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!

Sunday morning, we boarded the Four Winds II charter boat for some snorkeling and snuba, heading out into the water toward the Molokini crater awaiting our exploration.  Sadly, the wind was such that the “weather permitting” caveat for that excursion meant we diverted to the Coral Gardens location, but we still enjoyed numerous colorful fish and a couple of large sea turtles that were close enough for me to reach out and touch (but I didn’t, because they’re protected animals, and such conduct is illegal).

The swimming and exploring underwater was great after I got over my trepidation about my young children being underwater and breathing through a tube for the first time in their lives. Being in wet clothes on a windy 70-something degree day was not great.  I shook so violently that I could barely eat my bbq sandwich.  The boat had a glass bottom section, so the children and I climbed below the main deck and watched fish through the glass after our lunch.  As we headed back to shore, we saw several humpback whales and dolphins surface above the ocean waters around us, except our boy, who was focused on talking up one of the female crew members and helping her accomplish various tasks at the back of the boat while imparting all his marine wildlife knowledge upon her, such as the varying gestation periods for sharks.

Since we were already wet, we went back to the hotel pool, and I had the bright idea to try and film the ride down the faster of the 2 tallest water slides, except the force of hitting the water caused the phone to leave my hand and spend a minute or 2 at the bottom of the pool, but luckily, the iphone 8 is water resistant, and it still worked just fine!

That evening, we drove back up to Lahaina to attend the Old Lahaina Luau.  We reserved this far enough in advance that we had front row seats and got to hit the food bar ahead of everyone else, and the smoked pig was delicious.

None of us had ever been to a luau before, and our research indicated this was the best one to see in Maui, so we felt it worth a 45-minute or so drive, despite the fact that our hotel had a luau we could have watched from our balcony.  I think we made the right choice.  The food, atmosphere, and staff were great.  And did I mention how much I love smoked Hawaiian pig?  My second plate of dinner was exclusively filled with it.

The next morning (Monday), I took the children to brunch at Kihei Caffe, a recommendation from my friend Dave, who’s been many times. I had some macadamia nut French toast with blueberries and bananas on it that were delicious, and we beat the enormous line by about 5 minutes.  I brought some back to my bride, who’d volunteered to pack the kids’ bags while I distracted them with breakfast.

We flew home overnight, landing at like 6am in Atlanta, giving us just enough time for the children to go home and bathe for school, because we’re mean parents like that (my bride and I took a nap).

This was an amazing trip–we had the best meals I’ve ever had on a vacation, including our trip to France last summer.  We saw a wide range of topography, people, and climate while exploring both coasts and the upcountry area in the center of the island.  I’m beyond grateful for my bride’s diligent research of multiple tour books, websites, and personal recommendations to put together our itinerary of activities, lodging, and meals.  She’s already hard at work putting together our next Pacific adventure:  Japan in June!