Saturday, July 20, 2013

Exploring Virginia - James River and Hampton

Since we spend so much time in Virginia now, I picked up a map of attractions and scenic routes and set out to see as much of the state as possible in the next couple of months. So here are some places we visited and some things we've done while there.

I love the old-fashioned maps. I mean, sure, GPS can be very convenient and you can look up directions online too. The problem is you have to know where you want to go. But a map lets you roam and discover things you've never thought of before. It leaves a lot more room for serendipity.

Even before our first trip to VA this summer, I looked up the nearest beach other than Virginia Beach. Well, Buckroe Beach came up in a search and that's where we went a few weekends ago. I was pretty skeptical 'cause I've been spoiled by the beautiful Kure Beach here in NC. Well, I must admit that Kure is a whole lot more scenic, less crowded, and has lots of beautiful shells (I will post pictures soon) that Buckroe seems to lack. But Buckroe Beach is worth a visit (unlike way overcrowded and trashed Topsail Beach).

First, Buckroe is a family beach. It's got lots of open spaces for kids to run apart from the beach itself. There is a park with a huge lawn and a nice playground. There is also a small pier. The beach itself is clean. Lots of families with kids and yet plenty of room for everyone and you don't risk being hit in the face by a beach ball or strangled by a runaway kite. There are no fishermen on the beach itself, so in that way it's even better than Kure. And before you peg me as a fishermen hater, the only problem I have with fishermen is that they are typically too lazy to stand or sit by their rods and warn you about getting tangled in the lines. And those lines are hard to see even up close!

Another hugely attractive thing about Buckroe is its facilities. I'm talking parking and bathrooms here. Both are plentiful even on a hot summer day. And on a family outing a convenient parking and a no-wait-necessary bathroom are a top priority.

We spent most of the time at Buckroe building sand castles. See this poopy thing next to me? That's Chateau de Stinko or Poopy Castle. In the background, M is building his own castle. Sadly, it got washed away before I had a chance to take a photo (I was too busy building a moat around my Chateau).

Remember the map I told you about? Well, I didn't look at it for the first couple of visits and that's how come we kept driving on US-64 and it wasn't exactly scenic and the traffic sucked every single time. Map to the rescue! We discovered Rt 5, the scenic drive that takes you to Williamsburg which is just a short drive to Hampton.

It's such a pretty road! And there's a lovely bike path that goes alongside it for miles and miles. It'd be awesome to bike at least a part of it when the weather cools a bit (and M learns to ride a bike and we get bikes, so lots of "ands" here and likely not to ever happen).

So last weekend we went to Hampton again, but this time not to the beach the reason being I overslept and got up around 11. So it was too late for our original plan of driving to Washington, DC and going to the Air and Space Museum there. Fortunately, I looked at the map and noticed that there was a Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton. And it was a member of ASTC which meant we would get in for free thanks to our membership to the Life and Science Museum in Durham.

The place was terrific! M loved everything about it. He asked me to take pictures of him in front of the REAL (as in "not a replica") Apollo 12 Command Module!

He tried his hand at all sorts of simulators - Mars landing, Mars rover control, Shuttle landing... Sure, he crushed on all of them. So did I. Those are tough simulators. Yep, even the one where you are trained to give signals to pilots on deck of an aircraft carrier.

We all took turns at it.

But M successfully planned a Lunar mission and launched a hot air balloon.

And piloted a DC-9. And co-piloted it.

And he took a billion very detailed pictures of various instrument panels, electrical and hydraulics systems and such. He really gets into it and does a very thorough job documenting even tiny details.

By the time we were done, we were starving. But finding inexpensive food in Downtown Hampton without a guide or an area map was tough. We walked to a nearby seafood place but it was way expensive. Fortunately, there were preparations under way for the Rolling of the Bulls.

So we got some delicious fish and shrimp tacos for us and a corndog for M and made ourselves at home on the downtown Hampton's sidewalk.

Turns out, it was a half-mile run (around the block) and the runners were chased by the ladies from the local Roller Derby team swinging wiffle ball bats. And afterward there was a huge water balloon battle. If we are in the area next year, I'll consider taking part in both!

Very satisfied with our serendipitous finds, we took the scenic Route 5 back. It was awesome! And we discovered that Chris's hotel is only 30 min or so away from Shirley Plantation. Naturally, we went to Shirtley the very next day.

Turns out it is the oldest continuously operating plantation in the US. How cool is that?! In fact, for the last 350 years or so it's been owned by the same family. The 11th generation of the family still lives in the Main House. How cool is that?! Although it must be a bit weird to basically live in the museum.

But there were lots of cool things to see there, including the old kitchen, the old tools and implements (M took a lot of pictures of everything with gears), and the ice house with its 15ft well that used to hold several tons of ice. It looked spooky!

I'm already planning our next trip. We're saving Colonial Williamsburg for cooler months and  the mountains are a bit far for a quick day trip. There are lots of battlefields around, including one right outside of Chris's hotel, but M's a bit too young. And we're trying to stay indoors or on the water because of the heat. Well, we'll think of something.