Crowdsourcing Travel

Standard

Earlier in the month our family was having some difficulty deciding on a vacation destination. Our original plan was to take nine to ten days, but our son couldn’t get the first day off (or approved yet) and a very close friend is getting married during the second weekend. Consequently, our time away was cut down to five days. That’s still a decent chunk of time, and we are very grateful to be able to take our kids somwhere special.

I made a Facebook post solicitating suggestions from my friends. I gave them three criteria:

1. Nothing south of the Mason-Dixon Line

2. Nothing west of the Mississippi

3. Able to enjoy ourselves for 5 days with no air travel.

I’m sharing what places were suggested along with some links to the area tourism and travel guides.

Fort Wayne, Indiana

     Visit Fort Wayne

Maine

     Visit Maine

Nashville and/or Memphis, Tennessee

     Nashville

     Memphis from Lonely Planet

     Memphis Travel – free map and guide

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
     Visit Pittsburgh

Ontario, Canada – Toronto and Niagara Falls (or Niagara Falls, NY)

     Toronto from Lonely Planet

     See Toronot Now

     Niagara Falls, Ontario

     Niagara Falls, NY

General Travel Info

AAA
Lonely Planet

Travel – Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania

Standard

Groundhog’s Day is my husband’s favorite holiday. He despises Valentine’s Day – too commercial, but he loves Phil.

A college friend had grandparents who lived there, so she grew up with Punxsutawney Phil, the myth, the groundhog.

Except that it’s winter in western Pennsylvania, I think we would try to take a vacation there for February 2nd. Maybe one day.

For information on how to get there and what to do, here are some useful links:

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club
Visit PA on Groundhog’s Day
When I was a teacher many years ago, I tried to find unusual books to read to the kids that wasn’t your typical Winnie-the-Pooh or ABCs. Those books have their places in classroom and they’re fun for the teachers as much as for the kids, but sometimes it’s good to introduce them to children’s literature and expand their horizons.

You may remember Crocket Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon. He also wrote a wonderful, simple book for Groundhog’s Day. It is my favorite:

Will Spring Be Early or Will Spring Be Late?​
We should know by now. Let me know in the comments.

50-23 – Bike Week

Standard

We do not ride motorcycles, so imagine our surprise to find ourselves in the middle of bike week in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania during the summer of 2008.

I’m a meticulous planner.My oldest son was going to be studying the Civil War when he returned to school in the fall, so I decided that we’d visit Gettysburg and see some of the places that I went to as a child and that would correspond with his upcoming social studies class.

We planned to see the battlefields, the Jenny Wade house, and the interactive light up map that shows the battles in action.

For some reason, there were no hotels that we could afford in Gettysburg proper, so we ended up staying just over the border in Maryland. It wasn’t too far, and we were able to get into Getyysburg every day that we were there.

We thought it was weird. It was the first week of July, but it was after the Battle of Gettysburg anniversary and reenactment, so we couldn’t figure out what was going on in town.

We knew immediately once we arrived in Gettysburg that there was something going on in town.

Motorcycles.

Motorcycles everywhere.

Big ones, small ones, loud ones. Ones with flags, leather jackets, demin jackets, vests, every combination of bike and biker.

I have never seen so many bikes in one place before.

It was a great vacation and we got to enjoy somethng that we wouldn’t normally have been a part of.

We did all of the things that we planned on doing and a few extra.

While we were outside eating ices at Rita’s, the kids waved at the passing motorcycles and they waved back. I wasn’t surprised by that, but the kids were and they loved it.

We stopped by one of the battlefields that had an observation tower. My husband and oldest son climbed up while I stayed in the car with the two little ones, and suddenly a man got off his bike and began to play Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. The air was still, and there was a palpable feeling of nearby spirits. It was silent except for the occasional bike coming or going. It was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever experienced.

Had we noticed that the town was going to be so crowded we probably would have changed the dates of our visit. Luckily for us, I had no idea and we were able to enjoy things that we wouldn’t have seen.

Even without our own bikes, we still felt very much a part of the bike week.

Travel – Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania

Standard

When my husband and I were dating, I discovered that he disliked and disparaged Valentine’s Day. Very disappointing to a newly dating girlfriend. He did have the odd affection for Groundhog’s Day, and chose to celebrate that instead. We were the only family out to dinner for the groundhog and staying in for the holiday of hearts.

He thought it was pretty cool that one of my closest college friends grew up visiting Punxsutawney often where her grandparents lived. It’s still a big deal in her family, as evidenced by her Facebook now that we’ve reconnected.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Groundhog’s Day with Bill Murray and Andie McDowell.

Pop culturally, one of my favorite episodes of Supernatural is Mystery Spot which plays on the same theme as the movie, relegating Sam Winchester to relive his Tuesday over and over again.

Every year, we wake up early, long before school, and check on Phil’s prediction. Will spring be early or will spring be late?

Tune in tomorrow morning, bright and early to find out!

Next year, think about taking a mid-winter vacation. Check out these websites for more information:

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club
Visit PA

Roadside America

Standard

When I was a kid I was lucky enough that my parents took my siblings and I on many family vacations. I learned history on many of these trips. We visited family in Toronto, Canada, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We also went to Niagara Falls, the Ontario Science Center, and Disneyworld. We were really lucky. A few of the other places we traveled to on our East Coast adventures were what you might call kitschy or roadside attractions. We never saw a great ball of twine or see Area 51 or even the Corn Palace, but we went to Amish Country, the Fountain of Youth, South of the Border and Zinn’s Diner (now closed). I remember the last two vividly. South of the Border was like entering into a fantasyland filled with neon lights and fireworks stands. The giant man in the sombrero was even more gigantic to small children, aged 4-8.

image

Photo Credit: Leonard J. DeFrancisci, July 2008

image

Photo Credit: Matthew Logan

image

Zinn's Diner Postcard

image

Public Domain

The Disney/Pixar movie Cars reminded us of those things found on the road trip of following Route 66, seeing things that couldn’t be seen anywhere else, and I thought about my childhood of road trips both north and south. Everyone should see at least one ridiculous roadside attraction in their lives, and if they’re lucky, they should see many more.

Here are a few suggestions and resources:

Budget Travel’s 25 Wackiest Roadside Attractions (Slideshow)

Budget Travel’s Ultimate Road Trip App

Things You Will See on a Road Trip Across America

South of the Border

Amos the Amish Man Giant Statue

Amos’ Current Location

Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park

Corn Palace

Great Ball of Twine

Route 66

Niagara Falls – not so much roadside attraction, but a can’t be missed world wonder

Visit Area 51

Area 51 Sightseeing

Don’t Panic: Visiting Area 51

America’s Car Museum

Saratoga Automobile Museum

Vintage Supernatural

Standard

One week ago, Supernatural (Episode 11.5) took the brothers to the site of the grisly 19th century murders of Andrew and Abby Borden, father and step-mother of Lizzie Borden. There is much controversy as to who murdered them in their home, the popular nursery rhyme sing-songing one theory:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
and gave her mother forty whacks,
when the job was finally done
gave her father forty one

Amazing what lurks in the childhood memories and recesses of our minds. It comes unbeckoned as if I were still jumping rope in the grassy courtyard where I grew up far, far away from the murder of her parents. Lizzie was put on trial and acquitted. She died of pneumonia in 1927. Her sister died nine days later. Despite having not seen each other in many years, they are buried side by side. There is a monument that marks Lizzie’s final resting place.

In her will, Lizzie left money to pay for the perpetual care of her father’s cemetery plot.

image

Lizzie Borden

In viewing the previews for this episode, titled Thin Lizzie, they mention the family home in Fall River, Massachusetts, not all that far from where I live. I thought the Bed & Breakfast mentioned was a joke – was there really a place? One Google search and there it was. And before anyone asks, no, I have no desire or intention of visiting, no matter how close it is.

image

Borden Family Home that is now a Bed & Breakfast & Tourist Attraction

Some things should be left, and this is one of them.

On the morning after the episode aired, the Washington Post had an article, Would you buy a murder house? I personally don’t know, and I hope I don’t find out. I certainly do believe that houses can have spiritual remnants of previous owners, not to mention other places where spirits dwell. I’ve had my own encounters, the most visceral being in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, both on the battlefield and in the Jennie Wade House, one of the places that is always on my to see list. I had gone as a child, and again while on vacation with my husband, and then went again while on vacation with my three children. There is something compelling about Jennie’s house and her story that calls to me. I’ve been searching for the last week to find the photos that I’ve taken at the house, both in the 70s with my family and again in 2008, I believe with my children. I have a memory in a darkened stone masoned cellar that you had to climb down into from the outside. I’m not sure why that flashed through my head as I’m writing this.

image

The house where Jennie Wade was killed

The Jennie Wade House is located on a major road in Gettysburg; one that is extremely busy with traffic. It is in a tourist area, and directly across from a Rita’s Italian Ices Shop. My kids sat on the benches eating ices, and I watched the house, seemingly waiting for something to happen. Her death created the name of the landmark, although it is not actually Jennie’s house; it is her sister’s. Her sister had just had a baby, and Jennie and their mother came to help her. Jennie was baking bread, kneading the dough in the kitchen that adjoined the street. A stray bullet came through the front door, lodging in Jennie’s back, severing her spine and killing her.

She is the only civilian casualty in the city during the Battle of Gettysburg.

image

Jennie Wade

Ever since I was a little girl, I have always felt a presence in this house. Despite the obvious, poor special effects in the kitchen that give the soldier mannequin his face as he narrates the story of that fateful day, there is still something powerful in the “talking walls”. His projected face scared me beyond belief as an adolescent, and I still had that creepy vibe when I went there as an adult. I know much of the sounds and creaks were theatrics, but you couldn’t help but feel something in this house and that some of those “theatrics” weren’t all faked.

In the preview and then last week’s episode, Supernatural showed some artifacts from the house. I don’t know if they were really artifacts of the Borden murders or props made to look like the actual items, but the photo of Lizzie reminded me both of Jennie Wade and Laura Ingalls; possibly because of the camera techniques of the 19th century, the black and white, head and shoulders, the pose, the lace collars and pinned hair. It led me down a rabbit hole of googling and reading various accounts from both times of both of their lives, Lizzie and Jennie. They couldn’t have been more different, and I wondered at what point childhood me decided to devote so much of my time to Jennie rather than the nursery rhyme. Maybe I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of killing my parents. For a variety of reasons, I would never, but still why was I compelled to ignore her? I almost skipped the episode because the subject matter bothered me. I still wonder why I was never interested in Lizzie’s story – did I think she was guilty? I don’t know. I was much more compelled to the story of poor Jennie, baking bread for the soldiers. Her fiance was killed hours before she was. Neither of them knew the fate of the other.

I do love a good mystery, but I think I might need to not only have compelling characters, but also ones that are easier to feel compassion for, to put myself in their shoes, and I suppose, no, as I’ve said, I know that I could much more easily do that with Jennie Wade.