Not an ice cream!
Trip Start Mar 23, 2009
27Trip End Jul 23, 2009
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This a house we had wanted to visit as soon as we saw it in our guide book (as well as a huge recommendation from Larry) and we were not to be disappointed, the home of Thomas Jefferson sits atop a mountain, well hill really, Monticello means little mountain in Italian. He did in fact travel extensively and spent 5 years in France as the American ambassador. His father, a surveyor, owned the land and Thomas as a boy would play up on the hill, dreaming that one day he would build a house there. In order to build he had to reshape the hilltop, smoothing its summit and laying an ingenious set of circular roads following the contours so that goods and later guests could make their way up the slope easily. His plans for the house evolved over forty years into the building that we saw; the visitors' centre had brilliant exhibitions on all aspects of his life, with many of his personal items on display. Jefferson used Monticello as his personal laboratory and throughout the day we learned just how his thirst for knowledge and his brilliantly inventive mind has left a remarkable legacy.
We had checked on the website for details about opening hours etc and chose not to buy tickets on line, thinking that it shouldn’t be too busy. Although it is school holidays here, we thought if we got there fairly early all would be well. We had not anticipated how popular a venue it was though; as we pulled into the car park and struggled to find a spot we congratulated ourselves on not being in the motor home. One option had been to leave this visit for our journey as we left VA, to make a small detour from our route to Pennsylvania, spend the day there and then perhaps overnight in a Wal Mart and continue on our way the next morning. However once we saw how busy it was, how full the small RV parking spots were, we knew we had made the right decision to leave Bree back at the campsite for another night..
Anyhow we joined a relatively short queue at the ticket counter, bought our tickets and were told that the next house tour with space was about a 40 minute wait – 'You’re busy today’ we said…’You’re lucky" replied the nice ticket seller, "Over the week end the wait was 3-4 hours” lucky it is then!
I have to comment on how well everything was organised and how very pleasant and helpful all the staff were, but I suppose they are used to dealing with one or two tourists. Yes, its summer, Americans – and internationals are on holiday, the couple in front were from CA and the couple behind I think from Japan. Well I suppose Jefferson was a president…and I suppose he did draft the Declaration of Independence.
The house tours were leaving the front porch every 5 mins and there were 20 in each group; but all credit to our tour guide and the others we had the pleasure of meeting, they were very knowledgeable and yet seemed to be telling their story for the very first time. We learned later that it takes them about a year to be trained for any of the tours and several of them can do more than one topic.
Anyway, the house… although grand for its day with many innovations, had a cosy feel.
We also took the garden tour (of course) and the Mulberry Row tour, which painted a very vivid picture of life as a slave. This was a ‘street’ 1000ft. long, a rough track lined with mulberry trees along about 100 slaves lived and worked at one time there were 17 buildings along it, but as they were mostly wooden structures, little survives today. It must have been a constant dilemma for Jefferson, he depended on slaves to run his plantation and estate and yet declared that “all men are created equal” and have right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – perhaps he saw the plantation/gardens/his horticultural work as a calling that would one day benefit all of mankind, maybe that’s how he reconciled what to us, seems like a total contradiction.
www.monticello.org The website can give you all the info you might want; here’s our take on it told of course in pictures!