Diversion – Our Own Winery!

Romano signOkay, it’s not really ours, but it’s kinda cool to have a winery nearby that shares your last name. There’s nothing like having personalized wineglasses and wine bottles in the cellar to make your guests wonder!

Romano Vineyard and Winery is in Brandywine, Maryland, in southern Prince George’s County. PG County, as the locals know it, is mostly urban and suburban; home to the likes of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Cente, NOAA’s National Center for Weather and Climate Prediction, the U.S. Census Bureau, and Joint Base Andrews; and, according to U.S. Census data, the most affluent county in the country with a primarily African-American population. But this area of PG County is decidedly rural…former tobacco farms now yield lots of corn, soybeans, and more importantly, vineyards.  It’s a stone’s throw from historic St. Mary’s and Charles counties…even the infamous Dr. Mudd House, where Abraham Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth had his broken leg set, is nearby.

I’d like to say that Judy and I stumbled on this gem of a winery as one of our regular diversions, but this story is a bit different. When the winery opened in 2011, I lived just a few miles away with my previous wife and saw the “bootleg” signs announcing its opening and wine-tasting availability along the rural roads I regularly took to work. I vowed to visit and introduce myself to the proprietors.

That never happened. In 2012, I moved out, filed for divorce, and moved to much more urban Northern Virginia. When Judy and I got together, we discovered a shared passion for good wine and often enjoy visiting wineries as a regular weekend activity. Romano vineyardVirginia’s wines have become world-class and there is no shortage of wineries to visit. Our neighbors even gave us a Virginia Wine Pass to enjoy regular discounts!  But I still harbored the desire to visit the winery that shares my family name, so when a trip to Annapolis offered an opportunity for a Southern PG County diversion, we jumped at the chance.

We weren’t disappointed. Unlike many of the Virginia wineries, the Romano winery has a very casual, rural farm feel. Owners Jo-Ann and curiousities sidebar 2Joseph Romano were delightful. We quickly figured out we weren’t related, but then, we Romanos are like the “Smiths” of Italy…many in number, not related, but all happy to meet one another.

The wines were excellent, too, so naturally, we joined the Romano Wine Club. We received our membership materials a couple of weeks ago, including our card for two free glasses of wine each month.

Today, we found ourselves in the area once again, top-down on the Fiat spider enjoying the spring weather with temps in the low ‘60s – a nice break from recent freezes. Naturally, we stopped at “our” winery.  Jo-Ann instantly recognized us. We sat outside, each enjoying a glass of merlot.  We chatted with several ladies who were enjoying a similar fine day.  With other errands to run, we didn’t stay long, but for a brief respite, Judy and I reveled in the joy of each other’s company, a fine glass of wine, and the peace and quiet that only a rural atmosphere can bring.

We have long held that part of the fun of traveling is getting off the beaten path to find hidden gems like Romano Vineyard and Winery.  Stop in and say hello, even for a just few minutes.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored.  Go see it.

Fiat at Romano

 

 

What do a Kiss and Exploring the World Have in Common?

Five years ago today I was on a trip for work. It involved a trip (by TRAIN!) to Stamford, Connecticut, a short walk to the hotel and a meet-and-greet style evening where coworkers from the northeast and mid-Atlantic would connect and spend some social time over dinner and drinks before a full-day event kicking off the next morning.

There were maybe two dozen of us chatting amiably over dinner at a nearby Italian place before wandering back to the hotel to linger in the hotel bar over wine and cocktails.

As is typical at this type of event, we talked about life and work and work and life. It was a back-and-forth conversation filled with laughter and easy banter. One-by-one, coworkers headed back to their rooms to “say goodnight to the kids” or “check in with my wife” or simply because it had been a long day.

Somewhere around 1:30 am, the bartender came over and informed Greg and I that it was last call. It wasn’t until then that we noticed we were the only two coworkers left. At that moment, we were deeply ensconced in a conversation about the tasks that needed to be accomplished “in the morning” at the jobs event we were attending. Neither of us was ready to declare the conversation over, so we tossed a coin to decide whose room we would go to so we could finish making our plans.

About an hour later, when the work planning was done, the conversation wandered to the past as we discussed the things we missed about being young.

I said, “kissing,” explaining how, as a high school student, kissing was everything. It was a time when the farthest a couple would go was maybe “second base” and the duo could spend hours just kissing. Yep, I admitted, “I miss kissing.”

Greg rose from the hotel chair and walked over to me, leaning down and kissing me. It was one of those tentative, first date kisses. There were fireworks. I saw lightning and felt the Earth move. We broke the kiss and gave each other that “uh-oh-I-wasn’t-expecting-THAT” look. We were, after all, coworkers.

It was just a kiss … but it was life altering. Nothing else happened that night, but it was enough to put into motion a series of conversations and chain of events that helped us both realize that we did have options other than staying in unhappy relationships and living sad, unfulfilling lives.

Since that day, we moved in together, got engaged, got married and regularly remind each other how important communication is to a healthy, happy, thrilling relationship. We laugh about that kiss and how we had no idea then how many dreams and hopes we had in common – and still do.

It’s been five years and thousands of kisses. Sometimes the best trips don’t involve even getting out of your chair. When we say there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored, we mean so much more than travel. We mean exploring each other, people in your lives, yourself … everything. So get out there – explore! The world is calling.

Diversion – Getting to Know You, Part 2

A reader responded to my recent post about talking up servers and bartenders with a simple question, “Why?”  I’m not really sure where she was going with this question … “Why travel?”  “Why enjoy yourself?”  “Why talk to people?”  But if ever there was any doubt about the last question, it was answered this past weekend…again.

As often happens, Judy and I needed to spend a night in Fredericksburg, Va., about an hour south of our Alexandria home.  In a few previous instances, we’ve enjoyed the food and vibe of Fahrenheit 132, located in the heart of historic downtown Fredericksburg. Fahrenheit 132 In all our previous visits, we’ve sat at the bar, enjoying fine cocktails (their French Martini is always a hit), excellent appetizers, and even one of the best Filet Mignons we’ve ever tasted.  But this time, I wanted to make it a bit special, so I booked a table (through Open Table…one of my favorite apps) for 8:30.  We arrived scandalously early to the crowded restaurant, so we checked in an ordered a drink at the bar.  We were only halfway into our first cocktail when we were shown to our table.

Two things stuck out about this visit.  First, we had never seen the wine list before.  It was extensive…the selection of Italian reds, alone, took up the better part of a page!  We chose a 2006 Villa Gemma Montepulciano D’Abruzzo (one of our favorite varietals) and to say we were pleased is an understatement. Villa Gemma The legs were longer than Cyd Charisse’s and the color was an incredibly deep, inky maroon.  If you held the glass to the light, you couldn’t see through it.  The nose took you away to some other place, and the first taste on the tongue was captivating.  THIS is why you spend good money on good wine.

Second, our server, Jessica, was everything you could hope for.  Like Araceli in our previous post, Jess was sweet, beautiful, and like our wine, captivating.  In our two hours together, we learned much about this lovely young lady and her zest for life in between bites of the best pork chops you will ever taste.  As a server, she was there before we needed her, suggested brilliant accompaniments to our entree, and instantly recognized and appreciated our desire to take our time enjoying our meal. As a new friend, we learned that she has tackled hardship and heartache in a way that is truly inspiring.  She truly made our evening joyful and we cannot wait to see her…and Fahrenheit 132…again.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. Go see it…and take the time to get to know those around you along the way.

Here’s to you!

Greg & Judy

Diversion: Key West – a warm winter weekend

KeysPoles (1) A recent trip is proof that good advertising works.   A series of attractive and funny poster-sized ads promoting the Florida Keys splattered throughout one of the Washington Metro system’s busiest stations caught Greg’s eye as the weather turned frigid.  With headlines like “Strong response to the latest poles” while showing fishermen casting their lines in azure seas, the campaign mocked DC in winter. We’re big fans of Key West and try to get down once a year, but when we spotted the posters, we realized it had been 14 months since we were there last – getting married. We took the bait – hook, line, and sinker.

blizzard

To say we were “jones-ing for some down-island time” is something of an understatement. We were still reeling from almost two feet of snow from a recent blizzard; the forecast was calling for single digits over the weekend.  I got home, popped online and checked to see if it was possible to get any deals for the looming three-day weekend. “Deals” is such a subjective word. Two round-trip tickets at the last-minute on a holiday weekend … let’s just say with patience and hard work, it is possible to find “deals” online. A quick e-mail to Susie at the world’s BEST travel agency, Key West Key Inc,  secured us a room for two nights.

two drinks on the bar

One of the best things about Key West is the laid-back vibe. You really don’t NEED to do anything other than eat … and there are plenty of places to do that.
We landed about noon, checked in to our room and checked out of our stress.airplane bar - long shot.jpg First stop – a nice, icy, tropical adult beverage.

After all … this is Jimmy Buffet country and “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” is a state of mind.  We wandered to Kelly’s Caribbean Bar & Grill Brewery where I’d found out the bar was made to resemble an airplane wing.

IMG_5596.JPG

 

I wanted to take in the daily tradition of watching the sunset on Mallory Square.  So we followed the crowds to the edge of the pier where we caught the act of a unicycling, comedian named Juggling Jase just as the day faded.

A hundred-or-so steps away and we bellied up to the bar at the iconic Sloppy Joes for a frosty chilled beer as we toasted the warmth and posted a status update on Facebook to tease our friends back home who were bundled against temps in the low teens while we were wearing shorts and short sleeves.

Carols Art purchase Our only full day included a must-see exhibit at a local art gallery, KEPart,  where a friend (and our wedding photographer) had a showing of some special, layered photographs. We fell in love with one and managed to get the first printing of a limited run.

Next it was time for a little more destination-free wandering before the laziness of the day took hold of us and we plopped onto lounge chairs by the hotel pool to soak up some sun and read books borrowed from a lending library with a view of a perfect blue sky through the trees.  view through the trees

A laugh-filled dinner with friends inspired great conversation to cap off a perfect day.

The next morning the bright, tropical sun blasted through the palm trees outside our room. It was time to slip on the flip flops and see the sights. Despite repeated visits here, we’d never taken the “Conch Train” tour and since everyone seems to recommend it, we figured now was as good a time as any. I grabbed my camera and we snagged the back seats on the open-air “train” for an hour-and-a-half narrated tour of the southernmost city in the US.

We passed gorgeous little houses, funky little sights and a couple of historic attractions before hopping off the train for a slow walk down iconic Duval Street. IMG_5702.JPGTummies rumbling, we came upon a hidden gem of an Italian place we had been before. Wood-fired pizzas are a specialty at Onlywood, but we opted for pasta and savored the flavors as we watched a tiny lizard sunning itself on a nearby leaf.

The day began to wind down as we headed for the airport for our flight home – rested, relaxed, rejuvenated. Visits to the Keys always seem to take away all your stress and leave you wanting more. If you get a chance … you should find a way to go there. After all, there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored.

Diversion: Take the Upgrade

What do you do with an extra week of vacation? I recently reached a milestone work anniversary and now earn an extra week of vacation every year. Greg is a few years behind me, so that leaves me with a week to use that he doesn’t have. The trouble is, I really prefer traveling with him. In fact, since we’ve been together, I just don’t even want to travel alone anymore like I used to because Greg is so much fun. So when I found out he had to go to New Orleans for a week for a conference, why not spend that extra week in the Big Easy? While he’s listening to keynotes and participating in plenaries, I can spend a week exploring the sights, sounds and flavors of the town.  At night, I can even swing a couple of dinners at a jazz club with my husband instead of staying home alone.

Why am I telling you this? Well … sometimes a trip like this deserves an upgrade. Looking forward to a whole week of relaxation and fun, why not spend the cost of a nice meal to give yourself a treat? I mean, who among us hasn’t walked onto a flight envying those comfy, beverage-wielding passengers looking all relaxed and polished in their front-of-the-plane seats while we shuffle back to coach to cram into a seat that leaves us shoulder to shoulder with our seat mates? As we checked in online for our flight, the airline offered a First Class upgrade for just $90.  We had to spend $25 each anyway to check a bag, so the upgrade was really only going to cost $65 because it included those checked bags.

I could hear my dad’s voice in my head. When I was young, he always used to joke, “It only costs a nickle more to go first class.” For the cost of a decent pair of shoes, we could enjoy a complimentary breakfast served on china, drinks in glass, loads of leg room, and bags checked with priority delivery when we landed. For a three-hour ride, the leg room alone might be worth it. We got to the airport the next morning, cruised onto the flight with the first boarding group and ordered a pre-flight drink. This vacation (well, a vacation for me anyway) was starting out with a little bit of extravagance.

Sometimes we all deserve a little treat …especially when heading off to check out some new destination.

After all … there’s a whole world world out there just waiting to be explored, why not go see it in style?

Diversion – How to Turn Five Hours into Twelve

According to Google Maps, it should take five hours and seven minutes to get from home to a wedding we’re attending on Long Island. But Google Maps just has no sense of adventure.Cruising in the convertible on a sunny fall day.

We set out early, just before 7am, with the intention of taking “the road less traveled” from Alexandria, Virginia, to Woodbury, New York, on Long Island. For us, that means crossing the Potomac on the Wilson Bridge and immediately exiting onto a local road. We head for US 301 through rural southern Maryland connecting just before “301” joins US 50 to pass Annapolis and cross the Chesapeake Bay.

The Delaware - Cape May/Lewes FerryWe point the car toward Lewes, Delaware, deciding to take the Cape May/Lewes ferry for a cruise across the Delaware Bay to New Jersey. It’s a stunning, unseasonably warm fall day. The sun is shining brightly. The water is calm. Greg relaxes on a deck chairThe people on board are quiet and friendly. We lean back on a deck chair and soak up the sun as we shove off the dock and cruise past the Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse.Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse

A few seagulls zig zag in the air over the ship’s bow for most of the crossing. We stand at the railing for awhile, chatting with a couple from New Jersey and keeping an eye out for dolphins. We don’t spot any swimmers, but a butterfly soars on the thermals over the cars on deck. We pulled into port on the Jersey side and made our way to the Garden State Parkway. By now, we would have been checked in at our hotel on Long Island if we had taken the “faster” route. This is so much prettier though, and relaxing.

Welcome to Brooklyn signWe drive almost the entire length of New Jersey before heading across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and onto Long Island just as evening rush hour hits its height.Google Map traffic on cell phone It’s 5pm and Google says it will take just over two hours to go the next 26 miles.
HA! traffic on Belt Parkway, Long IslandWe laugh at the absurdity of traffic and use the slower pace to notice the neighborhoods bordering the parkway and to look south over Jamaica Bay at the ferry shuttling commuters and tourists to their destinations.

The skies to the north turn dark – really dark – and lightning flashes. We pull over and put the top up on the convertible just as the rain starts falling. The final hour is rainy and dark as the sun sets behind us. We arrive at the Inn at Fox Hollow just after 7pm … twelve hours after leaving home!

It was a picture perfect day (well, most of it), with sun shine, views, a relaxing pace and lively banter without the intrusion of cell phones or distractions. Some may call it a wasted day. We prefer to think of it as a great way to spend a day together and see another little piece of America.

Diversion – Customer Service is NOT Dead

I drive a two-seater roadster convertible. Aug 1 - Driving out the drivewayYou may wonder what that has to do with customer service. If you have ever driven a convertible or even know someone with one, you know soft tops require more tender loving care than hard tops. You can’t go through automated car washes, you shouldn’t park them out in the weather, and they tear. THAT is where customer service comes in.

About two years ago I noticed a little tear on the seam of my soft top. It was really small … less than 1/2 inch. IMG_2631I hoped it would stay small and ignored it. Last year I noticed it had double in size. I tried fabric glue. That doesn’t work.

I contacted the dealer for recommendations of repair shops. The dealer said they don’t work on soft tops and didn’t know who did. (Apparently SOME customer service actually is dead!) I asked around. I googled it. I found a repair shop listed in the yellow pages online and drove out to the shop. I was told my little tear was not repairable. The technician said I should just order a new top. ACK!

I refused to believe that. Greg is a sailor and he knew if sails can be repaired, SOMEONE should be able to repair my tiny little tear. Why not find someone who repairs sails? With that, we decided to keep our eyes open anytime we were near the shore.

This weekend, we headed toward Williamsburg, Virginia. I didn’t know Greg had already spotted a potential option on a previous trip, so when he slammed on the brakes and turned into Hayes Custom Sails & Canvas, I wondered what was up.

We drove to the door only to find we had arrived 20 minutes past closing. DARN!  But wait, the door opened and we got a wave. We jumped out and Greg mentioned the tear. The shop’s owner, Rod Hayes, walked over and took a look. He hesitated. He said the top would have to come off so it could be stitched on a machine to match.

“Wait,” I responded, “I don’t care if the stitching matches.” I’m no seamstress, but I’ve repaired a few tears in my day and asked if it couldn’t just be whip-stitched. Rod hesitated again. He suggested it wouldn’t look the same. I countered that with a tear that small I didn’t really care if the stitching matched as long as the tear was sealed and wouldn’t spread further.

Sailor's Palm - Right HandedRod responded by popping into the shop, grabbing a needle and waxed thread and something called a sailor’s palm to help him push the needle through the canvas.

He proceeded to effortlessly stitch up that little tear while the three of us chatted about sailing and flying.

In just 30 minutes, IMG_4702[1]my soft top was repaired. I was delighted! “How much do we owe you?” we asked.

Rod’s response equaled the amount of cash in Greg’s pocket. We paid him, shook his hand and hopped back in the car.

The lesson learned is two-fold. First, don’t give up when you know you can get something fixed even when you’re told no. It’s nice to know that in this disposable world there are still true craftsmen who know what they are doing and will fix something rather than throw it away. Second, small, locally-owned shops are run and staffed by people who still genuinely care about what they do and make the customer happy. All you have to do is find them and ask.