Thanks Mark.... I can't seem to keep away from this country for some reason!!
Only issue is that, as of today I only have 3 states left before I complete the full set - I'm in danger of turning this into an obsession!!
Thanks Mark.... I can't seem to keep away from this country for some reason!!
Only issue is that, as of today I only have 3 states left before I complete the full set - I'm in danger of turning this into an obsession!!
Day 6 – Friday October 2nd
Today was Monticello day.
Mum has long been fascinated by Thomas Jefferson, and when I initially started planning this trip (as a solo, Mum thought she’d seen all of the US that she wanted to) it was Monticello that convinced her to come along…
First stop though is the State Capitol of Virginia in downtown Richmond… this is one of the best Capitols that we’ve been too, with a great look and a nice feel inside….. regal without being so large as to be impersonal… we both really like it.
Pride of place within this Capitol undoubtedly goes to the statue of George Washington…. On display almost continually for more than 200 years it’s a beautiful piece and one of many within the building that are priceless.
Whilst wandering around the upstairs parts of the Capitol (this is one of the first that I’ve been in where the house and senate chambers are actually locked and off-limits to visitors unless on a tour) we find a pair of lovely signed images of our own Royal Family, taken on their visit here a few years ago
When I put the itinerary for this holiday together, the plan was to take a stroll down the famous Monument Avenue…. Unfortunately the rain (which has been with us for seemingly days now) has other ideas so we drive down instead, stopping for a quick photo at those monuments which interest us, including Stonewall Jackson
The most recent addition is Arthur Ashe…. Most famous to Brits as a tennis player but known here as something of a local hero.
The Civil War center and museum at Tredegar occupies a stunning setting on the site of an old ironworks next to the river in Richmond… it consists of two separate museums, one is a free to enter National Park (remember your NP stamp book) telling the story of Richmond in the Civil War. The other is a standard commercial museum detailing the war from all sides. Both a good and take a few hours to see properly.
Highlight for me was a genuine Confederate Flag
Onwards to Monticello… saving the best for last today.
This is a docent led tour, though the initial museum and video is self-guided and on a busy day would be a bit overcrowded I fear… today though there are only 12 people on our tour and with a great guide the 45 minutes flies by in an instant….
I’m sure Jefferson needs no introduction to American readers (I imagine he’s studied in school?) but for us Brits it’s really interesting to learn about Jefferson the man and to realise that, in actual fact, he was a scholar of the highest order and a faithful, honorable man to the end. We both come away feeling an immense awe,
From Monticello we attempt to do the skyline drive through Shenandoah National Park to get to our overnight stop, unfortunately the bad weather (which actually let up for 30 minutes at Monticello) is back again in the mountains and once the fog descends we opt to end our Skyline early and stay on a spray filled (but fog free) Interstate to our overnight destination just outside of Harpers Ferry, WV.
Day 7 – Saturday October 3rd
Today is our earliest start so far…. There are a fair number of things we want to do today and as we are both early risers Mum and I decide to crack on and we’re on the road before 7.30 heading to Harpers Ferry - this National Parks owned village is in a beautiful setting at the confluence of the Ptomac and Shenandoah rivers (both in full flow today)
For those that may follow in our footsteps, note that there is very little parking in the town itself, there is a visitors centre a mile away that operates a free shuttle bus. As we’re so early however parking is no problem and we take a look around the town and tour the John Brown museum (John Brown it could be argued started the civil rights movement as we know it today) the museum pulls no punches, just telling the story from all angles – very well done it is too.
The Appalachian Trail runs through Harpers Ferry (in fact it’s almost at its halfway point here) so we spend a few minutes walking it, both in the town over the Ptomac bridge and on the outskirts over the Shenandoah river. Whilst these sections may be new, just a few feet away the old sections of the trail are clearly evident…
On to the goriest museum on our sightseeing list this trip… the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Fredericksburg is a fascinating tour through the civil war as seen from the medical profession… again pulling no punches it tells the stories of both those injured as well as those trying to repair them… completely compelling and well worth the trip…
It’s amazing how much of the medical profession that we take for granted today has its roots in Civil War medicine, though I imagine todays medical students wish that they could obtain a license to practice at the end of two 6 months courses!
Whilst the weather has been against us for much of this trip, our next stop is undoubtedly more spectacular because of it… Great Falls National Park is on the outskirts of Washington DC… indeed I have no doubt that some of the homes we drive by are owned by names that would be familiar if we were to hear them, such is the grandeur of the area.
The park prove a great place to have a picnic lunch before wandering along above the Ptomac to a number of lookouts
There’s also a chance to look at the remains of the canal that Washington had constructed in order that people could day trip to the falls… there’s not much left nowadays but it’s a nice way to spend an hour or two and the rangers are great at designing an itinerary suitable for the time you have.
We leave the park and head back to Interstate traffic on our way to the State Capitol of Delaware in Dover…. This entails heading across the Bay Bridge – an incredible construction and one that we both enjoy going over.
Sadly the Government buildings in Dover are all closed up when we arrive (their website notes a closing time of 5pm on a Saturday but we arrive at 4.45 and there’s not a soul to be seen so take that with a pinch of salt.
It’s a shame as whist the current Capitol (above) is relatively new, the original building… in which Delaware became the first State to ratify the constitution, is still in use and would have been great to see inside.
On our way to our hotel stop we take a break in New Castle, DE….. this is a place that has been battered by some of the same weather as has frustrated us over the last week…. Indeed I know I’ve mentioned the rain a few times, perhaps this image will give an indication of just what I’m talking about.
The bushes to the far right of the picture, until a few days ago, were in the sand at the base of a dock (this dock was support by the wooden pillars that are just visible)
The dock has been completely swept away and according to locals that we chat to the entire area of water shown in the photo is normally a lovely family beach. The water is at least 75ft further inland than normal, indeed most of the footpath at the land-edge is scant inches above the waterline… amazing.
From here it’s but a short hop to our hotel for the night.
Day 8 – Sunday October 4th
Not too much in the way of driving today but as we’re up early we head back to New Castle to have a better look around in daylight and to check out whether the water level had increased overnight (it hadn’t)
We do decide that we could both live here though, it’s a truly pretty little town
From there, it’s a 30 minute trip into Philadelphia where we head straight to a parking garage ($18 for any length between 2 and 12 hours… man does this city know how to charge for parking!
Anyway, we’re straight off to see the world famous liberty bell and book our tickets for Independence Hall (entry is by a free tour only, tickets can be booked online or from the visitors center… advance booking very wise in the summer months.)
The bell, long adopted as a symbol by abolitionists and suffragettes has had its distinctive crack for nearly 200 years and after some time in obscurity now takes pride of place in a centre where its role in the development of America is discussed.
Having seen the bell, we board the first open top bus tour of this holiday… it’s a trifle windy on the top deck but both Mum and I are just glad that it’s not raining!
At the boarding stop is a street cart, so I take the chance to buy a Philly Cheese Steak roll – delicious.
The bus takes a route through the city that includes 27 stops, one of which is next to a fountain that has been turned pink in aid of cancer awareness… it’s pretty spectacular and as it’s located next to City Hall we take a look.
We’re heading to City Hall…..
to take a look at the city from the observation deck….. or at least we would be if it was open! No mention is made of weekend closures on their website, but it appears that it’s a M-F, 9-5 attraction only… We stroll along to our next stop. The US Mint.
Unbelievably this too is M-F only (again their website makes no mention of this) so, rather disheartened by now, we re-board the next bus.
Elfreth’s Alley is (allegedly) the longest continually occupied street in the USA, it’s actually a little run down but still worth a look, the houses themselves are very quaint.
Back on the bus, heading to our appointed time at independence hall we are reminded of how much this city reveres Benjamin Franklin:
There are statues of him everywhere as well as dozens of things bearing his name from parks to roads.
Our guide also points out these interesting looking things attached to many of the old houses.
These are a very early caller ID system… mounted above the main entrance to a house, they allowed the resident (in the front room above the door) to see who was calling without themselves being seen… in this way they could decide whether or not to answer the door……. Great idea!
The tour through Independence Hall is a 30 minute docent led one, it has too many people on it but is interesting none the less… a lot of the furniture seen on the tour is reproduced but the chair at the head of the chamber is the genuine article, sat in by George Washington…. If wood could talk!
A quick pop to Hard Rock café for a pin and a short drive later we’re in New Jersey at our hotel for the night.
Day 9 – Monday October 5th
We’re up and out without delay this morning, heading to our first stop, New Jersey’s State Capitol in Trenton…. When we arrive we’re a little early for the first tour of the day (note that this Capitol can only be seen as part of an official tour and it has the most stringent security of any that we have visited) so we head to the café, deep in the basement.. it’s filled with the worker bees who run the State and it’s quite interesting evesdropping!
At 10 we meet our tour guide and one other tourist and as we’re receiving the introduction Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey himself arrives…. When he hears that we’re from England he stops for a quick handshake and a chat before heading off to his office leaving our tour guide all kinds of flustered!
One of the most touching things within this beautiful Capitol is the area that serves as a permanent memorial to those Missing in Action from the State
From the centre of the city we’re off to Valley Forge National Park now… this was the winter encampment of Washington’s army and its story is well told…. Washington’s own quarters are open for a tour as well.
Ephrata Cloister was a German religious settlement founded in 1732. Unlike other religious sects, this one survived until the early 20th century and its land, along with some of its buildings have been preserved to show what life was like for this celibate people who lived on site, slept 6hrs a day on wooden planks with wooden pillows) and the married believers (who lived in the nearby town)
Although at one time numbering more than 300 followers, the sect never really succeeded and ended up bankrupt due to legal bills from infighting…. An interesting hour for sure.
The clock shown above has no minute hand because one of their beliefs was that nothing is worth doing if it takes less than an hour.
From one end of the scale to the other now, Hershey PA is home to the Hershey chocolate company and their site offers simulated factory tours, tasting sessions and a few other attraction.
Mum and I do the Chocolate Tester session where we’re taught how Hersheys employees design the flavours for their chocolate and have a go ourselves at working out what exactly we’re tasting when we eat a bar. It’s interesting stuff.
Our last stop of the day, on the way to our hotel is Harrisburg, the Capitol of the State of Pennsylvania, no tour inside this one, but we take a walk around the outside and enjoy peering through the doors!
Enjoying the report as always !! Good to see you made it back for another trip !
Day 10 – Tuesday October 6th
A day with no driving…… (at least until this evening anyway)!
Since I started planning this trip, I wanted to go into Manhattan to visit the 9/11 memorial and museum that was still being debated the last time I was there.
The easiest way to do this is to leave the car in New Jersey at one of the stations with parking and catch the train in…. in the end we chose to leave the luggage and car at our hotel (not the best idea but more on that later) and catch a cab to Avenel station and the train into NY Penn.
From Penn it’s a quick subway ride downtown to the WTC site
This edifice, still under construction will eventually be a transportation hub for the Wall St area, for now it’s just a building site that makes access difficult!
Eventually we find our way into the museum (they have no separate will-call line, so the queues are horrendous) and we’re immediately hit by a reminder of what used to be
There are various audio tour options for the museum, including the rental of an Ipod device for $7 or the free download of the entire audio tour as an app that you can then listen to on your own headphones as you go round – why don’t more places do this?
I won’t post many images here, in fact just the one. Ponder a moment the sheer force required to cause an internal straight steel girder to bend in this fashion…… gives a sobering insight into what these buildings faced.
A very patriotic space, I leave this museum (and the actual memorial pictured above) in two minds….. I’m not sure I’m completely comfortable with one of the worst atrocities of modern times being so thoroughly turned into a tourist attraction – having been here scant months after the attack, when the clean-up was still going on and bodies were still being recovered, seeing tourists fighting over the best spot to photograph a “missing person” poster didn’t sit well with me.
Back on the Metro now for a pop uptown to the Hard Rock café for some lunch and to buy a pin then it’s down to Battery Park via the wonderful South Ferry Station to try and catch the ferry to see Lady Liberty.
Unfortunately, as this is an extra, unplanned side trip, we don’t have advance tickets and they are all sold out so we pop over to the Staten Island Ferry and ride that instead, treating ourselves to the local’s view of the famous gift from France
As well as a killer view of the island of Manhattan….
I love New York, its vibrancy, variety and atmosphere make me feel right at home so despite it being late in the afternoon I can’t resist a final Metro ride back uptown to take a walk through Central Park for a half hour.
This means that we catch the late train back to New Jersey, arriving at 8.15pm in the pitch dark with an almost flat phone battery and no way of getting back to the hotel where the car is parked…..
It transpires that a cab cannot be hailed on the street in NJ so for a while it really does look like our goose is cooked until finally a local guy gives us a cab number and with the last remaining juice in my phone I call for a pickup, it’s a long 45 minute wait but eventually we’re back to the hotel and in the car for the hour long drive to tonight’s hotel.
But somehow I can't imagine ever going back there.
Did you think to take the Staten Island ferry to see the Lady at night? A great sight.
Day 11 – Wednesday October 7th
Following the drive through the dark to get here last night, it’s nice to wake up this morning to bright blue skies and wonderful sunshine.
Our first stop of the morning is somewhere that has featured in countless fiction books that Mum and I have read over the years.
West Point Military Academy is the best Army training college in the US, to even apply here a potential student must have a letter of nomination from the member of Congress for his/her own State.
It has produced no less than 3 US Presidents, 75 Medal of Honor recipients and numerous foreign leaders.
The general tour (incredibly popular, especially with coach loads of Japanese) is conducted on a coach, with a couple of stops for photography and a leg stretch.
The first stop is the Chapel (the top picture above) where the undoubted highlight is the 23,000 pipe organ – the largest Church organ in the world!
The second stop is the viewpoint out over the Hudson valley…. We’re actually less than 50 miles North of New York City here but you’d never know it.
Back at the visitors centre is the West Point museum, this is self guided and you should allow an hour or so… it has a number of interesting exhibits on the role of the military and West Point through the years, including a large display of various armaments used across the decades.
One final piece of advice for visitors following in my footsteps, one of the things that Cadets at West Point must do is all take lunch together… to do this they form up on the front lawn in a kind of parade…. If you can get on the 11:30am tour (by far the most popular one) then it is timed so that you can sit and watch the spectacle… I didn’t know this until too late but it sounds pretty incredible.
From West Point we’re out on the rural roads, entering the Catskills and meandering our way toward Woodstock – Yes, the Woodstock, though the famous festival was actually held a short distance from here.
Woodstock maintains a slightly hippy, non-conformist vibe to this day, it’s actually a fairly small place, and a lovely stop for an ice-cream and some kitsch shopping.
Our last stop of the day is the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, NY
Tough to photograph at the moment due to ongoing renovations the Vanderbilt mansion is one of the most complete examples of the Hudson Valley summer homes owned by rich New Yorkers in the guilded age…. It’s simply beautiful inside, a little over-the-top perhaps but stunning none-the-less.
From the main staircase to the upstairs rooms (unusually tucked away here, not centrally located as in many stately homes)
To Cornelius Vanderbilt’s home office, it is easy to imagine the power brokers of that time living and working in this environment… I’d have loved to have been here during that amazing age.
After taking a walk through the grounds, it’s a short drive from here to Hartford, CT our stop for tonight.
Day 12 – Thursday October 8th
It’s a beautiful day in Hartford this morning, so the short stroll from the parking to the State Capitol takes us a while as we stop to drink in our surroundings.
This is easily one of the most spectacular Capitols we’ve seen, it’s large yet well laid out and has a lovely feel to it.
We do a self-guided tour, marveling at the sheer opulence displayed within, there’s no Governor in attendance today though!
Across the street is the Supreme Court and Law Library… both are open to the public, though if the Supremes are in session (as they are today) you can only enter prior to the start of a hearing and leave at the end of it (the hearings are an hour long)
The library however is still well worth a visit with its stunning ceilings and amazingly friendly staff who are happy to talk you through the history of the building and the collections it houses… a great stop.
As it’s such a lovely day, we opt to leave the car where it is and walk to Travellers Tower (our next destination) by way of Bushnell Park and the Memorial Arch.
The park is partially closed today as it’s the Hartford Marathon at the weekend and there are hundreds of people setting up the start/finish venue here!
Unfortunately, our luck with observation platforms continues… Travellers is closed to tourists for the whole of the 2015 season as they are renovating the frontage and the main entrance is closed… we stop for a cuppa in the park instead before heading back to the car and onward
The Mark Twain house is no stranger to controversy, although he lived here for many years and undoubtedly wrote here, there is compelling evidence to suggest that most of his famous works were written elsewhere…. Nonetheless it is an interesting (docent lead only) tour through a uniquely designed (and very dark) building where no interior photos are allowed.
The tour tells us a bit about the man himself, but the museum attached to the visitors centre is also worth a visit… for his time, Sam Clemens was a well travelled man who made and lost a couple of fortunes on the way through life.
A truly off the wall tourist stop now…. The trash museum on the outskirts of the city is mostly geared to children, but offers a fascinating insight into what we throw away and how it can be reused.
The volume of recyclables that this centre receives (from the few parts of the city that actually have recycling pickups) is incredible and it’s a worthwhile half-hour stop – check the opening hours on their website though, they are quite limited.
Another short trip to our overnight halt in Meriden, stopping on the way to do some shopping as we’re actually pretty early to the hotel.