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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Top 10 Things to Do in Charlottesville

I have some bittersweet news to report, friends: after two-and-a-half wonderful years in Charlottesville, my life is taking me elsewhere. I'd like to write a little love letter to Charlottesville on my way out of town, though, so I give you:

1. Hike!
It's too damn easy and too beautiful not to.

Spy Rock
2 ...then eat at Blue Mountain Brewery! Get the beer flight and the apple-sausage pizza.
3. Stargaze at Carter Mountain - drive up there at night with your blanket and your sweetie, lay on your backs, count the shooting stars.*
*I do not know if this is legal.
4. Go out in Belmont on a Monday. Start with an early dinner at Tavola, take in Cville Song/Writers night at the Local, get late night drinks at Mas. (basil gimlet! cucumber ginger martini!)
Cville Song/Writers Night
5. Sign up for a month's worth of classes at Bikram Yoga in the winter. That hot room will feel great during those cold winter months. I've never felt so good as when I was doing this 3-4 times a week. It can get pricey, so look for a Living Social deal
6. Spend an evening on 29N. Get drunk at Chili's and see something in 3D at the Stonefield Regal. Or have the best Indian food in town at Milan and see something on the cheap at the $1.50 theater. Finish it all up with late night eat-in at Cook Out.
7. On Halloween, dress up in a non-slutty costume and head to UVa - they do a Halloween on the Lawn event that is a circus of locals with their kids and undergrads handing out candy from their historic rooms.
8. First Fridays (art! wine!) + Fridays After Five (music! beer!).
9. Rivanna Trail - I can't say enough about this little slice of mysterious heavenly nature that is hiding in this city. Watch for the signs, step off the road, explore!
10. See a show at:

Before I sail off into the sunset, here's my first post ever. What an amazing journey this has been.
And not to tease you too much, but the journey continues! Follow me here.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Charlottesville's Fall Foliage

Today, Rennie and I went looking for fall foliage. With the funky weather Charlottesville (and the country, of course) has been having, our efforts were pretty hit and miss. 
I'll bet this tree was fantastic a week ago.

I wasn't the only one with a camera out there today.
O Hill hasn't gotten the memo on fall yet. (Extra points for spotting the Schnoodle!)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Thing About Riding on Trains is...

I'm from the west coast. We don't reeeeeally have train travel as an option over there. Here, in Charlottesville, my proximity to Amtrak's Northeast Corridor has been a revelation. New York is only 6 hours and a good book away! DC? A measly 2.5 hours.

But I don't want to talk about the convenience of train travel here. I want to talk about the way it allows you to see stuff.

Towns look either terrible or awesome from trains. Orange, VA looks darling from a train - and that's because the train tracks take you right through the center of town. You get a slice of that quaint little Main Street and then you're off - but Orange has made its impression. Bridgeport, CT looks unbearably miserable. Boarded up old warehouses, falling-down rowhouses; it's as if the city has crossed its arms and shut its eyes to you. You see its absolute worst part.

Checking out towns from trains is kind of like going to a burlesque show. As the tracks dip down and up, the retaining walls around the tracks rise and fall, it's a bit like a buxom brunette with a fan - she gives you a little bit of breast...then she takes it back. A little bit of butt cheek...whisked away. It's like flirting with a town, and I'm not ashamed to crane my neck and stare.

On my trip to Boston and New York, I got to see part of the Northeast Corridor I'd never seen before: Long Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey. With the exception of Bridgeport, this is an exceptionally beautiful route. I'm talking sea marshes with long-legged birds dipping their beaks. Rambling wooden houses clustered against great grey, mossy rocks. F-ing white church steeples, for God's sake. My seatmate probably thought I was crazy, because after being whipped around a bend and thrown right into the middle of one of these scenes, I leaned forward and said, "Come on!" I just couldn't believe that amount of cliche beauty actually existed.

It's hard work, riding on trains. You may want to rest your eyes (which are doing a lot of work), but if you do? You'll miss the opening into a little secret pocket of bucolic New England beauty.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Charlottesville -Boston-New York-Charlottesville

I am blessed and cursed with raging wanderlust. And since my life right now dictates that I can't pick up and move away from Charlottesville on a whim (and that's a reflection of me, not my lovely 'ville), I'm trying to scratch the itch by taking little bite-size trip-lettes. Because my new job gave me Columbus Day off (what, yours didn't?), I decided to take advantage of it.

I'd always wanted to see Boston. So on Saturday morning, Tim drove me to Richmond for a 12pm flight. I'm pointedly not going to address the inconvenience of getting to the Richmond airport and how if you want to fly anywhere for a reasonable price, you're stuck with an hour-and-a-half drive on each side of it because there are no airport shuttles between Cville and Richmond. Want to start a business? There's your idea.

Anyhoo. The flight was uneventful, and when I arrived at my layover in JFK, I had a stroke of good luck:  my next flight wasn't slated to take off until 4pm, but because of the magic of the internet and being pleasantly persistent with some gate agents, I was able to hop a flight two hours earlier, which meant I'd have two more hours of daylight in the city! Score.

Because I can't seem to NOT work for nonprofits in Cville, staying in a decent hotel in Boston wasn't a financial possibility for me. Here's where AirBNB came in. I hereby pledge my eternal devotion to this site. It allows normal people like you and me to put their spare room/couch/whatever they have on the internets for other normal people like you and me to stay in. I connected with a girl named Lee who had a spare room in her apartment in the North End. Major score! So, for $65, I got to stay here:

Where I had a view of this:

Obviously, Boston is historically significant. It is a big-ass city with any number of ways you could choose to tour it. My method? No plan:  just feet. When I moved to DC in 2009 I took 18 days to get across the country, and I fell in love with just showing up in a city and figuring it out with no game plan. That is exactly the way I chose to see Boston. I call it the Smash-and-Grab tour. So that first day, I went from the airport to State Street via the T, Boston's subway system. I bought a Charlie Card (Boston's version of a metro card) for $10 which, because I did so much walking, was plenty for the Smash-and-Grab.

Some of the lines have cars that are old streetcars!
From State Street I crossed Boston Common and made for Newbury Street. Newbury Street is an upscale shopping area, and was very crowded that Saturday afternoon, which made for some good people watching. I like to fancy myself a bit of a travel sociologist, and I was very interested in what a "typical Bostonian" looked like. Was it the Jersey-Shore-type guys with sculpted beards and too much cologne? The closed-faced thick-thighed girls with too much eyeliner and loud voices? Was it the old women in their velour track suits pushing their shopping in little wire carts? Whatever Bostonians actually look like (if there is such a thing), the people traffic on Newbury Street was wholly engrossing and entertaining.

I made a stop at Abe and Louie's for refreshments. My criteria? Crowded with a good bar. Unfortunately, Abe and Louie's was also very expensive. I dropped around $30 on a jumbo crab cake with mango salsa and a beer. On the upside, I fell into an interesting conversation with two men at the bar about how there's a lack of interest in craft beers in Boston. Given, these guys were both drinking Coors Light, so take that with a grain of salt - but what do you think? I'd be interested in anyone's insights on this.

Around 5:30 I made for Lee's AirBnB accommodations in the North End. The North End is the Italian district, and Lee's apartment was right off Hanover. I was totally charmed by the North End with its cobblestone streets, its noisy, crowded, neon storefronts, and its secret alleyways.

After dropping my pack and getting a key from Lee, I took to the streets again. My two-or-so hours of rambling that night took me from the North End out along the waterfront, to Faneuil Hall, Beacon Hill, and ultimately, back to Hanover Street where I had a plate of heavy pasta that I'm still fantasizing about. Boston's no different than other cities in that rich people live on the water. I ended up mostly alone on the Harbor Walk feeling like I was sneaking through people's backyards and watching the lightning in the distance over the harbor. The Harbor Walk led me to Faneuil Hall, a place on everyone's "You have to go there!" list. What I didn't realize? It's a freaking mall. Yes, it's charming with its old architecture and cobblestones from the days when it was a traditional marketplace and gathering ground - but there is an honest-to-God foodcourt in there now, smashing most of its ambiance. Beacon Hill was like a magical little fairyland with its gaslamps and streetfront rowhouses, and when I got back to Lee's place around 9:30, I collapsed.

After climbing these.

Everything in Lee's building was at an angle.
The next morning, I hit the Freedom Trail. What is the Freedom Trail, you ask? Well! It's a sort-of yellowbrick road of history, only it's red. It was created in the 1950's to give shameless tourists (like me) a way to see many of the significant historical sites of the city. It is literally a 2.5 mile trail of red bricks (and paint on concrete, in some locations) that you can follow, and while I wasn't interested in historical sites on this trip, it did give me the perfect context in which to walk the city.

The whole circuit took me about 2 hours, but I'm a fast walker and wasn't interested in going into Paul Revere's house, etc. Here's what I saw:

One of the things I love about Boston: the mix of architectural styles.
If you do the Freedom Trail, you will not do it alone - this is just one of many groups I encountered!

My favorite sneaky shortcut from the trip: a commuter ferry that takes you from Charles Town, and the end of the Freedom Trail, back to downtown, for $3. Cash only. (And her name is Rita.)
Boston looks mighty purdy from Rita's deck.
With the Freedom Trail under my belt, I was ready to move on to New York. But before we leave Boston, a word about the food:  eat it. Eat a lot of it. On my must-eat list was a lobster roll and a cannoli. Bostonians are bitterly divided over who makes the best cannoli - Mike's or Modern? Both are on Hanover, both perpetually have a line, and while I can't speak for Mike's, Modern Pastry? Was delish!

Lobster roll from Boston Chowdah at Faneuil Hall. While the bun was lackluster, the lobster bits were sooooooooooooooooooo good...
I was a good girl and waited to eat my cannoli, which came in a sweet little box. I stared at it on the train for about an hour...

...then I ate the crap out of it! That's chocolate-dipped vanilla custard-filled from Modern Pastry, for those of you playing along at home.

See you soon for the next adventure!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Orange and Rapidan: Sweet Living, Steady Progress

I've stopped through Orange several times, either via train on my way to New York/elsewhere, or via car on my way to DC. Based on the charming storefronts I was seeing in a blur through those windows, and on the recommendations that it was a "cute town," I decided it was time to give it my undivided attention.

I took Stony Point Road out of town, and can I just say? That road is picturesque as hell. When I get really leveled by something, I react with obscenity. The inside of my car sounded like a road house all the way out Stony Point Road. Having driven it a few times, I can tell you that it is equally stunning in winter, spring, and summer; but fall - is just f$%*ing ridiculous.

I even risked life, limb, and Subaru to pull off the road a few times to prove it to you.

It took about 45 minutes to get to Orange. I like small towns for many reasons, but today, it was because it's always obvious where to park:  Main Street. Duh.

Wikipedia tells me that the town of Orange has just under 5,000 people living there, with a fairly even age split (the only exception being the 18-24 year-olds. There are barely any of them. I have to assume this is because there isn't a college there - or anything else, really. I'd have a tough time being a youngish person in Orange.) The downtown corridor is on the National Register of Historic Places, and, just like I was told:  it's cute. But here's what I want to say.

Orange is a type of town I've gotten used to seeing in my travels. Its boom days behind it (it was a big deal during the Civil War and because of silk mill that manufactured parachutes for WWII), the town is left with a string of beautiful old buildings someone had the foresight to preserve, but no industry. So those buildings become antique malls, art galleries, a few brave attempts at restaurants/coffee shops that survive a few years, and the kind of old lady boutiques that look like this:

You know what I'm talking about. Do you need a quilt? No? Well, how about some hand-crafted mugs? Wire-twist earrings?

I know I have a tone, but this kind of town bums me out. What do all the people do? Why live there? It's clearly a bedroom community for Charlottesville or Culpeper or - eegads, maybe even DC? I just think towns like this, without an economic engine, are doomed to fail. Tourism will only get you so far in Orange.
Taylor Park, just off Main Street
Love seeing public art - even if it's a mural of a fox hunt (run, fox, run!)
Perfect example of a repurposed storefront. Even the brave Ed Jaffe is trying to offload this space. Extra points if you can spot the photographer!
While perusing the old lady boutique, I struck up a conversation with an old lady and asked if she had any recommendations of things to see while I was there. All of her suggestions involved leaving town. Interesting. One of her suggestions was Rapidan, and that sounded alright, so in the car I went and promptly got lost (my fault - I think a willingness to get lost is a key component to successful travel). One of my wrong turns took me under a bridge...where I saw what that small population of 18-24 year-olds had been up to. 

Heh heh...bewbs.
Rapidan is a very brief shot-in-the-arm of adorable. Fifteen minutes outside of Orange, it's also a former mill town which was known as Rapid Ann Station. The mill is not operating any longer, but I hope they leave it alone - it's haunting and beautiful.

There is a downtown Rapidan, but blink and you'll miss it. From what I could tell, it consists of a general store and an old railcar made of wood. I opted to peep it all from the safety of my car - I'd been yelled at while on the bridge grabbing these pics of the mill, and was feeling a little spooked.

I'll leave you with this, which might be my new personal motto:

Sweet Living, Steady Progress

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sunday Nights in Charlottesville: Hogwaller Ramblers at Fellini's

I finally got to check out the Hogwaller Ramblers at Fellini's, and I think you should make an effort to do the same! They play Sunday nights at 10-ish, no cover.

Check out my Tumblr for an audio clip.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Charlottesville Hikes: Observatory Hill

I wanted a hike today, but didn't want to drive hours to get to one. So what's available in town? We've found one we really like: Observatory Hill. Tucked in the middle of UVa, the McCormick Observatory is the pinnacle and loops of trails surround it. I'm terrible at technical details like mileage, but you could do a leisurely hour roaming around back there, with very little ascent/descent. Fair warning, though:  mountain bikers like it, so keep your eyes and ears open!

There isn't too terribly much of a view to speak of, but the fallen, crunchy leaves and the naked trees (this time of year, of course) are beautiful. I've never run into more than 2 or 3 people up here, and you can let dogs off the leash.

Today I took a different trail and found a gem:

This bench was dedicated to Howard and Peter, Observatory Hill's "beloved dog walkers." (See here for more info.) Sitting directly across from this bench is a little birdhouse-looking-thingy. Inside (yes, I open things when I think I can get away with it - including your medicine cabinet) are dog treats, people treats, and a book of poetry. Reynolds was very pleased with the dog treat scenario and I'm sure she would've liked Howard and Peter very much.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mudhouse Coffee - Crozet

With the weather actually finally feeling like winter, I wanted something warm today - and I'd been hearing about Mudhouse Coffee since we moved to Charlottesville, so I decided today was the day.

Yes, Mudhouse has locations all over (including in Charlottesville), but the Crozet location was where I wanted to be. Why? Tough to say. Maybe it's just how damn charming Crozet's downtown is. Maybe it was a subconscious urge for Crozet Pizza, right across the street. Who knows. My mind is a mysterious thing.

Mudhouse was officially founded in 1995 after the owners operated a coffee cart for a little over a year. They wanted to create a true community coffeehouse - and the location in Crozet is exactly that. It's a big, warm, open room finished in exposed brick, wooden floors and giant drapes. Students, couples, students-becoming-couples, and regular old folks sit in padded leather chairs or at the coffee bar. Giant windows let lots of light in. It's very pleasant.

I ordered a glass of their regular roast (they get their beans from Lexington Coffee Roasting Company) and a slice of their vegan ginger applesauce cake (highly recommend) They make all their food and baked goods by hand on location, which is cool. I ran into a friend. I wrote this blog post using their free wifi. I was successfully coffee-housed.

Mudhouse Crozet
5793 The Square
Crozet, VA 22932

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Not Entirely Legal But Entirely Delicious: Bread and Salt

This post isn't really fair, because I'm telling you about something you might not be able to enjoy. Oh, don't get me wrong: you'd enjoy it - you just might not be physically able to do it.

Last night, I got to enjoy a super-secret birthday dinner for our friend Jen. Why was it super secret? It was run out of someone's home...which isn't entirely legal.

Bread and Salt has been running for just over a year in Gary's* home. I have no earthly idea how you get to go to this thing, other than to know someone who knows someone, which is how I found myself seated at Gary's long wooden dining room table last night. You pay $35/person, bring a beverage of choice, and let Gary do his thing. Because that's what Gary does. We coaxed him out of the kitchen near the end of the meal and peppered him with questions (like my food analogy? eh? eh??) about how he came to this strange and fabulous career, and the one theme that came up over and over is that Gary does things Gary's way. At one point he ran an espresso bar and it sounds like his customer service may have been...lacking. So allowing him creative control over your meal is not only the safest way to go - it's also the smartest, because he's friggin amazing.

For us (and it's different every time), Gary made the following:
- Scugnili salad, which was conch lightly salted and oiled, with olives and loaves of Gary's thick, darkly crusted bread on the side
- Squash spaghetti, which was so creamy you'd swear it was swimming in butter and cream - but it wasn't; a Gary trick
- Potatoes, flavored with olives and garlic
- Pork shoulder, melting in your mouth
- Spicy baked cabbage and carrots
- Salad with vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper dressing
- Canoli flavored with orange blossom water

His philosophy is to use really simple food and prepare it in a way that lets its natural flavors come through. He doesn't like working with tons of ingredients. He's always asking himself how he can show off quality ingredients, simply. And this meal was a whopper. I've never experienced some of those flavors.

Gary does meals like this 2-3 times a week, and that's enough for him to live on. We had a group of 10 and filled the table completely, but Gary says it's more typical for him to take small reservations of 2-3 and make them all sit together. That's the other thing Gary likes to have control over - the mechanics of his dinner table. If you come for a romantic meal, expect top be split up from your partner. While this sounds slightly terrifying for this introvert, I imagine it would be a great wray to meet new people if you're in the right mood.

I truly hope you have the pleasure of experiencing a meal at Bread and Salt some day. Maybe start hanging around La Michoacana (Gary's favorite Charlottesville restaurant) and clandestinely inquiring after not-strictly-legal supper clubs in town.

*names have been changed to protect the Garys.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Charlottesville Holiday Lights 2011

Looking for holiday lights? Look no further.

Last night, Tim and I poured a little hot chocolate into our commuter mugs, put a Christmas sweater on Reynolds, and drove over to Mountainview Street on a tip from a friend...where we found this:

Holy bejeez, people, this guy is SERIOUS. Here's what you need to know: Santa on Mountainview Street is open from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas day, and Santa is there from 6-10 pm every night. It doesn't cost anything to park your car and walk into this slightly insane winter wonderland, but the owner, Jeff Norford (dressed as Rudolph the night we went), asks for a small donation to help pay for his electricity bill.

Jeff has been doing this for 14 years. He started when his stepkids asked for lights, and it got more and more elaborate every year as they insisted on more and more holiday spirit. Today, he has over 80 inflatables and lines of cars that stretch miles to see his display. We even met a neighbor who was begrudgingly setting up his display, seemingly out of peer pressure.

Santa on Mountainview Street is held in memory of Jeff's stepdad. You can even visit them on Facebook.

What other Charlottesville spots have good holiday lights?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Crabtree Falls

One of my absolute favorite things to do in Charlottesville is - well, drive OUT of Charlottesville, and hike! A few weekends ago, Tim and I drove out to Crabtree Falls. The drive took about 2 hours and put us very near Spy Rock. What I'd been hoping for was a relatively rugged path, with some difficult ascents and beautiful views - some place we could let Reynolds off the leash, some place where we could feel like we were in the middle of nowhere.

Crabtree Falls was not that hike.

To be clear, it IS beautiful. The falls are impressive. The general grade is relatively challenging. But it's much more of a whole-family-and-grandma hike than it is two-youngish-people-and-their-dog kind of hike. The path is very well maintained all the way up with switchbacks, wooden stairs, and guard rails

The leaves were amazing, though:

(Don't judge us for the "leash." We forgot the real one and had to fashion it out of rope.)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Crime Report

There were a lot of thefts in this week's crime report. A cell phone, a jacket, another cell phone, and...this one:

11/11 3 PM 13XX Lee Street
Theft of steel pipe.


Guard your valuables (and steel pipes), Charlottesville! Crime reports of your very own available here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Happy Thanksgiving, Charlottesville! I have tons of stuff(ing) to be thankful for about living here, but here are just five:

1. Four seasons. When you've lived in LA, four seasons feel like a miracle. My favorite so far has been fall. I mean, c'mon:  LA's got NOTHIN' on this:


2. I walk to work. That walk takes 12 minutes. Seven minutes if I bike it. And a portion of it is along the Downtown Mall.

3. The music scene. I could see live music every night of the week if I wanted. Some of my favorites are the Cville Song/Writers nights on Monday at The Local, anything at The Southern, and The Hogwaller Ramblers. Okay, I haven't actually seen The Hogwaller Ramblers play yet, but I know I'll love them.

4. Hiking. It is just too friggin' easy to throw the Schnoodle into the back of the Subaru, drive 40 minutes, and be in a different world. Some hikes we've done so far are Crabtree Falls, Spy Rock, and Blue Hole.

5. Potter's Craft Cider. It's the reason we moved here, and it's going well. On draft at The Local, Blue Mountain Brewery, and Whole Foods.

What are you thankful for?