Colonial Williamsburg, VA

What I remember most about Colonial Williamsburg was that it was crowded and a bit chaotic. Although we purchased our tickets ahead of time, we had to stand in a 20 minute line. We found parking at the visitor center, but it was getting full. After finally getting our tickets, we walked the trail to the historic area. Not everything is open all the time. For example, on that Saturday, only certain houses were open for tours. We stopped first at John Chowning’s Tavern where we had a delicious meal. While we were waiting, we went to the Magazine to see the old weapons.

Then, we went to the Peyton Randolf House. During the tour of the two-story dark red wooden home, we learned not only about the Randolf family, but about their slaves as well. Originally owned by Sir John Randolf, the property consisted of two separate houses that were later joined together.

Along the way, we walked into the Old Courthouse to hear how people were treated back in the day. Additionally, there was a military parade – complete with drum and fife.

We went inside R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse. From what I recall, only men were allowed inside and they would sit at one large table and discuss politics and read the newspapers. On this tour, the woman dressed up like chamber maid offered us cocoa.

The precursor to Starbucks – R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse

We then went to the Rockefeller House called Bassat Hall. Most fascinating was that our tour guide was completely blind. He’d been giving tours for 20 years and knew every step of the place that you wouldn’t even realize he had a vision problem. The John D. Rockefeller Jr’s visited the area as a guest of Dr. W.A.R. Bruton and decided to restore Williamsburg to its original town design. They bought Bassat Hall home, which had been built in the mid 1700s and lived here while renovations occurred during the 1930’s and 1940’s. With it’s almost 600 acres, the house is on the far edge of Colonial Williamsburg and somewhat set apart from the town. I remember we walked in the kitchen located in the back of the house where we saw a cookbook and old recipes. It seemed a humble house for such a wealthy couple.

A demonstration at the printing shop

Along the way, various demonstrations show what colonial life was like. We saw the workings of a printing shop, book bindary, millaner and shoe cobbler.

Waiting for the tour of the Capitol to begin

Later that day, we took a tour of the Capitol. We were in a large group of 30 people but got to see where the House of Burgesses met. One side was for the House of Burgesses and the other for the Council. A rectangular room connected the two wings. Upstairs, was a large room with tables for signing things. With it’s green tablecloths, it felt more like a Revolutionary blackjack hall.

Blackjack Anyone?

The next morning, we were more rested and toured the Governor’s Palace. Being a Sunday morning, there were fewer people and a more enjoyable experience. The front room was completely filled with armor. We learned how Governor John Murray, also called Lord Dunmore barricaded himself in the palace, before fleeing back to England after the Gunpowder Incident of 1775. At the back was a beautiful blue ballroom. Outside, the backyard boasted beautiful gardens.

Ballroom at the Governor’s Palace

Overall, Williamsburg is a fun and educational place to visit. Be prepared for crowds and plan to spend more than one day so you can tour more buildings. Go online to study the map and plan out times of various tours.

 

For more information, visit here.

 

 

 

This was my review on TripAdvisor which explains the ticket situation in better detail.

You really need to buy the ticket to get the Colonial Williamsburg experience, but prepare for lots of walking and crowds. It was like Disney for History Buffs. We got to the Visitor’s Center around noon on Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. We had purchased tickets ahead of time online, but had to stand in a “pick up tickets” line for about 20 minutes. Although there were several computer kiosks to print out tickets, they had run out of the plastic clips to wear your tickets (required) so we had to stand in line anyway. There appeared to be 10 ticket stations, but only 3 attendants on duty. I felt they could have been better prepared for Memorial Day tourists.

What makes the visit confusing and chaotic is that not every place is open every day of the week so you have to make a strategic plan of what to see. For example, the Randolph House was closed on Sundays, the Joiner was closed on Fridays and Saturdays, but the Thomas Everand House was closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Some sites like the James Geddy House and the Printing shop were open every day, but only until 1pm, while others like the Bindery didn’t open until 1pm. On top of all of that, there are special events for the day such as the Fife and Drum march and participation in a courthouse trial. It should also be noted that most of the houses, the Capitol and the Governor’s Palace are all about 25 minute tours (included in admission). However, for most of the trade shops, you can just walk into it (with a ticket) and watch a demonstration.

The next morning was a much better experience as we got there at 9am before most of the crowds. By then, we knew what to expect and planned accordingly. The tour guides are extremely knowledgable and friendly. It is truly a living history museum. Our favorite places were the Governor’s Palace, Charlton’s Coffee House (a historic tour, not a place to buy coffee), and the Gunsmith shop.

Overall, I recommend this, but be prepared – buy tickets online, research their website for opening/closings of each site, have a game plan, and stay at least 2 days.


Old Town Kotor, Montenegro

Montenegro. Just saying it out loud sounds like a place somewhere in Africa. It is not. It’s a new country located south of Croatia in what was part of the old Yugoslavia.

A view of Old Town Kotor from St. John’s Fortress

Our port of call was Kotor, located on the Bay of Kotor. Although Montenegro is a relatively new country (only 11 years old), it is steeped with history. To learn more, we booked a 90-minute walking tour of the Old City. Our guide, Yelena explained Montenegro’s turbulent history. It was ruled by Rome, Serbia, Hungary, Bosnia and a few others until becoming part of the Venetian Republic in 1420. It stayed that way for almost 400 years.

The Austrians took it over in 1797 and basically held on to it (except for a few years when Russian and France had control) until the formation of Yugoslavia in 1918. Even after the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, Montenegro went through several changes until they finally gained independence in 2006 from Serbia-Montenegro.

On top of all that political turmoil, Montenegro has been rocked (no pun intended) by major earthquakes in 1563, 1667 and 1979. After the one in 1667, over half of the town was destroyed. The clock tower, built in 1602, now has a slight lean to it and the bell towers at St. Tryphon’s Cathedreal had to be rebuilt.

Cathedral of St. Tryphon

 

Our first stop was inside the Cathedral of St. Tryphon. Built in 1166, it is considered one of the oldest Romanesque cathedrals on the Adriatic coast. St Tryphon became the patron saint of Kotor when Venetians carrying his body were caught in a storm and had to stop in the city. The townspeople felt it was meant for St. Tryphon’s body to stay in city. Every February, Montenegrins celebrate St. Tryphon’s Day.

 

Although the interior is somewhat bare compared to the lavish cathedrals in larger European cities, St. Tryphon’s boasts a reliquary on the second floor. Also called the Treasury museum, it features beautiful icons, relics and church vestments through the ages. Additionally, we walked out onto a balcony with a view of the main St. Tryphon’s square.

We walked into the Church of St. Nicholas. Whereas St. Tryphon’s is Catholic; St. Nicholas is an Eastern Orthodox church. Yelena, now in her twenties and Eastern Orthodox, explained that the young people of Kotor don’t go to church much anymore. The service is very time-consuming at at least 90 minutes long. Additionally, worshipers stand the entire time.

While the Church of St. Nicholas is somewhat tucked away, it makes up for it with it’s lavish interior.

Yelina urged us to order a strong, red wine made from local grapes at one of the restaurants. We tried the Vranic and I loved it – so much so that we ordered a case once we got back to the States.

As our tour concluded, we walked by the “Pillar of Shame” near the gate of the Old City. At one time, criminals were publicly humiliated by being tied to the structure for a period of time. For second offenses, criminals couldn’t enter the city gates. Below, my in-laws pretend to be tied up to the monument.

For more information about Kotor, click here. Also, read about hiking up to St. John’s Fortress – it is not to be missed!

 

 


A North Carolina Thanksgiving

Tired of cooking every Thanksgiving, our family decided to try something different. We wanted to go somewhere out to eat that wasn’t ridiculously expensive and we wanted to have time to do at least one hike.

After some research, we decided on Highlands, NC. Starting early that morning, we drove up to Whiteside Mountain to hike the 2.5-mile loop trail. The weather was crisp and because most of the leaves had already fallen, we had spectacular views.

Whiteside Mountain

We weren’t alone on the hike. Many people were also there before feasting on Thanksgiving dinner. We had reservations at the Main Street Inn in Highlands. Our reservation was for 3 p.m. but we had a little time to walk around the quaint downtown area. We ducked into the Old Edwards Inn and admired their Christmas tree.

It’s beginning to look like Christmas at Old Edwards Inn

Finally, we walked over to Main Street Inn where we ate a wonderful Thanksgiving buffet. Besides turkey and ham, the restaurant offered a wide array of side dishes – green beans, collard greens, sweet potatoes, macaroni & cheese, cornbread dressing, traditional dressing, corn and more. Desserts were plentiful as well – apple pie, pecan pie, pumpkin pie. They also had cookies and a peanut butter parfait.

The Main Street Inn

With full stomachs, we drove over to High Hampton Inn in Cashiers. We had stayed there for Thanksgiving a few years ago and remembered the large fireplaces and beautiful lake.

High Hampton Inn

High Hampton is a bit more formal. It was fun to see families gathering for the upcoming dinner seating with their coats, ties and suits. Outside, families were taking group photos around the lake.

My favorite activity is sitting by the large fireplace with a good book. Built in 1932, the inn feels like a National Park lodge.

After spending a delightful Thanksgiving Day, it was time to return home. But the trip was not without more great views of western North Carolina!


Hiking up to San Giovanni Castle in Kotor, Montenegro

The word Montenegro, which means “Black Mountains,” aptly describes this enchanted area south of Croatia. As our ship traveled through the Bay of Kotor, the captain recommended we get up early to watch the majestic mountains loom on both sides of the ship.

Since we were up early to watch the sunrise, I decided to disembark as soon as we docked. I wanted to take the hike to San Giovanni Castle (or St. John’s Fortress) before it got hot and crowded.

As I walked through Old Town Kotor, I felt I had most of the place to myself. Quiet. Empty restaurants and shuttered souvenir shops greeted me as I meandered through the stone streets to the hike. Once there, I paid the fee of a couple of Euros and began the ascent to the top.

Words can’t describe the hike. It was long and often ardous with gravel lined paths and 1,300 stone steps, but the views of the mountain, the bay and the town below were breathtaking.

The Church of the Lady of Remedy dates back to 1518

About a third of the way up sits a small church built almost inside the mountain. For those not able to continue the hike, this is a great spot to sit, take in the views and head back down.

The town below got smaller and smaller as I continued the 3,900 foot climb uphill. Soon, I saw the castle walls. Built over numerous centuries, I could see why it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Every time I thought I was at the top, there was more to see. I kept climbing until finally reached it. I had to ask someone to take my picture in front of the flag to prove I had completed the hike.

At the top of St. John’s Fortress

You would think the view would be the same on the way down. It was not. I saw things I had missed on the way up. I spent most of my time on the descent, appreciating the surrounding beauty since the hardest part of the hike was behind me. Everywhere I turned, there was another great photo opportunity.

The sun rose higher above the town and more people were coming against me on the trail.

I wanted to stay up there the rest of the day, but I had to meet up with my family to take our tourĀ  As I entered the Old Town again, it was bustling with activity. My recommendation is to do the hike first thing in the morning. It will be less crowded and you’ll have cooler temperatures.

For more information on Kotor, click here.