We're in for a different experience today - we're taking the bus into Old Town Alexandria. The bus stop is right outside the building site next door and it costs $1.70. We have lots of quarters because we needed them for the laundromat and Peter only had a $20 note. We wait with a few other people, who all get on the bus that comes along in a few minutes. We're on our own. We have to catch a Rex bus - the blue and yellow one. One sails past - Not in service - and another - not in service. After about 20 mins, we board the bus and Peter empties enough quarters into the tray - the bus driver tells me that you can feed notes into the machine, it's easier - I smile and shrug - he doesn't need to know that we want to get rid of so many quarters! Riding the bus here in Alexandria is like riding the subway in NYC - every element of society is represented, some, of course, more than others. Ours is the last stop, at King Street station
. We find King Street - not as easy as it seems, and begin the walk down to the harbour. We see a sign - Visitors Centre, 16 blocks - it's a long walk, but it is an interesting street and there's lots to see - shops, architecture, things that are just different from home. We come across Market Square, with garden beds full of flowering kale - they look really pretty and must be one of the things that puts on a good show in Winter - most home gardens that we have seen have been very bare - perhaps that's because they would normally covered in snow. Across from Market Square is the Visitors Centre and the lady is very friendly and helpful, armed with maps, brochures and coupon book, we continue down to the harbour and the Torpedo Factory, which houses studios and display facilities for artists and crafts people - three floors - it's a wonderful facility. It also contains an archeological museum with displays of various digs that have been happening in and around Alexandria, and a very enthusiastic elderly volunteer, who latches onto Peter to show him a variety of arrow heads that dated back 3 000 years. Outside we go and walk along the harbour walk to see the paddle boat and find some lunch - the food court is closed, so let's consult the brochures. A short walk brings us to Union Street Public House - great lunch - Nantucket Cod Chowder for me - Peter had crab cakes with chips and salad, washed down with Virginia ale - and we used a coupon from our book. Good food, nice place, friendly staff. Plan of attack for after lunch - walk the block - find Carlyle House and do the tour
. Walking the block proved interesting with the different old houses, undulating brick footpaths, unusual street lamps, juxtaposed with the latest models parked cars - just fabulous. We chose to visit Carlyle House for two reasons - our friend, Jonathan shares the surname and it was the only stone house in early Alexandria. John Carlyle (with the stress on the -lyle bit) was an Englishman, from Carlisle in northern England, who came to Virginia as the representative of an English Merchant. He needed to make the right impression on prospective clients, so he built himself a house - it's built of stone because that was what he knew. The house has a checkered past, but it now restored to its former glory - gardens included. Interestingly, in its day, this house was on the waterfront - today, there are at least three blocks of houses between this house and the harbour - the result of marshy land being reclaimed. We spent a good hour learning about the house's history, and the Carlyle family's life within it. Richard, our guide, recommended that we visit the Christ Church, a few short blocks away and see the Washington family box - which we did. Another very nice lady gave us the run down on the church, and I finally found out why older churches have boxes - people wanted to be able to worship any way they chose - having a private box, with high sides allowed people that privacy - nowadays, the high sides have been lowered, but the boxes remain. You learn something new everyday. The weather had gotten colder and we needed to catch the bus back before dark so we walked back to the harbour, but not before buying a tea towel of the American presidents - I bought one of these 19 years ago on our honeymoon - time to update, with two new presidents since then
. We boarded the free trolley bus, which a short time later deposited us at King Street station, where our ride home was waiting. As we boarded, I explained to the driver where we needed to get off, but that we weren't sure where it was - 'No problem - you'll be riding for a while - I'll tell you when' - and he did!
Tonight we dined at the Mt Vernon Inn restaurant - a vintage house, right by the entrance to Mt Vernon itself, with diners in different rooms, served by people in period dress, with tables lit by candlelight, laid with heavy silver cutlery and old china - atmosphere oozed. Dinner was scrumptious - duck for Peter (what else?) and a pork loin, stuffed with apples and walnuts, accompanied by a fig reduction, smashed potatoes and green beans - divine, is too ordinary a word to describe it, but it's the only one that comes close - we both chose Mt Vernon wines to drink. This is one of the best meals we have had in the US, and in such a great environment, too.