Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Barter Theatre, The Spa, and the Day in Heaven................

We were at breakfast by 8:30 in the dining room, where I had Blue Ridge French toast with real maple syrup, fresh fruit, and two slices of Virginia smoked bacon. Randy had eggs, toast, and bacon and then I ate his fresh fruit.

Part of my gift, as if I needed anything more, was a spa treatment, and at 11:00 I was dropped off by Randy at the spa for a facial and a pedicure.  Nothing like this have I ever done in my long life. The facial was done while I lay on a soft bed in a dimly lit room with billowing draperies attached to the ceiling, soft music and Connie, who had magic fingers and all kinds of slippery oils and mists and a soft voice. I slept through part of the facial.

Then Connie took me to the pedicure room, where I got a back massage from a vibrating chair while my feet were submerged and peddied and my toenails were painted, my ankles were massaged, and I again fell asleep.  I am not used to this pampering, but I gotta tell you:  I COULD GET USED TO THIS IN A BIG HURRY.

We spent some time lounging by the hot tub in the bright sunlight (I don't think we're in Ohio anymore, Toto....) then took a short dip in that saltwater pool, read some magazines, and Randy took a little sun nap.

Randy took the car out to investigate Abingdon while I was being primped, and has made dinner reservations.  He had previously arranged for us to see a play tonight at The Barter Theatre.

We had dinner about a mile up the street at The Tavern, a very small building that was built in kidding. It is the oldest building in Abingdon that is still in use.  It's very small as you walk inside, and the ceiling is a bit low, also.  We asked for outside seating in light of the expected Rapture at just our dinner hour, and had a lovely table in the back with boxwood bushes all up the middle of the yard. 

Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson had eaten there, as did a king of France, back in the day.  The roof is totally covered with bright green moss, and the entire place was like going back in time.  I had chicken saltimbocca, which was TWO chicken breasts with some cheese, pesto, ham, and sauce. There was also a pasta salad AND a side salad.  Randy had a ten ounce prime rib with a baked potato.  They rolled us out to the car when we were done, and we have yet to be able to bend fully over.

Randy hired the horse-drawn buggy to ride us around Abingdon after dinner.  The driver, a young woman from town, knew all kinds of interesting things about Abingdon, some gossip, and some amazing tales about our hotel, as well.  I fell asleep in the back of the buggy, but did manage to hear most of the information.  It was my very first horse-drawn carriage ride, ever.  Randy has certainly made this a memorable birthday!

The play was really a good time. It is called  "Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes," and it is all about the life story of Hank Williams (senior) told by Jason Petty, who wrote the commentary and sings all twenty-two songs during this two-act performance.  Jason won the Obie Award for his performance in "Hank Williams: Lost Highway," which was an off-Broadway show in 2003.  Jason Petty was pretty amazing if I do say so myself.

Now, let me put you into my theatre seat for a minute.  My Bucket List had The Barter Theatre on it, not a play about country-western music.  Since I can only hum about two bars of ANY country-western music song, (although I can clap fairly well to some of it, ) I am not what you would call a "fan," by any means.  But tonight, sitting in a box seat in the balcony of The Barter Theatre, I temporarily became  a country-western music fan.  We enjoyed the entire performance, clapped when everyone else did (sort of how I did it at football games,) tapped our toes on the floor, wished we'd worn plaid shirts and suspenders, stood for the standing ovation which was well-earned, and generally got into this foreign genre of entertainment, if only for one night.  (We did, after all, come to see the theatre in action. And we did.)

We have sat on the front porch with our glass of port, talked with a lovely couple from Amherst, Virginia, where we just had lunch in April while we researched Randy's roots.  I am preparing for a soak in the hot tub before retiring.  I have had trouble staying awake most of the afternoon, and every muscle in my body aches. I know it is because I am so relaxed that the tension has temporarily abated, leaving me achy.

I do not know what time check-out time is, but I will be the woman hanging on by her fingernails to the front door as the valets deliver our car to the front drive.  It probably won't be a pretty scene, so I won't relate that.

Thank you, Randy, for a wonderful birthday gift !  An experience..................(and you know how I do love a good experience!)

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.