It’s not for sure, yet, but my husband wants to get orders to Virgina Beach if he decides to reenlist. He always gets what he wants, so I’ll go ahead and confirm that we’ll be moving to Virginia Beach at some point in the near future.
I’ve heard nothing good about the area. Every time we asked someone who’d been there or was stationed there, they’d hated it. Every time they said that, I kept a mental list of check marks against it in a last ditch hope of getting John to choose San Diego.
Despite my protests, we flew in early Saturday morning to Baltimore, where we met my mother-in-law, (and surprised her with some very big news in the bathroom), then took a quick 30 minute flight to Norfolk.
First impressions of a new place shouldn’t stand solely on the quality of the airport, but I was a little disheartened to see that it was actually smaller than Charleston’s, if that’s architecturally possible. While we waited for our rental car, I tried to find a decent, healthy place to eat near our hotel.
For obvious reasons, California Burrito caught my attention. We headed downtown.
Norfolk is a ghost town. I’ve only seen two other downtowns this empty–Dallas and Kansas City. No one was walking the streets, no farmers markets or Fourth of July celebrations, no tourists, just restaurants, workout studios and an occasional office building. Maybe it was because it was so empty, or maybe it was the khaki color theme, but Norfolk could have easily been in the heart of the Midwest. There was nothing remotely East Coast about it.
I complain a lot about
worst East Coast Mexican food. It’s bad. But one bite into my simple bean and cheese burrito and I forgot I was 3,000 miles from a legitimate Mexican restaurant. California Burrito is that authentic. And, bonus, the ingredients are organic and local. By the end of the meal I was feeling slightly more hopeful, as long as I could rent a table at California Burrito to work from home and have them cater most of our dinners, this could work.
We by-passed the hotel and headed down to the Whole Foods in Virginia Beach for supplies (milk, snacks, water, chocolate, blueberries that we didn’t eat) and found that their Whole Foods, while in what seemed to me to be a strange neighborhood (I would come to think differently as the weekend went on), was also incredible. (It didn’t hurt that we walked in on sample Saturday).
I’m a person of habit. I like having a yoga studio, a place for the occasional barre class, a route to run that’s longer than a mile and a half (try training for an ultra in a neighborhood that size) and my comfort food comfort zone–Whole Foods. The fact that I felt so good about where we’d do the majority of our grocery shopping made me a little more in tune with the idea of moving. A little.
We ended up back there for dinner after spending the afternoon at Nordstrom (huge bonus that they have a Nordstrom!) and then stuck in the holiday weekend traffic by the beach, Virginia beach’s main attraction.
Sunday was our ‘go’ day. I woke up before the baby and John, so I logged 3.1 miles on a 5k course on the treadmill, then another 3.1 miles around the treadmill’s virtual track (a total of a slow 10k). Not an ideal way to explore the city, but the pouring rain kept me indoors, next to a tourist who couldn’t figure out how to turn on the TV.
We ate a quick breakfast at the hotel before John and I left the baby with Grandma to go meet up with his friend at Taste–basically an upscale Panera–and get a tour of a neighborhood near Whole Foods in the Virginia Beach part of town.
He showed us the most incredible neighborhood. The sidewalks are shrouded by thick trees we drove in, and the further we got the more beautiful and intricate the colonial style houses became. The neighborhood had a good mix of price ranges, starting at our budget and moving well above a million dollar price point, which meant that the landscapes were well cared for, nicer houses had accompanying docks and the entire area felt safe and neighborly. A place where I would want to Trick-or-Treat on Halloween (this is my gage of my ideal neighborhood). The entire area was built in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and coming from a cookie cutter house built this century, I was excited to see buildings with character, and that each home was entirely different from the next. After touring the neighborhood, I started to get excited about the possibilities in Virginia, the fantasy of cooler weather, hot coffee in a cozy, shaded home and being able to walk to coffee shops and restaurants.
After picking up the baby and grandma, we made our way to the southside of Virgina Beach. While the neighborhoods were just as enticing, the commute and traffic had multiplied, and we quickly moved on, knowing that we don’t want a repeat of the traffic I get stuck in daily in Charleston and the complaining that follows.
Dinner was a little out of our way, through the country, past horses, a pumpkin patch and large country homes, to Whiskey Kitchen, a local farm-to-table bar and restaurant with great reviews. Our friends who recently moved from Charleston met us there, and we got to talk about where to live, what they like about Virginia Beach and Norfolk, and, more specifically, what they don’t like, where to avoid and what they would do differently.
Monday morning, the Fourth of July, was overcast, occasionaly rainy and cool–the weather I’d been looking forward to since summer hit months ago in South Carolina. We drove about 30 minutes from Norfolk to the beach to try Commune, a new restaurant that serves local and organic food inspired by the owners work on coffee plantations. The food was incredible–and not in a filling brunch way, but that every ingredient was carefully thought out and handpicked to be a combination of unusual, comforting and healthy. I had the sorghum pancakes with apple butter, side of veggies and French-style eggs. The pancakes were rich, nutritiously chewy and indulgent with the sweet butter. We ordered a plate of the zucchini fritters for the table–which I ate 2.5/3 of–crisp, veggie pancakes with a spread of mustard seed and creamy aioli. If the Whole Foods, California Burrito, Nordstrom and our fantasy Tick-or-Treating neighborhood hadn’t convinced me that Virginia Beach was livable, this place pushed it into the I could move there AND maybe enjoy it category.
The baby fell asleep as we were dropping my mother-in-law at the airport, so John and I decided to let her nap and drive around another neighborhood people recommend, Ghent in Norfolk.
Ghent is an more mature, wealthier, hipsters-with-kids paradise. The houses were built in the late 1800’s through the middle of last century, givng it an older, upscale vintage vibe. The streets are narrow, the porches are smaller, but parks dot the neighbhoorhood and a main street has an independent theater playing the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I felt like I was in Lincoln Park in Chicago, or North Park in San Diego. Every home was beautiful, most were out of our price range, and the proximity to shops, restaurants and even a health food store on the main street made the area feel intimate and exclusive–despite being surrounded by not as nice parts of town.
I loved Ghent, but I also loved out Whole Foods neighborhood, and that, plus the dreary, cool weather, made me reluctant to leave and return to 100 plus degree Charleston and the daily traffic. I’m still sad it’s not San Diego, but I think Virginia Beach could work, at least for three short years spent alternating from California Burrito to Commune and back to Whole Foods.