Virginia: For lovers and reflection

 The D-Day Memorial at Bedford, VA. Pic by @jabberingjourno

With the strap line ‘Virginia is for lovers’, this is an American state that sees itself with a laid-back romantic vibe, which runs through everything it does.

If people want to visit, fine. If not, their loss.

You can understand why.

This is not one of the flashier states in terms of international tourism.

How often do you hear someone say they are travelling to Virginia on holiday? British travellers in particular flock like insects to New York, California and Florida.

But Virginia, a huge South Atlantic state, has a magnitude of things to offer – from mountains an lakes to shopping and entertainment. To a Brit, every new scene is a film location. Dirty Dancing was filmed here…

However, like all the best things in life, they are slightly more difficult to find.

I travelled to the small but perfectly formed and friendly Roanoke airport, Virginia, from Manchester via a layover in Philadelphia with US airways.

In January, flights are less frequent, others times of year multiple flights are available – for example Delta fly via Washington DC with a shorter connection to Roanoke.

My flights, the whole round trip obtained online via. the very helpful Preston-based Netflights (Gold Medal Travel)  cost less than £500 which is really not very much for a cross-Atlantic adventure involving four flights.

So why Roanoke airport?

I was visiting friends in nearby Salem (not the one with the witches, that is Massachusetts)

This is a small and serene US city with a small-town feel surrounded by the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains, which give the everyday US sights of malls, schools and homes a slightly surreal edge.

If you ever feel stifled by the normal, all you really need to do is look up.

Salem itself is a friendly place.

 Salem, VA Pic by @jabberingjourno Salem, VA Pic by @jabberingjourno

During a relaxing afternoon solo wander through the town, I was welcomed into the nearby Mill Mountain coffee shop with the effusive friendliness usually reserved for member of the Royal family (maybe they thought I was related to Kate.)

I spent a chilled afternoon enjoying the free WiFi and magazines with an excellent latte and pretending to read but really people-watching, including a gaggle of post-school cheerleaders.

But this is the real America, not tourist-focused or an episode of Glee.

I looked up from a brief car journey to see a huge sign ‘ GUNS’ – a bit disconcerting in a city just a hop and a skip from Virginia in Blacksberg which was the scene of an horrific shooting incident where 32 students and staff died at the hands of one rogue shooter.

Then a sign outside the Andrew Lewis Middle school in Salem reads ‘Drug-free, gang-free, gun-free’,  then amusingly ‘no skateboards allowed’

Personally I don’t feel that worried about the skateboards…

We travelled up to visit the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksberg, a quaint and buzzing city with an historic feel – yet totally dominated by the the sprawling  and affluent niversity. This is education on a scale not replicated in the UK

For a start they simply have more space and the facilities appear outstanding.

The influence of US college sports is felt here a huge stadium for he Virginia tech football team ( American football) dominates. Known as the ‘Hokies’ after the omnipresent grey Hokie stone which the stadium and indeed the university and entire town are built of it is testament to the astonishing amount of money generated by and invested into sports in US and surrounded by facilities for other sports, including softball and basketball.

The enormous spread-out campus is immaculate with a huge central green area known as the Drillfield, along the edge of which lies the April 16 memorial to the fallen 32, each with a personal memorial made out of Hokie stone

 Virginia Tech campus. Pic by @jabberingjourno Virginia Tech campus. Pic by @jabberingjourno

Next we took the 30-minute drive out to Bedford, taking the more scenic route through the mountains on the way – straight back by interstate on return. We chose Bedford for a reason.

It seemed apt a year after the 60th anniversary to visit the national D-Day memorial, a thoughtful and emotional tribute to the more than 9,000 Allied forces who lost their lives on the beaches of Northern France on June 6, 1944.

Bedford was specifically chosen for this memorial because the community suffered the highest per capita losses in the US though astonishinglythis is a private concern and receives no federal or state funding, instead entirely reliant on funds raised through the foundation.

Run by volunteers – mainly ex-forces – they are forced to charge for entry as a result.

Read part two of this Virginia review HERE

 How the feature appeared in the Lancaster Guardian How the feature appeared in the Lancaster Guardian