Colonial Williamsburg Weekend

Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps (I would have been in this were I a local child for sure

Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps (I would have been in this were I a local child for sure

Why: My love of things related to historical reenactment is no secret. I first visited Williamsburg during our most epic RV trip from CA to VA in June 1997. (That was the same trip where I first visited Disney World and hand-wrote our ride-by-ride schedule). At that time, aged almost-11, I was at the height of my interest in American Girl and American history, so it was glorious. I even still had Felicity dresses of the 1770s to wear. So I had long intended to return to Williamsburg during my DC sojourn. When I found out that Peace Corps friends-turned-Arlington transplants Chelsea and Whitney also wanted to go, we planned a weekend trip for shortly before my move.

Williamsburg stocks in 1997 and 2013

Williamsburg stocks in 1997 and 2013

When: April 13-14, 2013. Williamsburg is something like a 2.5 hour drive from Arlington, so we headed in on a Saturday morning and went straight to Williamsburg. We stayed overnight, and in the morning we visited the Jamestown Settlement before heading home. The weather was perfect–72 and sunny.

How: Williamsburg itself takes a few hours–we were there from about 11:30 until just before closing at 5, and that was plenty of time to see everything we cared to and to feel satisfied. Jamestown took a little over two hours.

We stayed overnight in a cheap motel I got from bidding on Hotwire. In a situation like this, where hotel location doesn’t matter because we have a car and everything is close, and where hotel quality doesn’t matter that much because we are all people who have stayed in $1-a-night hovels in China, a bidding-for-travel scheme works nicely. I recommend researching any travel bidding schemes online before you start (just Google “bidding for travel”) and you’ll get plenty of evidence from forums about acceptable bids. After winning a bid, I also recommend calling the hotel to confirm and to make any simple requests, like for type of beds or for a rollaway, which Hotwire won’t guarantee but which most domestic hotels will do. We got the Days Inn bid for $45, which saved $20+ from the cheapest-available online rate.

How Much: A one-day ticket to Colonial Williamsburg costs $42. They had a promotion when we visited for Virginia residents, who could get an annual pass for that same price with proof of residency. The motel–Days Inn–cost $51 with tax, split among us. The Jamestown Settlement cost $16. Other costs included meals and gas. Whitney drove her car.

Williamsburg Milliner with Chelsea

Williamsburg Milliner with Chelsea

What We Did: I hadn’t done a ton of planning about what we would see at Williamsburg, since the exact schedule of what’s open changes daily and since we received a detailed schedule/map upon arriving. Williamsburg is small enough that you can basically wander through each of the main areas and see almost everything open in a few hours. Besides chance encounters with colonial folk in the shops and on the street, are also special events that are more performative. On the day of our visit, there was a series of skits lasting about an hour in which colonists and soldiers reacted to the start of the American Revolution. Some shops you walk in and out at will and check out whatever’s happening; other’s have more elaborate happenings on a specific schedule (e.g. every half hour).

We ate lunch at one of the colonial eateries–an outdoor BBQ-sandwich type place that got the job done. We planned on dinner at one of the upscale restaurants in the shopping village on the edge of the colonial district, Berret’s. The cioppino was lovely, FYI.

After the decent Days Inn-provided breakfast on Sunday morning, we debated what to do among Jamestown Settlement, Yorktown Victory Center, Williamsburg outlet shopping, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, and assortment of other historic towns in our midst. The beach also would have been an option if it had been a little warmer. We decided on Jamestown since it was close and seemed most interesting, and that turned out to be a good choice. Even if we got slightly confused about the difference between Jamestown Settlement (the historically re-built and reenacted extravaganza) versus Historic Jamestown (the archeological site of the actual Jamestown remnants, which we did not visit).

Jamestown Settlement - Some 50+ people would sail on one of these ships

Jamestown Settlement – Some 50+ people would sail on one of these ships

Jamestown Settlement features a surprisingly-excellent museum of pre-colonial and early colonial Chesapeake history (good prep for the California state social studies credential test I was taking a couple weeks hence), and various features like a movie about Jamestown that we didn’t watch. The site itself has three main sections: the Indian village, historical ships in the harbor, and the fort, each of which includes reeneactors and demonstrations in the style of Williamsburg. All in all, it was a nice complement to Williamsburg for seeing the earlier history and for rounding out the weekend.



Great Falls and Harpers Ferry: Casual Hiking Day Trips from DC

Great Falls

Great Falls

Why: Every once in a while, you want to see some nature and breathe some country air. For a couple of hours, anyway.

When: Great Falls on Sept, 29, 2012, a nice early-fall day. Harpers Ferry on April 6, 2013, windy and coolish but sunny.

How: Having friends with cars helps. In each instance, Chelsea drove from Arlington. Great Falls should only be a half-hour drive from Arlington, but we got lost a bit (my faulty usage of iPhone navigation being to blame). Harpers Ferry is about an 80-minute drive from Arlington (no getting lost that time). We picked Great Falls since it was close and a coworker gave me a tip on the popular Billy Goat Trail (Section A). We picked Harpers Ferry because I wanted to visit West Virginia (Robert’s home state) before leaving, and this is both the closest point to DC and a good hiking spot.

How Much: Parking fees at national parks like Great Falls and Harpers Ferry were $5 and $10. For Great Falls, we parked at the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center. For Harpers Ferry, you can park by the visitor center and then take a shuttle to the historic town area where there are trailheads.

What we did: Hiked! Nothing serious, but enough to get some good breaths of fresh air, some good pictures, and get away from the city for a few hours. The Billy Goat Trail features plenty of scrambling over rocks–usually not my favorite activity, but this was so much tamer than my last rock-scramble hike in Sumatra, it was NBD. This was the kind of place where you could customize the length of your hiking experience by adding additional loops or trail sections in the park, or not. A couple of hours later, we were satisfied and headed back into town for a top-notch Sichuan linner in Falls Church. This was a trip of four China Peace Corps Volunteers, after all.

For Harpers Ferry, we planned to do a moderately strenuous 5-mile section of the Maryland Heights trail, but group interest cut the hike slightly shorter. After enjoying some lovely vistas, we walked around the historic/quaint town of Harpers Ferry, reading up on our Civil War history. We elected to skip lunch in Harpers Ferry itself because never have I seen a whole town with such pervasively negative Yelp reviews, and instead stopped in Leesburg on the way back for Mexican. Though, note to self, why can I never remember I shouldn’t try to eat Mexican in DC?

I’ve gotten a few other recommendations of hikes in the greater DC area, like Old Rag Mountain, VA and Sugarloaf Mountain, MD (you know how I feel about Sugarloaves), and for more serious hiking, but those will have to be saved for another DC life.

Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry

Good Morning, Baltimore: Day Trip from DC

Sometimes I wish I had a boat

Sometimes I wish I had a boat

Why: I’d been meaning to get to Charm City for months. Seafood galore!

When: Sunday, April 7, 2013. Lovely first sunny-springy day of the season.

How: On Tuesday, Theo and I talked about going to a baseball game at Orioles’ park thanks to a ticket hookup. By Friday we had roped in more friends and decided to cut the game and just visit the city on Sunday. I researched activities on sites like New York Times 36 Hours (they’ve covered Baltimore 3 times in 7 years), mapped out a few activity options, and left the rest up to be played by ear. Since our group included four carless DCers, we rented a Zipcar for the day. The drive from downtown DC took just over an hour.

How Much: Costs included the car rental, lunch, dinner, snacks, and drinks. We didn’t pay entrance fees at any sites (e.g. the aquarium is around $30 pp, American Visionary Art Museum is $16, Fort McHenry is $7) because most of our activities involved either walking around or eating/drinking. Instead of renting a car, it would have been possible to take the train or bus from DC and rely on public transportation, like the excellent/free Charm City Circulator bus.

Harbor view from Federal Hill

Harbor view from Federal Hill

What we did: My main priority was seafood eating, so the first stop of the day was L.P. Steamers, recommended for its “authentic” vibe and blue crabs. Well, actually, our first stop, upon realizing the restaurant wasn’t quite open yet at 11am, was a wine bar. Another good thing about travel, it doesn’t feel weird at all to drink in the a.m.! It was the rest of the group’s first Maryland crab experience, and as Theo put it, “That was absolutely the correct choice to go there, but I never want to do it again.” I, of course, like high-activity/DIY meals (e.g. fondue, artichokes, Korean BBQ) and was therefore delighted.

Next up was a stroll to For McHenry, famous for its role in the War of 1812 and the inspiration for Francis Scott Key to write the Star-Spangled Banner. Hey, do you know this story? Key actually wasn’t at the fort; he apparently sailed his ship out directly into the midst of the British forces and was captured, so he spent the night sitting as prisoner watching the battle unfold as the British attempted to take the fort. Obvi, when he saw that banner yet wave in the morning light, he knew the Americans had held the fort. Sidenote: our attitude about the War of 1812 is slightly ridiculous; this is a topic about which I feel fairly strongly. Anyway, there’s a nice museum and movie that are free to visit; we elected not to pay the entrance fee to visit the fort itself (seeing from the outside=almost always good enough!)

Cannolis from Piedrigotta

Cannolis from Piedrigotta

From Fort McHenry, we drove towards the Inner Harbor, passing the American Visionary Art Museum and stopping by Federal Hill Park. Twelve minutes in the parking meter got us a walk up the hill, great views over the harbor and city, and a walk past some of Baltimore’s tonier real estate.

After depositing the car in a downtown lot, we debated between visiting the aquarium and eating again. Guess which won. Another great thing about traveling in the age of iPhones is that it’s so much easier to stray from the original plan and find fabulous alternatives. Walking through Little Italy, in response to group desire to drink coffee, a quick Google/Zagat search turned up an amazing Italian bakery two blocks away, Piedigrotta, which lays claim to the invention of tirimisu. Now, you know how I feel about cream-based desserts, but this cannoli made me a believer.

We continued our stroll along the waterfront towards Fells Point, which is filled with cute cobblestone streets, bars, and restaurants. We secured a waterfront table at a wine bar (more wine, always wine). Two members of our party are serious fans of Roy’s, the upscale Hawaiian chain whose only East Coast outlet is in Baltimore’s Harbor East. The much-discussed butter fish did not necessarily meet the group’s overly-lofty expectations, but it was still a very good and festive way to conclude the day.

Day Trips from DC

I say I love travel of any and all kinds, and that extends not just to exotic adventures. Local travel–day or weekend trips around one’s hometown–can often be planned on the fly, can feel just as excitingly “away from it all,” and often costs little more than a weekend spent at your usual neighborhood haunts.

Especially given my impending departure from the East Coast, I’ve been trying to get in as much “local” travel as possible. For your travel inspiration, I’m posting a roundup of new musings on day or weekend trips I’ve taken from DC: cities, nature, history, beach, and everything in between. I’ll be updating these links as each new post goes live!

Williamsburg (April 13-14, 2013)

Baltimore (April 7, 2013)

Harpers Ferry, WV (April 6, 2013)

Northern Virigina Wine Country (Mar 2-3, 2013)

New York (Mar 13-17, 2013; Nov 2-4, 2012)

Long Island (Jan 26-27, 2013)

Great Falls Park, VA (Sept 29, 2013)

Atlantic City (July 6-8, 2012)

Gettysburg (May 26, 2012)

On moving for the tenth time in five years

Cherry blossoms in DCYep, I just did the math. Ten times since June 2008. Anyway, would you like a Q&A?

So many moves; why would you do this to yourself? Well, you know that I love packing for trips, so maybe I also love moving? Ha ha ha. No, it has just happened.

So what is this move? DC to Redlands! Temporarily.

Wherefore? You see, I always imagined DC might be a temporary place for me, as CA has long been where the heart is. I needed to return to DC after Peace Corps to finish my MA in TESOL at AU, and I waited to return until I had a job in hand. Said job has been a great learning experience (yadda yadda yadda), but I’m more interested and fulfilled by teaching. So, I shall teach!

Wait, but so why are you actually moving? Oh yeah. So, I want to teach, but have realized that I’d rather teach younger students and all students instead of adult English language learners exclusively, which is what my previous graduate studies qualified me to do. If I want to teach in public schools in CA, I need a state teaching credential. So, I applied and was delighted to be admitted to the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP), which is a year-long program that ends with a teaching credential (secondary English for me) plus an MA in education.

Oh, so that’s why you’re moving? Yep. The program starts in late June and will conclude in June 2014.

Then what? I’ll be well prepared to teach high school or middle school English. My intent afterwards would be to stay with permanence in a teaching position in the Bay Area.

What in the meantime? I’m leaving DC in two weeks, and will head home for three weeks of relaxation and luncheoning. Then I’m going on a fabulous Eurotrip for three weeks. Then home, then straight up to Stanford and moving into my TBD on-campus residence.

On campus, really? Yeah, it’s best-case scenario in terms of price and convenience compared to surrounding Palo Alto. Munger’s nice, man.

What is this Eurotrip you speak of? I’m glad you asked. Brother Matthew is moving to Geneva so Grandmother Glo, Cousin Molly, and I are going along for the ride. First the whole group will do Paris and Geneva, then Glo and I head on to Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland (read: Alps). Finally, I’m meeting Friend Ashley in Italy for visiting Milan, Bologna, Ravenna, and San Marino. Three weeks total.

How are you feeling? Excited to get back to Stanford, though it should be a fairly different experience than life as an undergrad. I also anticipate working harder and being busier than I’ve been in the last….oh, 4-7 years.

What are you most looking forward to in CA? Tailgates, the weather, being closer to family, hanging with Dvora’s baby, re-upping my Stanford apparel wardrobe, the Tresidder southwest chicken salad, the social dance scene, reconnecting with friends all over the Bay Area.

What will you most miss in DC? DC friends, Capital Bikeshare, being able to walk to tons of bars and restaurants, my dance cardio class (“Dance Trance”), no driving, my couch.

So have you started packing? People keep asking me this. But I’m having a full-service move and they’re doing the packing for me! I do still have some organizing things to do though.

OK I give up–can you walk me through those ten supposed moves? Stanford – Redlands (June ’08), Redlands – Redwood City (Aug ’08), Redwood City – Stanford EPGY (June ’09), Stanford EPGY – DC (Aug ’09), DC – Redlands (May ’10), Redlands – Chengdu (June ’10), Chengdu – Chongqing (Aug ’10), Chongqing – Redlands (Sept ’11), Redlands – DC (April ’12), DC – Redlands (May ’13). Plus, Redlands – Stanford (June ’13).

Can I come visit you at Stanford? Yes please!

2013 Musings

Oh hey, remember this blog? Various reasons are accountable for my decline in posting. Most obviously, I do not live in China anymore and do not travel so much anymore and therefore do not have as much to say anymore. But sometimes interesting things do happen! So, since I have oodles of time (what with being one of a very few people remaining in DC this Christmas week, alone, in the rain snow), let me give you a brief update on my doings. Also, I’m going to try to use this time-oodle to finally get around to writing a travel post about my August trip to Israel–look for that next! First, though, let’s reflect on 2012 and 2013.

On geography. I’m coming up on my nine month-mark in DC–it’s been a good time, and I definitely love lots of aspects of living in this city. But just like I felt torn between DC and CA when I was applying for jobs last year, so too do I now feel pulled westward by people/things/my Calornian identity. Also slightly ridiculous: in nine months, I will have made five trips to CA. Expect to see more of me in 2013, you golden state, you.

See, lipstick

See, lipstick

On resolutions. In 2012, my major resolution was to wear more jewelry. I am happy to report great success at this resolution. I’ve also done better at 2010 and 2011 resolutions to wear more lipstick and heels. Not yet picked a resolution for 2013: any suggestions? Behavior-based personal “improvement” resolutions are clearly favored.

On friendships. In addition to my success at my official 2012 resolution, one other thing I’m most proud about in 2012 is how I’ve kept up or rekindled various friendships. When you do something like the Peace Corps, it’s easy to become close with people preternaturally quickly, as if you’re all in a war zone together, but it’s not easy to imagine what will happen to those relationships after returning to the “real world.” Delightfully, though, many of my Peace Corps friendships have transferred easily to America. Being able to visit with friends here and do normal things like shopping and eating non-Chinese food for the first time in the history of a friendship has sometimes felt slightly surreal, but is excellent.

In addition, it’s been lovely to reconnect with CA friends through various visits and special events, as well as my DC friends. It was somewhat strange when I first arrived in DC, feeling that so much time had passed and so much change had happened from when I lived in DC two years prior, but finding that life  in DC has been continuing unobstructed for others. But falling back into normal life and resuming relationships in DC was smooth. By mid-2013, it’s likely that virtually 100% of my closest DC friends will have left DC (mostly for grad school), though, so interesting changes ahead.

On travels. 2012 kicked off with a sprawling, shoestring trip to Southeast Asia. 2013 kicks off with the most opposite kind of vacation imaginable: Walt Disney World! That’s right: Marissa, Matthew, and Roberta are headed to Orlando after 5 years absence, ready to take in both Universal parks and three of the parks of WDW.

This trip was planned rather quickly, but fortunately I still have enjoyed plenty of time to make my dining reservations and my minute-by-minute ride schedules. This time around I’m assisted not only by the bible of guidebooks (The Unofficial Guide to Disney World, whose praises I sang in the Stanford Daily the last time I visited the World), but also by a wait time mapping technology heretofore unavailable on previous trips. This means that our plans for each day at the park are not just ride-by-ride itineraries  but are now minute by minute! (Actual sample: 9:56am, arrive at Space Mountain. Wait 3 mins, ride duration 3 mins. Walk 5 mins to Swiss Family Treehouse, arriving 10:07 am. Wait 0 mins, attraction duration 13 mins. Walk 1 min to Jungle cruise….) Remember that at age not-quite-11 I hand-wrote a multi-page ride-by-ride schedule for my family’s first trip to Disney World; Pre-Teen Marissa would be pleased to see how my interests endure and how technology assists.

Also, after spending a fair amount of time last week fooling around with my plans for Epcot, two nights in a row I had horrible nightmares involving finding myself at Epcot at 11am with no idea where I was, what I’d been doing all morning, or what I was supposed to be doing next. Shudder.

In any case, I’m not sure what other travels 2013 will bring, but I suppose that’s part of the fun. Up first, pre-WDW: I’ll be ringing in 2013 in Chicago with Peace Corps friends! I’ll report back.