Wandering in Winchester

     Back in October, just before the leaves made their grand change ( literally – like 3 days before), my dear husband whisked me out of town for a spontaneous weekend away from the DC metro area. Note to self: spontaneous weekends to the Shenandoah in the fall are nigh impossible to book last minute without large sums of cash and at least 2 nights/3 days to work with. But with some readjusting of our expectations we secured a hotel room in Winchester, VA and planned to spend the next day in Harpers Ferry, WV.

     I became a little fascinated with Winchester back in September. I was on my way to my first training center to learn the ins and outs of preschool photography and while driving through the gorgeous, historic downtown area, had to fight down the urge to ditch the preschool portraiture for a photography stroll through Winchester’s quaint streets.

     The first structure that really caught my eye was the ornately domed, Beaux-Arts style  Handley Library. It was a building worthy of any old world European city and I had to check it out. The library was funded by Judge John Handley from Scranton Pennsylvania, who, in his will,  left the city of Winchester $250,000 to build it. It was built to resemble and open book, with the dome representing its spine, and two wings stretching out to either side resembling the pages.

     The view of the dome from inside was equally impressive and I was not the only visitor that gasped a little at the unexpected view. Tours are given regularly, but if you happen to miss it, the librarians are friendly and welcoming and will invite you to wander the halls to admire the prized building.

     Our next stop was Winchester’s historic downtown. A three block section of Loudoun Street is now closed to vehicle traffic and makes up Winchester’s pedestrian mall, lined with restaurants, historical sites, and lots of interesting little shops selling various things. If you like to buy from small, local businesses, this is a great place to go.

     We did not by any means exhaust all the interesting and beautiful sites of Winchester, Virginia. More things are calling out to me to explore further, but they will have to wait for another weekend adventure – preferably during their annual Apple Blossom Festival in the Spring!

     The next morning, after having breakfast at what could possibly be the tiniest, popular diner in Winchester, we hit the road and headed for Harpers Ferry. More on that next!

Harpers Ferry

Midday in the Garden of Good and Evil


The motto for my life this year.

The best outings are those I don’t plan to do. Usually they are cooked up by my amazing husband who often knows what I will love long before I’ve even paid any attention to where we are going (Grand Place in Brussels, the city of Ghent, the ruins of Villers Abbey, Boulogne-Sur-Mer; the list just goes on). July was the mother of all unplanned activities.

In the span of mere weeks we found out we were leaving Nassau and rushed to do all the things I would normally have six months to a year to accomplish. Add to that the uncertainty of going to a US posting where there is no housing assignment, no welcome kit, no car, and every little piece of information I usually cling to, to get me through the limbo phase of moving, was absent. Because we couldn’t fly the dog with the bigger airlines in the middle of summer, we opted to take a charter flight into Ft. Lauderdale and rent a car for the long drive up to DC. My only goal was to get to our final destination as quickly, safely, and inexpensively as possible.


Our first night on the road was spent in a dodgy little Motel 6 off of I-95 in Savannah (we were splurging the next night for better digs in Myrtle Beach so I didn’t feel too bad about the decision). I expected us to hit the road early for our next stop, but my husband had done his homework. He suggested we go into Savannah to check out Bonaventure Cemetery with it’s Spanish moss-filled trees and famous old headstones. Wait, what? You had me at old cemetery, and clinched it with Spanish moss. He gets me. He really gets me…


Bonaventure began as Bonaventure Plantation in the mid 1700’s, eventually housing the family burial plot, which still exists on the property today. In 1846 the plantation was sold and the northeastern portion, which included the site of the original plantation houses (long since destroyed by fire) was turned into a public burial ground.

The economic success of the Savannah’s elite would see the cemetery transformed in the tradition of England’s garden cemeteries, with an infusion of lavish gravesites, artistic memorials and sculptures, and park-like landscaping. The cemetery was sold to the city of Savannah and the name was officially changed to Bonaventure Cemetery in the early 1900’s.

Most of us became familiar with the cemetery through movies in the 1980’s (you know the one in particular!) and associate it with a sense of magic, voodoo, and an eeriness that plays on the imagination.

Angel, or...?

Even at noon on a sunny, hot, and humid day the cemetery is both beautiful and haunting. You could easily envision questionable things happening within it’s walls after dark, whether manmade or paranormal.

On this trip we barely scratched the surface of this massive cemetery. We tried our best to visit most of the highlights, but there is so much more to explore (as well as the rest of the city!) on our next trip to Savannah.






New Finds with Old Friends

During this crazy summer of transition I was treated to a outing with friends that mirrored some of our experiences in Brussels together. Sherry, now retired and living in DC, and Sarah, visiting from her home base in New York, invited me to explore the museum and gardens of Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown.

Dumbarton Oaks

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection

This early 20th century estate houses the art collections and libraries of Robert and Mildred Bliss. The house and its treasures now belong to Harvard University, providing a place for scholarship to those whose interests lie in Byzantine and Pre-Columbian Art, as well as garden design and landscape architecture.

The Music Room

The Music Room

In 1944, the Music Room was the site of talks that laid the groundwork for the creation of the United Nations, producing the United Nations Charter that would be adopted by the member countries in San Francisco the following year. (The above pictures do the room no justice! I was harried by a tour of 9 year old scholars!)

For me the highlight of the day were the gardens. While the house was gifted to Harvard, the grounds and carefully crafted Italian gardens were gifted to the National Park Service. Entrance to the park is from a completely different location than the house and a nominal $10 entrance fee is charged to those wanting to wander the grounds (entry into the museum’s galleries is free).


Mildred Bliss worked closely with Beatrix Ferrand to create the gardens and the result is a wondrous place to both appreciate the artistry of the garden’s designs and to take in the beauty of nature all around you. I highly recommend a trip to Dumbarton Oaks to anyone living in, or visiting, D.C. You can find more information on their website here.

There was so much more to see, but with the forecast calling for storms within the hour, our time was cut short. In fact, we only made it as far as the guard’s canopy before the skies opened up. After a brief wait we continued on our way to M street and the nearest Irish Pub for a beer.

I am grateful for friends who also enjoy exploring the cities around us and digging up the gems that so often go unnoticed during our time in the area. Our day evoked, for me, memories of exploring ancient chateaus, 12th century monastery ruins, quaint shops, and the natural wonders around Belgium. I may not have access to those sites anymore, but I still have access to good friends who share my curiosity and love of adventure. I now have a job that will take up a good portion of my time, but I do hope to see a lot more of this in the coming months of our D.C. tour.

A Familiar Sight

My patient friends. They know I’ll be along shortly – after I’ve taken the shot!