- Nia Alexander
N-I-A in RVA
The reasons why I’m writing a collection about my hometown
The who, what, when, where, why, and how of my tourist experience in Richmond
Reflections on the open-ended definition of Richmond
Some fun facts about Virginia
This is the first post in my collection about Richmond, Virginia, USA! You may recall that I am from Richmond, which begs the question of how I can write about my hometown on a website devoted to new travel experiences. At first, I thought that I couldn’t; I thought it didn’t make any sense to write about a place I had lived for two decades. A year ago, though, I experienced Richmond as a tourist and found the experience to be just as rich and inspiring as all my other international travels.
I also realized three more reasons to document my experiences in my hometown:
Not all the people who read my blog are from the U.S. Even though I want to tell stories about what it’s like to travel as a Black American woman outside the U.S., I also recognize my experiences as a Black American woman in the U.S. are equally as valuable.
Not all the Americans who read my blog are from Richmond or even Virginia. The U.S. is so large and diverse that reading about another state, city, or community could feel completely foreign to other Americans outside of it.
COVID-19. In the age of COVID-19-induced staycations and travel restrictions, writing about my hometown seems fitting.
So, as I do in every intro, here I will tell you the who, what, when, where, why, and how of my experience in RVA!
Where did I go?
Richmond, Virginia, USA
The United States on a World Map
Virginia on a United States map
Richmond on a Virginia map
What is Richmond?
The Richmond sign that popped up on the highway a few years ago
Something I had to confront when planning this trip was that the definition of Richmond is rather open-ended. For example, The City of Richmond is different than Richmond City, the latter being more or less housed inside the former and sort of functions as a county. Then there is the Greater Richmond Region—also called the Richmond Metro Area or Central Virginia—which is comprised of thirteen counties, but some of those counties are actually cities. All cities in Virginia are independent, which means they aren’t located in any county but instead are the equivalent of counties for all intents and purposes. Three of these cities—Petersburg, Hopewell, and Colonial Heights—are next door neighbors and are referred to as the tri-cities, but then there’s also this thing called the Richmond-Petersburg metropolitan area because Richmond borders Petersburg. All of these cities are still inside the Greater Richmond Region, which means they can technically all be considered “Richmond” even though they are independent cities that are also counties.
In trying to figure this out, I thought, I’ll just format an address as though I was going to send mail. That will settle the confusion.
But then I realized that I have gotten mail where the City line had featured my town, county, or the ever ambiguous “Richmond.” The only thing that actually defined where I lived was the zip code itself, which varies from town to town. You see, Richmond—however you define it—is full of small towns, many of which with their own zip codes. So, perhaps I could say that the towns make the counties, and the counties make the cities—but some of the counties are also cities—and all these counties, including Richmond City, is a part of the City of Richmond, which is a part of the Greater Richmond Region. I think.
Some Fun Facts
All that said, there are still things about Richmond and Virginia that I am still discovering. I recently learned that Virginia had shires, a term I truly thought was limited to Bilbo’s home sweet home. The eight shires of the then Virginia Colony were formed back in the 17th century and most of them still exist today as counties. I also learned that Richmond has its own flag, seal, and Latin motto: Sic itur ad astra, “Thus do we reach the stars.” It’s much more lighthearted than Virginia’s motto, Sic semper tyrannis, “Thus always to tyrants,” which essentially means bad things will always happen to tyrants.
I also learned that Virginia started celebrating Robert E. Lee’s birthday in 1889 as a holiday, then in 1904 combined the holiday with Stonewall Jackson’s birthday. This created Lee-Jackson Day and it was celebrated until 1983. See, it was in 1983 that the federal government declared Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday, but instead of just celebrating his birthday on a single day, Virginia smushed their holidays together creating Lee-Jackson-King Day. This was celebrated until 2000, when the people in charge finally acknowledged it was a wee bit problematic to celebrate the birthdays of two racists and a Civil Rights activist on the same day. But instead of removing the holiday, they just made two holidays: Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Lee-Jackson Day, celebrated the Friday prior. It wasn’t until this year—that’s 2020—that Lee-Jackson Day was abolished.
Okay, so that last fact may not have been the most fun, but it was still something new that I learned about my home. Virginia’s role in the history of the U.S. goes back centuries and because of that I am always learning something new. It was (and still continues to be) the home of dozens of indigenous Americans, the first permanent English colony in the “New World,” the place where the first enslaved Africans disembarked, the site of many American Revolutionary War battles, the birthplace of eight presidents, the site of many American Civil War battles (with Richmond as the capitol of the Confederacy), and has played a role in many celebrities’ origin stories, heavy hitters like Maggie Lena Walker, Arthur Ashe, Ella Fitzgerald, Jason Mraz, Tim Reid, Bojangles Robinson, Pharrell Williams, Edgar Allan Poe, and Missy Elliott.
Virginia is low key pretty cool, my friends.
Where did I stay?
The Sauer’s Vanilla sign in downtown Richmond
I stayed at an AirBnB with my partner near downtown Richmond.
When did I go?
The view from Cabell Library. Richmond’s greenery was in full effect
I explored Richmond in mid-August 2019. It was hot, but not unbearably hot, and rained once.
How long was I there?
A Starbucks cup and mug with Virginia inspired motifs
Aside from the 22 consecutive years I spent living in Richmond, this particular adventure was only eight days long.
How did I get there?
The top half of Main Street Station, Richmond’s train station
I was already in Richmond before my tourist adventure started, so for the first time I didn’t actually have to travel to my destination. My partner, however, took an international flight across the Atlantic, touching down in the U.S. at Dulles International Airport and then driving to Richmond. Richmond has its own airport, but it only does a handful of international flights. Whenever I have used Richmond International Airport for my trips, it was always to do a connecting flight to New York or New Jersey before catching my transatlantic flight. Personally, I prefer the connecting flights from Richmond over direct flights from Dulles because everything about Dulles—from the drive up there to the airport itself—is just awful.
Who was I with?
Mugs with images of architecture in Richmond and Williamsburg
I was primarily with my partner, but I was also sometimes with my family having that they live in the city.
Why was I there?
A painted sewer drain in Carytown, a neighborhood in Richmond
Within the context of this adventure, I was there to show my partner around my hometown for the first time.
“Virginia is For Lovers” is the state’s slogan. Here it is printed on magnets and keychains.
It’s incredible to think that the last time I was in Richmond was a year ago, almost to date. I left to earn my MFA abroad then didn’t return in 2020 mostly due to Miss Rona. A lot has changed in Richmond this past year, along with the rest of the U.S., and many things are still uncertain. I recognize that some of the stuff I will be reflecting on in this collection may not even exist anymore, from small businesses to racist monuments, and the stuff that does still exist will probably look & feel different in this current atmosphere. Even with all this going on, though, I still want to write about what Richmond was like when I was there last because no matter where I am in the world, and no matter what dangerous shenanigans the U.S. is currently drowning in, my memories of Richmond last year warm my heart.