As summer is upon us, many Hampton Roads residents may find themselves daydreaming about their next grand getaway, whether it be a solo voyage, a family excursion, or perhaps a sumptuous romantic retreat.
For those who won’t be able to squeeze in a major jaunt abroad, I have some suggestions to help create an authentic overseas outing here in Hampton Roads, with enough time to be home before dinner.
There are plenty of places in Hampton Roads where you can get your fix for bygone eras. (And some spots that will make you feel authentically British, too!)
Experience Virginia Beach’s own tower of sorts by paying a visit to this landmark, commissioned by none other than George Washington. Although now defunct, it served naval forces steadfastly for almost a century, most notably through the Civil War. Climb to the top to absorb the same view shared by so many of our local predecessors, including a few of the Founding Fathers.
Hunter House Museum
If you take the occasional stroll through the Freemason District in Norfolk, you have almost certainly passed this local gem. The 19thCentury original house turned museum stands as a testament to the rise of Victorian architecture, the movement originating in England celebrating Queen Victoria’s reign. Take a guided tour through the home and pay homage to this famed British monarch by immersing yourself in the Victorian décor, including the paintings, china, and furniture pieces selected by the original inhabitants. Keep the tradition alive by visiting a Victorian Society gathering, where you might catch a lecture on this historic British period, see a unique spin on the classic British tale, A Christmas Carol, or even have tea with the Queen herself!
Trinity Episcopal Church
While this might seem like an unusual pick for your London-inspired outing, Trinity Episcopal in Portsmouth, established in 1762, remains one of the oldest operating churches in the United States. With original Tiffany stained glass windows and walls created with granite from the British Revolutionary War Fortification, the unpretentious place of worship will give you a unique picture of everyday life during a turning point in British-American relations. Make sure to take a walk through the cemetery too – you might see some names that will surprise you.
The Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg serves as a dedicated mark of British influence in America, originally constructed for a string of provincial rulers hailing from England. Ironically, the surrounding area became a playground for revolutionary ideas, ultimately leading to the quest for independence. This lavish home perhaps points to the very spot that inspired some radical philosophies, which later converged to create the United States that we know today.
Are you a history buff? Do you relish the opportunity to learn more about the culture of times past? Perhaps you have an affinity for the antique, whether it be vintage artifacts or ancient landmarks… along with vacation time and some disposable income… If this is you, try London.
My Experience: As I negotiated this legendary capital for the first time, I decided to go on a casual stroll by the River Thames. I rounded the corner of the small cobblestone street where my modest hotel sat and was immediately bombarded by a surge of honking horns. The majority of the vehicles on the narrow road were round and stout, reminiscent of the caricatures that I’ve seen in my favorite vintage films. I looked to the left to see if I can cross. With no oncoming traffic in sight, I continued my trek, and immediately felt a stranger tug at my backpack. Turns out they really do drive on the wrong side of the road.
Surprisingly, I made it to the other curb in one piece, and continued my intrepid exploration. A mere 50 paces from the spot where I almost met my Maker, I tripped over a piece of jagged rock displaced from the cobblestone and caught myself on a light brown stone wall. I dusted off my hands and looked up, focusing my vision to ensure that I was indeed seeing what I think I am seeing. I beheld an ancient castle of sorts, majestic in a humble sort of way; ancient, yet without any clear signs of degradation. An unimposing tower stands as the centerpiece, with surrounding sturdy walls, quaint precipices, and scenic pathways. I have heard about the Tower of London (below) many times, the notorious prison dating back to the 11th Century, but had no idea it was supplanted among the everyday. I looked to my immediate right and saw a Starbucks in the shopping row directly across the street. Who knew?
After a sufficient amount of wide-eyed gawking, I continued my walk. I passed the final portion of the Tower of London grounds and was instantly greeted by another tower of sorts, this one far more stately and grand. I stopped dead in my tracks and felt my jaw open (seemingly extending to the ground), shocked at the prospect of another celebrated national treasure in such close vicinity. This time, it’s the London Tower Bridge. It stands erect over the Thames, asserting its authority over the entire city. The two turrets flanking the walkway are daunting in stature, balanced only by the festivity of the bright blue suspension cables curving towards the street. I was immediately aware of why the bridge serves as the city’s premier icon; its Gothic design is splendid and regal, effectively capturing the romantic Victorian royalty that so enchants us foreigners.
On my last night in London, I wandered around SoHo (think the Norfolk Arts District on a larger scale) and stumbled into a dark bar with colorful spotlights strewn throughout. After taking a seat on one of the communal couches, I met a nice British girl fresh off her shift at Harrods. We exchanged pleasantries, and after some small talk about her recent furniture sales, I described the highlights of my trip: the two aforementioned towers, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, countless glorious churches and monuments, all illustrating an incredible history that spans across a millennium.
She looked at me with a wry smile, clearly unfazed by my enthusiasm, and delved into a story regarding her recent (and only) trip to Manhattan. An aspiring fashionista, she explained that she took a bus tour with her mum, eager to absorb the ins and outs of the world famous Big Apple. Midway through her excursion, the guide stopped at an unspecified building and began to boast of its stamina and rich history…dating all the way back to the 1850s.
She stared at me incredulously and giggled. “The 1850s?! I pass a 1,000 year old building every day on my way to work!”