Meet Virginia- Swamps, Presidents, and Mountains, Oh My!

I guess you could say this is “part two” to a blog I recently posted about a road trip to Virginia which you can read here. Ah, the Commonwealth of Virginia, let’s rattle off some facts, shall we? Birthplace of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler (wow…”Tippecanoe AND Tyler Too” were BOTH born in Virginia….way to split the ticket there, Tippecanoe!), Zachary Taylor and (drum roll…arguably the president you’re most likely to forget was born in Virginia when the question comes up on pub trivia nights) …Woodrow Wilson. More about him later in this blog!  Virginia was one of the “Original 13” colonies, and was admitted to the union in 1788. In short order, this state is not only for lovers (parroting its tourism motto here), but it’s also a place for history lovers! Not really a place for beer lovers (more about that later, too). For comparison, in the state of Michigan, where I have lived my whole life, the old saying is you’re never more than a couple of hours away from a lake. I would say in Virginia, you’re never more than an hour’s distance – maybe even less –  from a battlefield site! Depending upon rush hour traffic in Hampton, D.C., or Richmond, of course!

Geologically, Virginia boasts five distinct regions – Tidewater, Piedmont, Blue Ridge Mountains, Ridge and Valley, and the Cumberland Plateau.

For the first part of our recent trip to Virginia, we visited the “Tidewater” region, specifically the town of Poquoson, which means “Big Swamp” in the Native tongue. No joke.

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View from Sam’s dock of the “Big Swamp.” It’s  not uncommon for this area to experience heavy flooding – homes typically have to be built so they are raised off the ground. Basements are not an option in this lowland area!

We were there during the tail end of whichever named hurricane was prevailing at the time, so we experienced warmer than usual temperatures in the mid 80s (temperatures in the upper ’60s are the average for this time of year). So for the first two days of the trip, it was shorts weather! Our friend thought it would be a blast to put the top down on his Mustang and ferry us around the “peninsula,” as the locals call the Newport News, Norfolk, Hampton areas. I’ve always been a fan of watery views, so driving along the bridge connecting the “peninsula” to Virginia beach was particularly enjoyable. Here’s a shot of the bridge as viewed from a moving Mustang:

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Now where did I put my sunblock? The humidity would have utterly kicked my ass, had it not been for a nice salty coastal breeze to temper it all:

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“October breeze…makes me feel fine!” Me at Virginia Beach – only the third time I’ve ever seen an ocean in my life! Though in this selfie, I wanted the ocean to be the backdrop. Pardon the greasiness. that was just the spray sunblock doing its job!

Sam told us that the city of Virginia Beach takes the cleanliness of its beach very, very seriously. Each night it is swept and cleaned! However, not all of the debris can be blamed on humans…

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At least this poor horseshoe crab met its maker in a pretty place…and not during peak tourist season! For your scientific study, lol!

Speaking of peak tourist season, we’re pretty happy we weren’t there during that time! Parking becomes nigh impossible, and the town is basically designed to take your money, as evidenced by the metered parking – and the number of large hotels located right on the beach:

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Please note that the horses are wearing diapers! A view of the massive lodging choices at Virginia Beach is in the background.

So we got to experience a couple of days of Virginia’s “Tidewater” geologic region. What was our next destination? The Blue Ridge Mountains, of course! My husband Mike is in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains – he spent part of his childhood living in Virginia, so we’ve spent a few of our vacations visiting the Blue Ridge. There are two main roads that go right through the Blue Ridge – The Skyline Drive, a which runs from Front Royal to the north to Waynesboro to the south – a total of 105 miles (you have to pay a $25 fee per vehicle to use this route, which runs through Shenandoah National Park). There is also the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs from Waynesboro to the north all the way to south of Asheville, N.C. Its total length is 469 miles (and no user fee). There’s no better way to experience the majesty of mountains than to climb them, if you’re especially fit and hardy. Sharp Top Mountain, at 3,862 feet, is a popular peak for novice climbers. Check out the aptly named Sharp Top below…

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Sharp Top and the Peaks of Otter lodge (which was playing host to a wedding the day we visited).

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Me on Sharp Top’s summit in 2011. The ski pole was essential for helping me maintain my balance! Also essential was the hearty blackberry pancakes breakfast at the nearby Peaks of Otter restaurant. I would need the carb fuel for this hike! I rue the fact that visors are no longer in fashion! I really appreciated their minimalism! Shield your eyes/face without utterly destroying your hair!

If you’re not up for hauling your own bitch ass up a mountain under your own power, it’s just as awesome to drive through the mountains! Sharp Top even offers a shuttle bus service! I recently described the Blue Ridge Mountains as being both beautiful and terrifying – like an elf witch. Treat the mountains with some respect, or suffer the consequences – just like you would with an elf witch (or any other witch, lol)! The same philosophy applies to moonshine and Everclear – respect – or suffer! More about booze in a bit!

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I’m convinced that the stone “guardrail” here is purely decorative. It would do little to keep your car from tumbling down the mountain if you foolishly disrespect this road by driving like an asshole – as many people do in the Washington, D.C. area during rush hour. I actually saw a Maserati while we were in D.C.!

Another lovely, yet terrifying mountain vista:

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Fog and clouds can make mountain driving  a challenge. In inclement weather, the whole road gets shut down.

What better way to top off a day of sightseeing and vertigo from gawking at nosebleed mountain views than by having a nice, stiff drink? An interesting side note about Virginia regards its liquor laws. If you want to find a “bar” in Virginia, you’ll soon learn that there’s no such thing! There are no “bars” in Virginia – only restaurants that may, if they are licensed, sell alcohol.  Though we live in the “United States of America,” the individual states are anything BUT united when it comes to the wildly diverse laws governing the sale of alcoholic beverages! In Virginia, hard liquor and other spirits of more than 14 percent ABV must be purchased in state-run stores called “ABC” stores.

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Getting some liquor in VA  isn’t exactly as easy as 1,2, 3! But Kentucky’s “dry counties” are a completely different story altogether! Might be best off having a friend or neighbor who can make some moonshine! Or learn to make it yourself! There’s probably a YouTube video that will show you how!

In Virginia, you can’t just run into Kroger to grab some dog food, diapers and vodka. You can only buy beer and wine in most grocery stores. Also, 45 percent of all restaurant sales must be from selling food in order to maintain liquor licensing. This means some restaurants get creative to meet their “quotas.” A Poquoson restaurant called George’s sells fried shrimp for 10 cents apiece on Monday nights to meet the food sales quota, though the owner says she LOSES money by doing this! Crazy, right? Our friend Sam plans to open his own microbrewery in the near future, and he said microbreweries/brewpubs are exempt from the food sales quota requirement, but can only sell beer/ciders that they make – not any beers or spirits made by others.

In the town of Staunton, VA; where we stayed for three nights, there were two ABC stores, neither of which we visited. We opted instead to (foolishly) buy some Virginia-made beers in Kroger. Uh, not impressed…We also tried some beers at the Back Bay Brewing Company while we were in Virginia Beach, and while a couple of them were “OK,” on the whole, we were not impressed. Though we did like the Mexican style cerveza! Quite refreshing on a warm day! Here’s a pic of one of the beers we bought in Kroger, the “Blonde Hunny” made by Wild Wolf Brewing:

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The description of this beer made it sound like VA’s answer to Bell’s Oberon, a Belgian with hints of coriander, orange peel, etc.. Only by mixing it 50/50 with a pale ale was this stuff eventually made drinkable to us. It left kind of a funky, sour aftertaste – very disappointing.  Beer Advocate rated this a 3.6 out of 5 – maybe someone stuffed their ballot box? Or did we just get a bad batch? Whatever the case, we were disappointed.

Staunton, pronounced Stanton, is a nice little historic town. If you’re a history buff, you may want to check out the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library/Museum. But if you don’t want to pay the $14 admission, you can still take some great photos!

 

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Woodrow Wilson’s presidential limousine – a 1919 Pierce Arrow.

One very interesting thing about Staunton was its utter lack of pedestrian lights. There are no “walk/don’t walk” lights in Staunton. But in this town, it seemed to work out OK! Staunton’s long history is evidenced by its interesting buildings in its downtown. Staunton was originally settled in the 1730s.

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Downtown Staunton, which features a vintage camera museum, a dollhouse hobby shop, and a variety of other shops and restaurants.

In order to soak up some of the downtown ambience, Mike and I decided to check out a pub trivia night at a joint called the Pompei Lounge. The lower level featured an upscale Italian restaurant, and the upper three levels featured various “lounge” areas. A quirky thing about this building was a functional shower in the men’s room! Which raised some questions, to say the least! Oh the things drunken patrons could do in that shower (shudder)! We played the trivia game in the fourth floor lounge, which resembled a Victorian era parlour:

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The “Queen City Queens” proved to be the “team to beat” at the trivia game we played. The guy on the right was very boisterous and very obviously the “anchor” of their team. What was the name of Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 album featuring the song “Big Love?” This guy was all over it – and all too happy to expound on the topic of Fleetwood Mac both during and after the game! Trivia nerds…gotta love ’em!

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Happy hour was 5-8 p.m. and these bottles of Magic Hat #9 were $3. Unfortunately, Labatt Blue was unavailable! We’d never played a trivia game with a tableclothed table before! How fancy! Good thing we didn’t spill any beer on it!

We didn’t do that well in the Geeks Who Drink trivia game that night, but enjoyed being able to take a short walk back to our motel room after having just a couple too many beers! And thus, with that trivia game, the last night of our trip drew to a close. Thanks, Virginia, for allowing us to meet you!

 

 

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