Tag Archives: Charlottesville

May 2016 Roadtrip: Back to Charlottesville and Shenandoah

We kept coming back to Charlottesville in 2016. We had spent some time there in the December drizzle, and had stopped off for dinner on our way back from Asheville. This roadtrip we decided to head there for brunch and visit Monticello in (we hoped) the sunshine.

It turned out that we were visiting on UVA’s graduation day, so things were busy, and parking was a challenge. Luckily we were there pretty early for brunch, and managed to get a table at the charming Pigeon Hole, on their porch in the early morning sunshine.

At the college itself all the chairs were set out ready for the outdoor ceremony. I hope the weather held for them, as it was about to turn on us…


Importantly, the sunshine held out for our visit to Monticello. This time we could see some of the views – and could even see the house from the end of the lawn.


It was then time to head to Shenandoah, and drive that familiar-to-us Skyline Drive to Big Meadows lodge, where we were staying that night. And here, just before the bend to the lodge, in our last month in the States, we finally saw a bear!

You may need to zoom, but it is a bear I promise!


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Birthday Road Trip: Charlottesville

This was our first time in Charlottesville. (I wrote about our second time there, and one of its really great restaurants, here).

We arrived in Charlottesville late afternoon, just in time to have a wander around the University of Virginia campus as the sun set. The university was designed by Thomas Jefferson, who believed strongly that America should have a public system of higher education and – radically – that this education should not be linked to religion. Rather than being centred around a church or chapel, UVA was designed around a rotunda, which housed the library.

The university campus is very open to the public, and we enjoyed walking in the cloisters, and peeking into the little rooms where presumably students used to live and work, and some where it looked like they still do.


I wasn’t sure what Jefferson would make of the Greek life aspects of UVA. We walked around the streets that house the large fraternity houses, wondering if Jefferson had intended to create such a patrician class within the new republic. It’s an aspect of US higher education that’s completely foreign to me, and I tend to regard it with the suspicion with which I regard secret societies. They certainly looked rather creepy as dusk fell…

A positive result of Charlottesville being a university town, is that it has a good town centre – plenty of restaurants along the main road, a nice old cinema, a theatre in a complex near the station, and a downtown mall – or as we in the UK would call it, a pedestrianised shopping street. We loved the atmosphere here, and wished we hadn’t overindulged so much over Christmas and on our way. Interestingly, as the mainstreets in Charlottesville are thriving, it’s the out of town shopping malls that are declining. We went to one the next morning, in search of breakfast on the road, and found it almost deserted, despite it being prime sales season.

We were on the road because we were on our way to see Jefferson’s Monticello – one of the prime objects of this trip. Unfortunately it wasn’t great weather, and we walked up the hill from the carpark through a dripping mist, and on reaching the top could barely see the house at the other end of the lawn. Apparently there are amazing views of the surrounding mountains normally, but we didn’t see any of that on the day we visited…


However the house was fascinating, and we thoroughly enjoyed our tour. Jefferson was a great experimenter – and inventor – as well as a thorough bibliophile. There were so many little touches in the house that interested me, that I’m not sure I can do it justice.

For example, there was the clock, that worked with a system of weights and for which the lobby wasn’t quite tall enough – so Jefferson cut holes in the floor for the weights to descend into the basement.

There were the French style beds, either snugly fitted into the walls of the bedrooms, or between two rooms as in Jefferson’s suite. We were told that every morning Jefferson put his feet into a bowl of cold water, to ward off colds (apparently this was successful). Next to the bed you could see where splashed water had worn away at the floor boards.

And there was the French-style dining room, designed to hide the slaves as much as possible, as they went about producing dishes for the guests.

Because it was out of season, we weren’t able to go on the special tour of the slave quarters, and Mulberry Row (the principal plantation street), but we were able to walk around ourselves and read the information provided about them. The guides were rather coy about discussing Jefferson’s liaison with his slave Sally Hemings, with whom he is believed to have fathered six children. In fact, the guides seemed incredibly uncomfortable to be talking about this in Jefferson’s house. I couldn’t help but think that if Monticello was run by the National Parks Service we would have had a far better discussion of this. Instead, it’s run by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, a nonprofit corporation.

I was interested to learn about Jefferson’s relationship with his daughters, though. Although they were destined to become plantation wives – like their mother, who gave birth to six children in ten years – Jefferson was intent that they should have a solid education. This was because he recognised that they would be largely responsible for the education of their children – not because he thought women should do anything else with their lives. I was also struck by the fact that he took it upon himself to name a number of his grandchildren; his daughter Martha had twelve children, including ‘Thomas Jefferson Randolph’, ‘James Madison Randolph’, ‘Benjamin Franklin Randolph’, and ‘Meriwether Lewis Randolph’!

So it was with a lot to think about and discuss that we left Monticello and headed up to Sperryville.

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Asheville: driving home via Charlottesville

Sunday came too soon. I gave my conference paper, changed into more comfortable clothes, and we were on our way.

Even though we were taking a quicker route of main roads, the first hour or so out of Asheville was still beautiful, as we drove through some of the eastern ridge of the Blue Mountains, into Tennessee briefly, and down again to Johnson City. We took the I-81 back to Fort Chiswell and from there we were retracing our steps. But we weren’t done with sightseeing yet.

On the way down we had been intent on getting to the Blue Mountains, but now we had a bit of time to stop for a much-needed break at an attraction near Roanoke called the Natural Bridge. The weather wasn’t great, but we still enjoyed our little walk down a gorge to see the ‘bridge’. It’s even possible to walk underneath it, or sit and take in a lecture about the natural wonder – or a sermon…


Past the bridge there are various nature walks and things to see, including a recreation of a native American village. We figured that this was probably one of those places that Virginian school children get taken to on geography and history school trips.


Jefferson once owned the land that included the natural bridge, and he began the custom of a guest book that the Virginia State Park authorities keep up to this day. As we learnt about the bridge we became aware that we had maybe seen paintings of it before – maybe at Monticello? I’m not sure.

Talking of Monticello, we had decided that we might as well drive home via Charlottesville and have dinner there. This probably wasn’t the most time-efficient idea, but we hadn’t felt that we had enough time at Charlottesville the last time we were there (I’ll write about this trip another time), and we had been thinking about it ever since. It has a really nice downtown mall (which we would call a pedestrianized high-street in the UK), with lots of really nice places to eat.

So we went for dinner at Bizou in Charlottesville, and it was lovely. After a few days of brew pubs, it was a nice contrast, and we loved the decor. Some of the tables were old-style diner booths with the old juke-box selectors at the table, and the walls were covered in framed old movie posters – I especially liked the one for The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. It was the kind of place that, if you lived in the town, you’d take people there all the time.

But, sadly, we didn’t live in Charlottesville, so we had a 2.5 hour drive home! It was a busy long weekend, but we were happy we’d managed to cram in as much as we had.

(And just in case you thought you’d escaped the country music this time – here are two of our favourite tracks from this trip!)

(Do read the comments on You Tube – predictably, she comes in for some criticism from Christians!)

I think the basic inspiration for this is One Man went to Mow…

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