the wonderful world of veena.

18 September 2014

veen on the road: monticello.

My status as a history nerd is pretty well cemented - and documented - but what you might not know is that I am also weirdly obsessed with Presidents. As in US Presidents. Not necessarily about their presidencies themselves, or their foreign policy, or anything like that, but with them as people.

My obsession began when I was a child and we got a set of shiny new World Book Encyclopedia books. I was probably around 9, and it was the most amazing thing ever. I started with "Washington, George", read all the way up to "Bush, George H.W", and then went back over the ones I liked. Truth be told, I probably couldn't tell you much of what I read back then, but I was captivated nonetheless. And probably the entry that captivated me most was the one on "Jefferson, Thomas", because it showed pictures of his home at Monticello. Even back then, more than 20 years ago, I knew I wanted to visit and see it for myself.

And now, in the summer of 2014, I finally did.

I visited Charlottesville, Virginia, once before in the fall of 2004 to see my good friend Matt Haygood and to attend a UVA football game. With the short trip and the craziness surrounding the game, there wasn't much time for sightseeing, but I was enamored enough of the town that I knew I would return one day to have a look around. Needing to be in coastal Virginia in time for Pete's 30th birthday celebration gave me the opportunity to get back and explore the town for myself. And first on my list was a visit to Monticello.

Monticello sits on a mountain just outside the town of Charlottesville. Unlike most homes of that time period, an astonishing 95% of the exterior of the house is original to Jefferson's time, making it nearly one-of-a-kind.

Tours of the mansion run every 15 minutes or so, and there are shuttles at regular intervals to transport you from the Visitors Center up to the top of the hill. While you're waiting, you can visit the gift shop, tour a small museum, or watch a 20-minute film about Jefferson and his life at Monticello.

From the time you enter the front doors of the mansion, you can feel how much the home meant to Jefferson. The care he took in designing it - particularly his wings downstairs - shows in the architecture and design as well as in how well it has been maintained over the centuries.

Over the course of the guided tour - lasting between 30-45 minutes - you learn about Jefferson's life, his love for Monticello, his hatred of wasted space, and his love of books and new gadgets. You walk through Jefferson's private quarters and get a peek into the mind of one of America's greatest conundrums - the man who authored the Declaration of Independence stating that "all men are created equal" who was also a man who owned over 500 slaves to tend the farms at his estate. All of the videos and tour guides mention this fact rather than glossing over it or avoiding it, and I appreciated the honesty. The tour in no way tries to show that Jefferson was perfect; rather, it mentions and even emphasizes his flaws: his owning of slaves, his elaborate quarters for himself, the narrow staircases his family members were made to traverse up and down, the failure of some of his inventions, etc.

The tour ends in the basement, where you can learn more about some of the Jefferson household and view the kitchen, wine cellar, and storage rooms. A storm came through Charlottesville on the day I visited, and because there was lightning spotted on the mountain, lots of people were crowded around throughout the basement waiting for the rain to let up. Because I knew it was coming and had worn my rain boots and carried an umbrella with me, I opted to walk back down to the Visitor Center rather than wait with the crowd for a shuttle. There is a nice trail that takes you down to the Jefferson family graveyard and then on through the woods and back down to the shuttle pickup point. And because of the weather, I had it all to myself.

So pretty much my bottom line is this: if you ever find yourself in the Charlottesville area, go to Monticello. It's a little pricy, but between the view from the mountain and the tour of the house, it is totally and absolutely worth it. And if you love Thomas Jefferson, even better.

the deets:
  • located just outside Charlottesville, Virginia. you can't really miss it, and if you do, there are lots of signs in downtown pointing you in the right direction.
  • I did the Day Pass and House Tour for $25. we were unfortunately unable to do the garden tour because of the weather, but the gardens looked pretty awesome and extensive.
  • fun fact: if you pay cash in the gift shop and are receiving change in $2 equivalents, they give you TJ $2 bills as a souvenir!
  • no photographs allowed inside the house, but you can take as many you want of the exterior and the grounds. and they are all very photograph-able.
  • give yourself a few hours at least to go through the house and wander the gardens and grounds.
the only pictures I took:

[the farmers quarters]
[i think this was his sundial? regardless, i liked it]
[i very much enjoy photographing nature in the rain. always reminds me of being back in coorg]
[the grand house in the rain]
And now that my parents have told me we still have those World Books, I might just pull them out and pore over Thomas Jefferson's entry once more. History nerd, party of one.

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