Friday, October 28, 2011

Poplar Forest: Thomas Jefferson's Retreat

Summer may be over but the weather is still quite pleasant so now is a great time to plan a trip.  But, you may ask, where?  Well, do you like history?  How about architecture?  Or perhaps horticulture and agriculture pique your interest.  Maybe you fancy yourself an amateur archaeologist.  And maybe you appreciate ingenious designs.  Or maybe you like all of the above.  If so, then your vacation destination must be Poplar Forest. 
Nestled between housing subdivisions in Forest, VA and on over 600 acres, you will find the retreat of Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States.  Similar in design to his more famous residence, Monticello, located in Charlottesville, VA, Poplar Forest is a wonderful example of the octagonal brick villa architecture that Jefferson favored.  The home also contains many examples of Jefferson’s inventiveness.  The polygraph device he created to simultaneously make copies of the letters he penned is just one example.
Jefferson began construction of Poplar Forest in 1806 and began making regular visits to his retreat in 1809.  He made several trips a year for the next fourteen years.  While at Poplar Forest, Jefferson dedicated much time to his varied interests, including the study of math, natural sciences, farming, history, and Native American culture. 
Upon Jefferson’s death in 1826, the home was passed to his grandson, Francis Eppes, who sold it two years later.  The home then remained privately owned by various families until 1984 when it was sold to the nonprofit Corporation for Jefferson’s Poplar Forest.  It became open for visitors in 1986. 
It’s hard to imagine that a home of such historical significance was privately owned and occupied for so long.  Thankfully though, it was this constant occupancy that kept Poplar Forest so well preserved.  Nevertheless one can’t help wondering if the prior owners ever installed green shag carpeting in the parlor during the 1970’s!  Well, perhaps not, but still the home did undergo many changes over the years that historians and preservationists have been painstakingly seeking to undo.  And that’s what makes Poplar Forest such a fascinating place to visit.  With on-going restoration and excavation projects, there is always something new to see and learn!
As you plan your trip, keep in mind that Poplar Forest is open to the public seven days a week from March 15 through December 15 but is closed on November 24.  Check out the Poplar Forest website at www.poplarforest.org for more information on hours, admission fees, tours, volunteer opportunities, and special events. 
I hope you enjoy your trip through history and, as always, tell them Cindy at explorevirginia.blogspot.com sent you!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Virginia Safari Park: Llamas and Zebras and Elk, Oh My!


Have you ever wanted to go on safari in Africa but, like me, couldn’t afford to?  Thankfully, you don’t have to cross an ocean to experience a variety of wonderful animals up close!  The Virginia Safari Park is a real treasure in Central Virginia where anyone, for a reasonably priced admission fee, can have the adventure of a lifetime!


The Virginia Safari Park in Natural Bridge occupies 180-acres and is home to over 1,000 exotic animals from six continents.  Winding through the park is 3 miles of road that you can drive in your vehicle or, if you prefer, you can take a hay ride.  Along the way you will see an amazing menagerie of animals ranging from llamas, ostrich, emus, antelope, bison, deer, elk, zebras, camels, water buffalos, wildebeest, yaks and more.  Even Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs! 


And the best part?  You can feed the animals by purchasing buckets of food.  Hold on tight though!  Some of the animals are greedy and strong so they can easily pull the feed bucket from your hands.  This has happened to me a couple of times but I buy extra buckets just in case.  Caution:  The animals are messy eaters and you will inevitably get feed on you and in your car so be prepared to have your car vacuumed afterwards.

Once you get done with your drive or hayride, walk through the Safari Village to see monkeys, giraffe, birds, reptiles, tigers and more.  And yes, there is a gift shop too.

Our family has been to the Virginia Safari Park several times and we never tire of it!  The pictures featured are just a few that I took from our car on one of our excursions through the park.  It’s amazing how close we were able to get to all of those beautiful animals! 

The Virginia Safari Park is a “must see” for you and your family and it’s not too late.  The season ends November 27, 2011.  Check out the Virginia Safari Park website at www.virginiasafaripark.com for details on hours, cost, and more about the animals.  When you go, as I know you will, tell them Cindy from explorevirginia.blogspot.com sent you! 


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chestnut Hill Bakery: Home of the World’s Best Cream Puff!


If Shakespeare were alive today, I am sure Richard III’s famous line would have gone something like this…A cream puff!  A cream puff!  My kingdom for a cream puff!  A Chestnut Hill Bakery cream puff, that is! 
I can’t recall my first cream puff.  I just know that cream puffs became a favorite treat early in my development.  So much so that when my eleventh or twelfth birthday approached, my sole wish was a cream puff from Chestnut Hill Bakery.  Why this inexpensive and seemingly strange request in the age of Aigner, Gloria Vanderbilt, Jordache, and Calvin Klein?  Well, let me back up to the months leading up to my wish.      
 As a connoisseur of sweets, who also developed early onset couch potato-ism, I was, needless to say, chubby and had been from the second or third grade.  I grew up in the fad diet mania of the 1970’s and 80’s so I tried all kinds of crazy diets.  The diet I had been on at the time of my request was a highly restrictive one.  I could eat one meal of 500 calories or less per day and drink all of the grapefruit juice I could stand.  I did this for quite some time and did lose a lot of weight.  However, as my birthday approached, I longed for only one thing—a cream puff from Chestnut Hill Bakery. 

Yummy cream puff almost larger than my hand!

Don’t know what a cream puff is?  It’s a giant pastry filled with creamy custard and topped with thick chocolate icing.  It’s bigger in diameter than the palm of my adult-sized hand and about three or four inches high.  One bite sends an eruption of custard oozing out and down your fingers as your face takes on a delicious chocolate mustache.  It’s a messy, gooey delight!

Anyway, I was willing to forgo all manner of gifts to obtain the Hope Diamond of childhood confections.  When the big day came, I’m sure I did get other gifts but I really don’t remember them.  I do remember getting the long desired cream puff.  Two, in fact.  Do I really need to say that my diet ended that day?  Well, it did. 

To this day, the thought of a cream puff from Chestnut Hill Bakery still makes me feel giddy with anticipation!  Thankfully, the bakery is still in operation in a non-descript strip of shops in Lynchburg, VA and cream puffs can still be had.  Chestnut Hill Bakery began in 1968 and on April 1, 2011 Richard and Glenda Hinkley bought the bakery.  I am pleased to report that the current owners have mastered the art of the cream puff and offer them in the standard giant size along with a smaller size.  As of the date of this writing, a large cream puff is a bargain at a $1.50 and the small ones are only $.60 each.  Of course, Chestnut Hill Bakery offers a wide variety of baked goods but my personal recommendations, besides the cream puffs, include the Mediterranean cookies, German Chocolate pie, Chocolate Meringue pie, butter rolls, and ham biscuits.
So if you ever make it to Lynchburg, VA, be sure to stop by Chestnut Hill Bakery for a cream puff and tell them Cindy from explorevirginia.blogspot.com sent you! 
Disclaimer:  Do not try the hair brain diet mentioned above, or any fad diet for that matter, as they will only put you on the Yo-Yo Express to weight gain. 

Why Explore Viriginia?

Simply put, Virginia is a truly beautiful state! Flat tidal plains give way to rolling hills which give way to mountains in the Appalachian Mountain Range. (Yes, all you Westerners, we do call them mountains!) And the list of things to see, do, and eat in Virginia is as varied as the topography.

ExploreVirginia.blogspot.com will unearth all the hidden treasures there are to be found in Virginia and share them with you, dear readers. Anywhere and anything in Virginia is open for exploration but I will give special focus to some of the smaller, lesser known places and activities, and ones that are inexpensive or free. You won't believe what's in your own backyard! So join me on this journey around Virginia. You'll be glad you did!

Cindy Chance
ExploreVirginia.blogspot.com