Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Garden of Lights Celebrates the Holiday Season

This year, the Garden of Lights, Brookside Gardens’ holiday outdoor light exhibit, celebrates its 19th season as a Baltimore/Washington, DC area family holiday tradition.

During just one month a year, Brookside Gardens is illuminated with more than one million dazzling colorful lights shaped into hand-crafted, original art forms of flowers, animals and other natural elements. Stroll from garden to garden enjoying twinkling tree forms, fountains, sparkling snowflakes overhead and more.

In 1965, the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission began development of a display garden in Wheaton Regional Park on a site formerly owned by Stadler Nursery. The original grounds of Brookside Gardens were comprised of three formal gardens leading to a Wedding Gazebo, an Azalea Walk on the brow of the hill, plantings around the entrance, and the Conservatory.

As you walk around, you will hear the laughter of children enjoying the colorful lights.

Among some of the lights you'll enjoy are a "zoo" of lions,


polar bears,

giant ants,

giant plants,


giant butterflies, and

lots of trees outlined in a variety of colorful lights.

Whether you go for a romantic and whimsical stroll through the Garden of Lights with your special someone, or bring along the kids, it's a great way to enjoy the holiday season!

Know before you go: Dress warmly -- you're walking around, at night, during winter.

Getting there: 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton, MD 20902

Hours: The grounds of Brookside Gardens are open every day of the year. The Garden of Lights is open November 25, 2016 - January 1, 2017, Sunday - Thursday: 5:30 - 9 p.m., Friday - Saturday: 5:30 - 10 p.m., open every night except December 24 & 25.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Just Ducky: Seeing Pittsburgh on Land and by River

If you want a serious tour of Pittsburgh, don't go on the Just Ducky tours. But if you want to see a little of Pittsburgh by land and by river and have some fun laughing at some corny jokes and quack-quack-quacking at people you drive past, then this is the tour for you!

 I enjoyed it!

You get to ride in an authentic WWII amphibious vehicle, which is about as comfortable as it sounds. Odd clunking noises occur when the vehicle turns. You worry a little. The tour guides sound like they worry a little -- our vehicle is 71 years old after all --  but soon you're quack-quack-quacking at some pedestrian or driver and you forget about it.

The tour, which left a few minutes late, waddled over the Smithfield Bridge into downtown Pittsburgh, which on a Friday afternoon with a Pirates game and a jazz festival closing streets and bridges (between the two of them) was gridlocked. The drivers -- both of whom seemed young (including the lengthy quibble about boy scout districts) -- resorted to plan B, and then to plans C, D, and E.

We crossed over the Andy Warhol Bridge and drove past the stadiums, then turned left toward the Allegheny River and then down on the North Shore Trail, startling several pedestrians enjoying the trail. They then drove into the river. And that's just cool.

Suddenly, we're on a boat tour. Sure, I saw most of the landmarks I'd seen earlier that day on my bike exploration of the Three Rivers Heritage Trails, but it's different from river level. We cruised to the confluence of the three rivers and eventually climbed out of the Monongahela River.

 While you're in the water, they let passengers (volunteers) steer the boat. You worry a little for the kayakers, but they keep a hand on the steering wheel for most of it. No one seems to get injured.

Getting there: 125 W Station Square Dr, Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Hours: Check the website for tour times and availability.

Website: http://www.justduckytours.com/

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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Native American Heritage Month

My employer asked me to write an internal newsletter blog about a Native American site in Maryland in honor of Native American Heritage Month.

In a state and region with river names such as Monocacy, Potomac, Patapsco and Patuxent, I thought it would be easy to find a native American heritage site. I grew up near the Catoctin Mountains, camped and hiked in Shenandoah National Park, graduated from Penn State with its mascot Nittany Lion, named for a legendary Native American princess who, according to legend, died tragically after a doomed love-affair with a white settler.

So although I'd immediately agreed to the proposition, it then seemed almost every weekend after I'd agreed there was a family emergency, or we were away (to visit my son in college) or I was sick (three weekends in a row). A family dog died and another one got terribly sick a month later (we hope he won't die).

So long story short, I wasn't able to go to one of the two or three day trip destinations that I found that specifically featured Native American Heritage: The National Museum of the American Indian, a Smithsonian museum on the National Mall in D.C. or the Accohannock Native American Living Village in Calvert County.

For all the day trips I blog about in the Mid-Atlantic Day Trips Blog, I try to delve into the area's history, whether I'm going on a bike ride or hike or exploring an historic colonial mansion. But the Native American history always seemed to be an after thought, an aside or "this is interesting but not the real reason why you came here" sort of way.

Time; the overlay of colonial towns -- such as St Mary's City -- on Native American villages and sites; farming; and modern development all have obscured Native American history and heritage in the mid-Atlantic region. But clues surround us and have become part of our contemporary environment, their presence almost invisible by their very familiarity -- Chesapeake, Potomac, Shenandoah....

Thus, as I was researching Soldier's Delight Natural Environmental Area in Baltimore County in anticipation of an upcoming hike, I discovered that this area was a Native American hunting ground.

Research into history surrounding the C&O Canal -- a favorite destination of mine -- revealed an 1994 archeological dig into a 600-year old Native American village, which supported up to 250 people, from the Late Woodland period (just before the Europeans arrived). Thousands of artifacts were discovered in a corn field that's now part of the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Area, alongside of the canal, about 650 yards north of the Potomac River in Montgomery County.

There was another such village discovered in the 1930s in Accoceek in Prince George's County. And in the Smithsonian Research Center in Edgewater in Anne Arundel County, remains of a Native American fishing and hunting camp along the Rhode River dating to the Middle Woodlands era (1200-1500 years ago) were also revealed in the 1990s. 

In fact, this all serves to remind us that Maryland's heritage began far earlier than its earliest colonial settlement in 1634, as native peoples called this area home from at least 10,000 years ago. Migrations of various peoples following the seasons and wildlife travelled the area for thousands of years, and there were numerous permanent settlements throughout the Chesapeake Bay and mid-Atlantic region. After the European invasion began, more pressure was put on the Native American peoples, who tended to migrate north and west away from the earliest European colonial settlements.

The colony of Maryland began with the landing of the Calvert expedition in 1634. Throughout the latter 1600s, Europeans and Native peoples lived within reach of each other; however the colonists preferred to live along the Chesapeake and major waterways, while the native tribes would eventually seek the interior regions for refuge. A few historic era tribes are known to have had permanent settlement sites within the wilderness of the Monocacy and Potomac River Valleys. One such tribe were the Tuscarora, who migrated here from the Carolinas after 1713 and lived adjacent to the Potomac River.

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, and in fact, for every month of the year, let's commit to remembering the history of the cultures that lived on this land before Europeans arrived. Dig a little into the history, ask questions, be curious about the Native American Heritage.

If you're interested in learning more about the history of the region BEFORE the European invasion, then check out the two sites below -- I will be in the coming year!

Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum
A 544-acre park on the Patuxent River and St. Leonard Creek in Calvert County, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum is now home to a state history and archaeology museum that explores the changing cultures and environment of the Chesapeake Bay region over the past 12,000 years. Consult http://www.jefpat.org/ for hours of operation, driving directions, and a calendar of special events.

The Accohannock Native American Living Village
The Accohannock, one of the oldest historical tribes in the state, are in the process of building a Woodland Indian village that will be very much like those that existed at the time the first colonists arrived in Maryland. Located in Marion, in Somerset County, MD, the village is the site of an annual pau wau (pow wow). Take a look at http://www.indianwatertrails.com/village.html to learn more about the project and the site, which includes a local bird sanctuary and wildlife refuge.

If you enjoyed this post, go to this page to keep exploring all the other interesting places the Blog has visited! And share the Blog with others!

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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, November 9, 2016

Gunston Hall, George Mason's Retreat

One of the most famous men of his time is now one of the least known: George Mason. His Virginia Declaration of Rights anticipated and most certainly influenced what became the Bill of Rights. In fact, he is often referred to as the "father" of the Bill of Rights.

Mason was a colonial Virginia planter, politician, and a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, and was one of three men who refused to sign.

Mason was born in 1725, most likely in present-day Fairfax County, Virginia. Mason's father died when he was young, and his mother managed the family estates until he came of age. He married in 1750, built Gunston Hall, and lived the life of a country squire, supervising his lands, family and slaves.

Mason briefly served in the House of Burgesses and involved himself in community affairs, sometimes serving with his neighbor, George Washington. As tensions between Britain and the American colonies grew, Mason came to support the colonial side, and used his knowledge and experience to help the revolutionary cause, finding ways to work around the Stamp Act of 1765 and serving in the rebel Virginia Conventions of 1775 and 1776.

Mason prepared the first draft of the Declaration of Rights in 1776, and his words formed much of the text adopted by the final Virginia Convention. Named one of his state's delegates to the Constitutional Convention, Mason traveled to Philadelphia, his only lengthy trip outside Virginia. Many clauses in the document bear his stamp, as he was active in the convention for months before deciding he could not sign it. He cited the lack of a bill of rights most prominently in his Objections, but also advocated for an immediate end to the slave trade, which he opposed (despite owning slaves himself).

The Masons lived in a colonial Virginia that had few roads, as most commerce was carried on Chesapeake Bay or through the waters of the Potomac, Rappahannock or other rivers. Most settlement took place near the rivers, through which planters could trade with the world. Gunston Hall was no different, sitting high on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River. On the plantation, there was a wharf. Thus, colonial Virginia initially developed few towns, since estates were largely self-sufficient, and could get what they needed without the need to purchase locally. Even the capital, Williamsburg saw little activity when the legislature was not in session. Local politics was dominated by large landowners like the Masons.

Gunston Hall is interesting to visit. After its completion in 1759, few changes were made. As a result, Gunston Hall remains as a vital example of the Georgian style popular in colonial Virginia. Unlike other, more famous plantation homes -- Mount Vernon comes to mind -- the sense of what life was like on the plantation and the workings of a farm hasn't been recreated beyond a few out buildings close to the house itself. Little remains of the original gardens -- Boxwood Alley is all that's left, and that's showing signs of distress.

I haven't been to Monticello or Mount Vernon lately, so I don't know how they handle the issue of slavery, but at Gunston Hall, they face the issue head on. Unlike plantation tours I've been on in the past, there're no oblique references to "servants." But because the archeological work has just begun, there isn't much known about life for those enslaved there.

Our docent encouraged us to go up the back stairs at Gunston Hall, to see for ourselves how steep and hard to navigate the steps are. I was amazed -- I had a camera and a purse, and between the two, bumped the walls as I climbed. I can't imagine carrying water and bedding up, or slops or china down.

Getting there: 10709 Gunston Rd, Lorton, VA 22079

Hours: Mansion and museum open, 9:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. daily; grounds close at 6:00 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, & New Year's Day.

Dogs: Service animals only.

Website: http://www.gunstonhall.org/

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Come for the Battlefields, Stay for Dinner

Exploring Gettysburg and its famous Civil War sites will make a visitor hungry! And where better to go than to one of the region's 16+ restaurants (discounting fast food joints and chain establishments)?

Of course, Gettysburg and Adams County is well known for its agritourism, with its orchards, farm stands, and vineyards. Now, local restaurants are increasingly taking advantage of the proximity of these local food sources to provide a real, from-farm-to-table experience for diners.

Don't get me wrong -- McD's has its place on some of the day trips this Blog covers: if you're thirsty or just need a quick bite because you need to "make time" to get somewhere else quickly, then, yeah, stop at a fast-food joint.

But not in Gettysburg! You'd be missing out on the wonderful food scene, a culinary experience that combines the best of food, wine, and history in a range of price points. Be sure to check out one of the restaurants listed below! Yes, come to Gettysburg for its Civil War history, but definitely plan to stay for dinner (or breakfast or lunch)!

The restaurants below are some of what Gettysburg and surrounding Adams County has to offer the culinary traveler:

Food 101
I think of all the places, this is the one I'm most determined to bring my family back to (after having visited it with a group of fellow bloggers). The first stop along our "progressive" culinary tour, we enjoyed prociutto wrapped around honey crisp apples on a bed of arugula, topped with a balsamic vinegrette reduction. The dining room is cozy, but modern and inviting. This is a place to come and chat and enjoy food, with friends. A block away from Lincoln Square, I wonder how many tourists miss out by not venturing further along Chambersburg Road?

Chef Corey Williams' menu is built around reasonably priced salads, sandwiches, and artisan pizzas, making the restaurant popular with the local college crowd. You can find a comfortably familiar Caesar Salad, but there's also the intriguing Asparagus & Bacon Salad and the Berry Almond Salad. Pizzas likewise offer the comfortably familiar -- a Margherita Pizza or Classic Pepperone -- but the Fennel Sausage & Broccolini Pizza and Wild Mushroom Pizza are begging to be tried.

If you're looking for more dinner-like fare, then there's the Bistro Steak (feta cheese crusted steak, potato wedges, roasted asparagus, pearl onions, rosemary veal jus), Sesame Crusted Tuna (citrus soy vinaigrette, arugula, sautéed haricot verts, candied jalapenos, avocado, shaved red onion, cilantro), or Sicilian Chicken (capers, olives, tomato, herbs, lemon, shallots, garlic, white wine, broccolini, roasted potatoes), among others, to chose from. Daily specials range from Glazed Salmon (honey apple cider-glazed salmon, butternut squash and brussel sprout hash) to the more casual Chicken & Prosciutto Sub (prosciutto di parma, fresh mozzarella, sliced roma tomato, greens, basil pesto aioli, served on -- in?? -- a baguette).

Getting there: 101 Chambersburg St, Gettysburg, PA 17325
Hours: 11 am - 9 pm
Website: http://food101gettysburg.com/

Dobbin House
Dobbin House is the oldest existing building in Gettysburg and a well known tourist lunch destination, but it's popular among locals as well, making it a good stop for the culinary traveler.

Reverend Alexander Dobbin built the house in 1776 -- when Gettysburg was on the colonial frontier -- to begin a new life in America for himself and his family. Today his home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a colonial restaurant where candlelit elegance, hearty American
favorites in abundance, and gracious service bring back the sights, sounds and tastes of two centuries ago. We enjoyed Baked King's Onion Soup -- with hearty chunks of beef and onion lurking beneath the cover of melted cheese. Although a messy soup (for me -- those long strings of cheese, oy), it was consumed too quickly! Although a generous portion, you're left wanting more (it's that good).

The menu also offers "sallades," including Ceasar's Sallade (which was reportedly invented in California in the 1920s), but it's quaint and fun to see the allegedly colonial approach to spelling. For example, dressing is spelled "dreffing," reflecting the long s being printed similarly to a cursive, lowercase f, which was common during the colonial era. Entrees include Primal Rib of Beef (standing beef rib, cooked to your choice of doneness in a reflector oven with its own juice steeped therein) and Veal Madeira (tender efcallopes of veal sauteed on a clear brisk fire. Finished with a madeira scented sauce and Penna. mushrooms), and Drunken Scallops (deep sea scallops sauteed with bacon and herbs, then drowned in Chablis), among others. If you seek light fare, or more informal fare, then consider eating in the Springhouse Tavern, located in the basement of the house.

What makes Dobbin House so fun, besides the menu, is the atmosphere. Canopy beds have been repurposed into, basically booths, so that you can, literally, enjoy dinner in bed. Other tables have wing-back chairs. Overall, the restaurant is decorated in luxury colonial style; servers are dressed to period. Enjoying a meal at Dobbin offers a refreshing change to tourists starting to feel a little overwhelmed by the Civil War-ness of the rest of Gettysburg. We tend to forget that Gettysburg is a town with a history that spanned both before and since that great conflict.

Bonus: This restaurant is reputed to be haunted!

Getting there: 89 Steinwehr Avenue, Gettysburg, PA 17325
Hours: The Springhouse Tavern is open daily from 11:30 am; the Alexander Dobbin Dining Rooms are open daily from 5 pm. Reservations recommended for the Alexander Dobbin Dining Rooms.
Website: http://www.dobbinhouse.com/

1 Lincoln Food and Spirits
Elegance is the byword for this well-established restaurant, in the lovely (and elegant) Gettysburg Hotel situated on the town's center square. Chef Joseph Holmes wowed us with a variety of amazing creations not currently on the menu (but being planned for upcoming special events, such as the New Year's Celebration, and the soon to be revealed fall/winter menu): crabcake fritters with scallops on a polenta bed; his take on a Phili cheese sandwich (tender roast lamb on a brioche bun) with delicate, fried onion rings; seared breast of duck with gnocchi, Brussel sprouts and baby carrots in a duck and lamb broth; and finally, drunken apple amaretto crunch (simply amazing).

As his Phili sandwich suggests, Chef Holmes takes comfort food, brings it a few levels upscale, and gives it a twist to bring out the wow factor. Wow it was -- I'd return just to enjoy the Phili cheese sandwich, again. Currently on the menu are Maryland Crab Macaroni and Cheese. There's also Peppered Shrimp Pasta (peppered shrimp with bow tie pasta, roasted garlic, mushrooms and roma tomato concasse), the clever Smokey Gnocchi (broccoli with‏ roasted peppers, smoked salmon, gouda and peas), Scottish Salmon Roulade (roasted pepper and pesto stuffed salmon roulade with a sweet pea and smoked salmon risotto) and Pork and Polenta (herbed and seared tenderloin of pork served with a soft goat cheese polenta and an apple and fig chutney), among others. Prices range from $5 to $13 for appetizers and light fare to $17 to $32 for entrees.

Getting there: 1 Lincoln Square, Gettysburg. Metered on-street parking is available in the vicinity of One Lincoln around Lincoln Square. A municipal lot is also available on Racehorse Alley located just behind One Lincoln and the Gettysburg Hotel. Fees are hourly and facilitated through use of payment kiosks.
Hours: lunch served 11 am to 5 pm; dinner is served 5 pm to 10 pm.
Website: http://onelincoln.net/

1863 Restaurant
Never discount hotel restaurants, and 1863 Restaurant is exactly why you shouldn't! 1863 is a family-friendly, unique, casual dining restaurant, located in the Windham Hill Hotel, offering a wide range of appetizers, steaks, salads, sandwiches and desserts. The idea behind this restaurant is a comfortable, sophisticated steakhouse, amped up a notch (or four).

When we visited, Chef Andrew Ernest treated us to a tasting of some more unique dishes he created during a four-course meal that included Roasted Bone Marrow with artisan breads and rolls, a Wild Boar Mac N' Cheese that is to die for, and his excellent Mixed Grill featuring Filet of Beef, herb crusted rack of lamb, pheasant sausage, fried potatoes, grilled corn, charred chickory leaves, served with a variety of sauces such as chimmichurri, onion-fig marmalade and au jus.

Getting there: 95 Presidential Cir, Gettysburg, PA 17325
Hours: 6:30 am – 2 pm, 5 – 10 pm
Website: http://www.wyndham.com/hotels/pennsylvania/gettysburg/wyndham-gettysburg/hotel-dining/1863

Fidler & Co
Josh Fidler began Fidler & Co 2 years ago, with a commitment to bringing local produce into his menus. Thus, you can expect fresh fruits and vegetables to be incorporated into the daily and weekly specials, as well as elsewhere in the menu. Brick oven pizzas regularly on the menu include BBQ Chicken, a Wild Mushroom with Cheddar and Thyme, Chorizo and Potato with Onion and a mix of Cheddar and Mozzarella Cheeses, as well the standard Margherita, Veggie, and Meat pizzas.

If a sandwich is more your thing, then consider trying Fidler's Rettland Pork Burger topped by bacon, cheddar, and beer jam (!!) or the Pork Belly and Kimchi Sandwich with black garlic mayo served on a French roll.

Fidler's brunch menu offers interesting choices, such as chicken and waffles, lemon ricotta pancakes, Chorizo Benedict, Cast Iron Frittata, Smoked Salmon Hash and more traditional standards such as French Toast, Omelettes, and sides such as scrapple, and maple bacon sausage.

All bread is baked by Gettysburg Baking Company, located onsite.

We enjoyed several pizzas, including a scrumptious apple and bacon pizza that I could have happily gobbled up alone, without sharing! In addition, there was a frittata, Greek Salad made with entirely local produce, and a Pennsylvania Dutch stand-by, Deviled Eggs.

Getting there: 213 E York street, Biglerville, PA
Hours: Lunch is served 11 am - 2 pm Wednesday - Friday; Supper served 5 - 9 pm Wednesday - Saturday and 5 - 8 pm Sunday; Brunch served 10 am - 2 pm Saturday and Sunday.
Website: www.Fidlerandcompany.com

Although we didn't exactly go on the Savor Gettysburg Food Tour during our whirlwind two days exploring Gettysburg's culinary offerings, that's a good way to experience a variety of Gettysburg's restaurants, and several of the restaurants I visited above are on the tour (several others aren't, and so, dang, I'm gonna have to go on the tour myself one day!). The tours take about three hours, and don't go on a full stomach! Be prepared to eat, and enjoy! The tour visits seven very unique eateries, historic taverns, family owned bistros and a winery, along a mile-long route. All food tastings are included in the ticket price and is enough food for lunch. Tours run Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Or skip the tour, and go on one of your own, checking out one of these wonderful local establishments.

Farmers Market Tour
One of the coolest tours I've ever encountered --  also run by Savor Gettysburg Food Tours -- is a colorful walk through the local farmers market, guided by a local chef, Jeremy Schaffner. This will teach you a chef's approach to farmers markets, and you'll never look at fresh produce the same way.

In fact, you'll learn that you start with the ingredients, rather than a recipe, to determine what you'll cook up! 

Then, on to a local kitchen, where the chef teaches you how to turn your purchases into delicious, amazing dishes -- teaching you their tips and techniques -- that you helped cook! The chef will have you slicing and dicing, rolling pasta (if that's called for), sautéing and flambéing. It's very hands on, and ultimately, deliciously rewarding as you get to enjoy your creations.

Hours: Check the individual restaurants' websites for hours.

Dogs: Although some restaurants offer outdoor seating where well-behaved pooches (not my beagles) are welcomed, please contact the individual restaurants to determine the extent of their welcome for canines.

Website: Savor Gettysburg Food Tours http://www.savorgettysburgfoodtours.com/tour-information-.html

This is one in a series of posts about Gettysburg. For other day trip destinations in and around Adams County, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the Gettysburg or Destination Gettysburg label below.

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

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!