Project 365 Completion

This post marks a milestone in the life of this blog. It is the 365th post in the blog, which means I have reached that milestone number for a Project 365. You might have heard of people working on such project — typically on photos, blogs, or both. It means posting one entry per day for the whole year (365 days — thus the name). It is quite a challenge that requires commitment, discipline, and perseverance to complete because, well, typically your daily life catches up on you and in many cases people would have to give up this project for other priorities that are more important in life.

In the case of this blog, I started it on a whim in mid October 2011, and after posting on daily basis for few days I decided to embark on the Project 365 challenge. I was able to keep up with it for around eight months, and then life caught up with me with a very hectic season at work. I gradually fell further behind but decided to catch up little by little during the weekends, and today I finally reached that 365 mark. It is almost two months behind schedule (entry is dated October 13, 2012 to keep the daily tracking of the project, but it was actually written on December 8, 2012), but the important point is that I did make it to item number 365.

So now that I reach that milestone, what is next? Well, before continuing forward, I thought it would be good to take a moment to reflect through the experience and jot down my thoughts about it:

  • Sense of accomplishment: I have friends who had spent months to train for a race, a mountain climbing expedition, or working on a personal project that takes long time and commitment to complete. But prior to this experience, I had never done anything like that myself. Now I know what it feels like to be at a point where you finally reach a goal that you set long before. There is a sense of satisfaction that you have accomplished something for yourself, even if it may not mean much to others.
  • Evolution of objectives: Sometimes when you are going through a long project, your objectives evolve along the way, and by the end, it becomes something different or perhaps more refined than what you initially started with. In my case, it started with simply wanting to select a photo per day from my travel photo archives and writing something around that photo for the post. Along the way it evolved into series of posts on a particular place or experience and then into a post-trip travel journal. Sometime during the middle of the year I realized that some people in my life that I would love to share the experience with the most are not necessarily readers of online articles, so I decided to spin off a side project to take the online blog posts and create a book compilation that can possibly be printed or consumed offline. Now the objective of the blog is to be an online record of my travel experience that I can share with others, not just a collection of random entries or thoughts.
  • Change in daily routine: Whenever you take something recurring and add that to your daily schedule, it is guaranteed to have impact on your daily routine, at least it makes you conscious that now you have another task to complete during your day. During the first few months, I found myself thinking about doing my daily post with midnight Eastern time as my daily deadline. Since the task itself was fun, it did not bother me much, until came time when things got really busy at work and by the time I got home I was already spent mentally and did not have any energy do anything else. Then you have decision to make, what is most important, and what to do with things that are deprioritized. For many people, this means the end of this experience. For me, I had to think about what was more important to me: meeting my deadlines, or coming up with posts that are thought through and I would like to keep permanently as a record of my experience. As such, I decided to keep continuing the writing, but it became only when I had time blocks to do so after everything else that was going on.
  • Community support/encouragement: There is something unique to note with the experience of blogging within an online community like WordPress. As you post your entry for the day, with the use of tags you can get your post exposed out to other bloggers or readers who are likeminded and have similar interests to yours. It is encouraging when someone ‘like’ my post, made comments on the page, or decided to follow your blog; that gave the feeling that there is someone out there who also appreciated what you had to say. In some cases, I found that some of these readers had their own blog that was equally interesting to me, and that created a mutual following situation and occasional encouragement or appreciation to what others had done, and I got to learn from and be inspired by others’ experience.

So what is next? Few days ago, I watched a TED conference presentation by Louie Schwartzberg called ‘Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.’

It is a wonderful presentation that talks about being grateful for the gift of life and the ability to experience things that often times we take for granted. It is an encouragement to treasure the gift and share the blessings with others. In a way, that is what makes writing posts in this blog worthwhile; to pass on the blessings to others. So the blog will continue with other travel experience, but I still need to figure out if I want to keep the daily target as in project 365 or do less frequent posts. But regardless my photography and travel will continue as long as I am able, so the materials for content have not been exhausted yet. It is only a question of time.

The posts from the first year of this blog have been compiled into book format using Blurb. If you are interested, you can get either the printed version, or the free ebook version for iPad that can be downloaded from Blurb. Simply click on the cover images below to get to the Blurb bookstore to find the books.


Dining in Williamsburg

After a full day of exploring Colonial Williamsburg, I wanted to conclude my day trip with a nice dinner before heading back home to Northern Virginia. After looking at reviews in both TripAdvisor and Yelp, I thought of going to a restaurant called The Blue Talon Bistro for dinner. It is restaurant with French bistro fare, which I thought I would be willing to spend more on compared to an ‘upscale American fare.’ The reviews seemed to be more even in high ratings compared to a couple other upscale restaurants in town, and it did not seem to require reservation. Since the Blue Talon seemed to be a popular choice and it was a weekend day, I thought I would try to beat the dinner crowd and get there early when they start serving dinner. That would allow me to also finish early and drive home before it got too late in the day (I still had almost four hours to drive to get home).

I got done with my activities for the day by mid-afternoon. When I headed to the Blue Talon, I found out that they were serving lunch menu until around 4 pm, then they would close for an hour before starting dinner service at 5 pm. So I had some time to kill. Before the trip, I consulted a co-worker who went to school at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg to ask for her suggestions on dining options. Her suggestion already led me to a great lunch at MAD About Chocolate (the lunch was delicious, but the dessert was even more memorable to say the least). So I thought I would head to another place that she recommended that happened to be right across the street from the Blue Talon called Aromas Cafe. My friend said it was her favorite place to eat and hang out when she was a student at William and Mary.

So I spent about an hour or so at the Aromas Cafe. It was quite busy inside. They served light meals, pastries, desserts, and various kinds of gourmet coffee, tea, and other drinks. I was still pretty full from the lunch and (heavy dose of) chocolate cake from few hours before, so I only got a flavored iced tea to drink. There were no tables available inside, but they also had a couple of tables outside facing the street. That day they happened to have Oktoberfest festivities with beer tasting on the street, so there was no motor traffic allowed. So it was interesting to enjoy my drink while watching people passing by — tourists and locals alike.

Finally it came time to head across the street for dinner. The Blue Talon was pretty much like what I had expected from a French bistro. Good selection of French-classic fare served at a somewhat casual atmosphere. I ordered escargot as appetizer, calf liver for entree, and finished with a creme brulee. All pretty good, and I would consider the Blue Talon as a dining option when I am in Williamsburg again, however, I do not think there was anything particular about the meal that stood out as exceptional.

The photo below was taken at Blue Talon, and it was the one thing about the restaurant that seemed to be gimmicky but some people thought it was actually something unique… the ‘Historic Tap Water.’ The tap water was served in a bottle with blue talon logo on it and the small glass. Some people said it tastes better than normal water elsewhere. To me, it was just water, and it tasted good because I was thirsty. At least they did not charge extra for that.

Blue Talon

Colonial Life

While the military and music demonstration capture attention from the visitors at Colonial Williamsburg, another important aspect that was all around us in that town but perhaps was less noticed is the authentic reenactment of daily life in an 18th century town. The most visible part was the town itself with its historic buildings. Many were ordinary people’s homes and not having any historically significant event associated with them, but in many places you could come inside and learn more about what it was like to live in that era.

Just like in our lives today, there were issues that the people in that era struggled with. There was the taxation by the British ruler that led to American Revolution and the struggle for independence. So you could go to the tavern and hear from the locals discussing this topic. There were also the social classes that existed in the society — there were slaves, house servants, freed slaves, farmers, professionals in various trades, and the upper-class society. You could see actors dressing up in the period clothes that indicated their social class. It becomes quite fascinating and educational when you hear visitors talking to these actors about the character they are portraying, and getting a history lesson on what life was like back in 18th century Williamsburg from that character’s perspective.

I did not spend enough time to explore these; I think they would make a fascinating follow-up visit to the town. And since it is meant to be a living history museum, a visitor can possibly experience different things at different time of the year as the events and programs are tailored to match the time of the year or any special occassions to commemorate.

I did visit one home that happened to be the home of a blacksmith, complete with a workshop in the back. When I went there to check out the workshop, there were a couple of actors who were demonstrating work as blacksmiths. They made nails and horseshoes. It was interesting to notice that one of the blacksmiths was a young lady — I never associate this profession as an occupation for females. I think that was where it hit me that just like life today, you have people in every level of society, and even in reenacting the history there, you there were more than just ladies at the upper-class level with their pretty gowns, but also those working in the hot and dirty blacksmith workshop and other manual labor places as well.

The photo below was taken on the street as a couple of ladies dressed up in very nice dresses talking with a little girl who also dressed up in periodic clothes herself.

Ladies of the era

Fifes and Drums

When you think of American Revolutionary War, one integral aspect of the picture of that era is the fifes and drums. Along with the army, typically there was a group of teenagers (aged 10 to 18) who would play fifes (ancient flutes) and snare and bass drums. The musician would play tunes that accompany the soldiers marching and to sound signals and alarms to the troops. The tradition went back to the 16th century, and you can still see them in action today though it is mostly ceremonial in nature (for example, during parades).

At Colonial Williamsburg, they continue the tradition of having the Fifes and Drums by recruiting local young musicians to join the corp that play in Colonial Williamsburg or at other occassions throughout the year. These young musicians also learned about the role of music in the 18th century life, so they can teach others and continue the tradition into the future.

I took the photo below at the main street of Colonial Williamsburg, the Duke of Gloucester Street, when the fifes and drums corp marched through the town. It was neat to see people walking along to follow them, and there was a young boy with his drum who marched alongside the corp (the kid at the right of the photo). I thought that was a great picture of the idea of bringing history to life.

Fifes and drums

MAD About Chocolate

After spending the morning learning about the historical significance of the Siege of Yorktown at Colonial Williamsburg, I was ready to take a break for lunch before continuing the day with other events in the afternoon. A friend who went to William & Mary recommended to get the ‘Death by Chocolate’ dessert that Marcel Desaulniers created at Trellis. But since I was planning on eating elsewhere for dinner, I wanted to get a light, fast lunch instead, and as I looked for options on TripAdvisor, I discovered that Mr. Desaulniers apparently had come back from retirement and with his wife opened a small restaurant in Williamsburg called MAD About Chocolate. I thought that would be a great place for lunch as they also serve light dishes along with their chocolate-related creations.

The location of MAD About Chocolate is a little out of the way from the main commercial areas (DOG Street area), but it was within short walking distance. I thought it was actually nice to take a break from the big crowd.

The restaurant was small but had a very welcoming atmosphere. It was very nicely decorated in with lots of bright colors and patterns. I thought it went well with the ‘main attraction’ of the place, its chocolate-related products. The kitchen was right behind the counter, so you could see Mr. Desaulniers and his staff preparing the food for the guests.

I ordered the savory cheesecake of the day, which was served with salad and came out quite quickly. It was very delicious and perfect for a light lunch that still leave some room for dessert.

I also got the signature dessert, the MAD cake (I suppose it was their equivalence to the Death by Chocolate at Trellis). I underestimated the size of this dessert; one slice was big enough to feed four people, and that is probably how most people eat it (to share). I was alone, and I had this monster chocolate cake to eat.

I attempted to finish that cake myself as I still had another half day to walk around in Colonial Williamsburg and I did not want to tote around leftover chocolate cake (which I was not sure would still be good if not refrigerated). So I went through about half of the cake until one of the store staff who came to pick up my empty lunch plate asked if I wanted a to-go box for the cake. I declined and told her I would try to finish it, but she knew better and gave me a box anyway.

I finally gave up and took the rest of the cake in the to go box. I went back to my car at the Visitor Center and left the leftover cake in the back seat covered with a jacket, and that turned out to be fine. In hindsight, I should have just enjoyed small portion of the cake and take the rest home.

The cake itself was not only about quantity but also more about quality. I thought it was among the best chocolate cakes I had ever had, you could taste the high quality and the mastery of the preparation, and I did not feel sick of eating like what often time happened if eating too much of rich and sweet dessert. Below you can see the eight-layer chocolate cake next to my Blackberry smart phone for size comparison.

MAD cake