Thursday, December 29, 2016

Sully Historic Site Chantilly, Va.

The fact that Sully has survived to be shown today I find to be quite amazing. It is located in a very developed area of Northern Virginia and right off a major highway. It survived the Civil War and while it is no longer the massive farm that it once was, enough remains for you to get a fair picture of the life that began here more than 200 years ago. 

Sully was built on a piece of land that Richard Bland Lee inherited from his father Henry Lee II. He lived in the house he had built from 1784 to 1811. He and his wife Elizabeth Collins raised a family here and some of their infants are buried in the cemetery on the property. They have also been reinterred here. 

Today what remains is the main house and outbuildings.  You can tour the outbuildings at your leisure, they include the kitchen smokehouse, laundry,  and dairy. 

You begin your visit at the visitor center and then proceed to walk toward the house. The reconstructed slave cabin is along the way. 

Once at the house, you are allowed in at your tour time, tours are offered on the hour.  You will be encouraged to spend some time in the small museum and will then tour the house with a docent. 

Little of the house furnishing actually belonged to the Lees but the furnishings are to that period. 

You will be visiting both floors of the house so you do need to be able to climb stairs. 

The gift shop is located in the visitor center and is one that I particularly enjoyed. 

Sully hosts a variety of events throughout the year and I highly recommend that if you are going to be in northern Virginia you stop in for a visit, you won't be disappointed. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Behind the scenes at Old North Church Boston

No visit to Boston would be complete without a visit to the Old North Church. This is, of course, the most famous church in Boston. It was from this tower that the famous "One if by Land, Two if by Sea" signal was sent to Paul Revere and the other Sons of Liberty who were spreading the word about the British troop movement in Boston. If you visit the Old North Church you will sit in one of the pews and hear the history of the church, this is not the tour we are talking about, we are going to go where the regular visitor will never go.

Offered on the hour Behind the Scenes is a 30-minute chance to see what happens behind the scenes at this historic church. During the summer months, the tour is offered on the half hour as well. There are no tours in January and February, check their website for the times and days when tours are offered. You purchase your tickets at the gift shop next door to the church. The cost is $6 for adult; $5 for seniors and $4 for children up to 12 years old. You met your guide in the St Francis Garden which is right behind the store.

One thing you need to know before you even considering taking this tour is that it requires a lot of stair climbing, it is not handicap accessible and it takes a good bit of stamina to climb the steep and narrow stairs to the bell ringing room.

The first stop on the tour requires climbing one steep set of stairs. It is the gallery around the upper level of the church. It houses the organ as well as seating on both sides. These are basically the cheap seats. The wealthy members of the church would have paid to sit in the lower level. Servants, African Americans both freed and slaves and poor persons would have been seated in the gallery. Actually, you have a very nice view of the church from the gallery.

We would have gone to the bell ringing room next but the bell ringers were rehearing so instead we went to the crypt.

The first thing visited in the crypt is a Columbarium. They have dedicated a whole section of the crypt to the burial of ashes. We then headed into the bowels of the church, and bowels it is, if you are claustrophobic or germaphobic don't go on this tour. This is not some romanticized crypt; this has a low ceiling, and is without doubt, a basement. There are cemented over crypts in the walls all the way around on the walls. Many of them are not marked. The reason they are cemented is to keep the bodies from being removed and replaced with new bodies.

Old North Church was not a Congregational Church, it was an Anglican Church. It was the parish church of General Gage and it was from the tower here that he watched the battle of Bunker Hill play out. The tower was the highest spot in Boston at the time of the revolution which is also why it was used to signal the riders.

The last stop on the tour was the bell-ringers room. These are not song bells these are sound bells. There are eight bells of different sizes and sounds. It is up two very narrow, winding and steep staircases. Up is bad, down is even worse.

I highly recommend the Behind the Scenes Tour for anyone who is interested enough in the Old North Church to want to do something beyond just sitting and listen to the 15-minute talk that happens in the regular body of the church. If you are physically up to it, it is very memorable.

For more photos of Boston cheeck out this photo blog 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Entertaining yourself on a long flight

Everyone dreads having to take a long flight. The lack of space, privacy and the ability to just move around as much as you would like is a real pain in the neck, literally and physically. Let's face it, long flights are boring, there is no way around that. Passing the time in an enjoyable manner takes a little bit of pre-planning. You will want to pack some items into your carry-on to help you pass the time in the best possible way.

Onboard entertainment

If you are really lucky, your flight will have individual on board entertainment. This allows you to play games and watch the movie of your choice, from their selection of course. While not all airplanes have this options the ones that do are a godsend. Hours of entertainment at your fingertips without the bother of carrying on any electronic equipment and frankly what I like best is checking the progress our flight is making, you can track the entire trip. It makes it seem not nearly as long.

Reading material

Depending on how long your flight is you may choose to bring a newspaper, magazine or that book you have been meaning to read. There are some overseas flights where you may want to bring along all three. These long flights are the perfect time to catch up on business reading as well.


There are many different kinds of puzzle books, everyone has their favorite, Sudoku, crosswords, word search and logic puzzles. All of these can offer hours of entertainment and brain stimulation as well.


Sometimes you just want to close your eyes and listen to your favorite songs. You can also learn a new language or listen to a book. Let’s face it, it is a lot easier to have a new book you are interested in downloaded into your PDA instead of having to carry the actual book.

DVD Player

Watching a favorite movie or one that you have been meaning to watch is a great way to pass at least two hours. If you bring along several movie you are good for a transatlantic flight.


While this is bulky to carry unless you have one of the new very small laptops and getting through the TSA checkpoint is a real drag, once you are on the flight your laptop can be the difference between a boring flight and one where you accomplish a lot of work. This is the perfect time to write articles, organize your photos, type up some long overdue letters and even balance your checkbook. When you get tired of being good, a few games of Solitaire, Free Cell or Candy Crush will be an enjoyable respite.

Take a nap

On a very long flight, ask the steward or stewardess for a pillow and a blanket and get comfortable. If you bring along an eye mask you can shut the outside world out especially if you have your PDA playing your favorite tunes in your ears. There is nothing better than getting a few minutes sleep, especially on a trans-Atlantic flight. Jet lag is always an issue and a nice nap can be a big help.

Get up and walk around

This is good advice on any long flight, it helps you avoid some of the medical problems that can result. In order to get up however if you are not in the aisle seat, you must get the person or persons between you and the aisle to also get up. This may become a problem if one of them has followed the advice to take a nap. If you can't get up stretch your arms and legs as much as possible and try changing positions, it makes it less uncomfortable, at least for a while.

Play cards

If you are solo then I am afraid it is going to be solitaire for you. If, however, you are with one or two others then it is easy to play setback, rummy or pinochle. As long as you have a deck of cards along, you can look forward to many hours of fun.

Passing the time on a long flight is not hard if you plan ahead and keep your sense of humor. Take the time to relax, to catch up on some things that you have been wanting to do and visualize yourself arrive at your final destination.

My personal photo of a plane in flight.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Visiting Walton's Mountain

Schyler, Va. was a company town. Alberene Soapstone Company was the main employer and at one time, Earl Hamner Sr. was an employee. Today, it is a town of about 400 people nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is also the location of the Walton's Mountain Museum.

When Earl Hamner created the Walton family, he based the characters on members of his own family. He condensed eight children into seven by combining two of his brothers into Ben but the rest are, if not named the same, a rough representation. Fans of the show had a hard time separating fact from fiction. After the show ended people would come to Schyler looking for Walton’s Mountain and for Ike and Cora’s store.

There isn’t a Walton’s Mountain or "the" general store. The people of Schyler needed a community center and they came up with the idea of having a Walton’s Mountain Museum to help finance the center. The schools consolidated in the early 1990s and one of the schools was available. With the help of a local designer who had made good, they created a museum about the fictitious Waltons. As a happy circumstance, the school which now houses the museum is also the school Earl Hamner graduated from.

This is a simple museum. The day we were there it was a quiet one and we did not get a guided tour. You can tour the museum on your own. We entertained ourselves in the main room while we waited for someone to notice us. The man who was in charge that day was very busy fixing some things that needed fixing around the building.

A 30-minute video runs whenever there are enough people to justify it. We had to wait quite a while because it was running for quite a bunch of people when we got there. It is still a surprisingly popular place even though the show has been off the air for more than 25 years. On the video we hear from Earl Hamner and we learn not only about the show, but about the real Hamner family. We also heard from the actors and how this particular show affected their lives. Will Geer and Ellen Corby were very much grandparents to the young actors on the show. Earl tailored the show characters to the personality of the actors.

What you will find here are recreated rooms from the TV show. None of the items from the show has found its way here, but the local antique stores have done a fine job of giving a similar feeling. You see the kitchen, the parlor, John Boy’s bedroom, the living room, and several exhibits including "the recipe machine" room. They also have a room with many of the original scripts from the show.

You can have your picture taken behind the grill at Ike and Cora’s store and there certainly is a very nice gift store on the premises. For fans of "Walton's Mountain" this will be an interesting blast from the past.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Packing for a winter getaway

Packing for a winter getaway in a cold climate requires bringing many things that are not necessary when traveling to warmer locations. Depending on how you are traveling, the weight of your luggage may be an issue. It is important to keep that in mind when choosing both the luggage itself and the items that are absolutely required.

Footwear can be one of the bulkiest items that you will need to pack. As a rule of thumb, wear the bulkiest pair and pack the others. A comfortable pair of boots is a perfect choice. They work well with just about any pair of slacks except very dressy outfits. They should be able to take any weather conditions, don’t choose a pair that will be ruined by snow or rain. If you plan to dress in the evening, tuck one pair of dress shoes into your suitcase. This works for both men and for women.

Dressing in layers is a good way to deal with cold weather travel. Plan to wear your jacket or coat onto the plane if you will be flying. On the plane, you will be removing your coat. Wear a vest or a sweater with a turtleneck or shirt underneath. The more than you actually wear, the less you have to pack. Jeans are a good choice for bottoms. They can be dressed up or down. If the weather will be very cold where you are traveling, you may want to bring along some silk thermal underwear. They are very thin and are invisible when worn under clothes and add a much-needed layer of warmth.

For a week you will need at least 2 additional bottoms. Try to confine yourself to one color palette so that clothes are interchangeable. You will need a week's worth of underwear. The good news is that perspiration usually isn’t as big an issue in a cold climate. Unless you spill something on yourself, you should be able to use your clothes more than once.

One way to maximize your packing space is to tuck your socks inside of your extra pair of shoes.You can also use space bags to reduce the size of your bulkier items. Travel bags don't need a vacuum to remove the air, it can be done by rolling or applying pressure to the bag.

When it comes to tops, turtlenecks are versatile. They add some color, come in a variety of materials and also pack well. The vest or sweater will change the outfits so that you will feel like you have more clothes with you than you actually do. For a week you can usually get by with four or five tops in a variety of weights. Don't forget to bring along a warm pair of gloves or two, a hat and a scarf.

You will, of course, bring the necessary toiletries and sleepwear. Just keep in mind that layering is the best way to be able to adjust to the temperature. Even if it is a cold destination, you may get a warm day and having all heavy wool sweaters with you can make for an uncomfortable day. With layers, you can add or remove as the weather dictates.

If you are going to be spending a great deal of time outdoors, warm socks are a must. The best way to stay warm is to have warm feet and a hat to keep the heat in.

The basic rules for power packing are to bring half of what you think you need, choose one color palette and if necessary buy some space bags and make the bulky items take less space. Lay your outfits out before you pack so that you see exactly what outfits you will have when you are done.

Every trip is different. Your wardrobe should reflect what you will be doing during the vacation. Just because the area you are going is in a cold climate doesn't mean that the weather will affect what you are wearing unless you plan to spend lots of time outdoors. If you will be indoors, it is irrelevant that it is cold outside and overdressing when walking through a museum or at the theater can be uncomfortable.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Visiting Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London

No trip to London is complete without a visit to the theatre. For an authentic Elizabethan theatre experience, there is nothing else quite like going to the Globe Theater.

Located on the south side of the Thames, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre offers both the visitor and the theatre patron an opportunity to experience what a theatre would have been like in the days of the bard. The dream was many years in the making and it wasn’t until 1993 that construction finally began. It opened to the public four years later in 1997. In addition to the Globe Theatre, there is an Education Center and Shakespeare’s Globe Exhibit.

Visually, the Globe Theatre is a faithful reproduction of what would have been the theater of Shakespeare’s day. It is located very close to where the original stood. Theatre was banned from London proper in the late 16th century and soon they began to spring up on the south bank. It was a disreputable area populated by thieves and prostitutes. It took a brave man to go to Southwark and obviously there were many. The original Globe Theatre was dismantled during The Protectorate when Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans ruled England. Its location wasn’t discovered until the 20th century.

If you are expecting cushy box seating and the usual theatre comforts, forget it.You will be seated on a wooden bench and if you plan well you will have a wall to lean against. The view of the stage, however, is perfect. It is open air and if there was a driving rain, there is no way that you could avoid getting wet.

It was interesting to have barkers walking around selling sandwiches and drinks; it was pretty much a three-ring circus going on while patrons are trying to watch the play. The cheapest seats in the house aren’t seats at all, you can stand in the area around the front of the stage for practically nothing.

Getting to the theatre will involve quite a bit of walking from either the Mansion House Tube Station or the Southwark Tube Station. Splurging for a taxi is always an option.
Every year there are Shakespearean productions as well as cutting edge new works offered. The season runs from April through October. Compared to New York, ticket prices are amazingly economical.

Tours of the Globe Exhibition are available every day, reservations are not required. Tours begin every 15-30 minutes. There is a costume exhibit that is explained in detail. You will hear about fitting costumes and their importance to the total production. You will also learn how special effects are created on the stage; this is live theater so computers animation isn’t an option. 

Music is another thing that is very important to the Shakespearean productions and part of the exhibition is learning about the instruments that are used. Have you ever wanted to operate a 17th-century printing press? You will be creating a copy of Hamlet for yourself on their press.

One of the most fascinating parts of the tour is learning about the building of the new Globe Theatre Everything from thatching the roof to designing the seating is explained.
In addition, you get a tour of the theatre and watch a short film telling about the ongoing archaeological discoveries that are being made in the area. On days when there is a matinee performance you will get to visit the site of the Rose Theater instead.

Over 500,000 people visit Shakespeare's Globe annually. Next time you are in London make it 500,001.

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players”; William Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Website review:

First let me introduce you to the Cotswolds, one of our favorite districts in England. If you love charming villages, soft golden cover stone building and picturesque scenery and nature then the Cotswolds is a place you will love as much as we do. 

One of the best ways to enjoy the Cotswolds is to rent a home or apartment locally and spend some time exploring the byways that meander through the area. That is where comes in. They can find you the perfect place to enjoy your adventure. 

They found us a three bedroom, three bathroom stone house with all the amenities anyone would ask for. It was in Chipping Camden which was a village we were not familiar with but soon came to love. 

They offer a wide selection of self-catering cottages with different amenities and you can check on the website and see what works best for you. I actually called them and the contact information is also available on the website. 

We were very pleased with the service that we received and the cottage was everything and more than we expected. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

A fall visit to Waddesdon Manor

Waddesdon Manor was built by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild to house his collection of decorative arts over 130 years ago. His collection is on par with that of the Wallace Collection and the Royal Collection. The tickets into Waddesdon are timed to avoid overcrowding and it helps a lot. There is a headphone tour which will add greatly to your enjoyment, it is however at an additional cost.

The house was built to entertain. The Baron planned to show off his wonderful collection and did, to a vast array of the who’s who of Victorian and Edwardian England. The condition of all his treasures is phenomenal due to the extraordinary efforts at preservation that have been undertaken almost from day one. The lighting from the outside is kept minimal and there is new interior lighting to show off the painting to advantage.

You enter into the East Gallery which has the two largest Guardi paintings in the world. You then pass to the breakfast room, the conservatory, and ante-room and into the dining room. The table is set for a dinner party circa 1894 and the flower arrangements are so tall that the two sides of the table can't see each other. The walls have two Beauvais tapestries modeled after Boucher paintings. The carpet is Aubusson and dates from 1780.

The Red Drawing Room has three Gainsborough's and a Reynolds. The Gainsborough of Lady Sheffield reflects beautifully off the Rocco mirror on the opposite wall. There are beautiful pieces of Sevres and furniture from Versailles. The carpet is a Savonnerie made for Louis XIV for the Louvre, the blue and yellow colors are particularly fresh. This is an amazing room.

The Grey Drawing Room has three Joshua Reynold's full-length portraits, one of the Duchess of Cumberland who has bedroom eyes. There is a beautiful little secretaire with Sevres inserts. This room though opulent has a cozy warmth.

The West Gallery has among its treasures a marvelous French tall clock that appears to be gold and lacquer. It is about 8 feet tall and has a mother of pearl face.

The Baron's room was his inner sanctum. He surrounded himself with portraits of beautiful women, many with dubious reputations. Two pictures of Mrs. Robinson, also Lady Hamilton and Mrs. Jordan by Romney adorn the walls.

And if you think this is all there was you have to see the West Hall where I was stopped dead by the beautiful Duchess de Polignac by Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun. The Morning Room has paintings by Cuyp, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Gabriel Metsu, and Gerard Dou.

The Sevres Room has among other things a dessert set that belonged to Marie Antoinette.

This place is beyond description and well worth the admission. It has a really great gift shop and extensive gardens, an aviary, and a wine cellar. If you would like to bring some home there is also a nice wine shop. Plan to spend the whole day.

The admission cost is determined by the time of year and additionally, it is more expensive to visit on the weekend. The most expensive rate was 15 pounds at the time of this visit for the house and garden in high season on the weekend. From January to the end of March, the shops, aviary, Manor Restaurant and the gardens are all that are open. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

December in Charlottesville, Va.

December is an amazing time to rediscover history in an interesting and unique way, by taking a holiday evening tour at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello or James Monroe’s Highland. Monticello’s small-group house tours, which include the Dome Room, give guests an intimate look at how the holidays were celebrated in Jefferson’s time. Guests will also have the rare opportunity to experience Monticello after dark. For more details, visit 

Additionally, James Monroe’s Highland will be opening its doors to special evening tours on three dates in December, giving guests a unique glimpse into this presidential home. Visitors will be able to take part in cooking demonstrations on open hearths to create buttermilk pies, apple cakes, wine-soaked pears, and sweet potato pudding, all enjoyed by candlelight. Guests will then enjoy a guided visit of the Presidential guest house and museum spaces which will be decorated for the holidays. For more information, visit 

The year 2017 will start with a bang on the historic Downtown Mall as First Night Virginia celebrations take place. First Night Virginia is one of the oldest First Night events in the nation and is a terrific and family-friendly way to usher in the new year. Families and visitors will be treated to a plethora of entertainment acts, live music, face painting, and other artistic activities. For more information on this iconic New Year’s Eve celebration, visit 

Located at the heart of Charlottesville’s historic Downtown Mall, the Paramount Theater has several exciting and festive performances lined up for the holidays! The hilarious holiday classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation will be shown on December 10 and a few days later, the legendary Tony Bennett (not the University of Virginia basketball coach) will take the stage on December 12. The following week, Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker will take place on December 18 to get everybody in the holiday spirit. For more information on shows and performances taking place at the Paramount Theater, visit 

The holiday shopping season has arrived and there are plentiful options for picking the perfect holiday gift in Charlottesville & Albemarle County. The historic pedestrian Downtown Mall offers dozens of boutique shops and stores, selling a wide variety of locally-made products. The Holiday Market, an extension of the weekly City market, continues until December 17, 2016, on Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. offering a variety of unique gifts, decorations, food, and crafts made by local farmers, artists or bakers. Finally, a trip to the Crozet Artisan Depot in Crozet will give shoppers a wide selection of arts and crafts made by local artisans from central Virginia. To learn more about the Crozet Artisan Depot, visit 

 Even though the days are shorter and the weather is cooler in the winter months, it is still business as usual in Charlottesville & Albemarle County. Numerous area hotels and attractions offer discounted rates during this time of year as an incentive for tourists to visit the destination without all of the crowds often found during busier times of year. Many of these deals are offered in gift certificate form and make great holiday gift ideas. The Charlottesville area also features more than 30 wineries, breweries, and cideries, many of which have large roaring fireplaces, making for a perfect way to warm up on a cold winter day. For more information about special packages and offerings, go to

About the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau (CACVB): In addition to serving as the global resource for marketing the tourism assets of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia, through

Casablanca Hotel New York City

When it comes to finding the perfect hotel in New York, there are many things to consider. One of the primary considerations is location, followed closely by security. After some careful consideration and a lot of research, we decided that we would stay at the Casablanca Hotel in New York City.

The location is near perfect, 43rd street just off of Time Square and an easy walk from Grand Central Station. What was the deciding factor, however, was its ratings on Trip Advisor. It was at the time the number one hotel in New York City, no easy accomplishment. We went into our visit with very high expectations. We were not disappointed.

From the moment we walked in the door we felt safe, secure and most of all welcome. The desk staff and the doorman were so amazingly friendly and we were talked to by name every time we came and went after that first meeting, it was amazing.

There is an intimate feeling about the hotel. It is small in comparisons to some of the mega hotels and there is a degree of personal service that you will never find at the larger chains. We loved this hotel but I am not going to gloss over the problem that we had. We had reserved a king size bed and after check in I realized we had a queen. The desk was apologetic but it seems some guests had not checked out of what was supposed to be our room. While I understand their dilemma, it was our room and they should have been asked to move.

In exchange for our larger bed, we were given a lovely fruit basket, a bowl filled with little candy bars and a bottle of wine and an upgrade to a suite on a future visit. I felt amply compensated. Other than the size of the bed, everything else about the room was perfect. The style is Moroccan and the bathroom was the cleanest I have ever seen. They also have the best shampoo that I have ever gotten at a hotel.

We enjoyed our bathrobes and the bed was very comfortable. The room was on the small side but large enough to suit our needs. They do offer larger suites for, of course, a larger price. Included in the room rate are an afternoon wine and cheese reception, 24-hour cappuccino and espresso and a very extensive Continental breakfast. They are all available in the beautiful lounge called Rick's Café which has a fireplace and a computer as well as plenty of tables.

We didn't eat at the restaurant at the hotel Tony DiNapoli so I can't comment on it but the menu looks interesting and they do room service.

If you are looking for a really special hotel, small, warm and in the perfect location in New York City and best of all at an affordable price, there is no place better than the Casablanca.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

New York City tourist traps to avoid

As one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, New York City is a vibrant and exciting place to visit. It is also full of tourist traps where you will be encouraged to spend more than you should in both money and time. Some things may be worth any price to visit but others can easily be replaced with somethings equally as exciting.

Empire State Building

This iconic New York City building is one of the most recognizable structures in the city, it is also one where long lines and waits of up to two hours are not uncommon. Stand ticket price is $34. You can avoid the lines with a VIP Pass, it will set you back $80 for visits to both decks.  You can visit the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center for the same $34 but without the two-hour wait. Better yet, head to Brooklyn and get the best view of the NYC skyline for free. 

Horse and carriage rides

It is very tempting to fall for the lure of the horse and carriage rides that are offered in the area near the Plaza Hotel. Yes, they will take you for a ride in Central Park, however, that ride will cost you dearly. On average, $155 for 45 minutes and if you are visiting from Thanksgiving to New Year it will be $255.  New York is a great walking city and you can easily see anything that you would have seen on the carriage ride for free by just using your own feet and at your own pace.

Little Italy

There was a time when Little Italy was the place to go in New York City for great Italian food, that time is long gone. Today, it is a prime tourist trap with long waits and lackluster food. For some of the best Italian food in the city, head to L’Artusi in the West Village neighborhood. This is a quiet neighborhood restaurant that is worth going a little off the beaten track to find. 

Ice Skating at Rockefeller Center

The Rink has been featured in some very popular movies and many visitors want to see it and be seen skating there. It is actually much smaller than it looks on screen and the wait to skate can be long and tedious especially at peak times. I was rather shocked at how small it actually is. Depending on the day, it can cost anywhere from $25 to $32  to skate here. Head for Central Park instead. The Wollman Rink located near the Central Park Zoo offers skating for $12 during the week and $19 on weekends and it won’t be nearly as crowded.  

Times Square

Many people think of Times Square when they think New York City. It is one of those attractions that is a tourist magnet but offers little in return. If you must, just walk through and continue on your way. Almost anywhere else is a better place to visit. It is crowded and in reality, if you are distracted by the lights, you are an easy target for thieves. 

New York City has so much to offer visitors that there is no need to waste time on Tourist Traps. Save time and money by visiting some of the lesser known gems.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Christmas in New York City

New York City is an adventure any time of the year but Christmas in New York City is magical. The city takes on a glow that will enchant even the most disenchanted Grinch.

Many of the things to do and see won't cost you anything. The whole family will enjoy walking along Fifth Avenue and stopping to view the Christmas window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord and Taylor and Bergdorf Goodman. Every year these retailers compete to see who can create the biggest, the best and the most innovative window designs. They never disappoint.

It isn't just Fifth Avenue that has charming window displays, you can stroll any of the avenues and have a similar experience. Macys at Harold Square is among the most famous.

Rockefeller Center is the home of perhaps the most famous Christmas tree in the world. Every year for the last seventy years people have flocked to New York City to view this tree. It is usually a Norway spruce a minimum of 65 feet tall and 35 feet wide, though they prefer it to be between 75 and 90 feet tall.

It takes over five miles of lights to light it. It is no wonder that thousands of people come to NYC to see it for the month that it is lit. The lighting ceremony is a big draw and usually, happens the first week of December.

Rockefeller Center is also the home of New York City's most famous skating rink. It is enchanting to standing at the railings and looking down on the people whirling around. But if you want to have a more relaxed skate head to Central Park and skate at the Wollman Rink. If you don't have your own skates with you, don't worry, you can rent them.

Part of the New York Christmas experience is attending the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, George Balanchine's The Nutcracker by the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center and for the 29th year the Big Apple Circus at Damrosch Park. These are performances that sell out early, it is always wisest to order your tickets early.

For shopping, the biggies Macys and Bloomingdales are just the tip of the iceberg. If you want something more local try one of the Christmas Markets. Head for Union Square, Bryant Park or Grand Central Station. You will find crafts and unique items to thrill everyone on your gift list.

For three weeks in December Little Italy is the place to be. Events include a tree lighting, a concert and a parade. While you are there sample some authentic Italian food and visit the Italian food markets.

The Metropolitan Museum has a phenomenal crèche display and a magnificent Christmas tree. Any time of the year is a wonderful time to spend a few hours wander through the thousands of pieces of art but at Christmas, it is extra special.

South Street Seaport will also be ablaze with a fifty foot Douglas fir and on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings there will be a performance by the Big Apple Chorus. The whole city will have a festive air and if you are really lucky a dusting of snow.

Christmas truly is a magical time in New York City. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Christmas time at Hildene Manchester, Vt

In 1905 Robert Todd Lincoln built a summer cottage for his family in Manchester, Vt. He had loved the area since he first visited with his mother and brother Tad in 1863. He spent summers here and in later years even longer for the rest of his life. He named his home Hildene for the old English words for hill and valley with a stream. 

After the death of his granddaughter in 1975, the house was saved by a local group of people who made sure that it would survive to be enjoyed for years to come. It is lovely any time of year with gorgeous views and spectacular gardens. At this time of year, it really shines. Decorated as if it was Christmas 1912, it is a glimpse at a quieter simpler time. 

The magnificent Aeolian player organ serenaded us with a Christmas carol and just really added to the overall feel of the house. 

You tour two floors of the 8,000 square foot home and a friendly docent will be happy to chat with you about anything that interests you. He also gave us some brief historical facts. 

Since I was here last, things have really changed. The carriage house is a beautiful visitor center where you watch two 6 minute videos, one about the house and Robert Lincoln and the other about the Pullman car that has been brought to the grounds. 

You can tour the Pullman car which has been magnificently restored either before or after you visit the house. I highly recommend, however, that you do visit it. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Nashville at Christmas time

Music City shines every day of the year, but at the holidays it comes to life in an even brighter way. You may want to choose to visit during the week to avoid the crowds that are a part of every weekend from Thanksgiving until Christmas.

Selecting the Gaylord Opryland Hotel as your base makes good sense since it is the site of several of the attractions and is convenient to others.  

Opryland has its own light spectacular and offers horse drawn carriage rides. Frankly, visitors can come to the resort and may not ever want to leave. The hotel provides a variety of dining options to suit every taste and budget. Be sure to book early and look for one of their package deals and don’t be afraid to ask about a senior discount.

One of the most popular attractions is the General Jackson Riverboat. Guests enjoy a delicious lunch or dinner, complete with Holiday Show, while cruising down the Tennessee River. The dock is located on the property of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.

Many of the historic homes in the area are dressed in their festive best and bring the spirit of the holidays to their particular venue. Belle Meade Plantation, Cheekwood and The Hermitage are among the more popular destinations.


Nashville is a perfect place to spend three or four days in December. Check out the Nashville CVB for additional ideas.