Monday, July 13, 2009

Fourth of July Festivities

July is one of my favorite months. It's the height of summer, people are generally more relaxed, and the weather is usually sunny and bright. I had some time off around the Fourth and was keen to do something, so we hopped in the car, set our sights on Charlottesville and its environs and got on our way.

First stop: Luray Caverns. I'd gone caving before as a kid but that was some time ago so when the opportunity presented itself to explore under ground, I was game. According to their website, the caverns began to form 4,000,000 centuries ago and are the largest and most popular caverns on the East Coast.

Titania's Veil, Luray Caverns, photo taken from website.

The caverns were such great fun and I felt my imagination soar as I took in the natural art around me. Incredible to think that all of this was created by dripping water! Fascinatingly, the caverns boast of a Stalacpipe Organ--the world's largest musical instrument created by Mr. Leland W. Sprinkle in 1954. By attaching rubber-tipped mallets to some of the stalactites, he was able to create musical compositions, some of which can still be heard today in the caverns. Luray Cavern was full of surprises and I think I most enjoyed skulking about like Persephone!

Next up: Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive is one of the most beautiful drives I've done to this date. It's about 105 miles of winding roads through pretty country tucked amid steep mountain ridges. The trees were lush with summer greenery and I found myself thinking that I would have to come back to tour fall's colors. Camping, hiking, backcountry opportunities abound! Lots to do here other than soak up its beautiful vistas. If you're in the Virginia area, do check it out.

As we twisted our way to C-ville, we decided to try out local wines. Since moving here, I've learned a bit about Virginia wines, even drinking a few bottles. I was surprised...some are actually pretty terrific! So, don't be fooled when folk tell you Virginia should stop making wines. False information! Virginia boasts of several rather intrepid winemakers who are happy to sit down and chat about their visions, processes and wines. Over the course of the weekend, we went to 5 different vineyards, tasted, chowed down some burgers and listened to bluegrass on the premises.

We tasted at Afton Mountain, Jefferson, First Colony, Kluge, & Blenheim and bought wines from each vineyard. We brought home Afton's Mountain Rose, Riesling 2008 and Gewurztraminer 2008; Jefferson's Chardonnay 2008, Cabernet Franc 2007 and Viognier 2008; First Colony's Cabernet Franc 2006; Kluge's Ablemarle Simply Red 2004; Bleinheim's Cabernet Franc 2008, Viognier 2008, Rose 2008. Of these, I think the wines at Jefferson, Kluge and Blenheim impressed us most for their crisp taste and overall quality.

After each day of touring, we contented ourselves with the simple charm and hospitality of downtown Charlottesville, feasting on terrific meals and taking in the folky yet sophisticated ambiance. The city has this relaxed college town vibe, reminding me a little of Missoula but not completely. I was previously in C-ville back in 2003 when I was thinking about attending the University of Virginia's Architectural History Ph.D. program. Princeton won out but there are days when I wonder what I missed out on down there in the Blue Ridge mountains.

Entrance to Monticello, July 4, 2009.

History buffs that we are, we decided it'd be a sin not to stop by Monticello on the Fourth and pay our respects to Jefferson (he died on July 4, 1826). I consider him one of our nation's most ingenious, fascinating yet perplexing individuals. Here was the man who argued that the U of V should be place in Ablemarle Co. because it had the state's longest living people...the man who brought architecture to the forefront of early American thinking...who was a voracious reader and talented statesman. BUT he was also the man who argued against slavery while owning slaves. And what about his hush-hush relationship with Sally Hemings? Was that love or simple advantage?

On the whole, it was a lovely trip, a feast for all senses. If you find yourself in Virginia, do try to get over to that section of the state. It's gorgeous and rich in learning opportunities.

No comments: