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Monday, August 6, 2012

True Vacation All Around

 Icing on the cake does not appropriately describe our trip to the Greenbrier Resort at the end of our vacation week in Avon, NC- OBX with my whole family “under one roof”!   To understand why I am so happily pleased with this overnight stay is to understand when I first wanted to visit The Greenbrier. 

I had the good fortunate to be sent to a 3-½ week camp after the 5th grade- Camp Allegheny for Girls. My memories of this camp are simple fun – canoeing, hiking, hobo pies, theater was part of the fun for me, dancing, “DOWNTOWN- where all the lights are bright” and then lots of awesome camp songs.   AT some point our tent or group was promised if we did or won X we would be rewarded with ice cream at The Greenbrier.  And do you know I believed them.  So when the payout was delivered reality is we were taken to a cabin reserved for junior counselors and given DQ dilly bars- I think…somehow DQ plays into this memory…they were yummy, I was pleased to see the cabin, pleased to enjoy a cold treat so it wasn’t that I was disappointed.  However that set the desire to someday visit The Greenbrier and that my friends were some 32 years ago…am I that old really to say that?  Also know that I LOVE mountains.  I loved the time spent in the Allegheny Mountains at camp. I love the drive on Route 68 between Ohio and western Maryland

In those 32 years I’ve been to some amazing hotels and resorts.  I have lived well.  And as much as I love elegance, luxury in places like Whistler, BC, Beavercreek Colorado, Sea Island, Georgia, Turnberry, in Scotland, Canal Bay in the USVI I also have loved the simple pleasure a rustic family favorite on Lake Dunmore in Vermont, icy skiing at Blue Knob in Pennsylvania and eco tents of St. John!  However in the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to stay at the Greenbrier. 

Part of the fun of my marriage to Joe has been exploring many of the places mentioned above!  I’m also fortunate to have dear friends that share their travels with me and it is these conversations that nest in head helping me daydream and plan   That is how we ended up in Turnberry thanks to travel miles and many friends sharing their experiences. The past five years we’ve spent summer vacation time in the Outerbanks with my parents.  We’ve all fallen in love this simple seaside landscape and the opportunity for family bonding and relaxation.  We started in Nags Head and have ended up in Avon.  The trip has been coupled with the bonus of our 3 children returning to Maryland for continued grandparent bonding time!  Joe and I leave the beach with the opportunity for alone, project and no sitter during our workweek!  Often we’re so busy with summer juggling and getting to a place to just go on vacation for the week that we don’t plan the return trip stopover.  I can remember the ah-ha moment 3 years ago when we figured out we could stay at the Greenbrier!! Thanks to laptops and wifi at the beach we started looking for places half way home and sure enough the Greenbrier made its way to me.  Unfortunately it was the PGA tournament and no space at the Inn.  That year we found wonderful historic accommodations at the General Lewis Inn in Lewistown and had a WONDERFUL overnight stay.  WE took a great run through town, found a delicious dinner location, and did some shopping.  We drove by Camp Allegheny and happy memories found their way back strengthen my desire to return.  Last summer it was the same weekend with the golf tournament and we felt the need to drive straight home.  However on the way down to the beach we took our kids on a tour of Allegheny giving me a direct path to my childhood time.

So skip to summer 2012- somehow in the midst of mapping out 12 weeks of no school, summer sitters, camps, activities I did mention a great birthday gift could be a new I phone or a trip to the Greenbrier- half kidding.  But much to my delight my darling husband made the reservation and presented to me on my birthday the Greenbrier’s Main Dining Room’s menu sharing with me that I needed to pack dress up clothes for the beach trip as we had reservations for an overnight stay and 8 pm dinner!!!  WOW was I surprised, delighted and pleased!  Yes Yes I know how lucky I am!!!

Not wanting to wish away vacation and quality family time at the beach I sort of moved the trip to back of my mind and tried to keep it there.  Well the time came and we packed for vacation and made our great escape.  The week at the beach deserves its own blog entry and I’m grateful to my parents, siblings and their families as well as Joe and our kids for a great week of amazing family dinners, beloved cocktail hours, quality sun soaked catch-up, awesome swims and side trips.  The Olympics made it all the more exciting and special to share.

No matter what I always cry when I say farewell to my family- it was what I do. We thought this year might be different with another family trip planned for the end of September and the treat of the Greenbrier waiting- but it is what it is and I’m an in the moment kind of girl and a mother and daughter leaving being separated from family. However the aches and pangs of sadness and worry quickly dissipated as I giddily anticipated our check-in at The Greenbrier!

Saturday, August 4 was one of those Susan days.  I’m lucky to have had many in my life- they usually include kid time, Gnu time, work success multiple savoring the moments.  We left the beach early, being the no kids in car group we were the last to leave the house and return the key.  Joe came up with the idea to return to a great breakfast place (a player in one the great Susan days 4 years ago) in Kill Devil Hills-shared with us by a friend!!) The Jolly Roger didn’t disappoint and the country ham eggs Benedict lived up to memory’s expectation. We made one quick stop in Charlottesville to visit a shop I had heard about and wanted to experience as well as pick up a bow tie for Joe- he needed one for the 8 pm dinner reservation! Quick snack, no lunch- wanting to save room for Greenbrier fare!  A bonus as we approached our exit on Rt. 64- there wasn’t much traffic and we noticed some sort of animal crossing the road ahead- tan in color. Joe asked me what it was and I focused in.  I was thinking fox, as its body was longer than what I’d seen in this situation.  What we saw totally shocked us- a young mountain type lion cub meeting its pal in the grass on the other side.  No doubt about it- the face, whiskers and body showed us that it was no fox, kitty cat or dog.

3 pm- we drive through the gate and guard house- we had driven by this point many times but hadn’t had access- woo hoo Joe and his birthday gift!! I had him pause at the entrance and let me soak it in- what a view- as pretty in person as the postcards, websites and my own mind. Joe said and was a bit worried- lots of expectations can be built up over 32 years.  I’m pleased to say my expectations were greatly exceeded!!!

We both noticed and appreciated the warm welcome and use of our name by the valet at the front entrance.  We were quickly checked in and escorted to our room before official check- in time.  The Dorothy Draper COLORFUL, BOLD, STYLISH and at first even overwhelmed me.  I LOVED the color and patterns, florals and stripes, carpet with texture and pattern, furniture and fixtures. But all of it together- by the end I was smitten and totally respect her approach and how well it continues to live on with her protégé!  Our view above the North Entrance Portico was an added bonus! Wanting to make the most of the stay we quickly unpacked- thanks to a fun walk-in closet we hung up the clothes, placed the shoes on the shoe shelf!! And contemplated the next activity.  I casually asked Joe if he wanted to go for a run- thinking that it would be the morning’s activity- he said yes and said lets get dressed! So we changed and headed out to take a fast paced tour to explore, get some exercise and earn dinner! 

The Greenbrier’s charm is not left to the gorgeous setting in the Allegheny mountains- the hospitality is deep and intentional and applies to everything.  There is a 2-mile walkway that takes you on to the golf course- something rarely permitted during golfing hours in other places.  The path includes a trip over the trout filled creek, a mediation area, a glimpse at behind the scene areas of golf tourney prep and branch off mountain paths as well as beautiful homes.  Our run was the ideal way to start our visit.  We took a peak at the pool-, which blew Joe way- and quickly returned to our room to change for a quick dip before the 6 pm closing time.  This meant skipping tea in the lobby but Joe promised we’d save it for another visit!

Ahhhh the pool!  Friends had said it was a must do- mostly in part because of the service.  Anyone who knows me knows I LOVE pool time! Again this ties to a wonderful childhood activity at FHCC but something I savor at MCC and past apartments and vacation trips too!  The Greenbrier pool was indeed a treat!  The view over the gorgeously designed infinity pool to the mountains and golf course immediately keep your thoughts to serenity no one can deny.  We enjoyed a delicious iced team, cooling swim and rest from the run!  The hour passed too quickly but satisfied.  We returned to dress for dinner as we famished and anxious for our 8 pm seating. 

Before dinner I was able to take in a bit of shopping. Another special activity in this small town of West Virginia- again I had heard about the shops – the shoe shop in particular and had my own mind what it would be like.  No disappointments here- everything I had hoped and more.  Shopping in Ohio is limited and my time to shop even more so!  A highlight was finding the Greenbrier fabric and wallpapers available for sale!!  Most of you know I’ve had a wonderful time this year undertaking the redecorating of our home!  For years I’ve wanted to bring color and southern influence to our beloved life on Newark-Granville  Road and was able to do that with the help of many!  Recently the window treatments were placed and I realized how happy I am with the yellow, green, blue and bright white woodwork scheme.  I came to the Greenbrier knowing I would be inspired to keep this exciting project going!!  Every elevator stop, walk to a resort destination had me looking at the décor!  Our drinks in the lobby was no exceptions- I moved room to room to find our spot to sip our scotch and enjoy cocktail time together!  The outdoor beckoned again and we found ourselves in rocking chairs reviewing the floor plan, layout and maps of the grounds and there it was – right in front of us- the bunker!! Our hunger moved us from our gentile perch and we went in search of the dining room.

The Greenbrier provides many extra touches besides gracious greetings and dinner was no exception. I was pleasantly surprised to see live music would be part of our dining experience and our table was in close proximity to the dance floor.  Every part of the meal was outstanding and here are our choices and what was provided that made it something I’ll never forget.

1.     Spring water in green glassware- Joe declared it a Susan set table. White tablecloth, beautiful floral charger, many pieces of silver flatware and a fresh rose in a vase. 
2.     The wine list was presented to Joe and he proclaimed it a novel.  Just reading it was an education and delight.  We shared a lovely California Santa Rosa Pinot Noir
3.     From the chef a starter of zucchini prepared a few ways including chilled to almost frozen in a shot glass size dish with a round cream soup spoon- comic relief as we determined how to consume- I hope we didn’t embarrass our selves.  It was delicious and set the tone for what the rest of the evening’s food.
4.     My first course was a chicken liver parfait and Joe’s a smoked trout.  Both came on plates, small serving full of flavor with lovely accouterments.
5.     Second course for me was cream of 5-onion soup and Joe had his beloved Cesar salad with anchovies.  My soup's presentation was gorgeous (taking me back to a spectacular meal my college roommate's father treated me to at the Four Seasons in Washington, DC in 1987!
6.     Our breadbasket was lovely as well so by this time I’m pretty full.  Sure enough I should of ordered the way my father prefers and I follow- appetizers only and save room for dessert. But no…..
7.     Joe’s lamb 3 ways was creative and yummy and fortunately not a larger serving!  My potato-crusted grouper melted in my mouth- although was indeed a larger serving.  Again I hope we didn’t embarrass ourselves but we’d switch plates so we both could enjoy the other’s selections or in my case good food wouldn’t go to waste.
8.     And the bonus was we danced!  We were entertained by wonderful live music- a jazz trio sharing music that made me smile and wish the rest of the family and friends were with us! We were able to watch generations of fellow guests enjoy their evenings including a wedding party (we’d seen ceremony preparation and end on our run) and large family seated behind us with darling not perfect but good children!!
9.     Unfortunately I had to disappoint my father- he asked me to have the bread pudding- something he remembered from his visit as the best he ever had! I was just too full!  I was torn between the famous Greenbrier Peaches, a selection with Meringue and the bread pudding anyway!!

We then good times continued with a cigar smoke on the veranda, taking in the festivities of the wedding reception in the adjacent ballroom.  Time like this is special- Joe and I love our time with others- kids, family, dear friends but rarely do we get the date nights of dating era!  The night was cool- something unheard of this summer- and delightful.

The evening didn’t end there- oh no at The Greenbrier of today the fun can go into the wee hours with the Casino.  I had heard mixed reviews of the casino and was anxious to judge for myself.  Disclaimer- I’m not a gambler, never been to Vegas but love the fun of gambling in non profit entertainment situations.  Joe on the other hand enjoys the experience.  Lucky for me his enjoyment of teaching, sharing the fun of math, the odds as well as lady luck and chance made the evening all the more of a positive experience.  The casino itself was festive and well presented; having men in jackets doesn’t hurt!  The horse race themed bar met with my approval as well!  Craps is Joe’s game and we had a great time.

However by midnight I was ready to call it a night and the time was right to make our exit.  The lovely evening air called and we slowly wound down the perfect Susan day with a nightcap on the veranda before retiring to the most comfortable and pretty bed ever- the Westin Heavenly bed is the next thing!

Sunday, August 5th!  My body clock always rings an internal alarm and I awake to worry about the responsibly before me- but not today! Today I woke up happy and relaxed.  I rolled over after a quick peak of the clock and then feel back to a sign filled slumber.  We both woke up and planned our morning before checkout! We dressed and headed down to the lobby for our complimentary coffee and more exploring! The tennis facility and golf club house showcased more style and class.  Our five plus mile hike up the mountain provided exercise, conversation time and wildlife delight- a bear cub!  We heard the crackle of movement in the woods and sure enough paused to see black bear 40 feet up the mountain.  Joe saw him freeze behind a tree and I saw him scurry up the slope.

We returned to the room for quick change, pack-up and checkout by the stroke of noon- right on time!  We put our bags in hold and found our way to the dinning area back on the golf course to enjoy lunch and the view.  One last stop before hitting the highway was railway station and old depot with a Christmas stop. I’m so glad my Dad encouraged me to check-it out- again a reflection of history and childhood pleasures for me.

Farewell dear Greenbrier, thank you for all you offer and represent. We will return and share the joy you provide.

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