Thursday, July 08, 2010

Vacation 2010: Monticello.

Blame it on the view.

We thought we were just going to drive straight from our hotel in Dublin, Virginia, to Charlottesville, where we would get a look-see at the UVA campus before heading to Monticello.
But that was before morning light revealed the gorgeous Virginia countryside. When we caught a glimpse of these rolling hills outside our hotel's breakfast room, we planned a little detour.

Instead of just staying on the interstate, we veered off in Roanoke to (a) make a Walmart run to restock our picnic supplies and (b) get on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a winding 469-mile road that connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina with the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
Our plan was to take the parkway up to Highway 64, where we would then head east toward Charlottesville.

The two-lane road is amazing. It just winds through the trees, and with low speed limits, you're forced to take a breath and enjoy the scenery.

We pulled over at several of the scenic overlooks to breathe in that fresh air and enjoy the view.

It was gorgeous, but we quickly realized that it would take all day to drive the parkway from Roanoke to 64! It wouldn't be that big of a deal, but we had reservations at Monticello. We had to bail. Near Buena Vista, we headed back to the interstate so we could keep our date with TJ.

Since we were running late, we didn't want to stop for our picnic until we knew we'd make it to Monticello in time. That's how we ended up picnicking in the Monticello parking lot behind our Trailblazer! It wasn't quite as scenic as we'd hoped, but we got there in time to catch our tour.

We boarded the shuttle bus at the visitor center and headed to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's amazing home.

Before touring the house, we were able to walk around his gardens.

It's such a beautiful place! With the restored gardens, it was easy to imagine the place as it appeared in Jefferson's day.
It was also easy to see why Jefferson loved this place so much!

While we were checking out all the plants, we saw this bug. It doesn't look like a bee, but it certainly acted like one.
It had such an interesting shape. We were fascinated by this "shrimp bug"!

From this vantage point, we could see all around the gardens and the hills below. In the visitor center's film, Jefferson was depicted standing in this spot, surveying his land.

Finally the guides let our group enter the house. Our tour guide was an older gentleman who was obviously passionate about Jefferson's life and home.

We weren't allowed to take pictures in the house, but the Monticello website has an incredible virtual tour. (Just try to listen to the narrator and not picture the Saturday Night Live NPR "Delicious Dish" host, though. I digress...) The house tour videos do a nice job describing each room's architecture and contents. The entrance hall video, for example, tells how Jefferson wanted to show the connection between the new American nation and ancient Rome, which explains the contrast between the classical griffins (after the Roman Forum) and the Native American gifts (given to Lewis and Clark).

As a child I was impressed with the clever devices Jefferson had installed throughout the house. He was a very time-oriented man, so his seven-day Great Clock was an important feature. Outside, where slaves and other field workers would see it, the clock had only an hour hand. Inside, however, it was much more precise so Jefferson could keep his appointments. Because the seven-day clock was originally in his Philadelphia home, the cannonballs that marked the days didn't fit in his new mansion. Jefferson fixed that by cutting a hole in the floor so the weights could continue into the cellar on Saturdays.

We were impressed with his book room, and we heard the story of how after the British burned the contents of the Library of Congress in 1812, Jefferson sold his own collection to the United States. What did he do with the money? Buy more books! Later in DC we were able to see what remains of Jefferson's collection at the Library of Congress.

Again on this tour, I loved seeing his desk with the polygraph machine, a device with two pens so he could make duplicates of all his writing. Because of that, we still have copies of most of Jefferson's letters and essays. I also liked his spinning desktop easel. Our tour guide called that Jefferson's Google because he could have a variety of books open and accessible at one time.

It was neat to see how his bed is in the alcove between his cabinet (study) and bedchamber, and it was eerie to hear that he'd died in that very space.

After the house tour, we were encouraged to stroll the grounds. Our first stop: the "nickel side" of Monticello.

This view from the West Lawn is the most famous, even though it's not the house's entrance.

And yes, we pulled out some nickels to compare the view.

On the grounds we learned more about Monticello's construction and how the "dependencies" were configured.

I don't have pictures of the individual areas, but the north and south dependencies contained the ice house, horse stalls, carriage parking, the kitchen, smokehouse and servants' rooms. (The "domestic life" virtual tour at Monticello Explorer gives a good overview.)

This fish pond was used to keep imported fish happily swimming until they became part of the family's menu.

Another view of the northeast portico, the house's "front door":

Jefferson had four cisterns on the property to collect rainwater since water could be in short supply at times.

We also saw where some of the slave cabins had been located along Mulberry Row, a path covered with mulberry trees that was close to the house but discreetly concealed from view.

Outside one of the dependencies was this area set up for visitors to try out writing with quills.

It's messy work that takes some getting used to!

It was a hot day, so before walking on out to the gravesite, we stopped at the gift shop for refreshments (and a few other souvenirs!).

Brett and Katie were pleased with their Monticello root beer! We needed that pause that refreshes because instead of just taking the shuttle back to the visitor center, we opted to walk so we could stop at Jefferson's grave.

I've always thought it interesting that of the accomplishments listed on his headstone, president is not one of them.

And with that stop, our tour of Monticello was just about complete. From there we walked along the shaded boardwalk to get back to the visitor center, where we dashed into the auditorium to see the short film about Jefferson's life. After a stop in the larger gift shop there, we were on our way to our hotel. We walked across the Sleep Inn parking lot to our dinner destination (Burger King), and then we took advantage of the indoor pool and hot tub. It had been a day full of driving and learning and seeing and walking, so we needed to catch our breaths before our next stop on this Presidential Parade of Homes: Mount Vernon.

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