Friday, April 26, 2013

Boston area

Old State House

After driving through Rhode Island (don’t blink or you’ll miss it) and most of Connecticut, we arrived in the small seaport of Mystic. The town has a seaport village and, of course, shops for us tourists.  We had to eat at Mystic Pizza, the place where Julia Roberts starred in her first major role in the 1988 movie “Mystic Pizza”.  The pizza was excellent.  We also went to the Navy’s submarine museum where you can tour the Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine. 
On Monday we moved on from there to the outskirts of Boston, near Cape Cod.  Since it rained on Tuesday, we didn’t go into Boston but instead drove to New Bedford to visit the Museum of Whaling.  New Bedford was the largest whaling port back in the day when that was a major industry and whale oil was a popular fuel.  Now most whaling is illegal by international law except for indigenous Eskimo and northwest Indian tribes.  The museum was very well done with all sorts of artifacts from that era, including a half-size whaling boat replica.
On Wednesday we went into Boston, braving traffic to rival LA and squishy parking garages.  We took the trolley tour to see the city, but the Cambridge part was shut down for the MIT officer’s funeral which brought VP Biden to town.  But it was the first day that Boylston Street was reopened, and there were many spontaneous memorials along the race route, along with plenty of Homeland Security vehicles and police.  One of the stops was at the Boston Tea Party site, where we went on a recreated ship and dumped tea into the harbor.  Many of the historic sites are best seen by walking Freedom Trail, so we went back in on Thursday to do that.  It is a 2 ½ mile walk we started at the USS Constitution, or “Old Ironsides”, the oldest Navy ship still commissioned.  We toured that, then continued on the bridge across the Charles River to the Old North Church (one if by land, two if by sea) and Paul Revere’s house.  His house was built in 1680; he bought it in 1780 and lived there for 30 years.  No photos are allowed in it.  Some of the other 16 stops on the trail are Faneuil Hall, the Old State House, and Boston Commons. There are also three old churches with adjoining burying grounds where many early patriots are buried.  The east coast is full of churches with cemeteries, we see dead people everywhere.  But the Boston ones have especially notable people such as Paul Revere and Samuel Adams.
Today we went to Plimouth Plantation (it was originally spelled with an i), a recreated 1627 English colonial village and a Wampanoag native village.  We also went into the town of Plymouth to see the famous rock, which is not very big at all.  We finished off the day at the Plymouth Wal-Mart, the favorite store of the Pilgrims for centuries.  The weather has finally turned sunny and a bit warmer, so we’ll continue a bit farther north next week.
Mystic Seaport

USS Nautilus


Pizza heaven

whaling ship

Boston Tea Party ship

USS Constitution, "Old Ironsides"

Boston grave yard

Paul Revere and Old North Church

Faneuil Hall


Massachusetts State House

Wampanoag building canoe

1627 English colony

Plimouth grist mill

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Big Apple


We finished up last week’s Pennsylvania visit in the town of Strasburg.  While there we took a ride through Amish farmland on the oldest short line railroad in the US, then ate in a restaurant in an old caboose.  Before leaving the area I had to visit another quilt shop and make a couple small purchases.
Then it was off to the Big Apple.  We stayed just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, with a view of the Statue of Liberty from the RV park. After we got set up we took the subway to the World Trade Center Memorial.  The fountains that mark the footprint of the twin towers are surrounded by the names of the victims and first responders that died there. It’s very sobering to see so many names.  The new buildings are still under construction around the memorial plaza.  The next day we bought three day passes for the hop on/hop off tour busses so we could tour the city.  It’s really the best way to see everything in the city, and gets you above all the traffic and craziness of New York Streets.  The first day we did the lower Manhattan tour starting in Times Square that goes by Wall Street, the Empire State Building, Flatiron Building, Brooklyn Bridge, United Nations, Trump Towers, Park Avenue, Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, Chinatown, and more. 
Day two we took the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty.  Both the Statue and Ellis Island are closed because of damage to the docks from superstorm Sandy.  So the ferry is the closest you can get to them right now.  Then we took the bus back to Times Square, ate some NY pizza, and went to a Broadway show.  We saw “Nice Work If You Can Get It” starring Matthew Broderick and Blythe Danner.  It’s a musical comedy with many familiar songs written by the Gershwin brothers.  The production, singing, dancing and everything about it was wonderful!  Definitely one of the highlights of this whole trip for me. 
Day three we took the tours of Brooklyn and upper Manhattan.  Brooklyn has some beautiful neighborhoods of brownstone walk-ups.  The upper Manhattan route took us past Central Park (beautiful), Grant’s Tomb, Lincoln Center, Columbia University, Harlem, the Apollo Theater, the museum district and lots of beautiful churches and homes.  All our travel in the city was by train, bus, or walking, which we did plenty of.  Walking around Manhattan is an experience in itself because you are constantly walking with masses of people moving at a frantic pace, and there are all these skyscrapers where ever you look.  The car and taxi traffic is crazy, but we learned that you cross when no traffic is coming.  The walk/don’t walk signs are apparently just a suggestion for tourists.  The police were everywhere in large numbers, more than usual because of the Boston bombings which had people here on edge.  We also heard plenty of sirens around town, but apparently it’s illegal to honk your horn, there was none of that useless noise. 
NYC has a way of sucking one's wallet dry, so today we left for Mystic, Connecticut.  The worst part of the drive was getting through New York where the I-95 goes across the George Washington Bridge ($37 toll with the trailer) and through the Bronx.  After that the traffic lightened up and became a pretty drive.  We were glad to hear that the police got the Boston bombers, especially since we’ll be headed there next week.
Strasburg, PA railroad

9/11 Memorial fountain

new WTC Freedom Tower

Times Square

Empire State building

Flatiron building

Battery Park - want a photo with Lady Liberty?

United Nations

Park Avenue traffic

Radio City Music Hall

Central Park

Wall Street bull

view of Manhattan from Staten Island Ferry

Statue of Liberty - the Lady in the Harbor

Friday, April 12, 2013

Baltimore, Gettysburg & Amish country


     Our friends we visited, Ed & Judy Bush, have a beautiful house in the countryside west of Baltimore.  I went with Judy to visit her neighbor whose farmhouse, built in 1780, is on the National Historic Houses Registry.  We also fed and groomed her horses and had a nice walk through the woods.  On Saturday we went into Baltimore and saw Fort McHenry.  The flag flying over that fort was the inspiration for Francis Scott Key’s writing “The Star Spangled Banner” after a battle during the War of 1812.  After that we walked around the inner harbor area followed by dinner in Little Italy.  We finished off the day at Camden Yards to see the Orioles play the Minnesota Twins.  It was a good game, even though they lost.  Orioles fans are very enthusiastic supporters of their team.  There are more pics of our time with the Bushes on Judy’s blog: http://whistlingprairie.blogspot.com/
     On Monday we drove 40 miles north into Pennsylvania to visit Gettysburg.  The Visitor’s Center has an excellent movie, museum and Cyclorama (an enormous painting that is over 100 years old).  We were impressed before even going to the battlefields.  Then we took the driving tour around most of the battle sites.  They encircle the town on three sides, and are full of cannons, monuments and markers to show the location of each brigade of soldiers during the three days of battle. The rolling hills surrounded by woods make it an awe inspiring sight, you really can feel that it is hallowed ground.
     Before we ended our visit with the Bushes, we enjoyed vocal and harp solos by their daughter, Amanda.  It had been about 14 years since we’d seen these dear friends, and it was nice to catch up and also enjoy the talents of one of their three daughters.  From Maryland we headed into the Pennsylvania Dutch country.   The local farms and green rolling hills in this area are so peaceful.   On Wednesday we took a buggy ride with an Amish farmer on a “cookie run” where he took us to his farm and we enjoyed cookies made by his daughter.  We shopped in towns named Bird-In-Hand and Intercourse.  The quilts were so beautiful they almost made me cry; the prices made Chuck want to cry.  But they are locally handmade, not on machines in China.  We also enjoyed a buffet of Amish cooking, yum!
     A few miles to the north is the town of Hershey.  We went there to the Hershey Museum and the World of Chocolate.  We enjoyed their corporate PR but did not visit the amusement park that isn’t open midweek this time of year.  We finished up the week winding our way to the quaint town of Lititz.  The historic parts of these towns are so different than western towns that we are used to.  But the suburbs are like anywhere else.  We went to some new theaters and saw “42”, and excellent movie we highly recommend to all.  
Ed & Chuck at Ft. McHenry

Camden Yards

Orioles game


Bushes neighboring farm in Maryland


Gettysburg cyclorama

Gettysburg battle position

Gettysburg battlefield


Amish farmland

Amish farm

Amish farmer

Amish commuters

covered bridge

Hershey's Chocolate World

Lititz shops

Friday, April 5, 2013

Jamestown, Yorktown, DC, and Manassas


We certainly covered a lot of history this week.  The two other sites in the Historic Triangle are Jamestown and Yorktown.  Jamestown was the site of the first permanent English settlement in America.  There is now a visitor’s center/museum, recreated Indian village (remember Pocahontas?), an English village and three ships that are replicas of the ones that arrived here in 1607.  Much of the history is told from the writings of John Smith.  Yorktown is the battlefield site of Washington’s victory over Cornwallis that ended the Revolutionary War in 1781.  There is a nice visitor’s center, recreated settlement and military encampment. 
After finishing our Williamsburg experience we moved on to Northern Virginia, near Washington, DC.  It should have been a two hour drive, but took quite a bit longer because as we go into the metropolitan area we hit traffic and road work too.  The next day we took the Metro train into the city.  That was more time consuming and expensive than we had anticipated, then when we got there the line for the National Archives was about two hours.  So instead we went to the Smithsonian Museum of US History.  It has lots of cool stuff about the presidents, first ladies, military, transportation and more than I can remember.  Then we walked around the national mall to see the Washington Monument and Capitol building.  Since we’ve been to DC before (this is my fourth time), we skipped most of the other stuff which was overcrowded anyway. Its spring break for lots of families, but you could only tell from the crowds, not from the weather.  The cherry blossoms should have been blooming, but most trees are still bare here. 
The following day we went out to Dulles Airport where the Smithsonian has a newer Air & Space Museum that holds lots of bigger things that won’t fit in the DC one.  Some of the items are the space shuttle Discovery, the Enola Gay, an F-14 Tomcat, a Concorde, and many planes from the beginnings of aviation to the present.  It’s a beautiful museum.  After that we drove over to Manassas National Battlefield.  This was the site of the first battle (also called Bull Run) of the Civil War and the Second Battle of Manassas a year later.  It is very sobering to walk around the fields where over 4,000 soldiers died in those two battles.  Today we drove to Sykesville, Maryland, just west of Baltimore, visiting some old friends from when we were newlyweds, many years ago.

Jamestown Indian hut

Jamestown ships

Jamestown gunsmith

Yorktown Revolutionary soldiers

Yorktown military encampment

Yorktown village

Washington DC Capitol building

National Archives

Enola Gay

Space Shuttle Discovery
Manassas Battlefield

Manassas Battlefield