Williamsburg in the Fall

Travel

Yesterday, I took a day off from work for the first time since February. This special occasion was used to take a family trip to Williamsburg, Virginia.

The trip had a few core goals:

  1. get out of the DC area. Sometimes it’s necessary to venture out of the city for a bit.
  2. fulfill some autumnal traditions. We wanted to see orange and yellow leaves, and enjoy the few weeks of cool, crisp fall weather before we descend into winter. A bonus perk: our favorite fall tradition was moved online this year, so we needed something slightly autumnal and slightly historic to replace the hole left by the Waterford Fair.
  3. give my father an excuse to bike somewhere new and give me an opportunity to peek at a possible law school option. (Spoiler: both were successes.)

The drive usually takes about 3 hours, but due to light traffic and the fact that we drove down in the middle of the morning, the drive from DC to Williamsburg was pretty easy. The leaves aren’t quite ready to change yet, but every once in a while we would spot a bright orange tree. Once arriving, we had two priorities: park the car (preferably for free) and get something to eat. We were able to find a parking spot next to Bicentennial Park, just a few blocks from where we wanted to eat lunch.

Some basic preparatory research led us to having sandwiches from The Cheese Shop in Merchant’s Square. Though the house dressing had been slightly overhyped, the bread was yummy and the cookies that came with our meal were perfect snacks for that mid-afternoon nibble later on.

Once we’d finished eating, we set our game plan. My father would ride to Yorktown and back, which he guesstimated would take two and a half or three hours. During that time, my mom and I would pop over to William and Mary Law School and take a peek, before wandering around Williamsburg for a bit. Unfortunately, there are no tours right now and the campus is pretty quiet while most folks take their classes at home, but it was still nice to see the location and size of the school. (I’m a big fan of the idea that the most important part of applying to schools is getting to know their vibe and feel, and then going with your gut about whether you’d fit in there. Those feelings are tough to experience through a computer.) Fun fact: William and Mary Law School is the oldest law school in the U.S. (bonus points to anyone who can guess the oldest continuously running law school – W&M had to shut down for the pesky business of a civil war taking place just miles away.)

Unlike college campus visits, law schools don’t tend to be particularly large, so we decided to continue our walk. We lucked out that the date we’d picked a few weeks in advance for our visit ended up being a gorgeous day in the 70s with the sun in the sky and the occasional breeze. We made our way back towards Merchant’s Square, turning early into the neighborhood. Our path led us towards William and Mary‘s undergraduate campus. Despite many visits to Williamsburg over the years, neither my mom nor I had been on their campus and we were both surprised at just how large it is – every time we thought we’d reached the end, there were more buildings.

Once we’d finished with our campus tours, we decided to stop for a snack. We grabbed milkshakes from Baskin-Robbins and found a bench in the shade in Merchant’s Square. While resting our feet, we had the chance to do some people watching, an activity I haven’t really been able to do in the last six months. The nice weather brought out tourists, locals, students, and the occasional puppy to entertain us while we rested a little.

Following our break, my mom and I made our way through Colonial Williamsburg. There’s no ticket required to just wander about and there were very few tourists or groups out and about. We walked the length of Duke of Gloucester Street admiring the historic homes and the blue skies. For our return to the car, we opted for a side road, Francis Street, that would provide a different view. It rewarded us with a shady walk and a field of sheep. Our timing was pretty good as we made it back to the car just as my dad arrived.

I cannot vouch for the length of the car ride home as I was worn out and took a nice nap in the backseat, but overall, I’d say the day was a success. Now to plot the next day trip…

Harper’s Ferry – A Day Trip

Uncategorized

Though it seems like years ago, last September some friends and I hopped in a car to visit Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia. The trip was semi spontaneous, but as I do nothing without research and preparation, I did a quick Google for local hikes and packed some snacks in my trunk. And off we went…

The drive to Harper’s Ferry is a little over an hour and relatively straight forward. We parked in one of the public parking lots on Shenandoah Street, which was quite crowded for a nice sunny, late summer day. The public parking lots ask you to pay for your spot, so bring a couple of dollars. We walked along a nice, shaded path towards the town before deciding to start our hike.

We were in the search for a relatively easy hike, but were hoping to reach the pretty Instagram-famous overlook. A quick chat with folks at the Information Center (Harper’s Ferry is a National Historical Park, so they’ve done work to preserve some of the history of the area. The Information Center held a brief overview of the area, including the relevance of John Brown and other historical events.) and the Gift Shop gave us the route we were searching for.

Harper’s Ferry is literally on the corner of West Virginia right where the state comes to meet Maryland on one side of the Potomac River and Virginia on the other. We crossed the river to Maryland, which was filled with folks out tubing (and drinking), via the Winchester and Potomac Railroad Bridge. (We crossed as a train came through, which was slightly frightening, but also pretty dang cool.) The walking path was pretty easy to follow and there were a couple of different options for easier hikes. We took the Maryland Heights Trail that ends at the scenic overlook.

What they didn’t tell us is that it’s a pretty decent hike to get there. I am a hiking wuss (and watching small children run up mountains next to you doesn’t do much for your pride). There are some pretty steep sections and it isn’t a short walk. We made it, but I did some huffing and puffing (quick reminder that I need to hit the gym). The view was worth it.

After many an Instagram shot and a snack, we made our way back down and back across the river. By this point, we’d spent enough time hiking that we were in the hunt for ice cold water and some food. Luckily, the town of Harper’s Ferry provided. We stopped at the Coffee Mill and ate at their outdoor patio. I don’t know if I’m the person to speak to the taste of the food (I may have been very hungry and scarfed it all down), but my memories are positive of the experience.

We finished off our day with a walk uphill to see the rest of the historic town, stopping when the houses looked a little too much like our own suburbs. On our way back down the hill, we popped into Tessoterica for a couple scoops of ice cream and a look at the local goods before heading back towards the car.

The car ride home was definitely filled with a little less conversation and a few more snores, but overall, it was a well spent day.

Exploring Georgetown

Hometown, Uncategorized

One of the perks of my current living situation is the proximity to one of the cuter parts of DC. Georgetown is literally across the water from my apartment and is walkable. Georgetown is pretty impossible to drive to and isn’t Metro-accessible, which can make it a pain in the butt to visit.

Getting there: I find the easiest way to get to Georgetown is to take a little walk. You can park your car at Rock Creek Park and wander over along the waterfront or you can find parking in Rosslyn and walk or take the free Circulator bus across the river.

What to do: The main attraction of Georgetown is the shops along M St. There’s anything you could want from Kiehl’s to Nike to Starbucks. It’s also always rotating, so you may visit two months apart and see new shops where another had previously been. I’m not a huge shopping person, but the window shopping opportunities are good and there’s plenty of people watching. (Warning: good weather means people and Georgetown can get packed, especially during tourist season.) I love a good wander, so I’d recommend ditching the main road and taking a stroll up the hill towards the cute houses there or down the hill towards the waterfront.

(In the winter, Georgetown Glow lights up the night and the waterfront hosts an ice skating rink for your winter activities.)

Where to Eat: Farmers Fishers Bakers has a great brunch if you’re in the mood. Skip Georgetown Cupcake and get a sweet treat from Baked and Wired instead. And if you want a bit of history with your meal, visit Martin’s Tavern.

Bonus Bits: Georgetown University is right there – it looks a bit like Hogwarts… And the House of Sweden (home to the Embassy of Sweden and the diplomatic missions for Iceland and Liechtenstein) is on the waterfront. Both host events that are open to the public if you’ve interested.

Snow Covered Sheep and Sally Lunn Buns

london, Travel, Uncategorized

We’ve got chilly, dreary weather and it has me reflecting on what might’ve been the coldest day of my life. In early March of 2018, I took part in a day trip through the International Student House in London. They organized the transportation and tickets for a visit to Stonehenge and Bath.

Getting up very very very early on a Sunday morning, we made the trek to ISH and hopped on a small charter bus. One of the toughest things about visiting Stonehenge is simply getting there, so shout out to pre-organized transportation. After a slightly frightening drive thanks to a winter storm hitting the UK, we made it to the stones. The trip was originally scheduled for January and ended up snowed out – the March date was also very close to being snowed out. As you can tell from my pictures, it was snowy all morning, making roads quite treacherous. Fortunately, despite the site closing due to weather, they let us in.

Our tour let us go right up into the inner circle of the stones and a very kind man explained the history of the area and the various theories behind the placement and transportation of the rocks. (My contribution to this part of the day was to regularly nod and say “aliens“.) Stonehenge is admittedly a little overrated and a long way from nothing, but getting to wander this close to the rocks surrounded by a fresh blanket of snow was an amazing experience. You could read where past generations had carved themselves into the stones and stand in awe at how the rocks could possibly be moved to this exact spot.

Once we were ushered away from the stones so they could close the site for the day, we hopped back on our bus. I tried to convince everyone to sneak one of the many snow-covered sheep back with us, but was turned down. It was still relatively early and still not particularly nice out, but we took mostly back roads towards Bath and made it with no accidents. (Our step count for the day was particularly high thanks to the shaking of the bus.)

Our scheduled activity in Bath was a tour of the Roman Baths. Despite it being freezing outside, it was quite steamy in the baths. The tour was interesting and the baths are in great condition despite their age.

After our tour, the plan was to spend the afternoon in Bath exploring. (We had to fight a girl who wasn’t properly dressed and wanted to go home, but we got our afternoon.) Bath is relatively small, and our first stop was lunch.

We wandered our way over to The Salamander, a cute and cozy pub off the main drag and had beer and burgers. Once we warmed up, we wrapped back up and continued our explorations. Bath has plenty of shops if you’re interested, but we found ourselves down by the river and crossed the Pulteney Bridge to the other side for an exploration.

On a warmer day, I’m sure the riverside is packed but we were not there on a warm day. With our time dwindling, we made our way back across the water and popped our heads in Bath Abbey.

Our last stop was possibly the most British thing we did all day (besides regularly commenting on the weather) – we stopped for tea. And not just at any old café, we stopped at Sally Lunn’s Eating House. Older than the United States, Sally Lunn’s tearoom is home to the famous Sally Lunn bun. We had ourselves some tea and some scones and a Sally Lunn bun.

Once we’d eaten our fill, we made our way back to the meeting place, did an accidental loop of the Baths in search of our bus, and headed toward London. And all before it got dark at 5:00 p.m.!

Five Favorite Day Trips from DC

Five Favorites, Travel

Maybe you’re just in town for a few days or maybe you’re looking to avoid a tourist rush, but there’s plenty of quick trips worth taking that’ll get you outside the city. These are my five personal favorite day trips from DC:

Harpers Ferry

A friend recently visited from Indiana and wanted to cross West Virginia off her list of states unvisited. We initially planned a longer trip, but when we ran out of time, we looked a little closer to home. Harpers Ferry is a little town with history and nature galore. The town was home to John Brown’s rebellion but also has a great hike and plenty of tubing/rafting/kayaking opportunities. The hour and a half drive from the city was easy enough and parking was $15 for a spot through the National Park Service. We hiked the Maryland Heights Trail to the overlook and grabbed lunch in town.

Luray Caverns

If you’re looking to beat the heat, Luray Caverns is a fantastic option. To get there from the city is a beautiful drive through Virginia that’ll take you through Shenandoah. I’ve been in plenty of caves in my time (like four or five, okay? That’s a lot…) and Luray Caverns is amazing. Your guided walk through the caves is both scientifically fascinating and historically interesting. Plus the temperature inside always feels about 60 degrees.

Baltimore Aquarium

Maybe you’ve made one too many trips to the National Zoo and need to mix up your animal intake – take a drive up to Baltimore’s National Aquarium. The Inner Harbor has plenty of cool restaurants and the aquarium is amazing. I could stare at the jellyfish for hours, but there’s also other fish and critters to learn about. Bonus points: they’ve stopped their dolphin shows and are now focused even more on sustainability and the impact on local water systems.

Delaware Beaches

I’m not a huge beach person – too much sand, too many people, too high a chance for sunburn. But I love the sound of the ocean. Delaware has some lovely beaches within a 3 hour drive (if you’re lucky). Rehobeth and Bethany both have great beaches with plenty of food nearby. My personal favorite stop is Lewes Beach which is a little quieter and less busy but still just as cute. Another tip: visit off season – it won’t be a thousand degrees and packed in October or May but you’ll still get to hear the water.

Old Town Alexandria

Maybe you don’t have a car or maybe you only have a half day (or maybe you’re seriously inspired by my post about my favorite part of the Metro area), but Old Town Alexandria is worth the trip. Metro to the end of King Street and walk towards the water. After stopping in every cute shop and sampling ice cream, enjoy a wander along the water. You can either make the hike back to the Metro or hop on the free King Street Trolley.

What’s your favorite day trip from the city?

Honey, I’m Home

Travel

It came to my attention that a friend who shall remain unnamed has lived in the DC area for a few years and never ventured down to my favorite place in the metro area: Old Town Alexandria. I was personally offended. I think Old Town is one of the coolest part of the DC area. And if you love history, hate crowds, and always want to be surprised, Old Town is the place for you.

Getting There: The excuse I was given was that Old Town was too tough to get to. Which is bull. When Metro hasn’t shut down all of the Virginia stops, you can get to Old Town easy peasy on the Yellow or Blue line and hop off at the King’s Street stop. The walk from the metro isn’t horrible and is a straight line down King Street to get to the water front, or you can hop on the free Trolley that’ll take you all the way down King. Parking isn’t ideal, but if you’re keen on a day’s adventure, there’s bike paths that lead straight there from all directions. You can also hop a riverboat from Georgetown and National Harbor.

What to Do: Old Town is filled with history: go on a ghost tour of town, visit Gatsby’s Tavern, wander the cemetaries. It’s also a quintessential walkable area. You can wander down the history cobblestone roads and see historical buildings with just a touch of cute. If you’re on the hunt for that perfect birthday gift or that not-too-touristy present to bring back home, there’s plenty of boutiques and cute shops all up and down King’s Street that are fun to just pop in and out of. Make a stop in the Torpedo Factory to peek at some local artists’ workspaces. If you’re there in the summertime, the boardwalk is filled with performers and opportunities for people watching. Plus there’s that relaxing sound of the water that just can’t be replicated by an iPhone.

What to Eat: Old Town is constantly updating their food options, with shops coming and going. I’ve got a few favorites that are consistent: for “Chicago” style pizza, go to Bugsy’s. Looking for a Marg and a couple tacos, Los Cuates is a good bet. On the hunt for a classy meal, the Chart House has good food and great views. And to round it all off, there’s nothing better than a scoop (or two) of ice cream for your wander onto the boardwalk: there’s a Ben and Jerry’s, but my personal favorite is the Cookie Dough at The Creamery – just keep an eye out for the bear in the window.

Basically, there’s so much to do in Old Town and it’s just so close to DC that you have no excuse.

Making Plans

Travel

I’m an anxious human being. I get places thirty minutes early, I plan out walking paths and bus routes before, during, and after I’ve left the house, and I love lists. So traveling (especially alone) can sometimes be stress inducing, which is why I’ve got this whole planning thing down to a science.

My first step is a browse through Pinterest, or if all else fails a Google Search. Depending on the length of my trip and whether or not every travel blogger on the planet has visited, I can usually find enough to do. (I’ll also find things that might interest my traveling buddy, but might not be my cup of tea, just in case they aren’t the plan ahead type.)

I’ll also do a search of free walking tours in whatever city I’ll be visiting. (I loved my Sandeman’s walking tours and they’re in a good number of places through out Europe.) They’re a good starting point for where ever you are, allow you to get your bearings in the city, and they tend to point out things to do and eat that you might have otherwise missed in your planning.

The next step is to head over to Google Maps. Because Google Maps can be downloaded or used without data, I prefer it over Apple Maps or any other city specific app. A browse through the interwebs has probably left me when a thousand tabs open on my computer, all waiting for me to decide whether or not to visit. My tabs are searched on Google Maps and their location is saved either as a “Star” or a “Want to Visit”. If I’m feeling real fancy, I’ll make a separate map for the trip. I’ll also make a mental note of which things open early or late (a note I’ll revisit once I’m actually there).

I don’t like to plan out my day(s) until I have arrived, unless necessary. Exhaustion levels, weather, and the chances of finding somewhere new to explore all keep me from being that Type A. I do, however, find myself booking things I know I want to do in advance. This way, I don’t have that nagging feeling in the back of my head that something will sell out between my planning and my actual trip. (Most of the time it’s not a worry, but you never know. Better safe than sorry!)

Side note: I, personally, like printed versions of everything. From plane tickets to admissions tickets to hostel business cards to maps of the city (if I can find them for free), I’d like to have a physical copy. It means that even if my phone dies from taking too many pictures, I’ll have what I need to cope. It also means I’ll have something to stick in my travel journal when I get back home to remember my trip!

Once I’ve booked everything, starred everything in a map, and triple checked what time my bus/train/plane/car leaves, I can worry about packing. For day trips, I always empty out my purse and refill it. If it’s not essential, it’s not coming with. My Waitrose card and the twelve pens that sit at the bottom of my purse are removed. For longer trips, I pack what I think I’ll need a few days in advance, then repack the night before. That way my last minute panic of forgetting my *insert crucial item here* is done while I can still find it, rather than once I’ve already left the house.

The day of my trip, I’ll take an allergy medicine, just in case, make sure I’ve grabbed any last minute items (chargers, headphones, book or kindle, chapstick, etc.), and I can head out the door.

A Day in Brighton

Travel

Every year, my family gathers around the television and we sit down to watch “The Snowman“. It’s a wordless animated film about a little boy who builds a snowman on Christmas Eve. The snowman comes to life and flies with the little boy over the English countryside (and the Brighton pier) to visit Santa Claus. It’s an adorable film with a song that breaks my heart every time I hear it.

So I am bringing up a Christmas tradition in June for a reason: I finally went to Brighton.

Thanks to Pinterest and the interwebs, I preplanned my day. Going alone, I was a bit worried that I would get bored or “waste my day”. I was also worried about weather: British clouds have been keeping me from soaking up the sun.

I got so lucky.

The weather was gorgeous, there was no line at the Royal Pavilion when I arrived in the morning, and by the time I was growing tired people were out and about to entertain me for hours.34398677_10214383142146270_427980601849544704_n

I had pre-bought tickets to the Royal Pavilion, which was a worthwhile two-hour wander while I waited for the sun to come out. I only got overrun by a school trip of middle schoolers twice. (I’d recommend either getting the audio tour or listening to music as the sound of everyone else’s audio guide is annoying.) You can’t take pictures inside, but good golly I wanted to. The wallpapers, the ridiculous chandeliers, and the tiny details!

I ate a nice slice of chocolate cake and had a soda in their café, before making my way down to the waterfront.34259059_10214383142386276_4044758762081222656_n

Brighton is known for its beachfront: a pebble beach, lined with cafés and shops and bars and a nice paved path. I ended up walking the beach twice, sitting down on the beach or on a bench for a while and soaking up the sun. The beach filled throughout the day, but as it’s still early in the season, it wasn’t too horrible. Plus, everyone brought out their pups!

After getting pooped on by a seagull, I stopped at the Bandstand Cafe for lunch. A nice burger and a beer filled me while I watched folks wander by and listened to the sound of the ocean. (Later as I walked by, someone got married on the bandstand, so that’s exciting!)

My walk along the water tended to stop once I had hit the Hove beach huts, a series of little colorful sheds all lined up in a row facing the water. The bright colors brought out the sun and some colorful characters.34398065_10214383142706284_3154201193085927424_n

From the huts to the Brighton Pier was about a 45-minute meander along the boardwalk. You can walk on the Pier without paying and wander through the attractions and stalls. Families were out in masses with sticky children and drunk adults. I am fairly certain that every hen party in the U.K. was in Brighton this weekend (same as when every hen party in Scotland was in Edinburgh when I visited two years ago).

I also took a wander through the shops to find ChoccyWoccyDooDah, the most absurd chocolate shop on the planet. After grabbing a chocolate milkshake and a water, I wandered the boardwalk from Pier to huts once more, settling in for a bit, here and there, to burn in the sun.

34393596_10214383142866288_6724776100896964608_nMy initial plan was to stay until sunset, but my exhaustion kept me from sticking it out. (The sun doesn’t set until 9 p.m. now; it’s officially summer!) I made my way back up the hill to the train station and set off for London, only snoozing on the train once on my two-ish hour journey!