Visiting Holocaust Sites Part 1: Dachau and Lidice

**A couple disclaimers before we get into this post…

  1. This is obviously going to contain graphic and triggering content. Please proceed with caution. Obviously my hope is that you read this and take something away, but I fully understand that this is a difficult topic to read about.
  2. I am Jewish. That colors everything, I do. Every part of who I am. More so now as I am starting to learn and realize some things from my past and my relationship with Judaism. But I am Jewish.
  3. This post is going to be jumbled. I don’t know how this is going to go, how this is going to get broken down, how it will be received, how much is just going to be a rambling stream of conscious. I don’t care. This is important.
  4. If you are someone who is a holocaust denier, a holocaust minimizer, an antisemite, racist, or want to disagree you may just move on. (It makes me very….grrr angry and heartbroken that I even have to say something like this, but it needs to be said.)
  5. (I’m just now adding these as I am writing this post). I think this is going to be a two-parter as I’ve only just finished the Dachau portion and I’m already pushing past 1500 words. The second part will be up in short time though- you won’t be waiting long for that.
  6. The second part was written after the incident of Domestic Terrorism on the US Capital, in which the most blatant display of antisemitism was exhibited in my life. I personally saw footage of “heil hitler”, camp Auschwitz sweatshirts, and two congressmen use Hitler’s rhetoric or name. If the tone is off in this second part as opposed to the first, please understand why.
  7. Finally, we are facing drastically rising Jew hatred not only in our country, but across the world. It’s often times hard to voice concerns, content, and information not only about this but also just about being Jewish. In a personal way, I am still learning and trying to figure out how I want to use my voice in regards to this.
  8. This post is being posted way after I originally intended to, but here it is.

Disclaimers over.**

Where do I even begin? During our two years in Germany, we visited a total of 4 Holocaust specific sites, along with numerous monuments and locations relating to World War 2. I’ve written specific blog posts that are just a presentation of the history and facts of each place that I’ll link as I talk about them, but I wanted to talk about the actual opinions and feelings that I experienced at each place. I didn’t do this in the posts for a couple different reasons, most importantly being that I think the actual cold hard facts of these places are not to be overlooked by our feelings of them. But also, I quite simply couldn’t talk about them. I didn’t have the words. I didn’t have the feelings. There is absolutely NOTHING that can prepare anyone for a visit to these places. These places where entire generations of your own people, your own ethnicity, were brutally murdered. I think for a long time after visiting, I found comfort (the very wrong word in this situation, but it’s the only one that makes sense) in the cold hard facts. In not coloring what happened with my own complicated heartbreak. But things change and as I see what is happening in our modern world, our current times, I think that it’s time for me to talk about what this experience was really like. 

I’ve always been well understood, well read, well watched and versed, in the Holocaust. I think I was 11/12 when I really started deep diving into the history of it all. What could make a person single out one group of people as the cause for everything bad in the world? How? I couldn’t understand. I still can’t understand. And there is so much we still don’t know. We will never know. Either way, I learned A LOT. This was in part as it was part of my heritage, of who I was, but also because of the psychology of it all. When we got the orders to come to Germany, I knew that we were going to be visiting some of the camps, maybe even some of the locations that were in shambles, were barely even remembrances of what they were at the time. I had no idea what to expect and, as I said before, nothing could prepare me for what these visits would be.

I think I am going to break this up by location, in the order that we visited each location. Again, I’ll link each location to the “facts/history” post that I’ve already written, but this is just going to be purely my experience at each- good and bad. Each location is unique in both what we see/what you hear/your overall experience. For example, I would say Dachau Concentration Camp is more graphic in its imagery. The museum is excellent, but holds nothing back. A good amount of a visit to Dachau is going to be based in the imagery of the museum and the restorations/recreations of areas. Whereas Auschwitz-Birkenau is vastly different. First off, I would highly recommend a guided tour (first in when the camp opens purely because it’s so much quieter and so much more…just more) and so then you are HEARING. There are few pictures of the atrocities on display, it’s more what your tour guide tells you (which is very graphic) and the artifacts that you see. BUT we will get into all of that. 

Dachau Concentration Camp (FACTS/HISTORY POST)

This was not the first World War 2 site we visited (we had been to both Nuremberg for a day trip and Berlin for a long weekend and seen several memorials/museums), but this was the first concentration camp. And, like many to follow, there are certain aspects that are etched in my mind, firmly planted and tied to my experience. The first being that the day we visited was a brilliant spring day. It was warm, but not hot; brightly sunny and the clearest blue skies you’d ever seen. It was, quite honestly, the perfect spring day and we were spending it visiting one of the most horrific places. That jarring difference made such an impact as the location of the camp, the property was beautiful area of the country and to have this beauty as a backdrop just made the horror of what we were seeing etch in my mind further. Those that lived here didn’t think it was beautiful, and when it was “in action” it definitely wasn’t this beautiful. 

Walking through the museum is an abbreviated look into just how bad Dachau was. Obviously, a good amount of the world knows about the Holocaust and has seen pictures or such in some form. The museum on the campsite is located in the “entrance” building where prisoners would be processed, so you are walked through the camp system from start to finish. You are able to see artifacts, hear stories from prisoners, and see what kept them going. While most of this you may know, there is something unique to visiting it where it actually happened. You are able to see bits from the camp itself, including the actual original gate to the camp (and yes the “Arbeit Macht Frei”) as well as other sculptures relating to the camp and prisoners. The thing from the museum that is really etched in my mind is the story of how this memorializing of the camps came to be. The government wanted to destroy it, but it was actually the prisoners and families that said no and wanted to do something with the camps. Such strength and resilience. 

Something else that will forever be etched in my mind is how…not big it was. When you walk out of the museum you are on the “parade ground” where they would take the roll call of all the prisoners, where they would discipline, and have other displays. You are able to look back along where the “cabins” would be that actually held the prisoners. It’s not big. There are only two prison cabins still intact, which show the progression of the “cabins” as the camp filled and filled and filled. But then, you look back and see the raised bricks where each would be. I repeat, it wasn’t big.

The final memory, the one that will forever haunt me and would haunt anyone that visits, they are where the Nazi’s killed and disposed. Dachau wasn’t set up to be an extermination camp (like Auschwitz-Birkenau was), so the facilities in the back corner of the camp (that you actually leave the fenced area of the camp to walk into another fenced area) are small. In fact, there are two sets of ovens as the original set became quickly overwhelmed with the rate that they were being used. I will NEVER forget walking through this area of the camp. Walking through the showers, into the room where the ovens were is etched so permanently into my brain. When you are in that room you can feel the difference. The difference in the air, in the emotions of the room, in the stillness. It was in that moment that I could feel the air change, I could feel the sheer hatred of a people whose goal was to exterminate. It disgusted me. It terrified me. It changed me. Walking out from that building into the bright spring air was a weird kind of relieving rebirth of sorts. Dachau was not an extermination camp, it was not intended to be used as such, and yet here it was…the extermination techniques. 

I left Dachau feeling raw, beyond upset, and in a bit of a state of shock. You don’t truly understand what these camps were like, unless you are a survivor, but visiting them, walking those steps gets a close idea. This was also the first time I had been exposed to such…hatred. Such callous treatment of other people. Such little care for the lives of those around you. And this was “right down the road” from us…kind of. It was only 1.5-hour drive from us. Even now, I don’t know if I have the right words to express the sheer amount of sadness, anger, fear, heartbreak, sickness, that was going through my body and my mind. 

Lidice (FACTS/HISTORY POST)

If Dachau Concentration Camp wasn’t enough, over the Thanksgiving weekend, we traveled a little bit into the Czech Republic. In between our drive from Karlovy Vary to Prague we stopped at, what was, a little town of Lidice. By the time I left I felt pure anger mixed with just shock. This was the only time where my emotions ran into the facts post because it was horrendous in a completely different way. 

The town of Lidice was destroyed. Completely. Razed over. Homes burned to the ground. Livestock killed. Families killed or sent to camps. Children GASSED. BUT, but, but, but, that simply wasn’t enough. No, they couldn’t just destroy the town, no, they CHANGED THE TOPOGRAPHY OF THE REGION. The leveled the ground, filled the river, and PLANTED CROPS over the town. Because they wanted no trace of a city that MAY have held resistance fighters. Later they found the resistance fighters that they thought were in Lidice somewhere else, but it wouldn’t have mattered. 

The difference for me, from Dachau and Lidice were night and day. When walking in Dachau it was pure shock, the pure feeling of standing there where all this had happened. Everything that I had read and learned about and here I was. Lidice I didn’t have all this foreword knowledge of, I was learning as I was walking and then later on when we got back home. I felt heartbroken for everyone who lived there at the time, but mostly I can single my feelings to shock and anger. The lengths that were taken to completely wipe this village from every map, every memory, over the sheer rumor of resistance. Those feelings are etched in my mind and will be forever. 

One other thing etched in my mind from Lidice is a statue/monument that they have to the children of Lidice. I’ve never seen a sculpture be able to convey the very real emotions in a moment until stepping up to this monument. The hollowness, the fear, the sheer shock of the situation. I WILL NEVER not see those eyes in my mind whenever I think about Lidice. 

Autumn in the Adirondacks

Oh, the pure bliss of it all. Autumn in upstate New York is one that you hear talked about a lot, along with Vermont and New Hampshire (ok basically all of New England). It’s one that everyone says is absolutely incredible (actually I’d argue that people tend to exclude New York from that conversation, which is completely unfair, but that’s a post for another day), but you always wonder…”can it really be that good?”. The answer is yes, yes it can be, in fact it’s better. 

In fact, when I dreamed about what Autumn in New York would be like, I dreamed of spending a weekend in a cabin in the middle of the forest and just watching in wonder at the beauty around me. However, rentals go FAST around here, and you’ve got to plan almost a year out to get what you really want at a decent price (and I was determined NOT to do a hotel in a city for this particular dreamy weekend). My husband took over the plans and ended up booking us an RV and a campsite for the weekend in the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain area. There aren’t a lot of words that I can really give to the sheer beauty of it all, and so, while there will still be words in this post, the real star of the post will be the pictures that I took throughout the weekend. 

Now, before we go much further in this post, I’ll address the elephant in this post. Yes, we stayed in the RV in a KOA campground…and we LOVED every minute of it. My husband has been trying to sell me on the whole RV thing and while I wasn’t opposed to it, I also wasn’t jumping up and down and going out to buy one. This weekend convinced me though that an RV for the bulk of our travel is actually a really good idea. Let me briefly explain. When we travel to certain locations, we do a lot of outdoor activities. We are big outdoors people, loving to explore nature, hike through the woods, see waterfalls, and just general do everything we can within nature. When you spend all day just reveling in Mother Nature and the beauty that is around you, only to go back to a hotel in a city it can be a bit…jarring. Especially if what you are craving is an escape from “the real world”. Enter: the RV. It was brilliant and honestly, really added to our weekend. The boys loved it and, at least for this weekend, I didn’t feel like I was truly missing anything by staying in an RV instead of a hotel. It is something that, while we will be renting a few more times first, we are definitely going to be looking at investing in. I would say we do a fairly equal amount in our travels between visiting cities and escaping into nature, so this would definitely be something to have. 

Anyways, tangent over back to our post about Autumn in Upstate. We pulled in on a Friday afternoon and got all set up and unpacked at the campsite. Made up the beds, set up our little cooking and dining area and feasted on some dinner. Like I said, we stayed at the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA and we really liked it. It had good amenities, very active and sweet owners (this was actually their last weekend there) and was VERY beautiful. It is a perfect spot to stay due to its location close to everything to see in the immediate region. 

Our first full day in the area we spent chasing leaves across Whiteface Mountain. Whiteface Mountain is the 5th highest mountain in New York and part of the Adirondack High Peaks. It is unique in that you are able to access the summit by car, with the Whiteface Memorial Veterans Highway. This highway was constructed as part of the New Deal public works projects and funded entirely by New York State. It winds up the mountain giving absolutely incredible views of the valley below (with several pull off points to step out of the vehicle and stare in awe), stopping just shy of the summit you are able to then walk through a tunnel and ride an elevator to the fully developed summit OR hike the stairway trail to the summit. The tunnel walks you through to the center of the mountain where an elevator whisks you to the top. We chose to take the elevator due to weather and little children (if the weather hadn’t been windy and damp, we would have probably hiked the trail up). The summit is the most incredible view of Lake Placid and the surrounding area. On a clear day you can even see the skyscrapers of Montreal on the distance. We didn’t have a clear enough view to see Canada, or even Vermont, but we were able to see down to Lake Placid and our further out surrounding area. Whiteface Mountain Summit is only open May to October (in fact the weekend we went was the last weekend), in part due to weather at the summit, but also because on the opposite side of the mountain is the Whiteface Ski Resort. The workers who work the roads and top, also work the ski resort, so they transition from one side to the other to prep for winter and the upcoming ski season.

So, like I said, the opposite side of the Veterans Highway is the Ski Resort. The Ski area is noted by the Olympic Regional Development Authority as a major ski area and is known for hosting the alpine events of the Winter Olympics as well as an Olympic Training Site and just a generally good spot to ski. There are two double black diamond trails within the ski area, as well as quite a few standard trails, and a great separate beginners’ area. Year round, you are able to ride the Cloud splitter Gondola up to the summit of Little Whiteface, which is what we did after leaving the summit of Whiteface Mountain. I will say- this is totally not necessary. In fact, I would recommend just choosing to drive the Veterans Highway and summit Whiteface Mountain. Yes, the gondola rides up to Little Mountain is INCREDIBLE, but it’s just not as good as the drive up the mountain. Just a personal opinion. 

We finished our day out at High Falls Gorge, a nature park that has been around since 1899. This nature park provides trail access to look throughout the falls of the AuSable river with bridges, clear viewing platforms and several photo spots to get close to the falls. There is also a nature trail that walks you through a protected untouched forest called Climax Forest. While the trail, river, and foliage was gorgeous, I don’t know that it was entirely worth the cost. It’s a really pretty area and maybe if we hadn’t spent time touring various waterfalls in the Finger Lakes (HERE) the month previous I would have felt differently, but this just wasn’t absolutely worth the cost. It’s one of those, I recommend, but I also wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it. It was neat I suppose.

And that wrapped up our first full day in the Lake Placid region. I’ve literally never been so in love with a trip (maybe if we had rv’d or camped that Finger Lakes trip, but we stayed in a hotel instead) and a space at a moment in time, but I just kept looking around in awe at every turn. A tear may have been shed over just the sheer beauty of it all. After the High Falls Gorge, we went back to the RV for the evening and spent our night around the fire, munching on some smores and just reveling in the area. 

On our second full day in the region, we headed into Lake Placid proper. Lake Placid, originally known as North Elba, started as a location for an iron ore mine. It started to grow in the late 19th century, starting as a place for former slaves to own land (thanks due to Gerrit Smith and John Brown) before turning in to a resort town. The name change was brought about by Melvin Dewey (of the Dewey Decimal System) who made a “Placid Park Club”. Lake Placid was incorporated in 1900 and became known as a resort spot, as well as a rest and recouperation area (especially for those suffering from tuberculosis- Saranac Lake had a sanatorium for those sick with the disease to convalesce). Before too long Lake Placid became known for alpine sports, later on going on to host the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. 

We started our morning off on the lake itself, taking a boat tour and looking at all the different “camps” and lodges that sit right on the water. It was a peaceful start, giving us a little look into some of the more “known” families that lived there at one time or another. We were also able to spot loons on the water and an eagle up in one of the pine trees. Not to mention, the leaves were just starting to wane from peak season, so all those beautiful reds/yellows/oranges were still standing amidst a sea of green and gray (from the trees that had already lost their leaves). It was a special bit of time. 

Once finished with the boat tour, we headed into downtown Lake Placid. Lake Placid is actually currently under construction…yes, the entire town is undergoing a massive overhaul. This made walking the main street a bit of a struggle, but we wandered down amongst all the shops and scenery of Mirror Lake. We did not make it to the Olympic Complex in town as it was under construction too. It was open to the public, however the reviews that we had read, it was only a fraction of the complex and so we decided to head to a different Olympic attraction from the overall complex. 

The Olympic Ski Jump Complex is one to see. You cannot accurately understand what the jumps are like, until you are standing in front of them, on top of them, riding the lift up next to them. They are MASSIVE. The current jumps are the only free-standing jumps and are listed at 90 and 120 meters tall. The 120 Meter jump is the one open to tourists, but we’ll get to that in a minute. The original jump was built into the mountain in 1920 and was known as the Interval 35 Meter. This jump was initially lifted, still within the mountain, to 50 meters in 1923. In 1927 they built the first tower to increase the jump to 60 meters. Ever few years this was increased, with a 75-meter used for the 1932 Olympics, until 1977 when the entire complex was demolished to build fresh towers for the 1980 Olympics standing at 70 & 90 Meters. The current towers date back to 1994. Another feature of the complex is the freestyle aerial training center, seen from the right of the jump towers. Athletes can train on two similar jumps and jump into a massive pool of water. 

Now, I’m terrified of heights. More specifically, I’m terrified of FALLING from high up. I do not have the personal strength to actually do this jump, just standing up at the tower, a few feet above where the ski jumpers would launch from was more than enough for me to get nervous (aka panic panic panic), but it was pretty incredible to think that people actually do jump and enjoy it. 

And that really wrapped up our weekend in Lake Placid and the Adirondacks. It was one of the most incredible trips.  I really just fell in love with this area of New York (and specifically at this particular time of year, but I’m sure of its beauty year-round) and will happily go back again. I think that we talk about New England as being such a hot spot for Autumnal Foliage, but don’t write off Upstate New York. It’s just as incredible and I would highly recommend checking it out. 

A Morning in Salem

It’s officially October, officially the Spooky Month, and officially time for me to talk about our stop during our Summer Holiday (HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE) that I haven’t yet. I’ve been waiting, because to me, Salem is the heart of October, and while we went during the middle of Summer, I held on to that spooky feeling the entire time. We only stopped for a few hours, for several reasons, and didn’t do much, but it was a really exciting stop. 

With all of that, it’s definitely time for me to level with you…I went to Salem mostly for Hocus Pocus. I wanted to see the history, pay homage to those who were killed during the Witch Trials and learn their stories, but I also very much wanted to stop at certain points for filming purposes to see them for myself. There was A LOT more that we could have done, but after leaving Boston, the boys were tired, it was sunny and hot, and so we tried to limit our stops. 

So, a little recap on Salem history…

Salem was founded in 1626 by a group of immigrants from Cape Ann, with the Massachusetts Bay Company arriving two years later in 1628 to settle it for the Puritans. Over the following decades the town grows, militia is established (Salem would later be recognized as the birthplace of the National Guard), trade is established, a cemetery is created (“Old Burying Ground” or Charter Street Cemetery), a custom house is built to deal with taxes, and so on. In 1668 the House of Seven Gables is built, known later as a home of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and in 1675 the Witch House is completed, which played a large role in the Salem Witch Trials as one of the presiding judges lived there and some cases were heard in the home.  Finally, in 1692 the Salem Witch Trials, what would bring this little town to the history books, began. I think we all have a fairly good idea of what the Salem Witch Trials were, but you can read through HERE to get a good look into that history. The trials concluded (after a whopping 3 months and an accusation levered at the governor’s wife) with at least 20 dead by ruling and many others dying in prison. 

After the trials, life in Salem quieted down for a time until 1775 when Salem conducted the first armed resistance of the Revolution. The British were attempting to collect ammunition that had been stored in the town, but the militia of Salem successfully blocked them. The town of Salem continues to grow and expand and in 1799 a group of Sea Captains worked together to found the Peabody Essex Museum, the oldest continuously operating museum in the country. It features culture from the New England area, as well as around the world. 

Once again, a period of time passes; Nathaniel Hawthorne publishes a Salem local book (Fanshawe in 1828 and in 1836 Salem is incorporated as an actual City.  Then, thanks to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Salem comes back in the spotlight with the publishing of The Scarlet Letter in 1850. The residents were not a fan as they felt it mis portrayed the residents. However, Hawthorne followed up with The House of the Seven Gables, which turned the house into one of the most famous historic houses in the country. In 1866 Salem held the first public demonstration of a long-distance phone call. 

After a massive and devastating fire in 1914, and a National Historic Site designation in 1938, Salem becomes part of pop culture when the seventh season of the show Bewitched is filmed in town. This reignites interest in the city and the city starts to lean a bit more into its…darker past. In 1982 it hosted a one-day Haunted Happenings Festival, which still continues to this day (every October for the entire month now) and offers a variety of spooky and historical events to attend. You can see the site HERE if you’re interested! 

In 1992 they added the Witch Trials Memorial, which is simple, but contains stone benches around the perimeter with the names of every accused witch along with the execution date.  Finally, in 1993 Hocus Pocus is released into theatres and catapults Salem not only from the history books, but into a constant pop culture sphere (in my opinion). Fun fact, the very very opening scenes (think like opening credits) were actually filmed overhead the Plymouth Patuxet that we visited in Plymouth (you can follow the first link in my vacation above or HERE). 

So, what did we actually manage to see on our quick morning? Well, first I could not help myself but see the house from Hocus Pocus. It’s privately owned and while they don’t mind folks taking photos of the front, be courteous. Don’t leave your trash, don’t block traffic, don’t blast their personal information (such as cars, license plates, etc.) into the online world. We literally pulled over long enough for me to take a couple photos and then we left- a total of maybe 5 minutes. Then, we parked at the downtown mall, paid for two hours parking, and trekked through main street. 

We stopped to pay our respect to the accused Witches at the Memorial, we wandered over to Town Hall, to the Witch House, and stopped at the Ropes Mansion. The main street is absolutely delightful and the perfect spot to buy all your souvenirs, take in the sights, grab a bite to eat and just enjoy the small-town vibes. It was all in all, a delightful stop and I would definitely recommend making a least half a day to a full day to learn the history and take a step into both real life history and a world of pop culture.

A Weekend in the Finger Lakes

Our final trip of the Summer was over Labor Day weekend and involved over 12 miles of hiking! It was a last-minute trip of sorts as we wanted to do something but didn’t know if schedules would work out for us to go anywhere. When it came out that we were going to be able to make it work, we decided to opt for a weekend in nature. We are a big “outdoors” active family, we love walking and hiking as a key part of our travel. I personally am a big water person (think lakes, streams, waterfalls, NOT beach). So, we decided to opt for a weekend in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. 

The Finger Lakes is a region in New York featuring ~11 lakes that run North to South. The Finger Lakes were actually formed during the last ice age when glaciers in the area receded to form these unique gorgeous lakes that do look like fingers from above. Each lake even has its own “claim to fame”, with Skaaneateles Lake being considered one of the cleanest lakes in the United States, Keuka Lake (the third largest) being a “crooked lake” like Lake Cuomo as well as for providing an excellent microclimate for wine. Cayuga is the longest lake in the grouping, running just under 40 miles and 435 ft deep. Seneca Lake is the largest by volume, with 618 ft deep. Finally, in fun facts, Canadice Lake – the smallest of all the lakes- is the most “untouched” of all the lakes making it the perfect peaceful spot for hikers and wildlife. 

Though the Finger Lakes have been existence for quite a long time, they weren’t actually referred to as “The Finger Lakes” until the 1800’s. The region was home to several Iroquois Tribes, which are referenced and respected throughout the areas you visit. The Tribes were actually able to fend of colonization for quite a long time, some of the last in their area to be colonized after putting up a large fight. 

Ultimately The Finger Lakes region is known for Waterfalls & Wine (or Beer), making it a pretty perfect vacation destination. This region is actually the main wine region in New York. In some ways it reminded me of Lauterbrunnen Switzerland (although, much to my disappointment it is very much not Switzerland- haha), in that you can be driving or walking down a road, look to your side and there is a waterfall. It is also the home to Watkins Glen International Raceway, which is home to several races of varying caliber drivers. 

We decided to explore the more Southern Region of the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake. Our initial plan was to RV or camp in the area, but a) camping wasn’t going to be an option and b) RV sites (and RV rentals) book up months and months in advance. So, instead we booked a hotel in Horsehead (which was all that was available!) to stay in. I will say, in some ways this would have been the only thing I would have changed about our trip. We spent 75% of our time out in the woods, in nature, and to leave that to come back to a hotel was a bit jarring. Otherwise, it was the perfect weekend. 

Our first stop was Buttermilk Falls State Park.

This is a park featuring a foaming cascade of waterfalls coming from an offshoot creek heading towards Cayuga Lake. There is a large amount of hiking trails throughout the park as well as camping, RV, Cabin, and Cottage sites to stay in the park. We walked the Gorge and Rim Trail, which allows you to see the different water spots. There are a couple of trickier spots to navigate, but overall, I would say these two trails are fairly easy for any level of hiker. I did not actually where my hiking boots for this trail or the next if that tells you anything. As for the falls themselves, these were pretty incredible to see. They are definitely a cascade effect, so you’ll be able to see several different smaller falls that lead down to the bigger Buttermilk Falls at the “bottom”. From Buttermilk Falls State Park we went over to the sister park of Robert H Treman State Park.

Similar to Buttermilk this State Park is home to not only waterfalls, but also campsites, hiking spots, AND (unlike Buttermilk) you are able to swim in the stream fed pool at the base of a waterfall. There are two waterfall spots; the one I previously mentioned that you can swim in and then the Lucifer Falls which is a 115-foot waterfall. Now, normally you would be able to hike through Enfield Glen gorge and get up close and personal with Lucifer Falls, however when we went there was a section that was closed, so we weren’t able to hike it down. We still managed to hike the trail opposite and see the falls in all of their glory, which were incredible. The trail was a bit more up and down than Buttermilk, but otherwise still pretty straightforward. After that we decided to call it a day, head to the hotel and let the kids do a bit of swimming in the pool. 

The next morning we were up bright and early to head to what became the real highlight of the trip: Watkins Glen State Park. I’ll say it here and now, Watkins Glen State Park was my favorite of the whole weekend hands down. The Park and falls were beautiful and expansive, the gorge trail was easy to navigate and if you walk the gorge in, the rim out, you get the perfect mix of both water and woods. 

The gorge was formed over time, starting during the same glacial event that formed the Finger Lakes.  As the water of Glen Creek cascades through the glen, cutting away at the rock. This is an ever-changing gorge, and you can feel that what you are walking through will continue to shift and change and move over time. The gorge opened for tourists in the 1860’s as a privately owned resort destination. In the very early 1900’s, New York State purchased the gorge in an effort to protect the land, the wildlife, and the people who would trek through. The goal was to create a safe and welcoming environment for everyone to enjoy. The stone trails that make walking the gorge so easy were crafted in the 1930’s through a program to help put Americans back to work post Great Depression. 

Like many of the other State Parks we’ve visited, there are camping options in the park, both primitive and basic cabins. The hiking trails were fairly easy (the official pamphlet calls them “moderate to challenging”), but I would definitely wear some sort of hiking shoe boot as the trails are wet. Another thing to note is that the Gorge trail does close during winter so you’ll want to keep that in mind as you plan a trip, and I would highly highly recommend walking the gorge trail. It’s incredible. 

We spent a good 2-3 hours in the park before wandering through the main street of town and over to Seneca Lake. We had a little snack and walk to the end of the pier at the lake before heading out. We stopped over to Shequaga Falls, which were easily the most incredible “side of the road” waterfalls as well as Hector Falls. From there we decided to do end our weekend on a high note of things for the boys and went to look at the international speedway and play a round of mini golf. 

Our final stop on our weekend was Taughannock Falls State Park. Taughannock Falls is a 215-foot waterfall right near Cayuga Lake. Like many of the other parks we’ve been to, it provides hiking, campsites, and cabins, along with a boat launch and marina for Cayuga Lake. We walked the Gorge Trail, and it was probably the easiest walk we did the entire weekend, the most accessible for anyone. I’ll be honest, the great thing about these falls is the accessibility, you can easily see them from above or below and while they are really nice, but they weren’t a highlight. 

And that really rounds up our weekend in the Finger Lakes! It was easily one of my top long weekend trips (rivaled by…of course Switzerland) and I think that it was the perfect way to close out the summer. As I previously stated, I do wish that we had camped/RV’d or stayed a little more remote in a cabin, but it was still a phone trip and the boys got to have a little hotel pool time. 

A Weekend Upstate

One of our final Summer Hurrahs was a weekend in the greater Albany region. We spent a total of 3 nights in Schenectady, exploring Saratoga Springs, Schenectady, and Albany. It was a relaxed weekend trip that covered quite a few cute spots. Our first evening was spent getting settled into our Airbnb and heading over to a nearby park for some live music. We didn’t really “start” our exploring until the next morning. 

Fueled with some delicious bagels, we headed out for a day in Saratoga Springs. Saratoga Springs is really known for two things, horse racing and spring spas. The city’s slogan is actually “Health, History, Horses”. We started with the latter and ended with the former. So, Spring Spa’s. This dates back to the Native Americans believing that the springs (High Rock Spring) held medicinal properties- this is nothing new, there has long standing been a belief that mineral springs are good for you/your soul/your body/etc. This was then expanded when a British soldier was brought by the Native Americans to the spring to treat wounds from the French and Indian War. 

But back up for a moment… The land was originally “settled” by the British who built the Fort Saratoga in 1691, which was actually now Schuylerville. This is most noted in the location of The Battle of Saratoga, which actually took place in what is now Stillwater and the surrender at Saratoga took place in Schuylerville. Saratoga Springs was settled in 1819, incorporated in 1826, and then became a city in 1915. There are two turning points for tourism in the history, one of which was the arrival of the railroad, which made it much more possible for anyone to visit and be cured by the legendary springs. The second was the doctor Simon Baruch advocating for the “European Spa” (aka springs and bathhouses) coming to America. At one point in time, Saratoga Springs was the home of the largest hotel in the world.

Saratoga Spring State Park was developed in 1962 when the state of New York to control to preserve the springs. The property was then labeled a state park and gained National Historic Landmark status about 25 years later. There is a wide variety of activities to do within the park, between walking trails and taking in the springs, to snowshoe and cross-country skiing in the winter, to golf courses and pools to enjoy. We enjoyed walking along the creek and seeing a couple of the springs, as well as the wells that would have been used in its heyday. 

After we were entirely relaxed from the Springs, we headed over to the excitement of the Racetrack. The Saratoga Racecourse is the fourth oldest racecourse in the US, though many think it is the oldest. The track dates back to 1863 and has been in use almost every year since (notable exceptions would be during an anti-gambling legislation, as well as during World War II). The track itself has three tracks within the complex, a dirt track, a turf track, and a second inner turf track, which offers steeplechase races. We watched I think 4 or 5 races and enjoyed the excitement of the tracks and were swept away in the anticipation of the race. The boys enjoyed it and then were able to go in the kids’ zone to play some games in between. It was a fun way to spend a couple hours and an experience to have (this was my second time going to the races). 

We spent much of the rest of the day wandering the downtown shopping district, popping into bookstores, clothing stores, and tea shops and enjoying the afternoon in the quaint little town. It was a lovely way to spend a day in Saratoga Springs and the city itself is a really nice spot to stop for a weekend of fun and relaxation. 

Our second day of the weekend we headed into Albany. Albany is the state capital of New York (as of 1797) and a relatively modern city in the area (whereas quite a bit still has some original architecture, I saw a much more modern look to Albany). Originally founded by Dutch colonists in 1614 (though inhabited by the Mohican tribe at the time), the city of Albany was officially chartered in 1686 (under the English). The Albany region has its’ own long and storied history involving the Native Americans, the fur trade, and the shipping trade. It is one of the oldest of the original 13 Colonies and the longest continuously chartered city.  We headed into the city with no real plan, just a list of sites we’d like to see. This actually came out to be quite handy as we quickly learned that there is very little open in the city on Monday’s and Tuesdays. Every museum and attraction, save for the State Museum is actually closed those two days of the week. A bit of a bummer, we ended up driving past two of the attractions we wanted to see (The Schuyler House and The USS Slater (DE-766)) so we could still see them, even if we couldn’t tour them. The one place we were actually able to visit was the New York State Museum. Located within the Empire State Plaza (which also houses the State Library and Archives) and across from the Capital, this imposing building and museum details the history of the state of New York. It is the oldest and largest state museum in the US. As we walked through, we learned about the mining activities, the native American presence in the state, the history of New York City and its diverse makeup and neighborhoods. There is also a section devoted to September 11, which was incredibly meaningful and special to see. 

From the state museum we walked over to the Capital (though due to security you are not able to tour it at this time), and up through some of the neighborhood streets, admiring the old architecture (all of which is plaque dated and so awesome). We spent most of the rest of the day stopping in at different antique stores and bookstores as we wandered from little town to little town. 

The final thing we did on this little weekend away was see one of the Erie Canal Locks. The Erie Canal was built to provide a route from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes (Hudson River to Lake Erie was the original stretch). Originally proposed in the 1780’s, it was considered again in 1807, this time gaining approval and funding. Construction started in 1817 and finished in 1825 with a total of 34 locks. At the time water was the most cost-effective way to ship goods (as there were no railways) and this was a way to transport goods at less cost and faster transport. By and large this is considered the most successful human built waterway and one of the most important works of civil engineering in the United States. We saw Lock 7, also known as Vischer Ferry, though we also drove past Lock 8 (and have since seen the Oswego Canal). I will say, the sheer engineering of these locks is impressive, and it was very cool to stand right at the edge and see it first-hand. 

And that was our weekend in Upstate New York.

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2021 – Portland ME

It’s time for our final stop on our Summer Holiday, a couple of nights up in Portland, Maine (you can see our other stops by clicking the following links: PLYMOUTH, BOSTON 1, BOSTON 2). We did make a stop in Salem on our way up from Boston, but I’m gonna save that post for a little bit closer to Halloween time ;). Anyways, I’m a big fan of Maine. This was our second time in the state, with the first being a cabin in the Rangely Lake are and this second one in Portland. I swear, I don’t know many prettier spots than upstate North East and Maine is certainly a dreamy spot no matter where you look. 

I”m going to start this post out by saying, that I think a trip to Portland can have a lot gained by simply going child free. Portland is the home of a lot of breweries and such and we could have done some tastings, hopping around from place to place had we gone without our children, but alas, we still had a fun time. The main shopping district is brimming with people and music and cute, quaint little shops, you are able to do just about anything you’d like on a boat, and you can get some incredibly fresh (and delicious) seafood. 

Portland is the biggest city in Maine (or the most populated at least). It has a good mixture of the older district and modern convenience. The region was originally called Machigonne by the local Native American tribes, however in 1623 the English moved in to settle the land. The first settlement attempt ended in failure and dissapearences of all those that went. In 1632 a fishing and trading village was settled called Casco, then it was “re settled” with the name of Falmouth, before finally being named Portland in 1786.  Historically, Portland has served as a…port city a hub for transportation and shipping. Nowadays it still serves that shipping and transport purpose, BUT it also is home to a thriving community. 

So, two things to note about our time in Portland…1) It was HOT. Like I think probably the hottest temps we had our entire trip. Not only hot, but sunny clear blue skies too. So no relief. 2) This was our last stop, so we were a bit tired, the kids were tired, and Portland is much…further spread apart than the previous stops we had made (and parking is a bit more expensive). Also, we had our kids, and this is very much a hipster town with breweries and nightlife, more so, so there was that to take into account. 

So, we got to Portland kind of mid day to early afternoon, We checked into our hotel and then headed in to town. We mostly spent that first chunk of time just walking through Old Port and the main streets of the “downtown district”. We got some dinner, local seafood, right on the water and then just walked up and down the streets. We also were able to watch the evening fog start to come in, as well as a couple of shipping boats and tug boats navigate the canal space. It was a relaxing nice way to spend the afternoon/evening.

The next morning we were up early (ish) and out the door to go explore some of the sights. We had started with a plan of seeing some trains for the kids, a mansion and lookout for us, and then a couple lighthouses to finish out the day. This quickly changed as we realized the weather and distances between attractions was going to make it a bit difficult for us to see everything we wanted. 

We started off the day at Hifi Donuts for a little donut and coffee moment. From their we headed over to the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co & Museum. When Maine started its rail travel, they not only implemented regular railways, they also implemented what is known as a narrow gauge railroad. The rails on a narrow gauge are only 2 feet apart, as opposed to almost 5 feet apart. In its’ height there were a total of 5 narrow gauge railways that transported both freight and passengers. The benefit of narrow gauge is since it’s narrower than standard rail tracks, you are able to lay tracks in a wider amount of places, connecting rural spots that wouldn’t have been able to utilize a standard railway. 

When visiting, you are able to choose from a variety of seat options, we decided on first class just due to the outdoor seating options. I will say, that we visited this attraction mostly for the children and if they (or perhaps your own) were not as interested in trains, then I would honestly pass this along. The train ride is a total of about 40 minutes long, just taking you along the waterfront. Halfway through the train stops for a break and kids are allowed to go up to the engine and pull the whistle. Our train obsessed boys loved it, BUT if you/you’re kids are not as obsessed or interested in trains, I would give it a miss. 

From there we ended up deciding to skip on the two other sites that we had picked out for within Portland proper. We had intended on going to Victoria Mansion and the Overlook (as well as maybe the Botanical Gardens of the Longfellow House), but the heat and sun were very quickly getting to both kids, as well as us, so we did a quick pivot in our plans and headed straight for some lighthouses. 

Lighthouses are one of those things that I feel like the Maine Coastline is really known for and they are beatiful and well worthy of that. The first lighthouse we visited was the Spring Point Ledge Light. This is what’s known as a caisson-style lighthouse located on the grounds of Fort Preble, right next to the community college. The lighthouse itself sits at the end of a 950 foot breakwater (what the rock outcroppings are called- which I JUST learned). You are able to walk out on the breakwater over to the lighthouse and even tour the interior on certain weekends. Dating back to 1898, this lighthouse is still functioning and has become a landmark in its own right. 

The second lighthouse we went to is probably the most photographed lighthouse in Maine, definitely in Portland (whcih- rightfully so, there are just some spots that lend themselves to that). That would be the Portland Head Light. This is Maine’s oldest lighthouse, built in 1791, it is located right along Fort Williams Park and is still in use today (we heard the bell/horn), as it sits right at the entrance of the shipping channel into the bay. It was incredible, easily one of the highlights of our entire trip, just to stand there and listen to the sounds of the water and the punctuations of the lighthouse horn. 

And that pretty much sums up our time in Portland. In so many ways I wish that we had done more with our time in this gorgeous place, but I also recognize that there is usually one spot on our “multi city” trips that ends up being a bit less than the others and this just happened to be that spot on this trip. We still loved it (and it settled my love of the state of Maine) and I still think it’s a great spot to visit. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2021 – Boston, MA Pt.2

It is time for the second part of our few days in Boston (you can read the first part HERE). As much as I had thought that I wouldn’t write too much about the history, I found myself getting swept away in it all. So, here we are, a second post. Todays post is going to be all about The Freedom Trail located within Boston. We split the Freedom Trail into two days, doing half each day, but it is completely feasible to do it in one day if you’d like. I always appreciate when a city puts something like this together (and trust them when they do) as they usually have the best directions to hit everything you want to see- Luxembourg City did this very well too.

The Freedom Trail is a highlight of a trip to Boston as it is a 2.5 mile red line that wanders through the city, taking you to all the important spots in Boston history. Dating back to 1950, it allows you to view museums, meeting houses, churches, and other buildings that hold a special significance to the city. Anything from churches and cemeteries (with Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and others gravesites) to a plaque on the side of a building signifying the first book store, The Freedom Trail will give you a little bit of everything. The tour (or at least the direction we went with) starts you off in Boston Commons. 

Boston Common is America’s oldest public park, dating back to 1634. The Puritans purchased the grounds from William Blackstone, it was originally used as a common grazing land for local livestock. It also became a spot for public punishments (featuring everything from stocks and pillory for theft to the hanging of witches and others). During the Revolution it served as a training and camp ground for the British. Today it serves as a public park (the smaller park across the street is where you can find the famous ducks) and a place for rallies and marches, as well as live music and festivals. Towards the end of the park there is a monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment. This memorial honors and commemorates the first all-Black volunteer regiment during the Civil War. Most of them died during an assault in South Carolina, but they are forever memorialized here.** You also get a glimpse of the Massachusetts State House as you exit the Common. This has been the home of the state government since it was opened in 1798. 

The next stop on The Freedom Trail that we made was to the Park Street Church and Granary Burying Ground. The church dates to the early 1800’s, but the burying ground is the real attraction at this stop. This cemetery is the final resting place for some of the key players of the founding and fighting for the colonies of America. This is the final resting place for around 5,000 of Boston’s own, though there are only markers and knowledge of 2,300. Notably buried here are Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and a memorial for those massacred at the Boston Massacre. On these headstones you won’t find religious markers, rather these motifs of skulls with wings (to symbolize flying to heaven). Keep an eye out for grave markers- similar to those in Plymouth, there are metal markers signifying when the person participated in a momentous occasion, such as the Boston Tea Party. You are also able to go to another church and burying ground- the oldest in the city. We didn’t end up going in the church, but we did have a peak at the cemetery. Similar to Granary, this boasts several “big names”, the first woman off the Mayflower, Mary Chilton, William Dawes Jr, messenger sent to warn that the British were coming, as well as many others. 

The next few stops on the trail are “bunched” together in that you have the first public school of America (which boasts educating 5 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence), a statue of Benjamin Franklin (who actually dropped out of the school just mentioned), and the Old Corner Bookstore, which is the oldest commercial building in the city (it’s now a Chipotle). 

From there we headed over to the Old South Meeting House (this deviates slightly from the trail, but as I said, we split this in half so there was some deviations here and there). The Old South Meeting House is “the room where it happened”. It was the center piece to debate, to sermons, to public meetings. The largest building in colonial Boston, this was originally built as a Puritan meeting house. The congregation boasted members such as Samuel Adams, William Otis, William Dawes, Benjamin Franklin, and Phillis Wheatley, the first women and enslaved women to publish a book. The building also served as THE site, where the Boston Tea Party was decided, with 5,000 men in attendance debating the tax and what to do about it.  It now is recognized as the first in what are now regular history conservation projects. But the road was not easy, the building was actually sold in the 1870’s and it took a group of 20 women to save the building from being demolished (which also makes it the first building to be saved due to historical significance- lots of history in just one building). It has been a museum since 1877 thanks to their efforts. 

We made a last stop on our first day of the Freedom Trail over to the site of the Boston Massacre and the Old State House. The Old State House is the oldest surviving public building in the city, dating back to 1713. It now serves as a multi functional museum, documenting not only life in Boston, but the revolution, the Boston Massacre, and has a hands on second floor exhibit for kids to see what certain aspects of life were like. The boys especially loved this as they got to play “King” and “Governor” and dictate things. Right in front of the Old State House is a marker for the location of the Boston Massacre. Taking place on March 5, 1770 the Boston Massacre was a fight between the Redcoats and the people of Boston that ended with the death of 5 people. The tension between the two groups of people had finally boiled over and this tragedy became a turning point leading to the fight for independence. 

The next stops on the Freedom Trail are to Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market. I talked about Quincy Market in my previous Boston Post (HERE) and we didn’t actually get to properly go into Faneuil Hall during our time in Boston. Faneuil Hall served as a meeting place for public speech and commerce. You were able to protest, loudly, you could conduct various forms of business, you could swear an oath of allegiance. Basically it was a center of politics, conveniently located right next to the markets and commerce place. 

And that was the end of our first half of the Freedom Trail. I am noting this BECAUSE I feel like, if you want to split it into two days, that is a good place to split it. Most of the above attractions are within the same are of Boston, with convenient and easy walking distances. Then, the below would be the other half of The Freedom Trail. Again, you can do it in one day if you like (and public transport is actually decent if you need it), but this would also be a good stopping point for the day. 

**I also want to note, that there is an African American portion of The Freedom Trail. This trail takes you through the sections that the freed African Americans would have lived, their meeting house, the various monuments (including Phillis Wheatley) and other spots. You can find the trail right off of the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial at the end of the Boston Common. 

The second half of the Freedom Trail gets a little bit more into the battles of the city. Starting at Paul Revere’s home, you are able to get a good glimpse into how folks of his stature, in his time, would have lived. Built sometime near 1680, his home is the oldest remaining structure in downtown Boston. It is also the only “home” listed as part of the Freedom Trail. You are able to walk through the home, see the kitchen, the sleeping areas, AND see quite a few of the artifacts from his life. You can also see the famous Revere Bell (as we always seem to forget the Paul Revere actually was a craftsman by trade). THis is a quick but easy stop to make and a great way to start off a second day of the trail. 

From the house, you then head over to your third and final church The North Church. This church plays an important role (maybe even more important than the other two) as it was THE church that the light was put up in to signal the midnight ride. Dating back to 1723, inside the church you are actually able to see one of the lanterns that was placed in the window for the ride. You are also able to see the bust of George Washington that Lafayette said was the best representation of him. Right around the corner from the church is Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. This was, by and large, the burying site of many of the craftsmen and merchants that lived on the North side of Boston. A couple notable people buried are two of the ministers involved in the Salem Witch Trials, the founder of the Black Freemasonry, as well as the man who hung the lanterns on the night of Pau Revere’s ride, and a builder of the USS Constitution. This particular burying ground was also a marker for the British to aim at during the Battle of Bunker Hill (which we ARE getting to, I promise). 

Speaking of, the next stops that you can make are entirely up to you. You can either go up to Bunker Hill at this point (which is what we did), OR you can go down to the USS Constitution. We chose to go up first, then back down, and at the end we took the Ferry back to the “main” part of Boston. It is entirely up to you how you want to walk this part. 

The Battle of Bunker Hill was the first battle of the Revolutions, and while the British technically won (after three assaults) it did prove that the colonists were not going to go down without a fight. The order of “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” is believed to have originated in this very battle. The monument was started with the laying of the first stone by Lafayette (excuse me, The Marquis De Lafayette) in 1825. It was completed in 1842. 

The final stop (for us) on the trail was at the USS Constitution (and then the USS Cassin Young DD 793). The USS Constitution is the oldest, still afloat, commissioned warship. It was launched in 1797 as a three-masted heavy frigate, one of six authorized by the Naval Act of 1794. The ship is known for the War of 1812 and the defeat of 5 British Warships and where the nickname of “Old Ironsides” was given. The Constitution was retired in 1881and was designated a museum ship in 1907. It is still a fully commissioned Navy ship and is manned by active duty Navy personnel on special duty assignment. 

The USS Cassin Young is a destroyer from World War II. It was launched in 1943 and is only one of four of the Fletcher Class destroyers still afloat. The ship served in both World War II (where it was damaged in two kamikaze attacks) and the Korean War, being retired in 1960 and serving as a memorial ship ever since. The ship was intended to serve as an escort to the larger ships and defend them from attack. Unlike the USS Constitution, this ship has been permanently loaned to the National Park Service and it maintained and operated by them rather than The Navy. 

And that wrapped up our time in Boston! Boston was a definite highlight for our entire family. The boys loved the history, the boats, the endless exploring and my husband and I loved the pace of the city (and obviously the history). I don’t know that we’d ever be “city people” (most are just too crowded and busy for us), but Boston was such a nice surprise! 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2021 – Boston, MA Pt. 1

The second stop on our Summer Holiday was undoubtedly our favorite and that was Boston. I think this is going to have to be divided up into two posts just due to the amount that I will actually blabber during this post. Again, I know that a good amount of people know a good amount of American History, so I’m just going to touch on basics or little tidbits as I talk about what we did/saw, but I really just love learning about the history and interesting facts about places we visit. Boston is the center of A LOT of the United States of America’s history and it has done a really good job and transitioning through history and coming into a more modern era, without losing any of the historic sites or feel to the city. So, a post today and a post on Friday (woop- a bonus post!) to cover everything I want to share and not overwhelm or bore you.

Before we start, I also want to note that for a “big city” Boston felt quite relaxed. In a lot of the “big cities” you get that big city rush feeling, where everyone is just go, go, go as fast as you can. Boston was refreshingly relaxed (or at least from what we saw and experienced). It was something that we actually really enjoyed about our time there. I’m not sure if this was a covid specific instance or if it’s always this way. Regardless Boston has definitely become a highlight for us. 

So, our time in Boston started where much of the history started (or at least the history of the start of the revolution), at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. I think a good amount of us know the history of the Boston Tea Party. In December 1773, disguised men from the “Sons of Liberty”, after immense planning, quietly boarded the Beaver Dartmouth, and Eleanor with the intention of destroying the tea. They destroyed 92,000 pounds of tea (in 340 chests), but only the tea. They did not steal tea, they did not steel or even so much as touch anything else aboard the ship. The statement they wanted to make was abundantly clear, which was “we will not take your leadership any longer”. The British Tea Party was but one step in a much larger fight, which was against the crown and the ability for someone so far away to hold governance in the colonies. Of course after the destruction the “Sons of Liberty” who participated had to flee Boston, and those who stayed would go out in boats to the harbor to continue to ensure that any tea or tea chests in the harbor were not able to be rescued or used. The Boston Tea Party was an incredible success, but it created hardship for the colonists as well, sparking more and more “rebellious talk” and ultimately (after several more edicts and back and forth with the King of England) sparked the American Revolution in April of 1775.

At The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, they do an excellent job of utilizing first person interpreters to put you right in the action of that fateful night in December. You are given character cards that tell you about a single person who lived in Boston at the time- these are then yours to keep as you continue along your tour. You start in the “state hall” with two actors taking you right up to those destructive lines uttered. Then you follow over to the boat where you can see what the Sons of Liberty would have seen, and throw your own tea overboard into the harbor. From there, you walk through the museum that talks about (with actual talking projectors and portraits) what followed the tea party. There is an original chest to see, along with a small vial of the tea that was tossed overboard (who rescued it remains a mystery). Finally, you can finish up at Abigail’s Tea Room, where you can sample the 5 tea blends that would have been on board the ship in the harbor (and subsequently enjoyed). It was the perfect start to our time in Boston and really put us in the revolutionary spirit. 

From there we mostly meandered around the area, letting the boys play at a playground (after being cooped up in a car and then on best behavior at the museum they were due to expend some energy) and trying to decide what we wanted to do. It was a bit later in the day, so we couldn’t do much more in terms of touristy bits. We ended up wandering over to Quincy Market (in a bid to see a museum which ended up being closed on that day anyways) and grabbing dinner at the food stalls located inside. I really loved Quincy Market. It reminded me of being at a farmers market of sorts and I had some of the best pizza since returning from Europe.

Quincy Market has quite the history. Dating back to 1826, the idea for the market came from Mayor Josiah Quincy. Shortly after being elected, Josiah realized just how much he disliked the chaotic, noisy, dirty view from his office in Faneuil Hall. This view was mostly due to the fact that the large marketplace was bursting at its’ seams. There was simply not enough space to cater the amount of stalls and sheds and the overall needs the city required. Not pleased with any ideas, he came up with his own development for a new marketplace. The only “thorn” in his side for this new market place was a landowner by the name of Nathan Spear, who refused to negotiate in regards to the property lines and deeds. No matter though, the construction went ahead with Josiah Quincy laying the first stone in April, 1825, with the market completed and opened in August of 1826. Officially named Faneuil Hall Market, it is more commonly known as Quincy Market. The market was enlarged throughout the following years (as it reached its initial capacity in 1850) and the market continued to serve the community. A restoration project was started in the 1970’s that not only including restoring parts of the market, but also additions to the rotunda and new dining areas. 

The next morning we were up bright and early to embark on one of my husbands most anticipated stops, Fenway Park (ok the kids and I were also very excited about this too). Where do I even begin with the history? I’m not going to go into the history of baseball (because oof), or of the actual Boston Red Sox (because, again oof), but rather the history of this particular ballpark. 

Some quick facts, Fenway Park is the oldest active ballpark in the MLB (109 years this year), it was actually rebuilt in 1934, and the location (within tight busy streets of Boston) lends itself to a unique set of features, the most popular being The Green Monster. It is the fifth smallest stadium within the MLB, only able to seat a little under 38,000. Finally, the first game ( a win for the Red Sox played in 11 innings) was actually overshadowed by the continued coverage of the tragic Titanic sinking. 

The Red Sox had been playing at the Huntington Avenue Grounds for 10 years, but Red Sox Owner John I. Taylor was looking for something different, something that would make a splash, something in Boston. He was also looking at potentially selling the team to a new owner, which played a massive role in the relocation. February of 1911 brought a group of real estate entrepreneurs together to become the “Fenway Improvement Association”. Subsequently one of the leaders, General Charles H. Taylor (yep- John’s father), acquired a large amount of land which the young John Taylor then announced his intention to use it to build a new home for the Red Sox. Ground broke for the ballpark, without the proper permits approved or assurances that they would be approved, on September 25, 1911 and by he end of the calendar year the foundations were in place, the roof framed, and plans in place to continue. Fenway Park hosted its first game April 9, 1912, with the first official game occurring 11 days later. Construction continued during Away Games, with the left and right field bleachers completed in time for the World Series. There were several renovations and additions given to the park over its long history, too many for me to actually get into and list, you can read the full history HERE, but it’s safe to say that this is a true landmark of the city and of the sport. 

The park has also been used for other sporting events, being home to matches of boxing, soccer, American football, Hurling, Gaelic Football, Hockey, Ice Skating, and Ski and Snowboard events. It also has hosted Concerts and Rallies/Public Addresses. 

There was one instance where the ballpark was in jeopardy, in 1999 the Red Sox CEO announced plans for a new Fenway Park. This, understandably, came under a lot of fire from all around, and led to a long round of talks, negotiations, and different plans. At the end of it all there was no resolution to be found and in 2005 it was announced that the Red Sox would stay at the current Fenway Park. This then led to a 10 year significant renovation of the park led by Janet Marie Smith (who is wholeheartedly credited with saving the park). 

One final note, which is the lone red seat. The lone red seat signifies the spot of the longest home run ever hit at Fenway Park. Ted Williams hit a home run June 9, 1946, which hit Joseph A Boucher right in the head (through his straw hat), then bounced several rows above. If it hadn’t hit Boucher, it could have reached a length of 520-535 feet, but rather it hit 502 feet. 

As part of the tour you are able to see the interior of the park (where two movies have been shot- including THAT scene from The Town), sit in the old wooden seats in the Grandstand section, head through the museum which contains collections of bats, balls, seating, jerseys, and more throughout the Red Sox history, head up to the top of the upper seating, go through the Press Box, and over to the Green Monster (which only added seats added to it in 2003 and they are the most expensive and contested seats in the park). All while being told the history of the stadium, a couple of dad jokes (maybe you want to hear one now? “The distance between all the bases is equal, however why does it take a runner longer to get from second to third? Because there’s a short stop” Ahahahahahaha- ok done now), and seeing some epic views from every spot in the park. It truly was an incredible tour and very well worth our time. If you are even the slightest baseball fan, this is a definite go to (but if you’re a baseball fan it’s probably already on your list to visit). 

And that wraps up this first part of my two part Boston posts. The second part (coming out this Friday!) will be focused exclusively on the Freedom Trail and the sights we saw as part of that. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2021 – Plymouth MA

It is time to talk about our annual summer holiday and travels! This year we decided to do a “USA history” tour of sorts, starting in Plymouth Massachusetts, then heading up to Boston, MA, a quick stop in Salem, MA and ending in Portland ME. Honestly, the trip was overall so relaxing and enjoyable. I don’t know if it was the amount of time in each stop, or if it was just the fact that the boys are older, we are more “travel experienced”, and that we haven’t traveled (thus the excitement is greater), whatever it was, this really worked for us. A quick overview of our trip, we did two nights in Plymouth, three in Boston, two in Portland. 

We arrived mid afternoon in Plymouth on our first day, prior to the check in time at our hotel, so we decided to just head over to a first stop. We started at Plimouth Patuxet. 

The Plimouth Patuxet or Plimouth Plantation (the original name) is what’s known as a living museum. Started in 1947 it features two central locations, plus the Mayflower II and the Grist Mill (in separate locations), one a replica of the village of Plymouth from 1627 with first person historical “actors” and the second is a replica of the Wampanoag village as it would have stood in the 17th century along with guides to help visitors understand life for them. It gives visitors an insight into not only what life would look like and be like, but a chance to learn about some of the people who would have lived in the Plymouth Colony.

Most of us know the history of America, the Colonies, etc., so I’m not going to focus too much on it, but I will say that there is a big difference between the colonies of Jamestown (the first) and Plymouth. Jamestown was founded by entrepreneurs who were seeking new land to develop, live and to expand fortunes. Plymouth was founded by a sect of Puritans (later as we all know as Pilgrims) who were fleeing religious persecution. They did not actually sale directly to the “America’s” though, they first went to The Netherlands to avoid the persecution. That didn’t end up working and they ended up making the journey towards the “America’s”. 

The Patuxet was really neat to walk through and I found it to actually be quite respectful to both the Wampanoag, the Patuxet, and the Colonists. The boys really appreciated the first person actors and being able to be involved in this living history (even though they truly couldn’t comprehend the entire grasp of it). 

We spent a couple hours at the Patuxet, then headed over to check in to our hotel. We stayed at the John Carver Inn for two reasons, one being its location right off the main street of town, and the other being the very cool pool that it offered. I will say, that while we loved the pool (which has a makeshift Plymouth rock holding the hot tub, and a slide within the “mayflower”), the hotel rooms were a bit dated. There isn’t anything wrong with that and we enjoyed our stay, just something to note. After checking in, we decided to just go venture out on the town.

Wandering along the main streets of downtown Plymouth offered a variety of breweries, small boutiques, and tourist shops. We ended up stopping at Tavern on the Wharf for dinner that first night, watching the sun light up the water as it started to set. From dinner, we continued to walk along the bay, watching the sun set slowly over the bay. Walking along the bay puts you right at the Plymouth Rock. This is when I would recommend seeing because a) you get to see the sunset on the water, and b) it tends to not be as crowded. 

So, Plymouth Rock. I want to start with the fact that there is no writing from the Pilgrims in regards to Plymouth Rock. It wasn’t recorded until ~1715 when it was used as part of the town boundaries and was simply a “great rock” and there wasn’t even a claim to it being the landing place until 1741 (~120 years later). Second, the rock itself (as it stands today) is quite small. It is not even the full size of the “original Plymouth Rock” due to its being moved around and pieces being taken, bought, and sold. Today it stands at about 1/3 of the size that it actually was. There is also a crack in the rock where it was broken in an attempt to place it in the town square, the two portions were put back together and the date was stamped in the 1770’s. So, it’s cool to see, but also a bit anticlimactic in a way. 

We finished out the evening with a  stop at Burial Hill, which was located right behind the John Carver Inn. Since there was still daylight (this cemetery sits much higher than the bay), we decided to take a little wander through the cemetery and see some of the oldest gravesites in our country (documented- there are much much older sites obviously from the indigenous peoples). Burial Hill was originally the site of the Pilgrims first meeting house and was first used as a burial spot in the 1620’s. There are Pilgrims and Mayflower passengers buried in the cemetery, as well as various revolutionaries and soldiers. Any person that has a history tied to a battle/war, the Mayflower, or the colonists has a medallion placed next to the grave marker (some of these still stand, some have been destroyed over time by the elements). 

The next morning we started out somewhat early, to get some breakfast from Munchies & Milkshakes. Robert had found this spot and read reviews about donuts and baked goodies, so we figured why not give it a try. I can tell you, it did not disappoint. We took our donuts to a bench overlooking the Mayflower II and the bay and had a lovely little picnic. Then it was off to tour the Mayflower II. 

As the same organization owns all three “Pilgrim”/Plymouth related attractions, you are able to purchase one ticket for all three locations, which is what we did. I can’t say that it was a cheaper option or a good bargain deal, but I can say that it was definitely easier when it came time to visit the other locations. We walked right into the Mayflower II and were able to get on the boat almost immediately. 

The Mayflower II is a reproduction of the original Mayflower. It was built in the 1950’s in partnership between an English builder and the Plimouth Patuxet. It was a partnership to honor the alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom during World War 2. Considered a generic reproduction with modern additions (like electric lights and a ladder) it sailed from Plymouth, Devon recreating the historical journey of the Pilgrims, landing at Plymouth Massachusetts after about 2 months. It has journeyed through various ports and cities on the East Coast both for tours and for restorations, but in 2020 it made a permanent return to Plymouth in honor of the 400th anniversary (lucky for us!). 

I do think that this is a very worthwhile attraction to see. Not only does it put the voyage in perspective and the conditions and turmoil that the Pilgrims faced during their voyage, but it also is neat to check out. The “crew” on board is a mixture of modern day guides and first person interpreters and you are able to see just about every area of the ship, including the mooring boat that they would have used to send expeditions from the ship to the mainland to find a settlement space. 

From the Mayflower II we walked the opposite direction (away from Plymouth rock and towards the shipyard area) to walk the riverfront. The town has a rocky area that you are able to walk a bit out into the bay waters and see the town from the water (in a way). Now, you are walking on rocks that have been piled up and around coming out of the water to form a walkway. It’s not a “sidewalk” or anything of that nature, just a man made path. We walked about halfway out and decided to turn back (as it’s just an outcropping to see the view). 

At that point in the day we were reaching the peak of the sun and heat, so we decided to head back to the hotel and spend a bit of time at the pool. This is something we don’t often do, but we had partly booked this hotel for the pool, so we figured we should take advantage of it. It was a lot of fun and allowed some of that sun and heat to pass over us. 

After a brief lull, we headed back out, this time to the Plymouth Grist Mill. This Grist Mill is a working mill recreated on the site (and similar to) the Jenney Grist Mill, which was one of the first operating mills from the Pilgrims in Plymouth (built and operated by John Jenney who came over on the Little James in 1623). The Mill was originally built in 1636 and remained in operation, though passing through different hands as owners passed away or sold, until it burned down in 1840’s. The property stood as it was until the town went through some re devolopment and mill was rebuilt/reproduced in 1969. It is a fully functioning mill processing what, rye, barley, and corn (which is ground on the primary millstones). You are able to watch the mill at work if it is the time of year for it to run, otherwise you are able to tour the mill and the workers will show you how everything operates. A Very kind tour guide turned on the outside portion for the boys to watch. 

I will say, this was another neat stop to make, BUT if you can’t fit it in or you are wondering which of the three attractions you don’t need to visit- this can be cut from your itinerary. It’s a short visit (which worked out really well for us), but I wouldn’t say it provided much “first hand” insight. Cool to see, but not necessary.

The final stop we made in Plymouth was the National Monument to the Forefathers. Originally known as the Pilgrim Monument, this is thought to be the worlds largest solid granite monument standing at 81 feet tall. It is dedicated to and commemorates the Mayflower Pilgrims and their ideals. The idea dates back to 1820, but the cornerstone was not laid until 1859 (after plans started almost 10 years earlier). It opened in 1889 and features a total of 5 figures. The top one is known as “Faith”, with the four buttresses featuring “Morality”, “Law”, “Education”, and “Liberty”. These are then broken down further on each buttress to give more ideals for each overarching concept. The front and rear panels both have quotes engraved, with the side panels containing the names of those on the original Mayflower. 

We wandered from the monument, which is tucked up on a hill back in a neighborhood, back down to the main street and stopped for dinner at the Waterfront Bar & Grill before heading back to the hotel to pack and leave the next morning. 

And that wraps up the first stop in our 2021 Summer Holiday. I will say, I’ve only ever been mildly interested in the Pilgrims tale (more so in a respectful manner of history), so while this was a cool spot and town was pretty, this wasn’t a highlight for me. It also wasn’t for the kids (minus the pool), but that’s because they much preferred the next stop on our destination…

A Day in Alexandria Bay

We recently spent a day exploring a little bit of Alexandria Bay and the Thousand Islands Region. The entire Thousand Island Region is absolutely gorgeous, and we really wanted the chance to explore it a bit more (we recently took a weekend to see Sackett’s Harbor and Wellesley Island which you can read about HERE), so we decided that a boat tour was the best way to go. Not only did this give us a chance to see the waterways, the summer vacation homes that most of us dream of, we also were able to stop at Boldt Castle, a well-known spot in the region. *A note that you can visit Boldt Castle and Singer Castle by personal boat if you have your own- they have docking options. *

Let’s back up a bit and touch a little on Alexandria Bay. Alexandria Bay was originally home to the Iroquois & Algonquin tribes, who would use the area as a Summer Hunting and Fishing spot. During the American Revolution (and shortly after) the land was purchased, then it passed hands after the War of 1812, the continued to be passed around for some time. Eventually the goal was to bring the Islands and Alexandria Bay to become a premier Sumer destination and, after the Civil War and a visit by Ulysses S. Grant, it did. Another period of time that did the region a lot of good was Prohibition when the narrow river ways would allow alcohol to be covertly brought into New York from Canada. To this day you can still find bottles at the bottom of the water from when they were tossed over as law enforcement approached. 

While we were in the area our main focus was the boat tour and Boldt Castle, but we did wander up through James St (and pick up a wine slushie- delicious) and a little bit along the river walk. There is plenty for us to go back and wander through and I can totally see the allure of this area as a summer hotspot. It brings all the charm of a “Bay Town” with just enough history and a variety of things to do. It’s also close to the Canadian Border (when it opens) if you want to pop over. 

Now, on to our main events, Uncle Sams Boat Tour and Boldt Castle.

Uncle Sam’s Boat Tour is one of the companies that operates tours throughout the water ways of the St. Lawrence River. They have several different tour options for you to choose from, each a variety of sites to see and costs. You can also choose to simply take their ferry over to the castle if that’s all you want to see. I personally would recommend taking one of the full tours so you can see the area a bit more in depth. We chose to do the American Narrows Tour (link) which gave us a good variety of the Islands, a stop at Boldt Castle, and was a good amount of time for our children too. Each tour comes with a tour guide on hand that takes you through this history and current information for the area AND a snack/drink bar. At some point I would like to do the tour that takes you out to Singer Castle as well. 

A couple of tour highlights for us were the Skull & Bones Society clubhouse. Story goes that the original owner of the Island was a part of the Skull & Bones Society at Yale and upon graduation (club rule) willed the entire Island to the club. There was also an island that had a partially sunken boat where the captain decided that steering the boat as it was out of the narrows was not worth it, so he simply left it on the side. Another interesting spot that gained some fame? An island that was owned by The Claudia Family that has both a home and an old monastery. Not only the monastery claimed to be haunted, but the island also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The TAPS team from Ghost Hunters and Meatloaf came out to film an episode of the show and feature the “haunted island”. One final fun story (or rather not fun for the people involved) was our tour was about a man-made island. Story goes a man wanted to buy an island and summer home for his wife, so he sent her up to the region to search for the one she wanted. She searched and searched and didn’t find one she liked, so he purchased some of the underwater ground and BUILT an island for her. He then built the house on it and presented it to her. But, as you may see where this is going, she didn’t like it, and ultimately decided she didn’t like him. The island and home still stand today, presumably with a happier family in residence. 

The last, well only, stop on the tour is at the famed Boldt Castle. 

George Boldt immigrated from Prussia to America in 1864 at age 13. He started at the bottom as a kitchen worker before climbing up the chain of the hotel industry. At 30 he purchased his own hotel (The Bellevue) and thus continued his rise. Ultimately, he would become the proprietor of the merged Waldorf Astoria (after mediating a feud between William and Jacob Astor). He is also the very man who made the Thousand Island Dressing so famous, having his maître-d include it on the menu of his hotel restaurant. 

In the beginning of 1900, he purchased Heart Island with the sole purpose of building a Rhineland Castle as a symbol of the love he had for his wife, Louise. The plan for the castle was a 6-story building with 120 rooms, along with tunnels a powerhouse, Italian Gardens, a Children’s playhouse, drawbridge and more. It was to be a massive castle. Work had been underway on the home for a few years before Louise suddenly died from pneumonia, at which point George, in his grief, ordered all work to be stopped and never stepped foot on the island for the rest of his life. 

An ultimate symbol of love (if you ask me). 

As the home and island fell into disrepair, it was eventually purchased by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority to restore and open the home/grounds. You are able to tour both the home (both the completed and incomplete areas) and the grounds and all proceeds from shop and ticket sales go directly back into the restoration. 

Now, let me say this straight away, the home and grounds are IMPRESSIVE. We loved our day there and I’ll share all the things about it, BUT I don’t know if I would classify it as a castle, more so as an estate. Semantics, I know, but that’s just my thoughts. 

So, some of the highlights for us…

The Entry Arch. Modeled off of the Roman Arches and maybe a little inspiration from the Arc De Triumphe, this was supposed to serve as the formal entry point to the island. It is topped with 3 Stag Deer (a theme throughout).

The Power House and Clock Tower. This is the most photographed spot on the property (and probably one of my favorite little nooks) and served as the home to the 2 generators that would have been used to power the home and island. It was designed to appear like a medieval tower rising directly from the water and features a beautiful bridge across the water for access. The clock tower was modeled and formed off of the chime tower at Westminster in London. 

The interior of the home was where I really saw the more modern (or rather of the time) American inspiration. Yes, we feature the massive fireplaces and the brick/stonework that you could find in other European Castles, but the marble flooring, the grand staircase, and the overall look of the interior was much more of its time and place. You can see both the hotel and concern for guests in the home, as well as the fact that he wanted to make it homelike for his family. The library and kitchen were personal favorites of mine, but I also wouldn’t have minded one of the open windowed natural light bedrooms on the second floor (I believe it was intended to be Louise’s). 

Of course, one cannot forget the Mother in Law suite that we learned about while on the boat. Allegedly the little house directly to the side of the main Island, accessible only by boat, was intended for George Boldt’s Mother-in-Law. There was a long funny story that was told to go along with this information, but I don’t know how factual any of it was, so I won’t share it here. It was funny though. 

Finally, we stopped over to the Yacht House across the river from the main house. The Yacht house served as the lodge for the Boldt’s houseboat and various yachts and speed or race boats they owned. There is a free shuttle from Heart Island that takes you over and you can either purchase tickets at Boldt Castle (a combined ticket) OR at the boathouse. The Yacht house currently holds a collection of antique boats on display, as well as a steam engine, and a steam Yacht that is on loan, but would have been similar to what the Boldt’s would have owned. The building itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Overall, we had such a beautiful day exploring the Islands, the Castle, and a little bit of Alexandria Bay. I can see this being a spot we come back to again.