Exploring the world one word…and one mile…at a time

Food & Drink

Putting Charlottesville to the Test

We started our day today just outside of Charlottesville, VA (C’Ville) at Thomas Jefferson’s famous home, Monticello.  The rain held off as we walked through the gardens and took in the view.  As we toured the home itself, the place that Jefferson loved more than any other, a quote from Jefferson about his home struck me.  “I am as happy nowhere else and in no other society, and all my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello.”  This is how I want to feel about the place that I live, at least most of the time.  It should be enriching and inspiring, while providing a venue for both the social and recreational activities I enjoy.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Scenes from Monticello (L to R): J in the Garden Pavilion, extensive vegetable gardens, the main house, gravestones with a story and a view

In addition to exploring ourselves, the United States and the National Parks, one goal of our road trips has been to seek out places that we someday may want to live. Each new city or town we enter goes through a review process either openly or in our minds.  All locations are ultimately compared to the New Hampshire Seacoast.  Why the Seacoast?  Aside from it being our current home and a familiar place, it has several characteristics that we look for in a home base:  Not too crowded and not too rural (our ideal is somewhere between 8,000 and 100,000 people), great places too run (long roads with low traffic, low risk of crime, beaches and/or bike trails), an arts/music/literary scene, and a downtown with quality independent restaurants and coffee shops.  Our current hometown has most of these characteristics, but given our recent freedom, we enjoy entertaining the idea of moving to new places.

One mistake we’ve made during our travels is to build up new places in our minds before actually visiting them.  No town is perfect, and unrealistic expectations can ruin a place before even getting there.  The first example of this for us was Portland, Oregon.  We had built Portland up to be the ideal place to live: progressive, artsy, West Coast (sort of)…it sounded perfect.  When we arrived in Portland, it was raining, gray, cold, filled with homeless people and nothing like the place we wanted it to be. Although we eventually grew to like Portland, we were disappointed by its inability to live up to our escapist/utopian expectations.  It’s easy to overlook the flaws in one’s hometown.  They are familiar, which by nature makes them less threatening.  The flaws in a new place stand out, especially when you haven’t imagined there would be any.

Before we came to Virginia, a friend recommended that we check out Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia.  “You’ll like it,” she assured us.  We asked our host, B, about it, and he concurred, mentioning the pedestrian mall, Friday night live music, yummy pizza, etc. as highlights.  Despite the threat of severe storms, we left Monticello and continued to downtown C’ville, anxious to give it a look before we headed out of Virginia for a few more stops on this leg of our journey.

We started our visit with a walk hand-in-hand down the pedestrian mall, taking in the mix of independent and chain stores, shops and restaurants.  So far, so good.  We stopped at the most highly recommended pizza joint in town, Christian’s, for a slice and a local beer.  Lots of veggie options and definitely delicious!  We sat by the window and enjoyed our late lunch while watching the eclectic mix of passers-by:  business people, students, children, grandparents and homeless folks, and they all seemed right at home in this downtown center.  It’s a welcoming place. 

After lunch, we waited out a downpour in a used bookstore called Blue Whale Books.  We chatted with the cashier, a UVA poet, and picked up two used books for $2 (a biography of Rilke for J and an analysis comparing Jungian philosophy to Tibetan Buddhism for me).  We left the pedestrian mall and headed for a drive around the UVA campus where the academic buildings were right across the street from the coffee shops and pubs…my kind of town.

Snapshots of C’Ville (L to R): Orienting ourselves on Main Street, the rainy pedestrian mall, tasty pizza and beer, and the UVA campus

The final test for C’Ville, and any town, was the grocery store.  As vegetarians who do our best to cook and eat healthy, local, organic food whenever possible, the quality of the grocery store is a key factor in determining the livability of a city or town.  When it comes to grocery stores, a town with a Whole Foods is pretty much a sure thing.  With the exception of higher prices, Whole Foods is like a candy store for vegetarians.  It’s a place to buy the specialty items that most grocery stores don’t carry. Tack on a weekly supplemental trip to a regular grocery store for staples and a farmer’s market for seasonal items, and you’ve got everything you need.  The C’Ville Whole Foods was clean, bustling and close to downtown, rounding out the Words Per Gallon livability checklist.

So how did C’Ville stack up?  We could definitely see ourselves living there.  For now though, there are so many other towns to explore, more roads to run on and more National Parks to visit.  Plus, our new place on the Seacoast beckons; it will be ready later this summer.  Maybe we’ll move next year… -M


From Farm to Table…via Lynchburg

Our Virginia adventures continued yesterday with a day trip into Lynchburg.  A few weeks ago, while still back in New Hampshire, we had sought out and registered for a 10K race downtown.  We have a goal of running a race every month this year, and due to our travels, a Virginia race best fit our schedule for May.  Neither of us had been to Lynchburg before, and running the race was a great way to see part of the city.  (You can read my full recap here if you’re interested…)

After the race, which had an early 8 AM start, we did a quick change of clothes at the car (tucked into a shady spot in a free parking garage) and walked several blocks down Main Street to the Lynchburg Community Market.  We planned to fill a bag with fresh local produce, but first things first…specifically, breakfast.  We assumed the long line at Barb’s Dream Hut inside the marketplace was a good sign, so we ordered veggie omelets and shared a side of hash browns.  We also ended up sharing our table with a local couple in their late 70s.  They were newlyweds, having just tied the knot last December, although their first date was actually 63 years earlier, before he introduced her to his best friend…whom she subsequently married.  It was a sweet story and part of a lovely conversation.

After breakfast, we wandered around the indoor market, picking up some Vidalia relish and locally roasted coffee before hitting up the farm stalls outside.  We loaded two shopping bags with onions, peppers, squash, cabbage, beets, sweet potatoes, and kale, plus a loaf of fresh bread and a tub of sun-dried tomato goat cheese.  As is typical for farmers markets, we paid a lower-than-usual price for produce fresh from the producers’ trucks and a higher-than-usual price for artisan breads and cheeses.  For us, this is a fair trade-off, allowing us to support the local economy (wherever we are) and satisfy our own desires to know what we are eating and how it was made.

L to R: Lynchburg Community Market, the day’s bounty, grilled deliciousness

We left the market and walked back to the car, stashing our goods before driving over to the Old City Cemetery.  The cemetery is more than a burial ground, as it contains five small museums paying homage to Lynchburg’s role in the Civil War and the railroad’s role in Lynchburg’s history.  Lynchburg’s location on the James River and at the convergence of three major railways led to its establishment as a major hospital site during the Civil War.  The cemetery is filled with history, including the graves of more than 2,200 Confederate soldiers and numerous early cultural and political leaders from the region.

L to R: Historical marker, engraved arch, serene grounds

Our next and final stop in town was the Anne Spencer House for a visit to her garden.  Spencer was a poet and part of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.  Her house is part of the Pierce Street historic district (one of seven historic districts in Lynchburg), and the garden has been lovingly restored by a local non-profit group.  It is open to the public from dawn to dusk, and we found ourselves alone there on a sunny Saturday afternoon.  We wandered the garden paths and sat in chairs outside Edankraal, the writing cottage her husband built for her so she would have a quiet place to write and be inspired by the beauty of the garden.  The garden is filled with history, both in the stories of significant visitors that stayed there and in the plants and flowers in the garden, many of which have persisted since the Spencers first planted them in the 1930s and 1940s.

L to R: Cottage signage, J on the porch, garden fountain (gift from W. E. B. DuBois)

On the way home, we talked about how we would love to have a cottage like Edankraal someday, a quiet place for writing and possibly for living.  For now, we are getting used to writing and living wherever we find ourselves, which this week is at our friend’s mountain retreat.  After the short drive back there, we unloaded our bounty and got down to the business of making the most amazing grilled sandwiches using the fresh bread, onion relish and goat cheese.  We capped the day by heading up to the second-story deck to watch the sun set over the mountains, thankful for a perfect day and the opportunity to explore places like Lynchburg. –J


Cooking Up Something Good

Tasty victuals and critical productivity tools...

Today was the first day in weeks I’ve been able to take a deep breath and fully exhale. We had no plans except those of our own choosing, and no schedule to keep except to get a run in before dark. We slept a little later than usual, huddled under the covers in the guest room. (In a story too long and boring to tell here, we sold the bed we’ve been sleeping in at the yard sale last weekend, and we’re keeping the heat off so we don’t have to pay for another oil delivery before we sell the house next week. It’s really a circus of the absurd around here.) Once we finally rallied downstairs, we cooked up a delicious breakfast of lentil hash and eggs scrambled with sweet onions and cheese. We sipped cups of coffee and read the news and paid bills. We relished the return to quiet normalcy, to a day when we did not have strangers or appraisers or buyers pushing their agendas on us. We drove to Portsmouth to procure boxes and tape for packing, grab a few fresh veggies at the grocery store, and pick up a replacement screen canopy for our upcoming camping trip to Acadia National Park. We were back by early afternoon and each headed out for a run. Distance didn’t matter today; just getting out there mattered. Our next race is in Virginia on Memorial Day weekend, so we have plenty of time to train. What we needed today were fresh air and clear minds, and we found both. We capped the day with a delicious dinner collaboration, one so tasty that it will probably make its detailed way to my food and fitness blog soon. The short version: spicy apple tofu roasted over fresh asparagus and paired with sweet potato fries and a chipotle-lime aoili. Pick a word: delicious, fantastic, balanced, amazing. They all apply to dinner, and they apply to the rest of the day as well. I hope your Monday was as balanced as ours, but if not, there’s always hope for tomorrow. -J


Take Me Home, Country Roads

Greetings from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains!  We arrived at our hotel in Virginia tonight and made short order of the dinner we had packed from home: quinoa mac & cheese and veggie burgers…with celebratory champagne, of course.  We covered 585 miles today, cruising through 9 states and spending the better part of 10 hours in the car.  We split the driving into two-hour shifts and passed the time listening to music, chatting, and playing a made-up game of Vanity Plate Mad Libs.  (Side note: People are strange.)  We enjoyed warm breezes, sunny skies, and low traffic throughout the drive.

L to R: Crossing the GWB--Sal The Subaru (aka Sal Paradise)--Keeping it classy

The scenery for most of the day was standard-issue Northeastern U.S. and nothing either of us hadn’t seen before, from the Mass Turnpike and George Washington Bridge to the farmlands of Pennsylvania.  That was until we were about 15 miles from the hotel, when these mountains surprised us, lurking in the fog around a highway bend.  A shadowy ridgeline stretching as far as we could see rose quietly above the flat, rolling plains around it.  We couldn’t make out many details since we arrived after sunset, but we have a full day of exploring the mountains planned for tomorrow. -J&M