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

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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

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 10/8 – 10/16

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania:  Population = 49,673 (metro area = 1,219,422) , elevation = 320 feet, average January low temp = 23.2, Average July high temp = 86, average sunny days = 193, annual snowfall = 33.4, annual rainfall = 39.1, air quality index = 15.8, water quality index = 67, comfort index = 47

Leaving our cabin in the woods, we are headed back to the city.  We have reserved more bargain resorts in the upcoming weeks, so now we are “connecting the dots” with cities between.  As it turns out, Harrisburg is on the way and Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania.  This capital building is something special.  The tour guide proclaims it as the most ornate of all the state capitals.  There is a big difference between beautiful and ornate.  I believe she was right about this building being ornate.  Walking into the rotunda, is a jaw-dropping experience.  Everything gold-colored is  actually trimmed in 23 karat gold.

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The capital buiding is enormous. The dome is visible for miles around
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The rotunda is accented by murals, mosaics, and gold trim
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The Senate chamber
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The walls of the Supreme Court are lined with historic laws from many cultures
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The House chamber
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The grand Atrium, showing one of the four murals

Just down the block from the capital there are a row of churches.  The tallest and most ornate of these is the Cathedral of St. Patrick.  I am a big fan of ornate, but I am a little uneasy with how much the Cathedral and the Capital have in common.  Separation of church and state and all that.

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral
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The rotunda is decorated with saints and biblical scenes

Harrisburg is a river town.  The Susquehanna river runs through the city, crossed by many bridges, both stately old arches and gawky modern freeway decks.  During our stay, we were lucky enough to find a paddlewheel river cruise with a beer tasting featuring Rusty Rail beers.  From the river, you can see the walking trails along the river, the parks and trees, the office buildings, the domes and steeples.

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On the Riverwalk, a view of the many bridges
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The Pride throws a fun little cruise
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Sunset on the Susquehanna

During the Civil War, Harrisburg was close to the battlefields but never invaded.  It was a staging area for the Union troops before the battle of Gettysburg.  Up on a hilltop overlooking the city, we find the National Civil War Museum.  The exhibits here are arranged in sequential order.  The first rooms deal with the background and causes for the war.  Later rooms display the weapons and equipment, the key battles, and finally, the aftermath.

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Causes of the Civil War
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Confederate infantry equipment
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Union infantry equipment

Just a few miles downriver, we saw another museum.  This one is the beautifully preserved Fort Hunter Mansion.  It was first built in 1786 and then added to in 1814.  Among the owner’s many holdings, were his 20 slaves who worked in his home and farm.  The house has many of the original furnishings, including portraits, children’s toys, and china.  One of my favorite things is the bathtub for one.  Most bathtubs of the period were the big clawfoot tubs.  Starting with Dad, everyone in the house used the same bathwater, in order from oldest to youngest.  The single tub was for one person to use themselves and was considered an extravagance for rich people.

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The Fort Hunter Mansion
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The parlor / living room
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A rare bathtub for one.

There is a lot to see in Harrisburg.  And there is a lot to see nearby.  We took a couple of interesting road trips during our stay here.  Since this is already running long, I will split off the road trips into a separate post.

Next up: Hershey and Gettysburg

Boston – part 2

Rolling into Boston was a culture shock for me.  I am a suburbs or small town kind of guy and don’t really like big cities.  Boston a huge, dense city.  From our row house in the suburbs, it was a 10 minute walk to a 15 minute bus ride to a 25 minute subway ride to get downtown.  Even at that distance from the downtown, the row houses are three stories tall with very little parking.  The streets are just a little over three cars wide but there is parking on both sides.  Once our car was parked, we left it there.

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Parking in Boston? Some condos sell parking spots for over $100,000
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The subway screeches to a stop and opens up to the hordes of commuters

On our first trip into the city, we headed for the Visitor’s Center to load up on maps and tourist info.  They are located in the Boston Commons, the city’s central green space.  From the calm of wide grassy parkland, we can see the hubbub of a major city boiling around us, people getting off work, heading for the subways and pubs, battling ferocious traffic.

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A favorite sight in the Commons are the frogs at Frog’s Pond
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George Washington rides forever in the Public Gardens

This is a modern city with many amenities for its residents.  There are several pedestrian-only streets and marketplaces lined with restaurants and vendors.  For sports fans, there are professional hockey, baseball, and basketball teams.  And for after the game, there seems to be an Irish pub on just about every corner.

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The pedestrian malls hold many restaurants, shops, and musicians
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Home of Celtics basketball and Bruins hockey
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Home of Red Sox baseball
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You may have heard of this Boston pub.

Boston is also the capitol of Massachusetts.  The Massachusetts State House is a beautiful building, adorned with fine marble details, lots of stained glass, mosaics, murals, and wrought iron.  The dome over the rotunda is a brilliant circle of scenes from state history, framing a wonderfully complex and colorful center of stained glass.

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The State House sports a gold plated dome
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Looking up into the dome
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The grand staircase
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The floor of the rotunda and the murals above it

Another amazing building we toured is the Boston Public Library.  The designer of this building was given free range and a big budget, and it shows.  Stepping into the from doors, one is greeted with a very impressive hallway with mosaic arches and domed ceilings.  the grand staircase features murals, four shades of marble, and regal lion statues.  A upper floor hallway is lavishly adorned with murals and gilded trim over the arched ceiling.  Even the reading room is finely detailed.

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The ceiling over the main entrance
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Grand staircase with murals by Sargent
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A gilded hallway with more murals by Sargent
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A reading room, comfortable and quiet, yet elegant

The last building we visited was the Museum of Fine Art.  The building is nicely appointed, simple and clean lines.  The real beauty lies in what the many rooms contain.  Among the many paintings are some by Rembrandt, Ruben, Winslow Homer, Picasso, Gainsborough, Monet, Renoir, Geogia O’Keeffe, and Van Gogh.  Too many to display here, so just a couple of my favorites.

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Drummer Boy by William Morris Hunt calls for action
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Deer’s skull with Pedernal by Georgia O’Keeffe just because of the lines and colors and strange

Boston is a city rich with history and yet full of the energy of a big modern city.  It was exciting to jump into it and explore some of it.  But now I think I need someplace a little more rural and quiet to recuperate.

Next up: Hartford and Tamiment