Monday, October 27, 2008

53 Months in Charlottesville

Yesterday, the Travel section of the New York Times ran its "36 Hours in..." column on Charlottesville. You can only imagine my excitement as I came upon it, sitting in my one-bedroom apartment, drinking tea on a sunny Sunday morning (/afternoon...) all by Charlottesville!

The column breaks down a weekend in a different city/town/neighborhood every week, and it is actually a really fun read. I tend to want to save them (only to remember that they are all accessible online) for future weekend-getaway planning. To give you a sense of scope, however, last Sunday's column was "36 hours in Paris."

Ahh, the inevitable Charlottesville vs. Paris vs. New York argument. So common amongst haughty Charlottesvillians! There is a store on the Downtown Mall (actually a really great store), Caspari, that lists on its windows: "CASPARI: New York - Paris - London - Charlottesville." The classic joke. You know, because those four cities are practically one in the same. Totally on the same level.

Well, Caspari really does have stores in just those four cities (actually, though, I just found out, there one in Tokyo too), and the Times really does run profiles on Charlottesville. The article was thoughtful, and I generally agree with the daytime suggestions: a walk on the Downtown Mall, wine tasting at Barboursville, a visit to Monticello, a Saturday morning visit to the Lawn, etc. But my main issue with the review (which came off as weak because of this) was its lack of focus on the fantastic restaurants in Charlottesville. Sure, it hit Feast (the greatest lunch spot ever), but its dinners were the Clifton Inn and some place I'd never heard of in Barboursville. Really?? Have you ever heard of MAS???

Well, clearly, no. One day, I'll write my own "36 Hours in Charlottesville," and in detail describe the delicious options that you have for dinner... Ten, Mas, Blue Light, The Upstairs, Zocalo, C&O (seriously I can't believed they missed C&O), Duner's, OXO (RIP), South Street, even the Virginian!!! All I have to say is, if you really want a romantic and/or fun weekend escape to Charlottesville, Virginia--which I'd highly recommend--ask me, not the Times. I've spent 53 months here. A lot longer than 36 hours.

The article can be found here: and I welcome all commentary on it from all of you current and former Charlottesvillians.

With that, I will end this post with an announcement: I will officially be moving to New York in December. Though I love Charlottesville, I am thrilled to finally be making the move back up north. I am very happy about my decision and am so looking forward to settling into the city! Hopefully this will mean seeing many more of you.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Apple Adventures

Bowen was in town this weekend, and since it was a beautiful Indian Summer of a Saturday, we decided to seize the day and go Apple picking!

Ahh apple picking, we were thinking. What a relaxing, enjoyable, delicious activity to do in the fall. We planned to go an a hike in the afternoon, so this would just be a brief stop off before that. I'd driven by that "Pick your Own Apples" handpainted sign on the way to Monticello and some of the vineyards in the eastern part of town (only about 5 minutes from my apartment) and figured it would be an easy thing to do. Well, clearly we needed a slap in the face, because apple picking was neither brief nor easy. It was a whole-hearted adventure.

Turns out that not only had we chosen the Disneyland of Apple Orchards, we'd done so during their "Apple Harvest Festival" weekend, which also coincides with the Saturday two weeks before Halloween (i.e. ideal pumpkin purchasing time). So, there was nothing leisurely about this.

As we made the turn by the sign, we were met by a man in the road who handed us a map. "A map? How cute," we thought to ourselves, "we'll know where to find which kind of apples," not realizing that this was the first sign of many that this was more than a "cute" day at the orchard. As we wound our way slowly up the mountain (it took about 15 minutes, very windy), we started to realize that there were a heck of a lot of cards coming at us, on their way down the mountain. They were coming in droves by the hundreds, and we just could not figure it out. How many people could really be apple picking that there was this fast of a turnaround?? Ha.

Turns out, it was a complete zoo. Think Playland on a sunny Saturday in July. Took about 20 minutes to find a parking spot, weaving through the hundreds (literally) of cars and thousands (literally) of people. Strollers, wagons, babies, grandparents, families of 20, you name it, they were there. It was packed. Who were all these people? I have no idea and still cannot figure it out. They must have been coming in from all over the state! It was a holiday weekend, so all of the UVA students were out of town, plus there was a UVA football game going on, so all Charlottesvillians who enjoy UVA football were there. These people, whoever they were, there were a lot of them.

The festival was huge. 200 person lines for hot dog stands, doughnut stands, hayrides, bathrooms, tent vendors, pumpkins, everything!! You could barely navigate the place. We grabbed our bags and ran into the orchards, trying to hunt for apples as far from other people as possible.

Luckily, the actual orchards were fantastic. They were only semi-crowded, and if you went just a little bit farther into them than the other families, the apples were abundant. Oh, right, the apples. They were delicious!! We tried every type they had (we each probably ate 9 apples in 2 hours) and picked our favorites -- Golden Delicious, Fuji, York, and Granny Smith. Each apple was juicier than the last, and there's something about eating them while wandering the orchard picking them that makes them taste just that much better.

We ended up with 4 pounds of apples and avoided all lines. One of the highlights of this place (Carter Mountain, by the way) is the view. You are way up on top of the mountain, overlooking Charlottesville. It was absolutely stunning! All in all, the drama was well worth the wholesome fun. We really had a great time and will certainly be laughing about the completely unbelievable crowds for years to come. I honestly had no idea that apple picking could be comparable in hecticness to the Bronx Zoo. Well, the Bronx Zoo with a very southern twist.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Up in Flames

So, I have a story to tell about a pair of boots that I ordered online a few weeks ago. I'll preface this by reminding everyone that I am a frequent online shopper, due to the fact that I live in Charlottesville, VA. So I ordered the boots online, after much research and decision making.

On September 23rd, I got the email from Neimans that they'd shipped. "Perfect!" I thought, "they might even make it in time for the Harriman Cup on the 27th!" Well, they didn't make it. And they didn't make it in time for this weekend, either. Very suspicious.

I got onto to investigate. Yep, still sent from Texas on the 23rd. Currently "in transit." Well, that's bizarre, because unless they were arriving by foot, they should have gotten here a week ago. So I call Fedex. This package has been flagged. "Flagged?" I ask, thinking that was NOT a good sign. "Yes," said Nick of Fedex, "and actually Ms. Dunnan, there's more information here. The Fedex truck that your package was traveling on happened to catch on fire en route from Texas to the East Coast, so that's why it was never delivered." WHAT!!!

I know, talk about a freak accident! I almost went into shock. I felt like Brad in the Rachel Zoe project during that episode where the dresses were stuck in Tennessee, but much worse. My boots weren't stuck in Texas, they were burned in Texas! Destroyed! Was this some sort of sign? Had I chosen the wrong pair of boots??

After much confused laughter and disbelief, I called Neimans the next day. The lady was hilarious. "Ahh yes, ma'am, the old fire on the Fedex Truck issue. We had a number of packages on this truck. " (The fedex guy claimed there were anywhere from 1200-1900 packages on the trailer). So, no, this story does not end all that happily. The boots were no longer in stock, so I couldn't even pull my planned "Well, you should at LEAST overnight them to me for the inconvenience!" schpeal. I just had to accept the credit and move on (to another website for the boots, of course).

Ah, drama. I still can't believe this happened. A freak Fedex truck fire in Texas burned my beautiful boots to a crisp?

The Upstairs

Friday night, Andrews parents took us to a new restaurant on the Downtown Mall called The Upstairs. It's a Ten-style doorway, leading up to a newly decorated restaurant above Escafe, down by the Omni. It was absolutely fantastic and I am highly recommending it!

When we first walked in, it was totally empty minus one table of three older men. At 8:30 on a Friday night, we were (needless to say) a little tentative about the choice. Nevertheless, they were very kind, led us to our table (good thing we got reservations...) and acted as if it was not weird at all that the restaurant was empty.

OK - all strangeness ended there, as we began one of the most delicious dinners I've had in a long time. The menu consists mostly of seafood (scallops, crab cakes, salmon), french delicacies (sweet breads, foie gras, etc.) and steaks. I quickly decided on a tenderloin, and for my sides ordered garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed mushrooms. I started with the House salad. I mean, the restaurant was empty, I played safe.

The food was out of this world. The salad was simple yet elegant, the steak was cooked absolutely perfectly, and the mushrooms and potatoes were melt in your mouth. Everyone at the table was in heaven with each dish we had. The crabcakes were a particularly big hit, as was the roasted cinnamon butternut squash side that Andrew had. The whole meal was SO delicious. We left promising each other to talk up the restaurant to anyone and everyone.

A meal like this, to me, is so Charlottesville. Nothing is ever completely normal, or smooth, or what you would expect, but everything is high-quality, genuine, and worth the quirks. Empty restaurant? Who even cares - the food was delicious. And we had great service!

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