Thursday, June 7, 2018

Virginia, Day 5, Yorktown and Home

A nagging voice told me to skip Yorktown this morning, but Sal had already given two thumbs up to the idea and I really did want to see it as well.

We were up early, got the car packed, and stopped at Duck Donuts for a dozen donuts to go, and headed to Yorktown. We got in free with our receipt from Jamestown earlier in the week, and stopped in the theater to watch a brief film about the battle and surrender.

We saw a group assembling in the foyer with a guide, and assumed we'd be given a tour of the battlefield so we stepped up. The guide said he'd speak about 45 minutes. We went outside to a point overlooking the York River near a canyon. After about an interesting 5 minute talk, the guide moved us over to some benches underneath some pine trees. We gave us a history lesson beginning with what is now known as the French and Indian War before getting to the Revolutionary. Sal suggested we leave the tour and go back inside. It was too much for the kids, and he and I don't need that level of explanation. I was a History major, for crying out loud. We wanted information specific to Yorktown.

Back inside we ran through the exhibits, hit the gift shop, and then decided to find the Victory Monument on our way out of town. I thought we were doing well, leaving Yorktown about noon. I figured we'd be home by 8 between stopping for lunch and dinner.

How very wrong I was. We hit traffic around Washington DC, not unexpectedly, but then we sat on the interstate somewhere in Maryland, without moving, for a good two hours. There weren't signs for construction and it wasn't raining. I can only assume there was an accident. It was an awful delay.

We finally arrived back in Pittsburgh at 10:40pm. We turned a 6.5 hour drive into 10 hours. Unbelievable. But, we arrived unscathed so we were grateful for that.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Virginia, Day 4, Williamsburg

Today we went to Williamsburg. I had heard navigating the experiences around Williamsburg can be kind of confusing, and we weren't sure what to expect, so I just decided to go with it. We bought our tickets at the visitor's center, Sal was 1/2 price with his teacher ID, and boarded a shuttle.

We had a map, and picked what appeared to be a centrally located stop, right outside the State House. We were just in time for a tour, and our guide was excellent. She was interesting to listen to, and allowed the girls some extra perks - like being the only two people sitting where the accused would have been seated. It was enough to pull them into the world of Williamsburg, and from that point on, they were into it.

Interesting to note, the chair shown covering the middle window in the photo above, is the original governor's chair. It was saved from the fire that burnt the original state house.

We watched carpenters making cedar shingles, entered a print shop, bought some root beer barrel candies at a general store, and had lunch outside, behind an old tavern. Unbeknownst to me, Sal volunteered me to read the part of Christiana Campbell in a short play at the Williamsburg Court House. I had no idea initially what I was agreeing to, but the kids thought it was great, and Sal thought he was just so clever.

We took a quick side trip to the art museum to see the Changing Keys exhibit, which was a collection of antique spinets and pianos. We also took cursory glances at other exhibits on our way in and out of the museum. It was interesting, but even Sal said we could have skipped that part of our day.

We toured the governor's mansion and kitchen, and signed up for a stage coach ride at $20/pp. Seth was enthralled with the horses that pull carriages, wagons, and the stage coach through town. He was in awe when it was his turn. Emmy tried talking to him during the ride, and he turned to her and said, "shhh, no talk to me."

Unfortunately, Sarah and I did not get to ride on the stagecoach, something she had been looking forward to almost as much as Seth. During our tour of the palace, she experienced a blood sugar drop, and wasn't feeling well. Not sure at first what was really going on, I popped into a store and bought her some old-fashioned ginger ale to sip and a cookie to snack on. After talking to her a bit, I realized what happened. She ate little for breakfast, had a light lunch, and was just running on fumes. Her system is so sensitive, and I need to mindful of what she's eating and when because it's never enough at the right times.

The Governor's Palace at the end of the Palace Green
It took Sarah about 30 minutes to perk up, but she was feeling much better by the time Sal returned with the other two from the stagecoach. I actually enjoyed having some 1:1 time with her,  but it's unfortunate she felt so ill for much of it.

By then it was 5:00 and time for the Fife and Drum parade down Duke of Gloucester Street, the main street of Colonial Williamsburg. It was my favorite part of the day. Just so cool.

After parading from the governor's palace, down the street, and into the commons area, they performed what's called Marching into Evening on the village green. A narrator explained the significance of their patterns and song choices while everyone watches. It's so American and so colonial.

The town shuts down around 5:00 with the exception of the taverns and restaurants so we went back to Chownings Tavern where we had had lunch earlier in the day. This time we ate inside, and all of us agreed it was the best meal of a our trip. The menu is 1744 inspired so we weren't exactly sure what we were ordering, but the kids were clean platers. Sarah ordered a salad, but this one had meat on it and she swore it was the best she'd ever had.

It was 7:30 by the time we paid our bill and we wanted to get back to the visitor's center before they closed at 8. We did a little bit of shopping, and took another look at the water feature that caught Seth's attention, and then it was back to our hotel for the night.

Sarah and Emmy agreed that we could have skipped Water Country USA, and gone to Williamsburg for two days instead. We'll have no trouble convincing them to go back.

We missed touring a church that still has an active parish, the Wythe House, and countless shops and other buildings. We simply ran out of time.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Virginia, Day 3, Water Country USA

In my mind I had planned that we would spent Day 3 at Williamsburg and wind up our trip at Water Country USA on Wednesday. When we consulted the weather app, it looked like, temperature wise, that Tuesday would be the better day for a water park.

The Powhatan Resort is only a few minutes from the water park so we were there just after opening. The wave pool seemed like a good place to start, and it was fun, but it wasn't on the same scale or as much fun as the pool at Big Surf in Phoenix.

I kept Seth in the kiddie areas of the park, and Sarah chose to stay with us, while Sal and Emmy rode all of the crazy water slides. The five of us also enjoyed the Lazy River. Sarah has all these fears now about slides and rides, and she's fine with just hanging out in a pool and playing. Both girls loved the floating inflatable logs that you try to cross while holding on to a cargo net above your head. Emmy even said that was her favorite thing all day.

As always, it was nice to just hang out with no schedule and no real plans.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Virginia, Day 2, Monticello and Jamestown

view of the private side of Monticello
We were up and at 'em early this morning because we needed to arrive at Monticello about 30 minutes before our scheduled tour time of 9:15. We arrived and parked just in time to catch a shuttle bus up to the top of the mountain.

We had time to explore the grounds a little before our tour began so we checked out Mulberry Row, which has been reconstructed to some degree.

Finally, it was time to enter the house. Our tour guide took us into the house from the carriage side, meaning the public side. The private, residential side of the house is the most recognizable and more grand, from the outside. The carriage side had been added later and was a place for Jefferson to receive guests and display artifacts from Lewis and Clark's journey, as well as antiquities from other parts of the world.

Seth was well-behaved on the tour of the house, and the girls hung in their too, but far more interesting to all of them were the rooms underneath. The privy, the wine cellars, the ice house, and  space set up for children to explore, got their seal of approval.

We were accosted by a guide in Jefferson's gardens and learned far too much about the vegetables and herbs growing in them, but Seth saved us by a call to pee.

Before leaving, we had a family photo taken on the steps of the private side of the house. We walked down the hill to Jefferson's grave sit, and picked up a shuttle which took us back to the visitor's center. We watched a short film, which I think connected all the dots for the girls.

Lunch was foremost on our minds at that point, I knew from past experience that Michie Tavern, right down the hill, would be a good stop.

Michie is pronounced Mickey, and it was opened as an "Ordinary" in 1784. In the 1920s it was relocated to it's present location and was a museum before being converted back into a tavern. The food is delicious, and I had downloaded a coupon prior to our trip which saved us $4 on each kids meal, Seth was free. Everyone agreed it was delicious, and Sal said he had the best fried chicken of his life. We also had pulled pork, corn bread, biscuits, and green beans.

Ranger Seth
Jamestown is only open until 5pm until later this month, so if we wanted to make it there, we had to get moving. We arrived around 3pm so although most of the tours were finished for the day, we were still able to explore the site.

This area was a little confusing. There's a living history museum dedicated to all things Jamestown, but close-by is the site of the original Jamestown settlement. I'm still confused about the websites, but here is the one to the National Park Service, which runs/maintains the original Jamestown.

Emmy had her Every Kid in a Park pass with her which gave Sal and I admission at $5 each. The kids would have been free regardless. It also got us into Yorktown for free, later in the week.

The EKiaP pass is open to fourth graders, during their 4th grade year and the summer after. We used Sarah's last summer to get into Grand Canyon National Park and other sites as well. 

Anyway, we started out by watching the brief movie at the visitor's center and then took a foot bridge to the site. Jamestown was positioned on the James River, and when Seth saw the water he wanted to spend his time walking on the sidewalk that followed the river. It was a nice stroll, and he and walked a good bit of it while the others explored the site. We watched a couple archaeologists excavating the floor of the Memorial Church. We took some pictures with Sacajawea and John Smith, both key players at Jamestown. 

I was glad we were able to squeeze Jamestown in because I don't know where we could have added it to the itinerary later in the trip.

After Jamestown, we needed to check into the resort, and figure out our next steps. I had booked the Historic Powhatan Resort at the last minute when I saw an offer to pay for 2 nights and get the third night free. It's a vacation club/timeshare property, and I guess they were trying to fill rooms. We ended up spending about $55 per night, which was a great deal.

We booked a 2 bedroom, upstairs room which was amazing. We had tons of space to spread out, and the bedrooms were large. I wanted to bring our bathroom with a double sink, and plenty of space home with us.

Because this is a timeshare property, they will try to sell, but I just kept declining any invitations for a meeting, despite being offered free tickets to Williamsburg and other sites. A few polite "no thank yous" and they left us alone. For $55 a night, and amazing accommodations, I will tolerate being temporarily annoyed.

There are pools and other activities available on site, but we didn't spend enough time at the resort to check out any of it. I would definitely stay here again.

Monticello (including a statue of Jefferson), Michie Tavern, and statues Pocohontas and John Smith

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Virginia, Day 1, to Charlottesville

This morning we picked up rental car, a 2018 Kia Optima, and the kids grumbled and fussed, as expected. We originally had a minivan, but because we didn't need a vehicle that large, and the trip had been shortened, we downsized. It was fine.

Anyway, we left Pittsburgh before noon, and made it to Charlottesville, Virginia without any problems.

We wanted to find a BBQ place for dinner, but the one we had chosen appeared to be closed, as in forever, so we opted for Buffalo Wild Wings instead. It was cold when we came out and in checking the weather app, it didn't look like it would be any warmer in the morning so we ran to Walmart and found cheap long sleeve shirts for the kids.

Then, we settled into the three bedroom house we booked on Airbnb, and spent our first uneventful night in Virginia. Oddly enough, I didn't take any pictures, but pulled this off the website.

I put Sarah in a separate bedroom to give her some peace from Emmy, who was relentless in arguing with her every chance she had. Emmy and Seth shared a middle bedroom, and Sal and I had the third. If there was a downside to this house, it was that it only has one bathroom. We made it work for the one night we stayed. The space overall beat a standard hotel room so we were happy.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Summer Travel

We've been planning a trip to the Outer Banks to visit our friends, Katie and Bill, for months now. Bill's rotator cuff has caused him problems for as long as I've known them, 15 years now, and he finally had it operated on two weeks ago. He is set to start physical therapy. Then, they had issues come up with each of their dogs resulting in their oldest having to be put to sleep. The younger one currently has an infected tail and will be having it docked tomorrow.

Over the weekend, while all this was going down, Katie called to at least postpone our trip, if not cancel it. I think there was just so much going on and it was quite overwhelming. Not wanting to add to the stress, we were okay with changing our plans.

Sal and I had already booked a house on Airbnb, and bought tickets to Monticello in Charlottesville, VA and so we decided to go ahead with those plans. We then started researching and realized Williamsburg, VA is only about 2 hours away. We booked a resort and bought tickets to Busch Gardens Water Country. I also down-sized our car rental for the shorter trip, saving us some money.

I'm hoping we can get to the Outer Banks next summer, and have the trip we originally planned.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Graduation Party Season

And so it begins, graduation party season.

First on our list was Will Scurci, my coworker Susan's son. I was surprised to receive an invitation, but we had a nice time. We arrived on the early side and only stayed about an hour, but we had dinner and talked to Susan. 

Susan had a tent sent up in their driveway with the food set out buffet style in their garage. There were so many delicious options. Fresh vegetables, fruit with dip, a mango/blueberry salad, mac & cheese, pulled pork, baked chicken, home fried potatoes, and cookies and cupcakes for dessert. It was all delicious. They also had a bar tender making mixed drinks and serving wine and beer. A few yard games were set up out back. 

We also received invitation from three of Sal's students, but we're only available to attend two of those parties - in fact, we're coming home from vacation early in order to get to Derek Ziarko's party.

Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures of the party, and Susan said she didn't either so I couldn't even save any off her Facebook for the purpose of this post. It was a good time.