Tag: Historic Sites

A Review of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, NYC

A Review of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, NYC

On our most recent trip to New York, we had a few hours to kill while my daughter and her friend went to see Dear Evan Hansen. There were any number of fun things we could have done – Gulliver’s Gate, Spyscape, Madame Tussaud’s, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty… I could go on and on. But rather than do something fun, we decided to do something important instead: The 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

I’ve wanted (and simultaneously not wanted) to visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum ever since it opened in 2014. However, our trips to NYC usually left us with not enough time to fit it in. This time, we made it a priority.

Entering the 9/11 Memorial Plaza

As we approached the World Trade Center site, the first thing we saw was the new building – One World Trade Center. It was beautiful, not just in its appearance but also in what it represented: the determination to persevere after tragedy.

9/11 Memorial & Museum in NYC - One World Trade Center

Impressive, isn’t it? It stands (including the spire) at 1776 feet tall,
the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and sixth tallest in the world. The height is not a coincidence; it was chosen to symbolize the independent spirit of America.

The new building is located on the site of the former 6 World Trade Center, heavily damaged in the 2001 attacks.

A one acre pool with the largest man-made waterfalls in the United States now stands on each footprint of the Twin Towers. Known collectively as Reflecting Absence, they symbolize both the loss of life and the physical void left by the attacks. The waterfalls drown out the sounds of the city, making this an ideal space for contemplation. A bronze ledge surrounding each pool bears the names of 2983 people – those who died in the September 11, 2001 attacks and the previous World Trade Center bombing of 1993.

9/11 Memorial & Museum in NYC - the names of those who lost their lives surround the pools where the towers once stood.

The museum is housed in a strange looking building meant to resemble a partially collapsed building. Mostly glass, both clear and reflective, configured at odd angles.

9/11 Memorial & Museum in NYC - the pavilion over the museum was meant to resemble a partially collapsed building.

Inside the 9/11 Museum

Once you enter the museum and pass through security, you start to get an inkling of (or remember) the enormity of the events that day. One of the first things we saw was the flag that was raised at Ground Zero.

On the day of the attacks, a firefighter saw the flag flying on a yacht in the nearby Hudson River basin. He cut the yardarm off the boat and took it to an evacuation site at Ground Zero. There, he and two other firefighters raised it over the rubble. A reporter captured the moment and from that point forward, it became an iconic and enduring image.

To so many people, the three firefighters raising this flag on September 11, 2001, symbolized the resilience of our nation. It also seemed an act of defiance to our attackers – telling them, in effect, “You cannot break us.”

After viewing the flag, we proceeded downstairs into the dark exhibit halls. The farther down we went, the quieter it got. We came upon a map of the mid-Atlantic region, or home, to me. It showed the location of the four terrorist-hijacked airplanes at the time of their crashes. The following two-paragraph summary accompanied the map, with September 11, 2001 spelled out in big letters overhead.

It struck me as odd that such large scale destruction and loss of life could be so easily summed up.

We also saw the rough slurry wall:

A section of the slurry wall left exposed at the 9/11 memorial and museum in NYC.

If, like me, you have no idea what a slurry wall is, or why it would be significant in this place, allow me to share what I have since learned. A slurry wall is a reinforced concrete wall in areas of soft earth that are close to open water.  Its purpose is to keep water out and support the building from beneath. The building above the slurry wall (one of the Twin Towers) collapsed like a house of cards. When it did, the slurry wall could have caved in, resulting in a flooded lower Manhattan. But, thankfully, the wall held.

Of Tears and Twisted Metal

As we wandered through the space, we saw huge pieces of twisted metal hanging against the concrete walls. In a different setting, they could have been works of modern art. But here, they were a grim reminder of the force of destruction and lives lost. When destruction twists a steel beam into a grotesque shape, how could something as fragile as a human body possibly survive?

A twisted piece of metal from the Twin Towers on display at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum

Looking at these items in person put me in a contemplative, somber mood. It wasn’t until I emerged on a balcony overlooking the lower level, however, that I began to tear up and cry.

"No Day Shall Erase You from the Memory of Time" wall at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in NYC

Amid tiles in various shades of blue, Virgil’s quote from The Aeneid overwhelmed me with emotion. “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” Not only is it a beautiful promise to remember the victims of the attacks, it is a memorial in itself. The letters were made from World Trade Center steel. The sign describing the display said:

“Originally trained as a blacksmith, [New Mexico artist Tom] Joyce was invited to harness the transformative process that occurs when iron is touched by fire. He took wounded, remnant steel – made of iron and carbon – and forged it, by heating and folding, into letters of beauty. The result reminds us that Virgil’s words are not just a statement; they are a promise.”

The Exhibition and Education Level

We went down to the lower level and saw, among other things, a portion of the “Survivors’ Staircase,” which came from an evacuation route used by many people on the day of the attacks. In the months and years following September 11, the staircase was the last remaining structure above ground level.

We also saw the remains of the box columns that provided structural support for the World Trade Center buildings. We saw part of a radio/TV antenna and a crumpled piece of shiny metal bearing an inscription from the World Trade Center Dedication Day in 1973. But it wasn’t until we turned and I saw the fire truck from Ladder Company 3 that I gasped.

The twisted metal of a fire truck from Ladder Company 3 at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in NYC

Fire trucks, as any preschooler can tell you, are big, magnificent machines. They are red and shiny, loud and fast. They are strong, just like the men who ride in them. In a word, they are invincible.

Yet the fire truck before me had none of those characteristics. Its ladder more closely resembled the plastic-coated wire tie that you find on a loaf of bread. Bent doors on the side of the truck hung at odd angles, like an injured athlete’s broken arm.

A volunteer stood nearby to tell us the story of the truck and its captain. The truck, she explained, carried eleven responders, some of whom had just gone off duty after completing overnight shifts, to the WTC site. It was 8:46 when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower. By 9:21, the members of Ladder Company 3 had reached the 35th floor.

In his last recorded transmission, Ladder Company 3 Captain Patrick “Paddy” Brown stated, “We are still heading up”. When the building collapsed a little over an hour later, all eleven members of the company perished.

The Historical Exhibition

The guide finished by telling us that we could see the historical exhibit across from the fire engine. No photos are allowed in that part of the museum, so I have none to share. But I will do my best to tell you about it because it was the most thorough and interesting part of the museum.

The exhibit made use of video clips that looped on continuous playback on monitors. There we saw Matt Lauer reporting on the attacks from the Today Show set. We saw footage of the plane hitting the building. We saw footage of the towers collapsing. And hidden away in an alcove so sensitive visitors would not have to see it if they did not want to, we even saw the clips of people jumping to their deaths from the Twin Towers to avoid the slow and inevitable death they were facing inside the building.

It was almost too much to bear. Because instead of sitting in my office watching the events of the day unfold real time with my coworkers as I did on 9/11, this time I was immersed in it. I was a spectator, surrounded by the chaos and confusion and the fear and the overwhelming sadness of it all. And rather than having time to slowly let it all sink in, I was witnessing it all at once, as if time had somehow sped up. It was brutal.

The historical exhibit also examined what happened before the attacks. I saw redacted copies of government correspondence suggesting that an attack was imminent, and urging action in response. It made me angry. Why didn’t anyone take it seriously?

And I saw exhibits on what happened after the attack. The clean up, the search for people who were missing, the nation coming together united as it has never done since. And, eventually, the re-building, and the hope for the future.

In Memoriam

Moving on from the historical exhibit to a quiet, somber, and dimly lit room, you can see portraits of all of the people who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 and in the 1993 World Trade Center attack: men and women. Latino and African-American, Asian and White. Young and old and middle aged. People who earned six figures and those who earned minimum wage. Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist. Death is the great equalizer.

I looked for Juan Garcia’s photo. I never knew him, but I wrote about him on my old mommy blog as part of a 5 year anniversary blogger project. Seeing his picture on the wall made me feel sad. I can only imagine what it must be like for those who lost someone they knew personally.

In Conclusion

If you have an opportunity to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, you should. It is important to remind ourselves of how good this country can be when we stand united. It is equally important to remind ourselves of the ripple effect that senseless acts of violence can have on society. So go. And when you do, please come back here and tell me how it affected you. I’d love to hear about your experience. Maybe the more we talk about, the more we can do to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.

9/11 Memorial and Museum - pinnable image
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My Notre Dame Cathedral Tour: 11 Days Before the Fire

My Notre Dame Cathedral Tour: 11 Days Before the Fire

On Monday, April 15, I returned to work after taking nearly two weeks off for my first solo trip – to Paris. I emailed my co-workers to let them know that I had brought a box of Parisian chocolates and some other souvenir trinkets for them.

Around mid-day, one co-worker emailed me back. He wasn’t in the office but had checked his work email from home. Did you hear about what is happening in Paris? he wanted to know.

I had no idea what was going on in Paris, so I Googled it. And my mouth fell open when I saw the news that Notre Dame Cathedral was on fire. Nothing could have prepared me to see the iconic church set ablaze while millions watched, helpless. Especially since I had been there just eleven days earlier.

But that wasn’t my first time visiting Notre Dame cathedral…

1984: My First Notre Dame Cathedral Tour

Notre Dame Cathedral Tour 1984 - I thought I was heading to the toilet and ended up atop the cathedral.

This photo was taken in April 1984, when I took a trip to Paris with our high school’s French Club. Now, I wasn’t studying French… I was taking Spanish. But they needed extra people to go on the trip, and because my Spanish teacher considered me “gifted” with foreign languages, I got to go. Even though the only French I knew was basically “oui” and “non.”

Part of the pre-departure lecture my parents gave me was to make sure that I got lots of pictures of me in front of “French things”. At the time I rolled my eyes and thought that was just silly. However, I’m glad I followed their instructions. This picture alone is worth it. Here’s why:

It was our first day in Paris and we attended mass at Notre Dame cathedral. Jet lagged and confused by all the French (or maybe it was Latin – I couldn’t tell), I nearly fell asleep during the service. When it ended, the teacher ushered us outside and began speaking to us in French. I’d venture to guess that everyone knew what she was saying except for me. I assumed by the vigorous head nodding and enthusiastic responses of “oui!” that she had asked if anyone needed to go to the bathroom. I certainly did! So I too nodded my head and said “oui” like everyone else.

Off we marched, back inside the cathedral, up a stone staircase that twisted and turned. Up, up, up. Imagine my surprise when we emerged not near a public bathroom, but at the top of the cathedral!

So, dutiful to my parents’ instructions, I had a friend snap this picture. I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m sneering a little because (a) I still needed to go pee, (b) I’m afraid of heights, and (c) the gargoyles were really quite creepy. For the rest of my time in Paris, I made sure that I understood the question before I said, “oui.”

35 Years Later…

On this trip to Paris, I flew from Newark NJ to Zurich and then from Zurich to Paris. Unfortunately, my luggage stopped in Zurich and didn’t accompany me to the City of Lights.

I usually travel with only a carry on – a practice to which I will now return! – and I was at a loss as to how to proceed without all of my stuff. The way I saw it, I had two options. I could hole up in my Airbnb and stay there until the courier brought my luggage. Or I could get over the jet lag, then go ahead and see the sights as I had originally planned.

After a two hour nap and a bit of a meltdown with an emotional call to Hubs at home, I decided upon the second option. After all, I had a plan for every day of my trip and missing one day would throw all of my other plans off kilter.

The next morning, I awoke rested and determined to not let a thing like missing luggage derail my vacation. After getting a call that my luggage would arrive around 2:00 in the afternoon, I headed off to see Sainte Chapelle, Notre Dame, and the Deportation Memorial. All were located on Île de la Cité, one of two islands in the Seine River in Paris.

I’ll cover Sainte Chapelle and the Deportation Memorial in separate blog posts. Today, in light of the devastating fire that recently took place, I want to focus on Notre Dame Cathedral.

2019: My Second Notre Dame Cathedral Tour

Almost as soon as I arrived, the bells of Notre Dame started ringing:

As you can see, it was a beautiful day – all blue skies and sunshine. I stood outside the cathedral and took in all of the amazing architectural details.

Thought to be on the former site of a Roman temple to Jupiter, Notre Dame Cathedral has stood in Paris for over 850 years. Until the completion of the Eiffel Tower in 1889, the massive towers of Notre Dame were the tallest structure in the city of Paris (226 feet high).

I wish I could find a statistic for how many figures are carved into the stone facade of this amazing piece of Gothic architecture. Let’s just say a lot. But there’s a good reason for that. The cathedral is an example of a liber pauperum, or a “poor people’s book”, covered with sculptures that vividly illustrate biblical stories. During the era in which the cathedral was built, the vast majority of parishioners were illiterate. The only way they could learn about biblical stories was by looking at the figures carved into the church building.

For instance, if you face the towers of the cathedral, you will find above the middle doorway a vivid portrayal of the Final Judgment:

Notre Dame Cathedral Tour - the iconography of the central portal shows a vivid depiction of the Final Judgment.

Jesus sits on his throne in Heaven. Beneath his feet there are two figures holding scales. On the left is the archangel Michael; on the right, Satan. Each side of the scale holds a person whose life is being judged. Those who have been condemned are being led away by a demon on the right hand side.

The stained glass windows at Notre Dame are just beautiful. There are three circular “rose” windows, and the one on the west facade over the Final Judgment scene is the smallest. That said, the window still measures over 31 feet in diameter. From the outside of the church, you can see three figures in front of the rose window: the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus, and an angel on either side of her.

My Notre Dame Cathedral Tour - The Virgin Mary and two angels stand in front of the cathedral's smallest rose window on the western facade.

Below the window you will find statues of the 28 kings of Judah in “The Gallery of Kings”. During the French Revolution, rebels thought that the statues represented the kings of France. As a result, the angry French citizens lobbed off the heads of the statues. Fortunately, the statues have been restored, and you can see some of the old heads at the Cluny Museum in Paris.

While I stood there admiring the cathedral’s exterior, I started to notice some odd details that I might have overlooked if I hadn’t paused to take it all in. For instance, this poor fellow:

When taking a Notre Dame Cathedral tour, be sure to study the figures carved on the outside of the building.
I’m not sure who this king is, but a much larger man is standing on him!

Inside the Cathedral

As stunning as the outside of Notre Dame is, though, its real beauty lies within.

As with most Gothic cathedrals, Notre Dame has chapels on each side of the building. These alcoves, dedicated to saints, can hold some of the most beautiful artwork found inside the church building. For instance, a memorial to the 14th century heroine, Joan of Arc:

Notre Dame Cathedral tour - statue of Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc)
Statue of Joan of Arc

I especially liked this memorial, dedicated to Denis Auguste Affre, the Archbishop of Paris from 1840 to 1848. The phrase inscribed above his head translates to “May my blood be the last shed”.

Memorial to Denis Auguste Affre

Affre was led to believe that his personal involvement in the June Days uprising of 1848 could lead to peace between the French military and the insurgents. Mounting the military’s barricade, he waved a branch as a symbol of peace and began to speak. Insurgents heard some shots and suspected a betrayal, so they opened fire upon the National Guard. A stray bullet hit Affre, and he died two days later.

In another spot, there was a model depicting the construction of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Notre Dame cathedral tour - model of cathedral's construction

The 14th century wall separating the choir from the main walkway of Notre Dame was decorated with stunning detail.

This scene shows Jesus with the apostles. the inscription, in Latin, says “Christ appears to the Apostles near Lake Tiberias” (Lake Tiberias = the Sea of Galilee). This scene constituted only a small portion of the scenes depicting the life of Jesus.

One massive piece of statuary that caught my eye was the mausoleum of the Earl of Harcourt:

Cancre [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Note that there are four figure here. An angel carelessly holding a torch, a woman kneeling as if pleading to someone, a man who appears to be coming out of a coffin, and a hooded skeleton holding an hourglass in his bony hand.

I read that this memorial’s name/theme was Conjugal Meeting. The angel has lifted the lid on the Count’s sarcophagus, and he has risen. The skeleton, AKA Death, is holding an hourglass to symbolize that the Countess’ time has come. The Countess is reaching out toward her husband and Death as if she is ready to join them. (She outlived her husband by ten and a half years.) It was beautiful and tragic all at the same time.

On a Notre Dame Cathedral tour, be sure to look for the three rose windows of stained glass.
The South Rose Window, one of three in Notre Dame Cathedral.

The south rose window was constructed in 1260, and most of the original thirteenth century stained glass is still intact, even after last week’s tragic fire. Larger than the west rose window that I wrote about earlier, this one measures more than 42 feet across. Unlike the north rose window, which features Old Testament prophets and kings, this one is dedicated to the New Testament.

The center medallion features Jesus reigning as King in Heaven. The sixteen panels beneath the south rose window feature the prophets of the Bible. The four center panels depict the great Old Testament prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel) carrying the four New Testament evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) on their shoulders.

From outside the cathedral, the south rose window looks like this:

A Notre Dame Cathedral tour offers glimpses of the church's three rose windows - from inside and outside the building.
The south end of Notre Dame’s transept, featuring the south rose window.

You can see the church spire sticking up above the roof in this photo. Sadly, the spire was completely destroyed by the fire.

At the very back of the Cathedral, I found a small area with the most venerated holy relic in France: the Crown of Thorns.

The Crown of Thorns display, as seen on my Notre Dame Cathedral Tour

The crown of thorns, worn by Jesus at the time of his crucifixion, has been in the possession of the French since 1238, when the Emperor of Constantinople gave it to King Louis IX.

King Louis IX had the cathedral of Sainte Chapelle built to receive and hold the crown of thorns and other holy relics. The crown stayed at Sainte Chapelle until the French Revolution, at which point authorities hid it at a different location. From 1806 until the fire, it was located in Notre Dame cathedral.

The reliquary holding the crown of thorns is in the case that you see between the candles in the above picture. A semi-translucent sheet of bright red material (resembling a cascade of blood) hangs over it. Through it, you can just make out the circular outline of the reliquary.

Inside the reliquary, the crown of thorns is actually thorn-less. Some 70 thorns were removed and distributed to holy sites across the world over the centuries, leaving just a band of rushes for this reliquary. One of the thorns was inside the rooster that sat atop the Notre Dame spire. The day after the fire, someone found the rooster in the rubble … dented but intact.

On the first Friday of every month at 3:00 p.m., the time of Jesus’ death, the faithful attend a special “veneration of the crown” church service.

Conclusion

The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral was certainly tragic, but it could have been much worse. I am so thankfully that I was able to see the beautiful building and all of its treasures before the fire took place. I am looking forward to the day when I hear that the cathedral has been fully restored and rebuilt. Until then, I will cherish the memories of my Notre Dame Cathedral Tour!

Historic Annapolis Maryland & the State House

Historic Annapolis Maryland & the State House

Why You Should Visit the State House in Historic Annapolis Maryland:

Dating to 1772, the Maryland State House in Annapolis is the oldest state capitol building still in continuous legislative use in the USA. It housed the Continental Congress, and is the only state house to have ever served as our national capitol. It is such a significant symbol of Maryland’s history that it appears on the “tails” side of Maryland’s state quarter.

But that’s not the only thing that makes it special, and worth checking out if you travel to historic Annapolis. Here are some other reasons.

The Architecture & Grounds

The brick building consists of two stories constructed in the Georgian style, with large symmetrical windows. An imposing set of steps and a columned portico provide an dramatic entrance to the building.

The State House in Historic Annapolis Maryland
Photo courtesy of Kevin Galens by CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The dome of the Maryland State House is the largest wooden dome in the United States. Constructed of  cypress wood, the dome has eight sides. The dome was constructed without nails, held together instead by wooden pegs reinforced by iron straps. The dome differs from many similar structures in that it actually has a balcony from which the city can be seen. The story goes that in 1790, Thomas Jefferson spent three hours on the balcony with James Madison and two other men, one of whom entertained them with the gossip related to each of the houses they could see from their perch above the town.

A lightning rod built and grounded according to the specifications of Benjamin Franklin sits atop the State House.  It has been protecting the building for over 225 years! The use of the Benjamin Franklin lightning rod could be interpreted not just as a precautionary measure, but also as a political statement, symbolizing the independence and ingenuity of our young nation.

The Dome of the State House in Historic Annapolis Maryland
(public domain photo)

The grounds feature a statue of Baltimore native and former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Justice Marshall was the first African-American to serve on that high court.

The Old Treasury Building, built in 1735, also stands on the grounds of the State House. It is the oldest public building in Annapolis. Currently, the building is closed to visitors as it undergoes extensive historic preservation and archaeological investigations. When it reopens, it will contain exhibits relating to its history and that of 17th century Maryland.

The Old Senate Chamber

The Old Senate Chamber of the State House in Historic Annapolis Maryland
Photo courtesy of Bestbudbrian [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons
The Old Senate Chamber served as the meeting room for the Continental Congress from November 1783 to August 1784. Two future presidents – Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe – participated in those meetings.

Also in this room, two days before Christmas 1783, General George Washington resigned his commission as commander in chief of the continental army. The State House Rotunda includes a display of Washington’s copy of the speech, which historians consider the fourth most important document in American history. Why? Because it set the precedent of the military being under civilian authority. A bronze statue of George Washington is placed where it is believed that he stood to deliver his address to Congress. Washington is depicted in the emotional moment when he was compelled to steady his handwritten speech with both hands.

Above, in the upstairs gallery overlooking the room, you will find a resin statue of Molly Ridout. The gallery was the only place where women could view the proceedings of Congress and the Maryland Senate. Molly witnessed the resignation and authored one of the only written accounts of the event.

The walls of this room also bore witness to the ratification of the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the Revolutionary War in 1784.

The Caucus Room

The State House Caucus Room houses most of a 48-piece silver service from the armored cruiser USS Maryland. The pieces in the set show 167 scenes from Maryland history. Each piece focuses on one of Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City.

In addition to the silver, the Caucus Room contains portraits of nine former Maryland Governors,and historical furniture.

The Old House of Delegates Room

The exhibits in the Old House of Delegates Room center around the expansion of rights in Maryland during the 19th century. For instance, during this time period Jews were given the right to hold public office and slavery was abolished in the state.

Visit the State House in historic Annapolis, Maryland and see Francis Blackwell Mayer's The Burning of the Peggy Stewart
The Burning of the Peggy Stewart (public domain photo)

One painting in this room, The Burning of the Peggy Stewart, depicts the Annapolis protest over tea importation that took place in 1774, prior to the American Revolution.

The Archives Room

The Archives Room houses a portrait of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, otherwise known as the Marquis de Lafayette. Fans of the Hamilton musical will recall that Lafayette was “America’s favorite fighting Frenchman”. He served as a major-general in the Continental Army under George Washington and became his close friend. Lafayette made several trips to Annapolis both during and after the war. In 1784, in gratitude for his service, Maryland named Lafayette and his male heirs natural-born citizens of the state.

The Annex

The more modern (1902-1905) addition to the original State House is referred to as The Annex. The Annex is the part of the building that houses the current Senate and House of Delegates chambers. Each chamber contains a distinctive black and gold marble to represent the black and gold colors of the Maryland flag. Both chambers also feature skylights made by the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

The Maryland Senate Chamber of the State House in historic Annapolis Maryland
Senate Chamber By Irteagle102704 of English Wikipedia – self-taken photo by the author, Public Domain

Woven into the Senate chamber’s carpet is the state seal of 1648.

The House of Delegates Chamber at the State House in historic Annapolis Maryland
House of Delegates Chamber By Irteagle102704 of English Wikipedia – self-taken photo by the author, Public Domain

A line of black limestone with fossils dating to 450 million years ago separates the annex from the original State House. A large marble staircase, called the Grand Staircase, leads up to the second floor, where the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and other staff offices are located. The observation galleries for both houses of the Maryland government are also located on the second floor. The most important feature of the grand staircase is the 1858 painting of Washington Resigning His Commission, by Edwin White:

Washington Resigning his Commission by Edwin White, depicting one of the most famous events to take place at the State House in historic Annapolis Maryland.
Washington Resigning His Commission by Edwin White [Public domain]

To Visit the State House:

If you’re in Annapolis, the State House is surely a must-see. It’s open to visitors from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm every day of the year except Christmas and New Years Day. Visitors may take a self-guided tour with information available in the Office of Interpretation on the first floor. Alternatively, specialized curatorial tours of the building and its artwork can be arranged by appointment by calling 410-260-6445.

Please note that security measures are in place for all state buildings in the Annapolis complex. Visitors must show a picture ID for entrance. Other security measures include metal detectors and bag searches.

 

Header & pinterest image photo via Flickr by Dougtone.

 

Must See in historic Annapolis Maryland - the State House
A Post-Election Celebration: Return Day in Georgetown, Delaware

A Post-Election Celebration: Return Day in Georgetown, Delaware

The tiny town of Georgetown, Delaware (population 6000) has a special holiday every election year called Return Day. In many ways, it’s a holiday the whole nation could learn from.

What is Return Day?

Dating back as far as perhaps 1792, Return Day came about after a law moved the Sussex County Delaware seat from the coastal town of Lewes to a more geographically centered site, Georgetown. That same law required all citizens to cast their votes in Georgetown on election day. Two days later, voters  could return to Georgetown to hear the official results of the election.

Voting districts were established in 1811, eliminating the need for a central polling & results location. And today’s technology enables us to know who won within hours of the polls closing. However, the tradition of meeting two days later in Georgetown to announce the final vote tally has continued for over 200 years. It has even achieved the status of state holiday, with government offices in the county closing for the afternoon.

Return Day is celebrated every election year in Georgetown, Delaware.

What Happens on Return Day?

The festivities start with a concert and a traditional free ox roast in the town circle. Like most local festivals, Return Day features food vendors, competitions, musical entertainment, arts and crafts, and  so on.

The candidates – winners and losers from both parties – ride in horse drawn carriages or antique cars in a parade through town and around the town circle.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has participated in Delaware's Return Day tradition more than once.
Former Vice President (and Delaware Senator) Joe Biden has participated in the Return Day celebration more than once.

As the parade draws to and end, the ceremonies open with the national anthem, followed by an invocation and opening remarks by the mayor of Georgetown. Then – can you believe it? – a town crier reads the election results.

On Return Day in Georgetown, Delaware, the town crier reads the results of the elections.

The chairmen of the political parties (Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, and Independent) in Sussex County then partake in a ceremonial burying the hatchet. They meet on stage, clutch a hatchet and together plunge it into a box of sand. Even the sand has symbolic significance, as it’s from the original county seat of Lewes. When party leaders bury the hatchet, that signifies the end of the political competition.

Following the ceremony, all attendees receive a free open pit roast beef sandwich. Another tradition for Return Day is the ox roast and, well, if you’re going to roast an ox, you might as well share it with your neighbors.

Why Talk About Return Day?

In a political environment that seems to get nastier and more divisive each year, there’s a lot we can learn from this little town in Delaware. On Return Day, political opponents come together and symbolically bury the hatchet, signifying the end of their competition, no matter how antagonistic it may have gotten. Additionally, the election is officially declared as finished business.

What’s the bigger message here? Once the election is over, it’s over. Let’s put the nastiness behind us, roll up our collective sleeves, and get to work at fixing the problems that face us.

The next Return Day will be held in Georgetown on November 5, 2020.

Return Day - a unique post-election celebration in Georgetown Delaware.
My Travel Planning Process

My Travel Planning Process

How to Plan for an Amazing Trip (My Way)

I recently found a great airfare deal and booked myself a ticket to Paris. Just me. No one else. This is my first ever solo trip, and I’m a little nervous but also very excited. Okay, considering that I don’t really speak French, I’ma lot nervous. But in the words of Dr. Sheldon Cooper, “If there were a list of things that make me more comfortable, lists would be on the top of that list.” So I’m making a lot of lists in preparation for my trip.

Travel Planning Process: How I'm planning my first ever solo trip to Paris.

As I dive into doing this trip 100% my way for 100% me, I thought it might be helpful to show you what my travel planning process looks like.  But first, a disclaimer: I am a highly structured, type A, over-planning kind of person, even on vacation. If you prefer to be a little less organized more spontaneous than me, you might want to follow this guide loosely and omit anything that seems like it might be too much effort.

Step 1: Have No Destination or Date in Mind

travel planning process - if possible, and to save money, start out being flexible on destination or dates

Yes, you heard it here first. The best plan starts by having no plan. Amazing vacations often present themselves as unanticipated opportunities in the form of cheap airfare. When you choose your destination or dates first, you lose a lot of flexibility in how much you will need to spend. My family and I have flown from Baltimore to both Peru and Iceland for around $200 per person round trip. It can be done. And since we want to travel as much as we can, it only follows that we need to do it as cheaply as we can.  After all, money saved on this trip means more money for the next trip!

Step 2: Start Putting Together a Destination List

travel planning process - make lists of where you want to go

One of the first places I look once I’ve booked my tickets is Pinterest, which I have written about before. Pinterest is great because not only is it a place to find destination ideas, it’s also a place to keep destination ideas. As soon as I’ve booked a trip, I create a board for my new destination and start pinning away. At first I pin everything that looks even vaguely interesting. For instance, my trip is to Paris but I’m pretty much pinning everything in France that I find of interest. I’ll be able to go through later and scale down, but if I find 3+ points of interest relatively close together outside of the city, that might make for a good day trip.

Depending on how anal organized I want to be, I might then set up a different board for each day of the trip with the activities for that day. I realize that it sounds over the top, but when you’re in an unfamiliar place, it actually makes sense to plan a day’s activities according to where they are located. Less time in transit between points makes for more time to see the sights.

The only caution I have to offer about using Pinterest as part of your travel planning process is to not allow your board to become oversaturated with images. You only need one pin with helpful information about visiting, for example, the Eiffel Tower. You do not need eight to twelve pins about the Eiffel Tower because they all have stunning images to go with them. The more you look at pictures, the less impressed you will be when you stand before it in person.

Other sites I like to peruse for things to see at a particular destination are Roadside America (US travel only) and Atlas Obscura. Both of these sites offer tips for seeing things that are off the beaten path and not likely to be on every tourist’s must-see list. They also usually have some history attached to them, which you know I love.

Corollary to Step 2: Accept That You Can’t See it All

travel planning process: to stay sane, set limits as to what you can reasonably hope to see/do on your trip

Unless you are visiting your destination for a very long time, you will have to prioritize what things you want to see and do on your trip. You cannot realistically expect to see every great architectural wonder, museum, monument, cathedral, park, and restaurant in one week’s time.

If you compile a massive list of all the places you want to see, and add to it all the places someone (friends/family/blogger/travel guidebook) recommended that you see, you are going to end up with a very long list. And when you find that you only have time to do about 20% of the things on that list, you will probably be disappointed and/or feel like your trip has been a failure.

I prioritize my destinations into three distinct lists:  Must See (I will not forgive myself if I don’t do this), Should See (important in order for me to consider the trip a success), and If There’s Time (everything else). The Must See List should be reserved only for iconic sights and experiences – things that, if you don’t do them, you won’t feel like you really even went to that location. In the case of Paris, it would be visiting the Eiffel Tower and seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. The Should See list will have a reasonable amount of attractions/activities – between one and four per day. The If There’s Time list, if you’ve kept track of all those recommendations, should be the largest list.

Step 3: Finding Lodging

Travel Planning Process: Things to consider when booking lodging on your trip

A lot goes into finding the perfect place to stay. Here are just a few of the things you must consider:

  • Expense – How much can you afford for this portion of your trip?
  • Area – What sort of neighborhood do you want to stay in? Hip and trendy, or residential and quiet? How safe is the neighborhood you’re considering? Do you want to have a room with a view?
  • Type of accommodations – Do you want complete privacy? Do you want to be able to fix some of your own meals? Do you want to stay someplace that provides you with breakfast each day? Will you need local staff to provide you with recommendations on where to go?
  • Convenience to public transport – If you aren’t renting a vehicle, you may want to make sure that you are within walking distance of a subway station or bus route

As for when to book, I’ve found that you want to do it far enough in advance that you have plenty of options (particularly if you plan to stay in an Airbnb or private home), but not too far in advance in case your itinerary changes. There is nothing worse than booking a place for an entire week, only to decide later that you want to spend part of the time elsewhere. I’d say three months ahead is probably a good window, but you can go with less advance booking if you’re staying in a hotel.

Step 4: Buying Tickets in Advance

travel planning process: consider buying tickets for attractions in advance online so you won't have to wait in line when you arrive

I will admit, this step is riskier than the others. The potential benefits of buying your admission tickets in advance are:

  • Little to no time spent waiting in line when you arrive at the attraction.
  • Allows you to start paying for your vacation expenses before you go
  • No need to worry about an event being sold out; your admission is guaranteed
  • Some venues offer a cheaper admission rate when booking online.

The potential drawbacks of buying your tickets in advance are:

  • Your plans change and you cannot go on the day for which you purchased admission
  • You forget to take your tickets with you when you go (or lose them, or they get stolen, etc.)

Now, as you can see, there are more pros than cons here. Also, in many cases, venues who offer online admission sales either are not date specific or will honor your ticket on a different date if you cannot use it on the date you originally booked. These days, you will most likely have an email or other electronic record of your ticket, which should suffice if the printed version got lost.

Step 5: Keep it Together, Girl!

travel planning process: keep your information color coded and organized in a binder or folder

This is where my type A super-efficient personality makes most people roll their eyes and groan. I color code all of the information I’ve assembled (green for financial, blue for nighttime activities, orange for daytime, hot pink for anything in the Must See category, etc). Then I make a folder or three ring binder with all of the information I will need for my trip.

I keep everything that I need together and sort it by day. Typically, each day’s packet will include:

  • a list of activities for the day
  • maps and/or directions on how to get from A to B
  • printed admission tickets if purchased online
  • brochures or other information about what I will be doing (opening and closing times, special significance, etc.)

It might be important to note that I do not carry the entire binder around with me – just that day’s pertinent documents. Apps are great, but I’m old school enough that I like paper. Using paper doesn’t have me at the mercy of finding a wifi connection.

YMMV

I cannot stress enough that this is the process that works for me. Following these steps is what gives me peace of mind so that I can relax and enjoy my trip. If you prefer to be impetuous and plan as you go, that’s great. You do you! The point is to be prepared for your trip, know what you want, and not spend valuable vacation time under stress.  Bon Voyage!

The travel planning process - practical tips to get the most out of your trip.

 

 

 

5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Chestertown, Maryland

5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Chestertown, Maryland

Recently, my day job took me to the small historic town of Chestertown, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The quiet beauty and historical elegance of the town impressed me so much that I thought I would share it with you via some photos.

Chestertown’s History

Chestertown, named for the Chester River, was founded in 1706. It enjoyed prominence as one of the Maryland colony’s six Royal Ports of Entry. By the middle of the eighteenth century, Chestertown was the second leading port in the colony. As such, it was a wealthy town, with a growing merchant class. Well off residents built brick mansions and townhouses along the riverfront.

Visit Chestertown Maryland: Elegant old townhouses line the streets near the riverfront.
Historic townhouses in Chestertown, Maryland (Source: By Acroterion – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Additionally, Chestertown is home to Washington College, the tenth oldest liberal arts college in the nation and the oldest college in Maryland.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the country’s largest private, nonprofit preservation organization, named Chestertown, Maryland, to its 2007 list of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations, an annual list of unique and lovingly preserved communities in the United States.

“Chestertown is a treasure hidden in plain sight,” said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “A small, historic and relatively unspoiled Eastern Shore town, Chestertown had the good sense to hang on to what makes it so special. The result is a vibrant community that offers travelers an ideal retreat.”

Need more convincing? Here are some of the reasons why you should visit Chestertown, Maryland:

1. Sultana

Visit Chestertown Maryland: The Schooner Sultana calls Chestertown home.
(Source: By Acroterion – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Chestertown serves as home port to a schooner named Sultana. Docked at the end of Cannon Street, Sultana was built largely by local volunteers. They used designs based directly on a 1768 Royal Navy survey of the original Boston-built merchant vessel, the smallest schooner ever in the British Royal Navy. Because the builders had access to the survey, it is one of the most accurate 18th century replicas in the world today. The ship offers educational tours for area schoolchildren, which are based on more than 2,000 pages of the original vessel’s log books, correspondence, and crew lists.

2. The White Swan Tavern

Visit Chestertown Maryland: The White Swan Tavern Bed & Breakfast

The White Swan tavern has been a fixture in Chestertown since before the Revolutionary War. It is conveniently located in the center of downtown, within walking distance of shops and restaurants, the Chester River waterfront, and the weekly Saturday farmer’s market.

In 1978, the property was impeccably restored to its 1793 appearance, with one room devoted to the display of many artifacts found in an archaeological dig on the site. During the entire process of restoration, the owners acquired pieces of furniture, both antique and reproduction, which they thought appropriate to the building. They furnished the remainder of the building with the ideals of simplicity and comfort in mind. Following painstaking analysis, the original paint color was reproduced for wall paneling and trim. A set of early chargers recovered from the tavern site became the models for the contemporary stoneware dishes.

Visit Chestertown Maryland: the White Swan Tavern is a colonial era bed & breakfast
Breakfast at the White Swan Tavern

The inn serves an afternoon tea and offers six deluxe rooms for rent. My personal favorite is the John Lovegrove Kitchen, which features a open beam ceiling and brick floor.

3. The Tea Party

One of my favorite festivals on the Delmarva Peninsula is the Chestertown Tea Party.

Delmarva Festivals: Celebrating the rebels of the American Revolution at the Chestertown Tea Party.
Image courtesy of Chestertown Tea Party Festival

In 1774, when the citizens of Chestertown learned that the British had closed the port of Boston in retaliation for Bostonians dumping tea into the harbor, they issued The Chestertown Resolves. The Resolves stated that it was illegal to import, sell or consume tea. Further, the citizens of Chestertown gathered at the town center, marched down High Street to the brigantine Geddes, and tossed her cargo of tea into the Chester River. Every Memorial Day weekend, Chestertown residents not only celebrate the event, they reenact it.

4. Fountain Park

Visit Chestertown Maryland: a beautifully ornate fountain is the centerpiece of Fountain Park.

The fountain in the center of Chestertown’s Fountain Park is nothing less than stunning. One of the earliest depictions of the fountain appeared in the 1853 edition of Godey’s Lady’s Book. It soon became associated with the style and elegance of this community. The figure of Hebe, cupbearer to the Gods on Mount Olympus, stands at the top of the fountain, pouring water. In addition to the fountain, the park is also home to summer concerts and other community events throughout the year.

5. The Shops

Walking along High Street in Chestertown, you will see all manner of great shops and art galleries. The best thing about these shops is that they are not chain stores. They are unique, locally owned businesses with strong ties to their community.

I had enough time to check out a few of them, and especially enjoyed She She on High, which is part gift shop, part DIY studio, part vintage clothing store. Literally, everywhere I looked in the store, I saw something cool, displayed beautifully.

Visit Chestertown Maryland: High Street offers many great shops, including She She on High
One of the stunning displays inside She She on High

In addition to She She on High, you can find stores specializing in beautiful art glass, Maryland theme gifts, boutique clothing, vintage finds, and so much more.

Additional Reasons to Visit

Still not convinced? Well, here are a few more reasons to consider a visit to Chestertown, Maryland.

  • The people are very friendly. You could live there 50 years or more and never be considered a local, but you will always feel welcome.

Visit Chestertown Maryland, where the parking is free and the people are friendly.

  • It’s a great day trip destination from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and/or Washington DC. Driving from any of these major cities will take right around 2 hours (slightly less for Baltimore).
  • It has a thriving art community. From galleries lining High Street to RiverArts’ special events and workshops throughout the year, you can tell that Chestertown values the arts and is dedicated to seeing them thrive in the community.

Visit Chestertown Maryland: The small town on Maryland's Eastern Shore is rich in history and also has a thriving arts community.

Have you been to Chestertown? What did you think of it? Be sure to leave a comment below and tell me!

Visit Chestertown Maryland: 5 reasons you should check out this historic town.
A Local’s Guide to Salisbury Maryland, Home of the National Folk Festival 

A Local’s Guide to Salisbury Maryland, Home of the National Folk Festival 

A Local’s Guide to Salisbury Maryland

The National Folk Festival will be held in my home town of Salisbury Maryland the weekend of September 7-9, 2018. What’s more, it will be held here the next two years as well. So here’s your guide to Salisbury, Maryland, written by someone who has lived here for nearly 25 years!

Locals Guide to Salisbury Maryland (vintage postcard)
By Tichnor Brothers, Publisher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

About Salisbury

With a population of some 30,000, it’s the largest city on the Eastern Shore and the No. 1 fastest growing city in Maryland, according to city officials. Founded in 1732 and incorporated in 1854, it also is the county seat for Wicomico. The area offers the ideal mix of an urban center, nestled within a scenic rural region, centrally located to three major metropolitan areas (Baltimore, Washington DC, and Philadelphia). I’ve lived here since 1995, and I can’t imagine ever leaving to live someplace else.

The National Folk Festival

Free events are great, and the National Folk Festival is no exception. If you’re like me, you might think that a “folk” festival will be geared toward aging hippies who want to sit around and listen to mellow music. Not so! Folk does not mean folk music! The National Folk Festival is a celebration of the roots, richness and variety of American culture.

The three day event will feature musical performances and dancing by over 350 performers from all over the world. To name just a few:

Demonstrations specific to the state of Maryland will also be available, including preparation of traditional Maryland foods (crab cakes, muskrat, scrapple, Smith Island cake), decoy carving, and a demonstration by Pocomoke Native Americans on making dugout canoes.

Whether you’re here for the National Folk Festival or for some other reason, there is plenty to see and do in Salisbury. Here are my recommendations for visitors…

Where to Eat

For the best thin crust pizza in town, head to Lombardis (315 Civic Ave; 410-749-0522). The decor isn’t much, but the wait staff are friendly and if you have kids with you, they will love the giant mural of cartoon characters and superheroes in the back dining room. Also, did I mention how good their pizza is?

Who doesn’t love ice cream? A Chincoteague Virginia favorite, Island Creamery, recently opened a shop in Salisbury (306 Dogwood Dr, 410-831-3103). With traditional favorites and unusual flavors like Cantaloupe and Wallops Rocket Fuel (chocolate with cinnamon and chili pepper), there’s something for everyone.

Back Street Grill (401 Snow Hill Road, 410-548-1588) offers a build-your-own sandwich menu and some of the tastiest salads in town. My favorite sandwich is the Back Street Deluxe: turkey and ham with cheddar and pineapple on a croissant, heated. So yummy! They also offer great specials on weeknights, like tacos for $1.25 each on Mondays and $5 burgers on Wednesdays.

Market Street Inn (130 W Market St, 410-742-4145) is an upscale restaurant located on the Wicomico (pronounced why-COMic-oh) River.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: Market Street Inn offers guests riverside dining and drinks.

In addition to gourmet fare, they have outdoor seating, which offers a great view of the riverfront. if you’re lucky, you might even see a Great Blue Heron while you’re there.

Brew River (502 W Main St, 410-677-6757) is a popular restaurant located on the Wicomico River. They have great dinner specials, with half price prime rib on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 2-for-1 crab cakes on Thursdays. The restaurant also features an outside dock bar that is one of the most happening nightlife spots in town. If you go, be sure to grab a coconut muffin from the bread basket – they’re delicious!

Rise Up Coffee Roasters is a local favorite. Go to their College Avenue location (105 East College Ave., 443-358-5248) to get breakfast or lunch, or just hang out for a while. Alternatively, you can hit the Riverside Drive drive through (529 Rivderside Drive, 410-202-2500) if you’re on the go. They only roast certified organic and fair trade coffee, so you can feel good about caffeinating here. But even if you’re not a coffee person, it’s worth a stop: the frozen hot chocolate is A-MAZ-ING!

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: Bordeleau Vineyard & Winery features a beautiful estate with a well-stocked tasting room.
Bordeleau Vineyard & Winery

Bordeleau Vineyard & Winery in the neighboring village of Eden (3155 Noble Farm Rd, Eden, 410-677-3334) offers both white and red wines on a beautiful estate (above) that often serves as a wedding venue.The Bordeleau tasting room is open Wednesday through Sunday and is a comfy, welcoming place to sample their vino.

Acorn Market (150 W Market St, 410-334-2222) offers breakfast and lunch in a relaxed atmosphere. They offer a selection of freshly made to order sandwiches and salads, and some of the  most scrumptious baked goods you will find. I especially love their sweet potato biscuits.  You won’t be able to get dinner here, though, as they close at 3:00 pm each day.

Classic Cakes (1305 S Division St #8, 410-860-5300) makes Smith Island cakes. If you’ve never heard of such a thing, you are in for a treat! Maryland’s official state dessert is a nine-layer (yes, NINE!) yellow cake with chocolate ganache type frosting.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: Try the official state dessert. a nine-layer Smith Island Cake.

That’s the traditional version. But Classic Cakes has taken it up a few notches and made many delicious varieties: cookies and cream, Reese’s cup, coconut pineapple, banana, red velvet, and many more. I like the classic and the banana best. They also sell cupcakes but don’t let that tempt you… the cake is way better, and they even sell it by the slice.

Where to Stay

Salisbury isn’t different from other cities in this regard. There’s a selection of hotels from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 stars. If location is important to you, then you can’t do much better than LaQuinta, which is right next to the city’s Riverwalk Park and newly constructed amphitheater. Downtown bars, restaurants and shopping are a quick 10-15 minute walk, and a bank next door to the hotel has an ATM, should you need one.

If Airbnb is more your thing, there are quite a few properties to choose from in Salisbury, from single rooms to riverfront lofts. Just make sure before booking that the property is in Salisbury and not a nearby town like Crisfield or Pocomoke. Those towns, while technically nearby, would add 30-45 minutes of driving to your outings. Book an Airbnb through this link and you will receive a $40 credit!

Finally, if you’re a camping kind of family, I’m sorry to say that there aren’t any campgrounds in Salisbury. The town of Berlin has several camping options, however, and is about 30 minutes away by car.

Where to Shop

If you’re into country decor, Salisbury is your Mecca. The Country House (805 E Main St, 410-749-1959). Set aside at least half a day to look through their items, as the store is huge – 48,000 square feet – and no space is wasted.  They carry all sorts of wonderful items, from curtains to floral to apparel and seasonal items too.

Angello’s Unique Gifts is a great spot to browse, and it’s located right next to the Acorn Market (150 W Market St, 443-358-5152), so you can stop by after lunch. This is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir of your visit, or a gift for someone who is hard to shop for. They even do embroidery to personalize your purchase.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: Dana Simson offers whimsical ceramic creations at Chesapeake East.
Some of Dana Simson’s ceramics.

If you’re into quirky and colorful handmade ceramic pieces, you must go to Chesapeake East (501 W Main St, 410-546-1534). From dinnerware to decorative items, artist Dana Simson creates whimsical pieces that will make you smile. In addition, she also sells stationery, paintings, and prints.

What to Do

If you’re coming to Salisbury for a special event like the National Folk Festival or the 100 mile Seagull Century bike race, you might want to stay an extra day or two and check out some of the other things our little city has to offer. For instance:

The Salisbury Zoo (755 S Park Dr, open daily 9:00 to 4:30) is a 12-acre zoological park that has offered free admission ever since it first opened in 1954. The zoo is home to 100 animals, most of which are native to North and South America. The zoo is an absolute gem and one of the things that make Salisbury a great place to live and visit.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: The Salisbury Zoo is a great place to visit... and it's free!
The alligator at the Salisbury Zoo is all smiles.

At one end of the zoo, children will absolutely love the playground known as Ben’s Red Swings. The playground was created to honor the memory of Ben Layton, a local boy who died of leukemia at age 4. Ben wished that when he got to heaven he would get red wings because red was his favorite color, and that was the inspiration for the name of the playground. The playground was largely funded and built by community volunteers, and it is a real treasure to the children who live here. If you’re visiting with your family, be sure to let them burn off some energy at Ben’s Red Swings.

Another way to let the kids (and adventurous adults) burn off some energy is to take them to Altitude Trampoline Park (30174 Foskey Ln, 410-896-2219) in the neighboring town of Delmar, Maryland. In addition to over 24,000 square feet of indoor trampolines, there is also a Foam Pit, Dodgeball Arena, Kid’s Arena, Aeroball and Laser Maze. Hours of fun! Rates range from $15-$20 for one to two hours of jumping fun.

Salisbury is home to a minor league baseball team, the Delmarva Shorebirds. The season will have ended before the National Folk Festival takes place, but if you’re visiting between April and August, consider spending an evening at the ballpark. Many games conclude with a great fireworks show, and there are often special events and giveaways as well. Tickets range from $2 to $13.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art

The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art (909 S Schumaker Dr, 410-742-4988) has been recognized by USA Today as one of the 10 best places in the U.S. to view American folk art. Operated by Salisbury University, it showcases the contributions of artists who have carved birds both as tools for the hunt and as objects of artistic enjoyment. The museum regularly offers children’s programs and hosts community events at its beautiful waterfront location.

Finally, for garden enthusiasts, the campus of Salisbury University was recognized by the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta as an arboretum in 1988. The campus features over 2,000 species of plant life, including magnolia, rhododendron, viburnum, Japanese maple, bald cypress, and Crape myrtle. Notable areas of interest – and great Instagram spots – on campus include the pergola near the University Commons, the Holloway Hall courtyard garden, the Bellavance Honors Center’s Japanese garden, the Link of Nations, and the Miller Alumni Garden.

Beaches

There are at least a half dozen beaches within an hour’s drive of Salisbury. They each have their own distinct vibe, and their own pros and cons. I’ll outline the three closest ones below.

The Cove (Cove Rd, Bivalve MD – about 30 minutes from Salisbury) is the perfect beach for families with young children. It is a sheltered cove off of the Chesapeake Bay. The water is shallow, warm, and has very little current, so it’s great for toddlers and preschoolers. Older kids and childless adults, on the other hand, will probably be pretty bored at this beach.

Assateague has two sections – the Assateague Island National Seashore (7206 National Seashore Lane, Berlin, 410-641-1441), and Maryland;’s Assateague State Park (6915 Stephen Decatur Highway, Berlin, 410-641-2120).  It takes about 45 minutes from Salisbury to reach either of them. Both charge a small entrance fee. You will be able to see the famous wild Assateague ponies at both.

Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland: The beach at nearby Assateague Island offers visitors a look at the wild ponies who have lived there for centuries.

Both offer ocean and bayfront beaches. Both allow pets in designated areas. You can camp at both, and both have bike trails. The biggest difference is that the state side has a restaurant/concession stand and gift shop, whereas the federal side does not provide any opportunities for you to spend money once you pay for admission. I prefer the federal side as it tends to be less crowded, and I almost always see the ponies when we go there.

Ocean City (paid parking at the Hugh T Cropper inlet parking lot – 809 S Atlantic Ave, Ocean City – about 45 minutes from Salisbury). Quite the opposite of Assateague, Ocean City has plenty of places for you to part with your cash.  In addition to a stunning oceanfront beach with crashing waves, there is a 2.5 mile long boardwalk lined with restaurants, souvenir shops, hotels, and arcades. Be sure to get Thrasher’s fries while you’re there. It’s a must!

A Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland

In Conclusion

I hope you will find this guide to Salisbury Maryland useful. I love this town, and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. If you visit, I’m sure you will agree!  Do you have any other suggestions to add? Did you try any of the places I recommended here? If so, leave a comment and tell me about it!

Happy traveling!

A Local's Guide to Salisbury Maryland - Home of the National Folk Festival
Quirky Delmarva Festivals You Can’t Miss

Quirky Delmarva Festivals You Can’t Miss

Delmarva Festivals You Need to See to Believe

Within 80 miles of my home, there are several annual festivals that locals love. But if I’m being honest, people who are visiting here probably think they’re weird. Delmarva festivals – those on the peninsula of Delaware and the Eastern Shores of Maryland and Virginia – provide quirky and traditional fun for locals and visitors alike. Here are some of the more unusual ones.

The National Hard Crab Derby

Claim to Fame: Crab Races
How Many Years Held: 70
Location: Crisfield, Maryland
Date: Labor Day Weekend, September
Average Attendance: ?

Delmarva Festivals: The National Hard Crab Derby takes place in Crisfield, Maryland over Labor Day weekend.
Photo via Flickr by Benjamin Wilson US

Every Labor Day weekend, people from all over the Mid-Atlantic region visit Maryland’s southernmost town to see some 400 blue crabs compete in one of the most celebrated crustacean events in America, the National Hard Crab Derby. It all started decades ago, when local watermen brought their feistiest live crabs to race in the street in front of the post office. That strange small town event has grown into a full fledged weekend-long festival!

Other events over the course of the festival week include a beauty pageant (the winner is crowned Miss Crustacean), a carnival, crab cooking and picking contests, live music, a boat docking contest and a skiff race. The event concludes with fireworks on Sunday night.

Apple Scrapple Festival – Bridgeville, Delaware (Oct)

Claim to Fame: Scrapple
How Many Years Held: 26
Location: Bridgeville, Delaware
Date: Second Weekend of October
Average Attendance: over 25,000

If you’ve never had Scrapple, you might be wondering what it is. Well, put as delicately as possible, it contains everything left from the pig after bacon, ham, pork chops, etc. are taken. Which is to say that it’s made of scraps… hence the name.

The pig scraps are boiled until falling apart, then finely cut up. The meat is combined with cornmeal and flour along with spices including sage, black pepper, thyme, and savory, then formed into loaves. Once cooled, you can cut off half-inch slices and fry them in butter until golden brown.

Delmarva Festivals: Head to the Apple Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville DE the second weekend of October for a celebration of this unique pork product.
A classic Scrapple sandwich. CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Personally, I can’t get past the fact that Scrapple’s main ingredient is offal, but most folks around here don’t have a problem with that and swear that it’s delicious. You will see Scrapple typically served as a breakfast sandwich on plain white bread. This is definitely a regional delicacy – Scrapple’s popularity doesn’t extend much beyond the mid-Atlantic states. The two most popular brands of Scrapple in this area are Habersett and RAPA, and both are located in the tiny town of Bridgeville, Delaware.

In addition to Bridgeville’s Scrapple industry, the Apple Scrapple festival celebrates apples, particularly those grown by local farm TS Smith & Son.

Festivities begin at 4:00 pm on Friday evening with the carnival, food court and street dance. Things start up again on Saturday morning with an all you can eat Scrapple breakfast from 7:00 to 11:00 am. The rest of the day is filled with carnival rides, kids’ games, Scrapple sling, Scrapple carving, live entertainment, a ladies’ skillet tossing contest, and more.

Crawfish Boil & Muskrat Stew Fest

Claim to Fame: Muskrat Cuisine
How Many Years Held: 7
Location: Cambridge, Maryland
Date: February
Average Attendance: 700-1000

Delmarva Festivals: Louisiana meets Maryland at the Crawfish Boil and Muskrat Stew Fest in Cambridge Maryland every February.

The Crawfish Boil & Muskrat Stew Fest is an outdoor event combining two distinctive cuisines: Louisiana Crawfish and Dorchester County muskrat. Yes, muskrat. Many people in this part of the country consider it good eating.

As the name implies, this festival is all about the food. Festival goers will find such delicacies as muskrat stew, smoked muskrat, muskrat gravy fries, and muskrat chili dogs. A variety of crawfish dishes are also available, as are raw oysters, burgers, and hot dogs. The festival also features a Muskrat Leg Eating Contest.

Live entertainment from a blues band generates a party atmosphere and keeps the fun going long after you’ve had your fill.

National Outdoor Show

Claim to Fame: Fun for Hunters & Trappers
How Many Years Held: 73
Location: Church Creek, Maryland
Date: February
Average Attendance: ?

Delmarva Festivals: In Dorchester County, Maryland, the muskrat is the centerpiece of the National Outdoor Show.
Illustration of Muskrat via Flickr by Boston Public Library

Dorchester County, Maryland is Muskrat Country: the heartland of sportsmen, trappers, watermen and wildlife. The National Outdoor Show aims to “share the unique spirit and character of the area’s hard working people, who keep one foot in a technologically savvy world, and the other stuck deep in our traditional old school ways.”

The event opens on a Friday evening with a pageant to name Miss Outdoors, followed by the world championship muskrat skinning semi-finals. Festivties continue on Saturday with Little Miss and Little Mister Outdoors, a game cooking demo, police K-9 demo, duck and goose calling contests, championship muskrat skinning finals, and more. A PBS documentary, Muskrat Lovely, featured the National Outdoor Show because of its focus on muskrats.

Chestertown Tea Party

Claim to Fame: historical reenactment of tax rebellion
How Many Years Held: 42
Location: Chestertown, Maryland
Date: Memorial Day Weekend, May
Average Attendance: 15,000

This tea party is not about frilly dresses and big hats. It commemorates the other kind of tea party – you know, like the famous one in Boston. When the citizens of Chestertown learned that the British had closed the port of Boston in retaliation for Bostonians dumping tea into the harbor, they issued The Chestertown Resolves. The Resolves stated that it was illegal to import, sell, or consume tea.

According to local lore, on May 23, 1774, the citizens of Chestertown gathered at the town center, marched down High Street to the brigantine Geddes, and tossed her cargo of tea into the Chester River. Every Memorial Day weekend, Chestertown residents not only celebrate the event, they reenact it.

Delmarva Festivals: Celebrating the rebels of the American Revolution at the Chestertown Tea Party.
Image courtesy of Chestertown Tea Party Festival

The festival opens on the Friday evening of Memorial Day weekend with a street party. Food trucks, live music, and games provide a fun but laid back atmosphere before the festival shifts into high gear on Saturday. A large colonial parade down High Street, featuring numerous fife and drum bands as well as marching Colonial and British reenactors, serves as the highlight of Saturday’s activities.

Throughout Saturday, visitors can enjoy walking tours of the historic district, demonstrations of colonial crafts, more than 100 craft vendors, children’s activities, local foods, a wine village and a wide array of musical entertainers. The festival concludes Sunday afternoon in the park with local wine and craft beer tastings, more entertainment, crafts and food. Sunday’s main event is the popular Raft Race. Teams compete to keep their home-made raft afloat for as long as possible in hopes of winning the coveted Tea Cup.

Chincoteague Pony Swim

Delmarva Festivals: The Chincoteague Pony Swim takes place every year in mid-July.
By United States Coast Guard, PA2 Christopher Evanson –  Link

Claim to Fame: feral horses are herded up and sold at auction
How Many Years Held: 93
Location: Chincoteague, Virginia
Date: mid-July
Average Attendance: 40,000

The pony swim has taken place since 1925 to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department, but its roots date back to the 17th century. The event grew in popularity after its mention in the classic children’s book, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.

The Saturday-Monday before the swim, volunteers (known as “Saltwater Cowboys”) round up the 150 or so feral horses and 60-70 spring foals that inhabit Assateague Island and take them to a central pen. Then, on Tuesday, veterinarians examine them to make sure they are healthy.

Wednesday is pony swim day. The Saltwater Cowboys guide the ponies to Chincoteague Island by having them swim across the Assateague Channel. This is done at “slack tide” – a period of about 30 minutes between tides, when there is no current. As a result, it is the easiest time for the ponies to make the swim.

After the swim, the ponies rest. Then the Saltwater Cowboys “parade” the ponies down Main Street to the carnival grounds in preparation for an auction the following morning.

The auction serves two purposes. First, it helps control the size of the herd, keeping it from growing too large. In order to keep the herd at a sustainable size, most of the foals are sold at the auction. A few select foals, however, are buybacks, auctioned with the stipulation that they will be donated back to the Fire Company, then returned to Assateague Island.

Secondly, the auction is a fundraiser for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, who uses proceeds to provide veterinary care for the ponies throughout the year.

Conclusion

I hope you have a better idea of what this part of the mid-Atlantic is like based on our traditional festivals. Better yet, I hope you’ll attend one or more of them!  Please comment below if you’ve attended any of these, or tell me about the quirky festivals in your area!

Delmarva Festivals: A guide to some of the Mid-Atlantic's quirkiest events.
My Scotland Bucket List

My Scotland Bucket List

Scotland Top Ten

Last week, someone on Quora asked me what places I would visit in Scotland if there were no restrictions on how long I could be there or how much money I could spend.  I came up with a list so fast, I started thinking maybe Scotland needs to be at the top of my “Places I Need to Go” list.  And what’s not to love about a country whose national animal is the unicorn? Here’s my Scotland Top Ten list:

1. Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye

Okay, if I had to pick just one area instead of ten, the Isle of Skye would probably be it. There’s just something about a sparsely populated island that I find intriguing. Maybe it’s the unspoiled landscapes, maybe it’s the chance to have a large area to yourself for a while, maybe it’s the feeling that your place in the universe isn’t so tiny and inconsequential after all. Whatever it is, I can’t get enough of islands like that, and Skye is especially beautiful.

Scotland Top Ten: Dunvegan Castle looks out over the water.Image via Flickr by Bea y Fredi

Dunvegan Castle covers ten different building periods from 1200 to the 1850s. It consists of a series of five separate buildings, each with its own unique character and story to tell. The remote setting of the castle, coupled with its backdrop of sky, mountains and sea, make it a must-see.

Visitors may see one of the castle’s most cherished heirlooms of clan MacLeod – the Fairy Flag. The exact origins have been lost in time, but most say that the flag was given to an ancient clan chieftain by the fairies. Stories of how the flag has brought luck to the family are legendary, dating from before the 15th century up through World War II. It has been credited with the ability to:

  1. multiply a clan’s military forces
  2. save the lives of certain clanfolk
  3. cure a plague on cattle
  4. increase the chances of fertility
  5. bring herring into the loch at Dunvegan.

The fabric of the flag is silk; specifically silk from the Far East. Some theories hold that the flag was brought home by a clansman who had fought in the Crusades. Today, the flag is in very fragile condition but can be seen in the drawing room of Dunvegan Castle.

2. Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye

Scotland Top Ten: Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye are truly magical places.
Image via Flickr by evocateur.

Who hasn’t seen these amazing images of fairy pools on Pinterest or Instagram? Well, the good news is that they are FOR REAL and fairly accessible. To get there, you will need to hike through the Glen Brittle forest. The water flows between pools with waterfalls of various shapes and sizes. Idyllic!  On a sunny day, the turquoise waters of the natural pools are so clear, it’s easy to see the stones at the bottom. After a good rain, the water rushes along at a brisk pace. Visitors could attempt to swim in the fairy pools, but most accounts say that the water is quite cold.

3. Culloden, in the Highlands

I have Diana Gabaldon to thank for my semi-obsessive fascination with the Scottish Highlands. It’s difficult to resist the temptation to travel there once you’ve read her Outlander series of books or seen the associated television show.  The landscape has contrasting qualities that make it mysteriously enticing… at once beautiful and brutal, welcoming and harsh, refined and barbaric.

Scotland Top Ten: The battlefield at Culloden is a must for anyone interested in Scottish history.
Image via Flickr by nicksarebi

On 16 April 1746, the final Jacobite Rising came to a head in one of the bloodiest battles in British history… the battle of Culloden. Jacobite supporters, seeking to restore the Stuart monarchy to the British thrones, gathered to fight the Duke of Cumberland’s troops. In less than an hour, around 1,500 men were slain – more than 1,000 of them Jacobites.

The Culloden Visitor Centre beside the battlefield featuers artifacts from both sides of the battle and interactive displays that reveal the background to the conflict. It’s worth noting that this site commemorates a tragic event in Scottish history – one that changed Scotland forever. Visitors should keep that in mind by maintaining a solemn and respectful manner when at the site.

4. The Enchanted Forest event near Pitlochry, Perthshire

Scotland Top Ten: The woods come to life at the Enchanted Forest event in Pitlochry
Image via Flickr by J McSporran

Described as a premier sound and light event, the Enchanted Forest has won many awards in the UK. Last year, the show was sold out with 73,000 attendees. This year they are selling 80,000 tickets and will likely sell out again.

Each year the festival has a theme, and partners with local charities to benefit from the income it generates. It runs for about a month in the fall, and takes place in the evening. Visitors walk through Faskally Wood, which is transformed into a magical place by music, colorful lighting, and interactive special effects. You can expect to spend 60-90 minutes enjoying the show, but are welcome to stay longer if you would like.

5. Dunottar Castle Ruins, Aberdeenshire

Scotland Top Ten: Dunottar Castle sits in ruins on a clifftop in northeastern Scotland.
Photo by John Roberts on Unsplash

The castle is in ruins, but it’s so dramatic and romantic I still feel a need to see it in person. The oldest part of Dunnottar Castle still standing is the late 14th century keep. However, a chapel and other fortifications stood on the site at least 100 years earlier than that. We know this because in 1296 Scottish hero William Wallace killed an entire English garrison inside the castle with only a handful of men.

One of Dunnottar’s other significant places in history is that it was the hiding place for Scotland’s Crown Jewels after Charles II’s coronation in 1651. Within a year, Dunnottar was under siege by English troops. Six women smuggled the jewels out of the castle to safety, pledging to throw the jewels into the sea rather than see the English get their hands on them. Today, the Honours of Scotland are the oldest surviving set of crown jewels in the British Isles.

History aside, though… look at that view! I can’t wait to stand there and take it all in.

6. The Royal Scotsman train

Scotland Top Ten: Ride the Royal Scotsman on the line from Perth to Inverness at Dalnaspidal, nr Dalwhinnie, Badenoch and Strathspey, Scotland
Photo courtesy of Belmond.

Travel is a wonderful experience to be sure, but the actual mechanics of getting from A to B often leave a lot to be desired. Cramped seats on a budget airline, rental cars that are unfamiliar, crowded subways. Blech. I have a not-so-secret desire to travel in first class style so I can actually enjoy the journey as well as the destination. There’s no better way to do this than by riding the Royal Scotsman train, operated by Belmond.

The rail cars, which run April-October, are outfitted in mahogany and Edwardian elegance. Each journey carries no more than 36 guests and 12 staff.  With those numbers, you can be certain that you will be treated like royalty. The observation car even has a veranda that you can step out on to watch the scenery pass by. This palace on wheels even has a spa car! During the day you will enjoy excursions throughout the Scottish Highlands, and in the evening you will relax to a fine gourmet dinner. Meals and beverages are included in your fare, but it carries a hefty price: roughly $5750 for a three day journey or a whopping $13,000 for a seven day journey – and that’s per person.

Oh well, I can still dream, can’t I?

7. Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

If you fly to Scotland, the chances are good that you will fly into Edinburgh, the capital city. Just a word of warning. The latter half of this city’s name is pronounced nothing like the US city of Pittsburgh. It is somewhere between Edin-burrow or Edin-brah. I usually use the former pronunciation.  As long as you don’t say Edin-burg, I think you’ll be fine.

So, what is there to see in this Scottish city?  Plenty! But the thing that appeals to me most is the Royal Military Tattoo.

Scotland Top Ten: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is a must for anyone who loves pageantry.
Image via Flickr by DVIDSHUB

Now, this tattoo has nothing at all to do with needles and ink. The term “tattoo” derives from a 17th-century Dutch phrase doe den tap toe (“turn off the tap”) a signal to tavern owners each night, played by a regiment’s Corps of Drums, to turn off the taps of their ale kegs so that the soldiers would retire to their lodgings at a reasonable hour. With the establishment of modern barracks and full military bands later in the 18th century, the term “tattoo” was used to describe the last duty call of the day, as well as a ceremonial form of evening entertainment performed by military musicians.

Each performance begins with a fanfare, which is usually a piece of music composed specifically for that year’s show. The Massed Pipes and Drums then perform, marching through the gatehouse of the castle and performing a traditional pipe band set. Then, the show’s featured acts perform individually. These acts could be either civilian or military. Whatever they are, you can bet that you will be entertained! The show concludes with a fireworks spectacular at each performance.

8. Up Helly Aa Festival in Lerwick, Shetland

Scotland Top Ten: The Up Helly Aa fire festival in the Shetland Islands is like none other in the world.
Image via Flickr by Vicky Brock

You’re watching a horde of fur-clad Vikings marching through the streets carrying torches. You might think you’ve suddenly traveled through time, but a more likely explanation is that you’re in Lerwick, Shetland on the last Tuesday in January.

Groups dress in costumes and carry torches through the town. At the end, they throw their torches into a replica Viking longship, resulting in a massive bonfire. Then the groups visit local halls to attend private parties. At the hall, each group performs an act, which may be a send-up of a popular TV show or film, a skit on local events, or singing or dancing.

9. The Glasgow Necropolis

Scotland Top Ten: The Glasgow Necropolis is a Victorian cemetery situated on top of a hill.
Image via Flickr by p_a_h

As I’ve written about elsewhere on this blog, I love old cemeteries. This one in Glasgow, the name of which means City of the Dead, is situated on a hilltop. Over 50,000 people are buried there, but only 3500 or so of the burial sites are marked. A monument to John Knox, leader of the Scottish Reformation, stands near the summit of the hill, surrounded by some of the larger memorials. If it seems odd to put a monument in a cemetery, I would agree; however, the monument predates the cemetery, not vice versa.

Among the graves you will find in the Necropolis is the grave of William Miller, also known as Laureate of the Nursery. He is the author of the “Wee Willie Winkie” nursery rhyme.

10. The Garden of Cosmic Speculation in Dumfries

Scotland Top Ten: The Snail Mound and the Snake Mound in the Garden of Cosmic Speculation.
Image via Flickr by yellow book

Sadly, this site is only open one day a year, so I would have to plan my travels carefully. The Garden of Cosmic Speculation is a 30 acre sculpture garden that is inspired by science and mathematics. The owner, Charles Jencks, says that “the garden uses nature to celebrate nature, both intellectually and through the senses, including the sense of humor. A water cascade of steps recounts the story of the universe, a terrace shows the distortion of space and time caused by a black hole, a ‘Quark Walk’ takes the visitor on a journey to the smallest building blocks of matter, and a series of landforms and lakes recall fractal geometry.”

It’s such a unique place, I would love to be able to see it someday!

What about you?

Have you visited any of these places? Would you add any to my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

 

Scotland Top Ten: Places You Should Visit in Scotland Before You Kick the Bucket
Top Ten Places to See in Uruguay

Top Ten Places to See in Uruguay

Why Uruguay?

I’ve had an interest in Uruguay since my college days, when I represented Uruguay in a model OAS. In doing my research on the small South American country, I discovered it was an often overlooked but quite extraordinary country. Its neighbors, Argentina and Brazil, get all the attention (and tourism), but Uruguay has quite a lot to offer its visitors. Here’s my Uruguay Top Ten list:

1. Montevideo

No visit to Uruguay would be complete without spending some time in its vibrant capital city. Take a stroll along La Rambla, the ten mile promenade that separates the city proper from the sea. While you’re doing that, cross over La Rambla and spend some time enjoying one of the city’s beautiful beaches.

Uruguay Top Ten: No visit to Montevideo would be complete without strolling along La Rambla.
Photo of La Rambla & beach in Montevideo via Flickr by Andre S Ribeiro

If history and architecture interest you, go to Plaza Independencia and from there explore the older part of the city. Be sure to look for the old city walls and gate! And for more on Montevideo history – as well as outstanding views over the city – be sure to visit Fortaleza del Cerro a military fortress-turned-museum located at the highest point of the city.

2. Hot Springs Near Salto

The Guaraní Aquifer, one of the largest groundwater reservoirs in the world, is located in northwestern Uruguay near the city of Salto. In Uruguay, this water system has temperatures ranging between 100º and 115°.

As a result of their high mineral content, the hot springs are ideal for relaxing baths and also digestive remedies. The area has capitalized upon this by improving infrastructure and supporting the development of many hot spring resorts.

Uruguay Top Ten: The Hot Springs near Salto make for a relaxing swim.
Photo of Termas del Arapey via Flickr by todo tiempo pasado fue mejor 

After enjoying the water, stroll through Salto, which is the second most populated city in Uruguay. The downtown area is full of historic monuments, shops, interesting architecture, and cafes. Other attractions in Salto include a zoo, a water park, and a riverside walking path.

3. La Mano en la Arena

This literally translates to A Hand in the Sand.  And that’s exactly what it is. Located on the popular Punta del Este beach (see below), it is a sculpture of five fingers emerging from the sand.

Uruguay Top Ten: See the hand in the sand at the popular Punta del Este beach.
Photo of La Mano By CoolcaesarOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal made the sculpture in the summer of 1982. He sought to make a sculpture of a hand “drowning” as a warning to swimmers. In fact, the sculpture is also known as Monumento al Ahogado (Monument to the Drowning Man). The artist made three replicas of the sculpture – one is in the Atacama Desert in Chile, one is in Madrid, and the third is in Venice.

4. Casapueblo

Casapueblo is a sprawling, vivid white estate near Punta del Este. Originally, Casapueblo served as a a summer house and workshop of the Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. Today, the building houses a museum, an art gallery, a cafeteria and a hotel.

Uruguay Top Ten: Casapueblo is an artist's former home with a stunningly unique design.
Photo of Casapueblo via Flickr by pviojo

Built of whitewashed cement and stucco, the building may remind you of the architecture seen in Santorini, Greece. The artist said that he drew inspiration from the nest of the Hornero, a South American bird known for building mud nests with chambers inside them. It has thirteen floors with terraces facing the waters of the Atlantic ocean. The construction has a staggered shape that allows better more/views of the ocean.

5. Museo del Gaucho y la Moneda

Two museums sharing a three story rococo mansion in Montevideo – what more could you ask for? The Museo del Gaucho contains exhibits about South America’s version of what we call a cowboy – el gaucho.

Uruguay Top Ten: Be sure to visit the Museo del Gaucho in Montevideo.
Photo of two gauchos via Flickr by Vince Alongi

Here you’ll find items from the gauchos’ everyday life, from traditional garb to the detailed silver work on the cups used for drinking mate. The second museum (la Moneda) deals with coin, and contains many examples of ancient South American and European coins.

6. Mercado del Puerto

I love shopping in Latin American markets, where the selection is vast, the colors are vibrant, and the prices are negotiable.

Uruguay Top Ten: Mercado del Puerto is a must for shopping and steakhouses.
Photo of Mercado del Puerto via Flickr by El Coleccionista de Instantes

At Montevideo’s Mercado del Puerto, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, you will find everything you can imagine – souvenirs, antiques, leather goods, hand crafted items, and of course, delicious meats. Be sure to eat at one of the steak houses there.  You will not be disappointed!

7. Colonia del Sacramento

Colonia del Sacramento is a small city in southwestern Uruguay. Founded in 1680, the town’s historic quarter was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. As you might expect in a city this old, visitors are able to walk through cobblestone streets to the Plaza Mayor.

Uruguay Top Ten: The City Gate at Colonia del Sacramento, founded in 1680.
Photo of the city gate and wooden drawbridge at Colonia del Sacramento by User:HalloweenHJB, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Many points of interest can be explored from there, including the city gate and wooden drawbridge, lighthouse and convent ruins, two museums, and the Basilica of the Holy Sacrament, built in 1808.

8. Punta del Este

Punta del Este is a tremendously popular tourist destination, with over 1 million visitors annually. It has been given several comparative nicknames, including “the Monaco of the South”, “The Pearl of the Atlantic”, “the Hamptons of South America”, and “the St. Tropez of South America.” In addition to the Punta del Este sites on this list (La Mano and Casapueblo), there are a few other attractions worth checking out when you visit.

Uruguay Top Ten: The pirate exhibit at the Museum of the Sea in Punta del Este.
Photo of pirate exhibit at the Museo del Mar in Punta del Este by FedaroOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

One particular attraction that I would recommend is the Museo del Mar (Museum of the Sea), which contains over 5,000 specimens of marine animals, including whale skeletons, sea urchins, starfish and turtle shells. In addition, there are exhibits about beach attire and habits of the early 20th century, navigational tools, and famous pirates.

9. Punta del Diablo

Don’t let the name fool you, Punta del Diablo is a heavenly place to visit! This little village is very popular and growing more so every year. It has a temperate climate (70°-80° in the summer; 50°-60° in the winter), great views of the ocean, and stunning beaches.

Uruguay Top Ten: Punta del Diablo offers visitors wide expanses of beach for recreation.
Photo of the beach at Punto del Diablo via Flickr by Vince Alongi.

In addition to the beaches, where locals and visitors are often seen in the summer gathered around fires playing guitars and singing songs, Punto del Diablo has other points of interest. Parque Nacional Santa Teresa (Saint Teresa National Park) offers 60 km of hiking trails and the potential for a whale sightings along the shore during summer. Another popular attraction is the Centro de Tortugas Marinas (Center for Sea Turtles). It is located near a popular foraging site for sea turtles, the waters off the beaches of Barra del Chuy to Punta del Diablo.

10. Wine Tasting in the Canelones Region

Uruguay’s wine industry began in the 1870s when Tannat was introduced by Basque immigrants. Since then, Tannat has become Uruguay’s signature varietal, producing rich, full-bodied red wines with dark fruit and spice aromas and flavors.

Uruguay Top Ten: Uruguay has many wineries in the Canelones region.

The wine is food friendly and traditionally paired with beef and lamb as well as pastas and strong cheeses. Named for its high tannin content, Tannat has been found to be the healthiest of red wines due to its high antioxidant and resveratrol levels which can aid in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. (See? Wine is good for you!)

There are at least a dozen wineries in this region, all fairly close to each other, so it would be easy to visit several and learn more about the wines produced in this part of South America.

And Just for Fun:

Ten Things You Might Not Know About Uruguay

  1. Uruguay is a socially progressive country. It was the first nation in Latin America to establish a welfare state, the first in the world to provide every child in school with a free laptop and wifi access (2009), and the first in the world to legalize the production, sale and use of marijuana (2013).
  2. Although marijuana is legal in Uruguay, it is illegal for a non-Uruguayan to purchase marijuana there.
  3. In the 2018 Global Peace Index, Uruguay ranked as the 37th safest country in the world – the second highest ranking country in South America.  (By comparison, the USA’s rank is 121 and the UK’s is 57.)
  4. Cows outnumber people in Uruguay by a margin of four to one.
  5. Uruguay is the only county in South America that lies completely outside the tropics.
  6. Uruguay’s national anthem clocks in at over five minutes, making it the longest in the world.
  7. Less than half the population of Uruguay is Catholic, making it the least religious country in South America. Many of the Catholic holidays have different names in Uruguay. Christmas is Family Day, Holy Week (Easter) is called Tourism Week, and so on.
  8. Uruguay was home to the “World’s Poorest President,” José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano. Mujica served as President from 2010 to 2015, and earned the nickname because of his humble way of life. He donated about 90% of his income as President to charity, refused to live in the Presidential Palace, and drove a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.
  9. The unofficial national motto of Uruguay dates back to the 19th century and is still repeated today: “Because here nobody is better than anybody else.”
  10. The Rio de la Plata, which forms part of Uruguay’s border with Argentina, is the widest river in the world, with a width of 140 miles at its mouth.
URUGUAY TOP TEN: The ten best destinations in Uruguay that should be on  your bucket list.