Our third day of touring DC started at 9:00 as we braved the traffic and drove the car in. Our first stop was an easy park right next to The National Cathedral. There is just no way to relate the size and beauty of this Episcopal Cathedral. The Cathedral sits on 57 acres of land and is made from Indiana Limestone. The Gloria Excelsis Tower is the highest point in DC. The structure begins with a long rectangular base with an 8-bay nave and 5-bay chancel, intersected by a 6 bay transept. The inside length of the Cathedral is longer than a football field!
Length (outside): 517' 8"
Length (inside): 457' 8"
Width (outside across the nave aisles): 142' 6"
Width of transepts: 289' 9"
Height of west towers: 234'
Height of central tower: 301' 3"
Height of nave (inside): 102' 6"
Total weight: 150,000 tons
Total area: 83,012 sq. ft.
As we entered we were met by a volunteer who took two minutes to show us his favorite statues and window at our handicap entrance. At the time we were not aware that we had missed the main welcome entrance for the official tour tickets, and we just jumped in on a tour that had just started. Our tour took us on the main level and then downstairs.
One thing that caught my attention were the thousands of hand made needlepoint kneelers that were attached to the chairs in every worship sector.. . each area with a different theme.
After the official tour, our tour guide kept us under her wing for a few additional insights, and then she turned us over to another volunteer for a private tour of the top level 360 degree view of Washington DC.
First was the Holocaust museum, another free tour where we were handed a ticket and given a tour time. With 15 minutes to kill, we wandered thought the kid-friendly exhibit "Daniel's House." it was a wonderful interactive walk-through of the home and then relocation of Jewish boy Daniel and his family.
Back outside the temperatures were climbing into +100 degrees with the heat index. We walked to the Bureau of Engraving and were handed free tickets for a tour time of 5:45, leaving us with three hours to fill. We dashed into the original, re-bricked Smithsonian called the Castle. Tours were not available as the whole structure was being renovated, but we got a good look at this beautiful facility that we both remembered touring as children.
Seeing the money being printed was very interesting but no pictures were allowed along the money-making line! Before the no-photo zone, we did enjoy a nice visual "brick" of $1 million dollars in $10 notes!
At the end of this tour we had 26 minutes to get back to the van and drive back to the area around the Capitol where we had reservations for Bullfeathers, Teddy Roosevelt's favorite rest-stop. Ellen Coe had taken us there several years ago to eat lunch with the "Capitol crowd" and we have always wanted to go back. The Brown luck was with us providing a parking spot right across from the restaurant door, and we walked in at five minutes till 7:00. Fish and Chips for all, and TWO glasses of wine for me!
Tom has an innate inner compass once he has oriented himself on a map. He took us on his own little driving tour pointing out buildings, and then navigated across the Tidal Pool to the Jefferson Memorial just as the lights were coming up. So much of the parking that used to be available is now blocked off, but it was not too far from where we parked. Unfortunately, the elevator was not working for us to take the trip up on the main level of the Memorial, so we were left with a quick walk around the base.
What can you expect after 13 hours walking the streets in Washington, DC in 100+ degree weather? I had a sunblock lotion on my face, and even wore a brimmed hat every time I was outside in the sun. . . . but evidently the rays still got to me! At midnight I woke up with an itchy eyebrow, and during the night I could feel something funny going on with my face. In the morning I was unable to open my right eye, and the rest of my face felt suspiciously tight! Here is what I saw in the mirror! Yikes!
Sun poisoning was high on the list of suspects, and a trip to an Urgent Care Clinic confirmed that I had a severe reaction to the heat and sun. Two steroid shots for immediate relief and a 6-day course of Prednisone for the long-haul, and directions to stay inside for the day . . . and I was good to go! DC was predicted to be 110 degrees heat index on Thursday, and that was just enough to convince us to bolt for home the next day. I almost hate to post this picture (don't want to scare young children that might be reading this blog), but I do want my readers to know that I didn't give up on DC on a measly whim. We had planned one more day in DC and two full days in Philadelphia, but will re-plan another time -- maybe in the cool of the fall!
Tuesday, Day 6 out, found us not so ready to climb out of bed and get going . . . we didn’t leave the campground until 9:00! We had a plan and knew how to handle the metro, and knew exactly what to do to get on at our Franconia-Springfield out at the end of our line.
This morning we rode the Metro a short distance to Arlington Cemetery and arrived in time for a 10:00 tour. The heat was already powerful and promising to get much worse throughout the day, but the open-air tour bus was breezy as we got on and off at the different stops.
Since we last visited the Kennedy grave with the eternal flame Jackie Kennedy has been laid to rest beside her husband John F. and Teddy Kennedy has been buried nearby next to his brother Robert. Our tour bus made a stop for exactly 8 minutes for us to dash up to the grave sites to snap a picture and get back . . . . or miss the bus!
At Arlington House we were reminded of the history of the plantation: it was originally built by George Washington Parke Custis who was raised by his grandmother, Martha Dandridge Custis, who was wife to George Washington. He married, and his daughter, Mary Lee Fitzhugh, married General Robert E. Lee. Arlington was their home for over 30 years before the Civil War.
The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a moving ceremony that happens every ½ hour during the hottest months. The honor guards that provide the duty can never in their life commit an act of undignified behavior, or their name would be forever struck from the roster. I still don’t understand how those soldiers are able to walk without any body motion but their feet!
By noon we popped back onto the subway and rode into the Capital South metro stop. Coming up out of the ground we saw a Mexican restaurant across the street and made a bee-line for that. Great chips and salsa . . . and quesadillas and burritos and enchiladas . . . and a great place to cool off and re-energize.
The United States Capital Building was next on our list and was just a short walk away. We were excited to see the new Visitor’s Center that was opened in 2008. In past years we would just walk into the Capital and mill around and see things on our own. Now, within the structure of the Visitor Center, tours are greatly controlled and crowds are thoroughly screened. The Visitor Center features a beautiful “Emancipation Hall” from which all levels circle, and from which soaring views of the Capitol Dome can be seen through a glass ceiling.
Tours outfit each person with a headphone set that amplifies the tour guide so that he can be heard over the noise and activity that is always present in the building. The Rotunda was an excellent experience with the magnificent view of the inside the dome.
The newest statue in the hall was one of Rosa Parks. It was fun to watch as a group of women proudly posed by this magnificent statue.
At this point we had been sightseeing for over 10 hours and were weary as we said goodby to our Nation's Capital Building. Our thoughts were also on the parking meter as we hopped back onto the metro and headed out of the city -- arriving back at the van with 13 minutes to spare. Tomorrow we were again going to brave the city -- but this time we were going to ride the van in and risk the DC traffic!
We woke up Monday , Day 5, to find that we were almost at our destination – less than an hour away! It seemed a good time to slow down and do a load of laundry and get ready for Washington DC. All cleaned up, we had a short hour drive to Prince William National Forest where we had reservations for 4 nights. This would be our headquarters for both downtown DC sight-seeing and a few battlefields in the outlying area.
At our campground we picked up a Metro Pocket Guide and reviewed the information for getting around the city on this public transportation system. Our location at Prince William was just 20 minutes away from the start of the “blue line” metro at Franconia-Springfield.
Without much problem we navigated to the parking spot for the metro, and luckily had a roll of quarters to pump into the parking meter for 5 hours’ worth of parking at the rate of 15 minutes for 25 cents!
Walking to the jumping-on place, Tom and Caleb figured out the machines to purchases passes, and bought us each a $20 ticket to last over the course of the next couple days.
Our destination was to the National Museum of the American Indian, a relatively new (18th) addition to the Smithsonian collection opening in 2004. The museum is just down the street from the Capitol building and within a 4-block walk of the Metro. For 3 hours we enjoyed the museum presentations featuring Native American beliefs and history as well as contemporary Native life.
This was really just a “practice run” on the Metro to help us get grounded for the rest of our excursions, and by 5:30 we were in the car and heading back to the Silvermine at Prince William.
I do need to mention that Washington, DC is experiencing its first extended heat-wave with temperatures all this week predicted to be in the upper 90’s and heat index over 100 degrees. So it was today with a high of 98 – we are grateful that the Metro is air-conditioned as well as all of the museums that we want to see. The outside “mall” and view of many of the monuments is out in the blazing sun, but we think we can plan to sprinkle those in between our AC’d tours!
Be sure to check back to see how we do in the next few days!
Our third night on vacation we settled into a KOA in Fredericksburg VA – great accommodations with private shower facilities for Caleb and a deeply graveled site to soak up all the rain! Yes, it has rained every day, but not in a way that has interfered with our sight-seeing or camping.
We started out Saturday morning with a breakfast of fried Span and eggs – cooked by Tom on the grill. Then, a 90 minute drive to Richmond to show Caleb St. John’s Episcopal Church (which we saw last year without him) where Patrick Henry gave his “liberty or death” speech. We joined a small tour with a wonderful narrator and heard the history of the Church and speech and learned that we had missed the yearly live reenactment of that speech by just one day!
Then, off to a cluster of Civil War battles known as Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville, Battle of the Wilderness and Fredericksburg. There were more, but together they covered over 70 miles of driving/auto trails, and we didn’t have time for them all. But, the battle of Chancellorsville was the prelude to Gettysburg and that sparked our interest. Spotsylvania led to the battle of Petersburg which led to the end of the war at Appomattox, which supplemented our tour yesterday.
At the battle of Chancellorsville, Stonewall Jackson was killed leaving General Lee completely distraught. A stone was put in place as a marker where he fell, and later a monument was erected.
Sunday, day 4 of our trip, found us up and heading for Harper’s Ferry by 8:00 a.m. The navigator took us on a zig-zag route with no obvious reason to its wanderings. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the outlying countryside around Washington, DC and made Harper’s Ferry and our KOA campground by noon.
The walkway across the railroad bridge gave a good view of the importance of Harpers Ferry – the convergence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.
Harpers Ferry has a multi-layered history with the arrival of the first successful railroad, John Brown’s attack on slavery, the largest surrender of Federal troops during the Civil War, and the first integrated school for the education of former slaves. During the course of the Civil War the town changed hands eight times! Here are a few more views of Old Downtown.
As this was my birthday (61!) we stopped at a fresh seafood roadside stand and bought some jumbo shrimp to add to our dinner of rib-eye steaks. Before dark Tom and Caleb went for a drive back to the river points and collected water samples for their collection. Some day I am going to have to do a whole post dedicated to this collection – it is a real cocktail of water from ocean to ocean and even a mountain top or two from all over the United States.
Be sure to check back in a few days, as there is still a lot of vacation to cover!
This vacation started with a familiar ring at Douthart State Park in Virginia; last year our first day led us to the same first night stop-over. The 465 mile drive began with us saying goodbye to Ashley who was dog and house sitting for us. Our drive was broken up by a trip through the Cabella’s store at Charleston, WV where Caleb bought me a great set of rugs for the Airstream – just the right color of rusty red and green with a theme of bear paw-prints.
Our first night destination was delayed a bit by a significant tree-fall across the park road, and a line-up of cars were waiting for it to be cleared. Luckily we arrived during the last 15 minutes of work, and were able to make camp by 6:30. During a window without rain we had barbeque chicken on the grill and by 8:00, as the rain threatened to start again, we retreated to the Silvermine for a multi-venue evening on our iPADS: books, movies, games, journaling, etc.
We were anxious to see Appomattox as we had missed it in all of our previous travels. What a beautiful setting and a nicely done presentation of history! A reenactor tour guide took our small group from the visitor center to the tavern where everyone was invited to sit on the porch while he told his story. Our solider was a Corporal from a PA regiment, and for 45 minutes he led us through the events of Appomattox from his point of view. He was exceptionally good, and his stories involved his audience and gave good detail of the events leading up to the end of the Civil War. At one time he became choked up, and we had a real feeling for the emotions at this amazing event.
Our next stop was Monticello, the beautiful home of Thomas Jefferson. The parking and visitor center is a distance away from his mountaintop home, and a tour bus drove us to the property. The gardens, both produce and decorative, are lush and many pathways are shaded by a large variety of monster trees.
Small tour groups are necessary because of the small rooms in the home, but they are staggered every 5 minutes to handle the flow of tourists. No pictures are allowed inside with the original furnishing, but the expansive work quarters under the house could be photographed as well as all the lovely landscaping, and that famous view on the reverse side of the nickel. The tour included free roam of the outside with a pathway to the graveyard, and other walks around the property.
Thus ended our first day of sight-seeing. I must mention that the temperature never reached above 65, which made for exceptional touring! Check back as we continue our travels.
I will leave you with a picture of two patriots sitting on Jefferson's fence posts and sounding off on the importance of freedom.
The motivation for this trip was to watch the reenactment of several battles at Gettysburg ranging from the first day when the troops from both sides poured into the battlefield, to the climatic Pickett’s Charge at The High Water Mark. During the four-day span from July 4th – 7th, eight key battles of Gettysburg were reenacted. Our excitement to see these battles was keen, but logistics and the heat and humidity sometimes interfered. In the end, we saw three battles and ended up feeling satisfied with our new understanding of these four days in July, 150 years ago.
The battles are all about the spectacular vision of soldiers, horses, muskets, wagons and cannons as they clash on the field. Trying to recount the action of each battle is beyond my capabilities -- so I will just show you a large selection of pictures.
That is a lot of the story -- except for the sounds of gun shot and cannons! Truth to be told, it was unbearably hot for us watching, and I only wonder how the soldiers were able to survive in their 100% wool uniforms. (One battle was delayed almost an hour while ice and water was delivered to them on the field!)
We did leave the battle with two nagging questions: how powerful were the beliefs 150 years ago that made those men cascade forward into battle without thought to their own life -- and, how would I have conducted myself if I were on the battlefield that day?
Relief from the heat came with a visit to the visitor's center where there was a museum, a documentary film, and the famed cyclorama painting of the battlefield. In the late 1880s, French artist Paul Philippoteaux took brush to canvas and created the Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama painting. He spent months on the battlefield researching the battle with veterans, a battlefield guide, and a photographer. It took Philippoteaux and a team of assistants more than a year to complete. The result is a breathtaking oil painting that measures 377 feet in circumference and 42 feet high. Longer than a football field and as tall as a four-story structure, the Gettysburg Cyclorama painting immerses visitors in the fury of Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg. The last time we visited the painting was being reconditioned and a new facility was being built to house it. We were so glad to be able to view it on this visit!
After the documentary film depicting an overview of the battle and our viewing of the cyclorama, we headed out for the auto tour of the battlefield. We have done this tour several times, but it is always an experience that is humbling.
Tom has always wanted to hike across the field of Pickett's charge, and we left him off at the North Carolina Memorial where he had a straight view out of the woods where the Rebel Army was located, across the open field to the "copse of trees" where the Union Army was gathered. It was only a mile and a quarter for him to walk while we continued our drive. We picked him up on the other side. Tom has frequently talked about doing that walk -- Tom, please mark that off your bucket list!
That is the essence of our trip -- all centering around this historic event. We're home for three days and repacking to head out for twelve days of Washington DC and Philadelphia! Check back!
This year was the 150th reenactment celebration of the Battle of Gettysburg, and we made plans months ago to attend with Steve, Cindy, and Eric Thomas. Private campgrounds in the area were charging $700 for the whole week, but we were able to score some sites at Caledonia State Park in Fayetteville for their normal rate of $25 a night. The plot thickened as Caleb and GF Ashley found they were able to attend, and at the last minute I scouted out a hotel room in nearby Hanover for them. Thus, spread out on either side of Gettysburg National Memorial Park we converged on the town (just like the armies 150 years ago!) for the 4th of July!
The 451 mile ride to Caledonia State Park was unhurried with several stops spread out over 9 1/2 hours.
Our plan was to arrive at the reenactment battlefield as the gate opened at 8:30, and dash up the hill to place our chairs on the front for of the roped-off field. There are also two sets of grandstands for seating, but in the broiling sun of July they looked awfully uncomfortable. Our chairs at least had backs and we would be able to use umbrella's for shade up until the battle started.
I am sure there is some type of selection process to select the individuals responsible for carrying out the duties of each significant officer. Certainly, they are well rehearsed in their persona and people make a game of going up and asking questions to try to "stump the officer." Two girls that had recently graduated from West Point asked General Sherman about the "cow incident at West Point" -- he couldn't come up with an answer!
All of the officer quarters were there on display, but most of the officers were off preparing for the battle or presiding over other official duties. Here are some of the wonderful reenactment get-ups and set-ups we saw in the officer's quarters:
That is just a smattering of the Civil War visions up on the hill and one thing was plain to see: those involved in the business of reenactment put lots of time, effort, and money into their hobby. They are passionate about sharing the Civil War experience.
Check back tomorrow and I'll share information about the actual reenactment of some of the battles. All of these Civil War outfits are not just for show -- they are here for real action just as it was 150 years ago.
We don’t go camping any more . . . we go ‘streamin’ ! The “SIlvermine and His” is our 2016 23' Airstream, and ‘streamin’ is the name we use to describe our adventures. Stream along as we document everything from weekend trips to longer summer excursions and full-blown vacations. You know what they say: if you’re not in an Airstream – you’re just camping!
Tom & Ella Brown