Trip made in August 2016
The civil war which raged from 1861 to 1865 between the Union led by Abraham Lincoln and the eleven southern states of the Confederay led by Jefferson Davis is the bloodiest conflict in United States history. It ended slavery, restored the Union and strengthened the federal government. Connecting to that momentous period by visiting the location of some of the most important battles yields key insights into today’s America. Our journey took us first to the earliest English colony, Virginia, named after Elizabeth I of England the "virgin queen" - the melodious sound of this female name is enough to spark the imagination. The state is also known as the “mother of the presidents” as eight American presidents were born there. Virginia is the cradle of America. Its slogan since 1969 is "Virginia is for lovers". Here, the South begins.
As soon as you enter Virginia, you know you’re in the South. Its landscapes, its colors, its smells, its sounds, the chirping of the cicadas like a wall of sound, its dampness, its light, belong intrinsically to the South. This very essence from which the works of the South’s great writers draw their foundation, is palpable, almost organic. This inert present, the fusion of the alienation brought by the modernism of the north with an identity forged in blood and pain, the dichotomy between harshness and ambient softness, is a kind of schizophrenia. One immediately thinks of Faulkner, of Carson McCullers’ characters (University of Charlottesville alums include Faulkner, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal and Gertude Stein).
With the Blue Ridge mountains as a background, Virginia stirs our imagination. It’s a rich hunting ground for image makers of all persuasions, blessed as it is with a multitude of photographic opportunities - whether impressionistic, narrative, poetic, contemplative or documentary. In particular we made note of the numerous monuments erected to the glory of the Confederate troops and their leaders. These monuments, a stark visual reminder of the extent to which the Southern identity is drenched in its pre-war past and the bitterness of defeat, are now very controversial and may well soon disappear from public places and relegated to museums.
And, for those who appreciate good wine, as we do, let’s not forget the vineyards.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of the greatest battle of the civil war in 1863 and of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, is major destination for tourists in search of civil war ghosts. The resulting scenes offer a range of photographic possibilities: Kitsch, off-kilter, or even solemn – depending on one’s point of view. But Gettysburg is also a small city in heartland America that has retained its old-fashioned charm and, with it, many more potential visual themes. Pennsylvania owes its name to William Penn who christened the region “Sylvania” (forest in Latin), King Charles II later added the prefix “Penn”. After the Thirty Years War in the German Empire, 125,000 German Lutherans settled in Pennsylvania which is why you’ll find small towns with German names, such as East Berlin (more on that in our “On the Road» section).
Pennsylvania is one of the thirteen founding states of the Union, and has very much been shaped by the industrial trends of the Northern U.S. - in fact it’s one of the most industrialized states in the nation. The town of Hershey is a wonderful showcase for the patriarchal style of industrialization that appeared in early 20th century America: The city developed around the chocolate factory built in 1903 by Milton S. Hershey. Its amusement park. built in 1907, was originally reserved for factory employees and only opened to the public much later. Also of great interest: Its high-end hotel, the Mediterranean-inspired "Hotel Hershey" built in 1934. The entire complex is a true paradise for image hunters.
Fredericksburg, the first stop on our travels through the theaters of the American Civil War, owes its name to the Prince of Wales, Frederick, son of George II. During the colonial era, Captain John Smith - the presumed lover of Pocahontas, according to legend - explored the Fredericksburg area as early as 1608, potential inspiration for the romantic among us. Located on the Rappahannock River in northeastern Virginia, it is a small town of about 27,000 people which witnessed several battles during the war of secession: The battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, during which the city fell into the hands of the union, and in 1863 the battle of Chancellorsville, also dubbed "Lee's perfect battle" because of the victorious tactics of General Robert E. Lee against Union troops which were much better equipped in arms and in numbers. In 1864 the battles of the Wilderness and of Spotsylvania, among the war’s bloodiest. In this context, we should mention Chatham Manor, a Georgian architecture edifice built in 1771, which was the Union headquarters durng the battle of Fredericksburg. It’s a tourist spot, but it offers photographic possibilities: Its architecture, its gardens, its plunging view on Fredericksburg.
Mary Washington, the mother of George Washington, lived in Fredericksburg. The university bears her name and her house is open to visitors, but does not offer many photo opportunities.
Even though it’s a principal tourist attraction, the historic city center of Fredericksburg offers a seductive prospect with its buildings dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The city exploits the historical potential by offering many costumed reconstructions; We recommend avoiding them, with the exception of the Hugh Mercer Apothecary, the local doctor's office, which is a museum of colonial medicine housed in an eighteenth-century building. It’s worth a visit. Costumed guides offer a kitschy presentation of the medical practices of the time using leeches, serpentines and crab claws in the original locations, in an instructive and fun way.
We spent two days in Fredericksburg staying at the Richard Johnston Inn, 528 or 711 Caroline Street, a "bed and breakfast" built in the 18th century by architect John Taylow, one of the first signatories of the Declaration of Independence. The place, which is perfectly restored and furnished in nineteenth century kitsch, has a lot of charm. One feels transported one or two centuries into the past, and the interior provides for numerous photographic compositions. Many small boutiques of pseudo antiques and historical bric-a-brac dot the historic district, some have a great visual potential and are even more interesting to photograph at night. But the best - and not to be missed - time travel opportunity in the neighborhood is Golrick's Pharmacy with its original 50’s counter where you can enjoy an ice cream, a milkshake or a breakfast, and the pharmacy itself in the back. Totally anachronistic and extremely photogenic. with customers often appearing to have come right out of a painting by Hopper.
But to discover the many aspects of the city you have to leave the historical district and wander around, which will afford you many other opportunities for time travel. A store selling wigs and highly unusual clothes will take you back to the 70s, melding Saturday night fever with the smell of naphthalene and dust; You can photograph classic old American cars in front of colonial-style houses, or stumble upon an abandoned shed-style building with an armchair or chair in front, or create urban poetry landscapes perhaps involving a mix of visual genres. The light is often best at the end of the day, especially during the summer.
The restaurant we selected for dinner led us to the Fredericksburg train station. The railway network dates from the 19th century. Railway stations are often conducive to dream-like imagery, with the Amtrak lines - some of which are iconic - on the quays offering photographic possibilities. We recommend dinner at Brook's Riverside Grill, 503 Sophia St, the restaurant has a terrace with panoramic vies over the Rappahannock River and a railway bridge, a very romantic setting for lovers, and others. The view over the Rappahannock is lyrical and inspirational. Imagine the river in the light of a late summer day, an arched bridge with a glinting metal train slowly crossing it, the horn of the locomotives – a scene that should inspire many a visual poet.
Founded in 1762, Charlottesville is a city of approximately 43,000 inhabitants located on the banks of the River Rivanna. It’s named after Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of King George III. From 1779 to 1781 it was the headquarters of the Convention Army during the War of Independence. Charlottesville was the theater of a single Civil War confrontation, the battle of Rio Hill, where Union troops under George Armstrong Custer were beaten back by the local Confederate militia.
Three American presidents originated from the Charlottesville area: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. The city is primarily known for its proximity to Jefferson’s "Monticello" estate, and for the University of Virginia founded by Thomas Jefferson. Both sites are listed as Unesco World Heritage Sites. They are also the two main tourist attractions of Charlottesville and its surroundings.
We chose to see Monticello; The residence is in Palladian style and was inspired by the Hotel de Salm in Paris. The manor is architecturally and visually striking, but be prepared for a big American production. It’s Broadway - or worse Disneyland. You are led by bus to the entrance of the building and visits are in groups accompanied by a guide. The format takes precedence over the content, as a result the tour, which lasts a solid hour, can quickly become a grind. Photographing the interior is forbidden, and you can’t move freely from one room to another: You have to wait until the guides finish going through their script, which is often trite and without much historical interest, to be allowed to enter the next room. No photographic interest, apart from possibly some views of the gardens and the outside of the manor, depending on weather and light conditions. Still, worth seeing because it’s a remarkable site that’s difficult to ignore if you go through Charlottesville. Also noteworthy is the estate of James Madison, which we photographed from the outside. As for the University, which counts among its alumni Edgar Allan Poe (whose room is open to the public) Faulkner, Truman Capote, Gertrude Stein, and Gore Vidal, we decided to leave it off our agenda. With just three days and two nights to explore Charlottesville and its surroundings, there’s little time left for the most mainstream attractions if you choose to use your time to experience the authentic character of the place in order to produce images that aren’t picture postcard clichés.
We stayed at the 200 South Street Inn, 200 South Street West, located in the historic part of the city. With its typical Southern architecture and décor, it offers numerous possibilities for exterior or interior photographs that convey the atmosphere of the old South.The ambiance of Charlottesville is a successful mix of old-time nonchalance and modern energy. The pedestrian Downtown Mall is worth a stroll in either day or night, for its architecture and its historic theaters - the Paramount and the Jefferson. This district offers many visual possibilities, whether in the “street photography” genre, more narrative, or even introspective and contemplative.
One required stop is the Hall of Justice at Courthouse Square. Built in 1762, it’s one of the most historic in America. Here local elections took place and the county court conducted its business under the auspices of magistrates including Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, both future Presidents of the United States. It’s also in close proximity to the statues of Confederate leaders Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and Roberts E. Lee. These impressive monuments have recently been in the news: Their planned relocation to museums in order to “recontextualize” them has unleashed passionate arguments, demonstrating that the wounds of the past remain just below the surface. Here, you’re at the heart of the history of Charlottesville and, beyond it, of the Old South. The architecture, history and atmosphere of the place provide inspiration for many photographs, whether documentary or narrative.
Absolutely don’t miss Moose's by the Creek restaurant, a fabulous photo playground decorated with stuffed bear heads, turkeys, elk, etc. You’re immersed in Duane Hanson's America, in his vision of the humanity that’s been left out of the American dream. Also, the pancakes are excellent, the prices are reasonable, and the service is super friendly. Be sure to have your photo taken with the enormous moose head which greets all visitors. The exterior of the building also offers multiple image opportunities. Finally, let’s not forget the beautifully photogenic vineyards routes. You will find information on these at the bottom of the page in our section on Wines and Gastronomy.
Leesburg’s origins date back to before 1755, when Nicholas Minor acquired land around the intersection of Old Carolina Road and Potomac Ridge Road (now Route 7) and built a tavern there. On October 12, 1758, the Virginia General Assembly founded the city of Leesburg, so named to honor the influential Thomas Lee. At the beginning of the American Civil War Leesburg was the site of the «Battle of Ball's Bluff», a resounding confederate victory. The city changed hands repeatedly during the war as the two armies went back and forth across the area during the campaigns of Maryland and Gettysburg. The Battle of Mile Hill took place to the north of the city before it was occupied by Robert E. Lee in September 1862.
Leesburg is a small town of 47,000 inhabitants in northern Virginia. It’s about sixty miles from Washington DC; This proximity with the capital has fed the development of the city for the last thirty years. It is also the seat of the county of Loudoun.
When we mapped our itinerary, and researched where to spend our time, we ran across a promotional video for the city on YouTube. We found it entertaining in many ways, but the key to convincing us that Leesburg was an essential stop on our journey was the mayor’s appearance, which she concluded by saying "The whole world dreams of coming to live in Leesburg". That was enough to make us want to check things out, and to see whether we too would be bewitched by Leesburg’s siren song.
As soon as you enter the center of Leesburg, you will be captivated by its charm. A true Old South city, its every street corner places you inside a painting. Here it’s Hopper’s universe, with cast shadow and stark lights offering cinematic frames, there it’s a hyperrealist composition in the spirit of Robert Gniewek. We first walked through the historic center at night, with its neon lights and its bars from which notes of jazz or rock escaped into the street, transporting us into its romantic and feverish atmosphere. In a wandering mood, we drifted to the outlying streets to capture the magic of everyday life with long exposures. To our surprise we found ourselves dreaming of life in one of Leesburg’s colonial houses, sitting under a veranda in a rocking chair surrounded by the music of the cicadas, caught up in a kind of weightlessness. It’s important to explore the city both by day and by night; It opens up like a vast decor, and even the most banal locations provide opportunities for surrealistic compositions. For an unusual experience, it’s worth making a reservation at the Lightfoot restaurant across the street from Courthouse square. Not so much for the food, but rather for the visuals including a Madame Tussaud’s style figure lording it at the receptionist’s desk. Or become a character among others in a real-life Hopper painting for the duration of a breakfast at the Trinity house cafe. For a refined meal, we recommend the Leesburg branch of The Wine Kitchen – more on that in our section on food and drink.
A number of historical sites in and around Leesburg are also beautiful photographic walks:
Morven Park, the home of former Virginia Governor Westmoreland Davis, sits on a 400-hectare estate that includes a world-renowned equestrian center. First for the manor itself, a hybrid of Palladian and Italian architectures dating from the nineteenth century. Open to the public (at no cost) it offers a range of photo possibilities - both interiors and exteriors. Also for the poetic beauty of the gardens. And finally, for the museum of carriages which offers a different type of subject matter. Morven park, is also the haven
where thanksgiving turkeys who received presidential pardons get to live out their days.
Ball's Bluff Battlefield National Cemetery, about 2.2 miles outside of Leesburg, is a battlefield within the 31-hectare regional park; It includes one of the three smallest cemeteries in the United States where just fifty-four members of the Union army are buried. Apart from its historical interest, it’s a lovely place for a leisurely walk, preferably on a day when the dappled sunlight dances with the shadows of the trees.
Also, worth seeing, The Marshall House, the residence of George Catlett Marshall, Chief of Staff of the United States Army under presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, and Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense under Truman, who initiated the Marshall mission in China and the Marshall Plan which fueled Europe’s economic recovery at the end of the Second World War. The building dates back to the 19th century. The house and its gardens can inspire many forms of imagery, wheter painterly renditions inspired by Robert Lewis, documentary photographs, or even black and white.
We always allow plenty of time to get from one of our scheduled stops to the next, because we make some of our best discoveries when something attracts our attention along the highways. That’s also why, whenever possible, we choose the smaller local roads that traverse communities rather than skirt them, and make it possible to stop the car right there. Traveling the roads from Virginia to Pennsylvania through Maryland is a journey to the heart of some of America’s diverse roots, shedding light on the multifaceted identity of the country.
To reach Charlottesville from Fredericksburg we took Us 20 (SR20) which passes through the small town of Orange. Located 45 km (28 miles) from Charlottesville, it was known as the Town of Orange Court House until the end of the 19th century and now counts 4,721 inhabitants. Orange was an important strategic location during the American Civil War. Just north of the city, the Rapidan River was the northern border of the Confederation from March 1862 to May 1864. As a result, the region witnessed countless troop movements, patrols, skirmishes and encampments. In addition the city of Orange served as the headquarters of General Robert E. Lee during this period. General Lee loved to go to the Episcopal Church of St. Thomas on Caroline Street, which is still there today. This church is also significant as it served as a hospital for the Confederate wounded after the battle of Chancellorsville and the Battle of the Desert. Lee visited this church several times during his stay in Orange, as memorialized by the painting “Soldier of Faith “ by Mort Künstler, a prominent painter of American historical subjects. For us it was an opportunity to combine a pause from driving with taking some interesting shots in a charming small Virginian town.
During our stay in Charlottesville we took route 53 to visit Monticello, as well as several vineyards we had selected ahead of time, and then continued on Hwy 795 named after James Monroe. We won’t dwell on our visit to the Trump Winery, whose wines turned out to be as unpalatable as their namesake (Really! We were 100% open minded about that, in fact we were hoping for a redeeming experience. No such luck). But this road deserves to be traveled leisurely, to savor the beauty of Virginia in a bucolic and romantic wander that will inspire the creation of visual stories. James Monroe’s plantation, located on its course, is worth at least a glance. Between Charlottesville and Leesburg, we must mention Luray a small town of 4871 inhabitants on Route 211 in the Shenandoah Valley, founded in 1812 by Willian Staige Marye whose family was originally from Luray in France. The town is mainly known for its caves, the Luray Caverns, which we did not visit but which should be of interest to many. What did cause us to promptly stop the car and pull out our cameras is the large dinosaur sculpture at the entrance of the roadside Luray Zoo and Reptile Center, a rescue zoo which was closed at the time of our passage. One of the best instances of roadside Americana to be seen anywhere.
Continuing on Route 211 towards Warrenton and catching US 15 about 40 kilometers (22 miles) before Leesburg, we entered Haymarket, located along an ancient Iroquois hunting trail which is now the town’s main street. We were captivated by this picturesque town of barely 1700 inhabitants, where the Disney corporation acquired land and attempted to build a Disney’s America amusement park in 1994. The project failed due to local opposition.
Haymarket is an extraordinary place, a movie set that also has an authentic soul. The ambiance here is almost Alice in Wonderland-like. Walking main street is a must, so much to photograph! Imagine a children’s playground with a cemetery as its backdrop? You can’t make that up. And when leaving Haymarket via route 15, shortly after a golf course, a large compund of Buddhist temples and other buildings rises at the roadside - a surreal vision in the heart of Virginia.
A borough of 7600 inhabitants, Gettysburg was the site of the most murderous battle of the Civil War, fought July 1-3, 1863, which left 51 000 dead among the Union and Confederation troops combined.
The city is also famous for the historic Gettysburg Address, perhaps the best-known speech in American history, delivered by Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863 at a ceremony consecrating the battlefield. During the First World War Gettysburg hosted a training camp for tank crews, the Colt camp, commanded by Dwight David Eisenhower.
Its brick buildings instantly give Gettysburg, our first stop in Pennsylvania, a Northern look and feel. Here time has stopped at several points in history, and the city takes full advantage of this as its main tourism asset, carrying its legend high and proud. As photographers, we’re under the influence of the places we visit, even when our images don’t explicitly reference them. Here every street corner inspires a tale to be told in pictures. A highly cinematic city, Gettysburg nurtures our imagination. It’s a place to make one’s own so it becomes, more than just a theatrical set, a place one wanders into to infuse the present moment and experience it as a form of lightness. Gettysburg is also haunted by its many ghosts and numerous tours focus on that theme, ferrying visitors to the haunted sites at dusk and into the night, and regaling them with blood-curdling tales. We didn’t partake of any of them, choosing instead to explore in our own time and at our own pace, but for those so inclined they look like good fun. Day and night are equally good times to wander in the city’s historical district, where the presence of the past is strong and deeply anchored.
Definitely don’t miss the Majestic Theater, which opened its doors on November 14, 1925 showing «The Road to Yesterday" by Cecil B. DeMille. Designed by renowned Philadelphia architect William H. Lee, the Majestic Theater was built by Henry Scharf, director of the historic Gettysburg Hotel. While the building is worth visiting for its exterior, the interior is an absolute gold mine for those who, like us, enjoy old movie palaces. The original 1920s décor was redone in the 1950’s, but there’s still a sense of time preserved. The 1950s is also when President Dwight D. Eisenhower and First Lady Eleanor “Mamie” Eisenhower regularly attended shows at the Majestic, which displays a large collection of Eisenhower memorabilia. Still in the spirit of the 50's, the Lincoln Diner (yes, in Gettysburg Lincoln is everywhere) deserves a mention. Not for its food unfortunately, but definitely for its atmosphere and decor, rich in photographic possibilities. The historic Gettysburg train station is right next door.
We won’t dwell on the battlefield itself, nor on the many historical museums, but the cluster of monuments at Cemetery Hill is definitely worth a visit. Right across the street from it we visited the Hall of Presidents, a museum unchanged since it opened in the early 1950s, which showed life-size wax statues of every president of the United States -with an audio recording summarizing their tenure- as well as, in a separate room, half-size statues of all the first ladies (no audio here). The old-fashioned atmosphere had a quaint sweetness, and photo opportunities abounded. Unfortunately, the Hall of Presidents closed its doors in November 2016 (the time of Donald Trump’s election - coincidence?) due to falling revenues. We also visited the "David Wills House" where Abraham Lincoln spent the night before delivering the Gettysburg Address. The bed he slept in is on display, including the original bedding. We recommend focusing on such small un-modernized museums, that still offer an old-fashioned experience in the original setting. But most of all, as with Leesburg, do explore the city by day and by night with camera in hand - this is how it is truly reveals itself.
Another place not to be missed is Cashtown, population 459, a census-designated place in Franklin Township 2.5 km from Gettysburg along US highway 30 (also called Lincoln Road) which also serves as main street. There you’ll find one of the most haunted venues in the United States (no. 5 on the list at the time of our visit, and featured in the TV show Ghost Hunters) the Cashtown Inn built in 1797. It started out as a hostel run by a Mr. Peter Marck who demanded cash only as payment - hence the name of the town. Today it’s a bed and breakfast, and a fairly good restaurant (which we’ll talk about in our Food section) but above all it’s a great place to photograph with a unique atmosphere. We were there on a very stormy evening, perfect for the mystique of the location. The building also made an appearance in the movie “Gettysburg’, and actor Sam Elliott stayed there during the shoot. The current owners play along with the legend, making for a really fun experience.
In 1894 Milton Snavely Hershey founded The Hershey Chocolate Company, the first business to manufacture chocolate confectionery on an industrial scale. This included a process to produce milk chocolate bars industrially by incorporating skim milk. Previously chocolate treats could only be hand made by confectioners, they were considered a luxury reserved for a wealthy clientele. Hereshey’s company drove the price of chocolate candy down to broadly affordable levels, thereby enabling the development of a mass market in the United States. A company town sprang up around the factory with accommodation for its employees as well as churches and services (hospital, post office, bookshop, amusement park etc.). In 1934 Hershey built The Hotel Hershey, modeled after a Mediterranean palace, on Pat's Hill overlooking the chocolate factory.
The hotel itself is an inexhaustible source of inspiration thanks to its distinctive interior and exterior architecture. It’s a family-oriented hotel with an anachronistic sixties atmosphere. One of our favorite activities in such places is to wander the corridors at nightfall. We’ll almost always find reception or meeting rooms that have been left unlocked, revealing the soul of their past, and there’s something to capture at every corner of the hallways. The bar also offers wonderful photo opportunities come evening.
Taken together Hershey Park, ZooAmerica, Hershey Gardens, The Hershey Story and Hershey's Chocolate World are a giant American-style entertainment complex. We’re not fond of thrill rides or amusement parks, for us they’re just visual sets and we prefer them when they’re not modernized and retain an old-fashioned charm. Since that’s not the case with Hershey Park, we decided to pass. It is however quite pleasant to stroll in Hershey Gardens – first for the beauty of the gardens themselves, replete with opportunites for photos that will be viewed either as poetic or as kitschy depending one one’s esthetics. There’s also the Butterfly House which houses an incredible variety of butterflies. The lepidoptera fly around freely in a specially designed room, and moving about in this dream world is a very special sensation. Moreover the window offers a breathtaking view over Hersheypark and its roller coaster.
One attraction not to be missed is Hershey's Chocolate World, a dream locale for sociological and/or philosophical musings, and a great photographic playground. Ride aboard a miniature train in Disney “Small World” style with singing and music, exploring the manufacturing of Hershey’s many offerings as presented by a troupe of animatronic cows, pigs, and anthropomorphized chocolate products. Marketing meets surrealism, you’re placed inside the Tim Burton film “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” with its marshmallow colors - ad nauseum. Chocolate world is also a gynormous shopping mall featuring all the brand’s products in mind-boggling quantities, an incarnation of unbridled consumerism, one of the least admirable aspects of the American dream. To see, and photograph. Finally, The Hershey Story is an interactive museum that offers visitors a virtual tour of the city and its history, along with yet more photo opportunities.
Hershey is a little known but iconic example of the way innovative industrial entrepreneurs built hugely successful businesses in early 20th century America, and transformed the communities where they located their companies. Much like Henry Ford transformed Dearborn, Michigan, and George Eastman transformed Rochester, New York. Also like them, Milton Snavely Hershey transformed our society: Chocolate is now a business worth close to $100 Billion anually, it is widely consumed around the world, and when you eat a piece of chocolate today you largely have Milton to thank for it. In Hershey Pennsylvania the history and social context of how that piece of chocolate arrived in your hands is there to be seen and photographed, in all its American glory.
Leaving Leesburg toward Gettysburg we continued to follow Highway 15. Just before the Virginia border, about 7 kilometers (7.4 miles) from Leesburg, we entered the historic hamlet of Lucketts. It was originally known as Black Swamp due to the large number of black oak trees growing in the area at the time of of its founding. The hamlet consists of antique shops, a gas station, a few residential houses, a trailer park, a fire station and Lucketts Elementary School (which is on the National Register of Historic Places). The whole complex makes for unique a vision, almost a Kafkaïan universe – but a whimsical one. Apart from the finds that flea-market aficionados can turn up, we were fascinated by this incredible environment and all the photographic possibilities it makes available in such a small area.
Further along the way the road travels for a short spell through Maryland and, near Emmitsburg, signs pointing to the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes caught our eye. It turns out to feature one of the oldest American replicas of the Lourdes shrine, built about two decades after the apparition of Mary at Lourdes (France) in 1858, and attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year from all over the world. Since this was not a planned visit we arrived after closure but were nevertheless rewarded by the sight of a 95 foot high campanile topped by a golden statue of Mary that must itself be at least 10 feet, towering over a seemingly endless and, at that time, empty parking lot.
Leaving Gettysburg toward Hershey via Highway 83 we took route 234 and came across the small (1521 residents) borough of East Berlin, founded in 1764 by a Mr. John Frankenberger who was originally from Berlin (Germany). Located 21 kilometers (13 miles) west of York in Pennsylvania the city was originally named Berlin, but changed its name to East Berlin around 1797 so as not to be confused with another Berlin also located in Pennsylvania. Quite a remarkable instance of historical irony. The city is also listed on the Historic Places Register. Its Germanic roots are apparent in the architecture of this village, which appears to have been bypassed by the passage of time. It’s a delight to walk along main street and photograph its colorful houses.
Fredericksburg: Brook’s Riverside Grill at 503 Sophia St. offers a panoramic terrace overlooking the railway bridge and the Rappahannock River. The food is simple but good, and service is friendly and competent. Golrick's Pharmacy at 901 Caroline Street is a must-see, the drugstore is in the back and the counter where you’ll enjoy an ice-cream or a soda in an authentic 50's décor (some of the equipment is original, too) is in the front.
Charlottesville: For dinner the C & O Restaurant offers refined cuisine and an interesting wine list. If weather permits, choose to dine on the moonlit outdoor terrace with the sound of cicadas – it’s extremely romantic.
We also enjoyed Public Fish and Oyster which offers outdoor seating on a pleasant patio along West Main Street.
For breakfast we liked the Bluegrass Grill and Bakery. And don’t miss Moose's by the Creek. The portions are generous, the pancakes are delicious and the décor is priceless. Be sure to have your photo taken with THE moose.
Near Charlottesville, the King Family Vineyards in Crozet is a great spot for a picnic and wine tasting with breathtaking views of horse farms and the Blue Ridge mountains.
There are numerous other vineyards in the area, so we recommend venturing out on the wine route and stopping for tastings – that’s often the way to make the best discoveries.
This itinerary involved covering significant distances in the course of ten days.
This forced us more often than we would have liked to travel on highways, which tended to be narrow (only 2 lanes each direction) and crowded with fast-moving vehicles.
We much prefer the smaller roads that allow leisurly travel and – very important – enable spur-of-the moment photo stops or detours in response to what is observed from the road. If we were to do it again we’d take a full 15 days and stay off the highways for the most part. Virginia and Pennsylvania are rich in history and local interest and are worth taking the time to linger.
This would also allow making a detour through the Shenandoah National Park and taking Skyline Drive, which we would have liked to do.
We found that the hours for wine tastings were not as predictable as in other wine regions, therefore it’s to call in advance to avoid disappointments such as we experienced near Charlottesville.
We were looking forward to King Family Vineyards (6550 Roseland Farm, Crozet) where a French has earned an excellent international reputation, unfortunately it was closed at the time we were there.