Saturday, April 25, 2015

Last Stop: An Ancestor's Grave in North Carolina

A few years ago, we both had a renewed interest in our respective ancestry. As Chuck's father's condition worsened in 2011, we had the opportunity to ask him lots of questions before we lost him. It wasn't until the next year, 2012, that Lori bought me a subscription to, however, and some of the things we subsequently learned would have been immeasurably fun to relate to Dad.

One of those things that we learned is that we have an American Revolutionary War hero in our family tree. It's possible that Dad knew or had heard this at some point, but perhaps it had been forgotten. To make this little tidbit that much more fun, it's through this war hero's line that Chuck found he is actually also distantly related to his best friend from high school.

The ancestor was General William Lee Davidson. He was a General in the North Carolina militia (not the American Continental Army). He began the war as adjutant to North Carolina's General Griffith Rutherford, and was promoted to Major of the 4th North Carolina Regiment in 1776. He encamped with Washington and the Continental Army at Valley Forge, but was subsequently without a command. He served as Griffith's Second in Command and was severely wounded at the Battle of Colson's Mill in 1780. Recovering, he missed the Battle of Camden where Griffith was captured by the British, resulting in Davidson's promotion to General and assumption of command of Griffith's militia. Davidson was ordered to prevent the British Army under Lord Cornwallis from entering Charlotte, and at the Battle of Cowan's Ford, General Davidson was killed--shot through the heart with a rifle ball--as he tried to rally his troops as the British arrived at the ford.

The British ultimately won the Battle of Cowan's Ford. Later that evening, Davidson's officers found and recovered his naked body: his clothing had been pilfered by British troops. He was buried in nearby Hopewell Presbyterian Cemetery, where we made our last stop on our winter road trip. The city of Davidson, North Carolina, and nearby Davidson College are both named after him.

In 2001, General William Lee Davidson's wallet was returned to the United States. The British troops who had taken it from his body had brought it back to Britain, and for 220 years it had been held at the Public Records Office in London.

Just for fun, here's the William Lee Davidson-to-Chuck line:

William Lee Davidson
William Lee Davidson, II (son)
Mary Jane Davidson Valverde (daughter)
Manuela Leat Valverde Pol (daughter)
Annie Jane Pol Ros (daughter)
Pol Mikel Ros (son)
Cleve Ros (son)
Chuck Ros (son)

Making General William Lee Davidson Chuck's 5th Great Grandfather.

Ancestry research is yet another great reason to travel. Stay tuned for more interesting ancestry tidbits (hopefully).

Thursday, April 23, 2015

New York's Ambassador Theatre

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Chicago The Musical

Add theatre to our list of favorite travel activities. In London we saw "Wicked" and loved it. In New York, we saw "Chicago", and yes, we loved it. Lest you think we're "big production" snobs, we also saw the community pantomime in Kirkby Stephen, England...and loved it too.

Now, the original plan was for us to join Scott and Angela to see "Mama Mia"; tickets to this particular Saturday's show had been his Christmas present to her. But timing, supply and demand, what have you, left us with only prohibitively expensive ticket options to that show. Instead, we had dinner with them, saw them off to their theatre as we headed to ours, with plans to meet up later and compare Playbills.

We're glad it worked out that way. We probably would very much have enjoyed "Mama Mia", but we really enjoyed "Chicago". This was despite that we--perhaps like you--had seen the movie version with Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones. But seeing the stage production is a world better, with nuances and humor and audience interaction making everything "crisper" and more engaging.

The night we saw "Chicago", the lead of Roxie Hart was played by Jennifer Nettles, lead singer from country band Sugarland. Her performance was--as Lori relates with awe--absolutely perfect.

We assume you know a bit about the plot of Chicago: if you don't, then plan a trip to New York to go see the musical, or see it if a production passes through your town. This blog, instead, is actually a bit of a nod to the venue the musical is currently playing in in NYC, the Ambassador Theatre.

What struck us as blog-worthy was that the Ambassador Theatre was so wonderfully personal and intimate. We're not sure how many seats there are in the theatre, but it seems a small venue. Which, of course, adds tremendously to the overall experience.

According to Wikipedia (the source of all human knowledge), the Ambassador Theatre was built in 1921. It's design, by architect Herbert J. Krapp (yes, that was his name), is unique in that it is set at an angle to its street, West 49th. You'll get a sense of the unusual orientation as you enter and exit the theatre, your brain expecting doors, walls, and sidewalk to be at right angles.

Over the years, the Ambassador has seen productions including The Diary of Anne Franke, Godspell, Dreamgirls, and many others. It's also been used as a movie theatre and an NBC television studio.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Pre-Show at the Ambassador Theatre
Pre-Show at the Ambassador Theatre

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Chuck and Lori at the Ambassador Theatre
Chuck and Lori at the Ambassador Theatre, New York

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Swing 46, Big Band Dancing On The West Side

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Swing46's Band Stand, New York

It's funny how happenstance can be such a great thing. This couldn't be more true when traveling, which is perhaps one of the most exciting and fun aspects of travel.

Back in December, when we stepped off the Queen Mary 2 into New York after 6 months in Europe, we had just one day to enjoy the Big Apple before we set off to rendezvous with family in Maryland. We took a cab from the cruise terminal in Brooklyn to our hotel. Despite clear directions to the cabbie, including showing him the address of the hotel from the reservation confirmation email, he turned right off 10th Avenue onto West 46th Street.

The thing is...the address of our hotel was on West 48th Street.

Lori and I spotted the error right away, watching the street sign as we passed by. Assuming the cabbie knew of some construction, or some other traffic obstacle, further along 10th Avenue or two blocks up at 48th Street, we didn't say anything. At least until he pulled up in front of an apartment building--obviously not a hotel--and announced we were at our hotel. It was then that I informed him we were on 46th, not 48th.

"No, no, we're on 48th," he insisted in the most annoying this is my town sort of voice.

Well, had our luggage not swollen to the size of steamer trunks the last few weeks of our travels, we would've just paid the guy and hoofed it two blocks over to where our hotel actually was. Instead, we debated with him a few minutes, and all the time he insisted we were at our hotel. Then, as two of New York's finest strolled by, I asked them, "Hey guys, what street are we on?"

"You're on the 400 block of West 46th Street," one of them replied with delightful precision. New York's finest indeed!

Suddenly proven wrong, our cabbie sulkily climbed back into the driver's seat and set out to get us to our intended destination. But just as we were pulling away from what he had been insisting was our hotel, we passed an intriguing little establishment. The sign over the door said, "Swing 46 Jazz and Supper Club".

Regular readers know that we're dancers. They might also know that this Swing 46 place appeared to offer two of our favorite things in the world: music and food. We didn't get to visit then in December, but it went onto our to-see list on our next visit to NYC, which came about as we returned from our winter road trip.

We went that Friday night, just as our friends Scott and Angela were boarding a plan in Atlanta, so we went by ourselves. We had eaten at another place around the corner, so for us the visit was about dancing and drinks. The band that night was Ron Sunshine and his Orchestra, who served up a nice mix of Dorsey- and Miller-esque big band jazz, the kind of stuff we crave for some swing dancing and a bit of fox trot, with the occasional Latin cha-cha thrown in for a little spice.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Swing 46 Jazz and Supper Club, New York, NY
A Good Crowd on the Dance Floor
The dance floor isn't large, not much more area than a typical American living room. We had planned to be there on a Friday night expecting (and hoping) that there'd be a decent crowd. It just doesn't seem as much fun when we're the only people dancing. Our Friday night, the crowd was "just right": there were enough people up and dancing to make it fun, without so many that everyone was constantly bumping into one another.

Even if you don't dance, Swing 46 would be worth a visit. The music was great, the atmosphere--like a throwback 1940's club--fun, and the drinks strong. While we didn't eat, the plates we saw looked (and smelled) great; next time, we'll be dining with them. If you're interested in dancing, but don't know how, show up a little early for a lesson. Check their website,, for a calendar of events, to check up on dance lessons, to see their dinner menu, and more.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Swing 46 Jazz and Supper Club, New York, NY

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The American Museum of Natural History, New York

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - American Museum of Natural History, New York

Our friends Scott and Angela finally managed to get into New York late Friday evening, and after a surprise breakfast (Angela had no idea we were in New York and that we'd meet them) we decided on a day at the American Museum of Natural History.

Like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this is a massive museum dedicated to all things from the natural world. It is, in fact, a veritable campus of buildings (nearly 30) and exhibit halls (45) across the street from Central Park. The exhibits draw from the museum's collection of 32 million (give or take a few) artifacts, from plants, meteors, dinosaur bones, animals, fossils, human cultural specimens, not to mention a planetarium and library. Oh, and as an added bonus, from time to time all of the exhibits come to life in the middle of the night.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Spiral Walkway Up to the Hayden Planetarium
Spiral Walkway Up To The Hayden Planetarium

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - The Willamette Meteorite, American Museum of Natural History
The Willamette Meteorite, Beneath the Hayden Planetarium

This is another museum that could take days to adequately explore, yet we had only one day. Our tour began with the Hayden Planetarium and a great presentation on the origins of the universe, narrated by physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. From there we wandered through the Hall of Planet Earth, through the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall, and lingered in the grand, 2-story Hall of Ocean Life.

Speaking of Theodore Roosevelt, it's worth a quick sidebar to point out the contribution of our 26th President to the American Museum of Natural History. Fans of the movie series know that Teddy Roosevelt (played by Robin Williams) is displayed at the museum, but might not understand why. Theodore Roosevelt Sr. (the President's father) was a founder of the museum. Doubtless Teddy Roosevelt grew up in a family that considered themselves naturalists, as defined in 19th century terms. Americans know of Roosevelt's reputation as an outdoorsman, especially the famous legend that he refused to shoot a bear cub (supposedly the origin of the term "Teddy Bear"), and rightly so: while he is often miscredited with founding our national park system (that was actually Abraham Lincoln in 1864), he did greatly expand it during his presidency. He was a true environmentalist, who personally collected thousands of artifacts and specimens he contributed to the museum, so it might come as a surprise (especially to Democrats) to learn that Roosevelt was a Republican.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Teddy Roosevelt in Bronze, American Museum of Natural History

But what most people (especially the kids and kids-at-heart, like us) come to the American Museum of Natural History to see are...dinosaur bones (except Scott, who came to see monkeys). And there is no shortage of dino-bones and fossils on display, very thoughtfully arranged in historical order from the earliest fossils, following evolution, to the later fossils and ultimately to modern birds.

Unless you do like us and enter the hall from the wrong end and go backwards in time. Just pay better attention than we did to the signs when you visit.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - T-Rex at American Museum of Natural History, New York

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Images of George Washington

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Bust of George Washington at Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bust of George Washington at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art

His face is probably the most recognizable, anywhere in the world, of that of any political figure in history. We'd like to think it's because of the ideals he stood for, the principles he instilled into the United States of America. But the practical explanation is, of course, that his visage is nearly synonymous with the most ubiquitous currency in the world, the American dollar bill.

Starting with visits to Mount Vernon and Valley Forge, our winter road trip practically became the "George Washington" trip. It was appropriate, then, that as we made our way home and stopped in New York City, we were treated to a treasure trove of images of our most famous of founding fathers.

Imagine strolling through a museum, and desiring of escaping the crowds you pass into what looks like a side room. While it's obviously open to the public, owing to the rows and rows of long, glass cabinets--and that you're apparently the only soul around--it feels much more like a warehouse, like the massive hidden stores of precious art you read are the unseen bulk of places like the Louvre and the Vatican Museum. It looks like this:

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Rows of Portraits, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Then, by accident, you come across this portrait:

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - George Washington by Gilbert Stuart

It is one of the most famous portraits in the world: George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1803. And you found it by accident. Washington's resolve and aura is captured magnificently in his eyes, and the discomfort of his dentures seems apparent on his lips. The whole image wonderfully captures and portrays the greatness we associate with George Washington.

This is what happened to us, and it was one of the things that made our experience at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art so special. Stuart's portrait was, in fact, just one of a cluster of portraits of Washington.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - George Washington Portraits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The grouping included this more youthful depiction of our first president by Rembrandt Peale:

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Washington Portrait by Peale

He's not a spring chicken, but Peale portrays Washington with much more vigor and vitality. Instead of peering directly out of the canvas at you, as he does in Stuart's depiction, he gazes off to the side. While Stuart's Washington portrays the founding father's greatness with austerity, Peale portrays it with a sense of leadership that seems to say, "Come, follow me." And there's no hint of denture pain: in fact, Peale's Washington almost has a confident smirk.

This isn't to say that all the portraits of Washington are stuck in this side room along with hundreds (thousands?) of other portraits the museum has collected. Like Washington Crossing the Delaware, which you saw in our blog a few days ago, there are no shortage of images of this founding father found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. We'll leave you today with a few of those images, and a couple of others we found along our winter road trip. Do you recognize them?

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Another Gilbert Stuart Portrait of George Washington
George Washington, Also by Gilbert Stuart

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Statue of Washington at Mt Vernon
Statue of Washington at Mount Vernon, VA

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - George Washington by Gilbert Stuart
Another Gilbert Stuart Portrait of Washington

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Washington at Valley Forge Display at Mount Vernon
Washington at Valley Forge Display, Mount Vernon, VA