Footloose 2-Year Anniversary Recap, Part 1

Footloose 2-Year Anniversary Recap

Alan’s post began with more mundane details about our location, like population and elevation. So, to be consistent, I’m starting with numbers from the beginning of our adventure on October 21, 2015.  Some might make you laugh while others should earn a cringe.

24 x 365 x 2 = 17,520   NUMBER OF HOURS together, except for bathroom breaks and an occasional solitary walk or drive to the store.  This leads to one of the top questions we hear:  “How are you still getting along after spending so much time together?!”

HOW ARE WE GETTING ALONG?  FINE, JUST FINE!

36,910   NUMBER OF MILES DRIVEN.  For hours and hours.  Together……..

LOOKING BACK
MOVING FORWARD, LOOKING BACK

Over 135   NUMBER OF DIFFERENT BEDS WE’VE SLEPT IN.

OLD FARMHOUSE “COMFORT”.  We’re pretty sure the mice stayed downstairs.

230 +++  NUMBER OF BREWERIES VISITED.  The nationwide craft beer expansion has expanded our waistlines!  We stopped counting.  That will surely help with the pants sizes, right?

Galveston Beer Scene

37 STATES VISITED, plus parts of Canada and Mexico.

1   VACATION FROM TRAVELS!  A Caribbean cruise.

10,000+++   NUMBER OR COMBINED PHOTOS. Don’t worry, they won’t all be included here!  That leads to the second most frequently asked question: “What were your favorite spots?

Some of mine include places you might expect:  Niagara Falls and Quebec,

Our beautiful State and National parks –

Boston, Gettysburg, Charleston, and New Orleans –

Boston
Charleston View of Fort Sumter
Battlefield at Gettysburg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Louisiana – We Still Talk About The Crawfish Boil With New Friends

And, small towns not so familiar.

Fairfield, Arkansas – very scenic!  It is a small town hidden in the hills, near a lake, and two golf courses.  Great a week for golf and exploring.

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Fairfield, Arkansas- Wonderfully scenic – but not ideal for night driving.

Lake Lure and Asheville, North Carolina.  Alan enjoyed it except for the traffic and the potential for snow.  Many breweries!

Gautier, Mississippi.  “Why?” you ask.  Well, we found a really good deal on a rental property and thought, why not!  Great food, good golf, close to Biloxi, and lots of history.

Along with the fun, our travels have many reminders of US history.

Madisonville and Abita Springs, Louisiana.  Live there? No, too much weather going on.

CO, Durango   Scenic, touristy, mountain town. It was a  good place to recover from the flu; not too many distractions.

The 3rd most asked question:  “Any regrets?”  Mine – not really, it’s been a wonderful experience.  I do miss family and friends. Fortunately, technology has advanced enough to keep us connected.

I could go on and on but “enough already”! Alan says.

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Oceanside, California   10/7 – 10/29 (Part 2)

Oceanside, California   10/7 – 10/29  (Part 2)

After San Diego, it is a relief to get back to Oceanside.  Here we have all that perfect Southern California climate without the massive traffic and crowds that infest the big cities.  True, Oceanside is still part of the supercity that extends from Tijuana to Los Angeles, but over here there is still some open space.

Oceanside is a multi-layer cake of a city.  The first layer is the beach and the downtown area between Interstate 5 (AKA “The 5”) and the ocean.  This is where California Dreaming takes place.  The beach is sprinkled with deeply tanned young (and a few old) surfers and beach denizens.  Close to the beach is a nice variety of food and drink, hotels and motels, beach gear shops, and lots of little “Quickie Mart” stores for overpriced liquor and beer.  Pretty much any day of the week there is live music someplace.  On Thursday and Saturdays, they have a Farmer’s Market.  On Thursday night they have a “Sunset Market” with an amazing variety of food tents, arts, crafts, produce, and music.  On weekends, the long-haired locals and the buzz-cut Marines mix together (mostly) without incident.

The sun sets on another relentlessly beautiful day
You can almost smell the coconut suntan lotion
You can never tell who is going to be on the Pier
Ocean Highway follows the coast for miles and miles
Get your tacos, BBQ, lumpia, pad thai, roasted corn, or ice cream at the Sunset Market

The next layer of the city starts North of The 5.  This area is a little more spread out, a little warmer and drier.  The hills get bigger and housing developments, all sporting red brick roofed faux haciendas, spread like melted ice cream.  Industries, big box stores, breweries, and strip malls start out here in the “inland”.  Freeways run like rivers to the ocean.

On The 5
East of the 5, North of the 78, heading for the burbs
Abbey style ale, that is
Happy hour at the Works
Another happy hour with some great beers.

The last layer of the city lies even deeper inland.  Tendrils of suburbs wend through valleys, following veins of freeway.  The hills have turned into low mountains, fringed with garlands of large homes, gloating over what must be a great view.  The open spaces become agriculture or golf courses.  The dense multiverse of greenery that thrives on the coast gives way to the high chaparral.

OK, but think of the view

This is also the area where the Missions were built, three centuries ago.  The Spanish clergy came to convert the local people, the Conquistadores came with them to make sure it stuck.  Or something like that.  Check your history books for a long and twisted history with the lands and people changing hands frequently.  We visited the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia and found a beautiful old building that has been lovingly restored.

Founded in 1798

A very rare wooden octagonal cupola

As you may recall, we have been looking for a place to settle down.  Using our lavish beachside rental as a home base, we scoured the area for a new home.  The more we saw, the more we knew what we wanted.  Finally, we found a bargain with everything on our list.  After two years of traveling around the country, we are going to be rooted again.  At least for                 the seven months of the lease.  After that…?

The view from our deck. I am going to miss the sound of the waves, the smell of the salt air.

Next up:  Some thoughts from Marylu

Charleston, North Carolina 11/18 – 11/25

Charleston, South Carolina:  Population =  132,609 (Metro area = 727,689), elevation = 30 feet, average January low temp = 42.1, Average July high temp = 88, average sunny days = 209, annual snowfall = 0.3”, annual rainfall = 46”, air quality index = 38, water quality index = 50, comfort index = 31, median age of residents = 36.3

The difference between Charleston and Myrtle Beach is stunning.  Where Myrtle Beach looks like a new arrival, Charleston almost drips with history.  The first settlement was in 1670, on the banks of the Ashley River in a low, swampy area.  Since the French, Dutch, Spanish, and English were all fighting over the Carolinas, they thought it would be more defensible.  After many hardships and crop failures, Charleston was founded at its present site, across the river, in 1680.

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From the site of the original colony, you can see some of the existing city
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The city was once walled with cannons on the river for defense

Colonial Charleston was the trading center for the many plantations that sprung up in the area.  These plantations were worked by slaves, brought over from Africa.  Of the estimated 400,000 slaves transported across the ocean, about 40% landed here first.  By 1708, the majority of the people in Charleston were black African slaves.

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A preserved and restored plantation house at the end of its Avenue of Oaks
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This was once an alley where they held slave auctions. It is now a museum of slavery.

Prior to the Revolutionary War, George Washington read the Declaration of Independence from the steps of the Exchange building in Charleston.  During the war, Charleston was attacked three times and finally, defeated and occupied in 1778.  It was not until 1782 that the city was besieged and reclaimed.

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The Exchange and Provost Dungeon, built 1771, was a mercantile exchange, jail, and slave market.

The Antebellum Era was a time of great prosperity and power for the 90 richest plantation owners who ruled the area.  Cotton was king and slavery provided the labor to make it hugely profitable.  But then the Civil War erupted.  With the election of Abraham Lincoln, South Carolina voted to secede from the Union.  Fort Sumter was bombarded by a shore battery and taken.  The city withstood a blockage until 1865, when General Sherman’s “march to the sea” captured it.

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Fort Sumter is just across the river

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Somehow, the geography and luck has protected the city from the worst of hurricanes, earthquakes, war, and fires.  Stroll through the downtown and you see building after building with historical plaques dating them back to the 1700s.  Even some of the alleys are the original cobblestoned pathways though the gardens and huge trees.

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The Philadelphia Alley, built in 1766
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A classic old house on Broad Street, downtown.
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A house on the Battery. Yes that is single family home.

Church steeples rise everywhere, earning Charleston the nickname “Holy City”.

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The ancient cemeteries look especially eerie with the gnarled live oaks overhead.
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The Angel Oak is about 400 years old. If you look very closely, you can see people near the trunk.

Maybe this has been kind of a term paper but, with so much history everywhere, it is hard to describe Charleston without it.  It is also a big modern city with all of the food, nightlife, business, and office buildings.  It is a complex city with a lot to see and we didn’t have enough time to really see enough of it.  Maybe another time.

Next up:  Savannah, Georgia

Raleigh, North Carolina 10/29 – 11/05

Raleigh, North Carolina:  Population =  370,896 (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill metro area = 2,037,430) , elevation = 400 feet, average January low temp = 31.5, Average July high temp = 89, average sunny days = 213, annual snowfall = 4.6, annual rainfall = 45.2, air quality index = 26.2, water quality index = 90, comfort index = 36, median age of residents = 33.6

Our trail South has become a zigzag, crossing from coast to inland and back again.  This week finds us inland, exploring yet another state capital in Raleigh.  Sorry, North Carolina, but your capital is pretty pathetic.  We entered this smallish building to look around and mostly we saw beige paint and peeling wallpaper.  The chambers are drab little rooms with plain wooden desks.  The rotunda is plain and bland.  A statue of George Washington, sitting in Roman toga and short haircut, for some inexplicable reason, resides in the middle.  OK, we finally figured out that this building is kind of a museum of state government as it was a century ago.  The only active part of the building is the Governor’s office.  That may explain a lot.

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Capital of North Carolina (retired)
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George Washington as Roman Emperor?
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Plain vanilla rotunda

We found the actual, active government in the State Legislative Building.  Out of session and under construction, but still, this is the building.  Flat and boxy, squares with little courtyards and fountains in the center, dull and utilitarian, this building has the grandeur of a scrub brush.  If there were lockers along the walls, it might pass for a high school.  I searched and finally found a room labelled “Rest” instead of “Mens”, so I would not have to show a birth certificate.

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State Legislature Building in Raleigh
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A couple of courtyard, no rotunda

Anxious to rinse that stale government taste out of our mouths, we crossed the city to find some good beer.  Raleigh is in the midst of a craft beer explosion and breweries are everywhere.  Trophy Brewing came highly recommended, with good reason.  They make a great selection of beers, including the popular DAVE series.  Their pizza is thin crusted and crunchy and topped with creative blends of good things.  We had a great time talking to the staff and regulars, who were bright, fun, and funny (and dapper!) and made us feel (again) that the Millennials and GenX’ers are going to build a new and better world.  If they get involved and vote out the knuckle draggers.

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Good beer, food, and conversation at Trophy
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The mural at Trophy says it all

Downtown Raleigh is compact and walkable.  There are a few tall office buildings, but mostly you will find shorter buildings with many shops, restaurants, and small businesses residing at street level.  Good and varied places to eat are everywhere.  We found Jamaican, Lebanese, Laotian, Irish, Mexican, Cajun, Chinese, and Southern, to name a few.  We understand there is a great live music scene here too, but most of it starts after 9:00 PM, so us old fogeys didn’t get to see it.

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The house special pho at Pho, Pho, Pho
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Barbacoa tacos and an al pastor torta. Mi gusta!

Just outside of Downtown we found Pullen Park.  This is a big, beautiful park with a lake, trails, and flower gardens for sunny afternoon strolls.  Follow the calliope music to the carousel for a ride on your favorite animal.  Look both ways at the tracks because the little train may be chugging along with its load of kids, big and small.  Be sure to say “Howdy” to the Andy and Opie statues.

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Ride the ponies on the carousel
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Andy and Opie going out fishin’

On another trip to the ‘burbs, we went to the North Carolina Museum Of Art.  Besides the many collections of art, both old and new, they were showing Art Deco Cars from the 1930’s and 1940’s.  These were concept cars: unique, trend-setting, and beautiful.

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Back downtown in the city, we also toured the North Carolina Museum Of History.  North Carolina is one of the original colonies and has a lot of history.  The museum is arranged in a series of sequential rooms that each display text and artifacts of the period.

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A model of Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s pirate ship
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Civil War battle flags and artifacts
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Mask of a KKK Grand Wizard

Raleigh is a city of many diverse neighborhoods.  Driving around the city we saw everything from tired old shacks to stately brick mansions; middle class suburbs to college campuses.  One section stands out though, the Oakwood neighborhood.  This was a community of big mansions that became multiple family houses that became restored jewels.

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The cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill form the Triangle, a large and diverse area including several colleges and major businesses.  With only a week to spend, we couldn’t really get to the rest of the Triangle.  Maybe next time.

Next up: New Bern, North Carolina

Virginia Beach, Virginia 10/22 – 10/29

Virginia Beach, Virginia:  Population =  452,994 (metro area = 1,700,000) , elevation = 10 feet, average January low temp = 31.9, Average July high temp = 87, average sunny days = 213, annual snowfall = 7.1, annual rainfall = 47.8, air quality index = 36.5, water quality index = 61, comfort index = 35

October 22nd marked the one year anniversary of our road trip.  Over 25,000 miles, about 35 states and 4 provinces, and 78 rentals so far.  Still enjoying the trip…

 

From our roost on the peaks of the Shenandoah Mountains, we descend into the coastal plains of Virginia.  The highway twists and turns and crosses deep misty valleys along the way.  All too soon we run into the web of highways that tie the big cities together: Newport News, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth.  Four to six lanes of aggressive, turn signal impaired, impatient drivers, all in a hurry to get to someplace that lies just ahead of the bewildered geezers with the South Dakota plates.

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The next day, Sunday, we are meeting some dear old friends: Mick, Deb, and Gerry.  It is really great to get together and catch up and gather hugs all around.  Deb graciously greets the visitors from Minnesota with her Vikings headgear and earrings.

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Marylu, Deb, me, Mick, Gerry. Love these guys!

Our hotel is just across the street from the boardwalk that runs for miles.  The summer season is just about over and the beach is quiet.  A few people dot the beach, hiking and biking, strolling and rolling. The amusement park is closed.  A long walk gets us to Ocean Eddie’s Seafood, perched on the end of a fishing pier.  Their last day of the season is Saturday and the deals are delicious.

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Lunch at Ocean Eddie’s
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The boardwalk in Virginia Beach.
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Neptune keeps watch over the beach

The other elephant in this room is the Navy.  There are Navy bases and shipyards all over.  The ships can be seen from beach and freeway.  Nearby there are Naval Air bases where the jets off carriers land and take off with ear-shattering roars.  Supporting and supplying the Navy is the biggest business in the area.

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Navy ships at their piers
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A mural celebrating the Navy carriers and air power

The Chesapeake Bay played an important part in America’s history.  The Virginia Company settlers arrived here in 1607.  The old lighthouse that stands today was the first federal construction project, back in 1729.  In 1781 a French fleet, supporting the revolutionary Americans, fought the British to a standstill here, stopping them from joining forces with General Benedict Arnold’s troops.

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The site of the First Landing is commemorated
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Naval battle tactics
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Cape Henry lighthouse

We picked a nice warm, sunny day for a day trip and headed over to the Williamsburg.  Our first stop was the Williamsburg Visitor’s Center, where for a price, you can do tours and activities ranging from carriage rides to musket shooting.  We took a bus into the Historic Williamsburg “downtown” area and strolled along the streets, admiring the homes and businesses.  To my eye, these buildings looked too flawless, too modern, to be original.  Most are recreations or largely restorations.  Williamsburg is more historical park than historical site.  Unfortunately, we were too late for Jamestown and missed seeing the excavations.

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The main street of Historic Williamsburg
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Homes and businesses in Williamsburg

Just a few blocks away from our hotel we found the Virginia Marine Science Museum.  They have an amazing collection of local marsh, river, and ocean species, as well as a few surprises.

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I don’t think komodo dragons are native here

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Virginia Beach is a great place to visit in the fall, and probably a great place to visit in the summer when the beach is thriving and coated with bodies glistening with suntan lotion.  If you don’t mind running the freeways, there are lots of interesting and fun places to visit.

Next up:  Raleigh, North Carolina

Massanutten, Virginia 10/16 – 10/22

Massanutten, Virginia:  Population = 2591, elevation = 1384 feet, average January low temp = 22.2, Average July high temp = 86, average sunny days = 178, annual snowfall = 24.6, annual rainfall = 35.5, air quality index = 85, water quality index = 70, comfort index = 46

We were a little confused by where exactly we were going for this week.  The ad in RCI said McGaheysville.  When we got there though, the directions led us to Massanutten.  As it turns out, McGaheysville is the closest town to Massanutten.  Massanutten is both a town and a resort.  I guess there are enough full-time residents living in and around the resort area to make it a town in its own right.

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The view from our front door
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The view from our back door
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Some visitors to our back door. Harbingers?

Since the RCI sale price for the week was so low ($235 a week!!), we were expecting another tattered old cabin in the woods with few neighbors or amenities.  Instead, we found ourselves in the midst of a huge resort that covers most of a mountain.  Amenities include a ski resort (chairlift rides and mountain biking in the summer), two golf courses, several bars and restaurants, kayak and canoe excursions, arts and crafts classes, a spa, go karts, a water park, racquetball, tennis, hiking trails, zip lines, pools and hot tubs, horseback riding, shows, concerts, and more.  There are about 3,000 units to time share, rent, or, as we soon found out, buy.

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Marylu bravely holds a rose while a magician cuts off the bloom with his whip
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The waterpark is gigantic
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Real Southern BBQ with all the sauces and fixins
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Even on a rainy day, the view from the top of Massanutten is spectacular

During the checkin procedure, we were directed to another desk for our parking pass.  Before we got the parking pass, we got the offer; if we would attend a sales presentation, we would get  activities cards good for $200 of free or discounted activities.  This is not our first rodeo, so we took the cards.  Wednesday at noon, we met the two guys for the pitch.  First to the waterpark for a look around and a free buffet lunch.  Then to an apartment building with display units.  Then back to the pressure cooker conference room where this week’s crop of gullible tourists were being played.  We listened to the BS, watched as they drew numbers and diagrams, and smiled as they slowly dropped the price and points and deals.  Dealmaker A dropped out, to be replaced by dealmaker C, an older and more experienced hand.  When they finally accepted that we were not budging, they sent us on to a cute little folksy lady who was actually dealmaker D.  She had one last offer for us, but we shot that down too.  Free at last…

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Dealmakers B and C don’t look happy
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Dealmaker D spins a bargain for us

I am devoting a lot of time and text to the timeshare sales pitch here, I know.  If you have never seen one though, I want to warn you about it.  There are two basic flavors: weeks and points.  With the weeks, you get one week a year at a specific resort that you can either use or trade for a week at another resort.  With points, you buy so many points that can then be used to obtain weeks at any of the seller’s resorts.  Either way is not worth it.  To get weeks, you buy more weeks than you would use in a lifetime, and you have to pay yearly fees and trading fees, and many other fees.  With points, you never really know what they are worth.  It depends on the resort and area and the time of year.  And you still pay all those fees before you can use anything.  Trust me, you can do a lot better for yourself by just booking a resort when you need one.

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Sunset falls on Massanutten Resort

That being said, I have to admit that the Massanutten Resort is beautifully located in the Shenandoah Mountains, the units are mostly very comfortable, and there is a lot to do.  But if  you ever go, just rent, don’t buy.

Next up: Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hershey and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Hershey and Gettysburg

Most places you go to in Harrisburg have piles of tourist info folder and maps.  The most popular handout map  shows Harrisburg on the left side and Hershey on the right.  Such a wide view shows little detail for either city but does indicate who spent the money to print the maps.  Sure, Harrisburg is the capital city, but Hershey is where chocolate comes from.  Signs everywhere point the way to Hershey World.

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Welcome to Chocolate World

Arriving at Hershey World, you are funneled into a huge parking lot with separate areas for tour buses and a staging area for the Hershey city trolley tour.  Inside you are confronted with your choices.  There is a free chocolate tour, a create your own candy bar tour, a kid’s chocolate mystery movie, a tasting tour, and the city trolley tour.  All of this is available in various combinations, for individual tour or package deal.

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Happy Chocolate

I liked the free chocolate tour.  We are seated in a candy car ride that runs through vivid displays showing how chocolate is made.  Animatronic cows and chickens sing a catchy tune about the milk.  Magical chocolate bars show us swirling chocolate being mixed with milk.  Convincingly impressive big robot arms click and clack as they process the chocolate.

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The Cow Choir sings about adding milk to chocolate.
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Swirling the milk into the chocolate
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The final mixing makes it silky smooth

I could have done without the make-your-own tour, but Marylu wanted to do it, so we did.  I have to admit I was impressed with the software and hardware they use to run this show.  First you have to don hair nets (and beard nets) and an apron.  Then you create a recipe for your candy bar.  Pick a milk or dark chocolate base.  Select up to three ingredients for inclusion.  Design your label from a selection of logos and text that you can slide into place, rotate, and size.  Then watch each step of the process as chutes deliver measured amounts of “inclusions”, a layer of chocolate is applied overall, optional sprinkles are added, and finally, the bar enters the Cartoner, where it is packaged and your label applied.

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The cartoner combines my chocolate bar with wrapping and my label
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Our custom-designed labels. Love those cows!

We were too late for the chocolate tasting tour and didn’t care that much to see what Hershey, PA looked like, so we had to settle for Marylu stocking up on chocolate from the chocolate store.   And, of course, after a hard day of chocolate tasting, we had to rest up at the nearby Troegs Brewery.  Great selection of standards, seasonal, and experimental beers.

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The new brewery has large tanks and a big restaurant with unique snacks

Our next road trip was about a 45 minute drive away from Harrisburg, but not something we would pass by.  The Gettysburg National Military Park is a large swath of land, hundreds of acres, South of the town of Gettysburg.  The land has been restored to appear as it did during the Battle of Gettysburg.  All of the buildings, fields, and fences are either original or closely resemble them.

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Historic old Gettysburg, as seen from the battlefield
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Looking across the valley to the East lie Little Round Top and Big Round Top
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Looking down on the battlefield from the top of Big Round Top

Our guide on the bus tour points out the routes of the Union and Confederate forces and explains the tactics involved on a large battlefield.  Though it is over two hours on the bus, it goes by quickly.  We pass hundreds of monuments dedicated to military units, states, or individuals.

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The Museum is a huge building and, like the one in Harrisburg, arranged in chronological order from causes for the war to campaigns fought to the aftermath of the war.  This museum has a lot more artifacts than Harrisburg.  Our tour starts with a movie that describes the Battle of Gettysburg in vivid detail, with Morgan Freeman narrating.

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Confederate infantry uniform and gear
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Union infantry uniform and gear
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Union General George Meade’s sword

Then it is on to the Cyclorama.  This is an enormous oil painting that depicts Pickett’s Charge.  It is 44 feet high and 377 feet in circumference.  It is displayed on the walls of a round room where the viewer stands in the middle.  Narration and colored lights highlight the details of the battle.

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The Union artillery fires at the oncoming charge
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Opposing armies charge into the fray

Both of our Harrisburg side trips were interesting and informative and well worth the drive.  But I would not want to live in either place.  It would be wearing, I think, to have a constant flow of rubbernecking tourists and school kids in buses slow-driving through town.  I prefer a nice boring suburb with no history.

Next up: McGaheyville, Virginia