Western Pennsylvania’s Surprises – Part 2

I know, I know–there has been a bit of a gap between Western Pennsylvania’s Part 1 and Part 2. That’s what happens when you follow a lazy blogger.

So, to review: my last post pointed out our mistaken belief that Fallingwater would be the only attraction the Ohiopyle area had to offer. Were WE ever wrong. Instead, we discovered multiple highlights, many of them located at the Nemacolin Resort.

If you have never heard of the Nemacolin resort, join the club. Neither had we. The Fallingwater website listed several area hotels, beds & breakfasts and inns. Because this trip was an anniversary celebration, a Ramada, Holiday Inn Express or Days Inn was not what we had in mind. Okay, the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort was a splurge, but was it ever worth it!

First some background information: The resort is privately owned by 96 year old Joseph Hardy III, who still has a home somewhere on its 2,000 acres. He leaves its day to day operation to his daughter Maggie, who also is the CEO of 84 Lumber, the source of Joe’s wealth. You can read all about Joe’s history in the lobby of the Lodge.

We stayed in The Lodge, one of several hotels on the property.

Well, not exactly ALL. You need to go to Wikipedia to learn that he had FIVE wives instead of the three the display fessed up to. His first marriage to Dorothy lasted more than 50 years, which means that from his 70’s until now, he made up for lost time by wedding 4 more lovely ladies. Three of his brides were in their 20’s, which made the 50 something woman he wed (wife #4) appear age appropriate. Unfortunately, THAT marriage went the way of the three before, and Joe’s last (possibly current?) Mrs. Hardy was under 30 when he married her. The display tells about his founding of 84 Lumber and its financial success, but somehow I find his marital history far more intriguing. Admit it, you probably do too.

Joe’s interest was not confined to women. He also was fond of classic cars, which are displayed in a “museum” on the property. Here are just a few of Joe’s toys. Notice the motorcycle? That is a replica of Peter Fonda’s wheels, built from parts of the motorcycles used in the movie “Easy Rider”. The Captain America helmet is perched on the back.

Right by the private airstrip is a hangar containing classic planes, including Steve McQueen’s, from a movie I didn’t see and don’t recall. Sorry. THAT museum was locked up, but if you have a burning desire to get up close and personal with those babies, you can call security from the phone helpfully placed by the entrance and they will let you in. We weren’t that curious, so the photo was shot through the window. I’m confident you get the idea.

Although there are many diversions to thrill children and teens, we didn’t partake in any of those.

Instead, we rode the “free” shuttle to the Frank Lloyd Wright “tribute” restaurant located in another hotel (each room at THIS hotel comes with your personal butler. If you are anything like me, you probably are wondering “what does the butler DO??? Hand you your slippers, floss your teeth? ). Lunch outside was lovely, but probably not worth the price.

The view from the outdoor restaurant

The walk back to our hotel, however was pretty delightful. In addition to stopping to visit the two museums, we enjoyed looking at the extensive sculpture collection scattered along the walkways.

My favorite thing, however, was our anniversary dinner. Pricy, yes, but very delicious and quite an elegant experience. Can you tell from the photos below which was the main course?

I chose the Wagu Beef, which is shown in the upper right hand corner. Makes one recall that commercial “where’s the beef”? Yes, I am old enough to remember both the original commercial and the political ad that used the phrase.

Enough about Nemacolin. I’m sure you’ve gotten the idea by now. ANOTHER big area attraction is Fort Necessity. I’m married to a man who never saw a fort that he didn’t love. Although this Fort Necessity isn’t very big, and is a replica of the original, the visitor’s center is fantastic.

I probably was taught this in either elementary or high school, but I had forgotten this fort was where George Washington started the French and Indian War. Here’s what happened: either the French or the British fired the first shot at Fort Necessity. The well done video makes it clear that each side claimed the other was the aggressor. What is important was the way the battle ended. The British had to surrender, and the terms were written in French, a language Washington didn’t understand. his translator wasn’t all that fluent either, and to make matters worse, it had been raining and the ink had run.

What Washington didn’t realize was that he had admitted to assassinating the French commander, and the rest is history.

One final note: if you are visiting the area, The Bittersweet Cafe is a great choice for breakfast. Don’t miss it!

Western Pennsylvania’s Surprises

Do you know where you find a section of the Berlin Wall, Peter Fonda’s motorcycle with Captain America helmet, Steve McQueen’s airplane, the Fort where the French and Indian War started, several Frank Lloyd Wright masterpieces, and a five diamond restaurant? Hint: check out the map above, specifically the Ohiopyle area. It doesn’t look like there is much in the area, does it? At least that’s what I thought till I got there.

Did you ever plan a trip, thinking that it would be all about a particular site, then discover that the area had a whole lot more to offer? Enough for two posts, even?

We were drawn to the area by a newspaper article I had clipped about Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater decades ago. It sat in my “Fun Things To Do” folder until earlier this year, when I figured we either needed to visit the damn place or throw out the clipping. If I had done the latter, you wouldn’t be reading this post.

A quick internet search uncovered a special Fallingwater experience–a sunset tour, lasting three hours, ending with appetizers on one of the decks. The tours are only offered on Friday and Saturday nights, are limited to 10 participants, allow interior photography, and include parts of the house not shown on the other tours. For $150 per person, you can pretend that you are a guest of the owners. Just our kind of gig.

The newspaper article included a photo similar to this one

So how was it, you ask? Well, the house was quite fascinating, especially given that it was completed in 1937. As you can see from the photo above, the house was built over a waterfall. When the windows are open, you can definitely HEAR that water falling! Closing the windows successfully shuts out most of the noise…and also the cooling breezes. Fallingwater, you see, is not air conditioned. Did they even HAVE AC back in the late ’30s?

You’re probably thinking “What’s the point of living over a waterfall if you can’t stick your 10 little piggies into it”? Right? Well, Frank was also thinking just that, so here’s what he did.

The stairway leading down to the water is pretty cool, but what is even more impressive is the way the glass panels slide away.

Do you think he accomplished his goal, which was to bring the outside in?

Here’s another example. You are out in the middle of nowhere, so window coverings are not needed, but in the bathroom, why not have planters built into the window to form a natural curtain?†

When we first entered the living room, it looked like the corner was completely open. It took a while to see what is obvious from the reflection on the window–that two panes of glass are joined in the corner.

Wright not only designed the building, he also created all the furniture throughout the house. I was surprised to see a king sized bed in the master bedroom. Our guide explained that it was actually two twins pushed together and united by a single headboard and bedspread, something TV in the 1950’s would never have shown. (It isn’t that visually interesting, so I didn’t bother posting a photo of it–everyone knows what a king sized bed looks like.) How surprising that it took about three decades for that great concept to catch on!

The kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms are all very small. The focus is on the large living/dining room and the outside balconies. Check out the banquettes in the living room. Not what I consider the most comfortable seating, but maybe if you imbibe enough from those nearby bottles, you won’t notice.

At the other end of the living room is the dining area. Are you expecting the tour to turn left or right into the kitchen? Well, it doesn’t. The kitchen is a tiny space down a flight of stairs and through a very narrow hallway. The owners clearly didn’t spend much time there. That was the domain of the servants. There are no photos, because the kitchen was so tiny, I couldn’t figure out how to frame it.

I was quite happy that our appetizers were not served in the dining room; instead, we enjoyed our hummus, crackers, cheese and veggies on one of the decks.

A staff member was getting everything ready for us. You can see from that blue pole in the foreground of this photo that necessary repairs are being made on the building.

While enjoying our appetizers, one of the other guests strongly recommended that we visit another of Wright’s nearby buildings. Kentuck Knob was built about 20 years later, for friends who were frequent guests of the Kaufmann family, the owners of Fallingwater.

Okay, so I know this is heresy, but I actually liked Kentuck Knob BETTER than Fallingwater. It has all of the usual Wright features, but it just seems more LIVEABLE. Interestingly enough, it is considered “usonian” (Frank’s term for his “middle income” houses.) This “middle income’ house was built for the Hagans, the owners of the ice cream company in Uniontown PA, and was sold to its current owner, Lord Peter Palumbo, who, since 1996, when not using it as his vacation home, opens it to the public.

A photo of the Lord and Diana (wearing her “screw you, Charles” dress) appears in the house. I grabbed this from the internet

Take a look at the cutouts under the eaves. They are a source of light into the living room and supposedly repeat design elements found in the building. (I’m taking that on the guide’s word. I couldn’t spot any of those elements.)

Notice how the carports–Wright’s invention — are nestled into the landscape. The hill behind forms a partial roof.

Although we weren’t allowed to take photos INSIDE the house, there was no rule against shooting through the windows into the interior, which is what I did.

Now take a look at the role the cutouts play in the interior space.

The wall opposite the banquettes is all windows and glass doors, offering access to a walkway and a spectacular view of the valley below.

The price of your admission allows you to wander through Lord Palumbo’s spectacular sculpture meadow. I was particularly taken with the part of the Berlin Wall. His collection also includes three red British phone booths at the visitors center.

I’m tired of writing and you are probably tired of reading so the rest of the area attractions I promised in the first paragraph will have to wait until the next time I post.

Patagonia – Our Final Days

I’ll admit it. I am a lazy blogger. It seems it always happen this way. I start out with great intentions, keeping friends and family updated as to our whereabouts, but toward the end of every trip, I run out of steam. Then, re-entry into our world takes a few weeks. So here we are, back home, reliving our wonderful time in Patagonia via photos.

Our last several days have not been recorded, so let’s start there. If you recall the map from the Punta Arenas post, you’ll remember that we had some very long travel days.

With a bus like this, however, you travel in comfort, and you really get to experience the countryside. There were only 12 travelers (plus guides) on a bus that could carry over 40 passengers! With multiple interesting stops along the way, time passed quickly.

On our way to cross the border back into Argentina, we stopped to pay tribute to Gauchito Gil.

Here’s his story: Gil joined the Argentinian army to fight against Paraguay. He returned to his village as a hero, but soon after, the Argentine Civil War broke out. He refused to fight against his countrymen, so he deserted. He was found in the forest, by the police, who tortured him and hung him upside down from a tree. As a policeman was about to kill him, Gil said, “your son is very ill. If you give me a proper burial and pray to me, your son will live. If not, he will die.” Despite the prediction, the policeman cut Gil’s throat. When he arrived home, the policeman discovered his son was indeed very ill, so he heeded Gil’s prophecy–gave him the proper burial, said a prayer or two, and (wait for it–dramatic pause) the son was CURED!

SO, today’s travelers offer a beer or some other tribute to Gil, as an extra insurance policy for a safe trip. As you can see, we were no exception. Hey, why not.


In addition to educational stops along the way, our guides kept boredom at bay by entertaining and feeding us. Laura, our guia excelente, donned that costume before she served us a wonderful treat. Yeah, I forgot what it is called, but I certainly remember the wonderful taste.

We were not without our national Geographic moments. As we drive the highways and by ways, we noticed several eagles and other large birds of prey sitting on fence posts. Were they watching the cars go by, as an avian form of TV? No, they had figured out that it was just a matter of time before some tasty road kill would make their grocery shopping much easier. Take a look.

Before we knew it we were in El Calafate, Argentina. The main purpose of our 2 night stay here was to view the Perito Moreno Glacier in the National Park.

We certainly did that, both from a ship and from land. It was quite a majestic sight. The experience wasn’t just visual, however. It was also auditory. We could actually hear the glacier groan and thunder, as parts of it crashed off into the sea below.

While in El Calafate, we stayed at the Kauyatun, a gorgeous hotel reincarnated from a former sheep ranch. Best of all, it is within walking distance of El Calafate’s charming center.

Our trip ended in Buenos Aires, where we had our farewell dinner, then flights home the next afternoon.

A toast to Laura

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when you have such an interesting, caring, informed, fantastic guide like Laura. We all truly appreciated how hard she worked to make this trip extra special for all of us. Her energy was amazing!

We also felt so fortunate to be a part of an extraordinarily compatible group. Our hope is that this will not be the last time we see these wonderful, smiling faces!

The terrific twelve