Saturday, October 20, 2018

Heat, Humidity, History and Hurricane

October 10 -12, 2018
Williamsburg, Virginia

Last year I was checking the air quality map every morning to see if we could get out of the smoke. This year it's the weather map to see if we can avoid the latest hurricane. While Florence moved slowly up the coast as a tropical depression, Michael is much faster and wider, traveling inland, and is still a tropical storm. 

I decide to take a chance on Williamsburg, Virginia, continuing our route to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Tuesday's 2.5 hour drive takes us back to just west of the Chesapeake Bay.

This is another historic tourist destination, and the RV park prices and availability reflect that. With one exception. I warn Bill that we may be staying at a "sketchy" park.

Williamsburg Campark is a Passport America park, and is almost worth the $22.50/night. It's a testimony to poor management, a treasure that has been allowed to rust away. Driving past over a hundred abandoned FHU sites we find the dilapidated office where, as instructed, I call Dora to come check us in. 

While waiting 20 minutes in the heat for the manager to drive around like a maniac looking for the guy mowing the lawn who has the office key (seriously?), I learn the sad history of a once beautiful park left to a widow who's made two decades of bad decisions. 

We finally get checked in and set up in a grass FHU site with 50 amps. Crossing my fingers the coming rain won't leave us in a muddy mess, I'm grateful we're not under the big trees nearby. 

Can't complain about the crowds!
As it turns out, the park is just fine. Everything works, is quiet and dark at night, the WiFi works some of the time, and we feel plenty safe. It's also close to the historic sites we plan to see. We'd probably stay here again (if it's still open).

Although Wednesday is even hotter and just as humid, we figure we really have to see some of Colonial Williamsburg. The information on how to see it is a bit confusing, making it seem that you have to pay $35 just to "get in". Fortunately this is not the case. You can pay $2 for an all day shuttle from the Visitor Center, or (we learn after we're on the shuttle) you can drive and park your own car for free. The "ticket" price is to get access to all the buildings, some with narrations, and other presentations throughout the town.

The market place built in 1750 where goods were sold inside and out in the square. The quality and prices were regulated by city officials.

The cobbler's shop has that wonderful leather smell.

The city garden is nearly "done" for the season.

I love this wispy vine along the fence.

Like many of these stately old homes, the trees are just as impressive.
I know that the heat and humidity is impacting our experience here, but while there's a lot of authentic history, it feels a bit contrived. Even though most of it is original, there's a Disneyesque feel that turns me off. I'm glad we didn't pay for more than the shuttle.

Thursday we venture further to the Jamestown and Yorktown areas, which turn out to be a much, much better experience for us. Still lots of history, but a lot more nature at our own pace, without the structure.

We bypass the Jamestown settlement to drive the peninsula and are greeted by this slight doe.

Much of Jamestown Island is marsh land. It's beautiful, even under hot and cloudy skies.

Board-drives keep us off the fragile environment.

On the one-way loop drive are turn-outs with signs explaining the history of each location. 
At Yorktown we watch a great film on the battle and siege that marked the end of the American Revolutionary War. I'm sure we learned about this significant battle in school (from Bill's dad, our history teacher!), but of course we don't remember the details. Unlike so many battles where the two sides lined up and shot at each other across a field, the siege lines were a big part of the eventual victory.

It's fascinating to see the actual trenches hand-dug by both British and American soldiers surrounding Yorktown.
Using the driving tour map, we spend a couple hours where George Washington's militia along with French troops, surrounded Cornwallis' army at Yorktown for nearly a month. It was at this same time of year in 1781, and hard to imagine that after marching on foot for over 450 miles, these men fought back the British who defended the town from a 2,000 foot trench (the redoubts). Once they captured Redoubt 9 and 10, the Americans dug trenches of their own, each one getting their cannons closer to the walls where the British waited for their fleet that never came. 

At this home of Augustine Moore, Washington and Cornwallis sent two officers each to negotiate the surrender of the British army on October 18, 1781. Wow! this very house!

A few teenagers hanging out in the back yard.

Healthy and handsome.
Thick forests hid the approaching army, but provided challenges as well.

Beautiful signage identifies significant locations.

Wonderful to have all this natural beauty surrounding the history.

About the only fall color we've seen.

Neon splashes among the bare trees.

Tessa stands where George Washington set up his headquarters during the month-long siege of Yorktown. She's very impressed.

Canopy silhouette.


Archeologists have identified the locations of key encampments from the battlefield.

Some of the old growth forests feel like the giant redwoods in California.
We get home just in front of Michael's wet and windy arrival. The area has been under tornado warning most of the day so we keep our weather alert on throughout the evening. Eventually we bring in the large slide as the winds reach nearly 30 mph with higher gusts. Lots of rain.

It clears out by 10 pm and we sleep great with cooler temps. Friday morning is beautiful. The storm took the high temps and humidity and left behind the nicest day we've had in weeks. 

Celebrating with zoomies.

Lots of room to run. The ground is much wetter than it looks.

The hundreds of abandoned hookups look like an old cemetery.
All that fun is exhausting.
I forgot to share these amazing flowers that were at a restaurant in Stafford, Virginia. They're from San Salvador and look like velvet.

The day's cooler temps encourages us to stay our course to the Southeast. We've seriously considered just turning west and getting out of the heat and humidity. But the reality is that it will be snowing by the time we get to cooler places, and the weather will then be much better here!

Fortunately we find not only a little better weather, but a unique and wonderful world on the Outer Banks.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

So Why Stafford, Virginia?

October 2-9, 2018
Stafford, Virginia

Some places are obvious like Bar Harbor, Maine, and Savannah, Georgia. Places lots of people visit. But what's in Stafford, Virginia?

Actually, nothing.

But it's a good stop for places and people I want to see in the area. 

Getting there is a crazy ride as the "shortest" route takes us close to Washington DC. I don't mind skirting big cities, but the Beltway is not a fun area to drive. 

Because we're low on DEF I make the mistake of passing a couple places with easy access for fuel which we also need. Way too quickly I've got the low fuel alarm, and no truck stops anywhere close. I swear I can see the gauge sinking into the big E at the bottom as I navigate congestion for a gazillion miles (maybe 35) before Bill finds us an Exxon station where we can fit to fuel up. Whew!

Never again!!
For the first time in months this will be a week-long stop. Unfortunately it's not a great park. And the weather is brutal.

Aquia Pines Family Campground is behind a hotel and beside I-95. They squeezed in as many sites as possible in a small urban property with tight interior roads and weird angles. We get level with 50 amp FHUs (which we need for running two ACs every day), but the park WiFi never connects and it's pretty noisy. 

I don't know what it is about coming east, but like two years ago I develop a worrisome health issue. Unlike last time, I figure out where the Kaiser medical center is in Fredricksburg so we don't have to use the ones in the chaos of bigger cities (they are only available in a few states). 

Wednesday I know what to do and am able to get an appointment with a physician in two hours rather than having to wait until 5PM for urgent care. Sweet!

I do a little shopping then return to see the youngest doctor I've ever had. I'm very happy with the care I get from both him and the radiology department. Also unlike last time, I don't have to fly back to California to see my regular doctor. The next day I learn that it's nothing serious. Such a relief :-)

Dealing with health issues is probably the biggest challenge on the road, but so far we've been able to figure it out.

Something else I wasn't able to do last time we were "over here" was to meet up with a dear friend who I've gotten to know from our mutual blogs. We've been following and commenting and emailing for five years, and I am determined that we will meet in person this time!!

Sherry and husband David (In the Direction of Our Dreams) are nearly two hours south of us, and we make plans to meet half-way. I'm so excited!!

We're meeting near James Madison's Montpelier, and Sherry recommends we make the stop on our way.

Glad she did, it's a wonderful place of history and education. Real effort is being made to un-bury and present the whole history. Long overdue, and encouraging for our grandchildren. 

Montpelier, home of James and Dolley Madison.

Mr Madison's Temple, built over a 24' deep ice well. Constructed in the early 1800's, it is now the symbol of Montpelier.

Archaeological digs begun in 1987, and continuing today, have discovered artifacts that are helping to tell the story of the 100+ enslaved people who lived at Montpelier.
Reassembled from materials found on the grounds.

View of the "big house" from the single room dwelling.

Descendants of the enslaved who lived here tell the stories of their family members in each room.
Fourteen months ago Montpelier opened The Mere Distinction of Colour exhibit in the mansion cellars. The combination of photos, silhouettes, quotes and journal entries tells a story of families torn apart, of promises broken, of fear and oppression. It further explores how "the legacy of slavery impacts today's conversations about race, identity, and human rights".

I spent most of my time here, learned a lot. Felt a lot.

Bubbles of life move and change throughout the rooms.

Although James' Will specified that none of the slaves at Montpelier were to be sold unless they wanted to be, Dolley sold many in an effort to save the mansion.

Small profiles paint a big picture.
Based on old letters and diaries, Ellen tells her story.
Despite James' wishes, Ellen's mother, brother and sister were all sold. Her sister was forced to leave her husband and baby daughter. Ellen and a dozen others were caught when they ran away, and she too was sold. Eventually she was freed, married, and had a family. 

I love this old barn at the back of the property.
In addition to the mansion and cabins, the park includes both a Freedman Cabin and a Jim Crow era train depot.  

While visiting the cabin we meet an older couple on their honeymoon. 20 minutes later we've heard their entire history leading up to the wedding - boy that woman could talk! But they're very happy, and even with sweat running down my back, it took nothing to wait and listen to her story. 

One of the first properties in the area owned by a former slave. The Gilmores built the cabin on 16 acres they mortgaged in 1869. Paid off in 1901, the cabin stayed in the family until 1920.

Waiting rooms segregated by race from the 1890's to the 1960's, the depot is preserved to "foster the discussion of citizenship and equal justice in America".

Although the "White" waiting room is larger, they are otherwise the same. Both have these wonderful old stoves.

The depot's communication center - pretty sparse. 
We leave behind the history lessons and head for a long-overdue meeting with Sherry and David at The Vintage Restaurant. Inside the Inn at Willow Grove, it is a stunning place. Only the pub is open until they serve dinner at 6 - and they're completely booked - but we're here for a late lunch and a long visit. We end up having the place to ourselves and it's perfect. The food, drink and especially the company are all great, and as is often the case, our time together passes too quickly. Hugs and hand shakes, and we're on our way.

The Inn at Willow Grove

One of the beautiful dining rooms.

Love these two! So happy to finally spend some time with them.
It's a pretty country drive home.
The heat and humidity really zap my energy and I spend most of Friday napping in the air conditioning.

Although we usually avoid popular places on Saturday, we decide to check out Mt Vernon in the afternoon. The tickets include a mansion tour time, but the number of people they take at each time is daunting and we opt to look at the grounds instead. Crowding into an un-air-conditioned building on a 90 degree, 95% humidity day isn't appealing to either of us. 

The Washingtons greet us.

While it is very large, Mt Vernon is much less opulent than I thought.

Several gardens, including this formal English square.

The spinning room has wonderful pieces.

Lady Washington answers questions about life at Mt Vernon. She's quite wonderful!

Stables and carriage house together.

Named just what it is - The Riding Chair. It doesn't look very presidential :-))

Beautiful views from the back of the house - along the Potomac River.

Some of the grounds feel very grand,

while some feel like any other country farm.

The museum includes exhibits on Washington's early years,  education, military service, family and presidency.

Take a seat in the pew and learn about Washington's religious beliefs, and how important he felt it was to keep religion separate from government.
I'm glad we didn't miss it while we were here, but the weather really makes it difficult to enjoy these outdoor spaces.

Sunday we're glad to have football as an excuse to stay inside again!

Our last day we head to Fredericksburg for a little different look at history. Last time we were here we took the trolley tour and learned a lot about the revolutionary war and civil war history of the town. There's a lot! Monday we walk the historic downtown, and end up at Hugh Mercer's Apothecary


A sparkly window reflecting the street behind me.

Dr Mercer's medical, pharmacy, political and military collection is displayed in a restored 18th century home. For just $7 you can step back to a time when pharmaceuticals were all natural (and probably safer than many more modern options), but surgeries and treatments were primitive and often terrifying! Costumed and in full character, the doctor's assistants explain what "Doctor" would use to treat any of your maladies. They are both excellent.

All of the contents are identified as well as how they were combined and what they treated. The square with the round wooden disc is a pill cutter - powders were blended with hog grease and resin.

The doctor's assistant is very proud of his use of leeches for curing many ills. The two jars hold very large leeches. Bone saws, metal spikes and hooks, vices and pliers - this is the place of horrors. 

A blurry shot of the chart used for where to place leeches. Six to eight were used for most treatments.

Upstairs is the Powder Room. Not what it is today, the originals had doors with a large hole at chest height. Gentlemen put their head through the hole where a servant would powder their wig. No powder got on their clothes, and after their visit to the doctor they would depart looking refreshed. I had no idea!

Well known as a hero and patriot of the Revolutionary War, Mercer left his medical practice to fight for independence. He was a brigadier general when he died at the battle of Princeton. In the musical Hamilton, is the line "the Mercer legacy is secure".
The little apothecary is my favorite historic site of our week here. Simple, informative and very well done, I highly recommend making the stop.

We aren't big New Orleans' Saints fans, but it's fun to see Drew Brees break Painton Manning's total passing yards record on Monday Night Football. What a career!

Tuesday we head for Williamsburg where we'll see some more history, enjoy getting back in nature, and ride out another tropical storm.