West Virginia


I moved from Italy to West Virginia in 2004.  Many, many people assumed that I would have a huge culture shock problem.  They didn’t realize that West Virginia was far more like Italy than most people think.  In fact, in every major way, Italy and West Virginia were similar.  They didn’t look alike, that was true.  West Virginia is range after range of low, rolling mountains.  Italy has a ridge of mountains down the center of the “boot,” volcanoes in southern Italy and Sicily, a forbidding range in Sardegna, and the striking, spiky Dolomites in the north.  They’re mountains, though, and they help define Italy’s amazing variations in cuisine, culture and tradition.

 Here’s the comparision I promised a few days ago.

West Virginia

Italy

Lots of small towns connected by winding roads

Lots of small towns connected by winding roads

Most residents of small towns are related, at least distantly

Many residents of small towns are related, at least distantly

Everyone knows what you’re up to

Duh

Everyone knows your plans, often before you do

See above

Gorgeous mountain scenery – plan a visit to Seneca Rocks and find out for yourself

Gorgeous mountain scenery – been to Trentino/Alto Adige lately?

Geocaching is a big deal

There is a geocache in the Pompeii excavations, and several other caches are stashed around the countryside

Mountains define the state

Italy is far more mountainous than you would expect; the entire center of the country is a mountain range, and then there’s Vesuvio and the Dolomites up north

 When I explained my Italian experiences to my new West Virginia neighbors, they understood.  Some of the things I truly loved about Italy – the close family ties, the small towns with their unique traditions, and their fierce pride in their heritage – really resonate with West Virginia’s mountaineers as well.  I learned as much from my two years in West Virginia as I learned the previous two years in southern Italy.  It’s all to the good.  I grew up near the mountains of southern California, and I gloried in every day near Il Redentore in Lazio and in every sunrise and echo of Evening Colors on our base in West Virginia.  Time in the mountains is always time well spent.

I’m staying home this weekend (unusual for me) to work on writing projects.  I’m hoping things will calm down a bit in a few days.  Meanwhile, here’s a travel Hub on West Virginia’s Cass Scenic Railroad, another on the Chesapeake Children’s Museum in Annapolis, and a third about my favorite Indianapolis restaurant, The Rathskeller, for your reading pleasure.

This weekend’s road trip got me thinking about how fortunate I am to travel as much as I have.  Many people save for years to get to just one of the amazing destinations I’ve visited.  There’s nothing like that “wow” feeling you get when you see, say, the Grand Canyon for the first time.

There’s a tradeoff, of course.  I have to move every two years or so, whether I want to or not, because of the demands of my husband’s job.  This brings us to new places, and I truly enjoy exploring them, but it also means I sometimes forget which kitchen I’m standing in.  I’ve moved 10 times in 22 years.

Fortunately, I like new places and make a big effort to get out and experience the best of any place I live.  At our very first duty station, in San Vito dei Normanni, Italy, I met people who literally never left the base.  Ugh.  That’s so not me, but you’ve probably figured that out by now.

Here’s some info on two small but significant science museums I’ve visited, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the College Park Aviation Museum.

This weekend, I went to Almost Heaven (West Virginia) and had a truly wonderful musical experience.  Friday night, we went to a free SHeDAISY concert in Sugar Grove, W. Va., at our previous duty station.  Wow!  I am not usually a country music fan, but the SHeDAISY ladies are first-class performers and people.  They braved the mountain roads in their souped-up tour bus, posed for photos with the VIP’s and award-winning sailors, and delivered an incredible performance.  They sing beautifully, and their music touches the heart.  I’m sure Pendleton County will be talking about this event for years.

Last night, we drove down Route 33 to Bridgewater, Va. and listened to our favorite Shenandoah Valley Irish pub band, Scruffy Murphy.  Paul, Sarah, Mahlon and LB put on a great show, introducing several new songs and bringing guest blues harmonica guru, Dave, onstage for an awesome mini-set. 

If I’m on the road and listening to great music, I’m blissfully happy.  This weekend was brilliant.

If you’re on the road in southern Maryland, check out the Calvert Marine Museum.

I wrote a travel Hub this morning about West Virginia’s Seneca Rocks, and got to thinking about all of my favorite W. Va. spots.  Seneca Rocks probably tops the list.  Germany Valley is right up there, though; it’s eerily remote, bright green in the spring and charmingly hazy in the fall.

Another great W. Va. stop is the New River Gorge.  Their visitor center is tiny, but the walk down to the gorge’s edge is easy and the view is heartstopping.  Some year I’ll get up the nerve to take a raft trip; my adventurous friends tell me the New River is a great place to start.

Sometimes city life gets so hectic I forget that there’s wilderness nearby.  We all need to take scenic road trips or just sit out in a park somewhere once in a while, so we can enjoy the sunshine and peace.

I’ve been thinking in Navy-speak all weekend; we had a couple of social events to attend and I worked on my new travel Hub about Baltimore’s USS Constellation.  While I was racing from event to event, fall arrived.  I dragged out my old Ravens sweatshirt (grungy; time for a new one) and shivered while I wrote.

Fall is a great time for road trips, even before the leaves turn colorful.  The sunshine sparkles, but you don’t get too hot.  The sky seems bluer than at any other time of year.  It’s a great season for food, too – baked dishes and warm desserts finally taste good again.

A couple of years ago, I drove from Sugar Grove, W. Va., to Elkins, W. Va. on a shopping errand.  It was October, and I needed costume fabric.  I know many people say Vermont has the best fall colors in the U. S., but on that day, Pendleton and Randolph Counties gave those Vermonters a run for their money.  I have never seen such glorious leaves.  It was raining, and the dark tree trunks really stood out against the bronze-orange-gold-red of the leaves.  Each curve of the road revealed new shades of fall.

I think it’s time to plan another West Virginia road trip.