Charlottesville offers nearby hiking, biking options

Hiking (or biking) doesn’t have to be a hassle.

When the weather is way too gorgeous to pass up, but we don’t feel like making an hour-drive to Shenandoah, Michal and I find some nearby nature preserves, parks and trails that serve as a quick, outdoor workout or a convenient date. Below are the three best options for us – all within a 20-minute drive of Darden/Charlottesville.

Side note: Personally, I prefer the relaxed mode of hiking over intense mountain biking!

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Rivanna Trails <5 minutes of a drive from Darden

Located all throughout the city of Charlottesville, we found one entrance across the street from our apartment complex. We’ve tried walking as well as biking. It can actually pretty tough terrain for biking with some steep inclines. The scenery varies depending on where you start, but these are a few fav views near the river where it’s a little more flat.

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Walnut Creek Park ~20 minutes of a drive from Darden

Trails surround a huge lake with lots of people kayaking, canoeing and fishing on a warm day. Michal and I have only done mountain biking out here, which I found a bit easier than Rivanna Trails as there were longer runs that were not so steep and winding. (I am definitely not an expert biker!)

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Ivy Creek Natural Area ~10 minutes of a drive from Darden

This is my highlight as it earns points for close location and scenic views. It’s really unique in the fact that beavers used to overpopulate the area, as evidenced by trees with missing chunks of trunk. I appreciated how there were placards that we could take with us to help us note interesting flora, fauna and wildlife.

What are your favorite Charlottesville area hikes or outdoor workouts? 

Creative expression takes on new forms in Charlottesville

I’d consider myself pretty crafty more than artsy.

Example of “Crafts”

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Back in the Midwest, I loved going to scrapbook stores with friends (yes, they were also in their mid-20s like me) for lock-in nights where we’d spend hours working on piecing together the perfect pages with mementos, photos and doodads like stickers, borders and cut-outs. People have joked that I’m like Ms. Frizzle because I have a cart of items that resembles an elementary school teacher’s closet. (Think: hot glue guns, holiday-themed cardstock, iron-on letters, etc.)

A couple friends even threw me a scrapbook-themed bridal shower in the Chicago area, in which each guest created a page as an activity.

But now that I’m in a new area, I thought I’d stretch my creativity and try more “hip” projects. (Plus, there don’t seem to be any scrapbook stores around…) I found some pretty sweet LivingSocial deals for easy art lessons that were BYOB, which allowed for some quality bonding time with my Darden partners.

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Tips & Tricks

Painting: I was grateful that the instructors at Wine & Design penciled in the perspective of the winding trail in the landscape that we were painting because that would have taken me, a less experienced painter (I took one intro. class in high school), way too long to figure out. I also liked being able to eat, drink, chat and paint at a leisurely pace. Lastly, I appreciated how the business granted the Darden Partners Association a discount code for future visits, regardless of whether we were in an organized group meeting vs. going out on a date night with our student-significant other.

Glass Art: As for The Glass Palette, I was a bit intimidated as I have never worked with this medium. But the instructors again made it super easy by breaking the different colored glass into pieces beforehand. We just had to arrange them into patterns by gluing pieces on to tiles, and the instructors later put them into the kiln to make into bowls. If we wanted to get complicated, we had tools at our disposal to cut up the glass even more, but it wasn’t necessary. With this experience, definitely eat beforehand as it’s unsafe to have food near all the glass and glue.

Would you consider yourself “artsy” or “crafty”?

Welcome Round 2 admits of Darden students and partners!

ImageA few Darden partners (significant others of students) are sporting our trademark Darden Partners Association swag of neon-colored sunglasses in the above photo. We can’t wait to meet all of you!

Are you new to the DPA and interested in hearing more from us?
Sign up on the DPA Website to get access to the Relocation Guide, housing leads, job listings and other Charlottesville resources. Join the DPA Facebook Group and follow us on the DPA Twitter Page to get up-to-date information on events. As the DPA Communications Chair, I would love to help you in this transition by getting you connected and keeping you informed!

Spring Break – Part 2: Staycation in Cville

For five days of our Spring Break, we were so happy to host two of our close friends from undergrad who are married and live in our home state of Michigan. We met them through the same church where Michal and I met on the campus of Michigan State University, have stood up in each other’s weddings and have kept in touch with each other for almost decade. It was fun to take them around our new stomping grounds! Below are highlights of our time with them:

Tourist in our own town

Michal and I have been saving our visits to the area’s historic landmarks, such as presidential homes, for when our friends and family visit. Best takeaway tip that we discovered through our experience: Show your student ID at Monticello for a discount on tour tickets!

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It’s a good thing one of our visiting friends is a poli-sci professor because we did a very thorough tour of Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and of Central and North Grounds at the University of Virginia. A 60-and-sunny day in Cville = summer in Detroit, so our friends were also extremely happy to be able to walk around without a coat. My favorite moment from our touristy times was our picnic dinner on the Lawn in the heart of the “Academical Village” in front of the Rotunda.

Snow day survival 

Ironically enough, our Michiganders didn’t escape the cold too long as we dropped down to 40s on Sunday and had a Snow Day on the Monday after Spring Break. It was a blessing in a way as Michal and I did not have to worry about school and work so we could focus on our friends.

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We kept entertained because the sudden change in cold weather had just the right timing with Selection Sunday for March Madness and St. Patrick’s Day on Monday. We spent a considerable amount of time cheering on our alma mater in the Big 10 tourney, as well as watching UVA in the ACCs with a fellow Darden couple, and then consequently filling in our brackets. And we kept it low-key for St. Patty’s, creating a spiked hot cocoa bar and playing board games like Cranium and Imaginiff.

Michal and I cherish when our friends and family visit us, as we often hosted them when we lived in the Chicago-area for five years. We look forward to hosting more visitors in Cville!

What are your favorite ways to enjoy a Staycation in your area?

Spring Break – Part 1: Road trip in the South

In an effort to save some cash (and some of my vacation days from work), Michal and I passed on the big group, tropical getaways and kept it a little closer to home. For five days, we did a road trip to the Old South, visiting Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA. We absolutely loved the warm weather, romantic scenery and gourmet comfort food. Below are highlights of this trip, but also check out our staycation in Cville!

Phenomenal food

Out of all priorities we have when traveling, dining is definitely #1. Michal and I always look for unique, cultural experiences from divey take-out stands to fancier sit-down meals. We love all types of cuisine but like to focus our efforts on seeking out places that make dishes and drinks we ourselves couldn’t make or easily get at home. In Charleston and Savannah, we had our fill of fresh seafood, pork products and bourbon-based cocktails.

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Splurge that was worth it: The Olde Pink House in Savannah

The ultimate traditional Southern experience: Servers were helpful and friendly, inviting us to tour themed rooms in the historic house-turned-restaurant that Thomas Jefferson helped to design. We enjoyed a feast that included classics like pecan-crusted chicken and scored flounder.

Best meal deal: Vickery’s Oyster Roast in Mount Pleasant, near Charleston

We hadn’t even planned on visiting this restaurant until a co-worker suggested it to me. So glad we didn’t miss out! For just $12, we got a ginormous bucket of fresh, steamed oysters. Not to mention, the views on the creek and marsh where the oysters originate, steps from the restaurant = priceless.

For full reviews of these restaurants and other establishments that we visited, check out my Yelp page.

Scenic strolls 

Hiking is our favorite pastime, as evidenced by my other blog entries. With this region, we more so experienced relaxing strolls through city and country life. Our favorite walks were through Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston and Tybee Island Beach near Savannah.

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Gardens: Expansive and breath-taking, especially with all the Spanish moss on the trees, bamboo forests and mazes of flowers. We took in a variety of picturesque views around every corner.

Beach: Very well-maintained, with clean, soft sand – perfect for walking barefoot. If we ever needed to take a break, we could grab a seat on the many swings lining the shore. Bonus water time: We rented a room in a house through Airbnb that had a convenient location next to a boat launch so we could easily use the homeowner’s kayaks!

This road trip is definitely one of our most memorable, and we hope to do more in this region as we’re here for only one more year! I’ve gotten suggestions for Asheville, NC, the Outer Banks and the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.

What are other cities or places in the South that we should visit?

Bidding farewell to the ‘Bird’

Although students will no longer be taking classes with their sections after they return from Spring Break on March 17, it’s hard to drop the identity. As a partner of a student in Section B, I inevitably started proclaiming myself as “one of the birds,” becoming friends with students and partners alike in the group.

The experience of “being in a section” reminded me a lot of my cohort from my senior year and student teaching year at Michigan State University in the College of Education, or of the transition period when I went into my first year of teaching with a group of fellow novices.During an extremely stressful time, it helps to have the camaraderie, as well as the commiseration.

Paying homage to a couple of my favorite Section B traditions:

*Bird is the Word

As my husband likes to make funny comments in class, he tends to be in the running fairly often to take the responsibility of carting around the mascot for a week. Coincidentally that little, stuffed Big Bird seemed to find his way into our home on special occasions like my birthday during first semester and Valentine’s Day during second semester. Can we say #thirdwheel?

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The Bird on adventures with us on date night celebrations and gatherings with friends around town.

Thankfully, no one gave us a hard time when taking photos of the Bird at the Top of the Hops Beer Fest in downtown Charlottesville on my birthday, as many others were lining up to take photos with a gnome any way.

However, it was a bit more difficult to snap a pic when the Bird made an appearance while we sampled sweets from a local bakery paired with wine at Keswick Vineyard. At a slightly less casual atmosphere in the roped-off area behind the wine barrels reserved for Valentine’s Day couples, we didn’t leave him out in the open too long… 

*Dinner of 8

Bonding with fellow birds took on a variety of forms, including get-togethers like FY/SY mixers, themed events (e.g. costumes starting w/a letter B, ugly sweater), local adventures (e.g. apple picking at Carter Mountain Orchard), post-Darden Cup celebrations and simply hanging out in smaller settings.

My favorite was the dinner party each semester that consisted of eight students in the section and was hosted at a volunteer’s home, with all randomly assigned to the group. Each semester was a different set of people. Of course, students could bring partners, so an introvert (disguised as an extrovert, most often) like me really looked forward to chatting in a comfortable environment.

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For the first dinner, the organizer ordered yummy Italian takeout from Bella’s. For the second, we did a potluck style meal. It was fun to get a taste of varying cooking styles and ethnic cuisine!

Snow Days in the South

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On the left is the view of the Snowpocalypse of 2011 in the Chicago-area from our old apartment. On the right is the view of the snowstorm from our apartment in Charlottesville on Feb. 13-14 of this year. The biggest difference is that we got three days off in 2011 and the snow stuck around for a while in Chicago. Whereas, the snow melted away soon after the storm ended here in Cville.

I’m no stranger to snow.

I grew up in the Detroit area, went to undergrad at Michigan State University in Lansing, and I lived in the Chicago area for five years. I know how helpful it is to put the windshield wipers up on my parked car when a snowstorm is coming, I’m used to keeping a snow brush in my car all year – just in case. I own a formal winter coat, as well as a puffy, ski coat.

But for most of this winter, I have been surprised at being able to wear my fall trench coat around Cville, as it’s been in the 40s and 50s, sometimes getting as high as the 60s. While, my friends and family in Detroit and Chicago have been slammed by the Polar Vortex. One former colleague even remarked that this is the worst winter he’s seen in the Chicago area since the 1960s.

Then, Cville finally got the first official snow days of the year, and I had to fish out my old ski pants and boots from storage.

Because my job is associated with the University, I had two unexpected days off from work, but I found myself home alone for these snow days while my husband interviewed (ironically enough) in Chicago this week. I did the usual – catching up on work and personal emails, watching the Olympics, cleaning the house, reading ahead for book clubs. But I couldn’t stay cooped up for long as I started to develop a bit of cabin fever…yet I didn’t want to venture out into the snow drifts by myself.

Fortunately, some Darden partners came to my rescue!

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Being kids again in the snow with some Darden partners and students! I found out different MacGyver-like techniques for sledding (AKA – riding a shovel like a broom stick, covering large pieces of cardboard with trash bags and re-purposing old tires). And I found out the best method for creating an igloo is to use half melted snow: It’s more pliable, and when it gets colder, it starts to freeze together.

One partner brought his new snow shovel to my apartment complex to help clear the 10 inches of snow from behind my car and my husband’s car. Another partner invited us over to a nearby park with a sledding hill and a field to build an igloo. I’m glad they got me out of my solitary state to appreciate the beauty of the fleeting snow, as it has already mostly melted with the rising temps and sun.

After our outdoor excursion, we warmed up by tossing our socks into the dryer, cracking open a few local craft brews (my fav being the Devil’s Backbone Blonde) and ordering Mellow Mushroom – the best pizza in the area (although I still miss my Chicago deep dish from Lou’s) for dinner. Plus, smores dip for dessert! My new fav, easy sweet snack in cold weather. 

So grateful to have partners and students keeping me company, especially while flying solo during B-school interview season! 

What are your favorite snow day indoor and outdoor activities? Please comment below with your ideas!