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Wet Land Wandering

For this weeks adventure I thought we could get a little closer to the more natural aspects of Virginia, so we headed south to the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. We found ourselves in the town of Suffolk, exploring only the northwest region of the swamp, but as a whole the park covers parts of south-east Virginia and northern North Carolina.

Now when I first imagined visiting this swamp I envisioned something stereotypically boggy right out of Louisiana, and as usual we found it to be something a bit different. Whereas usually we are thrilled with our findings, this time we were faced with a bit of a challenge.

As per usual, I’ll start with the drive. It began with crossing the James River Bridge.

Then things got a little country.

Our first sign of swamp lands!

Being as attentative as I am at giving directions, obviously we got a little lost. Luckily we found a map at the entrance to an auto tour within the national park.

Auto tour entrance. It was blocked off but looked very tempting.

At last, we found the entrance to an open boardwalk trail. Upon pulling into the tiny parking lot a cricket/grasshopper sort of combo made it’s way through the sun roof of the car and into our business. Both of us having severe anxiety and an extreme fear of bugs meant this did not go over so well. Once we were safely parked and out of the car away from the monster we realized exactly what we were about to put ourselves through.

Bugs. A LOT of bugs. And other unidentifiable creepy crawlies. Did I mention we have anxiety?

We had no idea that this swamp was essentially an EXTREMELY muddy forest, creatures included. I mean don’t get me wrong it was beautiful, but it took pure strength to convince ourselves not to run squealing back to the car… On top of that, we were all alone. Im not saying that it was a bad thing, but being deep in the woods completely alone comes with it’s mixture of serenity and cautiousness. Actually… it was a pretty wild feeling.

But enough words, here’s some pictures…

Good thing I didn’t bring my horse.

We had NO interest in finding out what sort of species had been using this tree as a scratch post. It also just so happened to be the first thing we saw as we entered the swamp. If we weren’t anxious enough already, this really didn’t reassure us that we were coming out of this alive.

No shortage of butterflies in these swamps.

Do you see what I see? Something spikey taking a nap in the swamp. I can only guess that maybe it’s a toad of sorts. Wasn’t looking to figure that one out the hard way.

Ok, so maybe we weren’t completely alone.

These metallic little suckers where EVERYWHERE. If I wasn’t so entranced by the color I would have run away screaming.

I think/hope that there is something to learn from our little adventure this week. I’ve been on a “facing your fears/living your dreams” kick for a while, and without even realizing it I stumbled upon a blog post that emanates exactly that. I mean I wouldn’t call venturing through a bug infested forest a lifelong dream of mine, but we sure as hell faced a fear. If you have anxiety like me, you know how difficult it can be to overcome even the smallest obstacles. But when you build up the courage to do so, it can give you the push you need to face the bigger challenges in life.

So while we walked into the swamp expecting the worst, we walked out with a mind set that said… Bring it on.

Cloudy, with a chance of schnitzel.

I have to admit this weeks choice was not very thought out. Being a bit distracted I chose somewhere close by. I had not done much research, but knew it was a water town, which meant it was garaunteed to be different than what I’ve shown you thus far. On top of that it was a pretty rainy weekend, so the pictures may be a little gray for your liking, but I like to think this town works well with that type of backdrop. So let’s get to it, shall we?

Portsmouth. What I had expected to be a dainty little fishing village, turned out to be an epicenter of American naval culture. I’ll start with the drive. The point in which I realized gray was going to be a theme this week.

There are a number of peninsulas in southern Virginia. From where I live, you have to go through a Bridge and Tunnel to get to the Portsmouth area.

Upon arrival the first thing we clearly wanted to do was check out the waterfront. We pretty much just stayed in one spot, parking along the main downtown street and walking down to the small marina. We sort of weren’t sure what to expect. Both being in glum moods, no thanks to the weather, we just wandered about taking pictures here and there.

And then we saw it. Coming in from the harbor was the cutest little river boat, paddlewheel and all. Discovering it was a ferry, we decided to hop on, unsure exactly where it would go.

Maybe it’s because I grew up around stuff like this, but being in such a naval/ marina type atmosphere is just so calming.

After a relaxing boat ride across the water to Norfolk we decided to go check out a beer garden that we spotted on the main street on our way in. We actually never went inside the restaurant, instead sitting out in the adorable garden patio. It was absolutely perfect, pulling us out of Portsmouth and into a little city oasis. The food and beer selection only made the experience better.

Did I mention the beer? For the record I had a Duvel and my sister had a Val Dieu. Delicious.

I mean I’m no connoiseur, but based off of what I do remember from my visit to Germany,  I think this restaurant is the real deal. The schniztel was amazing and that pickled cucumber salad that you see on the bottom right forced me to not hate pickles so much. And for someone who has despised pickles for the last 23 years, that’s saying alot about the quality of their cucumber salad.

We had no expectations for our trip on this rainy weekend, so it was a nice surprise to stumble on a few things that still gave us a chance to enjoy the outdoors. I think that’s how any good adventure works. The planned ones are never as fun as the ones that come as a surprise. If you can learn anything from this weeks post, it’s to give the rainy day a chance, and keep your options open for a few spontaneous happenings.

A Celebration of the Vine

When you think of the term “wine country”, I bet the last place you’re dreaming about is Virginia. But if you’re a wine lover like me, then this up and coming wine region should be on the top of your to-visit list.

Virginians are extremely proud of their wine. So much that they have festivals celebrating these vines and their juices. If you like live music, outdoor markets and drinking mass amounts of wine, then I don’t think I’m going to need to do much to convince you here.

Making a day of it, we (my mom and I) thought what better way to start this celebration than at the beginning of the wine making process. So we made our way to the New Kent Winery. I chose this winery for two reasons. Convenience and architecture. Both being very important qualities of a vineyard in my book.

You may be thinking, I should have gone when the grapes were full. I think we all know what grapes look like, but not all of us have seen baby grapes! I think they look like little green raspberries. How precious!

The main building is a huge part of the beauty and intrigue of the New Kent Winery. Over 90% of this breathtaking structure is made from reclaimed materials, much of it dating over a century old. Pieces of history brought together to create something that feels vintage and lived in. The architecture welcomes you before the staff even gets the chance.

Everything from the bricks to the door knobs is taken from the ruins of once standing central buildings.

Nothing better than a great porch. I could go on and on about all of the amazingly well thought out detail in the porch alone, but its just not the same as standing there while learning about it. You will just have to come see for yourself.

Pieces of the Tasting Room.

The staff and our tour guide were extremely friendly, giving me tips on the best spots to get good photos. Their professional yet laid back attitudes really made us feel at home, making for a very relaxing and enjoyable experience. The wine might have helped too.

The production room holds barrels and ice cold vats filled with wine.

The highlight of this room is the gorgeous wooden beam ceiling structure.

My favorite aspect of the New Kent Winery was that they encourage you to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on their back porch. On a warm sunny day this would make for an amazing lunch date. I plan on doing just that in the very near future.

~

Next we met up with my sister and made our way to the Chesterfield Wine Festival, “A Celebration of the Vine”. And a celebration it was.

It’s a great feeling to be wandering through a market with a glass of wine. You can mark down your favorite bottles as you taste, then make your purchases at the end of the festival. I should warn you, the favorites often go quick, so some bottles you should buy while they are still available. We did that multiple times, therefore ended up leaving with 9 bottles. Don’t judge.

Then there was a dance party. Conveniently, the concert area was located at the end of the wine tent path. At that point you are pretty toasted and ready to enjoy some good music.

After endless drinking and strolling in the hot sun, its nice to have a good patch of grass to sit and relax in the shade.

This is why you DON’T wear white to a wine festival. Though despite the obvious stain she still manages to look fabulous.

Interested in visiting the New Kent Winery? Check out their website at www.newkentwinery.com.

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Stop and Smell the Roses

When I first moved to Virginia last June 2011 I was hardly the person I have become today. Each day I would drive to work, notice pretty things and think “that would make a cool picture”, but I completely lacked the confidence to stop and do something about it. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve changed a bit.

Let me be more specific. I’m still as obnoxious and ridiculous as I have always been, and I don’t see that ever changing. Rather, what has changed is my outlook. Instead of finding good pictures, I look for them. Everything I see now has a little square box framed around it. I can thank Instagram for that.

Now to stay on the topic of Virginia. I figured I would give you a glimpse of my favorite views during my daily commute. Twice a day. Five times a week. I used to take the highway for timing purposes. But I’ve learned to love the long road.

On a cloudy day.

It’s amazing what you’ll find beautiful when you use your imagination.

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Disclaimer: I do not promote photographing and driving 😉

A Day in Charlottesville

I can’t really explain how excited I am to tell you about Charlottesville, Virginia. There is nothing understated in saying we (my sister and I) completely fell in love with this town.  Located in the center of the state, this area is filled will rolling green hills and distant blue mountains. Not to mention the little slice of Europe located in the center of town.

Let’s start with the scenic drive. Coming from the coast heading west, we were driving straight into the mountains.  Known as the Blue Ridge Mountains, they run across the western border of the state, and are famously named for the hazy blue skyline when seen from a distance. This blue haze is actually an organic substance given off from the trees… fun fact.

I personally think there is nothing better than a great mountain range view. It makes for a killer road trip. If we didn’t have the rest of our lives to worry about, we would have just kept driving. Lucky for us, where we did stop was a little piece of heaven in the hills.

On our way to our first stop we got a little spontaneous and followed a sign with an arrow that said “scenic views”. Next thing I know, we are fighting to share a narrow lane on a steep gravel mountain road, but what we found at the top was fully worth the near panic attack.

Located on top of this small mountain was an orchard. The Carter Mountain Orchard to be exact. I plan on returning for apple season in the fall.

After the breathtaking detour we found ourselves at  Michie Tavern (pronounced “mickey”). Built in the late 1700’s, it was once a center for wandering travelers and town events. The history behind the building is actually pretty cool, but that’s a whole other text book. As for the experience, it was located in a cute little woodsy town on the side of Carter Mountain, fully equipped with wood bridges and general stores. My favorite part was the endless fried chicken and drinking White Zinfandel out of a stainless steel tea cup.

Our next stop was the Monticello Estate, home of Thomas Jefferson. Instead of taking the historic tour route we decided to go in the direction of the wandering flower child. We skipped out on doing the interior house tour and instead spent hours hiking the trail up to the grounds to roam the gardens and vineyard. Not only did we feel like acceptably active human beings, but we felt as if we had been thrown into the hills of the south of France.

After laying in the grass for what seemed like forever we decided to head over to the historic downtown. But, as good road trips should, we got a little spontaneous again and stopped off at a park. Kemper Park.

Surprisingly, what blew me away the  most was our last stop. Warn out from our day of exploring, we found ourselves perched outside a gelato shop on the busy Main St in Historic Downtown Charlottesville. Nothing in the United States has reminded me more of Europe than this exact spot. The best way I can describe it is a mixture between the the main streets of Munich and Amsterdam. The street is blocked off so cars cannot drive through, allowing restaurants to set up outdoor seating in what should be the middle of the road. With the University of Virginia completely surrounding us, the people did not seem so unfamiliar either. For the first time since we had moved to Virginia, we finally felt like we fit in. We were completely content with the day we just had, and sat in silence taking it all in.

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More Than History in Colonial Williamsburg

I have to admit I misjudged Williamsburg. I even used to vow to never spend money on “that” kind of vacation. But after spending a day and a quarter wandering the little farm roads, gardens, and downtown brick streets I realized the appeal. Now I still would not consider it the most exciting vacation, but if you have ever wanted one of those peaceful, English cottage in the hills type of vacations, then this place is a charming, thrifty substitute.

Being home to the first capital of our country, it only makes sense that Williamsburg gives off an old world Washington D.C. sort of vibe. If that makes any sense. The endless picket fences would definitely make it one of the most adorable vacations of your life. And there is almost nothing better than spending the day sprawled out on a massive lawn with a good view. The Magazine (top left), the side garden at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern (top right), some picket fence (bottom left), The Governor’s Palace (bottom right).

I highly recommend Williamsburg for the animal lover. The sheep are like little puppies, hanging their heads over the fence begging for attention. I would have pet them, but they were extremely dirty, so if you go I suggest carrying hand sanitizer. The horses will often come up to you as well, but if you bring some apples it is almost guaranteed.

My favorite aspect of Williamsburg is the downtown area. Any place with great people-watching is okay in my book, but the heavy brick architecture gives it that almost European plaza feel that I obsess over. Its not an uncommon look for a downtown area in the US, but the colonial influence and thematic variety of dining and shopping make it all the more special. If I didn’t live here I would definitely come for a solid two night getaway. It’s very family oriented, but the historically accurate behavior and southern Confederate attitude make for some awkwardly priceless moments.

I know it is a bit off topic, but I spotted this gem while wandering the streets of Williamsburg. I felt it necessary to share it with you. Enjoy.

Follow my Blog and more on THE OLD DOMINION FACEBOOK PAGE. You can also view more exclusive photos not seen here on PINTEREST, or you can follow me on INSTAGRAM @ginafontes.