An Insider’s Guide to Richmond

Things to do in Richmond, VA whether you're new to the town or just passing through.

Richmond, Virginia is one of those cities that everyone has heard of, but not necessarily visited. It's not a well-known southern foodie destination like Savannah or Charleston, nor does it have the trendy appeal of Chattanooga or the timeless pull of New Orleans, but Richmond is a destination to pay attention to. First, it's the state capital of Virginia, and let's not forget Richmond's broadly recognized claim to fame: Patrick Henry made his historic "Give me liberty or give me death" speech in 1775. But there is a lot more.

Here are some fun––and mostly free––activities to keep you busy in Richmond throughout the year.

  • The Virginia State Capitol - This elegant legislative building was designed in 1788 by Thomas Jefferson and Charles-Louis Clérisseau. Its impressive architecture was heavily influenced by Maison Carrée, a French building of Roman design. Set in the middle of a beautifully landscaped 12-acres, it is flanked by statues of prominent figures from early U.S. history. During the Civil War it served as the Confederate capital. This national historic landmark is the perfect place for a lunch break, sunny afternoon picnic, or jaunt with your dog. Bonus points if you spot the statue of Edgar Allan Poe.

  • Maymont Park - Here you'll find 100 acres of both raw and cultivated natural beauty. Its original owners, James H. and Sallie Dooley, lived in a striking mansion (for which both guided and unguided tours are available) on the estate until their deaths, at which point Maymont was bequeathed to the public. Rolling hills, landscaped gardens, and nature exhibits populate this serene public park. Take a gander at rescued bald eagles and black bears that are no longer able to survive in the wild, or explore the Japanese garden where koi will witness your attempts to meditate (no judgement though).
  • The Virginia Capital Trail - The trail offers 52 miles of paved biking paradise from Richmond to Williamsburg. As you whiz down this winding trail, try to slow down enough to read the historic landmark signs dotted along the way. If you're based in Richmond, I recommend heading towards Williamsburg starting from Dorey Park. The trail is less crowded and strays farther away from the road at that point than it does if you begin your ride in downtown Richmond. You'll pass lush foliage and gently rolling farmland as you wind your way south, often without seeing another soul for miles. No bike? No problem. There's plenty of outfits willing to hook you up with a sweet 2-wheeler.

  • Ellwood Thompson - This local grocery store extraordinaire caters to the health- and environmentally-conscious. If you're looking for a casual bite to eat, a relaxed jazz performance, or even some spiritual enlightenment, you've come to the right place. Their Beet Cafe frequently features local bands or experts hosting classes on anything from aromatherapy to Chinese acupuncture. Plus, Ellwood Thompson's prepared food bar makes Whole Foods' offerings pale in comparison, with an ever changing array of skillfully prepared foods catering to vegans, vegetarians, and carnivores alike. Even those who scoff at the idea of seitan as an entree (um, hello, it's delicious) will surely be impressed by items like vegan chicken parmesan and braised pork ribs made from ethically raised porcine. Pro tip: if you're hungry hit the hot bar before shopping or else you'll end up buying half the I have been known to do on occasion.
  • Monument Avenue - This nationally renowned boulevard is lined with jaw-droppingly gorgeous turn-of-the-century mansions and interspersed with majestic statues of noted historical figures. Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson (the original icon for the hipster beard) are just a few of the famous denizens depicted in bronze along the route. Do yourself a favor and get someone else to drive down this distinguished avenue so you can properly appreciate the stunning architecture without risking your (or someone else's) life or limbs.
  • Historic St. John's Church - This historic site doubles as one of the nation's oldest churches that's still in use today and the site of Patrick Henry's famous speech. Erected in 1741, this meticulously-restored church offers guided tours where you'll learn just how critical Henry's speech was the to the birth of a young nation, as well as fascinating historical facts about the city of Richmond. If you happen to visit on a Sunday, reserve a spot to observe the reenactment of the oft quoted speech, performed by actors portraying George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the celebrated Henry himself.
  • Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden - Here you'll experience a historic property boasting 50 acres of exquisitely designed gardens. If you happen to visit Lewis Ginter at night during the holiday season, much of the outdoor space will be cheerfully lit with festive lights and illuminated depictions of storybook characters. It's definitely worth braving the cold for - and it doesn't hurt that you can buy hot drinks and snacks along the way. You can plan your visit for any time, as they have exhibits year round that align with the seasons. Meander down the Woodland Walk, a shaded path hidden away from the rest of the open air gardens and bordered with lush foliage, or build up an appetite gawking at the Edible Display Garden. (Well, I worked up an appetite anyway. If you're expecting burgers in trees you'll probably be disappointed.) If it's too cold to tromp around outside, warm up in their 11,000 square foot conservatory. You'll get to admire painstakingly crafted displays of exotic and unusual florae, as well as the more traditional, perennially appealing plant life.

  • Carytown Shopping District - A picturesque stretch of local boutiques, eateries, and businesses. As soon as you set foot on the mile-long stretch of Cary Street you may experience a sensation not unlike lust. Your heartbeat will speed up with excitement at the grand expense of irresistible stores and you'll find yourself smiling for no reason. Well, actually, there is a good reason: it's freakin' adorable. Peruse trendy high-end garb and bags at Roan, or scoop up a vintage DVF dress at Clementine. Even if you aren't really someone who goes gaga over luxury scented candles and bar tools that could pass as art, definitely stop by Mongrel. A purveyor of everything from cheeky tea towels to mustache wax to Richmond memorabilia, this is a place where you could easily spend an hour just browsing.
  • Richmond Wine Station - A wine retailer and bar with a unique imbibing experience. The Richmond Wine Station is like a tapas restaurant for wine: it boasts 64 wines dispensed automatically from machines stationed throughout the space in three different size pours. Simply swipe your refillable card at the machine, choose your wine and pour size, and pour your own wine. Eats are available to accompany the wine (as are some craft beer selections for those who have yet to embrace oenophilia). Grab a glass and get tasting!
  • Lucy's Restaurant - An under-the-radar dining establishment with a cult following. Located in the historic Jackson Ward district, you'll love this cozy space owned by married restaurateurs Amanda and Jason Lucy. Choose from options like creamy sweet potato hummus with fried kale or crispy fried overs served over bacon collard greens (taste the south!) for an appetizer, and agonize over the mouthwatering entrees. With items like Non-Spaghetti and Meatballs (spaghetti squash pasta topped with artichoke, spinach and avocado "meatballs") and Berkshire Pork Chop with Smoked Smashed Potatoes you may be tempted to come back for second helpings.

This is just a small sampling of what Richmond has to offer. You could spend days educating yourself at one of its many museums, or indulging your inner Bacchus at a local winery or two (or three).

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What I Learned as an American Living in London During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Even subtle cultural differences change how a country handles crisis.

On March 3rd, 2020, I left New York City to go spend three months in London with my longtime partner.

You likely recognize that date as shockingly close to when all hell broke loose around the world thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I was leaving NYC, there were already stirrings of unease surrounding a mysterious new virus that was making its way from China to the States, but very few people thought it would be anything but a passing inconvenience.

As it turned out, I likely already had the virus when I departed New York. I began running a fever the day I arrived in London. Still, I figured I had probably just caught a cold on the plane (this was before we knew what we know now, that the coronavirus was already extremely prevalent in NYC by March 3rd), and there was no way of knowing for sure, because tests were only available to people in the hospital with COVID symptoms. Soon, my partner also came down with symptoms.

As we recovered (we were both lucky to have relatively mild cases that lasted only a couple of days), we watched London slowly close down around us. First, theaters and public venues began to close, then office workers were told to stay home. Throughout it all, there was a reigning sense of calm and acceptance among the British people, even as the rest of the world began to panic.

The complaints I heard from British friends and acquaintances were never about the lockdown measures, but rather about the conservative government's hesitance to take more drastic steps and the lack of clarity surrounding what they expected the population to do to prevent the spread of the virus.

Still, I was struck by the difference in tone that I saw on my social media from American friends discussing the pandemic and the calm acceptance of the British people around me. Every post by an American discussing the pandemic used the word "I" over and over again and had a generally panicky tone. Meanwhile, the British were speaking with "we" and jokingly mourning their inability to grab a pint and watch football.

Sure, this composure was not true of every single citizen in the UK, just as panic was not every American's reaction, but there was a distinct difference in the responses I personally saw. In general, people who lived in London seemed quick to ask how they could help each other and their country, while many Americans seemed ready to batten down the hatches and take on an "every man for himself" attitude.

I was struck by this sign I saw outside a local corner shop in London:

Image of sign asking if anyone needs anything during COVID-19

Everywhere in London I saw examples of collectivism. While images were coming out of America of totally bare supermarket shelves thanks to people hoarding food and supplies to ensure their own comfort and safety, in London I watched two older women argue over who should take the last packet of chicken thighs. Both women insisted the other should have it.

Now that I'm back in the US, I haven't seen a thing like that in my local grocery stores, and while I know mutual aid networks are flourishing and neighbors are assisting each other in cities around the US, I've still been struck by our general lack of visible camaraderie.

It's no secret that the British government handled the COVID-19 crisis relatively poorly, but I was still struck by a sense of hard-fought unity I felt I shared with every average Londoner.

The British aren't an overly expressive people, but they're extraordinarily cordial. We Americans usually think of this kind of British decorum as a stuffy relic of the past that's only relevant in the event of an afternoon tea at Harrods, and perhaps that's partly true, but COVID-19 showed me just how deep this cordiality goes.

British decorum is not a form of politeness that's just about saying "Please" and "Thank you" or moving out of someone's way on the sidewalk; it's the kind of regard for your fellow man that makes it second nature to wait patiently in line if that makes a supermarket safer. It's an innate sense of obligation to each other that makes wearing a mask on public transportation an obvious and inarguably appropriate step to take during a deadly pandemic.

Sure, Brexit proves that nationalism is just as alive and well in England as it is in America, and in many ways Boris Johnson is a slightly less terrifying version of Donald Trump. But my time in Britain showed me that nothing can rid the British people of their ability to weather a storm as a united people, while I can't say the same of America.

On March 20th, Boris made the historic decision to close the pubs in the UK. For context, even during WWII, when London was being regularly bombed by the Germans, the pubs mostly remained open. This was the only time during my stay in London that I saw a collective outpouring of emotion.

I walked to my local pub out of curiosity that night (I had been two weeks without symptoms and told I was fine to leave the house), knowing that it would be closed indefinitely first thing the next morning. What I found was a sensibly socially distanced crowd of people laughing and singing and drinking together to mark the unthinkable day when the pubs would shut. Everyone was fast friends with their neighbor, and even the drunkest among us kept their distance and used hand sanitizer often. But there was a feeling of unity in the pub that night that I have never experienced in America. A sense that, as a people, Londoners would get through this by looking after one another in ways their government had nothing to do with.

Londoners survive; that's what they do. But the part of "keeping calm and carrying on" that doesn't fit as neatly on a poster is the additional impetus to help one's neighbors in big and small ways.

As we're forced to reckon with the failings of the American government during this time of political, social, and economic turmoil, I wonder if we should not also be looking at the pervasive sense of individualism that's so innate to our culture. I'm not even sure I fully recognized it until it became starkly obvious to me in contrast to a different culture.

Yes, the American government failed us in the way it handled the COVID-19 outbreak, but shouldn't we also interrogate our personal inability to care for each other without strict mandate from the government? Shouldn't we consider that true change can't come to America until we start taking personal responsibility for each other? Yes, we need to deconstruct the systems of oppression inherent in the American government that allow for widespread injustice. But we also need to ask ourselves everyday if we're asking the government to do the work that we aren't doing ourselves.

In the wise words of people who have been doing mutual aid work for generations: We keep us safe. It's time we take a page from Londoners' book and consider that politeness isn't just nice; it can also be an act of radical resistance.


The Ugly Side of Glamping in New York City

Is it really possible to blend camping with luxury?

When the world is looking bleak—e.g. Every morning, after you check the news—it can feel great to "get away from it all."

An ordinary vacation to a hotel, a resort, or a rental house is fine, but it's not exactly an escape from society. Apart from the proximity of strangers, cramping your style and potentially infecting you with a deadly virus, it makes it slightly harder to pretend that the world has disappeared when you're surrounded by buildings and have a TV constantly threatening to remind you of current events.

It's no wonder, then, that camping has seen a huge resurgence in recent months. People want to be out in nature, in the open air, away from everything. You can bring all your own equipment, never have to worry about social distancing, and can ignore the state of the world for a weekend. That is, if you're up for roughing it.

Not everyone is built to set up tents, sleep on the ground, go days without showering, and eat nothing but s'mores and hotdogs. Some of us are a little too pampered to really enjoy the full camping experience. That's where glamping comes in.

There are some different approaches to the glamping scene. You could rent a deluxe, modern cabin from a company like Getaway, or you could stay in a luxury tent at a glamping resort. In either where you don't really have to worry about what you're going to eat, how you're going to stay clean, or how to assemble the overly-complicated camping gear. All you have to do is enjoy some fresh air in the great outdoors. Everything else is taken care of.

Glamping view

It sounds like the best of both worlds, and that's what my wife and I were hoping to find on a recent glamping trip in New York City. With rates starting around $400 a night, we had access to a spacious, climate-controlled canvas tent with electrical outlets and a plush bed; nearby bathrooms with rainfall showers; free wifi; a gourmet, open-air restaurant; and evening campfires with provided s'mores kit.

There was nothing to set up and nothing to worry about, and it was all in a beautiful natural setting with sunset views of the New York Harbor, the Manhattan skyline, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty. It was halfway between a resort and a campground, and it seemed at first like the best of both worlds—a civilized escape from civilization. But that's not the full picture.

Anyone who cares to find the glamping retreat in question should have no problem tracking it down—there aren't a lot of glamping spots in NYC—but this is not a review of a single company. This is about the whole luxury-tent experience.

I should note that my wife and I have done similar vacations twice before. Once we rented a large yurt for a family getaway, and another time we stayed at a friend's property where he had a permanent canvas tent set up.

Neither of those trips were nearly as heavy on the "glam" half of glamping, but they provided nice, large spaces with wood floors and real beds, and indoor plumbing was not far away.

They also suffered from some of the same flaws.

This latest trip—with wifi, gourmet dining, and so-on—was definitely fancier, and before getting into the negatives, it's worth noting what a pleasant stay we had over all. Everything we ate was delicious, and the public areas of the restaurant and around three large fire pits provided plenty of social distancing.

glamping sunset

The price of our stay included a breakfast basket—smoked salmon, pastries, cheese, and orange juice—delivered to our tent. We ate our fill while admiring the stunning view from the front of our tent—arranged to be uninterrupted by any neighbors. It was easy to imagine we were looking at Manhattan from some private haven that civilization could never reach.

It was admittedly lovely. But while it did bring together some of the best aspects of luxury resorts and rustic camping, it also combined some of the worst.

Let's start with the noise. If you're expecting to get a good night's sleep because you're in a warm, comfy bed, you'd better have a high tolerance for noise. Not only do the walls of a canvas tent flap loudly in the wind, they provide little barrier from the sounds of people passing on nearby gravel paths and of night birds swooping and sounding shrill calls overhead.

Speaking of wildlife, it is very hard to fully seal off a large tent on a wooden platform in the middle of a field. In all three of the glamping shelters we have stayed in, a stray bug or two have managed to find their way inside. In two out of three—including this trip—we've also encountered rodents.

Fortunately—given New York City's reputation—the rodent that broke into our tent over the weekend was an ordinary field mouse, rather than a giant subway rat. My wife heard it scrambling after we had turned off our bedside lamps, and she caught it in the flashlight from her phone as it was sneaking toward a container of dinner leftovers. It darted back through the gap where it had broken in.

After that, we moved our food into a provided Yeti cooler and managed to get some sleep with the help of the tent's bluetooth speaker—hopefully without irritating any neighbors. While we didn't sleep as well as we would have at home, we don't mind camping, so none of this was bad enough to really bother us. But it did seem like the kind of thing that someone expecting a resort experience might not be ready for.

Glamping tent

The larger issue, from my perspective, was the so-called climate control. The night we spent in our tent was chilly, and we were grateful for the electric heating pads keeping our bed warm beneath the comforter, but that wasn't the only provision against the cold. The tent had a dual-function space heater/AC that we didn't even realize was on and running until late that night.

It may have made the air inside marginally warmer, but the tent had a high roof with a sizable gap at the peak where most of that heat probably escaped. Even if the canvas had been perfectly sealed to the outside air, it would have taken a ton of energy to warm up such a large, uninsulated space. The same goes for running it as an AC on a hot night.

We were really just pumping heat into the surrounding area. Any sense that we were communing with nature was undermined by the realization that we were basically assaulting the environment with this massive, virtually pointless waste of energy.

Really, the whole idea of a climate-controlled tent—especially with such a large space—is somewhat ridiculous. It promotes the idea that you can have every modern comfort while being out in nature. But that's just a sales pitch—it's not the reality.

As nice as it sounds to combine the best of a resort vacation with the best of a camping trip, the two just don't mix that easily. Comfort and luxury that are easy to provide in a hotel room become extravagant and silly in a canvas tent, while the kind of noise and wildlife that are expected on a camping trip suddenly seem intrusive in a resort setting.

While there is a pleasant niche for this style of glamping—particularly when it includes spectacular city views—for people who love the pampered luxury of a resort or the natural simplicity of camping, glamping in a luxury tents lands in an awkward middle ground that doesn't quite scratch either itch.

Tiny home glamping view

The good news is, if you want that view, but can't handle the downsides of sleeping in a tent, the same retreat offers tiny homes that provide the same luxury without the compromise of canvas walls. Because if you're not prepared for at least some of the discomfort of camping, you're better off just renting a cabin.

I like to think I have a good diet, everything in moderation, and balance is key. I always make an effort to add extra veg to my dinners to bulk up on all those essential vitamins and minerals. That's why I'd never bothered with taking vitamin supplements. Except for those orange powder packets I grab in desperation when I'm already stuffed up and sneezing - they never work for me anyway.

Last year for the first time I got 3 colds. Once fall hit I was feeling pretty run down. My sister, Margot, had the same problem. But she's gotten ahead of it this year and is already taking her vitamins. She knows I think they're all over-processed capsules with no legitimate ingredients.

"I'm taking Paleovalley's Essential C Complex. You're going to love them", Margot told me. "They use all organic, natural ingredients, just like you." I really didn't believe in supplements and was convinced I could get everything I needed from my healthy diet.

But, this fall I'll need something to boost my immune system and keep me strong through the winter. I really didn't need a repeat of last year. So I took Margot's word for it and decided to give Paleovalley a look, just to see what they say.

Straight off the bat, I love it that they're GMO-free and use whole, organic ingredients, no synthetic ingredients, or fillers. Although they have many products to help boost your health, I focused on their Vitamin C Complex. Two capsules have 450mg of Vitamin C which is 750% of the recommended daily amount. This made me wonder how many mgs I was actually getting through my food. Perhaps I wasn't hitting my daily recommended dosage?

When I checked out the ingredients I was delighted there was no synthetic ascorbic acid - found in generic Vitamin C supplements that only deliver a fraction of the vitamin. I'll admit that I'd never heard of the organic wholefood ingredients Acerola Cherry, Camu Camu Berry, and Amla Berry that Paleovalley uses, but they sounded amazing so I was excited to try it.

Turns out, unripe Acerola Cherry is the most potent source of Vitamin C on the planet. Their Vitamin C content is 120 times higher than that in oranges. Crazy! Rich in Vitamin C, Camu Camu Berry aids your skin, gums, eyes, and immune system. It's even been shown to deliver mood-boosting properties - something that could be quite helpful in the colder darker months. Amla Berry has been used for thousands of years in herbal medicine to help support heart and brain function through its ability to detoxify the body and increase circulation.

Maybe my sister's onto something with Paleovalley.

The next week I was still thinking about Paleovalley. I just had to try their Essential C Complex for myself. The cost of 30 capsules starts at $23.99, which is $0.80 per serving if you buy in bulk or subscribe so it was really good value.

A few days later, it was delivered right to my door and I was taking it every morning. So simple, it has no taste or smell and is easy to swallow. To be honest, I felt no real change the first few weeks. But then about a month in I noticed a lift in my energy levels. Normally, at the end of summer, I'm wrecked and need to hibernate. But this year, I feel like I can take on anything.

My body's healthier and the effects of the pending winter haven't hit me. I've armed my body with what it needs to keep me at my best every day.

I feel great knowing I have my Paleovalley Vitamin C Complex to boost my immune system and my overall health.

Update: Our friends at Paleovalley are offering a special offer to our reader! Follow this link for an exclusive offer.