Williamsburg and the start of our ROAD TRIP

Trip Start Sep 01, 2008
Trip End Nov 19, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Virginia
Friday, September 12, 2008

We picked up our hire car yesterday. Coming from Holland and being on a limited budget, we had of course booked the smallest car possible: the "economy" category. Of course, this being America, there are barely any real small cars on the road. But, rather than being upgraded to a "compact" (what happened when we were in Boston earlier this year), when we went to pick up our car, we were told that all they had was a "small SUV" or a "minivan". So our road trip was effectively upgraded to a ROAD TRIP as we threw our stuff into the back of our hideously ugly, gold-coloured (small?!?) SUV and clambered in the front. Inside, the colour choice was even more distasteful - every detail in a slightly different shade of light, muddy brown. But, it drives with the strength of a tank and the stealth of a fox, so it is actually pretty enjoyable.

Anyway, back to the geography of our trip... We headed south from Washington to Williamsburg, checking into our motel by mid-evening and heading to the cinema to relax after the drive (Tropic Thunder, hilarious film, but not for the faint-hearted). Today is September 11 and as we were getting up, we watched some of the commemoration ceremonies on TV. Luckily though, that was pretty much the last we noticed of the anniversary of the terrorist attacks, since we spent the rest of the day in 1776. Williamsburg is one giant, open-air museum, with dozens of reconstructed buildings dating from the time that it was the capital of the thriving colony of Virginia. A day-pass entitles you to go into all of these buildings and either listen to costumed guides tell you about how they were used and by who, or watch costumed blacksmiths, bakers, tailors, silversmiths and others at work. Now this all sounds a bit naff and in all honesty, we weren't expecting to be very impressed by it all, but we were wrong. It was all wonderfully done, the sights and the people striking exactly the right balance between informative and fun - never taking themselves too seriously. We could have dressed up in costumes too (there were lots of children in old-fashioned dresses and robes and one tall teenager dressed as a monk, looking very amusing taking photos with his digital camera and playing with his mobile phone), but we didn't feel the urge to join in.

There were lots of special activities throughout the day: we sat in on a court case of the kind that would have been held here in the 1700s; we watched a few snippets of plays and poetry readings; and, of course, we followed the main event that took place at the end of the afternoon. This was a re-enactment of some important scenes leading up to the war of Independence, showing what events took place here in Williamsburg at the time. Actors loudly denounced the decision by the British to dissolve the elected colonial assembly which resulted in a situation of "taxation without representation" and fanned the desire for independence. Then some of the key individuals who resided in Williamsburg conducted lively debates about whether declaring independence would be wise or whether this act of treason would be a disaster. For two hours, you could watch different townspeople acting out other small scenes, talking and arguing in the streets about what should be done. At the end of the afternoon, some of the (now formally disbanded) representatives of the colony gathered in front of the Capitol building to announce their decision to join the other American colonies in signing the Declaration of Independence, thereby launching Virginia along with the rest into war with Britain. Of course, we know that it all ends relatively happily and that the Americans are eventually successful, winning their independence and founding the United States. We finished our day in the 1700s in one of the traditional pubs in town. The food was delicious and the fact that we were again served by people in costume, who kept up a healthy banter between them, added to the atmosphere tremendously.
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