Day 53: Midnight in the Garden . . .

We had the whole day to explore Savannah and with the help of Brian and Joan we came up with a plan. We drove downtown to the visitor’s center, bought our tickets for the Hop On/Off Trolley and our selected activities for the day and walked over to the Museum of Civil Rights. It was closed. So, we walked back to the Visitor’s Center and were reimbursed for our tickets. Then we hopped on the trolley and started the tour around historical Savannah. It is as beautiful as you see in all the pictures and films.

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The design of the 22 (originally 24) squares was the idea of the founder of Savannah, James Ogelthorpe, in 1733. It was designed that way partly as a way to protect the city from military attack. I am curious if the square design lends itself to a stronger sense of community.

There are 15 stops for the trolley and you can get off at any to see the sights and then get back on and travel to your next destination while the driver provides details about the history of the city and the sites. We got off at stop 5 to tour our next choice in activities, the oldest active reform congregation in the country, Temple Mikvah Israel.

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It was closed due to Sukkot. Ugh! Now we needed to come up with another plan. We looked at some reviews of the home tours and selected the Green-Medrim House because it had some civil war history to it. General Sherman used it as a base when he was in town. It was definitely interesting to learn how Mr. Green basically saved Savannah from being burned down by his hospitality.

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Afterward we hopped back in the trolley to get to a good place for lunch. The driver suggested the river area, which is a street of restaurants and shops along the Savannah river. Thinking it was going to be something like the shopping neighborhoods in San Francisco, we quickly discovered it was much more like the Santa Monica pier, tourist shops and fried food. Luckily I had eyed a place close by from the trolley and managed to find it. We ended up having one of the best meals of our trip so far. The restaurant is called B. Matthews, a nice little cafe/restaurant. We asked the waitress for her recommendations. She said they are known for their fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits. We ordered each and split them.Yum!!! That definitely made up for all of our failed plans for the day.

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After lunch we wandered a bit, hopped back on the trolley to finish the tour and returned home and had a lovely evening with Joan and Brian. Thank you Joan and Brian for your Southern hospitality!

Day 51/52: Travel Days

Our next two days were travel days. Our goal was to get to Savannah to visit Michael’s cousins. As we were leaving Williamsburg we decided to stop in to the Goodwill to see if we could find a costume for Shayna for Halloween. We figured if there was anywhere that might have some kind of historical costume it would be Williamsburg. We were lucky to find one, but not telling what it is. You’ll have to wait until Halloween!

We drove from Williamsburg to Fayetteville, North Carolina. It was relatively uneventful. We settled into a small RV park pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but the people there were in awe of our little camper van.

The next morning our travels took us from North Carolina through South Carolina to Georgia, but not without a little excitement. As soon as we hit South Carolina I noticed a LOT of police and highway patrol (more than we have seen on our whole trip combined) sitting on the median between the two directional highways. And with each patrol car was an unmarked black car. So I made sure to stay under the speed limit, but we were still pulled over rather quickly. There was a highway patrolman and his backup I think  was an ATF guy, full black uniform and semi-automatic weapon. They pulled us over because our car does not have any license plates (the car had just been purchased by Jucy when they gave it to us, so the plates had not come in yet. And of course our temporary tag expired 9/30.) I could not tell if the police were interrogating us or just really curious about our car and what we were doing. Either way, they made us exit the car and did a thorough search. The policeman was honest with us and said even though we appeared quite innocent you never know these days who is transporting drugs and of course our vehicle was a perfect cover for drug trafficking. So, it became obvious the state was holding some kind of drug trafficking sting that day. He let us off with a warning for expired tags. We immediately pulled off the highway and called Jucy to get our updated tags sent ASAP.

We arrived in Savannah sans any other excitement (but I was pretty anxious until we got out of South Carolina). We spent two nights with Michael’s cousin Brian and his wife Joan in their beautiful home in Savannah. We had a lovely dinner with their son, wife and grandson.

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Day 50: Williamsburg

We reserved a whole day to spend in Colonial Williamsburg.

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That is enough time to see about half of what is available which gives you a good sense of things but not enough time to see everything.  We noticed most of the people (retirees) were buying 3 day passes.

We started the day attending a presentation of the Marquis de Lafayette

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and an American friend of his, James, who was enslaved, but then became a double agent during the war and was eventually freed. I personally really enjoy these re-enactments because they really do bring history to life. I love to ask them questions about issues of the times. After James told his story about spying and being freed, I asked Lafayette about his thoughts on slavery and he provided a very passionate response. The actors are so knowledgeable about the people they play that you feel like you are getting a much more accurate and truer presentation of history than you might get from history books or movies.

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Afterward we wandered around stepping into the shops to see the tradespeople. We visited the apothecary, the blacksmith, the wig maker (that was cool!), the book binder, the printer, the silversmith, the jewelry maker and the weaver. I could not get Shayna away from the little mini-loom. (That was the only hands-on activity).

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There are also multiple houses that can be toured, which gives you some insight to the high powered families of the 1700/1800s. We also had a tour of the Capital and the Palace. There are a few taverns to eat at that have traditional recipes but every one of them had a wait. That is why you need multiple days to see everything! We ended up at the bakery for pre-made sandwiches – yuck!

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The day ended with a “closing ceremony” which included a shooting of the canon and a speech by James Madison. Then the actor went out of character, introduced himself and thanked everybody for supporting Colonial Williamsburg. It is a privately run, non-profit organization. I was a bit disappointed that there were not more hands-on activities for kids. When I went with my family in 1976, we had half a day that we spent spooling wool and dipping candles, which provided vivid memories of Williamsburg. Maybe they have those activities in the summer. However, there still is nothing like Colonial Williamsburg anywhere else, and even just walking around, listening to the re-enactment characters and visiting the preserved buildings provides a step back into history to learn first hand about that period of time.

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Day 49: Jamestown

Sunday we drove down to Williamsburg, VA. We arrived in town mid-day, so we checked in to our RV park. With only half of a day, we did not have enough time to see Williamsburg, so between the Yorktown and Jamestown sites, we opted for Jamestown, based on a recommendation of a well-traveled friend. It is a re-creation of the Jamestown settlement from 1607. Shayna really enjoyed it.

We started with a small exhibit about the life of Pocahontas.

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We watched a short video about Jamestown but decided to bypass the museum so we would have enough time to visit the interactive sites.

First there is a re-creation of a Powatan Indian village,

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including traditional games and food, which the dressed up staff are preparing (we did not get to taste it.)

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The site is a state park and the dressed up staff are state employees. Some that we met have been working there for 15 years. It is a career position for them. Their knowledge about the settlement and time period and their skills are soooo impressive. Each person we talked with gave us a full history lesson.

After the village we climbed aboard one of the re-created ships.

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Again, the staff provided incredible accounts of what like was like for these original settlers on their voyage.

We were running out of time and still had to visit the Fort. Everything in the fort was built by the staff using time specific tools and resources. Shayna was particularly intrigued by the blacksmithing. But we also visited the kitchen, the woodworker, the gunsmith,

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and dressed up in traditional armor.

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We were the last ones to leave the site!

Day 48: Mt. Vernon

I had a hard time deciding between Mt. Vernon and Monticello since we don’t have time for both. I recently read a book about Thomas Jefferson, “The First Daughter” so I was anxious to see Monticello. When I posed the question to google, most things I read said Mt. Vernon over Monticello (next trip!). We allotted ourselves the whole day to explore Mt. Vernon. We took the subway/bus to get there which is really what made it such a long day. It is about 15 miles outside of DC but that is over an hour by subway/bus. However, we met a lovely couple from England on the way out and and a nice couple from Utah on the way back, so the time went quickly.

It is easy to understand why Washington preferred to be home. It is such a beautiful, secluded, serene area. You can easily imagine what it was like over 200 years ago, even more secluded than it is now. We started with a tour of the main house.

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The most amazing aspect is knowing you are walking the same grounds as so many renowned historical figures. The Washington’s had visitors 360 days a year. You can just imagine who all of those people were – from The Marquis de Lafayette, to many of the Revolutionary War era figures.

After the tour, we explored the grounds, the gardens, and enslaved quarters and ran into Martha so we chatted with her a bit.

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We then had an appointment with Christopher, George Washington’s valet. It was an incredibly informative tour (called “Through Their Eyes”) with him of the grounds as he described his typical day and what life was like for him and the other enslaved. During his talk Christopher hinted at some “drama” that occurred while they lived in Philadelphia during Washington’s presidency. After no one else in the group said anything, and knowing that a few of the slaves had run away while they were in Philadelphia, I pressed Christopher on the issue, and he shared the whole story. Turns out, by law, in Philadelphia any enslaved person that becomes a citizen of Philadelphia (after living there for one full year), becomes free. Christopher explained that every 11 months Washington would send his slaves out of Philadelphia to prevent that from happening.

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I would say that one of the main themes we are hearing about throughout our tours is the dilemma/contradiction/hypocrisy of the founding father’s, their writing of the Declaration of Independence, yet not abolishing slavery nor releasing their own slaves.  While many of our founding father’s have been placed on pedestals for their accomplishments in forming our country, today’s discussions are knocking them off those pedestals and allowing us to recognize their achievements while also analyzing their weaknesses and biases.

After that tour, we headed to the Washington tomb and happened to arrive while they were performing a wreathe ceremony so we were able to participate and get up close to the tomb since they opened the gates for the ceremony. The monument to the enslaved was right there as well. That day there had been a special event honoring the enslaved and they had laid flowers on all of the grave sites of the enslaved which are currently outlined in colored string. They are currently renovating the site; after many years of neglect most of the grave markers have disappeared. Shayna was selected to present the wreathe for the ceremony.

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In my mind I had been saving Sunday to do a few more things around DC that we still wanted to see. Once we arrived home, I checked our itinerary and realized we were actually supposed to leave the next day.  Once again, lots that we did not get to do (Air and Space Museum, Newseum, Natural History Museum, etc.). So, we had just enough time to do some laundry, clean up, get packed, do some grocery shopping and hit the road again – back to the van!

Day 47: I Spy

There is so much to do in Washington it is difficult to narrow down the options. As with most of the places we have been, we are selecting our top choices, knowing we are going to have to come back. We continually say to each other, “Well, we have to come back again sometime with Eli, so we’ll do “x” then.”

On Friday we started the day with a trip to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. It is a quick, very orchestrated tour, unlike The Mint in Philadelphia which was self-guided and you could take your time. We still enjoyed seeing how money is made. By the way, don’t expect the new Harriet Tubman $20 bill anytime soon. The guide said MAYBE 10-20 years from now. (It is not political – it is just incredibly difficult and time consuming to change the appearance of currency.)

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After that we went next door to the Holocaust museum. We only went through the kid friendly exhibits. There is a child centered exhibit which gives a simple overview of a child’s experience of the holocaust. Very safe yet informative for Shayna. We talked about the architecture of the building and why it might be designed the way it is (it has a clear ceiling so you can see the sky, sort of like what it might have been like in a ghetto where there are walls all around except up). We lit candles in a memory/meditation room and looked at a wall of tiles made by kids and talked about what we would put on a tile.

Our last activity of the day was the Spy Museum, one of Shayna’s top picks. It was much more interesting than I thought it would be. The museum starts on the top floor where there are exhibits on all of the different tools and techniques of being a spy, with some hands on activities.

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Shayna loved it and really absorbed the information. But then the rest of the museum focuses on how spies were used in all the wars, including the Revolutionary War, which of course makes sense but surprising to learn. (Today in Colonial Williamsburg we met a slave who was a double agent during the Revolutionary War – another connection of our experiences.)

One thing I learned was that Pearl Harbor could potentially have been prevented but there was a breakdown in communications between US intelligence agencies. There were also multiple biographies on famous spies and spy rings throughout American history – so many fascinating stories.

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The bottom floor of the museum included a James Bond exhibit, summaries of many of the films, artifacts from the films and clips of the films. (That exhibit may be temporary). The museum itself is moving to a much larger location closer to the Mall next year.

Day 46: “Monument”al Day

After being in New York and Philadelphia one of the stand out factors about Washington DC is how BIG everything in. As someone pointed out, there are no sky scrapers here, but the building have such large footprints. Not only are the buildings huge, but there is also so much space, the streets are wide, the subway stations feel so open, the ceilings are high and curved making it feel incredibly spacious. The people and crowds are just dwarfed by the size of everything.

Talking about large, we began our day with a ride on the subway to Arlington Cemetery. We walked around a bit checking out the memorials until it was time for a changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

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At first Shayna did not really understand why such a ceremony for only one soldier. So, we talked about the significance of the tomb and 24 hour guard. She was so enthralled by it that we ended up staying for 2 guard changes and 1 wreathe ceremony.

As we were trying to find the Kennedy site, we happened across the Arlington House which was the home of Robert E. Lee. The house and site are not in great shape and are about to be shut down for a very needed renovation.

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But what was interesting for us was that Robert E. Lee was married to the great granddaughter of George and Martha Washington. Their daughter was the one who preserved many of the Washington memorabilia including his war tents which were eventually sold to a Vicar who then gave them to the Smithsonian, one of which we saw at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. It is exciting to see the connections among the places we are visiting.

Afterward we had a picnic on the Mall (which Shayna thought was a shopping mall until we saw it – I try not to tell her too much about sites ahead of time so she can be surprised and have her own impressions). Then we decided to go to the Smithsonian – yeah, right, which part? Shayna selected the American History museum. She really enjoyed it and was especially glad to find it was more about artifacts than information. We saw an exhibit on the dresses of the First Ladies (we tried to guess the time period of the dresses before we looked at the names), saw Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, an exhibit on technology, past and present, an exhibit on voting, one on inventions and one on democracy, oh and one called “Many Voices“. Anyone seeing the hidden message here? But our favorite was the exhibit about Food, how food has changed over the past couple generations. And our favorite display: Julia Child’s kitchen!

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However, the highlight of our day was an evening bike ride tour of the National Monuments. It was about 3 hours, 4 miles and 10 people.

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Washington DC is pretty flat so it is not strenuous and even though it was dark the pathways are so well maintained we did not worry about bumps and uneven pavement. Seeing the monuments at night is definitely a trend. One of the most crowded places of our visit to DC was the Lincoln Memorial at 8:30 at night. We started at the Jefferson Memorial,

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then went to see the FD Roosevelt memorial. It is new since I was here last and seems beautiful but the lights nor  the fountains were on so I feel like we probably missed out on seeing one of the best monuments.

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After that we went to the MLK Memorial,

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then the Korean War Memorial which is brilliantly designed,

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and then the Vietnam Memorial. The guide told us a lot about the controversy over it’s design and the designer, which we discussed more after seeing it, and that whole process really helped me better appreciate the significance of the design and its impact. (The story is a bit long to write here, but I am happy to share it with anyone who wants to hear about it.). Overall, the more current Memorials have so much more meaning and significance to their designs than the original presidential monuments, which creates much more of a sense of reverence and emotion when you see them. We also saw the Lincoln, Washington and the World War II Memorials.

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