50th Anniversary Migration

June, 2017
By Jack Welsch

The timing of this year’s annual migration between our home in Arizona and our summer cottage in Pennsylvania was dictated by two events, our 50th wedding anniversary on June 8th and Grandson Noah’s HS graduation on June 13th.  Once again, we planned on making a small vacation out of the trip rather than hot foot it across.  In order to do all we planned to do, departure day was June 1st.

Friday, June 1 – Sun City to Albuquerque, NM

Having prepared the house and packed the car before we went to bed, we up at 6:15 and on the road by 7:00.  We simply grabbed breakfast at Mickey’s but then stopped at Old West Cactus Farm near Anthem just to check it out.   Lunch was just a sub from Subway at a Navajo truck stop somewhere in NW Arizona.

We got to the Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town shortly before 4:00 and walked to the plaza for a look at some shops.  The plaza we alive with activity as the folks set up for the Fiesta de San Filipe de Neri.  Before heading back, we enjoyed Margaritas in the courtyard of the Church Street Café.  The place looked familiar to me and, checking my website, I confirmed that we had eaten lunch there in 2006.

When we returned to the hotel we saw a poster for the Tablao Flamenco show, which is in the hotel, so went to the concierge to learn more. They were unable to help me select a table from there so one of the clerks took me to the venue and, though it was locked, got someone to come out to help me.  I was able to book a table right by the stage. 

After showering and changing, we went right to the show lounge for tapas.  We ordered a selection of 3 cheeses, a selection of 3 meats and some small potatoes.  All was delicious but we’d ordered too much. I tried the suggested special of sangria but did not like it so switched to Malbec.

The show was stupendous. We had not seen flamenco before so were enchanted. There were 4 dancers, 3 girls and a guy and all were very talented.  They obviously have legs like steel springs!

When the show finished, we were told we could stay at no charge for salsa dancing.  There was a rather long wait while the room was reset but we were invited to sit in the VIP section, which is a little higher than the dance floor.  We got talking to a very nice man whose wife is one of the dancers.  Sadly, I’ve forgotten his name. He was with his mother-in-law from Santiago. Unfortunately, she did not speak English and my Spanish is limited so he had to do a bit of translating but we talked much of the evening.

The salsa dancing was fun to watch; the floor was crowded and the dancers were incredible.  We danced one rumba.

Saturday, June 2 – Albuquerque, NM to Stroud, OK

This was a “slugging down the highway” day.  We got up about 7, grabbed a lousy breakfast at the nearby Burger King and were on the road by 8:30.  Lunch was at a Dairy Queen somewhere in TX.  I had nachos that were quite good.  We eventually made the mistake of stopping in Stroud, OK.  The Hampton was OK but the choices for dinner were limited at best.  We tried the #1 rated “5 Star Steak House”. It didn’t look great and the only alcohol they served was beer. The “913 Café” and the “Rock Café” were even seedier.  Though I’d had Mexican for lunch, we settled on the last option, the “Cozumel Café”.  Dinner was quite good and service was excellent.  All in all, though, we won’t be stopping in Stroud any time soon!

Sunday, June 3 – Stroud, OK to Branson, MO

I was up before 6:30 and Linda a  bit later.  We had breakfast in hotel and were on road a bit after 8, taking I-44 to Tulsa, then US 214 into Arkansas and US 65 into Missouri.  US 214 was slow at times but was a nice change from the interstate and the scenery in the Ozarks was beautiful. 

We had a wonderful lunch at Arnie's Barn at Top of the Rock overlooking Table Rock Lake.  We arrived at the Branson Hotel at 2:30, settled in and explored for a couple of blocks, then had some wine in the bar and, later, on the very peaceful terrace. 

A few words about the Branson Hotel. It is more like a B&B.  It is quite pleasant and Lori and her staff are great.  However, a couple of caveats... First, it’s on a hill on Main Street.  Heavy traffic, much of it accelerating loudly uphill from the traffic light, is a bit disturbing.  Also, though some websites say there is a restaurant and a cooked breakfast, this is misleading.  While the wine bar is often open, there is no meal service other than a limited breakfast menu, the only cooked items being egg sandwiches.  Having said all that, I say again that service was great; Lori could not have been more accommodating and we had some nice conversations with other guests. I’d consider staying there again but I would most definitely not take a room at the front as we did this time.

Later, we walked the 3 blocks to Branson Landing in time to see the hourly water fountain show at 6:00.  Walking along the water, we ended up at the White River Fish House for dinner. We were unable to get a table on the deck but did score one at a window and the view was great.  Afterwards, we walked through Branson Landing and back to the hotel. The walk uphill was a bit of a struggle.

After sitting on the front porch for a while, Lin went to bed and I stayed out for a while.  Traffic on Main Street was very loud so I was really concerned about sleeping but, with earplugs, we made out OK.

Monday, June 4 – Branson, MO

We were out of the room shortly after 8 and had breakfast in the bar. Our first activity was a 90-minute ride on “The Duck”, a former DUKW amphibious vehicle as used in WWII.  After a land tour of the area, we rode out onto Table Rock Lake before returning. The tour was interesting but the real attraction was the guide; he should be doing standup comedy!

Skipping lunch, we just had munchies on the hotel porch before heading out to the 4:40 show of Dolly Parton’s Stampede.  Linda had selected it and Lori booked it for her but I must admit that I had reservations.  We are not fans of either Dolly Parton or country music in general and, to me, the idea of joining a throng of people for what was billed as a huge chicken dinner while watching a horse show.  Linda wanted to see it, though, so I sucked it up.  Turns out I was wrong once again; we both enjoyed it immensely.  The “pre-show” was a musical presentation by 3 very entertaining brothers.  It was a hoot!  The show itself was in a large inside arena with a panorama at one end and tiers of narrow tables on the sides at other ends.  The tables were such that everyone faced the arena floor while eating.  Dinner was plentiful with the main dish a whole Cornish game hen.  The show involved buffalo, pigs, dogs and many, many horses with very skilled riders.  All in all a fun experience and Linda didn’t say, “I told you so.” once!

Tuesday, June 5 – Branson, MO

We were up at 8:00 and had breakfast at hotel. At breakfast, we met a couple to a couple from Sun City Grand, only a few miles from our home in Sun City, AZ.  They were nice folks and we spent a lot of time talking with them.  After breakfast we read on porch until after 11, then walked down to Branson Landing for a nice lunch on the terrace at Saltgrass.  I had wonderful western chopped steak. 

Lori had booked a show for us called "Broadway to Buble" starring George Dyer.  We arrived at the theater by 1:30 to pick up the tickets for the 2:00 PM show but we needn’t have been so early; the large theater was almost empty.  That was really sad cause the show was absolutely GREAT. George Dyer is fantastic; he is a talented entertainer with an amazing voice and a wide range of musical genres.  His wife and son participated in the show and were talented as well.  With a 15 min intermission, the show ran over 2 hours.  Of course, they were selling CDs and a DVD and I bought one of each.  That tells you a bit about what I thought about the show!

After the show, we returned to hotel for wine & reading on porch, then slugged down to Branson Landing one last time for dinner at Cantina Laredo. We scored a table on the terrace with a good view of the 7:00 PM water show.  The meal was delicious to boot.

Back at the hotel we sat on the porch one last time before bed.

Wednesday, June 6 – Branson, MO to Frankfort, KY

Another “slugging down the highway” day.  We were up at about 7:30, grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel and were on the road before 9.  The trip was pretty uneventful with lunch at a Dairy Queen somewhere or other.  We encountered, two small traffic issues but no serious problems. Weather was nice once again.

We could not book a suite at the Hampton so arrived at Fairfield about 6:40, had dinner across the street at Cattlemen's Roadhouse and were settled in before 9:00.

Thursday, June 7 – Frankfort, KY to White Sulphur Springs, WV

By the time we got up, had breakfast, stopped at Walgreens and an ATM, it was almost 9:30 when we got on the highway.  Our route kept us on I-64 all day long.  We encountered a LOT of construction but the delays were not too bad.  The road was a challenge as it twisted and turned its way through the “hollers” of West Virginia. 

We arrived at the Greenbrier about 2:30 and explored a bit.  For this special occasion, we had booked a "Garden Suite" which, unlike the slightly larger hotel rooms that pass as suites these days, was a traditional suite with a large bedroom with a desk as well as a king-sized bed and a parlor, complete with a love seat, sofa, arm chair and another desk. I'm pretty sure the parlor alone was twice the size of the tiny motel room that was all we could afford for our wedding night. I guess we've made a little progress in 50 years!

We’d booked dinner at “In-Fusion” but discovered it’s located in and open to the casino so changed them to “The Forum”.

While we were enjoying a pre-dinner drink in the lounge, we got talking to two very nice older guys from Brooklyn.  At the forum, Lin had chicken piccata and I chicken cacciatore.  When we returned to the room, we discovered a bottle of champagne and four HUGE dark chocolate-covered strawberries from Helen and Earl. 

Based on Earl’s strong suggestion I ordered room service breakfast for 7:30 before going to bed.

Friday. June 8, – The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, WV

OUR 50th WEDDING ANNIVERSARY!

We set the alarm for 7:00mand were ready when breakfast arrived at 7:30. We had both ordered eggs Benedict and they were delicious.  The price was staggering but, what the heck!

During the cold war, President Eisenhauer ordered the construction of a number of bunkers to ensure that the government would survive a nuclear attack.  The congress was to be housed at the Greenbrier.  The bunker has been decommissioned and the site is used by CSX for secure records storage.  However, bunker tours are available and it was one of the things that attracted us to the resort.  We booked a tour for 9:30.

Because the bunker could not withstand a direct hit, its location was a secret.  To accomplish that feat, a new wing, the West Virginia Wing, was built at the Greenbrier with the bunker beneath it.  Everyone involved was sworn to secrecy with severe penalties for violation.  The existence of the bunker was revealed in 1992.  As we were waiting for the tour to start, we got talking to a woman of perhaps our age who was at the resort for a wedding. Her father has died but, when her mother learned of her trip, she told her that her father had helped in the bunker’s construction!

Our tour guide was Kate and she was both knowledgeable and entertaining. The 90-minute tour was an enlightening experience and I highly recommend it, especially for anyone who, lie us, is old enough to remember “duck and cover.”

For lunch, we took the shuttle to the outdoor pool area where we ate at “Treetops”. Nice venue and good food.

Linda absolutely adores carriage rides so I booked us a private ride.  For 50 minutes or so, our driver, Karl, drove us around the Greenbrier’s grounds, giving an excellent commentary.  While it was starting to cloud up a bit and showers were forecast, we were blessed with beautiful weather.

Probably because of our anniversary, the hotel had invited us to a VIP reception in the North Lobby.  The reception was very nice and all the people friendly.

One of the highlights of the trip was supposed to be our anniversary dinner in the main dinning room and I had booked it months in advance.  The room was beautiful and the service efficient.  We had not had a chance to drink the Champagne that Earl & Helen had sent but they were only too happy to serve it to us with dinner.  Loin of Lamb was on the menu and neither of us had had it before so we both ordered it as our entrée.  Big mistake; it was not at all tasty.  What a disappointment!  However, the hotel comped us with chocolate-coated strawberries for our anniversary and we ordered crepes suzettes as well. 

When we returned to the room, we got a “Happy Anniversary” call from Steve and Krista.  They pretended they didn’t know where we were and asked about our stay.  When we mentioned the roses from the hotel and the gift from Helen & Earl, Steve asked, “Is that the only thing delivered to your room?”  When we confirmed that it was, he became very upset.  It turns out that, early in the week, he had called the hotel and ordered a “Greenbrier Signature Basket” early in the week and was promised that it would be in our suite upon arrival.  As a result, we spent the day wondering why they had not called and they spent it wondering why we had not acknowledged the gift!  While Steve and Krista were still on the phone, Linda called the concierge and learned that they had no record of the order! The Greenbrier really blew that one!

Saturday, June 9 – White Sulphur Springs, WV to Wilkes-Barre, PA

As soon as we were dressed and packed, I went to the desk to complain about the screw up with Steve & Krista's gift.  The manager with whom I talked was appropriately apologetic but the damage had been done.  My main concern was that Steve would not be billed and he assured me that he would not.  I asked about bellman and valet and he arranged for both.

Minutes after I returned to the room, the bellman arrived.  He was very personable and quickly learned we have a fraternal organization on common.  We had a nice chat on our way to the car. When we got the car, it was wet from a short overnight rain.  Other than being washed, it’s the first time it’s been wet since mid-March! Fortunately, the rain had stopped and the sky had cleared.

Wanting to get on the road as well as avoid another expensive breakfast, we simply stopped at a nearby Hardee’s for breakfast.  Lunch was at Arby’s.  Traffic on I-81 was frustrating most of the way.

Our destination for the day was Wilkes-Barre so that we could see our oldest son, Don, and grandson, Julian.  We arrived at the Hampton just before 5:00 and headed immediately for the nearby mall so Linda could get a repair for her glasses, which had broken earlier in the day.  Dinner was at Mizu Sushi, with Don, Julian and Julian’s girlfriend, Bree.

The interesting side story is this…  Whenever we drive through Oklahoma on our annual migration, we are very aware of the risk of tornados.  It makes us very nervous. We drove through Oklahoma on this trip without mishap and, as I said, spent the night of 6/9 in a Hampton Inn & Suites in Wilkes-Barre.  Four days later, on the night of 6/13, an F2 tornado and passed within 3/4 miles of our hotel, destroying 3 buildings and severely damaging many more! In fact, we had crossed the tornado’s future path as we drove to the mall and back!  I guess I won’t stress over Oklahoma anymore!

Sunday, June 10 –Wilkes-Barre, PA to Wrighter Lake, Thompson, PA

We awoke to pouring rain, ugh!  Welcome to Pennsylvania!  We were up and had breakfast in time to go to church at St. Mark’s in Moscow, where we had been members for decades, had a leisurely lunch with Earl and Helen (Earl is rector of St. Mark’s), stopped at Wegman’s to pick up some groceries and arrived at the lake at about 4:30.  My brother, Tom, who owns the cottage next to ours was still there so we got to see each other before he headed home to upstate NY.

This was our longest annual migration but a very enjoyable one.