Trip Report: Six Humid Nights in Virginia: Richmond (The Jefferson Hotel), Charlottesville, and Middleburg:
My partner (Dear Partner=DP) of 23 years has always wanted to visit Monticello so I planned this trip for us for late June 2011. The more I read about Richmond, the more I realized that a night or two wouldn’t cover all the sights. So I planned four nights in Richmond, one in Charlottesville, and one in Middleburg with an emphasis on Civil War history in Richmond, Monticello in Charlottesville, and a bed and breakfast experience in the quaint hamlet of Middleburg.
Humidy: Followed us everywhere! As having basically grown up in California (San Francisco area), I was shocked by the oppressiveness of the humidity. There was no relief at night or first thing in the AM. I have visited other Southern/Eastern cities, but never felt it this heavy. Even thunderstorms on three different nights provided little relief. Hats off and water bottles up to those who can carve out a life in those conditions. I couldn’t handle it.
Flights: I had a Jet Blue credit from the last year that I needed to use so I made a Jet Blue itinerary work for us. We flew out on a red-eye from Oakland, CA to Boston, and then on directly to Richmond. At first I thought, Great! Red eye! Then we won’t lose a day traveling. However, I was unable to sleep on the plane which knocked me out the day we arrived. DP can sleep easily, but she, too was a bit groggy. On the way home we flew out of Dulles ( a mere 40 minutes from our bed and breakfast in Middleburg), connecting through Boston to SFO. Sounds a bit awkward but those were the cheapest fares.
Hotels: In Richmond, we stayed at The Jefferson Hotel. Please read my lengthy review on tripadvisor under “In the Heart of a Confederate Stronghold: Southern Hospitality Wins!” In summary, I secured a really good rate for this famous hotel where we paid $215. a night with a $50. gift card kick-back for the first night, and a $75.00 gift card for EACH of the three successive nights. This rate also included free valet parking. We ended up applying the gift card to our meals in the informal T.J’s restaurant and the highly rated restaurant/bar Lemaire’s. We would do this again in a heartbeat.
In Charlottesville we stayed at the English Inn and paid about $110. a night for a king bed. Though the lobby and exterior tried to reflect Tudor architecture, the room did not and was more on par with a Travel Lodge. Advantages of the inn were a washer/dryer for guests that I was able to use (the manager kindly gave me some liquid detergent), and they were within walking distance of the top-rated (tripadvisor) restaurant. The place was a too far to walk to the pedestrian-only mall area in the historic section. After a second plumbing problem at 9:30PM , we requested a room change which was granted by mgmt.
In Middleburg we stayed at the Middleburg Country Inn. Great place to stay on the main drag. Excellent bedding, towels, ambiance, host/hostess, and breakfast. Class act!
Transportation: Renting a car from airport to airport would have been over $550 for the week which I thought was over the top. Somehow I found an AARP rate (economy car) on the internet (Budget) for $165.00 for four days…out the door. We did have to taxi over to the car rental office on our third day in Richmond to pick up the car, but it all worked out. The Jefferson provided a shuttle service for sites and restaurants in a 3-mile radius so we took advantage of the shuttle the first two days. The shuttle was nice but not necessarily convenient, esp. when we wanted to take in three or four sights a day that were not within walking distance of each other. In terms of the car, the economy car fit our needs with just enough room in the trunk for two suitcases. We ended up putting on 250 miles overall. We did anticipate a problem with our tires when the tire sensor went on our way to Middleburg. Fortunately Middleburg had a gas station where a friendly motorcyclist pinpointed our low tire, drew out a tire pressure gauge from his bag, and took that concern off our minds.
Itinerary: As I said we focused on Civil War museums in Richmond. We began our first full day (had to recoop from the red eye when we arrived) at the Virginia Historical Society/Museum of Virginia History. Touting the “world’s largest collection of Virginia artifacts” it provided a backdrop for our visit. Some interesting interactive activities geared for children but thoroughly engrossing for adults including a shadow play of an injured Civil War soldier having his arm amputated. Uggg. Right across from the museum was the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts with the largest public Faberge collection outside of Russia. As I feared, the Faberge exhibit was closed as they were making way for a larger Faberge exhibit beginning in the next few weeks. We were crestfallen and decided to head to our next destination: Carrytown. Now Carrytown was described as seven or eight blocks of shops, boutiques, etc. I had read articles about Carrytown and picked up a color brochure. But as we walked the streets, I was a disappointed in the shopping. A lot of eateries and stores that didn’t appeal to our eclectic tastes. A few stores, yes, but it wasn’t the interesting and varied shopping mecca that it was made out to be IMO.
Over the next few days we visited the American Civil War Center Museum that included two life masks of Abraham Lincoln-five years apart. You could really see the toll the war presidency took on Honest Abe. The Museum of the Confederecy was right across from the White House of the Confedercy near the big hospital…in fact the travel brochures encourage you to park in the hospital parking lot. The Museum of the Confederates will validate your parking for you. We were given a standard tour of the White House and enjoyed the well laid out Museum with many artifacts. You really got a sense of the personal toll the war had on families and the young men. Up on Church Hill was the Edgar Allan Poe museum where the tour guide took us through several rooms reciting an overview of Poe’s life and pointing out some artifacts. Fun little gift shop attached.
Nearby was St. John’s Episcopal Church where Patrick Henry cried out his famous words. We were the only tourists there so we had a private 45-minute tour of the church with us sitting in a pew for most of the time while the docent gave us information about the church and its place in history. Outside was the site of Edgar Allan Poe’s mother’s grave while across the street was the childhood home of Edgar’s sweetheart. Later we drove down Monument Avenue and saw the famous monuments on the wide street flanked by gorgeous homes. Meandered through the Hollywood Cemetery in the car and saw some famous burial sites and the final resting place of many Confederates.
We had a few good meals out, and I mention them in the Jefferson Hotel review on trip advisor including Comfort and Millie’s Diner—both excellent and funky!
It took us about a 70-minute easy drive from Richmond to Monticello. I had purchased our tickets on-line days before for 11:15AM. The download-your-ticket-at-home feature wasn’t working so we had to pick up our tickets 30 minutes in advance at the Will Call window. No problem. We were then directed to a small auditorium to watch a movie about Jefferson. Once the movie was over, we were told to climb steps to an awaiting shuttle bus. We arrived at the house with about ten minutes to spare before the tour…time enough to visit the restroom and take in the magnificent views. Enjoyed the tour and later explored the grounds on our own. On a cooler day we might have taken advantage of one of the other tours, but it was really hot and humid! We walked down to the gravesite where we were able to pick up the shuttle back to the ticket/gift/café center. Gift shop was large and extensive. We bought some basil and tomato seeds cultivated from the gardens to plant next year. The seed packets also made nice gifts to bring back. Stopped at the Michie Tavern general store for a soda pop on our way out. After checking in to our hotel, we drove (too far to walk) to the pedestrian only shopping core of Charlottesville. Again, like Carrytown in Richmond, we were disappointed with the shopping. Yes, a few interesting shops, but mostly restaurants. Great outdoor dining possibilities and many people out enjoying the stroll and the positive vibe. For dinner that night we ate at Savoury near the English Inn. Had excellent service, a too salty pork chop while DP had an excellent rack of lamb.
Our last full day we left Charlottesville and meandered up the scenic roads towards Middleburg, stopping at James and Dolly Madison’s estate of Montpelier. We were the first tour of the day and enjoyed the house (though sparsely furnished) and the grounds. We continued driving through the rolling hills with amazing views and glimpses of horse farms. We passed through Culpeper and stopped for a stroll down the main drag. Arrived in the early afternoon and checked into the Middleburg Country Inn and headed out. A few blocks of interesting shops, churches, restaurants, and a gas station. We were pretty wiped out and enjoyed an early evening in our room and listened to a wild thunderstorm. The next day we headed out to Dulles with map quest directions from our host leading us to the car rental return area from a back entrance. Check in was smooth.
• I could have spent more time in Richmond as there were more sights I wanted to see including the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, Maymont, and the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.
• We realized how Virginia and her citizens were so pivotal to the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
• I tried to get the Richmond airport rental car agencies to wheel and deal with me, but of the three I tried, not one was willing to match the on-line daily rate of my Budget rent-a-car.
• Almost everyone we met was friendly, polite, and helpful. One docent fixated when I placed my hand on my partner’s knee during her talk, and the bed and breakfast hostess asked if she should “split” the bill between DP and me. Those were the only times when I felt a bit of a disconnect with folks dealing with a two-woman couple.
• I would have loved to visit Richmond in its industrial hey-day. So many interesting older buildings…I would have marveled at seeing them all humming with life.
• Part of this trip was a recon mission to explore possible retirement locations. We’d like to move to closer to the East coast, but where can we live to escape the humidity, the threat of tropical storms, and heavy snow?
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Six Humid Nights in Virginia:Richmond,Charlottesville, and Middleburg
Trip Report: Six Humid Nights in Virginia: Richmond (The Jefferson Hotel), Charlottesville, and Middleburg: