Apart from various family vacations ((and one memorable friendcation with my girls E and J)) to Virginia Beach, I hadn’t spent much time exploring Virginia before this USA road trip. They say better late than never, right? Right. Because weeks later I am still thinking about all that Virginia has to offer.
First stop from Winston-Salem was a few days in Richmond, “the RVA” or “RVA” as it is referred to as of late by the hip locals. My cousin Nate has lived in Richmond for the last five years, so we decided there would be no better tour guide than him. We set up home in his Kensington Street apartment ((another darling relative who graciously gave us his bedroom en suite for our stay)) in the museum district. Since Nate was at work when we pulled into town and it was drizzling rain outside, hubs and I hit up the nearby Black Hand Coffee Shop for warm bevs ((soy chai for me; hot choc without whip for him)). As with many restaurants and coffee shops along this road trip, we borrowed some free wifi to catch up on emails, news, Facebook, Instagram and the like. When our bellies were warmed up, we decided to move on to the next spot which was the nearby cool Carytown as per recommendation from the Black Hand barista. Of course you can do countless hours researching a city, but we have made a conscious effort to ask the locals for their recommendations. It has proven worthy thus far!
Carytown is a great little area along West Cary Street with lots of local flavor through its shops, restaurants, bars. We wandered up and down the street, window shopping until we came across Carytown Cupcakes and couldn’t resist adding another cupcake to our waistlines. I mean, it is a sort of “research” to try cupcakes in every city along the way, right? Andrew and I each picked one ((candied bacon and honey for A and pumpkin choc chip for me)) and grabbed a third for Nate ((hummingbird flavor)) as he was calling us to let us know he was home from work. The three of us dined at gorgeous Baliceaux that evening. Somewhere in between posh and casual, Balliceaux was the perfect establishment for our first big meal in Richmond. Our RVA host explained Balliceaux is known for their cocktail creations, and therefore we had no choice but to give some of them a taste. I chose the Intimate Secretary while Nate went with Dark & Stormy and Andrew settled on Purple Drink. For the main course, I chose coconut curried tofu which I swiftly devoured. The food and drinks were equally creative and flavorful, and I would most certainly return to Balliceaux for a fancy dinner date.
Day Two of RVA brought us first to what may very well be the best thing Andrew ate during the whole road trip. We lined up for the late morning opening of Proper Pie where they serve up sweet and savory hand pies, regular slices of various pies ((their facebook page in the link above posts the daily offerings)) along with English staples like sausage rolls and treacle tart. I chose the seitan and mushroom pie which was perfectly savory and flaky. Andrew went for hot sausage rolls and wait for it… banoffee pie. This heavenly banana & toffee pie does not normally exist in America, so thank goodness for Proper Pie. Andrew is not easily thrilled about food. Weird, I know, but it is just not his thing. It sure is mine, though! I was so proud to watch him devour the banoffee pie with such enjoyment. It was like melt in your mouth good. Later in the day, Andrew and I stopped by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts ((or VMFA for short)) for a rainy day, free general admission activity. To be honest, the two of us are in no way big museum people, but this one had us checking out room after room. The VMFA had modern artwork to gaze at as well as old pieces like in their special exhibit at the time on British Sporting Print. I only wish it was a nice enough day to include a stroll through the gardens and outdoor areas of the museum because they looked so lush and pretty. The museum also contains a couple of restaurants and a great gift shop. We skipped the restaurants as we new dinner plans were awaiting us, but if they weren’t we would have stayed for live jazz music and a meal in the Best Cafe right inside the VMFA.
The graffiti in Richmond is prevalent and extremely photogenic. We would stop the car all over the city to take photographs of the various murals. It was one of our favorite things about Richmond. The city has commissioned local artists to paint murals in several areas on the city, which gives the artists a fantastic outlet for their creativity and puts so much vivid color into the neighborhoods. Walking along the Canal Walk was one of the places where this graffiti was displayed. We continued past Brown Island and Tredeger Iron Works and took the unique passenger bridge ((which hangs below the freeway above James River, so uh yeah, conquering fears in the RVA)) over to Belle Isle. I can picture both Belle Isle and Brown Island hopping with sun seekers for a lovely little summer day outing. Later that afternoon, the three of us popped into Penny Lane Pub for a pint and the England World Cup qualifying match against Montenegro. We warned Nate that we were vetting places like Richmond as potential cities in which to live upon our return to the states, so being the intelligent person he is, taking us to an English Pub where the theme is our beloved Liverpool football club gains major points.
**Other notable eating establishments of Richmond we “researched” with our host included The Roosevelt, Sugar Shack Donuts, and Kuba Kuba. We ate the heck out of Richmond, and I still feel like we barely scratched the surface of all the great places.
In case you haven’t gathered, I loved Richmond. Even though the weather wasn’t the best ever for an optimal visit to a new city, I instantly felt comfortable there. Richmond is small enough that there doesn’t seem to be a ton of stressful traffic, and it is incredibly walkable which is important to me. The local vibe is fantastic in areas like Carytown, yet I can take a quick drive out to Short Pump and get my Nordstrom/Whole Foods/Apple store fixes. The more I think back to our brief time in Richmond, the more I can see Andrew and I settling down there. The weather is mild, but you still get the distinct seasons; it is close enough to my immediate and extended family; the food scene is fresh; the historic areas feel quite English-influenced which is not something we ever experienced on the West Coast; the location is ideal being a few hours from the ocean, mountains and DC. And then we drove out towards Harrisonburg and I became an even bigger fan of Virginia. You are probably wondering how that could be possible, yes?
My other cousins ((Nate’s siblings)) along with their parents Donna and Dennis, and all the spouses invited Andrew and I to enjoy a weekend getaway with them at Massanutten Resort. At one point, there were twelve adults and one adorable newborn baby, and it was effortlessly great fun. Lots of eating, drinking, card playing, laughing, baby smothering, wine tasting at the Fall Festival within the resort, etc. All of that was really enjoyable, but I think my top pick of the weekend was time spent at nearby Barboursville Winery. The group took a tour with someone who’s name escapes me which is a shame because he was incredibly knowledgable. He spoke quickly and provided so much information about the winery and wine making. After the tour, most of us did the bargain $5 wine tasting. We started with the whites, then reds, then dessert wines. My favorite was the award-winning sweet Phileo wine ((and I’m wishing I was sipping on a glass of it as I type this)). The Phileo was flowing at our table along with some meat and cheese platters, and life was perfect. I had no idea Virginia had wineries! And this one is rather incredible. On the winery property, named after Governor James Barbour who was governor of Virginia from 1812 – 1814, the ruins of the Barbour mansion which was designed by James Barbour’s good friend Thomas Jefferson ((perhaps you’ve heard of him?)) remain on the grounds today. This was not the only winery in the area, but the only one we had time for that day before driving to DC. I would return to it in a heartbeat. I adored Barboursville. See how this love affair with Virginia has come to be?
As previously mentioned, part of this road trip was meant to visit new cities to see where we could see ourselves moving to upon return to the USA. San Diego was a laid-back beachy dream of a place, Austin was so hip, progressive and fun, but once we got to Richmond I felt like the top of my list of places to live was instantly overtaken. I have enjoyed various characteristics of all the places we have visited along the way, but when I instantly feel like myself in a city, I have to be true to those feelings. Maybe we will love Boston more than Richmond, maybe we will miss the West Coast, or maybe we will have a tough time finding jobs in Richmond. Time will tell, since we do not yet have to make the decision about where to move to. But one thing is for sure, Richmond and the state of Virginia have me dreaming about what life would be like there.
**Special thanks to Nate for the hospitality in Richmond, and the Milsten/McNamara/Burns crew at Massanutten & Barboursville. Let’s do this more often, shall we?
Next up: Unfortunately our marvelous US government was in shutdown mode during the visit to DC, but we still had a great time walking and eating our way through it.