My Top Five Hygge Spots around Charlottesville

As the days get colder and shorter, I’m thinking more and more about the Danish concept of hygge: hard to translate, but basically meaning cozy, comfortable, unpretentious, and lacking in anything unpleasant. Think candles or fireplaces, soft blankets, warm lighting, cherished friends, and good conversation. A safe haven.

I’ve been trying to make my home more hygge–putting away reminders of work and chores, lighting more candles, sporting sweatpants, and so on–but I’ve also vowed to not spend my winter house-bound, in a Netflix-and-popcorn-induced coma.

So, when I want to venture out but still want a strong dose of hygge, this is where I’m going to go:

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Fellini’s – a Charlottesville institution, Fellini’s exudes a casual and unpretentious coziness. On any given evening, you might happen upon some jazz, blues, or maybe even live-band karaoke, performed in an intimate setting to a hodgepodge of  locals. Dimly lit and snug, I’m lucky that this place is just two blocks from home, that I feel no pressure to fancy-up to go inside, and that there’s always a nice bourbon there, ready to warm my spirits. (A close downtown bar runner-up: C&O.)

The Pie Chest  – what’s more hygge than pie and coffee? This newish spot off the Downtown Mall delivers both sweet and savory pies and a world of hot beverages. How about a steaming turkey, cranberry, and brie potpie? Or maybe a slice of bourbon pecan or brown butter pumpkin with a mug of dark roast? I encourage you to take a seat by the big front window on a cold day, sip your coffee, and be happy you’re not one of the unfortunate souls enduring the weather, shivering and pieless.

Travinia – Chain restaurants don’t usually scream cozy charm, but this Italian restaurant manages to feel inviting and non-generic. Maybe it’s the warm lighting and big couches. Maybe it’s the comforting pastas or the Italian nachos. Maybe it’s just a pleasant diversion from the Stonefield parking lot. Or maybe it’s the fact that my boyfriend and I had our first date here in the middle of a snowstorm. Whatever the reason, for me, Travinia gets a surprising number of hygge points.

Outside of Charlottesville and Albemarle, we also have:

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from fourcp.org

Four County Players – Twenty minutes north in Barboursville, the Four County Players have been bringing fun, family-friendly, high-quality theatre to the area for over 40 years. Their converted old schoolhouse features an intimate performance space and a cozy bistro where you can sip some local wine and have a yummy snack. FCP never ceases to be welcoming, charming, and unpretentious. I’ve performed here on and off since 2002 and every time I walk in the building, I see an old friend and feel like I’m at home.

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Veritas – At the base of Afton Mountain, Veritas winery is an area hotspot during all four seasons, but winter is my favorite time to be there. With its big leather couches and massive stone fireplace, there are few places I’d rather spend a chilly day, sipping some red. Don’t miss their spectacular Christmas tree!

While it can be hard to shake off my favorite fuzzy robe and slippers when the temperature starts to resemble my shoe size, it’s also nice to know that hygge can be found outside the predictable comforts of home.

 

And you? Where’s your favorite wintertime cozy spot? Leave a comment and spread some winter joy!

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The World’s Best Bagels…and So Much More

“Arriving in Charlottesville from the lush, rural Virginia countryside, you almost feel like you’ve stepped back into ancient Rome.” – The New York Times

“Just two hours from Washington DC, C-ville (as the locals call it) offers quiet country retreats and horseback rides in nearby Shenandoah National Park, the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge mountains, as well as a wealth of history that includes the homes of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Its array of restaurants offer exceptional gastronomic variety.” – The Guardian

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Photo: static1.squarespace.com

Not to brag or anything, but my adopted hometown of Charlottesville regularly tops all the charts: “Healthiest small towns.” “Best college towns.” “Top places to retire.” “Best tennis towns.” “Best places for book lovers.” And even “America’s happiest city.”

Locals outwardly scoff and grumble about how each new accolade will bring even more people and more traffic to our ever-expanding town. But, deep down, I think we all like knowing that we’re spending our lives in a place that doesn’t suck. Hey, if Southern Living, Travel and Leisure, CNN Traveler, and so many others think my town is the greatest, I’ll happily use that knowledge to validate my life choices.

But it’s more than just validation I seek; it’s appreciation. Because as I sit in traffic, buy my groceries, and navigate my to-do lists, it’s so easy to forget that I live in a special place. So, for all of the cynicism that might accompany them, our “best-of” lists can really serve as a nice reminder of what we have going for us.

Just now, as I did my morning Facebook scroll, I came across yet another Charlottesville superlative. “The best bagels in the world are in Charlottesville, Virginia,” the piece began. True or not, I was reminded of how lucky I am to live within walking distance of some pretty spectacular carb-bombs.

I also love reading other people’s impressions of the area, for example, this piece from the Packed Suitcase blog. It’s fun to think, “People come to my hometown for their vacation.”

Need other reminders of Charlottesville’s awesomeness? For just a few, check out:

Now all this place really needs is a Wegman’s. Oh, but wait!

The Pepsi 10K, one year later.

Late last summer, my angry low lumbar spine was soaking up the sweet, sweet goodness of a series of epidural steroid shots. I was told that the benefits, if any, would be gradual, but I woke up the day after my first shot feeling fresh and new and pain-free for the first time in years. Gone was my morning hobble and its accompanying grumpiness. Gone was the pain that shot down my right leg after driving for more than 10 minutes, which left a series of doctors, chiropractors, and physical therapists baffled. 

This was great, but how would running be? Tentatively, I went out to try the Pepsi 10K, a local favorite that benefits Special Olympics. It was one year ago this week. 12047030_10102333139441666_3143013651970462020_n

Mile 1 was downhill and adrenaline-charged. Hard to gauge what was happening. But by mile 2 and 3, I was sure: the pain was gone! I welled up. Running had suddenly been transformed from a painful slog (yet a habit I stubbornly refused to give up) into a source of joy again. I was ecstatic. It was like Christmas.

I did not run my best race that day. But my love of running was back. My optimism was back. And I was so grateful.

And my next few weeks of running remained full of gratitude. I kept expecting the pain to return, as these spinal shots don’t work their mysterious magic forever, so I thought of each run as a gift. My back was like Charlie’s brain in Flowers for Algernon: Enjoy it while you can! But…the pain never did return. So I kept running. And added in some other good stuff like planks and squats and a foam roller. And I kept getting faster. I broke 1:45 in a half marathon in Richmond in November. I ran a 5K PR (22:28) the next month. I broke 80 minutes in the Ten Miler in March and 1:42 at the Park to Park half in April. Sub-8 minute miles no longer felt like an all-out sprint but like something I could sustain for over an hour.

Then, simply because it lined up with my travel schedule, I dared to sign up for the Stockholm Marathon in June. I ran a 3 minute PR there in June (3:45), no wall-hitting, no death wishes. Just some backlogged podcasts and then the Hamilton soundtrack, plus sun, sea, smiles, and Swedes. What was happening?!  13307481_10208563860747915_5672304648203809910_n

I was proud and feeling quite the badass. But somewhere in all of these successes, my gratitude for the simple act of running started playing second fiddle to my competitive nature, while basking in my pain-free glory was supplanted by concern for new, minor aches and pains (Achilles, feet, blah blah, boring).

Anyway, today, I ran the Pepsi 10K again, and was suddenly reminded of the wonder and appreciation I felt a year ago, as well as all of the progress I’ve made since. (And, ok, I ran a PR, too: 46:56.)  I didn’t feel that teary, awed gratitude nearly as deeply this time – maybe that would be impossible – but the rolling hills of Owensville Road were a strong reminder. It’s so easy to forget what a gift running is, you guys. And what a gift the steroid shot can be, too.

I highly recommend both.

Charlottesville: 10 Ways to Put a Ring on It

After almost two months of traveling around Europe, I picked up a new book on my last rainy weekend here in Budapest. It’s called This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live, by a fellow transplanted Virginian, Melody Warnick.

The initial draw was that I wanted some inspiration for my final book chapter (“how to craft a great staycation”). But This Is Where You Belong immediately hit a nerve on a much deeper and more personal level. Because I miss home. I’m romanticizing home. Want proof? I went on and on about it just the other day!

I want to be more engaged, to make home feel like HOME. Like, where the heart is. So I ended that post with a challenge: “What are you going to do about it?” Honestly, my fear is: Nothing. Nada. I’ll fall back into my old habits as soon as the joy of being home again dissipates.

So, to help move me from big talk to action, I thought I’d apply Warnick’s 10 place attachment behaviors to help me zero in on what, specifically, I might be able to do more of to build my attachment to Charlottesville. I even gave myself a report card.

Let’s break it down. The 10 behaviors are:

  1. The wonders of walking Charlottesville in spring

    The wonders of walking Charlottesville in spring

    Walk more. I’m very fortunate to live in one of the most walkable parts of Charlottesville. On a scale from 0-100, North Downtown gets a Walk Score of 85 (Charlottesville in general is a 58). 85 translates to “very walkable. Most errands can be accomplished on foot.” Yep. I’m three blocks from the Downtown Mall. I can walk to countless bars and restaurants, my gym, a small grocery store, a great wine shop, the post office, the library, four theatres, an arts center, two weekly farmers markets, and more. Walking just makes sense; driving does not. (And FWIW, I usually rock my 10,000 steps-per-day Fitbit goal.) Certainly, I cannot walk to work, but on days I don’t drive to Harrisonburg, I usually get in my car only if I need to go to Trader Joe’s. GRADE: A- . But this brings me to…


  2. Buy local. I love my Trader Joe’s. I love my Target. Lululemon. Anthropologie. BAY-SIC! Why do I love these generic chain stores? Fear of awkward interactions. While many people seem to be deterred from buying local because they equate “local” with “expensive,” my problem is that I fear the social interactions that can occur when people care. I can go into Target, look around, and buy nothing (err, hypothetically). The clerk doesn’t take it personally! The clerk doesn’t give a rip! It takes the pressure off. But in a local business, where I could easily be interacting with the person who carefully selected and artfully arranged the merchandise, to me it feels hugely insulting to walk out without buying something. Like, I’m entering someone’s home, sizing it up with impunity, and saying to their face, “No, I really don’t like what you’ve done with the place.” I’m probably overthinking it. I realize that Charlottesville has some amazing local businesses (I mean, hello!) and I do need to get over this weird thought process and start patronizing them more. GRADE: C

  3. Get to know my neighbors. This one is always high on my list of How to Make My Life Better. I know it would make a huge difference. And, maybe because the opportunity exists every single day, it’s something I can easily put off until tomorrow. Plus, for all of its walkability and easy contact, I swear, my neighborhood is just not social. Even the people in the five other units in my house are strangers to me. Except for the nice couple next door, no one says hello, smiles, or talks to one another. I truly don’t know why. Is it me? I need a burst of motivation here. Or something to facilitate contact. A neighborhood block party? A puppy? GRADE: D

  4. Do fun stuff. Here, I’m pretty good. Local theatre, Fridays After Five, local races, the occasional Tom Sox game. I could always do more – maybe taking advantage of all the stuff popping up at IX – but I have my share of fun. Walkability helps, for sure. GRADE: B
    Wine and music at Jefferson Vineyards.

    Wine and music at Jefferson Vineyards. Fun stuff.


  5. Explore nature. Within the immediate Charlottesville/Albemarle area, I’m getting out there. Running on the Rivanna Trail, walking the Monticello Trail, SUPing on Beaver Creek Lake, biking around the county (although less so lately; I’ve gotten scared of cars). Even yoga on Carter’s Mountain a couple of times. My commute takes me over Afton Mountain, where I get a scenic view of the Rockfish Valley. BUT: the nearby Shenandoah National Park and trails off the Blue Ridge Parkway are virtually uncharted territory for me, wonderful as they are. Yet another thing on my list that is always being put off until later. GRADE: B

  6. Volunteer. I know this research and I’ve felt the good-feels during and after volunteering. I have the time to do it. But I don’t do it nearly enough. Why? There’s the confidence problem – what could I bring to an organization? Plus, I’m often unsure how to start getting involved. Given all of that, it’s far too easy to just do nothing. These are lame excuses. (And I’d say that musical theatre is technically volunteer work, but – let’s face it – I pretty much do that for myself.)  GRADE: D

  7. Eat local. I eat out a lot and at chain restaurants very infrequently. I preemptively pine for img_5991certain Charlottesville dishes and restaurants even in advance of a trip, and I’m already agonizing over what my first meal back will be. But I can’t take too much credit: eating local in Charlottesville is easy. Toss an heirloom tomato in any direction and you’ll hit some locally-sourced something-or-other. (Now, if drink local is in this category, my grade is bumped up significantly. Local wineries are one of my favorite places to spend an afternoon and brewpubs are a close second.) I do love my Trader Joe’s standbys and I could go to the farmers markets more often and buy more local food to cook at home. But sometimes you just need your Cookie Butter and Three Buck Chuck. GRADE: B+

  8. Become more political. I vote in all the elections. I watch the local news a few times a week. I went to see Obama when he was here a few years ago. That’s about it. My politics mesh well with the majority of Charlottesvillians. I have no major gripes, apart from the notable absence of water fountains at Riverview Park. (Right?) Until something (volunteer work?) shakes me from my blissful ignorance, I’m not sure this one will change anytime soon. #notproud  GRADE: D

  9. Create something new. I have friends who create and innovate: Staff and volunteers at arts organizations. Tireless fundraisers. Small business owners. Architects. Can I bask in their glory on this one? No? Fine. The closest I’ve come is working to create a local musical theatre production or concert. And I’ve created new courses and research projects at work, but that’s an hour away, not in my immediate community. This counts for something. But without kids, and knowing that generativity (passing something on for the future; leaving a legacy) is a primary challenge of middle adulthood, this is one worth thinking about. GRADE: C

  10. Stay loyal through hard times. To my knowledge, Charlottesville hasn’t really had hard times since I’ve arrived. I mean, there’s been stuff. But it’s mostly a wonderful place to live. See this, this, and this. So, I’m happy to say I have no data on this one! GRADE – ??

Looking at this list, I see some themes: I’m very tied to the physical and material aspects of home. Nature. Activities. Food and wine. But, my overall engagement-GPA sucks. Why? Several major deficits jump out, and they all have to do with people. I don’t know my neighbors. I don’t volunteer. I’m not involved in politics, and I seldom collaborate to create something new. Why? Honestly? Introversion. Okay, mild social anxiety. Saying hi to neighbors is kinda scary. Asking “how can I help?” might result in the realization that…I really can’t help: I have no useful skills. Awkward! It’s not time, energy, or lack of interest holding me back; it’s just straight up fear that keeps me from building a greater bond with home. A pretty useful realization, actually. Something I can work with.

I’ve lived in four states on two coasts. After grad school, I felt pulled back to Charlottesville even while living in two decidedly fantastic places, Santa Monica, CA and Portland, OR. And now I choose to live an hour from my job just so I can be there. Time to get over myself and start making the most of it!

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