By the time we arrived in the D.C. area, we were beginning to feel like modern-age Turkic nomads. We had lived in six different apartments in three countries in just the past twelve months and were more than ready to finally make the switch from nomad to settler.
Our new neighborhood ended up being the beautiful suburb of Kentlands, in the city of Gaithersburg, Montgomery County, Maryland. We had originally intended to move to a nearby community named Crown, but due to not having availability on the dates we requested, the property company referred us to another complex they operate in Kentlands. What at first seemed an unfortunate situation was actually a blessing in disguise because Kentlands turned out to be a real-life embodiment of Pleasantville (well, the facade of it anyway, where everything is “perfect”).
We followed GPS directions from New Jersey and arrived about four hours later. We were immediately impressed with what we saw: The entrance was through a stone gate, on which the word “KENTLANDS” was written in cast metal letters. I feel like the “metal-on-stone” gimmick always works when attempting to convey a feeling of “posh.” We then drove down a road that had a small lake on either side, creating the illusion we were driving over a single body of water. Not sure if it was by design, but the experience was vaguely similar to that of entering a medieval castle via a bridge over a moat. The lakes were surrounded by trees, the shapes and colors of which reflected on the still surface. A bunch of ducks and wild geese were seemingly thrown in just for effect. The pseudo-antique street lamps lining the side of the road would totally belong in a French Impressionistic painting, or The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, depending on your mood. We ooh’ed and aah’ed our way over the next few minutes through a postcard-perfect leafy neighborhood with beautiful homes and parks. When we reached our decidedly more modest but still charming apartment complex, we were on a quaint-looking main street, actually called Main Street. The area reminded me of the 1950s downtown Marty McFly found himself in “Back to the Future,” just with newer cars. I loved the feel of the place so much, I told my wife before even getting out of the car; “this is where we’re living for the rest of our lives.” We have already moved.
The Main Street situation is a little confusing in Gaithersburg. Even though Kentlands is not part of downtown, its Main Street appears as “Main Street, Gaithersburg” in addresses. When we first put our new address in Google Maps, we thought we would be moving to central Gaithersburg. Only when we zoomed out did we realize the area was completely isolated from the city center. On the other hand, the closest thing downtown Gaithersburg has to a “main street” would be East Diamond Avenue, home to various restaurants, antique shops and a guitar store that I meant to visit but unfortunately never did.
Gaithersburg is a city divided by a motorway. The older, seedier downtown is to the East of I-270, which is the highway that goes Northwest from D.C. to Frederick, Maryland. The newer, richer section, including Kentlands, is to the West. The closer you get to the Potomac river, the posher everything becomes. In fact, the bordering town of Potomac is apparently so exclusive that a couple of African dictators own mansions there. Now, there’s a bragging point for (non-dictator) locals.
This being America, even the best neighborhood comes with some crime. I’m pretty sure I saw a drug deal take place outside our apartment one night. Well, I think it was a botched deal, but nevertheless. I was looking out the kitchen window, getting ready to go to bed, when I noticed a car parked on the street with its headlights on and engine running. A guy was standing next to the driver, who had his window down. They seemed to be talking. All of a sudden, the standing guy started yelling at the driver “dude, where’s my money?!!” and slammed his hands on the car. He repeated this angrily a few times. The driver tried to calm him down and managed to buy himself some time to slowly pull out of the space and drive the hell away. I thought it was all going to end in the standing guy pulling the driver out of the car and beating him to a pulp, or shooting him. When he was alone, the dude stood around for a little while, then got into his piece of crap car (another indicator he must not be a successful drug dealer) and drove away. I did read in this fun article that Kentlands was at some point (and maybe still is?) a popular hangout for junkie kids. You would never know by looking at it.
If Kentlands has a “tourist attraction” in the true sense, it has to be SPAGnVOLA, one of the best chocolatiers not only in the U.S., but on the planet, according to National Geographic. And I can testify to the high quality of their products. The beans come from the Dominican Republic, which is also the country of origin of head chocolatier Crisoire Reid (50% of the husband-and-wife founder/owner team, the other half being Eric) and some of the staff. The flagship store is right in the middle of Main Street, a short walk from the apartment where we lived, so needless to say we regularly treated ourselves to amazing chocolate. My philosophy is, it’s not always you live within walking distance of something very special, so when you do, take advantage of it. SPAGnVOLA actually make their chocolate right there in their basement, which is converted into an autelier. Their website says factory tours are available by appointment, and they are FREE, so check them out. I swear I’m not getting paid to advertise and I’m writing these only out of my love for chocolate and admiration of this great establishment, but in the unlikely event they are reading this, I wouldn’t mind a free box 😉 (the rum-infused ones, please!).
Kentlands is not your average suburb. Most residential neighborhoods in the outskirts of American cities are not walkable, not because there is no sidewalk, but because there is nothing to walk to. No shopping, no restaurants, nothing. You would be lucky if you had a gas station with a convenience store close by. Not so with Kentlands. While isolated from its main city like any other suburb, it’s organized like a town within itself, rather than just a conglomeration of houses. It has a compact shopping district that’s walking distance to all residents. Even though it does have a couple of strip malls with big box retailers, these are literally across from Main Street and have essentially integrated with it to form a bigger town center. This “downtown” really brings a community feel to what would have otherwise been a boring, soulless suburb just like thousands of others across the country. Kentlands is considered a success story in urban design and a place where those who can afford it pay a premium to live.
I will now leave you with a photo tour of my favorite neighborhood of all time.
The four seasons in Kentlands:
The old location of Vasili’s Greek restaurant, one of our favorite hangouts:
That time we had the massive snowstorm and got buried:
Scenes from Oktoberfest:
And some wildlife: