Tag Archives: Albemarle

The Best-Laid Plans

And sometimes even your best-laid plans go awry.  Though I have been packed for southern India since the end of June, I am currently switching gears to depart for Laos in less than a week.  After several denied work visa applications, and 2 months of attempts at remedying the situation, there was still no progress.  As the school year was quickly passing by, it was decided that I would be placed somewhere else.  Much to my delight and surprise, I’ve been welcomed as an English teacher next term, beginning in October, at Vientiane College, in the capital city of Lao PDR.  I’ll be leaving next week, and will have awhile to settle in to my new home before work begins.

Are we really still in Virginia?! (Yogaville Lotus Temple)

In the meantime, as I’ve been waiting for these plans to fall into place, I’ve been continuing to explore and appreciate what’s in my own backyard.  The late summer days have been great for spending outdoors, and I finally got to visit Crabtree Falls, a nice hike in the George Washington Forest, and the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi, with some friends on an August weekend.  On the way back, we refueled from hiking on smoked barbecue from Blue Ridge Pig, a very unassuming-looking stopoff in Nellysfod, that serves up mouth-watering sandwiches, acclaimed by decades worth of yellowing business cards and newspaper clippings inside.  To wash down the barbecue, we swung by Ciderworks, one of only two hard cider breweries in Virginia, where we got to sample the four current ciders on tap.

original site of the Woodstock festival

Another peculiar Virginia site I visited for an afternoon was Yogaville, which made me feel like I had ventured to an entirely different country for a few hours, with a barefoot vegan lunch, and the unreal-looking Lotus Temple.  Truly hard to believe this place exists in central Virginia.  Venturing further, I visited Richmond and DC several times as well as the Hudson Valley, at the foot of the Catskills, in upstate New York.  Highlights of this trip included a long scenic stroll along the Walkway Over the Hudson, and a visit to the Woodstock Museum, which is at the original site of the 1969 music festival, and was truly excellent (recommended both for those who remember Woodstock, and those who, like me, only wish we had been alive to be able to attend).

view from the Walkway Over the Hudson

So instead of Tamil, I’ll be learning Lao, instead of paneer and aloo gobi, I’ll be feasting on sticky rice and tam som.  I’m confident that my travels will take me to India sometime in the future, so instead of this being a setback, I see it more as an unexpected opportunity.  The unpredictability of the summer has certainly been frustrating, but has perhaps served as a lesson in patience, which will serve me well once I begin experiencing the much slowed-down pace of life in southeast Asia.  I’m incredibly excited to be touching down in one of the chillest countries on earth, the “Land of a Million Elephants,” in a matter of days.

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Endless Summer

Hot and muggy weather?  Yes.  Southern India?  No.  The beginning of August finds me, rather unexpectedly, still in Virginia.  Two rejections later, my visa debacle continues (this story is forthcoming, once I know what the ending is).   As PiA and I continue to try to negotiate my way to Asia, I am trying to keep myself entertained during this unexpectedly long summer.  The result of all this free time?  Some weekend trips and much exploration of central Virginia’s curiosities—from natural beauty to pure, man-made kitsch.

I’ve been revisiting favorite places in the Charlottesville area like Carter’s Mountain Orchard, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Bodo’s Bagels, and the hike at Humpback Rocks.  Add to that some new discoveries, like the Batesville Store, Blue Mountain Brewery, and the Secluded Farm walk at the Monticello trails, and that’s how I’ve been spending my days.  Perhaps it’s fitting that I reacquaint myself with the place I call home before traveling so far away.  Of course, Charlottesville can feel a little stifling after awhile, which demands a trip out of town.

A colorful section of Grand Caverns.

In nearby Grottoes, VA, I visited Grand Caverns, one of the first caves in the area to be discovered, in 1804.  Perhaps equally interesting as the ancient beauty inside the caves (the formations only grow one square inch per century) are the traces of over 200 years of tours, including torch marks and 19th century signatures carved into the rock.

Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge, another day trip that I had never made, was both stunning, and over-the-top cheesy.  The bridge itself is photo-perfect, impressive in its sheer size and unusualness.   But this isn’t the only thing to be seen.  The natural wonder has been fenced in and surrounded by a village of old-time roadside attractions.  Next door: The Wax Museum, with wax figures posed in dramatic recreations of Virginia history, Natural Bridge lore, and selected bits of the Bible.  Downstairs, hundreds of molds of wax faces and bodies, and a peek into the workshop, where someone was actually working on a new wax figure (who knew there was such a demand?).   Nearby in the town is an even more outlandish 3-in-one attraction, which I am beginning to regret not visiting.  It included a dinosaur park (the invented backstory had something to do with Union troops using dinosaurs as weapons of mass destruction) and the chance to “Hunt Bigfoot with a Redneck.”  Luckily, on the way back I stumbled upon another ridiculous creation: Foamhenge.  Just what it sounds, this is one man’s full-scale recreation of Stonehenge out of Styrofoam.  Though it’s now looking a little worse for the wear, it still impresses out of sheer randomness.

The grandeur of "Foamhenge."

Despite the intrigue of these day trips I’ve been happy to get further out of town a few times.  A repeat visit to DC for July 4th was a happy whirlwind of friends and fireworks.  Also a surprise trip to New York City included a mini-Princeton reunion, a visit to Greenwich, CT, an afternoon in MoMA, and delicious meals at Rare and San Rocco.  I’ve stopped trying to predict when I’ll be heading off for good, so my next post might be about the Mumbai airport…or about what those dinosaurs were really up to during the Civil War.

New York, New York

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Paint the Town

In the last few weeks, as I’ve been waiting to go back to school for the last time, I’ve been getting to enjoy life in Charlottesville at a slower pace.  With fall approaching, there seem to be lots of fairs and festivals gearing up in the ‘ville.  UVA is already back in session and last Friday was “Paint the Town Orange” day, a homecoming pep rally of sorts, to celebrate the first UVA football game of the season.  Though the game itself did not end up going so well for the ‘Hoos, who lost to William and Mary the next day, the Downtown Mall was the place to be the night before.  I hadn’t seen it so packed in years, with crowds dining outdoors in the perfect weather, shoppers, families, students, and townies alike.  The UVA marching band paraded down the mall, cheering, throwing goodies at the crowd and playing the fight song, and making me generally feel proud about being a Charlottesvillian, despite Virginia not being my alma mater.

UVA pep marching by the Paramount

UVA pep marching by the Paramount

The crowds also swarmed the mall for “First Fridays”: the open houses for new shows at all of the art galleries around the downtown mall, held on (you guessed it), the first Friday of each month. The McGuffey Art Center is my favorite, both for its variety of artists and of free food during the open houses (guacamole, sugar cookies, giant green olives, YUM).

I also visited the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection for the first time ever.  As one of the most recommended free Cville sights, I figured it was probably about time.  I took the free tour (Saturdays at 10:30am) through the small but fascinating museum.  The vibrant, imposing, and exotic pieces contrast with the beautiful old mansion in which they’re housed.  I found it interesting to learn how modern a lot of the pieces and developments in aboriginal art are due to large commissions by Americans like Kluge.

Other late summer activities?  Peach-picking a few weeks ago at Chiles peach orchard in Crozet, and an afternoon at the Madison county “Taste of the Mountains” street festival, with all sorts of food and crafts for sale on Madison’s Main Street.

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Albemarle County Adventures

view from the top

view from the top

Midweek, Josh and I decided to hike Humpback Rock, a few miles west of Charlottesville on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I had done the hike years before, and the 40 minute ascent didn’t sound so bad, but as the trail immediately rose sharply, I realized that it wasn’t quite as easy as it had seemed the last time…when I was 10…  Nevertheless, we made it to the top, which was completely worth the sweat for the incredible view.  Had a picnic on the rocks and headed back down, which of course took less then half as long as the climb.

accomplishment!

accomplishment!

Naturally, to relax after the hike, we decided to stop at some of the many wineries we’d passed on the drive there.  It was my first time on the local Monticello Wine Trail and I was pleasantly surprised (not that I’m an expert).  We stopped at Afton Mountain Vineyards, Veritas, and Pollak…our favorite being Veritas, pictured below, which had an incredible complex and view of the countryside.

view from the Veritas porch

view from the Veritas porch

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