Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Charlottesville Virginia (Including Monticello) to Front Royal Virginia

It was yet one more beautiful morning today as we prepared to visit Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson. As we were checking out, our same desk man asked if we were planning to have breakfast at the attached Red Lobster, a special service they provided by contract to the hotel. He suggested we might do better a short way down the street at the Cavalier Diner. I don't know what the Red Lobster was like, but The Cav was not a mistake. Sandy and I actually split a breakfast and my one pancake was light and very tasty.

We were on the northwest corner of Charlottesville and Monticello was on the southeast. Despite a desire by some of us to pass by the university (and its bevy of coeds) again, we dodged traffic and took the 250 Bypass and then I-64. The road into Monticello was beautiful and passed the Michie Tavern, but more on that later. There was special motorcycle parking in the Monticello lot but it only held one bike and someone was already there, so we found room in the shade of a tree in the regular lot.

At the front desk of the Visitor Center, we paid our fees and were booked for the 9:50 house tour. A shuttle bus with extremely comfortable seats took us up the hill to the house where we disembarked and wandered around for a short while until our tour was ready. We then lined up with about 25 other people and headed for the side door where we met Don McCracken, our tour guide.

The side door where house tours begin

Tour guide Don McCracken warming up

Don had a very laid back manner and reminded me of, as best I can recall, William F. Buckley. It was a very entertaining tour and his knowledge of the house and the time was quite detailed. I asked him what he did when he wasn't guiding and he said this was his only job. I told him I could see him as a history professor and he replied that he had gone to graduate school for that very reason but no one had hired him. Their loss was our gain.

We couldn't take pictures inside the house and we were given so much detail that I'm just going to provide a link to the Monticello website and suggest that, if you are ever near the area, make a point of seeing it for yourself. After the house tour was complete, we wandered the grounds for a while.

Don calls this the Nickel Shot
For non-Americans, check out a US nickel to find out why

Sandy and Laurie photographing flowers and bugs

A flower

A butterfly

A sugar maple

From the house, we walked down to the Monticello Graveyard. This was originally established by Jefferson and a friend of his and, although many graves are from historic time, it is still the family burial ground. The most recent headstone I could see was from 1997 and the names Randolph and Taylor were prominent. Thomas' headstone was not the original, but it was the largest. The fact that he and friend/foe/friend John Adams both died on July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the United States of America, was a little bit of an eerie coincidence.

Monticello Graveyard sign

The graveyard

Thomas Jefferson's marker

From the graveyard, we continued our walk down to the Visitor Center with its collection of buildings and exhibits. In one room, I saw Jefferson's records on the daily weather and the methods he used for recording data. People poke fun at my data gathering habits, but I see I am in good company:-)

The beauty of Monticello was almost lost in the 1800's when the property was given to the US government to honour the memory of one of its greatest founders. The government of the day decided it didn't want it and the title was in question and the grounds declined for many years until, in 1879, Jefferson Monroe Levy acquired title to it and had it repaired and restored. In 1923, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation acquired it and has kept it up ever since.

Sandy seems to have a thing for bronze men (here with Jefferson himself)

To me, Thomas Jefferson's great gift to the world (along with John Locke before him) was the idea that liberty is based upon Individual Rights, the concept upon which the United States are founded and which he put forth so eloquently in the Declaration of Independence. This is why the memory of Jefferson and his home and times should be of interest not just to Americans but to freedom loving people everywhere. One of the exhibits in the Visitor Center was called the 'Boisterous Rain of Liberty' and featured an interactive display using sophisticated technology to describe the times, circumstances and ideals of Jefferson and the Founding Fathers. Unfortunately, with tourists abounding, Ron and I were the only people in this hall. I wonder how many people admiring the structures and artifacts have any idea what truly made this man great? And I wonder what Tom would say if he could see what the country he helped found has become.

But I digress. This is supposed to be a vacation and not a libertarian rant. So we left the Center and walked down to our bikes. Due to the inconvenient fact that the Earth rotates, they were no longer in the shade we had carefully chosen for them. We suited up in the sun and heat and continued our journey of exploration to a spot I hadn't heard of until last night from Talon on the VROC newsgroup, the Michie Tavern.

The tavern was established in 1784 on a different location and was moved to its current site in 1927. It currently offers tours of the old tavern and meals in it's dining room, The Ordinary. One definition of ordinary is "a restaurant, public house, or dining room serving all guests and customers the same standard meal or fare". That applies to the buffet here where you serve yourself BBQ pork, fried chicken and an assortment of vegetables and side dishes. For refills, serving girls bring you whatever you ask for. Although a bit expensive for lunch and more than we would usually eat, it did put a nice finish to our Monticello visit.

The Michie Tavern entrance

The Michie Tavern

Entrance to the dining room

The people here were very friendly. When we first pulled into the lot, which was almost as angled as Hofer's of Helen where I dumped the bike, a young lady rushed over and told us we could park over in the staff parking area where it was more level. On the way out, a lady confirmed my suspicion that the noises we had been hearing for several days were cicadas. She also told us that the high 80 degree temperatures that we had been melting in were more like May and September weather and that seasonal values would be 90-100 degrees and 90% humidity. I resolve to confine future visits to the spring and fall because, while I can handle the heat, we all know "it ain't the heat, it's the humidity" that gets you. Or, at least, it gets me.

We departed the Michie Tavern just before 2:00 PM and followed the by-pass around Charlottesville to US 29 North, also known as The Seminole Trail. I wondered why this would be since I was pretty sure the Seminole Indians were native to Florida and then were relocated to Oklahoma. It seems that a line of north/south highways leading through the southeast were christened this because they led to Florida. Another useless fact to stick in my head until I get a chance to appear on Jeopardy.

After wrestling with traffic, heat and stoplights going north from Charlottesville (and doing my utmost to keep my temperature gauge from hitting the stratosphere), we stopped in Ruckersville at a Sheetz for fuel and another shade and water break. While there, an older gentleman asked if we were from around there. We said no and he seemed disappointed, saying he was looking for an address. I got the GPS and was able to find the place he was looking for and provide him with directions. I hope they worked. While I was doing that, Sandy photographed another bug.

Sandy's moth at Sheetz in Ruckersville, Virginia

Leaving town, we finally really left town. US 29 was a four lane road to Madison, where we took a left on SR 231 and then 522, following the Blue Ridge Turnpike, the Lee Highway and the Zachary Taylor Highway. We were paralleling our ride down but this time we were in the valley we had seen from the ridge. At the outset, as we stared into a winding stretch, a slower Corvette piloted by an older gentleman, pulled over and let us pass. Whoever, the driver was, thank you.

I got one scare in an open stretch when I met a deputy while I was doing about six over and saw his brake lights come on and then he turned off. I watched the mirrors but I guess he was turning for another reason because we never saw him again.

Typical road of the day

The Blue Ridge as seen from below

I will tell you that, by the time we had finished the short run to Front Royal, I was done. I am usually able to handle temperatures at both ends of the thermometer but I was really fried this time. We didn't take long to decide that we would follow the GPS to the Quality Inn. They had rooms but couldn't get us on the ground floor. Ron and I were on the second facing the back lot and Brad, because his 6'6" frame wouldn't tolerate the two double beds each of us had, wound up in a king on the 3rd. Sandy and I decided that we would strike for home the next day so this would be our last evening with our companions.

Ron found out from the front desk that there was a restaurant about a block down Main St. We hoped that this was a real block and not one like they measure it in Buena Vista. We set out from the motel and found the restaurant just as described.

The team about to explore historic, downtown Front Royal

The Main Street Mill Restaurant was a good place to eat. The server was cute and friendly, with just the right bit of attitude. The food was good and quite reasonable priced. She brought it quickly and then told us, in no uncertain terms, that we would be having dessert. Brad declined and was labeled a wimp. We got a laugh out of that.

After supper, we walked through downtown Front Royal. Sarge had me concerned on the newsgroup when he said to secure our bikes well because the name Helltown was well deserved. This was at odds with what we saw after dark in the town square and I found out later it gained this name in the mid-1700's and mountain men and river travelers came here looking for booze and women. In fact, we quite enjoyed our walk.

The town was taken by Stonewall Jackson early in the Civil War as Belle Boyd, the famous Confederate spy, provided information that the town Union strength was being reduced. In one of the ironies of a war between brothers, the 1st Maryland Regiment (USA) was defeated and captured by the the 1st Maryland Regiment (CSA). The war was not kind to Front Royal amd most businesses were closed by the war's end.

Sandy got some more horticultural photos in Front Royal.

Behind our hotel

In the town square

Returning to the hotel, Ron and I reflected on our travels. Years ago, when EZ and Scooter came to New Hampshire for the Laconia weekend, Ron had warned them about 'twisties' and they had laughed. After our wander through North Carolina and North Georgia, he says he now understand why:-))

Since we will have a long haul tomorrow, Sandy and I went straight to bed without working on either the blog or the bills. There will be time enough for that very soon.

Today's Route

View Larger Map

No comments: