Last weekend, I ventured out of DC on a road trip of sorts with two of my fellow interns. We went down to Charlottesville to see Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s homestead and to see the campus of the University of Virginia, TJ’s brainchild in his later years. First off, we took the scenic route to get there. We were so involved in looking out for southern fast food joints that we need to try, we missed our first exit. No big though, after a stop so Matt and I could try our first Chik-fil-A sandwiches (which was delicious but I am not a sweet tea fan), we went the long way to Charlottesville. It was a picture perfect day. After being complete tourists and stopping at a “scenic view” stop on the highway for our first good look at the Blue Ridge Mountains, we arrived at Monticello. We got our tickets for the house tour and then took the bus up to the house. First off, TJ knew how to pick a spot. He had a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and more land than he knew what to do with. We started out with the Plantation walking tour. Bob, our guide, was very knowledgeable about the daily life on the plantation in Jefferson’s time. He mainly discussed the lives of the slaves on the plantation and focused a lot on the Hemings family. I did like that they were very upfront on the fact that Jefferson definitely fathered at least one, if not all of Sally Hemings’ children. DNA cannot lie of course. But that wasn’t the focus of the tour, it was a walk down Mulberry Row and where the nailery and joinery would have been located. I liked the storytelling aspect of the tour but Bob was a bit long winded.
After the tour, we headed down to the graveyard and saw Jefferson’s grave. Very different from the tomb of the Washingtons. It was sort of a mini-Washington monument. After taking our pictures of the headstone, we walked back up the hill and wondered about for awhile. I love the look of the house. Jefferson was an amateur architect and designed Monticello himself. All his travel in Europe meant he tried a lot of things at Monticello that hadn’t been seen in the States yet at the time. The all-weather tunnel running under the house, the design on vents from the cellar into the house as a sort of pre-electricity air conditioning system. We chilled in the garden for a bit and then went to get in line for our house tour.
This was the best part of the day for me. If I ever design a house, I want Monticello. First off, his library was an extension of his “study” which led into his bedroom with a very cool alcove bed that was a running theme in the house. Best use of space was Jefferson’s goal for the entire house so he came up or brought back from Europe all these “space saving” elements. Like, in his bedroom, his bed is between his study and the room but his closet is above his bed, accessible only by a ladder. A lot of his doors folded into the walls so they didn’t take up space in the room. He had a fabulous “tea room” that I would have gladly lived in and the guest bedroom had another alcove bed for best use of space. Overall, I loved the house tour. Our tour guide (who’s name I have sadly forgotten) was amazing – telling all the great stories but not being over-tedious. After the tour, we walked back down to our car (all down hill) and headed back towards Charlottesville to find food.
We found the main downtown district which is chock full of used bookstores – great and bad at the same time. I escaped with only one book so I was impressed with myself. After a quick dinner, we hopped on the free trolley and rode over to UVA. It is a good thing I never came to look at this campus, I would have had to come to a school that is huge but has the most beautiful campus I have ever seen. Seriously, I would live on it now. We got caught in a storm however so we cut our tour of campus short and headed back toward the car. Once back, the rain had stopped so we took a driving tour of campus instead. We found the stadium to take pictures as well. Heading back to Washington, we were treated to a fabulous sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Breaking what I am sure was quite a few laws, we pulled over to take picture which I think are my best yet this summer. It was a great trip though, full of lots of fun. I really enjoyed seeing the house at Monticello and UVA.
That was Saturday. On Sunday, I did a mini-museum marathon. I started at the Freer Gallery (Asian art with Whistler thrown in for good measure), the Sackler Gallery (more Asian art) and the Hirshorn Museum (Modern art). All three are lesser knowns in the Smithsonian family. I really enjoyed the Hirshorn actually which surprised me – I am not much of a modern art fan but they have a fabulous exhibit right now, temporary, on cinema art which was very interesting to walk through and take all the different films in and what they are trying to convey. After the museums, I walked through the Castle (now a visitor’s center) and paid my respects to Smithson’s tomb before I headed over to the National Botanical Gardens. I had done the outside gardens earlier in the week but the Conservatory closed too early for me to go after work. I liked this a lot – the big greenhouses host different areas of the world – jungle, desert, forest, endangered species. In the jungle greenhouse, they have a canopy walk which was a lot of fun to go through with the mist going off every few minutes, making you think you’re actually in the jungle (for about a second, but hey, atmosphere is everything). That was pretty much my Sunday. Next post, this week and my weekend plans…