Something historical

Apr 20, 2007

Another sunny day today and getting progressively warmer, although still not up to the average for this time of year. Took a while to get everybody out of bed and ready for breakfast. Chloe knew we were off to some historical stuff today, so she lounged around in bed pretending to be asleep, reminding me of Sunday mornings when I was a kid and didn’t want to go to church.

We ate breakfast in the small restaurant in the hotel, which only serves breakfast and lunch and is run by one cook and one waitress, but served up eggs or pancakes or whatever that was just fine, although the bacon was better back at Skyland.

We were heading back up 64 to the Williamsburg area, which I tend to think of as being all part of the same metropolis but is a good hour away from Virginia Beach with no traffic. Our first stop was Presidential Park in Williamsburg, a relatively new place that Beth had just read about in Sunday’s Washington Post magazine section in a pictorial about unique places to visit in the US (another one was Mount Washington in new Hampshire). It’s basically a outdoor path you walk around and look at giant busts of all 42 US presidents, which are each flanked by signs detailing all their vital statistics and interesting facts about them. In the middle is the fuselage of a former Air Force One that you can walk through. Apparently there’s one in South Dakota too. It’s sort of kitschy but kind of interesting and you can’t help but learn something you didn’t know before about at least a couple of the presidents. Most of the busts look just like their pictures, except everyone from Nixon onwards looked much younger than you would expect. We killed about an hour there and checked out the gift shop. It was time for lunch, and there is a café of sorts in the main building, but we decided to find some place more interesting to eat, so we headed on to Yorktown.

No one actually lives in Yorktown any more, as it turns out. The riverfront area of Yorktown looks like it was all built last week, and there are several shops and a restaurant or two along the water, followed by a small man-made beach, and not much else. A couple of blocks inland on Main Street are a bunch of old buildings that you can tour for a fee, and more shops, mostly of antiques or crafty stuff. We walked around a little but really we just wanted to have lunch, so we found a restaurant another block or so along the waterfront and got crabcake sandwiches.

The real destination was the Yorktown battlefield, which is at one end of the Colonial Parkway, the road that connects the battlefield with Historic Jamestown, both run by the national park service. It was nearly 2 when we arrived, and if we were going to get to Jamestown too we didn’t have tons of time. Our timing was such that there was a walking tour led by a park volunteer that was just about to start, so we got in on that and got an overview of the events leading up to the battle of Yorktown (last battle of the Revolutionary War) and what happened during and after. The guy doing the tour was very good, although he didn’t sound like a local, and took nearly an hour. We found a few things in the gift shop and then it was off to Jamestown. There’s a whole driving tour you can take at Yorktown, but nobody was interested in that but me, and it would’ve taken too long to do that and still get to Jamestown.

We drove the Colonial Parkway from one end to the other to get to Jamestown. There seems to be some sort of conflict between the Park Service and the state or the local area or something, as there are alternative venues for both Yorktown and Jamestown with similar names to the Park Service sites but run by the state, the Yorktown Victory Center and Jamestown Settlement or something. When I was buying tickets at Yorktown, everyone ahead of me in line wanted to be at the other Yorktown and the park service people had to tell them how to get there. Other than the fact that it’s more expensive at the state-run ones, I’m not sure what the difference is, except that they do more of a living history thing to try to make it more interesting I suppose, but the Park Service ones are the ones that are on the actual sites being commemorated.

Chloe had been studying the early colonies in school recently and so knew all about both Plymouth and Jamestown, so I thought she might as well see the real thing. the visitor centers at both Jamestown and Yorktown look brand new, and we got to the Jamestown one in time for a short movie that was obviously also brand new as it treated the Indians, blacks and the settlers equitably. Jamestown is much more contained, so you can just walk out the back door and over a swamp to the original settlement and see the remains of some of the buildings, not necessarily from 1607 but from pre-revolutionary times, until the capital was moved to Williamsburg. There is quite a bit of excavation still ongoing, and that is the main focus of Jamestown, but there’s enough to see that we finished up right as they were closing at 5 or so. it was also interesting to get a sense of what the location and the fort looked like, and we were there at about the same time of year as when the colonists first landed 400 years ago. Next month is the big anniversary and George W and Queen Elizabeth are coming to visit.

Although it took us just over an hour to get there, it took nearly two hours to get back to Virginia Beach, thanks to Friday evening traffic, even though the traffic was only bad in a couple of spots. One of them is the tunnel under the harbor, which apparently backs up on a daily basis such that there are automatic signs telling you how long it’s going to take before you even get near it. The Newport News area is kind of a mess too. What’s odd about that whole drive is how many major towns you drive through, with tons of traffic, yet never see any skyline anywhere. It was about 7 when we arrived back at the Breakers and everybody was hungry, so we had decided to go low-key for dinner after last night’s splurge and just get pizza. There’s a local chain called DoughBoys that had a restaurant about a block away, so we got pizza and pasta there. Prior to that we found a grocery store and beth and Chloe ran in and picked up a few odds and ends for the room, since it has a whole efficiency kitchen with a fridge and microwave and everything. Dinner was good, Beth and I got a chicken and pineapple “California-style” pizza, chloe got cheese ravioli, Justin got cheese pizza. The service was adequate but the waitress, while attentive, was surprisingly blasé about everything, this was the only place I can recall asking what kinds of beer they had and being told, in a perfectly sincere way, to go up to the bar and look myself.

After dinner I took the leftover pizza back to the room while beth and the kids hung around on Atlantic Ave and did a little shopping. They came back a half hour later, chloe had gotten a t-shirt and Justin had found a shark tooth necklace. We watched the Red Sox come from behind to beat the Yankees when Mariano Rivera came in as the closer and instead gave up 5 runs. For some reason I was really zonked and passed out just before 11.

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