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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Be my president

The image on the back of the nickel

This year saw Presidents Day and Valentines Day combine to form a romantic, three-day Federal holiday weekend. And seeing as this would be the last long holiday weekend before our scheduled departure for Vilnius in early May, plans were made to get out of town, at least for one night. We knew that temperatures were going to be very low on Saturday and Sunday, and that snow was in the forecast for Monday. However, the snow that fell for around an hour on Saturday morning came as a surprise:

However, by the time we left home shortly after ten in the morning, the sun was shining again, though temperatures would remain in the low twenties Fahrenheit for the rest of the day. Our destination was Charlottesville, home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites associated with Thomas Jefferson - the University of Virginia, founded by the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, and Monticello, the retirement home of the third U.S. president. Getting there took longer than expected, however, as holidaymakers brought traffic on Interstate 95 to a slow crawl. Our GPS gave up on the freeway, and directed us through a long but scenic drive through the central Virginia countryside. It took about 3½ hours to reach Michie Tavern, a Virginia Historic Landmark established in 1784. After the long drive, the first order of business was to have lunch at the Ordinary, where the Southern-style fried chicken was worth the trip:

Appetites sated, we took a self-guided tour of the Tavern, where we learned about travelers' lifestyles in the 18th century and checked out the artifacts and furniture on display from that era. Coming on the heels of her school's recent Colonial Days event, where my daughter portrayed an innkeeper, Amber acted as our tour guide:

Ales of the Revolution, brewed by the Yards Brewery Company of Philadelphia, on sale in the Tavern's gift shop. I bought a six-pack (two of each kind):

From the gift shop to the General Store, housed in the Meadow Run Grist Mill (circa 1797), where I picked up another six-pack, this one of local Virginia craft beers. I also bought a couple of non-alcoholic drinks:

Getting late in the afternoon, and with the temperature stubbornly hovering around 20°F (-7°C), it was time to check in at our hotel, the Holiday Inn in Charlottesville, a short drive down Interstate 64 from Michie Tavern. After a short rest, it was back out into the cold as we drove to the Downtown Mall, a long pedestrian-only shopping street lined with boutiques, cafes and restaurants catering to the city's student population. Despite all those years living in and traveling around Japan, it had never occurred to me to combine two great treats in one dining establishment:

We didn't eat there, but perhaps the hipsters are on to something here. Then again, the restaurant where we did choose to dine, Himalayan Fusion, another UVa hipster favorite, was a disappointment. The Nepalese-style curry wasn't bad, but service was slow and it took a long time for our dishes to arrive at our table. And the Tibetan offerings on the menu were slim pickings, with no yak butter tea. Still, the Downtown Mall looks like an interesting place to hang out, provided the weather is warmer than it was on Saturday evening:

Sunday was bright and sunny...and cold. It was only 16°F (-9°C) when we arrived at Monticello, Jefferson's primary plantation home, for our tour of the house (we were actually too late for our reserved 10:15 tour, but the ticket clerk merely moved us to the next one at 10:45, giving us a chance to warm ourselves in the museum while we waited for the shuttle to transport us up the hill to the house). As expected from someone of Jefferson's talents, Monticello is a beautiful structure, and the 40-minute tour allowed to see the Hall, the book room where Jefferson kept his 6700-volume library, his study and bedchamber, the family parlor, the dining and tea rooms, and the North Octagonal Room, which was frequently occupied by Jefferson's good friend and neighbor, James Madison (the fourth president), and his wife Dolly. Unfortunately, photography wasn't allowed inside, though visitors are free to take pictures on the grounds of Monticello:

Photography is also permitted in the "dependencies", the service rooms which ran under the main building, making them easily accessible while simultaneously invisible from the public spaces of the house:

Conservatives may decry "political correctness", but in this day and age the foundation that manages Monticello doesn't hide the fact that the man who wrote that all men were equal was himself a slave-owner who fathered several children with one of his "possessions" (Sally Hemings). On the grounds are several reconstructions of the tiny shacks that housed the enslaved families. Even with their built-in fireplaces, I can't imagine how cold it must have been on a bitterly frigid day like ours (though on February 14, 1796 Jefferson recorded the temperature at Monticello as being a relatively balmy 42°F/6°C). The views on a clear day were no doubt of cold comfort (rim shot) to the people living there:

From the main building, we braved the chill and walked twenty minutes downhill back to the visitors center, stopping to visit Jefferson's grave. Out of all his accomplishments, Jefferson wanted to be remembered most of all for being the "author of the Declaration of American Independence,  of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and the father of the University of Virginia":

My daughter enjoyed the hands-on exhibits at the Discovery Center, including the type of double-pen writing instrument that Jefferson used to make copies of everything he wrote:

Enjoying a glass of Monticello Reserve Ale at the onsite cafe. I got to keep the glass, too:

The temperature had warmed to 27°F (-3°C) in the middle of the afternoon as we left Monticello. Our route took us on the same rural roads we had driven on the previous day, past horse farms and wineries:

Though we had been immersing ourselves in the history of Colonial America, this particular stretch of Virginia was the site of several bloody battles during the Civil War, and the roads we drove on are lined with white historical markers noting particular actions that occurred at those spots. One place where we stopped for a quick look was associated with the Battle of the Wilderness, one of the nastiest battles of the conflict. I would've liked to have walked on the two-mile (3.2 kilometers) trail that looped around that particular section of battlefield, but it was already close to four in the afternoon:

One noticeable feature of Civil War battlefield memorials is how so much carnage took place in what would normally have been places of peace and tranquility:

Further down the road we stopped in at the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center, with informative displays on the bloody battles that took place at Chancellorsville, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania

The visitors center is located at the site where the Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was shot and mortally wounded by his own men. It's an unpleasant aspect of living in Virginia that many places like schools and streets are named after men of the South such as Jackson, Lee, Stuart etc. They may have been brilliant military leaders, but the cause they were fighting for was morally reprehensible, and the sooner their names are removed and banished to the dustbins of history, the better American society will be (one especially nauseating sight I witnessed on I-95 on the drive to and from Charlottesville was that of a large Confederate flag flying next to the freeway):

With Sunday being the middle of the three-day weekend, we were back in Falls Church by six o'clock. And a good thing, too, as today (Monday) the snow fell as predicted, with an accumulation in our area of around six inches (15 centimeters). Along with the 22°F (-6°C) temperatures, it was a good day to stay indoors...:

...though the temptation to go outside proved too strong to resist, especially with a cemetery nearby:

Lion guardian in the snow at Eden Center:

Our car covered in snow, though with not as much dumped on it as by the big snowstorm several weeks ago. Heavy rain is in the forecast for tomorrow, which might make the streets icily dangerous but should clean up the car:

Amber realized too late the deadly accuracy of her father's snowball-throwing arm:

My wife returns from a shopping excursion to the Asian supermarket next door:



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