2nd Annual Memorial Day Weekend at The Trailer

It was Memorial Day Weekend, which means it was time to visit the The Trailer.  I’ve mentioned The Trailer previously on this blog: Sarah’s parents own a trailer in Great Valley, New York, and last Memorial Day Sarah decided she would request its use for a small vacation and invite Ted and I to join her.  Last year’s trip was a success, so we decided to make this the 2nd Annual Trailer Weekend.


The first upshot was that Sarah has a new car, so while Ted and I still managed to get a little carsick on the drive up — Route 28 North and Route 66 through Allegheny National Forest are both pretty roller coaster-y — at least there was air conditioning.  Sarah’s old PT Cruiser didn’t have air conditioning; frankly, that car was kind of a lemon, and we don’t particularly miss it.  Anyway, we arrived slightly nauseous but cool.


Here’s the thing about The Trailer: there’s nothing to do.  Now, I bet that would get boring after more than a couple of days, but for a long weekend it’s pretty ideal.  Because here’s the thing: “staycations” are bullshit.  Utter bullshit.  I’m not saying that Pittsburgh doesn’t have lots of awesome stuff to do, but look: let’s say Ted and I had “staycationed” over the weekend.  1) Had we actually done the stuff in Pittsburgh that’s cool to do, the only money we would have saved would have been gas money, because it’s not like cool stuff is free, even where you live.  2) You can’t do nothing at home without feeling guilty, because there’s always something you could be cleaning or fixing or organizing or whatever.  But at The Trailer, there’s literally nothing to do, so you can just kick back, snack, and drink.


A Tim Horton's donut -- mmm, the Great North.


Chiefly that’s what we did: snacked and drank.  I brought a bunch of snacking provisions, like cheeses, olives and peppers and artichoke hearts, dried fruits, cured meats, and a loaf of bread; Sarah brought three(!) different kinds of Doritos and we both brought a fair amount of booze.  Plus also, I got a Tim Horton’s donut, since we were in the Great North, and they have Tim Horton’s up there.  Also, Sarah made us knock-off Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits, since they’d come up in conversation recently, and so we had a Biscuits and Beer Break, which led me to decide that in the future, I’m going to invite my baking-inclined pals over for a Biscuits and Beer party, cause seriously, how good of an idea is Biscuits and Beer?


Biscuits and Beer


To be fair, there isn’t nothing to do near The Trailer.  On Saturday night, we went to Myers Steakhouse and Inn, which is actually in nearby Salamanca; Sarah’s cousin, Jennifer, is married to the co-owner of Myers, so we met Cousin Jennifer and her husband Trevor for drinks and dinner at his establishment.  Cousin Jennifer is pregnant, which is a little startling, but only because I always think pregnancy is somewhat alarming in any context.  Also somewhat alarming: a lamp made out of taxidermied deer legs.  On previous trips to The Trailer, I had noticed that decorating with dead preserved animals is a Thing up north, and, OK, I guess that’s just different strokes.  But for some reason I was really weirded out by the deer leg lamp.  It seemed like it was a step beyond just mounting a trophy buck’s head on the wall — it was too ingenious.  Like, it’s what a deer serial killer would do.


It's like, the Devil's lamp.


Luckily the lamp didn’t follow us into the dining room, where we shared crab-stuffed mushrooms and bruschetta (the crab-stuffed mushrooms were particularly good, especially because they were covered in a creamy cheese sauce); Sarah had haddock covered in a fruit compote with a balsamic sauce; and Ted and I shared the Chicken Wisconsin, which was chicken covered in a sharp cheddar bacon sauce, and “Myers’s Seafood Explosion”, which was a creamy garlic pasta with lobster, shrimp, and bay scallops.  So it’s not like you can’t get a decent meal near The Trailer.  Two interesting points about the meal: 1) everything was served with a little side of homemade creamed corn, which I loved, probably because I’d never had homemade creamed corn before, and 2) the salads had really good croutons because they fried the bread instead of baking it.  Genius!


Chicken Wisconsin


After dinner it was back to the trailer for drinks, naturally.


This is Sarah in front of Ellicottville.


The next day, we headed into nearby Ellicottville, where our first stop was the Winery of Ellicottville.  They use only local New York grapes, and tastings are very reasonable at $3 and $5 each for six-wine samplers; we each had two.  The wine was … well, a lot of it was much too sweet for me.  I mean, New York wine is New York wine, it’s not gonna be amazing. But Ted and I each found a wine we liked — I favored the chardonnay, he the Traminette — and we brought a couple bottles home, to remind us of our Trailer Weekend when we finally crack them open.


Some New York Wines


Next we encountered Sponge Candy.


See? Sponge Candy.


Sarah was surprised we’d never heard of Sponge Candy, though I’m not sure why, because I’m pretty sure Sponge Candy only exists in about 40 square feet of Ellicottville, New York.  Of course, we had to go in to Watson’s Chocolates and buy some.  We sat down immediately to sample this strange new thing.


Ted Displays the Sponge Candy


I have absolutely no idea what the sponge consists of.  It’s a kind of crunchy orange … substance.  Sarah also doesn’t know what it is.  It’s the sponge.


The Sponge


So that’s a thing in the world that you now know about.


Sponge Candy secured, we headed onward to the Ellicottville Brewing Company.  We’d been here last year, and bought a growler, so I figured we should return — I mean, if I only get one chance a year to fill a growler, I should take that chance.  We also had dinner there.  We started with pierogies “made by a gentleman in Hanover, NY”, and soft pretzels with beer cheese sauce.  Mmm, beer cheese sauce.  Adorably, New Yorkers appear to believe that pierogies should be served with peppers as well as onions. I actually didn’t mind this, but still.  Also, Sarah noted that the pierogies were a bit dry.  By “a bit dry” what she really meant, I believe, was “not swimming in a lake of butter” — so, clearly, New York has a thing or two to learn about pierogies.  I got a ceasar salad as my entree, as well as an appetizer crab cake; Ted had the fish and chips, Sarah had the shepherd’s pie. I was frankly just glad to have some leafs in me at that point.  We had several of EBC’s beers, and all of them were good.


Pierogies and Pretzels: A Taste of Home


Then it was back to the trailer for more drinking. Naturally.


Monday came and it was time to go, after a leisurely breakfast and some tidying.  Ted and I had to make a ginger ale — pretzel — Dramamine stop in Marienville on the way home, but again, at least there was air conditioning.


Truly, it was another successful weekend at the trailer.


Chief demanded lots of cuddles when we got home, since we left him for three days.

“Travels in Siberia” with the worst traveling companion ever.

I’m a little behind on my summer reading list. First I read Ivan Turgenev’s “Sketches from a Hunter’s Album,” a classic short story collection from 19th-century Russia. I would recommend it. Turgenev was the first noble author to write about peasant characters as though they were people; also, his descriptions of the natural world are moving and transporting. And if you yourself are, or aspire to be, a writer, you should not go forward without reading “Bezhin Lea” – its composition is basically perfect.

Travels in Siberia by Ian FrazierFrom Turgenev I turned to Ian Frazier’s “Travels in Siberia”. I hadn’t read any of Frazier’s past work, but I gathered from reviews of this book that he had gained fame for travel writing in the U.S., and that his trips through Siberia were equally entertaining. I love nonfiction, and I love travel writing – there are many places in the world I don’t anticipate getting to see first-hand, and it’s nice to get a glimpse of them through others’ accounts of their sojourns.

The book is about Frazier’s encounters with Siberia. He traveled to Russia for the first time in the early ’90s, and claims to have been beset with a kind of mystical “Russia-love.” He vowed to return, particularly to Siberia, which he became fascinated by through reading. He approaches Russia via Alaska in the ’90s, then returns for a full-length drive across Siberia with two guides in 2001. He makes a cold-weather sojourn several years later, and the book recounts all of these trips. The majority of the book is concerned with the extended 2001 road trip.

Frazier has done a lot of reading and research into the history of Siberia and its major players, and I found the parts of the book where he has condensed this research to be interesting; likewise, I found interesting his descriptions of the places and natural environments he moves through as he travels.

About a third of the way through the book, however, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying the reading experience at all. It took me a few more pages of consideration, but then I realized why: I hate Ian Frazier.

Don’t misunderstand, I’ve never met the guy. But his book is a nonfiction, first-person account, and so obviously, you get to know the author as you read. And he’s … awful. He doesn’t seem to realize this, but as a traveling companion, Ian Frazier is just awful.

Most notably he is irritatingly nervous about everything. Yes, Siberia is a place where much could go wrong, and I can tell you from experience that it can be a little nervewracking to travel through a country where basically no one speaks English, and you speak none of the native tongue (though Frazier seems to know basic Russian, whereas I, when in Panama, knew no more than 10 words of Spanish, none of which involved negotiating taxi fares). But Frazier is well-outfitted, well-funded, and guided by two men who both speak fluent English. And yet he worries. Incessantly and obsessively, about things that seem not to merit any concern at all. When they camp near a ferry stop (one must camp in most of Siberia) he worries that his tent will be run over in the night by a vehicle coming to wait for the ferry. When they must travel with their van in a train car over a roadless stretch of territory, he worries for three days straight that there are not enough safety precautions, and the cars are full of gas, and what happens if one of them spontaneously explodes? He experiences a bout of food poisoning in St. Petersburg, and thereafter never eats a meal without worrying that it will murder him. He frets CONSTANTLY over the fact that Russians don’t wear seatbelts, even though the guides have provided a seatbelt for him! He panics when his guides are late returning to camp from a trip to a nearby village. This is but a sampling; his obsessive, half-irrational fears are chronicled on nearly every page of the book.

Besides these endless worries, and probably because of them, Frazier barely engages with the actual people and life of Siberia. His guides frequently visit the villages they camp near, for supplies but also for socializing; Frazier never accompanies them, staying by himself in the campsite. When he is offered vodka, he refuses. I can say authoritatively: unless you are a recovering alcoholic, or have a religious prohibition on its consumption, if a Slav offers you vodka, you should drink it. I’m not saying get wasted – but take one shot. Because it’s very rude if you don’t. This doesn’t seem to phase Frazier a bit. If he is a recovering alcoholic, and has not mentioned this fact in his book, I retract my statement. But I doubt that’s the case. Frazier turns down an offer for lunch from a random passerby who knows English and seems happy to meet an American; he often seems awkward and bored when Siberians in off-the-map places put on programs for the American author who has come, they think, to chronicle them. In all, Frazier seems much more interested in retracing the steps of the explorers of a hundred years ago that he has read about simply for the sake of doing so, rather than experiencing the Russia of here-and-now. I found myself wondering over and over again, Why would this person go to Siberia if Siberia as it is seems to leave him terrified and disinterested? Reading books would have more than sufficed for his purposes.

Besides all this, he is unpleasant in other ways. Let me illustrate with an incident he recounts without comment: he is in a regional museum in a Siberian city. Another man, an Englishman, approaches him, having heard him speaking English, and, in a friendly manner, asks him where he’s from. Frazier, who is from New Jersey, tells the man that he is from London. He says, “I didn’t even bother to put on an accent.” Obviously skeptical, the Englishman asks where in London; Frazier replies that he lives in a neighborhood by the Thames that the Englishman probably hasn’t heard of. Pushing on, the Englishman offers his name and the fact that he is writing a book. Frazier offers none of the same information, and shrugs the encounter off. End scene.

What the fuck is that? Does Frazier think it was a joke? Why would you be rude to the first person besides your guides that you have encountered in Siberia who speaks your language? Why would you recount the incident in your book? Does Frazier think he is a wit? I’m literally perplexed by his account of this encounter. What an ass.

[As an aside, Frazier notes that the man’s name is Simon Richmond, and says that Richmond exclaimed that he was going to put Frazier in his book. An internet search reveals that there is a Brit named Simon Richmond who authors and co-author’s Lonely Planet guidebooks, including one on the Trans-Siberian Railway and one on Russia in general. I do not know if he put Ian Frazier in one of these, but I feel inclined to buy one on principle – Richmond, I’m sure, deserves my money much more than Frazier did for his book.]

Frazier’s an ass on other occasions, apparently without realizing it. He’s also maudlin, overly nostalgic for his youth in Ohio, and deeply self-centered, irritatedly demanding that his guides take him to abandoned prison camps even though they’re clearly made very uncomfortable by this. In general, Frazier is preoccupied with his own needs and expectations … “privileged” is a word that kept recurring to my mind. And then we have this garbage, written after the passage in which the reader learns that Frazier coincidentally finished his Siberian road trip on September 11, 2001:

“But out in the rest of the actual world, people were thinking about us, in a larger sense, and specifically about [the World Trade Center]. The attack that targeted it represented not so much the beginning of a new war as a cruelly and ingeniously updated new wrinkle in an old, old war, one going back almost to the beginning of Islam. The recently ended Cold War, in whose ruins Sergei and Volodya and I had been wandering would have been difficult to explain to ancient ghosts who knew nothing about twentieth-century physics. But the September 11 attacks would have made perfect sense to, say, Saladin: the flying machines, the proud towers, the slaughtered innocents, the suicidal believers, are a simple story that exists out of time. To Yermak and the other Christian conquerors of Siberia’s Muslim khan, September 11 would have been easily understandable, and perhaps further inducement to victory, had they heard its story while gathered around their smoky Tobol River campfires.”

So. The conflation of modern-day Muslims with their ancient predecessors, exoticizing them and construing them as unevolving, ahistoric savages? Check! The depiction of terrorism and religious bigotry as a universal truth for all Muslims, in the past and present? Check! Bonus construal of the 9/11 attacks and America’s response to them as a religious war rather than a geopolitical one, thus casting all members of the “opposing” Muslim religion as combatants? Check and check!

People, that’s racism.

In summary, “Travels in Siberia”, though containing interesting facts, was a nightmare to read, basically because Ian Frazier seems like a nightmare to spend time with. The fact that he does not appear to realize that fact at all is mildly fascinating, but not fascinating enough to sustain a reader through 471 pages. Feel free to skip this book.

Richmond, Ho!

Last week was Pitt’s Spring Break, and this occasioned a trip to the south. Virginia specifically, because I’m not quite a wild and crazy kid anymore. Ted came, as did friend Will; friend Will’s boyfriend was also supposed to come along, making it a foursome, but then he made different plans, because he is a poopy head (which is a technical term). Defiant of the absent boyfriend’s attempts to rain on our parade, on a rainy Sunday we headed south to warmer climes.

We had used Hotwire.com to book ourselves into a room at the Richmond Omni. In the past, Ted and I have very successfully used Hotwire to get great deals on fantastic hotels in the DC area – we always go for the four or four-and-a-half star hotels, and while they’ll still be in the $100-$150 a night range, in the past they’ve always been outstanding: luxurious, amenity-filled, and at least $100 cheaper than booking through the hotel itself. Around DC, we’ve stayed in The Dupont, which was amazing, the St. Gregory, and two beautiful and comodious Westins.

The Richmond Omni … eh. Look, there was nothing wrong with it. It was clean and spacious and the staff was friendly. But the bed was too hard for my liking, and the lounge wasn’t open when the signs posted in the elevators said it would be. There wasn’t any bottled water in the room. And it turned out not to be in a very convenient location, though driving in the city proved easy, as did catching a cab. So … eh. I don’t have any particular complaints (beside the bed, though Ted found it fine), but I wouldn’t stay there again, either, since it still cost us $130 a night, even after Hotwire’s discount, and it just wasn’t worth that much.

The first night we were there we caught a cab and ended up yelling at a foreigner. We told the driver, who seemed to be of West African extraction, that we wanted to go to a bar called Comfort. He misinterpreted this to mean we wanted to go to the Comfort Inn. When we drove past the bar and told him to stop and turn around … he didn’t. At first we thought he was just looking for a convenient place to make a U-turn, but … nope, he was dead set on taking us to the Comfort Inn. So eventually we yelled at him. Which made us feel a little like jerks, but on the other hand, we were concerned that we might be being kidnapped. Which would totally have ruined Spring Break.

He eventually did return us to where we wanted to be, but then it turned out that Comfort was closed. We ducked into the nearest establishment to regroup, which turned out to be Bistro 27. After a round of drinks and some smartphone Googling, we resolved to strike off on foot to a different locale, but then it started to pour down rain, at which point Bistro 27 became a much more desirable locale. The whole place was being run by an old southern queen; he had plenty of sass and also informed us that he was Jewish, making him perhaps the most unlikely person ever. I sat next to a woman named … shit. Chanterelle? No, it just sounded like that. I remember thinking at the time that her name sounded like a mushroom, but wasn’t quite, and I should make a mental note to remember it, and now I just remember the damn mushroom. Anyway, she got drunk on martinis while Ted and Will got drunk on the local Legend ESB, and I failed to get drunk of some bourbon, for some reason, and the point is people are friendly in ‘Ginny. Ted’s osso bucco was amazing.

We hailed a cab back towards the hotel, but ended up in another bar, because I was hoping to catch up to my male companions. A little Scotch helped that along, but then Will and Ted decided to start stealing things (which is why I don’t mention the name of the establishment). Don’t worry, it wasn’t anything much; it was a weird night, point is. We went back to the hotel and started devouring Baby Cake with our hands, like animals.

Did I not previously mention the Baby Cake? It was a King Cake, for Mardi Gras, technically, which Will had ordered and brought along — Ted and I had also brought along some paczki for Fat Tuesday. All of this traveling pastry proved handy on the nights we returned to our room inebriated.

The next day Will woke early and went out and did stuff; I’ve no idea what. I am not an early riser on vacations. For one thing, I am not an early riser in general. For another, I am a poor sleeper — as a rule, but also extra and especially when traveling because I do not sleep well away from home, without my kittens, and I am usually in some degree of pain because my back and bum leg (herniated disks – neuropathy) do not respond well to long car rides (or plane rides, in the alternative). Point is, Will got up early and did stuff; I’ve no idea what. But by 11:00, everyone was regrouped and ready to head off for the day.

The interior of Garnett's Cafe

So wee and cute and tasty!

sssWe started with lunch at Garnett’s Cafe, which was unbelievably cute and also delicious. I had the “Croque Provencal – Black Forest Ham, gruyere cheese, tomato, and herb mayo on grilled Italian bread topped with mornay sauce” and it convinced me that all sammiches should come with cheese sauce. I also had as my side some delicious homemade pickles. They were crunchy, reminiscent of bread-and-butter pickles, but a little less sweet and more piquant, and just heartbreakingly good; I’d’ve bought a gallon jar of them to take home with me if I could have. These pickles were amazing.

Also Garnett’s served beer, even at 11:00 in the morning, which Ted and Will availed themselves of, while I opted for tea. Fortified, we set off for Charlottesville.

Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

Great dome.

There, we went to tour Monticello. I hadn’t been since I was a child, and since then the foundation that runs the place has built a really lovely visitor’s center with cafe, small museum of archaeological artifacts, theater, and gift shop — I regret not seeing the film. A shuttle takes you up the very large hill to see Thomas Jefferson’s house, and a tour guide takes you through the first floor; after that, you’re free to roam the grounds and outbuildings on your own, including a walk down to the family cemetery, if you’re inclined, where Thomas Jefferson and his descendants are buried.

Me: “All of his descendants? The Hemmingses?”
Ted: “One might more properly say that all of Martha Jefferson’s descendants are buried there.”

To be fair, the tour and exhibits make no bones about admitting that President Jefferson fathered children with the enslaved Sally Hemmings. They do point out, however, that his relationship with Sally did not begin until many years after his wife Martha’s death, a relationship Jefferson described as ten years of uninterrupted happiness (she died in childbirth). Fair enough. It’s a tough subject, of course; on one hand, Thomas Jefferson was unbelievably amazing. This is someone who just woke up and invented shit: copying machines, farming techniques, American republican democracy. He was not just smart — I’m smart. He was a genius of once-a-generation proportions, and by most accounts a loving husband, father, and grandfather, a grand and loyal friend, and even a “good” slave owner, relative to how these things go. But of course, there’s no such thing as a good slave owner — the man who wrote “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” kept some of his fellow human beings as chattel to do his bidding and based his claim to the right to do so on the color of their skin.

I don’t know how you reconcile these things; I don’t know how he did. I don’t know that our country ever has or will or can.

After we toured Jefferson’s lovely home, we hit the Jefferson Vineyards for a wine tasting. At $10, it was a little pricey, but we ended up buying a few bottles anyway. East coast wine isn’t necessarily good, but I always enjoy having a bottle of vacation wine to open later at home and reminisce about the trip over. We then moved on to Blenheim Vineyards, where the tasting was only $5 and the wine was better — plus, the guy pouring the tastes was awkwardly cute. A week later at home, Will cracked open his rose and felt moved to remark again how good it was, so. Sidebar: Dave Matthews owns a part of Blenheim Vineyards. I’ve got nowhere to go with that, just sharing.

Driving away from the setting sun, we returned to Richmond and headed to dinner, with a mind to really get the full southern food experience: we were headed to a bar-b-que joint. Buz and Ned’s became known to us thanks to Man vs. Food, the Travel Channel television shows that features Adam Richman traveling about America, eating vast quantities of food, some of it masochistically spicy; I love this show. He had done an episode on Richmond (he’s also been to Pittsburgh, which needs more food challenges, by the by), and so we found our way to Buz and Ned’s BBQ. Adam’s not the only TV food guy who’s been through the place, either. Bobby Flay’s Throwdown! had also been, and apparently, Bobby lost – the episode is on repeat on one of the TVs in Buz and Ned’s.

It’s not the sort of place where one expects there to be luxurious seating and service: you order your food at the window, take a seat at a table you wipe off yourself, and wait for your name to be called over the tinny microphone. Ted and I split an order of pulled pork sandwiches and an order of a half-rack of pork spare ribs. These came with sides: bourbon apples, hushpuppies, mac and cheese.

The pulled pork sammiches were great, tender with a touch of vinegar and spice but mellowed with a little coleslaw. The ribs were sweet and smokey and everything fell apart in your mouth. The quantity was ridiculous, the hushpuppies, though long and skinny unlike any I’d seen before, didn’t disappoint, and the mac and cheese had a lot of crust, which is what makes mac and cheese great. It was a daunting amount of meat, and I don’t know that I’d want to eat that much of it routinely; but as a vacation treat I thought the meal was phenomenal.

From there, we retired to our hotel, too stuffed to do anything except watch a movie on cable. (She’s Out of My League. I like Jay Baruchel [his movie The Trotsky is great], but this “romantic” “comedy” was pretty dreadful. Except! It is shot in Pittsburgh and is like a tourism video handcrafted for our fair city — sweeping shots of the skyline, cozy shots of our little shops and cafes … seriously, it was like a valentine to Pittsburgh. We watched for that, and ignored the plot, which was close to nonexistent.)

The next morning both Will and Ted got up early and did something; again, I’ve no idea what. Then we all went together to another restaurant featured on the Man v. Food Richmond episode, The Black Sheep.

Breakfast at The Black Sheep


Outstanding. We shared biscuits with sausage gravy. I had a mango mimosa that would have been delicious if it hadn’t been watered down with ice, which the waiter called serving it “Richmond Style” and which I call “a bad idea.” I also had the Bayou Breakfast, which was a fried catfish filet and two fried covered with crawfish hollandaise and served with cheesy grits and a slice of andouille sausage and a biscuit. Seriously, again, outstanding. And also eleventy billion tons of food – I almost died. I have no regrets. If I lived in Richmond I would eat at this place once a week at least. Will and Ted ate things too: Will had a Cuban sandwich, I believe, and Ted had some sort of breakfast, but I was too preoccupied with the deliciousness of my own meal to take careful notice. Both of my boys said their meals were excellent, though, so.

After breakfast, Will had to participate in a “webinar” for his job; Ted and I took a nap. It was the eleventy billion tons of food – we couldn’t help it. Upon waking, it was time to drink.

So many whiskeys!

*choirs of angels singing*

We went to McCormack’s Whisky Grill and Smokehouse. It had the biggest whiskey, whisky, Scotch, and bourbon selection I’ve ever seen — hundreds of bottles on the shelves. We sampled a variety of amazing things that I’ve never seen in PA, heard from the owner about how his other establishment wasn’t faring well in the face of a growing number of “urban” clubs in its area, and no,he insisted, he wasn’t a racist; and heard a hard-luck story from the bartendress, who’d been hit by a car in Cleveland, thus reinforcing the fact that Cleveland is, in fact, the worst place on Earth. Here’s what I took from the visit: if you ever get the chance to drink Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey, do it. No matter the circumstance: drink that shit. You will thank me.

From there we took the bartendress’s advice and had dinner at a place called Avalon, which was disappointing in a number of ways, I don’t care what the website says about it winning some “fine dining” award. For one thing, it was a bar/restaurant, and they’d done nothing to sonically shield the dining room from the noise of the bar. For another thing, the service was poor: Ted never got his water refilled, and though we asked for it, we never got more bread. It’s a tapas place, and several of the dishes were good: Ted’s garlic soup and Will’s lentil soup were both very good, as was my grilled romaine ceasar with anchovies; Will said his lamb carpaccio was good, and the aforementioned bread was a very tasty garlic and rosemary foccacio. But Ted’s empanadas were so-so, and my sherry mussels with fried leeks were extremely disappointing: several of them hadn’t opened, meaning they likely weren’t very fresh, and the whole dish was so salty that I couldn’t finish it. Considering the price, the noise, the poor service, and the hit-or-miss nature of the food quality, I would definitely recommend avoiding Avalon if you’re ever in Richmond.

We headed back to our hotel, stopping along the way to buy a six dollar of bottle of wine at a gas station that turned out to be pretty good, considering. Will and I drank wine and ate Baby Cake while watching TV; Ted got sick and threw up. No kidding: he dozed off, woke up, and vomited. We’re not sure who or what to blame, but it was kind of a downer. Luckily, he felt fine by the morning.

We departed Richmond and after a couple of hours on I-95, we stopped in Frederick, Maryland for lunch. Frederick is an adorable little town, and our lunch at The Orchard was very good – it reminded me of Pittsburgh’s The Quiet Storm in its homemade vegetarian friendliness, except it was a bit more upscale. I had a salad and a veggie sammich to try to cleanse myself of all the pork, and the coffee was delicious.

In a slight drizzle we hopped across the street to The Candy Kitchen where we bought a few delicious little chocolates. Will ventured in to a little shop selling designer eye glasses, and overall we decided that Frederick would make a delightful place to spend a weekend. Our last errand on the way out of town was to stop in a liquor store to pick up a gift; my friend David has a lifetime goal to drink as many different gins as possible, so he gave me his “drank so far” list and asked me to be on the lookout for new gins. I found three, actually, but could only afford to bring back one, so he’ll be getting a bottle of handcrafted-in-Virginia, organic, Contoctin Creek gin. Which I hope he plans to share.

Finally we wended our way back home, laden with wines and memories. Richmond was pretty delicious and I thoroughly enjoyed our side trip to Charlottesville and Monticello. I think I would have enjoyed a trip to the Edgar Allen Poe Museum or the Museum of the Confederacy, but I tend to prefer to take my vacations pretty light (the bad back doesn’t help), so alas, the chance was missed. I’m not sure I’d go back to Richmond on purpose, but if I was passing through, I’d definitely stop and eat at The Black Sheep again. Yum.