Wednesday morning of spring break 2018, we parked at the visitor center and walked across a long bridge that’s supposed to take you back in time a few hundred years, into colonial Williamsburg.  I needed coffee, so our first stop was the Liberty Lounge, which offered free coffee and snacks to veterans (or current members of the armed forces).  One of the volunteers inside was a retired F-4 pilot, so the two of us (plus my son) enjoyed discussing the evolution of military aircraft in the 20th century, which is not how I expected to spend my time in colonial Williamsburg, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

We then wandered into the courthouse, where my youngest played “clerk of court” and made the guide/lawyer laugh a bunch.

We saw a mock trial involving a defendant accused of gambling too much, but he was acquitted, thank goodness.

My son enjoyed discussing various weapons used in colonial times with a Native American.

We explored other buildings, like the Magazine & Guardhouse, the Governor’s Palace, the Mckenzie Apothecary, the theatre, the George Wythe House, Bruton Parish church (including Jefferson’s pew!), the Capitol building, and some stores and taverns.

We loved talking to the knowledgeable costumed guides in each building, learning about life in Virginia when it was a still a colony, and experiencing history lessons instead of reading them.

A friend saw my checkins on Swarm and suggested we eat lunch at the The Cheese Shop and dinner at Blue Talon Bistro, and these were great suggestions indeed!

Then we browsed some of the stores in Merchants Square, pausing for a few minutes with Thomas Jefferson on a bench.

While not a national park, colonial Williamsburg was a great addition to our educational family roadtrip–lots to see and do, and well worth a full day (or more…there was lots we didn’t have time to experience)!

My advice to anyone planning such a trip is to book the extra activities in advance (ox cart rides, ax throwing, ghost tours, etc.) online.  Since we could not get a military discount online for some reason, we bought our tickets in person the morning of our visit, and by then, all the “extras” were fully booked (as Fulton County, Georgia was not the only school district having spring break at that time).  I hope we can go back sometime when we can see and do even more!

On Tuesday of spring break 2018, we awoke in downtown Richmond and arrived just after 9am at Tredegar Iron Works to see the national park service visitor’s center, so the children could get yet another junior ranger badge whilst we toured where the CSS Virginia (FKA the “USS Merrimack”) was built, along with a whole bunch of cannons for the Civil War.

The children (especially the boy) loved putting on Union and Confederate uniforms in the kids’ “dress up” section of the museum and learning about (plus climbing on and fiddling with) the cannons.

We’d noticed signs for an Edgard Allan Poe Museum the night before and decided to squeeze it into our plans in Richmond, given my visiting the Poe house and museum in Baltimore in 2006 and his house in Philadelphia on father’s day 2017, because when it comes to honoring writers I like, I prefer to come strong (as I did with Hemingway).

We were glad we went. The museum is housed in the oldest still-standing home in Richmond and honors the many years the writer spent living in the city.  The children were mostly interested in the 2 cats on the property, but they also loved learning more about Poe’s life, having read some of his stories and watched a film on PBS about him last fall. We loved our very knowledgeable and suitably deferential tour guide, Debbie, and asked many questions even after her tour concluded.

Our next stop was the Maggie L Walker National Historic Site, where the kids’ second junior ranger badge of the day was earned.  We toured the prominent lady’s 100-year-old house, learned how she started and ran a bank back when women (especially women of color) weren’t bank presidents, and how she organized a streetcar boycott for civil rights way before bus boycotts were cool.

Then we drove a couple hours east and toured Yorktown Battlefield, where the children earned their third badge of the day.  Inside the visitors’ center was a ship to walk through and crawl all over; outside were cannons and the trenches used for cover that we could run on and around to give perspective to the battle reenactment we’d seen on the film in the visitors’ center half an hour prior.

The park was closing, so we drove into Williamsburg, had Italian for dinner at Maurizio’s Ristorante and then moved into our AirBnB–a cottage with a couple bedrooms and den sofa bed (plus a harp and other odd decorations)–where we’d spend the next 2 nights.  Next up:  a full day at colonial Williamsburg!


We’d barely finished our “Easter eggs Benedict” and put away the chocolate wrappers littering the den area rug when the 5 of us loaded up in my car to head up I-85 north for a Spring Break road trip of national parks in Virginia and the Carolinas.

We were still in Gwinnett County, GA when we hit our first patch of traffic, but from what I saw on FaceBook, driving north from Atlanta instead of south toward the Gulf was an infinitely better experience (it was fine the rest of the way).  We listened to “A Wrinkle in Time” during the drive, and we arrived at our AirBnB (a nicely finished basement) in Lynchburg, VA about 9pm.

Monday morning, we had some excellent coffee and breakfast at The Muse Coffee Company before pulling into Appomattox Court House National Historic Park about 10am.  Growing up outside Nashville, Tennessee, my family and friends were very interested in the Civil War, so much so that after I read “The Killer Angels” in school and then saw its film version, “Gettysburg,” a few years later, our family took a vacation in which we visited the the Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg battlefields.  But, I’d never seen where the war ended.  It was not in a courthouse –it was in the McLeans’ parlor (the town was Appomattox Court House).  And funny enough, the McLeans had moved to the tiny town where their home was used for Lee and Grant’s meeting to end the war because he’d moved away from Manassas, VA after the 1861 Battle at Bull Run to get away from the fighting, which effectively meant the war began in his front yard and ended in his parlor. One of their daughters left her doll in the parlor just before the generals gathered to sign the terms of surrender, so it witnessed the monumental event.

The children got another junior ranger badge + patch (I think they’re pushing 50 of these now), and we all 5 enjoyed learning more about the war and how it ended.  Pretty much all national park properties have a short film to watch that introduces the location and the artifacts visitors will later see; most are pretty good.  The one at Appomattox was excellent.  It had an overarching theme of grace and reconciliation to it, highlighting the wisdom Lincoln employed in refusing to vilify or humiliate the defeated Confederacy at the end of 4 very bloody and costly years of war.  It moved me to tears.

After we explored the various buildings on the property, we headed to Shenandoah National Park, entering the southern Rockfish Gap entrance and driving 50 miles along Skyline Drive to the Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center, pulling over at several overlooks along the way.  I imagine this drive is breathtaking when the Fall colors cover the mountains, with the Springtime blooms being nearly as good.  While many trees and flowers are blooming in GA already, such is not the case in this part of VA, so we were hoping the added visibility bare trees would give us would facilitate seeing some wildlife.  We saw a hawk and several squirrels up close, but not the black bears we had strongly hoped to see.

After walking through the visitor center and getting another set of junior ranger badges, however, I did spot a pair of deer walking along the edge of the trees that we enjoyed watching for a few seconds from the car.

Before leaving the park, we pulled over to hike the Dark Hollow Falls trail, the location’s most iconic hiking trail and well worth the time and exertion to see this:

That evening, we headed east to Richmond, stopping for dinner at the place we loved when passing through in July 2014:  Bottoms Up Pizza. This time we had enough sense to not over-order, given that 1 slice is the size of 4 slices at a “normal” pizza joint.

Our AirBnB was a loft in an urban area of Richmond that is clearly owned by a Millennial, as the beds had no top sheets.  But it was a good place to rest for the night before we explored Richmond the next morning.  Next up:  3 more junior ranger badges!