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Thursday, February 06, 2014

Valentine’s Day in the Panhandle

Written by  Marla Seymour

So are we all aware of the fact that we celebrate romantic love on a day of the year upon which St. Valentinius died for attempting to convert the emperor Claudius to a Christian life, circa 270 C.E.? His sentence was to be beaten to death and then to be beheaded.

Apparently, though, the guy could charm. After being arrested for being a Christian in Rome, a judge who was to sentence him was smitten when Valentinius healed the judge’s daughter of her blindness. The judge released the future saint and martyr, who went on to marry young men and women in Jesus’s name. Claudius ordered Valentinius arrested, and actually spent some time with him, enjoying his company, until Valentinius crossed the line by proselytizing Claudius. Don’t we all feel a bit used when that happens?

To bring us up to date (sorta), somehow both of these incidents of – if you ask me – ancient homophilic affection were translated during the Middle Ages into a day of celebration of “courtly love.” Since at that time most marriages were arranged to ensure access to property, maybe “courtly love” is as close to our “romantic love” as folks could get during the Middle Ages.

Anyway, here we are -- about to celebrate a holiday that is one of a few with which the Roman Catholic Church has blessed us. And the only one that we have to celebrate affairs of the heart.

But what about those of us who are alone on this holiday? Especially those of us (like me) who have been recently and rudely dumped?

My simple answer to all of you in the Baltimore region is to step outside of your comfort zone. Drive. East or west, it doesn’t matter. But don’t sit on your patootie at home and cry. And I urge you to drive west. To West Virginia, that is. If you don’t drive, take a train or rent a car. Bring a buddy to distract you... or if you're the outdoor type, bring your dog.

Since Valentine’s Day is on a Friday this year, let’s assume that you will spend the evening and the night in the area. Have dinner at a couple of pretty tasty venues – Dish Bistro (Wvdish.com) or Alfredo’s Mediterranean Ristorante (Aalfredosmedcafe.com) in Charles Town. Dish makes a real effort to be a farm-to-table restaurant, and I can attest that the food here is quite good. Alfredo’s is good, as well, with his Middle-Eastern offerings eclipsing the Italian.

Head out to Sweetshine Distillery (Bloomerysweetshine.com) after dinner. Off of Route 115 out of Charles Town (old Route 9) toward Leesburg, just before you reach the Shenandoah River, you will reach the gravel-road entrance to the distillery. Put your vehicle into low gear to climb the drive. Charming and remote, there is a small old log structure (very small – arrive early to avoid a claustrophobic environment) that is used for music offerings and limoncello tastings on Friday nights. Most of the music is folk and quite good. And the liqueur manufactured here is exceptional. Just check out their international awards!

Saturday daylight.

Access the Appalachian Trail in several places. Take the same 115 out of Charles Town, cross the Shenandoah, and drive until you cross the Virginia state line. Just after that, you will see a pull-off to your left. This is parking for trail access. Do what moves you about being out-of-doors and in wilderness environs. Bird watch. Light a campfire and fix some cocoa or make some soup. Absorb the solitude and make it your own. The peace and this natural world is your effort to amuse you. Ommmmmm.

If you know nothing of the trail, or wish to take a long walk rather than one to simply access a natural peace, take yourself to the headquarters building in Harpers Ferry. There, you will find maps, journals, reading material, advice, and a few, select bits of hiking apparel/sustenance.

Or walk through “historic Harper’s Ferry” itself. Bordered by the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, most of the old town is a national park. Peppered with small shops and food venues, rife with historic markers and natural loveliness, it is easy to kill an entire day here, just walking around. There are several short hikes, of all varieties of difficulty, recommended from the AT headquarters with Harpers Ferry as the starting point.

Or check out Martinsburg. And don’t wait on anyone else – buy yourself some chocolates at DeFluri’s Chocolates (Defluris.com). Enjoy the cases upon cases of handmade goodies. And select your favorites. Tour the town. This day is yours. Spoil yourself.

Then head out to The Club. Relax for a while. When the bar starts serving food for the evening, eat a bite… the food is quite good for bar food! House-made potato chips, for example. The place doesn’t start to get busy until at least 10 p.m. But there is a billiard / TV lounge in an entirely separate area to help to pass the time.

Whatever your style, there is something to amuse a lonely heart in the Panhandle. Most importantly, you aren’t rattling around in your abode, in solitude. And who knows, you might just charm a native – or even another tourist - during your stay!

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