Saturday, May 7, 2011

Virginia Vacation Journal: Day 5

Today began with more waffles and more of the ceaseless news coverage of The Royal Wedding, an event that, in my mind, cannot possibly compare with the spectacle and the drama of The Natural Bridge’s 15 kinds of hot dogs.

After a surfeit of waffley goodness, we packed up the car and headed off across the state to Richmond. We politely asked Sybil, our GPS, to find a route that avoided highways and we were pleasantly rewarded with a 3 hour trip through some of the most beautiful, winding countryside I have ever seen. It was lush and green and hilly.

What has frequently surprised me on this trip is how high the speed limits are in Virginia. Our route today had a posted speed limit of 55 mph, but the winding, curving, twisting road terrified me at 40 mph. I had to pull over several times to let other drivers zip past us on onward toward oblivion.

We eventually arrived in Richmond and found the hotel. It was about 10 minutes away from Richmond International Speedway where, it appears, there will be a huge NASCAR race on Saturday. I’m glad we have other plans, because I’m reluctant to join the throngs of people who have set up chairs along the side of the road so they can sit in the baking sun, holding up homemade signs that say “Need Tickets”.

(Many, many Porta-Potties are available for the NASCAR fans at Richmond Speedway)

It was heartbreaking to pass a father and son, dressed in matching tank tops, seated along 6 lanes of heavy traffic, begging for tickets. Especially since it was the middle of a school day.

More upsetting than red-necks in tank tops begging for race tickets was the realization that we really didn’t need to come on this trip.

The outskirts of Richmond looked no different than the outskirts of Boston or San Diego or Denver. They are entirely homogenous and indistinguishable. Chain restaurants, fast food, and gas stations squatting along six lanes of traffic is the norm all across the country. There are slight regional differences, but is there really a big thrill in seeing a Hardees versus a Burger King on every corner?

This unpleasant phenomenon is precisely why I revel and delight in small, outlandish tourist attractions like The Natural Bridge Garden of Earthly Delights. There is nothing like it on the entire planet. Little tourist traps go out of their way to do everything they can to get you to unbelt some money and the results–while sometimes tragic, like the Wax Museum–are always sincere and memorable.

They are unique, and I love them for that.

Our hotel, while not unique, and most definitely a chain, is the one place I deviate from my rigid “No Chains” rule. Judging by the squalid horror of many of the hotels we passed along our way, I’m okay with this slight variation from my self-imposed exile from Homogenous Nirvana.

(You know it's a good hotel if the Oreo Racing Team stays there!)

After settling in, we took a ride through Richmond, because 3 hours in the car just wasn’t enough for us! My hope was to find a nice spot downtown and get out, stroll around, and find a great place to grab some dinner.

My plans were foiled by the fact that there is no downtown and we most certainly did not find many places where we felt like getting out and going for a leisurely stroll. Several neighborhoods we passed through inspired us to hunch down in the car, lock our doors and find the speediest escape route.

Of Richmond, I can say only this, based on my 45 minutes spent in its borders: Avoid it.
I’m sorry, Richmond, but whatever shining delights you may hide, they are outweighed by the depressed, dilapidated street scenes you presented to us at each new corner and around each new bend.

My thoughts on Richmond were echoed by the waitress at dinner tonight. We were talking with her about our trip through the city and she gasped. “You went INTO Richmond City? Oh, dear, God. Well, at least you were there during the day. Whatever you do, don’t go back there at night.”

The warning was kind, but entirely unnecessary.

We finished our dinner and returned to the hotel to swim. It seems that race fans are not terribly interested in swimming. We had the pool to ourselves and played a boisterous game of Marco Polo. We had a wonderful time splashing and laughing in the warm, clear water.

It wasn’t until we returned to our room that the screaming and crying started.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes you are right Richmond doesn't offer much....if you don't know where to go. Yes only go during the day. It saddens me to say that. Bottoms up pizza is the place to eat!! "The Bottom" area has the canal walk, shops, open air flea markets selling veggies, etc. You can visit city hall for free, and have lunch over looking the city. Cary town is another one of Rich. treasures.Oh & the Bryd Theater is a must!!! Probab;u yhr best thing to do in Richmond(Cary Town) at night. ~Lisa, Chester Va