Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: El Ocho's not Tuesday and this list does not have ten it's the Wednesday Ocho edition.

My recent trip back to Virginia last month got me thinking about all of the neat places in commonwealth that I liked to visit. In no particular order, I give you:

El Ocho: Places To Visit in VA

Westmoreland State Park

My parents and I spent a lot of time camping at this park while I was growing up. Besides a nice campground the river beach is fantastic for long walks mostly because of the cliffs that run along the shoreline. The Horsehead Cliffs have fossils including shark teeth and whale bones.

History Lesson: In prehistoric times, the ocean stretched all the way to the fall line (at Great Falls, above Washington on the Potomac). The cliffs developed from sediments that fell to the sea floor--thus explaining the abundance of shark teeth, whale remains, even sea crocodiles. The soft sediments preserved many of the bones and teeth. Scientists believe that about 2 million years ago, an ice age began and the polar ice caps began to expand. As a result, the sea level began to recede and fell to a point even lower than it is today. The Chesapeake Bay was turned into a river valley (of the Susquehanna). When the ice age ended (about 20,000 years ago), the ice melted and sea levels rose rapidly, flooding the river valleys and creating the Bay. Erosion, a natural process, continues to change the face of the lower Potomac. (Source:

We spent hundreds of hours during my childhood walking up and down the beach looking for shark teeth and have a pretty impressive collection of teeth and other fossils as a result. Shark Tooth Hunting has “ruined” walks on the beach for me because everywhere I go I tend to keep an eye out for teeth, whether or not they should be found at that particular beach or not.

Hollywood Cemetery

I love cemeteries. There, I said it. There is something really interesting about them for me. I think it’s because I like to read the headstones and use my imagination to create whole life stories out of them. I also think they are great for photographing, especially the older ones. Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond is probably my favorite cemetery for its historic and visual offerings.
It was opened in 1849 and is the resting place to two presidents (Monroe and Tyler), Confederate States President Jefferson Davis, 18,000 enlisted men of the Confederate Army, prominent figures from Virginia history, and everyday people.

The cemetery is fairly large (130 acres) and is great for strolling. The views of Richmond and the river are great and the graves themselves are pretty interesting with sculptures, monuments, etc. If you are in Richmond on a nice day, I highly recommend stopping here.


What list of my favorite Virginia places could be complete without a little visit to the home of one of my favorite presidents, James Madison?! The Madison family moved to the plantation in 1723 but the house that we now know as Montpelier wasn’t built until around 1764. The surroundings are just fantastic (sweeping fields, trees, etc.) and the house itself is pretty awesome, especially now that they have restored it to the James Madison era. I have had the pleasure of seeing the home in three different states….in the DuPont family renovation setting (they owned the house after the Madison family and made quite a few changes), during the restoration process (walls were stripped down to the beams, old doorways were being found, little bits of paper with James Madison’s handwriting discovered in a very old mouse nest, etc.) and again after the restoration was completed.

If you like history, old homes, drives down winding country roads, this is great place to visit. Do it in the fall. It’s amazing.


If you go see Jimmy’s place, why not go see Thomas Jefferson’s down the road?!
Built in 1772, Monticello is a fascinating home to visit, mostly because Jefferson himself was a fascinating man. (Plus it’s up on a hill overlooking the Valley…wonderful!) Some of my favorite things: the Great Clock in the entry hall that Jefferson designed himself (in order for it to work Jefferson had to cut a hole in the floor so that it could hang down into the basement), the artifacts from the Lewis and Clark expedition and a device that allows someone to write two identical letters at once (his own invention). I just think Jefferson is a really interesting character in our Nation’s history and was a real genius.

Fun fact: I took my first photograph at Monticello. It was of my parents sitting on the steps.

Colonial Williamsburg
(website: Pretty impressive that they snagged that address!)

What history nerd wouldn’t love walking around a town full of authentic buildings and people in costume/character while munching on a gingerbread cookie baked in a real fire oven?! I love CW. I got spoiled living near it for a few years because I would take quick trips in the afternoons during the week when it wasn’t crowded and just enjoy the atmosphere.

Some of my favorite things in CW:
-Wythe’s Candy Store in Merchant Square…I especially love their rock candy and browsing their selection of candies.
-College Delly ( My parents have been eating here for decades and I inherited their love of their sandwiches. A Chandler served hot is the family favorite. The restaurant is located next to the William and Mary campus and is very much a college place.
-The Raleigh Tavern Bakeshop in the middle of CW has tasty treats. Our family favorite are the gingerbread cakes/cookies and apple cider. Perfect snack on a spring or fall day while walking around taking in the sites.

Arlington National Cemetery

Yes, another cemetery but for very different reasons. Arlington Cemetery has a very different feel from any other cemetery I’ve been to. The solemn beauty of JFK’s eternal flame, the ceaseless repetition of the footsteps of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the overwhelming sea of white headstones that gleam in the sunlight, reading the names of the men and women that sacrificed their lives for our country. It’s all so beautiful in a very patriotic and moving way.

Busch Gardens

This amusement park is a fantastic way to spend a day, night, afternoon, etc. We lived close enough to where we had season passes and would hop up after work for a few hours of fun. I’m a fan of rollercoasters and the park is great for that sort of thing, obviously. However, it’s also a really clean and pretty park so even going just to walk around is fun. They have a few live music shows that are a lot of fun too, though they have cut some of them in the last few years because of budget stuff. But there is still a really fun polka show in the Festhaus, which is my favorite place to eat in the park.

Other highlights:
-Griffon: My favorite rollercoaster at the park. You go up 205 feet into the air, the car (3 rows of 10 seats) sneaks up to the edge of the drop and then stops. If you are in the front row you hang there, looking straight down for what feels like forever before plunging 90 degrees straight toward the ground at racing speeds faster than 70 miles per hour. It’s pretty awesome. And don’t listen to what they tell you about each row having the same ride experience… The ONLY way to ride it is in the front row.
-Beer School/Brew Master’s Club: R.I.P.: Because Busch Gardens was previously owned by Anheuser-Busch they had a beer-tasting component to the park. Beer School was a place where they would show you a powerpoint about how they made beer and then ask questions of the group. At the end you would try a bunch of samples and then be bestowed your “Beer School” diploma. A few years of graduates later they turned the Beer School into the Brew Master’s Club, which was a more intellectual beer-tasting experience. It was actually pretty neat. You got seated in small groups and had a person assigned to you that talked about the different beers and other Anheuser-Busch products. Once they went through their little talk you had a certain number of samples you could have from a menu of their products. The cool part was that they had cheese, crackers, chocolate and fruit at the tables to eat while having the samples and they taught while should be paired with whatever you had chosen to drink. It was a really neat way to try new things that you might not, have some free drinks, relax in air conditioning and then head back out to the park. Sadly when A-B sold the park they got rid of it.
-Celtic Fyre: It’s like a mini-Riverdance production. It’s super-fun and a great place to sit and enjoy AC on a warm day…plus I’m a sucker for Irish dancing and bodhrans. (The show changes every few seasons and has different names, Celtic Fyre is what it is currently.)

Fort Monroe
(Wiki entry:
(NPS page:

The fort was just declared a National Monument after being an active Army base. The season I like the fort is best summed up by the blurb on the National Park website: “Fort Monroe National Monument spans the American story from the 17th to the 21st centuries: Captain John Smith's journeys, a haven of freedom for the enslaved during the Civil War, and a bastion of defense for the Chesapeake Bay.” In other words, tons of nerdy history to be learned. The Casemate Museum within the Fortress walls is a really great Civil War museum if you like that sort of thing. My only complaint about the museum was it has a lot of mannequins dressed up in uniforms and period clothes, acting out different facets of fortress life during the Civil War. I found them incredibly creepy…this picture is an example:

The fort is great for walking around (both in and out of the walls) because of the older houses, the location right on the water, the fortress walls and moat, etc. Great history, neat location. Worth a trip, especially now that the NPS will be involved.

I'm sure there are plenty of places that I'm leaving out but these are the places that came to mind when I was thinking about all of the great places in VA. I may have to do a Part II.

No comments:

Post a Comment