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Christmas Town.  Where children go to be amazed and grown-ups go to be children.  And I mean that in the nicest way.

My Colonial Williamsburg package included free entry to Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town.  (Although let’s get real.  Entry is not “free.”  I paid for it in my Williamsburg package.  But, whatever.)  So I was exhausted last night after walking around Colonial W’burg, but I was determined to see Christmas Town.  I was on a mission to check it out as a future vacation destination for my niece and her parents.

I’ve never been to Busch Gardens, so I have no idea what the place looks like on a “regular” day, but I believe it must be completely transformed for Christmas Town.  If you don’t own stock in the local electric company, call your broker now.  Christmas Town is truly lit up like a Christmas tree.  Times a thousand.  So you’ll need shades.

In addition to your sunglasses (haha), bring your walking shoes.  There’s a lot of ground to cover.  Christmas Town consists of several international villages:  Italy, France, Ireland, Germany, England, and a few others that I’ve forgotten.  And I guess each village is supposed to be representative of that particular country’s culture – everything from the music to the cuisine to the gift shops.  There are also special shows and performances that you can go to…but don’t be surprised if a separate ticket is required. There’s also a funicular and a train – fun for kids of all ages!

Now, I just did a quick circuit of Christmas Town.  I passed through England, Ireland and France.  Christmas week is a challenging time to visit; the crowds are unreal.  My suggestion?  Go earlier in December and if you can manage it, go twice.  Your first trip should be during daylight hours.  Consider this your reconnaissance trip.  Figure out the lay of the land and identify places you’d like to spend more time when you return.  Maybe even purchase tickets for evening shows and performances.  After your recon trip, go back to the hotel and relax.  Once the sun goes down, head back to Christmas Town.  Did I mention that there’s a shuttle that takes you from W’burg to Busch Gardens?  It picks you up right outside the Williamsburg Lodge.  You definitely want to go back after dark, so that you can see all of the Christmas lights.  It’s actually really beautiful.  My photos below don’t do it justice.

My verdict?  Christmas Town is definitely worth a visit.  Take your time, wear comfy shoes, and treat yourself to a hot chocolate.

Christmas Town:  France

Christmas Town: France

Big Ben:  Christmas Town England

Big Ben: Christmas Town England

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I am kickin’ it in Colonial Williamsburg for a few days.  Can you believe I’ve never been here before?  I’ve lived in the DC metro area on and off for the last 10 years and I’ve never been here.  I’ve got about 18 months left on my current Washington assignment – a long way to go – but I’m now at the point where the urgent need to “see everything” is ever-present.  You know how it is:  you live in a city for a few years, and you think “I’ve got plenty of time to visit the XYZ” or “I’ll go there when friends/family visit.”  Right.  And then – times up!  And you never made it to Placencia or that Mayan temple or Sicily or whatever.  (Full disclosure:  I did, in fact make it to Placencia, many Mayan temples, and Sicily).

So here I am in Colonial Williamsburg.  I’m staying in the Williamsburg Lodge.  I’m sure there are many fine hotels near Colonial Williamsburg, and there’s a shuttle from the Williamsburg Visitors’ Center that brings folks to/from Colonial Williamsburg on a regular schedule.  However, I highly recommend staying “on site.”  Yes, it may be more expensive, but the convenience makes it worth it.  My hotel, Williamsburg Lodge, is lovely and conveniently located just a block from the main drag – Duke of Gloucester Street.  This is perfect for me.  I can walk around for a while and when I get cold or tired or I need to use the bathroom, I can get back to my hotel in about 5 minutes.

Before I get to the Colonial Williamsburg experience, let’s talk for a minute about the accommodations. I’ve traveled around the country with my family since I was a little girl and we stayed in a variety of hotels – everything from Holiday Inns to nice resorts in Arizona.  Now, when budget is the driving force, the Holiday Inns of this world will do just fine.  However, I really love it when my hotel room can be part of the experience.  That’s what I’ve got here at the Williamsburg Lodge.  My room is furnished to the time period.  I’m no expert on colonial furnishings, so I have no idea how accurate it is.  But the point is, I stepped into this room and I got in the mood for colonial times.  And yes, I have the luxury of getting in the mood without the hardships:  I have hot and cold running water, electricity, central heating, and a free wifi connection – which allows me to draft this blog at Williamsburg rather than waiting until I get home.

Williamsburg Lodge

Williamsburg Lodge

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Williamsburg Lodge 2

You guys, I did a lot of walking yesterday.  Colonial times were rough!  Seriously though, if you miss one of the many orientation tours that the Williamsburg folks give to familiarize visitors with the layout (which I did), I recommend just getting out there and walking Duke of Gloucester Street.  I entered in the middle of the street and walked toward the Capitol.  (Truthfully, I had no destination in mind.  Whenever I’m lost or in unfamiliar surroundings, my general practice is to turn right…so I did).  What is the Capitol, you ask?  Exactly what it sounds like.  This is where the upper and lower houses of government met.  Court was also held here.  Can you believe that court sessions were held only four times per year?  For a population of about half a million?  Talk about your low crime rates.  Of course, if you committed a felony (theft, manslaughter, etc.), you would be branded (‘t” for theft, ‘m’ for manslaughter) for a first offense, so I guess that probably discouraged criminal activity.  Second offense?  Hanging.

The Capitol

The Capitol

Tour guide at the Capitol

Tour guide at the Capitol

From the Capitol, I walked back up Duke of Gloucester Street, stopping in the apothecary/doctor’s office.  The variety of plants and herbs with medicinal properties is really quite amazing.  Of course, I could do without the leeches for bloodletting and, speaking as someone who has had her fair share of serious illnesses, I’ll pass on the doctor’s office in colonial times.  Let’s just say it was primitive.  But let’s face it:  our colonial forebears managed to accomplish a lot with what they had.

After the apothecary, I stopped in the Raleigh Tavern Bakery.  Lines even in colonial times, y’all!  I don’t know if it was the hot apple cider, the gingerbread, or the Brunswick stew, but this place was insane!  Line out the door.  But the apple cider was delish.  From there, I strolled over to the market square, where vendors were selling everything from soaps to old coins to colonial children’s toys.  I was really, really tempted to buy something for my niece, but that girl has more stuff than she knows what to do with already!

At the other end of Duke of Gloucester Street – opposite the Capitol – you’ll find Merchants Square.  I was amazed to discover that Chico’s and Williams and Sonoma have been around since colonial times.  Just kidding!  Merchants Square has the facade of colonialism, but it’s modern all the way.  So yes – you will find Chico’s and Williams and Sonoma.  But for the most part, Merchants Square is made up of independent shops selling everything from cheese and olive oil, to pewter, jewelry, and coffee.  A few restaurants are thrown in there too.

The Kings Arms Tavern on Duke of Gloucester St.

The Kings Arms Tavern on Duke of Gloucester St.

Window display on Duke of Gloucester Street

Window display on Duke of Gloucester Street

By now, my feet are tired, I’m cold, and I have to pee, so I headed back to the hotel for quick pitstop.  I say “quick” because my day wasn’t over yet.  Christmas Town at Busch Gardens awaits…

Stay tuned for my thoughts on Christmas Town.

I know.  It’s been a while.  What can I say?  I’ve been busy.  And not with anything all that exciting.

I’m checking back in to do something I haven’t done in quite a while:  rave about some fabulous restaurants in Washington, DC.  I realize I’m probably way, way behind the curve – these restaurants aren’t new after all.  But they were phenomenal and I think worth a plug here.  So here we go.

I spent three wonderful years in Italy – soaking up the culture, speaking the language, and (most importantly) loving the amazing cuisine.  I don’t think I ever went to a bad restaurant anywhere in Italy.  Everything was always fresh and flavorful; pasta always al dente; fish always perfectly seasoned and flaky; and on and on an on.  So when I got back to the United States, I made a conscious decision not to eat in Italian restaurants.  I figured that would only lead to disappointment.  And over the last three years, I’ve stuck by that decision.  Until last week, when I went to Fiola in Penn Quarter.  I was dining with a group of friends from way back – my first tour in Albania – and one of them recommended this restaurant.  I’m so glad that she did.  It did not disappoint.  Appetizer:  prosciutto and foie-gras-stuffed dates.  Oh, prosciutto – how I’ve missed you.  A.  Ma.  Zing.  Next:  risotto with veal cheek.   As anyone who’s ever watched Hell’s Kitchen knows, risotto is a tricky business.  It’s not easy to prepare it correctly and it requires constant attention.  (I’ve tried to make it myself and failed miserably).  I’ve never had veal cheek – in fact, I steer clear of veal as a general rule – so I didn’t know what would be on my plate.  Turns out, an extremely tender and flavorful piece of meat.  Fiola’s Risotto Milanese was absolutely incredible.  I thought I was back in Milan (famous for saffron risotto) for a minute.  It was just that good.

Just a few days later, I found myself enjoying a completely different – but equally delicious – meal.  Do you ever have those days when you crave a really, really, really good steak?  I do.  And I loved the way the Italians prepared beef.  They kept it simple:  grill it, drop a pat of butter on it, and sprinkle it with sea salt.  Perfection.  I found the same perfection at BLT on I Street.  We started with an “amuse bouche” of foie gras on crusty baked bread.  I followed that up with a spinach salad, substantial enough to be a meal on its own.  Then came the tenderest filet mignon (topped with a pat of herbed butter of course) I’ve had in quite some time.  Paired with a fantastic glass of  red wine (an Argentinian malbec), my perfect meal was complete.  I almost never prepare steak at home and this is why – I simply cannot match that level of awesomeness.

So why are you still reading this?  You should be making your dinner reservations right now.  Go!

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