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.


New Echota State Historic Site – Calhoun, GA

Do you remember the Trail of Tears?

Sadly, the only thing I could tell you was it had to do with Native American Indians being forced to move out West. It seems my history classes focused more on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War than anything else.

Did you also know that the Cherokee Indians tried to get along with the white man by adopting many of their styles in clothing? They adopted a government similar to ours with three branches? They also had a written language and a weekly newspaper. In fact, the Cherokee Indians were about 90% literate.

The print shop where the weekly Cherokee Phoenix newspaper was printed.

My lack of knowledge was apparent when we visited the New Echota State Historic Park. Until then, my perception of Native American Indians was from TV Westerns. In my mind, they were savage groups of people who viciously attacked settlers moving out West. They wore warpaint, little clothing and were completely uncivilized. That may have been the case at some point, but not by the 1800’s in Georgia.

During the 17-minute film at the visitor center, I learned many new things. First of all, the area was named New Echota after the original Echota in Tennessee. New Echota was developed around 1825 and served as the capital of the Cherokee Nation until the late 1830’s when the Trail of Tears forced the tribe to Oklahoma.

The Cherokee didn’t sleep in tepees, but rather had farms in this well laid out town complete with a tavern, print shop and silversmith.

Interior of a Cherokee farmhouse

They also had three branches of government set up similar to the United States. Also on display were the recreated Council House and Supreme Court building.

The Council House

 

Inside the Council House

The Reverend Samuel Worcester resided here with his Cherokee wife and six children at the edge of the town. It is the only surviving building from the 1830’s.

The only original building belonged to Rev. Worcester

 

Dining room inside Rev. Worcester’s house

What happened to this peaceful town? Gold — or rather the discovery of gold at nearby Dahlonega caused efforts to remove the Native American Indians to quickly ramp up. Rev. Worcester sued the state of Georgia in 1831 and the case went to the Supreme Court. Although the highest court ruled in favor of the Cherokee Nation, President Andrew Jackson ignored it. Additionally, three prominent leaders  – Major Ridge, John Ridge and Elias Boudinot (owner of the newspaper) signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835 without the consensus of Chief John Ross and the majority of the Cherokee. Because of this betrayal, the three men were later assassinated. But the damage was done, in 1838 the Cherokee were forced to move into stockades and ultimately westward.

It is a sad chapter in U.S. history, but thankfully the park was begun in 1962. Today, a volunteer explained the workings of the printing press and how much work went into getting the weekly newspaper printed. Did you know they stored all the type (individual letters to form words) in cabinet drawers. The Capital letters were in the top drawer and the rest in lower drawers. Hence the term uppercase and lowercase letters!

After spending a few days putting the type together in columns, print shop workers would ink the press, lay the paper down and press with the large lever. Then, they had to hang up the paper to allow the ink to dry before printing the other side.

Our volunteer demonstrates the printing process

The entire site was a fascinating look at history. The site was opened in the 1962 after archaeologists excavated the area in the 1950’s. Today, it is open Wednesdays through Saturdays. For more information, click here.


The Rock Garden – Calhoun, GA

 

My hairdresser told me she and her boyfriend did a weekend in Calhoun, GA. Located in the northwestern corner of Georgia, this community gets overlooked by many Atlantans. Since it’s only about an hour away, it’s too far to be a suburb, but too close to be a destination like Chattanooga.

We needed to get driving practice in for our teenagers and since it was Labor Day weekend, we were itching to get out of the city and do something different. We took Hannah’s advice and went to see the Rock Garden in Calhoun.

When I think of rock gardens, I think of front-yard landscaping in Arizona houses – brown and ugly. This is totally different. It’s more like whimsical castles and bridges made out of rock pebbles. And it’s totally free!

The gardens are located behind the Calhoun 7th Day Adventist Church, who also owns the land. The garden was started by Dewitt Boyd, aka “Old Dog” in 2007. He and other volunteers have spent years working on the different formations. The first one we came to was dedicated to one of the ministers of the church and had names of people in the rocks that contributed. As part of the building, there was a large rock wall that made a secluded outdoor living space to sit and reflect.

On of the first structures and leads to outdoor room

As we walked around more of these structures, we were amazed to see the detail work involved – arches in the windows, climbing staircases around towers, even a few mini-figures placed inside some of the rooms. But what’s even more neat is that the area is a true garden. Impatiens, hostas and ferns flank many of the rock castles. Sometimes, the turrets and walls serve as planters. A small pond is situated along the back side and there’s even a castle that drapes over the lake.

This castle built over the water serves as a planter for ferns.

It’s a relaxing place and you can walk among the buildings.  However, plenty of seating areas dot the garden for quiet reflection including a wooden gazebo.

The area has plenty of seating

The buildings aren’t always made out of pebbles. Sometime, the artists use marbles, seashells, broken glass and other items that have significance to them. One of my favorites is the replica of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, which uses stained glass for the windows.

The replica of Notre Dame

For more information about The Rock Garden, directions and hours of admission, click here.


Touring a Castle – Gorizia, Italy

Gorizia Castle

For those who’ve never heard of Gorizia, this small Italian town lies near the border of Slovenia. At various times, it has been ruled by the Venetians, French and Austrians. At the beginning of WWI, it was under Austrian rule until being conquered by the Italians in 1916 and again in 1918. To make matters more confusing, the boundary was also disputed after WWII when outlying areas of the town went to Yugoslavia in 1947.

It’s no wonder that a WWI museum is located here. But you wouldn’t know today that so many battles were fought here. Instead, the red-tiled town (which was mainly rebuilt in the 1920s due to significant damage in WWI) seems peaceful and definitely not touristy.

My other daughter quickly vetoed the plan to see a war museum. Thankfully, Gorizia Castle is located next door and we went to visit it while my husband and other daughter went to the trenches.

Between the two landmarks lies a stone church with a postage-size front yard. We chose to meet here 90 minutes later.

Climbing up the large steps, we entered a stone gate. With the castle to our right and the outer wall to our left, we ascended up the hill. Soon, an ivy-covered turret area appeared and we climbed the wall to see a birds-eye view of the town.

 

At the top, we paid the admission price, which was only 3 or 4 Euros and entered the venerable 11th century structure. What surprised me the most was seeing furniture in each of the rooms. Usually with structures this old, you pass by a room and a placard might say it was the dining room. In this case, the dining room had actual dining room furniture.

The dining room

Due to damage throughout the centuries, the city undertook a massive restoration campaign from 1935-1937 to restore the castle to its original splendor. We noticed that all the rooms came off of a large courtyard which we later learned is called the Court of the Lanzi. I always wondered how they had light inside the structure and this explained light coming from the outer wall and the courtyard.

Court of the Lanzi serves as the hub of the castle

Upstairs, we went into a music room that had a display case of various instruments as well as several halls that served as meeting and reception rooms.

We also passed by the prison which was exhibiting a WWI exhibit. We saw many different military uniforms and learned about the different fronts and battle that occurred in the area.

 

Lastly, we walked up another flight of stairs to the chapel and nursery areas.

The chapel inside the castle

We walked through a large room that was covered but open to the outside (this room was directly above a large diplomatic room below). From here we saw amazing views of Gorizia and we could walk all the way around the castle on this walk.

A model of the castle

Walkway around the top of the castle

 

View from the top of the castle

For more information about Castello di Gorizia, click here.