Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fallingwater, Kentuck Knob and Laurel Caverns Trip

Fallingwater, Kentuck Knob and Laurel Caverns

My  mom was visiting from Bulgaria for two weeks because Victor just started kindergarden and since it was a long weekend we were thinking of an interesting place to visit for the weekend. We have already been to most of the major sites around DC and my Internet search did not turn up much until a friend mentioned Fallingwater. I had heard about the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house before but always thought it was too far from here so when my Google maps showed it’s only three hours away we were on. Some more online research gave me some ideas for side trips so on Sunday morning we all packed a bag and got in the car.
Fallingwater is in Pennsylvania, near the West Virginia border,  and the dricing through the mountains and small towns was quiet and relaxing. I decided to book our tickets for the visit on my phone because I had heard weekends can get very busy there so imagine my surprise when I discovered that all tickets for that day were sold out and the first availability was the next day at 1:30 pm. Plans had to be changed but it all worked out in the end.
Because of the ticket situation we made our first stop the famous Laurel Caverns. Situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains, not too far from Fallingwater, the cavern is less known than Luray but is quite fascination in and of itself. Devout of any stalactites, stalagmites and other such formations, the cave is a heaven for kids and adventurers. They offer climbing, repelling and spelunking but we stayed with the regular cave tour where we were taken along numerous narrow passages and some completely dark areas to explore the fascinating underground world.
 One of the coolest thing for victor was an area of the cave which is pitch black but lit up by colorful lights which light up by noise. So the group in encouraged to make as much noise as possible until we pass through because the minute the noise level goes down the lights go off.
But perhaps the most unique thing about Laurel Caverns is the mini golf course situated in a man-made cave within the actual cave. The atmosphere inside feels exactly like a cave, with lots of obstacles and dimmed lights. It’s a bit challenging for kids but we all had fun playing a round, even my mom who hadn’t played in 20 years.
This being a pretty rural area which no chain hotels the closest nice hotels I could find were in Morgantown, WV so we headed there.  Not to far from the caverns though we noticed a sign for a local winery and, despite the fact we are not big wine drinkers, decided to take my mom to the winery and let Victor run around the grounds a bit. Well, after missing the tiny sign for the winery and going in circled about a dozen times, we finally arrived only to find out that the winery was booked for a wedding that day. So off we went and after about 15 minutes of driving we saw another sign off the highway for another well known winery.  Well, unfortunately no luck there either because the nice owners of the place gave us a pleasant smile and told us that this being Sunday in Pennsylvania they had closed at 5 pm. Oh, I can’t say I miss that state… Clearly we were not meant to go to a winery that day so we just continued to the hotel (having driven about 10 miles in the exact opposite direction in order to get to the winery).
Finally we arrived at the Fairfield Inn Marriott which was such a hip modern place that pretty much did not suit the surroundings. But in typical rural fashion, there was a Cracker Barrel right across the street from the hotel and a huge shopping plaza right next to it.
As we used to say about Pennsylvania “What else is there to do in this place?” So after a “fine dining” experience in the Cracker Barrel (my mom was so amazed by all the chotchkies they sell in that place that we had to drag her out the door) we of course went to Target to finish the night with some shopping. Not that we don’t have Target here but there really wasn’t much else to do.
Thanks to my handy-dandy new large screen smart phone I was able to research the area and found out there is another house by Frank Lloyd Wright nearby so we decided to go there first. The house is called Kentuck Knob and is mostly famous for the Sculpture Garden surrounding it. So we got tickets only for the garden which was actually a huge meadow that is quite far from the parking lot.
Unfortunately we were very disappointed as most of the “sculptures” were things like a street toilet from 1920s Paris, a huge piece of driftwood, a mountain of small stones and a collection of white pipes.
Probably the most impressive piece was the group of hundreds of red metal flamenco dancers positioned in a huge square. Victor thought it was hilarious to hide between the figures and make us guess where he is.

Quite disappointed with the “garden” we walked down to the parking lot where we saw the only other interesting piece – a giant bird house designed like a mansion with multiple cubby holes for many birds.
I honestly don’t recommend people spend the time visiting Kentuck Knob unless you are an architect or someone with lots of time on your hands.
Fallingwater is only about 15 minute drive from Kentuck Knob but on the way there you pass through a very picturesque village called Ohiopyle which is the starting point of many rafting and kayaking expeditions and is located right on top of a very pretty waterfall. We had some time to spare and stopped to take some amazing photos.
Arriving at Fallingwater, we were ushered to the visitors center and given a group number for the tour. Tours left every ten minutes (if you had a reservation) and there were hundreds of visitors everywhere. Pictures were not allowed anywhere in the house (which I thought was weird) and they were so strict that they inspected everyone’s bag for possible cameras hidden in bags.
THe house was designed and built for the Kaufmann family (department store owners from Pittsburg) who used to own a small cabin near the main road and wanted a private house near the water. At that time (1936) Frank Lloyd Wright was in his 60s and getting ready to retire. The Kaufmanns shared his somewhat quirky visions and let him do pretty much what he wanted so the result was a house on top of a waterfall (literally). The use of nature within the house is amazing – stones from the waterfall are used as walls within the house, all the wood used in the house is gathered from the river and there are amazing views from each of the rooms.
Actually each room has its own terrace.  I have to admit that for its time the house must have been ground-breaking and I loved the minimalist style and the incorporation of water and nature inside the house.
However, by today’s standards the rooms are very small and dark (the husband’s bedroom only has a twin bed and the son’s bedroom is the size of a walk-in closet with a view) and there is something a bit morbid and cold about the house. But the tour was fascinating nevertheless and afterwards we went to the lookout point where we were able to snap the famous photo with the house in the background.
All this architecture left us starving so stopped at a little roadside BBQ joint and me and my mom had the best ribs I’ve ever had while sitting on a huge patio overlooking the mountains. What a great ending to the weekend!

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