Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Wanderlust Wednesday: Colonial Williamsburg

Where: Williamsburg, Virginia
When: Fourth of July weekend, 2014

I come from a family filled with female cousins and was one of the youngest kids that explored/destroyed my grandparents' home every summer. My older cousins had American Girl dolls when I was too young to handle the expensive dolls and I was completely fascinated by them. I have such clear memories of creeping around, playing in dirt and chasing chipmunks, only to find my older cousins playing with their dolls in the most respectful of ways. By the time I entered school, I had my very own American Girl doll as well--Kirsten--and she was easily one of my best friends. My younger cousin ended up with Felicity from Williamsburg, VA a few years later after the character was introduced and I happily read her books as I did with all the other American Girls. It's been years since I read about Felicity but she had a pretty major influence on me.

Williamsburg also has an essential tie to my family as my parents chose the location as their honeymoon retreat. I have, quite literally, grown up hearing stories about Colonial Williamsburg--whether from American Girl or my parents--and I've always, always wanted to go.

My senior class trip in high school was to the area--Busch Gardens, specifically, and I had nearly zero interest. I knew Williamsburg was close and I wanted so badly to just go there instead. Who knew they were literally down the road from each other?

So, after years of fantasizing about the town (seriously, I used to play pretend that I lived in Williamsburg when I was little), the beau and I packed our bags and drove south to Williamsburg to celebrate the Fourth of July and my birthday. I was, without a doubt, more excited than I have been for any birthday or holiday in years.

And then we got stuck in traffic on I-95 for hours. For non-locals, this is common place when it comes to I-95 so be prepared. But traffic began to break up and onward we went until we reached our hotel. Dumping our items into the hotel room, we headed back out to my car to find somewhere to eat as we were starving.

We located an Italian restaurant that was awesome before heading out once more. Except now it was getting dark and I didn't want to just return to the hotel, I wanted to see what we had come here for! We typed in "Williamsburg" on my Waze then discovered that the field of horses nearby was actually a part of the colonial area. Darkness was falling quickly, giving a blue quality to the world, Sheep were in different fields, little lights glowed from porches, and overall, it was quiet. Just as I pictured it.

Still uncertain about the rules of the town, I didn't go for a walk--just drove through the portions that allow cars--but oh did I want to. Later on I discovered that while you need tickets, they do not necessarily cover the town itself but many of the stores and attractions. If you want to see live demonstrations, you'll need this ticket, but to walk along the street and look at the buildings it's free entrance.

We went to bed, resting up from the drive and preparing for the heat of the following day, and were up early on the Fourth of July and ready to celebrate. Along with my beau's sister, we obtained our tickets and set off for the town. Our hotel was a 15 minute walk from the center of activity so we left the car behind and walked to Williamsburg. Along the way, we saw the horses from the day before and pet their fuzzy noses while sticking to the shade as much as we could. It was going to be a sweltering day despite a misty, cloudy morning.

The town is sprawled out with large streets and walkable sidewalks. The one thing I would advise anyone who visits is to be careful as the roads are not paved and can be uneven, but there's also the chance of suffering a shoe casualty if you step into the horse poop that occurs every so often due to the horses ridden by actors.

Shops are open by way of flags being placed in front of them (as seen above) but I still took full opportunity to look inside the closed shops to see the delicate items they sold. There are a number of places to eat, all are pretty expensive, and enough shaded trees to provide some protection from the sun. Many of the shops do not have electricity so they close near sunset. They managed to stay cool during the morning hours while we meandered about but I'm sure by the end of the day they were sweltering.

We visited the print shop (we needed to show our tickets for this) and were able to get a lot of information about the process during that time period. I've heard rumor that the people working at Williamsburg maintain character no matter what but not once did we encounter such acting. Maybe it's because we're old and there isn't any magic to obtain (as it would be for children) but I enjoyed being able to talk to the employees and get true, genuine answers to questions and not feel as if they were putting on a show.

Around noon we were able to witness the reading of the Declaration of Independence by a few actors. It was impressive and neat to hear it all during Independence Day yet funny, as Williamsburg was a place owned by Jolly Ole' England and the reenactors behave as such.

While meandering the town, we noted that there was endless activity. You could tour homes, do events, fun activities for kids, and so much more. We weren't very interested in waiting for start times or on lines, so we preferred the pointless meanderings. We may not have had the opportunity to see as much as we had intended, but we still saw a lot and got some wonderful pictures.

The governor's mansion was one of my favorite places. The building was beautiful but it had garden walkways behind the structure and even a maze. We found an old burial area and a pathway through the woods. It was hot and sticky enough that I wanted to jump into the pond that was green with algae but the break away from the Fourth of July crowds was needed.

We were also able to use a bathroom and cool off a bit with some fresh cold water. It should be noted that there are certainly bathrooms through out the area but with the signs pointing to restrooms were, at times, confusing and the larger bathroom options were often crowded.

After this, we headed back to the hotel to relax for awhile and take a break from the sun. Already we were burnt and feeling the pain from the sunburn. We had dinner outside of the area since everything within Williamsburg was so expensive, had a dress code, or a wait list and then gathered what we needed for the fireworks that would happen later that night.

People in the local area tend to arrive in droves for the fireworks. Apparently, they're pretty damn good, and with so much ground to seat yourself you have a lot of options for where to go. We asked people who were already settled if they had seen the fireworks there before and they were all helpful in providing where good spots were for photos or just general viewing pleasure.

Once getting comfortable, we heard fifes and drums. Now, this wasn't the first time that day we heard such music. It seems to be the soundtrack to the town: fifes and drums forever, but this time the beau's sister and I went to find it and discovered a fife and drum parade to the main stage where the Virginia Symphony Orchestra was going to perform for the evening festivities.

After following the corps and watching their performance, we returned to our seats where we played games and snacked while the sun slowly made its final glimmer on the world and we were sent into darkness. One fabulous thing about a town that is meant to display colonial times is that there are few locations with electric light. This allowed the light of fireworks to really stand out and we were given a great show. Everyone was happy and strangers joined in on the oohs and ahhs.

I love fireworks so much. They make me so incredibly happy and I find even more pleasure in taking photos of them. I am not a photographer by any means but I really enjoy seeing the different colors come out on my camera. I try to not spend the entire show looking through my lens so I'll set my camera up, take constant photos, but otherwise watch the show with my own eyes. It didn't disappoint. I've seen fireworks in numerous places -- the steps of the Capitol building being one of them -- and this display was just as good, if not better.

After the fireworks, we were led out of Williamsburg by a fife and drum march with torches to light the way. Best way to end our day? Most definitely.

I had a blast visiting Williamsburg and we ended up stopping into the town a few other times during our stay in the area. We meandered the streets, looked into the herb garden and some shops, and had a generally good time. The Fourth of July was certainly the busy day. The place was swarming with people by noon, but the following days were much more relaxed and with less people. It gave a better opportunity to snoop through the area. There were certainly more events on the holiday itself, but if you want a more hands on experience (with tours and events) I'd suggest going on a non-holiday.

There were so many things I wanted to do and we simply ran out of time, but meandering as we did was great and I can't wait to return.

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