August 31, 2011

8/30/11 – Appomattox Court House NHP

Well, as usual, my memories of US history have some pretty big gaps.  Must be the filing system.  I remember Appomattox.  I remember that’s where Lee surrendered to Grant.  I didn’t know there was a Court House involved.  Also, I didn’t know that the Court House didn’t really refer to the Court House, but to the name of a village called “Appomattox Court House”, named before the Court House was even built.   (Who would do that?)  I also thought there was a battle.  There really wasn’t, just the threat of one that Lee knew he couldn’t win.  It wasn’t the end of the war, but it was precursor to the end.
We met some people from (­­­I-don't-remember-where-but-George-would) in the parking lot, and compared notes about travelling for awhile.  Eventually we went up to the Visitors Center together, which was actually the Court House (see previous paragraph.)  Upstairs we watched a movie, then wandered around the exhibits.  I didn’t pay as much attention to the museum exhibits as usual because we were still conversing with the folks from the parking lot.  Sometimes you have to make a choice between friendship and information. 
After George got his passport stamp, he and the volunteer got to talking about where we’d been.  She asked if he had many of the commemorative trading cards.  This is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, so all the national battlefields and parks related to the War Between the States were supposed to hand out these informational cards to anyone who got a passport stamp.  This was the first we’d heard of it.  And, although George was a little annoyed about the ones he’d missed, we are NOT going back! 
Outside, we wandered through the reconstructed village. 
We went over to the McLean house where Generals Grant & Lee met to sign the surrender.  
Grant didn't capture the confederate troops but paroled them to return home.  They printed 30,000 parole forms in 2 days!  The next morning 5,000 Federal troops lined the state road to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia as they stacked their arms.  The ceremony was described as "Honor answering honor."  Pretty cool, huh?

 The living history program started at the Court House (the real court house that’s now a visitor center—surely you remember that first paragraph?) where a Ranger told us that it was now 1865 and “Pvt. Andrew Frakes” of the Union Army would tell us a little about the surrender and what it was like afterwards.  She also told us that we couldn’t take pictures until the program was over and he would pose for us.  I don’t know why—I like the candid ones better than the posed ones.  But this "likeness" isn't bad...
 The man playing Pvt. Frakes really stayed in character.  We cracked up when he said some of the ladies must have lost some of our clothing because we weren't dressed proper.  (It's August in Virginia and most of us were wearing shorts or capris, not appropriate attire for the southern lady in 1865.)
This plaque marks where General Lee's headquarters were.  Please note that the word "northern" uses the southern phonetic spelling.

August 30, 2011

8/26/11 - Monticello

Not every place we visit is a National Park; sometimes we actually have to pay to tour.   Today’s choice was between Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and James Madison’s Montpelier.  Hmmm…author of the Declaration of Independence or author of the Constitution?  Hard choice.  We decided to go for the one on the back of the nickel.  (Go ahead & check it--I know you've got a nickel!)
George talked the ticket guy into letting him use their receipt stamp for his Passport book.  As always, first stop was the auditorium to watch the video.  Nice auditorium, so-so movie.
A shuttle took us up the mountain to the house.  (They call it a mountain for lack of comparison to real ones—trust me, it’s a big hill.)  There was a guided tour of the home (no pictures allowed so don't go looking for any. )

Tour guide

Jefferson had beds built in alcoves like the French aristocracy did.  I think they'd be a pain to make--and not much fun if you have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.  Apparently the Madisons were frequent visitors, and Dolley didn’t like them either.  He had a dumb waiter in the dining room from the wine cellar.

 He had a huge library, which he sold to the country after the British burned the White House down during the War of 1812.  He wrote letters constantly--something like 20,000 letters!!!  AND he made copies of all his replies using a copying machine that duplicated his writing.  I bet he wished he'd invented a Xerox machine. 
After the tour we wandered around the “dependency wings”, rooms for domestic work like kitchen, smoke house, wine cellar, etc.  I guess we're dependent on the kitchen, but we haven’t filled the wine cellar since we started on this trip.  Oh, a jug or two here and there, but not enough to put in wine racks in the basement of the RV.  (Yes, there really is a basement in our RV.)
In the bookstore I found my very favorite Jeffersonian quotation.  I know there are some really good ones on government and liberty, but the best one of all is “I cannot live without books.”  I agree!!!
We rounded the side of the house in time for the Garden Tour.  Jefferson was big into horticulture and not only had a beautiful ornamental garden with island beds, but an experimental vegetable garden out back.  Lewis & Clark collected plants from their trip, and many of them ended up in his gardens.  He couldn’t sell them because they belonged to the government--but he could share seeds.  

What he really liked was the vegetable garden.  It was 1,000' long, so I'm pretty sure he didn't have to weed it.  He really liked peas, and had 15 different varieties in the garden--George would like that.
On the way downhill past the family cemetery, we started talking to a guy from DC who had evacuated from the hurricane.  He told us all about the work he did with computer programs to help Downs syndrome kids learn.  Fascinating, and rather humbling too.

August 29, 2011

8/21/11 – Washington, DC – Day 2

Back to DC for the Smithsonian museum crawl, but first we had to hike back to the Washington Monument so George could get all the stamps for his Passport book that he didn’t get yesterday.  I hope he just got stamps for places we’d already seen in DC, or intended to—but I’ll bet he got them for everything!  Maybe someday I’ll ask (or you can--and then let me know how well I know my husband...) 

We cut through the National Sculpture Garden—with the kind of odd sculptures you expect to see outside.  My favorite was a huge stainless steel tree called Graft, not nearly as abstract as most.  I honestly can’t see why anyone would think that a giant typewriter eraser would be art.  The kids today wouldn’t even know what a typewriter eraser is; maybe they should replace it with a big study of Alt-Ctrl-Del keys.
The whole point of visiting a Smithsonian museum is to see a whole lot of stuff about LOTS of stuff.  You can't do justice to even one museum in a day.  We had one day to see a little bit in a few of the 10 museums near the National Mall.  We missed more than we saw.  The picture below is the National Archives Building, one we missed.
“The Castle”—it’s not a museum, just Admin HQ & Info Center.  But that building is the one that symbolizes the Smithsonian, and I wanted to go.  We saw a video orientation of the other museums.  Mostly ho hum, except for helping us decide where to eat lunch. 
Natl Air & Space Museum – Wright Brothers’ 1903 flyer; Lindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis, Apollo 11 command module.  The IMAX movie they were showing was one we’d already seen at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Ha!  For a change we didn't miss something!  The photos I’ve seen of early planes doesn’t really show how delicate they were.  Wilbur & Orville were lucky theirs didn’t get very high before it hit the ground!   

Natl Museum of the American Indian—Missed the tour; missed the movie; wandered around one of the exhibits.  I was surprised that they included displays from South & Central America tribes as American Indians.  They missed a lot of cool North American Indian tribes, probably the ones that prefer to be called native Americans.  They had Canadian Indians in there too.  (Maybe they should have called it the Museum of the Americas’ Indians???  Nope, doesn't scan!) 

We had lunch in their Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe—it features native-inspired indiginous foods.  (Translation:  They have an expensive cafeteria with ingredients the Indians ate, but the recipes used are more contemporary than historic.)  We shared a sampler tray with side dishes from most of the regions.
Natl Museum of Natural History—Lots of exhibits we didn’t have time to see before closing.  There were lots of dinosaur bones in a room too small for them.  In the Mammals exhibit were the best examples of taxidermy I’ve ever seen—and not a deer rack on the wall anywhere.   
Outside I saw a banner publicizing the Hope Diamond, so I talked George into going back in to see it.  Even for those of us who aren’t big into jewelry, it’s a WOW!   Temporarily the big blue diamond is in a contemporary setting called “Embracing Hope”.  The historical setting is soooo old-fashioned!
Some place in there we headed to the east end of the Mall to take pictures of the Capitol Building.  I asked George if he wanted to walk all the way around the reflecting pool and cross the street to the steps; he said “No” and I said “Good!” 
Ran out of time, ran out of steam, strolled to the Metro. (Could I be losing my sightseeing stamina?

Link to more pictures of Washington DC Day 2 

EARTHQUAKE NOTES:  8/22/11 – at 1:51 pm there was a 5.9 earthquake in Virginia, about 80 miles south of us.  Huge for this part of the country.  I was outside reading.  I heard it first, then felt the ground roll; the RV rattled about like it would going across I-10 in Texas.  Didn't last very long.  It wasn't as bad nor as long as the one we had in Seattle a few years ago.  It didn't bother me, although I was just a tad annoyed that my husband, who was next door visiting with some other folks, didn't bother checking to make sure I was okay.  Hmmmm....maybe I should have screamed and fallen on the ground?  And wasn't it fortuitous that we'd stayed home that day to recuperate from all the touristing the two previous days?

August 25, 2011

8/21/11 – Washington, DC, Day 1

We've been in Virginia for a while now, but hadn't made it to the Capitol yet.  "Why not?" you ask.  Well, partly because we didn’t want to drive in the city…but mostly because we couldn’t figure out the train schedule and fares from where we were staying.  So when we got back from the diversion trip to Washington (the state), I scheduled us at another RV park in Maryland, really close to the Beltway.  (If you haven’t been to Washington (the city), the Beltway is what they call the freeway that circles the city and gets clogged with vehicles during rush hour, snowstorms and—oh, yeah—earthquakes.)

We took the bus to the metro station, and the train to the city.  There’s a stop just a few blocks from “The National Mall”.  We’re not talking shopping mall here—it’s the park where most of the monuments, memorials & museums tourists to DC can be found.  It’s about 3 blocks wide and 2 miles from the US Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial.  On a clear day you can see from one to the other.  We had to squint. 
It was Sunday, so there were lots of tourists—but we weren’t looking for Patty Murray.  They had “Pay by Phone” parking meters—high-tech at the curb.  George did point out that the people we saw wandering the Mall were all younger than we are.  (I’m guessing the other seniors were riding on the tour buses, not taking pictures of them.)  George forgot to take his National Park Passport, so we’ll need to get the stamps for what we saw today tomorrow.  Sort of like a real passport, you can get cancellations at each park site you visit, with the name and date on the stamp.

Off to one side is the White House.  To get tickets to tour it, you have to write your member of Congress at least 5 months in advance.  That gives them time to do a background check and find out which political party you favor.   Since we hardly know where we’re going to be, let alone when—and had definitely NOT contributed to you-know-who’s political campaign—we settled for the White House Visitor Center.  It was just like going to the airport and getting checked by TSA—camera, keys, etc. through x-ray; walk thru the scanner; pick all the stuff up again and get out of the way.  The lines were shorter than at SeaTac. 
Inside, we watched a movie (prelude by Michelle, ending by Barack, middle stuff by actual important people).  We wandered around looking at paintings portraying White House history:  19th century balls, presidents signing treaties, the destruction(?) from the 1812 fire.  Somehow it didn’t seem quite the same as being inside the Blue Room. 
We hiked down Pennsylvania Avenue to the 1600 block to get a look at the White House itself through a wrought iron fence, between some trees and across acres of grass.  (A couple of years ago, my daughter Laura and I watched the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace through similar bars.  The British built their fences a lot closer to the building so we could actually see what was going on.)
On the way to visit Mr. Lincoln, we detoured past the Vietnam Memorial.  I’ve seen pictures of the wall, but actually being there is a very emotional experience.  All the names on the wall are in chronological order from 1959 to 1975, so the wall gets taller, and then tapers down again as the years progress.  There’s also a statue called “Three Servicemen”.

By the time we got to the Lincoln Memorial, the thunder and lightning was getting closer and it started pouring!  Joining the others taking refuge at the top of the steps, we gazed over the Reflection Pond.  It’s currently under major reconstruction, so it’s mostly mud puddles most of the way to the Washington Monument.  There were so many people trying to stay dry, you really didn’t get a very good look at Abe.   

 When the rain slowed down, we cautiously made our way down the slippery marble steps.  Everyone we passed was drenched!  (Note to self:  don't wear white pants if you might get caught in the rain!)  We stopped at the WWII Memorial, complete with fountain, reflecting pools, and pillars for each state. 
The Washington Monument is really tall, 555' 5"--the tallest obelisk in the world.  Nothing in the District is allowed to be taller than it is.  I like that.  There are 50 American flags circling it--one for each state.  For a change we didn’t wander all the way around looking for the one from Washington.
By the time we got back to the Metro station, I was wiped.