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Weekend Trip (Tuesday, July 5, 2011)

After months and months of her asking, I finally decided to take Elaine to the Green Valley Book Fair near Harrisonburg, VA. But since we don't get away much, we wanted to make a weekend of it. And we sure did!

We left home Saturday morning, and headed out I66, with the plan of going to the Luray Caverns on the way. I prefer to avoid interstates as much as possible on leisurely drives, so in Linden, we got off the highway onto Route 55 and took that to US 340. We were considering Skyline Drive, but decided the we should carve a more direct path. So we followed 340 and the Shenandoah River all the way to Luray, where we stopped for lunch at the West Main Market for lunch. It got good reviews on Yelp, and we were not disappointed — the only let down was that we were only able to have one meal there!

After lunch, we briefly went into a used book store which, to Elaine's delight, was infested with owls. While in downtown Luray, we learned two disturbing things. First, that there was a bluegrass festival going on at Luray Caverns, which meant it would likely be exceedingly crowded; and second that there were to be rubber duck races, but not until AFTER we were gone! Nevertheless, we swallowed our sorrow, and moved on.

On arriving at the caverns, we found that indeed there was a crowd. So large in fact, that we didn't even stop the car, and left the parking lot as quickly as we'd come. We decided to press on to New Market, so we followed US 211 west, until we reach US 11, and decided to head south to Harrisonburg on 11, rather than getting back on the interstate.

This turned out to be a good call, since the drive was rather pretty, and after a short time, we saw a large sign on the hillside for Endless Caverns. So after a brief discussion, we turned off the highway, and headed up into the hills to see what we hoped to be a much less crowded venue.

We were not disappointed. The place was nearly empty. Apparently, the site is home to an RV campground under a NASCAR affiliation. That notwithstanding, the tour of the caverns was well over an hour long, the tour guide was a lot of fun, the tour group was fairly small. This was definitely one of the best cavern tours we've ever been on, and we definitely recommend it over the more crowded caverns.

As we caught the last tour of the day, and it was a long tour, we needed to move on to Harrisonburg, where we stayed at the Sleep Inn, where I've spent a number of nights in the past. Aside from the scary elevator, we checked in without incident, and found our room to be quite acceptable (and at $65 a night, a bargain, too!).

After getting settled in, we got back on the road to head down I81 to a little German restaurant south of Staunton, called Edelweiss. I'd link to their web site, but it's been offline for ages. Never fear, the restaurant is still there and the food is as good as ever. I had their bratwurst and weisswurst dinner, which came with sauerkraut; and a Weihenstephaner Hefe that they had on draft. Elaine had the spinach torte. As always, the meal was accompanied by very good bread, along with spaetzle, two types of cabbage, and green beans. We finished the meal with an excellent Black Forest cake. The same accordionist who has been playing there for years was still playing, and that was probably the highlight of the meal. Really, my only complaint was that the poor waitress had no idea how to say the names of the meals she was serving, and just totally butchered the German pronunciations! If you can't say the German (which you should learn, after all, the cook speaks German!), then use the English names! It also felt a bit rushed — although the waitress made it quite clear that there WAS no rush (and indeed, we stayed almost until they closed) — it still felt that way. I guess they're used to American travelers who always seem to be in a rush. Personally, I think it would have been better if the service had been slower! Oh, and they will bring you more of the sides if you ask for it! I wish the place were closer, but even at this distance, it's always worth the drive. Don't forget to make a reservation.

After dinner, we drove back to the half hour back to hotel and passed out for the night.

Sunday morning, we got up a fair bit earlier than I had expected. Elaine liked the square pillows on the bed, but I didn't find it especially comfortable. The shower lacked water volume, but I suppose that's not a bad thing, considering how slowly the tub drained. I went downstairs to check out free continental breakfast, but it was so mobbed with people and kids, that I decided to skip it. But all things being equal, I wasn't disappointed by the hotel, which could have been much worse, and much more expensive.

Upon departing the hotel, we went to Sheetz to gas up and have breakfast. I was pleased to note that they changed the name from "Bagelz" to "Shmagels", which is what I'd always called them anyway... sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings, doesn't it?

So with both car and body fueled, we set off for our actual destination of the trip, the Green Valley Book Fair. The place is not so much in the middle of nowhere as it is on the other side of nowhere. But once we found our way in, we were pleased to find convenient parking and a light crowd. It turns out there's an auction there, too, but it is apparently only run on alternate Fridays. We will have to go back to see that at some point.

The book fair itself is in two large buildings connected by an enclosed walkway. The larger building has two levels. The whole thing is quite well air conditioned, so we were fairly comfortable for the duration. As one might expect, there were a ton of books of all varieties, all new, and all steeply discounted. If you're looking for something specific, you may not find it, but if you're like us, when presented with a mountain of books, you will always find something you want. We got as many books as we could carry (note to self, bring a cart with wheels, next time), and it was quite a successful stop!

After several gruelling hours of book shopping, we decided it was time to head out. Since we were in a shopping mood, we wanted to see if there were any antique stores around, and heading back toward Harrisonburg on 11, we drove by several, but we didn't stop. We drove through downtown Harrisonburg (which apparently, I haven't done before) and got back on US 33 where we came across the Rolling Hills Antique Mall. Unfortunately, it was mostly "vintage" crap. It's really disappointing that most "antique" places are like that... but I guess most people can't afford to buy the type of high end furniture that interests me.

Once we left the antique place, we stopped for lunch at Mr. J's Bagels and Deli, which was pretty good, and fortunately not too crowded. After lunch, we decided to take US 33 past Massanutten, through Elkins, and on to Skyline Drive. I had completely forgotten that Skyline Drive is a national park and has a $15 per car fee for entry. But that's okay, it was a very pleasant drive, except for the occasional very slow car, and the fact that my motor is having some serious horsepower issues.

It took about an hour to traverse Skyline Drive between US 33 and Thornton Gap, where we got off on US 211. We headed down out of the mountains to Sperryville, where we visited a number of cool shops. First up, the Emporium, which had a lot of nice furniture, though nothing that we needed. We bought some local honey and some strawberry syrup. Then we proceeded on to "downtown" Sperryville, where we went into a small antique shop, a yarn store, and a pottery shop.

Then we continued on our of town to Copper Fox Antiques, a huge warehouse-like antique store, which had a lot of old furniture, but nothing that particularly interested us. They have a distillery there, but alas, they're closed on Sundays — that will be something to go back for! Two things to note about Sperryville: everything is overpriced (probably due to the proximity with Little Washington), and there is no cell phone coverage to speak of.

We drove on out of town, past Little Washington, and on through Warrenton and Gainesville. There we stopped and had dinner at Bertucci's, and then finally back home.

It was quite a full two day trip, but fortunately, we had the Fourth to relax and recover. I caught up on my TV, and we watched a Netflix DVD that had been sitting around for a while. We watched the last bit of the Capitol Fourth, and then to bed.

Today is Matthew's birthday, so happy birthday to him, and now, it's back to work!

—Brian (7/5/2011 11:32 AM)
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