It took me less time to drive the 50+ miles from Harpers Ferry to the Washington, DC, beltway than it took me to make my way around the Beltway to Virginia and Mt. Vernon. I’d been to Mt. Vernon before, just not this particular Mt. Vernon (there’s a city by that name in Washington state, about an hour and a half north of Seattle — there’s also a small community in eastern Washington proudly bearing the name George).
After a meal of turkey pot pie served to me by a very friendly elderly waiter in the inn across the street, I paid my admission and went onto the grounds.
Mt. Vernon, Virginia, was beautiful. Historically fascinating, yes, but to my eyes it was beautiful, first and foremost. I am a lover of historic gardens, and the gardens here, even in the middle of October, were, well, here, look:
Gaillardias and other flowers along one of the many paths
Out in the kitchen garden
I was fortunate enough to take a tour of the gardens. Our guide took us through the vegetables and flowers, telling us about the heirloom varieties and the trees that Washington himself had planted and so forth. A lot of work goes into those gardens. We also were taken through the stables and several other outbuildings.
Then I toured the house, which was very grand. Washington had some serious money — or at least lived like he did. I was especially enamored of the dining room painted like a piece of Wedgwood china (blue walls and white trim
— I don’t have any photos of the inside of the house, alas, but that link goes to an excellent virtual tour on the mansion’s website). I don’t know why that particular color combination does it for me, but I have several pieces of the sky blue Wedgwood china, too. I also don’t know why I found it rather macabre to look at the bed the great man died on, but I did.
Mt. Vernon has one of the great back porches of the world, in my humble opinion:
Complete with rocking chairs
And that back porch has a gorgeous view, preserved to look as it did in Washington’s day:
That low wall is known as a ha-ha. It’s for keeping animals in their place without disrupting the view
And here’s a photo of the front of the mansion, because I can’t make this entry without showing you one:
You’d never know the house is surrounded by beautiful gardens to look at it from this spot
After I left Mt. Vernon, I drove the other half of the Beltway to get to my hostel, which was in an old house across the street from a Metro station in the Maryland suburb of Takoma Park (that spelling looked very odd to me at the time and still does). I had been warned about the Beltway traffic by someone at the Harpers Ferry hostel, but it didn’t strike me as any worse than, say, I-5 in downtown Seattle at rush hour. “I just don’t think that woman had an appropriate basis for comparison. People don’t drive on the freeway back East the same way they do at home, though. They’re much more aggressive. So that was something of an experience.”
One thing I learned about my country on this trip is that driving habits are regional. While the punch line in my neck of the woods is that people are studious about obeying all traffic laws, except the one that says “keep right except to pass,” I learned that in Minnesota you do not pass anyone on a two-lane highway if they’re going faster than 20 mph, and I was to learn in Atlanta that the only thing putting your turn signal on to change a lane will get you is everyone trying to pass you before you do it. In DC, they drive every man (or woman) for himself. It was an eye opener.
“Can you believe that I’ve been on this trip for a month and a half?!? I’m halfway. Sigh.” As it turned out, I was a bit more than halfway, but still…