Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Our Love of Killington

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - View from Killington, Vermont

No, we didn't fall off the ends of the earth after we left Philadelphia. We did, however, fall headlong into the true-blue nomadic lifestyle: we sold our house. We hope the flurry of packing, moving, and closing adequately explains the absence of blogs for the past week. If not, please contact our customer service department for a full refund for those missed blogs.

To answer your inevitable questions (that some of you might have, that is), no, we aren't moving to Florida as originally planned, at least not yet: we plan to get back down there later this year or early next and spend a more thorough amount of time deciding on the area and neighborhood than we had a chance to do in February. Until then, specifically until middle November, our travel calendar is pretty well filled in with all sorts of interesting adventures, from an east-bound transatlantic crossing and a month on the island of Ibiza, to two more visits to Northern England and (if the stars align) a month in Florence, Italy. Stay tuned.

So back to our winter road trip...

The peak of our road trip (so to speak) was to ski at Killington, Vermont. It's been an odd winter for our friends in New England: Boston hardly got a flake of snow until January, and then February became the snowiest month on record. All of New England had been covered by two back-to-back nor'easters just before we got there, and the ski resorts from Vermont to Maine were wallowing in feet of the white stuff. We've been going to Killington for over a decade now, and many times we've been barely half the mountain's skiable terrain was open. Not so this time.

That's not to say we had beautiful weather the whole time: of the six days we were there, we had three good weather days, including the bluebird day in the pictures below. The other three days it snowed. But hey, that's what we were there to enjoy. That and our familiarity with this particularly beautiful corner of the world.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Top of the Great Eastern Trail, Killington, VT

We've lost count of the number of times we've been to Killington. We're pretty sure it's around a dozen. We know that's insignificant for many people who live in New England, but keep in mind that getting to Vermont--whether by plane, train, or automobile--has always been a bit of an effort for us. We go to Killington not because it's convenient, but because we want to go there. For all those ski aficionados who are certainly thinking, "Why not the Rockies?" the answer is that we've spent all our lives at, or very close to, sea level. Killington's 4,000 feet or so of elevation is much more enjoyable than the oxygen-gasping 8,000 feet that most Rocky Mountain resorts start at.

And now that we've been here a dozen or so times, we know this mountain very well. Every time we visit reinforces that familiarity a little more, especially as (some of) our skills increase (none of us grew up skiing). It's comforting that we know the nooks and crannies of the 2+ miles of the Great Eastern trail from top to bottom, that we know what beer the lodges serve, and that we don't have to think about where we want to drive when the ski day is over.

So we'll continue to make the trek to Killington when there's snow there, and we'll always consider it a great ski season when we can accomplish at least one top-to-bottom run of Great Eastern.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Ski Lift at Killington, VT

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Chuck, Lori, and Randy at Killington, VT
Chuck, Lori, Randy
We each went a different way: can you guess who went where?

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - View from Killington, VT

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Scenes from Philadelphia

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Independence Hall, Philadelphia
Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Our winter New England road trip continued with a day spent in Philadelphia. In addition to the newly opened Benjamin Franklin museum, we visited the National Historic Park, and most of what we saw will be easily recognizable to you without explanation, so enjoy this special edition Sunday blog without all the usual reading!

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - The Liberty Bell
The Liberty Bell

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Continental Congress Meeting Room
The Room Where The Continental Congress Debated And Wrote
The Declaration of Independence and The US Constitution

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - First US Senate Chambers
The First US Senate Chambers

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Archaeological Excavations of the President's House, Philadelphia
Excavations of the President's House, The Original "White House"

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Painting of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Benjamin Franklin's Grave
Franklin's Grave, With Tributes To His Saying,
"A penny saved is a penny earned."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Valley Forge at Winter

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Valley Forge Visitor's Center
Valley Forge Visitor's Center Entrance

War was fought much differently in the 18th century than today. Once the weather turned cold, armies went home or simply put themselves up somewhere to wait until the weather turned nicer and fighting could resume. It was called "winter quarters", and it was one of the main reasons that General George Washington's sneak attack across the Delaware on Christmas day, 1776, was successful: such things just weren't done. But Washington often fought by different rules than the British, as he fully intended to win.

Unfortunately, the ensuing year of 1777 wasn't as successful as that sneak Christmas attack for Washington's army and the nascent United States of America. Throughout 1777, both sides enjoyed wins and suffered losses, but the Americans lost Fort Ticonderoga in early July and Philadelphia in the end of September. The loss of the nation's capital was as much a morale victory for the British as a strategic one, but as the fighting season wound down and both armies prepared for winter quarters, Washington encamped at Valley Forge, just twenty miles west of occupied Philadelphia. Britain's General Howe was almost certainly ill at ease with Washington's site selection. Many historians have argued that, had Howe attacked Washington's battered army then, the Revolutionary War would have been ended, but Howe settled quietly in for the long winter and waited patiently. It was a big mistake, for sure.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Log Troop Hut at Valley Forge
Log Troop Hut at Valley Forge

As winter set in, Washington's army did what they did best: they built. They dug in. Valley Forge became a city of log troop huts. Redoubts were constructed, with cannons (captured from the British at Fort Ticonderoga) pointed at Howe's army over in Philadelphia. Often during winter quarters, top commanding officers went home. Not only did Washington stay with his troops at Valley Forge, but Martha came to join him. He spent the winter with his troops, regularly riding his horse Nelson among them, talking with them, encouraging them, if only by his inspiring presence.

As Americans have been taught for the past couple of centuries, nobody could have anticipated the bitter winter the American army would have to endure. The harsh weather, coupled with poorly managed supply lines and disease, led to the death of 2,500 soldiers at Valley Forge. But Washington made two personnel decisions that quite likely changed the course of the war.

First, Washington appointed Nathanael Greene as Quartermaster General, replacing Major General Thomas Mifflin. Greene was self-taught in military tactics and loathed the role of quartermaster, but Washington promised him a dual combat command to entice him to fix the army's supply problems. Greene poured himself into the task and managed to supply the army with food for the men, food for the horses, clothing, blankets, and more.

Second, Washington appointed Prussian-born Friedrich von Steuben as the army's inspector general. America's new inspector general was a skilled drillmaster and expert in the tactical arts. He developed and executed a training program that standardized their battle movements and formation techniques, and tireless drills not only kept the troops occupied and focused through the winter but also dramatically increased their skill levels, their efficiencies, and (perhaps most importantly) their confidence.

The army that emerged from winter quarters at Valley Forge was greatly reduced in numbers, but they were better supplied, well-trained, and carried high morale.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Statue of Major General Friedrich Wilhelm
Statue of Major General Friedrich Wilhelm
(Baron von Steuben)

The day we visited Valley Forge, it was still cold--in the 20's--and windy. The heavy snow from the week before had begun to melt and had refrozen in places. It was hard to imagine what it was like to live here for months on end, with little food, not enough shoes to go around, and disease running rampant. Walking across the frozen, crunchy grass of Valley Forge, it occurred to me that it requires a nearly inconceivable amount of dedication to a cause to endure such hardships.

It felt great to be an American that day.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Arch Memorial and Flag, Valley Forge, PA
Memorial At Valley Forge

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Smithsonian's American History Museum

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Washington Monument and Snowy National Mall
Washington Monument On Snow-Covered National Mall
Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Entrance To The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History
The National Museum of American History
We only spent one day in Washington, and except for Randy, all of us had been there before. The National Mall was covered with a slushy, but brightly picturesque, snow. Over the course of a few hours, we took in the Washington Monument, the new World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, the Lincoln Monument, and the Korean War Veteran's Memorial. But before that, we spent the morning in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Back on a family vacation the summer of 2002, we took our semi-interested teen progeny to this and several others of the Smithsonian's national museums. While the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum is an awesome, not-to-be-missed museum, we think it's unfortunate that it seems to get better play than the history museum. If you have kids in tow, granted, seeing airplanes and spaceships might be a better utilization of your family museum-going time, but otherwise, if you go to the nation's capital, don't miss the museum dedicated to the nation's history and culture.

The National Museum of American History is packed with historical artifacts of all types, from an entire colonial era home relocated from Boston and reassembled inside the museum, to a Revolutionary War gunboat sunk in 1776, raised from the bottom of Lake Champlain in the 1930's, and bequeathed to the Smithsonian in 1961.

One of the biggest (in size and popularity) exhibits is the original "Star Spangled Banner", the actual flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics to our National Anthem. When we visited in 2002, the flag had been removed for conservation, and in its place was a great presentation on how conservators were working to restore it. We looked forward to returning to see their work; unfortunately photography wasn't allowed, but trust me that not only did they do a great job, but the new room it's displayed in is impressive.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Edison Light Bulb from 1891
Edison Incandescent Light Bulb From 1891

Back in 2002, we spent a lot of time (to the wife and children's chagrin) in a room dedicated to the development of the digital computer. Big, water-cooled, tube-filled computers with less computing power than the freebie solar-powered calculators you readily throw away when you clean out your junk drawers are way cool, but we skipped that room this time around in favor of the room filled with all sorts of other innovations by Americans. Like an early Edison light bulb from 1891, one of the first ticker-tape machines, and early tube-shaped phonographs.

Speaking of tube-shaped phonographs, we came across a room with a fascinating display of early recording media, including wax cylinders and early vinyl discs. A recent project was completed to play some of those early recordings: no small feat, considering the playback equipment for some of the surviving media just doesn't exist anymore. It was a bit eery to hear the actual recorded voice of Alexander Graham Bell (who competed against Edison to invent alternative recording and playback devices) from 1885.

Finally, in addition to all the artifacts of historical significance, and all the early inventions and innovations, the museum is a repository of all manner of items of American culture. Famously displayed are Archie and Edith Bunker's chairs from the set of the TV series "All In The Family". Among the many other fun items of American cultural interest, and of sentimental value to our generation, is Sesame Street's Count von Count, who debuted in 1972.

"And when I'm done, I count myself! One count..."

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Sesame Street's Count von Count
Sesame Street's Count von Count

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Archie and Edith Bunker's Chairs
Archie and Edith Bunker's Chairs

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

George Washington's Beloved Mount Vernon

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - George Washington's Mount Vernon With Snow
George Washington's Mount Vernon With A Very Snowy Front Lawn

It was easy to see why George Washington loved this spot of land that gently slopes down toward the Potomac River. This is wholly despite that the Potomac was frozen over and that the gently sloping back lawn (for that matter, all lawns and lands visible in any direction) was covered with a thick blanket of snow the day we visited. More of the white stuff was falling steadily, and it had a hushing effect on this, the beloved home of our most well known of founding fathers.

For us, Mount Vernon has been an "oh, yeah" destination when visiting Washington, DC. But after I burned through a "founding fathers bio and revolutionary war" reading binge a few years ago, Washington's home became a must-see for our next trip to the capital. There would have been more to see had we come in the spring or summer (Washington's tomb and the path down to the river were closed because of icy walks), but we practically had this wonderfully presented and managed site to ourselves. And that blanket of white was, simply put, beautiful, and offered an ominous prelude to one of our upcoming stops, Valley Forge.

The spot on which the house was built had been in Washington's family for three generations prior. Yes, George Washington's great grandfather owned this land in the mid 1600's: George was a very well-established Virginian. In 1758, George began to replace the family farmhouse that stood on the spot, and he continued to expand and tinker with the house and the surrounding plantation he and Martha managed from the house. To be precise, he managed his plantation from everywhere he went, battling the British one hour, dashing off letters to Martha and his servants with management instructions the next.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Frozen Potomac River from Mount Vernon
A Frozen Potomac River from Mount Vernon's Back Porch
A tour of Mount Vernon begins in the nearby impressive and modern museum. After an introductory film hosted by Pat Sajak (not as cheesy as you'd think) and a dramatic history film, you walk to Mount Vernon from the side of the front lawn. Head to the right so you can approach the house from the full length of the front lawn. You enter the house from the left, where you're greeted by a volunteer who tells you about the room you're in, answers your questions, and guides you on to the next room. You'll see the stately, yet somehow understated, parlor rooms where George and Martha greeted and entertained guests and dignitaries. You'll see the dining room, the bedrooms, and Washington's studies. Walking around the plantation buildings, you'll find the smokehouse, the stables, the blacksmith's shop, and the slave's quarters.

For any of our friends or followers who might ask us about the sights of Washington, DC, we'll now recommend Mount Vernon as a must-see. Set aside a full day of your visit to the capital to venture out to Mount Vernon. And while you visit, be sure to thank the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association: this is the ladies' philanthropic organization that saved Mount Vernon and still benevolently manages it to this day.

If you're interested in a great biography of George Washington, try "His Excellency George Washington", by Joseph J Ellis. For a fantastic account of the birth of our nation, wonderfully written in novel form, check out "Rise To Rebellion" and "The Glorious Cause" by Jeff Shaara.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - George Washington And His Horse, Nelson
George Washington and "Nelson"

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - George Washington, Inverted Carving
An Inverted Carving of George Washington