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I’m tired, you guys. On a Saturday afternoon. In Abuja. I’m too tired to use all my fingers to type. I’m too tired to figure out if this post has a point. All I know is, I was talking with my dad last night and he hinted that it had been a while since I’d posted. So here I am.
So why am I tired? This place is exhausting. I woke up early this morning to take my car in for repairs. First mistake? I forgot to factor in Nigeria time. The mechanic was supposed to meet me at the Embassy at 8AM, so I was there at 8AM. The mechanic is not there. I cannot reach him on the phone. I wait 20 minutes. I finally decide to go into my office to do some actual work. I call Motorpool to inquire about the whereabouts of the mechanic. I am told “he is coming.” It’s after 9AM now. He eventually appears, though I am not sure when. Around 10:45, I head down to the garage, hoping the work is done. The hood is up on my car; the mechanic is there – eating. Breakfast? Lunch? I don’t know. I ask for a progress report. Another hour he says. I leave, wondering if work has even begun but I’m too afraid to ask. An hour later, my car is ready. Hooray!
Next stop: grocery store. There are many small to medium sized grocery stores in Abuja. This is good, because one must inevitably go to several different ones to buy all the things one needs. I’m trying a new one today. I arrive at the worst possible time: noon. I find it’s best to go as soon as the store opens – it’s less crowded and the shelves are stocked – but I had no choice today. Since this is my first time here, I don’t know my way around. It’s crowded. I snag a basket. The aisles are narrow. I am navigating around other customers and staff who are mopping the floors or moving merchandise. I look at my list: heavy cream – nope; artichokes – haha, dreamer; parmesan cheese – again no. I do spot some cheddar, which I’m tempted to buy (you would not believe what one small package of cheddar cheese costs here), but it looks like it might have melted a bit en route to the store. I decide to pass. Back to the list: Coca-Cola – yes! Chicken breasts – no, too late. Milk – UHT of course. I snag a couple of bottles of hard cider on my way to the checkout line; I earned it. The checkout line is its own special hell. Nigerians aren’t 100% committed to the concept of a line, so I have to defend my place in line. I get to the front, I pay, and I carry my purchases to the door where a security guard pretends to check my receipt against what’s in the bags. Back to the car.
Traffic is the next challenge. Nigerians aren’t 100% committed to lanes either. It’s like speed racer on heroin or something. Weave in, weave out, speed up, slow down. I have a decision to make. Should I go home, or should I try another grocery store? I really need some of that stuff on my list, so I suck it up and head to my regular store. Traffic is awful. It’s one lane each way, no traffic lights. Traffic comes to a halt while several cars ahead of me try to turn left. The police officer who is supposed to be directing traffic isn’t much help. I realize that I have a headache. Too late to turn back now. Frankly, I couldn’t turn back even if I wanted to. Eventually, we start moving. I make it to the parking lot and I find a spot right away. I pass through the metal detectors and show my purse to the security guard. I’m in. It’s crazy crowded. Sigh. I find heavy cream. I find chicken breasts. I even find fresh parmesan cheese, and I accept the fact that I will have to pay through the nose for it. No artichokes, so I buy chickpeas instead (I’ll make hummus). I snag a few more items and once again, stand in the checkout line forever. I pay, I show my receipt to the security guard at the door, and I get back in my car. Now comes the hard part: I need to turn left out of the parking lot, but there are no traffic lights to manage the traffic flow. And of course, no one is willing to let the left-turners merge in. But I’ve learned a thing or two in my three months here: Nigerian drivers are brave (and crazy). The car ahead of me eases further and further out into traffic, I come up on his right a little behind him. I figure this way, his car will absorb most of the force if we’re t-boned by oncoming traffic. The oncoming cars recognize our determination and let us in. I begin the long slog home (in truth it’s probably no more than 2 miles, but it takes forever).
Finally, I am home. I am sweaty. It’s hot out here people. Africa hot. I am tired. But I have my chicken breasts. And heavy cream. And chickpeas. I will sleep well tonight.
But right now, I need a cocktail.
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.
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.
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.
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 have something of a love/hate relationship with shopping. Shopping online = love. Shopping at the mall = hate. Shopping in the middle of the week during the day when everyone else is at work = love. Shopping on the weekend = hate. Shopping during the Christmas holidays = super hate.
Shopping and shopping malls are so American. We like our malls big. We like to shop ’til we drop. We love a bargain. For me, shopping malls rank at the top of my hate-meter, but shopping in general isn’t far behind. Shopping on Via del Corso in Rome on the weekends was a nightmare. During the sales (January and July of every year), shopping on Via del Corso was a nightmare to the power of 10. Whether it’s a mall in suburban Virginia or the stores on Via del Corso, it’s the same. The crowds. The noise. The people who walk slowly and aimlessly (I always get stuck behind these people). Sigh.
I’m on vacation today, so I decided to take advantage of the daylight hours and hit the outlets. There are any number of outlet malls in the metropolitan DC area, but I’ve only been to Potomac Mills and Leesburg Corner. Today, I went to Leesburg. Today was the perfect time to hit the outlets. It’s January. Christmas is over. Time to get rid of the current stock to make room for new inventory. Deep discounts everywhere. I try to time my arrival around lunchtime. That way, I’m still there early enough to find a decent parking space and the shoppers who have been there since opening are all at lunch. Feels like I have the place to myself. I hit the ground running. I know what I’m looking for and I know what stores I want to check out before I get out of the car. I’m finished by 2PM (2:30PM at the latest) and can get home in time for a late lunch and the daily 3-hour block “Law & Order” on TNT, which: awesome. (Don’t judge.)
Today was a win-win. I found a few things to buy, boosted the local economy a little, and reconnected a bit more with good ol’ American culture. Going on a weekday made my love/hate relationship with shopping a little less “hate.” And I’m just in time for “L&O.”
What’s your favorite outlet in the DC area?