As I stepped out of the Dallas airport to find my car to leave for Virginia, John Denver's all-time classic' Country Roads, Take Me Home,' was dancing on my lips. Though Denver sang specifically about the neighbouring state of West Virginia, the purpose of my trip was a five-day visit to the state of Virginia, which too has a similarly enthralling natural beauty.
Blue Ridge Mountains lining country roads
My vehicle was going straight to Fairfax County. A fleeting view of Virginia's beauty unfurled before me during the nearly hour-long journey. Although natural beauty is characteristic of most states in the United States, Virginia’s charm is entirely different. The blue mountain ranges at a distance and the trees in various seasonal hues are of great beauty. The driver said winter is over and at that time of the year, there will be even more colors. There are not many skyscrapers or modern buildings. The reason why the buildings here have a classic beauty is that Virginia is one of the earliest European settlements. Our hotel booking was at the Archer Tysons Hotel in Tysons, a small sleepy town in Fairfax.
Archer of Tysons
Archer Tysons is a brand-new boutique hotel with a classic look and 200-odd rooms. It sports an industrial architecture style design: an interior with a wide lobby and walls made of bricks like in factories with visible steel frames. The seats in the lobby and other furniture are all arranged in the same fashion.
I arrived at the hotel before 10 am, but the check-in was only at two o'clock in the afternoon. The large bag and other luggage were deposited in the cloakroom. I kept the necessary bag in hand. I went to the restroom, washed my body, changed my clothes, and got ready. Nearby is the McLean Silver Line metro station. I got out of the hotel. Though it was sunny, a cold wind was blowing. The jacket was handy.
A jacket for the chill and a cap for the sun are ideal. I walked towards the station. I have to go back to the airport area on my return. The first visit is to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. I have to catch either the metro rail or Bus 983 to get me there. I took the metro.
First wave of English migration...
The early waves of British migration to Virginia, a county flanked by the Atlantic, started in 1607. A firm called the Virginia Company of London established the Colony of Virginia – the first permanent settlement in America. It was one among the 13 colonies in the early period, including America, which the Europeans described as the 'New World’.
This land bears a colossal history of the transatlantic slave trade and a series of wars, including the civil wars between the Europeans and the American Indians. This is also the birthplace of eight US presidents right from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson. Incidentally, it also happens to be one of the most historic places in America, which itself does not have much of a history to boast about.
Where history begins
Though the modern history of Virginia is just 400 years long, humans inhabited this land at least 12,000 years ago. When the tour guide said they had no long history like the Indians, I thought about their lack of knowledge about the early European migration to America.
While the humans in the early stages led a nomadic life, more permanent settlements began to take shape in Virginia about 5,000 years ago. Documents are available to show that farming started here in the tenth century. The economy of Virginia is still deeply dependent on agriculture.
When the English visitors arrived and established the first urban centre James Town here, there already existed an indigenous village called Virovokovoko with a village head Powthan. He is also believed to have served as the spiritual leader of this settlement. The residents here used to speak a popular indigenous language known as Algoguan.
Over 30 such indigenous tribes had already inhabited the land years before the British first reached here. While the official documents estimate the local population to be around 15,000 when the British arrived, a bulk of this population died due to chickenpox and other epidemics. Or else, they might have all been killed by the British.
The name Virginia was first spotted in the travel documents of Captain Arthur Barlow, though it is not yet sure if he used this name to denote the virgin forests or after the Virgin Queen Elizabeth. The period that followed was rife with wars against the American Indian Chieftains and hard labour of the African slaves.
The age of George Washington marks a major historic milestone for this land. We will be having a brief stopover at the George Washington Bungalow during the trip.
The flow of thoughts seized as the train reached its station and we took a walk straight to the museum.
On a flight without check-in
It was my fascination for the aircraft that took me first to the Smithsonian National Air and Defense Museum. Located close to the Dallas airport, this gigantic museum offers a peep into all facets of aircraft linked to global history.
The specialties include three-dimension shows, guided tours, simulators, and facilities for purchasing collectibles, and so on. Having made a prior understanding of the key views on offer, I could see them all directly.
1. Lockheed SR 71 Black Bird: The fastest jet aircraft on the earth with a speed of 3,418 km/hr. This plane will take just 40 minutes to cover the distance from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. In its last flight on March 6, 1990, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Vidalos reached Washington from Los Angeles in 1 hr 4 minutes and 20 seconds. A normal aircraft will take an average of 5.15 hours to cover this distance of 5,500 km. The aircraft was donated to the Smithsonian Museum following its last flight. As soon as I reached the museum, I rushed towards the aircraft and instantly took a selfie.
2. Boeing B-29 called Enola Gay: The aircraft that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima during the Second World War of 1945. The Bockscar aircraft that dropped the bomb at Nagasaki three days later is currently stationed at the Air Force museum in Ohio.
3. Concorde Fox Alpha, Air France: The fastest passenger aircraft, which is currently out of operation.
4. Space shuttle discovery: The third space shuttle launched by the US. The spacecraft took as many as 184 persons to space in 39 flights and brought them back successfully. Overall, it has flown a distance of over 24 crore kilometres and still looks fresh. I touched it and was satisfied. The moment also brought to my mind saddening thoughts about the horrific death of Kalpana Chawla, an astronaut of Indian Origin, when the space shuttle she was travelling on board exploded while making its touchdown on Earth.
5. Boeing 707: The first plane that took passengers to jet speed. It first flew on July 15, 1954. For the Indians, however, it also brings to mind the distressing death of Homi Bhabha in an accident involving this aircraft. The Air India 101 carrying the scientist crashed in the Mont Blanc mountains in Europe in 1966.
The stories are narrated by retired soldiers who have been part of wars and space expeditions during their service. The visitors are also offered a chance to raise their queries with a former pilot who was part of the `Discovery’ team through video conferencing. I raised a question and promptly received the reply.
The views on offer simply didn’t seem to end. One can spend a whole day here amidst the prototypes of first-generation aircraft and thousands of original aircraft from different parts of the world as well as the space shuttles. There is one simulator that offers visitors the experience of a plane crash, besides a 4D theatre. I watched a 4D movie on the history of the aircraft but was not satisfied. But I was forced to cut short the visit by 3 pm since I had not done my check-in at the hotel.
Perch: A garden in the sky
Having checked in at the hotel, I soon got out after having a brief snack. The streets adjacent to the hotel are rather empty. There are, however, a whole lot of movie screens, brand showrooms, and restaurants located here. We would know about their existence only when we reach the spot.
I had to wander through the streets here for a while in search of the Perch, the garden in the sky. Finally, I managed to locate the building and entered it through a small, single door.
Reaching its eleventh floor on a lift, I made my entry into a heavy rush that even put the city downwards to shame. The entire area was bustling with a huge crowd of families including kids. It was a beautiful garden with an array of trees and plants lined up in different patterns. One would never feel that it is located above the earth. The place also had brief play areas for kids and small shops operating out of tents.
Three outdoor restaurants with their serving counters set up on vintage vehicles such as the Red London Bus, Classic American Truck, and different cars, etc are functioning in a corner of the garden. From an array of special delicacies lined up at the restaurants here, I bought a sandwich-type snack and a ballast beer, which carried the tag India al pele. The fatigue of forsaking sleep for two days did me in.
I came to understand later that the beer, which was a prominent brand here, carried the 'India' tag as it was widely exported to the country by the erstwhile British East India Company during the 18th century.
I sat down for some more time and watched the scenes. The importance that the Americans accord to their kids was clearly reflected in all their deeds.
The parents are competing with each other to explain all things to their kids and show them around the place. They are indeed building a bright future for these kids.
I gave a break to my views and thoughts and returned to the hotel. I decided to take a rest for some time and visit the city later in the evening for dinner, perhaps.
Long Island Iced Tea & Paratha…
Had a little nap, and it was 7 pm when I woke up. However, darkness is yet to set in. When I went to the reception, the bar was open and active. Comfortably sat on a stool and order a Long Island Iced Tea. It’s a special cocktail typically made with all the white drinks, black tea, lemon, and ice. The barman exchanged pleasantries and then I enquired him which is the good restaurant around.
He gave out two names: Chopati Indian Kitchen and Taste of India. Maybe, he thought, since I was an Indian, I would be longing to have Indian foods.
Finally, I chose to dine at the ‘Taste of India’ which is located at the Tyson corner itself. Though I wavered a little from my habit of having that country’s food while on foreign trips, I was not at all disappointed. A combination of soup, salad, paratha, and delicious chicken curry. My dinner is over.
The fact that I was the only Indian at the restaurant then points out the love that Americans have for Indian food. I returned to my hotel and cuddled under the sheets. Soon I was fast asleep…
Virginia is for lovers...
The place is ideal to travel alone or with family. Those out on tour, nature lovers and history buffs will all love the destination, for sure.
The best time to visit
From April to October.
Casual wear, jacket, sun glass, and cap desirable.
The cheapest airline is Air India. Return tickets are available, starting from Rs 75,000. Those who like to have a more comfortable flying experience should go for Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad Airlines. The ticket prices will be at least 60 percent more than that of Air India.
How tours can be planned?
The Virginia Tourism Corporation website is authentic. All details, including the places to visit, programmes, stay, and packages, can be accessed from it. (www.virginia.org)
Which places to visit?
Mount Vernon (George Washington’s house), Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s house), Virginia University, Shenandoah National Park, Alexandria Old Town, Rich Mount Down Town, Luray Caverns, Virginia wine tasting tour, Ghost tour, traditional restaurants like Mickey Tavern, Bars and the like.
Though Indian restaurants are there, try to experience traditional Southern Food.