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Hot Springs Weekender: Day 2

20 Jan

Sat. Jan. 13, 2018:
Hot Springs, VA to White Sulphur Springs, WV:

It is a shame that we did not have a fridge in our room. The coffee was really good, even though I had to use that fake and gross powdered “creamer” in it. Or else learn to like black coffee? The two combined made for a mediocre but acceptable cup of coffee. Checkout was not until 11am and Brent had woken me up at 9am. We had time to go swimming! The plan was to check out the outdoor pool and then head to the indoor pool. I had deemed it to be not worth it to get a spa treatment to gain access to the serenity pool. Then I looked out the window. It was snowing. So much for the outdoor and serenity pools. We tried to enter the change rooms but apparently those were for the spa patrons. The pool change rooms were down a small set of stairs on the next floor down. It was confusing because we had looked there and the sign just said family change rooms were down there. The pool was very nice, with big windows letting in natural light. You could feel the hot spring water mixing with the pool water. As you swam away from the source the water became colder. Before leaving the pool, we hung out right at the source, where the hot spring water was being fed into the pool via a pretty fountain. It was so nice and warm. I wish the whole pool had been that warm. The change rooms happened to be right next to a door leading to the outside. Poor design, it was so cold and unpleasant. By the time I got to the shower I was shivering. The nozzle was broken so I had to use the other stall.

We packed up and got ready to leave. The plan was to get lunch on the way. The hotel was cashless and you couldn’t express check out if you had charges after 2am. It was not the best system- but then again that was what I had come to expect of the hotel.

It was so cold outside that the doors to the car were frozen (it had been raining when we pulled in the night before). Brent’s half of the king size Milky Way bar that he had left in the car was now frozen. But that is OK, because apparently this is a delicacy and was on our list of foods to try from the book, 1001 Things To Eat Before You Die. I did not get the appeal at all. No stretchy caramel, tooth-hurtingly hard. It was impossible and unpleasant to eat. We planned on having lunch in Covington, VA. Driving in the daytime we finally got to see the beautiful scenery we had missed out on the previous day. We pulled over at a scenic overlook and saw some natural hot springs. I got so excited about it, even though there was a fence between me and the hot springs. As we were driving Brent noticed a walkway leading away from the overlook parking. It would appear there was more to the overlook and it had not been made clear. Down the road there was a bit of a shoulder and we pulled over. Turns out the real draw of the scenic overlook was a waterfall. We stopped at second overlook and were treated to gorgeous views of the mountains and valleys. The gorgeous vistas soon gave way to heavy industry. We literally turned a corner in the road and around a mountain there was an ugly smokestack. The town smelled like sauerkraut, not exactly somewhere you want to stop and eat lunch.

At McDonald’s I finally got to try the buttermilk chicken tenders. They were good, but nothing beats a McNugget. The cup size was enormous. It was easily a litre. It got me wondering how much weight people would lose if the cups were simply smaller? Before we left I went back and ordered a caramel latte for the road. Our cashier had been weird and when I went back, I lined up behind a lady at the other register. The cashier stood there, not appearing to notice any customers, finally she turned and was like I could help someone. I let the lady behind me cut ahead. The second cashier looked at the weird one and laughed that no one liked her. It’s not that I didn’t like her, it’s that she was terrible at her job and id rather wait an extra minute to get my order right without unnecessary confusion. On the side I ordered a holiday pie and it was everything I dreamed of and more. A sugar cookie with rainbow sprinkles crust and filled with vanilla custard. Warm vanilla custard. Each bite was a tiny piece of heaven. I can’t believe we never got this in Canada. I am both mad and relieved (I would have eaten so many otherwise).

We were unsure if we were in West Virginia yet. On the other side of the highway we passed a Virginia welcome centre. And immediately after we said it out loud we saw the Welcome to West Virginia sign. We were staying at the Greenbrier hotel in White Sulphur Spring, WV.  The hotel was decorated as if Kate Spade had collaborated with Wes Anderson. Every time we stepped through a doorway we had no idea what to expect in terms of décor and colour scheme. Upon check-in we were greeted with a free glass of champagne. This time it was obviously free (unlike that first time when it caught us off guard all those years ago). After checking in we booked a tour of the bunker.

We wandered around saw the whole hotel. We found a proper bowling alley, a small but fancy casino, a movie theatre and an ice cream parlour. I had so many different ideas for what I could do later while Brent went running at the gym. After all that we still had 20 minutes before our bunker tour.

The bunker tour was 90 minutes long. It turns out that earlier we had stumbled upon one of the blast doors to it. We were very confused as it seemed to be a decoration, with regular doors where it would have closed. Adding to the confusion there was a sign saying there were more rooms down that way. This all got explained on the tour. The bunker had been secretly built while the hotel was building a new wing of suites and space for trade shows and conferences. It turns out that when there are events happening those doors are open, and the blast door is purely decorative now as it is bolted into place. At first the inside of the bunker was very underwhelming. It was just a plain exhibition room with high ceilings and giant pillars. Things quickly got more interesting when our tour guide showed us the giant blast door at the end of the vehicle entrance tunnel. The tunnel even featured a slot in the wall to hide the door so that exhibitors at the time would have no idea they were actually entering a bunker, not just an exhibition hall. We got to see “state of the art” medical equipment that had been kept in the bunker. I couldn’t help but giggle at the defibrillator, it looked like a 1980s robot. It was because of if that I learned that the robot from the Smash Brothers game franchise is not the Dr Pepper-loving robot from the cheesy 80s movie. The tour could have been shorter. At first it did not seem relevant to go look at the generator and the diesel storage tanks. Until she took us past them to a small room where the incinerator was. Now it made sense. If the bunker “had been activated” (I don’t know how many times she said that sentence) and the worst-case scenario happened, the incinerator is where they would dispose of the corpses. Even still, we spent too much time learning about the diesel storage. When we had first started the tour I had thought to myself that a decommissioned bunker would be great for safe storage. I really regret not having said it out loud, because soon after the tour guide mentioned that part of the bunker had now been bought out by a data storage company. I had been right! Dammit! The whole time we were not allowed to have our cellphones or to take pictures. To the point that they took all of our devices and locked them in an office before we started on the tour. At the end of the tour they made up for this by giving us free image postcards so it turned out ok.

We sat around the hotel room for half an hour. We were going to stop by afternoon tea in the upper lobby just after 4pm and then Brent would continue off to the gym to run. Half an hour was the perfect amount of time to enjoy an afternoon cider. The Woodchuck fall harvest cider was so good, it really hit the spot with the apple spice. The afternoon tea was an absolute zoo. The lobby was crammed with people clamouring for free mini cookies. We bailed and I walked with Brent in the direction of the gym, parting ways with him at the (very empty) café. I bought a chocolate chip cookie and ate it in the lower lobby while debating going to the casino. I was googling how it worked but finally I gave up and asked the lady at the entrance to the casino if it was cash or if I had to preload a card. I started out on a 25-cent machine but my dollar bill only got me 4 plays. On all of which I lost. I moved on to the 1 cent machine but now I was antsy that it was taking too long. I never did find a good groove, part of it is that you no longer get to pull the handle, instead you push buttons. Part of it was my confusion with some of the 1 cent machines having automatically multiplied bets. In total I spent $3, won 40 cents, lost 39 cents, and walked away with a commemorative 1 cent voucher for my scrapbook. I also met a nice employee while I was there. He seemed bored.

Back in the room I opened a nice cold beer. This time we had a fridge and unlimited Wi-Fi. The Purple Haze raspberry lager from Abita brewing was delicious. It was like a less fruity version of Frulii. Brent was going to be gone for about 2 hours. I had a fridge full of cold drinks and there was (as always) a Say Yes To The Dress marathon on TLC. I sprawled out on the bed and got comfy, I was in it for the long haul. The Redd’s Black Cherry Ale was delicious and the best beer of the trip. After 2 hours the TV shut itself off, I had barely moved and now I was being forced to reach for the remote like a sucker.

We had a 7:30 dinner reservation in the main dining room at the resort. The Cajun shrimp amuse bouche was amazing, it was some of the best shrimp I have ever had. We ordered appetizers and once again disagreed on whose pick was better. I was convinced that the beef carpaccio was way better then the fried oysters, but Brent disagreed saying it was the other way around. Yet we did not trade back. Having ordered some fancy juniper-ash encrusted venison for my main, it only felt fitting to have a glass of red wine from France. Once again, we disagreed on which dish was better, to the point that we swapped back. I was not a fan of the pork, it was rubbery. For dessert Brent ordered the Greenbrier peach ice cream and I had the lemon meringue. Both dishes were amazing. Who knew peach ice cream could be so good? After that we also got a plate of mini dessert as an amuse bouche. They were not as good as the actual desserts we had ordered.

We tried to go bowling but some of the lanes were not working and the others were occupied. We went back to our room to wait a bit, also giving me a chance to change into more bowling-appropriate attire (I was in a dress with heeled boots). I went back to my usual channel, TLC but there was a different wedding dress show on about designers competing to make a dress for the lady from The Bachelorette. It was alright, but thankfully the scroll at the bottom said there was another SYTTD marathon coming up. Yes! In anticipation of it I wondered if ever I would see a rerun. Thankfully they were newer episodes. At 11pm I was gonna go to sleep, but then the episode they had been advertising all day where the lady calls her (secretly pregnant) twin sister fat came on and I had to watch. What’s another 30 minutes I thought. Except then I looked at the clock, it was 11:40 and the episode was still not over. Then it dawned on me… how many more hours had I spent watching this show, given I had assumed the episodes were only half an hour…? I had to stop, I had to go to bed. If I let myself finish the episode I would keep watching the next one and the next one. What can I say? I love, love, LOVE, watching SYTTD in bed while on vacation. It is my idea of paradise.

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