Posts Tagged With: Williamsburg

Run for the Dream – Half Marathon

So, the big race finally arrived.  Actually it was only ten weeks since I signed up but it felt like so much longer than that.  We arrived in Williamsburg on Saturday in order to pick up our race numbers and complimentary tickets for Colonial Williamsburg, which was a lovely touch.  It was an incredibly hot afternoon so we were glad of the chance to hide out inside the (probably not authentically 18th century) air-conditioned buildings and learn how the Americans gained their independence from us.  We followed this with an equally hot wander around the very 21st century shopping outlet, where I got two spectacular new pairs of Converse:

So which ones should I wear first?

So which ones should I wear first?

By the end of the afternoon we were slowly melting and wondering how we would cope with the same heat and humidity for a whole 13.1 miles the following morning.  Even with a 7am start it was forecast to be 90% humidity and around 25c.

For our evening meal we had been recommended a local restaurant, Food For Thought, which I have to say is probably the best restaurant I have eaten at in this country.  The food choices for me were amazing, way more than the usual veggie lasagna/black bean burger/mac & cheese from the kids menu.  I plumped for two vegan “chicken” breasts, one in a coriander and lime sauce and one in a spicy mango salsa, and it was spectacular.  The staff were also brilliant, not only our server but also the manager who came to meet us and see what we thought of the place.  Also, in case we ran out of conversation, they supply conversation cards on each table and thoughtful quotes dotted around the walls.  Just perfection.  Oh, and they gave us a 5% discount voucher for a return visit – like we need any persuasion!

We then decamped to our Bates Motel for an early night, and it turned out to be pretty darn good, for $38 per night.  I wouldn’t have wanted to stay there on my own, but I have to say it was clean, had two double beds in the room, and a working fridge for all the supplies we had brought with us, basically meeting all our needs for the one night.

This didn’t mean I could sleep at all though.  Stateside Husband was straight off to sleep while I laid down with my eyes shut, breathing slowly and trying to fool myself into sleeping.  I figured that being motionless must at least count as rest somehow.  After an hour I tried some relaxation techniques.  Rather than counting sheep, I started listing Daniel Day Lewis films.  I have no idea why I chose him, I don’t even know that I’ve seen any of his films, but I suppose that’s what happens when you’re tired.  So my thought process went “Gangs of New York, My Left Foot, Michael-something-the-Irish-one, …  Michael Collins?  Or is that the Tom Hanks one about the astronaut?  And was he in Harry Potter?  No that was Ralph Fiennes.  Has anyone ever seen them together in the same room?”.   With the benefit of I now know that the Irish film I was thinking of was actually In the Name of the Father, Michael Collins was another Irish film with Liam Neeson, and Tom Hanks played Jim Lovell in Apollo 13, so why was I thinking of him?

Anyway, at some point I must have fallen asleep, because suddenly it was race day!!!!  By 5.30am we were at the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru, amusingly behind a police car picking up the day’s doughnut rations.  I love Dunkin, not least because they supplied us with buckets of coffee and some pretty good oatmeal, perfect pre-run fuel.

When I started running as a hobby, I didn’t expect my new weekend activities to include sunrise car-park breakfasts and collecting safety pins, but these do now appear to be two of my most regular occupations, and this weekend was no exception.  We managed to meet up with one of our running group buddies early on, and then with a second one at the start line.  Both of them have run many half-marathons before so we didn’t run together as we all had different goal times in mind.  The race kicked off, not only with the traditional national anthem but also with the Colonial Williamsburg fife and drum band, which was pretty special.  Then I started my iPod and among the first few songs were Eye of the Tiger and The Final Countdown, so I knew it was going to be a good race.

We had been warned, by every other runner and by the official guidance on the race website, that the course was a really hilly one, however I have to say that it really didn’t seem that bad to me.  I think I had imagined it to be a lot worse and so the reality was a lot nicer/flatter than expected.  There were some annoying slight uphills towards the end, one after the other, but none of the massive mountains for which I had been mentally preparing myself.  We were also fortunate with the weather; it was hot and fairly humid but not quite as bad as expected and a lot of the course ran through shaded areas, including a long stretch through a park, so we escaped a lot of the sunshine.  The course was really lovely as it not only wound through the aforesaid park but also through the centre of Colonial Williamsburg and some other rather picturesque streets, plus a stretch along a major road (where I suddenly realised I could get run over if I accidentally strayed a millimeter to the left of the tiny bollards) and all the traffic coming onto the road had to stop and wait for us, which is not something that happens for me every day.  The best thing for me was that it was a completely unknown course so I never had any idea what was coming next nor could I visualise how much further I had to go, which is normally the killer for me.

 I didn’t experience any low point, amazingly, because even on a 5K run I usually get about three-quarters of the way through and get really grumpy.  I enjoyed the whole thing, even managing to leap up and down a bit around the 9 mile mark when a particularly good song started playing (Damn Dog by Manic Street Preachers, in case you’re interested).  I walked quickly through the water stops where I needed a drink, and some of the uphills were incredibly slow despite me working my hardest to power through them (which I found particularly amusing, clearly getting to the hysterical stage by then) but I’m pleased to say I didn’t stop at any point, except for a toilet stop but I never tired enough to need to just stop for a rest.

I had a goal time of 2 hours 15 minutes, and my official time was 2:15:55, so I’m exceedingly happy with that, especially considering the heat, humidity and hills.  My watch said 2:14:33 because it paused during the toilet stop, and mysteriously it also said I had run 13.2 miles, so maybe I actually did better.  I crossed the finish line hand in hand with Stateside Husband, which was the best part of the race ❤

Officially I finished 526th out of 1308 runners, 180th out of 705 women, and 29th out of 128 in my age group.  Not bad for a first timer.

It’s definitely time to take it easier for the summer, concentrating on shorter runs for a while before the next half marathon in November.  But first it’s time for a well-earned pedicure!!

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The day the Grinch made my Christmas

As I may have  mentioned, it still doesn’t feel anything like Christmas here yet.  I’ve been for a walk on the beach today and it was red hot and sunny.  Are you sure its 19th December?

Yesterday, in an attempt to inject some festive spirit into the season, the husband and I pottered off to Williamsburg again.  We started off at the shopping mall, where we were treated to various weird karaoke cover versions of Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody” blasting out of the speakers.  So this masterpiece has reached this country then.  But why are they not playing the original?  Despite having a couple of dedicated Christmas radio stations available, the only vaguely modern festive tunes I’ve heard are Wham’s “Last Christmas” and that hideous Marah Carey screechy thing.  Although, on a different note, they are well into their classic Christmas films over here and I had the absolute joy of watching Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in “White Christmas” last week.  Bliss.  In fact there seems to be a minimum of about 6 different Christmas films on every day at the moment.  Some good, some bad, and unfortunatey a fair amount of Home Alone.

Anyway, I digress.  We managed to find the closest thing to a pub that we have seen since moving out here nearly six months ago.  Before we moved, I dreamed of finding my own local Cheers bar, or Maclaren’s Pub from “How I Met Your Mother”, or at the very least The Brick from “Northern Exposure”.  An actual bar that just sells beer and other alcohol and doesn’t pretend to be some bad nightclub or restaurant at the same time.  Well, in my neck of the woods, this kind of thing just does not exist.  Until I found Oceans and Ale yesterday.  It looks like a traditional bar.  It serves food but for a change the veggie option is a proper meal (I had the fajitas but there were other choices too) and not just some side dishes squished together or, even worse, a main meal where I’ve had to ask for it to be cooked without the meat and then hope they’ve actually done that.  Most importantly, (and not surprisingly, given the name) it sells real ales including six guest ales.  I had a sampler of four beers (served in adorable miniature glasses) including the spectacular Cafe Royale by Alewerks which smelt and tasted of strong coffee with a hint of chocolate.  Amazing.  The only drawback about this whole bar is the fact that it’s an hour’s drive from where we live.  So not exactly my local then.  Oh well.

So after a lovely lunch we had a wander about the shops.  Every year we say that we don’t want presents so we don’t bother buying each other anything, but then we do something like this and end up with a few nice new things anyway.  Not that they will be getting wrapped up as we’re both already wearing most of our new purchases.

I watched The Grinch the other night for the first time ever and I have to say I’m totally on his side, to quote Sheldon “right up until his heart grew three sizes and he gave all the presents back”.  He’s totally right; Christmas should not be about how much money you can spend or how many lights you can put up (oh, and FYI, and if you would like an idea of the amount of Christmas lights people in this neighbourhood put up on their houses, just watch the Grinch and you will get a fair comparison).  Anyway, I was mightily cheered yesterday when my hubby bought me not one but TWO different pairs of Converse hi-tops with the Grinch on them.  Ah yes, I can celebrate my new found love of the Grinch through the medium of Converse.  What’s not to like?  Did I say Christmas was not about how much money you can spend?  These were buy one pair get one 50% off.   It’s the thought that counts.

After a bit more meandering around the shops, punctuated by a visit to my good friends Ben & Jerry, we went into Colonial Williamsburg, which I think makes three visits now this year.  Because it’s an 18th century village, the decorations are very traditional and, of course, non-electric.  Basically they had proper fresh cut wreaths on the doors and candles burning in all the windows.  Incredibly pretty.  Best of all, once it got dark they brought out what can only be described as hanging baskets of fire and left them unattended outside all of the houses.  Unattended, I tell you!!  This would never happen in the UK.  Have they never heard of health and safety???  There were more flaming bouquets in the main square where lots of people had gathered to watch the pipe and drum marching band (all dressed in Colonial army uniforms) playing Christmas carols.  My favourite part was watching chunks of burning embers falling from the pyro-garnishes and landing perilously close to people’s feet/shopping/children etc.  It was refreshing to not have three marshals with fire extiquishers standing next to every open flame for a change.  That’s the Christmas spirit.

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Wine & Salt

So we went off on part two of our cycling trip around the Williamsburg area, exploring a few places we didn’t get to see last week.  First of all we did a circular route around Little Creek Reservoir.  If last week’s scenery was like the New Forest, this week it was reminiscent of the Lake District.  We parked by the ranger’s office and got a little scared by the buckets of bullets sitting outside, as well as slightly startled by the sight of some of the locals with their guns and nets.  Hopefully they were just off to catch some animals.  Not British cyclists.  This route took us through some lovely woods which were full of cottages backing onto the reservoir, many with rocking chairs on the front porches, thankfully none boasting a banjo-playing resident.  Being a nice sunny morning we had a highly enjoyable trip through the scenic countryside, however we were somewhat pleased that we hadn’t tried to squeeze this trip in at the end of last week’s day of cycling.  We didn’t really fancy being lost out here after dark.

We saw a lot of wildlife on our travels – raccoon, lizard, beaver, birds of prey, deer etc.  Oh, which reminds me, the day before this trip I was lucky enough to watch a school of dolphins playing in the sea at our local beach.  I’ve never seen them in the wild before and they were adorable!

Anyway, next we cycled along part of the Colonial National Historic Parkway that we had driven the week before, this time at a much more pleasant pace which allowed us to enjoy the scenery of the water and the trees as well as reading the boards that tell you the history of the area.  We stopped off at Williamsburg Winery for a tour and a tasting.  Being an east coast winery, they were somewhat disparaging of Californian wines and seemed to prefer the European style of winemaking.  After a wander around their cellars we tasted a good selection of the wines that they produce.  There were a few gems (some yucky ones too, but we all have different tastes), the best being the dessert wine that was basically red wine mixed with raspberry juice.  I also rather enjoyed the Settlers Spiced Wine, which is their version of gluhwein and we drank it cold but I can imagine it would be spectacular hot.  Being on our bikes we were somewhat short of space so we only managed to take home our souvenir tasting glasses and one bottle of wine.

We then cycled onto the Salt Spa, which is a strange but nice place.  It’s in a tiny and unassuming office block behind the Bank of America and it looks just like any other office until they open the door at the back and lead you into a small salt cavern.  It has mood lighting set into the walls and several inches of salt on the floor.  You lay back in a sun lounger which makes you feel like you are weightless and you listen to the usual relaxing spa music while breathing in the salt-infused air.  It does appear to have real health benefits for the respiratory system.  There was a man in there who said he felt like he had a huge weight on his chest at the start of the session, but by the end he could breathe freely again.  I just found it really relaxing and a nice break from cycling in the hot sunshine.

After that we cycled the rest of the way back to Williamsburg including some rather busy major roads, which was a bit of a shock after the peaceful countryside of the rest of the day.  All in all, another very enjoyable day with about 22 miles of cycling achieved, and some spectacularly hot and sunny weather for the end of September.

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Historic Triangle

This week we ventured out to the Historic Triangle, which is made up of Yorktown, Williamsburg and Jamestown, and has history dating back to 1607 (wow, a whole 405 years) which by American terms is practically prehistoric.

First up we stopped off at Yorktown, which is the site of battles between the English and Americans (helped by the French) in 1781 which resulted in a win by the Americans and the securing of their independence.  I think this is the reason why the grumpy woman in the Yorktown National Parks Service refused to give us the free pass that we were entitled to, telling us that it was for Americans only.  Yeah, I bet you’d give it to French visitors.

We did a nine mile cycle around the battlefields.  The area is very much like the New Forest in England, except with a lot less ponies.  Being America, of course, the trail through the forests is open to cars as well as cycles, and they have laybys dotted along the route with large display boards for those people too lazy to even get out of their car to read about their own history.  In fact we only saw one other cyclist and one car for the whole route, which made for a very pleasant cycle.

We took a stroll into Yorktown itself which has its own Statue Of Liberty and some lovely quaint houses.  More importantly for me, it has a Ben & Jerry’s shop so we refuelled ready for the next leg of the trip.

We then ventured onto Williamsburg, via the Colonial National Historic Parkway, which is a picturesque road linking the three historical sites and going through some very lovely scenery (and a Naval Weapons Station, but you hardly notice that).  Williamsburg is a slightly unusual place.  It was the historical capital of Virginia in the 18th century and today it’s like a living museum.  The town is mainly pedestrianised and is full of the original buildings.  However, there are also lots of actors wandering around the town and you can eavesdrop on them going about their business, talking about the politics of the day etc.  If you really want to get involved, you can even rent your own costume to wear (it didn’t really go with the bikes though, so we didn’t partake).  I would say it’s one of the most interesting ways of teaching history, especially to kids who are bored of dragging around dusty old museums.  It’s a bit of a culture shock when you suddenly come out the other side into the modern traffic though.  We did a small ride around the town and through the campus of the College of William & Mary (which has to be in one of the prettiest locations ever – I could certainly consider getting a job there) and then we stopped for lunch at The Cheese Shop.  It sells cheese.  Lots of it.  Including Port Salut and Caerphilly,  Not Yarg though, sadly.  It’s a major step up from the sad excuse for “cheese” that’s generally sold in supermarkets over here though.  They also sell McVities Chocolate Digestives, PG Tips, and redbush chocolate, amongst many weird but nice other things.

The other highlight of Williamsburg was the Christmas Shop, which sells Christmas decorations all year round.  I found quite a few I could happily hang on my tree (including KISS, Stewie from Family Guy, The Grinch, and a dill pickle – which is apparently a Bavarian tradition) however at $13 a pop I declined to take any of them home with me.

We travelled the rest of the Colonial Parkway to get to Jamestown, which is where the English made their first permanent settlement in America back in 1607.  For some reason I hadn’t expected to see much at Jamestown but it was fascinating, with an archaeological dig in progress and a small museum full of things that have been found on the dig, as well as a statue of Pocahontas.  I did find it amusing that the Americans have such reverence for these artifacts that are only 400 years old whereas in the UK people are always digging up Viking and Roman relics in their back garden.  Well, it is the only history they have (apart from the Native Americans who were already in the country way before that, but let’s not get started).

We did a nice 5.5 mile cycle around Jamestown Island, and we could see immediately why the original settlers had problems and moved inland to Williamsburg – the place is swampy and full of mosquitoes, although very picturesque.  Again there were lots of boards along the way telling the history of the island.

We were going to try for one more cycle ride, a little further north, but as the parks close at sunset we didn’t quite have time.  So we went to one of the two discount shopping outlets in Williamsburg instead.  We certainly got value for our money there.  It’s quite strange how, in Williamsburg, one minute you can be learning about life in the 18th century and the next you can blow $60 on a whole new 21st century wardrobe.  Something for everyone.

So the other cycle ride is going to wait for another day – probably next week if we have the right weather again.


Frankie enjoying his first big day out.

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The Mighty Busch

Had a lovely day at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.  Possibly a strange choice for someone who doesn’t like going on rollercoasters and other such rides.  Indeed I did spend a large portion of my day holding the bags while my friends went on the stupid rides.  I wasn’t entirely left out though.  Oh no, I went on the Teacups!  (Bit fast and spinny, but I coped.)

This is Busch Gardens Europe and it was highly amusing having a wander around the Americans’ idea of “England” and “Scotland”.  Also a little bit weird seeing an actual red telephone box again.  Haven’t even seen one of those in the UK for a while now.  As well as all the rollercoasters, Busch Gardens also has animals, and in “Scotland” one of these was the Border Collie.  Not really what I would expect to see in a zoo, but hey.  Slightly odd seeing sheep grazing in a field too, as this is something you do not see at all in the US.

The best bit was the wolf cubs.  They were three and a half months old, but rather than the cute little puppies you might expect, they were the size of fully grown German Shepherds.  You could easily  mistake them for the same, apart from the piercing blue eyes.  In fact, one family on a holiday somewhere in the American Midwest did exactly that and, thinking the little pup they had stumbled across was a GS that had got lost, took it into their mobile home overnight before taking it to a vet the next day.  The vet realised it was a wolf, and potentially dangerous, and this pup has now ended up living in Busch Gardens as it couldn’t be released back into the wild.  The wolf cubs here have a domestic dog as their surrogate mother at the moment, who is teaching them pack behaviour so that they can be successfully integrated into the larger existing pack at Busch Gardens eventually.  I could have sat and watched them all day, they are so enchanting.

The American Eagles were pretty cool too, and rather large.  They would have been a bit more impressive if they didn’t totally remind me of Sam from the Muppets.

Busch Gardens has a daily pet show, which was really good.  It only lasts about twenty minutes and has at least 20 animals participating, so each one is on for a very short amount of time and in most cases does nothing other than run across the stage, so they are certainly not overworked.  All the animals have come from local rescue centres and are now given lots of love and care at Busch Gardens.  As well as cats and dogs they also have pigs and ducks.  I was particularly impressed by the parrot that could do maths.  There’s got to be some trick to it, but I couldn’t figure it out….

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