Oh no! not another history lesson?

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Colonial Williamsburg

wpid18679-2013-10-25-VA-1170984.jpgContinuing southward after that mind-numbing stop at the nation’s capital, we drove less than 200 miles and parked Betsy in Williamsburg, VA.  One of our rules is to try not to drive more than 200 miles to our next destination (the only exception was when we were in Alaska).  Following that rule, we will have a sloooow southward migration to Florida, making several stops before we finally vegetate for the winter (haven’t done that yet!).

As you may know, my posts can be tinged with a bit of history from time to time.  As we’ve traveled through the eastern states this year, we’ve really gotten hooked on the history spanning from before the American Revolution through the Civil War years.  I’ll try not to bore…

Williamsburg brick bridge

After getting Betsy parked and set up, our first visit was to Colonial Williamsburg.  From the visitor center, we followed the path across a footbridge back into 1774, walking under thick double brick bridges and following the trail taking us to the historic town.

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg is billed as the largest living history museum in Virginia, a restored 18th-century capital of Britain’s largest, wealthiest and most populous outpost of empire in the New World.  When you enter the historic town you are brought back into the time when life was simple, yet still under control of the monarchs in Great Britain.

Colonial Williamsburg

Which way to the eighteenth century?  Wow, do I look out of place or what?

The historic area is 301 acres of restored, reconstructed and refurnished historic buildings.  We tried not to compare this with our stop at Louisbourg in Canada, which was also a reconstruction.  But Colonial Williamsburg is older by 100 years, and Louisbourg was a fortress, not a colony.

Colonial Williamsburg

Steve told me this is how they used to “cruise for chicks” back in the 1700’s

To complete Virginia’s historic triangle, we went from Williamsburg – via the scenic Colonial Parkway – to Yorktown Battlefield, and then on to Jamestown.  Once again the documentary we saw several months ago – “America: The Story of Us,” – was coming to life in front of us.  The documentary began the story from the successful English settlement of Jamestown, beginning in 1607.  And here we were, walking through and experiencing the actual location of America’s first permanent English colony – established by a group of 104 men and boys on May 13, 1607.  They actually  landed on the shores of the James River 13 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts

We found the Voorhees Archaearium very interesting, as we perused the many archaeological remains of the old James Fort.  Too bad photography was not allowed inside the museum, for there were centuries-old “skeletal remains” that told a fascinating story and have been featured on the History Channel.

At the Yorktown Battlefield, we learned about the defeat of the British by the joint American and French forces led by Gen. George Washington.  After viewing the 16-minute film, we walked behind the British defensive earthworks, then drove the self-guided seven mile battlefield tour.  We stopped at the “surrender field”, where some of the spoils of war captured by Allied forces were displayed.

Surrender Field

Display of the trophies of war

The inscription on each of the mounted trophies of British brass guns, howitzers and mortars read “SURRENDERED BY THE CAPITULATION OF YORKTOWN OCT 19, 1781”.

Surrendered BY the CAPITULATION of YORKTOWN, Oct 19,1781

Inscription found on surrendered British weapons

On that date, British troops lay down their weapons following the surrender.  Yorktown is remembered as the place where the British surrendered to General Washington, ending the last major battle of the American Revolutionary War.  It also remained in Union control during most of the Civil War.

Surrender Field, Battlefield Yorktown

It’s hard to imagine thousands of British soldiers laying down their weapons on this field, as many thousands of Allied soldiers looked on.

I haven’t even mentioned just how significant the state of Virginia is, for I’m skipping many details learned during our historical exploration.  But if you like history or are a history buff, I’d say visiting here is definitely worth your time.  Virginia is where it all began in 1607!

Colonial Williamsburg

About an hour’s drive from Williamsburg is Norfolk, where my childhood friends Kathy and Janice live.  Good food and lots of laughter ensued as we reminisced our childhood days.  As the girls were yacking away in our dialect, the boys, Edwin and Steve enjoyed their own exploration.

Moalboal

Janice, Kathy and I

Since Edwin had access to Norfolk Navy Base, Steve was excited to get a personal tour of the docks and other areas.

Navy Submarine

Submarine at Norfolk

Floating Hospital

Floating hospital, and there are bigger ones than this!

George W Bush Air Carrier

The George H. W. Bush aircraft carrier was in town

Finally, they made a stop at the excellent Douglas MacArthur Memorial Museum.

Gen MacArthur

Inside the MacArthur Memorial

MacArthurs Tomb

The bodies of  MacArthur and his wife were interred here in Norfolk, the home town of the general’s mother.

Gen MacArthur

After this final stop in Virginia, we are finally done with our history lessons!  Since I did not learn much American history in school, our escapades have been very enlightening and I think it’s sticking in my brain much better than if I had to read about it in books.

So, beginning with our next stop, our slow trek to Florida will be along the Atlantic coast – which means lot of beautiful beaches!  If the weather holds, that is.

Next up:  The Outer banks of North Carolina

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Other explorations around the nation’s capital

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Home of George Washington

Steve has a past in the DC area – a good past, that is.  So while we were here, he wanted to visit his old stomping grounds from many moons ago (32 years).  Back then, he was in the Air Force, stationed at the Pentagon – but one of his part-time jobs was as the wedding coordinator at the Old Post Chapel on Fort Myer Army Base.

He told me the job was a civilian position that he “just lucked into” from another Air Force buddy, and he loved it.  He worked every weekend for three years and conducted over a thousand weddings.  No wonder he seemed so calm at our wedding!

On the day we arrived, at least two military funeral services took place at the chapel.  It is used extensively for funerals in cases where the deceased is buried at Arlington Cemetery, which is just adjacent to the chapel.

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A funeral was underway when we arrived.

Military Funeral Procession

A Navy funeral procession enters Arlington Cemetery from the chapel.

Following the procession, we walked into Arlington Cemetery and made our first stop at the Arlington House – currently known as the Robert E. Lee Memorial.  Within the little museum at the back of the house, we learned that Arlington House was once the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  His family abandoned the house in 1861 and was eventually confiscated by the feds due to non payment of taxes.  The house and 200 acres of surrounding land were set aside as a military cemetery in 1864, and the original 22 headstones of soldiers can be seen placed around Mrs. Lee’s flower garden.

Arlington House

Arlington House.  The garden is surrounded by 22 headstones.

Arlington National Cemetery has undergone many expansions over the years, and it now encompass 624 acres.  It is considered the most hallowed burial ground in the United States.

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

Washington DC viewed from Arlington House

Washington, DC viewed from Arlington House.  Note that the JFK eternal flame is undergoing an upgrade in the foreground.

From here, we walked to the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, previously known as Iwo Jima.  Since we entered through Fort Myer, we did not have a map to find it, but Steve claimed he knew the general area.  He created his own route, and we took a long scenic walk to get there.  It included going down the hill from the Arlington House, stopping by the JFK burial ground and around the cemetery then passing by the Women’s Memorial…

Womens Memorial

Womens Memorial with Arlington House in the background

…and the Seabees Navy Memorial.  Then we walked down the Esplanade and along the George Washington Memorial Parkway to Arlington Blvd.

Sea Bees Navy Memorial

Seabees Navy Memorial

Anyone with common sense would drive to the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, and the drivers were probably wondering what the heck we were doing out there blazing our own trail.  But it was a beautiful day and we walked several miles – who needs a car?  As we walked along the busy George Washington Memorial Parkway, I was ecstatic as I captured some beautiful fall foliage along the way (the blog’s current header was taken along Memorial Drive).

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Let’s see now, I know it’s somewhere this way…

There was a stretch of road where there wasn’t enough room to walk safely, so we just trudged along between the beautiful trees on the carpet of leaves.

Fall Foliage in DC

Autumn leaves along US 50W

US 50 W to Iwo Jima

Sidewalk?  We don’t need no stinking sidewalk!

US Marine Corp  War Memorial

Marines who fought at Iwo Jima.  Now these are real heroes!

Getting back to our car was a bit easier, as we located another gate into the cemetery and headed through Arlington National Cemetery to the Old Post Chapel.

On another day we visited the mansion of the father of the United States, George Washington, in Mount Vernon.  While taking the tour of the mansion and the surrounding grounds, we learned that he designed and oversaw the expansion of Mount Vernon.  At the educational center and museum, we also learned that the founding father never attended college.  Instead, he educated himself via a lifelong pursuit of self-learning.  In the three hours we were there, we learned a great deal about the general and first president, and we understood why he was a founding father of our nation.

Mount Vernon mansion

The river side of the Mount Vernon mansion, showing its famous piazza

Among other things, farming was one of Washington’s true passions.  He invented the 16-sided barn at Mt. Vernon, which was used for grain processing and storage.  Horses trotted around the circular slotted wooden floor on top of harvested wheat to separate the grain from the stalk.  Once the heads of grain were separated from the straw, it would fall through to a granary below and stored there until milled. At that time that was considered very ingenious. To learn more about the life and works of George Washington, click here.

Our stay in DC also included some socializing.  We went to Baltimore to have lunch with Steve’s longtime friend that he met while stationed here.  I also met with my friends from Cebu, Philippines that I’ve known for many years.

As you can probably tell by now, we had an action-packed visit in and around the nation’s capital.  Whew! after our 9th day here we were exhausted and ready to move on, not to mention we were beginning to feel the fall chill in the air.  Our base camp was at Cherry Hill Park in College Park, MD, (Steve’s review is here).  It’s the most convenient RV park to Washington, DC, with easy access to the excellent Metro system.

Next Up:  Oh no, another history lesson?

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So many museums, so little time – Washington, DC

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Metro Rail

Does this man look confused?  For once he isn’t, thanks to the simplicity of the DC Metro system.

Once again our jello-style planning has been tested. Lucky for us, with this lifestyle we can change the course as often as needed to fit our wants and needs.  Prior to our arrival in DC, we had shortened our 10-day stay to a week due to the government shutdown.  But when the government got their act together on our 3rd day here, we changed it back to 10 days.  Even then we knew there’s no way to see everything here in just 10 days, so we prioritized our wish list and went from there.  The Metro system is the way to get into DC, and on four days it was our mode of transportation as we hit the National Mall.  We explored not only the iconic monuments and memorials, but most importantly the re-opened (and free) world class Smithsonian museums.  I promise to post only the highlights of our gawking and learning escapades.

Metro Rail Transit

Metro Rail transit station

Our visit to the US Holocaust Museum was a compelling emotional experience.  We thought we could just breeze through it, but we couldn’t.  It was a sobering visit, and a good place to learn about that dark time in history.  Photography is not allowed, but what struck me the most was the room containing thousands of pairs of the victim’s shoes, and the “tunnel” with pictures of so many of them, which made it very real.  We were drained and exhausted after three hours of intense reading, listening and watching videos.

US Holocaust Museum

US Holocaust Museum

At the Natural History Museum, Steve made sure I got to see the dazzling 45.52-carat Hope Diamond, known for its flawless clarity and rare deep blue color.

Hope Diamond

Hope diamond

The Natural History Museum is a family favorite, but we mostly just checked out the Gem and Mineral collection.  It took hours just to examine the various mesmerizing gems and minerals of all shapes, sizes, colors and forms.

Natural History Museum

Lobby, Natural History Museum

We have already been to several Air and Space museums – the McMinville Air Museum in Oregon, the National Naval Aviation Museum, in Florida and the Space Center in Texas – but of course the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is the granddaddy of them all!  With Steve’s passion for all things that fly, this one was at the top of his list.  Although he was stationed in DC during the early 80’s and had been to this museum several times back then, so many changes and upgrades have occurred that he hardly recognized the place.

Apollo 11 Command Module

The actual Apollo 11 command module – good stuff!

Because it is the world’s largest collection of air and space vehicles, the collection has been expanded to two locations – the original museum on the National Mall and the other at the massive UDVAR-Hazy center next to the Washington-Dulles Airport.  Of course, we had to see both of them!

Air France Concorde

Concorde – the first commercial supersonic airliner.

Of course, what we saw here were not replicas, but the real historically significant aircraft and spacecraft.  Standing literally under the Space Shuttle Discovery was awesome – knowing that it flew beyond the limits of our earth.  And there was the Enola Gay, the actual aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  We also saw the Air France Concorde, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the Apollo 11 command module, the actual original Wright brother’s flying contraption, and so much more.  Overwhelming!

Space Shuttle Discovery

Space shuttle Discovery

I had to agree with Steve, this place is extraordinary.  Standing next to so many historic displays took my breath away!

Pratt & Whitney R-4360

This got Steve’s blood flowing – a massive Pratt & Whitney R-4360 turboprop assembly.

From airplanes and spacecraft, we came back down to earth at the National Health and Medicine Museum. This often overlooked and off-the-beaten-path museum has several collections of morbid anatomy on display.  The collection has real human remains (bones, tissues and parts), and an interesting display that discusses facial reconstruction.  There are also exhibits that display gruesome injuries from the battlefields of several wars and describe the medical techniques used for them at the time.

Bone remains from the battle of Gettysburg

Bone remains from the battle of Gettysburg

The emphasis here was on military medicine, documenting the effects of war wounds and disease on the human body and the remarkable changes in American medicine over the past 150 years.  There was a display that marked Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birth anniversary, including items associated with his last hours.  The physicians who cared for him and the bullet that killed him were on display.  We found this museum to be unique and well worth a look – even if you aren’t into medicine.  Thanks to our best bud Don for recommending another winner!

National Health and Medicine Museum

Bullets and shrapnel removed from wounds

We noticed a National Building Museum on our map and decided to see what that was about.  It included a display called “Americas Great Places, the Guastavino family”.  We had not heard that name before, but their architectural legacy can be seen under the lofty vaults and domes of this beautiful building.  There are several iconic structures attributed to the Guastavino’s, notably Grand Central Terminal, the Boston Public Library and the U.S. Supreme Court building, to name a few.

Guastavino Family

Guastavino family

National Building Museum

Lobby of National Building Museum – that ceiling is WAY up there!

We also dropped by the National Archives, where, along with a big crowd of kids, we managed to peek at all the original Charters of Freedom in America.  No photography allowed, but to just see the original 200+ year old Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights sort of capped our own history trail education.

National Archives

We happened to get inside the National Archives, along with a bunch of kids.

We spent a few hours at the National Museum of the American Indian and observed that the museum is really a cultural celebration of Indians from the past and present.  Eight galleries recount the history of individual communities from their perspective.  And, they have a very good (although a bit pricey) cafeteria there.  Thanks to Greg and Michelle for telling us about this one!

Extensive collections at the National American Indian Museum

Collections unearthed from way back – 1491

As an afterthought we stopped by the National Art Gallery, West building.  Not being art lovers, we just breezed through and then out we went.  But not before I snapped this Madonna and Child, a painted and gilded paper mache and stucco, circa 1550.

Madonna and Child

Madonna and Child, circa 1550.

Believe me, that was a lot of museums to visit!  After four solid days we had headaches from learning more than we wanted to.  We also became veteran Metro riders and walked miles and miles.  Our legs and brains hurt, yet we had barely scratched the surface in this city.  It seems like going through all of these world-class museums could take a lifetime.  There is something for everyone in the nation’s capital, and worthy of a visit – despite the bickering politicians.

Here are a few sights I captured during our visit:

Reflection Pool

Reflecting Pool with the Washington Monument (still under repair) in the background.

House of Congress

A happy person takes a break from her arduous touring.

Next up:  Our explorations outside of Washington, DC

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What’s in your wallet? – Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Washington DC

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One Million Dollar in Ten Dollar Notes
Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Steve’s all ready for our tour of the BEP!

When we arrived at College Park, Maryland (our home base during our visit to the nation’s capital), the government shutdown was still underway. We all know Washington, DC is a city rich in museums, monuments, attractions and more.  Despite the shutdown there were several interesting things for us to check out. The famous open-air memorials were still somewhat accessible, and several of the non-Smithsonian museums were happy to welcome us.  We hate to admit it, but the closure actually worked well for us. There were no crowds, and it was easy for us to do our non-government exploring on the first two days. Then, when the government re-opened, we were able to hit everything else as other tourists began coming back into town. Sometimes timing is everything!

One Million Dollar in Ten Dollar Notes

Sorry, no take out allowed!

Our first stop made Steve happy, as he had been excited to visit the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) – which was not affected by the shutdown.  The BEP is one of the largest currency printing operations in the world, with facilities in Washington, D.C. and Fort Worth, Texas.  All U.S. currency is printed at one of these two facilities.

Photography was not allowed while we were on the actual production floor. We witnessed the printing of millions of dollars as we walked along the galley.  During the tour, our guide asked us to pull out a dollar bill and study it as she explained the printing process and security measures taken to prevent counterfeiting.  There is a whole lot that goes into the printing, but I won’t bore you with those details.

Instead, lets have some fun – take your dollar out, and let’s decode it. Then you’ll know what all those seemingly random letters and numbers mean!

Dollar

  • The letter “B” inside the circular seal represents the Federal Reserve Bank issuing the bill – in this case, B=New York (A=Boston; C=Philadelphia, etc.).
  • A number is printed in four places around the face of the bill, corresponding to the letter in the circle.  For example, printed here is number 2 because B is the second letter in the alphabet.
  • The note’s serial number also begins with a letter corresponding to the issuing Federal bank, again it’s B in this instance.
  • The serial number ends with a letter which identifies the number of times that the BEP used the sequence of serial numbers – A is the first time, B is the second time, C is the third time and so on.
  • The “H3” on the upper left quadrant represents the position of the bill on the 32-note printing plate it was on.  The “H90” on the lower right quadrant represents the specific printing plate used.
  • If this bill had been printed in Forth Worth, Texas, then “FW” would have been printed next to the plate number H90.  Is “FW” printed on your bill?
New One Hundred Dollar Bill

Redesigned hundred dollar bill began circulation on Oct 8, 2013.

There’s a lot more, but here are a few tidbits I thought interesting to share:

  • Paper money is not made of paper, but of cloth – 75% cotton and 25% linen – that is why it survives in the washing machine.
  • It cost 5.4 cents to produce a $1 bill and 12.7 cents to produce a $100 bill.
  • Estimated life span of a dollar bill is 5.9 years, while a $100 bill survives about fifteen years.
  • The Secretary of the Treasury is responsible for the final choice of currency designs, including the portraits.
  • On the reverse side, the bald eagle seal contains 13 stars, 13 bars on the shield, 13 arrows, 13 leaves, 13 berries and 13 letters in “E Pluribus Unum” on the ribbon.

Have you seen the redesigned $100 bill just now coming into circulation?  If not, it looks like the one pictured above with its two distinctive security updates – the Liberty Bell in the inkwell and the blue 3-D security ribbon running down the note.

We left the Bureau of Engraving and Printing feeling pretty smart about what’s in our wallets.  Not only that, I learned that I’m about $1,374,750 tall in $100 notes.  Hey, I’m rich!

Have I bored you yet?  Okay, then lets move outside to see the sights at the National Mall, the tidal basin and some other popular spots in DC.  The National Mall, and pretty much everywhere else we went, looked like ghost towns on the day we were there – the last day of the shutdown.  Although we loved the light crowds, the downside was that the public restrooms were locked.  Also, the food trucks were nowhere to be found, and we heard some of them are great and wanted to try them out!

Despite the barricades placed at the memorials, visitors pretty much ignored them and just went in – like this tourist, who must be exercising his 1st Amendment rights.  Hey, he looks familiar!

Korean War Memorial

The news was reporting that veterans and supporters were taking down barricades around the WWII memorial and dropped them off in front of the White House.  Thanks to them we just walked around the remaining barricades and visited them, too.  The police stood right there and didn’t say or do a thing.

Just a handful of tourists at the Martin Luther King Memorial…

…and a barricaded and almost deserted Thomas Jefferson Memorial.  Oh well, we had both seen most of the memorials before so this was close enough.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial was also very quiet…

Franklin Delano Roosevelt  Memorial

…but as expected, there’s always a crowd at the White House:

White House

Everyone knows that visiting the National Mall and the memorials can involve a lot of walking.  Although the sky was cloudy, it was warm and a beautiful day to roam around town.  There were no tour buses running because of the shutdown, but we prefer to walk anyway and knocked out over 7 miles!

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

We noticed on this day (Oct. 16th) that there was a lot of air activity.  We saw the president’s “Marine One” helicopter and several others fly over a few times, shuttling back and forth from the White House to various locations.  We learned later in the evening that the partial shutdown had been lifted and was over.  Yay, the government is finally “functioning” again!  To the museums we go!

Next up:  So many museums, so little time!

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Touring NYC on foot – The Big Apple pt. 1

Comments 18 Standard
Wall Street

I-95 S at the BronxNew York City was not on our planned route heading south, because we had both been there before.  But in this lifestyle we realize that we need to see everything we can while we’re here, and plans can change quickly.  So we decided to tackle the challenging trip to the Big Apple, and yes, it was an unpleasant drive on I-95 S from Connecticut, passing through the Bronx in New York to the New Jersey turnpike. But we made it with the only damage being to our nerves.

Liberty Harbor RV Park

Not an RV park, just a big parking lot!

The only RV park with easy access to NYC is Liberty Harbor RV Park (Steve’s review is here), across the Hudson River in Jersey City.  For $80 a night you get a space in a parking lot with just water and electrical hookups. They are the only game in town, as they are within easy access of Manhattan by ferry or train.  And they know it!

Rosana and I

The two girls back together after 37 years!

Reconnecting with my long lost friend, Rosana – whom I had not seen for 37 years – was a great reason to stop by NYC.  She and her hubby Angelo gave us a wonderful personalized tour around town, and that’s always the best way to experience  a big city.

The highlight of our wanderings was visiting the 9/11 Memorial.  Access is free, but a donation is requested when you get your timestamped pass, which is recommended because of how busy it gets.  The Memorial is surrounded by ongoing construction on several World Trade Center structures, which is amazing to see in itself.  We went on a Saturday, and a large crowd was already forming as the gate opened at 10AM. A security screening was required prior to entry, and we noticed lots of cameras and a large police presence.

Names on the 9/11 memorial

May their souls rest in peace.

The memorial consists of two huge pools set in the footprints of where the original Twin Towers once stood.  The names of the victims are inscribed in bronze parapets around the pools, at the approximate location of each victim when the building collapsed.  Thirty foot waterfalls cascade into the reflecting pool at the bottom.
Thirty-foot waterfalls,9/11 memorial

Thirty foot waterfalls at the reflecting pools

Water in the reflecting pools then falls into a center void intended to convey a spirit of quiet reflection of loss.  The simplistic design of the north and south pools at the Memorial will provide a focal point for the thoughts of people for generations to come.
South Pool, 9/11 memorial

The South Pool

The new One World Trade Center is scheduled to be completed in early 2014, and it dominates the nearby skyline.  It is almost complete at 104 floors, and is topped by a spire that reaches the symbolic height of 1,776 feet – a number commemorating the year of America’s independence.

One World Trade Center

One World Trade Center

The rebuilding continues, and we observed solemnity and respect among the hundreds of visitors.

9/11 memorial

Pausing to pay homage and respect.

Our friends took us all around town, and for those of you who have visited or lived there, you know that getting around means taking the subway and walking on the streets and avenues.  We learned that In New York City, an avenue block is 1/4 mile long and runs from east to west, while a street block is 1/16 of a mile long and runs from north to south.  Believe me, we did LOTS of walking on this day!

Walking down Wall Street, I caught a glimpse of Trinity Church.  It was positioned very nicely between other tall buildings.

Trinity Church, Manhattan

Trinity Church

In its yard is a two-ton bronze sculpture installed as a reminder of a large sycamore tree. The tree was uprooted on September 11, 2001 from St Paul’s Chapel several blocks away and found lying in the yard of Trinity Church. It had fallen in such a way that none of the historic tombstones around it were disturbed and none of the wreckage reached the Chapel.

Trinity Root Sculpture, Trinity Church

Trinity Root Sculpture

When we arrived at the American Museum of Natural History, I recognized immediately that these were the actual exhibits behind the characters featured in the movie “Night at the Museum”!  The David H. Koch Dinosaur collection alone occupied a large area on the fourth floor. This museum is huge and amazing, and it requires at least a full day (and maybe more) to explore.  A must-see if you’re in NYC.

As you may have guessed, the Rockefeller Center is a tourist destination and we were there milling around with hundreds of other folks.

A visit to NYC wouldn’t be complete without being in Times Square at night!  Our friends made sure we saw it during the day and then again all lit up.

Lastly, they took us across to Brooklyn where we were able to see the amazing Manhattan skyline from yet another vantage point.  Awesome!

Manhattan skyline at night

Manhattan Skyline and Brooklyn bridge at night, viewed from Brooklyn.

It was truly great seeing and reconnecting with Rosana again after so many years. Many thanks to her and Angelo, our gracious and patient hosts for giving us a fantastic tour of NYC – and for the wonderful lunch in Chinatown.   You are the best!

Angelo and Rosana

Angelo and Rosana

Next up:  High Rises and Many Bridges – The Big Apple pt. 2

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Hugging Maine’s Coastline

Comments 18 Standard

We’ve been lingering in Maine a little longer than planned, and the primary reason – Lobstah!  Of course it is Maine’s main crustacean, scientifically known as Homarus Americanus, or American Lobster.  They come in several colors, but not red – except when they are cooked – then they are all red like the one pictured below.  It takes an American lobster 6-7 years to get to an edible size.  They are long-lived animals, thought to be capable of living over 100 years.

Lobster

Lobstah!

Lobstermen with their traps and lobsters seem to be the unique and distinctive tradition here in Maine.

Lobsterman at work

Just one of the thousands of lobsterman seen at work along the coast.

Prospect Harbor

Lobsterman

In addition to the lobstermen, there are picturesque harbors, wharves and small coastal towns dotted with lobster boats, traps and buoys.

Lobster boats and traps

Lobster boats and traps at Prospect Harbor

Lobsters are caught using baited, one-way traps with color-coded marker buoys that uniquely mark each one.  These buoys decorate the surface of the ocean along many miles of the coastline.

Buying live lobsters direct from a lobsterman is the best option and you get to see their yard littered with traps, ropes and buoys – tools of the trade.

Lobsterman's Yard

A lobsterman’s Yard

Being seafood lovers, we had a lobster feast almost every day while in Maine.  And here is a fun fact – long before they became such a delicacy, lobsters were fed to prisoners and servants.  It was considered “poor man’s food” during the colonial times.  Well, we were able to buy it for as little as $3.99 per pound while staying near Bar Harbor – we didn’t want to leave!

Here’s the best part – lobster is highly nutritious.  Despite its rich, buttery taste, it is a low-calorie, low-fat source of protein: 3.5 ounces of meat has only about 96 calories and less than 2 grams of fat.  Succulent and a healthy food to boot!  We ate them with gusto every day and not worry about gaining extra pounds.

Lobster wit

Steve’s new favorite refrigerator magnet.

Enough said about the favorite crustacean, how about Maine’s coastline?   Get this, Maine’s convoluted coastline is 51 miles longer than California’s, at 3,478 miles – that’s if you count all the bays and tidal inlets.  So, off we went to journey along the mid-coast area, driving to Penobscot Bay.  It was being billed as the most scenic body of water on the eastern seaboard, with the “must see” towns of Rockland, Rockport and Camden.  This area also includes many historic lighthouses and museums, plus lots of shopping and excellent restaurants.

Penobscot Bay

View of Penobscot Bay with Camden Harbor just to the right of center.

Our first stop was in Rockland, where we walked across the mile-long granite Rockland Breakwater which was built in 1880.  The breakwater is now on the National Register of Historic Places and at the end of the granite pier sits The Rockland Breakwater Light.

At Marine Park in Rockport we enjoyed the small but busy sheltered harbor.  Here too are historic lime kilns used more than a century ago.

Marine Park, Rockport

Marine Park, Rockport, just half of the so picture perfect view

After paying an entrance fee to get into Camden Hills State Park, we hiked the overlapping Tablelands, Megunticook and Mt. Battie trails.  It was a fairly strenuous 4-mile round trip with steep pitches, as it climbed steadily to the ocean lookout.  At the top we were rewarded with a bird’s eye view of Camden Harbor, and the panorama of Penobscot Bay and its islands.

Camden Harbor

A closer look at a living postcard, Camden Harbor viewed from Tablelands Trail

Penobscot Bay

Penobscot Bay and its many islands, with Mount Desert Island  in the background

The southern coast of Maine is known for its beaches, dozens of lighthouses and endless boutiques, antique stores and museums.  We stopped at Wells, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Ogunquit.

Walkers Point

At Walker’s Point, the George HW Bush summer home in Kennebunkport.

At Perkins Cove, we followed a scenic cliff walk named Marginal Way for over a mile.  It meanders along the ocean and connects Perkins Cove to the town of Qgunquit.  It is a very popular trail and was crowded, even on a weekday.

Marginal Way

The Marginal Way Trail – very pretty walk but too crowded for us.

Ogunquit Beach

Ogunquit Beach

For the lighthouse lovers out there, Maine has 68 lighthouses.  We walked to and viewed a few of them.   Each is unique with its own heroic rescues and romantic stories, and it seems we never get tired of checking them out.  Most are automated now and some have been preserved as museums.

And with that, our Maine sojourn comes to an end.  This was our first time staying in Maine, but it won’t be the last – we really enjoyed the atmosphere and already know we must come back.  During our latest excursions here, our base camps were at Saltwater Farm Campground in Cushing, and at Moody Beach RV park in Wells.  If interested in Steve’s campground reviews, click here.

Next up:  The Freedom Trail, Boston MA

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Lighthouses, lobsters and a desert? – Freeport, ME

Comments 11 Standard
Portland Lighthead

When you think of Maine, lobsters probably come to mind along with ocean breezes – maybe even the sight of lobster boats trawling on the ocean.  It may be difficult to imagine that among the rolling hills and just a few miles from the coast is a desert.  We were not looking for this desert, but it just happened to be next door to our RV Park – Desert of Maine RV Park (reviewed here).  We were so intrigued that as soon as we settled in we immediately caught a tour to see for ourselves what they are bragging about.  And sure enough, there it was!

Desert of Maine

This post shows how the moving sand dune has covered a water spring and drinking station that lie below.

Desert of Maine

A pose at the desert of Maine

It is not really a true desert by weather standards, but is otherwise considered a desert.  This tract of land is now covered with a sandy substance known as glacial silt (called “mica”), which has developed into dunes 80 ft deep.  Centuries before, topsoil formed a cap concealing the desert, enabling a forest to grow.  In 1797 Mr. Tuttle farmed this land, but poor crop rotation techniques and over-grazing resulted in soil erosion, and one day a patch of sand became exposed.

It continued growing until the sand claimed the farm, swallowing buildings and pastures.  Because he could not contain it, Mr. Tuttle sold the 300 acres of land for $300.  Mr Goldrup bought the farm and saw a potential, and in 1925 opened the area as a tourist attraction.  So that is how the Tuttle Farm of 1783 to 1919 became a Desert of Maine since 1925.

Lobster Roll, Derosier's

Our first lobster roll, the best in Freeport!

After that excitement we ventured out and began the search for a good lobster roll, live fresh lobsters, lighthouses, boats and ships and oh, maybe some shopping too.  A trip to Freeport would be incomplete without a stop at the mothership of shopaholics, L.L. Bean, which has had its headquarters here since 1917.  We indulged in some needed clothing, and since lunchtime was approaching we searched for Derosier’s Cafe, recommended by the cashier at LLBean.  We were told they serve the best lobster roll in the area for only $9.95, and it certainly was delicious!  A great hole-in-the-wall restaurant among many fancy places.

We drove to Cape Elizabeth Light – also known as Two Lights – where two light towers, about 300 yards apart, are located.  Built in 1828 and rebuilt in 1874, were sold several times and now sit on private property.  Only the eastern tower of the two that made up the light station until 1924 is active.  The western tower is deactivated, but it is still standing and is privately owned.  We were disappointed that we couldn’t get all the way up to the structures and would not recommend driving too far our of your way to see them.

This area along the ocean coast is also known for its rocky outcroppings that jut out to the ocean.

Two Lights

Cape Elizabeth Two Lights

One of the most popular landmarks along the shores of Maine is the Portland Head Light.  It is the state’s oldest lighthouse built in 1791 and sits in Fort Williams Park, on a head of land at the entrance to the primary shipping channel into Portland Harbor.  It is located within Casco Bay in the Gulf of Maine.  An active lighthouse, it is now automated and the tower, beacon, and foghorn are maintained by the United States Coast Guard.

Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park

We followed a trail which gave us various views of the lighthouse as we explored the rocky shores.

Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park viewed from the west

Bath, Maine is known as the “City of Ships” for its shipbuilding history dating back 400 years.  It is home to Bath Iron Works (BIW) where we joined a one-hour trolley tour that took us behind the gates of “The Works” to see how modern U.S. Navy destroyers are built.  We learned why the phrase “Bath Built is Best Built” rings true at this ultra-modern facility.  Photography is prohibited on the tour, so we sat in rapt attention as the guide narrated the various stages of shipbuilding which he likened to assembling lego blocks.  The size and scope of work performed at this facility is staggering.  They are just now building two of the Navy’s newest destroyers – the DDG 1000 Zumwalt, and the next Arleigh Burke class ships.  Pulling alongside an 800+ ft. long destroyer in drydock is enough to take anyone’s breath away.  Don’t miss this one!

Dry Dock

The Big Blue dry dock, 750 ft long, 144 ft wide between walls, 52 ft high and can lift 28,000 long tons – made in China!

The huge blue box in the picture is a floating dry dock, used for launching the ships after their hulls are complete. When ready for launch, a completed ship is moved into the dry dock by means of a hydraulic trolley system. There the vessel rests on temporary cradles and blocking until it can float away. The dry dock sinks by pumping river water into its tanks, and floats again by pumping water out.

Since admission to the Maine Maritime Museum next door is included in the ticket price ($35 per person), plan to spend several hours here if you can.  The area’s nautical history is chronicled in detail, and there are several impressive displays.  On the center of the  grounds is the largest sculpture in New England, a life-size representation of the Wyoming.  It was the largest wooden sailing ship ever built, at 426 feet from tip of bowsprit to stern rail.  It had six masts, each 177 feet tall!  My photo below can not convey the size of this sculpture, but believe me it is impressive.

Wyoming sculpture

Life size sculpture of “Wyoming”, the flagpoles represent the mast locations

The sculpture stands on the same spot where the schooner was built in 1909 and is of the same size as shown on the picture below.
Wyoming 1904

Although we aren’t boat fanatics, we found the displays about boat building on this 20-acre campus to be quite interesting.  The self-guided tour includes the history of the lobster industry and how it became a staple and symbol of Maine.

Maine Marine Museum

Campus waterfront viewed from the Paint and Treenail House

Carving house

After touring and sightseeing, its time to go to the market and get some seafood…lobsters, that is!

Desert of Maine Campground

Our nice, spacious site at the Desert of Maine RV Park

After admiring lighthouses and the coastline (not to mention satisfying our lobster cravings), we moved to Bangor, Maine and stayed at Pumpkin Patch RV resort.  We spent a couple of days trip planning and preparing Betsy for our border crossing into Canada.

We are now dependent on the internet offered at RV parks in Canada, which is really spotty.  Hence my story telling may be somewhat delayed during the next few weeks.  Oh the tribulations of international travel!

Up next:  Betsy’s “ferry” tale! – St John, NB

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Road signs, chocolate and beer – PA

Comments 12 Standard
Troegs Beer

On this exciting leg of our trip, we so much enjoyed the vast green vistas as we chugged along into Pennsylvania.  We were amazed as we appreciated the cornfields, the gorgeous farms with huge grain silos, the rolling hills and all of the blooming wildflowers. Just beautiful!

Pennsylvania Road

Cornfields

Cornfields on rolling hills

Then we came across these signs along the road.  They were spaced at fairly close intervals along PA147N  highway:

And how about this one:

Keep min 2 dots

A strange way to show vehicle spacing – tailgating is apparently a bit issue here!

Finally, on I-80W another reminder:

DUI arrests

DUI arrests

We met Steve’s friends from his old days at Lawrence Livermore National Lab (Mike and Sue) for dinner in Wilkes-Barre and had a great time with them.  Since they are long-time Pennsylvanians, we asked about all of those strange signs.  What’s up with that?

Ronnan

With Mike and Sue

They told us that Pennsylvania drivers are really bad!  That bad?  Maybe, so I asked our blogger friends from Oh the Places they go, who are also from PA, to comment about that.  We’ll see if we hear back from them.

If you’re a chocoholic traveling through Pennsylvania, then a stop at Hershey is in order.  Growing up in the Philippines, a bar of Hershey’s chocolate was like a manna from heaven.  This was another one of those “I’ve got to see it” places.  Well, we were not disappointed.  Hershey is not just a chocolate factory, it is a town, a school, a botanical garden, an arena, a theme park, a hotel, a spa, a theater and much more.  These and other accomplishments were all things Milton Hershey brought to the dairy region of Pennsylvania when he created Hershey, the chocolate center of America.

Milton Hershey School

Milton Hershey School

Hershey Theme Park

Hershey Theme Park

At the heart of the town was the chocolate factory, a huge brick building nestled in the shadows of two smokestacks, where cocoa goodness wafted out into streets and homes for many years.  However, we learned during our tour that the factory has been moved to a modern facility down the road which has doubled their output.

Hershey chocolate Factory

Hershey chocolate Factory

When Milton Hershey died in 1945 at the age of 88, a chocolate bar had carried his name around the world and made him a legend.  What struck us most is that he failed financially several times before he managed to build his empire.

Steve and I were jumpy and hyper from all the chocolate we had consumed during the various tours, and we were starving.  Searching for food, we stumbled upon a brewery along Hersheypark Drive and decided to check it out.  We were very glad we did, because the independent craft brewery called Troeg’s turned out to be a neat place with good food and a nice self-guided brewery tour.

On this stop we stayed at Western Village RV Campground at Carlisle, PA, and at Yogi Bear’s at Shangri-la in Milton, PA.  Check Steve’s camp reviews here if you are interested.

Next Up:
Hitting more trails in PA!

Our upcoming stops – tell us about any “must do” tours, excursions,
restaurants, etc. you’ve enjoyed at these places, so we can check them out:

Niagra Falls, NY

Toronto, Canada

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