Where else but Richmond can you do yoga by the river less than a mile from Downtown?
Sitting on a rock in the James River less than a mile from Downtown Richmond, I feel a world away from Virginia’s capital city. I am completely in the moment, every sense stimulated. It’s a hot summer day, but I’m cool, thanks to the refreshing river water rushing by. A whisper of a breeze rustles the leaves in nearby trees, and sunlight glitters like dazzling diamonds on the water’s surface. It’s paradise.
Peter and I are here in Richmond for a getaway weekend. Our friends Robin and John, who live on Richmond’s Northside, have joined us for a dip in the river. “I haven’t been here in years,” says Robin. Nearby a young couple with three kids romp in the river. Then before our eyes, the lithe, willowy mom begins doing yoga poses on a patch of sand by the water’s edge. It’s like poetry in motion.
She gracefully finds her way to a perfect headstand and stays there contemplating the upside-down river. She’s in the moment, too. The hustle and bustle of Richmond seem far, far away, but it’s not, which is why I love this city. There’s tons to see and do and everything is close by. Whenever I visit, I find something new to love about Richmond—like hanging out in the river with friends on a hot summer day.
Let’s see what else we can discover in RVA this weekend.
Off the Beaten Path: The Mill at Fine Creek
Don’t Miss the Bluegrass Jam at Fine Creek Brewery
Accommodations in Richmond run the gamut from hotels to B & Bs and everything in between. Peter and I decide to try something different this visit and stay in Powhatan at a place called The Mill at Fine Creek. It’s a wedding venue but also has a collection of adorable cottages available to travelers as well as wedding parties.
We arrive on a Thursday just in time to catch a bluegrass jam at Fine Creek Brewery next door. The joint is jumping, and Peter and I grab a pizza and a beer and head outside to listen to some tunes and watch the sun settle down in the west.
Each of the 13 cottages has different décor, which I would describe as eclectic and fun. Our two-bedroom cottage is comfy, clean, and spacious. Lodging includes breakfast, which you choose at the General Store and carry home in a basket. Peter and I sit on our back porch each morning and enjoy fresh pastries, yogurt, and delicious coffee.
The cottages and the wedding business sit on land that was once a small town with a post office, store, and a school. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. The ruins of a mill provide a beautiful setting for a wedding. There’s also an amazing area of pink granite with a creek snaking through that is ideal for wedding photos. I love the energy of the place. It feels connected to the past somehow.
The Mill at Fine Creek is a popular spot for weddings, but it’s also perfect for a weekend getaway—and just a half an hour or so from Richmond. Don’t miss the salted caramels for sale in the General Store. They are worth the trip!
On a Meditative Journey at VMFA
Through Nov. 17, 2019: Cosmologies from the Tree of Life
Back in Richmond, we have to visit my favorite museum, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, a stellar collection of art that spans the centuries. John and Robin join us for VMFA’s special exhibit called “Awaken: A Tibetan Buddhist Journey Toward Enlightenment.” This exhibit is one of the main reasons we’re here. I’m not a Buddhist, but I love the peaceful belief system Buddhists adhere to. The exhibit will close in mid-August, so it’s first on my list of things to do.
“Awaken” is not an exhibit you can skate through. The brochure describes it as a meditative journey, and visitors receive a map, which is more like a painted mandala. Over 100 works of art are displayed as you journey into the mandala, each space bringing you closer to understanding your mortality.
In the central chamber you confront a fierce 34-armed deity called the Lightning Terror, who directs his wrath at the enemies of enlightenment. He’s scary looking, yet beautiful and peaceful. The brochure says his purpose is to allow us to confront and conquer our deepest fear.
At the exhibit’s end a floating Buddha statue bathed in a white light exudes serenity. My audio guide leaves me with a thought-provoking conundrum: “Am I in the world or is the world in me? The answer, of course, is yes.”
We meander through the halls of VMFA, pondering the meaning of those questions as we admire globally-inspired art. One exhibit called Cosmologies from the Tree of Life (through Nov. 17, 2019) invites visitors to delve deeper into marginal art from the African American South. Colorful quilts, paintings, sculptures, and works on paper celebrate the narratives of African American artists. My favorites are the quilts with their bold patterns and colors, many made from salvaged scraps of fabric.
Best Pizza Ever at Azzurro’s
Try the Tapas and Wine at C’est Le Vin
Viewing all that art—not to mention pondering the meaning of life—has made us hungry, so we decide to eat lunch at an Italian restaurant called Azzurro’s. It’s an elegant venue with white-topped tablecloths and soft jazz playing in the background. The menu has a variety of tempting choices—from pizzas to pasta.
Robin and I decide to share a Caesar salad and a Mediterranean pizza with spinach, goat cheese, and Kalamata olives. So good. Peter gets a vegetarian calzone that’s huge, and John opts for a lobster roll. We linger over lunch as long as we can, enjoying the food, ambiance, and fellowship.
Our escapade in the river follows, and before long we’re hungry again. Actually, Richmond is a great city to be hungry in. Its food scene is exploding, says my friend Paul, another Richmond dweller. I have my favorites but love trying new spots when I come to town. Tonight we head to C’est le Vin to hear a jazz band and dine on tapas. Yes, there will be some wine consumed as well.
The café—part wine store and part restaurant—is housed in a historic building in Shockoe Bottom. I love the rustic wooden floors and tin ceiling. The band turns out to be two guys who sound like they’re playing together for the first time. Nevertheless, the music is pleasant if occasionally punctuated by sour notes. The food is quite good. We share siracha-infused mussels, patatas bravas, jambalaya, and mac ‘n’ cheese washed down by glasses of tasty red wine.
In the morning Peter and I wander through the South of the James Market, a hugely popular farmer’s market that offers produce, meat, herbs, flowers—you name it. Stands also sell pastries and coffee, and food trucks cook up sizzling meats and sandwiches. The market is nestled in a wooded park, and folks of all kinds congregate here to shop, eat, and see friends. We buy a few veggies for a cookout tonight at Robin and John’s and then head into the city.
The Story of VA: 16,000 Years in 2 Hours
Don’t miss the Memorial Military Murals at VMHC
I’m a museum fan, but unfortunately at home, I always seem to find something more important to do than wander through a museum. When I’m traveling, it’s a different story, and museum visits become a special treat. Richmond has a ton of museums and attractions, and you can easily spend a day exploring just one or two. I love visiting Maymont and its beautiful gardens, as well as the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, but it’s pretty hot outside, so Peter and I opt instead for indoor adventures.
Newly expanded, the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar interprets the Civil War from the Union, Confederate, and African American perspectives. Its core exhibit, “A People’s Contest: Struggles for Nation and Freedom in Civil War America,” features hundreds of original artifacts and compelling imagery. The pathway through the exhibit feels choppy with odd angles interrupting the flow. Turns out this arrangement, described as “fractured,” is intentional and serves as a metaphor for the splintering of our country during the Civil War.
The Virginia Museum of History and Culture, located next to VMFA, is another must-see museum in Richmond, especially if you are a born-and-bred Virginian. My favorite exhibit is one called The Story of Virginia, where you can experience 16,000 years in two hours. Displays about Native Americans segue into the Colonial period, and artifacts provide glimpses into the lifestyles of Virginia’s earliest residents. Virginia’s role in our country’s quest for freedom from Britain is documented followed by exhibits about the Civil War.
In a gallery near the main entrance, I discover the Memorial Military Murals by French artist Charles Hoffbauer. Breathtaking, these murals depict scenes of the Confederate army in four seasons. The Confederate Memorial Association commissioned the artist to paint the murals in the early 1900s, and they are among only a handful of large-scale works depicting the Civil War.
The artist left the murals unfinished to serve in the French army in WWI. When he returned to Richmond to finish them, he destroyed the work he’d already completed and started anew. Some say after experiencing the bloody battles of WWI, he wanted to make the scenes more realistic as opposed to glorifying war. Hoffbauer later said of the murals, “I have given the best that is within me to the work.” Don’t miss these stunning works of art.
Awesome Architecture and Art at the ICA
Check Out VCU’s Institute of Contemporary Art
Last but not least, we pop into one of Richmond’s newest museums, the Institute of Contemporary Art, which is owned and operated by VCU. The architecture of the building, completed in 2018, is remarkable. Designed by Steven Holl, the building’s sharp angles were inspired by a short story called “The Garden of Forking Paths” and represent diverging forks in a road.
The ICA displays temporary exhibits of contemporary art. We catch one called Shadows Are To Shade by Corin Hewitt, which makes us scratch our heads. Sometimes modern art can be so inaccessible, but I see this as a challenge and look for a way into the art. The installation is shadowy, to be sure, and reflects the artist’s fascination with buried things, light, and darkness. Another artwork is called Provocations by Rashid Johnson. It’s a towering pyramid-like structure filled with plants, artifacts, books, and odds and ends—a piece that invites contemplation.
There are many more museums to see—and food to eat—but they’ll have to wait until our next visit to Richmond. Thankfully, our capital city is nearby, so I know I’ll be back soon. Meanwhile our weekend visit leaves me feeling inspired—by art, history, nature, and the pleasures of the moment. That’s why I travel. New experiences make me feel energized and renewed and better able to appreciate what a wonderful world we live in.
What You Need to Know
Here Are Tips for Visiting #RVA
Find out about Richmond’s events and museums, trendy hotels, RVA’s best restaurants, and more at www.visitrichmondva.com.
Coming up at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is a groundbreaking exhibition called Edward Hopper and the American Hotel. Find out exhibit dates and more at www.VMFA.museum.
Get lost in history. These Richmond museums span Virginia’s centuries: The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar and the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.