Sunday, August 12, 2007

Berkely Springs, WV.

Well... every once in awhile it's good to have a complete getaway. Part of the joy in such a trip is shirking responsibility and dropping everyday routines. During my first two forays on the road this summer I still felt some pressure from the inertia of this blog. Even though I had met my goal of a year of posts, I still felt compelled to write daily entries. That wasn't the case this time. M. and I drove to Berkely Springs, WV. We chose the location as appropriate for a private weekend. It's only about three hours from the 'Burgh, and the driving mostly avoids the type of mountainous roads that make M. nervous. I had never been there before, and had planned on doing more research than I had, but then the power went out and we spent a tense and hot night in the dark. So when we left Friday morning, we were mostly blind to the area.

The claim to fame of Berkely Springs is that it was the first major spa destination of the republic. Luminaries such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis were known to take the waters there. It contained sulfates, carbonates, and nitrates, and was considered to be good for digestive ailments and stress relief. When it comes out of the mountains, it is 74 degrees Fahrenheit. There are still multiple spas in modern day Berkely Springs, and they still attract a lot of tourists from the Washington DC area. But the area has also tried to build a reputation as a small-town arts center, and it contains an artist co-op in a converted ice house. Walking down the few streets of downtown the visitor sees galleries, fancy gift shops and a few fine restaurants. Predictably the wares are the furthest thing from being edgy. The stuff is mostly meant to be high-priced wall decoration. And most of the businesses close at 5PM, no matter what day it is. The town is not known for its sparkling nightlife, so if you go- plan your evening activities elsewhere.

We did eat two meals in Berkely Springs. The first was at an Italian restaurant called Maria's Garden. The proprietors are clearly Catholics, and they have a counter where you can buy Christian lit, and sundries with the images of saints. The food was decent, if a bit misleading. M.'s vegatarian sub had bits of meat that were left over on the grill. My Chicken Cacciatore had large chunks of beef in the meat sauce. I began to belief their conversion efforts were twofold, though everything did taste good. Last night we ate Mexican, and it was standard fare. I was extraordinarily pleased to discover that the Creamery (where we got dessert) featured Butter Brickle ice cream. You can't get that in the 'Burgh.

The most distinctive part of our little vacation was definitely our accomodations. M. booked us a little place from Berkely Springs Cottage Rentals. It was called the Back Creek Cabin, and I believe that it lived up to its billing. We had to take a series of increasingly dodgy backroads to get to the place. They narrowed until the point that they were clearly one-lane paths. At the end of the wooded trail was a steep incline that would be impassable if wet and muddy- at least without an ATV. All through our stay I worried that it would rain, and we would be stuck. We were very fortunate in terms of the weather. We also felt lucky when we got in the doors of the cottage. It seemed that the people in charge of the place had thought of everything. Considering its remote location, we were amazed at how well appointed it was. There was a full kitchen with microwave, a TV with VCR, DVD and Direct TV, and a queen-sized bed with lots of extra pillows and blankets. Two comfy recliners were provided for lounging. Outside on the porch there were some great chairs and a grill. A fire pit with a stockpile of wood was nearby. But the biggest treat was the A.C., which was especially appreciated after our experience with the blackout at home. Someone even thought to keep it running for our arrival. The place was immaculately clean and thoroughly insulated. For its reasonable price, we were quite pleased- what a great little hideway!

During our first night there, I think we were the only people on the mountain. I took a walk to check out the scene. There were a few other scattered cabins and lodges, but no cars or lights in sight. The thick woods obscured the surroundings. This fact made it especially cozy and special. Whenever I went outside the cabin and sat for a cigarette, I marvelled at the sounds of the chirping insects. Between the crickets and cicadas, it sounded like the deep jungle. I loved it. I turned out the porchlights and stared up through the trees at the stars. The total darkness accentuated the experience, and I had the minor thrill of being (almost) totally alone in the wilderness. It made going inside and watching late night television a unique experience. On the second night our distant neighbors were whooping it up with loud country music. A sharp disappointment accompanied the shattering of my illusion of isolation. But once night fell, and the sounds of the forest asserted themselves, I was happy again. It was exactly the experience I had been looking for.

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