In southern Virginia lies the city of Williamsburg. In many ways this was the hotbed for the American Declaration of Independence and some of the early battles of the Civil War were planned here. (They were fought elsewhere).
The area “Colonial Williamsburg” is partly a living museum, partly a real, working historic city. Many of the buildings can be dated to the early 1700’s, which is VERY old in American eyes! Some houses are reconstructions made from early “blueprints” and they house armorers, pharmacists, a wig-maker, a post office, a coffee house (mostly for men who came to discuss current matters), a prison and much, much more. The historic district lies right next to the more “modern” part of town, but you hardly notice the transition when you stroll around. Only that the main street of the historic part, Duke of Gloucester Street, has cobblestones and is closed for all traffic. Except carriages.
Williamsburg also has a working university. So all over town you will see young people carrying books and bags. In general the city is full of life. People strolling, jogging or biking. We were there on a sunny winters day, and the weather was relatively mild. We were told that the place is packed during the summer season, and that hotel reservations should be made well in advance. I can believe that!
Everywhere in the old part of town, which is really neatly restored, local people are strolling around in clothes from the 1700’s. They are acting as the historic residents who lived and spent time in Williamsburg in the early days. Thus you are able to talk to slaves, plantation owners and soldiers. You can eat in the local Inn, where you might see Thomas Jefferson and George Washington sitting in a corner talking quietly. When walking down Duke of Gloucester Street you will be greeted by the locals, who will stop and chat about big and small things: The coming Civil War, independence from “The Crown” (as England was often referred to), the price on tobacco, cotton and slaves. Gold coins from Spain is a highly valued payment method. Printed notes from the local area does not really count as a trustworthy means of payment... Yes, they certainly play the roles!
I have to say that Williamsburg was a really positive experience and it was a coincidence that we even got there. All the history that I had somehow been missing and searching for during our entire stay here in the US suddenly came to life. It was overwhelming in the best possible way!
We drove to Sylva in North Carolina, where my dear old colleague Beth now lives with her husband Bill. Originally from Michigan they have settled here in the mountains after having retired, to be with their children and grandchildren. Beth was the kind of colleague that you could always count on and trust. I could always call her regarding bigger and smaller matters and she would always take time to help me immediately. In spite of the time difference. She was sitting in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was in Copenhagen, Denmark. The difference is 6 hours.
I have not seen Beth in almost 10 years, and I have never previously met her husband. I never for a second doubted that we would get a warm welcome and have a really good weekend together. But HOW exactly it all would go we could not know in advance. Only that we had a good feeling about it all. We were met with open arms, big hugs and we got to meet the entire family. It was like checking in to a 5-star hotel. Right there, in the middle of the beautiful surroundings in the mountains. Anton quickly got off to a good start with the grandchildren EJ and Lilli, while we were chatting along with their parents Kelli and Emory. We also met Josh, Danielle and their children Mary and Elana. EJ took really good care of Anton which was a nice experience for him. And I got introduced to American Football and saw the semifinal matches (both) ahead of the coming Super Bowl early February! Bill and I had many good talks over coffee and all my questions about current American matters were answered. Great!
Apart from knowing that my great writing-idol Frances Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun) lives here, I really did not know much about North Carolina before we arrived. But we could quickly establish that the local nature is in it’s own league! Just spectacular! There are MANY trees in the western part of North Carolina, and the mountains are incredibly beautiful under the clear blue winter skies. We went for a walk and found an old cottage, which used to be occupied by a local teacher back in the early days. Every day she would walk a few miles into town to the local school, and back in the evening, along the winding path. The cottage has been abandoned in a long time by now, which is sort of sad. Exciting to see nevertheless!
We also went to the “Fun Factory” - a combination of an indoor playground and a classic gaming arcade. Lots of gaming machines, climbing frames and jumping pillows. This was an instant hit by Anton and he had a fantastic day there with EJ and the other children present. I had a chance to refresh my (lacking) skills by the Pinball Flipper machines. That stupid ball just would not do what I wanted it to do! And I really wanted to show off for Anton. Well, he took it with serenity and politeness and has not mentioned the incident ever since! Good boy!
After three wonderful days we said our goodbyes to Beth, Bill and the family, and headed back towards Washington DC. Well underway we ran into a heavy snowstorm. And I made a note of the fact that the Americans simply have no clue when it comes to winter driving. Not that we Danes are professionals at it either, but we are remarkably better than the Americans. There are no rules for using “winter tires” or “summer tires” and any laws that might be in place regarding thickness of tread are not enforced, like we are used to in Denmark and Germany. Hard to believe, as winter storms are not exactly a rarity around here. In other words: Many drivers are driving on almost “blank” tires! The worst part though is that there are so many huge trucks that are no better at winter driving. They will use all lanes on the highway and overtake from all sides. It wasn’t very comfortable! But we got through without any damage on material or souls. So now we are back in Washington DC. The capital that has sort of become an old acquaintance to us!
Soon we will head towards New York City, where we will be staying in a rented, private flat right in the heart of Manhattan. And we will get yet another visit from Denmark. We are ready!
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