Continuing our exploration in Roanoke (To start at Part 1 click here), you can't help but notice the majestic Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center. The hotel itself, built in 1882, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and originally nicknamed "The Grand Old Lady," is an elegant, Tudor-style, 331 guest room and 19 suite hotel that exudes period opulence and luxury at every turn with soaring vaulted ceilings, awe-inspiring frescoes, Florentine marble floors and other grand details and stylings. While there, we enjoyed a sumptuous meal in The Regency Room, which serves a lunch buffet that is absolutely to die for! Be sure to try their renowned Spoon bread and Peanut Soup offerings.

Another wonderful place to get a good grasp of the city's railroad history is at the Virginia Museum of Transportation. I have to say that even if you think trains are not really your thing, this is a fascinating attraction which is home to the largest collection of diesel and steam locomotives in the country, and boasts and expansive collection also encompassing over 2,500 aviation, automotive and transit artifacts. They Museum yard here is amazing as well, where you get a real sense of the power and significance while standing next to these massive vehicles.

View slideshow: Lots to See and Do in Roanoke (Part 4) The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center. , built in 1882 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was originally nicknamed The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center. , built in 1882 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was originally nicknamed "The Grand Old Lady." Photo credit:  Lysa Allman-Baldwin

Bridging the Gap

Although the demographics in Roanoke today are 66 percent white and 28 percent black, it was not always that segregation was a distinct way of life here. One of those demarcations of color was starkly evident at The First St. Bridge, which separated the black and white neighborhoods, neither of whom were encouraged-and in some ways, permitted-to cross over.

But in recent years, there have been many Roanokans, both white and black, who desired to make amends for this former divisiveness and come together to celebrate the diversity and inclusiveness that the city enjoys today, by honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., here with a renaming of the bridge and the addition of a statue of his likeness.

What you find today is the renovated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Bridge and an extraordinary, life-sized bronze statue of King set atop an approximately six-foot tall pedestal with a bronze street scene representing King and the various people of this nation for whom he stood for justice and liberty for all. On several sides there are also benches with audio presentations of snippets of his various speeches. It is a very moving tribute that must be experienced.

Artist Jeff Artis, who played an integral role in the creation and development of the memorial and bridge renovation, has also created a black history tour designed to share the history of African-Americans in Roanoke through words and pictures.

Our last exploration of the Roanoke area takes us along the magnificent Blue Ridge Parkway!