Richmond, Virginia – Capitol on a Hill

I started off my visit at the Virginia State Capitol building with some difficulty because I thought the entrance would be at the main building like other state capitol buildings I have visited.  During the drive to Richmond I called the visitor center and asked for information on tour times.  I talked to a friendly lady who gave me lots of information and told me to make sure to go to the entrance on Bank Street.  Mark dropped me off on Bank Street before the Capitol due to road construction and when I saw the building, I headed up the set of stairs to the top of the hill.  The building is on a big hill, especially noticeable since I started from the bottom with many steps to climb.  But reaching the top I found the door locked and no other entrance when I walked around the building.  Another puzzled visitor and I were directed by a passerby to walk to the bottom of the hill to find the entrance near the street.  I headed back down finding a rather covert entrance situated against the hill and down the street from the stairs I had started up.  For all the information I received on the phone from the friendly visitor center, accurately how to get in didn’t seem to be included.

Once inside I was told to follow a set of stairs past a few levels to the main part of the Capitol on top of the hill, an interesting setup.  I had missed the 11:00 tour I was hoping to take but was told that the tour was a group of high school students from France and I could catch up to them if I wished.  I considered it but was distracted by the five cent ice cream sundaes in the cafe for Thomas Jefferson’s 275th birthday.  I haven’t had five cent ice cream since Thrifty drug store sold a scoop for that amount when I was a teenager!   Anyway, while Thomas Jefferson was the minister to France in 1785 he designed a new Capitol building with the help of a well known French draftsman.  Jefferson modeled the building after a Roman temple he saw in Southern France.  It was fully completed in 1798 making it one of the oldest state capitols.  To honor Jefferson, a statue was completed and in his hand he holds an architectural drawing of the building.

When I reached the 2nd floor where most of the interesting rooms are located, I caught up with the 11:00 tour.  The centerpiece here is a marble statue of George Washington and I decided to stay with the group and learn.  Considered a perfect likeness of the first president, the French sculptor who completed it visited Washington at Mount Vernon taking detailed body measurements and making sketches.  He coated Washington’s face with oil and covered it in plaster to make a life mask.   (Ooh, that sounds scary to me to be encased in plaster!).  He then went back to France to complete the 6’2” sculpture.   Our tour guide noted little details such as how one of the bottom buttons on his vest is straining against his stomach.  It really is a magnificent statue.   Situated in the rotunda, it is surrounded by busts of the eight Virginians who became presidents of the United States.  More presidents have come from Virginia than any other state.

We next went into the Old Hall of the House of Delegates.  Important events happened here such as the Bill of Rights being ratified, Virginia seceding from the Union in 1861 and Robert E. Lee accepting command of the Virginia State forces at the outbreak of the Civil War.  It was intriguing observing the French teens wondering how interested they would be in learning about U.S. government and history.  Most of them had expressionless faces that seemed resigned to their fate as the energetic tour guide produced fact after fact.  I thought the most interesting artifact in the room was the Mace which represented English authority and was first used in the British colonies when Williamsburg was the Capitol.  As a tradition, this more modern 1938 Mace made in England is still carried into the House Chamber each day the House is in session and displayed in front of the speaker’s podium.

Our last stop was the House Chamber which was preparing to be in session that afternoon.  Our tour guide explained the buttons on the desks and how the delegates voted.  One of the French students touched the buttons and got a rather stern rebuke and hard look from the guide.  I wondered if perhaps she had been a former teacher and was used to dealing with “unruly” students, ha, ha.  Later when all the students had filed out I stopped for a few seconds to take a picture of the room.  I also got a stern rebuke and hard look (Mark would call this the “look of death”) as she needed to lock up the room.  It appears even us older folk are not exempt from some chastisement.   But other than that, I enjoyed the tour.

I went back down and out of the entrance so I could walk up the hill again to take a look at the capital square.  The grounds have a number of monuments – the most impressive is George Washington on horseback, completed in 1869.

The square looked like a popular place to hang out with a number of people eating lunch or just relaxing on the many benches.  I really enjoyed all the tulips and flowering trees.   In the picture below shows a bed of tulips and violas with the Old City Hall in the background.

This was a beautiful and historically interesting capital to visit.  I got a workout climbing so many steps and stairs but it was worth the trouble to see one of Richmond’s best attractions.

Thanks for reading!  In my next blog we enjoy spring at a Richmond garden.

Jamestown, Virginia- Where it All Began


On May 13, 1607 began the first permanent English settlement in America and since it is so old, I didn’t expect to see a lot remaining.  But our visit here was really good, one of the highlights of our trip.  There is something about being on the site of a settlement founded over four hundred years ago when ships landed on the shores of the James River carrying 104 colonists from England.  Jamestown became the first colony and under the leadership of Captain John Smith survived, although just barely.

Located on Jamestown Island, this is a National Park Historic Site and is connected to the mainland via a causeway.   The National Park Service has done a remarkable job of keeping the area in a natural and pristine state.  Much of the island is wetlands and also forests.  The James River which is very large flows by here and was the route chosen by the English settlers when they reached the Atlantic Coast.  They were looking for a secluded site that would be protected from enemy invasion and also provide productive land.  After visiting I can see why they would have been attracted to this area as it is beautiful and peaceful.

A recreated fort was built on the site and we were able to learn how life was lived by these early colonists.  I stopped in at the “barracks” where a soldier in period costume invited me to take a seat as he talked about life at the Fort.  He was quite the actor – totally in character as “Anas Todkill” with an old English manner of speaking so I had to listen carefully to catch all that he was saying.   He got up and paced the room taking me back to those early years and how they had been told that living on American soil would be like the Mediterranean, warm weather with fertile soil.  When they arrived they had fresh water from the James River as there was an unusual abundance after snow melt but the water turned its normal brackish and they became ill drinking from it.  There was drought, crop failures, famine and illness and the people suffered greatly.   The weather turned out to be much colder than expected.  (Scientists talk about how this time was “The Little Ice Age,” one of the coldest in the last millennium).

In the beginning, the Powhatan Indians played an important role in helping the settlers to survive.  Other than John Smith, Pocahontas is probably the most well known figure at Jamestown as she became an advisor or intermediary between her tribe and the English.   After being kidnapped by John Rolfe she was married to him even though she was already married to another tribesman.  Surprisingly, the Powhatan people went along with this marriage as a kind of alliance.   Pocahontas eventually traveled to England with her husband and died there a few years later.  Relationships between the colonists and the native peoples deteriorated and added to the miseries of the new settlement.

Daniel Firehawk Abbott, a member of the Nanticoke people in Maryland gave a demonstration about the Algonquian Indians and their interactions with the Jamestown settlers.   He had made and used all the implements that were displayed around him.   He described how he had lived off the land and built four different Native American shelters.  He explained that he experienced a hurricane in one of his shelters which could withstand strong winds due to the domed construction.   Wearing period clothing with lots of fringe, he described how the fringe helped his clothes stay drier because water ran down to the fringe tips and dripped off.  In the picture above he demonstrates how to light his handmade pipe using tinder he has gathered.

The only building remnant still standing from the earliest days is the brick church tower which is believed to be built around 1617.  The rest of the church was destroyed and rebuilt in 1907 as Memorial Church.  Above is a picture of Mark and a ranger in front of the tower.

I was surprised to find that archaeological digs were active in various parts of the park.   The day that we visited there were archaeologists working inside the church although when we stopped in they had gone to lunch.  We were able to see their equipment and the process of the excavation.  A volunteer from the Jamestown Rediscovery society pointed out that in the trench on the right hand side of the building (above) can be seen the original bricks from the 1600’s era church.  Jamestown became the location for the first capitol when the legislature met for the first time in the old church in 1619.  A state house was eventually built in the 1660’s and used until the Capitol moved to the town of Williamsburg.

One of the excavations was a Cellar Kitchen from 1608-1609 which uncovered two brick faced ovens.  During the period of 1609-1610 was the “starving time” winter and the cellar kitchen was abandoned and used as a trash pit.  Archaeologists found here the remains of horses and dogs that the colonists were forced to kill and eat for food.

Volunteers were on hand to show recent finds (above) from one of the excavations.  They were washing and scrubbing some of the pieces such as nails, bones, pottery, teeth and pipe stems.  They find a lot of pipe stems here as tobacco growing was the major crop from the earliest years.

Speaking of archaeological finds, Jamestown has a wonderful archaeology museum on site that is full of amazing artifacts focusing on the period of 1607 – 1624.  You can see items such as tools, pottery, household objects, coins, armor, weapons, toys, religious objects and even two complete human skeletons.   One of my favorite exhibits was a collection of old keys and locks.   Before we started looking at the exhibits, we sat down with one of the directors who had dishes of very small artifacts that people could sift through with tweezers and a magnifying glass and try to identify.  Although the pieces were tiny, it was kind of fun to try and guess what they were, such as charcoal, bones, brick, ceramics, fish scales or shells.

There is more than the Fort area to explore.  A trail winds through the “New Town” section where the remains of home and business foundations can be seen.  Actually the original foundations were covered back up a number of years ago as they were in danger from the elements.  Reconstructed foundations were placed on top of the old to show the location of these sites.  The remains of the Ambler Plantation House are still standing.   It was originally built in the 1750’s but was burned in two wars and after a third fire in 1895 was abandoned.

It was an informative and fun visit to Jamestown – a place that is continually being rediscovered!

Thanks for checking in with us!   In the next blog we head to the city of Richmond and Virginia’s capitol.

From Charleston to North Carolina and Virginia

In this post I wanted to update our travels in the past several weeks.   We left Charleston on March 30 after a 17 night stay, our longest since our month stay in the Cajun Country of Louisiana last November/December.   It was a great stay in South Carolina and we could have stayed longer since there was so much to see and do, but we needed to push on.  I had to say goodbye to the huge oaks and Spanish moss, how I will miss them!  It is a sight I have grown accustomed to in the almost five months we had been traveling in the South.   So, I took a little souvenir with us.  Although most of it blew off our spare tire within a short period of time, there is still a few strands dangling.

Our stay in Eastern North Carolina was brief but sweet at only four nights and I felt we were “shortchanging” the state.  But I was anxious to get to Virginia and the sights there.  North Carolina has much to see and I am hoping we will get back to the mountainous western part of the state during the fall season.  We weren’t crazy about the RV park we stayed in, although it was out in the country and fairly quiet.  But the best thing was stepping outside from our trailer the first evening and seeing the sunset so bright it was like the sky was on fire!

One day we visited Raleigh, the capital city and spent several hours at the State History Museum.  I really enjoy seeing the state museums when we have visited the different capitols as we learn a great deal about each state’s important events.  This museum was well done along with the museums in Baton Rouge and Topeka.  When we walked in we saw a replica of the Wright Brothers Flyer, built in 1903 and the first aircraft to take flight, although only for 12 seconds.   It is positioned 12 feet above the floor, the same height as it was flown.   A few years ago I read a novel about the Wright brothers and have wanted to visit Kitty Hawk where they first took to the skies.  I was researching traveling there and possible RV parks but my hopes were “grounded” when we realized that traveling there did not fit in well with our plans and staying on our chosen route.  Perhaps we will make it to Kitty Hawk at another time.

I try to make a plan to visit each state capitol if possible and it worked out well as the historic North Carolina capitol is right across the street from the state history museum.  This capitol is now used for the governor’s office only and is very visitor friendly for exploring inside.   In the picture above, a statue is located in front of the building with the three native North Carolinians who served as U.S. presidents.  This is the second building on site as the first one burned to the ground in 1831.  The cause of the fire is ironic.  While the roof was being fireproofed the workers were careless and boiling lead solder spilled setting it on fire.  It burned to the ground in several hours.

A wheelbarrow filled with wood is a strange sight in a capitol building.   It was placed here to show why the stair steps are worn and chipped.  In the early days of the capitol slaves had to lug iron rimmed wheelbarrows loaded with firewood up several flights of stairs for the fireplaces.  As I walked up I did notice the wear on the steps and thought how awful to lug that load over and over while the legislators were in session.

We visited the Bentonville Battlefield, site of the largest Civil War battle in North Carolina.   There was a driving tour which was okay, but the highlight was visiting the Harper house located next to the Visitor Center.  It was taken over by Union soldiers in March of 1865 as a hospital.  The Harper family of eleven members was allowed to remain in the rooms upstairs while 500 Union and 45 Confederate soldiers were treated downstairs during the three days of battle.   The house has been set up to look like a hospital with operating and recovery rooms.  The most unusual “discovery” in the house was the round dark outline on the floor in one of the operating rooms.  It was analyzed and found to be blood.  Popular thought is that the stain is from the Civil War although there is no way to determine the stain’s age.

Leaving North Carolina we arrived to the Virginia border and another welcome center.   I discovered that Virginia’s motto is “Virginia is for Lovers.”  A lady at the center recommended we stop at a peanut shop five miles down the road.  Southeastern Virginia is known for growing large sized peanuts that are often roasted in the shell.  There were no peanut samples at this welcome center.   Florida has the only state welcome centers we have visited with free samples of the state specialty – as can be expected it was orange or grapefruit juice.

The Good Earth peanut shop was in a ramshackle but cute building out in the country.  There were lots of samples here and of course we came away with some peanuts.  Mark wanted to get an even bigger bag than the one he is holding but I disagreed as we are in a small RV!

Have you ever heard of peanut soup?   After getting to the Williamsburg Virginia area I saw it on a couple restaurant menus and one day decided to try it.  It was pretty good but not something I would eat on a regular basis.

We arrived at our RV park outside of Williamsburg.   The park was in a really nice country setting with trees at the sites and surrounded by forest with nature trails.  I was surprised that the hardwood trees were not leafed out even though it was April.  This winter and spring have been colder for Virginia and the South so the leaves are slower to come.  But we did have a spring surprise at the park – gorgeous cherry trees in full bloom greeted us.

As I write this we have moved on after a few weeks at Williamsburg to our next camp further west near Charlottesville Virginia.  In my next blogs I will be writing about our stay in Williamsburg and all the history we saw there.

Thanks for reading and hope you all are enjoying lovely spring weather!

A Tree, a House and a Church


What do a tree, house and church have to do with each other?  Other than all three being very old and found in South Carolina, they are not connected.  I found these three places intriguing and special in their own way, so wanted to write about them but didn’t want to do a separate blog post about each one.  So, I have combined them to share my visits.

There are many, many large oak trees in the Deep South including South Carolina, but the Angel Tree definitely stands apart.  I am not sure if it is the largest live oak but it is certainly one of the largest.  Over 66 feet tall, it has a circumference of 28 feet and shade from this tree covers 17,200 feet.  The longest branch is 187 feet from one tip to the other.  Located on Johns Island near Charleston, the tree is estimated to be between 400 – 500 years old.  One of the signs I read reported that the tree could be expected to live another 500 years.  Other signs warn not to climb, sit or stand on the tree but touching is okay including a “gentle hug.”  You just have to touch a tree this massive and old, I sure did and spent some time soaking up its majesty.

The tree has limbs jutting out in all directions with a number laying along the ground.  As you can see from the picture above, it looks like a tangled mess!  In a few places there are posts supporting the branches.  Do you notice all the greenery covering the top of these branches?  They are called resurrection ferns, an epiphyte living on water and air that is common on live oak trees.  During dry spells the ferns shrivel up like they are dead and turn a brown color.   When it rains again, they perk right up and look like lush green ferns.  The City of Charleston manages the property and tree and has visitation hours.  There is also a gift shop nearby for the tree which I found a little amusing, but didn’t take the time to visit.   Live oaks are one of my favorite trees so I was quite pleased to be able to see this “Angel.”

Drayton Hall was founded in 1738 and is considered the oldest preserved house still open to the public in the United States.  This historic home is unique in that it has never been restored, only preserved as is from the time it was built.  Therefore the home has no period furnishings to admire and give a taste of what it was like to live in the home.  It might sound boring to tour an empty house, but it is actually the opposite.  Instead of focusing on furniture, paintings, decorations, I could look at the floors, walls, ceilings, moldings, windows, shutters, doors, etc. and really notice and appreciate the details of the home itself.  I wasn’t busy trying to look at every knick knack that often fills historic homes.  We were also able to walk through each room in the house, including the ground floor under the porch where the slaves and servants cooked the family’s meals.

The home is located off the same road as Magnolia Plantation and Middleton Place, both I reviewed in earlier posts.  It doesn’t have the grand gardens of the other two but is still in a beautiful location on a large property with a huge sweeping lawn up to the house.   I am really glad someone mentioned in a Trip Advisor review to check out the pond in front of the house for the reflection.  It was my favorite view.

Before coming to South Carolina I found an internet site about Old Sheldon Church and knew I wanted to visit here.  I love seeing historic churches as I travel and this church which is in ruins is one of my all time favorites.  Located near the town of Beaufort in the Lowcountry, the church is located off a country road with not much around.  It is on private property maintained  by another church which is reportedly near by, but we did not see it.

When it was built in the 1750’s it was called Prince William’s Parish Church.  The church has an interesting history in that it was partially burned during the Revolutionary War by the British and then rebuilt in 1826.  It was burned again by the Union Army during the Civil War in 1865.  The story is that when Sherman’s Army made its famous march from Georgia through South Carolina leaving a path of destruction in the South, the church was again burned.

Since the church is not fenced, you can walk around the outside and inside, admiring the old brickwork, columns and window openings.  It has a lot of atmosphere with old tombs and grave markers outside the back of the church adding to the mood of the place.

This church was probably quite a handsome building in its much earlier days and the remains today are impressive as well.  I am very glad that it still stands even though two wars, age and weather have tried to tear it down!

As always, thanks for reading and your support!  In the next blog we leave South Carolina for North Carolina and Virginia.  I will close with one of my favorite places to be – a cypress swamp. This picture is from Caw Caw Interpretive Center, a wildlife refuge outside of Charleston.

Charleston’s Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Magnolia Plantation located outside of Charleston considers itself the oldest natural garden in America.  It has been in the Drayton family since 1676 and today is home to the twelfth and thirteenth generations who currently manage it.  This property is really big with 500 acres of grounds and over 70 acres of gardens.  Visiting Magnolia takes a little planning as there are many available activities:  House tour, nature boat tour on the river and former rice fields, tram tour of the property, slave cabins tour, self-guided swamp walk and gardens exploration.  When you arrive to the ticket window you have to decide what to see as everything is not inclusive with admission, but additional price.  Above is a picture of the long driveway into the plantation.

I started out with a walk through the Audubon Swamp Garden.  The duckweed covers the top of the water with a neon yellow-green color which I think looks cool and is common to the wetlands.  A sign here noted that lots of duckweed is a sign that a swamp is healthy.   This is a good sized swamp and great for spotting birds, alligators and turtles.  There is a heron and egret rookery and I saw a number of them sitting on nests in the trees.  I was able to see two Great Blue Heron with babies in the nests, but it was hard to get a good photograph of the babies.

My favorite sighting was the mother alligator with a baby resting its head on the mother’s nose.  I found this interaction of mom and baby rather sweet.   At first it was hard to see the baby but I thought there was something strange about the “bump” on the mother’s nose.  With all the duck weed covering the water, the baby was almost camouflaged.  I also saw two other babies close by – if you look closely you can see the head of another one in the upper middle of the photo above.  I left the area for a few minutes but came back to show another couple how to find the baby gators.  The mother had moved further away from the pathway, leaving several babies alone and closer to the pathway.  We were surprised the mother was not more protective.

After my swamp walk I headed for a tour of the house which is beautiful inside and out.  This is not the original home as it had to be rebuilt twice.  First it burned down from a fire and the second time it was damaged during the Civil War.   Although a successful rice farmer before the War, Mr. Drayton was almost penniless after as he had invested in Confederate money which became worthless.  His main asset was the hundreds of acres of plantation property and developed gardens.  In 1870, he decided to open his gardens for tours giving people in the city the opportunity to visit a country estate.  The popular tours saved the plantation financially and have been given here ever since.  Since the plantation is located on the Ashley River early visitors would often come by boat as it was much faster travel from Charleston than by the poorly developed and slow roads.

I skipped the tram and nature boat tours but took the slave cabins tour.  It was like being in a history class because the guide had us sit down in front of the cabins and went over the history of slavery from the beginning of the trade in West Africa to slaves being shipped to America  where Charleston became the largest entry port.  There are four remaining cabins at Magnolia and each is set up for a different time period in the history of the plantation.

The first cabin (above) shows the early years of slavery when slaves had few to no furnishings and a family crowded into one room.  The cabin had two rooms built to hold two families.  In a loft above the sleeping mats were stored.  Slaves used a wooden mortar and pestle that you can see in the photo to pound the shell of the rice off the grain.  This took skill because if the grain was cracked it reduced the quality and therefore the price of the rice.  After the pounding was done, the rice was winnowed in the basket you can see on the fireplace to get the loose shell away from the grain.

The second to the last cabin was covered with newspapers on the walls and ceiling for insulation as shown above.  This cabin showed a time period after the Civil War when it would have been lived in by sharecroppers.  I noticed how the floor boards and walls had many cracks in them, so keeping the cabins warm and dry must have been very difficult.  At Magnolia one slave descendant lived on the property in one of the other cabins until 1969 without any modern conveniences.   He raised 13 children here and they cooked on a wood fireplace, used a water pump and outhouse.  He added a few more rooms as his family grew.  The cabin he occupied had been wall papered which was peeling away from the wall.  These cabins are an important reminder of a tragic time in the history of our country and a lesson to be learned of how slaves really toiled and lived to build up and maintain a plantation such as Magnolia.

I spent the rest of my time touring the gardens which are quite extensive.  Magnolia prides itself on being a “romantic” garden which does not try to control or keep nature out but combines the gardens with nature.  The main flower features here are the azaleas and camellias.  The camellias had for the most part already bloomed but the azaleas were quite lovely.  They probably would have been even prettier a week or two later as it didn’t look like they were in the peak of full bloom yet.  I did think the azaleas at Middleton Place had a better display.  (I previously did a review of these gardens).    My favorite spot at Magnolia was the beautiful Long Bridge (above) that was built in the 1840’s and spans Cypress Lake.  It is a favorite bridge of photographers.  I found it quite captivating.

There are other bridges here and I really felt like I was in a time gone by as I crossed this small bridge located near the Ashley River.  The oak trees and Spanish moss gave it a romantic allure.

It was a great day with lots of good exercise walking around.   It is a popular place so can be crowded but a must see in the Charleston area.

Thanks for reading!

Charleston – The Holy City

After arriving to Charleston I found out the city has a nickname – “The Holy City.”  The name comes from the large amount of churches and the city’s history of religious tolerance.   Charleston does have a number of historic churches which are a beautiful sight to see.   The oldest church in Charleston is St. Michael’s Episcopal, built in the 1750’s and pictured above.  We weren’t able to go inside, but they have box seats common at the time and in one of them, George Washington sat for worship during his visit.  In the attached graveyard are graves of two signers of the U.S. Constitution.

I was taken with the pretty Huguenot Church, a French protestant church built in 1845.  The Huguenots immigrated to this area in the late 1600’s to escape religious persecution.  The church was damaged by shell fire during the Civil War and nearly demolished in the 1886 earthquake.  The church continues to hold services but they are only in French one time per year.

St. Phillips Episcopal Church (above) has an interesting history as well.  This building was built in 1838 and during the Civil War, the church’s bells were “donated” to the Confederate Army to be cast into cannons.  During the War, the church was bombarded ten different times but still stood.  From 1893 to 1915 the steeple was used as a beacon to guide ships into the harbor.

Charleston has some unique characteristics which make exploring the city interesting and give it character.  I wanted to write about them.  To begin with, you can’t walk around the city and not notice that many of the houses are tall, narrow in the front facing the street and long toward the back.  Lots laid out in the city in the 1700’s were narrow and long necessitating the “single house” style.   The houses are usually just one room wide in front with long porches or verandas on the side of the house.  The main front door is in the middle of the porch area and the door seen off the street just goes onto the porch.  Above is a picture of a single home built in 1743 that once belonged to a Revolutionary War naval hero.

Charleston is known for hidden courtyards and gardens.  It was fun to spot these as we walked down the streets.  Some were easier to see than others especially those with open gates like in the picture above – almost an invitation to come on in.  I can just imagine sitting at the little wrought iron table in the courtyard.  The owner comes out to tell us how nice that we dropped by and brings us tea and pastries.  Well, I can only dream.

Since the gate was open, I couldn’t resist checking out the narrow passageway to Pirates Courtyard.   The Pirate House was so named because pirates used to hang out here when it was an Inn and trading post.  Legend has it that Blackbeard the Pirate stayed here and that an underground tunnel used by pirates to smuggle goods from the waterfront was accessed from this house.   I just peeked for a minute, but the brick courtyard looked like a nice place to relax with a few tables and a fountain.

Charleston is known for having lots of wrought iron work which is used for gates, fencing, balconies and around windows.   Much of it is decorative and it really adds to the charm of the city.  We even saw an authentic iron boot scraper in front of one house.  Boot scrapers were once handy when Charleston’s streets weren’t paved.   Wrought iron work has been popular in the city since the 1800’s.   Above is an example at Washington Square.

The wrought iron gates above lead to the cemetery across the street from St. Michael’s Church.  Notable people are buried here including Henry Calhoun, a former Vice President.

It is unlikely to visit Charleston’s historic area and not see sweetgrass baskets for sale along the streets or in Charleston City Market.  This basket making originated in West Africa and was brought to this area by slaves.   The craft was passed down through slave descendants also known as the Gullah.  They are supposedly still made by hand today using marsh grass that thrives in the Lowcountry.   The baskets really are beautiful but not inexpensive.   I came upon a woman hand weaving a basket and asked if I could take her picture.  She said I could if I bought a basket, but I wasn’t prepared to do that so no picture of the weaver for this post.

Another frequent and charming Charleston sight – colorful wooden shutters and flower filled window boxes.

Charleston’s streets are narrow and fun to explore, like the one above.  Hey Matt and Emma, do you spot the little red Vespa?  With these narrow streets, Charleston is a Vespa city for sure.

As always, thanks for checking in with us.  In the next post I plan to write about Magnolia Gardens.

Charleston – A City to Admire

There is something special about discovering a wonderful city and adding it to your list of favorites.  I have felt that way about a number of cities I have explored – San Francisco has always been my favorite, but other cities have also touched and amazed me.  New Orleans, Victoria and Washington D.C. captivated me as well as several others that I was happy to get to know.  As I walked around Charleston taking in all the historic buildings and streets, I was transfixed by the beauty and historic preservation.   I am so glad that much of it was not destroyed as has happened with other cities.  Charleston is a real delight with many treasures to enjoy.

I think seeing Charleston on foot is the best way to experience it close up and personal.  Plus the narrow streets make driving difficult, especially when you have a truck like we do as the streets were designed in the 1700’s for horse and wagon traffic.  It is fun to be able to explore the narrow alleys like Stoll’s pictured above.   Unlike other cities we have visited, I couldn’t find any Hop on or Hop off busses or trolley tours.   Perhaps that is a reason walking tours are so popular in this city and there are many of them to choose from.   I briefly considered scheduling a group walking tour, but perhaps you should meet Mark, an “anti groupie.”  When I am joining a group to tour an attraction, museum, etc., he is usually finding a bench to sit and wait.  He doesn’t mind waiting and is supportive of my group tours, just doesn’t want to participate in the activity himself.

Where do we go next?

Before we arrived to Charleston, I had already picked out two self guided walking tours for the city from my South Carolina AAA book.   Although the guided tours are more informative and we probably missed out on some great architectural and historical tidbits, walking on our own means we can go at our pace instead of hurrying along.   I like to soak in the ambience which is hard to do with a group of people all standing together on the sidewalk trying to pay attention to what a guide is saying.   As an example, during one of our walks we came upon the longest cobblestoned street in the city and soon after, a guided tour came by.  After they had seen it and left,  I was still admiring the stones and testing them out on foot.  Below a picture of the “pink house” on that cobblestoned street.  It was built in the early 1700’s, was once a tavern and is considered either the first or second oldest house in the city.

Charleston, founded in 1670 by English colonists, is one of the oldest cities in America and one of the original 13 colonies.  The city prospered as a busy seaport and from plantations growing rice, cotton and indigo.  As a result, the city is full of many beautiful and stately homes.  As we walked around the historic area, it seemed like most of the houses were built in the 1700’s or 1800’s with plaques and descriptions of who first owned the home.  It is amazing that so many are still standing because the city was attacked during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, endured a major earthquake in 1886 that damaged over 2,000 buildings and suffered through Hurricane Hugo in 1989.  After each disaster, the city has bounced back.  Many of the homes have “earthquake bolts” which are iron rods placed into the house for stabilization and visible from the exterior.  Below you can see two of those “x shaped” braces.  This house was built in 1740 and became the first post office for Charleston.

Our walk took us down to Battery Street next to the waterfront with some of the grander homes in the city.   An elevated walking path takes you above the street and by the water with remarkable views in every direction.

The homes on this street are really more like palaces or mansions.  I thought the prettiest was this pink palace, built in the 1840’s.   The homes on the Battery are worth a fortune and this house is no exception.  In 2016 it sold for 6.5 million.  Prior to the sale it was a Bed and Breakfast but was being bought as a private residence.

Charleston has a few nice parks near the waterfront.  The most well known is Whitepoint Gardens off Battery Street near all those mansions.  It is full of huge oaks, monuments and a gazebo.  When we came upon the park there was a peaceful demonstration going on with Confederate flag wavers and people dressed up in Civil War attire.  In the picture below, Mark relaxes next to the park.

Below is a picture of Waterfront Park, a lovely area with shade trees, benches and my favorite, azaleas in bloom.

The pineapple fountain near this park is a favorite monument and popular with youngsters who like to splash in the water.  Here in Charleston the pineapple is a symbol of “Southern Hospitality.”  I could feel that hospitality as we explored this charming city with friendly people and great ambience.    Do you have any favorite cities to share?  Thanks for “strolling” along with us – until next time.

Pensacola – National Naval Aviation Museum

While staying in Northern Florida I was drawn to the Pensacola area since my family has some history here.   In the 1950’s my father was stationed at the Naval Air Station where he trained to be a helicopter pilot.  I was born at the military hospital but when I was six months old we moved away, so I really never “saw” or came to know Pensacola.  Mark and I visited this part of the Florida Panhandle on two different days.  The first was in late January when we drove along the scenic Gulf coast to visit Pensacola Beach and Fort Pickens, completed in 1834 to defend Pensacola Harbor.  While exploring near the Fort, we watched jets from the Air Station practicing and Mark was able to get the picture above.  We were both pleased that he caught one plane flying straight and one turning.

On our second trip in early February, we visited the Naval Air Station that houses the National Museum of Naval Aviation.   Besides having beautiful, white sandy beaches, Pensacola is also well known for the Naval Air Station and museum.  It would have been fun to drive around the Air Station and see more of the place where I began, but these days you can’t drive around a military installation without a specific purpose and poking around doesn’t qualify.   When we first arrived for our museum visit, our GPS took us to the wrong entrance gate at the Station and the sentry had us quickly go out the exit and back through town to the right entrance.

This museum is a first class facility with more than 150 aircraft in two main buildings.  One building has two levels so it takes awhile to see everything.  When I visit aircraft museums I usually find it a bit daunting to try and take it all in and remember what I have seen and read.  So I try to take a different approach these days and not read and focus on each plane I come across but just catch the highlights.   In the picture above is a collection of Blue Angel jets.  The famous Blue Angels are based here at the Air Station and can be seen practicing over the museum for their air shows a few times each week beginning the end of March.  It would have been great to see them in action, but we were over a month too early.

Exhibits at the museum cover from the early days of flight to the present.  One of the more interesting to me was the NC-4 plane which was the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.  On May 1919, the Commander and a crew of five men flew from New York State to Portugal.  The trip took 19 days with several stops along the way.  It was neat to read the information and see the plane (above) that first made this remarkable journey.


One of my favorite planes to learn about here was this Hellcat which was used for take off and landing practice from a training aircraft carrier on Lake Michigan during 1944.  The plane crashed into the lake and was at the bottom for 65 years before being hauled up in 2009 and restored.  They actually left a patch of the plane’s side as it was before restoring for the public to see before and after.  In the panoramic picture above, you can see this plane in the right foreground with #21.  Below, Mark stands next to the Hawkeye, introduced during the Vietnam War as a radar plane for the Navy.

The museum has other exhibits besides aircraft including recreated military camp scenes from the Pacific during WWII.   There was also a “Pensacola During Wartime” section with homes and buildings set up along a street to show everyday life for citizens during WWII.  Jake’s Garage put a smile on my face.

I found this “Raft” exhibit fascinating as it was the actual raft that three Navy men were adrift on after their plane made an emergency landing in the Pacific Ocean during WWII.  They ended up on the raft with no food or water and only a pistol and knife.  During their 34 days at sea they lived on birds, fish and coconuts until they drifted to some islands.  I was amazed that the raft looked as good as it did after so many days at sea and so many years since the incident.  A book was written about this ordeal and it reminded me of the excellent book I have read called  “Unbroken” where Louis Zamperini also survives a plane crash in the Pacific during WWII and lives on a raft for 47 days before rescue.

It was a worthwhile trip to visit this very interesting museum – lots to learn and think about.  Thanks for following along with us!


Congaree – It’s All About the Trees

I have always been a fan of visiting the National Parks with the goal of trying to see as many as I can in my travels.  Did you know there are 59 National Parks in the United States?  The two states with the most parks are California and Alaska with eight each.  Although I would like to see every one, I doubt I will make it to all, especially the parks in Alaska!  Some of them are quite remote and hard to get to.  I have now seen about half of the parks and will do my best to see the majority of them in the years to come.

Until last year, I had never heard of Congaree National Park in South Carolina.  I was following the videos of a young couple traveling full time and they posted one of their visit to Congaree.  I made a mental note to check it out when we started full time traveling and reached South Carolina.  National Parks are not as plentiful out east as they are in the west, so it was a bit of a thrill to find one in the southeast.  Congaree protects the largest remnant of old growth floodplain hardwood forest in the United States.

There used to be a lot of this old growth forest in the southeast stretching from the Carolinas to Texas, but now 99% is gone, lost to logging, farming and development.  Thanks to the preservation efforts of a journalist, Harry Hampton in the 1950’s as well as other environmentalists, legislation was passed to preserve this floodplain forest.  In 1976 Congaree became a National Monument and then upgraded to National Park status in 2003.

Unlike most National Parks and Monuments, there is no charge to visit Congaree.   The park has a nice visitor center with exhibits and a film that we watched.   We then headed out to do some exploring.  The park has a variety of trails with the most popular the beautiful 2.5 mile boardwalk loop which we really enjoyed walking.   Some parts of it are elevated but most of the boardwalk is closer to ground level.  The Congaree and Wateree Rivers cause flooding in this forest certain times of the year bringing in fresh nutrients important for the growth and health of the forest.  During those times, the boardwalk is often covered with water making walking difficult or impossible.  We were fortunate to have no flooding when we visited.

The park is known for having what they consider “champion trees” – the largest of their kind in the state or even in the U.S.   Some of these champions include the Loblolly Pine (the tallest tree in South Carolina), Pawpaw and Sweetgum.  Other trees that can be found here are Cypress, Tupelo and Beech.  Many of the trees still had that bare winter look when we visited on March 26 and were just starting to leaf out.  I have seen pictures of Congaree when the leaves are all out and the trees on the boardwalk trail looked so full and green.  The film that we watched in the visitor center showed an aerial view of Congaree looking like a lush, green jungle.  In the picture above, a tall Loblolly Pine next to the boardwalk reaches for the sky.

I never tire of seeing the Bald Cypress in their swampy habitat – one of my favorite trees.   In our travels through the south, we have seen a lot of Cypress and their “knees” which are the small nobby looking protrusions that rise up from the roots of the tree.  This forest though had the most knees we have seen.  It is believed the knees provide the tree with extra structural support during floods and high winds.  Bald Cypress can live to be over 1,000 years old and are rot and water resistant so were logged extensively in the late 1800’s.  There are few old growth Cypress trees left today.  Above is a picture showing many knees.   Below a picture of a black water Cypress and Tupelo swamp.

After our walk I noticed the mosquito meter sign outside of the visitor center and found it amusing.  The meter shows an “all clear” the day that we visited but mosquitoes can be a big problem here during the warmer months.  We were fortunate to see not even one, but I would hate to be here when the meter reads “ruthless” or “war zone.”   Congaree does have a bug display that is greatly welcomed each year.  Around the middle of May synchronized fireflies appear in the park for a few weeks.  This becomes the most visited event at Congaree with lots of people viewing the fireflies at night lighting up all at once.  I would love to see this spectacle.  I have yet to see any fireflies in action, but hopefully some time during our trip.

We had a delightful visit at Congaree hanging out with the many trees – a National Park I am glad to add to my list.  What about you all, do you have any favorite National Parks or ones you are most hoping to see in the near future?   It is great to hear from you!

Thanks for checking in and Happy Easter!  In the next blog I plan to go back a few months to our trip to Pensacola, Florida.