Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wandering in Virginia-Richmond,Williamsburg,Jamestown and Yorktown November 2009

Recipe for a Great Trip-Take 2 ex history teachers, add one available timeshare, mix in historical sights/sites, and sprinkle with fall foliage. Voila! You have a perfect vacation which is what the following was.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMER 4, 2009 2:30 A.M. Kathy Larson and I started our day hoping not to be fogged in at the airport in San Diego, Lindbergh Field. Luckily, all went smoothly and we arrived in downtown Richmond in our rented PT Cruiser.We packed our GPS wo we wouldn't be lost but an agent was not around to give us an orientation re the car's features. So in the middle of rush hour traffic we approached a toll booth requiring exact change, but we couldn't figure out how to roll down the window. I'm sure all the commuters loved us as we stopped the car, opened the door, threw in the change, and left-joy! How were we to know the controls were over the radio? I must say Richmond drivers are very patient!
Downtown Richmond, capitol of Virginia, is bounded by the James River to the south and I-95 to the north and east, very much in a grid pattern. The Berkeley,,a four diamond AAA rated boutique hotel with 55 rooms, was in a great location within Shockhoe slip, the restored commercial tobacco area. Our package included breakfast , valet parking, and some very knowledgeable hotel personnel.
Handmade chcolates on our pillow was a perk. The desk clerk recommended Juleps,, in one of the city's oldest commercial buildings. Walking carefully along dark, cobble stoned streets in 42 degrees we passed the empty farmer's market and reached our destination. Escorted up a spiral staircase we reached the dining room beneath an open attic with original exposed beams dating back to 1737. After perusing the tantalizing menu with the help of our water, Ben, we ordered Fried Green tomato Beignets with a roasted Jalapeno lemon aoli-YUM! For an entree I ordered jumbo lump crab cakes with black lentils, rice, and roasted sweet corn mixed together topped with a green tomato-avocado guacamole and coriander sauce-Scrumptious! Kathy tried her first Mint Julep (they even gave you the recipe). Not my favorite drink but admittedly, better than my first one at Kentucky Derby-give me a pomegranate martini anytime. I chose a glass of wine from their extensive list. Kathy's entree was the grilled New York steak with a blue cheese, applewood bacon crust served with garlic confit mashed potatoes, Vidalia onion rings,creamy spinach and sherry vinegar beef just. I would recommend this restaurant highly to everyone.

At breakfast we sought advice from the maitre'd and set off for the Edgar Allen Poe Museum where we squeezed in between two 8th grade field trips (they warned us,but we thought we could handle it.) Poe was raised in Richmond. This complex has four buildings with rare first editions, a gallery of illustrations inspired by The Raven, along with a model of early 19th century Richmond.
Our next stop is St. John's Church at 2401 Broad Street where in 1775 the Virginia Convention met after being asked to leave Williamsburg because of growing hostility between the colonists and England. The roster of attendees included Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, Edmund Pendleton, George Washington and Patrick Henry. Our "Patrick Henry", Ken, gave us a tour and delivered with gusto the famous "Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death" speech. To be seated in one of those pews where these men sat with our guide standing in that exact spot that those words were uttered was spine tingling to be sure. The surrounding burial ground contained the grave of Poe's mother and George Wythe, the first VA signer of the Declaration of Independence, and is shaded by the most colorful yellow-leafed tree which unfortunately gave off the odor of vomit! Seriously! Opting for the scenic route I-5 out of town we drove through pastoral, tree-lined streets admiring the fall foliage on our way to the plantation that was recommened we see-Shirley Plantation on the James River., It has been owned by the Hill and Carter families since 1638 when it was given to them upon leaving England. It is the oldest continuously owned family business in North America producing cotton (as evidenced upon the long rutted road leading up to it) soybeans, and corn. Direct descendants of the Carter family are actually living in the house on the second story today. We toured the first floor constructed in 1723 noting that the furniture, silver (made in England), dishes, pictures, etc. are all original. Our knowledgeable docent informed us that it was the only plantation around that survived the war and was spared because it was turned into a field hospital where the owners showed their great compassion to the Union soldiers by ripping up their linens for bandages. To save the silver they buried it all over the 3,300 acres and, remarkably, it was accounted for after the war. The grounds are beautiful with the original surrounding buildings consisting of the ice house, kitchen,pump house, root cellar, storehouse,dovecote, etc.. Hmmmm... no slave quarters shown. The most unique fixture was the carved walnut staircase which rises three stories with no visible support, the only one of its kind in America. The owner was very innovative in that he built grates into the floor of each room for the purpose of heating by underground coat heaters. But the the problem was the heat stayed in a column because there were no fans to move it around. Today they are tied into the heating/cooling system. It is a beautiful setting complete with the tree lined entrance reminding you of Gone With The Wind, but we pressed on to Williamsburg.
Arriving at the Lodge at Powhatan, a diamond timeshare resort, we were definitely impressed with the sprawling, lush grounds incorporating lakes, two restaurants, general store, fitness and business center. After checking in and some missed turns we drove to our unit waiting for flocks of Canadian Geese who took over the roads strolling leisurely with no fear of the cars. We had a huge two bedroom two bath, kitchen,dining room, fireplace, 3 tvs, washer/dryer nicely furnished upstairs unit with a balcony overlooking the forest. We made reservations at a historical Williamsburg tavern and set out for what we thought was to be a 20 minute drive but NO. After two hours of being frustratingly lost we gave up and ate at Panera on the way home. Everyone told us the next day to throw out our took me to the front of the tavern all right, but a screaming costumed slave told me that this road was not to be used by cars and I faced a $175 fine!!! In all fairness there was a car in front of me too. Street signs as you will find out in VA are not real visible and often missing. Of course there were no such thing as street lights in a historic area. The only saving grace was that we passed a Trader Joe's-yay! My fav. There was hope

Out the door at 9AM we were on our way to the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center. After researching the official site at, for background information we bought a two day pass and attended the movie, "Williamsburg-The Story of A Patriot", starring a young Jack Lord. The 37 minute film gave us great background. We hopped on the complimentary shuttle which delivered us to the Governor's Palace where we participated in an orientation walk with a docent for about 30 minutes. Then we took an hour tour of the palace, the residence of seven royal governors and the first two elected governors of Virginia, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. Presently, it is shown as the home of Lord Dunmore, British Governor, on the eve of the Revolution. Lots of swords and rifles were elaborately placed on every wall. Patrick Henry awaited us in one of the rooms where he answered any questions. After the governor's residence moved to Richmond in 1780 it was used by Americans as a hospital until a fire burned it to the ground. The kitchen in a separate building on the grounds was still being used for cooking demos and the smokehouse actually had meat in it.
We moved on to tour the Geddy House which served as a residence, workshop, and retail shop. We attended a demonstration/lecture by the shoemaker at his shop-watching him explain how leather was treated, wooden pegs inserted, and pitch and wax melted and pulled all to make boots and shoes for gentlemen. We appreciated the hard work involved. We visited several shops and admired the costumes rented by some families to enrich their visitation. Audience participation was required next at the courthouse, built in 1770 where volunteers are jurors, plaintiffs, and defendants for a mock trial-very well done. Unable to resist the stock we took pictures with our hands and neck encased-not a comfortable punishment, but better than hanging I guess. We visited the post office, the printers, and a foundry where upon looking down the barrel of a rifle I learned it was spiraled. We had garden fare at Chowning's Tavern and watched some of the speeches in front of Raleigh's Tavern which culminated in front of the Capitol Building. General Benedict Arnold rode up on a magnificent black steed while agitators provoked him. Again, very well done.
Our last tour was the Capitol Building itself where the General Assembly debated and framed legislation and high court judges ruled on the most serious cases. It is H shaped to show the division of the government between lower and upper houses. Weather was in the high 40's as we rode the shuttle back to the visitor center-the only way to go.

Today our pass expired. We decided what we wanted to cover since it is impossible to cover ALL of Historical Williamsburg in two days. The shuttle delivered us in time for an 11 A.M. tour of the De Witt Decorative Art Museum with English and American silver, ceramics, paintings, prints and textiles from 1600-1800. At noon we took another tour with an excellent docent of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, the first museum dedicated solely to American Folk Art. We wandered through both after the tours and headed for lunch at The Trellis Restaurant,, home of Death by Chocolate cake. Deciding to eat lightly we shared a peanut butter, Granny Smith apple and bacon sandwich on toasted cinnamon raisin bread accompanied by a small salad of snow peas, cooked carrots, peanut and peanut dressing in anticipation of sharing this famous dessert. What a delightful combination of texture and flavors in that sandwich-a must try at home! Anyway our 1,374 calorie , 6inch and then some, 7 layer extravangaza arrived. It is a chocolate mousse layer, cocoa meringue layer, chocolate brownie layer, chocolate ganache, mocha mousee, and chocolate layer resting in a pool of mocha rum sauce. Two cups of coffee each (to dilute the rich chocolate blendings) and 25 minutes later we had an empty plate (which I photographed for posterity -not that there won't be some lingering on my butt for all to see) and a picture was taken. After that it was time for a little retail therapy which included the Christmas shop (darling items-check it out) and the Nancy Thomas Folk Art Gallery, ,with a picture I covet of three flappers dressed ,of course ,in red, blue and yellow. For those of you who know me you know that I talk to EVERYONE and Jill, in this gallery, was from Long Beach. We chatted a long time and it was fun-she gave us a restaurant tip since she knew we were on our way to Jamestown the next day. Kathy found a darling metal creche in another shop with lots of cute clothes and holiday items, Wonder of wonders, they even had a Chico's in the square. The temps have warmed up to mid 60's today but nights still get chilly so we headed for home with a stop at Steinmarts ( solely for comparison purposes) and TJ's .

Boo... our last day of sightseeing. Arriving at the Jamestown Settlement, a new museum has been erected with a cost of over 2 million dollars -most impressive. Our journey back in time began at the Visitor Center where a short movie, "1607 A Nation Takes Root", gave us the background of this group of 104 English men and boys who began a settlement on the banks of Virginia's James River. Sponsored by the VA Co of London whose stockholders hoped to make a profit from the resources of the New World ,they were here 13 years before the Pilgrims. The galleries chronicled the beginnings in the context of the Powhatan Indian, English, and West Central African cultures and the impact of the settlement. We were made aware of so many more details than the history books told us. How I wished that I had done these trips while I was teaching US history. Because we have a 90 minute guided tour of the outdoor living history areas where costumed historical interpreters described and demonstrated activities we didn't have time to finish all the exhibits in the gallery. Our Powhatan woman met us and showed us the re-created reed covered houses, ceremonial circle and fields. One woman was carving a deer bone and another scraping the hair off of a stretched hide. Noting the differences in the chief's hut shown by bear hides and the the other huts we learned that a chief could have 100 wives. Our next guide was a gentleman colonist who showed us the James Fort which contained buildings like the storehouse, court of guard and the church. Some homes had thatched roofs and others the more flammable pitch and wood. A blacksmith was at work and a baker who used an outside oven . Continuing on our way another guide took us to the replicas of the three ships: Susan Constant (the largest), Godspeed and Discovery where one can board them and explore. For more information log on to
Temps were in the 70's today and time was precious so we left for lunch and the Yorktown Victory Center. We visited The Carrot Tree Restaurant, recommended to us by Jill. It used to be one of those 5 room strip motels on the side of the road, but is now a funky, neo green painted restaurant/bakery where comfort food was the name of the game. In 1984 the owner was challenged by a restaurant manager to produce a better carrot cake and she did by calling grandma for the recipe and baking until 3 A.M. The rest is history-a few burnt up family ovens followed by a commercial bakery and in 1995 The Carrot Tree. It is Williamsburg's only "scratch" bakery. You can tell food is her love-I had a meatloaf sandwich with cheddar cheese and Thousand Island Dressing accompanied with red potato salad-superb! Kathy opted for the ham quiche with marinated carrot salad and loved it. We took a piece of the famous carrot cake for later.
We reached the Yorktown Victory Center late in the afternoon after another scenic drive, amazed at the proximity of Jamestown,Williamsburg, and Yorktown. Finally, I got my Golden Age Lifetime National Park Pass (we are questioned everywhere we go for our age)after which we viewed another movie, "A Time of Revolution" which was excellent. Right on out for the 90 minute guided tour by Ranger Linda who showed her passion for this historic battlefield and love of history. After seeing the British Inner Defense line, the Second Allied Siege line, the redoubts and cannons we marveled at warfare in that day and age. Yorktown, founded in 1691 as a tobacco port, is now remembered for the Battle of Yorktown, the last major battle of the Revolution in 1781. General Charles Cornwallis under siege by 17,600 Continental troops, his escape from this peninsula blocked by French ships that have chased the British ships away, surrndered to General Washington and the rest... you know the story. Would our youth of today have the guts and courage battling with lack of food, clothing, ammunition,and superior soldiers to press on for freedom? I wonder and editorialize here, how anyone could not believe that divine intervention played a part in our achieving our independence.
Our tour lasted until 4:45 P.M. after which we did not have enough time to view the town and the rest of the areas including the Moore House where officers from both sides met to negotiate surrender terms.
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We freshened up at home for our last night's dinner in historic downtown Williamsburg at an authentic English Tavern, The King's Arms, opened in 1772 by Jane Vobe. It was so much easier (did I really say that) to find our way around now that we knew how the town was laid out and had watched where the shuttle stopped. Everyone was in costume. After being seated in one of the rooms by the fireplace,we we sampled peanut soup, a Southern favorite which sort of tasted like melted peanut butter, pickled watermelon rind, salty ham bits, and a corn relish. Both of us ordered the chop of Shoat,a maple and whisky brined double cut pork chop with tavern potatoes, cabbage braised with applewood smoked bacon, and creamed spinach with nutmeg and parmesan cheese, Everyting was good made more so by both a visit from costumed Jane and a serenade by a minstrel with a pocket mandolin. Authentically if you stayed in an inn you were expected to provide some sort of entertainment yourself. They even had pocket cellos.
The town is deserted and quiet by 9 p.m. and we drive through (courtesy of our GPS) the William and Mary Campus on our way back to the lodge.

We checked out and headed for the airport and our flights back home after absorbing and enjoying a lot of history made even more perfect because we both had a love and appreciation for it We absborbed ourselves totally in the experience. The fall foliage, lack of crowds at this time of year ,and sunny weather enhanced the experience. Our appetites were sated with fabulous food. We vowed to return to see what we missed adding Monticello and West Point which were only @80 miles away.
TIPS; There are many places both inexpensive and expensive to stay from the Comfort Inn to the Williamburg Inn and all kinds of restaurants from the unique to the familiar. BUT remember not to rely too heavily on your GPS in historic areas. Be aware that VA has terrible signage and street lighting. Allow for more time than the guidebooks say if you truly want to experience everything to the fullest. Do your research ahead of time using on line resources and friends who might have been there prior to your visit. Don't be afraid to ask for advice/opinions/and recommendations of all you come in contact with-be friendly. But most of all enjoy!