Monday, March 14, 2011

Virginia Beach

As I mentioned in a previous post or two, my family and I headed south in the summer of 2008 on a great American tour. Okay, it wasn’t GREAT great as in ‘we-toured-to-20-different-places’ great, but it was a FUN great. We visited some nice areas, did some sightseeing and swam in a ‘real’ beach (unlike the lakes, rivers or man-made swimming holes we have here). And the water in this ‘real’ beach was even ‘swimmable’, meaning that you can actually get in it completely (whole body) without suffering minor hypothermia like you can in places like Maine, for example. When we visited there about two years ago, I was so excited at finally seeing the ocean after so many years that I dashed enthusiastically towards the water with the intention of diving in and taking a swim. It didn’t quite turn out that way. It only took getting in as deep as my ankles (maybe not even that deep) to realize that the water is a bone-chilling, body-numbing temperature. I turned around and bolted, and spent the rest of the vacation sitting on my beach chair reading a book. I never so much as dipped a toe in the ocean after the initial arctic-water shock. Fool me once... Alright, maybe I’m a bit of a wimp, but so what. If you’re okay with frigid water then you go in. I’m perfectly happy just watching. From a safe, dry and warm distance.

Before I go further, I have to tell my readers that I love the United States. Love it. Of course, I love my country (Canada), but it lacks the wonderful diversity of climate (temperate, tropical, polar, semi-arid, desert, mediterranean and arid) that the U.S has to offer with its large size and wide range of geographic features. For cold winters and ample snow, head up to New York or Vermont. Sun and beach? Head south to Florida. Hot summers, mild winters and desert landscapes rich in xerophytes such as cactus? Head southwest to Arizona.

In this one country, you can move around from state to state and from climate to climate. How cool is that? Can we do that here in Canada? No. Your choices are very limited. With the exception of coastal British Columbia that enjoys a temperate climate with mild, rainy winters, most regions in the ‘Great White North’ can experience long, harsh winters with bitter cold, severe wind chills and plenty of snow, which covers some areas almost six months of the year. Sad isn’t it? Big sigh.

Okay, so our final destination on this ‘great American tour’ was Virginia Beach, the most populous city in Virginia and the 41st largest city in the United States, with a population of 437,994 (2010 Census). Listed in the Guinness Book of Records as having the longest pleasure beach in the world, Virginia Beach is best known as a resort, with miles of beaches and hundreds of hotels, motels and restaurants along its oceanfront. I picked up this information from Wikipedia, but since I’ve finally seen Virginia’s oceanfront (at least part of it), and driven across some of the longest bridges I’ve ever been on (all crossing bodies of water), I’m able to offer a personal, been-there-and-seen-it-with-my-own-eyes opinion, which can be summarized in one word: awesome. Virginia Beach is a breathtaking place that is well worth a visit: beautiful beach, inviting climate and friendly people. Awesome.

And, unlike some regions (and we won’t name names or point fingers) where the beach is hypothermia-inducing, Virginia’s beach is comfortably warm, making it a pleasant experience. You want to get in. And when you do get in, you don’t want to get out. That’s how nice it is. And believe me, if I’m willing to get in (whole body) and stay in, no one else will have any problem with it. I’m very sensitive to cold and my standards are very high.

The people were also extremely friendly, which I suppose you would expect from touristy places. It doesn’t pay to be mean to tourists; you want them to keep coming back. But we didn’t venture too far from the hotel grounds, so I can only base my opinion on the staff at the hotel we stayed at, and the employees working in restaurants situated near our hotel, and of owners of souvenir shops. Still. Somewhere along the line I would have run across a disgruntled employee or someone who’s not very friendly or individuals that don’t have the warmest personalities. But I didn’t. Everyone was very sociable, eager to assist you and rather chatty, which left me with the impression that the people that lived and worked in Virginia Beach are very pleasant.
Together with the beautiful beach, climate and people, Virginia Beach seems to have really good pizza. I say ‘seems to have’ because I didn’t visit all the restaurants, so I can’t say for sure if good pizza is available in many restaurants across the city. It’s possible that we just got lucky where we ate, and that good pizza is limited to a few places. But even if there are just a few restaurants with good pizza, that’s good enough for me, because a few is better than none. This is very important. Pizza is my absolute favourite food and I could never be happy somewhere where good pizza was nowhere to be found. And we did find good Pizza there, so Virginia Beach scores points for that too. Of course, this pizza rule only applies if I lived there. I can manage without good pizza for a week or two while on vacation. But for 10, 30, 50 years? No way.

Finally, there’s the vegetation, which was breathtaking. The plants that can only be grown indoors – or for a short period outdoors – over here, were all growing outdoors over there. And they seemed very content. Now I don’t know if these plants grow outdoors year round in Virginia Beach, whether they need some type of protection come winter (considering there is significant cold at any time) or if they need to be moved indoors for awhile at some point. I’m not familiar with the year round climate of Virginia Beach; I only experienced a tiny potion of it, which was wonderful but hardly indicative of an entire year’s worth. But I think it’s safe to assume – without any verification - that it certainly must be much warmer in the winter over there compared to here. I mean it’s about 1200 km (745.6 miles) south of where I live, so, come on; there must be a climate difference – for the better. Still, I can’t know for sure if the plants I saw growing outdoors in early August can continue to grow outdoors come December, January or February. If anyone reading this article lives – or has lived – in Virginia Beach, leave a comment and enlighten me.

I must say that Virginia Beach is one of the nicest places I’ve ever been to. I'm not sure if we'll ever get a chance to go there again, but at least we've done it once. If you’ve never been there, it is definitely worth a visit.

And if you ever find yourself there, make sure to check out the sun rising over the ocean. It’s breathtaking.

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