I suppose it actually has been 5 months since I put up a post on this poor, neglected blog. Most of you must have thought I’d fallen right off into the “Here There Be Dragons” zone of the map while seeking out new expat adventures. That might have been pretty fun, actually… well, if I’d had my dragon-charming equipment with me when I slipped off the edge of the world, anyway. Gladly, it’s a moot point.
Today we go back to Fredericksburg, to my favorite bookshop and to take a little tour of some of my favorite goofy shop windows. Just hang in there a minute while I explain why I’ve been gone so long…
There are a few reasons for my long hiatus. The first is, simply, that it’s a very time consuming and sleep depriving endeavor to start your own company. The second is that, limited to a bicycle-riding radius around my home, I was beginning to run out of topics and inspiration. I couldn’t always wait for some occasion or someone else’s motor power to take me to some new town or place worth telling you all about.
So, the big news is (cue drumroll) I finally got some motor power of my own. It took me almost exactly 11 months from the day my plane from Italy touched down, but it was well worth the waiting and scrimping. Perhaps you can imagine the way I felt when I first got behind that wheel and knew that I could go anywhere.
“Wait!” you might say at this juncture. “That’s an exaggeration!”
Believe you me, when you’ve grown up in pre-Schengen Zone Europe, and Eastern Europe during the Cold War especially, it is not. I grew up knowing that you could only drive so far without running into a border – probably involving barbed wire and machine guns – and, even if you got to the other side, you wouldn’t be able to get a bottle of water until you exchanged your currency or ask for directions unless you spoke a different language.
Those of you familiar with Tolkien’s oeuvre will know remember what Bilbo says to his nephew. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
When I read that line as a child, I always thought about America. We’d come back from Europe for the summer holidays and go visit the grandparents. We’d pull out of their driveway to go somewhere and I’d think of the maps I’d studied in school and I knew that, if we just kept driving, we could go anywhere. We could drive all the way to the Pacific and never have to pull out a passport or a phrasebook.
Of course, as an adult, one of the things I love best about traveling is the cultural diversity, the new sounds, smells, tastes, ways of speaking and even ways of thinking that other countries have to offer. That’s the beauty of traveling abroad. The fact remains, however, that I can reverse out of my driveway and the little road outside of my front door could sweep me off all the way to the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert… all those places I’ve dreamed of and never seen. Someday I’m gonna do those things. What I can also do is return to some places I’ve loved and would like to get to know better, something I didn’t have the leisure or liberty to do until now (motor power!).
I’ve been planning this blog comeback for a couple of weeks now. I got a map and drew a 60-mile radius around my house, figuring that anything that fell within it was close enough for a stress-free day trip. Last week I even had my backpack packed and ready to go one morning. I was literally walking out the door when my clients in Italy called me up with yet another urgent job. What can you do when you have your own business? You certainly can’t say no. I was planning to go the next day, and the next…
I didn’t give up hope. The bag waited, ready with maps and camera. Yesterday I knew that today would be the day, and so it was. I set off – not for somewhere new and unexplored, but for someplace I already know and love and had been wanting to get back to for awhile: Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Those of you who have been following my blog may remember that I’ve already done a couple of posts about Fredericksburg. There was the “Sorry Mom” post and the “What to Do When It’s Raining (or Snowing) in Fredericksburg, Virginia”” post, about the Griffin Bookstore and Coffee Shop, which is where I happened to be sitting when I began writing this post (it ranks up there among my favorite places in the entire world). Not only do they have a wonderful selection of used books for pretty any much any taste, the also have some of the coziest rooms in the world and a garden that I could sit in for hours with whatever volume has decided to befriend me.
How can you not stay here until you’ve finished the chapter… and the next one… and…
A cool refuge on an August day… and you’ll never get bored in there.
It’s even pleasant underfoot.
Fredericksburg is, of course, a town with a ton of stories to tell. George Washington’s boyhood home was here, after all, not to mention the Civil War battle that took place here. On my first visit, when I’d only been back in the States about a month, I saw the historic homes, plantations and the battlefields. I took the trolley tour and explored the antique shops. Since then, I’ve been back a couple of times and, obligatory tourist stops aside, it’s also an extremely pleasant place to be. The locals are much friendlier than anyone would have any right to expect them to be in a tourist town such as this, there are more bookstores than grocery stores (Finally! A town with it’s priorities straight!) plus some really excellent restaurants. We’re not going to be serious today. Today, I’m going to show you some of my favorite shopfronts and store windows – the kind of things you spend your time looking at if you’ve already visited a couple of times before (which you have, if you’ve been following my posts). Enjoy!
Let’s start with those bookshops. Besides the Griffin, there are a couple more right on Caroline Street, the main shopping drag, whose windows I always enjoy.
What a fantastic name for a kids’ bookshop. The stuff they have in the window is enough to make any small child with a big imagination (wait… that’s all small children, isn’t it?) write a very long wish list. The window isn’t that fun today, but I’ve seen it veritably brimming with the kind of toys that make me wish I were a kid again.
Riverby Books is a little more serious. The browsing is excellent but the lack of the coffee shop aspect means I’m not inclined to stay for quite so many hours… just one or two.
Riverby also has a whiteboard in their one window that’s always worth stopping by to read. Here are a few of the things I’ve seen there over the last few months:
A tongue-in-cheek Fredericksburg architecture primer…
Anyone got any Lego to get rid of? (This was back in May, but I bet they’re still buying.)
This one was from around graduation time. I know the glare makes it hard to read, but give it a try. It’s worth it.
Alas, man (and woman) cannot live on books alone, so off I headed to find some lunch. The Virginia Deli seemed like a good choice for a quick, budget meal and indeed it was. I was tempted by the southern pulled pork BBQ sandwich but, in the end, opted for a less soporific roast beef. I did have to ask the owner about the suspicious statements on the signage:
He cleared everything up for me. Both George and Bobby have eaten there. Only, their likenesses are a little misleading: the former is the George who owns the Blarney Stone up the street, while Bobby owns an establishment a couple of blocks in the other direction. So, as you see, it’s all true.
Later on, once the Griffin had closed its doors for the day, I turned my steps toward the Hyperion, the local specialty espresso shop and hangout for the kind of people (like me) who like to plonk their computers down on a table near an outlet and not move for a few hours. They’re open a little later, even on Sundays.
A little caffeine jolt did me good for the ride home, which was rather more adventurous than the ride in. I decided to set my GPS to avoid any highways and see what would happen. What happened was rather a lot of cows, horses, deer and generally extremely windy country roads. It was a lot of fun, but I did get home quite a bit later than planned. What this means is that some of those photos I took and things I wanted to share will have to wait for another post. That’s ok, I’m sure I’ll be going to Fredericksburg again.
Let me just close with one more of my favorites for now:
Super-sophisticated handmade shoes should always be paired with silly socks. How else would you wear them, really?
Meanwhile, my new motor power should help finally have some new expat returned adventures. I look forward to sharing them here with you. Thanks for reading and see you again soon!