Tag Archive | Art Galleries and Museums

The Grand Tour – Day 6 – Savannah and Colonial Cemetery

Today was our full day in Savannah! We didn’t really have anything on the itinerary other than a ghost story walking tour in the evening, so we got up and got breakfast at a more leisurely pace. The Marshall House has a fantastic continental breakfast included in the price of the room, with baked breakfast quiches in addition to all the usual fare. And a big bowl of fresh cut fruit! Yum!

After breakfast, we set out for the day. We checked out the riverfront again, this time during the day.  Most of the buildings on the riverfront used to be cotton warehouses, where the cotton was stored while it awaited shipment to the North and to Europe. Slaves loaded the cotton and were chained in the warehouses at night, as legend has it, so of course they are haunted! During the day though, there the riverfront area is a bustling tourist area, with restaurants and gift shops, and it really doesn’t give away too much about its cruel past.

Next we wandered up into an area above the riverfront that has a couple of antique shops, and Jon let me have my fill of browsing. They had some neat old bottles, but nothing that I had to bring home with me. We also went to the City Market, which is full of touristy art galleries and gift shops. Jon loved the portraits of Big Lebowski characters (in bright, psychedelic colors of course) that we found in one art gallery. He made me take a picture after I let him know in no uncertain terms that the Big Lebowski portrait would NEVER be decorating one of the walls in our home!

Big Lebowski Portrait

There was one wine tasting room named Meinhardt’s Winery in the City Market, but a prominent sign was displayed that proclaimed “NO SHARING!”  (the all caps and the exclamation point are their emphasis, not mine).  To be honest, we were a little miffed by that, and decided not to try their wines. Let’s be honest – wineries give a sample of the wine to show people how it tastes and to get people interested enough to buy the wine. You are going to offer the same 1-2 oz. sample, why do you care if one person drinks it all or if 2 people share it? Not to mention, this wasn’t a free tasting – you had to pay for it, so if I had to BUY that 1-2 oz. sample of wine anyway, doesn’t that mean I own it and can share it with whomever I like? I can certainly understand that this was a tourist area and you probably get a lot of people who aren’t going to buy, but really, if you are that worried about it, why would you set up shop in the middle of the tourist market!? Ok, I just had to get that out there… I’m done with my rant now… moving on… The shop had fruit and muscadine wines, and while it would have been interesting to try them, the muscadine cider the day before hadn’t blown my mind.

At this point, I was already starving, so we stopped at Anna’s Italian restaurant for lunch. I ordered a mushroom Swiss burger (Jon thought I was crazy for ordering hot food, because it was really hot that day, but it just sounded good!) Jon had a shrimp salad. Both our meals were good, although nothing spectacular.  Mom and I had been to the same restaurant and had tapas for dinner, and they were really good, so I would still be willing to go back and try the tapas if we are ever back there (which I hope we are).

From City Market, we continued on our way, stopping here and there to look at historic homes, meander around squares, and take in the Colonial Cemetery. Colonial Cemetery was Savannah’s second cemetery, the first one having been filled much earlier than the founders expected (probably due to those pesky Yellow Fever epidemics) and eventually covered over with buildings as Savannah grew (and yes, they did leave the bodies in the ground – just built right on top of them!). Colonial Cemetery was used by union troops as a campsite during the Civil War (only the officers got to stay in the nice historic homes I guess), and during their spare time, they took to re-carving the headstones.

One of Savannah’s Beautiful Squares

Savannah’s Colonial Cemetery

If you pay attention while you wander through, you will find some genealogical impossibilities. We found one where a boy, aged 11, died in 1820, his wife, aged 17, died in 1823, and their son, aged 12, also died in 1820, just a few weeks after his father. See where I’m going with this – the son would have been born before the father!

A Re-Carved Headstone in Savannah’s Colonial Cemetery

The cemetery is full of these tricks (or maybe Savannah just had a lot of time travelers), and if you are the patient type, who reads all the headstones, you can find dozens. I could wander around cemeteries for awhile, but Jon was getting bored, so we continued on our way.

I Was Promised that Sacramento Was Hot!

In April of 2009, Jon and I were able to get cheap fares to Reno, Nevada, so we decided to fly there and drive over to Jon’s old stomping grounds, Sacramento. We flew into Reno over the mountains and through the turbulence, but we made it there in one piece. The Reno airport is like being in a casino, with all the slot machines and ringing noises. Fortunately, since I don’t like casinos, we were able to escape pretty quickly after picking up the rental car.

Once we were on the road, we made our way to the interstate and heading towards Sacramento. We got to head over the mountains on Donner Pass, which was fun. Even though it was April, it was still snowing on the pass, and quite cold. I wasn’t dressed for the weather, which made stopping at the rest area a chilly excursion. It was really interesting to see the terrain and the conditions that that Donner Party were subjected to as they tried to cross over the pass 160 years ago. I can imagine even now how difficult it would be without the modern conveniences that we have today – cars and paved roads. Those people stuck it out in the deep snow, starving, with no supplies and no idea how far it was to get back to civilization. It is amazing to think about how strong and brave those people were. And here we breezed over the pass to Sacramento in 2 hours.

We stopped for a little while and had lunch in the town of Auburn. It was a beautiful sunny day and we wandered around town for little while. Me being the nerd that I am, I made Jon pose for pictures with me in the sun. And there was antique mining equipment, just begging to be posed with. So we did.

Mining Equipment in Auburn

When we got to Sacramento, I was struck by how cold it was. Jon promised that it would be hot in April. Like shorts and tank top wearing hot. Really, it was more like jeans and sweater weather. I was disappointed. There was one day that I did get to lay out in the sunshine by the pool, but it was too cold to go in the water, and I even had to cover up with my towel at times. Certainly NOT hot like I was promised.

We had a couple of days to hang out, so we did some of the touristy things in town.  We went down to Old Sacramento, which is a tourist area right on the river. Old Sacramento was built around the railroad line, and has original old west buildings and others that have been rebuilt according to period specifications. It is touristy, with the shoppes (yes I meant to spell it like that) selling taffy and souvenirs, along with art galleries and a few import stores. They had some neat stuff, but at tourist prices (translate that to: stuff we can’t afford). We had lunch at a fish and chips place, eating our fish and chips the traditional way with vinegar. I just don’t understand why that hasn’t caught on here – it’s so much better than tartar sauce.

Shoppe in Old Sacramento

What was really cool at Old Sacramento was the Railroad Museum. They go chronologically through the history of the Railroad, from the first laying down of the railroad ties by the Chinese workers, to present day. They document the horrible conditions that the Chinese were subjected to, and the dangers of the work. They talk about the experience of laying the line up and over Donner Pass, and how the workers would frequently get trapped in storms like the Donner Party did. The museum has all sorts of different engines and railroad cars that you can look at, and some that you can go through. They have dining and sleeping cars from the heyday of train travel that reminded me of several classic movies. One day it would be really cool to take a cross country train trip for a couple of days, to live the experience. Just not one that is long enough that I’d really be in need of a shower. I’m not sure how that works on a train, but something tells me I just don’t get one. But I digress… The Railroad Museum also had a whole exhibit on railroad toys (my grandfather would have loved this – he was really into toy trains), and it was neat to think back on a time when all little boys wanted to be train conductors or engineers.

Me with a Railroad Car

So, that wrapped up our day – we were tired but happy.

San Francisco Hill Workout in the Pouring Rain (aka Part 2)

The next day, we slept in a bit and got ready. We headed out for breakfast and found a diner with some really good food, but the grumpiest waitress on the West Coast. Geez, you’d think that she had just waited 45 minutes for her breakfast!

We decided that we were going to head over to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I’m not sure that I had ever been to a modern art museum, and now that we have, Jon and I both agreed to avoid them in the future. I’m not an art snob by any means, but I think that for it to be art, it needs to be something I can’t do. These exhibits were just weird. There was an exhibit of collages made with other artist’s work (kind of a Van Gogh, Starry Night decoupage kids project), a billiard table with no pockets, a canvas painted all red (I could totally do that!), and my personal favorite, a room sized piece that consisted of a white clay baby Jesus surrounded by concentric circles of black clay poodles. Really, what is the symbolism of that? Are you telling me Jesus is going to get taken down during the second coming by a hoard of rabid poodles!? Jon and I were both in agreement that traditional art and history museums are more our style. But I supposed you have to do it so you can say you have.

Baby with Poodles

We left the museum and decided to have a little adventure with public transit. It was pouring, and we wanted to go see the Haight-Ashbury district and Golden Gate Park. Bus fares in San Francisco include the return ride too! So we got on and passed by the Capitol Building with its gold leaf dome, and passed through the Mission district. We got off in Haight-Ashbury and spent some time wandering around in the shops in the area. There was a really cool used bookstore with lots of good history books. And Jon’s favorite place, at the very end of the road… the record store. Amoeba records is like the Costco of record stores. New, used, movies, they had it all. Jon was in heaven! And I was bored. But he tries his best to not make me wait too long. He got a couple of things, and then we took a walk in Golden Gate Park. Mind you, it wasn’t really all that pleasant, because it was raining, so it was a rather brief walk. Once we got on the bus going back towards the Baldwin, we got to drive by The Painted Ladies! They are as cool as they look in all the movies. If I could live there, I would totally move to San Francisco. Something tells me I can’t afford them.

Golden Gate Park Carousel

Later that afternoon, we hooked back up with Pablo, and we got to go to another record store. This one had a weird valet elevator even! After that, we roamed around looking for something to eat, and found a little Thai place with the best food. The meal was delicious and the company was good. The only bad thing was that afterwards we had to venture back out in the pouring rain. By the time we got back to the hotel, we were soaked. My coat was still somewhat wet the next day.

The last day of our trip we only had a half day in San Francisco before we had to head back to the airport for our flight home. I had been curious about the Cable Car Museum, so after we got some breakfast, we walked to it. It was pretty neat. You can stand on a platform and watch all the cables in action. Literally, there are these gigantic cables, wrapped around gigantic pulleys, and the cable cars are pulled along their tracks from this location. They also have antique cable cars on display, and displays on the history of cable cars and how they came to be in San Francisco. And this museum is free too. We did buy a couple of souvenirs in the gift shop to help support the cause.

Antique Cable Car

After having a weekend of fun, it was time to go home. Any decent vacation is always too short.

San Francisco Hill Workout – Part 1

The first airplane trip that Jon and I took together was when we had been together about 6 months. At that point, I think we were both thinking that we were in the relationship for the long haul. The extended stay trip is kind of a milestone in a relationship, because it is a great opportunity to assess different skills (how does this guy react when he is tired and cranky and the airline loses his luggage?) Plus, there is the other important factor to be considered: will being around this guy 24 hours a day for several days drive me to the brink of insanity? So, to test our relationship (or just to take a vacation, whatever you want to call it), we flew to San Francisco in February 2009. I had never been to San Francisco before, but Jon had been there several times. We flew into the Oakland Airport, and had decided that for this trip, we weren’t going to rent a car. San Francisco has pretty good public transportation options and we are both physically fit and not opposed to walking places. Once we landed, we took the shuttle bus to the BART station, to make our way into San Francisco. It was dark by the time we got to the BART, so we couldn’t see any of the landmarks, and it took us a couple of stops to figure out that we were going the wrong direction – we had gotten on the wrong train… Oops. So, we hopped off, went over to the other track, and got back on in the right direction. That boo boo cost us about 20 minutes, but we were none the worse for the wear, and made it into the city without further incident.

Once we got there, we went and found our hotel, The Baldwin. The Baldwin is located about a half block from the gates of Chinatown, with a nice central location. The pros, it is a neat historic hotel, with a big clawfoot bathtub. Our room had a view into the condo across the alley, which had some really cool artwork and furniture. Of course, we tried not to snoop too much into the lives of our millionaire neighbors, but hey, they left their shades open! Some of the reviews on one of the travel sites said that the garbage trucks going through the alley in the middle of the night kept them awake all night, but we didn’t have any problem with that. The cons, the bed was soft and creaky, and past its useful life. The hairdryer was attached to the dresser in the room, so you couldn’t really do your hair in the bathroom. That was really just a quirk, but odd nonetheless. They didn’t have a continental breakfast, but most big city hotels don’t. They did have coffee and tea in the lobby at all hours, but no coffeemaker in the room.

Once we got settled, we headed off in the direction of Chinatown to find something to eat. The shops were closing, so could couldn’t peek around into any of them, but we managed to find a conveyor belt sushi place that looked decent. We enjoyed a meal of sushi and chatted about what we were going to do in the city. We headed back to the hotel so we could be up early to do some touristing!

The first full day in San Francisco started out with no rain and somewhat overcast. We had a quick breakfast at Starbucks, and then headed out for a walk up the hill to Coit Tower. Wow, that is a hike! Once you are almost at the top of the Telegraph Hill, which is steep, you have to climb up a series of steps to get to the Tower itself. Luckily we weren’t in a hurry! Coit Tower has been a San Francisco landmark providing butt-burning workouts since 1933, when it was completed at the bequest of funds by Lillie Hitchcock Coit upon her death in 1929. When Lillie Hitchcock was 15 years old, she began a lifelong affliation with the Knickerbocker Engine Company Number 5. As the story goes, in 1858, the Knickerbocker Engine #5 was understaffed, and the men were struggling to pull the engine up Telegraph Hill. Lillie Hitchcock was on her way home from school, and threw her books to the ground and began to help pull the engine up the hill, imploring other bystanders to join in the efforts. The Knickerbocker Engine Company never forgot her efforts and made her an honorary member of the department. Although Coit Tower really does resemble a fire hose, the architects insist that it was not intended to portray any sort of firefighting equipment.

Coit Tower is decorated with dozens of murals that were commissioned as a project under the Public Works Administration, President Roosevelt’s Depression Era New Deal federal employment program. The murals were mostly done by students and faculty form the California School of Fine Arts and depict city and rural life, the disconnect between the rich and the poor, and other everyday subjects. The murals are incredibly detailed. You can read the titles of newspapers in the pictures, and each time you look, you will see something different. When we went, it was free to enter the rotunda where most of the murals are (I’m not sure if it still is) – you just have to pay to take the elevator to the top. Since we had never been, we did take the elevator up, and I think it was worth it to see the panoramic views of the City. I probably wouldn’t go up every time though. It is like the Seattle Space Needle, it is the type that you only need to see every 5 or 10 years.

Coit Tower Mural

While at Coit Tower, Jon’s friend Pablo joined us. Pablo and Jon met when Jon lived in Sacramento, and they have been fast friends ever since. Pablo made the trip from Sacramento to join us and spend a couple of days. It was my first time meeting Pablo, but I could immediately see why Jon likes him.

After we left Coit Tower, we headed over to get a look at Lombard Street. Jon told me it was really close to Coit Tower, and at the time, I didn’t know enough to not believe his distance estimations. It was, if I remember correctly, about a half hour away (remember we are walking), down one big hill and back up another big hill (remember this is San Francisco). Some of you have heard Lombard Street called “the crookedest street in the world”. Well, apparently it is not, but it sure is close. The block is so steep that in order to accommodate cars, the street was built with a series of extreme switchbacks. In between the switchbacks are little flower gardens. I’m not sure who maintains the flower gardens, but if I lived there, I certainly wouldn’t want to be out there digging in the dirt when someone came barreling down the hill with no brakes! My theory is that all the little flower gardens are roadside memorials to the residents killed by crazy car-wielding tourists. But it sure is fun to take pictures.

Next we headed over to Fisherman’s Wharf. This was a downhill walk from where we were, but sometimes walking downhill is just as difficult. This walk is dotted with mansions, and I think several are being used as embassies. Tough life working in a mansion… But on the way, we found Patagonia! No, silly, not the geographic area, that’s in Chile and Argentina. The store! And they were having a sale! I found a really cool laptop bag with room to hold extra stuff. It is perfect for traveling with your computer. The only thing that has kept Jon from trying to steal it is the fact that it is lavender, that that Jon’s laptop doesn’t fit in the laptop pocket. Of course, that doesn’t always help. Sometimes he just takes it anyway.

All that shopping built up an appetite, so when we got down to the wharf area, we experienced another of those big city traditions that we just can’t get at home – In & Out Burger! Sometimes I just crave a hamburger, and these ones are so good. I’m sure I don’t want to know how many calories are in them – because I’m convinced that they butter the buns. But after all that walking I think I deserved it.

Down at the wharf area, there is a little museum run by the California Parks Department. It is pretty cool. It shows the location of all the shipwrecks that they know about in San Francisco Bay. There is an exhibit about the dangers of the Bay and the hazards that the sailors experience from back in the 1800s to today. And it’s free! We poked around in there for a little while and then it was on to the big reveal – Fisherman’s Wharf.

Fisherman’s Wharf is one of those ultimate tourist traps. I knew that before we went, but didn’t really know what it would be like. It is built on a Wharf (duh) and is kind of like a big, outdoor shopping mall, with all the stores catering to every imaginable tourist desire. T shirts, music boxes, candy, expensive art and lots of over-priced food. We wandered around for a little while, but it really isn’t that big of a draw for me. I was really more interested in finding the sea lions, but there weren’t very many hanging out on the day that we were there. Locals told us that there have been fewer and fewer of them in the last couple of years (maybe they are all heading up the Columbia River to chow down on the salmon at the dam).

Alcatraz Island from Fisherman's Wharf

 

That night was Valentine’s Day, and the next day was our six month anniversary. So, to celebrate, we walked over to North Beach and found a little hole in the wall Italian restaurant that was actually huge on the inside. The three of us enjoyed a delicious meal and Jon and I split a bottle of wine. Sorry guys, I have absolutely no recollection of what kind of wine it was – something Italian – but it was tasty. Funny though, I still remember that I had some delicious gnocchi, and Jon had eggplant parmesan.

That dinner wrapped up our day, and we walked our overstuffed, happy selves back to the Baldwin. I swear I walked 20 miles that day (Jon says it was only really 7 or 8), so I slept well!

From Horses to Senators

The next day, I decided to head over to the Henry Clay house. I knew hardly anything about Henry Clay when I went, but he was another historical figure who had a house in Lexington (it’s actually a plantation mansion – it is huge), so I jumped on the opportunity.  Clay’s estate is available for tour, and the docents give a lot of very detailed information on who he was and what he did.  I learned that he was fascinating man, who certainly doesn’t get enough credit in the history books.

Henry Clay served the United States as a politician for most of his life, including in the Kentucky House of Representatives, the US House of Representatives, Speaker of the House (he was selected as Speaker on the first day of his first term of office – something that has never been done any other time), the US Senate, Secretary of State, and he ran for President 5 times!

He was a major contributor to the Missouri Compromise of 1850, was a supporter of the founding of a National Bank, developed the Hereford breed of cattle, operated a horse farm, had eleven children, fought in a duel, and created the Mint Julep. He died from tuberculosis in 1852 at the age of 75. Abraham Lincoln considered Clay to be one of his mentors and role models, even though the two only met on a couple of occasions (through Mary’s family, of course).

The Henry Clay House

I also visited the Kentucky Horse Park and the International Museum of the Horse while I was in Kentucky. The Kentucky Horse park is hard to describe. It’s kind of like a fairgrounds, but when the fair isn’t happening. All you horse-people who are reading this will certainly understand. There are some beautifully manicured grounds, horse arenas, jumping arenas, hot walkers, stables… and very few horses.

They do a Parade of Breeds twice a day in costume, in one of the side arenas, which is interesting, and you can see some famous retired racehorses and Standardbred pacers and trotters, but otherwise the park is kind of a dud. I wandered around for awhile trying to find something happening, but was pretty disappointed.

I also went over to the International Museum of the Horse, which had some appeal. It takes you through the history of the horse, from prehistoric times to modern day, and they have an exhibit on carriages and one on portraits of famous racehorses. But it just seemed like the exhibits were tired, and hadn’t been updated in a long time. I guess it is good to try a place out and say that you have been there, but I will find other things to do next time I’m in Kentucky.

The Man O’ War Statue at the Kentucky Horse Park

Feeling unsatisfied after my trip to the Kentucky Horse Park, I found a winery called Equus Run nearby and decided to try it out. Kentucky’s wine industry is in its fledgling stages – when I visited in 2008, I was told there were only 10 wineries in the state. The winery is located on the top of a hill, looking down over a beautiful valley. There was a pleasant patio where you could enjoy your wine. The server was friendly and informative about the wines, and I bought a bottle of their White Celebration blend. This was before the days of checked baggage fees, so I packed the bottle in my checked bag in all of my used socks, and it weathered the flight just fine. Interestingly enough, I waited awhile to drink it, and when I did, earlier this year, I found it to be too sweet for my taste. It seems that what I like has changed over time.

And just so you don’t think that I spent all of my time wandering around historic sites, I did spend some time at the pool at the hotel, and thoroughly enjoying the summer weather. I know, I know, all you sunblock, sun-shunning skeptics out there will probably be lining up to give me a lecture, but there is nothing like basking in the warmth of the sun, and feeling that warmth penetrate all the way through to your bones. When you live in the Northwest, a hot sun is a strictly seasonal phenonmenon, and you have to worship it when you get the chance. The George Hamilton look alike who was strutting around in his speedo was just the icing on the cake. He really thought he was hot, and kept trying to get my attention. It was really difficult to not laugh out loud – thanks but no thanks buddy! Well, look at that, I’ve gotten off topic again – so with that image of a 60-something, overly tanned guy with a slight beer belly stuffed into his speedo, I’ll leave you until next time.

 

All aboard for the Midwest!

Right before I met Jon in August 2008, I took a trip to Ohio and Kentucky. I wanted to see the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, and see some of beautiful horse country in Kentucky. It was a great trip, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Jon got to hear a full accounting of the trip on our first phone conversation and more on our first date. I’m sure that was his first indication that I am a travel nut, but thankfully, he is too.

I flew into Columbus, Ohio, and stayed the first night in a contemporary hotel downtown. The hotel was really nice – certainly someplace I would stay again if I end up around there. I do have to admit though, there isn’t a whole lot going on during the day in downtown Columbus. I took a walk around, expecting there to be lots of businessmen wandering around, but it was relatively dead. After I found a great place to have breakfast, I left Columbus and started on my way to Dayton. On the way, I drove past a sign for a state park, advertising an interactive farm. I drove down to check it out and found a quaint 1800s farm called the Slate Run Living Farm, complete with farm animals, exhibits on farming techniques and animal husbandry techniques. It was a beautiful day, so it was enjoyable to just sit in the sun and take it all in. There were lots of good photo ops at this place, and I got some neat photos of the barn with the sunny blue skies and clouds. In all, it was a nice relaxing day, perfect for working up to a visit of the aviation museum of all aviation museums.

Slate Run Living Farm

So, what can I possibly say about the National Museum of the United States Air Force? This place is enormous. It is not possible to see everything there is to see in one day. I made it through two of the three gigantic airplane hangars, but didn’t have time for the third. Which was ok, because the third focused on modern day aviation and the space program, and I’m much more interested in the beginnings of air travel, World War I, and World War II. And don’t think that the exhibits only pertain to the Air Force, because they aren’t exclusive. There are exhibits on the Wright Brothers, the German Aces in World War I, and Navy air operations during World War II. And, like I said before, the Space Program, if that is what floats your boat (I have to admit, the landing pods were pretty cool – the ones where you can land in the ocean and then float until NASA picks you up). This is a museum that can keep you fully occupied, even if Aviation isn’t your passion; you just have to have an appreciation for history. There is information about Doolittle’s Raiders, who flew bombing missions over Japan during WWII and the Wasps (the women aviators who transported military aircraft), just to name a few. It is humbling to see what Americans sacrificed for our freedom.

The museum houses the Bockscar, which is the Boeing B-29 Superfortress which dropped the Fat Man atomic bomb on Nagasaki.  It is difficult to fathom all the lives that it destroyed and all the lives that it saved.

Bockscar, B-29 Superfortress

Outside the museum is parked the “Hanoi Taxi,” a Lockheed C-141, which shuttled the Vietnam POWs home at the end of the Vietnam War.  US Senator John McCain was flown home from his imprisonment in a Vietnamese prison camp on this plane.

The Hanoi Taxi

Next, I made my way to Lexington, Kentucky, hometown of Mary Todd Lincoln. No visit to Lexington is complete without a visit to the Mary Todd Lincoln childhood home.  The home is in downtown Lexington now, but apparently during the mid 1800s it was on the outskirts of Lexington. It is a beautiful brick home that has been well maintained over the last 200 years.  I got the tour, and the docent was very knowledgeable about Mary Lincoln and quite willing to discuss how Mary really got the shaft when Lincoln was assassinated (I always love when the docents are willing to go off of the script). Undoubtedly, Mary had some mental illness issues, but consider the fact that three of her four children died before reaching adulthood, several of her family members were killed in the war, and her husband was murdered. People in the north thought she was a traitor and that she was urging Lincoln for special treatment for her family members (geez, who wouldn’t?). She was booted unceremoniously out of the White House with no pension, and women of that time period typically didn’t receive any financial education or schooling in business affairs. I would be having a little trouble adjusting too. There really is more to Mary Todd Lincoln than the overspending nutcase that she is portrayed as.

Mary Todd Lincoln's Childhood Home - complete with garbage and recycling toters

And the best part of the trip, is that  it was not yet finished!  But I’ll save the rest for another post.

And this other time it snowed…

This snow that has been taunting us for the last several days and never actually appearing got me thinking about a trip I took a few years ago to Maryland and Pennsylvania, to visit the Antietam and Gettysburg Civil War Battlefields. It was February then, and it also snowed on that trip. I always thought that people in Washington State were kind of wimpy about snow – it creates an amazing amount of chaos for a few inches. I thought it would be different in Maryland, but apparently not. I flew in and went to the hotel, and watched the news reports about the Snow-mageddon of 2008. So, figuring I was either going to be stuck or not, I went to bed and slept in the next morning. In the morning, the reports were all about the snarled commute and the various repercussions of the post-apocalyptic snow event. I was in a hotel room with a sliding door looking out onto an indoor courtyard where the pool was, and no outside window.

So, I slowly got prepared for what would be a horrible driving experience, and went outside – to find a quarter inch of snow on the grass and absolutely nothing on the roads or sidewalks. “Hey,” I thought, “it all melted – on with the day!” I drove out to the Antietam Battlefield, about 20 miles away, with clear roads and no issues the entire trip – only to find the Visitors Center closed due to snow. Someone had neatly taped a sign to the inside of the door telling visitors of the closure. Ok, so you mean some employee actually managed to get down to the Visitor’s Center (at significant risk of death or serious maiming – I’m kidding here if you couldn’t tell), opened the door, taped up the sign, and went home. Hello, you’re already there, why not just open? So, my trip to the Antietam Battlefield Visitor’s Center was thwarted, but I wandered around the battlefield anyway. Because, hey I was already there, and there really wasn’t much snow, as you can tell by this photo. I had a good time.

See, no snow on the sidewalks (or the roads)

During that same trip, I also headed over to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to see the site where the historical battle occurred. If you haven’t been there, you should go, even if you are not a Civil War history buff. There is something deeply humbling about standing on the sites where tens of thousands of Americans died for their respective causes. The town of Gettysburg is still fairly small and is unravaged by time and the development that has plagued so many other towns and cities. The buildings and fields where the battle was fought still look today like they did during that time, and in a fit of bureaucratic genius, the US government saw the need even back then to do what it could to preserve the area for the education of future generations. You can look out from Little Round Top and imagine the Confederate charge that Joshua Chamberlin defended against on Day 2 of the battle. You can imagine the sheer insanity of Pickett’s charge on Day 3, across more than a mile of open field, over fences and rock walls, and back up the hill into a heavily fortified waiting Union Army (I’m still amazed that anyone lived through that).

The view of The Devil’s Den from Little Round Top

And the cemetery, what could I possibly say about that? To stand on the site where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address months later, and to see the countless rows of graves marked with numbers instead of names – it really makes you wonder about whether the political infighting we experience today is really worth it.

Gettysburg Cemetery

When I was there, the new Gettysburg Visitor’s Center was not yet open (it was scheduled for its opening in April, and I was there in February). The old one was open though, even though there was actually more snow in Gettysburg. They had exhibits on the weapons that were used during the Civil War, artifacts, and a lighted battlefield map that took you through the Union and Confederate positions on each day of the battle. I believe that this map was created in the 1920’s so any child today would groan at the sight of it, but I thought it was pretty cool. Apparently others did as well, because the plan was to save it, rather than trash it when the new Visitor’s Center opened. In another 150 years, history buffs and scholars will really appreciate the foresight.