Monday, 23 January 2012

Charlottesville, Virginia

This post is quite retrospective (October, actually).  One of the highlights of the Fall was spending an afternoon in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Most of our time in Charlottesville was spent at Monticello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the estate of Thomas Jefferson.

The thing I learned about Thomas Jefferson during my visit was that he was an all-around bad-ass.  Of course we know that he was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, America's third president (he also served as Secretary of State and Vice President at various times), and the founder of the University of Virginia.  But that's just the tip of the iceberg...

Jefferson spoke five languages, rode horses, played the violin, graduated from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, passed the Virginia bar exam in 1767, and was an opponent of slavery (though he owned slaves at Monticello and has been widely criticized by scholars for this and other hypocrisies).

It was under Jefferson that the United States bought the Louisiana Territory from France, a purchase that doubled the size of America.  Jefferson also organized the Lewis and Clark expedition and convinced Congress to fund and build the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.

I could go on and on about Jefferson, but suffice to say he was a pretty accomplished fellow.

I would recommend visiting Charlottesville in the Fall, though I imagine it's beautiful all year long.  I'm just biased toward the Fall and feel as though Virginia has one of the best out there.

In addition to Monticello, the Downtown Mall of Charlottesville is a wonderful place to visit.  One of the nation's largest pedestrian malls, it's eight traffic-free blocks worth of stores and restaurants.

We hit up an Indian place for dinner.  There was also a Middle Eastern, Thai, Himalayan Fusion, Japanese, and other ethnic restaurants (plus many of your All-American type grills).  And for after dinner a cupcake shop, a frozen yogurt bar, and a movie theatre...

Monticello coupled with the Downtown Mall equals a great way to sample the best of Charlottesville.  And the city is only 115 miles from Washington D.C.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Washington, D.C.

One of the most wonderful things about living in Virginia is my proximity to America's capital.  From Roanoke, Virginia, Washington, DC. is 240 miles northeast.  I took a day trip up there yesterday with a friend from graduate school.

Walking west along Jefferson Street, the Washington Monument and National Mall are visible to the right.

I've visited Washington, D.C. in the summer and fall, but this was my first experience with winter.  I wished I'd dressed warmer.  The pictures below showcase yesterday's weather...

Plants on the lawn of the U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters.

And again.  

Washington, D.C. is the nation's only city that is not located within one of its fifty states.  Bordered by Maryland and Virginia, it was formed in 1790 from land along the Potomac River donated by those states (the Virginia portion was returned in 1846).

For the tourist, many of the attractions in Washington, D.C. are set in and around the National Mall, a national park that runs from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial between Constitution and Independence Avenues.

Capitol Building:

Beautifully illuminated at night.

Lincoln Memorial:

Front of the Lincoln Memorial.

The Lincoln Memorial is my favorite landmark in Washington, D.C.  It might be the architecture (architect Henry Bacon designed the building in the form of a Greek Doric temple)...

Interior columns and ceiling.


...or the sheer size of Lincoln's white marble statue (designed by sculptor Daniel Chester French) inside the building...

Lincoln's statue measures 19 feet from head to toe and weights 159 metric tons.  
...or two of Lincoln's speeches - The Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address - that are etched on the walls in chambers on opposite sides of the building...

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address is etched into the walls of the north chamber.  
...or the view of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and Washington Memorial from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial...

The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool was under renovation when I visited.  

...or the fact that Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech was delivered here on August 28th, 1963.

But whatever it is, standing inside the Lincoln Memorial gave me goosebumps yesterday.

In addition to the Lincoln Memorial, some other attractions to see in and around the National Mall include the Washington Memorial...

The World War II Memorial (not to mention other war memorial such as the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial and Korean Veterans War Memorial)...

The White House...

And all of the Smithsonian Museums.  The Smithsonian Institution operates nineteen museums as well as the National Zoological Park.  Eleven of the nineteen museums are located on the National Mall.  The Smithsonian museums are free to the public.

The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, interior.

Sign for the Star Spangled Banner exhibit inside the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Internal courtyard at the Freer Gallery of Art, part of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art.

Some other Freer Gallery of Art pictures are shown below:

Despite the cold, it was a great day in the capital.

Every time I visit, I feel proud to be an American and lucky for all of the freedoms I have as a citizen.  No better place to fuel those patriotic fires than the streets of Washington D.C.

Washington, D.C. is also a cosmopolitan city with people and influences from all over the world.  So, being in the capital also inspires me to travel internationally.  It inspires me to visit and live in different countries and continents, to try to understand and appreciate the diversity in our world.

P.S. I would suggest spending a minimum of two or three days in Washington, D.C.  There is just so much to do here and I feel like, yesterday, we only scraped the surface.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Faith and Fall

In August, I headed to Roanoke, Virginia to pursue "The Dream."  Then I disappeared off the face of the earth for four months.  

To the few people who actually read this blog, I apologize.  My three excuses:  

1) Grad school knocked me on my ass (I was forced to write more this semester than in the previous two years combined).

2) I began living on a $1200 per month budget (a fraction of what I subsided on before).  It was quite the adjustment and suffice to say, I couldn't afford to travel as much (in retrospect I wasn't that doesn't cost a lot to travel one city/county over or explore your neighborhood).  A lot of interesting revelations about money came out of that time, however.

3) I went through a faith crisis and struggled to keep on believing in my dreams and ideals.  Since so much of this blog was based upon dreams and ideals, I found it hard to write when I didn't really believe what I was saying.

I will expound on these points in the next few days, but I was determined to get a post out there.  More to come.