Field Trip: The Berkshires: Sunday

(See intro and Thurs-Sat if you want to follow along vicariously.)

Sunday:

Birchwood Inn - breakfast room
Birchwood Inn - breakfast room

After another breakfast at the Inn that couldn’t be beat, and a shorter walk with the dog, we headed out to Great Barrington to check out Asia Barong, purported to be “the leading supplier of sculpture, furniture, and fine art from Asia” and “LARGEST ASIAN STORE IN AMERICA.” It looks unprepossessing, sitting on a state road next to Napa and across from a small Sears store, but there’s a literal boatload crammed into that space, inside and out — about 50,000 pieces if you believe the advertising, and that doesn’t include the many annotated photographs of the owners in various locales, or the numerous newspaper clippings, citations of merit, signs imploring you to buy paper shirts to burn for deceased progenitors (“Have you honored your ancestors lately?”), and so on. We wandered, a little spellbound, for about 45 minutes.

Asia Barong - outside
Asia Barong - outside
Asia Barong - outside
Asia Barong - outside
Asia Barong - inside
Asia Barong - inside
Asia Barong - inside
Asia Barong - inside

From there, we drove a mile or two into the town centre of Great Barrington. We were thinking of eating there, and there are many good restaurants to choose from, but neither of us was particularly hungry yet and the dog needed checking, so we stopped, strolled, and bought a croissant for lunch at a coffee shop, and cheese, olives and Marcona almonds at Rubiner’s Cheesemongers. Hauled it all back to the Inn and commenced our repast.

Rubiners Cheesemongers (Great Barrington), 23 May 2010
Rubiners Cheesemongers (Great Barrington), 23 May 2010

Later that same day … we decided to visit Edith Wharton’s old stomping grounds, The Mount, in Lenox. The rain was holding off so I took advantage of the weather to get in a speedy walk while T. got the dog sorted; I made it about 2 miles towards my destination in less than 30 minutes, before T. picked me up and drove us the last mile or so.

The Mount, modelled on a Palladian-style English country house with classical European influences, was built in 1901-1902 for about $80K — including stables and gatehouse but not gardens, which were another $50K and which were designed mainly by Wharton herself — and has been steadily renovated since Edith Wharton Restoration was founded in 1980. The main rooms are finished, while the bedroom renovations and kitchen are still underway (but quite presentable). Renovations to the house and grounds so far have cost about $3 million, with the garden restoration, begun in 2001, accounting for $500,000 of that.

We decided to do the garden tour first, then the house. Both tours were well-guided and interesting, though gardens always trump houses for me.

From the house and terrace, the gardens grow progressively less formal: first two rectangular lawns, then down a level is the lime walk (linden trees) which leads on one end to a shady Italian ‘white’ garden with a rock fountain, pergola, white astilbe, hosta and other plantings,  and climbing white hydrangea on the stone walls, and at the other end to a French flower garden, with another water feature and formal perennial, annual and bulb plantings. Beyond these is a small stream and a more naturalised setting, eventually leading to the woods, which are planted predominantly with five kinds of ferns and periwinkle (myrtle) as a ground cover.

The Mount - view from Italian gardens
The Mount - view from Italian gardens
The Mount - view from Lime Walk
The Mount - view from Lime Walk
The Mount - Italian garden with rock fountain
The Mount - Italian garden with rock fountain
The Mount - faded tulips
The Mount - faded tulips
The Mount - living room
The Mount - living room
The Mount - woods
The Mount - woods

After a stop back at the Inn for tea on the front porch …

Birchwood Inn - front porch seats
Birchwood Inn - front porch seats

… we headed off to Glendale (very close to Stockbridge) for a fantastic dinner at Viva, a Spanish tapas restaurant. Like Rouge, the predominant colour is red and (unlike Rouge) the theme is bullfighting. One of my favourite foods all week were the alcachofas a la Romana here — fried artichokes, with lemon thyme aioli. So. good.

Viva - Alcachofas a la Romana
Viva - Alcachofas a la Romana

We also had a bottle of wine and the croquetas cremosas  (potato mushroom croquettes with a  sherry mushroom sauce), gambas al ajillo (shrimp in garlic, lemon, white wine sauce), the tortilla Espanola (potato frittata), and jamon serrano con queso (Serrano ham with Idiazabel cheese).  The portions again were grand, a great value for the money, and the service was very good.

Viva restaurant
Viva restaurant
Viva - table
Viva - table

Besides the food, the other excitement that night was that another diner’s car (a Honda) began to roll away from its parking spot. “Away” as in downhill, toward the road. I noticed it moving because I had earlier noticed the driver  come in to meet a guy who had walked around the restaurant from the back and who for about 15 minutes had been sitting on the front steps reading a pamphlet; I had seen her park her car, aligned with the other cars.  Then, suddenly, I noticed from the corner of my eye that it was not aligned, by a couple of yards. I mentioned this to T, who had a better view of it. He watched it and after a minute or two, he said, I think it is moving. I ran over and told her and she ran out and re-set the parking brake. Disaster averted.

And time for us to head home for bed.

Our continuing adventures on Mon-Wed. to come.

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