Monday, February 27, 2017

New England maple festivals and celebrations

When it comes to maple trees, New England is the perfect place for them to grow and the residents of this area have taken advantage of the sweet syrup that flows through these trees since the beginning of the colonies. Today, maple is celebrated in a variety of the ways and in many different locations.

Hebron, Connecticut is the home of the Hebron Maple Festival which takes place every year in March,  for 2017 March 18-19. By the time March rolls around, this part of the country is quite comfortable to do all the outdoor activities that are offered on this weekend.

It all begins with a pancake breakfast that is offered both mornings. Following breakfast, you have plenty of choices. There are tours of the sugar shacks, demonstrations to watch, lots of maple food items for sale and a whole lot more.

Hebron is located slightly more than 20 miles southeast of Hartford. Route 66 runs through the center of town crossed by route 85. Route 2 is the closed multi-lane road and is about 4 miles away. This historic town dates from 1708 and has a population of fewer than 9,000 residents.

For over 45 years, St. Albans, Vermont has been the home of the official Vermont Maple Festival. The festivities occur sometime between mid and late April, for 2017 April 28,29 and 30. 

St Albans is far north in Vermont and as you can see, it is much later than the festival that takes place in Connecticut almost 300 miles to the south. There is a  lot to do at this festival including an antique show, craft and specialty food show, entertainment for adults and children and of course lots of maple goodies to sample. There are demonstrations, sugar shack tours, pancake breakfast, sap run and many more activities. This is a popular event and people come from all over so make your reservations for accommodations early.

During the month of March, there are a variety of sugar houses in the State of New Hampshire that open to the public. It is a sweet time to visit the state. The Maple Producers in the state have put together a calendar of maple events. 

In Skowhegan, Maine the Annual Maple Festival will take place March 24-26, 2017 and lead right into the statewide Maple Sunday.  

Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts offers Maple Days in March . 

These are just some of the maple festivals in New England. Many smaller events and state wide days take place from February through April when the sap is running.

More information:

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ravine Gardens State Park Palatka, Florida

Al gets bored if we don't do something once in a while so after a little research, I found Ravine Gardens State Park about an hour and 15 minutes away. Several different roads can take us there so we went one way and came back another. 

The park is not easy to find, our GPS took us to a road that was blocked so we had to regroup. Thanks to Waze we were able to reroute. Once you get to the park it is still confusing. If you want to get a lot of exercise you can park outside the gate and then fill out an envelope and pay $2 per person to enter. You can, though,, drive in and park near the visitor center or just drive around the park in a 1.8 mile loop. 

As you go through the gate there is a payment box, you get an envelope out, put in $5 per car and take the tab to hang on your mirror. Bathrooms are in the visitor center and also along the loop and the Court of States are worth a look. It is anchored by an obelisk dedicated to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was the WPA begun by the president that created the park. Connecticut's flag was easy to see and identify. 

Driving around is the ideal way to see everything. Parking is available throughout the park at points where you will want to stop. Note to parents, you can walk into the ravine, this is much safer than driving or walking the rim. I didn't see any barriers except on the overlooks so an active child could get into trouble pretty quickly. 

If you enjoy a little excitement, there are two suspension bridges that you can walk across. 

To be honest, the azaleas were already getting to the end of their beauty. They must have been very early this year due to the warm winter. I was able to get some pretty shots and I found a butterfly that was so pretty I couldn't resist getting out my longer distance lens. 

We spent a little over an hour driving around and walking to some of the overlooks.  We were not able to find the water wheel so I guess we will have to go back next year, maybe in early February. 

If you get hungry, Angel's Dining Car is a historic and fun place to grab a bite to eat. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Travels in Lorraine

Lorraine is one of the departments of France. It borders on Germany and in times past was often referred to as Alsace/Lorraine which is a combination of two departments. Historically it has been under the rule of France and Germany at different times in its history. It is made up of some beautiful cities and towns and also has a very rich history. It was the site of fierce fighting during World War I and some of the remnants still remain.

Beyond being the site of fierce fighting in World War I, Verdun is a very pretty city. The basilica occupies a high spot and you will drive up cobblestone streets to get to it. You can walk through the 12th-century Chapel Gate, the last surviving gate in the city. Among the attractions at the basilica are the 12th-century crypt with frescos. Among the treasures are reliquaries holding the bones of some of the Virgins of Cologne. A museum is located adjacent to the basilica.

We drove the more than 35 miles through the French countryside to get to the American cemetery. This was supposed to be the war to end all wars and from our perspective, in the future, we know that worse was yet to come but these brave young men thought they were giving their lives to create a peaceful world.

It was peaceful in January with a light dusting of snow and the rows on rows of stones with crosses and stars of David was incredibly touching. All these young lives lost along with their hopes and dreams. We looked to find stones from people from Connecticut so that we could feel a personal connection.

In the drive through the countryside, there were many other cemeteries for the soldiers on both sides of this conflict. In all, over 800,000 lost their life in the Battle of Verdun.

As the trip continued, we passed through Varennes. A tower in town dedicated to King Louis XVI. It was in this town that the King and his wife Marie Antoinette were captured as they tried to flee France. The town also contains a rather impressive World War II monument to General Pershing.

Nancy is a city that deserves at least a day or two. It has several very fine museums including The Lorraine Museum and The Fine Arts Museum. Several of the Dukes of Lorraine are buried in the Cordelier Church. These are just the main museums, there are other small and interesting museum all within an easy walk of the Place Stanislaus.

Lorraine is a wonderfully historic place to spend a long weekend or even an entire vacation. Beyond these three places, many others offer a variety of experiences beyond just history.

Monday, February 13, 2017

My favorite Philadelphia museums

Philadelphia has some of the finest museums in the country. It is a very easy city to visit with plenty of parking, good public transportation and streets that are easy to find and to navigate. Unlike most big cities getting around in Philadelphia is not difficult at all. Here are a few of my favorite museums to visit alone or with the family.

Constitution Museum
This is more than just a museum it is a sound and light show within a museum. You are taken on a journey through the history of the American Revolution and beyond to the writing of the Constitution in the show called “Freedom Rising”. After the show, you visit the museum where you get to walk among life-size statues of the men who drafted the Constitution. The surprise is who is there and who isn’t.

Children will love being able to walk into a voting booth and actually place a vote. The three branches of government are explained in detail in an interesting and interactive fashion. The museum is filled with fascinating exhibits, allow two hours to see the show and view the hands-on exhibits. This museum will be interesting for adults and children. Entrance fee charged.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

The front of this building is one of the most recognizable buildings in Philadelphia thanks to the movie Rocky. The actual entrance is on the other side of the building. The Phlash bus will drop you off right at the museum or they do have limited parking available. Sundays are free, well not exactly free they want a donation, you get to pick the amount. Headphone tours are offered ($) including the director's tour which highlights the director's favorite pieces. 

This is a world-class art museum with fantastic old world master, impressionist, sculpture including a very famous bust of Benjamin Franklin. I love the rooms that have been preserved from houses both in this country and Europe. The grandchildren loved the oriental art and the Temple of the Attainment of Happiness. There are special programs offered for children, a visit to their website will tell you exactly what is being offered and when. Two very good restaurants and a great gift shop complete a visit here. Allow several hours minimum.

Atwater Kent
The History Museum of Philadelphia

This is a small museum near Independence Park that tells the history of Philadelphia through her people and not just the famous ones. This is a museum of immigration and industrialization. You get a good look at what has made Philadelphia into the city it is today. This goes way beyond the twenty or so years of the American Revolution. It includes exhibits on the Native Americans and a very interesting Rogues Gallery of photos. One of its treasures is a complete collection of the Saturday Evening Post illustration by Norman Rockwell. Allow about an hour, there is an entrance fee.

Franklin Museum of Science

If you are visiting Philadelphia with children this is a must-see museum. Not to imply that adults won’t find it interesting but children will be in their glory. There is a planetarium, an IMAX theater and exhibits that run the gamut from a heart that can be walked through to the latest in NASA technology. Want to know what you will look like when you are 90? This is the place to see your transformed image. Some exhibits constantly change so this never gets old. Allow 3-4 hour or more for a visit. The Phlash bus has a stop right across the street.

Academy of Natural Science

This is another Museum that will fascinate children. They can see the first mounted dinosaur skeleton, dig for fossils or if they want to have a good laugh, get eaten by a dinosaur. There is a theater with a live animal presentation, the last time we were there , it was some very large snakes. There are also displays of stuffed animals as well as a section with live animals. Allow an hour or two for this museum, even the tweens loved it. Entrance fee

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

This is one of my favorite museums. It has wonderful Moorish architecture and some very fine works of art. Docent lead tours are offered and they are very interesting. We were the only ones on our tour so it was very personal. You can also choose to take a headphone tour. Expect to be delighted with the great collection of American paintings by the likes of Gilbert Stuart, the Peales, Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins and much, much more. There is a monumental painting by Benjamin West that will greet you as you walk up the stairs. Allow an hour, more if you enjoy American artists. Or if a special exhibit is going on. Entrance fee.

Mutter Museum 
College of Physicians and Surgeons

If you are traveling with teens or tweens this is a must. It has the greatest collection of weirdly fascinating medical information that I have ever seen. Want to see Eng and Chang’s shared liver? It’s here. Grover Cleveland’s tumor, yes it’s here too. There are cases of all sorts of body parts, limbs, internal organs, skulls and skin. It’s gross, the kids will love it. Plan to spend at least an hour maybe more. Entrance fee.

The next time you visit Philadelphia allow some time to visit her many museums. This article is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what is waiting. After many visits, I am still discovering new museums to visit on every trip.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Holiday Inn Valley View Roanoke

This modern hotel is located about 5 miles from the heart of downtown Roanoke. It is located quite close to the airport and with easy access to 581/220 you can be just about anywhere you want in just a few minutes.

This 5 story hotel has a beautiful lobby with a fireplace and couches for relaxing. The restaurant is also located in the lobby and serves breakfast and dinner. You can grab a complimentary cup of coffee while you check in.

All of the rooms in the hotel are on the right side. The left side has the meeting and conference rooms. Our room was a king room and was exceptionally large. You enter into a foyer which has two large windows that overlook the lobby, restaurant and pool area. You then walk down a hall with the bathroom on the right. The closet is open and includes a luggage holder an iron and an ironing board as well as additional bedding.

The room has a coffee pot on a cupboard that holds the mini fridge. The cupboard above has the microwave. A desk with a very comfortable chair offer the perfect place to work and free WiFi is available. The TV sits on a dresser that faces the bed. I did say the room was large didn’t I? It also includes a sofa and a coffee table, two nights stands and a king size bed. The room has plenty of plugs including at the desk and on the nightstand lamps.

Three lamps and a pole lamp provide plenty of light and the hall and the foyer have overhead lighting. The bathroom has a large granite vanity and a shower/tub combination. An abundance of hot water and good pressure make taking a shower enjoyable. The towels while not plush are generous and absorbent.

The bed has a firm mattress that gave us a very good night’s sleep. I would prefer to have real down or feather pillows but the ones provided are both firm and soft. They have bands around them when you first come into your room to tell you which is which.

The area where the hotel is located has several other hotels and some stores. Within just a short drive of a mile or two there is the Valley Mall which not only has a great selection of stores but also plenty of restaurant options.

A gym, an indoor/outdoor pool and a hot tub are also available. The hotel partners with Gold’s Gym if you need more than what the gym here offers. Plenty of free parking is also provided.

This is a very nice hotel in a convenient location within just a few miles of I-81. It is extremely easy to get on and off the connector road and also into downtown. It was clean and in good repair and has everything that business and family travelers could want. I would not hesitate to recommend the hotel or to stay here again myself.

Monday, February 6, 2017

O. Winston Link Museum Roanoke

If like me, you have never heard of O. Winston Link, you are in for a real treat when you visit the Link Museum. It has an amazing location in a passenger train station, it couldn’t be more appropriate. It also shares the space with the Roanoke CVB which means you will have access to lots of great information about the Roanoke area.

O. Winston Link was a photographer and also a civil engineer. His official training was in engineering but his passion was photography and his love was steam trains. Between 1955 and 1960 he documented the final days of the Norfolk and Western steam powered trains.
Even if you don’t know his name you probably have come across his fascinating and evocative photographs. He realized that photographing the trains at night allowed him to control the atmosphere and lighting and with the cooperation of the railroad, he was able to captures the very essence of the steam train.

The Link Museum documents not only his life and works but the history of the Norfolk and Western Railroad. You don’t have to be a railroad fan to fall in love with his photographs, they cross all class barriers and give you a picture of life here in the Roanoke area in a time that has passed us by. He was amazing at capturing the soul of an era and the people whose life he touched.

Your first stop should be the gift store where you purchase your entrance ticket. Please check out their website for current fees.

I am going to suggest that you begin your visit by watching the 30-minute film ‘What A Picture I Got” in the General Electric Transportation Theatre on the lower level of the building. You will understand better what went into the making of these photographs after you have watched the movie.

After you watch the movie you can continue to tour on the lower level or you can return to the upper level to begin the tour, it is your choice. You will be given a booklet which takes you on a numbered tour of the exhibits in the museum.

While his photos form a large part of the exhibits, there is much more to this museum. It is about the history of the Norfolk and Western Railroad. Link had a love affair with the steam engines that were created in the adjacent motor shop especially the class A-1218. It was his dearest wish that this engine be preserved and it was.

Mr. Link was a self -trained photographer with a natural eye for what was appealing. In some of his most evocative photos, the trains are in the background and he captures a moment in time. Walking through the galleries is fascinating even if trains are not one of your passions and if you are a steam train lover, this museum is a must.

If you plan to watch the movie, allow at least an hour and a half to do justice to this unique and wonderful museum.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Visiting the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum Lisbon

In order to understand this museum, it helps to know a little bit about the man who created it. Calouste Gulbenkian was an Armenia who made his fortune in petroleum. He amassed a fabulous collection of art and decorative arts during his lifetime. He was able to take advantage of many people's bad luck to add to his collection. His amazing Rembrandt of the old man was originally part of the collection of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, He came to Portugal in 1942 escaping from Paris and looking for a place far away from the ravages of the World conflict, he found it in Lisbon.

This museum is located a little out of the center. There are two museums here, one of modern and contemporary art which appeared to be very popular and the more classical museum. The collection spans ancient times to the Impressionists. 

You begin your journey through the museum chronologically. Entrance 10€. You can also pay an additional amount for an audio guide. 

The collection begins in ancient Egypt with items in the first room and moves into the art of Islam and the Far East. The Chinese porcelain collection is outstanding with some of the largest ginger jars I have ever seen and they are gorgeous in a rose medallion pattern.

The furniture collection here is outstanding. The highlights are a chest by the French master cabinet maker Boulle as well as some outstanding tapestries. Cases filled with Sevres china and some pieces that belonged to the French royal family are on display. An entire room of silver is bound to impress. One of the silver lids was commissioned by the Duc Orleans. Aubusson tapestries and much more will keep you enthralled as you walk around.

But what we came to see was the art. It begins with early Flemish works including St Catherine by Rogier Van der Weyden. Enjoy viewing the many Guardi paintings of Venice and the three Rembrandts. A fine collection of English portraits by Romney, Gainsborough and Lawrence is also offered.

The Impressionists are well represented here with several very fine still lives from Fantine Latour and portraits by Manet, Degas, and Mary Cassatt. There is a wonderful painting by John Singer Sergeant. The last room you visit is the Rene Lalique room. It includes some outstanding pieces of Art Deco jewelry pieces with gems and semi-precious gems.

A gift store is located on the lower level with a small select group of offerings. There is also a shop near the rest rooms and cafeteria. This is a great place to have lunch; they offer hot meals, soup, sandwiches, quiche and fresh fruit and dessert. You can eat outdoors on the patio and enjoy the general feel of the location, we certainly did.

A small garden flanks the front and the side of the museum. Taxis are easy to find and inexpensive. The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum will take about an hour to see and if you add the contemporary museum another hour. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Sargent House Museum Gloucester, Ma.

Located on Middle Street, but accessible from Main Street, you need strong legs to climb the three set of stairs that scale the terraced yard to the Sargent House Museum. When the house was built, Main Street was called Front Street and was on the waterfront. It would have offered Judith stellar views of the family ships coming in and out of Gloucester Harbor.

 The terraced lawn was designed to impress and it still does today over 200 years later. Built in the classical Georgian style of the period, the original house had four main rooms with an L addition that contained the kitchen and servants quarters. The house today includes an 1805 addition but not the kitchen and servants quarters.

Before visiting this house, it is important to know the woman who owned it. Judith Sargent Stevens Murray was quite an amazing woman. Born in 1751 she wanted more than anything to learn all the things that her two brothers were learning but because she was a girl, according to an article by Bonnie Hurd Smith for the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society she had to be satisfied with “An ill-taught old Woman” who taught Judith rudimentary reading and writing skills; her mother provided her with “a pretty extensive acquaintance with needle work, in all its varieties, with a general idea of family business and arrangement” to prepare Judith for “the department it was presumed [she] should be called to fill,” meaning, marriage. Contrary to Sargent family legend, Judith did not study alongside her brother Winthrop while he was tutored to enter Harvard. “In vain did I solicit to share, in those instructions, which were so liberally allowed to him,” Judith explained years later to Mary Pilgrim.”

Luckily for Judith, her family had an extensive library of which she availed herself and she became one of the best educated women of her time. So well educated in fact, that when her nephews from Mississippi needed to be tutored for entrance to Harvard, her brother Winthrop sent them up north for her to tutor.

An article about Judith could go to thousands of words, but this is about her home in Gloucester. Tours are $12 and are done whenever there are people who want to tour. The house is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday noon to 4:00 p.m Memorial Day to Labor Day. The tour begins out front with information about the exterior of the home and then goes through the six rooms that are now open to visit. Of particular interest is Judith’s writing nook which is in her bedroom.

The docent for the visit was very knowledgeable and the tour will last as long as your interest. If you have questions, it will last longer; no questions, quicker. The house is furnished with family pieces but most of the items did not belong to Judith since her furniture was sold to pay the debts contracted by her first husband. Included in the house are a few rare drawings done by her grandnephew John Singer Sargent, the grandson of her brother Winthrop.

If you are a history lover, a feminist or an art lover, you must include a visit to this house museum any trip to Gloucester. Judith was a fascinating woman and counted among her friends John and Abigail Adams, George and Martha Washington’s and many other prominent families of the day. Her second husband John Murray; was known as the founder of Universalism in America and you will hear some interesting stories about the conflict between the Congregational Church and the new Universalist Church during the tour.