This is a fairly long post since I have been a bit neglectful in keeping this up to date. Also, since we don’t have much in the way of Internet here in Pennsylvania (yet!) I am posting without pictures for the time being. They are forthcoming.
3/9 – Our first stop after leaving Dade City was the oldest city in the U.S., St. Augustine. Home to the mythical Fountain of Youth, where we walked the old city, seeing the oldest schoolhouse and the Spanish fort, Castillo de San Marcos.
We also met up with old friends of ours from the Chicago area who now live not far from St. Augustine. All together a nice couple of days before we leave Florida.
3/13 – When one thinks of a typically representative southern city, Savannah would have to come to mind. With its’ beautiful buildings, Spanish moss laden trees, magnificent churches and concentrated civil war history, Savannah just oozes southern charm. We first took a guided bus tour, and then walked the city from the river to the fountain in Forsyth Park. Coincidently, we were there for St. Patrick’s Day weekend and they had green water in the fountain. There is a rather large percentage of the population that is Irish and the celebration there rivals those of any other American city.
We toured many of the cathedrals and were impressed by their size and grandeur.
3/16 – Historically, Charleston is probably the most interesting city we have visited so far, largely since this is where our Civil War fighting actually began, at Fort Sumter. During the boat ride to the fort, we were told of its’ history. The remaining fort is maybe half the size of the original due to the final shelling it took from Union guns toward the end of the war. The fort was originally Union manned but was surrounded by Confederate enforcements. Obviously the Confederacy couldn’t have a Union emplacement at the mouth of a Confederate harbor, so hostilities broke out. The Union troops were outgunned so the commander ordered the fort abandoned and it remained Confederate for the remainder of the war. Even though it is only a fraction of its’ original size, it is still impressive.
Near the embarkation point to Fort Sumter is the Charleston Aquarium, a beautiful exhibit showcasing the many species of marine life in and around the waters nearby. They also had a majestic Bald Eagle that had been injured and could not fly normally. In the wild it would have perished but they had a safe home for it at the Aquarium.
There is a huge 3-story glass tank with 250 types of sea creatures, from lion fish to sharks. While sitting and watching them, a shark swam up and ate one of the fish in 2 quick bites. Make that 249 types!
We were excited to visit the Citadel, the famous military school in Charleston. Fortunately our timing was good and we were witness to the weekly cadet review and awards ceremony. It’s a very stirring sight to actually be right there and witness the pomp and circumstance related to the procession.
The city of Charleston
3/21 – We have been looking forward to our week on Cape Hatteras as a highpoint of our trip It is a long, narrow spit of sand, covered by hundreds of “Summer of ‘42” style homes (see also “Nights in Rodanthe”) with sand dunes, beaches, restaurants and all the businesses you’d associate with oceanside resorts. We are chasing spring again but unfortunately we are still a couple weeks ahead of warm weather. The ocean sounds are very relaxing and without the tourist crush we have a chance to relax a bit.
Drove to the ferry on the southern end of the cape and went across to Ocracoke Island. Visited their local museum and had lunch before heading back.
We took a day and headed north to Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hill to visit the Wright Brothers memorial. Very cold and windy but we had an outstanding tour guide who brought the first flight to life for us. It was too uncomfortable to stay out long so we left but came back a couple days later to walk the “flight line” where they successfully inaugurated flight. Ingenious guys with an abundance of fortitude and perseverance to see their vision through. Amazing place to visit after merely reading about them.
We continued north from the Kitty Hawk, through Duck, to Corolla and the Currituck Beach lighthouse, walked on the beach and had a nice lunch in Duck.
3/26 – We leave the Cape for historic Williamsburg, Virginia. We are torn between wanting to come back when the weather is nicer but the summer crowds are probably a killer.
3/27 – Colonial Williamsburg, an example of early American life. We had heard so much about this area and our anticipation level was pretty high. While Williamsburg is beautiful, we were a bit underwhelmed. In-season when it’s warmer and everything is in bloom it’s probably more interesting. Maybe we will come back later in the summer.
3/28 – We got up early and took Amtrak to Richmond, the state capitol. The train station is a beautiful, large, older building located a few blocks from the capitol complex. There we saw a Thomas Jefferson designed Capitol building atop a high hill, surrounded by equally impressive government buildings, including the Governor’s mansion. After touring the mansion, we went through the capitol building. While it’s not the biggest or the most ornate capitol building we have been through, there is so much history there, and we were impressed. Seeing Jefferson’s design, the Robert E. Lee statue, the old senate chamber where they filmed part of “Lincoln”, we definitely got a greater sense of history.
Richmond is built on hills alongside the James River and there are many more historic sites to see but we will have to come back for those. Absolutely a plus on our list.
3/29 – Traveled to Monticello, home and final resting place of Thomas Jefferson, today. First impression was that it was not as large as expected but still very impressive. The tour of the mansion was well done, followed by a walk around the grounds and down to the burial site. It’s a very impressive setting, high on a large hill overlooking the estates’ 5,000 acres and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville which he founded. Jefferson designed the home and its’ architectural style meshed perfectly with what we learned yesterday during our visit to the capitol.
By his own admission, Jefferson’s greatest contribution to this country is the Declaration of Independence, even more important than being our 3rd president. In it he proclaimed the individuals’ right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, asserting that “all men are created equal”, even though his estate utilized some 400+ slaves during his lifetime. He was frustrated in that he could see no way back from slavery and that it would take another generation to abolish it. He was correct.
3/30 – Journeyed to Staunton (pronounced like Stan-ton) to tour the Woodrow Wilson birthplace and museum. Very well done exhibit examining Wilson’s boyhood, legal experience, tenure as president of Princeton and life as our 28th president. He tried in vain to keep us out of World War 1, but when we finally did enter the conflict, did a commendable job as leader.
We spent better than an hour there, watching an introductory movie, walking through the museum and being part of a very informative tour.
Staunton seems to be a nice town and we walked the few blocks downtown and had lunch. It was to our wonder that the waitress at the restaurant has never been to the museum!
Altogether a very nice day.
3/31 – We woke to heavy rain today but weren’t about to let it dampen our spirits (pun intended) or spoil our plans. We packed up and headed to Orange, Virginia, and Montpelier, the home of James Madison, our 4th president. I learned something today that changed my perception of our history. While Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, which precipitated our revolutionary war to free ourselves from British rule, the colonies had only come together in unity to beat them. They were going to operate as separate states after gaining independence. It was largely through the level-headed efforts and persuasiveness of James Madison that the colonies were brought together by our Constitution, in which he had the greatest hand in writing. Here also was another man conflicted by slavery but still using them on his estate. How could these two great people, authors of 2 of the greatest documents ever written, who believed so strongly in the individual rights of men, continue to own and profit from indentured servants? To decide between the opulent, comfortable life of an estate owner, or to free his slaves and radically change his fortunes. Jefferson was conflicted and realized the nation could not endure with a future bound by slavery, but he was unable to come up with a proper solution. That resolution would be up to a future generation. Of course, we didn’t need to wait very long. Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826, only 35 years before our Civil War.
4/1 – Took the day off to relax and prepare for the final leg of our spring journey. We will be in Pennsylvania tomorrow.