Railroad history, art, farmer's market, charm and more in the walkable delightful Star City with historic hotel and great dining http://www.offbeattravel.com/forty-eight-hours-roanoke-virginia.html

48 Hours in Roanoke Virginia

Few cities welcome visitors with the enthusiasm of Roanoke Virginia. That city truly leaves the light on, and in a gigantic way. The Roanoke Star, often called the city's front porch light, is almost 90 feet tall and uses 2,000 of neon tubing to make it shine every night. From its perch on Mill Mountain the star can be seen from about 60 miles away.

Beyond that welcoming light, there is much to see in Star City.

Our New Book

Day One: Explore Roanoke's Railroad History and its Art

Virginia Transportation Museum

The city has always been a transportation hub since the 1880s. Much of that history is on display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

The museum's collection of trains may be its star attraction. After the Civil War it was the confluence of railway lines that drove the city's economy. On display are articulated trains that can bend around curves and featuring all wheel drive -- both back and front wheels "drive" the train. Stand next to giant coal hauling trains like Train 2156 built in 1942 and train 1218 which hauled freight and passengers. Built in Roanoke the 1218 was still chugging until 1956. Train 6 was built in 1897 and is one of the oldest trains in the collection. It was used for passenger service.

O. Winston Link Museum

The hegemony of the steam engine didn't last forever. Gradually the more efficient and stream-lined diesel engine eclipsed the more romantic massive steam engine. The O. Winston Link Museum, now part of The History Museum of Western Virginia, documents the final stages of the steam engines dominance.

More than 2000 images taken by O. Winston focused on the Norfolk & Western Railway, which was the last of the major lines to abandon steam for diesel. Link also collected reels filled with the sounds of trains and their last trips.

The huge image that greets visitors tells the story -- there are men working diligently to keep the huge steam train running, with one staring at the camera looking a bit overwhelmed. Dirt and smoke billow out. One can almost here the noise. It is perhaps Link's most iconic image.

The collection goes beyond displaying his prints to include his photographic equipment. He was considered a pioneer of night photography and an interactive exhibit allows visitors to see where Link set up lights to illuminate his night-time scenes.

Taubman Museum of Art

The Taubman Museum of Art is just across the railroad tracks juxtaposing art with transportation. Designed by Randall Stout, who had previously worked with Frank Gehry, the Taubman modernistic building reflects aspects of the upthrusts of mountains growing up and out of the ground into the air.

The collection focuses on American art up to contemporary artists living today. Its strength is the diversity of its collection and the creativity of its exhibits and themes. Visitors will find thought-provoking art and artists rather than works of Old Masters and Impressionists. The one perennial is the continuing display of the tiny jeweled purses of Judith Leiber -- part of the extensive collection donated to the museum by Rosalie & Sidney.

Another creative touch is their Spotlight Exhibition -- the museum selects a piece of art from their collection and makes it the nucleus of an exhibit adding pieces on loan from other museums and collections to provide a fuller understanding of the art and the artist.

The Taubman is very much a valued community resource offering a full program of tours, classes, workshops, and special events.

Artist's Warehouse

For more art and a peek into artists at work, visit 1921 Power Street #9B1. This huge unheated space was once the American Vicos plant and now provides artists with work and gallery space. Watch several artists, including Ann Glover, and Heath Nevergold, as well as violin-maker Patrick Toole.
Railroad history, art, farmer's market, charm and more in the walkable delightful Star City with historic hotel and great dining http://www.offbeattravel.com/forty-eight-hours-roanoke-virginia.html

Day Two: From Center of the Square to Mill Mountain

Center in the Square

The centerpiece of downtown Roanoke is Center in the Square in a repurposed seed and feed (something or another) it now holds museums and cultural institutions, as well as a bit of fun. Take in a performance at the Mill Mountain Theatre, watch the sea-life at the aquarium, explore African American history, enjoy hands-on learning in the Science Museum, and try to become a pinball wizard. Plus, a children's museum, butterfly garden, and more.

Don't miss the Roanoke City Market. Explore the forty to fifty vendors purveying everything from fresh fruit and vegetables meats, cheeses and baked goods, to hand-crafted furniture. If pottery is your thing, check out Blue Heron Pottery -- Jayn Avery impresses lace onto her slab stoneware and hand sculpted bowls and planters. The Market is open 7 days a week, year-round, from 8:00am - 5:00pm

Mill Mountain Park

Lovers of the outdoors, hikers, mountain bikers, and those who simply like to wander through verdant woods, will want to head up to Mill Mountain Park. Encompassion 568 acres with over 10 miles of trails, the Discovery Center, and a seasonal Breakfast with the Animals at the park's small zoo.

Where to Eat and Sleep

Where to Eat

These restaurants are all or around downtown Roanoke, but there are other great places in some of the special neighborhoods like Grandin, and Salem.

Fortunato This well-reviewed Italian style restaurant shines when it comes to pasta offering several distinctive and delicious different dishes. The other entrees were also excellent -- great ingredients, thoughtfully prepared. Their signature cocktail is Il Citro was a light and refreshing winner.

Billy's Referred to as "elevated American dining" and it is all three. From the starters to the sandwiches the food is consistently outstanding.

River and Rail The most important thing to know about this casual bistro is that it takes food very, very seriously. Everything is made in house, from scratch with local and seasonal ingredients. Their culinary magic made a simple chicken breast with chicken Jus into one of the best dishes ever. Served with an ancient grain called farro that was nutty and delicious.

Where to Sleep

Hotel Roanoke Hotel Roanoke, built by railroad magnate Frederick J. Kimball who forged the Norfolk and Western Railroad, became a haven for travelers along the line. The luxury hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

Executive Chef Stephen DeMarco and Chef de Cuisine Colin Lloyd provide divine dishes in the elegant Regency Room

Stop and admire the murals over the entrance by Hugo Ohlms depict moments of Virginia history -- the landing in Jamestown in 1607 through the Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781. There's other beautiful murals throughout the lobby area as well.

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Neala McCarten


May 27, 2017
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