Friday, March 29, 2024

The Olympics of Water Tasting in Berkeley Springs West Virginia

About four years ago I wrote about my experience with water tasting for this site. Because so much time has passed since then, I decide to revisit the subject since I returned to Berkeley Springs this February to participate in the event for a third time.

For those who missed my first water-judging post, Berkeley Springs, West Virginia has been the site of the International Water Tasting event for 34 years now and is referred to as the "Olympics of Water Tasting." 

This might sound ridiculous, but for those in the industry it's an important event, especially when it comes to the commercial viability of some brands, which use it as a calling card with distributors. It's also an educational tool, with live-streamed seminars broadcast throughout the day on Facebook, where experts lecture on the importance of water for human health and the health of the planet.

This year, approximately 100 waters from as far away as Japan were sent to the water tasting headquarters at the Country Inn to be rated by 11 media judges that included representatives from West Virginia Public Broadcasting and various regional and national media, including newspapers, websites, blogs and online and print magazines.

Judge School

Prior to the tasting, water judges convene at the Country Inn to learn the specifics of the job is and how to do it. The educational session is always conducted by Arthur von Wiesenberger, who's written several books on the subject, including H2O: The Guide to Quality Bottled Water. Von Wiesenberger's knowledge about water has continued to grow over the years inspired by the work he's done scouting out good water for Anheuser Busch and NASA. "They wanted water that wouldn't wreck their systems," said von Wiesenberger, who always manages to make the topic of water interesting and peppers his talks with anecdotes that always seem to elicit a laugh. 

Von Wiesenberger explains that the most common tastes customers experience in tap water come from a variety of sources: chlorine, chemicals used in water treatment, iron from pipes and storage tanks and sulfur, which usually comes from warm springs. In his other book, The Taste of Water, which judges usually receive at the event, a glossary lists sometimes humorous tasting notes, like wet band-aid, wet dog, flabby and flinty. He explains how water, when left standing, can become stale. "It's vapid, lacking freshness and sometimes tastes like old bread," he said.

A Trade Show

Prior to judging, guests from around the area are invited to vote on their favorite packaging in a trade show atmosphere as water vendors display their wares.

Wilderness Mountain Water Company from Bland, Virginia is anything but bland.
They won best packaging.

One year a distributor from Norway brought a water culled from a "virgin iceberg," with a price tag that raised eyebrows. I believe it was $80 a bottle, or some such ridiculous figure. I guess it would be a good gift for the person who has everything. There's a joke here about what you're doing with your money, but I'll refrain.

More packaging entries.
The Tasting
That's me on the far left sitting next to a morning show radio host who was a lot of fun.

I'm always amazed at the crowd the event attracts. Everyone from curious locals to water-industry professionals and Berkeley Springs tourism boosters attend.

Below you'll see Jill Klein Rone and von Wiesenberger addressing the audience. Rone has been with the event since its inception, taking on various roles, including publicity director, selection of judges, director, producer and emcee.

Jill Klein Rone and Arthur von Wiesenberger address the crowd.

After the glasses are all lined up in front of the judges, Rone and Wiesenberger kick off the event with a dramatic sweep of the hand as they declare, "Let the Waters Flow."

One by one, eleven media members worked our way through about 100 waters, representing five continents. That included humble municipal waters, along with sparkling and distilled waters. Each was rated for odor, flavor, mouth feel and aftertaste as we allotted points on an I-pad and a backup slip of paper.

At the end of the tasting, the winners were announced, and guests were permitted to approach the stage for the "water rush." This curious event enables whoever desires to rush the stage and gather up as much water as they want. (I was surprised to hear later that some even brought along coolers.)


Winning their first gold this year in the Bottled Non-Carbonated Water Category was three-time Silver Medal winner Eldorado Natural Spring Water, Eldorado Springs, CO. First time entry Piney Plains Natural Spring Water, Little Orleans, Md took Silver and Peninsula Springs Spring Water, Doveton, Victoria, Australia won Bronze. Rounding out the category was last year's Bronze Medal winner, Jano, Village-Blanchard, NB, Canada in fourth and former Gold Medal winner Theoni Natural Mineral Water, Karditsa, Greece in fifth.

"The consistency in winners from year to year with different panels of judges validates the choices," said von Wiesenberger of the blind competition. "It also speaks to the impressively high caliber of the waters entered," he adds.

Poking around Berkeley Springs

The judges usually take advantage of the time allotted the day before the event to poke around the cute, quaint, walkable town, which is known for its waters.

Berkeley Springs was once home to native Americans who used the mineral springs for healing purposes before settlers arrived. George Washington was even known to have frequented the area, forming the town of "Bath," which was the original name.

This is located at Berkely Springs Park, just a few steps away from the Country Inn.

Guests also visit the park to take advantage of the free water available there, which was a stipulation that was placed in the town's charter in 1776. To this day, people bring jugs to fill. I once ran into a couple who brought dozens of empty containers from the D.C. area.

Visitors will also find plenty of boutique shopping in the area. The Berkeley Springs Antique Mall on Fairfax Street features a large variety of items sold by dozens of dealers, from ephemera, to glassware, estate jewelry, furniture and more.

We also enjoyed browsing a candy shop called "Sweets & Shenanigans," which featured not only sweet treats, but gifts as well.
Spotted at Sweets & Shenanigans

Sodas, sweets and more at Sweets & Shenanigans

Guests can also poke around in the cute little library located downtown or take in a show at the historic Star Theater which aired its first movie way back in 1928.

The marquee at the Star Theater, which dates back to 1928.

A shop that we usually visit on our various excursions to the area is Rocks and Glass. The kindly gentleman there may even read your palm. This time he invited me back to his workshop to see some of his unfinished art.
The unfinished art.

The finished product.

We also browsed the art at the Ice House, run by the Morgan Arts Council. Located at the corner of Independence and Mercer Streets, the Ice House is a gallery showcasing the work of about 30 regional artists. We saw some very cool pieces there, including the beautiful wood objects seen below.

Good Eats

I can recommend the Naked Olive Lounge, located in downtown Berkeley Springs, for reasonably priced food. I especially enjoyed their pizza.

We've also had good food at the Country Inn where the tasting is held. Their New Year's Eve party buffet is dynamite, with great prime rib, oversized shrimp and delicious drinks.

One final place I'll recommend is Charlotte's Cafe. I purchased honey and brownies on the way out and then returned on the way back home for more brownies. It makes sense I suppose, since a pastry chef is in the kitchen.


In the past we've stayed at the cozy Country Inn and enjoyed it quite a bit. If you go during the winter, it's beautifully decorated for the holidays and guests can plop down into a comfortable couch to be warmed by the fire.

This time we stayed at Coolfont, which is probably beautiful in the summertime since it's located amidst a copse of trees. We had plenty of room to stretch out as you can see in the pictures.

Coolfont exterior.

The great room at Coolfont.

The bedroom at Coolfont.

The sitting room in our suite at Coolfont.

That's about it for today--hopefully this piques your interest if not about water, then about the Berkeley Springs area, which my husband and I have visited about half-a-dozen times. We're fortunate in that it's only about an hour-and-a-half away from our Central Pennsylvania home, so it's definitely worth the drive.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Romantic Retreat: Maryland's Antrim 1844 Is a Luxe Getaway You Won't Soon Forget

Gentlemen: If you want to knock it out of the park on Valentine’s Day, you can do what my husband did and take your wives to Antrim 1844 in Taneytown, Maryland for a romantic getaway.

I don't usually dedicate an entire blog to one place, but am making an exception for an exceptional property.

The Main House at Antrim 1844

Antrim 1844 is listed as a “Country House Hotel,” but it’s so much more than that in terms of beauty.

The historic destination is listed in the Select Registry for Excellence in Craft Lodging. It’s also listed in the National Register of Historic Places and among the Historic Hotels of America.

A Brief History

The property dates to 1834 when, at the age of 22, Col. Andrew Ege married Margaret Ann McKaleb, daughter of Maj. John McKaleb, who was one of Taneytown’s successful merchants. After the death of Margaret’s only brother and also her father, Margaret and Andrew inherited the 420-acre estate. Margaret hired Baltimore builder Benjamin Forrester and sculptor William Henry Rinehart to commence work on the sprawling estate, then naming the main building after her family’s ancestral home in County Antrim, Ireland.

Ege operated a plantation on the property, raising horses and cows and cultivating wheat, rye, corn, potatoes and other crops, before going bankrupt. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find additional information on the “why” of the bankruptcy. Because of these financial circumstances, Ege was forced to sell the sprawling property to another local farmer, who continued to operate it as such through the 1940s. By the time Dorothy and Richard Mollett came around in 1987, the property had seen better days, having been neglected for approximately 50 years. The couple had a vision of what "could be" and set to work, transforming it into what it is today--a luxurious getaway to relax and unplug.

A shot taken directly outside the Boucher suite.

The Mansion Rooms

My husband and I stayed in the only suite in the mansion, which is known as The Boucher Suite. The well-appointed room was equipped with a king-sized four-poster featherbed that ranks up there with one of the most comfortable beds I've ever experienced. The suite contained not just one, but two roomy bathrooms. The main bathroom, as you can see in the picture is not only large, but beautiful as well and the Jacuzzi is just one more feature that guilds the lily. One item that was missing turned out to be a television set. In the end, we didn't miss it. A balcony overlooking the well-tended grounds and the town were also a feature of our suite and something we may take advantage of in the future if we decide to return when the weather is warmer. One of the things that surprised us is how quiet our room was, even though it was located close to the second-floor landing. We saw that people would be taking the steps to their rooms and passing right by our door, but it was perfectly quiet and peaceful.

The Boucher Suite with a bed that rivals most others when it comes to comfort.

An over-the-top bathroom.

A balcony off the Boucher Suite overlooks the grounds

I would love to see this view in June.

I learned later that that unbelievably comfortable feather bed is a feature in most of the rooms, as are Jacuzzis.

Additional structures on the property where guests can also opt to stay are the Cottage, which touts some of the same amenities and the Barn, which contains two separate rooms, one with a deck that overlooks a wooded stream complete with a private hammock.

Other houses where guests can stay include the Carriage House, The Annan House, The Smith House, The Witherow House, The Zepp House, The Slonaker House and the Birnie House, all with similar amenities like the ones I mentioned before. And if you're a person who would miss television on a vacation, many rooms also feature flatscreens.

Award-Winning Restaurant

Many visit the property to dine at the award-winning Smokehouse Restaurant, which has racked up its share of awards. In 2020 it was named among nine other restaurants in USA Today's 10 Best Readers' Choice. In 2017, it won OpenTable Diners' Choice award and in 2020 it was also awarded the Best Historic Restaurant from Historic Hotels of America.

Photos of the award-winning Smokehouse Restaurant

The staff at Antrim were very nice and another added Valentine's Day touch was when guests were served drinks and hors d'oeuvres in the parlor prior to dinner.  On each day, we could also take advantage of afternoon tea that was served along with scones in the "veranda" room.  

These are just some of the reasons why Antrim 1844 is a lovely way to spend a Valentine's Day. If you're a man reading this, perhaps you should start planning for next year. If you're a woman, you might just want to share the link to this blog.

To learn more about the history of the hotel, or the many rooms that are available, along with amenities, rates, events and more, visit their website at

Monday, January 15, 2024

New Beyond the Battle Museum in Gettysburg Brings History Alive

In a darkened parlor, the thundering ka-boom of cannons and the whizzing of bullets spark imaginations.

Floorboards shake, as the occasional bullet strikes the side of the home and anxious voices in muffled tones discuss the horror of what’s happening outside. A dog whimpers, terror-stricken by the chaos. Some visitors get a lump in their throat brought about by the realness and the gravity of the immersive experience titled Caught in the Crossfire.

Children point to holes in residences. (Photo courtesy: Beyond the Battlefield Museum)

The exhibit is part of the Beyond the Battlefield Museum in Gettysburg and has been voted as one of the top 10 new museums in the country by USA Today. It uses cutting-edge technology to allow patrons to see, hear and feel what civilians experienced during the bloody Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.

Ken Burns, the well-known documentarian who created the miniseries, The Civil War, and who visited the museum in February, described Caught in the Crossfire as “visceral.” “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this,” he said.

Historian and author Garry Adelman echoed that sentiment. “I got chills and a little bit emotional at the same time,” he said--a sentiment that is echoed time and again by visitors, who often have to choke back tears as they imagine the emotional toll taken on the area's residents.

The 25,000-square-foot history center, located on Biglerville Road on the edge of the Gettysburg Battlefield, opened in April 2023, as part of the Adams County Historical Society. In 2020, the society launched a successful, $12 million campaign to construct a new, permanent home, which includes the museum.

The museum itself contains more than 1,000 artifacts and 12 interactive exhibits, including the accounts of eyewitnesses and their experiences before and after the Civil War.

To begin the tour, guests are transported back to the Jurassic era to view rock formations, along with a meteorite and dinosaur tracks, before moving on to learn about Native Americans and the lives of local indigenous people. The exhibit that follows describes life on the frontier, and guests are led to a recreation of Gettys Tavern, founded by settler Samuel Gettys, to eavesdrop on conversations taking place there in the late 18th century.

Dinosaur footprints and arrowheads reflect the early years in the area. 

Arrowheads tell the story of a prior era in the area.

The exhibits that follow are designed to educate young and old alike about well-known figures with ties to the Gettysburg area, such as National Anthem lyricist Francis Scott Key and abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. This museum, though, is truly unique in that it tells the stories of regular folks like Sarah Broadhead, whose diary helped raise funds for wounded soldiers, and Joseph Broadhead, who, blind in one eye, joined local men to fell trees to thwart Confederate advances.

A recreation of a tavern that existed during the war. (Courtesy: Beyond the Battlefield Museum)

Diaries are part of the exhibit.

Then there’s the story of Basil Biggs, an African American who served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad and later took on the unpleasant task of overseeing the disinterment and relocation of about 3,000 Union soldiers from the battlefield to the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, now known as the Gettysburg National Cemetery. For the families who wanted their soldier’s remains returned, Biggs was responsible for taking them to the local train station for transportation.

Basil Biggs had the unpleasant task of moving soldiers' remains.

Visitors will also learn about individuals like Meg Palm, Kitty Payne and others who lived during the era.

Meg Palm escaped an abduction.

Sarah Broadhead 1863 diary was printed to help wounded soldiers.

Joseph Broadhead was responsible for felling trees during the war to block Confederate advances.

At the end of the tour, guests can visit the gift shop to pick up a reasonably priced book, or other items as a memento, before taking the elevator upstairs to view the event center which overlooks the battlefield. 
A community meeting space overlooks the battlefield.

Adjacent to the community center is a research room that is chockablock with old tomes containing property deeds, maps, records of wills, Adams County ephemera and more.

“The destination is a spectacular evocation of not only the Battle of Gettysburg, but, more importantly, the people and the place. It’s a beautifully told story," Burns said.

To learn more about Beyond the Battle Museum, which is located at 625 Biglerville Rd., Gettysburg, visit the website at

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Sunshine State Journey--a Trip through the East Central Coast of Florida

A few weeks ago, my husband and I embarked upon a trip that enabled us to, once again, explore a state that promises something around every corner. This time our excursion took us to Titusville, where we rented a very cute and comfortable VRBO. Titusville is part of what is known as the Space Coast of Florida because it is home to the Kennedy Space Center. We chose Titusville after we discovered that accommodations were a little more reasonable than they were in Daytona--the area we wanted to explore. (For those who aren't regular readers of this blog, in the past I have covered the Space Coast and the many things to do in the area. You can read all about it here. Merritt Island is not to be missed if you're a bird lover.)

When we arrived in Florida, it was rainy-- a situation that continued throughout our stay. The locals informed us that prior to our visit, the area had dealt with a lot of dry weather, so they rather welcomed it. Because of this, my pictures may seem a bit gloomy.  If I were a beach lover, we may have felt a little ripped off, but there were plenty of things to do inside, so, for us the rain wasn't as big a problem as it could have been while we were there.

The Daytona Speedway
One of the first things many visitors to Daytona like to experience is the Daytona Speedway. Located in Daytona Beach, Florida, the Speedway is a racing venue that opened in 1959 and has been the site of numerous historic moments in motorsports, including the Daytona 500 and the NASCAR Cup Series season opener.
Daytona Speedway Photos, Courtesy Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors' Bureau.
The track's banking, with 31-degree turns, challenges drivers' expertise and adds an edge-of-your-seat element to the racing experience.
The Daytona International Speedway also offers guided tours, allowing fans to explore the garages, Victory Lane and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America

The Museum of Arts and Sciences
Not far from the Speedway is the Museum of Arts and Sciences (MOAS)which includes both classical and contemporary works in the form of sculpture, painting and other mediums. It's also home to interactive and educational science exhibits which cover a large range of topics. 

Within the MOAS campus is the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art celebrating Florida's landscapes and history and containing the largest private collection of Florida art in the world.

The MOAS showcases classical and contemporary works.

An exhibit I found particularly interesting was the Coke exhibit at the Root Family Museum at the MOAS. 
Vintage Coke dispensers.

Chapman Root was a Pennsylvania boy from Wayne County who moved to Terre Haute while serving as an officer and director of North Baltimore Bottle Glass Co. In early 1901, he decided to erect his own factory and did well enough in the business to buy a 160-acre silica sand mine just outside Terre Haute for glass bottle production. Soon he was competing against 11 other companies to make the Coca-Cola bottle. Root's company won the contract in 1915 and the rest is history. The Root Family Museum showcases Root's collection of Coca-Cola dispensers and memorabilia.

More vintage coke dispensers.

Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum

The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum

About 14 miles south of Daytona is the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum, which beckons travelers to learn about more about seafaring mysteries of the past. The lighthouse took one-and-a-quarter million bricks to build and dates back to 1883. At 175 feet, it is the tallest lighthouse in Florida and one of the tallest in the United States. Guests can ascend the 203 stairs for a spectacular view. and also roam the property, which is comprised of 11 additional buildings. Among them are the principal keeper's dwelling and outbuilding, the first and second assistant keeper's dwellings, a video theater where guests can watch a 20-minute film of the light station's history and its upkeep and more. Building #10 contains the Lens Exhibit Building, which is not to be missed. There guests can learn all about various lenses, including the famed Fresnal lenses made in France and a lens made by Chance Brothers and used at Ireland's Spit Bank Lighthouse--the last lighthouse to be seen by passengers aboard the Titanic.
Keepers of the lighthouse.

Taken inside the Lens Exhibit building.

Towards the rear of the property is an area shown on the map as "Coastal Hammock." I neglected to explore that territory, so when I arrived home and saw details in the brochure, I wished that I had paid more attention to the map they had given us. The "Coastal Hammock" was an area of importance to the lighthouse keepers in that it provided a source of items for their "cookpots," which included squirrel, opossum, snakes, birds, turtles, snakes and raccoons. Guests who visit are cautioned to bring bug spray since mosquitoes can be heavy during certain periods of the year.

The Marine Science Center

Located a short drive from the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is The Marine Science Center, a facility whose mission is to educate the public on marine education, rehabilitation and conservation. When we visited, I had the opportunity to pet a stingray and now if people ask me what that feels like, I can tell them slimy velvet. 
Guests can pet the Stingrays, which feel like slimy velvet.

The small facility doesn't take long to tour and visitors can view aquariums housing marine creatures and also enjoy the nature trails surrounding the facility. A priority for the center is sea turtle rehabilitation and guests can view the turtles and learn about the rehabilitation process. 

Frank toddles around in the recovery tank. 

Vero Beach
Next up was a trip to Vero Beach, which was over two hours to the south, but an area definitely worth seeing. It boasts beautiful unspoiled beaches along the Atlantic and features boutique shops for blocks. We're already thinking about staying in the area on a future visit.

Our first stop in Vero Beach was McKee Botanical Garden, a lush, tropical oasis that spans 18 acres of lovely, landscaped grounds containing a collection of tropical plants, palms and flowering trees. 
Water features include ponds, streams and water lily displays. The destination dates back to 1929 and was one of Florida's earliest attractions. 

An owl keeps a watchful eye over the gardens.

A unique bench to rest and observe.

Those with kids in tow might be interested to learn that McKee has a dedicated Children's Garden to engage the little ones in learning about and interacting with flora and fauna.

This cool, steampunk-looking telescope/planter enables visitors to see plants close up.

A giant mushroom.

The walk through McKee is beautiful and serene and on the November day when we visited, few people were around due to a threatening storm. Thankfully, we were able to take in the entire experience before the downpour.

The Vero Beach Museum of Art

The entrance to the Vero Beach Museum of Art.

Next, we visited the Vero Beach Museum of Art where the work of M.C. Escher was front and center. The temporary exhibit runs through the end of December and explores the graphic artist's mathematically inspired work. Escher lived from 1989 to 1972 and one of his most famous pieces titled "Drawing Hands" was among the collection. Note for left-handers--Escher was one.

One of Escher's more famous works called "Drawing Hands."

Another one that stood out to me was "Three Spheres," a study of reflective surfaces. 

In "Three Spheres" Escher studied reflective surfaces.

In addition to the Escher exhibit, the Vero Beach Museum of Art features a collection of American, Asian and contemporary pieces. It also offers programs for children, adults and families which include art classes, workshops, lectures and gallery talks. While we were there, a classroom of children were being led by a guide who was educating them on the background of the Dutch artist and his many works of art.

The Treasure Museum
Our last stop was the McClarty Treasure Museum north of Vero Beach, which is run by the Florida State Park system.  It displays artifacts from the 1715 Spanish Plate Fleet, offering an educational experience for those interested in exploration and underwater archaeology.

The 1715 Fleet, which was battered by a hurricane, was comprised of about a dozen merchant ships carrying cargoes of gold and silver from the American colonies to Spain. About 1500 men, women and children who survived the disaster made their camp at the site where the Treasure Museum stands now.
A docent stands at the ready to greet visitors and explain the story of the survivors and what has been discovered at the site over the years.

A recreation of an encampment erected by the survivors.

Artifacts found after an archeological dig.

Governor General Corcoles ended up sending a relief party to assist the stranded individuals and also recover the cargo.

At the end of the tour, visitors can climb to a lookout point outside to get a view of what the victims may have beheld. On the day we visited, the weather was threatening, so it wasn't hard to imagine how it may have appeared all those years ago.
Visitors can climb a hill to a lookout point at the end of the tour.

Well, that's about it for this blog entry. What may be surprising is that we did all this in a period of four days. Although it included quite a bit of driving, it did expose us to new and different destinations in a state that is just brimming with things to experience.