April 28, 2015

Postcards From Europe

I love postcards.

As much as e-mail, text messages, and social media has helped make my long-distance friends and family "closer" than ever before, there's still nothing quite like old-fashioned mail. No matter how many cool fonts exist today, nothing beats the font of a handwritten card. It's one of a kind!

So as our #EurSoGypsy countdown reaches single digits, I've been inspired by Christy from What Up, Swags?! to send a few postcards from various points (as yet undetermined) while on our imminent Europe trip. Want to get in on the action? E-mail your address to thriftygypsytravels@gmail.com! If too many people respond, I won't be able to guarantee a postcard, but I'll do my best.

As normally happens for a part-time traveler running a travel blog, posts will become more and more infrequent as we get ready for take-off and while we're on the road, although I do have a few posts already scheduled. If you want to keep up with all the sights, sounds, and tastes (the best part!) of our trip, you should follow us on Instagram and Twitter!

In the meanwhile, I want to hear what travel plans you're most looking forward to! And don't forget to send me your address if you want a sweet postcard from Greece, Germany, or Paris!

Is it time for take-off yet?!

April 26, 2015

How Travel Provokes

It's all too easy to develop a sunshine, rainbows, and lollipops attitude about travel.  I mean, a cursory search of "travel" in any search engine provides hundreds of motivational quotes plastered across backdrops of beautiful vistas.

But travel isn't always smooth sailing, friendly locals, and delicious food.  Sometimes travel provokes you in ways you never expected or would have encountered if you had stayed home in the comfort of your recliner.  Sometimes it's in a good way, and sometimes it's not.

Hordes of people in the Colosseum.
Travel Exposes You to the Good Side of People
Before we even stepped foot in Italy last summer, we were on our guard.  We'd been told that pickpockets ran rampant through the streets of Rome and that cunning teens in Naples would pilfer our pockets at will.  (Imagine an urban Jurassic Park, if you will.)  So when a middle-aged gentleman tried to motion us farther down the track at the Naples Circumvesuviano train station while speaking Italian in a somewhat insistent tone, we were instantly suspicious.  But as most people were congregating down in the direction he pointed, we figured maybe he knew something we didn't.  Sure enough, the train was short, and we barely made it into the last (packed!) car in time.  While crammed in like sardines, the gentleman helped steady our suitcases from toppling like dominoes, and when we reached Pompei, he helped get our luggage off the train and waved us goodbye with a smile.

Moral of the story:  Not all locals are trying to fleece you.

He was shamelessly begging from the crowd. But it was all
part of the act!
Travel Exposes You to the Bad Side of People
But some are trying to fleece you.  From the obnoxious men trying to foist "free" roses into your hands at Rome's Spanish Steps then demanding payment, to the rude beggars in Nuremberg hounding you for change or a cigarette, some locals are trying to deceive you or even steal from you.  We learned this the hard way while at the Circo Massimo metro station, fiddling with the automatic ticket dispensers.  Before we knew it, a man reached in front of us, began pressing buttons for us, and ultimately ended up with half our change from the dispenser.  Granted, it only resulted in the loss of a few euros, but our carelessness and naivete resulted in the situation happening in the first place.

Moral of the story:  If you're uncomfortable with a situation, be firm and walk away.

Elephants in Uganda.
Travel Exposes You to the Beauty of Creation
Is there anything more beautiful than twilight over London's skyline?  Or a sunrise over the grasslands of Uganda?  Once you step outside your front door, you can enjoy the man-made wonder of cities or explore the rawness of nature.  This exposure heightens your ability to see the beauty all around you whether in the daring courage of a daisy growing in sidewalk cracks or the warm colors of a sunrise outside your own window.

Moral of the story:  Travel isn't about checking items off a list - it's about appreciating beauty.

Travel Exposes You to Heartbreaking Situations
Orphans.  Homeless families.  Women trapped in prostitution.  Scars of past atrocities.  Abject poverty and crippled economies.  Need I say more?  Always seek to view the world through a moral compass and ask yourself if a certain activity or event is harmful or exploits the people or animals.  There are many articles for and against such activities as riding elephants in Asia or visiting SeaWorld.  Amsterdam's Red Light District is a big tourism draw.  But beyond the flashy lights and the cries of "women empowerment!" lies dark, oppressive stories.  Endeavor to help where you can; absorb the lessons of other culture's mistakes; be mindful that your own country isn't without its flaws and heartbreaks, but don't participate in events or activities which are unethical even if they are considered a "must-see" or "must-do" for that country.

Moral of the story:  What you view as a "perfect" exotic location is someone else's hometown, complete with its own set of problems.

Travel Provokes You to Change
If you think travel won't change you, think again.  There's nothing quite like exposure to other cultures to challenge your beliefs and provoke your perspectives.  Sometimes your beliefs will be affirmed.  Sometimes you'll alter or abolish your convictions altogether.  But you'll never be the same!

Moral of the story:  Don't travel if you want to stay the same.

How does travel provoke you?

Linking up with the #SundayTraveler!

April 24, 2015

Toasting the Velvet Revolution at Democracy Vineyards

When a friend and I went wine hopping a few weekends ago, I never expected to learn about politics. But at Democracy Vineyards in Lovingston, Virginia, we toasted the principles of democracy over a refreshing glass of Petit Manseng and under the stirring slogans of dozens of political memorabilia.

(c) Brittany James
Before you even discover Democracy's tasting room, however, the vine-blanketed hills of the vineyard greet you. We actually stopped the car in the middle of the road in order to fully appreciate the bucolic scenery before continuing down the hill. There the contemporary architecture of the tasting room building stands in bold contrast with the rustic feel of the vineyard; we found the juxtaposition to be full of attitude.

Red, white, and blue are the dominating accents of the tasting room's interior. Owners Susan Prokop and Jim Turpin have taken the democracy theme to an eclectic level by decorating the walls with a collection of historic political memorabilia, ranging from American campaign posters to a quilt made from political t-shirts from all over the world and from banners celebrating the success of the Velvet Revolution to campaign posters touting slogans of a German political party. While most of the memorabilia seems to favor the left-side of politics, none of the displayed collectibles date more recently than thirty or forty years, so our right-wing compatriots won't feel too uncomfortable here.

But let's get to the wine!

We had to wait nearly ten minutes after arrival before we were able to begin tasting the wine; five people were already cozied up to the tasting bar, leaving no space available for us. But once seats opened up, we had the undivided attention of the tasting room attendant, and we sampled the full-line up of Democracy's wines, from Merlot to Chambourcin. Like the interior decoration, the names of the wine also follow a democratic theme, from Emancipation to Constitution.  And once again, the Velvet Revolution made an appearance in the form of a dry red blend; the Velvet Revolution was the peaceful overthrow of the communist party in Czech Republic (then known as Czechoslovakia), and owner Susan Prokop feels a close affinity with the event due to her family's Czech heritage.

We finally settled upon our favorites - the Declaration, a dry white blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Petit Manseng, for Brittany, and the Republic, a 100% Petit Manseng, for me - and deposited ourselves into some of the most comfortable patio furniture this side of the Mississippi while surveying Democracy's tidy rows of vines.  It was another enjoyable visit to a great Virginia winery.

Part of the #252by2022 challenge.

The first two photos are the property of Brittany James and are used with permission. Unauthorized use of these photos is strictly prohibited.

April 21, 2015

The Virginia Grape & Horton Vineyard

When Thomas Jefferson planted vines at Monticello in 1773, he dreamed that Virginia would one day rival European winemakers in both quality and quantity.  Seven times he attempted to grow vines, but each time black rot and other native pests killed the European grapes.  What Jefferson needed was a hardy grape with native genetics to resist disease and European components to develop fine wine.

(C) Brittany James
Less than seventy miles away in Richmond but a few decades later, Dr. Daniel Norton was experimenting with a grape cultivar derived from the seedling of the Bland vine that was open-pollinated presumably by Vitis aestivalis, a native plant.  The combination proved to be a success.  By 1830, Dr. Norton was selling the plant, called Norton or Norton's Virginia, for cultivation in Virginia and Missouri.  It grew quickly in popularity - and not just within the United States.  By 1873, a Norton wine triumphed over its European counterparts at an international exhibition in Vienna.

Then Prohibition struck North America, and for the next seventy years, the Norton was largely forgotten.

But in 1989, a new vineyard made an appearance in Virginia and brought with it the revival of the Norton Grape.  Owner Dennis Horton originates from Hermann, Missouri, which flourished as the epicenter of wine-making in pre-Prohibition America and whose bootlegging residents kept the Norton grape from going extinct during the Prohibition.

(C) Brittany James
When Horton first opened Horton Vineyards in its current location northeast of Charlottesville, less than 20 miles from Jefferson's Monticello, he gambled with the planting of many types of grapes.  Ultimately, however, the Norton grape and the Viognier, a French variety, became two of his key players and has resulted in making Horton Vineyards a leader in the Virginia wine industry.

But those two grapes are not the only ones in Horton's arsenal.  They offer wine for any palate, from the sweet white notes of Niagara, also from an American grape, to the rich, tannic taste of Tannat.  No matter the selection, it is best enjoyed while overlooking the perfectly manicured lawn and vines which extend in front of the unique architecture of the tasting room.  Prices for tasting are reasonable at $5 a person.

While Jefferson's dream did not come to fruition in his lifetime, it is on the cusp of realization nearly 300 years later.  Virginia wine is rising in popularity, and if Jefferson were alive, he'd be smiling over a glass of Horton's Virginia wine.

(C) Brittany James


All photos are the property of Brittany James and are used with permission.  Unauthorized use of these photos is strictly prohibited.

Part of the #252by2022 challenge.

General references:
"Dr. Daniel Norborne Norton and the Origin of the Norton Grape" by Rebecca K.R. Ambers, Ph.D. and Clifford P. Ambers, Ph.D. as published in the American Wine Society Journal, Volume 36, No. 3, Fall 2004.
"The Fascinating History Behind America's Oldest Grape: Norton" by Adam Teeter. 1 July 2014.
"Virginia's Special Viognier" by Ken Ringle as published in The Washington Post on 29 March 2006.

Linking up with #TravelTuesday!

April 19, 2015

Visiting EVERY Winery in Virginia

"We should visit every Virginia winery."

My friend Brittany and I lazily swirled our wine while pondering over my words, half-statement and half-challenge.  It was a perfect spring day, and having just visited two Virginia wineries that morning and acquired a map of all 252+ wineries in the Commonwealth, the idea was appealing.

"We should do it before you turn 30 - just to make it interesting," I said to my friend.  "That gives us five years."

"What if we have kids?  That's at least nine months each of not being able to drink, which means visiting a winery is pointless," Brittany countered.  "Let's shoot for when you turn 35."  With a nod and a clink of our glasses, the challenge was finalized, and #252by2022 began.*


Barboursville Vineyards
Over the last decade, Virginia has seen a veritable explosion in viticulture.  From a mere six wineries in the 1970s, the industry grew slowly, numbering only 46 by 1995 and then 107 by 2005.  Ten years later, however, the official count stands at 252.**  With numbers like these, there's obviously something very exciting happening with Virginia wines - only California, New York, Oregon, and Washington can boast more within the United States.

Quantity does not always mean quality, but Virginia wines excel in both categories, already establishing a reputation on the world market.  The state is being hailed as the future "East Coast Napa Valley" with especial attention paid to the Shenandoah regions.

It was there in the Shenandoah viticulture region that Brittany and I settled upon our epic challenge.  Now instead of being dirt fishing widows, we'll spend our time racing the clock - making our way to and through every winery in the Commonwealth.

Wish our livers luck!

A photo posted by Thrifty Gypsy's Travels (@thriftygypsy87) on

Read more about the history of Virginia wines here.
*Every visit will be written about and links to every winery will be found on my Virginia Vineyards page or can be seen on Twitter / Instagram with the #252by2022 hash tag.
**As of this article's publication.  If the number rises, we will still attempt to visit before 2022!

Linking up with the #SundayTraveler!

April 16, 2015

A Rainy Day in RVA

Last week I had to drive from Charlottesville to downtown Richmond to deliver a proposal by 2pm.  Despite having to drive down the highway like a bat out of hell and sprinting across the Capitol lawn like a maniac in order to turn in the proposal a mere five minutes before the deadline, I enjoyed being in downtown RVA even if only for a short while.  It was rainy, but that couldn't detract from the beauty.  And there are plenty of things to do in Richmond despite weather!

For more Richmond or Virginia attractions, check out my ever-growing list!

April 15, 2015

Countdown to #EurSoGypsy

Let the countdown begin!  Well, to be honest, the countdown began months ago when there were over 100 days left until departure.  Now that we're on the cusp of single digits, the excitement has finally arrived!  With so little time left to procrastinate, I've finally found the motivation to get our packing lists organized and even brainstormed a few hash tag ideas.  Too bad that motivation hasn't extended to getting caught up on household chores yet.

But my mind is already thousands of miles away...

... exploring ancient ruins.
(Photo from Travelling Buzz)

... eating delicious food.
(Photo from Gate to Greece)

... swimming through truly blue water.
(Photo from Some Kind of Wanderlust)

... exclaiming over watery sunsets.
(Photo from Mishfish13)

... celebrating a double-birthday the deutsche Weg.
(From National Beer Day)

... wandering through the City of Love.
(Photo from What Up, Swags?!)

... reuniting with family and loved ones in a fairy-tale town.
(From Bavaria)
(From Sorrento)

Sometimes the anticipation of a trip is sweeter than the trip itself - because for us it lasts longer!

P.S. Happy 200th post to me!

April 14, 2015

A Weekend Getaway to Lexington, VA

For a quintessentially Virginian mountain town experience, look no further than Lexington.  Nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains off Interstate 81, Lexington showcases beautiful scenic views, various restaurants and micro-breweries, quaint hotels, and enough historic sites to ensure a relaxing, memorable weekend getaway.

There are three ingredients to seeing the best of Lexington:

Virginia Military Institute
1.  History
Lexington has become synonymous with Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, arguably the best known generals of the American Civil War.  Prior to the war, Stonewall Jackson held a professorship position for ten years at Virginia Military Institute teaching Natural & Experimental Philosophy and Artillery.  His house, the only one he ever owned, is open to the public for tours.  General Jackson was killed after the Battle of Chancellorsville due to injuries sustained from friendly fire and is buried just a few blocks from his house in Lexington.  Lemons, rumored to have been Jackson's favorite fruit, are scattered around his grave in homage from visitors.  Robert E. Lee is also buried in Lexington at the Lee Chapel of Washington & Lee University, where he served as president from 1865 to 1870.

Take a tour of Stonewall Jackson's house and walk to his grave.  Venture back through the town and up to the Lee Chapel at Washington & Lee University.  From there, walk next door to VMI and tour the free military museum, which holds the beloved remains of Jackson's horse, Little Sorrel, and the bullet-ridden coat Jackson wore at Chancellorsville.

Foamhenge in all its glory
2.  Natural Wonders
Surrounded by mountain vistas, you will not lack for natural scenery while in Lexington.  But a 20-minute venture outside of town affords the opportunity to visit the awe-inspiring natural masterpiece that is Natural Bridge.  Formed when an underground cavern collapsed, the Natural Bridge is taller than Niagara Falls and boasts association with two American presidents - George Washington, who surveyed the land and carved his initials there as a young man, and Thomas Jefferson, who owned the land and built a cabin as a mountain retreat.

For a quick laugh before heading back into Lexington, make a brief detour at Foamhenge, a life-sized replica of Stonehenge made, unsurprisingly, of foam.  It is open and free to those members of the public with a wry sense of humor.

3.  Southern Charm & Good Eats
Finally, as with all the best places in Virginia, a visit to Lexington should include at least one great meal from a local restaurant, preferably accompanied by a local craft brew.  Lexington is home to Blue Lab Brewing Company, a relatively new player on the Virginia craft beer scene, and also hosts the Outpost location of Devil's Backbone Brewing Company, a mid-sized craft brewing legend of central Virginia.  Blue Lab's Hefeweizen and Devil's Backbone's Gold Leaf lager come highly recommended.  Many of these local brews can be enjoyed at Macado's, a popular sandwich shop along Lexington's Main Street.  With sandwich names like "Bonnie and Clyde" or the "Sherlock Holmes," you'll quickly fall into a lighthearted mood while devouring their delicious food.

Natural Bridge

Have you visited Lexington?


Linking up for #TravelTuesday!


The Thrifty Gypsy's Travels : #BringBackOurGirls
Originally posted May 12, 2014

(The following story happened on August 24, 2012, while on a flight from Dulles to Amsterdam en route to Prague.  While the exact words of the conversation may not be verbatim, the content and emotion are accurate.) 

Jostling my way down the aisle of a Boeing-777 on my way to enjoy a long vacation in Prague and Germany, I should've been ecstatically happy that my much-anticipated vacation was finally here.  But I wasn't.  Stupid KLM and their stupid seat assignment mix-up, I thought angrily.  For the first time ever, I wasn't going to be seated next to my husband, and I was grumpy and agitated because of it.  To add insult to injury, I had a middle seat and with the plane at near full capacity, I just hoped that my seatmates on both sides were unobtrusive and indifferent....Read More.

April 12, 2015

Quintessentially Virginian

What makes a place or town "quintessentially Virginian?"

Moorman River.
Is it the history?  From precolonial remnants to Civil War battlefields and everything in between, Virginia practically corners the market on American history.  The first English colony was founded in Jamestown in 1607, and the first stirrings of revolution were vehemently debated in its churches and halls over 160 years later.  The American Revolution was won in Yorktown; the Civil War ended in Appomattox.  No other state has produced as many U.S. Presidents, and seven are buried on Virginia soil.  Suffice it to say, with over 2,400 historical markers dotting the landscape, you pretty much can't throw a rock without hitting something historic.

But perhaps it's the culture which sets Virginia apart?  There is an air of fulfilled living, hard work, and pride in one's heritage (even for first generational Virginians) that permeates the culture.  Sipping a glass of sweet tea on the front porch rocker; crabbing among the reeds of the eastern shore; or enjoying a bonfire in the foothills of the Blue Ridge are all quintessential activities in a commonwealth which has become the gateway of the South.  Work hard, but play even harder - Virginians know how to have a good time and to capitalize on all the opportunities Virginia has to offer.

While selecting an exact adjective to encapsulate Virginia may prove difficult, it is possible to recommend five* specific places and activities which, in their own unique way, showcase why Virginia Is For [Travel/History/Culture] Lovers!

Located on the Northern Neck where the Rappahannock River meets the Chesapeake Bay, the tiny town of Kilmarnock epitomizes the rural, salt-life culture of Virginia.  Quaint boutique shops, cozy bed and breakfast establishments, and very few chain restaurants characterize the easy-going way of life.  In the height of summer you're more likely to meet your neighbors (and fellow tourists) out on the water than on land, and an autumn visit all but demands a day spent at a local oyster festival.  Leave your cell phones at home and relax by the water.  This is how low-country Virginians live.

Virginia Military Institute.
For native Virginians, Lexington is nearly synonymous with Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, who both spent time there as professors at Washington & Lee University and Virginia Military Institute, respectively.  Both generals are buried in Lexington, and there are several historical sites dedicated to them and other notables in town.  But there is more to Lexington than its college institutions and history.  Lexington is the perfect springboard to mountain activities.  Gawk at the Natural Bridge, formed when a cavern collapsed; stop by the cheeky Foamhenge exhibit nearby; venture up into the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests for fishing, hiking, or camping; or take a quick spin down the windy roads and breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Lexington can provide all the amenities of a mid-sized town without undermining the mountainous beauty that rural Virginians enjoy.

Downtown Mall Charlottesville, VA. (c) Bob Travis.
Whether you're looking for history, good food and wine, or access to nature, Charlottesville has it in spades, putting its own unique twist on quintessential Virginia culture.  This small town packs a big punch.  Here you'll find the University of Virginia and Monticello, one of only twenty-two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States and both designed by Thomas Jefferson.  Take some time to enjoy the beautifully designed pavilions and gardens flanking the Rotunda of the University.

Your time in Charlottesville should be spent exploring the southern gentry charm of Virginia, whether it be at the Foxfield Races (horses, of course) in the spring for a party atmosphere or the more family-friendly fall races, or while enjoying a glass of wine at Barboursville Vineyards in a sundress or sports jacket.  A stroll down the pedestrian-only Downtown Mall will remind you of Europe with its philosophy of a town square being a communal living room, and an excursion to the Route 29 corridor will provide a plethora of dining options, whether you're craving Italian, Mexican, French, Indian, or even Afghan cuisine.  In recent years, many craft breweries have popped up in Charlottesville, but be sure to check out Starr Hill Brewery, a local tradition.

Rotunda of the University of Virginia.  Source.
If you're craving to see the natural side of the Charlottesville area, grab your hiking shoes for an easy hike along the Moorman River and take a dip beneath its waterfall.  Or drive 20 minutes south of town to tube the James River starting at Scottsville and ending at the Hardware River Wildlife Management Area.  Just don't forget to bring a few beers from a local brewery for some responsible fun.  This is life in Virginia's Piedmont.

Governor's Palace.
The historic triangle of Virginia - comprised of Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg - offers a myriad of activities for both traveler and resident.  Founded in 1607, Jamestown is the oldest English settlement on the contiguous United States, having beaten the Massachusetts colonies in age by several years.  Visit the historic Jamestowne run by the National Park Service to see the actual location of the triangular Jamestowne fort and witness ongoing archaeological work; then venture to the nearby Jamestown Settlement to see a recreation of what it would've looked like, how people would've lived, and interact with history on a personal level.  Step forward nearly 170 years (but only a few miles away) to Colonial Williamsburg, a hotbed of sedition in the 1770s when the colonies moved towards separation from England.  Tour the impressive Governor's Palace, home of the royal governors of Virginia, and immerse yourself in the history of a nation on the cusp of its birth.  Treat yourself to a fine meal at King's Tavern or others in the colonial town, and be sure to stay for the daily parade down Duke of Gloucester street in the afternoons.  Finally, propel yourself to the end of the Revolutionary War with a visit to Yorktown Battlefield, site of the British surrender to General George Washington in 1781.  Williamsburg residents live and interact with Virginia's - and the country's - history on a daily basis.

Street art in a Richmond 7-Eleven parking lot.
The capitol city of Virginia captures the best of the commonwealth - and the most quirky.  In Richmond, southern charm meets bearded hipster, showcasing Virginia's urban scene while doffing a hat to the historic places in the city.  But Richmond, or "RVA" as it's lovingly known by its residents, is edgier than the other cities in this list.  The city has attitude and personality, or as Frommer's so succinctly said when it named the city among its top destinations for 2014, "While you weren't looking, Richmond got cool."

A visit to Carytown is obligatory to experience Richmond's attitude and personality; there, eclectic thrift shops and high couture boutiques rub elbows with beautiful -- and sometimes bizarre - street art, intermixed with personable bars and restaurants.  Richmond celebrates shopping local, especially in neighborhoods like Carytown, and simultaneously encourages artists both local and abroad to share their talent on blank building "canvases" throughout the city.  In fact, Richmond hosts an annual street art festival which attracts many visitors each year.  For literary artists and enthusiasts, check out the museum dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe, who grew up in Richmond and considered himself a Virginian.  His mother is buried in nearby St. John's Church - which happens to be the site of Patrick Henry's famous "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech in 1775.

Modern and gothic architecture near Virginia Capitol complex.
Speaking of history, take the time to walk by the Virginia State Capitol complex, designed by Thomas Jefferson (he's a big deal in Virginia, if you haven't figured that out yet!), and visit the White House of the Confederacy and Tredegar Iron Works, home of the American Civil War Center, to gain a balanced view of the war that tore Virginia - and the United States - apart.  Or you could step back in time by a few centuries with an excursion to Henricus Historical Park, a recreation of a 1611 English settlement and a Native American village.

More than likely your visit to Richmond will correspond with a local festival; the city throws so many that it's gained the nickname of "Festival City" in addition to its "River City" moniker.  From Celtic Festivals to bacon festivals and from beer festivals to the hugely popular Watermelon Festival, participating in one of these festivities will give you a feel for how Richmonders eat, drink, and socialize.

This list merely scratches the surface of all Richmond - and Virginia - has to offer.  For more great places, check out 10 Things to Do in Richmond or this running compilation of Virginia attractions and events!

* This list neglects to make mention any of the wonderful northern Virginia towns such as Alexandria and Arlington simply because I don't have as much personal experience there as these five.  

Linking up with the #SundayTraveler!

April 08, 2015

Song of the South ~ Shirley Plantation

There's nothing like visiting the oldest family-owned business in the United States with your oldest childhood friend.

This past January, I took advantage of a warm winter day and the presence of a good friend visiting from Boston to tour Shirley Plantation, situated just east of Richmond along the James River.  This plantation is one of a handful still remaining along the James, and it bears the distinction of having been kept in the same family for eleven generations.  We figured it would give my friend a good taste of the South before going home to epic snowstorms.

The Hill-Carter family of Shirley Plantation is well-known in Virginia.  Prominent figures of their family history include Robert "King" Carter, purportedly richer than the British monarch of his time, and also Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, the American Revolutionary War patriot and father to Robert E. Lee.  Despite the threat of seizure by Union troops during the Civil War, the house remained in the control of the family and survived the war intact, largely through the cunning of its residents, who pledged to provide nursing and care for wounded Union troops encamped on their property.  In return, the house and family received a Federal Safeguard from General McClellan himself in recognition of their humanitarian services.  Throughout the remaining years of the war, Union troops stayed on the property to discourage looting or attacks on the family and grounds.  Perhaps this safeguard, offered to the extended family of Robert E. Lee himself, is the reason why McClellan lost his job in the months following this event.

Flying Staircase.  Source.
Tours of the house include only the first floor as the upper levels are the residence of the family.  The "flying" staircase in the foyer draws the eye immediately, as there is no visible signs of support for the three flights of stairs.  Period furniture, family heirlooms and portraits adorn the rooms and walls much as they have for the last 360 years.

Various outbuildings on the property are also open to the public:  the kitchen, barn, store house, smoke house, etc.  The smell of boxwood permeates the air as the James River rolls lazily by.  The unseasonably warm weather we enjoyed tempted us to picnic on the lawn, and I could easily understand why people would want to have their wedding hosted here.

Admission is only $11 for adults, and discounts are offered for seniors, past/present military members and their dependents.  For those of you looking to visit a quintessential Virginian site, you can't go wrong with Shirley Plantation.

Have you visited Shirley Plantation?


Linking up with A Brit and A Southerner, A Southern Gypsy, Carmen's Luxury Travel, Justin Plus Lauren, and Outbound Adventurer for the #WeekendWanderlust!