Thursday, June 30, 2016

Flashback Thursday: Planning a trip to Ireland

Last fall I visited Ireland for the fourth time. While that may not make me an expert, I have been to England over 20 times and the planning process is similar. 

When to go

This is the first time I have ever technically gone to Ireland in the summer. I have two January visits and a December visit. I am looking forward to seeing a few more flowers in bloom though I have to tell you there were primroses blooming in the garden of the McCauley Center in Dublin in January. The country really does look green all year, it isn't called the Emerald Isle for nothing.

Oscar Wilde in Dublin

Things you need to know 

In case you don't know, the island of Ireland has two countries. The Republic of Ireland uses the Euro. Northern Ireland , which is part of the United Kingdom, uses the pound sterling. If you are going from one to the other you need both currencies but your credit and debit cards should work fine. Just be sure to check before you leave about the transaction fees that your card holder charges. Some cards are very high and you may want to get a new card with no fees. 

Credit cards

Always ask for transactions to be in local currency when you use your creditcard. I know you are going to want to say, American dollars but don't. It will cost you more money if you let them do the conversion, trust your credit card to give you the best rate

Cell phones

For the most part, your U.S. cell phone doesn't automatically work in Ireland. Again check with your carried before you leave about what you need to do to be able to use your phone. Check the International rates as well, you may find that text are 50 cents each and call rates are $1 a minute. 

If you have a smart phone, consider downloading Skype and then when you are somewhere with Wi-Fi you can call for just pennies. Be sure to put some money into your Skype account. You want to use Wi-Fi instead of 3 or 4 G to avoid the data charge. You can turn International roaming for data off on your phone and you should do that to avoid high charges.


You will need a currency converter for most electronic devices. Not your computer, it has the box in the cord that does that but you will need an adaptor plug so that you can plug into the wall. 

One of the joys of flying out of Dublin or Shannon is that you go through U.S. customs in Ireland which saves a load of time when you arrive back home. 

This is just some basic information that will help make your trip to Ireland a little easier. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tall Ship Red Witch returns to Kenosha

KENOSHA, WI (June 24, 2016) – After a brief three week appearance this spring, the captain of Chicago’s award-winning wooden Tall Ship Red Witch has announced that the ship will return to Kenosha for the remainder of the summer beginning July 1. The 49-passenger Red Witch will offer 80-minute public sails and private charters on Lake Michigan.
“Due to the overwhelmingly positive response we received in Kenosha during our initial visit, we’re thrilled to be back and to continue serving the Kenosha community this summer,” commented Captain Andrew Sadock.
Red Witch’s return will coincide with the Fourth of July holiday weekend and will offer a special Fireworks Sail timeslot on July 4. For easier access during the busy holiday weekend, Red Witch will move from its usual port in Southport Marina to the south wall of Kenosha Harbor at 54th Street & 3rd Avenue. After July 4, it will return to dock at Southport Marina (21 56th Street).
The sailing schedule for July is as follows:
JULY 1 – 4
Board at Kenosha Harbor, 54th Street & 3rd Avenue
-Friday, July 1 – 6:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
-Saturday, July 2 – 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., and 7:30 p.m.
-Sunday, July 3 – 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., and 7:30 p.m.
-Monday, July 4 – 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m.
-Monday July 4 Fireworks Sail – 8:00 p.m.

JULY 7 – 24
Board at Southport Marina, 21 56th Street, Northeast Dock
-Thursdays, July 7, 14 & 21 – 6:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
-Fridays, July 8, 15 & 22 – 6:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
-Saturdays, July 9, 16 & 23 – 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
-Sundays, July 10, 17 & 24 – 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., and 7:30 p.m.
The August sailing schedule will be published around mid-July, and September’s schedule by mid-August. Tickets cost $29.00 to $39.00 per person (July 4 Fireworks Sail is $59 per person), and guests may purchase tickets online at, or at the ship prior to sailing.
Private charters are also available for group events such as corporate outings and teambuilding exercises, pre- and post-wedding excursions, birthday parties and other occasions. Private event prices start at $20.00 per person.
Tall Ship Red Witch is just steps from lakefront museums and lighthouses, parks and festival spaces, Downtown shops, galleries and restaurants, and Kenosha’s Metra train station. Red Witch fulfills a growing demand among consumers looking for Lake Michigan boat tours from Kenosha and will serve the many visitors to the Downtown and lakefront area during her stay.

Red Witch was voted Chicago’s “Best Tour & Charter Boat” in 2009, 2010 and 2012. She is a replica of a Great Lakes working schooner from the mid-nineteenth century, is 77-feet long and weighs 41 tons. Her two gaff-rigged masts carry 2,500 square feet of sail. Made of wood, Red Witch was built in 1986 in Bayou La Batre, Alabama at the boatyard of Nathaniel Zirlott, a commercial boat builder known for building rugged ocean boats.
Tall Ship Red Witch, LLC is a member of the American Sail Training Association, and has been used as an educational platform for traditional rig sailing and maritime history. Owner /Captain Andrew Sadock is a licensed United States Coast Guard Master Captain and has been piloting large sailboats in San Francisco Bay and Lake Michigan since 1988.

Information provided by Visit Kenosha. 

For more information, visit  

Monday, June 27, 2016

What every bed and breakfast newbie needs to know

Every bed and breakfast lover was at one point a bed and breakfast newbie. The first visit to a bed and breakfast is always the hardest because you don’t know what to expect. You are wondering things like will I have my own bathroom, will I be given privacy, do I have to share a table with others at breakfast? Don’t worry, every bed and breakfast newbie has asked themselves the same questions. 

Ask yourself a few question

First, decided what you feel comfortable with. Do you want a formal Victorian d├ęcor or are you more into modern funky? Trust me, there are plenty of bed and breakfasts that fit these criteria and just about everything in between. Are you dreaming of a posh upscale night or do you want a cozy homey feel? Do you want to feel like you are staying in someone’s home or a more hotel-like experience with staff, not owners?

The Internet is the greatest resource that a bed and breakfast newbie has. Most bed and breakfast have their own website these days. Notice I said most, some still don’t. Does that mean that you have to discount these bed and breakfasts when you are making your choice? Not at all. As we all know, the Internet is a great resource but you also can’t trust 100% of everything you see on the Internet.

When you look at bed and breakfast websites, be sure to read all of their policies, yes there are policies. Pets or no pets, eating in your room or no eating in rooms, breakfast at a set time or on your schedule, and cancellation policy.  The last one is very important, this is not a hotel you are booking. Changing your mind especially last minute will have financial consequences.


A good place to start your research is with the local or state tourism office. You will also want to check with any state bed and breakfast organizations that there are in the location where you plan to stay. Bed and breakfasts that are recommended by the local tourist board are certainly worth considering.

Printed bed and breakfast guides by Karen Brown, Pamela Lanier, AA and also Frommers are worth looking at. They are updated frequently and can give you a starting point for your search.

Now to the Internet. One of the best ways to find out what people are saying about a bed and breakfast is to go to and look by destination. If you are lucky there will be a variety of options for the place where you would like to stay. Don’t let one bad review put you off, everyone has different expectations and yours may be very different from the unhappy visitors.

Answer these questions

Several bed and breakfast websites can be very helpful as a resource to help you find the perfect bed and breakfast. But, you need to know exactly what you think would make a perfect stay.
  • ·  Do you want to have a simple room or a romantic four poster room?
  • ·  Do you expect to have a TV in your room and WiFi?
  • ·  Do you want a full cooked breakfast or is a help-yourself Continental more your speed?
  • ·  Do you want your own private table or will you enjoy the interaction with other guests?
  • ·  Location. Do you want a country stay or walking distance to entertainment?

Once you know what type of bed and breakfast experience you want it is easier to narrow down your choices and find one that will fit your needs and wants.


Here are a few resources that will help you to find the perfect bed and breakfast.

Combine what you see on these sites with the websites for the bed and breakfast and the reviews on Trip Advisor  and you have a recipe for success. 

Things I look for:

A comfortable chair in the room. Especially if you want to work or watch TV while not in bed, it is good to have at least one plush chair.

Bathtub or shower?  I like a deep soaking tub, to me it is part of the B&B experience.

Free parking. This is very important. In the country, it is usually a given but in the city, you need to have safe parking.

What they serve for breakfast. I am a foodie and I want to be impressed. I like one big table, I have met the most interesting people at breakfast.

Whether or not they are family friendly. If I am on a romantic weekend, I prefer to not have children where I am staying. By the same token, if I have a grandchild along, I need them to be family friendly. Many B&B will not allow younger children and it is quite understandable. A crying baby will disrupt everyone.

Understand that cozy is a euphemism for small. If you want a spacious room, it will rarely be referred to as cozy. However, in the dead of winter, a cozy room is a lot easier to keep warm and to keep cool in summer.  Which brings me to one of the most important things you want, individual climate control. You want to be able to keep your room at a temperature of your choosing, not what your hosts think you want.

When it comes to bed and breakfast resources there are many of them. Just remember you won’t be a newbie forever. Before you know it, you will be writing reviews and helping other newbies to pick the best bed and breakfast. You will go from being a newbie to being a resource.

Day trips within an hour of Boston, Mass.

Boston's location on the Atlantic Ocean in the northeastern United States gives it easy access to an extensive array of travel options. Whether you live here or are visiting, you may want to take a day trip from Boston. With roads heading north, south and west, there are lots of options for a quick and easy day trip. 
Dining on a combination platter at Woodmans

Heading north, the North Shore offers a variety of options including Salem, Gloucester and Essex. All of these cities provide a different experience. Essex was at one time one of the busiest ship building areas on the east coast with upwards of 20 different ship builders working here. Today, there is only one that is active. The town offers a great variety of antique shops and restaurants serving delicious seafood. One of them, Woodman's,  was the place where the fried clam was invented.

  • Essex River Cruises offers hour and a half cruises that go up the river through the estuary to the coast giving great views of egrets and cool sea breezes. The cruises are narrated and are entertaining for adults and children.

  • Salem is notorious for the witch trials that took place there over three hundred years ago. Visitors enjoy the Salem Witch Museum and The House of the Seven Gables. October is the most popular time to visit but the attractions are open year round.

  • Gloucester has several great houses to visit as well as the Rocky Neck Art Colony and the Cape Ann Museum which combines art, decorative arts and history in a very attractive package. There are loads of interesting dining opportunities as well.

To the Northwest, up Interstate 93 is Manchester, NH is only 54 miles away. With its old fashioned main street for shopping, The Currier Museum of Art and New Hampshire Palace Theatre where "The Arts Come Alive".

Foxborough is a short 29 miles southwest of the city of Boston. It is a popular fall destination when the New England Patriots are at home. Foxborough is the location of their home field Gillette Stadium. Another popular Foxborough attraction is the only Pro Bass Shop in New England.

Southeast of Boston is the first settlement of the English in New England. Plymouth. The Pilgrims landed near this spot in 1620. The city has loads of historic charm to go along with the reproduction of the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock and Plimouth Plantation.

Providence, R.I. is 50 miles to the southwest and Providence Place Mall is a popular attraction. Offering an hour of free parking, the Cheesecake Factory, IMAX Theatre and Dave and Busters are all reason to take the 50 mile drive.

Sturbridge is 59 miles to the west. This is a stretch to make in an hour but it is possible. Old Sturbridge Village is open all year and every season offers a different opportunity to observe live in early 19th century New England. 

These are just a few of the many places that are located within an hour of Boston and offered a variety of ways to be entertained for the day. When you want to take a daytrip from Boston, get a map, jump in the car and start your adventure.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Photo Friday: Bermuda Botanical Gardens

The Bermuda Botanical Garden is not  the biggest or the most elaborate botanical garden that I have ever visited. Having said that, it is 35 charming acres and I highly recommend that you visit it if you are in Hamilton, Bermuda.

If you want to get the most out of your visit, plan to take the guided tour which takes place at 10:30 a.m on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Flashback Thursday: Dinsmore House Charlottesville, Va

Charlottesville is a historic city which is the home to the University of Virginia as well as to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and James Monroe's Ashlawn Highlands.  James Dinsmore was Jefferson's favorite master carpenter and he used him in the construction of Monticello and also recommended him to Benjamin Latrobe when a builder was needed for the new national capitol. Dinsmore was a speculator in Charlottesville and owned several properties including the Livers House which today is the home of the Dinsmore House.

This is an in-town Bed and Breakfast and it is located within an easy walk of the University of Virginia making it the ideal place for visiting family to stay. It is only a mile from the central downtown shopping area and there is public transportation that travels up and down the street in front of the bed and breakfast regularly.

Right behind the Bed and Breakfast is the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel which has allocated enough parking spots for the inn to make parking a non-issue. As a Dinsmore House guest, you also have access to the pool and health club at the hotel.

This bed and breakfast is a labor of love for owners Ryan and Denise. They have been constantly making upgrades one of which the sound proofing windows made a stay here a very quiet one even though the house is located on a very busy street.

The parlor is a warm and lovely room where you will be welcomed in the evening with a glass of wine and cheese or tea and pastry. You can relax on one of the sofas and just drink in the atmosphere as well as your wine. Breakfast is served in the dining room, on the porch or in the warm weather on the back deck. The porch is also where there is a guest fridge with water and soft drinks.

Breakfast is a magnificent affair here and you will be allowed to have a private table to enjoy your gourmet repast. Expect to see delectable French toast, luscious egg dishes, amazing pancakes, fresh fruit and fruit juice, coffee and tea. You will never walk away from breakfast at Dinsmore House hungry.

The Inn has eight rooms. The Jefferson Suite is on the second floor of the adjoining townhouse. It has two rooms, a parlor that is separate from the sleeping area and a large bedroom with a king-sized canopy bed. All the rooms are equipped with private bath, TV with DVD, WiFi and the usual amenities such as hairdryers and ironing boards and irons.

The Dinsmore Room is a very large room on the second floor of the main house with a king size canopy bed, an antique loveseat and a wing chair for watching TV. We have stayed in both of these rooms and found the beds to be very comfortable with great mattresses and luxury linens.

If you want a room on the first floor there are two available the Veranda and Virginia. Prices range from low $100 to high $200 depending on which room is involved and what time of year it is.

If you are coming to Charlottesville to tour the wineries, to visit the University of Virginia or to visit the home of the Three Presidents (James Madison's Montpelier is only about 30 miles away) then the Dinsmore House is the perfect place to stay.

Did I forget to mention that there are several very good restaurants within walking distance of the bed and breakfast? One that we particularly enjoyed was Michael's Bistro which has a great college atmosphere, delicious pub style food and a beer menu that will impress even the most jaded beer connoisseur.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Biking trails in Pennsylvania

Incredible Pennsylvania Biking Trails

A cyclist’s dreamland, Pennsylvania has nearly 100 rail trails — historic railroad beds converted into pedestrian pathways — and a wide array of biking routes for all ages and ability levels. Whether you prefer road or mountain biking, we guarantee there’s a Keystone State trail that’ll suit your fancy.

Ohiopyle State Park

Ohiopyle State Park in the Laurel Highlands is home to 27 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage, the longest unpaved bike path on the East Coast.

The Great Allegheny Passage consists of more than 140 miles of converted rail lines running from Homestead, Pa. (near Pittsburgh), to Cumberland, Md. The mostly level rail trail connects to the C&O Tow Path, extending to Washington, D.C., for a total length of 334.5 miles. Hop on the trail and make pit stops at charming towns along the way like Rockwood, Meyersdale, and Connellsville.

Biking opportunities in the Laurel Highlands include more than 50 miles of trails at Ohiopyle State Park in Ohiopyle, including 27 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage and more than 25 miles of mountain biking routes. Try the McCune Trail, a newer edition to Ohiopyle’s roster of mountain biking trails, for an exhilarating ridge-top singletrack that leads up to spectacular panormas of the state park.

During the summertime, Seven Springs Mountain Resort is converted from a winter ski resort to a hiking and biking hub. The resort’s 11 downhill trails span more than 20 miles and range from smooth paved roads to extreme downhill paths. The trails — which feature berms, banks, rock gardens, drops, and 20-foot jumps — are conveniently serviced by chair lifts.

Cruise through Pine Creek Gorge — the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania— on the Pine Creek Rail Trail, a 61-mile pathway from Wellsboro Junction to Jersey Shore, Pa. The trail offers fabulous views of the area’s dramatic outcrops and several waterfalls, along with chances to spot creatures like eagles, deer, wild turkey, and river otters.

The Redbank Valley Trail, named 2014 Trail of the Year by Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, is a 51-mile non-motorized route that's perfect for all seasons. The trail travels through undeveloped scenic areas along Redbank Creek, over many bridges and stone arches, and through two tunnels.

Gentle downhill conditions and beautiful views of rock formations and the Lehigh River make the Lehigh Gorge Trail popular with cyclists of all ages. The 25-mile route from White Haven to Jim Thorpe is the perfect two- to three-hour ride — a Pocono Biking shuttle to the trailheads is also available.

Rent single, multispeed, tandem, and children’s bikes from Moraine State Park in Portersville to pedal through meadows and forests along the shores of Lake Arthur. Seven miles of trails can be accessed at numerous spots within the park’s Lakeview and Watts Bay Marina areas.

The Schuylkill River Trail runs along the Schuylkill River from Philadelphia’s Center City District through Montgomery County’s Valley Forge National Historical Park and ends in Chester County’s Phoenixville. Every year, more than 20,000 runners, bikers, and commuters traverse the 26.5-mile trail, which was recognized by USA Today and 10best as the country’s best urban trail.

Greater Reading Trails offer access to more than 125 miles of mountain biking trails in Berks County, from beginner-friendly cruises to challenging rock-strewn routes. In 2015, the trail system attained the International Mountain Biking Association’s Bronze Level Ride Center status and is the only ride center in the northeastern U.S.

Clearfield County’s Curwensville Lake Recreational Area in Curwensville has more than 12 miles of trails varying in difficulty and length. Try the moderate 1.4-mile Bee Kind Trail, designed to make riders feel like they’re deep in the woods.

More Ride-Worthy Pennsylvania Biking Trails

• Capital Area Greenbelt: The Hershey-Harrisburg region’s 20-mile urban trail is a great way to see Harrisburg on two wheels.

• Buffalo Valley Rail Trail: Admire glimpses of tranquil farmland and wildflower-peppered fields on this nine-mile pathway between Lewisburg and Mifflinburg.

• Cumberland Valley Rail Trail: The 11-mile trail stretches from Shippensburg to Newville, offering a scenic sampling of the valley’s countryside and woodlands.

• Allegrippis Trail: Enjoy 36 miles of multi-use trail systems organized into three stacked loops surrounding the beautiful Raystown Lake in Hesston.

• Delaware & Hudson Rail-Trail: The 38-mile trail in the Endless Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania winds past Susquehanna County’s pristine woodlands and several stopworthy scenic overlooks and small towns.

• York County Heritage Rail Trail: The 21.5-mile trail runs from York to the Maryland border and passes seven railroad structures on the National Register of Historic Places.

• Stavich Bike Trail: Bike for 12 miles through two states, two counties, and three townships from New Castle, Pa., to Struthers, Ohio.

• Tussey Mountain Trail: Located in Rothrock State Forest in Huntingdon, the nine-mile route is just one of the many favorite mountain biking trails near State College.

• Michaux State Forest: Mountain bikers can choose from 18 miles of easy trails and nearly 20 miles of more challenging trails in southcentral PA. Get maps, route descriptions and other resources for mountain and road biking trails in and around Gettysburg at Healthy Adams Bicycle Pedestrian's website.

• Armstrong Trail: Possible stops along the 30-mile trail in Armstrong County include the towns of Kittanning, Ford City, and East Brady.

• Karl Stirner Arts Trail: Ride along the Bushkill Creek in Easton for 2.5 miles to see art installations by local artists, including Karl Stirner — a renowned Lehigh Valley sculptor.

• Forbes State Forest: Choose from more than 100 trails ranging from winding singletrack routes to dirt and gravel roads in Laughlintown.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Father's Day at Hancock Shaker Village

HSV plans special Father's Day activities, with hikes, talks, and Brew and Brats
woodworker for rack card 2014  Dad-specific activities like woodworking demonstrations (pictured) are scheduled for Father's Day at Hancock Shaker Village.
PITTSFIELD, MA ..... Bring your favorite father figure to the Village for special programming, talks and demonstrations, included in regular admission, on Father's Day, Sunday, June 19.

Join the guided hike to the old Village sawmill and reservoir at 11 am, then enjoy a smoked sausage from Savory Harvest (11 am to 2 pm, cash only) and a beer from Big Elm Brewery (12 noon to 2 pm, cash only).

Learn all about Beer Basics with home-brewer Chris Finn at his two scheduled talks on the subject at 11:30 am and 1:30 pm.

Observe black-smithing with Jim Szalkucki, and woodworking demonstrations throughout the day. Don’t miss the Brick Garage and the Shaker's own automobile, a 1923 REO sedan.

For an additional fee, go behind the scenes on the Attics and Basements Tour at 2 pm. For only $10 more than regular admission ($30 per person, which includes the regular $20 admission for the day), you get 90 minutes with an expert museum educator who will show dad all kinds of cool Shaker stuff the average visitor doesn't get to see.  What a special way to punctuate dad's visit! 

About Hancock Shaker Village

Hancock Shaker Village, a three-star Michelin destination located at the intersection of Route 20 and 41 in Pittsfield, offers visitors an intact historic Shaker site with 20 buildings, 22,000 artifacts, 750 acres of scenic beauty, interpreted nature trails, unencumbered mountain views, a working farm with live animals and vibrant community-supported gardens. Visitors learn about the Shaker community via an orientation film, personal interaction with museum educators, changing exhibitions, 35 historic period rooms, a newly renovated and expanded Discovery Barn for children’s activities, and a variety of other hands-on activities and demonstrations, including Shaker trade crafts.

The Shaker community at Hancock began in 1790. At its peak some 300 Shakers lived, worked and worshiped within the Village. In 1960 it became a museum preserving the rich Shaker legacy. Today, Hancock Shaker Village is the most comprehensively interpreted Shaker site in America.  It is accredited by the American Association of Museums, designated a National Historic Landmark, and named an Official Project of Save America’s Treasures. Hancock Shaker Village has a modern visitor center with  function space, classrooms, galleries, a chef-managed restaurant and store.   

Hancock Shaker Village is open seven days a week through October 30.  Hours are 10 am to 4 pm through June 26.  Starting June 27, visitor hours extend to 5 pm through the end of the season.  Children ages 12 and under are admitted free, courtesy of Berkshire Bank.  Adult admission is $20, with discounts for AAA members, military, and seniors.   Youth admission,  ages 13 to 17, is $8.  For more information, visit

Friday, June 10, 2016

My perspective on the Chicago skyline

I have only toured Chicago once but part of that visit was an architectural tour on the Chicago River. The skyline is amazing and so are some of the buildings. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Flashback Thursday: James Monroe Museum Fredericksburg, Va

James Monroe Museum & Memorial Library

 "a better man there cannot be" - Thomas Jefferson

Everyone should visit this museum. I have never considered James Monroe as anything but the 5th President and the writer of the Monroe Doctrine, but to limit him to these two is a sad miscarriage of justice. In actuality he has to be the most under appreciated man in American history. 

I was previously unaware that we really owe the Louisiana Purchase to his negotiations with Napoleon and also that he had fought in and been wounded at the battle of Trenton.

What we have here is James Monroe’s personal collection of papers as well as papers belonging to other Monroe family members. They were passed down through the Monroe family for generations before finding a home here. 

Some of them date to the early 17th century and include maps and newspapers as well as books, manuscripts, and documents. His collection of 3000 books was however, sold after his death. This constitutes the Library portion but it is the museum that really fascinates.

James Monroe moved to Fredericksburg to work in his uncles law office in 1786. He purchased the land where the museum is located in 1786 but he didn’t live on it, he lived with his uncle. We don’t know where the law office was located, it may have been on this location but that is only supposition. His uncle’s home is still standing at 30 Caroline Street. 

The building that houses the museum was built after the American Revolution. The museum was founded by his great granddaughter, Rose Gouverneur Hoes and her sons in 1927, and it was given to the State of Virginia in 1964.

This is a self-guided tour however, there are docents available and ours was very enthusiastic. Almost to the point of being annoying however, his excitement with his topic was commendable and he just wasn’t used to someone knowing about history in general. I have to admit that he for the most part was dead on though I caught him embellishing a couple of times much to my amusement.

I was however, enthralled by his wife Elizabeth who I really knew not a thing about. She was exceptionally beautiful as well as talented and was a great favorite of the French. Napoleon referred to her as the "beautiful American". It was through James' and her influence at the French Court that Lafayette and his wife were released from prison and he never forgot it. He and the Monroes were friends for over 50 years.

What you will see are personal items, Elizabeth’s necessary case, the desk which Monroe used to write and sign the Monroe Doctrine, his eye glasses, court rapier and many other personal items. It is a very enjoyable museum and there is a small garden in the rear.

This museum will be of interest to the younger set as well, they offer a scavenger hunt to keep them occupied.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Spending the day with Victor Emmanuel in Portugal

Who you ask is Victor Emmanuel? He was the driver we hired to take us outside of Lisbon and what a great idea it turned out to be. We wanted to go to Fatima, we could have taken a bus tour but we wanted to have some control over the time we would spend at any one location. We checked with the desk staff at the Mundial Hotel and asked about hiring a driver. They have a contract with "The Boss" and knowing we were English speaking he hooked us up with his very charming driver Victor Emmanuel.

Monday morning at 9:30 a.m., he was there with the Mercedes Mini Van to drive the four of us. One thing you will notice is that in Portugal most people use their middle name as well so he isn’t Victor he is Victor Emmanuel. He was a jovial man who speaks multiple languages and has been in the tour and travel industry for 40 years. He knows what he is doing.

He gave us a running commentary all the way out of Lisbon and along the way to Fatima. We learned an amazing amount that I am sure the regular bus trip would not have taught us and unbelievably it was cheaper for the four of us to travel in our private car than it would have been to be packed like a sardine into a tour bus.    

We pulled into Fatima and our first stop unbelievably was not the Shrine, it was the mega souvenir shop. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it isn’t really a great thing either. This store, however, did have good prices and all of us spent quite a bit here.

The Shrine was wonderful and we had about 45 minutes to tour. We then hit the road again and headed to Batalha. This was an amazing place that we would have never visited on our own and the Cathedral was magnificent. It is where Henry the Navigator is buried along with his mother Philippa of Lancaster. We made a lunch stop here, Victor Emmanuel took care of placing our orders for us,  and making sure our lack of Portuguese skills was never an issue.

We made a stop at a beach town where we could see the bright blue Atlantic Ocean and the natives dressed in their local costumes. Then we were off to Alcobaca which has a lovely church to visit and as luck would have it this is where Al’s grandparents came from. It was a very meaningful visit for us.

Our last stop of the day was in Obidos. This is one of the prettiest tourist traps you can imagine. It is a walled city with a cobbled pedestrian street that you climb to the medieval Moorish fort and the street is lined with stores selling everything Portuguese you would possibly want. It was charming really and again we did buy some pottery and small items. There was an elderly woman sitting right by the gate who was crocheting delicate lace items at an amazingly inexpensive price, she was the buy of the day.

We hopped back into the air-conditioned minivan and headed back to Lisbon on a different road, this one dotted with windmills and I now have more windmill pictures than I will ever need.

Of course, we figured out pretty quickly that obviously some places had a deal with Victor Emmanuel and that is why he took us there. When we got creative and went to other places he wasn't always happy with us but we didn't let that deter us for striking out on our own from time to time.

My personal pictures from this part of our Portugal trip have gone missing so I have used pictures from Wiki Commons. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Flashback Thursday: Battlefield Tour in Fredericksburg

The greater Fredericksburg area was actually the scene of four Civil War battles: Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville, and the Wilderness. Over 100,000 men fell in the four battles. Entrance to all four battlefields and the Fredericksburg National Cemetery are included in your pass to Historic Fredericksburg.

You can watch the 22 minute video in the Visitor Center either before or after your guided tour. Because of timing, we took the tour first, then visited the small museum in the basement of the center. Finally, we watched the video. It worked for us, but be sure to check with the rangers to find out what time the tour is leaving the center.

 Our guide was an out-of-state volunteer who donates his time every year to give tours of the battlefield. You can’t fault that kind of passion. About 20 people were in our group and there is walking involved. Because we followed the Sunken Road for much of the time, a wheelchair might be possible on this path.

We began by getting a brief history lesson about the battles that were fought in this area. It was at The Wilderness that Generals Lee and Grant first met. We learn about the Union Army and the difficulties Lincoln had his General McClellan, who built a fine army but never did anything with it. He defied Lincoln, mocked him behind his back, and was replaced by Ambrose Burnside. He did not have the love or faith of his troops, but he did come to Fredericksburg with a plan. 

He was to move quickly and take Fredericksburg and outrace Lee, who was in Richmond. Unfortunately, the promised pontoon boats were 10 days late, thus killing the element of surprise. Confederate snipers decimated the Union engineers trying to build a bridge, and in retaliation, the Union troops plundered the town of Fredericksburg. 

The inhabitants left everything behind; the army left nothing. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the population returned to its 1860s level. What we had finally was 120,000 Union troops and 78,000 Confederate facing each other at Mary’s Heights.

Different tours have different topics, and ours was The Sunken Road. The sunken road was exactly what it sounds like, a road lower than the level of the surrounding land, and in the battle of Fredericksburg, it was supplied, along with the stone wall, a lot of natural protection. The Confederates used it to their advantage. 

About 8,000 Union troops were slaughtered as they tried to cross 50 yards below the sunken road. We get a very graphic description of the carnage. This is the bloodiest landscape in North America. Hearing about it was one thing; watching the video made it much more real.

Part of the tour is visiting the Stevens House and the Richard Kirkland Memorial, both of which have fascinating stories attached. I leave it to you to visit and hear about them.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Wilmington Dupont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival

The DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival returns to Wilmington on June 21 thru June 25.  The festival traditionally showcases the most celebrated jazz performers.   It’s one of the largest festivals of its kind on the East Coast and draws audiences in excess of 35,000 every year for a mix of traditional jazz performances punctuated by fusion, funk, blues and rock.  Mayor Dennis P. Williams describes the DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival as a “…staple of Wilmington’s performing arts culture…” and invites the public to enjoy all the festival activities.

The festival is a tribute to talented trumpeter and Wilmington native, Clifford Brown.  By the age of 25, Brown had already made an impact on the music world, playing with Lionel Hampton, Charlie Parker and Max Roach.  He seemed destined to join the ranks of jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington.  Sadly, Brown’s untimely death in a car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1956 abruptly ended his promising career.

Sponsored by the DuPont Company and the City of Wilmington, the five-day festival is free and held rain or shine in Rodney Square in the heart of Downtown Wilmington.  Local jazz artist, Maya Belardo, opens the 2016 DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival on Tuesday evening.  Once again, this year’s headliners include some of the top jazz players in the nation.  On Wednesday evening, Nicholas Payton, Dr. Eddie Henderson and Leon Jordan Jr. perform the Ultimate Clifford Brown Tribute with a repertoire that includes bop, swing, funk, blues and fusion.  Miguel Orlando and Adriel Gonzalez are featured on Thursday evening. 

Vintage soul newcomer and Grammy-nominated singer, Andra Day, headlines the Friday night show along with Nadja Nicole, Aniya Jazz and To the Maz Band.  A free block party follows.  Enjoy a live band, a DJ and refreshments on Market Street between 8th and 10th Streets from 9:30 to 12:30.  Robert Glasper, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Kim Waters and the Saul Rubin Trio conclude the festival on Saturday.  For additional information including updates, schedules and events, go to