A Road trip Through the Hills and Heart of Charlottesville, Virginia

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Charlottesville's art scene is bursting with creativity, as exhibited by the vibrant and innovative IX Art Park, June 12th, 2015

I'm a fairly excitable person by nature. Simple things like curling up on my couch in ankle socks with a pint of Butter Pecan ice cream to watch a marathon of The Golden Girls makes me pretty giddy from the inside out. And let's not get me started on the topic of food in general. But utter the word "road trip" and I become the little girl at the slumber party who freaks out because she gets to stay up late playing Truth or Dare while watching The Babysitter's Club and eating peanut butter cups.

This year I had initially planned to attend the Look3 photo festival in Charlottesville, Va alone. The previous two festivals I had attended with my former boss and a colleague, and both times were amazing. I even decided to stay with a Couchsurfing host who lived just a few minutes from the downtown mall, and we hit it off so well that when I left she and her partner generously gifted me with two vintage Minolta film cameras, lenses, and several unused rolls of film. Talk about being excitable!

For those not familiar, Look3 is a massive summer camp/reunion for photographers, photo editors and photo enthusiasts that takes place every three years in the beautiful and quaint city of Charlottesville located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Aka my favorite happy place in Virginia. The scenic drive through rolling, lush green hills, beyond farms and vineyards and little fruit and vegetable stands along the road is the escape I most look forward to in the late Spring. The entire 3-day festival is truly one of the most rejuvenating experiences for me because all across the downtown mall there are exhibits that feature new and older works by veteran photographers and burgeoning photojournalists. The artists talks are by far the most inspiring. Held in two hour blocks, photographers take the stage of the historical Paramount Theater to engage in conversations about their life's work, their inspirations, anecdotes about what it was like working behind-the-scenes of a photograph, and takeaways about their careers that they can reflect on and pass down. Everyone blows me away with how eloquently they're able to speak about their life's work, and this year was no different. It felt almost surreal to witness master photographer Larry Fink talk about work and then break for a moment to play the harmonica to a silent crowd while his photographs flashed across the screen. Or to hear Alec Soth talk his way towards finding his philosophy about his work on stage in front of a full audience. Or to see the always charming and humble Nat Geo photographer Vincent J. Musi, who I had the wonderful pleasure of interviewing for the In Sight photo blog. And afterward I ran up to him on the sidewalk like a giddy fangirl to gush about how much I admired him.

There was also the fantastic WPOW happy hour where I was able to finally meet so many editors and photographers that I've only had the pleasure of corresponding with via e-mail or stalking their social media accounts from afar. That moment when you recognize the person's face with the name and the work you've associated with that name for so long. It was wonderful to attend Look3 again as a fan of everyone there, and be lucky to feel like I was part of the club, too. It really is a transformative festival for anyone who allows it to become that for them.

This year I also had the pleasure of experiencing the festival with someone not in the photo industry. I got a little more excited when my buddy Jason accepted my invitation to attend because as much as I love solo travel, the joy-o-meter shoots up even higher when you go with someone who equally loves a good road trip and has an excellent sense of humor to boot. After walking our feet off in the 90 degree weather, the outdoor patios lining the center of the downtown mall became our watering holes that we took respite in for long stretches of time. Ice tea, soft drinks, Ice cream, hamburgers, lobster ravioli, caprese salad, Moscow mules, mint juleps, charcuterie and fried boquerones (sardines). You name it and we partook. At the end of this post are some of the spots along the downtown Charlottesville Mall that I highly recommend visiting!

My friend Jason attended the festival with me this year. And pretty much played guinea pig to my photos all week.

As respite from the wonderful festival, we ventured out to my favorite orchard in Charlottesville to pick peaches: Carter Mountain. The air up on the hills of the orchard seems to have this secret, and it swirls around you whispering that secret in your ear, through your hair, across your skin until you feel intoxicated and free. In the Fall, that same secret is present, only it's wrapped in a cooler shell. The view looking out to the Shenandoah valley is breathtaking, and I love standing as high as I can, knowing how small I really am in the world.

Pie from The Pie Chest, June 12, 2015.
The iconic Paramount Theater, June 12th, 2015
Checking out Walter Ioos' exhibit on athletes at The Haven, June 11, 2015.
Black raspberry ice cream from Chap's Ice Cream, June 12, 2015.
Studio of artist Rebekah Graves at the McGuffey Art Center, June 11th, 2015
Look3 co-founder and National Geographic animal photographer Vincent J. Musi's "Estuary" exhibit, June 13, 2015.

Enjoying drinks on the patio of The Whiskey Jar, June 12, 2015.

Great places to eat if you have 72 hours along the downtown mall:

Citizen Burger:
Best burgers. 1/2 pound of meat, and their cows are from farms that are 5 miles away. I recommend the mushroom and Swiss burger. It comes with black onion that will make you feel like you've never really had a decent charred onion before, and garlic aoli. Also, cannot stress that you NEED their fried pickles in your life immediatley.

Chap's Ice Cream:
The black raspberry is tops! But really you can't go wrong with any flavor, and they are open at 8am so it's never too early for two scoops.

Their charcuterie plate is fantastic. Pate, pate, pate!

The Whiskey Jar:
We stopped for two starters: the hush puppies with Apple Butter jam (my fav) and the spicy mixed pickles. The latter is actually more pickled carrots and jalapeno than pickles, but Jason really loved it.

Cinema Taco
The number of options for mixing and matching tacos, topped with the number of salsas you can choose from makes this one of my favorite spots.

This place rivals Citizenburger for some of the best burgers in the land. A bit more uspcale without the air of prention, it also offers a beautiful rooftop deck called Skybar that is perfect for enjoying lazy summer evening happy hours or an intimate date. You can look out over a portion of the mall as well.

Sal's Caffe Italia
The lobster ravioli is perfectly cooked in a creamy tomato and alfredo sauce. Order with the caprese salad starter. The salad features beautiful summer ripe tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, and comes with a side of perfectly cooked and marinated artichoke.

The Pie Chest:
Sweet and savory pies made fresh each day. Lemon chess, banana cream, chocolate, etc. The decor perfectly suits this minimal little shop, and their homemade ice cream is tops.


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