Meet Virginia - Day One

Despite being broke, whenever I get an email from Groupon or LivingSocial advertising their vacation deals, I feel compelled to take a peak. Though they often feature offers for places I have no desire to see, or properties that are of questionable quality, they still provide a tantalizing opportunity to daydream about the places to which I could be traveling if my life circumstances were different.

I was doing just that back in July, when I spotted a photo of a resort that looked vaguely familiar. Clicking on it for more information didn't jog my memory much, but when I googled the property, it all came flooding back to me: the resort was the Greenbrier, and I had seen it ages ago on television, either on the History Channel or the Travel Channel. It captured my attention because it just happened to be home to a massive Cold War era fallout shelter, constructed by the U.S. government to shelter the members of Congress and the Senate in the event of nuclear war. As soon as I saw it, I vowed to see it one day, in light of my academic interest in that period of history. Given how expensive it was to stay at the resort, and the fact that it was inconveniently located in West Virginia (the government needed a remote site that was protected by the neighboring mountains), I figured it would be a long time before I ever made it there.

The LivingSocial deal would make the Greenbrier more within the realm of affordability, but not quite cheap enough for my budget. I knew I'd have to convince my parents to make the trip with me, so I could see the Greenbrier on someone else's dime. At first, I approached Mom, hoping that her interest in genealogy would have unearthed some distant relatives with graves she might be interested in visiting in the area. No such luck on that front, so I moved on to Dad, hoping that the Greenbrier's vague proximity to Appomattox, the site of Lee's surrender to Grant at the end of the Civil War, would spark his interest. 

Thankfully, Dad was intrigued, but he was interested in seeing a lot more than Appomattox. In the process of planning the trip, my mission to see the Greenbrier's bomb shelter turned into a pilgrimage across Virginia and West Virginia, starting in Richmond and heading west, in which we would visit the sites of numerous Civil War battlefields, as well as the capital of the Confederacy. I wasn't so keen on all the Civil War stuff, but I was willing to keep him company in the interest of scratching the Greenbrier off my bucket list.

This is how I found myself in Richmond this evening, a city I never expected I'd see, nor did I have any particular desire to experience. Our flight ended up being much delayed, and we arrived in town just shortly before dinner time, so we checked into our, admittedly, very swanky accomodations at the Jefferson Hotel. In operation since 1895, the Jefferson had all the grandeur and opulence of a European grand hotel, though from the outside, it looked rather more like a cathedral.

The Jefferson.
It featured multiple lobbies on multiple floors, each more grandiose than the last. My favorite featured a lovely stained glass dome. For my part, however, I was mostly just pleased that the hotel took its name from U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, and that it was his statue in the lobby, not Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who remains a celebrated figure in this town. 

Stained glass in the lobby of the Jefferson.
The concierge recommended a nearby restaurant where we could obtain some authentic Southern-style food for dinner, appropriately named Comfort. Dad was not at all pleased that they didn't take reservations and we had to spend time waiting in the bar, but the bartender was a personable chap and he and I had a nice conversation about the Greenbrier, and its secret Cold War past.

Richmond doesn't have a lot going for it architecturally speaking. The best thing it has going for it, in my opinion, is a preponderance of ghost signs.
I genuinely enjoyed my shrimp and grits (so much so, that it will be a challenge not to eat them at every meal on this trip), and my fried catfish, though Dad didn't seem to appreciate the hipster vibe put forth by the atmosphere and the wait staff. It really wasn't his kind of place, and if we'd been in Chicago, and not on vacation, I don't think I would have been able to drag him there in a million years. Still, I'm glad that he humored me. 

Even if the next couple days in Richmond don't hold a lot of excitement for me personally, I'm still looking forward to seeing what the next few days will hold. Maybe I'll be surprised...

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