Sunday, August 17, 2014

Stepping into the past...afternoon at Mount Vernon

If you are visiting Washington D.C. take some time to spend an afternoon at Mount Vernon. 

Getting There: Using public transportation is an adventure in itself.  You have to take the Metro to the end of the line than transfer to a bus.  The key here is to get on Bus 101 ($1.80 exact change) and it will take you directly to the plantation.  It takes about a half hour.  It might seem quite exhaustive to figure out how to get to Mount Vernon but, it is so worth the effort once you walk through the gates.

Mount Vernon Mansion
View from the back porch (Potomac River)
Once you arrive at the Main Gate get your tickets, there is a separate ticket to tour the Mansion.  I would recommend going as early in the day as possible since tickets to tour inside the Mansion go fast.  If you just want to walk the grounds there is plenty to see but, to see in the actual house is pretty amazing.  

Little Parlor
Downstairs Bedchamber
The tour takes you through the New Room out to the porch back in to the Central Passage.  This is the actual key to the Bastille prison in Paris, which was given to George from Marquis de Lafayette.  The key still hangs exactly where George put it.  You then walk up the stairs to see all the bedchambers.  The highlight up here is George Washington's bedchamber.  This is where George passed away on Dec. 14, 1799.  Martha stopped using this room after this and moved up to the third floor (not on the tour).
George Washington's Bedchamber
Presidential Chair
After seeing the second floor you head back down to the main floor to see the study.  This one room has a lot to see in it.  In the picture above you can see George's fan chair.  He would move the fan by pressing on the pedals by his feet.  Also, in the study sits the chair George Washington used while he was president.  He was very fond of new inventions and this particular seat swiveled.  There are so many interesting things to see on this tour. The only drawback is if there are a lot of people touring the mansion they do tend to keep you moving and you can't linger very long.

Once you get out of the main house you have more time to spend on the kitchen and outer buildings. The main meal, dinner, was served at 3pm with a lighter meal, supper, being later around 9pm.  You can imagine how busy this place was to keep everyone who lived here fed.
Kitchen on the right of Mansion


One thing you will notice right away is all the gardens around Mount Vernon.  There are five separate gardens designed by George Washington.  The first garden you see is the landscape garden that you walk through to get to the Mansion.  The lower garden was used for the kitchen.  The upper garden was originally for fruits and nuts switched to be more decorative.  There was a botanical garden and further down the plantation was the fruit garden and nursery.
Lower Garden
Fruit Garden
Spinning Room
One of the family's enslaved black servants
Clerk's Quarters

Blacksmith Shop
The outer buildings have a lot of history in them to explore.  The Clerk's quarters were sparse but, efficient for that position.  Every building that was important to the running of the Mansion was located near it, including the Storehouse, Smokehouse, and Salt House.

The Blacksmith Shop was another hub of activity around Mount Vernon from doing mundane tasks to inventing farm equipment.  They actually had a person working in the shop while we were visiting.  

The Coach House and Stable were always busy.  Both George and Martha were avid horse riders.  The Stable even dates back to Washington's time.  One area that children will enjoy is the farm animals. There are a bunch of sheep by the stable that you can pet when they come close to the fence.
Once you have visited all the out buildings head south to the Forest Trail.  This scenic path gives you a feeling of how wild this was during Washington's lifetime.  As you walk the paths you might even hear some music.  I eventually found the speakers hidden very well in the trees.  This entire plantation does a really good job on creating the realistic feel of how it might have been back then. 
Forest Trail
George Washington's Tomb
Within this Enclosure Rest the Remains of Gen. George Washington
As you walk the path you will see signs directing you to Washington's Tomb.  This tomb was built exactly to Washington's instructions left in his will.  Martha and all of his relatives now lay to rest here.  This is a very somber area.  Very quiet and there is usually a line to view the opening of the Tomb. 

Walking a bit further in the forest brings you to the Slave Burial Ground and Memorial.  There are no tombstones for the slaves buried here but, the estimate is that there are up to 75 graves around the memorial.  Around the Slave Memorial are the words Love, Hope and Faith.  
Slave Burial Grounds
Slave Memorial
A good portion of Mount Vernon's income came from fishing.  The Potomac River provided a great source of food and income to Washington.  If you get tired after the walk down to the wharf there is a shuttle pick up spot that will get you back up to Museum.
Potomac River
Right next to the wharf is the Pioneer Farm.  There are usually demonstrations for people to see how slaves worked the farms.  Walking up to the barn, there is a display to show George's ideas on fencing and all the options he tried.  All over the farm you will see signs explaining all the ideas George tried out to maximize his farming output.
Pioneer Farm
Washington designed this 16-sided barn to help with the process of turning wheat to grain. Horses would walk around in circles tromping on the wheat to get the grain to fall through the gaps to the first floor.
16-Sided Barn

Inside of Barn
Slave Cabin
The slave cabin shows how the field hand slaves lived.  A whole family would live here.  The husband might work up by the Mansion and the wife worked in the field.  The hearth was all the family had for heat, light, and cooking area.

I know from what I read about George Washington he struggled with the concept of slavery but, with the size of the Mount Vernon plantation it is no wonder he relied on slavery to make Mount Vernon prosper and survive.
I am more than amazed of how much George Washington was a leader in innovation throughout his entire plantation.  His ideas for farming and gardening were ingenious.  What a great mind he was!
George Washington
Of course, no visit is complete without hitting the Shops at Mount Vernon for your souvenirs to take home with you.  I know that I spent tons of time looking through every display they had in each section of the shops and went home with quite a few mementos.

All in all a wonderful & peaceful afternoon stepping into the past and experiencing what it would have been like to live in George Washington's world.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Breckenridge, Colorado - A quaint skiing village with lots of personality

If you ever want to spend a weekend enjoying nature at its finest and feeling like you stepped back in the Victorian era - Come to Breckenridge!  This is by far one of my favorite skiing vacations I've taken over the years.  I have found that the best time to go to Breckenridge is during the end of the season to experience Spring skiing.  There is lots of snow for great skiing, beautiful weather, and smaller crowds.  There are a couple of ways to get to Breckenridge from the Denver airport, the most obvious is to rent a vehicle.  But, there is a little less known way to get there...Colorado Mountain Express.  This shuttle service is very convenient and with sharing the ride with multiple friends arriving/leaving at similar times they can all share the costs to and from the airport.
Amazing Views

The mountains in Breckenridge offer a variety of ski trails on the 5 peaks.  From the thrilling black diamonds on Peak 10, easy runs on Peak 9, runs for every level of skier on Peak 8, long windy trails on Peak 7, to the above the trees intermediate runs on the new Peak 6.  My personal favorite is to start the morning hitting the Briar Rose trail and making my way over to finish the day on Lincoln Meadows or Monte Cristo.  It is a great way to clear out early from the beginners on Peak 9 and have runs all to yourself over on Peak 7.
Solo trail blazer
You can bring your equipment with you or rent from the numerous shops in town.  They all have quick, easy rentals and returns.  If you happen to forget something like leaving your poles in your condo (yes I have done this!), they will let you borrow them for free.  Plus they are more than helpful when renting a helmet, which I highly recommend on the ski trails.  If you have enough pockets you can put a small point & shoot camera or your cell phone in them.  You never know when you will have the perfect scene present itself to you.  The other thing you need to be prepared for is the change in temperature.  Sometimes it can be very windy on the chairlifts and at the peaks but, can definitely warm up as you are skiing down the trails.

Crazy snow storm
Beautiful sunny day
There are plenty of places to take breaks on the mountain. From plopping down right on the trail to spending a nice leisurely break at any of the restaurants on the peaks or at the base.  Just remember to drink plenty of fluids to counteract the potential of altitude sickness and pay attention to your body's energy level during the full day of skiing.  When your legs start feeling tired it might be time to stop for the day.  Or you might end up being the person standing in the lift line that just falls over at the end of the day because your legs feel like jello (Oh yeah that was me, too!).
Taking a break on the hill
Hanging out at the bottom of Peak 7
Condos for rent
ULLR - Snow God from Scandinavian Folklore, protector of all those who participate in winter sports.

If you have numerous friends or family members going on this vacation, the best bet is to rent out a home or condo.  There are lots of choices and reasonable prices.  Most of the places to rent are on the free shuttle ride routes.  This shuttle will take you to and from the town, just remember to pay attention to the color of your particular route or you might end up taking a tour of the town.

View of the ski hill from town
The Dredge Restaurant & Bar

Each time I visit Breckenridge I always find something new and exciting in the shops along Main Street.  Of course they all have the traditional souvenirs available but, you also can find that rare gift for yourself or a loved one in one of the old buildings they have renovated into quaint stores.  What I enjoy the most is conversing with the proprietors.  They love to chat with you and love to hear where you are from.  I always hear amazing stories on how they know someone who lives in the same area of the country as me. 


Breckenridge Brewery
My favorite part of the town of Breckenridge is how the entire downtown area has lights strung on the buildings.  It always reminds me of Christmastime here. There are plenty of dining choices to try after the day on the slopes.  I've had great meals at The Dredge, Breckenridge Brewery, La Francaise Bakery (great crepes!), Columbine Cafe, Giampietro, Briar Rose Chophouse & Saloon, and The Motherloaded Tavern (great Mac & Cheese!).
Views from the interstate to and from Denver are amazing.  The only potential drawback is if you happen to get caught in one of the traffic jams.  There isn't a lot of options other than sitting and waiting for the cars to move.  I only hope that you don't have to experience this on your way back to Denver when you have a flight to make.

Breckenridge is a place where you can step back into time and enjoy hospitality and friendship with everyone you meet on and off the slopes, and where you can breathe fresh air and see the most spectacular views of mother nature at her finest.     

Spring trying to come through the snow!