Thursday, September 25, 2014

Exploring Two Historic Estates in the Brandywine Valley

Guest blogger Julie grew up an Army brat, living in Germany and other interesting places. 

She recounts her memories of her childhood: My parents would take the family castle hunting on weekends and when we came back to the States it was with some trepidation that we would no longer have that immediate connection to history. Just a few years ago I traveled with my parents and husband to France to tour the Loire valley with a focus on several of the chalets there. Absolutely stunning! While one of my favorite gardens will always be Schwetzingen near Heidelberg (to this day I can recall the mixed scents of onions and boxwood), I am very much drawn to the beautiful gardens of Chenonceau, Amboise, and Chambourd.

This brief history provides some context to my delight with Winterthur and Longwood in the Brandywine Valley.

I'd been aware of both estates for some time, but the opportunity didn't present itself until this Labor Day weekend. My husband and I decided to try for a one night stay in Wilmington, since we were hoping to tour both estates as well as enjoy another visit to the massive Pre-Raphaelite collection at the Delaware Art Museum.

We headed out early that Saturday and had time that afternoon to check out Winterthur. If any readers are fans of Downton Abbey, there's a fun display of various costumes from the show!

Winterthur was one of the DuPont estates. The DuPonts to this day apparently still employ about 10% of Delaware's working population, so there continues to be a strong DuPont presence in the current day. Francis DuPont bought the place to rescue a tree sanctuary/arboretum in danger of being razed. The tree in the picture above is one of those trees.

He loved his gardens and actually planned several of the gardens and features. Winterthur was more of a natural garden (not too formal) but planned on a massive scale...he planted azaleas in the thousands! and the crocus bulbs in the front lawn of the estate make a veritable blanket of flowers in April/May. To the left you can see one the water features.

Near this feature is now a reflecting pool, but in its heyday it served as a heated outdoor swimming pool! We stayed the night at the recently renovated DuPont Hotel in Wilmington. What a beautiful place! We had a fun dinner at a local eatery (we didn't have the business casual dress required for the famed Green Room) but were able to avail ourselves of its luxury the next morning for breakfast. We sat at a beautifully appointed table from which vantage point
we could admire the oak panelling and gilded ceiling. The food was delectable, and we felt very spoiled :)

Once we tore ourselves away from the hotel, just 20 minutes away was Longwood. Winterthur was a beautiful dip of the toe in the luxury of the DuPonts, but Longwood simply took my breath away.

Much more lavish in scale and in the formality of the gardens, even without all the spring flowers there were still so many gorgeous blooms.

The Italian garden with its fountains was surprising in its sophis-ticated yet delightful pattern of ebb and flow.

There are three innovatively designed tree houses placed throughout the estate as well! This one was my favorite... Beautiful and engaging use of wood throughout!

We walked for several hours, always with something new to greet us.

We ended our tour with the conservatory.... A stunning display of wealth and knowledge. Filled to the rafters with flowers the variety of which boggles the imagination, it was almost overwhelming, but in the best possible sense.

The gardeners decorate the conservatory for Christmas in a new style every year, so definitely a trip to Longwood is something to keep in mind if the winter lets you travel!

Getting there: Winterthur: for in-car GPS and online mapping services, use: 5105 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, DE 19807. At the fork in the road in front of the Visitor Center, turn left and drive up the hill to the Visitor Parking Lot. A walking path leads to the Visitor Center.

Longwood Gardens is located on US Route 1, about 3 miles northeast of Kennett Square. GPS it: 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348; if your GPS does not recognize the 1001 Longwood Road address, we suggest trying 399 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348.

Hours: Winterthur: Tuesday–Sunday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm; Longwood Gardens hours vary by season. Generally opens at 9 a.m. Please check the website.

Dogs: Droopy tails -- dogs not welcomed at Winterthur or Longwood Gardens!

Read previous posts about Longwood Gardens and Winterthur!

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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, September 18, 2014

Great Grapes 5k Series: Elk Run Vineyards

Wine seems to make everything a little better (chocolate does too, but that's another blog). Wine even seems to make exercise better -- two of the most popular posts for this blog are the ones about yoga at wineries (Elk Run and Black Ankle). So when my sister suggested I join her for a series of three 5k events at two local wineries and a local hard cider brewery this autumn, I immediately signed up. Two other friends also signed up for the first race, at Elk Run Winery; I'm still hoping they'll join us for the other two races!

It sounded like fun, even though I'd be a walker -- a chronic foot injury prevents me from running, and my basic feeling about running is that I'll run when there're zombies behind me (nope, don't see any). And as my sister says, there's no shame in coming in last -- I'm still ahead of all the couch potatoes. (I need not have worried. My friend Lisa kept me company walking, but there was another group of three who also walked the course.)

The Great Grape Race is a series of three 5k (give or take) trail runs/walks in the local, Frederick-area vineyards, followed by a tasting of the vineyard's libations, live music, and a picnic or a bit of local fare (available for purchase). Proceeds from the events benefit the March of Dimes' mission to improve infant health by preventing premature birth, birth defects, and infant mortality. It was a small group of runners -- only 35, give or take 1 or 2 -- which I found surprising. I thought there would have been a lot more!

These races are on trails that weave and wend through the vines, and required both runners and walkers to pay attention to the trail -- there were times that minor brush on the trail or tall grass warranted slowing down a bit and stepping carefully, lest an ankle get turned or a foot misplaced.

After the start and a hustle up a hill through the vines, everyone realized this wasn't the race to go for a PR (personal record) time. Instead, my friend and I settled into our stride, and decided to enjoy the scenery -- what a nice way to experience Elk Run's vineyards! And the scenery was very lovely. As the trail crested a hill, it would turn and head down through another row of vines, then bring us up to the top again, and a beautiful view would be exposed. 

As much as we enjoyed the jaunt through the vines, we also looked forward to the end, when we'd be able to relax with a little wine, sit down to enjoy the live musicians performing, and enjoy the gorgeous, early fall day. While walking through the vineyard, we chatted with the other group of walkers, and agreed to walk together over the finish line for a five-way "tie" for last. Ironically, it took some will power for Lisa and I to subdue our competitive sides, as if we were competing for first and last places, not fifth and fourth from last. That's funny, in retrospect! When we were a few steps away from the finish line, we turned around and waited for the other group, and joined arms with them. It was a nice way to turn being last into something fun! 

After we finished the course, we enjoyed bananas and oranges (donated by Giant Food) and granola bars (donated by Safeway), as well as water (donated by Wegman’s).

The 5k at Elk Run Winery was a prelude to the winery’s Fall Jazz Festival, which featured live music by various local artists and unlimited wine tastings. In addition, the local Elks’ Lodge sold pit beef, hamburgers, and hot dogs. Local crafters were there as well. We bought lunch and settled down at a picnic table to enjoy the music and sip some wine (available by the glass from Elk Run). Afterward, we headed over to sample Elk Run's wines (please see the post from January 2014 about the blog's visit to Elk Run and more about the winery). Overall, we were well satisfied with ourselves: a lovely walk/run through the Maryland countryside, in support of a worthy cause (March of Dimes). A day well lived!

The next two 5Ks in the series take place at:
  • Distillery Lane Ciderworks- Sunday, October 26, 2014 - Race Time is 3 pm followed by admission to the After Party, including cider tasting, music and light fare, and 
  • Detour Winery - Sunday, November 2, 2014 - Race Time is 3 pm followed by admission to the After Party, including wine tasting, music and light fare.

Getting there: Elk Run Winery is located at 15113 Liberty Road Mt. Airy, MD 21771

Hours: See the website for individual race times.

Dogs: After the race, yes! (But check with the individual wineries to ensure dogs are welcome.)


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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, September 10, 2014

Arlington National Cemetery: Quick Visit and Detour to Robert E Lee's Historic Mansion

When Mike's out-of-town guests requested to see some of DC's lesser known attractions, they helped him take another look at local attractions he'd been taking for granted. He cheerfully agreed to blog about this -- to encourage others to do the same!

As someone who has lived in Maryland for close 20 years, I tend to never go to DC's national monuments section unless we are hosting out-of-towner's. Even then, I usually just drop them off at the Metro Station on the edge of the District so I can retreat back to air conditioning.

This time my friends from California wanted to see Arlington Cemetery. For a year I attended school less than a mile from Ft. Myer, yet I never visited anything more than the Tomb of the Unknowns. Many people know about this world famous, solemn and amazing place to respect American heroes. However, this time, I was lucky that these out-of-towner friends were more interested in the lesser known, unseen parts of DC. This helped me stop, take more time, and absorb nearly every sign and even a detour.

It was a very hot, muggy day -- typical for early August. Thankfully, Arlington has a jump-off/jump-on tour bus that takes you to all key parts of the Cemetery grounds.

The visitor center is newly renovated and a lot of interesting displays and pictures are displayed there now. Visitors get a pre-recorded description of surroundings as we drove through the rolling hills. I didn't realize there were so many various rules and standards for headstones over the years. Too many to try to tell you here though.

First stop was the JFK, RFK burial sites. It was nice to finally see the Eternal Flame up close and not just a flicker out of the corner of my eye as I drove by the Pentagon. I really liked the Cemetery's request for silence and respect as you approach sacred spots like JFK and RFK's final resting place.

The Tomb of the Unknowns was amazing as always. I was drenched with sweat by this point in the muggy August heat. I was humbled though thinking about how hot the perfect soldiers must feel with their full service dress uniforms, with thousands of people watching them each day. But wow...what an honor to be one of these elite guards looking over the Tomb and seemingly over Washington DC. The next and most arguably best part of our trip was a detour only we took.

Arlington House had already closed for the day, so we couldn't go inside the main attraction building. The tour bus driver encouraged all of the 30+ visitors to still give Arlington House a visit, but only we took him up on the offer.

The bus drove away and it felt like we weren't at a world famous cemetery but instead were at a forgotten, sort of eery graveyard and garden. When you get off the bus, you're greeted with unkept gardens, and a lot of overgrown trees and bushes. I sort of liked it though. I had always wondered what these well-manicured places would look like if the gardner stopped tending to them. We never found out why it was neglected. But it felt like our own private place to explore with only a few other visitors and no Cemetery employees or grounds crews. It was very quiet, and high above the Cemetery and Washington.

The most amazing part was walking behind the Arlington House to see its incredible vista of D.C., which I suspect few see for themselves. The Tomb, of course, also has a great view of The National Mall, but this one was jaw-dropping and really put the icing on the cake.

Our Arlington trip was nice for someone as hyper and quickly bored as myself to instead stop and smell the roses, go off the beaten path a bit, and absorb some history. It was all thanks to my out-of-town friends and taking a day off work. I highly recommend visitors take a few minutes to see Arlington House, whether the building is open or not. You will be happy you stopped!

Tip #1:  ANC Tours by Martz Gray Line provides an interpretative tour bus service through Arlington with stops at the John F. Kennedy gravesite, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Arlington House (The Robert E. Lee Memorial). ANC Explorer is an app available from the Cemetery's website.

Tip #2: The bus tours stop selling tickets past 5 pm on Sundays during the summer even though the cemetery itself is still open.

Getting there: Arlington National Cemetery is located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. at the end of Memorial Avenue, the parkway which extends from Memorial Bridge, near the Lincoln Memorial. Along this parkway is the rotary intersection with the scenic George Washington Memorial Parkway. Arlington is accessible from the major roadways in the D.C. area like Interstate 95, the Capital Beltway (I-495), the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (I-295). Or, better yet, take the metro!

Hours: Daily, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Dogs: No, not really.


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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Hiking in Ricketts Glen State Park: 3.2 Miles, 18 Spectacular Waterfalls

Ricketts Glen State Park is a Pennsylvania state park on more than 13,000 acres in Columbia, Luzerne, and Sullivan counties. The park also is a National Natural Landmark, known for its old-growth forest and the more than 20 named waterfalls along Kitchen Creek.

I was enticed by the number of waterfalls in such close proximity. How many times have I hiked several miles for just one beautiful waterfall? Ricketts Glen State Park offered the possibility of just a 3.2 mile hike and 18 waterfalls!

After reading all the reviews about this trail, I was a bit intimidated by how "dangerous" and "difficult" it sounded. So it was a pleasant surprise that this trail is not all that difficult, as it turns out. It has some steep stairs built into the trail, and if you're not in the best of shape, a walking stick would help. We went slow -- both to take lots of photos and to soak in the beauty and because it was a bit slippery in the rain. That's the way to do this hike.

Because Ricketts Glen State Park is a 4 hours away from my home, we decided to make it a long weekend in the Poconos. I'd hoped for a great and glorious last gasp of summer over Labor Day Weekend, but instead the day of the hike dawned humid and threatened to rain. We planned on arriving by 9:30, and as we started ascending the mountain road to Ricketts Glen State Park, we hit a wall of dense fog. Visibility dropped to about 20 feet. I crossed my fingers and continued to hope for no rain. As for fog -- well... I love fog, actually. It makes photography fun, and definitely adds to the mystery of our surroundings.

We wisely stopped at the Visitor's Center. A helpful park employee provided us with a trail map and detailed directions to find the parking lot at the trail head -- it's clear that she's given these directions before!

There's a 7-mile hike that leads to all 21 waterfalls, or a much shorter 3.2-mile loop, that leads you past 18. (You could add maybe another mile -- half mile there and back -- and tack on a side trip to see the remaining 3 falls, if 18 isn't enough and avoid that long 7-miler; it's a pretty steep descent and equally challenge ascent, but no worse than the 3.2 mile loop.)

For the shorter, 3.2-mile hike, she recommended we start on the Highland Trail, veering right from the trail head to meet the Glen Leigh trail, which would take us past eight waterfalls and on down to "Waters Meet." At Water's Meet, we pick up the trail leading us back up the side of the mountain through Canoga Glen and past another 10 waterfalls, including the 94-foot spectacular Canoga Waterfalls, and then finally back up to the Highland Trail (which seems blissfully level after the step ascent) and the parking lot.

Plan on just taking your time and enjoy the immense beauty of this park! The hike is all about the waterfalls. Even rainy and foggy, it was incredible. Once the trail meets up with Kitchen Creek, it hugs it for the rest of the way -- a no time are you away from sight and sound of waterfalls or the creek itself.

It only took us 3-1/2 hours -- and that included carefully traversing rain-slicked rock steps with three scaredy-cat dogs -- to see all of the falls on the trail, during which time I stopped to take about 250 photos (give or take) and several videos. Go slowly and carefully down the steps -- those are the scariest part, because a slip could land you 30 feet below in some places and it was clear that the trail builders thought railings were for sissies. If you start getting winded on the way up, then take some more photo ops! 

The park's waterfalls were the main attractions for a local hotel from 1873 to 1903 and in fact, the park is named for the hotel's proprietor, R. Bruce Ricketts. A successful business man who took advantage of one the earliest eco-tourism ventures, Ricketts built the trail along the waterfalls, the better to attract tourists to his hotel. By the 1890s, Ricketts controlled over 80,000 acres -- about 120 square miles. He made his fortune clear-cutting almost all of that land, including much of what is now the park. Thankfully, he preserved about 2,000 acres of virgin forest in the creek's three glens. 

The Glens Natural Area has 8 named waterfalls in Glen Leigh and 10 in Ganoga Glen, these come together at Waters Meet; downstream in Ricketts Glen there are four to six named waterfalls. The park has four rock formations from the Devonian and Carboniferous periods, and is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Other than salamanders, we didn't notice any wildlife.

Even on a foggy, raining morning, there was no solitude. We saw three different small groups head down the trail while we were still getting our hats on and the dog leashes attached. As it started raining, we passed two sets of couples headed back to the parking lot which we assumed were discouraged by the rain -- which really wasn't all that miserable, since the leaf canopy caught most of the rain, and wisely, for once, we'd worn hats that kept it out of our eyes. 

Although most of the Highland Trail we traveled in solitude, it seemed that once we hit the Glen Leigh trail, and the start of the waterfalls, we encountered groups steadily, including two large groups of at least 15 people. It's no surprise that this is the most popular trail in one of the most popular state parks in Pennsylvania! You will share the trail with many others. I can only imagine how crowded it would be on a sunny fair-weather weekend! Even if crowds aren't your thing, find inner resources of patience and gird your loins! It's worth it!!
Tip #1: Go during leaf-peeping season -- the trail would be amazing with a leaf color spectacular! 

Tip #2: Rickett's Glen Visitor Center is located off of RT 487. You will find maps, notices of current happenings and events, real bathrooms, a little gift area and some helpful rangers here. Definitely worth a stop before hitting the trail!

Tip #3: Download a handy, dandy phone app: The Official Guide for Pennsylvania State Parks & Forests, Powered by Pocket Ranger®. It's free, and includes GPS features. You can find more about it at the Pennsylvania State Parks website (‎). It tells you a little about the parks and gives you hours, directions, and some helpful information. Search for "Pocket Ranger®" in either the App Store or Google Play.

Getting there: The visitor's center is located at 695 S.R. 487,Benton, PA 17814

Hours: From dawn until dusk.

Dogs: Yes, if they're sure-footed and good with strangers. If they're old or sensitive or afraid of people, leave them at home for this hike. The rock stairs -- and these dominate two of the three miles of the hike -- can be challenging to some dogs.


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!