Saturday, February 13, 2016

New Destinations: Roanoke, Virginia

From Portland, across the country to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I wrote about Carlisle last year (See Historic Carlisle entry, posted January 2015), so I'll tell you about the road trip we took to Roanoke, Virginia, where my dear friend Marjorie's son lives. Before the road trip we stopped at the Lindt Chocolate factory outlet, conveniently located on the outskirts of the town she lives in. I don't think I'd be able to resist going there every week, if I had that store practically in my back yard!

Our plan was to meander the 4 hours south, to where her son and his family live, making a stop midway, in Harrisonburg, to dine at a German restaurant there. Having grown up in Germany, we were both looking forward to a taste of our youth. Unfortunately, we had dithered too long at the chocolate store and missed the restaurant's lunch opening by 20 minutes: it had closed at 2PM!

We were both so hungry, having breakfasted early and waited our lunch in anticipation of the German palate teasers. Now, with no German food to be had, we scrambled for meal options, finally deciding on a chain buffet restaurant, where we ate more than our fill. Buffets tend to have that effect, you know?

Marjorie and I have been lifelong friends, so naturally we watched each other's kids grow up, marry and have kids. Seeing her son and his family again was not at all inordinary. I felt the welcome radiate from this fine young man and his gorgeous wife. Even their young son remembered me from my visit 2 years ago! An added bonus: Ana's mother, Cielo is visiting from Columbia. I knew her to be beautiful from the pictures Marjorie shared over the years, but seeing her in person... the woman is breathtaking!

Our first evening there, we sat around, catching up on life. Terran's current hobby is role-playing to the movie Aliens. A significant portion of his house's basement is dedicated to Aliens, and he manufactures all of the costumes. The whole family gets in on the fun! Here's Marjorie, wearing a helmet and toting a gun that Terran built himself, out of scrap metal. He did all of the weaponry on the wall, as well as the armor on the mannequin.

It seems good weather follows me on my travels, so the next day we woke up to sparkling sunshine, reflecting off the snow that lingered from the storms of the week before. Terran treated us to a traditional Southern breakfast while the rest of us scrambled to get ready. I was so eager to take in the sights, sounds and smells of Roanoke!

That city, established in 1852 was initially called Big Lick, from the large outcropping of salt that drew wildlife to the area, making hunting particularly fruitful. It was officially chartered in 1884 and renamed Roanoke, from the native American word for 'shell money'. Roanoke is also the name of the river flowing through it; most likely where the shells used as money came from.

Roanoke prospered with the railroad, and thrived because of the garment industry. However, around the 1960s, people started leaving and not coming back. This phenomenon, known as 'brain drain' or 'human capital flight' signified doom for this historic city until local and federal governments stepped in with preservation incentives and new industry moved in. Now, Roanoke is tentatively hopeful for the future, and so am I. I'd hate for Terran and his family to have to relocate yet again!

The Star seems to be a major tourist draw. I was immediately intrigued because Marjorie's husband mentioned it before we even left Carlisle. Terran echoed 'The Star' when planning the sightseeing route, and for good reason. It truly is worth seeing.

In 1949, area merchants decided to kick off the holiday shopping season in spectacular fashion: by building a monumental star atop Mill Mountain, the highest point of the city. Although said merchants weren't sure at the time whether they wanted the star lit year-round, eventually that became the norm. Initially lit with white lights only, soon the city decided to use red lights on the days anyone died in a traffic fatality, to honor them. After the September 11th attacks, the star was lit with a red/white/blue configuration which stayed until 2007. On April 22nd of that year, city officials decided to revert to the all-white motif as a symbol of hope after the Virginia Tech Massacre.

Suitably impressed, we took in other sights: St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the historic Farmer's Market. Although history is interesting to me, I was more interested in Terran's life: where he works, were his family goes to church, where their newborn daughter will be baptized. He graciously obliged me, cruising all over town. None of those locations are particularly noteworthy or picturesque to anyone not intimately connected to the family. Thus, I offer you the stunning cathedral.

We enjoyed a savory lunch at a New York style deli. Marjorie and Terran were both hungry for pastrami. I scanned the menu for something more to my taste, and then laughed aloud: that deli offers a Vagabond Sandwich! This being the Vagabond blog, I thought that sandwich must be tailor-made for me. It was delicious!

Back home for an evening with family; last laughs, fond memories, posing for pictures and getting ready for the start of the week... at least for the Roberts. As for me, I had to get ready for a 32-hour bus ride, to my dear ones in Texas.

And speaking of Texas, the Lone Star State: visiting the Roanoke star reminded me of all the fun waiting for me. 

See you there!      

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