Where History Vacations

Discovering stories, muskets, peanut soup and other good stuff in Colonial Williamsburg.

If television has taught me anything, it’s that when most people hear the phrase “romantic getaway,” visions of the tropics and piña coladas dance in their heads.

Of course, I’m not most people.

During my senior year of college, I was in search of somewhere to go on my spring break. I had traveled to Florida and Scotland on my previous three spring breaks, so I was all out of ideas and money when March rolled around that semester. I was burnt out from studying medieval literature for my comprehensive exams, so I really needed something simple and relaxing. Still, this was going to be my last spring break ever, so it still needed to be memorable and fun. Luckily, my history-buff Boyfriend came to the rescue. He took a week off of work and arranged for us to head to Williamsburg, VA (“Where History Lives”), one of his favorite places to go as a child.

Even though my childhood was liberally peppered with educational vacations and field trips, I somehow missed out on the Colonial Williamsburg experience. The one time I had been even close to it was as a pit stop after a family trip to a nearby amusement park. We had stayed just long enough for my mother to poke around a shop or two, and I remembered being really bored. Since then, I had never harbored any deep desires to go back and see the rest of it.

It turns out I had been missing out on something special.

Now a popular field trip destination, Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia during the colonial period. The center of the biggest and most influential colony, Williamsburg had a front row seat to some major historical events. In the early 1920s, the historical buildings of the old revolutionary town were reconstructed and preserved, and new facilities have since been erected to serve as museums and educational centers. Today, it’s a meticulously maintained example of what our country was like in the 1700s and a surprisingly cool place to spend some time.

I was charmed even before we even made it to the historic part of town. Our first stop was to do some shopping and exploring in the town’s more modern section, where we found some of our favorite goodies: strawberry lime sodas, half a pound of assorted fudges, and a hefty wedge of brie. For a foodie like me, this trip was already heaven.

The next day, we rose early to mooch from the hotel breakfast bar and head into the colonial section of town to receive a full dose of history and general nerdery. We ventured into the courthouse, armory, guardhouse and the old hospital, which was the first building in America to be used as an insane asylum. It has some sufficiently creepy exhibits on torture and the “treatment” of the mentally ill.

One of my favorite destinations was the immaculate Governor’s Palace, which was once home to Thomas Jefferson. Even the foyer was exciting, since its walls contained more swords and muskets than I had ever seen in my life. We also got to talk to costumed tour guides and learn how to greet one another like 18th century gentlepersons (albeit slightly clumsy 18th century gentlepersons).

Our two days in town were a blur. We watched a pair of servants brewing a cauldron of beer, made our way successfully through a hedge maze, watched a colossal old printing press in action, waved to the fife and drum brigade marching through town, and wandered through jail cells to learn about the history of pirates and prisoners in the area.

We also ate some some truly amazing food. It had never occurred to me to associate a place like Williamsburg with fine dining before, but I still dream about the chicken pot pie and peanut soup that I had at the King’s Arms Tavern — a meal so droolingly good that Boyfriend bought me a cookbook.

The nice thing about vacationing as adults is getting to move at our own pace. I chuckled a few times at the squirmy children that were being dragged around town, especially since I probably looked the same way when I was a little kid. On this trip, though, we got to do exactly what we wanted. The town tends to close down by dinnertime, so we ventured into the colonial areas by day and were all settled into the hotel to relax and hot tub by evening.

By the time it was all over, I was giddy with vacation bliss, having caught up on some much-needed relaxation and eaten and shopped with gusto. I even managed to learn a thing or two. Best of all, Boyfriend got to play tour guide and share one of his favorite places with me. We had such a good time that he whisked me down there again this past summer, this time for a trip to Busch Gardens, Water Country USA, and more delicious tavern food. We’re already talking about trying to go again soon.

Recently, in a burst of nostalgic bliss, I visited the Williamsburg Web site to look at pictures and skip down a digitized memory lane. After mentally planning out our next trip, I found a section of the site that allows anyone to send colonial-themed e-postcards. I picked one that featured a horse-drawn carriage and sent it to Boyfriend.

“Wish we were here,” I wrote. “Love, Molly.”

Article © 2007 by Molly E. Weeks