We drove off in the rain this morning leaving behind Plucky Hubby Steve, intentionally we might add, not because we were tired of him but it just always seems right to end Plucky Survivors with just the Plucky Survivors. Don't worry about Steve - he's in DC with plenty to amuse him. We've heard there are a few things to do there. We couldn't help but notice that the only bad weather we got on this trip coincided with Steve's arrival. It rained on and off until we got rid of him. And then we remembered that the only times on Plucky Survivors where we have encountered persistent bad weather coincided with the presence of other Plucky Passengers. We're not saying, we're just saying.
We headed south with our first stop at the US Army Women's Museum at Fort Lee, Virginia. It's a small but thorough look at female involvement in American conflicts from the Revolutionary War to the present ones. It produced a severely split decision. Rick found it to be interesting and a good retelling of the roles that women have played in the armed services throughout the years, even when those roles may have been tremendously limited and upheld traditional gender roles.
Mary, on the other hand, found it biased in the direction of always giving army policy the benefit of the doubt, which she understood. This is, after all, not presented by a neutral party. But she also found some of the graphics to be condescending; for example captions on clearly staged photographs showing WACs primping in the field instead of pointing out how silly this sort of reassuring propaganda was, instead admired the women for maintaining their feminine fashion sense no matter how dreadful the conditions. She certainly appreciated the respect given to the women who served behind the scenes, but was dismayed to discover that women weren't legally allowed to do much more until the mid-to-late 1970s and apparently still are not allowed in direct conflict even today. It was difficult to tell from the exhibit whether this was considered a good thing or not.
By the way, whatever your gender, race, or sexual orientation, if you're a soldier, we thank you.
Moving on, we headed away from the multi-lane highway into the Virginia countryside on one of those two-lane roads that we are so fond of and have had remarkably few of this trip. One of the things we often complain about is our lack of time in the bigger cities, but Plucky Survivors has given us an opportunity to take the road less traveled, both figuratively and literally, and we missed that this trip so this afternoon was full of exactly the kind of road trip surprise that we like.
For instance, if we had been on the freeway we never would've seen a little town called Bacon's Castle. There's not much too it, but you gotta love that name.
Then there was an attempt to get gas, which was foiled when the pumps at our chosen place didn't work and the people there seemed surprised that they had to tell every customer that came in. This ultimately proved to our benefit because the next available gas station was a road trip dream. Mind you, they didn't have a sign offering both Live Bait and Ammunition as did an earlier establishment, but this one did have a few locals inside drinking beer, an entire case devoted to chewing tobacco, various unidentifiable cuts of meat in the "butcher" section, a barefoot teenage boy in a camouflage cap wandering the aisles, and a marvelously gracious man who pumped our gas for us, rang up our charges, and made sure Mary didn't leave behind her miniature chocolate donuts. Having already accused someone else of being condescending we hope we aren't coming off likewise; we were genuinely thrilled with this place. Mary, by the way, found her miniature donuts to be inedible.
We were running behind on our schedule but when we saw Edward's Virginia Ham, we had to pull over and stop. With all kinds of award winning smoked and cured pork products for sale, don't think we weren't tempted when a sign reassured us that all of them could survive for up to 10 days without refrigeration. In the end though, we just came away with a ham sandwich, which we split as a pre-lunch appetizer. Mmmmm, ham, although Rick did think we should've skipped the bread on the sandwich and just gotten a bowl of ham.
Speaking of ham, our next stop was in Smithfield, Virginia, aka "Hamtown" or as we came to think of it The Town That Ham Built. The town museum holds the world's oldest edible cured ham, which is over 100 years old and is, well, ham. Old ham. Cool! The receptionist regaled us with stories of how sturdy properly cured ham can be. Seriously, apparently it can survive being buried in the ground for three or four months. That moss? It's good for it.
Right across the street of this postcard perfect, preserved small town is the Smithfield Inn (circa 1750) where the menu is surprisingly fish-focused for the town that ham built. But we know where our priorities lie and we ordered ham rolls, pork "wings," and, not a bowl, but a plate of ham. Close to a bowl. There was also a salad and a cup of Brunswick stew in there but who cares? Ham!
Truth be told we both found the Virginia ham a trifle on the salty side, but the wings were porky perfection. Chunks of roast pork still on the bone, lightly marinated, and with a freshly made bleu cheese dip, these earned a spot in the Top 10 Plucky Moments.
On the way back to the car, we stopped at a local bakery where got an excellent chocolate iced brownie and Mary got a cream puff and a chocolate chip muffin, neither of which were good enough to consider eating after a bit or two. On a mission, we stopped next door at a coffee house/bakery where we got a gorgeous looking vanilla cupcake (we know, but this one had more frosting than the chocolate one). The frosting was fine, the cake was dry.
We are spending the night in Virginia Beach and our hotel, the Virginia Beach Resort, sits right on the edge of the small beach and thus Chesapeake Bay. There are both pros and cons to this hotel. Because we ultimately feel positive about the place, we're start with the cons so that we end on a high note.
Because of the way the all-suite accommodations are constructed, the bedrooms are the first space you come into, which means they don't have any windows and could feel a little claustrophobic for some. Furnishings are forgettable, the beds are not squishy, and we've been spoiled by flat screen TVs in other places.
But there's lots of room and every suite has a refrigerator and a microwave in a small kitchen area, which is great because as you may know, eating out three times a day is expensive and inconvenient and having the option to have the fixings for one meal or a place to stow and reheat your leftovers is a boon. There's a nicely shaped swimming pool with both and indoor and outdoor spaces so you can swim from one to the other, a jacuzzi, and a well-stocked gym. The hotel has it's own beach area and the ocean, really the bay, is very swimmable here with mostly negligible waves. While it is not located in the center of town some may actually find that a benefit because it's quieter.
Well, except for the people in the hall yelling right now as we type this. Not that we're irritated by it or anything.
Best of all are the rooms with balconies that overlook the bay. As with any hotel in Virginia Beach, that's where you want to stay. We spent a good chunk of time on our respective balconies reading, watching people strolling by, dogs playing in the water, and a gorgeous sunset. Now that's a vacation. Too bad we also didn't have ham.
In the evening we went into the heart of Virginia Beach, where we had dinner at seafood restaurant Catch 31. Attached to the Hilton hotel, the place overlooks the boardwalk, and outside is where you want to sit especially since inside, at least on a Friday evening, has a noise level set to ear drum bleed. Rick had a caesar salad and a very good chicken and ham (!) pasta with a cream sauce. Mary started with a bread salad, which was weirdly constructed and a failure. Boy she's grumpy today. Mary sniffs, "I prefer to think of it as discriminating."
All was well when she got her plate of fat, steamed Gulf shrimp with drawn butter.
We were running too late to make the Virginia Aquarium and do anything more than a cursory stroll down the very popular boardwalk, but we'll correct as many of our omissions as we can tomorrow. But we have seen enough to know that in a head to head combat between similar tourist resorts Virginia Beach and Myrtle Beach, we'll take the former. It's nicer in a lot of ways - cleaner, less hectic, and prettier.
The report about tomorrow will probably not be posted until the following day as we're going to get in a little too late.