New England Road Trip Days 1 and 2: A Night in Alexandria and The Big Apple

Europeans have a much healthier attitude about vacation time than we do Stateside- they actually take them  AND for much more reasonable amounts of time.  In Germany, the average person starts out with six weeks of vacation rather than a skimpy two weeks or none in some cases in America.  All over Europe it is common to take the entire month of August off and just go somewhere else. (This summer migration often happens amongst the rich and upper middle classes in Manhattan as well.  Woody Allen comments about this in one of his older films, maybe ANNIE HALL, about how his therapist disappears in August every year or something.)  Eur0peans understand the restorative value of spending time away from normal routines and getting to know your family via a holiday and in fact until the slump in our economy forced more productivity out of less people working causing our productivity rates to rise in the US, Europe had a much higher productivity rate partly due to the vacation taking culture.

So I have decided to take a vacation with my daughter, Sam.  We are going on a classic road trip, staying mostly with friends or family and driving from our gorgeous home in Central Virginia to Massachusetts.  We are going on a quest to Concord to visit the homes of famous writers like Alcott, Emerson and Thoreau- a trip inspired by our reading aloud of LITTLE WOMEN at bedtimes for a year or so. While we are up there we will shoot over to Nantucket for a couple of days to visit my dear friends, The Ruddy’s whose daughter I have know since the sixth grade (a long time at this juncture in life).

Our first stop headed north was Olde Towne Alexandria in Virginia.  We took the stunningly beautiful drive up Rt 22 from Charlottesville through Gordonsville and Orange to Rt 3 then over to I-95 North to Alexandria.  The stretch of 22 features rolling green hills dotted with forests but mostly picturesque horse farms featuring large manor houses and the occasional thoroughbred.  Keswick Vineyards is along the way about half-way between the Pantops area of Charlottesville and Gordonsville and makes a nice stopping point for a quick tasting and/or a picnic.  They offer a chocolate dessert wine that is a local favorite.  Barboursville Winery is not far off the trail near Gordonsville and offers some of the very best in Virginia wines if you are so inclined.  Orange is a charming little southern town and boasts Montpiller, the  nearby home of James Madison. There are also battle grounds from both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars for history buffs.

We stopped in Olde Towne so that Sam could have a special dinner with her Grandmother and Grandfriend (Grandma’s live in partner for ten years).  We are former Olde Towne residents so it fails to hold the charm for us that it might for other visitors but it is a wonderful place full of cute shops, restaurants, art galleries and a lovely waterfront set up for walks and  other leisure activities including sailing and motor boating.  There is a great bike trail that goes through Olde Towne, that begins west of Memorial Bridge in Arlington and goes all the way to Mt. Vernon, the home of George Washington.  On Saturday mornings there is a great Farmer’s Market in the Town Square.  Dog lovers will find water dishes and dog treats available at many local shops and a few restaurants offer special “yappy” hours where patrons may bring their four legged friends.

We parked ourselves at the Lorien, which is my favorite hotel in the area.  It is located on King Street, close to the Metro but not so much in the mayhem.  It is also only a few blocks from my former mother-in-law’s home, making it convenient to rendezvous for a visit with my dog (who now lives in Olde Towne with my ex-husband) and to connect Sam with her Grandmother. But I would stay at the Lorien even if it wasn’t geographically desirable to the “relatives” because it is so chic, the restaurant Brabo is so good and the bedding is so luscious. They also have a fantastic spa which I wrote about in an article for VIRGINIA LIVING (Click here for article).

After delivering my daughter to her Grandmother and walking my darling dog, I ventured out to run a shopping errand and have dinner with my ex (we are on friendly terms and since neither of us was invited to dine with our daughter and co. we thought it would be a sort of  tongue in cheek sour grapes rebellion.  We buzzed north on Rt 1 in his yellow Saab convertible to Pentagon City Mall in Chrystal City where I popped in to Nordstrom to pick up some Kiehl’s products (ahh the convenience of the city) then headed back into Olde Towne for dinner at La Tasca, a tapas restaurant located on King Street near Washington St across from Antrhropology.

La Tosca is part of a local chain of five restaurants but feels like a bigger chain.  I never would have chosen it as I prefer unique local spots with stellar food but my ex was buying and this is where he wanted to go plus I adore tapas.  The first thing I do when at a Spanish restaurant is ask to taste the Sangria.  The way they handle this traditional Spanish drink usually indicates how much they will care to make the rest of the meal authentic and delicious.  The traditional offering tasted musty and was frankly undrinkable. So we chose a Rioja to drink instead and it was OK but not fabulous.  Then we began to order tapas.  The best two were an eggplant stuffed with sundried tomatoes, goat cheese and pine nuts and a roasted brussels sprouts with caramelized onions, almond slivers and “Manchego”.  All the meats were over cooked, the chiorizo’s were small and red and weird and just nothing to write home about.  But the kicker for me was the un-announced replacement of the Manchego with Blue Cheese.  The perfectly cooked brussels sprouts were flavorful and I scarfed about half of them down before detecting a flavor I felt should not be present in a dish made with Manchego.  Then my stomach told me the truth.  You see, I have a gastro- intestinal issue that prevents me from digesting blue cheese so I avoid it at all costs because when I do eat it I am in bloated stomach cramp misery until I suffer through a three day liquid diet purge.  I NEVER would order something that contained blue cheese and by failing to disclose the substitution this restaurant endangered my health and caused me great discomfort. The waitress was very polite and checked with the kitchen staff to confirm my suspicion and the manager kindly comped our dinner (much to the glee of my ex) but I would never go back to La Tosca for any reason and they should consider themselves lucky that I am too lazy to sue them.

The Lorien, however was lovely as usual and if I had to suffer stomach cramps all night long at least I did so in a comfortable space. Tossing and turning in high count all cotton sheets enveloped in feather pillows in a sweet smelling room is much better than being in a scratchy sheet, smelly, noisy room elsewhere. The staff is so Zen and professional too and the mint tea offered in the sitting room in the morning certainly helped me to feel better and more refreshed.  I would stay there any time and recommend it highly to anyone.

On Wed morning we headed north to NYC for a pit stop before landing at my friend’s in Greenwich for the night.

We drove into town through the Holland Tunnel and headed north east to my old neighborhood near Gramercy park.  We parked the car next to the park and I showed my daughter the lobby of 254 Park Ave South, the building I lived in back in the late 1980’s.  254 has gone co-op now and it all re-done in a chic European decor- very different from when I lived there.  Then we walked  in the rain west one block to 5th Ave and up to 49th to the American Girl Store, three floors of girl and doll bliss.  Sam is 12 and I have been telling her for 6 years that one day we would go to the American Girl store in New York.  This was our last chance as I am betting in a few months she will loose all interest in dolls and not want to go many places like that.  She really enjoyed it though the only purchase we made was a book about how to handle boys- a growing concern for this rising 7th grader.  After checking that off the bucket list, we walked over to Lexington and took the 6 train back down to Gramercy.  Rain in the summer in Manhattan is a blessing because otherwise the humidity and stench is unbearable.  The rain cleans the air and the streets and gives the city a temporary reprieve from the summer stink that urges anyone sane who can afford it to vacate until September.

We chose Rissoteria for dinner as it is noted as one of the best gluten free restaurants in New York.  We drove to SoHo and found a sweet parking spot a block away.  Rissoteria is small but really good.  Sam had a panini with ham, sundried tomatoes, arugula and pesto with mozzarella cheese.  I ordered a thin crust pizza with sausage.  Both were fabulous and we relished eating bread in a restaurant.

Then we met my actor friend, Gene for some gelato a few blocks away.  A sweet way to end the second day of our road trip.

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