Road Trip to Charlottesville, VA 2015: Day 1
I woke up just as the sun was rising from the horizons on a Saturday. That’s how dedicated I am when it comes to traveling. Anyway, an early morning was necessary if I were to make my goal of leaving around 8 a.m. in order to reach Monticello around 10-10:30. So a full tank of gas, latte from the downstairs espresso maker in hand, and the NPR station locked in, I hit the road. It was 8:10. While cruising along, all I kept hearing on the radio was gridlock on I-95, so I opted to take the slightly longer route via I-66 instead.
My driving experience in Virginia is limited to the suburbs of the north so when I reached the first hour of this road trip to Charlottesville, it came as a surprise that parts of the highway are more like country back roads. I had flashbacks of driving in England’s Cotswold region thanks to the rolling hills and multiple farmlands. Google Maps must have directed me towards the back door route because I hardly saw any actual signs indicating I was heading towards the right direction, but thankfully, around half a mile from the destination, I saw it: “Monticello,” it said. I let out a small sigh of relief.
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
Monticello was the main reason for this road trip to Charlottesville. The home of Thomas Jefferson sits atop a small hill (hence the name) and is surrounded by thousands of acres of farmland. From the visitor’s center, you’ll need to take a bus or hike a good 20-minutes on a 40% incline to get there. There are three types of tickets: day pass, specialty tours pass, and an annual pass. I opted for the day since that’s really all the time I have.
The first thing about Monticello that struck me was how symmetrical it was. Everything about the house appeared like it was measured to the tee. The second thing was how mesmerizing it was. It wasn’t grand by all means, but Mr. Jefferson liked to collect and invent fascinating things, most of which are on display at Monticello. The house tour took about 50 minutes and included seven rooms.
If you have the time, definitely check out the slavery tour and the garden tour, both of which are included with your one-day pass and are worth spending the time. The guides are very knowledgeable and are clearly passionate about the subjects they’re leading.
Charlottesville’s Historic Mall
It was nearing 5 p.m. when I left Monticello for my home for the night, the English Inn. The inn is a lovely place, right off Route 29. The service was polite and the rooms were nice enough. The gentleman who received me gave me an upgrade to a suite since I was only staying for the night. I wasn’t sure if that’s common practice or was it because I let it slip that I was a travel writer. Regardless, I was grateful.
That night, I headed towards downtown Charlottesville and the Historic Mall. It’s nothing compared to the size of the Mall in D.C., but it had nice boutique stores and plenty of restaurants including the popular Marco and Luca. I’ve read multiple great reviews of the place, so naturally I was intrigued. I went to the location they had at the Mall and ordered their pork dumplings. It came with eight for $3.25, not quite a bargain if you compare it to New York, but cheap still. The dumplings had good flavor and were filling but they were a bit dry inside. What I liked about them most however is that they were bite-sized.
It rained heavily that night so I sought cover at Blue Whale Books, an independent used bookstore that just happened to be across the street from Marco and Luca. It had a pretty good collection of books, a great selection of vintage maps, and was well-organized by category. It’s the type of place where you can spend hours just browsing around. I settled for a short novel in the $1 aisle and headed back to the inn.