Monday, 19 May 2014

American Road Trip - the beginning! Episode 2

And when I say road trip, I mean around 2,500 miles.  If you have any idea how big the US is, you'll know that it wasn't a huge trip!  But for us, it was two weeks on the road, meeting some lovely southern folks, eating lots of shrimp (prawns to UK readers) caught locally; tasting grits for the first time;  finding out that "biscuit" is actually a scone without sugar in the mix - and delicious with bacon and egg for breakfast;  finding out that the Outer Banks (OBX) is massive.  It's so lovely, with two shores - the Atlantic Ocean, and then the sound inside before the coastline proper.  If you love water, sea, sand, sun, boats, seafood and everything that goes with all that, I think you just might like this as a holiday spot.  Because we found so much that was new to us, and met so many great hosts (AirBnB all the way!), I'll have to divide this trip into several chapters.  The nice thing about blogging is that you can churn out pages and no-one is actually obliged to read them unless they really want to!  So go ahead, be our guest, and join us on our trip.

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Our first stop was at Susan's lovely home in Keswick, just above Charlottesville Virginia, about 10 minutes down the road from Monticello, the home Thomas Jefferson had built for himself.  This very small home (considering who he was) is at the top of a hill, with views all around.  It ensures cool breezes in the hot weather, as the temperature is several degrees lower up there. Never mind about what his part was in American history - what a clever chap Mr Jefferson was!  The architecture of Monticello is incredible.  He was a well read man and had been to Europe and incorporated all sorts of ideas into his home, including sliding doors so that rooms used in the summer could be closed off in winter; There's a weather vane on the porch which has a compass at it's base.  The compass is fitted to the porch ceiling, so that you can look out of the window and up into the porch to see which way the wind blows (especially good in winter, as you don't have to step outside!).  Above his bed, which was built into a wall space between his office and his sitting room so that no time was wasted walking to another room, is an open cupboard with large round round windows with no glass.  These are not windows at all, but openings to allow air to circulate - as this space was for clothes to air (don't forget that lots of heavy clothing was not washable, and the only way to get it to smell sweet(ish) again was to air it.  He imported wines from Europe on a regular basis - spending a great deal of money in doing so; he kept slaves even though he was a great supporter of freedom; probably fathered several children by one of his slaves (he was widowed early and never took another wife).  The gardens are laid out just as they were in his time, when we where there in early May they were just planting vegetables.  There is a lot of archaeology on-going too, so things are being found all the time. 
From Monticello, we drove eastwards to Richmond, Virginia, a very large city south of Washingon.  We spent a couple of hours in the late afternoon driving around suburbs looking for somewhere interesting to eat, finding only KFC or other fast food outlets of the same kind.  Eventually we plumped for a cup of coffee, and drove round more suburbs until it was time to greet our hosts for the night, Alton and John.  We could certainly have coped with our daily lunch standby, a handful of crisps and an orange if there was nowhere near,  and of course we could ask our hosts for directions to somewhere decent for the night, but then we were asked had we eaten?!  So a huge platter of chicken wings was seasoned and cooked for us, them, and their lodger.  Delicious, and we sat around the kitchen table for a few hours putting the world to rights.  When they asked where we were going next and we told them, they suggested somewhere we had not even considered.  And for where that was, you'll have to see Episode 3.


Take at least half a day to do this visit.  Monticello is guided for you and you join a smallish group at the time printed on your ticket so that you can hear and see everything without a crush.  The gardens can be done with a guide too if you want, and all staff are helpful. You can ask anyone anything.  Don't miss some of Mr Jefferson's books behind glass, and find out why some of them are so small!