Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wishlist of Adventure for 2015

I didn't do too badly on my 2014 wishlist -- of the 11 items I wanted to do, I did 8 1/2. Check out the entry from a year ago to read about what I wanted to do, and see what I actually did get to go see and do by following the new links I've inserted into the post. 

This year I'm setting 11 new resolutions to get myself out there doing fun things and exploring the mid-Atlantic region!

1. Although I'm scared of heights, I've long wanted to go on a hot air balloon ride. So although it's a big ticket item, I'm adding it to the top of my 2015 wishlist!

Photo courtesy of Tailwinds Over Frederick

2. Car camping at Dolly Sods National Wilderness. There's a camp ground near Bear Rocks that provides modest facilities -- it would be so cool to see the night sky from there! 

3. Go bike riding along Western Maryland Rail Trail. This past year I bought a bike, got on a bike for the first time in 20 years, and then rode it a good long way along the B&A Trail and the NCR Trail, among others. Then decided to lighten up and purchased a more flexible, lighter hybrid to replace the heavy but comfortable cruiser. This hybrid will definitely take me where I want to go!

4. Go further afield and bike along the C&O Canal further west of Shepherdstown, WV. I've already biked several stretches near Brunswick and just north/west of Harpers Ferry and further south near the Monocacy Aqueduct.

5.Visit Fort McHenry in Baltimore, followed by brunch in downtown Baltimore, and a visit to the Star Spangled Banner House. The two historic sites seem to naturally fall together. This was on last year's wishlist -- but despite good intentions, we never made it happen.
Photo by Solstice Photo
6. See the Illumination at Antietam Battlefield. Each year, on the first Saturday in December, volunteers light more than 22 thousand luminaries at Antietam National Battlefield in honor of each casualty of the battle that took place on 17 September 1862. The 22717 deaths that day at Antietam represent the largest single day loss of American (and they were, indeed, all Americans) lives. In fact, we'd meant to go this year, but the day had been a rainy, icky day so we found ourselves elsewhere.

7. Volunteer to help with the grape-harvest at a Maryland winery. Many of Maryland's wineries seek volunteers to help out with the harvest. I am hoping "no experience necessary"! Despite the beautiful and romantic painting shown here, I'm guessing it'll be hard, gritty work -- but fun for all that. I sorta kinda volunteered at a winery this past year though -- by volunteering to help at Red Heifer Winery's booth at Wine in the Woods last April. Still, I'd like to help with a grape harvest, so I'll try again in 2015!

Photo from
8. Go on one, or several, Gettysburg Ghost Tours. And since I'm up there, maybe bike in the battlefields as well. Plus, for Ingress players, there are multiple "missions" to complete and plenty of portals to hack!

9. Another repeat from the 2014 wishlist, take a segway tour around Washington DC. August a year ago my husband and I took a segway tour around the National Military Park in Gettysburg -- and loved the experience. Since then, we've learned there are segway tours in many cities, Washington DC included. This sounds like a neat way to re-experience a city we've explored before. This is where the "half" comes in: we took a segway tour in Richmond.

10. Hike up to Maryland Heights, just across the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry. I'd better start training, since judging by my friend's experience, it's a grueling climb! It would be lovely when the leaves start popping out in color in early Autumn!

11. Another bike ride helps finish of this wishlist of adventure, this time along the New River Trail in southern Virginia. The highlight of the New River Trail, and namesake of this magnificent trail, is the 36-mile section running through Grayson, Carroll, Wythe and Pulaski counties along the New River. I want to bike that 36-mile section.

Happy New Year! I wish everyone safe and interesting travels!

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Feeling the Love for the City of Brotherly Love

Remembering a favorite destination this past fall during this Christmas week!

A sunny but cool October Sunday lured us to Philadelphia, a city we really haven't had a chance to explore. I've been there a few times over the years, as have my husband and even my boys, on school field trips. We decided to take a double-decker, hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city, just to get a sense of the city. Having been on a similar tour in New York City, I've learned that these bus tours often can provide a good introduction to a city.

We weren't disappointed.

The bus tour started near the Independence Hall Visitor's Center. You can purchase tickets in advance over the phone or online, or at several of the corner near the Visitor's Center. The bus tour visits 27 stops, at any of which riders may choose to disembark to visit the site. The stops include the Betsy Ross House, Christ Church and the Christ Church Burial Ground, Reading Terminal Market, City Hall, Love Park, Eastern State Penitentiary, Antiques Row, Penn's Landing/Waterfront, and museums such as the Museum of American Jewish History, the Rodin Museum, and the most popular "Rocky Steps"/Philadelphia Museum of Art,

Not having spent much time in the city, it was pleasant to see so much art spread around the area, with lovely fountains and green spaces. And indeed, the tour guide confirmed that the city has more outdoor sculptures and murals than any other American city,

In 1682, William Penn founded the city to serve as capital of Pennsylvania Colony. Hoping that Philadelphia would become more like an English rural town instead of a city, Penn laid out roads on a grid plan to keep houses and businesses spread far apart, with areas for gardens and orchards. This ideal plan was rejected by the inhabitants, who subdivided and resold their lots. As they crowded by the Delaware River, the port, narrow alleyways like the one pictured here were built up. The wealthier citizens lived, much like today, in the larger homes on larger lots, and the poor lived in tiny homes on the tiniest of plots.

Penn, a Quaker, intended for his colony to be a place free of the religious persecution he had experienced in England. This tolerance, far more than afforded by most other colonies, led to better relations with the local Native tribes and subsequently fostered Philadelphia's rapid growth into America's most important city.

Distracted by New York City to the north, and Washington, DC to the south, I didn't realize how important Philadelphia had been during colonial times, even though I vaguely remembered that Philly had served as the nation's capital city at least once. By the 1750s, Philadelphia had surpassed Boston to become the largest city and busiest port in the Colonies, and second only to London -- no small achievement. 

During the Revolutionary War, Philadelphia served as a meeting place for the Founding Fathers of the United States, who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787. Philadelphia also was one of the nation's capitals during the Revolutionary War, and the city served as the temporary U.S. capital again while Washington, D.C., was under construction. 

During the 19th century, Philadelphia became a major industrial center and railroad hub that grew from an influx of European immigrants, including my ancestors who, we believe, entered the United States through Philadelphia, before moving on to farmland in south central Pennsylvania.

What I love about touring cities, whether on foot or on a double-decker bus, is seeing the contrast of eras, of Colonial and contem-porary, Art Deco and Greek Revival. There are still many streets of the dignified Georgian and Federal style townhomes. And of course, there are still the lovely old Victorian mansions, and now, of course, the glass and steel skyscrapers. I enjoy the abundance of architectural details -- usually missing from the cookie-cutter suburbs I live in. 

The tour begins and ends at the northeast corner of 5th and Market Streets. Right around the corner is Christ Church, known as the "nation's first church." At Christ Church, a quarter of Philadelphia’s free and enslaved Africans were baptized, a school was created to educate slaves, and the first black priest, Absalom Jones, was ordained. A who's who of American history sat their fannies in those pews. During the Revolutionary Era, Christ Church welcomed the Continental Congresses. Benjamin and Deborah Franklin and Betsy Ross were parishioners. Later, George Washington and John Adams attended services while they were the nation’s Chief Executives.

The current church was started in 1727, and has long been considered one of the finest Georgian structures in America. The steeple, financed by a lottery organized by Benjamin Franklin, was the tallest structure in the colonies for 56 years.

The interior of the church is as impressive as the exterior. It includes the baptismal font from the 1300s, donated by All Hallows Church in London in which William Penn was baptized, a pulpit from 1769 built by Thomas Folwell, and a candle chandelier (pictured above) still in use since its installation in 1740.

From there we had to visit the Burial Ground, one of America’s most important Colonial and Revolution-era graveyards. With 1,400 markers on two acres, right in the heart of Philadelphia, it creates a quiet oasis of history and peace in the midst of the city's hustle and bustle. 

Located three blocks from the Church, and just across the street from the Visitors' Center, the Burial Ground is the final resting place for some of our most prominent leaders, including Benjamin Franklin. You'll know Franklin's grave when you see it -- it's covered with pennies. The graveyard caretakers routinely sweep up the coins, which help fund the care and maintenance of the burial ground. With seven signers of the Declaration of Independence and five signers of the Constitution buried here, the church and the burial ground together form a national shrine, giving inspiration and hope today as it did to the Founding Fathers centuries ago.

Don't go to the Burial Ground expecting to read the tombstones: they are badly eroded and most of the inhabitants rest in anonymity. Luckily, however, there are placards at the most famous graves -- the commodores, the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the notable notable. You can also purchase maps of the graves for less than a dollar at the Christ Church gift shop. 

From there we headed over to Reading Terminal Market, at 12th and Arch Streets in downtown Philadelphia, for a late lunch -- a "linner," we call it, because it could also be an early dinner. Our goal of course was to enjoy the food that Philly is famous for: the cheesesteak. Several individuals, including the gals selling cookies at the Famous 4th Street Cookie Company, recommended Carmen's. 

More than a hundred merchants offer fresh produce, meats, fish, groceries, ice cream, flowers, baked goods, crafts, books, clothing, and specialty and ethnic foods. The Reading Terminal Market occupies the ground floor and basement levels of the Reading Terminal's former train shed, now part of the Philadelphia Convention Center. The colors and commotion and the delicious smells of the variety of foods were thrilling and overwhelming. So much to see, so much to choose from.

Know before you go: Take cash to Reading Market -- some of the stalls, including Carmen's, do not accept credit cards. Stalls that do accept credit cards have really long lines. 

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Accidental Tourist: How Playing a Game Brought Me to New Places

My husband and I recently discovered Ingress, a game we can play on our phones, either during a day trip or as the goal of a day trip. We first started it while biking along the C&O Canal.

For those of you not familiar with Ingress, it's an augmented reality massively multiplayer online role playing GPS-dependent game; the gameplay consists of establishing "portals" at places of public art, landmarks, cenotaphs, points of historical interest, and linking them to create virtual triangular fields over geographic areas. Players "hack" into both friendly and adversarial portals -- there are two sides, blue and green (or, technically, the Resistance or the Enlightened). There's a fairly interesting sci fi story that is ongoing as you play, but you don't have to be a sci fi fan to find the game intriguing.

But what's really fun about the game is that it's led us to places we might not have found on our own otherwise. It's got us walking around quaint little cities as well as around lakes in our hometown. And meanwhile we've met some fun people.

On our recent leaf peeping trip, we decided to play Ingress along the way. We agreed that, within limits, we would pursue grey, i.e., unclaimed portals -- those historical points of interest -- we came close to.

It added another layer of fun onto an already fun day. Because of Ingress and claiming some grey portals in Front Royal, we encountered the Festival of Leaves -- we saw the booths and some of the festivities, and that caused us to go park the car and walk around the area. But it wasn't just the interesting crafts vendors -- there were both adversarial portals we could "take down" and claim for our side, as well as some grey portals we could claim. (Points for claiming portals add up, helping players to level.)

I decided to blog about it because Ingress influenced the leaf peeping trip so heavily, and provided me with another and unexpected blog entry -- the Veteran's Day post about Honoring Our Dead. I simply wouldn't have encountered Soldier's Circle, pictured above, if I'd not been chasing portals.

And it was fun!!! Because of Ingress, we found our way to several little known Civil War sites scattered around Front Royal, learning something about the skirmishes that took place around the area. And Ingress led us to both Soldiers Circle in Prospect Hill Cemetery AND the National Cemetery in Winchester (cemeteries are usually tagged with at least one, and often many, portals).

Going in search of portals in Winchester led us down to the quaint and historic main street, which is now a pedestrian mall lined with cute boutiques and restaurants.

We might not have discovered these otherwise -- Winchester might only have been a hotel off of Route 7 for us. And Front Royal probably would have been "the town we drove through" just before arriving at the entrance to Shenandoah National Park.

Since then we've been up to Philadelphia (several times). There are usually a lot of portals at historic cemeteries, and Laurel Hill Cemetery was no exception! While I happily photographed and explored my way around the cemetery, my husband, who, although quietly supportive, is less enamored with graveyards and my recent embrace of tombstone tourism, just as happily hacked his way around behind me. We both got a lot out of the day and marital peace was maintained!

Afterward, on our way to our hotel, we passed by lovely hidden Trinity Lutheran Church, whose steeple appealed to me in its paint-peeling splendor! Churches are popular portals -- almost every church we pass seems to be a portal.

Famous places are often portals. On a bus tour around Philadelphia, we encountered portals at the Betsy Ross House, all the outside sculptures dotted around the city, at the Museum of Art, and, well, everywhere! Ingress helps you find some interesting places -- kind of helping you find places of significant local history. Heritage tourism, right there!

Ingress offers "missions" for different places. For example, in Frederick we had a choice of strolling along Carroll Creek and visiting way points (usually portals) or we could follow a mission to food points of interest (we choose the food option). So far we've completed missions in Baltimore; Annapolis; Ellicott City; and Frederick, MD; as well as Alexandria, VA.

In Frederick we strolled around the Market Street area, then along Record Street past the old library where I'd spent many a happy hour as a child (I grew up in Frederick); this time we were "hacking portals." We passed by several of the famous "clustered spires" of Frederick and I got to introduce my husband to some of the interesting murals that adorn several of the buildings along Market Street.

In fact, our recent trip to Longwood Gardens was filled with portals to hack and link (this sentence will make sense to an Ingress player!). We wandered around the gardens and the Conservatory, taking over the portals and then linking them, all the while enjoying the beautiful gardens, the colorful lights, and the lovely setting. We leveled from 8 to 9 doing that!

So if you're looking for a different way to explore a place, consider trying out Ingress, and join us on the blue side!

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Enjoying the Holiday Sights at Longwood Gardens

There is something about holiday lights and decorations that beckons to the kid in us. Toy trains, Christmas ornaments, colorful lights -- the Christmas season definitely speaks to my inner child. I like bright colors and shiny things, so last year I'd added seeing Longwood Gardens to my 2014 wishlist.

Longwood Gardens offers everything your inner child -- and your real child, if you have one handy -- might want to see: ornaments, decorated trees, whimsical arrangements, and trees in unexpected places such as greenhouses, tree houses...

Our first destination was the Conservatory, where unique permanent collections provide beautiful texture and a backdrop for the dramatic holiday displays. A meandering central water feature made up of waterfalls, pools, and fountains adds sound and motion to this dynamic garden. 

There were a variety of Christmas trees in various venues around the Conservatory -- often eliciting squeals of surprise from children coming upon them (this really is a place where adults can enjoy feeling like children again, and children can enjoy just being children!). This year's decorations centered around a bird theme. Thus, in the Conservatory, a dramatic Christmas tree sports giant cardinals frolicking around a gorgeous giant blue spruce. 

Elsewhere there were topiary swans, trees featuring bird houses. And in the Music Room, a magical Peacock Masquerade Ball was set up, featuring elegant table settings and an 18-foot rotating tree.

After enjoying the Conservatory, we strolled outside, to see the fountain display. We strolled through treehouses with Christmas trees topped not by angels but by bald eagles. 

Then at 3:30 p.m., something magical happened! All around us, Christmas lights turned on, illuminating the gathering darkness in the best possible way!

We also checked out the garden train -- this is the 14th year the train garden has delighted kids of all ages with a whimsical display with G-scale model trains. I laughed as I recognized Toby and Thomas the Tank Engine -- nostalgic favorite characters from many a children's story read to my two boys (who are now teenagers).

Photo credit: Duane Erdmann, volunteer photographer for Longwood Gardens

Make sure you take time to catch at least one of the fountain shows -- different Christmas music is played at each show and the fountains dance to the music. Since its 1914 Garden Party debut, this Italian-style outdoor theater has expanded from its simple original fountains to the 750 jets that create a rainbowed curtain of water. Five-minute shows run on the hour from 10:00 am–3:00 pm, and every 5 minutes beginning at 3:30 pm.

For a more recent visit, click A Longwood Christmas 2019.

Know before you go #1: Wear warm clothing that is easy to take on and off. You'll be both inside and out during your exploration of a Longwood Gardens Christmas, so dress accordingly.

Know before you go #2: For more tips for visiting Longwood Gardens Christmas, check out

Getting there: Longwood Gardens is located at 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348. If your GPS does not recognize the 1001 Longwood Road address, try 399 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348.

Hours: Open everyday (apparently even Christmas Day); check website for hours as these change.

Dogs: Leave Fido home snuggled on the couch.


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Updated January 2020

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Two Days and Eleven Lights: Day Two

This is part two of Chesapeake Lighthouses, Southern Expedition, a two-day excursion to 11 lighthouses around the Chesapeake Bay.

From Tangier Island, we headed straight over to Onancock, VA, arriving around 5:30 p.m. We unloaded our bags, and headed up the street to our respective inns (Captain Jack arranged rides for those in the group who needed help getting to the inns). Overnight arrangements were made individually at the various bed and breakfast inns in Onancock.

Founded in 1680, Onancock is a peaceful, bayside village, with stately, Victorian homes along waterfront properties, the crepe myrtle blooms were fading, but still lovely. The name, Onancock, is derived from the Indian word "auwannaku" meaning foggy place. Along Market Street, mid-19th century homes were land bases for sea captains who sailed the bay in vessels large and small. Late 19th century houses with intricate Victorian gingerbread trim represent the flourishing steamboat era during which Onancock connected itself firmly to cosmopolitan Baltimore.

My sister and I chose the Spinning Wheel Bed and Breakfast, mostly because my sister loves spinning wheels. The room was lovely, the bed comfortable, the innkeeper pleasant to chat with and accommodating (he got up extra early and made us scones and muffins because we had to board the Sharpes Island before breakfast was officially served for the other guests).

Some of the Bay's lighthouses are now simply lights mounted on the same base where the lighthouse used to be. In the 1960s, the Coast Guard dismantled several of the lights, including the Watts Island and Janes Island lighthouses. We cruised by these lights on our way to fuel up in Crisfield.

The Watts Island Light was a historic lighthouse located near Watts Island -- now one of the Bay's "disappeared islands." The island was plagued with erosion, and by 1923 four of the original 7 acres had disappeared. In that year the light was automated and the entire island, including the keeper's house, was sold to a Baltimore insurance executive, save a tiny plot centered on the tower. In 1944 a winter storm demolished both the house and the tower, and now even the island itself is gone. The spot is now charted as "Watts Island Rocks" and is marked only with a lighted buoy. The Janes Island Light was a screw-pile lighthouse located near Crisfield. Twice destroyed by ice, it was replaced in 1935 with an automated beacon.

Our next stop was the unusual looking and somewhat isolated Solomon's Lump Light, a former lighthouse built in 1893, missing the house. Originally, a 25-foot-tall, octagonal keeper’s dwelling was built around a square brick tower, which formed two of the lighthouse’s eight sides. Solomons Lump was converted to unmanned status in April 1950, after which time the station’s condition worsened. Sometime around 1971, the dwelling portion of the lighthouse was demolished, leaving the brick tower standing off-center on the northwest side of the caisson. Despite lacking the house, this distinctive light is quite handsome.

From there, we headed to Hollands Bar Lighthouse. Hollands Island is another of the Bay's disappearing islands, having finally sunk below the waterline as recently as October 2010, when the last house, a two-story Victorian farmhouse, finally disappeared below the waves.

Once five miles long, Hollands Island, which was settled by European colonists in the 1600s, was home to a fishing community of 250 to 360 people, with more than 60 homes, a church and other buildings and a thriving fleet of workboats, including schooners and 55 skipjacks. According to a Washington Post article, sea levels in the Chesapeake are rising faster than they are in other coastal regions of the United States. One reason is ancient: The land here has been slowly sinking for thousands of years, settling itself from bulges created by the weight of Ice Age glaciers. The weight of glaciers to the north pushed the Earth's crust down, and the crust in this area went up like the other end of a see-saw. Now, the whole region is slowly sinking again. The other reason is modern: climate change. The Earth's oceans are rising because polar ice is melting, and because warmer water expands. Holland Island was especially hard-hit: Like other Chesapeake islands, it was made of silt and clay, not rock, so its land eroded readily.

In any case, all that's left of Hollands Island is the Hollands Bar Lighthouse, erected in 1889. It was originally a lovely white hexagonal cottage screwpile lighthouse. And there's a mystery surrounding this lighthouse -- in 1931 Keeper Ulman Owens was mysteriously found dead at the lighthouse. Though there was blood and evidence of a struggle, no wounds were found on his body and the death was ruled natural.

The death of the keeper wasn't the last of the lighthouse's mishaps: The lighthouse stood near the hulk of an old ship, the Hannibal, which was frequently used for target practice by Navy fighters. In 1957, Navy aircraft doing a routine practice night bombing raid mistakenly dropped targeting flares on the lighthouse instead of the target ship. The planes then proceeded to bomb the lliving crap out of the structure, demolishing the lighthouse and injuring the two poor lightkeepers, who must have been grateful the next morning to find themselves alive. The house was dismantled in 1960; it was replaced by an automated beacon mounted on the original foundation.

Likewise, our next stop was also a light mounted on the original foundation: Sharkfin Shoal Light, which was constructed as a cottage screwpile lighthouse in 1892. The lighthouse was demolished in 1964 and a skeletal tower was constructed on the original screwpile foundation. The Hooper Straight Light, built to mark the passage between Chesapeake Bay and Tangier Sound, is another example of the base being salvaged as a platform to host a simple light.

After going past the three lights, we were glad to see a real lighthouse again, when we came up to the Hoopers Straight Lighthouse. Finished in 1902, Hooper Island Lighthouse was one of only four Chesapeake lighthouses erected during the 20th century. Hooper Island Lighthouse was fully automated on November 21, 1961. Fifteen years later, someone somehow stole the light, necessitating the installation of a new solar-powered beacon.

Then we returned to an old favorite before heading back to Tilghman Narrows to dock: Sharps Island Lighthouse, notable for its remarkable list to the starboard. Please see the May 29 2014 post to read more about that one, as well as see photos.

I've always wanted to explore the Chesapeake Bay and this tour of the Chesapeake lighthouses was a good way to get a better sense of the islands and history and fragile ecology. We got to visit Tangier Island and Onancock, VA, as well as Crisfield, MD. We learned about disappearing islands and tragedies on lighthouses, as well as got to enjoy the antics of pelicans and ospreys diving into the water. It was very fun, and despite all that time on the water, left me wanting to go on additional lighthouse tours!

Check out Part 1 of this 2-day tour!

Websites: Update May 2021: Chesapeake Lights no longer offers lighthouse tours.
Onancock, VA:

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