Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Colonial Williamsburg - Part 3

So far I have told you in general about Colonial Williamsburg in Part 1 and Living History at Colonial Williamsburg in Part 2, now, in this final Part, I am going to tell you about the things to see in Colonial Williamsburg - the real heart of this museum attraction.

As I have described Colonial Williamsburg is part of a city that has been restored and reconstructed to look just as it did just before and during the American Revolutionary War. What you are seeing ranges from the period of 1763 to about 1781. These are not a collection of buildings that existed at some other location and were moved here to be a museum. Every building that you see stood on the exact spot as you see it. The archaeologists of Colonial Williamsburg dug until they found the original foundations of the buildings and houses that were no longer standing and the built on those same brick foundations to reconstruct the building. They used journals and descriptions written at the time. They found engravings of buildings done in the Period. They also had a map that was drawn by a French soldier who was in Williamsburg in 1781 that shows every building in its place. You can follow this map today and what you will see will match what the Frenchman drew over 230 years ago.

My favorite time to walk through Williamsburg is late at night. The tourists have left for the day and the sounds that you hear are from the crickets in the trees. The sky is so clear that you can see thousands of stars bright and shining. This may be common to many who live out in the country away from the bright lights of cities but I don't get to see a sky like this when I am not in Williamsburg. There is a peacefulness that sweeps me back to the past.

The main street through the historic area is Duke of Gloucester Street, called DOG street by the locals and employees. The street is one mile long from the gate of the Colonial Capitol building to the gate of William and Mary College at the opposite end. Along this street and the two streets that run parallel on each side and along the side streets that connect the three is the historic area, and this is where most of the restoration sits. During the day, depending on the time of the year that you are there the street is bustling with visitors. The restoration is open all year and the highlight of the year is during Christmas time when all of the buildings are decorated for Christmas as the colonists did (no, no electric lights or Christmas trees). This lasts from the first full weekend in December to after Christmas. On that first weekend is Grand Illumination, but you are going to have to wait hear about that until I get there again this December with my Roadtrek.

As you walk along the street you may (with an admission pass) go into buildings that open. Some are trades shops and you will see blacksmiths working, gunsmiths working, silversmiths working, milliners making gowns, tailors making suits, weavers weaving and dyeing, carpenters building, brick makers forming bricks out of clay mud, woodworkers making furniture, and much more. Some of the buildings are the homes of the wealthy and some are homes of the master tradesmen. You will also go into the Capitol Building, the Governors Palace where the Royal Governor lived, the Court House, the Public Hospital for the Insane, the Magazine where weapons were stored, and more. There are also the Taverns that were the hotels and motels/restaurants/bars of the 18th Century. It is in the taverns that men met each night to discuss the politics of the day and when you come to Colonial Williamsburg you will learn that some of these taverns played a very important part in the founding of our nation.

If it existed in the city then, it is here now on the original site. The only exception to this is found on a walking path between the Visitors Center and the Historic Area. There you will see Great Hopes Plantation. This has been constructed to show how the common people lived in the 18th Century. Log houses with dirt or wood floors were far more common than the elite mansions of the wealthy. This is a working farm and you can participate in some of the daily chores.

The most recent building to be restored is Carlton's Coffeehouse and this has been a long time coming and much anticipated. It was completed about a year ago. As I could not travel, I watched the reconstruction of the building on one of Colonial Williamsburg's webcams. There are six of them. Here is a link. A coffee house was different than a tavern and until tea was boycotted it was a place to go to drink tea, coffee, and chocolate. A meal could be had with special arrangement as well. After 1774 the tea was gone and the drinks of the day were coffee and chocolate. Chocolate was not eaten as a candy but made into a thick, spiced drink. Carltons now serves a free sample during its tours. I must say that it was very different. It consists of chocolate ground to a paste from the beans, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. It was not sweet like today's hot chocolate. It was thick and the flavor took a little getting used to but once I tried it, I wanted more.

On the edge of the Historic Area is the Public Hospital for the Insane. The cleverly designed interior of the building shows you the history of the hospital from the 18th Century into the 19th Century when it burned to the ground, and below ground level, is the Dewitt-Wallace Gallery and the Abby Aldridge Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. There you will see Colonial Williamsburg collection of original furniture, clothing, textiles, ceramics, silver glassware, guns, and more. Abby Aldridge Rockefeller, the wife of John D. Rockefeller, collected American folk art. Her collection is housed in a wing of this building. This building alone can take the better part of a day to go through. In the summer it is a great place to escape from the Virginia heat that can reach over 100 degrees. (A note on the heat - to preserve the antiques and the buildings themselves, most of the restored and reconstructed buildings are air conditioned, though you will not see an air conditioner.)

It is impossible to see Colonial Williamsburg in one day. Plan for four days. Allow yourself to leave the rush of the 21st Century and travel back in time to a place and time that was just as busy - and a little dangerous with a war looming ahead - but certainly nothing like your everyday life. And each time that you go something will be a little different. Research and archaeology is going on all of the time and things are changed to reflect new discoveries of the past. If you like history, Colonial Williamsburg is a Must See!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Colonial Williamsburg - Part 2

If you enjoy history and have an interest in how people lived and what took place over 235 years ago then there is plenty to do in Colonial Williamsburg. I had commented in my last post that we usually go for ten days in the summer. This trip was one of the shorter summer trips at only 8 nights.

Over the past twenty or so years, Colonial Williamsburg has done various things to help draw their visitors into history and time travel to this city in the years before and during the American Revolution. It is done by bringing the people who lived at the time to life and having you witness their lives, their sentiments, and the events around them. This is called Living History and Colonial Williamsburg has been one of the pioneers in this. (Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts was actually one of the first museums to do this and laid a great deal of ground work for others to follow.) Colonial Williamsburg has done this in the past by having the visitors interact with the people of the past - up close and personal. This would take place on the street, in the exhibition buildings, in the houses, and in the trade shops. The visitor had the ability to stand back or sit back and watch or get involved and get into the conversation of what was being presented. This is true living history. Things have changed somewhat and are a little different at present.

I told you how I love this place and now I am going to tell you that Colonial Williamsburg is presenting history currently in a way that I (and my wife) do not much care for - BUT the general visiting public seem to love. Over the past several years - every day Colonial Williamsburg presents "Revolutionary City".

Revolutionary City is a program that takes place in the mornings during the summer months and in the afternoons during the winter months. It takes place out on the street in a section of the city on Duke of Gloucester Street (the main street in the restored area) that is closed off during this program to anyone who does not have a visitor's admission ticket - any of their admission tickets gets you into Revolutionary City. What you will see is basically a play performed in the street where you will watch several vignettes that will show you some piece of history that took place in Williamsburg right before and then during the Revolutionary War. What I object to about this is that it is a play. You do not interact. You watch. You can get caught up in the excitement of the moment, but there is a distance between you and the people who are "preforming" and they are performing from a script. True living history is improvisation - the people who are presenting to you have a basic theme but are improvising based upon what is being asked of them or comments that are being made. Of course, this means that the public has to be comfortable with this and that they need to be able to react and respond to what they are seeing. Many people are happier watching - and Colonial Williamsburg's Revolutionary City caterers to that. You are the audience and no more. This is a little "lovers spat" that C.W. (Colonial Williamsburg) and I have been having since Revolutionary City has started - and nothing more. No love affair is complete with out an occasional disagreement.

Anyway, Revolutionary City for what is done, is done well and I know several of the people who are performing, having met them over the years. A stage in the form of a platform was built in front of the Raleigh Tavern - no there was no such platform there in 1776. This is there to bring the main action up out of the street and more easily into your line of sight. The program currently has two main parts. It had three when it started. There had been a fourth added over time and a variation of that now has become a third part of the current program. Each day there is one of the parts - with Monday always having this third part. It will be cleared in my description that follows.

TUESDAY/THURSDAY/SATURDAY - "The King's Government Collapses, 1765-1776" The program is the same on each of these days and in the summer months starts at 11:00 am. During this program you will see the notable people of the town react to the news of the Battle of Lexington and Concord which took place in Massachusetts in 1775. The call this "The Gale from the North". You will then see "Swordplay, a Lesson from the Fencing Master" in which you will see sword fighting and a quarrel between two men over... well you will have to wait and see. Next comes "To Be or Not..." which has nothing to do with Shakespeare but is a briefly shown love story between the youths of a a Tory family and a Patriot family. The action moves from the street to a shaded area under trees where you will see "Liberty to Slaves" - the reaction of slaves to the news that they will be freed if they belong to rebel masters and the personal conflict that this results in for those that are owned by Loyalists. The program ends back out on the street in front of the Capitol where the Declaration of Independence is presented and interpreted dramatically. The program ends about 12:15 pm.

WEDNESDAY/FRIDAY/SUNDAY - The Challenge of Independence, 1775 - 1781. This program is also the same on each of these days. These are the war years and during these days you will see "For Love of my Country" the decision to enlist in the Army and what it means for family left behind. This is followed by "A Place Called Saratoga" - the news of a battle being won in the North is brought to town and a discouraged people find new hope. Next you witness "The Town Is Taken! The British Occupy Williamsburg". For a little over a week before the battle at Yorktown, Williamsburg was occupied by the British Army and you will be addressed by the occupying British General and his staff. The general is none other than the hated Benedict Arnold. You are told the rules of occupation and you witness the banter between the townspeople and the British officers. You move next to that shaded area of trees and benches behind the new coffeehouse restoration to witness slaves once again - this time with another promise for freedom to join the British Army at Yorktown - called "Running to Freedom!". This program day concludes with "On to Yorktown and Victory!". One of the Continental generals addresses the crowd about the coming battle at Yorktown, the battle that will prove to end the Revolution and finally create this nation. The general changes depending on which employees are scheduled. It may be General Washington. On the day that we saw this it was General Lafayette.

MONDAY - "Building a Nation" This program jumps through the years and in my opinion is very disjointed with no real connection from one event to the next. This is the weakest of the programs though it did have some very good presentations. It starts with "Created Equal" and brings up the questions that people had about what the new Declaration of Independence would really mean for each person. This was followed by what I considered the highlight of this day's program and that was "Lady Washington Visits the Capital". Martha Washington arrives with greetings for the people from her husband and there is a very good interaction between her and an ex-soldier who is crippled from being wounded in battle. You then move back under those trees to "Thy Rod and Thy Staff" in which a former slave preacher has news that his church has been recognized by the central Baptist church committee. The day's program concludes with a presentation from a famous patriot who talks about his experiences during the Revolution. Again, this changes by who is scheduled and once again, on the day we saw this it was the Marquis D' Lafayette.

That is Revolutionary City. Different stories are added and taken away. The current version is more up-beat than some have been in the past portraying some of the more heartbreaking, tragedies that resulted from the Revolution. But hey, this is your vacation and you are here instead of going to see a six foot tall mouse - so the program has to leave you cheering and smiling.

During the day there are other programs in which you will encounter people of the past. There are public audiences with famous people - during this trip we saw Thomas Jefferson as interpreted by Mr. Bill Barker - who by the way is excellent and one of the treasurers of Colonial Williamsburg. If you have seen any of the PBS programs on the presidents then you have seen Mr. Barker portray Thomas Jefferson. He is a must see when you visit Colonial Williamsburg.

This photo did not come out very well. My apologies to Mr. Barker.

And of course, we had a public audience with the Marquis D' Lafayette portrayed by Mark Schneider who is also very good and has a variety of people of the past that he portrays well.

At the end of each day at 5:00 there is a program on Market Square the close out the day. There will be fife and drums and demonstrations of military exercises, musket firing, and canon firing.

It is all a lot of fun - even if I would rather participate than watch. In the next article I will tell you about more of the things that you will do and see in Colonial Williamsburg before I move on to other things to see in this same area.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Colonial Williamsburg - Part 1

I have been going to Colonial Williamsburg since the mid-1960's. My wife and I have been going for thirty years and not too long at the start of that the trip became annual - every summer and then we added a December trip as well. We have gone for as long as two full weeks. We more often average ten days. It is possible to love a place as you would love a person. Needless to say, I have this type of love for Colonial Williamsburg.

I can't really put the why of that into words. It is a feeling and every time that we go that feeling is renewed and deepens. If you have been reading these articles from the beginning you know that we stopped traveling for three years - and the Roadtrek has made traveling possible for us. What it has done is brought me (I really should say us) back to Colonial Williamsburg. It is more than a love of history. There are a lot of places to experience history around the country. There really is nothing else quite like this and on this scale. For a living history reenactor, this is like a playground. For everyone else, it is an incredible immersion into the past that is brought to life everyday in the streets and in the restored and reconstructed buildings.

Allow me a moment to tell you a little history about Colonial Williamsburg to set the stage for what this is all about and what you will see when you visit there. It is important to understand that this is not an amusement park and it is not a restored village with a big fence around the property and an admission booth at the gate. This is a city. People live here. People have lived here since the 1600's. Williamsburg was the capital city of the colony and state of Virginia until the capital was moved to Richmond in 1780 during the American Revolution to protect the capital from British invasion from the sea. When the capital was moved, the city of Williamsburg became a sleepy, little college town - the College of William and Mary is here and has been since its start in 1693. Over the years, the streets that were regularly walked on by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and so many other founders of our country became paved over and the houses and buildings that lined those streets were built over or fell down with new buildings taking their place. In the 1930's, the reverend of the local church had an idea to wake up the sleeping city and uncover its past. He was a go-getter and knew just who to interest in his idea. He got in contact with John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and painted an irresistible picture of history come to life. He literally got Rockefeller to buy the town. Almost every house, every business, and every bit of property was bought up one by one. They started researching the city as it was in the 1770's and began to dig to find the past under what time had covered over. Original foundations were unearthed of buildings that no longer stood. Buildings that had survived the century and a half were put back to their original appearance. At first the idea was to attract the rich - Rockefeller's friends, and cater to them bringing those who could afford to time travel during the Great Depression. Few outside know this - and it is not something that is talked much about. When the average guy started traveling, the focus began to change and what you see know began to develop. Today, you will see 88 original buildings and hundreds of houses, shops, and outbuildings spread over the 301 acre historic area.

The streets are still public streets and you are welcome to walk down them at any time - with the exception of one part of one street when special programs are taking place on the street. You have full access to every part of the historic area and every exhibition building and museum with the purchase of an admission ticket at the visitor's center. No cars or motor vehicles of any kind are permitted on the streets in the historic area from early morning until 10 PM at night. Parking for the day is at the Visitors' Center and that is located outside of the historic area. There are shuttle buses that are included with your admission ticket that will take you to several points of the historic area (they run on streets that surround the historic area that are open to traffic). It is possible to walk into the historic area from the parking lot on paths that were designed for this purpose. It is about a ten minute walk with slight inclines. There are short term parking lots around the city but these fill early and parking is limited to two hours.

When we arrived at the Visitors' Center parking lot with our Roadtrek we easily fit into car spaces that faced a curb with a grass divider to the next row. When we tried to park in the spaces that were out in the middle that were spaced car facing car, we found that we needed to take up two spaces front to back so that we did not stick out into the parking lot road too far. Without the Continental Spare Tire on the back bumper we would have fit with no problem. The spare just put us out a little two far. There is a parking lot that is dedicated to RVs and it is off a short distance to the side. We saw several Class C's in the regular lot parking as we had, taking two spaces. Even on crowded days this did not seem to upset anyone.

There are many people who feel that they do not want to purchase a ticket and they just walk through the historic area looking from the walks and the street at the outside of the buildings. While this is a pleasant thing to do, if you have come from any distance to see Colonial Williamsburg and you are paying hotel rates or campground fees to be there, why not buy a ticket? It is like getting an ice cream bar and licking the paper that it is wrapped in. Admission tickets are priced less than amusement park admission. If you are not all that interested in history or if this type of place is boring to you - why come here in the first place? Over the years I have seen parents bring their children to Colonial Williamsburg as if it is expected of them as part of good parenting. Some of the kids are really into what they are seeing and participating in - often more so than the parents are. And I have seen these same kids dragged away from something that they are watching or looking at by the parents who have a need to just keep moving as they really would rather be someplace else. I have also seen families completely bored by the whole thing and can't wait to get to the roller coasters of Busch Gardens. There is no obligation to visit Colonial Williamsburg - but with some of the people I have encountered over the years there, you would never know that it is not. Then there are the families who spend time to learn about what they are coming to see and are open to experiencing history that is spoon-fed with a lot of sugar. These are the people who really enjoy their visit and there are many of them (an entire Facebook fan page of them) that like me, fell in love with the place and come back regularly. If you want to make your trip worth the effort of going - buy a ticket.

Admission tickets are sold several ways. There is multi-day ticket which admits you for three consecutive days with an option to add two more days. There is a "bounce" ticket which admits you to both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens for seven consecutive days. There is a single day ticket. There is a Historic Triangle ticket that admits you to Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown attractions, and Jamestown attractions for seven consecutive days. There is a flex ticket that gives you all of it including Busch Gardens, Jamestown, and Yorktown for seven consecutive days. The flex ticket is currently the most expensive of the ticket packages - and it includes a lot considering the individual prices of the attractions included. We don't buy any of those. We purchase an annual pass which costs less than a one day admission ticket to Busch Gardens. It is good for one year (date to date) and we have been able to use it some years for three trips - the first summer, in December, and if we go early enough the next year, the next summer. The annual pass is dated for the end of the week that you purchase it in the next year. We are good until mid-August 2012.

You know now what it is all about. Next week you will read about what we saw and what we did in Colonial Williamsburg - and what you will be able to see as well.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

American Heritage Campground, Williamsburg, VA

I am going to continue telling you about our vacation trip this August by writing about the campground that we stayed in - American Heritage Campground located in Williamsburg, Virginia. I first should say that while the address is Williamsburg - and it is in Williamsburg - this campground is about 10 to 13 miles from Colonial Williamsburg and just a bit further from Busch Gardens. This was not a problem - the campground is very close to Route 64 (no we could not hear any road noise in the campground) and the trip between the campground and Colonial Williamsburg on Route 64 took less than fifteen minutes. A surprise to us was that the speed limit on Route 64 is 70 mph. It was an easy on 64 and an easy off with just a few minutes from 64 to the Colonial Williamsburg Visitors Center and parking lot. Taking Route 60 is also possible, but it is longer due to traffic lights and a slower speed limit.

Just like everything else that I do, I do a lot of research and checking before I decide on something. I did this extensively with campgrounds for Colonial Williamsburg. There are several to choose from and I examined the review comments on each and also paid attention on the forums to what others recommended. Overwhelming, American Heritage is the campground that is recommended for this area. I had started out looking closely at another campground - Anvil Campground. In distance, it is actually closer to Colonial Williamsburg - actually not too far further than a hotel that we have stayed in way back when. There is one consistent comment that comes up in reviews of Anvil Campground - beware of the noise of the train. Train tracks cross Williamsburg and freight and passenger trains (looong freight trains) travel on these tracks day and night - all night. Some like to blow their horns. Anvil Campground is located directly next to the tracks. We went to look - it is a few feet away from the train tracks on the entire one side of the campground. The trains and the noise that they make will be ever present while you are staying there. I have nothing against this campground. We did, during the trip, go to look at it. We noticed a few things other than the train tracks. It is a small campground. It is right on a main road on the side without the tracks. Driving down that road one can clearly see into the entire campground and see every camper there. There was little feeling of privacy there and this struck Meryl as the most significant reason for her not to want to stay there. I am not saying that if we had no place else to stay we would never stay there - but it would not be our preference once we saw it. As to its being closer to Colonial Williamsburg, because it is necessary to drive on Route 60 with its traffic lights and slower speed limit to get to the Visitor's Center, the trip from American Heritage by way of Route 64 was much quicker.

While I am on the subject of trains, yes, the train tracks are within a mile or less from American Heritage and yes, we did hear trains going by at night (even late, late night) in the distance. They were not a problem for us. We were not disturbed by them. There is really no escaping hearing a train in Williamsburg. Even at the hotels that we have stayed at, trains could be heard.

So, let's get back to talking about American Heritage Campground. The rate per night was $49.25 and there is a free night if you stay seven nights (stay 6 get the 7th free). There is also AARP, AAA, or Good Sam discounts but these do not apply if you are getting the free night. They will figure it out so that you pay the least for your stay.

As this was our first time at this campground, I wanted to arrive while the office was still open so that I could make sure we were able to get our space and be settled in person - and not arrive after hours to find our space on a chart on the door. Coming off of Route 64 it is less than a quarter mile to the street that the campground is located off of. A left turn on that street from the main road takes you down a narrow, residential street lined on both sides with houses. The campground entrance is partially hidden by a very large hedge. The house just before the entrance had an RV parked on its lawn so it was easy to tell where to turn (especailly in the dark). Once you pass that hedge, the entrance was well lit and there was a large sign for the campground, but don't go fast down that road because if you miss the entrance, especially in a big rig, you are going to have a real hard time turning around on this narrow road. We never drove past the campground entrance on the road so I don't not know what is there, though it does not appear that anything is there based on Google maps.

I had called about a month before to make a reservation for our campsite. This may not have been necessary but we are not traveling yet without reservations. We arrived about 4 pm with plenty of time to spare. There were two very nice ladies at the front desk in the office building - which is also a gift shop. The lady helping us had someone check to make sure the site that she had in mind for us was vacant - it was not. She assigned us a different site. We paid and were given a green tag to hang on our rear-view mirror while we were parked at our site in the campground. She showed us where our site was on the map - Row 8 - and gave us the map. She also told us what the wifi password is. At the door, there are racks of local tourist magazines. The office will also sell you tickets to Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens - and they have the weekly schedule for Colonial Williamsburg available. Check in was nice and easy and we were on our way to find our site.

There were eleven rows all together with primitive tent camping at the back. Each row has a post that tells you the row number. These are somewhat lit at night, but we found it easier just to count each night when we returned to the campground. Together, we drove and counted - 1, 2, 3 passing each row until we came to 8. By the end of the trip it got easier because a large double-decker Class A was parked in the end space of Row 7. One night there were two police cars in the middle of the entrance road around row 5, so we went down row 4 to the other side and made out way to the end and then back down to row 8. I have no idea why the police were there. There was no one else around but the two police cars and they were talking to each other through the car windows.

We got to our space for the first time and backed the Roadtrek in. The spaces are large. They are sized for RVs all the way up to Class A's. We had no trouble backing up into the space and had a lot of room to move around to get close to the electric post, water faucet, and sewer hole. Each site is paved cement, with a cement patio on the side, a gravel entrance approach, and grass at the back and on the side opposite from the patio. The site was perfectly level - everywhere that we stopped on it. Every site has 50, 30 and 20 amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable. There is a fire ring for campfires and a picnic table on the patio. Very tall pine trees are interspersed around the campsites. There are premium sites with added garden ambiance - we had a regular site - we did not need flowers or a garden. The premium sites do not add any other tangible services. Sites are close to each other but not so close that it is a problem. It was no different from the other two campgrounds that we have been in to date. I would not expect there not to be another site on each side of us and behind us. You are not going to be alone out in the woods here - so if that is what you are looking for, look elsewhere toward one of the regional or state parks.

The first thing that we do when we get into a campground is check the electricity for polarity and voltage. The polarity meter showed all was well. The voltage meter showed a reading in the middle of the afternoon of 119 and a fraction. This surprised me a little as to this point each site we had been in has had voltage between 120 and 125, but what little I know about voltage I figured that 119 and a fraction was close enough. We turned on the water at the hose connection to make sure it worked and also looked for the cable connection which was there and was shared with the campsite to the side behind us. If it was working for them it would be working for us.

At this point on the first day, we put the testing equipment away, and happily left to go to Colonial Williamsburg and purchase our annual passes. We returned late at night, counted the rows to ours and pulled down and easily found our space. We hooked up the electric line and the cable. We were traveling with our water tanks full and had not planned on hooking up to campground water until the tanks needed refilling. We have a filter on our faucet and a filter that goes on the hose and have no problem drinking campground water. We do leave each morning and return late each night - and we do not want to have to hook up to water at night and unhook up each morning. The Roadtrek 190 has two fresh water tanks and there is more than enough on-board to go for days. It is enough to hook and unhook the electric and cable - which got faster as we went along.

We were very happy at American Heritage Campground. There were a couple of things that happened along the stay - some funny and one not so funny (at least to us at the time). For example - those tall pine trees that are around the sites. The one next to us would drop developing pine cones onto the pavement when the wind would blow. These are about four inches long, green, thin, and sticky. It was necessary when walking around in the dark not to step on them. We have a really bright Coleman rechargeable lantern that we use to provide us with more than enough light when we are hooking up in the dark at night. It was very useful in finding where to step and where not to step to avoid these. Now, those trees and pine cones also attract squirrels and one day Meryl is standing next to the Roadtrek getting ready to unhook when she says that something is falling on her head from above. I looked at her like, "what are you talking about" and then something came down and hit her on the head and fell on the cement. It was a wedge of a pine cone. A squirrel up on a branch above her was pulling the wedges off a pine cone to get to the nuts inside - and tossing those wedges down onto Meryl's head. He was a persistent little fellow with very good aim.

One night we got back to the campsite and Meryl got ready to hook up the wiring. I was following behind and she said that she stepped in something and slid on it. We could not see what, but her sneaker was covered in dog poop. Dogs are allowed at this campground and there were some pretty big dogs around. Those that we saw were not leashed and people were allowing their dogs to do their business wherever the dog stopped. Some carried bags or scoops, but not all did. I have nothing against dogs, but if you have a dog, no matter where you are - home or camping if the dog goes, pick it up. This campground also has a fenced dog run and I suspect that those with dogs are informed that they must have their dogs use that. And on the campground map, next to a picture of a dog it says, "If we poop, you've got to scoop!" The dogs we saw were loose (with their owners) around the campground roads. Evidently, a dog had come through our site on the grass (as we saw nothing on the cement), no one scooped, and left a present for Meryl to find. She and I were livid. There was nothing to do but go to the campground rest room and clean off her shoe - before anything was brought inside of the Roadtrek. We got the lantern and flashlights and started walking to the single restroom/shower building that this campground has. We walked several rows down to the front and then down the row to the middle to a long building. There was a ladies' room on one side and a men's room next to it. This gave us an opportunity to check them out - though we would have preferred to do that under more pleasant circumstances. Perhaps it was because it was late at night - by this time it was after 1 am - but I was not pleased by what I saw in the men's room. First there were few toilet or shower stalls. There was a short row of sinks in front of them. The sink counters were all wet. The floor was wet with black water. The toilet stalls and the shower stalls were not much better. As I say, this was after a full days use and we did not go back during the day to see what they were like. Meryl said that the ladies' room was much better and not at all as I saw the men's to be. This was the only restroom/shower building marked on the map. This is a large campground - and while most use their own facilities inside their RV, I know that there are many who use the campground's showers and toilets. Again, this may have been a one day condition due to inconsiderate users or over use. Perhaps, had I not been so annoyed at the time about the dog poop, I would have seen this with different eyes. Meryl cleaned off her shoes. We walked back to the Roadtrek and for a precaution, she changed sneakers outside to a spare pair, we sprayed her just cleaned sneakers with Lysol and as we did discovered that she had not gotten it all off one of them. Back we went to the restroom to finish the job. Those sneakers got tied into a plastic bag for the rest of the trip.

Another night, I stepped into something that I thought was the same, but it turned out to be one of those developing pine cones. Not that I make a point of sticking my nose into what I step in but I took off my shoe to examine what was on it and it had the distinct odor of pine - and not poo. I cleaned the shoe off there at the site - and also retired them for the rest of the trip, sealing them into a plastic bag.

We did not come to the campground to use the facilities that it has to offer but if you are one to spend time at the campground during the day, American Heritage has a large swimming pool, a laundry room at the swimming pool building, and the "Hippo Slide" a huge blow up water slide. You pay by the day or for your trip to use the "Hippo Slide" and we did not see anyone on it during the short times that we were in the campground during the day. We did see people using the pool. There is a volley ball court, a softball field, mini-golf, a playground, a library, a basketball court, horseshoe pits, and a game room. There is also a nature trial that led into the woods. You can rent golf carts and pedal cars. The campground also has an RV repair shop on site. You can purchase propane on site. There is a camp store. There is also a wired network connection for those who do not have wifi at the swimming pool building which is open 24 hours a day. There is a strong wifi signal through out the campground and we easily connected with our laptop.

There is good cable TV here - it is actually Dish TV - and it gets 48 strong channels. Many of these are movie channels including Turner Classic and all of the Encore and Stars channels with commercial-free, unedited movies. There are also local network channels, sports, news, etc. Cable here was very good.

Garbage was picked up every morning at 11 am. All that was necessary was for you to put your bag out at the side of your site near the road.

We eventually had to dump our tanks - actually our monitor was saying the black tank was full at less than four of the ten gallons of capacity and we were dumping far more often than we needed to - but we had no idea going by the monitor panel - which we will have dealer service look at. It took a little coaxing to get the lid off the sewer hole the first time but after that it was easy. The sewer hole is just at the side of the hose connection and electric post. Because of the short hose that the Roadtrek macerator has we had to make sure we were close enough to the hole before we dumped. This was not really a problem as there was plenty of room on the pad to move around. A larger RV would line right up and those around us were all connected right there.

We also refilled our fresh water tanks while we were there and the water hose pressure was steady. We use a pressure regulator on the connection. There were no pressure issues here at all. The water also tasted fine.

I liked this campground. We are going back. I would recommend it to anyone coming to Williamsburg, Virginia.

My next articles will talk about the things that we did and the many things to do in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Some campers really settled in and decorated here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Our First Real Vacation in the Roadtrek Complete with Earthquake, Sudden Violent Storm, and Hurricane

The electrical power is back at our home four days after Hurricane Irene. I am back at my computer and I can now take the time that this article deserves.

We have waited a long time to be able to travel again as we used to and in mid-August for some many years we have gone South. Once we got the new Roadtrek we started planning this trip. It started out a little more extensive than perhaps a first extended trip should - though I know that some get a Roadtrek and the next day leave to go across country for three months. We usually go away for three weeks. We started off planning for just over two weeks and at the point that we left the trip was whittled down for thirteen days. Initially, the trip was to include a night in Pennsylvania, four days in Washington, D.C., eight days in Williamsburg, Virginia, and then two nights (three days) back in Pennsylvania on the way home. As we got close to the trip I began to think that perhaps we were planning too much and that maybe we should break in a trip like this a little shorter. At the last minute we cut out the Washington, D.C. portion of the trip and left in the rest.

If you have been reading along with me on this site, you know that we have been preparing the Roadtrek and packing it with things that we will need on a trip since the day that we got it this past April. Well, the final packing to prepare for this trip took four days of adding in things that we figured we would need and all of the clothing that we would need for two weeks out - plus spares. Before we left, every cabinet was full and packed tight.

Also over the past several weeks I have been finding every noise inside that would bang, clunk, or rattle as we drove, and made certain that it was quieted. We have just about found most - though along the way on the trip a few new ones could be heard. We were ready to go!

We planned a new route from our house to the highway avoiding some of the bumps of poorly paved roads and cutting several minutes off the trip. Of course, with construction on every road everywhere (it seems), a few minutes here or there does not mean much when you sit in traffic before you get twenty miles away.

Our first night would be in Lancaster, PA. The trip to Virginia is over eight hours of straight driving and I did not want to arrive in a campground for the first time after their office closed, so we set a stopover in PA at about the half way point. We would arrive in Pennsylvania with enough time to go to a farmer's market called Roots with time to stop before at the campground, check in and pay for the night, make sure the power at the electric post was good, and then be off to the market. With traffic, the trip was a little longer than it should be. We stayed once again at the Old Mill Stream Campground in Lancaster, PA. The people who work at this campground are great and very accommodating. I will have more to say about them as these articles continue - as we returned to this campground at the end of our trip with a hurricane coming up the coast and forced us to make sudden last minute changes in our plans.

The next day we would leave for Virginia and head for a campground that has been highly recommended by other RVers for the Williamsburg area - American Heritage Campground. I plan to devote an entire article to that campground. It did live up to its recommendations.

I am not going to attempt to tell you all about the things that we did on this trip in one article and there will be several to follow. I will focus on the places that we went and the things to do.

I will tell you now about a few things that will make this trip stand out in our memories for a long time. These are things that go beyond traveling in an RV or specifically, a Roadtrek. During this trip - as it's title states - we encountered an earthquake, a sudden violent storm as we were driving on US 95, and a hurricane.

There may have been other earthquakes on the East Coast during my many years, but I have never felt one. If anyone told me that one took place, it would be a surprise to me. On this trip, we were within one hundred miles of the center of the earthquake and we felt this one. It is an odd sensation. We were inside a museum building on Jamestown Island. This building was built just a few years ago over an archaeological site and to preserve the site, the building was built on cement piers above the ground do as not to disturb the history beneath. We were standing at one of the display cases on a wall near the front of the museum. Suddenly, it felt like the building was swaying. It just seemed natural that it would do this - my wife said to me that the building must be moving in the wind - the James River is just feet away. I said to her that this was not possible - we have been in this building before and it cannot sway in the wind. Well, she said, if it is not the wind - it must be an earthquake. Over our heads, the hanging light fixtures started swinging. We were just standing there. My wife asked me if we should be heading for a door. I figured that if there was a problem, someone would be on a loudspeaker telling everyone to get out, but the young lady at the reception counter was just sitting there talking to some guy who had come by. There was no panic and it was like this happened there every day. The swaying stopped, of course, as suddenly as it started and it lasted about thirty seconds. The lights kept swinging but other than that it did not appear that anything had been moved out of place. The artifacts in the cases were as they were. Suddenly, a man who appeared to be an administrator came running out to the girl at the reception counter. He asked her if she felt "that". He said that he was sitting at his desk and suddenly everything started moving. I saw him pull out his cell phone and start calling to find out what happened. Now, this is National Park Service, so I would figure these guys know an earthquake when they feel one - or would know who to call to find out. He seemed to make three calls before he got confirmation that we just experienced an earthquake - 5.9 they told him on the Richter Scale. Everyone just went back to what they were doing so we continued to tour the musuem. Later, people who had been outside when it happened said that they did not feel anything. In the next few days, speaking to people at Colonial Williamsburg - just a few miles from where we were, most felt it - outside or in - and those who were outside who did not actually feel the movement, felt a feeling of dizziness or of being lightheaded. Yes, this was my first earthquake. My wife, of course, has been a much larger one - an 8.9 in Mexico - which she slept through. This occurred before we met when we were in college.

The earthquake was the big topic of conversation in Virginia for days. When we left Williamsburg, we were going back to Lancaster to spend a few days. There were reports of Hurricane Irene but there was no certainty at that point what path it would take. We were continuing with the trip figuring if it did come our way we would likely be home by then. We left Williamsburg and headed in the Roadtrek north on US Route 95 - well known for its traffic between Richmond and Washington D.C. We left mid-afternoon and planned to stop for dinner at a restaurant in Fredricksburg that we have been to before. The plan was that we would stop early for dinner, avoid the bulk of rush hour and leave when the roads were clearer heading up to Pennsylvania. What we had not planned for - and had no idea about was a sudden flash storm that violently hit several counties in Northern Virginia including the city of Fredericksburg. We were driving along with the sky cloudy, but not out of the ordinary, when suddenly the sky turned dark. At the same time it started to pour and the wind sharply blew. The Roadtrek which was traveling at the speed limit - the speed limits here are 70 mph - was taken in the wind and blew out of the lane. I held tight on the wheel and got it back between the lines while I slowed down. It handles the wind at slower speeds much better. Everyone else was slowing down as well and we were surrounded by trucks and cars. We had the radio on and again for the first time in my life I heard the Emergency Broadcast System actually come on - and not for a drill- and report that in these counties - they listed several counties - the locations of which we had no clue - but obviously we were in one - there was a severe storm with 60 mph winds, heavy rain, and large hail. We saw no hail but we certainly were in the downpour and felt the wind. I got behind a small truck with large red rear lights that I could see easily and just kept going following behind. We drove about half an hour in the storm heading north and the sky started to clear as suddenly as it had grown dark. The storm was heading south and we had driven through it.

We were just about in Fredericksburg and we f0und our exit. The restaurant is a chain restaurant and is located in a section of the parking lot for a large shopping center. There is also an incredibly inexpensive gas station in this shopping center - which we had stopped in on the way south and paid $3.29 per gallon. This may not be a big deal where you are located but here in NY the gas topped $3.89 and was headed for over $4 again when we left on this trip. Well, anyway, we are now off 95 but deep in traffic approaching this shopping center - most of the traffic - rush hour from both Richmond and D.C. was passing the shopping center by. We managed to get over to the lane to enter the shopping center - and it was eerily deserted. In fact everyone of the many, many stores and businesses were closed - and appeared to have been closed for some time. We continued along the inner roads of the shopping center to the restaurant and it was closed and dark. Those here must have know that this storm was coming - and they closed the stores and got out fast. Well, now we had to find someplace else for dinner and try to avoid what had turned into bumper to bumper traffic back on 95. I suggested that we head for US 1 - to try to avoid the traffic and also because there would be opportunities to find restaurants on a route that was not a limited access road.

To get to US 1 it is necessary to drive through most of Fredericksburg - and like the shopping center - it was closed. There was no electric power in any of the buildings and everything was deserted. It continued along like this down to US 1 - and US 1 was not much different - though it was bumper to bumper traffic with a mile traveled in about a half hour. It took us an hour and a half until we found an open road back up to US 95- which by this time had opened up significantly and was moving. We eventually found restaurants open nearer to D.C. and had dinner. Another experience to write home about...

And then there was the hurricane. At this point the reports were uncertain as to when this hurricane would reach NY and whether or not it would be as strong as it was reported to be in Bermuda. We were uncertain what to do - stay the two days as planned in Pennsylvania or leave the next day after arrival this night. My wife was concerned that we had left things out in our backyard that would blow up and damage the house. I was concerned that we were putting ourselves into the storm and that Pennsylvania - perhaps more west than we would be - would be a better place to be than at home in the direct path of the storm. We would have until the next morning to decide when we went into the office to pay for our stay.

We hooked up that night in the mud. The storm that we drove through in Virginia must have made its way through Pennsylvania also. The next morning the sun was shining and you would never know that there was a hurricane in the forecast. We went into the office and explained our situation. The ladies who work at Old Mill Stream Campground are very nice and very accommodating. She completely understood and told us that if we needed to leave there was no problem and we would not have to pay for the second day even though it had been reserved. They were uncertain what the weather would be like there. They had heard reports from nothing to heavy rains. Meryl was anxious that we would have a problem with the things left in our backyard and the decision was made to head home. We would spend the day in Lancaster, have an early dinner and head home.

Throughout the day we heard weather reports getting worse and worse for NY. I started to think that perhaps we should head west to where there would be no storm at all and avoid the problem all together. That place - where there would be no storm - would be Pittsburgh. We pulled into a McDonald's parking lot and connected to their wifi to find a campground in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, I was not finding any - not that I was not finding vacancies - I was not finding campgrounds. OK - we would head home.

The rest you know. The storm hit NY hard and heavy (though not as heavy as anticipated). We sat in the dark - actually in the Roadtrek in our driveway using the generator and the inverter alternately to be in the light and be entertained by the TV at night. And waited four days to have the power restored. I still think we should have gone to Pittsburgh.

There you have the excitement. In the next several articles I will write about the fun of our vacation trip in our Roadtrek!