Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Our Appalachian Trail or was it Trial?

From Lake Anna, VA we headed for Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah Mountains (Appalachians) along Route 33 and it starts to rain! We had some good and beautiful days in the preceding 2 weeks and had not checked on the weather channel and although we know that at this time of the year there can be bad days, we had not anticipated this. As we pass through the National Parks Gate at the top of the Shenandoah Mountains we are literally in the clouds with fog all round and can see for only about 150 yards in front of us. This provides for very difficult driving with clouds swirling about on an unknown road; we can’t turn back as the roads are narrow with lots of curves. So we end up taking 2 hours to travel just 40 miles in these conditions and emerge into the James River valley and make our way to I-81 which passes through the mountains; here all is well - no fog, traffic moving freely and we get to our destination “Jelleystone RV Park” in Natural Bridge just before dark. That night and the following day it rained so we decided to take an easy day; Adele baked brown scones in our little oven and made soup, we caught up on writing our blog and planned where to head for next - so the day passed quickly enough.

On the next day we drove to Lexington, VA where Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson  both lived yet at different times. We wondered why would a parent call their son Stonewall…the answer - his name was Thomas Jonathan Jackson however, he earned his nickname during the Civil War for standing his ground in battle. Stonewall Jackson was an exemplary citizen, deeply religious, a dedicated family man who taught in The Virginia Military Institute one of the local universities the other being The Washington and Lee University. We took a self-guided walking tour around Lexington where many of the buildings are pre Civil War (Stonewall Jackson’s house which we toured) included; as the town is on a steep hill we had plenty of exercise.
Washington and Lee University is a private school which has a student population of less than 2,000 was originally founded in 1749 as The Augusta Academy and renamed Liberty Hall in 1776; in 1782 it was chartered as Liberty Hall Academy by the Virginia legislature and empowered to grant degrees, then in 1796 George Washington saved the struggling Liberty Hall Academy when he gave the school its first major endowment--$20,000 worth of James River Canal stock. The trustees promptly changed the name of the school to Washington Academy as an expression of their gratitude. In 1865 after the Civil War General Robert E Lee reluctantly accepted the position of president of the College a position he held until his death in 1870. After Lee's death the trustees voted to change the name from Washington College to Washington and Lee University. Robert E Lee is buried in a magnificent Virginia marble tomb, which bears his likeness lying in full military uniform, in the Lee Memorial Chapel.

Adjacent to Washington and Lee University is the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) which was founded in1839, students of General Stonewall Jackson helped train Confederate Army recruits during the Civil War. Today, a co-ed institution, all students dress in military uniform. As we toured the grounds and museum we were greeted and welcomed by the students as they walked by. Students who are civilian soldiers of the State of Virginia may, after graduation, be commissioned into an arm of the US forces or undertake a civilian career.

VMI’s most famous past student is George C. Marshall architect and implementer of “The Marshall Plan” who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Our time with Carole and Fred

1 Murals at Reading Metro Station
2 Tom in line at Redding Terminal Market
3 Our Phili Cheesesteak being made
4 At Longwood Gardens
5 Checking the camera
6 Beautiful flowers
7 Chatting over lunch
Posted by Picasa

Maine, Mass & Rhode Island

1 Eileen and Adele at LLBean's
2 Celebrating Halloween (early)
3 Rover at a truck stop
4 On board the Mayflower
5 Plymouth Rock
6 Mayflower
7 Preacher at Plimouth Village
8 A Mansion in Newport Rhode Island
9 The Breakers (Vanderbilt Mansion) RI
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lake House, Lake Anna, Virginia

Charlie was keen to have a trip in the RV as he would like to have a road trip himself, Pam needs some convincing, so Saturday morning Charlie sat up front with Tom as we headed for their lake house.  On the way we stopped at The National Museum of the Marine Corps. This proved to be a much more interesting stop than we had imagined.  The building is designed to look like the iconic photo of “Raising the Flag” on Iwo Jima. 

A docent suggested we start our tour by viewing a film of the landing of 65,000 marines on Iwo Jima with commentary of the plans to take the island. We lucked out in meeting a survivor (considered a treasure by the marines) 84 year old Frank Mathew who was one of the marines. What a delight speaking and listening to Frank tell his story; he was 18 and a half years at the time of the assault, this was his first assignment as a marine, there were many of photographs of the landing also. The was docent tipped us to ask Frank about playing the organ for various religious services on Iwo Jima; he was delighted to recount playing the little portable organ with members of the different denominations at his shoulder advising him what and when to play. His proudest moment was when he was “ordered” to play the Star Spangled Banner as the “second” flag was being raised.

Another docent gave us the scoop on the famous photo of “Raising the Flag” it turns out that that was the second flag to be raised - the first was a household size flag and not very visible. The Commanding Officer had a large flag and he sent a Lieutenant, four marines and a photographer to raise the bigger flag. The marines had no pole but found an old water pipe close by, they attached the flag to the pole and the photographer takes photos as they raise it. Afterwards the photographer takes a posed photo with about 10 marines and sends his film to Hawaii to be developed. Later he is asked if he had the Marines pose with the flag and answered “yes” he was thinking of the photo with the 10 marines. It was not until he finally saw the developed photos that he realized that he had taken the photo that became the historic “Raising the Flag”. Great stories of sacrifice, heroism and history made – an excellent Museum and a must visit.  

Charlie and Pam’s lake house is beautifully set among trees on the shore of Lake Anna in a very nice gated community. As it is off-season we had lots of room near the boat ramp to park “Rover.” The yard was under a cover of leaves so we all took a rake and cleared the lawn and driveway – the next day the yard was hidden under leaves again.  Pam arrived Sunday and we were all invited to a neighbor’s house for dinner where we met many of their friends and had a most enjoyable night. 

Monday Charlie and Pam drove us to Fredericksburg the scene Fredericksburg Battle.  Once again the casualties on both sides were terrible and, the dead and wounded were left behind for the locals to bury or treat. On the outskirts of town there’s a large cemetery with thousands of unknown soldiers buried up to 8 to the grave, so sad to see. Charlie led us on a walking tour around the town; the main part of town has brick buildings most of which have multiple bullet holes from the time of the civil war. The day was lovely and warm – a tee shirts kind of day.

Tuesday and it was time for us to be on our way so we said “good bye” to our wonderful hosts promising to return and rake the leaves next Fall/Autumn.     

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tunnels and RV’s

We learned they don’t go together as we drove down I-95 on our way to Washington DC through Baltimore. The GPS while identifying “toll roads” does not advise about tunnels (we have a Tom Tom, we wonder if any of the other GPS providers check and advise for tunnels). We had not realized that I-95 has a tunnel in Baltimore, very near the tunnel we see a sign that lets us know there is a tunnel and “No Hazardous Materials” with an outline of a propane tank, allowed. We take the next exit, see a sign for a truck stop so head towards it, just as we approach the gate we see a sign – no RVs! Oh ****! We are now 30 feet from the gate, can’t reverse and there’s no room to turn. Adele goes up to the window tells the lady we are lost, can’t turn and would she allow us enter, turn and come straight out again. Of course, no problem and she also gave us directions on how to go around Baltimore which involved going back north on I- 95 to 695 a ring road and pick up I- 95 again south of the city. Maps will now be studied for tunnels. 

Although old Newcomer friends, Pam and Charlie Hoffman who live outside DC had invited us to park RamblingRover on their driveway we had booked into an RV Park for the first night – we need to make sure that we can fit on private driveways.  After hooking up in “Cherry Hill” we headed over to Pam & Charlie’s for dinner and to check out their driveway. Tom & Charlie surveyed the driveway area after which Charlie chopped off a branch so that we could drive in easily. The following day we moved the RV over and Charlie drove us to the “Kiss & Ride” entrance for Metro which we took to The National Mall. We exited at the Smithsonian into a bright, cold, sunny day and walked along the Mall to see the war memorials. They are so different - the WW2 Memorial being the best - it honors the 400,000 who died and the 16 million who fought and the millions more, including Rosie the Riveter who worked in the war effort.  We also saw the Korean Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Woman’s Memorial. From there we went to the Lincoln Memorial where a school band from Taft CA was playing on the steps front, we sat across the road and had a hot cup of coffee and listened to the band. Next we visited the newly opened Martin Luther King memorial which is spectacular. Being short on time (closing hour is 5 pm) we took a quick visit to the Museum of Natural History and saw the Hope Diamond and other precious gems in the company of many teenage girls who were admiring the gems and dreaming (as the young should) that they will have one when they grow up and are Princesses.

The next day turned out to be a wet day but it never bothered us as we spent the day indoors visiting the Capitol Building. After taking an official guided tour of the building and hearing about its history and the workings of the government we headed over to South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson’s office and got tickets to enter the Senate and the House Representatives. Before going to either house we had lunch in the restaurant in the basement. We then went to the Senate where a Senator was finishing his speech (to an almost empty chamber) after which a vote needed to be taken. This was fascinating as all the Senators streamed in, cast their vote, chatted with each other or just voted and walked back out again; we saw many we recognized.  We then went over to the other wing to the House of Representatives in time to hear its adjournment for the weekend, so…we sat and admired the well-proportioned room.

Thankfully as there’s a tunnel from Congress to the Library of Congress we did not have to go out into the weather and with our usual luck we were in time for the last tour of the day.  This is a beautiful, ornate building where we had an excellent docent who pointed out all of its beautiful features, the decorations on the stairs, the walls, the ceilings as well as a potted history of the library. As Tom had been very active in the Irish Network we had an invitation to the Irish Embassy for coffee on the following morning. The Embassy, on Embassy Row, is located on Sheridan Circle in a beautiful building. After our visit and coffee we walked around the area and admired and marveled at the ornateness of some of the embassies. We then walked further afield to DuPont Circle and on to the neighborhoods around there. After lunch in Starbucks where we used their Wi-Fi we headed back to the Smithsonian Museums. First we went to the Natural Museum to see a 3D movie about Tornadoes’ Alley - hope we never are caught in one. Then on to the sculpture garden where we walked past a sculpture of a house six times - it turned inside out as one passed. Then we went into the Art Gallery where we tagged along on a tour that had already started and learned how to look at a painting. Once again we are the last group to leave the Museum. 

Charlie and Pam invited us to their Lake House in Virginia for a long weekend, so that’s where we’re headed next.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

An early Nor’easter

The promised Nor’easter arrived in the area with a vengeance Sunday night, thankfully we were on the periphery but as you never know so we decided to move on and not visit Cape Cod. Carl had advised on which roads to travel driving south, however as we could not find an RV Park open we settled in to drive over 420 miles to our next stop outside Philadelphia – in Clarksboro, NJ to be precise. By far our longest journey yet using almost 2 tanks of gas (we get between 8 & 10mpg).  We stopped to get gas about three and a half hours into our journey to discover there was no electricity in the area as a result of the Nor’easter. As they believed that they would have power in about an hour we parked at the pump and proceeded to make and eat our lunch as potential customers came and went. It was Halloween so Adele donned her spider hat and went out to talk to the other stranded customers, one of whom was driving a 5th wheeler and could not move another mile without gas. After an hour and a half later we decided to drive to the next exit hope there would be electricity in that area, thankfully they had. As darkness fell we arrived at the RV Park in Clarksboro, NJ.  

Our friends Carole and Fred Desantis live outside Philly and hoping to see them we sent emails and called but got no reply. We had known they were going to China in October and hoped they would be home by the time we reached PA. Shortly after we’ve hooked everything up at the RV Park Carole called to let us know they had returned the previous day. What great timing?  We were immediately invited to dinner for the following evening after which, as Carole and Fred were finding it difficult to stay awake, we played cards. Graciously, they invited us to park our RV on their very large driveway and stay in their magnificent home. The following day we visited Old Town Philadelphia, Independence Hall, and the Liberty Bell; afterwards we took a walking tour with a guide called Bill who was dressed in 18th century garb, including a large woolen cloak that sailed out behind him as he strode down the road and, this was a hot day! There were just 3 of us on the tour, we walked around the old building and got a feel of the old town.  Bill was quite a character and we enjoyed his sense of humor very much.

Next day we drove “Rover” to Carole and Fred’s driveway and settled into a plush two bed-roomed luxury apartment in the semi basement (the house is on a hill). From there we could see out into their woods where one day their nephew, Chuck was in a blind (camouflage tent) hoping to shot a deer with his bow and arrow. He had no luck on that day but he did shoot a deer while Carole and Fred were in China. The following day we drove west to Lancaster to visit Amish country where our first stop was at a quilt shop that had us in awe of these very gifted people. Deciding to walk around the countryside we set off on a side road and bought produce from an Amish woman’s roadside shop. The roads are not made for walking; even side roads are too dangerous for pedestrians so we returned to using the car. One item on our “bucket list” was to take a trip in an Amish Buggy, which we did taking a one hour tour including with a farm visit.  Seven of us shared the buggy, 4 in the back 3 in the front, one on a tiny stool - it was sardine style seating, legs interlocking and Adele retorted “I hope we don’t go over too many big bumps”. We visited a dairy farm which had the friendliest cows we have met since an English cow tried to eat Adele’s skirt so she made sure to keep away from their friendly licks.

Carole and Fred joined us the next day to the Reading Terminal Market by train where we wanted to have a “Philly Cheese Steak” or a Hoagie to those in the know.  Reading Terminal Market is an indoor market in the center Philadelphia where about 50% of the stalls are run by Amish; we explored every isle.  After lunch we headed out to explore the center of the city and saw lots of protesting 99%ers camping on the pavement outside City Hall. The streets were not busy as it was a Saturday. Carole knew that the Comcast building had some sort of a display so nothing would satisfy us all but to find out; sure enough they had an interesting song and dance showing on the wall of the foyer, very much worth visiting.

On Sunday all four of us headed for “Longwood Garden” which had a Chrysanthemum festival.  Did you know that you can have over 100 blossoms on one stalk, amazing?  The Glass houses were laden with enormous chrysanthemums, decorating the columns, walkways, arches and ceilings. That weekend there was a Japanese theme with many Bonsai on display and an Ikebana competition.  We sat and watched a lady make 3 different floral displays.  It was a lovely day so we took a walk around the gardens which were beautifully laid out and had nice fall/autumn colors. 

Monday we headed out to Gettysburg and the beginnings of our education about the Civil War 1861-1865, the numerous battles and the awful death toll of that era. We saw a movie in the Visitors Center took a guided bus tour of the 4 day Gettysburg battles and visited the Museum - all were very informative. The tour included the various battle sites where the guide gave a talk and had us visualizing the battle and the carnage. Most States erected a memorial to their dead around the battle fields

That night we went to an Italian restaurant “Trattoria Giuseppe” which had a Frank Sinatra impressionist to entertain the patrons - he was terrific and had all singing, dancing and generally having a good time. Carole requested “I did it my way” and we sang along with “Frank”.  The food excellent and we all went home with doggie bags.

Before leaving the next day we walked around the large garden with its woods and river, once again a lovely sunny day. We were sorry to leave our friends and their luxurious accommodations.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Really, Really Back on the Road this time

So why have we posted no Blogs since our promise of October 28th?

A couple of reasons really: foremost is the fact that we have been having such a good time with old friends from Los Gatos that we had no time to write, secondarily we had technology problems which are now thanks to the wonderful folks at Lenovo resolved so we’re now busily (on a dull rainy day in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia) recalling experiences and writing several weeks/months blogs - photos to follow.

We arrived back in Boston on route to Augusta, ME on October 24th. With a few hours to kill before our flight, and to stay awake, we walked around the terminal so you can imagine our surprise to hear Adele’s name being called from a coffee shop; as there are not too many people called Adele we turned to discover that it was Sue and Bob our good neighbors from across the street in Los Gatos. They had spent the weekend in Boston visiting their daughter at BU. We enjoyed chatting with them and getting caught up on the news of our respective families, friends, the neighborhood and Los Gatos. It was wonderful to meet them and we all marveled at how small the world is.

It was dark by the time we caught our little plane to Augusta so it was lovely to see the lights of the towns twinkling among the trees. On our way down to Boston, a day time flight we flew along the coast. The plane was a small 9 seater Cessna which stays low providing a wonderful sightseeing tour both ways. When we arrived in Augusta Eileen and Carl were there to greet us; we could see them from the plane which brought back memories of landing in Guernsey and seeing our grandchildren before we deplaned.  It was good to be “Back in the USA”. We spent the next four nights with Eileen and Carl, buying supplies, washing clothes and generally getting our act together. As a big Nor’easter was forecast for the area and to avoid bedding down with the Barth’s for the winter we decided to get on the road.

On the 28th we headed down to Middleboro, MA from where we planned to visit Plymouth, Rhode Island and Cape Cod.  Next day we headed for Plymouth and saw the famous Rock in a Greek like granite structure on the shore, one leans over the rail to see the rock. We also toured the “Mayflower” an exact replica of the original it was a very small ship where on-board actors dressed in period costumes assumed the speech and persona of the original passengers in 1620. A dockside exhibit provided the many stories of the passengers, what they packed, their food and the conditions they travelled under on board. We reckon that 3 or 4 people used the same hammock - when one saw an empty hammock one got in and had a rest. There were cannons and guns on board, this was a time of piracy on the high seas and, religion or not, they had to defend themselves.

We then went on to visit the Plimouth Plantation as spelling was not fixed at that time names and places often had several spellings. Located on the banks of the Eel River again, we met costumed actors who took on the role of a person who lived in the village in 1627, speaking Shakespearian English. We have a great video of a chicken complaining as we chased it out of several houses; it was a cold and wet day so it was looking for shelter. The houses look much the same as any peasant’s house in England in the 17th century. The village a fenced wall around it with cannons for protection and also rare breeds of goats and chickens in a pen. We (visitors) were summoned to the big hall at the top of the village were we got a much too long lecture on the Bible and the religious beliefs of the Plymouth Brethren. After a decent time we left and headed over to the Native Peoples (Wampanoag tribe) village - there actors dressed as period Native Americans spoke English. They were "living" in the winter home, a large hut built of bark that they striped from the trees in the spring when the sap is soft, there were lots of skins on benches around a central fire that vents through a hole in the top of the hut - it was nice and cozy in there. One actor told us that he was married to an Irish girl - many times on out travels we have met people who have Irish blood running in their veins.

As we drove through town on our way home we saw there was Mass in the church in the center of town, as it was Saturday we decided to attend. 

Next day we woke up to a covering of snow, it was a cold, sunny day so we decided to head for Newport, Rhode Island and visit the Mansions.  We toured two of them “The Elms” inspired by the 18th century Chateau d’Asnieres, this magnificent villa belonged to the coal magnate Edward Julius Berwind and “The Breakers” which was built by one of the Vanderbilt’s at the cost of $11 million in 1892; this mansion was modeled after the Petit Trianon at Versailles. These very large mansions were used for just 8 weeks of the year when the rich left New York to get away from the very hot summer weather.

Afterwards, we walked along the famous Cliff Walk and enjoyed the view of several other mansions. We then went to see the “Casino” (A Sports Club) Americas answer to Wimbledon? This is the HQ for the Tennis Hall of Fame - a beautiful building and lovely grounds. It hosted tennis, horses jumping, bowling and many more sports.  The town of Newport is very similar to an old English town, narrow streets in the middle of the busy town center.  We dined in an Irish pub owned by the Crowley family, whose ancestors hailed from County Cork, Ireland.  It was a bright, sunny day yet cold out of the sun but ended up as an enjoyable day for both of us.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Initially, as the Blog is primarily to record our “Lower 48” odyssey, we had not intended to do a posting about our Israel trip; the journey was so enjoyable, enlightening and educational that we decided that we must share our experience.

Having celebrated Hannah and Adele’s birthdays in the UK a few days earlier, we travelled to Tel Aviv on September 21st and arrived to a delightful welcome from Rina and Ami and were immediately whisked on the road to Jerusalem where we spent a few nights. The following morning we headed out from the hotel, walking of course, to the Jaffa gate of the Walled City where we met Dvri our guide for the day. Entering the city we were struck by the hustle, bustle and vibrancy of the place as we walked past King David’s castle on our way to the Temple Mount which is venerated by the three monotheistic religions: Jews, Christian and Muslims, it is said to be where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac. The Temple Mount encompasses the Western (Wailing) Wall recognized as the world’s largest Synagogue, the Dome of the Rock whose western foundation is the western wall of the last Temple, is unbelievably large (think multiples football fields) includes the 7th century Al Aqsa Mosque.

Security was extremely stringent to access these historical religious sites. As we had decided to undertake a private visit to the Western Wall the following day, Dvri “knowing the scene” was able to circumvent all obstacles for us to gain access to the Dome of the Rock. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to enter the mosques – there are two of them – we were, however, glad to be able to see the Al Aqsa Mosque up close, its blue/gold dome is immense.
From there we walked to the palace from where Pontius Pilate ruled and where he condemned Jesus to be crucified; here we encountered numerous groups of Christian pilgrims - mostly from Africa and Eastern Europe – devoutly walking the Via Dolorosa, some bearing crosses. We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is remarkable as it is shared by so many Christian denominations, each with its own church within the church.

The next day we returned, with Rina and Ami to the walled city and found our way, via some spectacular underground excavated walkways to the Western Wall, Jerusalem must have been an amazingly beautiful place in ancient times. Having spent some time at the wall we headed for Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum) which was, without doubt, the most emotional experience of our trip. Words cannot possibly suffice to describe or give expression to this recording (mostly by the Nazi’s) of documents, photo’s, movie clips and other artefacts of man’s unbelievable inhumanity to fellow man. Without shame or apology we both admit that we were overcome by emotion and cried throughout our visit. Other places we visited in Jerusalem were King David’s Tomb, the almost next door upstairs room where the Last Supper was held and the Chapel of the Ascension.

We traveled north the next day to Rina and Ami’s home in Timrat which was our base for our further exploration of Israel. From there, over several days we visited: the site of the Baptism at the River Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, St Peter’s house, Tiberius, Capernaum, the Golan Heights (from where we overlooked Syria and Jordan in the distance), Nazareth, a Druze village where we had lunch with a family, a Kibbutz where again, we had lunch and Haifa which has a spectacular Baha’i Temple. Our final trip was to the ancient port city of Caesarea – think Rome’s Coliseum multiplied by a huge factor, awesome!

After having celebrated Rosh Hashanah with Rina, Ami, Limor, Ronnie and little Barkai we left Israel with the commitment to return again as we had only scratched the surface of exploring this fascinating, historical land.      

And...much later!

Today, November 16 it’s a dull and wet day in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia so we're taking the opportunity to catch up on everything chores, blogs etc. that need doing since September 10. We have several blogs in process that we will post incrementally over the next days; too much to include in one posting.