Friday, July 10, 2009

Catching the chocolate train...

When we were little, a Christmas tradition was making candy trains (they were easier than
gingerbread houses). A lot of white frosting and a bunch of candy would transform candy bars into locomotives; licorice into rail road ties; m&ms into coal; tootsie rolls into logs; peppermint wheels into actual wheels; lifesavers into the smoke stack; and Hershey kisses into the puff of smoke rising up from the smoke stack (and sometimes into Christmas trees).

I fell off the map on Wednesday, May 27th - well, the one of North Carolina, and into a pool of Chocolate (almost literally)! I entered the world of those childhood candy trains, and took off for an extended weekend of bliss.

Wednesday itself was full of packing and lazy travelling to DC, with stops at various thrift stores and second-hand book warehouses (ah, Second Story, my new-found love), and menu planning for a murder mystery dinner--British Accents and all. I found old friends and new ones, and probably stood in the cookbook section for a half hour alone. Then we met Lindy's friend Monica for dinner and a little more Bordering (Bargain Bin shopping, only! $1 book bins are amazing!).... We even had to unload the car into her apartment in Alexandria, VA in order to have room for our main event which started on Thursday--Hershey (PA) Weekend!!!!

Thursday was another lazy drive-- we knew we didn't need to be
in Hershey until around noonish to make sure we got our Chocolate Lab tickets. But Mechanicsberg called our name (as well as our costume planning), and we ended up at Fairey Godmothers Vintage Clothier after catching lunch at the Gingerbreadman (the local bar & grill--the seasoned fries were amazing!). We found the Major's va-va-voom murder mystery dress, and I gossiped with the outrageous proprietor about old-school film and how the Women was soooo much better than the remake (for the clothes alone!). B would have loved it--for the vintage cowboy boots alone!

We made our way to the Hotel Hershey where we were staying for Thursday and Friday nights, but they weren't ready for us yet. We checked on our Spa reservations, perused the gift shop and got a whipped cream, chocolate chip, and chocolate sauce drizzled hot cocoa at the Cocoa Beanery--and knew we were in heaven. As we headed back to the jeep, we were delighted to notice a little sign that said something along the lines of "guests of the Hotel Hershey receive free tickets to the Museum and the Gardens," so we started making
more plans!

The Chocolate Lab was amazing! Our class?

Where in the World? Learn some delicious geography by finding out more about the many places around the globe where cocoa beans are grown. You will be guided to recognize differences in cocoa beans' appearance and taste and make your own unique bar to take home.

I think I added a little too much chili powder to my chocolate bar, but other than that, the class was fascinating! I learned all about being a chocolate taster (my retirement career--seriously!). Just ask B, I told everyone who would listen all about it for the next few weeks. We couldn't stop talking about the free chocolate tasting we had done the last time we were there (each person gets one free shot, but they are huge shots, so all three enjoyed three different types).

We decided to swing by Hershey Lodge to see if they had the soft, squishy robes that both Mel and Monica wanted, and the Aztec Hot Cocoa that Monica dreams
of. Last time we were there, we noticed the gift shop prices on the robes were cheaper at the Lodge than the Hotel (I know--where would you be without my insider's guide?). We also realized that we were ravenous, so it was time to check in!

With our key, we were given Hershey bars, which was actually a great way to start our visit. And we headed toward toward the Fountain Cafe (the only restaurant where you don't need reservations). The menu there looked so good, we started trying to decide what we were having the next night and which was more important to have first--which is a great problem to have.

Funny enough, my favorite chocolate came that night as the after dinner mint. It was some dark chocolate, mint twig, and it was divine--smooth chocolate, but a crisp taste. I tried to find them in all of the gift shops, but I was denied. It was a little rainy, so we decided to hit the pool (hot tub), and were most delighted by the swimsuit drier--kind of a salad-spinner for swimsuits.

Friday dawned a little overcast, but after breakfast (with chocolate bread pudding in vanilla sauce), we started the day only dreamed of. Hot chocolate on the veranda overlooking the fountains? Perfection.

Having hot chocolate on the veranda overlooking the fountains between each spa treatment? Priceless. A cocoa massage, chocolate bean polish, sweet hands & feet, and a light lunch. . . could it get any better? How about a leisurely walk through the Hershey Gardens?

extremely relaxed bodies floated through. From the alphabet garden, to the rose garden, to Mrs. Hershey's Garden, and the arboretum, I don't think we missed anything. I felt extremely Zen in the Japanese Garden, though I wanted them to have one of those sand gardens with a rake--only life-size.

Those moments near dusk took on an ethereal quality, as we wandered the last of the gardens with live music streaming down to us from the Hotel at the top of the hill. Finally, the music of Bobby Darin and Nat King Cole pied-pipered us back up the hill to enjoy dinner during the sunset on the patio overlooking the valley.

We hated for our day to end,--we weren't quite ready--so we sat with our books in the fountain room. We talked about Hershey history and our favorite Spa treatments, sighing over what we would do next time and how we could start looking for discounts again. I wrote postcards to family, and couldn't wait to tell them what happened. Sean's text message said it all, "Are you in Heaven?" Possibly.

The next morning we sipped our last hot cocoa over breakfast, before hitting the museum; the outlets, and finally Chocolate World. The hardest part is deciding what to bring back. And how to pass up all that chocolate. The dark chocolate-mint shake was a nice parting gift. Making our way back to DC, it all seemed surreal--like some kind of washed-in-chocolate dream. We topped off an amazing weekend at a little street fair in the square in Alexandria where we met our dearest Sunni and went to Bilbo Baggins for dinner.

When we finally rolled into town with our prizes, we were plotting
our next Hershey adventure. Watching B's eyes light up at the gigantic cupcakes (really more like bowl cakes) I brought her, was just icing on the cake. Or maybe a light chocolate drizzle as kiss-shaped puffs of steam roll off a giant steam engine of chocolate dreams. . .

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