Thursday, April 12, 2012

Our Virginia Vacation (History Lessons Included)

Day 1 - Left the Philly suburbs in the morning, and made good time to Manassas, VA for lunch and a visit to the site of two early and very deadly battles of the Civil War at Bull Run.

Saw a great film about the battles in the visitor center and then walked the grounds of the battlefield. There was a reproduction of an old woman’s house that was right in the middle of the first battle (yes, she died), a monument to the soldiers that died from both sides, and a larger-than-life sculpture of Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson, since this was the place where he got his nickname. Pretty cool.

Continued the drive to Charlottesville, and met up with the caretaker of the house we rented in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains. Nice property, and we found a great Mexican restaurant in the nearby town of Crozet - Cocina del Sol.

Day 2 - Relaxed at the house in the morning, planned the week’s activities and headed to Charlottesville to see a bit of the UVA campus and the downtown shopping area. The UVA campus was filled with visitors, but the downtown area was pretty quiet. After a caffeine boost at Starbucks, we went to Monticello, where we got to take the last “Slavery at Monticello” tour of the day.

Learned that Jefferson was probably more against slavery than I imagined him to be, though very much a man of his time who looked the other way sometimes and didn’t really expect that all races might ever live together equally. I think he would be pleasantly surprised by today’s world.

Heard a little bit about Sally Hemmings and her family and some other stories of slave families that lived at Monticello. Also learned that Jefferson was pretty deep in debt when he died, but did manage to arrange for 5 of his slaves to be freed, which took some financial and legal maneuvers on his part. Took an evening tour of the house, which was really cool. We got to spend a long time in each room, and see a lot of the books, artwork and architecture that inspired TJ before the Declaration of Independence and occupied him in his later years. What a fascinating life! Made it back to our little town outside Charlottesville to scarf down a couple pies at Crozet Pizza by 9pm.

Day 3 - Tuesday Started off with a drive to Lynchburg, about an hour or so south. Found a place to eat lunch before renting bikes for a ride on
a trail along the James River.

Next stop was another Jefferson home Poplar Forest.

It was smaller than Monticello and just starting to be renovated for visitors after people had actually lived in it through the early 1980s. Now a private trust took over the property in the middle of a residential neighborhood and they are doing research into what it actually was like in Jefferson’s time. We met some “agricultural archeologists” who were looking for old plant samples in the soil, so they would know what type of trees and shrubs to plant outside the house.

After that we zipped over to Appomattox Court House, which is actually the name of the town, not an actual court house where Confederate General Lee surrendered to Union General Grant on April 9 (day before we visited) in 1865. The surrender took place in the parlor of someone’s private home.

We never realized this was only 5 days before Lincoln was killed, and a guide told us it was this surrender which compelled John Wilkes Booth to act. One of the highlights of the trip was dinner next along the “Brew Ridge” Trail where team “Mario Kart” from NYC came in 2nd place at the Wild Wolf Brewery’s weekly trivia contest, beating out many of the locals!!! Gotta give it to Matthew for knowing that Magnum, PI drove a Ferrari! Lots of nice people there and we gave our prize $20 gift certificate to the crew of 20-somethings next to us at the bar who all work at the local ski lodge in the winter.

Day 4 - Wednesday

Drove about an hour and a half to go to King’s Dominion and ride some big roller coasters. The day was a bit chilly and VA schools were not on vacation, so the park wasn’t crowded and the lines for rides were short. We paid $38 / person for the day and went on tons of rides, so it was a pretty good deal. My FAVORITE was by far the “Volacano” which whipped you at a really high speed right away and then flipped you around in seats attached to an overhead attachment instead of strapping you down in a seat like most roller coasters. There was a stand up one with a loop (Shockwave) that I didn’t love. My second fave was the Dominator which Yamini went on 5 times. Trevor and Will liked the Intimidator the best which I liked for the 305’ high 85 degree vertical drop, but I didn’t like all the zig-zags at high speed afterwards. For dinner, we went back to Charlottesville and went to one foodie spot in the Belmont neighborhood called “The Local.” Good food overall, but nothing really remarkable except the truffle mac ‘n cheese.

Day 5 - Thursday -
Took it easy today and didn’t really head out for any activities until 1pm. Picked up some good sandwiches from Hunt Countr
y Market and Deli and ate them in the theater for the Hunger Games movie. Loved it. Great casting and really captured the spirit and best scenes from the book. Well done.

Got a car wash and went for a walk, then back to Belmont for a tapas dinner at Mas Restaurant. Everything was delicious!! Beet and tahini spread, tuna salad, jamon & manchego, grilled shrimp, steak, and good wine . . YUM. A great last meal in Charlottesville.

Last day of the vacation - Left the house in VA by 9:30am and actually drove a bit further south, so we could drive 40 miles on Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains Shenandoah National Park. Nice quiet ride with lots of scenic overlooks. Stopped at lunch in the town of New Market, VA for lunch at this great place called the Southern Kitchen off of Rte 81. Had peanut butter soup (!) good fried chicken and pork bbq and chocolate and coconut creme pie slices for dessert. Thank goodness the portions weren't too big. Got back to NYC by 7pm and ordered some sashimi and spinach to get back into eating healthy. . . nice to go away, nice to be home.

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