Tag: East Coast

The Concrete Ship

The Concrete Ship

During and after the first World War, the Liberty Ship Company of Brunswick, Georgia, produced 12 ships made of concrete.  The second one was the SS Atlantus.

The Atlantus had a short but successful run of about two years, during which it  was used to transport American troops back home from Europe and also to transport coal in New England.  In 1920, it was retired to a salvage yard in Virginia.

Six years later, the Atlantus was purchased by Colonel Jesse Rosenfeld for use in the creation of a ferry dock out of her and two of her sister ships.  The plan was to dig a channel to the shore where the Atlantus would be placed, and the other two ships would be placed in a Y formation, creating a slip for a ferry to dock.

However, those plans didn’t last very long.  In June 1926, about three months after the Atlantus had been towed to Cape May NJ, a storm came up that caused the ship to break free of her moorings and run aground 150 feet off the coast.  And she’s been sitting there every since.

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However, time has not been kind to her.  there is very little still visible, so if you want to see a real life shipwreck and in you’re in the Cape May area, go check it out.

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The SS Atlantus  is located off of Sunset Beach, Sunset Blvd, Cape May, NJ 08204.

The National Zoo

The National Zoo

The National Zoo is a little panda-intensive.  And with good reason, as there are only four zoos in the United States where you can see pandas.  The National Zoo has four, including Bei Bei, who was just born in August of 2015.  My luck at being able to see the pandas over the years has been hit or miss. The last time I went, I was successful in getting one photo of the cuddly creatures:

National Zoo Panda

He was a little shy.  If you aren’t lucky enough to see the pandas in person, you can take advantage of the zoo’s Panda Cam which allows you to see them real time.

My favorites at the zoo (any zoo) are the big cats.  This was a particularly good trip for catching them alert.  Sometimes I haven’t been so lucky.  Here are the photos I snapped:National Zoo Cheetah

National Zoo Lion

National Zoo Tiger

I think we were there towards the end of the day — somewhere between 3 and 5 pm.  That seems to be a good time for catching the animals when they are alert as it’s probably getting closer to their feeding time.

Exhibits at the zoo include the following:

  • Giant Panda Habitat
  • Elephant Trail
  • Asia Trail
  • Lemur Island
  • Small Mammal House
  • Great Ape House
  • Think  Tank (education)
  • Gibbon Ridge
  • Cheetah Conservation Station
  • American Trail
  • Invertebrate Exhibit
  • Amazonia
  • Great Cats
  • Reptile Discovery Center
  • The Bird House
  • Kids’ Farm
  • American Bison Exhibit

Insider Tip:  If you take the Metro (Washington DC’s subway system), there are two stops you can use to get to the zoo.  The Woodley Park-Zoo stop (which most people use because of the name) is an uphill walk to the zoo.  The Cleveland Park stop is the same distance, but is a flat walk.  If you choose to drive to the zoo, there is limited parking available but there is a hefty charge (as of this writing, $22).

App It: The National Zoo has an app that includes interactive maps, schedules, animal information, and more.

The National Zoo is located at  3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008. Telephone  202-633-4888.  The zoo is open every day of the year except Christmas.  Hours vary by season, so call or check the website when planning your visit.

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Philadelphia Museum of Art

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Hands down, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is my favorite art museum in the world.  It houses more than 227,000 objects spanning 2000 years of world history.  There are amazing things to see in this museum.  Works by Monet, van Gogh, Picasso, Botticelli, Magritte, and so many other famous artists.

But my favorite aspect of the museum is how it re-creates entire rooms from different times and locations.  Instead of standing on the outside looking in, you are standing on the inside and looking around.  It is a phenomenal way to experience art, an the closest thing to time travel I’ve ever experienced.

There is a Venetian bedroom from the 15th century, a drawing room from New York City in the Roaring Twenties, a drawing room from an 18th century English home, etc.  My favorite is the 13th century French Cloister.  Here, you can listen to the gurgle of water in the stone fountain, gaze up at the dusk-colored ceiling, and look at the patterns of the tiled roof.  I could easily spend an hour or more there, just soaking up the atmosphere.

Philadelphia Museum of Art Medieval Cloisters

The museum also has a phenomenal collection of arms & armor, which Hubs and I both love because so much of it is from our favorite time period of the Renaissance.  Here are a few of the things we saw:

Philadelphia Museum of Art Swords

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There are ancient religious relics, too.  Pre-Renaissance, most art was done for churches.  One of my favorite pieces is a wood statue from 1500-1525 called Christ Mocked and Presented to the People, artist unknown. There was one point when I was in a room on the opposite side of the museum wing, and I looked through the doorway of the room I was in, and this statue was framed within the doorway of its room. It was breathtaking.

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One of my favorite things, though, was Gallery 161, exhibiting paintings by some of the world’s most favorite artists.  There were Monet and Manet, Renoir and van Gogh.  I got to stand right in front of them all, and it was awesome.

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Point of Trivia:  The 72 steps leading up to the museum entrance are known as “The Rocky Steps” because Sylvester Stallone runs up the steps in the Rocky movies.  You can even see a statue of Rocky at the base of the steps.

Climb up those steps, and you’ll be rewarded with a pretty amazing view of the City of Brotherly Love:

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BARGAIN ALERT:  On the first Sunday of the month and Wednesday evenings (5:00-8:45 pm), the admission is “Pay What You Wish.”  There is no set fee for admission.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is located at 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19130.  Telephone 215-763-8100.  Closed Mondays.  Opens at 10:00 am Tuesday-Sunday.  Closing times vary by day; check the web site or call when planning your trip.

Bushkill Falls, PA

Bushkill Falls, PA

While visiting friends in the Poconos, we had a small excursion to Bushkill Falls, which prides itself on being the “Niagara of Pennsylvania.” Frankly, I think the nickname does it an injustice. Bushkill Falls, while smaller than Niagara, offers a lot more to the sightseer.

Upon exiting the visitor’s center, a cryptic sign read “CAUTION: You are beginning a mountainside nature trail. All paths and walkways have been left in their natural state to enhance your viewing pleasure. Please use caution! Those visitors with health or heart conditions are recommended to use the main falls trail only. Please refer to your trail map at all times.”

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can tell you that a more accurate sign would have read something like this: “CAUTION! The pathways you are about to tread upon are uneven, steep and/or narrow. Hold onto the hand rail – which may be loose – for dear life. If you are overweight, old, or just plain out of shape, take the shortest route possible.”

hahahaha.

So, without benefit of my alternate truth-in-advertising style sign, we headed on down the trail to see what we could see. But first we had to consult the map and decide which trail to take.

There are four trails – marked on the map in blue, red, yellow and a very hard-to-see green. The red trail, as you can see from the above, is the largest. It promises views of eight different waterfalls and is supposed to take 2.5 hours to complete. The yellow trail is the “popular trail” because it only takes 45 minutes but still offers views of the major waterfalls. The two trails overlap for a large section of their routes – seen there in the middle of the map.

After a brief discussion, we decided that we would all travel the yellow/red trail until the point where they split, then the ambitious, nature-loving men would continue on the red trail while the women and kids would complete the yellow trail and head back to the house.

We heard the waterfall long before we saw it, of course, and when we did get to see it it was nothing short of breathtaking:

We stopped to ooh and aah and take pictures, then headed on down the trail toward the lower gorge falls. At one point we came to a bridge that had a sign reading “LIMIT 6 PEOPLE.” I almost didn’t go on it because, frankly, I just don’t trust other people to be very meticulous about following rules like that. And lest you think I’m paranoid, look what I turned around and saw right after we passed by the bridge:

And let me tell you, my friends, it was a loooooong way down!

So, moving on… we realized that somehow, the yellow/red trail we were on had become the red trail. This left us with the unappealing choice of either traveling back up the way we had just been (a long, mostly uphill hike with scenery we’d already passed) or continuing on the red trail (a longer, somewhat less uphill hike with scenery we had not already passed). We opted for the latter.

Moving on down to the lower gorge area, the water was calmer but no less scenic:

bushkill falls mossy rocks

So beautiful. So calm. The red trail will be fun after all, I thought. But then my newfound serenity was shattered when I saw this sign:

bushkill falls sign

Oh, have mercy! “For hikers only?!?!?!” Never in a million years would I describe myself as a hiker. In fact, look what I was wearing…

And yes, that is the so-called “trail” that my foot is on. We meandered along, carefully watching our step as we went up to the Bridal Veil Falls, which was smaller but just as pretty as the main waterfall. People were so enthralled with the smaller falls – and, I’m sure, the notion that they were on a more secluded trail – that they were wading into the waters at any opportunity.

After viewing this fall, we went up, up, up. Finally at the top, we were on flat land. I have never been so happy to be walking on flat land in my life! We were treated to an extraordinary view of the valley below, but I didn’t bother photographing it because in my limited experience depth is something that is really hard to capture in a photograph. Also, I didn’t want anything to slow down my progress toward reaching the end of the trail.  🙂

We stumbled off of the red trail some three hours or so after we had started. It was quite an accomplishment, and the scenery made it worth every ache and pain.  I highly recommend this scenic spot… as long as you wear sensible shoes.

Bushkill Falls is located on Bushkill Falls Road in Bushkill, PA. Telephone 570-588-6682. The falls are open for visitors March thru November. Hours vary by season, so check the website or call when planning your visit.

Diamonds and Bling, They’re Totally My Thing

Diamonds and Bling, They’re Totally My Thing

I cannot adequately express how much I love the Gems & Minerals section of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. I’ve been fascinated with it since I first saw in on an elementary school field trip.  My inner princess still squeals with delight as we approach the room with the Hope Diamond. Every time, without fail.

The Hope Diamond is one of the most infamous pieces of jewelry in history. Its ownership has been documented 400 years back. What makes the gem so special? Well, it is a startling blue color, which is rare among diamonds. Officially, the color is called “fancy deep grayish blue.”

Also, it is big. The diamond weighs over 45 carats, and it was cut from an even larger stone, believed to have been 112 carats in weight.

Its history is impressive as well, from its origins in India to the royal court of King Louis XIV of France, who had it cut down from 112 to 69 carats. It was later stolen and resurfaced in Britain after an absence of 20 years, but it had again been cut down to the current 45 carat size. In England, it became the property of King George IV, then was sold many times until it ended up in the hands of Pierre Cartier. Cartier sold it to a Washington socialite, who enjoyed it for over thirty years. Upon her death, it was sold to Harry Winston, another famous jeweler. Winston was persuaded to donate the diamond to the Smithsonian and in 1958, he mailed it to them – in a brown paper envelope!

Even more intriguing than the list of its rich and powerful owners is the legend that the diamond may be cursed. According to the legend, two former owners of the diamond committed suicide and countless others met with a gruesome death, such as being torn apart by wild dogs, hanged by a mob, and being thrown off a cliff. Many others’ lives ended in ruin and disgrace.

There are plenty of other dazzling pieces of jewelry in the Smithsonian’s collection besides the Hope Diamond. Take, for instance, the Cullinan Blue Diamond Necklace:

Cullinan Blue Diamond Necklace

This light blue diamond (although it appears clear in my photo –  sorry) was presented by Thomas Cullinan, then chairman of the Premier Mine in South Africa, to his wife Annie, around 1910. The gift was to commemorate the largest rough diamond ever mined – the 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond, discovered in 1905. Nine major pieces were cut from the original Cullinan rough; the two largest stones are in the British Crown Jewels, and the other seven stones are in the private collection of Queen Elizabeth II.

The necklace is set with 243 round colorless diamonds and nine blue diamonds. It is believed that the nine blue diamonds represented the nine pieces that were cut from the original Cullinan rough. The blue diamonds highlight the bow and pendant section and have a total weight of 5.57 carats. The Cullinan Blue Diamond is the largest blue diamond in the necklace, a 2.6 carat oval brilliant that is the centerpiece of the pendant.

Then there’s the Hall Sapphire Necklace:

Smithsonian Jewels 5

It was designed by Harry Winston, Inc. and features 36 sapphires from Sri Lanka, totaling 195 carats, set in platinum. There are also 435 pear-shaped and round brilliant-cut diamonds, totaling 83.75 carats.

Next, we have the Hooker Emerald:

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This 75 carat Colombian emerald was once the property of Abdul Hamid II, a Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who according to legend, wore it in his belt buckle. Tiffany & Co. purchased the emerald at auction in 1911 and initially set it into a tiara. In 1950, it was mounted in its current brooch setting and was featured on the first page of the Tiffany Christmas catalog. In its platinum setting, the Hooker Emerald is surrounded by 109 round brilliant and 20 baguette cut diamonds, totaling approximately 13 carats.

The Marie Louise Diadem has always been one of my favorites:

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Napoleon gave the Diadem to his second wife, the Empress Marie-Louise, on the occasion of their marriage. Originally the diadem, commissioned in 1810, was set with emeralds, which were replaced in the mid-1950s with turquoise. (Why?!?!?)  The diadem has an elaborate design and contains 79 Persian turquoise stones (totaling 540 carats) and 1,006 old mine cut diamonds (totaling 700 carats) set in silver and gold.

Point of trivia:  A crown encircles the head in a complete circle and can be worn by men and women; a diadem is not a complete circle (usually ¾ way around), it has an opening in the back and can also be worn by men and women; a tiara (semi-circular high crown) is a smaller headpiece worn at the front of the head, by women only.

Another item on display that belonged to Empress Marie-Louise is the Napoleon Diamond Necklace. It’s stunning.

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Like the diadem above, it was a gift from Napoleon to Marie-Louise, on the occasion of the birth of their son, Napoleon II in 1811. It has 234 diamonds.

So, if you also like shiny things that sparkle, check out the gem & mineral collection at the Smithsonian. In addition to these fantastic pieces of jewelry, you can also see a fascinating and very thorough collection of minerals in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors.

The National Museum of Natural History is located at 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560.  Telephone 202-633-1000. Admission is free. The museum is open every day of the year except Christmas, from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm.

Old Rag Mountain, Shenandoah

Old Rag Mountain, Shenandoah

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Shenandoah National Park, there is a mountain known as Old Rag. It is a popular place for hiking and rock climbing because it is not like most of the mountains in that part of the country. Old Rag has an exposed (rocky) summit and large granite exposures similar to those found in Sierra Nevada, Yosemite, North Carolina and New Hampshire.

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For bouldering, it is rather undeveloped, but there are bouldering challenges along the trail.

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For hiking, there are two routes. The longer one is 9 mile circuit hike and the shorter one is a 5.4 mile mile out-and-back hike to the summit.

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At the summit, you are treated to amazing views of the valley below.

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Old Rag is a great destination for folks who love to explore nature. It has aspects that will appeal to all hikers, regardless of experience level. Highly recommended for adults and families with teens.

Old Rag is located in the Shenandoah National Park, near Sperryville, VA. For full information on parking, fees, and safety precautions, please click on the preceding link.

 

The Doll’s House at the Smithsonian

The Doll’s House at the Smithsonian

Since 1967, the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History has housed a 29 room dollhouse. The family that calls the dollhouse home is (what else?) the Doll Family. This miniature family consists of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Doll, their 10 children, two visiting grandparents, five servants, and 20 pets.

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Grandfather Doll in the Guest Bedroom

The house consists of 23 rooms, each painstaking decorated by a girl named Faith Bradford, who donated it to the Smithsonian in 1951. The scale of the house is 1 inch = 1 foot, and the time period is turn-of-the-20th-century. Some of the household furnishings were purchased from area toy & specialty stores; others were made by Ms. Bradford.

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Dollhouse Library – Right Side

Everyday items were transformed into miniaturized versions of other items. Buttons became stacked dinner plates in the pantry, and matchsticks became shelved books in the library. Bradford made ceiling fixtures for the nursery and nurse’s room from parts of electric plugs.

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Dollhouse Library – Left Side

Faith Bradford even made a scrapbook about the dollhouse, with fabric swatches and detailed descriptions about what was in each room. The dollhouse was exhibited publicly at a charity toy fair in 1932 and at a Woodward & Lothrop department store in 1933.

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Dollhouse Drawing Room with Woodthrop the Parlor Maid

When I was a little girl, I loved looking at this dollhouse. I still do. When I took my Girl Scout troop to Washington DC and we stopped in at the museum, they all loved it too. I think that the appeal of a dollhouse is timeless – there is just something fascinating about looking into a fantasy world and seeing every aspect of daily life portrayed in miniature. No matter what age the spectator, the dollhouse is sure to be appreciated for its size and scope.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is located at 14th St and Constitution Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001.  Telephone 202-633-1000. Admission to the museum is free.  Hours are 10:00 am to 5:30 pm every day of the year except for Christmas.

A Trip to Bikini Bottom

A Trip to Bikini Bottom

Hubs and I went for a boat ride yesterday. We started from the small town of Greenbackville, Virgina, near the Maryland/Virginia border on the Eastern Shore. We motored around Chincoteague Bay for a couple of hours and once the boat was safely back on the trailer, we headed to the local eatery, which was conveniently located right next to the boat ramp.


Now, the sign is a little weathered and from the outside, the place doesn’t look like much. But The Crusty Crab Seafood Shack is a real treat.

The inside is decorated with an eclectic mixture of SpongeBob paraphernalia, pirate decor, and beautifully painted sea life.


There is a small dining area when you walk in, but just beyond that on the far end of the building is a larger, screened in  porch set up with tables and chairs. Lighting is provided by lamps made from peck baskets, a cool breeze is stirred up by some ceiling fans, and seashell wind chimes hang from the ceiling.


The view is amazing.

A visit to the one-toilet, unisex bathroom is, oddly enough, pretty entertaining. There is a LOT to look at in there. After a minute of taking it all, you turn to lift the lid on the toilet, and you see this:


As you are doing your business, take a look up. A shelf of coconut heads is staring down at you.


Then look even farther up, at the ceiling.


The back of the door is similarly decorated.


There’s a lot of poop humor in the bathroom.


But back to the dining room.  Each table has a basket with condiments and utensils.


Malt vinegar may seem like a strange thing to put on every table, but it’s the perfect complement to the boardwalk style fries. Mine came with the Crabby Patty, a grilled chicken breast (or burger, if you prefer) smothered in creamy crab dip and topped with cheddar cheese.


It was delicious! And look at the amount of food. Can you believe it was just $9.99?

Then, after our meal, we were treated to an amazing sunset over the bay.

This little seafood shack is local gem. Stop by if you’re ever in the area.

The Crusty Crab Seafood Shack is located at 2118 Harbor Drive in Greenbackville VA. Telephone  757-824-5437.  Due to limited seating, reservations are recommended for dinner, especially on the weekend.

Cape May Winery & Vineyard, NJ

Cape May Winery & Vineyard, NJ

I am not a wine aficionado, but I am fascinated with the process of how wine is made. I also think it’s really cool that those who do know about wine can take a sip and tell you that they taste vanilla and butter, with a touch of oak. Or, you know, something like that.

The Hubs took me on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry one year for my birthday and while in Cape May, we took a tour of the Cape May Winery.

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This young winery produces over 20 different styles of wine. Fortunately for me, the employee who gave us the tour guided us toward finding the perfect match for our preferences. But before the tasting began, we were shown the areas of production.

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Large stainless steel vats, rustic looking wood barrels, it was pretty much what one would have expected. But we learned about the process while we stood there taking it all in. We learned about how they use a gadget called a refractometer to measure the brix (the potential alcohol content of a wine before it’s made by determining the sugar level in grapes).

Then we saw the grapes growing in perfect rows around the winery. They were lovely.

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And we had so many choices when we entered the winery shop!

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The signature white wine at Cape May Winery is their Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, which is aged in French oak for over 16 months. It’s won many awards, but is too dry for my taste. I enjoyed the Lighthouse White, the Cape May Riesling, and the Isaac Smith Apple, as I am partial to sweeter wines.

If you’re in the Cape May area and you enjoy wine, stop by for a tour or just to shop. They’re very knowledgeable and have a lot of varieties to choose from.

The Cape May Winery & Vineyard is located at 711 Town Bank Rd, Cape May, NJ 08204. Telephone 609) 884-1169. Tours are held on Saturdays at 2:00 and last approximately 90 minutes. Reservations are recommended. Children under the age of 15 are not permitted on the tour.

Hidden Gem: DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum

Hidden Gem: DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum

I am so excited to tell you about this hidden gem! It is one of those rare places about which I simply cannot say enough good things.

I found it almost by accident. When my son was in high school and my daughter was in elementary school, I wanted to come up with some summer activities that would be the perfect combination of fun and educational, but also inexpensive (or preferably, free). There were not many things that fit the bill, but DiscoverSea certainly did.

I headed out with the kids and when we got to Fenwick Island, my GPS had led me straight to a souvenir shop. Not a museum. I had a moment of panic where I thought that the museum had closed and I had been looking at an out of date web page. I pulled into the parking lot of a souvenir shop with the intention of asking the store clerks if they knew of the museum. Imagine my surprise when they told me it was upstairs.

The kids and I went up to the second floor and started look at the informative and nicely displayed exhibits. There were beautiful things, like these necklaces:

DiscoverSea Amethyst Necklace

DiscoverSea Victorian Necklace

There were things that the ocean had tried to claim as its own:

DiscoverSea Crystal Bowl

There were coins, of course:

DiscoverSea British Coins

DiscoverSea Gold Coins

And there was the just plain weird:

DiscoverSea Walrus Bone
The sign reads, “Believe it or Not:  This is a walrus penis bone club called an oosik by the Eskimos.  It is made from the penis bone of a walrus and was made by the Eskimos as a club for killing other walruses.”

What made the visit go from great to spectacular, though, was meeting the owner, Dale Clifton Jr. He engaged both of my kids in conversation about the exhibits and even let them hold some very valuable artifacts. It was easy to see that he has a lot of enthusiasm about maritime history and for the items recovered from shipwrecks.

DiscoverSea Treasure Chest

If you’re anywhere near Fenwick Island, Delaware, go to DiscoverSea. You’ll be glad you did!

DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum is located at 708 Coastal Highway in Fenwick Island, Delaware. Telephone 302-539-9366. Hours vary by season; please check website or call for opening and closing times when planning your visit.