The morning chill is noticeable as I leave my airport hotel, but the bright sun promises to warm this early November day. I’m excited. Richmond, Virginia has been on my radar for a few years now. A friend of mine spent an enjoyable weekend here, regaling me with stories of wonderful dinners in a city with an up-and-coming food scene. That weekend was spent with friends. Mine in a solo trip.
I patiently wait for the bus to arrive a short distance from where I stayed after an evening flight in. The few other patrons seem surprised to see me. It’s unorthodox, but a free bus ride is a better choice than an Uber. Free will continue into 2024. I listen to the Saturday morning chatter as I take in my initial views of Richmond through the bus window.
I disembark near the State Capitol. The streets are quiet as I walk to the Delta Hotel by Marriott Richmond Downtown — my home for a single night while I explore this history-rich southern city. The hotel is like the streets when I arrive, with little happening. Checking in before 11:00 AM is no problem at all.
I drop my bags, grab a bottle of water and the couple other things I need, and head out for the day.
It’s just a few blocks up to Main Street, which is my thoroughfare as I hard toward the Shockhoe Bottom neighborhood. Shockhoe is southeast of downtown, and I figure it’a a great place to start my time in Virginia’s capital. It’s the city’s dining and fashion hub, with a plethora of stores, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops.
I pass through Shockhoe Slip before passing under the railroad and freeway dozes of feet overhead. Shockhoe Slip has undergone a renewal over the past decades and boasts its own restaurants and hotels. I nearly stayed at a sister Marriott property right in its middle.
My destination is the Poe Museum. I’m years removed from high school or college English class, but he is a unique American author and poet. I figured I’d make a quick stop, as he grew up in Richmond.
But that’s not my first stop. I make a necessary two-block deviation to Ironclad Coffee. It’s a popular place, with a constant stream of patrons heading into the cool old brick building. I love unique coffee shops, and this one certainly fits the bill. It’s an excellent space.
They serve up one of the best chai lattes I’ve ever tasted, which I slowly enjoy in the eclectic café. Melodies from the 30s and 40s add to the ambiance. I linger for a bit and am sad to move on. But there’s a lot to see, and not much time in town.
The Poe Museum
Edgar Allen Poe is certainly not the list of most influential writers in my life. But I am familiar with him enough that I was curious about the Poe Museum in Richmond. The museum is in a small house, rather ordinary — yet clearly old — when viewed from the street.
But there’s a bit more to it than meets the eye. I enter the museum and overhear the conversation ahead of me. Although the museum isn’t Poe’s house (which was located close nearby), it is one two structures left in Richmond that predate the Revolutionary War. So it does have that claim to fame. I’ll cover the second element of history later. The Poe Museum house is affectionately called “Stone House”.
Orphaned at the age of two, Poe grew up as part of the successful Allan family. He was never legally adopted, which was a source of relational strain between Poe and the man who raised him. He eventually severed all ties with his father, although the ‘Allan’ name remained a part of his legacy. Imperious and athletic as a boy, he was generally well liked. He moved on to the University of Virginia for a time for higher education.
Who knows exactly where his talent for writing and and fondness for the macabre developed. He eked out a living in his own ear, but he rightly belonged to a different time. His influence is still felt and seen as well ahead of the early 1800s.
Drawn back from my musings of the past, I realized a good hour has been spent at the multiple buildings at the Poe Museum. It has been enjoyable, but I decide it is time to move on.
I stop at Oak & Apple — just down the street — for a late lunch. Although it is November, I almost overheat in the afternoon sun at the outdoor bar. Their Pile High sandwich is amazing, which I wash down with a hard cider brewed in nearby Charlottesville. The mac and cheese is as good as the reviews make it out to be.
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death
I have no choice but to continue up the hill to St. John’s Church. Why? Two reasons. First, it is the second of the two structures in Richmond that predate the Revolutionary War. Second, it is where Patrick Henry delivered his famous “Give me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech. And who doesn’t want to visit the site of such courage?
It’s a climb to the church. But entirely worth it. Although the building itself is closed at the time I’m present, I still enjoy walking the grounds. It is always surreal to walk the very place history was made. My mind wanders to what it would have been like here 250 years ago. It would have been amazing to have been in that Virginia Assembly room at the time.
I buy a book for the boys at the gift shop. It’s unrelated to Patrick Henry, but I remember it from my childhood. It’s an excellent story. My hope is that they develop a love of history.
The Heart of the Confederacy
Back down the hill I go, passing through Shockhoe Bottom once more. A walk along the canal is next. It’s part of a state trail, which is far longer than just the James riverfront in Richmond. It’s the easiest — or at least most interesting — route to my next destination.
And it’s not crowded. It’s sunny, but still reasonably chilly in early November. I wind my way along the canal, around buildings, threading my way toward the Tredegar Iron Works. One particularly interesting section has some great street art along a old building.
The path opens up to Brown’s Island, which offers views of downtown and connection to the other side of the James River via a walkway. I head the other direction, arriving at the American Civil War Museum. It’s early 3:00 PM, but I figure that it’ll be worth seeing in the remaining two hours. The museum facade is unique, built into the historic Tredegar Iron Works.
Depending on your interest in Civil War history, the museum may or may not be worth the time and cost. There’s plenty of memorabilia and snippets about the war, but I am a bit underwhelmed by what it offers. Granted, I’ve been on my feet all day and am getting quite tired by this point. The most interesting section discusses Richmond itself, which was the capital of the Confederacy. I’d forgotten this detail.
Wrapping Up the Day
Although my legs we complaining, a walk across the pedestrian bridge that stretches across the James River. It is a beautiful time of day, with shadows lengthening. Although the river is generally calm, my feet pass over a patchwork of rocks below. The rapids and falls within Richmond historically made the river impassable to shipping. Hence the construction of the nearby canal.
The pathway itself is set on the site of a former hydroelectric dam. Now it lets pedestrians enjoy a great view of Richmond.
Belle Isle looks inviting to the southwest with all its walking paths. It’d be quit a jaunt to get there this evening, but I mentally pencil a visit into tomorrow morning’s plans. More intriguingly, I notice the Belle isle Suspension Bridge to the west. I somehow missed it in the research before the trip. That’l certainly be how I make it to the island tomorrow.
I linger at one of the benches, soaking in the sights and sounds of Richmond. New places invigorate me, and even though it feels like time has flown by today, I’ve enjoyed my first taste of Virginia’s capital.
My stomach reminds me that it’s time to eat. I make my way back along the bridge and to the Delta Hotel. Work waylays me, eating up an hour before I know it. By the time I wrap up, it’s beyond dinner time. Whether it’s a need for comfort food or the subtle influence of my ancestry, Siné Irish Pub becomes my dinner pick. It wasn’t the original plan, which was supposed to be seafood. But a plate of bangers and mash hits the spot.
My day ends as it began — in Shockhoe slip.
A Lazy Sunday Morning. Or Not.
Early mornings can be brutal on the East Coast. You wouldn’t think a three-hour time difference would be bad. But it does throw the routine off. Normally, I struggle to get up at a reasonable hour. But for some reason, I am up before the sun in Richmond, Virginia.
A morning walk is the plan, and it starts bright and early. I am off first for a coffee and a scone at 7:00 AM. Then I make my way to the Virginia War Memorial. The museum isn’t open at this hour, but the shrines are accessible. It’s both impressive and sobering.
From there I head to the river to check out the suspension bridge I saw the previous afternoon. It leads between Tredegar Street and Belle Isle. I’m not alone on this lovely November morning. There are plenty of joggers about. My walk takes me to and from the island, followed by an out-and-back further along the James River.
Nothing beats the view this morning. I’m sad when my couple hours of exploration are up.
There’s time for breakfast at the hotel before I hop on their shuttle and am whisked a couple miles away. It’s Sunday, and I’ve made a point of attending church, even while on vacation. I visit All Saints Reformed Presbyterian Church, which is warm and welcoming. It’s wonderful to worship with the people of God.
One Final Walk Goodbye
My time is drawing to a close. I stop by Roastology on the way back to the hotel. The chai here is excellent — not sweet, and with great spic. Yet somehow it’s still not quite equal to the one from Ironclad the previous day.
I wander the neighborhood, admiring the row houses, before calling the hotel for the shuttle. I can’t get enough of the brick. Living in California, it’s a rare sight.
And like that, my time in Richmond, Virginia draws to a close. I could have done more, I’m sure. But I’ve seen plenty, and the time has been immensely enjoyable.