The Traveling Steve's

Deck the Halls in Roanoke!

Last week Steve (DOS) and I traveled once again to Roanoke, VA to see and assist my parents who are living at English Meadow’s (formerly Elk’s Home) Assisted Living. I took one last Leave of Absence from work for the year using the FAML Act so I didn’t have to worry about work while I was in Roanoke. I’ve previously written about Elk’s Home and my family many times, so I won’t repeat that, but will display new photos from our trip, such as this one of us decorating a tree there – more on that further below.

As I needed one more round trip for “Companion Pass” status on Southwest, (and assuming I won’t be flying them for work anymore this year) we made a fun day of travel each way to Virginia to secure the Companion Pass status. It’s really a good deal on Southwest as you pay for one ticket and your companion goes for a whole year for free (except for $5 and some change for tax).

The reason it took a full day was because Southwest doesn’t fly to Roanoke, and we had to fly to Baltimore (nonstop from Orlando), and then take the Amtrak train from Baltimore to Roanoke, which added another six hours to the journey. The Baltimore/Washington Airport (BWI) does make it super easy to connect to the Amtrak train though, as once you land and gather your luggage, it’s a short complimentary shuttle bus ride to the nearby station.

We had a two and a half hour layover (train-over, is that a word?) at BWI before catching the train, so we had lunch in the airport before taking the shuttle the 10 minutes or so to the train station.

Fortunately the Amtrak waiting area at BWI Airport is now complete (it was a construction trailer last time we were here a few months ago), so it was a comfortable place to wait indoors for our train.

The trains run more or less on schedule, and our left promptly at 3:44pm so we headed to the tracks around 3:25 right as they were announcing the train. We still had a short wait, but the crisp and cool Autumn air and colored leaves which were past peak, reminded us we were no longer in Florida. It was actually a nice change of weather for us.

We booked the Business Class section of the train, which is the last car on the long train, and had a comfortable trip going to Roanoke and a week later back to Baltimore. There’s plenty of room for luggage on the train in the large overhead spaces, and the seats are larger than Coach as well. While it was fairly full in Business when we got on in Baltimore, the train would soon empty out quite a bit when we got to Washington D.C. We initially sat together, but then spread out to our own row once in D.C. for the rest of the trip to Roanoke.

While the train made six or seven stops, all of them except Washington D.C.’s Union station were less than 5 minutes. The Union Station stop is a major stop with a change of crew as well as Engine type (have to change from Electric to Diesel for the onward journey to Roanoke and vice-versa on the return). Still the stop at Union Station was only a bit more than half an hour, and many people got on or off the train there, as the the train had previously started in Boston, and traveled via New York, Philadelphia, and and a couple other stops.

Continuing on to Roanoke with a new crew, the conductor re-checked our tickets, and we were on our way, glad not to be driving in the rush hour traffic! It started to get dark around 5pm, so you couldn’t see much once we left D.C., while the return trip to Baltimore was in the daytime, so we could see the sights along the way.

There is a snack car aboard which re-opened after we left D.C. and the conductor reminded us that Business Class passengers get complimentary non-alcoholic beverages. We also brought our own snacks aboard, but I still ended up getting one of the turkey sandwiches, and DOS got a pizza.

Once we arrived in Roanoke, it was close to 10pm, so we Uber’d to my parent’s former house where we stayed for the week.

Each day we were there we went to see them at Elk’s Home, which is an hour or so away. A couple days we took the Blue Ridge Parkway most of the way there, although one day we actually had a bit of snow, so didn’t take it then as it zigzags thru the mountains, and was probably closed that day anyway.

Our first day at Elk’s Home this trip was on Veteran’s Day. The staff at Elk’s had a Veteran’s Day ceremony in the activity room, and had several local members of the community speak. Mini American Flags were handed out to all Veteran’s, and Sharon (Activities Director) sang and led the song “God Bless America”. A minister spoke as well, and said a prayer for our service people and country.

As a side note, the tiny town of Bedford, VA (where Elk’s Home is located), is home to the D-Day Memorial, which is a few miles up the road. Bedford was chosen for this National Memorial as it had the highest number of men lost in service in proportion to the city they were from. If you are ever passing thru Bedford, VA, this is a site you should really visit.

We were thankful to be at Elk’s Home on Veteran’s Day, and share in the ceremony honoring our Veterans. To all Veterans and current service people reading this (as well as your families), Thank You For Your Service!

In the afternoon, we began the fact-finding work for our Christmas tree decorating; i.e. location of power outlets, surge cords, estimate of lights needed etc. The artificial trees were already in place and set up by the staff at Elk’s, and it was now up to us to bring the tree to life with our decorating skills.

We were all set to decorate ONE of the two large 12 foot trees in the activity room, but were asked by Sharon (activities director) if we could do the other 12 foot tree adjacent to this one as well! Apparently the people who had reserved that tree couldn’t do it this year, and before DOS could say NO, I say YES, we’d be glad too! My only concern was if we would have enough ornaments to decorate both trees, shown below (in the background) earlier in the day at towards the end of the Veteran’s Day ceremony.

So the next day we stop by the A.C. Moore store in Roanoke and bought a bunch of small ornament type things we could decorate with, and hopefully have the residents assist with as well. We also bought some 3000 new LED lights from Walmart to decorate both trees with.

Our first day of decorating was putting up the lights on both trees. The nice thing about LED lights is you can plug each strand into one another without blowing a fuse like in the traditional non-LED lights that could only accommodate three strands on the same circuit. As the Elk’s Home is over 100 years old, it really made a difference using LED lights as we weren’t limited on the number of lights we could use. There was only one electrical outlet in the vicinity of the trees (to be shared by both), so Sharon got us a surge protector with long cord which allowed us to put all of the lights up on both trees. DOS is the light king, so he took charge of the lighting, and I followed along per his directions.

The next several days while we were in Roanoke, we were busy visiting and assisting Mom and Dad with their appointments, getting things for their apartment, switching their clothes in storage from summer to winter etc. We enjoyed having lunch together each day either at Elk’s Home or The Train Station Restaurant. We always go to the Train Station Restaurant for lunch at least once when we are town, and Mom and Dad really enjoy it as well as us. My brother Andy even joined us one day after bringing Dad back from one of his Doctor’s appointments in Roanoke.

During our visits to Elk’s, we decorated the two trees starting with the several boxes of ornaments Andy had lent us for the International themed tree. Andy has ornaments from some 60 countries he has collected over the years from his and our family travels, friends, neighbors and co-workers. He also bought quite a few mini international country flags which we inserted in the tree throughout.

While decorating the trees, we had an impromptu craft class as well! Mom and Dad sat with us while we were decorating, and I gave Mom some 75 photos I had printed at Walgreen’s (4 X 6 inch size) which she cut and made into some of the craft ornaments we had purchased. She painted some of the boxes, other’s glued photos on (via Mod Podge – something new I learned from the friendly worker at A.C. More and really cool too!)

I also had bought a mini wooden Christmas tree and several other ornaments and table displays that needed to be painted. What started out as a simple project drew in quite a few of the residents who had seen us decorating, and wanted to help design ornaments!

It was really a blast for everyone, Sharon said they had more people doing crafts with us, than they do with the Activities staff! New friendly faces she said. They also served popcorn and Apple Cider, and it made for a fun decorating atmosphere.

Over the few days we decorated and crafted, I also hooked by MacBook Pro up to the large screen TV, and showed some photos of our trips, videos and played some Christmas music as background entertainment. I guess maybe the music drew people in to the room as well – something different and unscheduled.

By the end of the week, both trees we had decorated were done, and residents also put some of their ornaments on the “Resident’s Tree”, which was a smaller tree also in the activities room.

Here are some photos of the two trees DOS and I decorated once they were finished, and we had cleaned up the activities room from all of the crafting.

One of the things we like about the Elk’s Home are the long enclosed corridors which are ideal both in the cold winter months and as well as summer and rainy days too. The Elk’s complex consists of many buildings, most of which are connected by these interior corridors. The model in the second photo below provides a small scale setup of this large complex.

The hallways are decorated year round to match the season, and now they are transitioning from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas, although it’s mostly Christmas themed by now. There are also many Christmas trees in the hall corridors, although some still need to be decorated by the respective family.

Likewise, the decorations extend out on the lawn, where DOS and I took some fun photos. The Elk’s Home maintenance men start working on this yard displays and lights in October as it takes that long to get ready for the season. The official outdoor lighting ceremony is on Dec 6th this year which we will miss, but look forward to seeing the place lit up at night when we come back for Christmas. The Elk’s Home lighting show is a gift to the community, and during the season many cars will drive by slowly at night to see the lit up displays of the Christmas story and other fun decorations.

By the end of the week, we had really gotten a lot done and were so glad we could come up and help out. Mom and Dad got the family bragging rights for the next month or so, as well as several of the residents making their own decorations.

In the evening we drove back to Roanoke and had dinner either with my brother Andy and partner Art, or would go out to eat. One night Art fixed us his specialty home-made pizza!

We had a beautiful full moon that night, and I took these couple photos walking home from Andy and Art’s house to Mom and Dad’s home where we are staying, just down the street. After decorating the Christmas trees all day, and with the cold chill in the air, it reminded what the bright Star of Bethlehem might have looked like.

On another night, Andy got us free tickets (thru his work) to go see the Cirque du Soleil show “Axel” at the Roanoke Civic Center. We love Cirque du Soleil and were looking forward to seeing the show, even though DOS had read several reviews of this traveling show which were either great or terrible, with nothing in between the two. Axel is basically a colorful ice show with Cirque du Soleil performers, constantly changing lighting on the ice, and with a few aerial acts, all put to live ‘funky’ music (with an orchestra).

The problem was the area was dark and even with the flashy lights on the ice, it was a bit hard to see the aerial acts, although the ice performers were much more visible. We had good seats at the end facing the entrance to the ice show, but the performers still seemed so far away.

While I hate to agree with the bad reviewers of this show, (and especially because it was free for us!), it was really disappointing. As one reviewer wrote “I can’t believe Cirque du Soleil put their name to this show”, which I have to agree. The lighting was fancy and continuously changing the colors and mood of the show, but we were lost trying to follow the storyline, and the acrobatics seemed rather minimal compared to a regular Cirque du Soleil show. I really couldn’t figure out who the target audience was for this, kids, teens, adults, ice skating fanatics maybe?

I can honestly say we’ve seen much better, outstanding actually, ice shows on Royal Caribbean ships than this. Anyway, for what it’s worth Axel wasn’t meant to be for us, and we (and others) actually left at the intermission. Maybe the second act was better, but it would have to be a whole lot better unfortunately. But like anything, nothing ventured, nothing gained, meaning you never know unless you try something.

Our last night Andy, DOS and I had dinner in Roanoke at the Coach and Four Restaurant, a nice family restaurant that’s been there for years and occupies a larger former house.

As we had an early train in the morning back to Baltimore and connecting to our last Southwest flight of the year, we stayed at the Hyatt Place Aiport overnight, which we typically do on our last night in Roanoke. Even though we didn’t have a flight in the morning, it is still close to downtown where Amtrak leaves from and a short Uber ride away.

The train/plane trip back was long but uneventful and as it was day time we could see some of the sights along the way.

We had a two and a half hour layover in BWI Airport, which was nice so we could have an early dinner before taking our Southwest flight back to Orlando.

Back home in Florida now. ‘Twas a wonderful week in Roanoke, and I’m already looking forward to going back next week for Thanksgiving! Welcome Home!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *