Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Historical Martha Washington Inn, Abingdon, Virginia

Randy refused to tell me where he was taking me to celebrate my birthday.  I took my personal day from school, and we took off from home at 8:20 AM, driving south on I-77. We had audio tapes of Garrison Keiler's Woebegone Boy, so we enjoyed those for part of the trip. (We've save the second half for the return trip.)

The drive was long.  We had breakfast in Cambridge, in the parking lot of our favorite grocery store there:  crab salad for me, and an egg salad sandwich for Randy, then we devoured half of a loaf of soft and freshly baked cinnamon pull-apart bread.  We will diet later.

A few hours later we had a picnic lunch that Randy had brought: fried chicken and a Caesar salad, which we had at a picnic area somewhere in southern West Virginia.

When I realized that a sign said "Abington," I began to "get it."  Randy wouldn't let me look at a map, so I just had to ride along asking questions, which he would not answer. He just kept smiling!

We've been here before, in 2007, on our way to or from The Biltmore in Asheville, NC.........Then, we drove through Abingdon, and I saw the sign for The Barter Theatre, "Virginia's Theatre," or some such phrase,  and we stopped the car to look around.  As it was a Sunday morning, everything was closed up that day, but a little old lady was walking down the street, and she stopped to tell us about this theatre.

It is called the Barter Theatre because starving actors and actresses knew they could come here when they were out of their luck, and they could act here, "bartering" their craft, for a place to stay and a meal.  It was founded in 1933, and fresh produce from the farms were usually what was bartered by the locals to see a play. Many famous people have acted on the stage of The Barter: Patricia Neal, Gregory Peck, Ernest Borgnine, Hune Cronyn, Ned Beatty, and there is a huge list inside the theatre.  Many actors and actresses come here to add it to their list of credits, without the hunger involved, today.                                      

And many famous people have stayed across the street at the Martha Washington Hotel and Spa.  It is enormous and very plush and richly decorated.  It was first a private home for a general and his family, then it was a finishing school for young ladies, it served as a hospital for wounded Civil War soldiers, then became a womens' college, and in 1935 became an inn and hotel.  Elizabeth Taylor, Eleanor Roosevelt,  Harry Truman, Lady Bird Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Gregory Peck, to name a few.  Lady Bird's photo is stationed over the bottle of port in the library, where guests may have a complimentary after-dinner drink each night.

The the first hour, after the valets had delivered our bags to our room,  we toured the hotel, sitting on every wicker seat on the huge columned front porch, trying out all the little tables in nooks and crannies which are visible from hallway windows, and peeking down at the pool area, which is open twenty-four hours a day. (When we stay where there is a pool, we usually miss the use of it due to the closing times, so this is pretty nice.)

We enjoyed the porch, watching a horse-drawn buggy drive into the circular drive, the valets parking the cars, and the guests arriving. There is to be a wedding here on Saturday, and those folks are coming in tonight.

We are in room 218 in the Presidential Wing, where a painting of George Washington hangs in the hallway. Our room is not huge, but is elegantly furnished, with a Keurig coffee maker, a lovely shower area with so many bells and whistles that we are still not sure how to just turn on and off the water, and a bed that feels like "The Princess and the Pea" could take place in it.

Dinner was in the restaurant in the lower level, a rather dark room, with oak walls and room dividers.  We were seated in our own private room, and had Miss Kim as our waitress.  I had huge shrimp with avocado slices and corn salsa on them and Randy had pan-fried quail for our appetizers.  The main course was Kansas City sirloin for Randy (no surprise) and I had enormous scallops with freshly cooked spinach and wheatberries with fresh cranberries cooked into them.  Small servings, but we could not finish it all!  We enjoyed an Australian shiraz to go along with this, and then creme brulee for dessert.  We waddled upstairs to the library to get our after-dinner port.

The library looks like a movie set. There is actually a library of books for guests to read, and those wonderful ladders that can take you up to the top shelf (picture Katherine Hepburn on top looking down at Spencer Tracy.........), leather sofas that could swallow you up, a fireplace, oriental rugs, and dark paneling all around.  Scarlett and Rhett could have played out their kissing scene in front of the fireplace....................and I looked to see if Clark Gable was lying down on the sofa when I first walked in.  (Darn!  He was not.)

We met a couple on the porch: An older man with a far far younger woman.  We drank port with them and talked for awhile, then Randy and I went back to our room to suit up for the pool.

As this is a spa, the pool is salt water, and I have never felt pool water so clean and easy to move through.  It was like "lightweight water," is the only way to describe it.  So fresh and calm. Nobody else was in the pool when I was, probably because it was well after midnight. We discovered the hot tubs outside, and they were lit by colored lights that kept changing. One hot tub was above the other, and the water fell into the lower hot tub from the layered levels of water.  A fire pit burned off to the side, and after we had let the water massage all our aches and pains, we sat by the fire pit, just enjoying the calmness and the sound of the trickling water, and good conversation.

We were in bed and asleep by about 2:30........swallowed up in the softness of this marvelous bed.