people who come to Fasnacht. Consequently, it was rather tight getting our food.

I'm not sure how they made the chicken, other than I am certain there were bay leaves in it and something very warming was added. Not in terms of spicy heat, but it just tasted warm, like curry. It was a great dish. I do have a recipe in the Helvetia cookbook for the onion pie, which I will definitely be trying to make here at home, because I loved it. The veggies were all great, and I even got brave and tried the Helvetia cheese, because I figured it was what one should really do when one is dining in Helvetia. Despite not ever eating a piece of cheese like that, I can say I actually didn't hate it. Not to say I plan to start eating hunks of cheese, I don't, but it wasn't bad. The cobbler was not what we expect when we think of cobbler, or at least not what I think of. I think of peaches in a syrup created by cooking them down, topped with a crumbly topping. This was actually peaches in a cake, maybe like a pound cake. It was wonderful! Different, but wonderful! We ate ourselves full.

Then it was time to head back over the mountain. We made our pitstop at Kroger's to get supplies for the fondue party and then headed on home, as there was nothing in Helvetia that was going on to amuse us until it was time for the parade or the bonfire. We decided we could hear the siren's call of the hot tub. When we got back, we quickly changed up and this time Amy joined us out there under the stars! Then it was bedtime. I was so tired I think I could have slept standing up! I opened the bedroom window just a crack so it wouldn't be so hot in there and passed out cold until almost 9am. When I sleep that late, you know I slept good!

Again, our crew got together, and we cobbled up a breakfast before Melissa set out on a hike. She decided to hike up to the top of that giant rock formation we could see from the windows of the cabin. She came back after a while and you could just tell that Russell was itching to go up there too. I decided that if they were going to do it, we should all sign a rock that they could leave up at the top of the hill. I went out and found a perfect little round rock and we used Russell's CD pen to all sign it. And soon they were off!

Amy watched through the powerful zoom on her video camera and in short order (I was surprised how quickly they made it--way to go, Russell and Melissa!) we could catch a glimpse of them up at the top. Russell stuck the rock out towards the edge of the ledge and they were back. It was so great to see the pride in Russell's face, knowing that a year ago, he wouldn't have felt able to make that hike and that this year not only did he think he could, but he did! Hopefully next year, I'll be able to go!

And then it was time for the fondue party, as detailed in my previous post, and then time to roll it on home! We got back to Woodbridge around 5 and to Fredericksburg by 6:30 even with a quick stop at WalMart for rabbit chow. It was such a great trip, I had so much fun.

Thank you, Russell and Amy and Annette and Melissa, for the great time away! It was very much appreciated and needed! Big hugs and love to you all!

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