You really need to be aware of the many parasites while travelling the Skyline Drive or indeed any park. Ticks are a real threat as they carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. No, I am not joking, my husband contracted exactly that from a tick bite while we were birdwatching. Of course, being mere youngsters at the time, we had no idea what he had, but a Naval Officer and medic diagnosed him correctly and saved his life. This disease affects both humans and dogs.
Gives you the pathology and you can research the symptoms online. PLEASE DO use DEET insect repellent on your shoes, legs and clothing if you are expecting to be walking in the Park and stopping to examine a plant, tree or do a bit of birdwatching.
The other problem is bears. They can smell food from miles away and love to rummage through your campsite, your cabin and your car. It is imperative that you DO NOT feed the bears as they can become accustomed to approaching humans and then have to be shot or removed and relocated. More information here:
This little site tells you about animals that are a threat to your health.
Isn't it funny how American prisons are called correctional centres on the false premise that those incarcerated will be reformed? The term is especially ironic here since Mecklenburg Correctional Centre once housed death row. It was the site of a famous prison breakout on death row when 7 condemned prisoners escaped and were on the loose for as much as 19 days in June, 1984. I figured that they closed the prison entirely when they moved death row to Sussex State Prison, southeast of Waverly. On taking a photo of the prison, you would think we had committed the biggest sin. I mean, this big, fat, and dumb middle-aged guard (I hope he's reading this, incidentally, or having this read to him) asked us all sorts of questions and I was prepared to hide my memory card in my socks because there was no way he was confiscating it with a weekend full of photos on it. We shuck and jived our way out of that by saying we never got the photo. This guard would buy oceanfront property in Kentucky! The moral of the story is: when taking shots of prisons, make sure the prison is closed.
Drive extremely cautiously on Skyline Drive, as well as on any road in this entire region. Deers and bears routinely cross the road and you don't want to hit them. Our best encounter with wildlife on the Skyline Drive was a mother deer that cut across the road followed by a fawn that could hardly trot (see the pictures). It was at a time when I was driving. Since I drive slowly in any case, drawing criticism of my hubby all the time, it was easy to apply breaks. We stopped and watched in awe as the fawn and the mother crossed the road and stood on the other side of the road looking back at us for 30 seconds and then scampering into the thick forest.
In the pictures we could see that there was a road sign alerting everybody to deer crossing the road. How did the mother and her fawn chose this exact spot to cross the road beats me :-)
I found a lot of pretty copper (a reddish-coloured metal) and brass (alloy of copper and zinc) cookware in numerous gift stores incuding those at Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's property close Charlottesville) and Colonial Williamsburg.
Do look at them, do buy them if you like but please never use them for preparing or cooking any food unless you want to catch copper toxicity syndrome. The most common symptoms are headaches, fatigue, insomnia, depression, spaciness, learning disorders or premenstrual syndrome. Brrr...
Some folks told me that both Hillary Clinton and Theresa Heinz-Kerry use copper and brass cookware in their kitchens. Hmm... I don't know :-).
Don't know if it was mating season or these are just pesky insects because the animals seem to still be hibernating, however....
I shall definately wear a hat next time to keep them off my head and a long sleeved shirt!
There is a city ordinance (law) that forbids you to curse out loud. Seriously. Virginia Beach Police have zero tolerance for misbehavior, especially those who decide to curse out loud and disturb others as they are enjoying thier vacation. All over Virgina beach along the strip, you will see these signs posted everywhere.
If you are a married guy and desperately want to divorce:
1. Hire a car (preferrably with no or very basic insurance) or just drive your own car (even better) to Northern Virginia.
2. Ask your wife to be your good company.
3. Give her a map (the larger the better).
4. Ask her to navigate for example from Rosslyn to Jaleo Crystal City restaurant in Arlington if your wife like tapas (preferrably in rush hours).
5. Wait for such signs as in my picture placed one by one and follow your wife's instructions exactly, for your safety don't forget to ask in advance on which lane to drive.
OK, enough said. I do respect beautiful gender a lot, but, sorry, ladies, your brain mostly has other key advantages than, say, good orientation. In case of any doubts look here, please. If you are interested in the male brain it's here.
Lucky me, Nat (b1bob) was my navigator in Northern Virginia but even he, an able navigator, was thrown for a loop when he was with us. My car was quite good insuranced and I wouldn't ask my wife to navigate in Arlington but I'd prepare my itinerary by myself before drive. Next time, I will try to use GPS.
OK, if you decided not to divorce, please:
1. Use efficient metro system in Northern Virginia - my recommendation.
2. Read and follow my next Warning Or Danger tip.
Traffic in Virginia is about as bad as it gets, especially in the Washington DC area. The stretch of I-95 from Washington to Fredericksburg is regularly clogged and during morning or evening commutes, it may take up to 3 hours to drive 50 miles on an interstate.
Accidents are common at the Springfield Interchange where I-95 and I-495 meet. Northern Virginians call it the "Mixing Bowl"; traffic there is horrible. Avoid at all costs. The Springfield Interchange is currently being renovated to become safer and to allow traffic to flow smoothly. This should be completed by 2008; however, don't have high hopes that traffic will improve.
On the way from Washington, DC to Charlottesville in western part of Virginia I stopped in the 29er Restaurant & Tavern in Ruckersville along US-29 (just north of US-33 intersection) and it was the worst choice during my US travels. The food (chicken and tossed salad) served there at very low price was not fresh and uneatable... never stop there. I am sorry that it happened to me just in Virginia... the state where - except that one time - I had probably the best food in the USA.
After this meal partly eaten I had to go for coffee in Shell gas station. Surely quality of coffee sold to plastic mugs in gas stations is not the best but not that bad, I liked it. I learned in the USA to drink coffee and drive :-) and found it very practical and fast. Well, many gas stations in Poland don't offer those plastic mugs (and never so large) to use while driving and it's more popular to seat by a table to drink coffee in Europe.
Warning for first coming to the USA: small mug in the USA is the largest one in Europe, the large one is like large family cup :-), say for 10 or more Europeans cups of coffee. Coffee in gas stations is inexpensive, on that Shell station it cost: $0.69, $0.89, and $1.18 for the largest mug.
I noticed in the South, for the first time in Richmond, that some (few in real) small, probably family run, businesses like say small restaurants were closed on Sunday or more often they were open shorter that day. Instead, on Friday and Saturday they were open longer. It was more common in Virginia and the South than in the western part of the USA, I visited a year before. Why?
A few random thoughts:
1. There are more very small, real family run businesses in the South.
2. The owners of these businesses prefer to rest at least on Sunday even if it lowers their incomes.
3. They are more religious. In many religions Sunday is a day to rest not to work.
Excuse, this tip really will go to my United States of America page soon because the example I saw at Dunn's restaurant is, by no means, unique to Richmond or Virginia.
Generally - with the exception of Northern Virginia - driving in Virginia is quite easy. They drive carefully and follow the speed limits or drive maximum 5, rarely 10 mph faster on interstate. But I have a few minor warnings referring to parking and some drivers.
There are numerous and well signed parking lots in downtown of Virginian cities. Usually you must pay for parking on a street in parkometer at least at daytime on business days (closer to downtown more you pay). Read the information given on signs and parkometers. Parking in Virginia seems to be more money problem than space problem - quite different than in many European countries, especially those more to South and East where poor drivers having NO parking lots are forced to park on every possible place including sidewalks and where it's banned collecting more and more unpaid parking tickets. Follow Virginian gentelmen and don't do that while in Virginia. Remeber: in the USA sidewalks are exclusively for pedestrians! Even don't think over leaving your car on a sidewalk.
There are always large parking lots for visitors to popular tourist attractions and they are always free of charge with the exception of paid Arlington Cemetery parking lot. Remember where exactly you leave your car on those huge parking lots. Another option is to park by local tourist information office, usually in downtown/historic district. It's free but sometimes you are not allowed to park longer than during time given on a sign (30 min. or 1 hour).
YOUNG BOYS AND OLD LADIES
Generally Virginians drive very carefully but... watch for young Virginian gentelmen and old ladies. Once, I saw old lady who drove too slow and changed lanes probably without looking at rear mirrors (she turned back instead) that forced other cars to break. On multi-lane highways do not change lanes if not necessary and follow the traffic.
My trip to Virginia and my southern odyssey was a blast. But before my trip to the South I heard some myths about the South including Virginia. They may discourage some folks to come to Virginia. My reply is simple: GO SOUTH!
COMMON OF THOUGHTS ON THE SOUTH
Before my trip to Virginia and the South I heard that even though the South was part of the US, it should most properly be considered an emerging third world country. Well, even if it was true (it was NOT), it would attract me. I heard that although the economy of the South had grown and people had more money, but their traditions had not really caught up with the economy; people's mentality was still simple, rural, and traditional in many ways and that of course they were proud of it. It would be interesting to see and discover it, I thought. Rural and simple meant extremaly hospitable and open. I heard that the South was sleepy, conservative, churchy, and backwards, but not all negative. Well, even if, the above adjectives (except backwards) were not negative for me. Some of the things I was told about the South being "backwards" can really be said about many rural areas in both the USA and Europe. And it's probably worldwide custom that country people tend to see city people as snobs, and city people think that country people are backward hicks.
Futhermore I was told that they had a very different way of life down there. Quite interesting to see. I heard also that the South was the most culturally distinct part of the US and that they maintained a very strong regional identity, complete with flags, songs, and other things. Wow! It made me crazy to come. Futhermore I was told that there was a lot of resentment towards the South or rather between the regions.
I managed to fix the trip in the last minute. And I would do it again, I love Virginia and the South! Why? Welcome to my Southern VT-pages.
I have a few warnings which are not unique to Virginia but, if unknown, may irritate some visitors.
Do not judge Virginia (and any other place on our planet) after 1-2 hours. Dulles Washington International Airport doesn't look great at least in comparison to Shippol in Amsterdam I came from. And many tall buildings you may see in Northern Virginia (Fairfax and Arlington County) do not look pretty as well.
BAN ON PHOTOGRAPHY
You are not allowed to take pictures inside many historical buildings, you may take guided tours and see them. Details in my other Virginian pages.
There are no big crowds in October/November but I had to wait in a line to join guided-tours at Monticello (Charlottesville) and Mount Vernon. There were quite many visitors to Colonial Williamsburg as well.
BOOK IN ADVANCE
In Northern Virginia I recommend to book accommodation in advance through Priceline (cheap!) or call. There was no vacancy when I came to budget Days Inn in Arlington in the late evening.
In other regions of Virginia if you want to stay in budget hotel in touristy city (like Charlottesville) in weekend (Fri-Sun) better book a room. I don't think you may see "no vacancy" sign on business day or in less touristy destinations including budget accommodations ($40 - $80 for me).
In Arlington I couldn't join guided tour of the Arlington House because tickets were sold out, I should call them in advance (details here).
Most tourist attractions like museums close at 4 pm or more often at 5 pm.
In October/November days are shorter thus I had short time to amaze Virginian architecture and nature at daytime.
Only Capitol building in Richmond was closed (by winter 2006) due to renovation. Well, restaurant at Berkeley Plantation in Charles City was closed as well.
Watch for morning fog whenever you drive in October or November, especially in areas close to huge Virginian rivers (the James River, the New River) and in the Appalachian Mountains.
Once I had a foggy morning in Northern Virginia in late October. Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park were covered by fog, thick fog at some places in upper parts. So, I could not amaze spectacular views at numerous overlooks along Skyline Drive.
Well, I again discovered that:
- pictures taken during foggy weather are more interesting than those taken at bright sunny day;
- many animals which are active at daytime hide in a shadow during hot, sunny days and are easier to meet only at sunrise and sunset, in a foggy day they are easier to see during the whole day;
- lack of visitors at foggy weather may be a plus as well.
So, keep smiling and enjoy the nature whatever weather you catch.
Weather in longer time period is unpredictable. If you can plan and change date of your visit check in advance 10-day weather forecast for Shenandoah and Luray. For peak fall colours of leaves in various parts of Eastern USA from Maine to Georgia watch Weather Channel. Usually it's about half of October in Shenandoah National Park.
There is ban on smoking:
- in fenced, huge area of the Arlington National Cemetery,
- in huge area of Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens,
- in all metro stations in Northern Virginia including those located outdoors,
- in all restaurants, I visited except 29 Diner in Fairfax City,
- inside all hotels I stayed except in designated areas (smoking rooms available in limited number)
- generally inside all public building unless otherwise stated.
Virginia is not a paradise for smoking folks like me although there are worse states in that matter like Utah or California. I can easily understand it and not so easily follow the ban. At Arlington National Cemetery (a few hours needed) it was not that simple. Well, thanks to the ban I could talk to the other smokers, for example to one young lady in front of Jaleo restaurant in Arlington. She had never talked to anyone from Poland before :-).
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