Going home: Blacksburg, VA

Posted by: on Mar 4, 2014 | No Comments

buruss hall and April 16th memorialIn his novel, You Can’t Go Home Again the writer, Thomas Wolfe, said:

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame, […] back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermuda, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

You can never go home again because you and home are constantly in a state of flux. You are never who you were and home is never as it was. Nevertheless a trip to a place where you were happy, where you belonged can still evoke strong feelings of home simultaneously beautiful and painful. Going home is a brief respite, an attempt to step out of time. This is often how I feel when I visit Maine and Blacksburg, Va.

This past weekend, Mr. King and I visited Blacksburg. NASA sent him and his boss (both Virginia Tech grads) to judge a model rocket contest with the Tech engineering school (how’s that for a slice of awesome?). I went along for a chance to hike, eat at Gillie’s, and see a couple old college friends.

Blacksburg, Va. is an extreme case of constant change. The University consistently has several huge construction projects happening at any given moment. Each time we return, there is a new building or traffic flow pattern (this time both). Even if I go back once a year, still something major has changed. But that feeling, that undercurrent of belonging lingers. It’s still familiar despite the facelift. And it’s always rejuvenating to pack a list of favorites into two days.

We hiked Dragon’s Tooth on the Appalachian Trail, a 5 mile round trip hike with 1,500 feet of elevation change. While it’s a pretty short hike, it’s steep and much of the last mile is a scramble up rocks. Fortunately, the trail has a few ladders installed in critical spots to help you ascend. At the top, rocks jut skyward (the Dragon’s Tooth) and you can shimmy your way up between two of them to reach the highest point and best view of the valley.

On the Dragon's Tooth (making ridiculous faces of course)

On the Dragon’s Tooth (making ridiculous faces of course)

It’s a popular hike and we didn’t start until around 11:30. We used to do this hike in the morning before the frats woke up. When we made it to the top this time, we encountered a large group of frat boys drinking wine on the tooth. One of them was loudly expounding on his fear of heights and his hangover: “Three hours ago, I was on the couch. I should have stayed there. It’s so disappointing to get to the top and have to go BACK DOWN.” I suggested they petition for a  zip line to the parking lot. He then promptly vomited and cried “I want my mommy.” I kid you not. I nearly cried laughing when I heard that. While you would think this encounter would ruin a hike, we were mostly amused by the display. Nevertheless, I suggest hiking in the morning, ideally starting between 8-9 am. You’ll miss such scenes.

Post hike, I went to my old yoga studio, In Balance Yoga for a gentle vinyasa class. It felt great to stretch after the hike. I live in the flat lands. I think our house may be 10 feet above sea level (seriously). And the gentle class staved off any sore muscles.

We met friends at the Cellar for dinner. The Cellar is my favorite Blacksburg bar and place to grab lunch or dinner. It has two floors, the main level and the cellar. You can eat and drink in either. We always liked the dimly lit basement with it’s low ceilings, benches lining the walls, and small tables crowding the space around the bar. The benches are covered in carved initials and notes. Mine are somewhere in the corner to the left of the door. On a Saturday night, if you don’t grab a table early you may never get one. The pitchers are cheaper than the cost of a pint anywhere else I’ve ever drank a beer. They also have an extensive bottle selection and a store next door where you can get a mixed 6 pack of almost anything. We ordered tzatziki and spinach and artichoke dip, which come with pita points and a Down to Earth pizza. The humus platter is also delicious, but I’ll have to wait until next time for that one.

Before breakfast on Sunday morning, Mr. King and I walked around downtown and discovered a few really cool street art murals tucked down alleys and behind buildings.

We met early for breakfast at Gillie’s because Mr. King had to work early. But also because the line at Gillie’s on Saturday and Sunday morning is monstrous. They open at 8 am and if you wait until 9 am, you may wait outside for an hour before you get a table. I’ve done it before. But trust me, it’s worth it.

Half of the Gillie's Special

Half of the Gillie’s Special

Gillie’s serves vegetarian and vegan fare. You can get fresh squeezed orange, carrot, or apple juice. The menu covers everything from eggs, potatoes, French toast, granola, and more. They usually have amazing specials. I almost always order the Gillie’s Special (pictured above): scrambled eggs over seasoned home fried potatoes with salsa and white cheddar cheese. It’s enough for Max and I to split for breakfast. It’s also inexpensive. Most of the breakfast items are around $6-7.

All the baked goods and breads are made next door at Bollo’s, the coffee shop. Bollo’s and Gillie’s are owned by the same family. Bollo’s has great coffee and tea. Their muffins are delicious. My favorite is the pumpkin chocolate chip (vegan or non vegan version). Unfortunately, they didn’t have any pumpkin chocolate chip muffins on Sunday.

Mr. King headed off to judge model rockets and I wandered around campus with friends. We visited the memorial and went by the architecture studio where I did a little impromptu yoga.

For lunch, I had more pizza. The Eastern Shore doesn’t have good pizza. So, I was packing it in. Benny Marzano’s opened when I was in graduate school. It’s $4 for a 14 inch slice, which is a ridiculous size for a piece of pizza. But it’s delicious and all they do is pizza. They offer cheese, pepperoni and then two monthly flavors, a vegetarian and a meat special. The place is tiny, with a counter and high stools around the windows a few high tables and three outdoor picnic tables. The weather was beautiful so we grabbed a few slices and ate outside.

On the way out of town, I stopped into Gobble Cakes. Cupcakes are trendy these days and Blacksburg is not immune. This place is new since I lived in Blacksburg. It’s located right downtown, actually just a few store fronts from Gillie’s. For you non-Hokies, the gobble part of Gobble Cakes refers to our mascot, a Turkey aka. Fighting Gobbler aka. the Hokie Bird. But it also refers to what you want to do to these cupcakes.

Gobble Cakes cupcake

Gobble Cakes cupcake

While Blacksburg is always changing, so am I. And I always feel a sense of peace, along with a LOT of other feelings and memories, when I’m there. It was home for a cumulative 9 years. It is part of who I have become. And though I can’t go home, I can visit and check in now and again.

I will now be returning to my regularly scheduled eating habits! Just kidding, I’ll do that after vacation in the Caribbean! Stay tuned for photos of blue water, sandy beaches, and probably lots of fish.

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