Travel – Shenandoah Valley

Monticello

I know I’ve said this in the past, but traveling with a baby is no joke.  It changes what you’re able to do and severely restricts the times of day you can do things if you’ve got baby on a schedule of any kind.  And chances are that baby’s naps are going to be messed up by not being home or at daycare in their usual routine, and that leaves open the possibility of even MORE schedule upheaval.  What I’m saying is that over the Columbus Day weekend, the Boy and I went down to the Shenandoah valley area for some time away from the city, and we were really taking a chance with having Baby B with us.  It could have been an unmitigated disaster.  Instead, we all ended up doing pretty well, and having a great time.

So why down in the Valley?  Well, we had originally wanted to go up to New England, but flights were expensive and hotels ANYWHERE were not to be found.  We did know we could make it down to Charlottesville and do day trips to some points of historical interest, and see some family who live nearby, and that ended up being our selling point.  Delicious meals cooked by family who we love to see?  Done and done.

The theme of our trip ended up being Presidential homes, and our first day outing was Montpelier, which was the home of our fourth president, James Madison.  As a graduate of James Madison University, I have a soft spot in my heart for Madison, and I also often find myself very proud of his accomplishments, including writing much of the constitution and the Bill of Rights.  But seeing his home was amazing.  For much of the last century and beyond, the house was in private hands, and only in the last 35 years or so was it put into National Trust.  The group maintaining the home has done a terrific job of keeping the lands beyond the immediate house and grounds in a natural state, but also keeping the grounds in a condition close to what they would have been.  There are also active archaeological digs happening on the grounds, and it’s fun to see how history is actively being discovered each day.

We did a walking tour of the grounds which covered nearly 4 miles around the property, had a yummy lunch at the cafe, and then enjoyed the signature house tour in the afternoon.  The weather was perfectly pleasant, so after the house tour, we strolled through the gardens, and then made our way back to see the exhibit about the owners who lived there in the 1920s and 30s.  We were really impressed by everything, and I even ended up buying our yearly Christmas ornament based on travel from their gift shop.

Dinner and brunch the next morning were spent with my family, and unless you too are related to them (or know them), chances are you can’t just roll up for the weekend and get two meals for free.  Sorry friends.  You will never know the pleasure.  Not only that, but little B got to spend some time playing with her three years older second-cousin, and listening to music, and generally having a grand old time.  She didn’t appreciate mashed banana at brunch, but that struggle is a whole different story.

Our second day included a trip to Monticello – home of third president Thomas Jefferson – in the afternoon.  I was excited because I had booked a “behind the scenes” tour that let you go upstairs, which isn’t part of the regular tour.  But when we went to pick up our tickets, we were told that every member of the tour must be able to climb the stairs – and that B would need her own ticket if we did it, and since she couldn’t climb the stairs, we couldn’t do it.  I definitely pouted for a while (because I know I could have done it with her strapped to me in a carrier), but we exchanged our tickets for a regular tour, and went on ahead.

We did the walk up to the property instead of taking the shuttle bus to the top, and we got a lot of looks like we were very brave, and part of that was probably because it was hot out, and part of it was the baby.  But we liked being able to do a little “hike”, and getting to see more of the estate that way.  The area along Mulberry Row (the area where Jefferson’s slaves were quartered) is beautiful, and looking out beyond the vegetable gardens, you can see why this spot was chosen.  Monticello has been open to the public for nearly a century now, so there doesn’t seem to be as much active archaeology on site, but it’s much more “finished” and sort of “Disney-fied” – that is, everything is labeled nicely, and more of the spaces rebuilt and active.  This isn’t a bad thing, it just means that Monticello can draw a larger crowd from a wider range of ages.  After our tour we got ice creams (it was hot out!) took some pictures, and then took the shuttle bus back to the visitor’s center.

View from Mulberry Row

When we got back to our hotel, we were putting the baby to bed and decided to order in poke from Uber Eats.  We got our meal from Poke Sushi Bowl in Charlottesville, and everything arrived just as the Baby was about to go to sleep.  Unfortunately for the Boy, while trying to set up the food in the little bathroom area so we could sit and eat while the baby fell asleep, he knocked over his own bowl of food, and probably 2/3 of it went tumbling out.  Poor guy – I know how much he was looking forward to the fish, and to have it all end up on a grubby hotel carpet was tragic.  Fortunately he was able to salvage some of it, and we had other snacks on hand so he didn’t go hungry.  But I had to enjoy my own poke bowl (and it was a custom bowl, so I enjoyed it perfectly!) without gloating too much.  I suppose it just as easily could have been my bowl he knocked over, but ugh – it was still a bummer.

Our last stop on the holiday (for me) Monday was taking a detour on the way home through Harrisonburg so I could show the Boy where I went to school.  JMU has changed a lot in the years since I’ve been there.  A lot of the old Quad is still the same, but things like paving the paths, the tunnel under South Main to get to the new arts buildings, and the new dining facility made it a little strange to walk around.  He was pretty impressed – having gone to a much smaller university in the UK means that most American Universities will feel large and overwhelming, even when they’re technically only a medium sized university in the US.  I think I had kind of downplayed my alma mater, and I’m glad I did that, because he ended up being more impressed by the campus than he probably would have been otherwise.  After showing him around and buying a t-shirt at the bookstore, we walked into downtown Harrisonburg in search of lunch.  Unfortunately, the kitchen at the Artful Dodger was closed, so we walked back past a little cafe and bakery we had spotted on our walk and had a very enjoyable lunch at the Heritage Bakery & Cafe, which shares a space with the tourism office.  I had a yummy vegetarian sandwich, and the boy a quiche, and we had just enough room to split some tasty bakery treats.

Street art outside the Artful Dodger in Harrisonburg

And then…home.  Obviously we had to scale back our ambitions for what was possible based on the baby.  But I really enjoyed our weekend away.  It was super relaxing, and I never felt like we were in a hurry or were going to be late getting anywhere – except for the first couple nights when we were out between dinner and B’s bedtime, which meant we had to do that scramble of not trying to wake her up too much as we moved her into the hotel.  If I had to choose just one of the Presidential homes to recommend, I would probably choose Montpelier, because the entire experience felt more intimate and less hurried.  But I like that we checked off some historical Virginia outings off our to-do list.

So – anyone else out there had a fun and relaxing weekend away recently?  Done some historical site-seeing that you would recommend?  Had a tragic evening with wasted fish?  Or have further tips for traveling with little babes?  Let me know in the comments!

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