Virginia Vacation– Exploring the Past and Present

This edition of “Virginia Vacation” includes a wide variety of places and events that show both the historical side and modern side of Virginia, particularly the Charlottesville area. I’ve broken the post into 4 categories: Think, See, Eat, and Drink.



Monticello, Italian for “Little Mountain”, is the home designed by and for Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the University of Virginia. My friend and I took a guided tour through the first floor of the house, hearing anecdotes about Jefferson’s life while appreciating the innovative and European elements of his design. We then walked around the grounds before joining the Slavery at Monticello tour. The specific details about the lives of slaves at Monticello brought tears to my eyes.


Front of Monticello


Beautiful trees along Mulberry Row


Thomas Jefferson’s grave

I saw two films at the Virginia Film Festival, “After the Fall” and “The War Room”. “After the Fall” was a modern take on Pride and Prejudice about a gay couple in Southwest Virginia. “The War Room” followed Bill Clinton’s campaign team leading up to the 1992 presidential election. It was followed by a discussion moderated by Larry Sabato with directors D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, and political consultant Paul Begala. I also had the privilege of attending a reception and [very awkwardly] meeting Shirley MacLaine.


Discussion after “The War Room”


Claytor Lake State Park is in Dublin, VA, about a 2.5-hour drive from Charlottesville. A close friend from my San Francisco days was there for her father’s 70th birthday party and asked if I could drive out to see her and her new baby! Visiting with my friend and her family was amazing, and the lake was beautiful. I’d love to spend more time there exploring some of the hiking trails!


Morning at Claytor Lake


Outside the cabin

Lighting of the Lawn at the University of Virginia started after 9/11, and is now an annual Christmas celebration. I joined a new friend/UVA grad student to watch the light show and the seemingly endless performances of acapella groups that led up to it. It was a neat event, but the pre-show festivities dragged on too long!


The Rotunda lit up


After visiting Monticello, my friend and I went to lunch at Michie Tavern. The restaurant, called The Ordinary, features a buffet based on 18th-century Southern recipes and has staff and servers in period clothing. The fried chicken was excellent, and our service was extremely friendly! We also had our first taste of Bold Rock Cider, a locally brewed hard cider.


Entrance of The Ordinary


Full plates for lunch!

Aromas is a small restaurant in the Barracks Road shopping center. The owner and chef, Hassan, creates delicious Mediterranean dishes that combine his Moroccan background and French culinary training. He is also quite a character! One night my dad mentioned my job, and Hassan gave me is card and said to contact him if I was ever in Morocco, and he would get me in touch with his brother, a jazz musician. I’ve now eaten at Aromas many times, and am always delighted by the food, wine, and service!

I went to Pie Chest with my sisters the weekend after Thanksgiving. We all enjoyed some tasty lattes (mine was made with almond milk) and shared a mushroom, leek, and gruyere pot pie and a sausage, goat cheese, honey, and egg hand pie. I’d like to sample some of the sweet pies before I leave town!


Lattes and empty plates

Like Pie Chest, Fleurie is located on the Downtown Mall. It is one of the more formal local restaurants, and serves incredible food. My latest visit was to celebrate my aunt’s birthday, and as usual, I was extremely satisfied. A particularly remarkable dish was an appetizer of calamari stuffed with shrimp and pignoli and served with a roasted tomato concasse. I highly recommend it for a special occasion!


Starr Hill is a brewery in Crozet that I have already been to 3 times! You are able to build your own tasting, so every time I have tried new beers! My favorites are Jomo (Vienna lager), Festie (Oktoberfest lager), Debut #8 (Barrel-Aged Tripel), Warm Up (Spiced Winter Ale), and Snow Blind (Doppelbock). They offer tours, live music, and food trucks a couple days a week! Even without the extra entertainment, the tap room is cozy and the staff is friendly.


Tasting #3

My out-of-town friend is a big cider fan, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and drive up to Carter Mountain Orchard and do a flight of Bold Rock Cider. I had not yet been to Carter Mountain, and I was blown away by the view (I was also blown away by the wind!). We split two flights so that we could try all of the ciders they had available. The first two, Vat. No. 1 and Vintage Dry were my favorites, but I enjoyed every single one! None of the ciders were too sweet, and they were all smooth and drinkable while also packing a lot of flavor. Even the seasonal blood orange cider was pleasant! We were the only customers, so were able to distract the young woman working with an entertaining conversation about childhood toys. It was a great stop!


Cider flights


Carter Mountain

I’ve been able to appreciate some of the historical elements of Charlottesville and well as the natural beauty and modern amenities. The mix of past and present is what makes the town so interesting. I look forward to exploring more in my final few weeks.


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