Medieval Madness at Renaissance Hall
Old Town Alexandria, VA
Reviewed by Verna Kerans
WOW! Great food, great ale, and a real sword fight!
Take yourself back into history with Thomas, the Duke of Salem, and Carla, his queen, in a fabulous Medieval Feast in Old Town Alexandria. The “wenches” (our serving maids) greeted us with a list of funny instructions that our hands were our utensils and the towels on the back of our chairs were our napkins. The special instructions also included standing when the Duke and Duchess arrive, a short story that explained many historical facts about the era when men were men and women were women (and nothing has changed!), and permission to shout “To the dungeon!” and “To the pillory!” when the occasion called for it. I noticed that the more ale the merry crowd drank, the easier it became to shout out “To the pillory!”
A silent friar blessed us before our dinner while a Gregorian chant rang out over his head. He circled the group and then turned around so we could see the message on his back: This space available. Throughout the dinner, the silent friar ran amongst the tables with amusing signs on his back advising us about too many things to even begin mentioning.
The food was plentiful and delicious starting with platters of plump sausages with honey mustard, tasty warm rolls, butter and apple pear sauce served family-style. After the first course of tasty sausages and rolls, great bowls of roasted carrots flavored with sugar and cinnamon and huge joints of roast beef arrived. Each roast was ample to feed groups of six and gentlemen were asked to carve the roasts. But that was not all. The next course to arrive was cornish game hens and each guest got a half a hen--way too much food for me--and little yam tots roasted to perfection. Last but not least, dessert was pound cake with jam guaranteed not to drip on your shirt.
Everyone got a bottle of beer and plenty of refills on water. Designated drivers had a fine selection of non-alcoholic drinks to choose from. A seasonal on-draught special, Oktoberfest Hacker-Pschorr straight from Germany could be purchased in mugs with a refill later. Also available was meade which I did not drink but my seatmate told me it tasted wonderful.
Between courses, our “wenches” amused us with double-entendre songs that will go right over the heads of any younger guests you’ve chosen to bring. So have no fear: little guests wilt love the knights dressed in genuine armor and during intermission will especially enjoy the sword fight competition that was “no holds barred”. All the time this eating and laughing is going on, music, wenches singing, and the friar running about, you and your seatmates can exchange banter and camaraderie. This is the perfect setting to bring a group celebrating any special occasion. Many people were asked to participate with a few written lines prepared in advance. Try your acting skills. You will have a blast.
The decorations on the wall are of special interest. Tapestries, flags, posters and decorations are all worth looking at when you have a break from the frivolity.
THE SAINT GEORGE HOTEL
SNOW CREEK SKI RESORT
Once you find a great get-away spot you tend to return. One of my favorites is in Weston, Missouri which is about 25 minutes north of Kansas City.
I discovered this little picturesque town about six years ago and spotted an imposing hotel that was under renovation. I discovered it had been built in 1845 in the days when Weston was on the Missouri River and Steamboat Captains and travelers needed a place to stay. Since I first discovered The Saint George six years ago, I have seen remarkable changes at this little hotel. This year when I returned The St. George Hotel had not only a new restaurant but a cocktail lounge and a great many extras to accompany these additions. AND quite remarkably the prices had come down. What more can a hotel do to charm their guests?
There are a variety of rooms from which to choose. Some come with a walk-in shower which would be a good choice for a handicapped person. Others are more spacious with full tubs and there is talk of Jacuzzis in the future. Some rooms are large enough for families. All the bathrooms have dryers and all amenities, including nice big fluffy towels. If you promise to be careful you might even talk them out of an in-room coffeemaker. Also my room had a CD player which was a clock radio as well. And of course there is a television set.
The Breakfast room, "Audrey’s Café", is cozy and looks out on the main street of Weston. Besides fresh pa stries, yoghurt and coffee: special breakfasts may be ordered from the chef. I also discovered that the new dining room, called Charlemagne’s, was originally located in a house around the corner from the hotel. The owner of Charlemagne’s, John Pottie, has now bought The Saint George Hotel and moved his restaurant into the hotel. This is a great idea. Every hotel needs a fine restaurant on property.
The menu at Charlemagne’s is extensive and the chef is quite talented. I especially enjoyed his Duck Confit and the selections of Veal, Chicken, Steak or Seafood are beautifully prepared. The salad buffet accompanies every meal at no additional charge. Desserts are irresistible and prices are reasonable for all the dishes.
During dinner on the weekend Juha Silferberg plays accordion. Juha is from Finland originally and was a USO entertainer before coming to Charlemagne’s and has been playing for them since July 2005.
After dinner I moved into the lounge, "Valentino’s Champagne and Wine Bar", to listen to more music provided by "The Bank Notes" with Jeff Elsey on Double Bass and Melissa Hickman on the piano. Requests are welcomed.
I was genuinely thrilled to find that all of this music was easy listening and romantic. I had been told that the lounge had "light jazz" and I was dreading the kind of loud stuff you often find nowadays in bars and restaurants. (You can barely hear yours elf think.) I am ecstatic to report that you could actually have held a conversation if you could tear yourself away from the great music.
Mr. Pottie, by the way, claims to be a direct descendant of Charlemagne and has a wonderful scroll which names all those who are his ancestors. It is worth looking at so save some time for a chat with him. He is on property almost all day and evening. Also take time for a stop in the new National Silk Art Museum that Mr. Pottie has opened. The delicate pictures are on display all the time. The new lighting really makes the colors and delicate stitching pop out. This is the most extensive display of its kind to be found anywhere.
This year The Saint George offered a Valentine package which included all meals and an open bar for an all inclusive price. They were completely sold out so I encourage you to make reservations now for next year. It is a very romantic little town with a wonderful hotel. You will be glad you did. Also check their web site for year-round specials. The Saint George Hotel can be reached by calling 816-640-9902 or www.thesaintgeorgehotel.com.
Intermission encourages you to take a spring break now and go to Weston now while you can also ski at Snow Creek. It seems silly that you would need to go to Weston to Ski but remember this is a special place and if you stay at The Saint George and mention that you are skiing at Snow Creek you get a 10% discount on your hotel stay!!
Snow Creek is a five minute drive from Weston and they offer all day as well as night skiing, equipment rental, group and private lessons. Tubing was added last year and it is a blast for all ages. There are enough lifts for all types of skiers and a special hill for snowboarders which keeps them out of the way of beginning skiers. The rental shop has new equipment this year and experienced help to assist you in all ways. There is a small restaurant, a bar which opens in the evening and a nice fireplace.
For more information on Snow Creek (which operates until the middle of March) is 816- 640-2200 or Info@skisnowcreek.com
In addition to all the sights in Weston, Lewis and Clark stopped here at this site which is now Weston Bend State Park, which overlooks the Missouri River. Imagine what sights they must have seen as they traveled west to the Pacific
Unfortunately over the years the river has changed course since Weston was founded. Weston, however, continues to be quite a thriving but peaceful little town with restaurants, a brewery, a winery and many antique shops. Plan to spend some time looking around town and you will not be disappointed. You will be quite refreshed after your stay at The Saint George and a relaxing weekend in Weston.
Hot Springs, Arkansas is really cool!
A travel review by Lucy Moorman
Okay, it’s a bit of a jaunt (8 hours) from A small city of approximately 36,000 people, Hot Springs has plenty to offer the weary traveler. Aptly named “ Hot Springs ,” there are 47 springs that trickle to the surface of the mountainside where they arrive at 143 degrees. collects 700,000 gallons a day to use in the public fountains and bathhouses. That’s a lot of hot water. And where does the hot water come from? From rain that fell over 4000 years ago that seeps into the porous rock through faults and fractures. As the water percolates deeper and gets hotter, the process dissolves minerals from the rocks. The hot water than rises quickly through a fault in the mountain which brings it back to the surface while it retains most of its heat.
Known as the “Valley of the Vapors”, Hot Springs has been a place of peace and healing for many years. Centuries past, Native Americans came to soak and recuperate in the healing waters. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, French trappers, hunters, and traders came to the waters. Later, the railroad brought more visitors to enjoy the hot springs as it continued to grow in popularity.
Does the water have healing properties? The park service will deny that it does but the locals will swear it keeps them healthy. Frequently, someone will pull up to one of the free fountains in the middle of town, pop open their trunk, pull out the plastic bottles and start filling them. When I asked why they drink the water, they said, “It tastes good.” “It’s full of minerals and makes you healthy.” The locals say it helps arthritis, rheumatism, and a host of other ailments. “It keeps me young.”
What’s in the water? Different springs have different properties but generally there is silica, calcium, magnesium, free carbon dioxide, bicarbonate and more. It is odorless, colorless, tasteless and safe to drink.
There are lots of places to experience the thermal waters. On Central Avenue, among a row of magnolia trees is which features eight turn-of-the-century bathhouses. Not all are in operation, but the Quapaw Bath & Spa and the Buckstaff Bath House are open for business. For a nominal fee, both bath houses offer a soak in a private bathtub. Visitors can also get scrubbed with a loofah by an attendant and get wrapped in hot towels like a mummy with a cold towel applied on your face, while drinking several cups of the mineral water. Or, visitors can get in a small public pool to soak in the thermal water.
Where to stay in Hot Springs? My favorite place is the Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa. (www.arlingtonhotel.com) With 468 rooms, it is the largest hotel in all of Arkansas. But don’t let the size fool you--as in all of Hot Springs, it gave me the feeling of personal comfort and small-town southern hospitality. The Arlington has an outdoor mountainside hot tub, so you can soak in pleasantly hot water while you enjoy the blooming dogwood and redbud trees. There are also two heated swimming pools to cool off in if you start to feel cooked. The pools are a comfortable 80 degrees and the water feels like velvet.
Standing between two mountain ranges square in the center of town with panoramic views from the windows, The Arlington has a colorful history. Infamous gangster Al Capone was a frequent guest at the Arlington. Today, there is a gold plaque on the door that designates his “suite.” For a fee, you can stay there too. If you’re interested in gangsters, visit the Gangster Museum (www.TGMOA.com). A gracious guide will tell the story of the healing waters and illegal gambling that made Hot Springs a sanctuary for folks such as “Lucky” Luciano and Al Capone. The Arlington is a historic hotel but has kept up with changing times by updating the sleeping rooms and suites, renovating the lobby, adding high-speed internet and a large multi-purpose conference room. Some of the rooms have the mineral water pumped in so you can soak in the comfort of your own giant bathtub. You can also get full spa treatment at the Arlington’s bathhouse, especially nice on a rainy day if you don’t want to go out.
One of my favorite places in Hot Springs is “ ” (www.garvangardens.org). Located on the banks of Lake Hamilton, it features a 210-acre woodland nature preserve, waterfalls, a fern glade and several beautifully designed bridges. Around the last week in March, 100,000 varieties of tulips are in full and glorious bloom. It’s an amazing sight that has to be replanted every year. On the sprawling grounds is Anthony Chapel—a structure of mostly glass and wood that blends in perfectly with the woods surrounding it. Many weddings take place there.
Another big attraction in Hot Springs is the “ ” (www.oaklawn.com) which runs from January to April. If betting on the thoroughbreds is your thing, there’s plenty of action at the race track. You can watch the horses run live or on the giant video screen. My friend and I had never been to a horse race. We bet the minimum $2 on 3 different races. We lost each time but I can see how you could get caught up in the excitement of winning.
If you enjoy nature, there are plenty of hiking trails, parks and lakes in and around Hot Springs if you like to get away from it all. In fact, you can hike straight up the mountain from Hot Springs National Park and end up at the Mountain Tower where you can see views up to 70 miles in all directions.
You can’t go to Hot Springs without getting a little dirty digging for crystals. There are numerous rock shops and crystal mines where you pay $10 to $20 to poke around in piles of dirt looking for shiny quartz crystals. You get to keep all you find and you can dig all day if you want. The red dirt tends to stain your shoes so take along digging tools and old clothes if you are a rock hound. Ron Coleman’s Crystal Mine charges $20, but if you aren’t happy with what you find, you may pick something from the shop of equal value. So you may go home dirty, but at least not empty-handed.
And yes ladies, there is plenty of shopping along Central Avenue and many spas that offer full-service pampering for a price. There are a number of art galleries—I was fortunate to be there the first Friday of the month for the gallery walk on a perfect spring evening. There is also a documentary film festival (www.hsdfi.org) that takes place every October and a music festival (www.hotmusic.org) which produces 20 concerts and 250 open rehearsals for two weeks in June.
There are plenty of food choices from down-home cooking such as Granny’s Kitchen or a more upscale Italian cuisine at Belle Arti. There’s also plenty of barbeque including Bill Clinton’s presumed favorite McClard's. Our former president was born in Hot Springs.
So, as you can see there is plenty happening in this cozy town in the Ouachita Mountains--a great place for restoring the soul. Even the gangsters didn’t fight when they were here. It’s a refuge and very special place with a calming and ancient energy, surrounded by Arkansas’ natural beauty. For more information, contact Jimmy Sample, director of Visitor Services. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lucy Moorman is a writer, photographer and energy therapist living in St. Louis. Visit her at www.lucymoorman.com
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