Virginia Spring Dreaming


Dreams of attending the Women In Travel Summit this weekend in Boston were abruptly crushed late in the game for a variety of reasons. Upsetting, but with such amazing weather here in northern Virginia it’s hard not to imagine that better things are coming. Thankfully the warmer weather does signal an awakening of local culture that’s spent this unseasonably long and cold winter in deep hibernation.

I’m not going to lie to you guys: I’m disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to strap on my backpack and head off on a little adventure with a group of fellow travelers. There may have been tears. However. In an attempt to practice what I preach in terms of loving local travel, I’ve become consumed with poring over tourism guides, local newspapers, and whatever else I can get my hands on in order to find the best Virginia spring events this year.

Let me tell you, local travel is looking pretty good. Here’s where you might find me frolicking if this beautiful weather holds up for any length of time.

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#girlandVA, america, va: nature

Panoramic Views at Bear’s Den

bears den va-6

While I like to think I’m a pragmatist, I find myself falling into dreamy fantasies far more often than someone fully tethered in reality might. If I had a superhero power it would surely be my ability to combine a stellar view with a perfectly cued song. Whether it’s driving through the mountains of Armenia or the flashing scenery of rural Russia by train, I can lose myself in a moment almost immediately. More often than not when I’m exploring alone I find myself drifting into a fuzzy alternative reality where I’m the main character of a rather serious but touching art house film.

Earlier this week it happened again. It was The Middle East’s ‘Blood’ with the Shenandoah Valley unfurling below me that tossed me into a melancholy cinematic moment. After a long week of the trials and tribulations that come with moving thousands of miles across the world with no firm plans, the situation was perfectly crafted to wallow for five minutes and thirty one seconds as I gazed out over the wind-whipped rocks atop the Blue Ridge Mountains.
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russia, russian language

The best modern Russian films

modern russian films

To the eternal disgust of just about everyone around me, I am not a movie person. I know, I know. I’ve heard it all.

How can you not be a movie person?

What’s wrong with you?!

I don’t like the high prices of movie theaters, I don’t like sitting in one place for hours on end passively watching a screen, and I rarely have the motivation to find something that fits the mood I’ve got at the time. That being said, I’ve actually found myself watching more movies since I’ve returned to the States. Some of that is thanks to having downtime near a TV with approximately 8,000 channels. The other part is that I’m determined to hold onto what Russian language skills I might have picked up while living overseas. Thankfully the Russians are very obliging, pirating each and every movie ever made in thousands of different ways and making it very easy to sit down with some of my favorite Russian films.

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#girlandVA, america, va: art, va: food, va: guide, va: history, va: nature, va: shop

The Ultimate Berryville, Virginia Guide

berryville VA header

Berryville, Virginia: founded in 1798, it’s classic small town America, county seat of Clarke County, and – most importantly – my home town. As much as living in the pop. 3000 town was tough on teenage Polly, it’s almost impossible not be charmed by the small town vibes Berryville gives off as you wander down the small main street.

Passing over the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River as you get within a few miles of the town center, it’s hard not to feel the elation that comes with large expanses of bucolic farmland. Although Clarke County is quite large, Berryville itself only has a total area of 1.8 square miles which means the small town can be enjoyed as the perfect weekend or day trip from the Washington area for big city dwellers with a need for some fresh air.


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#girlandVA, america, va: history

Meems Bottom Covered Bridge

meems bottom covered bridge header

Moving from a massive metropolis to a small country town can be a big blow since it’s so easy to be awed by big city lights and underwhelmed by quiet provincial life. I’ve constantly fallen prey to such a mindset after returning home. The best remedy for those small-town blues is a drive down verdant country roads. A nice cruise quickly drives (pun intended) all those big dreams of city life out of my mind.

Last week I took one such ride to clear my mind and have a little local adventure. As I got further and further into the Blue Ridge Mountains, I became a little emotional. I don’t really feel proud in admitting this, but here it goes: I got a little teary-eyed as Bon Iver’s Holocene swelled through the car in perfect synchronization with my car shooting out of the valley and upwards into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Sure I was nowhere close to the place that song references, it was unimportant: it was still a gooey, sentimental moment.

The two together formed a perfect synchronicity that happens occasionally during travel; one of those spine-tingling moments that burn themselves into your brain for years.

After the goosebumps subsided I almost felt like I could go home happy; however, I had a final goal in mind for this drive: the Meems Bottom Covered Bridge just outside of Mount Jackson. I was driving with just a vague idea of where the bridge was along the way. Turns out Mount Jackson was about 35 miles away from Berryville, allowing for a leisurely drive through some of Virginia’s charming little towns.

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expat life, travel, travel tips

Writing about Political Experiences Abroad

political writing abroad

Don’t forget to enter my #girlandVA GIVEAWAY! This is a slightly updated version of a piece I wrote as a guest post for Tipsy Lit.

There are times when, as a travel writer, you push the ‘publish’ button and you know. You just know. Fingernails are chewed nervously, stats are refreshed near constantly in fear of a big spike from somewhere unwanted.

Yes, you’ve just written a post about a negative aspect about your time abroad.

I consider myself somewhat of an expert on this topic since I lived and wrote about Russia for the past four years. As an international relations graduate and simply as a person with an interest in politics, Russia is always a fascinating place to be.

While I’ve met a lot of wonderful people through my blog, I’ve also had my fair share of negative attention. What most people fail to realize about Russia is that the government no longer has any need to really crack down on the opposition – the Russian population is self-policing quit admirably. Whether I agree with their thoughts or not, most Russians are very entrenched in the Putin platform so posts about my leftward-leaning politics, photoessays on the opposition protests that ran through the country, and even posts with a small comment about something being “strange” have been met with hostility.
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moscow, moscow guide, russia

The ultimate Moscow layover itinerary


I loved waking up next to the Russky on the weekends when we first began dating because I knew the day would spin out ahead of us, ripe with the opportunity to explore something new. Although he grew up in a house that was just a few miles away from the outskirts of Moscow, he had never experienced much of the city in the way that I was accustomed to. Dating him gave me a chance to rediscover my love for Moscow and each weekend became a mini-tour of my favorite spots around the city.

One of our first dates was spent walking through Moscow for four or five hours, just chatting and taking in the unimaginably vast range of experiences that Moscow offers. I remember being shocked that the Russky was so unfamiliar with some of the most iconic parts of Moscow and equally pleased that I was the one who could share everything with him.

I want everyone who comes to Moscow to capture a piece of that same sense of wonderment, whether you’ve got eight days or eight hours to spend in Russia’s capital city. Those with a longer time in the city can visit the Moscow guide to get plenty of ideas on how to spend your days. For those visiting Moscow on a time crunch during a layover (don’t forget your transit visa!), check out my handy guide to hit the highlights:
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travel, travel tips

My favorite road trip recipes

Roadtrip Recipes

If there’s anything I’ll well and truly miss about Moscow, it’s the epic public transport system. I’m definitely missing the ability to hop on a marshrutka or the metro system and be on my merry way.

That being said, I’m not that cut up with the alternative. The United States may have some of the worst options for public transport in the developed world, but it’s known as the king of road trips for a very good reason. America’s well-maintained highways and gorgeous back roads are just begging to be explored and who are we to ignore that call?

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#girlandVA, america, travel

Let’s love local travel

Chet Hobert Park

Things just got real in the AG&HT household. The Russky got his green card in the mail this weekend and things are feeling official. The fact that we’re choosing America as our home base for a decent amount of time has finally set it.

Without even realizing it, I found myself feeling upset.

There’s a tendency – especially by the well-traveled – to feel that any long stint at a home base is just part of an inconvenient holding period. It’s not surprising, particularly if you’re prone to getting lost in any travel blogger’s archives; the constant go-go-go in exotic lands is a lot to live up to, especially if you’re stuck staring out the window at your absolutely mundane yard. I admit to not only feeling upset, but also jealousy towards those with a more interesting view than the unimpressive white paneling of my next door neighbor’s home.

Although Moscow was my home for about four years, there was always a tinge of the exotic to keep me interested. Every corner turned promised another ornate Russian Orthodox church or a building older than the United States itself. I was living in a foreign land as if I had endless opportunity to get myself stuck into some new adventure. I treasured that sense of always feeling like I was traveling, even if it was just to get myself lost around a new metro station.

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