Summer Nights in Charlottesville

Even though the summer season officially ends on September 20, the school year has already started. This means my social calendar has shifted to events mostly related to Darden.

With the conclusion of summer, I’ve found the following to be the best options of the area for an affordable “night out” while enjoying the season’s beautiful scenery and weather. (P.S. These actually all continue into the month of September so they’re also fun alternatives to the usual get-togethers.)

Polo Matches at King Family Vineyard

Weekly on Sunday afternoons

King Family Polo

This was my favorite summer gathering place in Cville. The above pictures are from the last weekend of summer before my husband came back from his internship.

Highlights:

  • Free admission
  • Encouraged to bring coolers and picnic baskets of food and stay all day
  • Crose wine (a rose that’s perfect for the hot weather and bonus points for a clever name!)
  • Breathtaking view of the mountains
  • Plenty of grass to play lawn games while watching polo
  • At the end of matches, the players ride the horses close to the crowd for pictures and to meet people.
  • A convenient wine cart comes around so I don’t always have to go back to the tasting room.

Low lights:

  • It can get extremely hot if our group doesn’t have a pop-up tent for shade.
  • Depending on where we’ve sat on the field, the bathrooms can be far away, and they are very limited.

 

Fridays after Five Concert Series

Weekly on Friday evenings

Fridays After Five

My co-workers and I liked to go to this event as an alternative to the usual Happy Hour, as it happened right after work at the end of the week. Above photo is when we got caught in the rain.

Highlights:

  • Free admission
  • We can bring our own food for a picnic, but there are also some food trucks on-site, and of course, nearby bars and restaurants on the Downtown Mall for either dinner beforehand or afterward.
  • There are a variety of seating choices: table and chairs, folding chairs, or on a grassy area with a blanket or chairs that we bring.
  • It’s a very short drive with the location that’s right in the city.
  • Drinks are decently priced at $5 each with some local options for wine and beer. (The event requires you to purchase tickets when entering the venue that you later exchange for drinks. One ticket =$5)
  • Tons of bathroom stalls that are maintained and with a line that moves quickly

Low lights:

  • Parking can be a pain. I try to park for free on the street, which tends to be on Monticello Road – It’s a bit of a walk but worth the savings in money. Try to get to the area before 5:30 p.m. if possible to score free spots.
  • It can get very crowded, which means the grassy area also gets occupied fairly quickly.
  • The music is oftentimes a bit too loud for me, as I prefer it to be more background noise to conversation.
  • Kind of annoying that I couldn’t just buy a drink directly from the vendor. Plus: You can’t use leftover drink tickets on another night – So purchase wisely!

 

Starry Nights at Veritas Vineyard

Monthly on a Saturday evening

Veritas Vineyard

The first photo is in the tasting room. The second photo is when my friend Esther visited from Michigan, and we took a walk through the vineyards on a trail she discovered just before the sunset.

Highlights:

  • I’ve really liked the bands they’ve had here: I’ve heard a variety – Motown, Beatles and 80s cover. The acoustics/sound/space work well with varying crowd participation. (ie. I could jump on stage or dance in front of it, OR I could sit farther away so that the band acts as background music to my conversation.)
  • I can bring my own food or I could purchase a nice sit-down dinner. Although I never took the second option, I’ve known those who have who liked what they ate, and the dining area is a bit fancier.
  • There is a variety of affordable wine – especially if you’re in the Wine Club or, like me, have a friend who is in it. (Wine Club members have free admission for one guest, and friends can continue to reap their benefits by getting a discount on bottles. Splitting a $14 bottle of wine is a bargain!)
  • There are plenty of bathrooms – Porta Potties scattered throughout the area and restrooms in the tasting room.
  • On a clear night, there is a beautiful view of the stars and moon above the vineyards.

Low lights:

  • Must pay $15 for admission ahead of time online or $20 at the door if there isn’t a Wine Club friend available 😉

 

Sunset Series at Carter Mountain Orchard

Weekly on Thursday afternoon/evenings

Carter Mountain

It was a bit of a cloudy day, but we still got a beautiful view of the sunset. This photo was taken while sitting on the grass underneath the patio/deck.

Highlights:

  • Sweeping view of the mountains and city at sunset
  • Tons of activities: fruit picking, picnicking, wine tasting, browsing the Country Store (must try the apple cider!)
  • Samples of fresh fruit are available in the store when I just want to buy a bag. My fav fruit I tasted the last time I came were the juicy, sweet white nectarines!

Low lights:

  • Limited bathrooms – I’ve waited in long lines.
  • I couldn’t hear the music as well in certain areas.
  • They do not allow you to bring your own food, and I was not a fan of the restaurant because they quickly ran out of items and what I had (chicken salad wrap) was not flavorful.
  • The wine is not made on the premises (although it is local), and it isn’t especially memorable.

I’ve wanted to try out other outdoor concert series and vineyards, but these were the most popular with close drives to where I live. What are your favorite summer nighttime options in the Cville area?

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Serene swimming options

My ideal vacation always includes a beach. I love the warmth of the sun, bare feet and the rushing sound of water. In the past month, I’ve found a few new places to swim other than the usual Virginia Beach.

Sandbridge Beach

When my family from Michigan visited me, we made the three-hour drive to reunite with my dad’s aunts and uncles who live in Virginia Beach. Based off of suggestions from my co-workers, we tried out Sandbridge Beach.

My family and I were so happy to find it a lot less crowded and a lot more clean – and just 10 or so minutes away from the beach all the tourists visit. I enjoyed not bumping into people as I was playing in the waves and having plenty of room to spread out on the sand.

And during an impromptu trip to Richmond, my friend and I discovered the James River at Belle Isle Park is another area to swim. It’s a very different experience than being at the shore of a lake or ocean, but equally as scenic and a much closer drive (one hour away).

Belle Isle Park

There are lots of large flat rocks on which people will set up blankets, towels and even folding tables for picnics and sunbathing. In the more still and shallow part of the river, little children will swim.

In the more rapid portion, we saw adults who were more daring with rafting and kayaking. We spotted one couple on a more peaceful part of the river, who sat on some rocks, partially submerged in the water, with the river current flowing over and past them.

We weren’t prepared for this outing as we didn’t know what to expect, so we sat near the edge – our feet in the water. I hope to return with a swimsuit next time I’m in town.

 

I’m still curious about Virginia’s swimming holes. Any suggestions on which are the best, or are there other nearby (not too crowded) places to swim?

 

Three’s a Charm: Our anniversary in Detroit

Detroit Anniversary Date

Michal and I celebrated our three-year wedding anniversary while I was in town last month. In honor of the big occasion, along with the fact that Michal is interning this summer in our hometown area, we decided to do it big in Detroit.

There happened to be two restaurants opening on the same day we went out on the town, so we just had to try both – drinks and an app at one, and then a more developed dinner at the other. Both Wright & Co. and Antietam treated us well. We especially enjoyed our multiple-course meal at Antietam, with our (bonus!) complimentary champagne. These restaurants definitely represent the resurgence of Detroit’s bygone era, as they were set in restored buildings that were once left abandoned. Check out more details of what we thought of each restaurant on my Yelp review page.

Afterward, we revisited the Detroit Riverfront, an area I remember fondly from childhood, most vividly during the fireworks show of the Windsor-Detroit International Freedom Festival (now non-existent, as it has split into two different events). Michal recently was there when his mother’s artwork was on display during River Days, but it felt all new to me, as much renovation has taken place in the past few years. We giddily ran through the water fountain with all the kiddies and then strolled lazily through the garden and marsh area of Milliken State Park.

All in all, the evening was truly a celebration both of our marriage and of the revitalized city that we will (hopefully) return to after graduation from Darden.

Packing the perfect picnic basket

Picnicking is the ultimate summer pastime in Charlottesville. From live outdoor concerts at night like Fridays after Five in the Downtown Mall to lounging all day at scenic vineyards like during King Family’s Sunday polo matches, there are so many reasons to get together with friends and family for some al fresco dining. (TEASER: I’ll describe these events in more detail in later a blog post.)

Now that we’re about half-way through the summer, I’ve developed a tried and true method for packing the perfect picnic basket.

Find fun finger foods

Sometimes I’ll take the time to make sandwiches and salads, but oftentimes, I go with the most simple picnic meal – a cheese and/or charcuterie plate. It’s quick yet still filling, and obviously goes well with the usual drink of choice in this region and season – wine.

Here’s an example of an array of goodies that I usually have:

photo 1

  • Variety of cheeses (check out this article from Real Simple Magazine for specific suggestions). If you’re going to be outside all day and don’t have cooler, make sure to pack some hard cheeses like Manchego that can withstand the elements better.
  • Dried sausages or other meats like prosciutto and pate
  • Fruits that aren’t messy or fussy when cut or peeled like grapes and clementines
  • Mixed nuts that act as a healthier salt/crunch substitute for chips
  • Bread or crackers to pair with those softer cheeses that spread easily like goat cheese
  • Already cut-up veggies and hummus to sneak in a little more nutritional value

Shop till you drop

The best places to pick up the above foods:

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Just a glimpse of one line of tents set up at the Charlottesville City Market. It starts to get crowded around 10:30 to 11 a.m. so try to get there early if wanting to avoid lines.

1)      Charlottesville City Market – Fresh and local with unique items not in stores, plus you can usually snag a sample before buying so you don’t blindly commit to a purchase. There are also tons of tents serving cooked food like tacos, crab cakes and omelets so this also makes for a cheap and easy brunch option. Personal preferred pick for a picnic: I’m really into Everona sheep’s milk cheese because of its nutritional value and rich flavor.

2)      Feast – Such a fun store because they have so many samples and everything here is also local (including wine!) Personal preferred picks for a picnic: Port cherry and blue cheese dip (such a decadent combo) and just-sliced salamis sold in small portions.

3)      Foods of All Nations – Pretty convenient in the fact that it’s a small grocery store with lots of local products so you can pick up everyday merchandise, along with special picnic snacks. Personal preferred pick for a picnic: Slightly creamy Appalachian cheese in the local cheese case.

4)      Trader Joe’s – Even though it’s a chain, it still has a lot of unique and healthy options. The cheese case also offers more variety than the average grocery store. Personal preferred pick for a picnic: The cheese soaked in Syrah wine.

Pack with care

photo 2

My husband and I got this picnic “basket” (actually a backpack) for a wedding gift almost three years ago. We used it maybe once or twice when we first got it and then it went into storage, yet just in our past 10 months of living in Charlottesville, we’ve used it at least five or six times. Before all the summer events popped up, we liked taking it with us to picnic on the Lawn on Grounds of the University, or as we set out on a hike in the woods.

You don’t necessarily need something fancy like ours, but the essentials are:

  • Bottles of water
  • Bottle opener/corkscrew
  • Mini cutting board and knife
  • Drinking glasses/cups
  • Plates
  • Napkins
  • Hand sanitizer and/or wipes
  • Mat or blanket

What are your favorite picnic spots in and/or around Charlottesville?

(Summer) Separation Anxiety

Before Michal left for the summer last week, we spent our last weekend in Cville together enjoying everything we love about the area: gourmet food, local craft beer and the outdoors. I wanted some quality time because we were about to embark on one of the two hardest times during B-School for couples.

These times are:
1) Recruiting season during the first year (while balancing academics and social life)
2) Spending the summer apart (including classes abroad like the Global Business Experience, GBE, and internships in another state).

Side note: Check out this hilarious blog featuring gifs illustrating life as a partner of someone in B-school. This is not a Darden blog, but I did find it through an older Darden partner.

As soon as Michal’s spring semester ended, he began a class to prepare for his GBE in Israel. When he returns from traveling abroad, he will go directly to Detroit to begin working and will stay there pretty much until fall semester starts. In our eight years as a couple (three years married), we’ve never done long-distance. (I don’t count my student teaching year in Detroit while Michal was a senior at Michigan State in Lansing because that was only an hour and half apart.)  So you can imagine the trepidation I felt.

I tried to ignore the looming absence by making the best of the unexpected free time we had due to a rare weekend void of Darden-related activities by staying outdoors in the gorgeous weather and visiting places we’ve wanted to try: Charlottesville City Market, Know Good Beer Festival and Jones Run/Doyles River in Shenandoah National Park. Below are the highlights of each adventure:

Top row from left to right: Michal and I near the Starr Hill tent at the beer fest, tacos at the farmer’s market, popsicle stand nearby. Bottom row from left to right: Waterfalls in Shenandoah, Michal and Stephen admiring art at the McGuffey Art Center during the fest, Michal hiking

On Saturday morning, strolling through all the stalls and tents, we had to taste a little bit of everything at the farmer’s market from chorizo and steak tacos with freshly made tortillas to a Thai-style strawberry and coconut milk Popsicle. Everything we tried was yummy, but my all-time fav dish from our walking “brunch” was the hearty crab cake at only $8.

Later in the afternoon, we met up another friend at Darden who loves beer as much as we do, as he also brewed for the Three Notch’d competition that Michal participated in last month. We all agreed that this inaugural beer fest was one of the better we’ve attended as it focused on local brews – many that we had not tried or even heard of. Of the new ones I tried, I particularly enjoyed the smooth Wit at up and coming James River Brewing Company, the light 3 at the hip Flying Mouse Brewing Company and the refreshing Blonde Hunny at the slightly more established Wild Wolf Brewing Company. I prefer Belgian-style ales that are slightly sour, or session citrusy wheat beers that are perfect to sip and savor on a hot, sunny day. Bonus: Another unique aspect to this beer fest was the fact that it was at an art gallery.

The following day, we spent some time driving through scenic Skyline Drive and hiking through an incredible waterfall wonderland. The views, especially of the various falls throughout our hike, were breathtaking and reminded me our travels in Costa Rica and Thailand. It was a relaxing and peaceful hike, as we ran into other people sparingly. And on certain points in the mountains, we’d get respite from the heat with a cool breeze or dipping into ice water.

 

Part 2 of Family in Cville: What’s ‘Fun’ in Undergrad vs. Grad School

My cousin April and her husband Jake drove from Metro Detroit to Charlottesville the weekend after my in-laws visited. This family weekend had a different twist: April, Jake, Michal and I went through undergrad together at Michigan State University, so Michal and I were excited for them to experience another sort of college town.

The infamous Foxfield horse races could not have been better timed. We each anticipated this event as if we were preparing for Halloween by scouring for outfits we’d never normally wear, classified as “country club prep.” It was a total cultural experience for us to transform our usual, casual T-shirt and jeans combos to pastels and floppy hats.

All photos are courtesy of my cousin April (except for the group photo on the top left that a friend's husband took on my phone).  My husband Michal and April's husband Jake had actually bought the same shirt. Michal found a new pink one to match my searsucker dress.

All photos are courtesy of April (except for the group shot on the top left that a friend’s husband took on my iphone). Fun fact #1: My husband Michal and April’s husband Jake actually bought the same shirt in different stores. Michal later found a pink shirt to match my searsucker dress!

While we embraced the wardrobe change, we were a bit more wary of the actual event as we heard it would be similar to all-day tailgating. In the end, we were grateful to experience the races from the more civilized grad student area tents where Darden and the Law School were side by side in front of the tracks. The backdrop was breathtaking in the sun, the food was classic Southern BBQ, the bartenders made drinks to our liking, the music started with a live band, there were no lines to the bathrooms, and the tables had fresh, floral centerpieces.

Needless to say, the atmosphere was a lot different on the undergrad side.

Again: All photos are courtesy of April. Fun Fact: Michal worked with Three Notch'd this school year as a member of the Community Consultants of Darden.

All photos are courtesy of April. Fun Fact #2: Michal worked with Three Notch’d this year as a part of the Community Consultants of Darden. Jake enjoyed the beer there so much that he bought a growler!

Michal and I also spent some time showing Jake and April the differences between undergrad nightlife at the dive bars on The Corner vs. the local breweries in the more upscale Downtown Mall area. Although it was fun to be outside at the picnic tables at The Biltmore on a warm night, we decided relaxing in lounge settings with board games and higher quality craft brews at Three Notch’d, Champion and South Street was overall more enjoyable. We’ve each definitely grown more discerning with two home-brewers, Michal and Jake, at our side.

Ultimately, what we discovered is that we still like to have good time just like in the glory days … but now we just have higher standards.

All photos courtesy of April. We managed to include a hike to Elliott Knob and a walk around Grounds. Fun Fact #3: We purposefully picked out one of the highest peaks in Virginia to tackle with April and Jake because they're so adventurous!

All photos courtesy of April. We managed to include a hike to Elliott Knob and a walk around Grounds. Fun Fact #3: We purposefully picked out one of the highest peaks in Virginia to tackle with April and Jake because they’re so adventurous! At the top, Michal and Jake started a fire right before the rain hit.

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?