Thursday, August 17, 2017

Summer activities in Plymouth, MA

Plymouth has a great location on Cape Cod Bay and has plenty of beach area along with great historical things to visit. Plymouth is a very family friendly destination and in the summer, the long days allow for even more time to do all the things that are available. Summer activities in Plymouth, Mass. offer excitement for every member of the family.

Plimoth Plantation

Plimoth Plantation is a reconstructed village that is a living history museum. In the village, the year is 1627 and you get a chance to see how the colonists survived. The houses can be visited and there are costumed role players who have taken on the identity of the colonists who populated the village. You will learn about their thoughts, opinions, and life. There are gardens for vegetables but also for flowers. They go about their lives and you basically walk into their lives. They stay in character and especially encourage children to learn and interact with them.

Also at Plimoth Plantation, is an Indian homesite. The Wampanoag were the original residents of this area and in the early days, were very helpful to the Pilgrims. While the home site is traditional, the people who are on this site are real Native Americans and are not in character, they will discuss the Native American experience from a modern day perspective.

There is a lot more to do at Plimoth Plantation, you can spend the whole day here.

 Mayflower II

Berthed in Plymouth Harbor is the Mayflower II. Walking onboard and seeing the conditions and the small space where the Pilgrims spent their days on the journey to America is an eye opener for children and adults alike. Crew members onboard are happy to answer questions and as a matter of fact, really appreciate the interaction. This is enjoyable for the entire family.

White Horse Beach

With its great location on Cape Cod Bay, you would expect Plymouth to have great beaches, and they do. White Horse Beach is a public beach. There are some cons of this beach, it is far from the parking lot and there are no bathrooms, but on the upside, on a hot day, if you are not staying at a beachfront hotel, this is a great way to cool off and also to enjoy a picnic lunch

Plymouth Harbor Cruise

Summer is the perfect time to take a cruise of Plymouth Harbor. The Pilgrim Belle is a paddle wheeler which offers daily cruises in the summer months. You can also choose to take a brunch or dinner cruise.

Harbor Activities

The end of August is the time for the Waterfront Festival. It offers a craft fair, car show, food trucks and vendors and a whole lot more. Check out their website for a full list of events and activities.

With this many things to do, you will probably want to stay overnight in town. The Pilgrim Sands Motel is a resort located right on the beach and The John Carver Inn has a convenient downtown location and a pool that children will really enjoy, it is a big attraction.

Plymouth offers visitors a wide variety of summer activities, these are just a few of them. Of course, it goes without saying, you will also want to take a look at Plymouth Rock.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Amazing Forest Park in St Louis, Mo.

Forest Park is one of the largest urban parks in the world. It is 500 acres larger than Central Park in New York City, just to put it in perspective. It was created in 1874 and at the dedication ceremony, Chauncey Shultz described it this way "I present to you, the people of St Louis, this large and beautiful "Forest Park" for the enjoyment of yourselves, your children and your children's children forever...the rich, the poor, the merchant and mechanic, the professional and the day laborer, each with his family and lunch basket, can come and enjoy his own, all without stint to hindrance and there will be no notice "Keep off the Grass". I am delighted to say that his vision is very much alive today.

Forest Park has been the site of some wonderful history. In 1904, the St Louis World’s Fair took place on the grounds of the park. This was one of the most amazing events in the history of St Louis with over twenty million people coming to see all the exhibits. This was the largest World's Fair ever and it changed the park into a magical world of entertainment and exhibition. When it was all over, the park was returned to its original park like setting.
Around the same time, it was decided that St Louis could use a municipal golf course and it was also constructed in Forest Park. It is still around today, having been upgraded and updated many times over the years. The great pleasure it brings to St Louis residents has never diminished.

Forest Park is surrounded by museums among them are the St Louis Museum of Art, the Missouri Museum of History and the St. Louis Science Center. The St Louis Zoo is also located in Forest Park. This park really does have something for everyone.
Forest Park St LLouis is open to all people, there were several large family groups with their tables, chairs, volleyball nets and grills enjoying the grass and shade within the park when we were there. Joggers, skaters, and walkers were active everywhere even though it was in the high 90's.

Paddle boats were for rent in one of the ponds and some of the most beautiful fountains I have ever seen. This is what a park should be, free, open and accessible to everyone. It is also very confusing to drive through which is how we got to see so much of it while traveling between museums.  I highly recommend Forest Park if you plan to be in the St. Louis area.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Garden Rockford, Illinois

Tinker Swiss Cottage in Rockford, Ill. is designed to look as if it were in Switzerland. As a matter of fact, it is one of the few houses of Swiss style still in existence in the United States. Robert Tinker became enamored with the design style on a trip to Switzerland and decided to create one in of all places, Rockford. In his own words, "I only wanted to build a home that would give Rockford a name." The location of the gardens is historic, it belonged to one of the founders of the city of Rockford, Germanicus Kent. The house itself is located on a bluff overlooking Kent Creek. 

Robert is an interesting man. He was born in Hawaii, his parents were missionaries and he came to Rockford to work for the company that John Manny had built in Rockford. He married Mary Door Manny, the rich widow of John, 8 years his senior. She had a mansion that had belonged to her first husband but he wanted to have a place that he created. The Tinkers had no children of their own but they raised Mrs. Tinker's two nieces. After Mrs. Tinker and one of the nieces died, Robert married the other niece, Jessie, and together they adopted a child. He became a father at the ripe old age of 72. 

The 20 room cottage was donated by the second Mrs. Tinker to the Rockford Park District. It opened as a museum in 1943. It is a time capsule of the Victorian age. The Tinkers were the only people to ever live in the house (75 years) and it is filled with original furnishings, portraits, and diaries. It almost feels as if the family is out for the day and will be back at any moment.

The house must be visited on a guided tour. All tours begin in the barn. The first room you enter into is the conservatory. It was the last addition that the Tinkers made to the home. Of particular interest is the library with its soaring ceiling. A railing running around the second level is created from carved wood. A gorgeous wood staircase connects the library to the second-floor balcony. Surprisingly, there are very few books in the library but the Tinker book collection does contain some rare first additions.

On most days, there would not be two busloads of people visiting but that was the reality the day that we visited. It did affect our ability to move from room to room and also to get our guide to answer questions. In spite of that, it was an amazing experience.

Many special details around the house are special including painted ceilings and wonderful fireplaces. Look for the portrait of Robert Tinker in the formal parlor. 

You can visit two levels of Swiss Cottage and also the gardens. The museum is open every day except Monday. Check the website for hours and prices. A variety of special events take place at the museum seasonally as well as exhibits.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Late summer getaway to the Hudson River Valley

We live in Connecticut, the Hudson River Valley is an easy drive and makes an ideal destination for a late summer getaway for a week or a weekend. You just go out Interstate 84 and then take Route 9 North once you get to Fishkill. Within minutes, you are in the heart of the Hudson River Valley. 

We began our weekend on Friday by having lunch at the Culinary Institute of America. This is something that you have to plan well in advance, actually, months is not a bad idea. Dining here is very popular and if you don't plan ahead you may not get the restaurant of your choice. Before you decide which one you want to dine at, be sure to check the dress code, yes, some of the restaurants have a dress code.

It was August when we were there and we wanted to be able to wear casual clothes so we chose to dine at American Bounty Restaurant. It was one of the highlights of the weekend and I highly recommend that if you are going to be in Hyde Park you plan to dine here.

The Hudson River Valley offers many places to visit. We had to limit ourselves to just a few since we didn't have that much time. Several historic mansions are perfect for a visit. We chose the Vanderbilt Mansion and the Italianate Gardens. The Mansion has a beautiful location on the Hudson River and it is quite interesting to see how the other half lived. It was very hot inside the mansion however so I would recommend a visit in the fall when heat isn't such an issue. The gardens in August were gorgeous.

On Sunday we also visited the Samuel Morse home which was quite interesting as well. Several important homes in the area that we didn't get to include Springwood, FDR's home, and Eleanor Roosevelt's home Val-Kil. We opted to go to the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome since one of our friends is more of airplane enthusiasts than a historic homes person. The aerodrome is a great place for the whole family. Not only are there a lot of airplanes on the ground but your ticket gets you a seat at the air show.

If you enjoy shopping, downtown Rhinebeck is lots of fun, there are plenty of small shops to poke around in. On the way home, we also stopped at the Millbrook Vineyard and took a tour through their operation. You get to sample some of their very fine wines as well as learning about the production and bottling of wine.

On this particular trip, the "Inn" I chose was not at all what we were expecting. I would not recommend it however, we have stayed at the Hyatt House in Fishkill and it is a step above most hotels and we just loved the old fashioned charm of the Roosevelt Inn in Hyde Park. 

The Hudson River Valley has a lot to offer any visitor in just about any season. Located just an hour north of New York City it is a little piece of heaven that several famous people obviously recognized.

Monday, July 31, 2017

SpringHill Suites Mooresville, NC

I loved the location of this SpringHill Suites at first sight. It is just a mile off I-77 but is located in a quiet area of small stores and restaurants. It is easy to get in and out of and has been recently renovated. The lobby is very welcoming with a very large breakfast area with a bar where evening drinks can be purchased. A small but well-stocked store is located next to the front desk.

The pool area is very nice. The pool is small and is only 4 feet at the deepest but it is clean. We particularly enjoyed the hot tub which was just the right temperature. One of the benefits of arriving around 3 p.m. is that we were the only ones in the pool area. A small gym is located near the pool area and also a business center.

We reserved a king suite. It is a nice sized room. Actually, it is two rooms. The living room area has a large sofa which is also a sofa bed. There is also a desk where you can work using their free WiFi. On the opposite side of the room are a bar with a Keurig coffee pot, a fridge, sink and a microwave. My only complaint was that there were only two K-cups one regular and one decaf. I asked the desk staff for another one of each so that we could both have a cup of coffee tonight and tomorrow.

The bedroom has the king sized bed and not much else other than night stands and the closet. The bed was very comfortable but even though there were plenty of pillows I was very disappointed that none of them was feather or down. At the price I paid to stay here I expected at least one or two to be down or feather.

The bathroom has the split design with the sink in the hallway outside of the actual bathroom. Nothing special about that just the usual tub shower combo. Good pressure in the shower and it was quite a spacious room.

The TV is located on a dresser which is between the bedroom and the living room and it can swivel so that it can be watched in either room.

Breakfast is included in the rate here. It is substantial. The usual cooked scrambled eggs and sausage with the addition of grits. Ham and two types of cheese were offered as well as yogurt, boiled eggs, fresh strawberries, apples, and bananas. They also had oatmeal with all the fixings and cold cereal. Two types of toast, English muffins, croissant, two types of bagels, poppy cake and another type of coffeecake. Three flavors of juice and coffee round out the offerings.

Several dining options are available within walking distance. We opted for Jeffrey’s and it was excellent.

If you are passing through this area I highly recommend Spring Hill Suites as a stop, it is quiet, clean, comfortable and convenient. What more could you ask?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Why staying with family on vacation is a great idea

Vacations are important. They are family times and they also help us to recharge. Hotel rooms can be very expensive especially in the summer. There are times when it would not be possible if it was not for the option to stay with family on vacation. Staying with family on vacation has some really great advantages.

Saving money

The primary one, of course, is that it is very cost effective. With a week at a hotel running anywhere from $700 to well over $2,000, it is extremely cost effective to stay with family. Families also tend to provide most meals, with of course some financial donations from guests and this can be another great saving. You will, of course, want to take your hosts out for a meal and bring a nice thank you gift but still, the savings will be substantial.

Being a good guest is also important. Don’t cause a lot of extra work or expect to be waited on as if you were at a resort. Respect your host’s home and privacy and fit your schedule to theirs. They may not be on vacation and if they have to go to work don’t try to keep them up all hours of the night.

Local expert

The great thing is that your family lives in this area. They will know all the best things to see and do and it is wise to engage them in helping you plan your days. If you are lucky, they will have the time to be able to show you around themselves. Talk to them about what you have planned each day just in case they have made some plans that include you.

Catching up

Vacationing with family is a great chance to catch up. You may not get to see family except at funerals and weddings and this a great opportunity to catch up on all the latest family news and to reminisce about things from the past. This can help forge new family bonds for another generation, especially if you have children of a similar age.

We have been staying in my mother's family home for as long as I can remember. It was my aunt's house in Canada for most of that time and now it belongs to my cousin who welcomes us anytime we want to visit. 

We always consider our home in Florida an open house to any family or friends who want to visit. 

Travel companions

If you are a single traveler, staying with family is not only safe it gives you someone to go out adventuring with. It can be a cousin, your nieces, and nephews or your grandparents or parents. It might be the perfect time to develop a great relationship with your sister or brother in law.

Staying with family can offer many advantages. One thing to keep in mind is the famous quote from Ben Franklin “ Fish and guests stink after 3 days”. Make your visits short and sweet, be a welcome guest who doesn’t inconvenience your hosts and chances are you will be invited back year after year.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Visiting charming Salisbury, NC

The area around Salisbury, N.C. has been populated for hundreds of years. Before the white man arrived, the Native Americans of the Guatari and Sapona Tribes migrated around the area and were discovered here as early as the 16th century by Spanish missionaries. Settlers from other colonies coming north from South Carolina and south from Virginia arrived in the mid-18th century. They were Germans, Scotch/Irish, Welsh, and English. Salisbury itself grew up around the courthouse that was built there, in reverse of the usual process of placing a courthouse in a developed city.

Salisbury has a great history and to learn more about it, the best place to begin any visit is to head to the Rowan Museum. This is a hard museum to pigeonhole, it has a little bit of everything including being in a very historic building. The building that houses the museum is the courthouse. Not the original that lead to the building of the town, but the one from 1854 and a magnificent building it is with beautiful columns and a balcony that offers great views of the town. The fact that the building survived the Civil War is a testament to the citizens of the city of Salisbury. Plan to spend an hour or more touring through the vast number of items housed here.

There are three houses in Salisbury that are worthy of a visit. Two are operated by the Rowan Museum and one is owned by the Historic Salisbury Foundation. 

·         The Old Stone House is located out of town and is a much older house. It was built by a German farmer Michael Braun. It is in amazing condition and the craftsmanship that went into the building is evident to this day. This is the only colonial house still in existence in Rowan County. There is some period furniture in the house and it is amazing how the thick stone walls insulate this home. The family cemetery is a short walk away if you are interested.
·         The Utzman Chambers House is located in the downtown area and dates from the early 19th century. It is vastly different from the Stone House. It is furnished with period furniture and has had a very interesting life which your guide will explain to you. It has had several incarnations and been owned by a number of families. A piece of furniture owned by Daniel Boone is one of the treasures in this house.
·         The Josephus Hall House is very different from the other two homes and costumed docents will show you around. This house looks exactly what you would think an antebellum southern mansion should look like. It is furnished with period furniture and has the feel of a family home.

Salisbury Historic National Cemetery and Military Prison Site
In order to enjoy this part of the history of Salisbury to the fullest, stop by the visitor center and get one of the driving tours. There is a $5 charge for the tour but it is the perfect accompaniment to the drive around. While you are at the visitor center you can pick up brochures and information about other historic sites in the city and check opening times etc. The staff is very helpful and will make sure that you have whatever you need.

In 1861 the Confederate Government purchased land in Salisbury that included an abandoned cotton factory. This would become the base for the prisoner of war camp. In the early days of the war, prisoners could get passes and were often seen around town and it was all very friendly. Later in the war when financial hardship made feeding the troops an issue, the prison became a death camp and it was a place of deprivation and harsh conditions.

A prison that was intended to hold 2,500 was forced to keep up to 10,000 with no supplies and little food. Over the history of the camp about 15,000 men were housed here and it is thought that about one-third of them died here. The prison was burned in April 1865 and no photos remained, but there were sketches and descriptions that exist.

The area where the prison was located is a residential neighborhood today so driving through is just to get a feel for the scope and size of the prison. The real stop will be at the cemetery where the bodies of the men who died in the camp were buried in trenches. It is a poignant place and worth getting out and walking around. There are many state monuments erected to honor the fallen.

North Carolina Transportation Museum
While the transportation museum is in the next town, Spencer, it is so close that it is best added to any article about Salisbury. For train lovers, this is a must and it is a good idea to pre-book your train ride as that is very popular.

Salisbury, N.C. is one of those surprising cities which are so much more interesting when you get there than you ever expected, no matter how much research you have done. The Main Street has great restaurants and shops and there is plenty of antique shopping and a historic rail station. The local visitor center will be happy to provide you with all the information you need for a great vacation.