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Amtrak: Return to Charlottesville VA After Nearly 30 Years

Amtrak: Return to Charlottesville VA After Nearly 30 Years

Old Jan 3rd, 2020, 11:36 AM
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Amtrak: Return to Charlottesville VA After Nearly 30 Years

I live in Montreal, Canada. My parents and brother live in the DC suburbs in northern Virginia. While I went to the College of William & Mary for my undergraduate in Williamsburg, Virginia, my brother went to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. My main experiences in Charlottesville in the past were staying with my brother in his fraternity in the early 90s over a long weekend or Spring Break, when I would also take advantage of a visit to UVA to visit numerous Northern Virginia high school friends who had chosen that venerable institution. I remember visiting Ashlawn Highland, Monroe's residence, during that time period, I believe for free using my W&M student card due to some association between the home and my alma mater that I could Google but haven't.

So, over the past several years, thanks to social media, my sophomore year roommate and his wife, both dorm-mates at the French House at W&M, had gotten back in touch. Both have lived in Charlottesville for many years, with my roommate attending UVA for graduate school and staying afterward for a variety of jobs. His wife would always comment on Facebook when I was in her state that she didn't want to see that I was in Virginia once again and not visiting them, half-teasing, half-serious I think. In years past, I had visited northern Virginia and Richmond but either had family obligations or other pre-arranged travel plans that prevented me doing a detour to Charlottesville. But this year, I decided it had indeed been too long, so I planned an Amtrak trip from DC, doing a two night stay at Home2Suites in downtown Charlottesville before continuing on to Richmond, where I visited another friend.

Arriving at the train station and walking for maybe 8 minutes to my hotel in downtown Charlottesville, I saw the restaurant Maya specializing in Southern fare, which had been recommended to me by Fodor's contributor vttraveler and decided that this was where I would go for supper. I very much appreciated that this restaurant specializes in locally-sourced ingredients and being back in the South again, I profited from the opportunity by ordering stone-ground grits and collard greens as my side dishes to accompany the roast chicken with brown sauce. Delicious, a homey spot and the servers were delightfully friendly.

The next morning, when I went to a old-world-feel Charlottesville institution Mudhouse Café for a tasty latte (decidedly a positive change from the instant coffee my parents seem to prefer) on the Downtown Mall prior to meeting my college friends, it initially struck me how nowhere I saw was even vaguely familiar. The pedestrian-only red-brick maybe 8-block Downtown Mall area lined with late 19th century and early 20th century buildings I found quite charming and I felt like I was there for the first time, which seemed surprising as this kind of walkable area is very much my cup of tea. My friends later gave a possible reason it looked unfamiliar, that the Downtown Mall area was considered a bit of a no-go area back in the 90s (apparently there had been shootings) and that the revitalization and gentrification of the downtown had been quite remarkable, with even an excellent French-inspired bakery (la Petite Marie-Bette) that met the full approval of both my friends, who happen to be French citizens. For a moment, I even felt like I was back in Montreal in that bakery, seeing items like Kouign Amann and canelé in the beautifully-arranged displays.

My former roommate then gave me a tour of the UVA campus and here I felt certain that I would see something that would trigger a memory. As I admired the beauty of the Jeffersonian Greek classical-inspired columned architecture on the campus, I thought to myself that back in my callow youth, while I was not exactly unappreciative of the beauty and specialness of the campus, that I had a bit of a tendency of taking things for granted. Although I did not recognize the Rotunda from one angle, I was pleased that I was not becoming entirely a Forgetful Flora when we stepped out to the Lawn, a place I recognized and remembered well, perhaps in part since my UVA friends back in the 90s would tell me that students would go streaking there sometimes in the middle of the night. I can't believe in some ways that some modern students actually get to live in the storied dorms immediately abutting the Lawn, some only a few doors down from Edgar Allan Poe's room when he was a student at UVA.

Next, my friends drove me and dropped me off at Monticello for a few hours, saying that it was a must-see experience while in Charlottesville, which, bizarrely enough, I had never done back in my college days. The grounds really are in quite a beautiful setting, overlooking the Virginia foothills. The building itself is quite striking, especially with the octagonal room, the choice of American artwork and relics, the skylights (unusual for their time) and the innovative machinery, such as the polygraph. The tour guides at Monticello it seemed to me didn't sugar-coat Jefferson's legacy and contradictions. This included his stated abhorrence of slave labour and yet there were a large number of slaves working on Monticello. Also mentioned was the tremendous debt he left his descendants. There was a video on Sally Hemmings but sadly due to a tight schedule, I did not have time to watch this. This may surprise some of you, but I did not know that it was Monticello that is on the US nickel!

After Monticello, my friends picked me up and whisked me off to the Mount Ida Reserve & Tasting Room (a winery), which in my opinion is a great place to bring kids and teenagers, with an expansive lawn where one can throw a football or frisbee while admiring the undulating Virginia rural foothill landscape,which made for a terrifically beautiful backdrop for sunset. Here, one can enjoy a meal while trying some Virginia wines; I didn't even realize there was such a thing as Virginia wines having partially grown up in the state (although my friends told me the Virginia wine phenomenon has grown exponentially in recent years).

All in all, I found Charlottesville to be a rewarding place to spend 2 nights, even for a car-less traveller such as myself. I haven't seen much mention of the small city, so I hope that this trip report may inspire someone to consider going out that way, I think it would make for a nice combination if coupled with a trip to the US capital.

Happy New Year to you all! Daniel
Daniel_Williams is offline  
Old Jan 3rd, 2020, 11:54 AM
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Thank you for a great report Daniel. Which train was it that you took out of Washington to get to Charlottesville? The most recent media attention for Charlottesville was the vehicular murder of Heather Heyer.
Union Station in Washington DC is within walking distance of the US Capitol (I've walked it).
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Old Jan 3rd, 2020, 11:59 AM
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Photos of Charlottesville

Morning stroll in the Downtown Mall


Rotunda UVA

Mulberry Row, Monticello Grounds
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Old Jan 3rd, 2020, 12:18 PM
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Hi Tom,

I took Train 171, a Northeast Regional train from DC bound for Roanoke VA, which got me into Charlottesville earlier in the evening than the New Orleans-bound Crescent.

Happy New Year

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Old Jan 3rd, 2020, 02:56 PM
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I am glad that you had a good trip to Charlottesville and especially that you enjoyed the meal at Maya.

As I mentioned when you asked about your proposed trip, my husband and I visited Charlottesville/Monticello/UVA with some friends at the end of October. The last time my husband and I visited Monticello was in 1975. A book called Jefferson, An Intimate History, by Fawn Brodie had come out recently. It was the first to talk about Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings. Brodie's book was considered " psychobiography" and her conclusions were controversial to say the least. When we were touring Monticello my husband (then boyfriend) asked loudly where Sally Hemings slept, and the tour guide was not happy.
The current presentation of the slavery issue and of Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings and their children is an improvement over the 1975 outraged reaction but still seemed a little odd to us. Here is an explanation of what they are trying to achieve
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Old Jan 3rd, 2020, 03:30 PM
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Sounds like a great trip! Glad you got to Monticello too.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2020, 04:45 PM
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Good read and super shots, Daniel.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2020, 06:22 PM
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Wonderful trip report! I’m glad you had a good trip back home to Virginia.

Those dorm rooms on the lawn are part of the Academical village. It’s an honor and a very competitive process to earn the right to live in one for a year. They’re the original rooms designed by Jefferson. They’re small, there’s no air conditioning, and you have to go outside to get to a bathroom. The student rooms are interspersed by pavilions which are leased to deans and other faculty members. Larry Sabato who many will recognize as a pretty well-known political analyst lives in one.
Virginia makes some really good wines, particularly Cab Francs and Viogniers. We’ll drink them often, even when we aren’t on a winery tour in Charlottesville.
Vttraveler, it was a bit of a comeuppance for the administrators of Monticello and the descendants of Jefferson when DNA proved the Hemings/Jefferson relationship after years of vigorous denial.

Go Tribe!
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Old Jan 3rd, 2020, 07:39 PM
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Vttraveler and starrs—Thanks so much for the advice you gave planning the trip. Your words had me staying by the Downtown Mall, an excellent plan, and Maya was a perfectly delightful atmospheric dining spot to kick off my stay! I also found it fascinating reading about the contrast between the 1975 Monticello tour and the 2019 one.

tdudette—I always appreciate your encouragement. Thank you!

birdie—Interesting about the dorms by the Lawn. My roommate was telling me how those dorm residents would get to go out in their bathrobes into the sometimes cold mornings to shower or use the bathroom. It seems a special spot in a way but I could see that being somewhat tedious too. Thanks also for your kind comments.

Happy New Year to each of you! Daniel
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