Published: January 15th 2008January 5th 2008
Star in the Sky
Roanoke, VA, USA
Borat’s Rodeo, Appomattox Courthouse and Foamhenge: An Odyssey Through Western Virginia
It can be sad ending a big trip. A year abroad brings huge changes to your world-view and makes home seem so much smaller and, in many ways, just plain odd. But there are good things about home too as long as you are willing to spend a minute to stop and look around you.
Being thankful is not something I’ve traditionally been very good at for various reasons. But, despite my background un-thankful-ness, I have learned over the last few years to step back an be thankful. Kel, my lovely wife, has done wonders for me and could be compared with the water poured on half dead flowers. Her love and attention has allowed me to flourish and grow and for that I am thankful.
So what is there around us in sunny Richmond that is worth seeing and worth being thankful for…well lots of things. But the one I’m going to focus on in this blog entry is: It Doesn’t Take a 1000 Mile Flight For Travel To Be Worth It
Sure, it might seem dull to you at
first to even consider seeing the things around you, but after you’ve seen a smattering of the coolest sights in the world, you realize that there is tons of cool stuff right in your backyard. There are sights, that may be just up the street from you, that define your area, your culture, the people around you or even define you. So many things around you are worth taking a moment to appreciate. Turns out that you can travel almost every day of your life if you want to…you just have to be willing to appreciate the seemingly common things you often take for granted.
So, after having been home for a little over a month we got the itch, it was time to go, time to see something, time to travel. After a touch of research (about an hour’s worth of internet time) Kel decided we were off to Salem, Virginia which is about three hours from Richmond. After work, we set off in the car and spent Friday night driving through the Virginia countryside. A Day In Bustling Roanoke
The beauty of a website like TravelBlog.org is that obscure third-world locations are incredibly
well known. How often do you see blogs from small town South America, Africa or Asia. Pretty often, right? Well there are places that one never sees on TravelBlog.org, and Roanoke, Virginia is one of them.
Roanoke, known as the “Star City of the South” because of its big Hollywood style neon sign perched on a nearby mountain overlooking town, is not exactly a bustling metropolis but it isn’t exactly a small town either. By New Zealand standards it’s a BIG city but by U.S. standards its not worth talking about on the spectrum of city greatness.
With a metropolitan area population of about 300k, one would expect a city with little to do or see. But contrary to what you might think, Roanoke is actually doing pretty well for itself. With a bustling city center, Roanoke feels much more livelier than many cities of similar size.
We spent Saturday morning scoping out what the city-center had to offer and were pretty impressed. The farmer’s market has become more weekly craft fair than produce market but it was well worth the stop. Likewise, we found the Center in the Square building with its multiple arts organizations to
be pretty interesting. We took the time to explore the Art Museum of Western Virginia. Of course its no Louvre, but still worth a quick stop for anyone who is art conscious.
After some time exploring, we set off for nearby Salem, Virgina to see what there was to see. Sadly, Salem can’t really hold a candle to its near-by neighbor, but was still worth a quick stroll. If nothing else, Salem’s quaint city streets and turn of the century houses make for a pretty way to while away a few hours. Would I tell you to go out of your way to come here? No, but it was still something new and different to see. Just When You Think You’ve Seen It All…
With Roanoke and Salem fully explored we still had a few hours left before dinner time. There were more than enough things to do in the area to keep us busy, the bigger question was which one should we do? We finally settled on nearby Natural Bridge.
One of Virginia’s few natural wonders, Natural Bridge consists of 90 foot wide, 215 foot tall gorge which was created by erosion from the
Appomattox, VA, USA
waters of Cedar Creek which runs directly under the bridge. The bridge is a pretty neat concept, but the idea is much cooler than the actual site itself.
While the bridge itself might be a let down, we did find a way to make the place exciting. Since we had lucked out with a warm January day we got a chance to start a new sport…icicle dodging. When an icicle falls from 215 feet it hits with superior force. As we walked under the bridge we caught sight of one of these projectiles a few feet away from us. From that point forward we decided we’d be better off running under the bridge instead of our usual casual stroll. Needless to say, we escaped unscathed but had at least one momentary shock as a pound of ice plummeted feet from our position!!
Much more cool, at least for its hokey factor, are all the other sights which have sprung up around this wonder. With a huge gift store, wax statue museum, a creepy dinosaur park, and the not-to-be forgotten Natural Bridge night time light show and story of creation called the Drama of Creation
. Due to
timing we decided to forgo these hokey yet great sights and instead went to the coolest of them all: Foamhenge
That’s right you guessed it, a local Rockbridge County resident decided, with a few corporate sponsors, to build a life-size replica of England’s Stonehenge. What would the cost be for such an amazing site, you ask? Its completely free…that’s right, free!
I couldn’t stop laughing the whole time we wandered through the rock pillars….oh, I mean foam pillars. Not to mention the fact that, for some reason, the creator decided to add a Merlin-esque wizard to preside over the whole thing. Awesome!!
It was obvious that the owner of the site had a good sense of humor. Some of the signs around the site were well worth reading. “Stonehenge took countless 1500 years to complete…with 600-1000 people used to drag the stones approximately 20 miles…Foamhenge took six weeks with the help of 4-5 Mexicans and one crazy white guy.” Nobody writes something like that unless they have a sense of humor.
No matter what, I think Foam-henge was the highlight of my day up to that point. Such cheesy goodness is up there
Bedford, VA, USA
with the world’s biggest rocking-horse in Adelaide Hills, SA, Australia. You just can’t pass something like this up. Sure Borat Made Fun of Us, But We’re Still Proud
When we booked our tickets for the Salem Rodeo, we had no idea we were heading to one of the most famous rodeos in the United States. Its not famous for its size (its actually quite small) or for its amazing performers (the majority of the bull-riders were from local parts of Virginia)…nope, it’s famous for Borat.
Those of you who’ve seen the movie will remember the scene where Sacha Baron Cohen, playing Borat, sang an alternative version of the national anthem at the Salem Rodeo and was eventually booed out of the stadium. One would think that this event would have caused the locals of Salem/Roanoke to feel some sort of acrimony towards the actor. Instead, he was actually invited back for the 2007 rodeo. Sadly he declined the invitation but the crowd still remembers their brush with fame and are pretty pleased with the whole incident.
If anything, this ability to laugh at themselves and still be pleasant about the whole escapade speaks volumes
Roanoke, VA, USA
about the local residents of this very “Southern” part of Virginia. Everyone seemed respectful, respectable, and incredibly nice the whole time we were at the rodeo. We had really hoped for a bit of spectacle and a chance to gawk at the locals but found everyone to be pretty darn wonderful (add southern accent here). Everyone around us was incredibly friendly and hospitable despite the fact that we were obviously not rodeo regulars.
The rodeo turned out to be tons of fun. We got the chance to see rodeo clowns, horse agility races, women cowgirl bull-riders, calf roping, bronc riding and bull riding. It may sound incredibly strange but it was a blast to watch and, surprisingly enough, all of the animals were treated pretty well throughout the show.
The real surprise of the event was the diversity. For a sport that is traditionally a white male sport, recent years have seen some serious growth for other groups. First, we got a chance to see a couple of really skilled women ride some dangerous looking beasts but the biggest surprise was the winner of the full on bull riding event. The black guy, who won the event, not
Rockbridge, VA, USA
only outperformed his white compatriots, he down right creamed them. While making his bull ride look effortless he pulled in a well over 8 second time while his poor, bedraggled fellow cowboys couldn’t even qualify with times 5 seconds or, in some cases, less than 3 seconds. It seems that diversity is touching more than just our upcoming presidential race!!
When it all ended, Kel and I were a little sad because we really wanted more. We may have to take a trip to see one of the bigger rodeos out west at some point. Stay tuned! History At Your Fingertips
On the way home the next day we decided to stop and see a few more notable places since we were in no hurry to get home. Our first stop for the day was the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. Built in Bedford because the area suffered the highest American per capita losses during the battle on D-Day the monument was built on a hill overlooking the town.
While an odd site for a D-Day Memorial due to its middle-of-nowhere-ness, the site itself is actually pretty cool. The statues represent all of
the stages of the D-Day activities from boat debarkation to making a beachhead to climbing the cliffs of Omaha beach. During the summer there is actually water in the fountain and jets propel water in the air similar to bullets hitting the water, adding to the realism of the scene.
Even without the water and bullet spray the statues and presentation captivating. Having seen some of the largest war memorials in Europe, we were impressed. We spent maybe a half hour at the memorial before heading on to our last sight before returning home.
Our final stop was Appomattox Courthouse, the sight of General Lee’s surrender to Grant at the end of the American Civil War. While not as impressive as the design of the D-Day memorial, the buildings here are the actual buildings that were used on that fateful day in April 1865.
Sadly, the momentousness of the occasion that happened here isn’t really captured in this collection of small buildings. Considering 620,000 soldiers died during the Civil War which accounts for the largest American losses in any war that America has ever participated in, you would expect this surrender of the South to the North
Coca Cola Sign
Roanoke, VA, USA
to be something worth really commemorating. Most likely due to the remote location of Appomattox and the fact that no Civil War battles were ever fought there leads to its being underplayed as a major US historical site.
While I ran around taking pictures of the country beauty that surrounded us, Kel decided it was time to prove one of our many travel theories, a paid bathroom is always better than a free one. Sure, we had to pay more than 10 bucks to see Appomattox Courthouse, but that ten bucks provided kel with a dirt free bathroom experience instead of driving up the road to the filthy McDonalds bathroom in downtown. It seems that bathrooms fall into the “pay for what you get” mentality that is so prevalent throughout the world. Take this advice to heart fellow travelers…it has been true in more than 90% of our worldly adventures.
After all was said and done we returned home feeling satisfied. That travelers addiction had been satisfied and we hadn’t even traveled that far in search of our fix. The whole experience was proof that we can meet these yearnings without spending thousands of dollars traveling all over
the world. Does it mean that we will not travel far and wide again, no, but it does mean, while we bide our time, we can still have some fun!
There are more photos below