D.C.Trip - Day 3 Monticello

Hotel window view in Charlottsville
Day 3 was a Sunday. We slept late since we were not all that far from D.C. now. At least the girls slept late. As usual, I was up relatively early, but after taking my morning shower, I went down to the lobby and had several cups of coffee and read some of Stephen King’s new book 11/22/63 on my iPad.

About 8:30, I headed back up to the room to get the girls out of bed. To me, more sleep than about 6 hours is a waste of time, but I obviously am of the minority opinion in my family. While waiting for them to finish getting ready, I took a picture looking out of our hotel room window to add to my collection. One of these days I’ll publish a book – My Hotel Windows – A Compilation of the Most Boring, Tedious Views Imaginable.

Going thru Charlottsville to Monticello
After breakfast, we headed a short distance to visit Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. I have to be honest, it was not my idea to stop here. Momma-woman has long found Mr. Jefferson to be a fascinating person and has wanted to come here for years, so since it is her vacation too, we put it on the itinerary. Turns out, the dude was pretty cool and I’m glad we went.

The first thing I learned other than the home is located in a breathtakingly beautiful location is that it is on the United Nations World Heritage List of 936 internationally significant sites, along with places like the Great Wall of China, Mesa Verde and the Tower of London. The 2nd thing I learned from the tour guide was that the man was a genius. In addition to authoring the Declaration of Independence and his time in public office as president, vice-president, member of the Continental Congress, governor of Virginia, and Minister of Trade with France, he was also a noted philosopher and historian, successful planter, inventor, and the founder of the University of Virginia. He owned 2 estates, including the 5,000 acre Monticello, and had about 200 slaves to help him. At any given time, about 100 of his 200 slaves were under the age of 16; and it is accepted that some of those young slaves were fathered by him after his wife died.

Entrance to Monticello
In his fifty-six years at Monticello he always kept himself very busy. He would start his day at first light, reportedly getting out of bed as soon as he could read the hands of the obelisk clock that he designed. This clock was marked by clangs from a Chinese gong placed on the roof. The gong was powered by the clock located in the entrance hall. The mechanism was controlled by fifty pound cannonball weights that would descend slowly throughout the week, passing the days of the week marked on the wall as they descended and then falling through holes in the floor by Friday, spending the next two days falling further into the cellar.

Some of his other inventions include a dumbwaiter; a writing machine that enabled him to make exact copies of letters as he was writing them; Venetian blinds he used to regulate sunlight in his greenhouses; a moldboard for a plow; and his achromatic telescope.

When he was not busy building, designing or inventing, Thomas Jefferson spent many hours writing one of his more than 20,000 letters, or reading from one of his more than seven thousand books in his library. His library contained books in seven languages, two of which were Latin and Greek, languages he had mastered. When he worked at his desk, he would have no less than twenty books at a time in which to refer.

One of his great pleasures was his vegetable garden. Among the vegetables in the large garden was the English pea, his favorite vegetable. He grew fifteen types of the English pea, and he happily noted in his Garden Book when “peas come to table.” By staggering the planting of peas, Jefferson was able to eat them fresh from the garden from the middle of May to the middle of July. Aside from personal preference, Jefferson might have taken special note of his English peas because of an annual neighborhood contest to see which farmer could bring to table the first peas of spring. The winner would host the other contestants in a dinner that included the peas. Though Jefferson’s mountaintop garden, with its southern exposure to warmth and light, should have provided an advantage, the contest was almost always won by a neighbor named George Divers. As Jefferson’s grandson recalled: “A wealthy neighbor [Divers], without children, and fond of horticulture, generally triumphed. My grandfather on one occasion had them first, but when his family reminded him that it was his right to invite the company, he replied, ‘No, say nothing about it, it will be more agreeable to our friend Mr. Divers to think that he never fails.’”

Rear of Monticello
President Jefferson spent forty years designing Monticello, building it, tearing it apart, redesigning it, and finally putting it all back together. He loved the house and its’ property, and knew the name of every tree planted on its grounds. And if one of his trees died, he knew it. He used his own kilns to bake the more than half-million bricks he used in the various stages of its construction.
While serving as Minister to France, he filled almost a hundred crates with furniture and various works of art for the many rooms at Monticello. While in France he would collect fruit trees and bring them with him on the long boat trip home.

I love finding out about people who think outside-the-box when it comes to thinking up a simple solution to a problem and when you see the solution, you think, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” For example, he had cattle on his plantation, but did not want fences to break up the vista of his mountaintop home. His solution? Rather than putting something up, he went down. He dug long, slender ditches in the earth, just wide and deep enough that the cattle would not cross over them, but they posed no obstacle to a man. In addition to serving as an invisible fence, the ditches also served as irrigation ditches which funneled rain-water into holding ponds! 
The tour was interesting and informative. Thomas Jefferson was indeed a most interesting man and his home is still beautiful and very functional. It seems he hated wasted space and what he considered a waste was unique. Unfortunately, taking pictures is not allowed inside Monticello so I guess you’ll just have to go see for yourself the bed in the wall, the octagon room and the hidden doors, panels and holes in the floors that he created to reduce that hated wasted space.

Michie Tavern where we had a good,
but expensive lunch.
After the tour, we headed down the road 1/2 mile and had a late lunch at Michie Tavern, an historic tavern and store first opened in 1784. The atmosphere is authentic, rustic 18th century with servers in period costume, but the food is more of a modern southern-style – fried chicken, pulled pork barbecue, baked chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, black-eyed peas, stewed tomatoes, beets, cornbread and biscuits. We shared a bowl of vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate syrup for dessert. At $16.75 per adult and $10.95 for the girl child, plus $5 for the ice cream, I thought the prices were a bit expensive for a lunch. After taxes and tip, the bill was over $60, but the food was pretty darn good and it made the momma-woman happy so money well spent!

Eating the last of the ice cream.
By the time we arrived in Washington, D.C., it was dark and I was surprised to find that even though it was a Sunday evening, the traffic was very heavy. Where are all of these people going on a Sunday night? Of course, with cars doing about 80 MPH all around us and us not knowing where the heck exactly we were going, even with the GPS, we managed to not make a right turn across 2 lanes of whizzing traffic within about 20 yards after entering on the left side of the freeway (who the heck designed that one?!) and soon found ourselves in an area we didn’t feel comfortable being in. We pulled off to the side of the road for a minute to get our bearings and to let the GPS recover from too many “recalculating” tries and soon we were back on the correct path to our destination, the Holiday Inn in downtown Washington.

After a harrowing 45 minutes of driving in that traffic at night, we were very happy to finally get to the hotel. Once again, the front desk folks were nice and efficient; the lobby was clean and functional. We got checked in, retrieved a luggage cart and started unpacking the car. We stacked luggage on that cart until it looked like a pyramid. We let momma-woman drive the car to the underground parking while Youngest-daughter and I took the pyramid cart up to the room.

I started pulling that over-loaded cart across the lobby and it felt like it weighed about 500 pounds! After I pulled until I thought I would pass out, I kindly requested Youngest-daughter to make herself useful why don’t you and push! We finally made it to the room and I felt like some sadistic Nazi man-hater had been working me out with weights for the last hour. With sweat dripping down my face, I began taking bags off of the cart and bags, suitcases, and boxes started falling down around me. The room was rather small and tight quarters and when a girl’s heavy bag fell on my foot, I retrieved my 1 suitcase and my laptop bag, put it on the floor by the in-room desk, and piled all of the girl’s stuff on one bed. It seemed to be piled half way to the ceiling. I don’t know where we are going to put all of this stuff.

I asked Youngest-daughter to please take the now empty luggage cart back down to the lobby. She tugged on it, but it didn’t go. That caught my attention. She looked down and said, “Oh, the little brake thingy is on. I forgot I pushed it down when we were loading it at the car. Sorry, Dad.” It’s a very good thing I love that little girl so much.

Tomorrow we get to see D.C. in the daylight. I’m pretty excited about it. First stop, a tour of the Library of Congress. It’s close enough to walk there, which makes me a happy camper since I won’t have to drive in the morning rush hour traffic. And I’m anxious to see the view from our hotel room window in the morning. I'm hoping it won’t be as boring as it appears to be in the dark.