Monday, March 30, 2015

Rail travel is interesting

In order to attend the genealogy conference in Fairfax, Virginia we had to figure out the best way to get there. Obviously, driving is an option but there is the traffic issue of both NYC and DC to contend with. We, Cindy and I, decided that taking Amtrak would be the less stressful way to do this.

In Connecticut you have lots of options for stations. We decided the Old Saybrook works best for us. We took a train from the station there that drop us in Burke, Virginia. This was about 12 miles from Fairfax. We could have opted for Manassas, which is where we departed from but given the traffic in this area on a weekday, I felt Burke would be a better option.

We had three different crews on the train and in both cases, a very long stop at Washington DC's Union Station, by long I mean 40 minutes. Seems crazy to me but what do I know?

We paid for business class seats in order to have roomier seats and leg room. The difference in the price was not high enough to make it a bad idea. With business class seats you can go and get free basic drinks in the cafe car.

Was it better than flying. In my opinion yes, more comfortable, less stressful and about the same price. It takes longer than a flight but when you consider how long you need to be at the airport in advance of a flight I am not sure it is all that much longer.

Cons: Were there things we didn't like, yes. Seats are not assigned so even in Business Class it can be hard to find two seat together. When we choose to upgrade we should be guaranteed a seat together. Having to pull out our tickets to show at least three times seems excessive.

Pros: The bathroom was bigger than a plane bathroom and you can walk around and go to the cafe car. The view was interesting from the windows and we met some very friendly people.

I would certainly do the train again even though we were delayed for 2.5 additional hours at Penn Station. We were not getting a lot of information but more than we ever get from the airlines in a similar situation. 

Sorry I don't have any photos from that time except for the restaurant. We spent the time talking with some great people and trying to keep abreast of what was going on and I never thought about taking pictures.  

I did learn a lesson though, make sure you can handle your luggage by yourself. I never thought about what buying books at the conference would do to my suitcase. I had a suitcase, a backpack and my purse and it was too much for comfort. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Flashback Thursday The Old Manse Concord Ma.

The Old Manse is a historic house located in the town of Concord, Mass. It was the home of literary greats Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Many of the famous Transcendental philosophers of the time would have gathered here to discuss the issues of the day. The house is located just a short distance from the Old North Bridge where the Revolutionary War began.

We visited here with our son Jason and daughter-in-law Jen. It was not our first visit to the area but it was our first with them and we had never been inside The Old Manse. We arrived in time to take the last tour of the day. The house must be visited on a guided tour. You need to be able to climb stairs to visit here. 
 You get to visit both the first floor and the upper floor of the home. On the window upstairs you will find a poem that the Sophia Hawthorn wrote to her husband etched into the window panes. Our guide was very well informed and we came away knowing a lot about not only the building but its rather famous residents. 
The Old Manse was built by Reverend William Emerson who was the grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1770. William was a Unitarian minister and also a patriot. When you consider that the Old North Bridge can be viewed from the upstairs windows of the house, you realize just how strategic its location was at the time of the American Revolution. 

Most of the tour, however, centers on the famous writers who found their muse while living here. You will see the desk where Emerson wrote his essay “Nature” and learn about the great love of Nathanial and Sophia Hawthorn. All and all, The Old Manse is a very interesting place to visit and one that should not be missed if you are in the area.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book of Kells Trinity College Dublin

On our second visit to Dublin, my list of things I wanted to see included the Book of Kells. This is located in the Old Library at Trinity College and I think it goes without saying that photography is not allowed anywhere near the books. 

The Book of Kells was created in the 9th century and is housed in a 18th century building. The Book of Kells is part of an exhibit entitled "Turning Darkness into Light". The Book is on display in the Treasury along with other manuscripts. After you view these manuscripts you head to the Long Room where other very interesting books are in glass cases and bookcases.
The Book of Kells is gorgeous. It is illuminated and the colors are still amazingly bright and vivid. It is all over in just a few minutes but take the time to see it, you won't regret it. 

This is an image which is public domain of a page from the Book of Kells.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Shopping in Dublin

I would be remiss if I didn't talk at least a little, about shopping in Dublin. On every trip we have managed to poke around at different stores to find those special things to bring home. 

The National Museum of Ireland has a very nice gift shop as many museums do and the Museum of Art does as well. We did find a few things but not everything we were looking to bring home. 

On previous trips we have gone to the shopping mall at St. Steven's Green, we didn't however do this on our latest visit. We discovered the Kilkenny Shop on Nassau Street. First the good news, you can order online from them and right now the shopping is free. They sell Irish products and not the kind covered in shamrocks that make you think of Lucky Charms, fine Irish crafts and goods. 

We absolutely loved this store and did a lot of shopping there. We then walked over to Grafton Street and went to a much more traditional Irish shop to get our wearing of the green gifts. Called Carroll's it has all the things you might like and the prices were not crazy high. 

I can't seem to locate my pictures of the Kilkenny Shop but if you visit their website you will have a good idea of what it is like. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The National Museum of Ireland-Archeology

This is one museum that I visited on all of my vacations to Dublin. The pull of the history of the Emerald Isle gets me every time. 

On our last visit, our friend wanted to go to the National Gallery of Ireland. I have been there before and art is one thing that I can see once and honestly,  that is enough. We both got out of the cab at the same place and he went one way and Al and I the other and then we met him at the Gallery for tea. 
One of the treasures of the museum is the Tara Brooch. It is a very pretty piece that was discovered more than 150 years ago and dates to the 8th century A.D.
The treasures date far into the past, there are artifacts from the Mesolithic and Paleolithic periods. You can spend a lot of time or a little, depending on your interests.

Another thing that I particularly remember is the Cross of Cong. It dates from the 12th century and was created to hold a piece of the true cross. 
I love this museum and it has changed a lot since my earlier visits. It is a lot prettier and sleeker now than it was 20 years ago. It is just one of the four museums that are part of the National Museum of Ireland.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Appomattox Virginia in Photos

The name of the location of the surrender of General Robert E Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant was at the Appomattox Count House in Appomattox, Virginia. The city is not called Appomattox Court House, that is a building. 

Since the 150th anniversary of that surrender is coming soon in April 2015 this is not the best time to visit there since the crowds are bound to be bigger than normal. We visited in January 2014 and enjoyed learning about the history. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Flashback Thursday St. Johnsbury Athenaeum

The St.Johnsbury Athenaeum is located on Main Street in St.Johnsbury, Vt. This magnificent Second Empire building was designed by John Davis Hatch for Horace Fairbanks in 1871 as a public library. Mr. Fairbanks gifted it to the people of St. Johnsbury. Horace was the nephew of Thaddeus Fairbanks who invented the platform scale and was a partner in the company his uncle had founded. Described by Time Magazine as "The oldest unaltered art gallery still standing in the United States," the Gallery at the Atheneum was added in 1873. It originally housed a goodly number of copies of old masters that had been acquired by the Fairbanks on their various trips to Europe. The determining factor in the design of the gallery, however, was the acquisition of a monumental painting by Albert Bierstadt entitled ‘The Domes of the Yosemite”.

This painting originally graced the Rotunda of the Lockwood Mansion in Norwalk, Conn. When the owner Lagrand Lockwood died, his widow needed to sell part of his estate to meet expenses and she sold the Bierstadt to the Fairbanks. It has remained here since that time and members of the Lockwood family still come to check up on “their” painting.

There was be a docent in the gallery to answer any questions as well as guidebooks that you may use to identify the paintings, they are also for sale if you want to learn more about the Athenaeum. If you have the time, there is an eight-minute headphone tour if you choose to take it. It is worth listening to but talk to the docents, they have lots of stories to tell and are more than willing to share them with you. They are also very child-friendly. One story that I particularly liked has to do with Mr. Fairbanks portrait which hangs in the Fiction Room, look closely at his feet I won’t tell you any more, you will just have to go to see for yourself.

Beyond the old master copies and the Bierstadt there is a very nice collection of American Hudson River paintings as well as other pictures that would have been painted contemporary with Mr. Fairbanks' life. I particularly like the painting by John George Brown “Hiding in the Old Oak” it shows three young girls hiding within the trunk of the tree. Until recently, it was thought that there were two girls but when the painting was cleaned the third one became visible deeper within the tree.

Keep in mind that this is still a public library and the book collection here is quite amazing. Originally consisting of 8,000 volumes, it now has over 45,000. Like most public libraries they also have Internet access on the second floor.

This building is worth visiting just to look at all the magnificent woodwork. When we visited the entrance was $5 for adults (children under 17 are free) to visit the gallery and none of the pictures anywhere in the Athenaeum may be photographed.

There is metered parking on the street.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Mountaintop Project at Monticello


Please join us to commemorate our progress on the Mountaintop Project, which has brought to life the stories of the people who lived and worked at Monticello. Explore new restoration work upstairs and on Mulberry Row that offers a better understanding of this historic landmark as a plantation and family home. FREE admission until 2:00pm; reservations for upstairs tours are recommended. Learn more about May 2 events now >>

9:30am - 10:30am
Patriotic philanthropist David M. Rubenstein moderates a panel discussion about Thomas Jefferson, slavery and the paradox of liberty. Learn more >>

    • Tom Brokaw, NBC News Special Correspondent
    • Rex M. Ellis, Associate Director, National Museum of African American History and Culture
    • Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author

10:30am - 2:00pm
Meet the people of Mulberry Row, once the plantation's "Main Street", by hearing their stories in an outdoor exhibition and the new Mulberry Row App. Learn more >>

11:30am - 2:00pm (while supplies last)
Venture up the narrow staircase to explore the family quarters, and see the newly-restored upstairs spaces. Tours available, first come , first served. Learn more >>

Monday, March 16, 2015

Emotional visit to Kilmainham Gaol

Dublin has so many places to visit, you can spend a week easily and still not see everything. One thing that I highly recommend is Kilmainham Gaol. In order to understand what is happen here, you need to know a little bit of Irish history. 

I don't plan on giving you a history lesson but take a good look at the early 20th century history of the relationship of Ireland and Great Britain. There was an uprising after World War I that lead to a great deal of violence and the death of many heroic young men. 

Al in one of the cells
Learn their story and the story of many others at Kilmainham Gaol. I personally didn't have family in Ireland during this time period, we had already crossed the ocean to either Canada or the United States. Still, I was crying during parts of this tour over the inhumanity that was going on here. If you know how much of an Anglophile I am, you can understand how emotional this was. 

The visit includes a film, a guided tour and a museum with lots of mementos of a tumultuous period of Irish history. Absolutely one of my favorites. 

You can take the hop on hop off bus to the general area. We just took a cab. There is a cafe so you can plan to spend several hours and then sit down to a cup of tea while you mull over all you have seen. I have to admit, it brought out my Irish and made me proud.
Where executions took place

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Where to find reliable travel information

When most people are planning a trip, they head directly to the Internet for travel advice. While the Internet is a valuable tool in helping your find the information you are looking for, you need to be a bit careful about which sites you choose to get your information from. There are some sites that are purely promotional and some that are even downright deceptive. It isn't like the old days when you could trust your travel agent to know what they were telling you, if you get bad advice on the Internet, you have no one to complain to when you return.

Tourist boards or CVBs

The local tourist board or convention and visitor bureau is a good place to look at for unbiased information about just about any destination. While their job is to promote their area, they don’t usually promote one business over another. They have criteria for being included on their site making these preferable to tour operators who just want to sell you something. Most major cities, states, regions and countries have comprehensive websites that can help you with your planning. 
A view of the English countryside from Bolsover Castle
Travel agents

Many travel agents are expert in particular areas. The trick here is to find one who is an expert in where you want to go or do. There are many agents who are cruise experts and other experts on the major theme parks. Picking your travel agent is not easy and requires research but if you find the right one, they can give you advice and insights that will be of great value to you.

Friends and family

At the end of the day, the most reliable source of travel advice is someone who has actually traveled to the place or places where you want to go. A friend or a member of the family who has traveled there is a reliable source of information and advice. Ask around, get tips, pick their brains and keep notes of the information that they give you. You also need to ask the right questions. 

If you are traveling with your family and the person you are talking to is a party loving single, you may have very different expectations of your travel. Business travelers are looking for different amenities than travelers who are planning to relax and enjoy the scenery. Try to use family and friends who have similar tastes to yours when looking for advice. When in doubt, give me a call. lol

The skyline of Richmond Virginia

There are many sites that offer reviews. When it comes to accommodation reviews, is a good source of information. Not that all the information is to be trusted, it is not. When reading reviews of a hotel or bed and breakfast that you are considering, look at the number of reviews that the reviewer has written overall. If this reviewer has only this one glowing or scathing review, just keep looking. 

People often want to promote a place or to trash the competition whose reviews make it onto this site. Read more than one review and look at the date that the review was written. One bad review should not discourage you from using an accommodation if all the others are good. Some people are impossible to please, If however, there is a pattern of problems, run, don’t walk, in the other direction

These are just a few of the places to look for reliable travel information. There are thousands of travel books that are reliable. Be sure to check the date that the book was printed however, since these go out of date very quickly. The restaurant you read about and think you must visit, may have closed a year or two ago. One or a combination of several sources should give you all that you need to have a great travel experience.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Photo Friday The Connecticut Renaissance Faire

The Connecticut Renaissance Faire has been entertaining residents and visitors since 1999. They are hoping to find a permanent location before their 20th anniversary but in 2014 they were located in Norwich. To find out where they will be in 2015, check their website later in the year.

These pictures are some of my older ones. We went to the Faire twice when they were located at the Woodstock Fairgrounds. You you have never gone, I highly recommend it. It is loads of fun for the entire family. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Flashback Thursday Cartier-Brebeuf National Historic Site in Quebec City

Just five miles from the old city of Quebec, Cartier-Brebeuf National Historic Site is the location of the first Jesuit missionary house and also the spot where Jacques Cartier wintered in 1535/36. The native American's had a settlement nearby called Stadacona.

Today, there are many things to do here. The park is a local favorite for enjoying  the all too brief warm summer sunshine. There are miles of walking and biking paths as well as plenty of things for visitors to enjoy. The park is just beautiful with great views all the way to the city. 
The St. Charles River and the Park
Park ranger giving us a tour

There is a museum at the visitor center and guided tours are available of the replica palisade that has been constructed on the site as well as ranger talks in the museum. 
The palisade

We enjoyed watching a family of ducks that we sunning by the river. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Hebron Maple Festival a great family weekend event

Hebron, Connecticut is the site of the Annual Maple Festival. Most years the the Festival takes pplaes on the second weekend of March but this year, the 25th Anniversary, the festival has been postponed until the weekend of the 21-22. The events take place from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. on both days and most are free. 

Three sugar houses will be open and Maple Syrup will be sold at all of them. There will be other food for sale all over town and the proceeds will benefit local fund raisers. 

Events will be taking place throughout the two days at different locations all over town, For a complete list of events and map of locations just click this link and print. This is a great family event and a way to spend some quality family time with minimal expense. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Visiting Dublin City Hall

If you are visiting Dublin and are in the vicinity of Dublin Castle, you are very close to the City Hall. This is a great place to visit. It is filled with history and has a great museum on the lower level. We were in a rush when we were here and didn’t allow ourselves enough time. We wanted to get to Dublin Castle for a tour, don’t make the same mistake.

The location of the City Hall was originally a church, Sainte Marie Del Dame. This was demolished by the First Earl of Cork and he built Cork House on the site. The street however became known as Dame Street after the church.

The City Hall itself is a magnificent Georgian Building designed by architect Thomas Cooley for the Guild of Merchants as the Royal Exchange. It was constructed between 1769 and 1779 at a cost of 58,000 pounds much of which was raised by public lotteries. When the Guild of Merchants decided to have a building constructed, they had a competition to determine who would be the architect. Thomas Cooley beat out his main competition James Gandon. Gandon ended up having more of an influence on the architecture of Dublin since he designed the Four Courts after Cooleys death in 1784.

Over the years, the interior of the building suffered at the hands of the Victorians. In 1998 the City Council decided to bring the building back to its Georgian glory and that included the gorgeous rotunda and the lower level.

While the upper building may be wonderful don’t miss the museum called Dublin’s City Hall: The Story of the Capitol on the lower level. You get an audio-guide to help you along and it is a fascinating journey through Ireland’s history and Dublin’s in particular. An immense amount of information is offered here and can take several hours to see and listen to it all. 

Artifacts that predate the Norman invasion are on display and a variety of different mediums are used to get the information to you. You get to watch some old films of history being made in Dublin as well as models and costumes. Don’t miss the exhibit that displays the treasures of Dublin, The Great City Sword, The Great Mace and the Lord Mayor’s Chain.

The City Hall is included on the Dublin Pass which will not only get you into 30 of Dublin’s attractions it will let you bypass any lines there might be. Dublin Castle is also on the pass.

City Hall is wheelchair accessible, has a nice gift shop and even a café if you need a snack. It was one of my favorite places to visit in Dublin.