A visit to the Virginia is like being plunged into a history book. This state is an icon; it’s where it all began because Virginia was the very first English settlement in the United States.
The founding father of the country, George Washington too was a Virginian. Visitors can walk right into his home -Mount Vernon – and get an intimate glimpse into the life of the leader.
While Virginia celebrates her past, she knows how to keep up with the times. Or sometimes stay ahead of the times, as you’ll soon find at the Udvar-Hazy Center where you can check out a space shuttle, a quarantine unit for astronauts, etc.
To unwind you can always head to a sun-kissed vineyard. You could spend weeks travelling across this gorgeous state. But if you’re strapped for time, you can still glimpse Virginia’s many different shades. Here’s how:
1) Check out a historic apothecary in Alexandria: With ‘health’ being the trending buzzword, the 18 th century Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, is a must-visit (when travelling is safe again). The family-run pharmacy was started by Edward Stabler in 1792 – later his son-in-law John Leadbeater joined the business. Unfortunately, the Great Depression saw the apothecary shut down in 1933, but it reopened in 1939 as a museum. Step inside the two-storey museum and you’ll instantly travel back in time because the apothecary remains almost untouched since the 30’s. As you peek at the shelves, you’ll notice hand-blown bottles that bear labels such as ‘dragon’s blood’ and other peculiar names given to medicines derived from herbs. Don’t miss the equipment for bloodletting; two mortars and pestles that date back to the early days of the pharmacy. Archival material reveals a few famous names who shopped here, including the former First Lady Martha Washington who apparently requested a bottle of castor oil.
Put on your walking shoes and walk through Alexandria’s Old Town where you will glimpse many historic structures including Market Square which is the site of one of the oldest continuously operating farmers’ markets in USA. This historic area is filled with an array of boutiques, galleries, and restaurants, all of which come with an old-world charm.
2) Step into Mount Vernon: It’s one of the most visited homes in USA, and it’s where you really get to know the first president of the United States. You can glimpse the silver sword worn by Washington during the French and Indian wars when he served in the military; you can check out a replica of Martha Washington’s bridal gown crafted of brocade and trimmed with delicate lace. Or how about a look at Washington’s dentures, because even the powerful aren’t spared from dental troubles. You could spend days walking around the 500-acres that make up the Mount Vernon estate. It includes gardens, outbuildings, slave quarters, a museum (with the above-mentioned curious artefacts), a working distillery and gristmill; but the centre-piece is the mansion itself. The estate was passed down from Washington’s great-grandfather. But what you see today was largely due to the renovations and additions undertaken by Washington himself. At about 11,000 square feet, the mansion was much larger than most Virginian dwellings in the 18th century. You can see Washington’s keen sense of design in his house: rustication of the exteriors so the wooden façade actually looks like stone; a cupola topped with a weathervane shaped like a dove to symbolise peace, etc. Or just take a leisurely walk through the gardens which too were originally designed by the former president himself.
3) Pay your respects at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington County: The sprawling 624-acre grounds is the final resting place of 400,000 military men and women, their dependents, as also war veterans; former presidents; supreme court justices, astronauts, and several other national heroes. An eternal flame marks the grave of John F Kennedy and his family; the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’ contains the unidentified remains of a soldier from WW1. It is here that the changing of the guard ceremony is held every every hour on the hour October through March, and every half-hour April through September. Arlington is also the burial place of three prisoners of war, who died in captivity, after being captured during WW2. Many graves – even those of the famous – bear only a simple marker; it’s best to collect a detailed map on your arrival at the welcome centre.
4) Sip on some award-winning wine in Loudoun County: Loudoun is Virginia’s wine country with gorgeous rolling hills greeting you as you drive in. There are one-too-many vineyards to choose from here, but if you’re looking for a vineyard that serves up award-winning wines created with sustainable farming practices, in a historic setting, then look no further than Sunset Hills Vineyard. Sunset Hills Vineyard comes with 245 solar panels that provide clean, sustainable power to the winery and drastically reduce CO2 emissions. The sprawling 20-acre vineyard also comes with carefully restored and rebuilt Amish farm buildings that date back to the 1870’s. Sit in a restored hay barn, as you sip on Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, dessert wines and more. Traveller’s tip: Head to the Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets to find America’s favourite brands at reduced prices.
5) Marvel at space shuttles and fighter jets at the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center: As you fly out of the Washington Dulles Airport, arrive a little early to spare time for this fantastic museum dedicated to aviation and spacecraft. This museum is a part of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in DC, albeit in a separate location; very close to the airport. Highlights include: The Space Shuttle Discovery which is preserved almost as it was when it flew its last mission in 2011. The shuttle which came into service in 1984 has spent a total of 365 days in space and flown a whopping 240 million kilometres; the Mobile Quarantine Facility (MBQ) that came with living and sleeping quarters, a bathroom and a kitchen and was meant to contain the spread of lunar contagions by isolating astronauts, immediately after they returned to Earth. There are various other jets – The Air France Corcorde, the Boeing-307 Stratoliner Clipper Flying Cloud. Or you can head to the observation tower and watch planes take off from Dulles.
Getting there: Fly Air India from New Delhi to Dulles International Airport
Getting around: It is best to hire a car and make Alexandria your base as you explore Arlington and
Mount Vernon; then drive onwards to Loudoun, and eventually back to Dulles.