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A Friend in the Cellar

Posted by on Mar 27, 2017 in Travel | 1 comment

Monticello

Phillip and I are walking through the passage into the cellar under Monticello, when a woman coming the other direction stops us. Because she wants to take a photo. Of us. For us.

Wait…what?

“It just looks so cool with the light filtering through the fog behind you…it’s okay…I work here,” she reassured us with that non-sequitur.

Still slightly stunned, we hand her a phone, pose for a photo, and then find ourselves in a conversation about our visit to Virginia and her work at Monticello (which does not typically involve walking around taking strangers’ photos).

Momticello window

“Have a good trip!” she calls after us when we finally part ways.

I randomly respond with “Thanks! May the Force be with you!”

She stops in her tracks. “Have you seen it?”

Of course, she means the then-newly-released Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, that had shocked fans (including us) with the death of a hero.

“Yes!” I was still moving through the stages of fictional character grief, and she just opened her arms to hug me.

The three of us stood in the passageway awhile longer, talking about the movie and the plot twist and feelings and nostalgia, and it was this beautiful moment of connection in a really unexpected location.

monticello passage by liz marshall




P.S. I just posted more about what to see at Monticello and will be posting how to tackle tickets and tour schedules later this week.

Last photo by Liz Marshall.

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Our Time at Monticello (part 1)

Posted by on Mar 23, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Monticello

The fog had started rolling in as we wound through the woods on the way to Monticello and had thickened by the time we were standing outside the House itself. It obscured the view, swallowing up all but the nearest trees. We stood on the side of the House away from the waning crowds, and, for a few moments, it was as quiet as if we were the only ones in the world. As if we had traveled back in time. As if, at any moment, we would hear approaching hoof beats and see Thomas Jefferson emerging through the white-gray veil.

Monticello

Even in his day, visitors to the House would not have been unusual. In fact, Monticello had already become a tourist attraction during the former president’s lifetime [audio].

People touring the U.S. or who wanted to learn more about Jefferson stopped at his Charlottesville, Virginia home frequently enough that they strained the resources of both the residence and the residents.

Monticello

Today, people continue to stop there for many of the same reasons as those early admirers – although a visit no longer comes with free wine or overnight lodging.

The House and plantation buildings continue to perch atop their hill (a.k.a. the “mountaintop”) with orchards, vineyards, and gardens stretching out across the landscape.

Nearly 100 years ago, a foundation was set up to maintain the House and the grounds, continue research, and manage the steady flow of visitors. In keeping with Jefferson’s ardor for order, the whole place still runs like clockwork.

Thomas Jefferson at Monticello

Places you can visit at Monticello:

Monticello visitor center

1. Visitors Center

The entry point for contemporary visitors is a complex of buildings at the bottom of the hill. The Rubenstein Visitor Center, Smith Education Center, Milstein Theater, Smith Gallery, gift shop, and cafe all form kind of a square around a central courtyard.

Visitor center exhibits take a variety of forms: models of Monticello, a projection of key Jeffersonian ideas, hands-on activities for kids, explanations of Monticello’s architecture, and interactive LCD screens about liberty.

Monticello

At the far end of the square, there’s a shuttle stop with a covered waiting area. Shuttles arrive every 5-10 minutes to take you to the mountaintop, parking you directly in front of the East Walk to the House. You can also walk the half mile (25 minutes) to the top. Either way, make sure you have your ticket first.

If you haven’t already purchased and printed out your pass, you pick it up at the Dominion Welcome Pavilion on your way in from the parking lot.

Monticello house

2. The House

When the shuttle dropped us off for our House Tour, there were still crowds of people around the East Portico, waiting for their tour time.

You need a timed ticket to go inside Monticello.

Monticello

While we waited for our tour, we saw how the guides work in sync to keep groups staggered just the right distance apart. Once a tour headed inside, the next one began right there on the front-porch-like portico, while the following one was gathered off to the side.

We saw two different guides’ introductions. They each had their own style but were very knowledgeable and passionate about the place and its history.

The main house tour is wheelchair accessible, but you need to be in a chair that meets a certain size requirement. If not, you can borrow one of theirs. Even though some of the spaces are tight, the guides know exactly how to navigate through and are very helpful, making sure everyone on the tour is taken care of.

Monticello bookshelf

A few objects that stood out:

  • The Great Clock has faces inside and outside and a system of balancing weights that also show the day of the week. The days were listed down the wall and, due to a miscalculation, had to extend down through the floor into the cellar. It is still wound weekly [video].
  • Books – Jefferson’s entire collection went to help re-establish the Library of Congress after it was burned down during the War of 1812. The original volumes are still in D.C. on exhibit at the Library of Congress (Southwest Pavilion, 2nd Floor, Thomas Jefferson Building). So Monticello curators have stocked the Book Room’s shelves with other copies of the titles he owned that were published around the same time.
  • Jefferson’s bed was wedged into an alcove between two of his private rooms, as a space saving measure, and he would sleep sitting up. (I’m not convninced it actually saved space, but Jefferson was really into putting beds into alcoves.)
  • Polygraph – clever writing implement used to make copies.
  • Wine dumb waiter – contraption to bring bottles straight up from the wine cellar into the dining room (and the fixture in the House I may be most jealous of).

Monticello
To visit the second and third floors, you would need to purchase a Behind the Scenes Tour (or Upper Floors Tour) ticket ahead of time and be able to navigate a steep staircase.

Monticello

3. The Plantation Community and Grounds

Before or after your tour, you can check out the self-guided areas of the mountaintop.

Monticello

Walk through either the North or South Cellar Passage to go under the House. You can see food preparation and storage areas and wander into the wine cellar to find where the dumb waiter lands.

Monticello wine cellar

I should note that present-day Monticello does not shy away from – but certainly doesn’t condone – the fact that many of Jefferson’s workers were enslaved people. The introductory film even addresses the paradox that such an advocate for freedom also denied it to people on his own estate.

Monticello

In recent years, Monticello has moved to provide more information about the entire community who lived there along with Jefferson, highlighting the skills of the craftspeople, adding exhibits about enslaved individuals, and creating a Slavery at Monticello app. There’s also a House Tour option that focuses on the Hemings family, and all Day Passes include the option of an additional Slavery at Monticello tour.

Monticello kitchen

We did not venture into the grayness to find Mulberry Row or get off the shuttle at the Monticello Graveyard stop that already-dark evening, opting instead to head back to the warmth of the visitors center.

Monticello tree

As much as we enjoyed the romance of our fog-cloaked winter visit, condensation droplets hanging on bare branches like tiny glass ornaments, we hope to visit again on a clearer day, when leaves are back on the trees, and we have the luxury of a little more time.

Monticello

 




More info

  • Monticello is open 364 days a year (closed Christmas Day)
  • Parking is free.
  • Monticello is a short drive from Charlottesville, and there are a variety of lodging options there, incuding the Omni where we stayed and the Oakhurst Inn near UVA.
  • Your tour/day pass is your admission ticket. Adult passes start at $20.
  • Monticello is not a National Park. The House and 2500 acres (of the original 5000) are owned and maintained by a non-profit organization without federal or state funding.

Photos

No photos are allowed inside the house, due to certain items being on loan from other institutions or individuals.

You can also get a glimpse of what the tour is like and a close-up of some of Monticello’s objects and features in videos by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. There are also 360 views of rooms on the first floor, as well as an image gallery on Monticello.org.

Planning

If your schedule allows it, I’d recommend planning on at least half a day there. Visit Charlottesville suggested visiting Monticello in the morning, having lunch at Michie Tavern, and then visit another historical site (like Ash-Lawn Highland) in the afternoon.

I’ll have more itinerary recommendations for you next week, plus tips for picking your tour and planning your time.

Monticello


We were guests of Monticello.

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National Christmas tree

Posted by on Dec 1, 2016 in Travel | 0 comments

The U.S. National Christmas Tree in Washington D.C. isn’t seasonal. The decorations are. But the tree itself is a living thing, planted in the President’s Park, permanent enough to be a dot on National Mall maps.

http://www.nps.gov/whho/planyourvisit/national-christmas-tree.htm

It’s located in the middle of the Ellipse (a big lawn south of the White House), surrounded by the “Pathway of Peace.” During the holiday season, it’s lit up like….well, you know…with model trains and miniature buildings at its base and 57 smaller trees decorated for each U.S. state and territory (plus the District of Columbia) with handmade ornaments from schoolchildren and artists.

National Christmas Tree

– Visiting The National Christmas Tree –

  • The National Christmas Tree lights are on nightly from approximately 4:30-10pm during the month of December.
  • The Pathway of Peace is open 10am-10pm.
  • 30-minute music and dance performances take place on a nearby stage for 2 weeks in December.
  • It’s free to see the tree and watch performances.
  • There’s an annual lighting ceremony and concert. Watch the 2015 lighting online. (The 2016 ceremony will be televised later this week.)
  • The National Tree has a Twitter account. It loves Christmas, music, and, apparently, Gilmore Girls.

 

National Christmas Tree

Getting There

  • Transit: The closest stops are the same ones you’d use for the White House – either Federal Triangle (blue, orange, and silver lines) or Metro Center (red, blue, orange, and silver lines).
  • Parking: There’s a parking garage at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Rates vary but plan for about $10/hour weekdays, $15 for weekday evenings or all day on weekends and holidays. Access via 13½ Street (off Pennsylvania Avenue) or 14th Street. Open to the public but visitors and vehicles are screened upon entry.
  • Street parking is limited.
  • We ended up walking from our hotel.
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Coffee Sleeve Flower Press

Posted by on Apr 25, 2016 in Craft, Travel | 10 comments

I didn’t expect to be pressing flowers during this winter’s trip to Virginia, so I didn’t pack anything for that. But I ended up with a few rose petals from my cousin’s wedding I wanted to preserve.

Coffee sleeve flower press

I’d been wondering if a cardboard coffee sleeve could work as an on-the-go flower press, so I grabbed one from the hotel. Since the inside had ridges, I tore it at the seam and basically turned it inside out, sandwiching the petals between flat sides. It may not have been necessary, but I slipped another sleeve over the top just to help everything stay put. Then I clipped it all together with a hair clip.

Coffee sleeve flower press

It actually worked pretty well! I imagine you could also use binder clips or wedge the sleeve under something heavy in your suitcase to keep it flat. Another way to repurpose coffee sleeves for crafting!

image


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A Strategically Located Embassy

Posted by on Apr 21, 2016 in Travel | 0 comments

Embassy suites DC

You’ve got some pretty impressive neighbors when you’re staying at the Embassy Suites Washington DC Convention Center. The President, for example, lives just down the street. The first night we were in town, we were wandering around after dinner and ended up strolling by the White House.

Embassy suites DC

We actually stayed there twice (at the hotel, not the White House), since we were flying in and out of Washington DC with the Charlottesville portion of the trip sandwiched in the middle.

Embassy Suites hotel, Washington DC

As the name would suggest, all of the rooms at the Embassy Suites are suites with 2 or 3 rooms. So the living room and kitchenette/wet bar is separate from the bedroom(s).

Embassy Suites hotel, Washington DC

For our second stay, our room was a large corner suite with its own conference table. It felt like I should call a meeting. Or at least spread out a craft project.

Embassy Suites hotel, Washington DC

While there is a microwave, coffeemaker, and mini fridge in all rooms, a hot, made-to-order breakfast in the adjoining Finn & Porter restaurant is included in your stay.

Embassy suites DC

You pick out your ingredients, and they whip you up an omelet right there in front of you. They’ll also serve diced potatoes, bacon, etc. on the side, and you can help yourself to fruit and pastries. It was really good, and the restaurant has a nice warm atmosphere.

Embassy suites DC

One morning, I finished breakfast and just sat next to the fireplace with my coffee for a bit, while outside the windows DC dwellers were rushing off to work.

Meanwhile, I didn’t even have to bus my own table. They take care of that. In fact, I was looking for a trash can to toss something on my way out and instead a server just held out his hand to take it for me.

Fireplace at embassy suites dc

In the evenings, there is a reception with snacks and beverages (alcohol is available with ID).

image

Really, the only thing that was a hassle was parking. And that’s a DC-wide issue. While there was only valet parking at the hotel, stopping to drop the car off or check in when you arrive had the triple-parked confusion of a busy airport’s arrivals curb.

Another strategy is to skip renting a car altogether, especially if you’ll be in DC during a peak season (like summer or National Cherry Blossom Festival). And especially if you stay somewhere centrally located enough for walking and transit access.

DC Metro

The Embassy Suites where we stayed is near the Metro and bus lines, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, and the majority of Washington DC’s main sights.

image
A few of the places we walked to from our hotel:

See what I mean about great neighbors?

Washington DC


We received a media discount from Embassy Suites.

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