Road trip update: Chased by a hurricane, headed toward an earthquake

By | August 27th, 2011

It wasn’t the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that rattled Richmond just a day before we were supposed to arrive.

Instead, it was the surprise hurricane nipping at our heels as we drove north from Orlando to Virginia’s capital — slowly gaining strength as she churned toward the US mainland — that got me thinking.

Am I jinxed?

Earlier this year, while I was visiting Maui with my son, my hotel was evacuated because of tsunami kicked up by the catastrophic earthquake in Japan. For good measure, our return flight had to make an emergency landing in Honolulu after catching on fire.

Our road trip hasn’t officially begun yet, and already we’ve dealt with three natural disasters. (Is someone trying to tell us something?)

As I write this, hurricane Irene is barreling toward the East Coast, making a beeline for the most populated areas.

Not a pretty picture.

We’re in upstate New York, out of the direct path of the storm, with plans to head north to Montreal tomorrow. Thank goodness the windshield wipers on our Honda Accord work.

But while we were in Richmond, we had this unique feeling of being sandwiched between two natural disasters. At about 1 a.m., a 4.5 magnitude aftershock rumbled through the Commonwealth Park Suites, where we were staying.

We’d had a full day visiting two must-see attractions in Richmond after a 12-hour overnight drive, so the kids slept through the quake. But the adults were left with a feeling of: “What’s next?”

By the way, if you haven’t been to Richmond recently, you have to visit. The Virginia State Capitol building, with its new visitor complex, recently underwent a $74 million restoration.

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The highlight of our tour was the life-size marble statue of George Washington under the interior dome of the rotunda, which is completely unique. The sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon used Washington as a model, making it the statue that most closely resembles the first president. It has been standing here almost uninterrupted since 1796.

Another can’t-miss attraction: The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar. It’s the nation’s first museum to interpret the Civil War from Union, Confederate, and African American perspectives.

Although I don’t consider myself a Civil War buff, I do appreciate a good debate. And if you want to have a spirited discussion about war, race and economics, this is the place to go. The exhibits walk you through each year of the war, explaining the conflict from three different perspectives. Then the interactive exhibits ask you to vote on the likely causes of the war.

If you go, don’t forget to check out the National Parks Service exhibit next to the center, which show off the cannons built here during the war and have several floors of artifacts and interactive exhibits that bring the Civil War battles to life.

I’ll have more on these attraction on National Geographic Traveler’s Intelligent Travel blog soon.

Our kids had a great time in Richmond, hurricanes and earthquakes notwithstanding. It’s great to see them learn about everything from the Civil War to America’s struggle for civil rights on their own. They have a sense of curiosity that travel brings out in all of us.

I’m waiting for them to ask if we can go see the hurricane.

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