To continue and conclude our travels in Virginia at the end of August, let me tell you about the Sunday excursion – in the footsteps of colonialists and slave owners… You might remember the very popular tv-miniseries North and South with Patrick Swayze* in the 80’s? I both watched the miniseries and read the triology (written by John Jakes) and even if the southern family came from South Carolina and not Virginia, I kept thinking about that story when we were visiting Virginia’s historical places:
Virginia was the first permanent English colony in the New World and was part of the Confederacy (the southern states) in the the American civil war. In other words, there is lots of history around and we only had time to see a tiny fraction.
Our first destination was Colonial Willamsburg, which is the world’s biggest outdoor museum according to the guidebook. We actually took a wrong exit on the motorway and ended up driving a few extra miles on the Colonial Parkway, linking Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown – the so-called Historic triangle; the first English settlers made their permanent home in Jamestown, and Yorktown was the location of the last big battle in the American revolutionary war. It was a very nice drive through the forest, which reminded me of the woods back at home in Sweden.
A building in Colonial Williamsburg
Williamsburg, which was once the capital of Virginia’s (from 1699-1780), has two identities – a colonial one in the outdoor museum part of town, but there is also a modern “normal” city. If you want to visit the museum area of Williamsburg, it is easiest to park by the visitors’ centre (and it is free!!). Something that was not clear to us initially, is that it is free to walk around the town if you are not willing to pay the quite hefty entrance fee of $35. However, the entrance fee gives you access to the indoor museums and the re-enactments taking place every day (there are different package deals and price levels depending on how many events you wish to see). I guess that if we would have had more time, we might have considered paying to see some of the daily programme but at the same time we were quite happy to just stroll around the grounds and look at the beautiful houses (88 of the buildings are original, while ~500 are recreations of old historical buildings) and enter some of the shops selling traditional objects and food. We had the most delicious fresh sandwiches for lunch from a gourmet place called The Cheese Shop. The large scale of the place is impressive and you do feel like you have been time-warped back to colonial times! The Swedish outdoor museums of Skansen in Stockholm and Kulturen in Lund are tiny in comparison…
Costumed interpreters in Colonial Williamsburg – since we hadn’t paid the entrance fee we were not allowed to see the re-enactment of this historical event (whatever it was!?)…
Our day continued along country roads, passed the Sherwood forest (at times I was wondering if I was in England or in the US – there is even a place called Scotland nearby!) and Berkeley, a plantation that claims to be the place of the first Thanksgiving in 1619 (instead of in Massachusetts in 1621), to the oldest plantation in Virginia – Shirley. The same family has been living here for a mind-boggling 11 generations but was founded already in 1613 – remember that this is the US and a property that is almost 400 years old is old! I was surprised that the building was not grander, but then again I was thinking from an European-castle-perspective 😉 What is impressive is that the family has left the first floor as a museum with the original furniture and interior, while they live upstairs (I guess in more modern quarters). We were given a guided tour by a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide, and it was easy to imagine the life on the plantation in the old days (especially when thinking of the afore-mentioned tv-series!).
The main house of the Shirley Plantation
After the guided tour of the main house we could walk around the outbuildings; including a smoke house where there were still old hams hanging from the roof – it appealed specially to the Spaniard O who has a particular love for smoked ham! It was a peaceful setting with views of the river and cotton fields. The plantation is still a working farm, minus of course the slaves (in 1787 134 slaves were living and working on the property). The cotton and the slaves reminded me of a song I learnt in school in England:
Pick a Bale of Cotton**
Jump down, turn around to pick a bale of cotton
Jump down, turn around to pick a bale a day
chorus: Oh Lordy, pick a bale of cotton, Oh Lordy, pick a bale a day
The beautiful drive way up to the Shirley Plantation
The third stop of the day was not a historic location but the huge shop called Outdoor World – O really wanted to show it to me! This chain sells everything from guns to motor boats and fishing material, and it is quite impressive to see big boats being displayed on the shop floor. Needless to say we didn’t buy anything…
In the evening we had another great seafood dinner – at the end of the Ocean View Fishing Pier, overlooking the people fishing and with a beautiful sun-set. It was the perfect end to our Virginia weekend, and we were sad to leave our hostess P and the shores of Tidewater the next morning after a yummy brunch at Baker’s Crust in Ghent before heading back to Washington DC and the airport.
The Ocean View Fishing Pier in Norfolk, there is a restaurant in the building on the pier – with a roof-top terrace
The trip was such a great experience that we are really interested in seeing more of the southern states, and we are right now thinking of doing another roadtrip to Georgia, northern Florida, Alabama and Tennessee over Thanksgiving (for ~10 days).
*) I just read in the Wikipedia entry for North and South that Forest Whitaker plays one of the plantation slaves – I would love to see these series again!
**) I wonder why ABBA chose to make a medley of this song + On top of Old Smokey and another song, it is almost like they had the same song book as the one in my school in England, we also used to sing On top of Old Smokey!