Escape to Nemacolin

A few weeks ago, while Trump was allowing the G20 to become the G19 with the US no longer playing a lead role in the world (now it looks like Russia, China, and Angela Merkel will dominate global policy and trade), we escaped to the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and to see the two Frank Lloyd Wright houses near the resort – Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater.

The Nemacolin resort sits atop a hill and spans many acres with three separate hotels – the Chateau which is the main hotel where Lautrec, the Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five-Diamond restaurant is housed; the Lodge which is adjoining the Chateau; and Falling Rock which is the most upscale of the three hotels (private butlers are included). Many of the rooms have been remodeled in the last few years and are spacious and well appointed with large bathrooms. The resort also has every extracurricular activity that one can imagine in or near the property – two golf courses, spa, horseback riding, a casino, a small zoo, tennis, pools, shooting, zip lining to name some.

To us, though, it was the perfect base to see the two houses of Wright’s. Saturday morning we went to Kentuck Knob, one of the last houses he ever designed when he was 88. (He died a few months before his 92nd birthday in 1959.) It was built for a Pennsylvania family who lived in it full time. It was fascinating and Wright’s touches were amazingly thorough including using cut out wood trim with indoor glass windows where the glass could be opened so the breezes flow through the house as natural air conditioning. Sunlight and indirect lighting are used rather than overhead fixtures in order to have the property blend with nature. It is a Usonian house although it is much larger than the typical Usonian home which was designed to be an affordable option for the middle class after the Great Depression. Kentuck Knob is hexagonal in shape with almost all of its walls, built in fixtures and furniture either in triangular or hexagonal shape.

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From their website:

“Kentuck Knob’s construction materials of native sandstone and tidewater red cypress blend naturally with the surroundings. The fully functional kitchen is the architectural core of the home. Its walls of stone not only anchor the two wings of the house but they also rise to penetrate the horizontal line of the copper roof. An open floor plan, cantilevered overhangs, and great expanses of glass effortlessly integrate the inside with the outside. Stretching to the east, just beyond the back terrace, is a breathtaking panorama of the Youghiogheny River Gorge and the beautiful Laurel Highlands mountains that surround it.”

The surrounding woods are seemingly endless and the sculptures that were collected by its owners create a beautiful walk through the woods after walking out to a plateau with a view of the whole valley below. My favorite is the sculpture of a German Shepherd which was commissioned when the current owners, the Palumbos, commissioned the statue after their beloved dog, Jute, died.

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Saturday night we dined at Lautrec. What a great experience. The choices were either a 7 or 14 course tasting or a four course Prix Fixe meal. We selected the later so that we could taste more dishes. Every one was fantastic although the ribeye steak variation was truly an amazing variation of the big slab of meat that one usually imagines as a rib eye. The pasta – both the black truffle and the sweet corn – were excellent. By the time desert arrived, we were stuffed but managed to force our way through a fantastic version of a s’more and a lime and kiwi fruit mousse. We did have to take the candy from the candy cart as a “to go” however.

The next day was the 20 minute drive to Fallingwater which is one of Wright’s greatest works according to many. His career had been considered over until at age 70, he designed this home. Truly built out of the hill and blended over and around a waterfall and the forest. It is difficult to describe and pictures only tell half of the story. It was a “getaway” home for a wealthy Pittsburgh family that is cantilevered over the water.

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From the website:

“Fallingwater is a house built between 1936 and 1939 over a waterfall in southwest Pennsylvania. Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most famous architect, designed the house for his clients, the Kaufmann family. It instantly became famous, and today it is a National Historic Landmark.

It’s a house that doesn’t even appear to stand on solid ground, but instead stretches out over a 30’ waterfall. It captured everyone’s imagination when it was on the cover of Time magazine in 1938.”

It is worth a trip to experience the homes. Although I certainly can appreciate both house’s beauty and the art of the architecture, they would be hard to live in. All the floors are stone which kills one’s shins, and the furniture and even the toilets are so low to the ground, it would be hard for anyone over 4 feet tall and over 45 years of age to get up once seated.

It was wonderful to get away from DC and politics for the weekend and Nemacolin as well as the Wright houses are definitely worth planning an excursion to this area of Pennsylvania. The drive is approximately three and a half hours from DC on major highways most of the way or four-plus hours using the back country roads to admire the scenery.

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What happened to civility?

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I’ve heard many people wonder this week about how this country can tone down the extremes in politics. It doesn’t start with politics. It starts with each adult practicing tolerance and teaching it to the next generation. Whether you like or dislike a president, a member of Congress or your neighbor, there is no room for the vitriol that is spewing out of our media. I am not blaming the media for many people’s bad behavior, but I am saying that our vast media allows more and more people to be influenced and provoked.  The violence we hear and see does adversely affect many people – especially those who are mentally ill.

I used to think my grandmother was a little old fashioned when she would make me follow her rules of etiquette and be polite to others.  I now understand that she was using tradition to teach me how to be nice to others even when I couldn’t see why it was needed.  Now I am grateful to all those little things she drilled into me.  I’m sure she looks down from heaven and chuckles when I thank her.

I have friends who are on both sides of the aisle politically but we can have fun conversations about different issues without getting mean to each other or accusing each other of being horrible people or lying. Most Americans are like that. Most of us can separate fact from fiction as well. Maybe it is time for us to speak out regularly and forcefully when we hear or see the extreme behavior or outright lies. I was very pleased when CNN fired Kathy Griffin after her rude, vicious photo of a beheaded Trump. That is exactly what the network should do whenever anyone promotes that type of bad behavior.

After the horrible shooting this week at the Republican baseball practice, many of the various talking heads opined that perhaps now some civility shall return to our politics.  I hope so but unless we all take the pledge to try to behave courteously in our own lives, it is doubtful that society as a whole will do so easily. I will start by trying to remember all of the lessons my grandmother tried to teach me and I will add one that didn’t exist in her day: I will turn off the television or the radio or the computer whenever I hear rude or vicious or inaccurate facts from any source. Even if I agree politically with whomever is speaking or writing, if I turn off the source, perhaps some computer in the sky will know that I don’t approve and pass that on to the advertisers!

 

 

 

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Putin toying with the U.S.

For Christmas, a friend gave me a Trump catnip toy for my cat. She loves it. She plays with it constantly. I have decided that my cat should be renamed Putin since Putin is playing with Trump just as my cat is toying with her doll.

If Trump is not a paid employee of the FSB (the renamed KGB) he couldn’t be more effective in doing exactly what Russia wants. He has caused the Republican party to fall into pieces over differences in policy. He has removed the US from a leadership position in the world. He is seriously threatening the NATO alliance which has kept stability in Europe for over 70 years. He has put Putin front and center of the world which is what Putin wanted.

There are many potential reasons for the President’s behavior – true belief that the US should not lead the world, a money relationship with Russia that means he owes Russia something and Russia is calling the shots, or the Russians have material to blackmail him into doing what they want. Now that there is a Special Prosecutor, eventually we will find out the truth.  

In the meanwhile, probably little else will get accomplished. His core of supporters will stand by him unless they figure out that he won’t deliver on any of his promises to make their lives better. Those that were completely anti-Trump will become more so. The ones that were in the middle and hoped he would “change” and become presidential and get things done are still waiting for that to happen. It is only a matter of time until the Trump circus becomes so obvious that those that had hoped for change will give up that dream and admit there will be no change. Hopefully the system will keep Trump in check so that there is not permanent long term damage to our democracy.

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Trump Gate

As those of you who have followed this blog for several years know, I have criticized Petraeus and Clinton for risking intelligence. For a President to give the Unites States’ major opponent in the world real intelligence that was shared with us from an ally is unconscionable, insane, and he will be personally responsible if the asset who got the original information is killed. In addition, how many of our allies who have saved us from terrorists by sharing information will continue to do so? And if they don’t give us information, and Americans die because our intelligence community is not warned, Donald J Trump is responsible and should be tried for murder. (I know he won’t but he should be.)

Within 48 hours of firing Comey and saying he was thinking at the time about the “fake” Russia connection to his campaign and the White House, he met with the Russian Foreign Minister, the Russian Ambassador to the U.S., in the Oval Office with only Russian television allowed in. Trump said publicly that he did so because Putin asked him to do so. He then reveals the intelligence from our ally even down to the city where an asset discovered ISIS’s plot to use laptops, Kindles, etc. to plant bombs. He reveals it not to an ally but to the country that is supporting our enemies all over the world. Surely he doesn’t believe the Russians are not going to pass this on to Syria and Iran and Hezbollah? Or is he incapable of understanding how our enemy works?

From reports, our NATO allies are freaking out. What do they do? If I were England, France, Germany, Australia, Israel, Canada or any other ally, I wouldn’t know how to proceed. Do you give the information that saves American lives to the U.S. but doing so might destroy your intelligence networks so that your citizens are threatened? Probably not. 

His earlier bumbling and mistakes pale in comparison. And that is saying a great deal when those include firing the FBI Director at the time he did (when the Russia investigation was growing), asking Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, tweeting constantly false statements, and cozying up to autocrats who are destroying their countries’ democracies (asking the Turkish and Filipino presidents to come to the White House).  

Did he do this because he truly didn’t understand the risks? Or does he not care because his ego overrides all else and he has to brag about how important he is? Either is very frightening and leads to the question – when will he do something that is clearly impeachable?  

And when is our society going to realize that teaching American government and civics might help the public in the future to select better candidates and teach potential candidates how our system really works.

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Practicing Good Behavior

Logo_morningjoeRecently on “Morning Joe” someone started a conversation about how society has become so coarse, rude, vicious, aggressive, and even impolite. What a surprise! Many of us have noticed this for years – crude language in music, road rage, random violence increasing on the streets. We even have a man who admits in his own words to sexually harassing women as our President. So someone suggested maybe we need to start teaching courtesy, kindness, and manners to the next generation in order to improve America and its politics.

I was amazed that these talking heads were just realizing that if we don’t practice what we preach, people don’t respond well and children don’t learn. It did remind me though that I need to constantly lecture myself that when someone is aggressive on the road I shouldn’t allow myself to get angry. I should take another deep breath and think of something positive and go forward. This is especially hard for me with cyclists who ride in the middle of the road and slow everyone down. I want to scream and yell and honk at them and curse them for their rudeness – especially when there is a perfectly usable bike path. Therefore, I resolve to immediately restrain myself and keep my blood pressure down.

Since I work at home I don’t have a lot of interaction with strangers unless I am driving to the horse or eating out. But I will also try to remember to hold open doors for strangers and say hello to anyone I see while walking the dog.

Small steps but if everyone started thinking more about others, perhaps our entire society might start thinking that we can work together even if we have different opinions and backgrounds. The anger that courses through so much of our citizens just tends to breed more anger and violence. All the major religions teach the equivalent of, “Do unto others as you would have done to you,” but much of the world seems to have forgotten that lesson.

Morning Joe has reminded me to think about practicing graciousness, politeness, and kindness as much as possible. If nothing else, it will help me stay healthy by keeping me thinking positive thoughts not negative ones.

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MUNICH, WIESBADEN AND THE NORDSCHLEIFE

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The last leg of this journey was first to the city of Munich to visit the BMW Welt and plant. Unlike the Porsche factory and museum, BMW was larger and the facilities greatly crowded so it was not as intimate a feeling while doing the tour. The cars were exquisite, however, and seeing the new Rolls Royce Black Badge and the history of the 3 series, one of my favorite cars.

In Munich is the wonderful Rocco Forte The Charles Hotel and a marvelous restaurant, the Dallmayr. As they describe the restaurant on their website, “On the first floor of the traditional delicatessen, you can dine in the finest possible style thanks to Michelin-starred chef Diethard Urbansky and the attentive care of head waitress Barbara Englbrecht.” They serve only 40 at a time and the tasting menu was beyond melt in your mouth. My favorite was the appetizer that was duck liver with shredded filet of beef and rum pot. If you go to Munich, stay at the Charles and walk to the main square where there is constant activity and around the corner, you’ll find The Dallmayr. It’s a 20-minute walk but it is well worth it – both to walk off calories that you are going to consume and also to get the feel of the cross section of cultures and languages that now compose Munich.

 

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The Dallmayr

 

Our last full day was spent once again involving cars – on the Autobahn and on the racetrack at Nurburgring. From the Autobahn, we got a lasting impression of not only how fast the cars go but also of how polite and carefully the drivers are even if they are going 180 miles an hour. They use turn indicators and only use the left lane for passing. A complete difference from the way most Americans drive on highways.

After the four-plus hour drive from Munich to Nurburgring, we reached our destination: Ring Taxi at the Nordschleife. This was where we were to ride as co-pilots with a professional race driver around one of the most winding tracks in the world. Almost 13 miles of curves and different elevations where professional drivers test cars as well as have races. We rode in two cars – a BMW M3 and a Porsche 911 GT3 RS which is a full on race car. It was amazing to see what a pro could do with these cars – whipping around corners and going flat out with a sudden downshift to make a corner or to slip by a slower driver with only a few inches to spare. Truly one of the most thrilling moments of my life, and it was fun to have the driver ask if he was going too fast and for me to be able to say, “Wheee,” and egg him on.

Here is how the website describes the Nordschleife:

“Since its construction (1925 – 1927), the Nordschleife has enjoyed a reputation as a terrifying and merciless route through the Eifel forests. An English journalist who visited the Nordschleife during the opening race on 18 June 1927 even concluded: ‘that it seemed as if a reeling, drunken giant had been sent out to determine the route.’ The Formula 1 pilot Sir John Young Jackie Stewart – after all a three-time world champion in 1969, 1971 and 1973 – was so impressed by the circuit that he gave it the name which it will probably never lose: Green Hell (Grüne Hölle).”

After that excitement, we spent the last night in Wiesbaden at the Hotel Nassauer Hof with a lovely few of an old building which is now a casino and concert hall. It is a small charming town and is only 15 minutes away from Frankfurt airport and is a much nicer place to stay than in Frankfurt proper.

Germany and Austria are definitely worth putting on your travel list – and if you like speed, you must do the Nordschleife in either a BMW or a Porsche – or both!

If you want to hear me jabber and squeal and have 10 minutes to spare, here is the site:

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Vienna: One of the most beautiful old cities

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Vienna is one of the most beautiful old cities in the world. In my mind, it rivals Paris although much smaller. For four days we explored different parts of the city and fell in love with the culture and people.

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We stayed at the Park Hyatt which is a converted Art Deco bank, and door overlooking the indoor pool is one of the old vault doors to prove the point.  It has been beautifully redone with all the modern amenities in the rooms – beautiful deep bath tubs with separate shower with waterfall and hand sprayers (and a full marble bench to relax while steaming yourself. The rooms are exquisitely decorated and security is extreme – keys are needed for elevator and hall door before you use it for your room. But it is the helpfulness of the staff as well as the wonderful bar and excellent food and the location that make it even more special.

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Within ten minutes one can walk to the Hofburg, the Spanish Riding School, St. Peter’s Cathedral and Opera as well as every famous designer store.  (One of our favorites was the Louis Vuitton that had blinking eyes on the boxes in the display windows.  Some would blink once then twice and some would do three and four blinks.)

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We were there to celebrate a friend’s birthday so food and drink, as well as fun entertainment, was on the agenda. This included a marvelous dinner at the Park Hyatt bar and dining room and we can recommend all of the menu but especially the lobster! IMG_8869It also included a carriage ride around the center city and a tour of the Lippizaner stables as well as seeing their show.  Seeing so many horses perform exquisite moves and riders who do not let you see how they communicate with the horses (including riding the horses without stirrups and having them leap through the air) is an amazing experience.  Since cameras clicking and flashes going off might disturb the horses, no one can take pictures once the horses are brought in to perform, but you can see from the picture of the empty arena that it is fully decorated and the chandeliers are such that they could be in any palace in the world. The riding school has a fascinating history that includes their being saved in World War Two by General Patton and Colonel Reed in what was called Operation Cowboy.

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Beef Tartar at Julius Meinl

While in Vienna, one must go to Julius Meinl which is a gourmet food store which also serves a great lunch including beef tartar and sausages with fresh horseradish and mustard. And the Opera House is truly amazing.  The acoustics are perfect even if one is seated in the “nose bleed” seats.  We were lucky to see and hear Edita Gruberova who performed arias from multiple operas and who added arias for seven curtain calls.  At the eighth, she gave up and retired for the evening.  One of the famous sites in Vienna is the Hotel Sacher (home of the Sacher torte) which until I stayed at the Park Hyatt was my favorite hotel there.  It is the traditional hotel and is beautiful and steeped in history and if the Park Hyatt hadn’t been created several years ago, I would have stayed there.  It is worth a trip to the bar – which is a dark turquoise and is very elegant – if you’re not staying there.

 

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Beethoven’s Grave

Some other things to do in Vienna if you are have time are: visit the Imperial Crypt at the Capuchin Church and Monastery.  It is where the Hapsburg Emperors and Empresses (as well as mere Dukes and Princes) have been buried for centuries. Even Emperor Maximilian of Mexico is interred there; go see St Peter and St Stephen Cathedrals which are beautiful); visit the Center Cemetery which is slightly out of the city but where Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schubert, and Strauss are all buried within 50 feet of each other; go to the Belvedere which is an amazing museum a little off the beaten path but with glorious gardens; and don’t forget the Dorotheum which is the auction house that was established in 1707 and which has multiple floors full of jewelry, oriental rugs, statues, silver and furniture for sale or just to ogle.

 

Next time Munich and the Nürburgring!

 

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