Tag: Family Outings

The Thorne Miniature Rooms at Art Institute of Chicago

The Thorne Miniature Rooms at Art Institute of Chicago

The Sixty-Eight Rooms

When my daughter was in 4th-6th grades, we had a summer book club for her and her friends. The girls would read a book and then get together to discuss it, with related snacks and activities. One of the hands-down favorite books we read was The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone.  The book took place inside the Art Institute of Chicago, in the Thorne Miniature Rooms. These 68 individual rooms done in miniature depict different time periods and different countries. The kids in the story find a magic way to shrink down to an appropriate size to explore the rooms.

I confess, I enjoyed the book as much as the girls did! So, when planning my birthday trip to Chicago, I knew that I had to go see the Thorne Miniature Rooms.

The Art Institute of Chicago

The rooms are housed on the lower level of the Art Institute of Chicago, a large and impressive building that contains both art school and museum. It was first built in 1893 as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition. Two huge bronze lions flank the main entrance, where banners also hang to announce the latest exhibits.

Thorne Miniature rooms art institute of chicago

The Institute has expanded several times over the years, most recently with the addition of a modern art wing in 2009. That expansion brought the size of the Art Institute to almost 1 million square feet, making it the second largest art museum in the USA. (The first is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.)

I’m sure there were wonderful things to look at as we entered the building, but I was intensely focused on the reason we had gone there. We headed straight downstairs for the Thorne Miniature Rooms.

According the museum’s web site, “The 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms enable one to glimpse elements of European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s. Painstakingly constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot, these fascinating models were conceived by Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago and constructed between 1932 and 1940 by master craftsmen according to her specifications.”

When you enter the room containing the Thorne Miniature Rooms, you quickly notice a couple of things. First, the rooms are all set into the wall with a wooden frame around them. A plaque underneath informs visitors of the room’s number, country, and time period. Second, there is a platform about 8 inches high and 12 inches deep running the length of the walls underneath the rooms.  It didn’t take long to discover the reason for the platform.  Thanks to the success of the children’s novels, kids were flocking to the museum to see the rooms.  The platform was an easy way for them to peek inside each one.

The 68 Rooms

The amount of detail in the rooms is nothing short of amazing. And each room had details that made it seem not just a miniature room, but a room that someone actually lived in and used. Eyeglasses left on a table, a toy on the floor, an unfinished bit of needlework or a chess game in progress… these were the touches that made an artistic world in miniature become extraordinary.

The largest of the rooms, and also the first one you are likely to see when you enter the exhibit, is the 13th Century English Roman Catholic Church. It is impressive in its size and deceptively so – you almost forget that the scale is one inch to one foot. Turn the corner, though, and you will enter a world that is incredibly small.

With a few exceptions, the 68 miniature rooms fit into three geographical categories: English, French, and American. (The exceptions are one German room, one Chinese room, and one Japanese room.) If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably know I’m a hopeless Anglophile, so needless to say the English rooms were my favorites. I particularly loved the English Great Hall from the late Tudor period (1550-1603):

thorne miniature rooms english great hall late tudor period chicago

This room was just amazing – the leaded windows in particular reminded me of ones I had seen at Warwick Castle that featured coats of arms of noble families.

And speaking of windows… I should point out that these rooms are constructed the same way their life size versions would be.  Doors open onto other rooms or to the outside, windows provide views of a garden or other buildings. And those exterior areas were designed with every bit as much authentic detail as the interior.

For instance, I loved how we were able to get a peek at beautiful garden outside the English Dining Room from the Georgian Period (1770-1790):

thorne miniature rooms chicago english dining room georgian period

And check out the California Living Room from 1934-1940:

thorne miniature rooms chicago california living room 1934-1940

Not only do we look through the entire expanse of the room, we can also see the beautiful tile-accented stairs leading up to a second floor as well as  what is probably the main entrance to the house through two open doorways.  And notice how the light is hitting the bricks there.  It looks so realistic!

And I thought this vignette, on the left side of the Cape Cod Living Room, was just beautiful:

thorne miniature rooms chicago cape cod living room 1750-1850

First of all, the light coming through the window! Are you thinking it must be morning, and what a great spot to enjoy a cup of coffee? I was! Now, the photo is a little dark, but can you see the eyeglasses sitting there on the table? How about the spoons next to the teacups? The glasses were probably less than 1/2 inch across, and the spoons were about 1/2 inch long. Amazing.

And how about this English cottage kitchen from the Queen Anne Period (1702-1714):

thorne miniature rooms chicago english cottage kitchen queen anne period style

Again, beautiful light streaming through the window.  Now take in the other details.  Hanging over the table is a birdcage with a bird in it. The plates on the left measure only about 1/2 inch in diameter, but actually have an intricate pattern painted on them.

The English Drawing Room from the Victorian Era contains a portrait of Queen Victoria that is somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 inch, yet is instantly recognizable. Can you spot it? It’s on the right side of the table.

thorne miniature rooms chicago english drawing room victorian era

As I walked along, peering into the rooms and marveling over the details, I was taking pictures and trying my best to do so without any reflection or glare. I wanted each photograph to look like I had taken it from inside the room. When I got to the French Dining Room from the Louis XIV Period (1660-1700), I caught a movement in my peripheral vision that startled me. Upon closer scrutiny, I realized that it was from a mirror hanging over the fireplace. So I decided to have some fun:

thorne miniature rooms chicago French Dining Room Louis XIV Period 1660-1700
C’est un géant!

Now, if haven’t already marveled at how detailed these miniature rooms are, consider the French Salon of the Louis XVI period (circa 1780):

thorne miniature rooms chicago french salon louis xvi 1780 key in desk

Do you see the key sticking out of the desk leaf, above the chair seat? Well, the museum guide told us that the key is not just decorative – it actually works and can lock the desk.  I couldn’t believe it – it was so tiny – just 1/6 of an inch or so, perhaps less!

I went through the exhibit and looked at every room at least twice.  With each pass I noticed new details I hadn’t seen before.  This is definitely the sort of exhibit you could revisit again and again and have a new experience each time.

The Other Rooms

Yes, there are others!  A total of 100 rooms done by Mrs. Thorne are on display today. Twenty are in the Phoenix Art Museum, and nine in the Knoxville Museum of Art. The remaining two are at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, and the Kaye Miniature Museum in Los Angeles. In addition to these, a bar that Thorne auctioned off for charity in the 1950s is at the Museum of Miniature Houses in Carmel, Indiana.

I highly recommend visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and especially checking out the Thorne Miniature Rooms. They provide an amazing example of quality craftsmanship, the history of design and decor, and the techniques of making items in miniature.  The next time you’re in Chicago, check it out!

 

Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago
60+ Washington DC Free Attractions

60+ Washington DC Free Attractions

Anyone who has been to Washington DC knows that it can be a pretty expensive city to visit.  Most studies rank it somewhere in the top ten list of the most expensive American cities. For someone who is making a non-DC salary and visiting the nation’s capital, the expense of everything can be daunting.

Fortunately, Washington DC free attractions are plentiful.  Here are over 60 places you can explore without paying for admission, listed by neighborhood:

The National Mall Area

Washington DC Free Attractions

  1. Abraham Lincoln Memorial
  2. World War II Memorial
  3. National Museum of American History
  4. National Air & Space Museum
  5. Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden – modern art
  6. National Museum of African Art
  7. National Museum of Natural History
  8. Smithsonian Castle
  9. Washington Monument – currently closed for elevator upgrade – check before you go
  10. National Archives
  11. National Gallery of Art
  12. Multiverse Light Sculpture between National Gallery East & West Buildings
  13. Freer Gallery – Asian art (closed until October 14, 2017)
  14. Sackler Gallery – Asian art
  15. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  16. Korean War Veterans Memorial
  17. Vietnam War Veterans Memorial
  18. Thomas Jefferson Memorial
  19. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  20. American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial
  21. US Holocaust Memorial Museum – free but requires timed tickets March through August
  22. National Museum of the American Indian
  23. National Museum of African American History & Culture
  24. Albert Einstein Memorial
  25. Bureau of Engraving & Printing (free, but reservations required through September 1)
  26. National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden

 

Brookland Area

Washington DC free attractions in Brookland area

  1. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
  2. Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

 

Capitol Hill

Washington Dc free attractions capitol hill

  1. National Postal Museum
  2. Library of Congress
  3. US Capitol
  4. US Botanic Garden
  5. Folger Shakespeare Library
  6. Historic Congressional Cemetery

 

Capitol Riverfront

Washington DC Free attractions capitol riverfront

  1. Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
  2. National Museum of the US Navy
  3. Yards Park

 

Anacostia

Washington DC Free Attractions Anacostia

  1. Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
  2. Anacostia Community Museum

 

Upper Northwest

Washington DC Free Attractions Upper Northwest

  1. National Cathedral

 

Georgetown

Washington DC Free ATtractions Georgetown

  1. C&O Canal Paths
  2. Old Stone House (the oldest home in DC)
  3. Theodore Roosevelt Island
  4. Rock Creek Park

 

Penn Quarter/Chinatown

Washington DC Free Attractions Penn Quarter Chinatown

  1. National Portrait Gallery
  2. Smithsonian American Art Museum
  3. Lunder Conservation Center
  4. Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site
  5. Archives of American Art Gallery

 

Dupont Circle

Washington DC Free Attractions Dupont Circle

  1. Anderson House

 

Woodley Park

Washington DC Free Attractions Woodley Park

  1. National Zoo

 

Foggy Bottom

Washington DC free attractions Foggy Bottom

  1. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts (free tour)
  2. Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center (free performances)

 

Downtown

Washington DC Free Attractions Donwtown

  1. White House Visitor Center
  2. White House tour (request through Congressional representative at least 3 months in advance)
  3. Renwick Gallery – American contemporary art

 

Shaw

Washington DC Free Attractions Shaw

  1. African American Civil War Memorial
  2. African American Civil War Museum

 

H Street NE

Washington DC Free Attractions H Street NE

  1. US National Arboretum
  2. National Bonsai & Penjing Museum – inside National Arboretum

 

Arlington, Virginia (technically not DC, but just across the river)

 

  1. US Air Force Memorial
  2. US Marine Corps Memorial (aka Statue of Iwo Jima)
  3. Arlington House, former home of Robert E Lee
  4. Arlington National Cemetery
  5. National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial

 

As you can see, there are plenty of Washington DC free must-see attractions… and a few that are a little off the beaten path.  With so many choices for things to see and do at no expense, Washington DC can be an affordable vacation destination after all.

 

Why You Should Go to Finland

Why You Should Go to Finland

Finland? Really?

Is Finland travel something you’ve never considered?  Well, perhaps it’s time you should.  Here’s why:

For starters, Finland will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its independence from Russia this year on December 6.  There will be a year-long celebration full of special events and exhibitions that you might not be able to experience at any other time.

Also, consider the romance! Nick Viall spent a couple of weeks showcasing how romantic Finland could be on The Bachelor. Wouldn’t you love to re-create one of those romantic fantasy dates with your sweetie?

And, if you’re a statistics person, you can also consider the following:

  • Clean air.  According to the World Health Organization, Finland has the third cleanest air in the world.
  • Safety. The World Economic Forum recently published its 2017 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report and Finland was once again ranked as the safest country to visit worldwide.  It also achieved the highest ranking for environmental sustainability.
  • Lonely Planet chose Finland as one of its top three destinations for 2017.
  • Finland is the most heavily forested country in Europe; forests cover more than 70% of its land.

Finland = Funland

Okay, so you’re thinking maybe Finland travel could be cool after all. But what would you do there? The answer is plenty!  Here are a few of my suggestions.

Northern Lights

In the Finnish Lapland (the northern section of the country), the aurora borealis appear about 200 nights out of the year. The best months to see them are September through March.  If you are in the southern part of the country, your chances of seeing them go down drastically:  there the frequency drops to 10-20 times per year.

While on the hunt for the Northern Lights, you can stay at the Arctic Treehouse Hotel in Rovaniemi, which has suites that offer views over the treetops through the glass wall. Or, if glamping is more your thing, you can stay in an Aurora Dome – luxurious (heated!) tents with a transparent side.  A third option are the glass villas of Kemi which have 2 glass walls and a glass ceiling. What could be more romantic than lying in bed with your love, gazing up at Mother Nature’s light show?

finland travel aurora borealis northern lights muonio
A view of the Northern Lights through one of the Aurora Domes in Muonio Finland.

Saunas

I don’t think it’s even possible to overestimate how much the Finnish love saunas. In fact, many Finns think you cannot grasp Finland or its culture without bathing in a sauna. Getting invited to a sauna in Finland is an honor, it is not a sexual proposition.  The Finns view the sauna as a place for physical and mental cleansing, and many suggest one should behave in a sauna as they would in church. Likewise, do not expect a spa-like experience with relaxing music, colorful lights, and fragrances.  Real Finnish saunas are dimly lit, and there’s no music or smells except for fresh birch and natural tar.

Finns go to sauna in the nude, even with strangers. If you the thought of stripping completely makes you uncomfortable, Finns will understand if you want to wear a swimsuit or a towel. In groups, women and men go to sauna separately, but families go together. When in a mixed group that is about to go to sauna, it is perfectly fine to ask people and discuss who should go with whom.

In sauna, you may seem people smacking themselves with a bundle of leafy twigs. That is called a vasta or vihta, and it is made of fresh birch twigs.  The Finns swear that whipping yourself with the vasta is very good for your skin, leaving it soft and smooth.

finland travel finnish sauna
A typical Finnish sauna with vastas

Be sure to drink plenty while you partake in the sauna experience.  You’ll be sweating a lot, and it will be important to stay hydrated.

A New National Park

Finland will be opening a new national park in June of this year as part of its centennial observances. The new park will be in Hossa, an area along the Eastern border of Finland.

There are about 130 lakes and ponds in Hossa, most with clear water. It is a popular destination for hiking, with 55 miles of marked trails. In addition to hiking, the area supports fishing, hunting, camping, canoeing, and cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in winter.  A favorite spot for canoeing is the Julma-Ölky canyon lake, which is not quite 2 miles long.

Another popular attraction is the Värikallio rock paintings. Discovered in 1977 by two skiers, it is one of the two northernmost sites of rock art in Finland, as well as one of the largest collections with over 60 figures discerned. The human images at Värikallio are notable for exhibiting triangular heads (seen at only two other sites), and for a human figure with horns. As at other sites, the most numerous images are of animals, including one that may be the only bear depicted in Finnish rock art. Hand print and paw print pictographs are also represented. Another unusual aspect of the Värikallio paintings is the lack of boat images, which are common at other Finnish sites.

Värikallio rock paintings finland travel hossa national park
Värikallio rock paintings

A New Place to Explore

The island of Vallisaari in Helsinki was recently opened to the public for the first time. In the Middle Ages, Vallisaari was known by the name of Lampisaari (“Pond Island”), because seafarers replenished their drinking water supplies from the ponds on this island.  Later (mid-nineteenth century), the island was the site of military fortifications. It maintained its status as a military site during and after the Russian Revolution and Finnish independence. In fact, it was used by the military until 2008, and for the following eight years it was off-limits to the public.  So the island is a beautiful nature reserve, offering a rich range of species in the metropolitan area, including bats, badgers, and lush vegetation teeming with birdlife.

finland travel vallisaari island helsinki
Vallisaari Island

Santa Claus and Reindeer – All Year!

Open each day of the year in the city of Rovaniemi, children and adults can visit Santa’s office, enjoy a private chat with him and revel in the enchanted atmosphere. As we all know, Santa’s annual mission is to deliver happiness around the world with the help of his team of furry reindeer friends.

Santa may only visit your home once a year, but he welcomes everybody to visit him during the rest of the year. Don’t pass up the invitation!

 

santa claus reindeer finland travel
Santa and his reindeer, ready to welcome visitors

So, what are you waiting for? Visit Finland – it’s got something for everyone!

The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Brothers Studio London

The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Brothers Studio London

First, a Confession:

I have waited over three months to write a post about The Making of Harry Potter. I hoped that giving it some time would subdue my zealous enthusiasm and help me not come across as a total geek.

Alas, it did not.

I took almost 200 photos there, and when I looked through them to decide which ones I would include in this post, I could only narrow it down to thirty. I will try my hardest to cut out more as I am writing. But it will be painful.

Suffice it to say that if you have ever watched a Harry Potter movie, there is only one thing that should be at the top of your list for London attractions: The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Brother Studios in Leavesden.

Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

According to the web site (link at the end), the tour is supposed to take about three hours. However, I strongly recommend allowing almost an entire day for it. Three hours is probably the bare minimum time, and does not include transportation to/from the studio tour. (Details on transportation are also at the end of this post.)

When you enter The Making of Harry Potter building, you are in a large lobby area, with giant photos of the cast members staring down at you. Alan Rickman’s Snape is there. It made me a little melancholy to see him as I’ve been a fan even of his for decades. He really knew how to create memorable characters! A few props are there as well, including the flying Ford Anglia that Ron and Harry borrowed in The Chamber of Secrets. From the lobby you proceed to the queuing area and enter a maze of barrier straps, winding back and forth. While there, you get to see the famous cupboard under the stairs from Number 4, Privet Drive.

Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour Cupboard Under the Stairs

Once you reach the front of the line, you are ushered into a large, mostly dark and very empty room, where you watch a video presentation. It really isn’t very long but you feel like it is because you just want to get to Hogwarts, already! After the video, you move into a great stone room that looks like the outside of a castle. Pause for dramatic effect, then the doors open and you are ushered into…

Great Hall Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

…the Great Hall at Hogwarts!

The long tables are set and they seem to stretch on forever. Mannequins behind the tables wear the characters’ costumes. And of course, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore is at the head of the hall, flanked by Professors McGonagal and Snape.

Between the tables and the platform on which the professors would stand is, of course, the Sorting Hat, ready to announce the Hogwarts house for every new student.

Sorting Hat Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

At this point on The Making of Harry Potter tour, I’m enjoying myself and pretty wowed by everything that I’m seeing, but starting to have a bit of anxiety creep up on me because it’s a little too structured. I don’t like being led about like a dog on a leash – I want to explore and set my own pace. Luckily, it turned out that I had no need to feel even the slightest bit anxious. Our guide opened a second set of doors from the Great Hall and we walked out into the remainder of our studio tour, where we were free to explore as much or as little as we wanted to.

At that point, I went from a dog on a leash to a rat on crack – pinging from exhibit to exhibit and rushing around in circles because I wanted to see everything all at once. I didn’t have time to read the signs, darn it!  I had stuff to see!

Eventually I found a happy medium and was able to calm down. Good thing, too, because there are details that you don’t want to miss in this tour.

Most of the things that I zinged past so quickly were technical exhibits – how they actually made certain items in the film work. Floating candles in the great hall, for instance. (To be honest, I missed a lot of this. I wish I had taken the time to pay more attention, because I’m sure it was really interesting.) Once I had started to breathe again, I found the exhibit on wardrobe distressing pretty fascinating. You’d be surprised how much work goes into making a smudge of dirt appear on an actor’s jacket!

There was a beautiful display from the Yule Ball scene in Goblet of Fire:

Yule Ball Costumes Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London
Harry and Cho Chang’s outfits in front; Hermione’s and Viktor Krum’s in back.

Moving on, we made it to the Gryffindor rooms. First the common room:

Gryffindor Common Room Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

and then the boys’ dormitory. Here’s Ron’s bunk:

Gryffindor Boys Dorm Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

There were so many items that had great significance in the plot of the seven Harry Potter books and movies, and seeing each one was a thrill.

Film Props Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London
TOP:  The Mirror of Erised and Godric Gryffindor’s Sword.
BOTTOM: Harry’s Invisibility Cloak, Dumbledore’s Pensieve, and the Tri-Wizard Cup

(See what I did there?  Five photos in one!  Pretty clever, eh?)

We got to see lots of the settings from the movies, which felt so real, I wanted to sit and stay for a while. Here is Dumbledore’s office, which had many items from the books/movies – the pensieve, the sword of Godric Gryffindor, the paintings of former headmasters, and so many books! (Fun Fact:  It turns out the books lining the shelves of our favorite Headmaster’s office are telephone directories that were altered to look like antique volumes!)

Dumbledore Office Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

And there was Snape’s Potions classroom. Melancholia struck again when I saw the figure representing the late, great, Alan Rickman.

Snape Potions Classroom Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

There were plenty great details in the potions classroom. First, the apparatus used to make Felix Felicis:

Felix Felicis Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

and a few copies of Advanced Potion Making here and there.

Potions Classroom Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

They also had self-stirring cauldrons, but that doesn’t translate well into a still photograph.

One set that gave me absolute joy was The Burrow, home to the poor-in-money-but-rich-in-love Weasley family.

The Burrow Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London
You can’t tell in the photo, but the knife in the foreground was chopping the carrot by itself.

At The Burrow, Molly’s knitting needles were clicking and clacking away whilst knitting a blanket, and there was the famous clock that showed which family members were home and which were in mortal peril.

Weasley Home Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

There are so many more exhibits I could write about and show you, but I have to draw a line somewhere. There were Professor Umbrage’s proclamations, floo powder sets, the Ministry of Magic statue, Tom Riddle’s grave, Hagrid’s Hut, the Leaky Cauldron, the Chamber of Secrets door, Mad-Eye Moody’s trunk, Lupin’s trunk, the Clock from Azkaban, the Hogwarts Express, Diagon Alley, and so much more!

Oh, okay, one more photo before I move on. Remember the Deatheaters meeting at Malfoy Manor in Deathly Hallows Part 1?

Malfoy Manor Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

Outward and Onward

When you finally tear yourself away from the exhibits and head out, you find yourself at a food court with a couple of different options for meals and snacks. My daughter and I could not resist the soft-serve butterbeer ice cream, which was so creamy and sweet!

Butterbeer Ice Cream Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

After leaving the food court area, you head outside and see some of the exterior sets. For instance, the Dursley residence, AKA number 4, Privet Drive.

4 Privet Drive Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

Where Technology & Magic Meet

From there, you head into the second leg of the tour, bringing you back to the technical aspects of how the movie was made. Learning how they filmed Hagrid was especially interesting. Apparently not all of the scenes with Hagrid are actually Robbie Coltrane. They had an insanely realistic looking animatronic head that they used as his double:

Hagrid Head Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

This portion of the tour also included Dobby, the Gringott’s goblin, Buckbeak, Aragog, Fawkes, and more.

The grand finale to the tour is just amazing. I won’t tell you what it is, but suffice it to say that it is – no pun intended – absolutely magical.

As thrilling as it is to read about these things and these places in a book, and to see them on the big screen, it is even more so to stand in the midst of it all and feel like you’re actually there. If you’ve ever read a Harry Potter book or seen a movie, The Making of Harry Potter deserves a top spot on your bucket list.

The Warner Brothers Studio Tour’s address is Studio Tour Drive in Leavesden, WD25 7LR. Telephone 0345 084 0900. To get there, take a train from London to Watford Junction. Outside the Watford Junction station, you can get a shuttle bus that runs to the studio. The studio has hours that vary from day to day; consult the schedule when planning your visit. 

Beachcomber’s Paradise: Metompkin Island, Virginia

Beachcomber’s Paradise: Metompkin Island, Virginia

You Want to Do What?

I’ll be honest, when my husband told me that he wanted me to join him on a long canoe ride the Saturday before Thanksgiving, I was not too excited.  Canoeing is definitely not my kind of fun. Faced with unseasonably warm weather and a promise that I would enjoy it, I begrudgingly agreed.  We began our Saturday morning with a very long drive to the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is the third and southernmost part of the Delmarva Peninsula (Del=Delaware, Mar=Maryland, Va=Virginia). The Delmarva Peninsula has the Atlantic Ocean to its east and the Chesapeake Bay to its west.  The Virginia portion of the peninsula is so isolated from the rest of its state that I’ve often wondered if its residents feel like everyone else who calls the state home doesn’t even know they exist.

metompkin island map best seashell beaches
The Eastern Shore of Virginia – everything south of the gray dashed line.

You Want to Go Where?

We drove and drove until we reached an area called Gargatha. There is a public boat ramp at the end of Gargatha Landing Road, and that’s where the water leg of our journey would begin. It would end on Metompkin Island, which I had never heard of before.

metompkin-island-map-zoomed-in best seashell beaches
This map is the zoomed in version of the one above.  In both cases, the red pin marks Metompkin Island – our destination.

So this is fun?

We got the canoe in the water and headed out.  The wind was blowing against us, which is pretty much my worst nightmare when I’m in a canoe.  You have to paddle twice as hard to cover the same distance in the same time.  Basically, for every two strokes, we were only advancing one. Adding to the difficulty was the fact that we kept getting pushed off course.

At one point, we ended up stuck in some tall grasses. We were so tired and frustrated that we decided to just sit there, eat our sandwiches that we had brought with us, and rest for a few minutes. Then it was time to paddle some more. We hadn’t gone much farther when I saw this:

metompkin-island-danger-sign best seashell beaches

This was most definitely not what I wanted to see, especially since there were no details offered. What danger? Dangerous for whom? Hubs assured me that it was for larger boats, not canoes or kayaks. Apparently the water isn’t very deep there.

I could hear a very loud but distant noise and we seemed to be moving toward it. It turned out to be the ocean, which meant we were close! I was so relieved to see the beach ahead of us! We pulled our canoe up on the land and went out to explore.

Surprise! It was worth going after all.

I couldn’t believe how many shells there were – the beach was absolutely littered with them!  It has to be one of the best seashell beaches in the mid-Atlantic, and certainly the best I had ever been on!

best seashell beaches metompkin island virginia

I told Hubs that I hoped I would find a piece of sea glass while we were there. Three steps later, I found myself looking at a spot of cobalt blue off to my left. It was roughly 2 inches square, part of an old glass Milk of Magnesia bottle.

Sadly, I didn’t find any other pieces of sea glass that day.  However, I hit the jackpot when it came to seashells, as you might have guessed. There were clam shells, oyster shells, whelk shells (at least two kinds), periwinkles, scallops, limpet shells, cockle shells, and sea snail shells. I also found some non-shell items like a mermaid’s purse and a whelk egg case.

Fortunately, Hubs thought to bring one of my extra big Thirty-one utility tote bags, because when I got out to the water I was running all over the place and picking up shells like a kid who had (a) never seen a beach and (b) had consumed a week’s worth of sugar. “Oooooohhh, look at this one,”  I’d yell, and hold it out for him to see. I wouldn’t even wait for a reaction before I’d start looking for more.

There were really big shells:

metompkin-island-big-shell best seashell beaches
Women’s size 9 flip flop shown for scale.

And there were tiny little ones:

metompkin-island-tiny-shell best seashell beaches

For some reason, I always said “Awwwww!” whenever I found a tiny one. Like it was a puppy or something.

After just an hour of combing the beach and gathering cool shells, our bag was full – and heavy:

metompkin island bag of shells best seashell beaches

We left it at the canoe and headed off in the opposite direction, determined to not pick up any more shells.

Well, that resolve faded faster than most New Year’s diets! By the time we spent another hour on the beach, all of our pockets were full, we were carrying some in our arms, and we had even filled an empty tortilla chip bag full of shells.  Clearly, it was time to leave. If we had stayed longer, we might not have had room in the canoe for us!

Yeah. It’s a little addictive.

I cleaned, dried, and sorted all of my new shells after I got home. Curious, I decided to count them too. I picked up close to 300 shells! Now, all I have to do is figure out what to do with them.  🙂

Not that a lack of ideas will keep me from going back. It’s at the top of my list for things to do once it gets warm again.

Metompkin Island is part of a 60 mile chain of barrier islands on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Some of the islands are not public lands, and regulations prohibit certain activities on the public ones. Check before you go.

National Park Service Free Admission Days for 2017

National Park Service Free Admission Days for 2017

US National Parks Free Admission Days 2017

Every year, there are specific days designated for national parks free admission. (However, it is worth noting that the admission charges are not exorbitant to begin with. Typically, national park admission runs $25-ish per car at most, and it’s good for seven days.) So, if you’re traveling near a national park in 2017, these are the days you can visit them for free:

  • January 16th: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • February 20th: Presidents’ Day
  • April 15th-16th & April 22nd-23rd: National Park Week weekends
  • August 25th: National Park Service birthday
  • September 30th: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11th-12th: Veterans Day weekend

Also, other properties in the National Park system observe the free admission days, including my personal favorite, Assateague Island National Seashore.  The National Park system totals 417 properties, at least one in every state and territory.

Because most of these days fall on a Monday or Friday, it’s the perfect opportunity for an extended weekend trip.  So what are you waiting for?  Be sure to check out a national park this year!

 

 

Beamish, Part 6: The 1900s Town – Shops

Beamish, Part 6: The 1900s Town – Shops

Part of a series of reviews on the open air living history museum in County Durham, UK. Other posts in this series are:

1 – a review of the 1940s Home Farm
2 – a review of the 1900s Pit Village 
3 – a review of the Colliery (Coal Mine)
4 – a review of Ravensworth Terrace, the residential section of the 1990s Town
5 – a review of the print shop in the 1900s Town

My favorite aspect of visiting a new place, other than photographing it, is shopping there.  I don’t mean just souvenir shopping.  I think visiting the stores in a new area gives you a special kind of insight into what daily life is like there.  Happily, the folks at Beamish agree with me on this point, so they have set up many opportunities for shopping.

A large section of the 1900s town is occupied by retail establishments.  As you might expect, they are just as authentically detailed as the rest of Beamish. For starters, there is an authentic bakery, where you can purchase Edwardian era treats.  We each got a different cookie/pastry and agreed that they were delicious.  The bakery also had a huge contraption called a “Super Human Kneader” for making bread. It would have been a newfangled piece of equipment back in the day.  Also, the bakery oven was electric – a new practice that was gaining popularity because of the ability to control the temperature.

beamish-1900s-town-bakery

The Beamish Motor & Cycle Works is the town garage.  The motor industry was still in its infancy during the early 1900s, so garages in that period typically combined the skills of a blacksmith, wheelwright, and coachbuilder.  As a result, only one person in 232 owned a car in 1913.

The showroom at the Beamish garage contains well-preserved examples of what would have been new and second hand cars, motorcycles, and bicycles.  I took a picture of this penny farthing for Hubs, since he loves bicycling:

Beamish 1900s town penny farthing bicycle garage

It seems like it wouldn’t be very comfortable, doesn’t it?

Behind the showroom, we found a workshop area filled with vintage automotive items.  My grandfather owned a service station when I was a kid and I grew up seeing a slightly more modern version of this, so I really enjoyed seeing this room.

Beamish 1900s town garage

beamish 1900s town garage

Next to the garage was the local co-op, which was akin to what we might have called a general store back in the day.  It was a store that catered to every household need from cradle to grave, sorted into three departments:  grocery, drapery, and hardware.

The grocery carried many foods in bulk and sold them by weight.  For non-bulk items, color-coded packets helped customers who could not read.  Sugar, for instance, was sold in a blue bag to make the white sugar seem brighter.  Butter came in barrels and was molded into portions using wooden pats.  Fresh foods were displayed on a slab of marble to help them stay cool.  And, of course, many items lined the shelves of the Co-Op.

Beamish 1900s town Co-Op Grocery store

The hardware department sold the household goods for indoor and outdoor use – everything from lighting, heating, cooking utensils, sports equipment, and cleaning supplies. The miners in this time period provided their own tools, and the co-op was where they bought whatever they needed.

beamish-1900s-town-co-op-hardware-store

There was also a sweet shop by the name of Jubilee Confectioners. Visitors can visit the factory in the back of the shop to see period candy-making techniques and machinery.

Beamish 1900s town candy store confectioner

Beamish probably has the best collection of sweet rollers – used to produce candies in a variety of shapes – in the country.  Some well known candies and their shapes include:

  • Pineapple Chunks – cube shaped
  • Black Bullets – bullet-like shape, hence the name
  • Blacks and Rasps – berry-shaped
  • Fish in the Sea – fish-shaped.

Beamish 1900s town candy molds sweet rollers confectioners

 

A Lesson in British Coins

Naturally, in areas where people live, work and shop, there also will be a bank.  Beamish’s 1900s town is no exception.  This is where a kind and very patient gentleman took the time to explain Britain’s former monetary system to me.  Honestly, it was baffling.  Up until 1971, when the country adopted a decimal system (1 pound = 100 pence), they used a very different system.  Brace yourselves, because I’m going to attempt to explain it.  But first, a picture of the Beamish Bank:

beamish 1900s town bank

Prior to decimalization in 1971 Britain used a system of pounds, shillings and pence (‘£sd’ or ‘LSD’).  These L-S-D abbreviations came about because of the Roman influence in ancient Britain. A pound is represented by a stylized L because the standard Roman weight was called a libra.  Likewise, pennies were represented by a D, not P, because it stood for Denarius, a Roman coin.  The S for shilling actually stood for another Roman coin, the Soldius.

The smallest unit of currency was a penny, the plural of which was pence (or pennies). There were 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound.  As a result, that makes 240 pence in a pound.  But to further complicate matters, pennies also came in fractions:

1 farthing (the lowest value coin) = 1/4 penny.  Production of farthings ended after 1960 due to inflation.
A ha’penny (half penny) = 1/2 penny.  Production of ha’pennies ceased after 1969.

Multiple pence were called & coined as follows:

Threepence or Thruppenny Bit = 3 pence (pronounced “thruppence”)
Sixpence (also called a ‘tanner‘) = 6 pence
1 shilling = 12 pence (1s)

Like pennies, shillings were also called & coined in multiples:

1 florin (a beautiful silver coin) = 2 shillings
1 half-crown = 2 1/2 shillings.  Production of half-crowns ended in 1970.
1 crown = 5 shillings = 1/4 pound

The pound came in the form of a paper bill, called a note, or a gold coin, called a sovereign.

The Royal Mint stopped producing farthings after 1956 and withdrew them from circulation in 1960 due to inflation. In preparation for decimalization, they withdrew the ha’penny from circulation in 1969, followed by the half-crown the year after.

Made from copper, a penny could also be referred to as a copper.

Made of gold from the Guinea coast of Africa, a guinea (first issued on February 6th, 1663) equalled 21 shillings (or one pound and 1 shilling) in old British money. A guinea was widely considered to be a more gentlemanly amount than £1. A gentleman paid his tailor in shillings, but his barrister in guineas.

So to sum up, here is what would have been equal to a pound in the various types of coins:

960 farthings
480 ha’pennies
240 pence
80 threepence
40 sixpence
20 shillings
10 florins
8 half-crowns
4 crowns
1 sovereign

It seems like I would have needed a cheat sheet just to conduct simple transactions!  Thank goodness the only mental math I had to do was estimate how many dollars were equal to a pound!

Beamish is located at postcode DH9 0RG in County Durham, England.  Telephone 0191 370 4000. The museum opens daily at 10:00 AM except on holidays.  Beamish recently received a £10.9 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to add a 1950s section, which should be open by 2021.

 

Beamish, Part 5: The 1900s Town – the Printer

Beamish, Part 5: The 1900s Town – the Printer

Part of a series of reviews on the open air living history museum in County Durham, UK. Other posts in this series are:

1 – a review of the 1940s Home Farm
2 – a review of the 1900s Pit Village 
3 – a review of the Colliery (Coal Mine)
4 – a review of Ravensworth Terrace, the residential section of the 1990s Town

Hands down, the Beamish printer was my favorite stop in the 1900s Town.  Located on the second floor above the newspaper office and stationer’s shop, we very nearly overlooked it. I’m so glad we didn’t!

However, the printer on the second floor was not the printer of the newspaper.  This printer produced posters, address cards, bills, and invoices. The print shop consisted of two distinct areas.  The composition side of the operations focused on creating the material (layout and design).The machining side focused on printing the images onto paper.

The Beamish printer operated several nineteenth century printing presses.  The Columbian Press, a very large and ornate machine invented in the US in 1813 was the oldest and biggest.  It worked by a series of levers.

Beamish printer 1900s town print shop living history
The Columbian Press, built in 1837

An 1863 Albion Press, which was the English version of the Columbian Press, also stands in the Beamish print shop. The Albion became more popular than the Columbia because of its lighter weight, simple action, and strength of impression.

The Arab Platen Press, built around 1900, started off as foot operated but was later adapted to include an electric motor.  With the motor, it was capable of churning out 1000 copies per hour.  Finally, the Wharfdale Flat Bed Press came along around 1870. It was best suited for small runs of printed material.

The gentleman working in the print shop the day we were there took obvious pleasure in telling visitors about the workings of the 1900s print shop.  He was fascinating!  He told us that it was not easy work – often requiring very long hours and physically demanding tasks.  Apprentices to the trade would start working in the shop around age 14.  Once they had put in seven years of working five and a half days per week, their training was complete. However, printers received a good rate of pay in comparison to other working class jobs.  Most earned a fixed rate plus a small rate per piece.

Looking around the shop at the composition side, I saw so many papers and letters and drawers.  Part of me just wanted to sit down and spend an hour or two checking everything out.

Beamish printer 1900s town print shop living history

beamish printer 1900s town print shop living history

beamish printer 1900s town print shop living history
A poster for a Christmas event at Beamish.

We received a brief introduction to the presses in the shop and were told about what the work was like back then.  Afterwards, it got even more interesting as the Beamish printer described how so many English phrases derived from print shop lingo.  For instance:

  • Letter blocks were stored in cases. The capitals went in the upper cases and the non-capitals went in the cases below.  This is why we speak of uppercase and lowercase letters.
  • If you’ve ever been told to mind your Ps and Qs, you know you should pay special attention to your behavior.  Not only are the lowercase letters p and q very similar in appearance, they are also stored in close proximity to each other. Therefore, typesetters had to take special care to make sure they did not mix up the letters.
  • Bodies of type filled a wooden frame, where an object called a quoin held them in place.  When you set the type and locked the words in place, you had “coined a phrase.”
  • In the UK the phrase “not the full shilling” describes someone who is stupid or crazy.  This phrase is linked to William Caxton, who pioneered the printing press in Britain.  He cast type to the height of an English shilling, so anything under that was “not the full shilling.”
  • The first powered printing press was installed to print The [London] Times in 1814. Because of the speed with which it could print, other newspapers needed to “keep up with The Times.”

If you go to Beamish, make sure you don’t overlook the print shop.  It’s easy to miss, but I’m sure you will find that it’s one of the most fascinating places in the 1900s town!

Beamish is located at postcode DH9 0RG in County Durham, England.  Telephone 0191 370 4000. Open daily at 10:00 AM except holidays.   Beamish recently received a £10.9 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to add a 1950s section, which should be open by 2021.

 

 

Beamish, Part 4: The 1900s Town – Ravensworth Terrace

Beamish, Part 4: The 1900s Town – Ravensworth Terrace

Part of a series of reviews on the open air living history museum in County Durham, UK. Other posts in this series are:

1 – a review of the 1940s Home Farm
2 – a review of the 1900s Pit Village 
3 – a review of the Colliery (Coal Mine)

When we arrived at Beamish, we weren’t quite sure where to start, so we hopped on the first transport we saw and decided to disembark wherever it took us.  Have I mentioned the transportation at Beamish?  It’s authentic too!  Check out two of the vehicles we got to ride while we were there:

streetcar beamish ravensworth terrace 1900s town

Beamish ravensworth terrace 1900s town

And so it turned out that the first place the transport took us was the 1900s Town.  It was so magnificently done and there was so much to look at that I really wish we had saved it for last instead of heading there first.  I’m going to have to break this portion of our visit down into more than one blog post because I have so many wonderful pictures to share with you.

Today we’re looking at the residential portion of the town, Ravensworth Terrace.  The homes there are two-story attached row homes.  They were originally built in Gateshead for professional people and tradesmen between 1830 and 1845.  Due to be demolished in the 1970s, Beamish saved six of them, then had them dismantled and rebuilt as part of their 1900s town site.

ravensworth terrace row homes beamish 1900s town

The Dentist at Work

First, we visited Nos. 3 & 4 Ravensworth Terrace, the home (and office) of the town Dentist.  It was not at all uncommon in that era for dentists to operate their practice out of their homes.

A costumed young lady in the dentist’s office told us about the dental practices of the day.  Most of all, we were struck by the tradition of families paying to have all of their daughter’s teeth pulled at age 21 and dentures made to replace them.  This made the young lady a better “catch” as it would spare her future husband the expense of having to buy her dentures when she got older.  It seems barbaric, but this practice actually continued into the 1950s.

ravensworth terrace dentist 1900s town beamish
One of the old sets of dentures on display at the dentist’s office.

There were plenty of dental artifacts in there for us to look at… so many that at times I did not even know what I was looking at.

ravensworth terrace beamish dentist 1900s town
The technician’s room, used for preparation of dentures.

ravensworth terrace dentist beamish 1900s town

The dentist was also there, but he was content to sit while his assistant talked to us.

ravensworth terrace beamish dentist 1900s town
The Beamish dentist, chillin’ by the window.

(There was an issue that day with the wind blowing smoke from the fire back into the room, hence the fuzziness on  the left side of this picture.)

After a while, the dentist answered some questions for us as well.  Here you can see him standing behind some of the equipment.  The dental patient’s chair (amazingly similar to its 2016 counterpart) is to the left, behind a tray of tools.  The contraption on the right side of the picture is a gas apparatus for anesthesia (dentists used a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen).

dentist ravensworth terrace 1900s town beamish

The Dentist at Home

From there we moved on to the dentist’s home, which was right next door. Seems like the dentist was doing quite well for himself! His house had some very modern features for the time period. Most noteworthy was the bathroom.  An entire room dedicated to bathing and other personal matters!

bathroom dentist ravensworth terrace beamish 1900s town

Did you notice how PRETTY that toilet is?  My word!  I had to zoom in and get a better look.

beamish toilet ravensworth terrace 1900s town dentist home bathroom

Also, the fact that it flushed was quite a novelty then.

My favorite room in the dentist’s residence was the children’s room.  I loved seeing all the playthings.  It really looked lived in – as if they had just stepped out a moment before we arrived.

ravensworth terrace dentist home beamish 1900s town

ravensworth terrace dentist home tea party beamish 1900s town

ravensworth terrace dollhouse dentist home 1900s town

The Music Teacher

When we left the dentist’s place, we realized we had overlooked No. 2 Ravensworth Terrace, the home of the music teacher.  The teacher was an unmarried woman and, since her home was decorated in mid-Victorian furnishings, it seemed like she was a spinster who inherited the house from her parents. I only got this one photo:

music-teacher-house ravensworth terrace beamish 1900s town

The Solicitor

Finally, before concluding our tour of Ravensworth Terrace, we visited the solicitor’s office.  Due to all the shelves full of books, and the stacks of papers on the desk, this was my favorite room.  It felt like the lawyer had just stepped out and would return at any moment.

solicitor office ravensworth terrace beamish 1900s town

So, that’s a look at the homes of Ravensworth Terrace. Next, I’ll be writing about the 1900s town’s businesses.

Beamish is located at postcode DH9 0RG in County Durham, England.  Telephone 0191 370 4000. Open daily at 10:00 AM except holidays.   Beamish recently received a £10.9 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to add a 1950s section, which should be open by 2021.

 

Beamish, Part 3: The Colliery

Beamish, Part 3: The Colliery

Part of a series of reviews on the open air living history museum in County Durham, UK. Other posts in this series are:

1 – a review of the 1940s Home Farm
2 – a review of the 1900s Pit Village 

I confess, I had no idea what a colliery was, so I Googled it when we arrived at Beamish. Google informed me that a colliery consists of “a coal mine and the buildings and equipment associated with it.” How interesting!  I had never seen a coal mine before.

As previously mentioned in Part 2, coal mining was a big industry in northeastern England at the beginning of the 20th century. Coal mined in the Northumberland/Durham areas supplied about 1/4 of the country’s need. Peak production was in 1913, when over 165,000 men and boys worked in 304 Durham coal mines. It was not easy work, nor was it always safe. In 1913, more than 1000 miners died. One miner was killed or injured every five minutes.

We started off in the lamp cabin.  Each miner had a token bearing his number (also called a colliery check). He would hand the token to the manager and receive a safety lamp in exchange for it. The manager would then hang the token on a tally board, showing who was at work in the mine. In the event of a fire or explosion, the tokens served to inform rescue services of how many men were in the mine at the time.

colliery lamps coal mine beamish living history museum
The sign reads, in part, “Spitting in the lamp cabin is prohibited.”

The Beamish Colliery includes the Mahogany Drift coal mine, which originally opened in 1855.

beamish colliery mahogany drift coal mine entrance
Entrance to Mahogany Drift Mine

A drift coal mine is one that does not go straight down deep into the earth but rather runs underground at a slight angle and does not go very deep. We were actually allowed to enter the coal mine and see what it was like, but not without donning hard hats. Safety first!

colliery hard hat coal mine beamish living history museum

Once inside the coal mine, it did not take long to imagine what conditions must have been like for the miners. To say that there wasn’t much space would be an understatement. Miners often had to work laying on their backs or sides while chipping away at the coal seam. When our guide turned off the light in the area we visited, “dark” doesn’t quite seem adequate to describe it. There was NO light whatsoever, no reflections, not even a glimmer. Then there was the dampness. We splashed through little puddles on the way to the work site. Our guide told us that miners often had to lay in a few inches of water while they worked. Cold, cramped, dark and damp: these are not conditions in which I would want to spend hours at a time.

The Beamish Colliery was a great way to experience and learn what working conditions may have been like for working class men 100+ years ago. It was a very informative and educational visit.

Beamish is located at postcode DH9 0RG in County Durham, England. Telephone 0191 370 4000. Open daily at 10:00 AM except holidays. Beamish recently received a £10.9 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to add a 1950s section, which should be open by 2021.