August 22, 2016

Long Time, No Posts!

Hazy sunrise over Lake Victoria. Uganda, 2007.
So a few of you have noticed that things have been awfully quiet around here lately.

And to summarize my answers to the kind inquiries via email, social media private messages, and my college roommate's blunt query as to whether I'm pregnant and too tired to write:

No, I've not been kidnapped by pirates.
No, I haven't capitalized on my dream to move to a deserted island and become monarch of my own tribe.
No, I'm not in jail for vandalizing a pet store with graffiti reading, "Free the whales!"
And no, I'm not pregnant. (Sorry, mom.)

So why has it been over five weeks since my last post?

Well, life happened!

My big girl, pays-the-bills job career runs in high gear during the summer with only a slight downshift into the fall. Between work, home life, baby suddenly deciding that her only crawling speed is, like, mach five, and some weekend trips away, I've been too fill-in-the-blank to think about blogging.

At first, I felt anxious that I hadn't blogged in a while. Then I felt guilty that I was enjoying the break too much. Then I started feeling better (maybe it was all the chocolate I was eating?) as the pressure to "do for the sake of doing" started easing up.

Ultimately, breaks are a good thing. Without them, we get too burned out and lose the joy that we can find in our favorite activities. And I don't want to sacrifice quality for quantity either.

So while I am not back to blogging at the moment (we actually leave tomorrow for a nearly three week vacation!), I will be back. Refreshed, rejuvenated, revitalized. This place has always been a hobby and outlet for my passion for writing (and to humor the inner preteen who just wants an excuse to post selfies to an audience), and I don't want it to become something I dread doing just because I feel that I have to do so.

But I have still been stalking keeping up with the adventures of some of my favorite fellow bloggers, so if you're in need of some travel reading, be sure to check out the fellow gypsies I have linked to on the bottom right of my page.

And if you've been missing me too much, I still maintain my social media presence even when not writing!

So, how's your summer been?!

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July 15, 2016

Richmond Through the Eyes of a Local [Travel Blogger]

Every city has a combination of personality, culture, and natural attractions (or lack thereof) which makes it distinct from any other place in the world. Call it a fingerprint or call it a flavor - but each town is unique. When traveling to a new city or country, I seek out the best examples in each of these categories to get a holistic view of that place as a living, breathing entity of people and attractions.

And when I stop to seek out these same ideals in my own backyard, I come to one conclusion:

Richmond is one cool city.

Whether you live here, work here, or just pass through here, Richmond has something for everyone.

St. John's Church
...Come for the History, Stay for the Food
Richmond's history is colorful, and at times dark, but familiarity with its past brings deeper understanding of its present. You can find vestiges of revolution in St John's Church (located in the historic Church Hill neighborhood) for daily guided tours or every Sunday in the summer for free reenactments of Patrick Henry's famous Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Death speech of 1775. Fast forward nearly a century to a nation at war with itself when Richmond was the capitol of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. The Museum & White House of the Confederacy and the historic Tredegar Ironworks, which will soon be breaking ground on a new museum, are both located in Richmond, and the area around the city is scarred with the battlefields of that conflict, most notably the famous crater at the Battle of Petersburg just to the south.

Twentieth century notables for Richmond include Agecroft Hall and the Virginia House, both originally built in England, bought, shipped, and reconstructed in Richmond along the James River during the the 1920s. These Tudor houses predate the oldest Virginia colonies, and touring Agecroft Hall in particular can take you back through several centuries' worth of history spanning two different countries.

Today Richmond stands out as a foodie destination, having most recently been named by National Geographic Travel as a must-taste destination for your taste buds in 2016. This is not Richmond's first appearance on various "best places to eat" lists, but perhaps the most buzzworthy shout-out in Richmonders' opinions was when Daniel Radcliffe (yes, Harry Potter himself) informed Thrillist that one of the best meals he's ever had - in the world, mind you - was a steak fromage at Buckhead's Chophouse, located in a rather nondescript strip mall in Richmond's Tuckahoe district. Who would've thought?

In recent years many Hollywood standouts have visited Richmond to film movies and shows. PBS's new hit drama, Mercy Street, uses Richmond as their film location. Daniel Radcliffe was filming his upcoming movie Imperium when he discovered Buckhead's, and Spielberg's in-depth drama, Lincoln, used various buildings and locations in Richmond as stand-in representations of a 19th century D.C. Many waiters and waitresses in the River City will never forget the day they served a meal to various cast members, and the whole city was caught up in "Daniel Day-Lewis sightings" while filming was in progress.

Other RVA Favorites
Edgar Allan Poe Museum: Did you know that Poe spent many years living in Richmond? His mother is actually buried at St John's Church.
The Virginia Holocaust Museum: The late Elie Wiesel said that "for the dead and the living, we must bear witness." A visit to this museum will remind you of the atrocities of which man is capable along with the hope that can be found with those who survived the holocaust.
The John Marshall House: Belonging to the Great Chief Justice John Marshall, a native of Virginia, this brick residence was completed in 1790 by John Marshall and is one of the best examples of Federal architecture in the Commonwealth.
Shirley Plantation: Visit the oldest family-run business in the United States! The plantation dates back to 1638 with the house having been completed in 1738. It is a wonderful example of early American plantation life, best viewed in the summer when the crops and livestock are in full swing.

At the Capitol Complex
...Black and White and Rad All Over
Richmond has an attitude problem in the best possible way. For a state that was at the forefront of the Confederacy, Virginia ranks the highest in the US for interracial marriages. In fact, the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia, which resulted in the Supreme Court striking down anti-miscegenation laws as unconstitutional, originated right here in Richmond, Virginia. With racial tensions seemingly engulfing the nation, one can only hope that the interwoven relationships and friendships will continue to set Virginia - and Richmond - apart. Truly the state tourism slogan rings true in Richmond: Virginia Is For Lovers.

In fact the Richmond of today is full of contrasts: black and white, genteel and edgy, traditional and progressive. On one block you can see the some of the best examples of Old South architecture lining Monument Avenue, the only street listed on the National Register of Historic Places and touting fine Georgian, Victorian, or Colonial houses, and on the next street over, you can view fascinating street art blanketing an otherwise plain apartment building. Plenty of y'alls permeate conversations among strangers as here in the South there's no such thing as a stranger - just a friend you haven't made yet. Even transplants to the area find themselves picking up the idiosyncrasies of a city where sweet tea and fried chicken could be the official fare.

Either as a testament to its alternative-friendly atmosphere or a result of it, hipsters have flocked to Richmond, deepening the cultural contrast between bearded, skinny-jeaned men and the Country Club Prep ladies and gents passing each other on Carytown's bustling streets. It's cool to buck the mainstream, and it's cool to be mainstream in Richmond. Whatever floats your boat, y'all, but no matter what side of the river you live on, everyone comes together for $2 movies at the Byrd Theater.

A photo posted by Thrifty Gypsy's Travels (@thriftygypsytravels) on

Other RVA Favorites
Strawberry Street Cafe: A Richmond taste bud destination since 1976, offering Southern inspired food.
Richmond Mural Project: Richmond gets a face lift and attitude adjustment at the annual street mural exhibit scattered throughout the city.
The National: This music venue brings in big names and local favorites, and a visit here is a must for any local, especially the hipsters.

...Summahtime is Rivah Time
When it gets hot and humid in Richmond, the only logical destination is the River. Richmond is the only city in the U.S. where you can navigate Class III and IV rapids against a city skyline. The James River is one of the most treasured natural resources of the area, and scoring a seat at a brewery, restaurant, or prime shady spot for river viewing might just be the highlight of your day. For family friendly outings, grab the stroller and head for Maymont Park; kids will ooooh and ahhhh over their small, but quality zoo. And if the thought of a cemetery doesn't automatically run chills down your back, head for Hollywood Cemetery, located on a commanding bluff over the river and as beautiful as any New Orleans or European resting place. There you can pay your respects to John Tyler and James Monroe, two of the five presidents claiming Virginia as their home, and also indulge in some supernatural legends of Richmond.

The abundance of festivals, many of which are hosted rain or shine, entice many to enjoy the great outdoors and ensure there is never a dull moment in the city. The Carytown Watermelon Festival, hosted annually on the second Sunday of August and now on its 33rd year, is possibly the most venerated, rivaled only by other fan favorites such as the Folk Festival, the Greek Food Festival, the Oktoberfest Festival, or maybe the Central Virginia Celtic Festival & Highland Games. But there are so many festivals in Richmond, how could one possibly choose a favorite?

Northern Neck, VA
But there's even more nature to explore beyond Richmond, and there's no need to travel all that far. Within a 90 minute radius, you can park yourself on a secluded beach on Virginia's Northern Neck or hike the Humpback Rock trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The region just west of Richmond in the Piedmont and Shenandoah Valley is emerging as the "Napa Valley" of Virginia; currently, there are over 250 wineries in the commonwealth and over 100 breweries, of which 10 can be found within Richmond city limits. Want some decent Vietnamese food with your beer? For the third year in a row, Mekong took the #1 spot for best "Great American Beer Bar" in the nation by, and for 2016, they won the top spot for Best Beer Bar in America hosted by USAToday 10Best! Take your Virginia brews on a float trip down the James River in Goochland County or escape to the beautiful Shenandoah River in the Appalachians. Richmond is the perfect staging point to reach most of the state in two hours or less.

Other RVA Favorites
The Canal Walk: Inspired by the beautiful River Walk in San Antonio, Richmond's Canal Walk is not quite there, but still pleases with its quiet pathways along the James River canals. (The TripAdvisor photos are sure to interest.)
Blue Bee Cider: Delicious local cider with beautiful views of Richmond's southern skyline. (Like, seriously, this view is legit.)

No matter how many beautiful cities, countries, and natural wonders I see on my travels, the unique combination of culture, personality, and outdoor entertainment makes the Richmond area a wonderful place to call home. Come by and see it for yourself.


Wander Mum

Linking up with:
 LaurenVanIsabel, and Marcella.

June 25, 2016

Traveling With Baby - Don't Forget the Rum

Passport. Check.
Tickets. Check.
Suitcase. Check.

So obviously that scenario hasn't happened (or else I'd be in jail for child neglect!), but the addition of a little one to a traveling family makes the packing list and to-do list grow exponentially.

Before Baby Gypsy was born, I had no real comprehension of just how big an impact one tiny person can have, particularly on outings. Forget the overnight stays, preparing for a trip to the grocery store can often feel like outlining a battle plan!

Williamsburg, Va.
Or so it seemed during the first three months of Baby Gypsy's life. Practice makes perfect, though, and with some regional traveling under our belts, we've grown more confident in our abilities to prepare and actually enjoy ourselves while out and about. It may take as twice as long and three times as many bags, but I love having our little third wheel along for the ride.

Nevertheless, traveling with a baby is certainly very different than traveling as a couple, and I have a few humorous insights for those of my readers who aren't card carrying members of the baby club.*

If you pull out a microscope, you can see the top of Dixie's head.
Gone are the days when I could throw everything into a carry-on and travel the world. Ok, ok, so I've never actually traveled the world in one trip. And I only used a carry-on when the trip was less than a week... but you know what I mean! Our first overnight trip with Baby Gypsy to Jamestown and Yorktown (in the same stinkin' state!) resulted in a game of impromptu Tetris as we tried to finagle all our gear into one small Ford Focus. Dixie was relegated to a tiny 6 x 12 space behind the driver's seat on a weekend trip to the Northern Neck last month. And I mean 6 x 12 inches! Poor thing barely had room to breathe.

Each subsequent trip results in slightly less gear, but I have a feeling that I'll still end up over-packing for baby and under-packing for myself when we go to Germany later this summer!

GoogleMap Drive Time Estimates Can Kiss My Diaper-Swaddled Behind
Two hour drive to the Northern Neck? Make that three. Ten hour drive to New York? Yeah, we'll see you in time for Christmas. Babies get hungry often. And when babies get hungry, babies scream. And if babies scream, parents will do anything in their power to just make it stop!

I used to pride myself on my punctuality. Now I consider it a success to show up within an hour of my intended start time and bonus points if my socks actually match. If GoogleMaps wanted to irrevocably ingratiate themselves with parents worldwide, they'd add a feature showing drive time with an infant or kids. And it'd be even better if they could automatically recommend stopping points along the way. Bonus points if it's near a liquor store so mom and dad can get their double shots of scotch before hitting the highway again (I kid, I kid... don't drink and drive!).

In other words, getting to your destination can take quite a bit longer with a little one in tow!

I'm officially a bag & stroller lady. #SoFab
It's All About the Bags
Before Baby Gypsy, I was all about the handbags. Classic, cute, but functional was my bag of choice. Post Baby Gypsy, I'm not so much a handbag lady as I am just a straight up Bag Lady. You know the kind - cross body bag slung under the diaper bag over one shoulder with the Nikon DSLR camera bag over the other (had to upgrade the photography gear to capture every drool-dripping smile for posterity!), baby carrier hanging from one arm and pulling the suitcase with the other because HEAVEN HELP US IF I HAVE TO TAKE MORE THAN ONE TRIP FROM THE CAR TO THE HOTEL!

Cuteness is no longer factored into my purchasing criteria when shopping for a new bag. If it's stain-resistant, spit-up repelling, has a zillion super-functional pockets, separators, sorters, and features a built-in diaper changing caddy and deluxe bottle warmer holster, just take all my money right now and give me two of them.

Baby Soothing Should Be an Olympic Sport
I spent the entirety of our thirty minute tour of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, by the way) bouncing, swaying, and humming Baby Gypsy into distraction. I vaguely remember a few snippets of our tour guide's informative spiel, but primarily remember all the moments I spent keeping baby girl's hands off the historic eighteenth century pieces of furniture and original walls to avoid any disapproving looks and wondering what in the world I'd do if she were to spit-up all over the original green canvas flooring. Probably melt into a puddle of embarrassment.

Slow travel is better than no travel, right?!
Less Is More and More Is Suicide
Once upon a time, I saw many of London's big highlights in just 48 hours. I did the same thing in Paris only last year. The very idea of trying to do the same thing with an infant now is just laughable. In a world where nursing mothers have an impossible time trying to find privacy to feed their child, I have to factor in extra time to trek to and from the car every two hours or seek out an inconspicuous corner of a tourist attraction or stand miserably in a bathroom stall trying not to think about how many germs are floating around while my baby is eating - on top of the actual time it takes to actually tour the attraction. If I can manage seeing one major attraction or two minor ones in a day, then I've won the #TravelWithBaby lottery.

But you know what? In spite of all these adjustments, I wouldn't change my life for the world. Baby Gypsy makes our travel moments all the more sweet.

And to all you other mamas and papas traveling with babies, I'd pour you a shot of rum, but I just finished the bottle. Cheers, my friend!

*Please note that the tone of this post has been inflated for sarcasm's sake because it's a way more humorous read that way. I hope I've not scared you off from having kids because it's seriously THE BEST thing that has ever happened to me. Ever. In fact I plan to punish reward myself with even more kids in the future! ;) 

Linking up with:
 LaurenVanIsabel, and Marcella.