I had a friend in college that just couldn’t understand why anyone would want to live on the east coast. She was from California, and we were busy expanding our minds in New England at the time. I clearly remember her saying: “there are too many old buildings. It creeps me out.” I had never thought about history manifesting in that way before. I guess she kind of had a point, but her sentiments still make me chuckle just like they did back then. As somebody that revels in layers and stories, remnants and ghosts, I guess I am a tough audience.
Now, with our time in Korea already feeling like a faded dream, we find ourselves unpacked (mostly) in the middle of one of the major epicenters of American history. Richmond, Petersburg, Jamestown, Williamsburg, Monticello, Washington DC… they are all within a couple hours drive of one another. So much complex history in one small part of the country. Thousands of voices from the past still seem to resonate between the bricks.
With so much to reflect on lately, at times it feels like we could all be crushed under the weight of current events. And I have to say that I am happy to be wandering around Richmond these days- where the past and the future converge. Wobbling along the cobblestones, down roads flanked by old brick buildings that glow orange in the summer sun, past murals of edgy art, down a street lined with houses with boarded up windows, I find myself sitting just steps away from the church where Patrick Henry delivered his “liberty or death” speech, enjoying an espresso and a pain au chocolate that has just been pulled out of a wood fired brick oven.
History, charm, community…food. Restaurants are popping up in restored buildings across the city, reinvigorating the quiet corners. Did you know that Richmond made National Geographic’s list for where to travel for food in 2016? It is not surprising when you realize just how many locally sourced edible delights there are to celebrate. Cheese! Peanuts! Ham! The meats and vegetables grown and raised in the lush farmland that stretches all rolling and green, radiating outward from the edges of the city, grace the tables of many of Richmond’s hottest eating spots.
This is just the beginning of our exploration. We have just begun to scratch the surface of this multifaceted city these past 5 months. The seasons are beginning to change, I am welcoming the crisp air of autumn, the apples, and longer walks along the river in the newfound cool. Water over rocks and under the bridge, the symphony of cicadas decrescendo to make way for the rustle of blazing red leaves. Yes… I will gladly wander Richmond.
Canal Walk: Make your way from Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom nieghbourhood over to Brown’s Island via a relaxing stroll along the James River Canal. There are plenty of tidbits to distract you along the way (check the website for more on this subject)… and if you need to wet your whistle along the way, I highly recommend stopping by Casa del Barco for a blackberry basil margarita and little snacky.
Brown’s Island: Located at one end of the James River Canal walk, Brown’s Island is a hotbed of fun activities along with a bit of history. This is where the community comes together. Bike, kayak (you can rent one of each for the day!), take a tour of the Civil War Museum, Tredegar Iron Works, or enjoy a live music event made even better with a glass of locally crafted brew! Brown’s Island just happens to be the site of not 1, but 2 wonderful music series: Friday Cheers during the summer months (about $10/ticket) and the 3 day FREE music extravaganza… Richmond Folk Fest in the early autumn months. Seriously, go get your fun on!
Poe Museum: Step through the doorway of the oldest house still standing in Richmond (built around 1737) and into the Poe Museum. A collection of thoughtful artifacts, manuscripts, and interesting insights into the writer’s history are housed within 3 old brick buildings situated around a courtyard where two black cats (Poe and Pluto) can be found slinking about. The museum also plays host to a series of events and regularly occurring ‘Unhappy Hour’ featuring live music and a cash bar…
Richmond Museum of Fine Arts: What to do when the temperature creeps above 90, and just the idea of being outside transforms you into a puddle? Make your way over to the VMFA, where you can spend hours immersing yourself in different worlds of art…for free! (A few of their special exhibitions do require purchase of admission tickets) The permanent collection is amazing in itself (do not skip a viewing of their African Art collection- featuring masks, clothing and ritual objects from 100 different cultures across the continent: it is beautiful and intense)… and they always have a fresh handful of special exhibitions rotating through their halls.
St. John’s Episcopal Church: A must-see for anybody interested in American history… Visit the spot where Patrick Henry gave his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech which helped to ignite the American Revolution. St. John’s church is nestled atop a hill in Richmond’s oldest standing neighbourhood, Church Hill. A visit to the grounds is free to the public, and $8 for those who wish to have a guided tour of the church’s interior. Make sure to check their online schedule before you go as there are often special re-enactment events scheduled!
Tricycle Community Gardens: An awesome urban garden community organization with projects around the city. If you are in town for more than a little while, consider volunteering! Get dirty and support an amazing cause.
Sub Rosa Bakery: A coffee shop that serves up locally roasted brew along with freshly baked breads and other goodies in the Church Hill neightbourhood? Yes, please! Oh, and they grind their own grains and use a wood fired oven?! Seriously… don’t waste any time and get your butt over to Sub Rosa bakery.
Belmont Butchery: Meat, meat meat. Cheese, cheese, cheese. Local, local, local. The owner Tanya is passionate (think guru) about all of the beautiful carnivorous delights that fill her shop (check out her meat cleaver earrings) and she will help guide you toward meaty fulfillment.
Proper Pie Company: Savoury or sweet? If you are like me you will just opt for one of each. A tiny little spot with a decor that is part New Zealand, part retro and jam packed with a plethora of pies! My favourite slices to date: sour cream and blueberry, chocolate chess, chocolate raspberry cream, mellowpuffs! … and let’s not forget ‘the bloody lamington’ : one of their gorgeous coconut cakey cubes drizzled with extra rasbperry coulis and a dallop of whipped cream. Check their facebook page for the daily changing menu.