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Shear Madness: Fall Festivals of the Catskills

When autumn arrives in the Catskills, there’s a good bet a party is happening nearby. 

The explosion of color on the mountainsides brings in folks from far and wide, so putting on a festival is a natural thing to do.
Visit the site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, a Sheep and Wool Festival and, because it’s October, or shall we say Oktober… CONTINUE READING >>

When autumn arrives in the Catskills, there’s a good bet a party is happening nearby. The explosion of color on the mountainsides brings in folks from far and wide, so putting on a festival is a natural thing to do.

Craft Beer at Bethel Woods — at the Site of the Woodstock Concert

Fall festivals in Up State New York! GypsyNester.com

Bethel Woods Center for the Arts at the site of the Woodstock concert

We began at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which is where the 1969 Woodstock festival took place.

But wait, we were a good fifty miles from Woodstock, what gives?

Well, unlike its name implies, the world’s most famous Rock concert took place on Max Yasgur’s old dairy farm in Bethel, New York.

The Craft Beer festival at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts at the Woodstock concert site

Back in 1996, Alan Gerry bought the farm and set out to create a not-for-profit performing arts center and museum.

Over the next ten years things took shape, and now the historic site has a fantastic museum commemorating all things Woodstock.

Even though we had come for The Harvest Festival, the museum and the field where music history was made were the main attractions for us.

The magic bus at the Woodstock Museum at Bethel Woods Center of the Arts! GypsyNester.com

See more about the fabulous Woodstock museum!

It is Oktober…

Being October, we could hardly forage for fall fests and not take in a classic of the German variety, so our next stop was the Colors in the Catskills Fall Festival at Hunter Mountain.

Hunter is a ski resort, so for a fantastic view of the fall foliage we started the day with a ride to the top of the mountain on the Kaatskill Flyer chairlift. Veronica certainly had a better time getting on and off without any snow involved than in her previous winter-time attempts.

German dancers at the Hunter Mountain Octoberfest in New York

Back at the bottom the games were beginning, and we couldn’t pass up the chance to jump in.

Mostly our hopes were to avoid complete embarrassment, but in the heat of the competitions a sneaky little voice piped up saying, “Maybe you could win.”

Yeah right, the first challenge involved rolling —

Beer keg rolling at Hunter Mountain Oktoberfest in New York! GypsyNester.com

and throwing — a beer keg through an obstacle course. Maybe if they divided the field up by age.

We took pride in not finishing last.

WATCH: Sheep, beer, and, okay, more beer in Upstate New York!

Veronica tries her hand at the Krug Carrying Race at Hunter Mountain Oktoberfest! GypsyNester.com

Next up, the Krug Carrying Race. This time contestants carry ten full beer krugs (the real German name for a beer stein) around a slightly modified course.

The winner completes the course in the fastest time, while spilling the least beer.

Veronica felt she had an advantage based on her waitressing days, and she did finish near the top, but victory eluded us and we knew there was no way we were pulling out an upset in the final game, Masskrugstemmen, which means beer-stein holding.

Sounds easy, but it’s not! Go ahead, give it a try.

Holding a full, one-liter stein directly in front of you, without bending your arm, can make five minutes seem like an eternity.

As the minutes ticked off, we decided to exit happy in the knowledge that we weren’t the first ones out.

So we escaped with our egos intact, and went off to find some leberkäse, sauerkraut, and kartoffelpuffer, better known as potato pancakes, to restore our strength.

Food at the Hunter Mountain Oktoberfest in New York

It’s a Bash, Bash, Baaaaa-sh!

As great as our first two stops had been, there seemed something lacking from our festivities so far… animals! The New York State Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck would fix that. For over forty years the Dutchess County Sheep & Wool Growers’ Association has thrown this baaaa-sh every October.

Vibrant colored yarn at the Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, New York

A huge part of the show is dedicated to knitting, and something we’d never heard of before, felting.

Enough yarn to easily circle the globe was on sale in the exhibition halls, as well as every imaginable product made from that yarn. But we came to catch some critters, so we made our way to the canine frisbee demonstrations.

Although some herding dogs were represented, many breeds, including a tiny chihuahua, participated in the fun and games.

It never gets old watching man’s best friend sprint, leap, dive, and drool in their relentless pursuit of a flying plastic disk.

But, as furry as some of these guys were, not a one of them could produce any wool, so we headed over to the barn marked:

Camalids & Exotic Goats

We wanted to see where really nice sweaters come from.

Veronica and her llama friend at the Sheep and Wool Festival, New York! GypsyNester.com

We were just in time; the animals were lining up for the big Exotic Breeds Parade and, before the procession proceeded, Veronica got to walk a llama around the grounds.

Then the column of llamas, alpacas, and cashmere goats marched through the fairgrounds. Perhaps most impressive were their fancy poodle-style trims. Cute, but not very practical when it comes to producing wool.

The parade at the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival

These decorative hairdos are the product of clipping, not shearing, but we wanted to see the wool fly.

Shearing sheep at the Wool and Sheep Festival, New York

Following to the crowd, we joined the sheep shearing demonstration just as the electric trimmer was getting fired up.

Removing the wool from sheep goes back centuries, but the modern method can be traced back to one man, Godfrey Bowen, and the Bowen technique.

He pioneered the process of removing the fleece in one continuous piece.

Shearing sheep at the Wool and Sheep Festival, New York

Godfrey developed the pattern in the 1950s using electric shears and soon became a champion shearer, setting a world record by shearing 463 sheep in nine hours.

His innovations were so important to the industry that he was knighted in 1960.

In the time it took to learn this little history lesson, our lamb was shaved clean and a blanket of black wool covered the ground.

Shearing sheep at the Wool and Sheep Festival, New York

After a brief break to chomp on a lamb chop (which, admittedly, felt just wrong), we went to see what was the highlight of the day for us, a couple of border collies doing what they do best.

A border collie herds sheep at the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival

These guys are the undisputed champions of sheep dogs.

Amazingly, all border collies can be traced back to the same dog, Old Hemp, who was born in the border area between England and Scotland back in 1893. That’s where the border in border collie comes from.

As soon as the dogs spotted the sheep it was clear that the only thing on their minds was to herd them, but being meticulously bred for intelligence and obedience, they would anxiously wait for the command from their trainer.

Well groomed sheep at the Sheep and Wool festival

We couldn’t help but think of the movie Babe.

With a quick “come-bye” the dog took off to the right, circling the flock clockwise, then an “away to me” from the trainer sent them in the opposite direction.

“Lie down” slowed the whole process –depending on the tone in which the command was delivered — to a crawl or a complete stop, followed by “walk up” which meant to proceed slowly.

Sheep with crazy horns at the Wood and Sheep Festival in New York

The entire time the dog had his undivided attention on the herd using what is known as “the eye,” which is a stare that anyone who knows a border collie is familiar with.

To finish each session the trainer would tell the dog “that’ll do,” which we both automatically followed in our minds with “pig.”

Or maybe we said it out loud. Of course we said it out loud.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Thanks to the folks at Ensure who were kind enough to sponsor our video, and provided a supply of their new Ensure Active, which kept us hydrated throughout our escapades. All opinions are our own.

See all of our adventures in New York!

Mistakes To Avoid When Visiting Los Angeles

Plan your trip carefully and don’t try to navigate the traffic on your own, but consider using rideshare or taxi services…
CONTINUE READING >> 

One of the best ways to get temporary relief from the stress in your life is by traveling. There are millions of Americans that love traveling and seeing new parts of this country. Making a bucket list of places you want to see is a great idea.

If you are concerned with seeing the best that America has to offer, then you need to plan a trip to Los Angeles, CA. Adequately planning your trip to L.A. is a great way to ensure you have a great time. Here are some mistakes you need to avoid when visiting Los Angeles.

Ignoring the Need for a Shuttle Service

One of the busiest airports in the world is LAX. If you are flying into this airport on your trip, then you have to take the time to plan ahead. Trying to get from the airport to your hotel or rental home can be difficult. Instead of going through the aggravation of renting a car and driving in busy L.A. traffic, consider hiring a shuttle service for a better and more relaxing experience. 

With the right LAX airport shuttle, you can get from the airport to your destination quickly. Most people fail to realize just how many different car services are operating in Los Angeles. Before you choose one to hire, you need to do some research.

Taking the time to look at the reputation a particular shuttle service has is crucial. With this information, you can assess whether a particular shuttle service is right for your needs. You should also compare the prices and commuting time of certain shuttles, especially if you have a fixed schedule. This can help you get the best possible deal on the transportation services you need.

Don’t Try To See Everything in One Trip

Did you realize that Los Angeles is over 500 square miles? Some of the most iconic attractions in this area are located outside of the city. Regardless of how well you plan your trip to L.A., you will have a hard time seeing everything.

Instead of getting overwhelmed, you need to pick two or three key areas to focus on during your trip to Los Angeles. By doing this, you can see everything these small areas have to offer. This will also give you an excuse to plan another trip to L.A. in the future.

Never Underestimate Los Angeles Traffic

The virtually unlimited number of attractions Los Angeles has to offer makes it a popular tourist destination. However, the horrible traffic in Los Angeles is something most first-time visitors learn to dread. The traffic in this part of the world can be extremely bad at times. Los Angeles has been named one of the most congested cities in the United States.

Every year, drivers in Los Angeles lose over 101 hours a year to rush hour traffic. This is why you need to give yourself plenty of time when heading to any destination in L.A. Failing to do this can result in you missing a reservation or check-in time.

Instead of renting a car and trying to navigate this traffic on your own, think about using rideshare or taxi services. These vehicles are driven by locals. This means they have a lower chance of getting lost or taking a highly-congested route. The money paid to these businesses is worth it due to the aggravation they can help you avoid.

Therefore, for the most pleasant experience, take a shuttle from the airport to your destination. Plan your trip carefully to avoid getting overwhelmed by many attractions LA has to offer. Don’t try to navigate the traffic on your own, but consider using rideshare or taxi services. If following these tips, you will ensure to avoid most common mistakes and have an enjoyable visit to Los Angeles.

Big Heads, Badlands & Bear Claws

After the seemingly endless trek across the windswept northern prairie, the landscape suddenly changes. On second thought, suddenly hardly describes it.

Abruptly, immediately, instantaneously the topography dramatically goes from flat grassland besieged with billboards to the spectacularly gnarled Badlands.

Out of nowhere the South Dakota plains give way to layers of soft shale, clay and limestone that wear away at a rate of about an inch a year… CONTINUE READING >>

Badlands National Monument in South Dakota

After the seemingly endless trek across the windswept northern prairie, the landscape suddenly changes.

On second thought, “suddenly hardly” describes it.

Abruptly, immediately, instantaneously the topography dramatically goes from flat grassland besieged with billboards to the spectacularly gnarled Badlands.

The Badlands of South Dakota

Out of nowhere the South Dakota plains give way to layers of soft shale, clay and limestone that wear away at a rate of about an inch a year  leaving stunning silhouettes and fanciful formations.

See more photos of The Badlands

The Lakota Sioux dubbed the region “Mako Sica” or “Bad Land” and the early French Trappers concurred, calling it “les mauvaises terres a traverser” meaning a bad land to cross.

No one said anything about it being a bad land to LOOK at, so America recognized it as a uniquely beautiful spot and proclaimed it Badlands National Monument in 1929.

Wild formations in The Badlands of South Dakota

However inhospitable or difficult to traverse this place may be, the  Badlands certainly provide a most unique spot where one feels utterly removed from the rest of the planet.

The Badlands Loop Road in Badlands National Monument, South Dakota

While most of the park is wilderness and inaccessible by vehicle, The Badlands Loop Road passes through the most far-fetched of formations. Absolutely remarkable — we’d go so far as to describe it as“out of this world.

See more photos of The Badlands here

Leaving The Badlands behind us, we began the climb up into The Black  Hills. Hills is a bit of a misnomer, these massive mountains rise over 7000 feet with sheer rock cliffs and beautiful forests.

The area around Mount Rushmore

We thought we were on a quest to see Mount Rushmore but found much more. The area is filled with an interesting, if a bit unsavory, history. We rapidly discovered that the disputes of the Old West rage on and that an extraordinary work of art can have an unseemly creator.

This mountain range that the Lakota Sioux call Paha Sapa, is a microcosmic study of the overall deceitful treatment the North American native peoples received from our government. Ownership of the area is still disputed based on the terms of the 1868 treaty of Fort Laramie.

On the road to Mount Rushmore

Back then no one had much use for the area, except the Lakota, who lived
and hunted in the region and considered the Black Hills sacred ground. The U.S. government signed an agreement giving the tribes permanent ownership of the region.

Unfortunately for the Sioux, gold was found in them thar hills in 1874 and the prospectors flooded in.

By 1877 the great white chiefs in Washington decided Treaty?  What treaty? and the army drove the Sioux out of the Hills and onto the nearby prairie.

New treaties were signed, then broken again and again throughout the following decades, until the Sioux were finally left with nothing but a few scraps of worthless flatland.

The battered Sioux Nation never gave up the fight, finally winning a court  award of $17.5 million (the value of the land in 1877) plus $105 million in interest (5% for 103 years) in 1980.

The Lakota Sioux refused the judgment and continue to demand the return of their land.

This story is sadly familiar, repeated time and time again across the continent. It was easy as 1, 2, 3.

1. Sign treaty giving ownership of thought to be worthless land to a tribe or tribes in perpetuity.

2. Discover gold, silver, oil or any other use for the land.

3. Move tribes to new piece of even more worthless piece of land.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Mount Rushmore on a beautiful day

This sad tale was followed by the creation of one of America’s greatest works of art, Mount Rushmore, but not without controversy of its own. In 1923, after removing all of the Native Americans and most of the gold from the Black Hills, historian Doane Robinson thought that an enormous something should be done to promote tourism.

See more photos of Mount Rushmore here

A different angle of Mount Rushmore

Robinson asked  noted sculptor and Klansman (as in KKK), Gutzon Borglum, to carve a tribute to America’s first 150 years into the side of a mountain.

Gutzon happened to be available, due to a falling out with his  Klan buddies regarding the depiction the heroes of the Confederacy  during his Stone Mountain project in Georgia.

Borglum came to the Black Hills to scout out an acceptable site for his masterpiece and selected the 5,725 foot high Mount Rushmore, named for New York industrialist Charles E. Rushmore who had mining interests in the hills.

A different angle of Mount Rushmore

Politics, bigotry and secret society memberships aside, ol’ Gutzon sure could carve rock on a grand scale.

In 1925 Congress authorized  funds for the project and in 1927 Borglum and four hundred  workers began chipping away with everything from dynamite to tiny hand tools on the four sixty foot faces.

In 1933 the National Park Service took control of the monument and by 1934 the first face, Washington’s, was finished and dedicated. Jefferson followed in 1936 and Lincoln in 1937.

Suspended by Mount Rushmore

There was some talk in congress of adding Susan B. Anthony’s likeness to the monument but with limited funds, Roosevelt’s face was the final one, dedicated in 1939.

Work came to a halt
with Gutzon Borglum’s death and the beginning of World War II in 1941.

The end of work did not bring an end to the disputes. In 1971 members of the Sioux nations occupied the monument, hung a drape over the faces and renamed it Mount Crazy Horse.

Despite the controversies, this is a great work of art celebrating great presidents.

The main entrance to the monument leads up The Avenue of Flags to the museum and Grand View Terrace. The path is lined with tributes to every state and territory in the union, marking the date of their admission.

As we proceeded under the flags, gazing up at the mountain, the grandeur of the sculpture really hit us. Photographs simply do not do it justice. The view from the Terrace truly is Grand (well named guys!) and the museum offers a fascinating look at the construction methods and history of the monument.

Close up of Mount Rushmore

Deciding we needed a closer look, we headed up the Presidential Trail that proceeds to the base of the faces. Well worth the climb, standing among the piles of fallen rock, cast-off from the carving, we were rewarded with views right up the nostrils of America’s greatest leaders.

At the end of the trail we found The Sculptor’s Studio where Gutzon Borglum’s tools, drawings and clay model of his original concept to depict the presidents from the waist up are on display.

The idea was probably overambitious and honestly, we think it fits in with the surrounding landscape better in the unfinished, smaller version.

See more photos of Mount Rushmore here

During the work on Rushmore representatives from the Sioux Nation approached Korczak Ziolkowski, who was working with Borglum, with the idea that perhaps some of the greats from their past should be memorialized as well.

They chose Thunderhead Mountain, eight miles from Rushmore, and began work on the Crazy Horse monument in 1948. Entirely funded from private donations, the ambitious work has been slow and not without some controversy of its own.

Many natives feel that the sacred land should be left alone. Ziolkowski died in 1982 but his wife and children remain involved as the project forges ahead.

Since we were in the vicinity, a drive over to Devils Tower National  Monument was in order.

Just across the border into Wyoming, the tower is probably best known for its role as the meeting place in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

In real life it’s not made of mashed potatoes, but from volcanic rock left exposed after the softer materials around it eroded away.

The Tower’s odd vertical markings come from the way the lava crystallized as it cooled or perhaps from the scratching of giant bear claws. The stories from geologists and Native American legends seem to differ on this point.

Numerous tribes believed the 5,112 foot high monolith bears the markings left by a giant bear trying to reach the top of the Tower.

The park has numerous trails ranging from easy hikes to straight up the tower.

We wisely picked The Tower Trail which, despite the name, goes around the base of the tower and not up the side.

We did get to watch some other maniacs scending the sheer cliffs while we strolled along humming the five note opus from Close  Encounters.Dooo – doo – doo – doo – doooo.

It’s a terrible chorus to have stuck in your head, believe us. Just the same five notes over and over and over. And over.

We managed to extract the refrain from our brains by visiting the prairie dog town on the south edge of the park. These  little guys can take your mind off of anything.

Adorable and amusing, we spent at least an hour just watching their antics. But alas, the time had come to move along.

Turning back for one last look at the tower as we drove away… DAMN!… there it is again. Those same five notes. We didn’t ask around, but I’ll bet it wasn’t just us. I’d bet everyone who has seen the movie is cursed with those five notes as soon as they see the Devils Tower.

Dooo – doo – doo – doo – doooo.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

America’s Founding Cities by Train, A Live Blog

A few years ago we joined with Amtrak to explore America’s great founding cities, Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington DC.
The train was the perfect transportation choice this endeavor, since we arrived right in the heart of each city at some of the country’s most historic places… CONTINUE READING >>

Thanks to Amtrak for providing the train travel portion of this adventure through Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, DC! As always, all opinions are our own.

David the Train Nut climbs aboard Amtrak's number 67 Northeast Regional
David the Train Nut, trying to look all casual, but we all know how excited he is!

In honor of National Train Day, we have joined with Amtrak to explore America’s great founding cities, Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, DC.

Obviously, we couldn’t possibly see all these in one day, so we will be stretching things out into a national train week… plus a day or two.

Day One: Boston

Boston's South Station our first stop on our Amtrak Founding Cities Tour
Boston’s beautiful South Station!

The train is the perfect transportation choice for our endeavor, since we will arrive right in the heart of each city at some of our country’s most impressive and iconic terminals, beginning with Boston’s South Station.

Morning: It All Starts with a Tea Party (or Having our Morning Tea)

Charlie ticket in Boston

Most of Beantown’s famous colonial sites are within an easy walk from the station, or they can be reached on the “T” in just a few stops. Just grab a Charlie Ticket and go. Perhaps we should explain, Charlie has been famous to Bostonians ever since the Kingston Trio sang about him as “the man who never returned” from the old MTA transit system back in 1959 and now the electronic fare cards bear his name.

David channeling his best Samuel Adams at the Boston Tea Party Museum
David channels his best Samuel Adams at the Boston Tea Party Museum.

We begin with the Boston Tea Party Museum, which is just across the bridge from South Station.

Replica ships wait in the harbor for new groups of patriots to board, but first we sit in on a meeting of The Sons of Liberty that led to the famous protest back in 1773.

After our rowdy “Hizzahs!”, our mob scrambles to the ships where we throw bales of tea in to the harbor. Yup, true story.

Boston Tea Party Museum

A patriot shows us around the Boston Tea Party Museum
Our first brush with a real live patriot – not to be our last!
The Old State House where the tea party meetings happened in Boston
Melds with modern downtown: The Old State House.

One of the events that led to the tea uprising, The Boston Massacre, took place a few years earlier, in 1770, at The Old State House.

We stand on the very spot where tensions ran high — and finally snapped — when British soldiers shot into a crowd of colonists, killing five men and injuring six others.

The site of The Boston Massacre

The Old South Meeting House
The Old South Meeting House

The incident became a rallying cry for those who wished to throw off the yoke of British rule.

Nearby, The Old South Meeting House stands just as it did on that fateful night of December 16, 1773, when thousands of fed up Bostonians gathered and decided to stage a history changing protest.

They called it The Destruction of the Tea, but we know it better as the Boston Tea Party.

Afternoon: Freedom Trail – ho!

The Freedom Trial Marker in Boston

Paul Revere's grave at the Old Granary Burial Ground in Boston

As we follow the Boston Freedom Trail, we arrive at the Old Granary Burial Ground, the city’s third-oldest cemetery, dating back to 1660.

This is the final resting place for many patriots, including Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and the five victims of the Boston Massacre.

Old Granary Burial Ground in Boston

Evening: The Cradle of Liberty and Real Yankee Food

Stopping in at Faneuil Hall has been an everyday event in Boston since 1742

Stopping in at Faneuil Hall has been an everyday event in Boston since 1742, so naturally we make our way there.

Serving as both a marketplace and a meeting hall, it was the venue for rousing speeches encouraging independence from Great Britain – earning it the nickname “Cradle of Liberty”.

Quincy Market in Boston

In 1826 the marketplace was expanded creating Quincy Market, as more and more people came to this crossroads of the city.

The markets have featured food since they opened, and Durgin-Park is the oldest existing restaurant in Faneuil Hall Marketplace, so that’s the place for us.

Durgin-Park is the oldest existing restaurant in Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston

Durgin-Park opened in 1826, but the location has been feeding Bostonians all the way back to 1742. They still serve up classic Yankee fare, so pot roast and a lobster roll is dinner — with a Sam Adams beer to wash it down — it would be unpatriotic otherwise.

Lobster Roll and Yankee Pot Roast at Durgin-Park in Boston

Day Two: Boston

Morning: Heading North
Paul Revere’s statue with The Old North Church in background

The North End of Boston has many of the city’s most famous landmarks, including the Old North Church.

Built in 1723, this is where Paul Revere sent the “One if by land, and two if by sea” signal across the Charles River.

Still an active church, the interior has kept the old box pews that were common in colonial times. Families paid an annual fee for their private boxes.

Box pews at the Old North Church in Boston

The Old North Church in Boston
The Old North Church

Nowadays, people sit anywhere they choose.

Paul Revere lived near the church and his house, built around 1680, is still standing.

It is the oldest house in downtown Boston, with an astounding ninety percent of the building being the original materials.

The furnishings are believed to have belonged to the family, and several fine examples of Revere’s silversmith work are on display too, including one of his famous bells.

Paul Revere's house in Boston

Afternoon: Battling Bunker Hill

The Monument for the Battle of Bunker Hill

The town of Charleston stands across the Charles River and is best known for being the starting point of Paul Revere’s ride after the signal from the North Church, and also as the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill a few months later.

The battle for control of the hill on June 17, 1775 was the first major conflict of the Revolutionary War.

The Bunker Hill Monument commemorates that battle, but actually stands atop Breed’s Hill, which was where most of the fighting took place.

Evening: Ready for Our Overnight to DC!

Boston's South Station

Leaving Boston to make our way to the nation’s capital is just as easy as arriving was, because South Station is so close to all of the city’s downtown attractions.

We stop for one last look of the skyline, step inside and watch a few minutes of the Bruins playoff game (wicked good), then off we go for our overnight journey to Washington, DC.

Boston's South Station

Day Three: Washington DC

Morning: Coffee, Union Station and a glimpse of the Capitol

Washington DC's Union Station

Washington DC's Union Station

After a couple of cups of coffee from the café car, we arrive bright and early in our nation’s capital. Union Station in Washington, DC is the most impressive depot we have ever traveled through.

From the bright shopping area around the gates, to the amazing, massive main hall almost one hundred feet high, the station leaves our jaws dropping.

See more of DC’s incredible Union Station!

Washington DC's fabulous Union Station

Opened in 1907, this grand old terminal was the largest in the world and has seen many kings, queens, and, of course, presidents pass through.

Back in the pre-Air Force One days, seventeen presidents from Taft to Eisenhower used a private suite added in 1909. More surprising were the mortuary, bowling alley, YMCA, and Turkish baths that were also on the premises.

The Capitol Building is visible as soon as you step out of Union Station in Washington DC

The Capitol Dome highlights the view as we walk out the front doors, and instantly we know we are in a city like no other in America.

Or anywhere else for that matter.

We can’t wait to get out and explore The Mall!

See more of DC’s incredible Union Station!

Afternoon: Headed to The Mall

We toured the mall in Washington DC on bikes!

Just outside the station, there are bikes for rent — what a great idea!

The main attractions of Washington are spread out over several miles, so walking could take up most of our time.

Pedaling along the extremely bike-friendly paths through the mall area solves time issues and prevents mighty tired tootsies by the end of the day.

The Capitol Building in Washington DC

If any one of the dozens of iconic buildings and monuments in the District of Colombia can symbolize the city — perhaps the entire country — it must be the Capitol.

President George Washington laid the cornerstone on September 18, 1793 and the first session with both houses of congress was held in November of 1800.

The Capitol Building in Washington DC

The construction was nowhere near finished at that time, but our government had a home. In fact, construction continued for well over a century and most of the time as a work in progress.

From our first vantage point in front of the east steps, we can easily see the difference in stone between the original structure and the expansion that began in 1850.

The dome of the Capitol Building in Washington DC

That expansion led to the most recognizable feature being added, the dome. The expanded capitol was so large that the original dome looked pretty puny, so in 1855 a fitting cupola was created. We most certainly applaud the decision as a capital idea, it just wouldn’t be the same without it.

Off in the distance we can see the Washington Monument, and beyond that, nearly two miles away, the Lincoln Memorial.

Time to get pedaling!

See more about The National Mall of DC

Evening: The Enormity of it All – and the White House

Before we set out to see the monuments, we head over to the most famous residence in town, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Built from 1792 to 1800, the house wasn’t finished in time for George Washington to move in, but every president since has lived here.

The White House in Washington DC

Like the Capitol, The White House has been a work in progress, with numerous additions and renovations, and both were burned by the British in 1814, during the war of 1812. James and Dolley Madison were forced to move out but repairs began immediately, so by 1817 the new president, James Monroe, moved in. That kept the streak alive.

Close up on the White House in Washington DC

At first no one was sure what to call it, the President’s Palace, the President’s House, or the Executive Mansion. Over time people dubbed it The White House, and in 1901 President Theodore Roosevelt made it the official name.

With so much to see at every turn — and getting the feeling that the mall area is way bigger than we thought it would be — we realize that we need a game plan.

There are over one hundred memorials and monuments in Washington and it could take days for us to see them all, so we decide to focus on the ones dedicated to our founding fathers. The men whose footsteps we followed through Boston, and hope to learn more about in Philadelphia and New York City.

So with good, crisp maps in hand we retreat to our hotel to formulate a strategy for tomorrow.

Day Four: Washington DC

Morning: It’s Monumental!

The Washington Monument in Washington DC

After meeting in Philadelphia, New York, and briefly in several smaller cities, the founders realized that their new nation needed a permanent seat of government.

So in 1790 congress passed the Residence Act creating a capital along the Potomac River.

President Washington picked the site and appointed Pierre Charles L’Enfant to draw up a plan for the new city. L’Enfant’s vision was of grand avenues, a huge open mall, and canals for delivering goods.

Though he fell out of favor and Washington replaced him with Andrew Ellicott, the final design remained close to the L’Enfant proposal.

Most all of the important buildings and monuments are on, or near, The Mall, which is centered around the towering Washington Monument. Seems like the perfect place to start the day’s activities.

Lucky for us, the scaffolding from repairs due to the 2011 earthquake has recently been removed, so we have an unobstructed view of all 555 feet of the obelisk.

Construction took thirty-six years, but no work was done during twenty-two of those due to disagreements involving commemorative stones.

Things got out of hand as groups used inscriptions on the stones to promote all sorts of causes that had nothing to do with our first president. When the Know-Nothings took control of the Washington National Monument Society and stole a stone donated by the pope, things really fell apart. They ran out of money and did such a poor job that all of their work had to be removed once work resumed again after the Civil War.

We easily notice the different times of construction by the color of the stones, an obvious change occurs about one third of the way up.

When it was finally completed in 1884 it was the tallest structure in the world, a title held briefly – the Eiffel Tower topped it just five years later.

Memorial to the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence in Washington, DC

Our next stop is one of DC’s more overlooked monuments, the Memorial to the Fifty-six Signers of the Declaration of Independence, dedicated in July 1982.

On a small island in Constitution Gardens, an arc of stone blocks depicting each signer’s signature is arraigned in groups by the colonies that they represented. While we are familiar with the names of many of these patriots, especially the contingent from Boston, we are surprised by how many we do not recognize.

Memorial to the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence in Washington, DC

See more about The National Mall of DC

Afternoon: Lovin’ Us Some Lincoln

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC

Constitution Gardens is a part of The Mall that runs along the north side of the reflecting pool between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, so when we reach the west end we are standing right at the feet of the Great Emancipator.

Yes, we know that as the sixteenth president Abraham Lincoln was not one of our founding fathers, but his stature and his memorial are just too imposing to ignore.

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC

Climbing the steps where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his I Have a Dream speech, it is hard not to feel that this is the most inspiring monument in our nation’s capital.

Styled after a Greek temple, it has a classic appearance that houses an enormous statue of the President.

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC

The original plan was for a likeness only ten feet high, but that seemed much too small for the surroundings, so the size was doubled.

We heartily agree with that decision, Lincoln should certainly be remembered as larger than life.

See more about the Lincoln Memorial and some wild myths surrounding his statue

Evening: Founders, Forgotten and Famous

The Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington DC

Just off The Mall to the south, we continue our ride along the shore of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.

The park is home to memorials for Dr. Martin Luther King and President Franklin Roosevelt.

The FDR memorial in Washington, DC

See more about the King and Roosevelt Monuments

We stop to pay our respects but, in keeping with our founders theme, we are just passing through on our way to a lesser known monument, The George Mason Memorial.

The George Mason Memorial in Washington, DC
Veronica attempts to gain some Founding Father insight by sneaking a peek into Mr. Mason’s book.

Mason is sometimes called the Forgotten Founder, but his contribution to the constitution should be unforgettable.

Having written the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the state sent him to the Constitutional Convention where he had a major impact. Ironically, he refused to sign the final document, feeling it did not provide the proper protections for individual freedoms.

He lobbied for a Bill of Rights, which was later adopted and closely resembled his earlier Virginia Declaration. Perhaps that is why he looks so content and comfortable on his bench gazing across the water toward The Mall.

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC

From the man behind the Bill of Rights, we go to the author of the Declaration of Independence.

The last of the memorialized founders we will visit is Thomas Jefferson. Another classic design, the Jefferson Memorial is based on the Pantheon in Rome, and Jefferson’s own design of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia.

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC

In the center, a five-ton bronze statue of our third president stands looking past the Washington Monument toward the White House. He is surrounded by excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and quotes from several of his letters.

As we look out over the tidal basin at our nation’s capital with Jefferson, we can’t help but feel that we have found a kinship with the founders on our journey so far.

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC

This excites us for tomorrow’s exploration of the city that effectively served as the first capital of the United States of America, Philadelphia.

See more about The Mall of DC

Day Five: Philadelphia

Afternoon: Catching up While Rolling Down the Tracks

David is so happy that Amtrak has wireless internet!

The jump from Union Station, in the center of Washington DC, to downtown Philadelphia takes only two hours by rail.

With free WiFi and in-seat power outlets, we are actually glad to have the time to catch up a bit while rolling down the tracks.

David uses the wifi on Amtrak

We arrive in the City of Brotherly Love at the 30th Street Station, the main railroad station in Philadelphia.

The old Pennsylvania Railroad opened the Art Deco style terminal in 1933, and now it is Amtrak‘s 3rd-busiest station.

Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial honoring Pennsylvania Railroad employees killed in World War II

The center point of the main passenger concourse is the Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial honoring Pennsylvania Railroad employees killed in World War II.

The bronze statue of the archangel Michael carrying a soldier is by Walker Hancock, one of the “Monuments Men” who recovered looted art from the Nazis during the war.

Pennsylvania Railroad opened the Art Deco style terminal in 1933, and now it is Amtrak's 3rd-busiest station.

In light of Philadelphia’s unique place in American history, there was a movement to rename the station Ben Franklin Station a few years ago in honor of the famous founder’s 300th birthday.

But due to fears that there would be too much confusion between the names Ben Station and Penn Station, the idea was dropped. Too bad, but there are still plenty of tributes to Mr. Franklin throughout Philly, we might even say it’s all about the Benjamins.

Evening: Eating Like a Patriot

The City Tavern in Philadelphia

Unlike colonial times, our journey from our current capital city to America’s first capital was anything but arduous, still we are ready for a bit of repose after our travels.

To indulge that notion, and to get fully immersed in the colonial spirit, we decide to hit the City Tavern for dinner.

The City Tavern in Philadelphia

As the seeds of the revolution were sprouting, the City Tavern was certainly at the center of it all.

John Adams called it “the most genteel tavern in America” while visiting Philadelphia for the First Continental Congress, Paul Revere rode here to proclaim the news that the British had closed the port of Boston, and Thomas Jefferson kept an open tab while writing the Declaration of Independence.

Our adorable server at City Tavern in Philadelphia

The original structure was partially destroyed by a fire, perhaps of suspicious origin according to our server, in 1834, and then demolished in 1854.

But a perfect replica of the historic building was built and re-opened in 1976 for the United States Bicentennial. The new City Tavern is now a part of the Independence National Historical Park.

Table setting at City Tavern in Philadelphia

This is a candlelit tavern and we feel a tankard of ale is in order. Perfect, City Tavern has Ales of the Revolution on tap, brewed with the very recipes used by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. We choose Jefferson’s 1774 Tavern Ale, and Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce.

Move over Sam Adams, it seems many a founding father knew a thing or two about beer. Cheers!

Mushroom Toast at the City Tavern in Philadelphia

We are excited to sample truly typical colonial fare, so we ask which menu items are most accurate and learn that owner and executive chef Walter Staib uses many authentic 18th-century recipes.

As a starter, local mushrooms on pan-fried Sally Lunn bread, a traditional yeast bread from England, with a béarnaise sauce certainly fits the bill.

Martha Washington's Turkey Pot Pie at City Tavern in Philadelphia

It seems that the pot pies are quite genuine as well, based on Martha Washington’s recipe, so one turkey pie please.

The menu also mentions an intriguing story about Ben Franklin. It seems that he introduced tofu to North America in a 1770 letter to his friend, the renowned botanist John Bartram, so we order that too.

Martha Washington's Chocolate Mousse at City Tavern in Philadelphia

The mushroom toast is fantastic, the crust on the pie light as a feather, and the tofu firm and tasty.

In fact, everything is so delicious that we give the chocolate mousse cake, also handed down from Martha Washington, a try. With one bite we are singing the praises of our forefathers, and mothers, once again.

It is hard for us to imagine that the colonists ate this well, but if the portraits of old Ben accurately portray his paunch, we have reason to believe they did.

Day Six: Philadelphia

Morning: Getting Independent

5th Street Subway Station, Philadelphia

There are dozens of historic buildings, sites, and museums in Philadelphia, and they are easy to reach from the 5th Street Subway Station, which is just a few stops on the Blue Line from 30th Street Train Station.

The hard part is choosing which ones to see when divvying up our time.

Independence Hall in Philadelphia

As soon as we step out of the subway we are looking right at Independence Hall.

Truly the birthplace of the republic, this is where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were deliberated and approved. We feel it all around us, inch for inch this is the most historic ground in America.

Built in 1753 to house the colonial legislature of Pennsylvania, it became meeting place for the Second Continental Congress in 1775, then the site of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Prior to the ratification of the Constitution there was no official United States capital (or capitol!) but Philadelphia, and this building, certainly met all of the criteria.

Congress Hall in Philadelphia

At first the Constitution named New York City as the capital, but there was much debate as to where a permanent site should be and soon it was returned to Philly.

From 1790 until 1800, Congress met right next door in Congress Hall. The hall was built in 1789 to house the Philadelphia County Court, but quickly became the meeting place for the House of Representatives on the main floor, and the Senate upstairs. This was also the site of two presidential inaugurations, George Washington for his second term, and John Adams.

Inside old city hall, Philadelphia

On the other side of Independence Hall is the Old City Hall, which housed the Supreme Court during Philadelphia’s time as the capital city.

Originally built in 1790 as City Hall, it did double duty until 1800, when the national capital was moved to Washington.

Inside old city hall, Philadelphia

The National Park Service has restored the interior, so inside we find the jury box, witness stand, and judicial bench just as they would have been when statesman and patriot John Jay called the court to order as the first Chief Justice of the United States.

Afternoon: How Freedom Rings

Library Hall in Philadelphia

Library Hall is home of the country’s first public library.

We are completely unsurprised to learn that Benjamin Franklin had a hand in founding this in 1731.

Since books were a rarity in those days he invited the members of Congress to use the resources, effectively making it the first Library of Congress.

Inside, there is a copy of the Declaration of Independence in Jefferson’s own handwriting, as well as a first edition of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia, and a first edition of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.

Embedded in the facade is our favorite statue of old Ben that we have seen so far. LOVE the toga.

The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia

Directly across the street is The Liberty Bell Center, so we walk over and fall into line with the myriads of excited middle schoolers on their end-of-the-school-year trips.

While we wait, we ponder how some things become so iconic. The bell was in the tower of Independence Hall, but actually played a very small part in history. In fact, the story of it ringing out the news of Independence on July 4, 1776 is most likely false since the declaration wasn’t read in public until July 8. Yet the bell has captured the hearts of Americans for over one hundred and fifty years.

The lesser known uncracked side of the Liberty Bell, Philadelphia
Veronica shows off the lesser known uncracked side of the Liberty Bell!

The mis-understanding stems from an 1847 story by George Lippard, printed in the Saturday Review.

He told a tale of an aged bellman waiting by the bell on July 4, 1776, and a young boy who appeared with instructions to ring the bell proclaiming independence.

Within a few years it had been accepted as fact, and soon began to appear in textbooks. But then what is history without a good story or two, and we don’t feel like the symbolism of the bell is diminished.

Let freedom ring!

Evening: Not Everyone was Free

The President's House in Philadelphia

In front of The Liberty Bell Center we investigate a relatively new discovery at The President’s House, which opened in 2010.

Excavations of the slave quarters at the President's House in Philadelphia

While it was known that a house where Presidents Washington and Adams had lived stood on this site until 1832, it wasn’t until 2000, while excavating for the new Liberty Bell Center, that the foundation was uncovered.

When it was discovered that the exposed ruins were of slave quarters, a door was opened for discussion of a topic that had been long avoided, the fact that many of our founding fathers were slave holders. The memorial, President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation, addresses the subject like this:

If we are to understand how a nation founded on the principle that “all men are created equal” could also somehow embrace and justify slavery, we must examine the context and effect of this contradiction on the lives of Americans of every race and condition.

Excavations of the slave quarters at the President's House in Philadelphia

We find the inconsistency hard to reconcile, but can take comfort in the fact that America has steadily moved forward in her efforts to fulfill the founder’s ideals of a free and equal society.

The country they started has always been a work in progress, and our history can, and should, inspire us to keep striving.

Day Seven: Philadelphia

Morning: Back to Ben

The tunnel to Ben Franklin's house in Philadelphia
Ben walked here: David does his best Franklin impression

Today we begin with our old buddy Ben again at Franklin Court.

A small tunnel leads us into a courtyard where the house that he lived in from 1763 until his death in 1790 once stood.

The structure has been gone for two hundred years, but a “ghost house” showing its location was built for the bicentennial in 1976.

Ben Franklin's Ghost House in Franklin

The steel frame outline stands over several viewing portals where remnants of the Franklin home can be seen below ground level.

The house site was excavated by researchers beginning in 1953, and continuing up to just before the bicentennial celebrations. Windows into the excavations show foundations, walls, and even one of Franklin’s privy pits.

We had no idea that we would be getting so personal with one of the founding fathers today!

Franklin Court in Philadelphia

This was not only where Franklin lived, but also where he worked. He owned all of the buildings surrounding the courtyard, one of which served as a post office, and another as his print shop.

Both are still operating, the post office in its official capacity, and the print shop as a recreation run by the National Park Service.

We walk into the print shop just in time to catch a ranger printing up a copy of The Declaration of Independence as a demonstration for a group of school kids.

The press and type setting are just as they would have been when Franklin was printing newspapers here in revolutionary times.

B. Free Franklin Post Office in Philadelphia

Mr. Franklin realized that the sharing of information would be essential for the country to unite, so he began mailing newspapers throughout the colonies to keep everyone on the same page, so to speak. Perhaps that is why he opened a post office next door.

The B. Free Franklin Post Office looks much like it would have when Franklin would have used it as the first Postmaster General in 1775. This is the only post office in America that does not fly the stars and stripes. This is a nod to the fact that when it opened this was still British territory so the United States didn’t have a flag yet.

Afternoon: Betsy’s Place

Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia

Speaking of flags, the Betsy Ross house is just up the street. While we hate to be bursters of bubbles, this particular site is of dubious historic value at best.

Not only is it widely accepted that the legend of Betsy sewing the first flag is most likely false, there is also serious doubt as to whether she ever even lived in this house.

We figure we’ll move on to something a little less famous, but a lot more authentic, Elfreth’s Alley.

Elfreth's Alley, America's oldest residental neighborhood

On a tip from a local gentleman, we did a little searching and found the alley on our map, so off we go. What a great tip!

Named after Jeremiah Elfreth, a colonial blacksmith, this is considered the nation’s oldest residential street, and it has been amazingly preserved. A rare surviving glimpse into life on a 18th-century working-class street.

In a weird way it reminds us of Venice – while it looks like a place for tourists, there are real residents living here going about their day-to-day lives. What a cool place to live.

Evening: Banking and Burials

Philadelphia is sometimes called The Cradle of Liberty, or The Birthplace of America, but it could also be called the Home of Federal Banking.

The Nation's first bank in Philadelphia
Our nation’s first federal bank.

The first United States Mint was built here in 1792, but before that Congress established the First Bank of the United States.

As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton felt strongly that a national bank was necessary to stabilize the finances of the fledgling federal government. Though the idea faced serious opposition from anti-federalists led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Congress authorized the bank with a twenty-year charter on February 25, 1791. In 1811, the bill to renew the Bank’s charter failed by one vote, so operations were ceased.

The second federal bank in Philadelphia

A few years later, the costs involved with the War of 1812 had Congress feeling the need for a federal bank again.

For some reason, instead of reopening the first one, they chartered a new version for another twenty years. So we walk over a couple of blocks to see The Second Bank of the United States. When Andrew Jackson became president, he was opposed to the idea of a national bank and refused to renew the charter again. Now it is an art gallery with a large collection of portraits of prominent early Americans.

Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia

On our way between the two banks, we passed Carpenters’ Hall, so we backtrack a bit to see it.

The First Continental Congress met here in September and October of 1774. Later, the hall served as a hospital for both British and American troops during the Revolutionary War. It also has a connection to the First Bank of the United States, the bank rented the first floor as their building was under construction.

Benjamin and Deborah Franklin's grave in Philadelphia

Our last stop before heading on to New York City is Benjamin Franklin’s grave.

Though he was originally from Boston, Franklin had such impact on Philadelphia that it is very fitting that his final resting place is here. He is laid to rest with his common-law wife of forty-four years, Deborah, in the Christ Church Burial Ground.

The tomb is covered with pennies, which we learn is a Philadelphia tradition that is supposed to bring the penny-tosser good luck. We certainly feel like we had plenty of luck with our adventures in Philly, even without tossing a penny.

Now on to The Big Apple!

Day Eight: New York City

Morning: Into the Heart of Manhattan

Catching up on Amtrak's Northeast Regional

Amtrak‘s Northeast Regional arrives right in the heart of Manhattan, but the grand old depot that was once here has become Madison Square Gardens. That is pretty darn grand too, just in a different way.

But we aren’t here to see the Knicks or the Rangers, we are on the trail of the founders, and thanks to the incredible New York subway system we can get anywhere in the city from right here at Penn Station.

New York City was the first official capital of the United States designated in the Constitution. From March of 1789 to December of 1790, lower Manhattan was the seat of our government. We are off on a quest to find any remaining vestiges of that slice of American history.

Afternoon: Finding the Old in the New

Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan, NYC - the city's oldest building

Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan, NYC - the city's oldest building

Unfortunately almost all traces of that bygone era have disappeared, buried under the skyscrapers that have risen since that time, but one place that has survived — and thrived — is Fraunces Tavern.

It is said to be the city’s oldest surviving building, and who are we to argue? It served as a meeting place of the Sons of Liberty, was shelled by the British in 1775, and was the site of General George Washington’s farewell address to the officers of the Continental Army at the end of the Revolutionary War.

Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan, NYC - the city's oldest building

Samuel Fraunces Tavern Ale at Fraunces Tavern in NYC

When the government set up shop in New York, the building housed the Treasury, Foreign Affairs, and War departments.

Later, it served as a hotel, and today it continues as a tavern, offering many 18th century dishes served on long tables with benches, much like it would have been back in Washington’s day.

Federal Hall on Manhattan in NYC, New York

A few blocks up Broad Street from Fraunces Tavern we find another of the city’s most historic places, Federal Hall.

This was the site of the first capitol building for the United States and where George Washington was inaugurated as the first President. It was also where the United States Bill of Rights was introduced in the First Congress.

Statue of George Washington at Federal Hall in NYC on Manhattan near Wall Street

Unfortunately, the original building was torn down in 1812. The current structure was built in 1842 as the United States Custom House, in place of the old Federal Hall.

In 1883, a statue of George Washington by John Quincy Adams Ward was erected on the front steps, then in 1939 the location was designated as the Federal Hall Memorial National Historic Site.

By turning our heads we get a perfectly framed view of Trinity Church. While Washington served as president in New York, this was the church he attended.

The current building is not the same, it is actually the third version to occupy the spot and was constructed in 1846. Though the church has changed, the Trinity Churchyard has not.

This is the final resting place of Alexander Hamilton; he was buried here after his fateful duel with Aaron Burr.

As messy as modern day politics can be, at least we haven’t had a vice president kill a secretary of treasury lately.

Evening: Finding Forefather Foundations

Plaque where Thomas Jefferson lived as Secretary of State on Manhattan in NYC, New York

With the government based here on Manhattan, the founding fathers had to live nearby so we set out to find a couple of their houses, or at least the places where their houses once existed.

First up, Thomas Jefferson. While he served as Secretary of State Jefferson, he lived at 57 Maiden Lane, just a few blocks from Federal Hall. All that remains to remind us is a plaque at the base of the giant skyscraper that stands on the address today.

The first executive mansion was at what is now the base of the Brooklyn Bridge

But we are shocked to find that Jefferson’s plaque is downright extravagant compared to the one that marks the spot where the first presidental mansion for the good old U. S. of A. once stood.

George Washington lived here: The first executive mansion was at what is now the base of the Brooklyn Bridge

George Washington lived here: The first executive mansion was at what is now the base of the Brooklyn Bridge

After looking high and low, peaking through fences and around construction barriers, we finally get a peek at a decrepit old inscription marking the spot of the The Samuel Osgood House, our first “White House.”

Yes, all that is left of the site where The Father of Our Country lived and worked as our first president is a dirty old marker on an abutment of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Seems a shame, so we set out to find something a little more elegant.

Gracie Mansion, NYC

Gracie Mansion, on the upper east side, is mostly known as the home for the mayor of New York, but it has a history involving the founding fathers as well.

During the Revolutionary War, General Washington used the previous house that was here as his headquarters. After the war, Archibald Gracie built the current mansion and it was a gathering place for the New York Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton.

Even though much of the city’s colonial past has given way to the concrete jungle, we find New York to be a treasure trove of history, one worth seeing.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Thanks to Amtrak for providing the train travel portion of this adventure through Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, DC! As always, all opinions are our own.

This post may contain sponsored links.

Swept off Our Feet at the Broom Corn Festival

Driving through the middle of America in early autumn meant we were bound to stumble upon some sort of fair or festival.

But we never expected to find one dedicated to something that we had never heard of… CONTINUE READING >> 

The 2022 Broom Corn Festival is coming right up, September 9th through the 11th. Don’t miss it! Here is a look at our visit to it a few years ago…

Driving through the middle of America in early autumn meant we were bound to stumble upon some sort of fair or festival, but we never expected to find one dedicated to something that we had never heard of… so there was no way we could pass up The Broom Corn Festival in Arcola, Illinois, the self proclaimed “Broom Corn Capital of the World.”

We rolled into town just in time for the opening ceremonies and quickly received an education on all things broom corn. It’s not a kind of corn at all, it’s a type of sorghum that happens to have long, strong, thin seed stalks that are perfect for making the business end of brooms.

The name likely stems from the fact that the full grown plant looks quite like regular old corn.

Click photo to see a corn palace that still exists.

Legend has it that Ben Franklin was responsible for introducing broom corn to North America, and it became popular as a garden plant in the colonies.

Word spread that great brooms could be made from it, so soon farmers began to plant it as a crop.

By the mid 1800s most of it was being grown in East Central Illinois, and naturally a booming broom making industry followed.

Bifocals to broom corn, boy Ben Franklin sure did a lot of stuff.

Nowadays most brooms are made with synthetic strands, so the whole business of broom corn is nearly extinct, but the memory is kept alive with this thriving annual festival.

After the official kick-off we wasted no time getting to one of the main events, The National Broom Sweeping Contest.

We scrambled our way through the crowd to catch a peek of the contestants frantically sweeping broom corn seeds through a maze to a hole at the end.

The sweeper with the most grains in the hole within the one minute time limit is crowned Champion and presented with an authentic commemorative broom corn broom. Don’t be using that to sweep off the back porch!

As the excitement died down we headed over to the demonstration tent where real broom corn brooms were being made. These were no factory fashioned brooms.

Using a machine that tightly binds the strands to a handle, two guys were turning out a new, expertly crafted sweeping device about every ten minutes.

We next ambled through the myriad of food and crafts vendors that had set up shop along Main Street.

The usual gastronomic suspects were all represented, corn dogs, funnel cakes, elephant ears, sausages, fried this and that.

Then we noticed something different.

Bacon Dipped in Chocolate. Sounded pretty strange until we imagined something along the lines of a candy bar with a bacon center, might not be bad at all, so we went for it.

It was not encouraging when we saw the small vat of chocolate syrup right next to the bubbling nacho cheese, and even less so when we watched the girl fish out a few strips of extremely soggy bacon. It had been stewing in its own juices all day.

But we had come this far, so we were bound and determined to eat it. In mere seconds we regretted that determination. Awful, truly awful stuff.

WATCH: Your GypsyNesters are horrified by this version of chocolate covered bacon!

Feeling a little queasy, we decided to call it a day and rest up for the big parade the next afternoon.

We wanted to be at our best for the big performance by Arcola’s own World Famous Lawn Rangers.

In spite of their considerable renown we were unfamiliar with them, only having heard that they were a “precision lawn mower drill team” with the motto: You’re only young once, but you can always be immature. We could hardly wait to see them in action.

In order to get a better idea of what makes the Lawn Rangers tick, we took the opportunity to meet up with them in the staging area before the parade.

Founding member Tim Monahan was happy to give us the lowdown on the mower men. The Rangers haven’t missed a Broom Corn Festival Parade since 1980, that’s when they got their name from grand marshal Clayton Moore, TV’s original Lone Ranger.

Since then they have marched in the Holiday Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, the Indianapolis 500, the NFL Hall of Fame Game, and the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parades, but perhaps the pinnacle of Ranger performances came in the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Parade.

Honorary member Dave Barry may have summed up their performances best when he said, “What we do is push lawn mowers and carry brooms.

At various points along the parade route, we stop and astonish the crowd by performing broom-and-lawn-mower maneuvers with a level of smooth precision that you rarely see outside of train wrecks.”

Well if their performance was a train wreck, the crowd of at least double the 3000 people who live in Arcola, certainly loved the catastrophe.

We did too, making it a clean sweep.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Popular Digital Nomad Job Suggestions to Support Your New Lifestyle

Being a digital nomad is a part of the new lifestyle you’ve adopted. Here’re some ideas for jobs that can provide you with financial stability and fun…
CONTINUE READING >> 

You’ve chosen to quit your regular 9–5 desk job and ultimately pursue that lifelong ambition of travel. You’ve already determined that living the digital nomad life is the best option for you to balance employment and traveling. The only remaining query is which career path would be ideal for you—looking through the list below for some wonderful concepts and suggestions for digital nomad jobs to assist your brand-new way of life.

Stay connected !

As a digital nomad it is important to stay connected. If you are traveling in Europe, you can get an eSIM from Orange Travel. There are 2 offers to buy a travel SIM or eSIM card depending on your needs. This way you can stay reachable during your stay and continue to work.

Suggestions for Digital Nomad Jobs

Here are some suggestions for digital nomad jobs that may help you support your lifestyle. But no matter which one you choose, you will need to check out a SIM card from Simify.

#1: Writing Content 

You can start writing and distributing blog posts on various subjects, including hosting, conventional therapies, soundtrack journalism, clothing, parenthood, and more. You could even write reviews on various subjects, including hosting, books, movies, and other things. Local stations, specific websites, journals, colleges, businesses, or sites could all be potential clients. To settle on choices, people read reviews like the InterServer review. If you want to find out what features InterServer offers and whether it would be wise to use it as a hosting service in this situation, you can read more here.

You don’t even need to be a particularly gifted writer. Quality is the only thing that will bring in site arrivals for some site owners. No matter how well-written or well-researched they are, neither matters.

#2: Website and Graphic Art Development

The option might be a fantastic chance for you if you possess a passion for something related to visual or online creation or design. Since you need a decent computer and adequate internet access to operate, numerous firms don’t care about where you’re located.

#3: Stores for Digital Goods Online

The benefit of distributing digital goods is undeniably the absence of actual logistics concerns. It is only an online store, which may make it simpler for you to manage. Selling e-books, technology, images, workbooks, educational materials, movies, alarms, and subscriptions are just a few choices.

#4: Instructing

Another occupation that can almost entirely be conducted online is educating or mentoring. You can assist others in learning English or other topics using your abilities. But you can essentially educate everything you are good at.

Therefore, you can aid teenagers in surviving their upcoming tests. Once you begin, obtaining a certification demonstrating your expertise in the subject can be worthwhile. One of the digital nomad career ideas where individuals are likely to want credentials in the form of certificates relates to this.

#5: Consultation

For digital nomads, consulting is one of the most important vocations. You can utilize your talent to assist people in finding solutions to their difficulties. Online consulting positions in advertising, financial advice, or self-help are very common.

#6: Online Support

Are you adept at mixing and arranging? I just became a personal or professional secretary instead. Among the most common options for digital nomad employment is this one. Most executives, artisans, or business owners require assistance with the everyday organization. Choosing the right automobile seller is one example of a personal problem, whereas carrying out market research is a company problem. Meeting planning, editing, managing social media, and basic administrative tasks are frequently included in your responsibilities.

#7: Earlier Employment

Who is supposed to suggest that you even must find a second career? Maybe you’re able to complete the same task as before. Ask your company whether there is a possibility you may operate from a distance. Consider out several job-hunting tools if otherwise. If you’re fortunate, you might be able to get work that is completely online and comparable to your previous position.

You Won’t Be Able to Work These Digital Nomad Job Suggestions?

Do you believe you lack the knowledge or expertise necessary for the above professions? Never give up! And never undervalue your intelligence! What have you been up to the previous several years? What did you learn in your studies or your internship?

Think outside the box and consider whether your expertise may benefit others. Additionally, this also applies to certain other professions. With your expertise, you can make a living online as well. Find methods for earning cash using your expertise and your interest.

Discover New Talents During Wandering

Although you’ve got a few concepts for a digital nomad career but lack the necessary qualifications, you can still pick up those talents when you are on the road. Research to see if institutions are providing degree training if you’d like to study more about a particular topic.

Conclusion

I genuinely hope that such an overview of a few of the most in-demand work opportunities will greatly assist you and give you some ideas for how you could make a living while traveling the globe. Take conscious that the following are merely a few suggestions for digital nomad jobs. After all, numerous more possibilities and advice can help you get work and improve yourself.

We are happy to present this collaborative post to offer valuable information to our readers.

Deep Inside the Creepy Catacombs of Paris

In Paris, a trip underground means journeying into the creepy subterranean Catacombs. When several of the city’s cemeteries ran out of room for any more burials, the remains of some six million people were moved…
CONTINUE READING >> 

The warning sign outside the Paris Catacombs

The world's largest grave - the underground catacombs in Paris, France

In Paris, a trip underground means journeying into the creepy subterranean Catacombs.

We had heard that there can be quite a long line waiting to enter the Catacombes de Paris, but more than worth it, so we set aside an entire day for the visit.

Glad we did too, because we hung around for several hours before finally heading down into the underworld.

It's a tight fit getting inside the Paris Catacombs
It’s a tight fit!

We easily amused ourselves, and met some interesting people while waiting, but would still recommend using a skip-the-line tour if one is available.

A monument carved into the rock for a worker who died in the catacombs of Paris
A monument to a worker who died in the catacombs.

The entrance to the catacombs in Paris: Stop! This is the Empire of DeathWe proceeded past the warning, Stop! This is the Empire of Death, and entered to see for ourselves.

What we found was beyond extraordinary, it was downright bizarre.

Countless bones have been neatly stacked and arranged to form what seem to be endless hallways.

Bones are stacked in a decorative manner at the underground catacombs in Paris, France

The Catacombes de Paris

The tunnels and excavations were originally dug as a limestone quarry to supply building material for the world above.

Years later, when several of the city’s cemeteries ran out of room for any more burials, the remains of some six million people were moved into the Catacombs and they became known as The World’s Largest Grave.

Bones are stacked in a decorative manner at the underground catacombs in Paris, France

The Catacombs de Paris

There are miles and miles of these corridors, but visitors are only allowed to see a tiny portion.

That section is fortunately reasonably well lit, because wandering off into the maze of darkness beyond any of the blocked off pathways could easily end by getting hopelessly lost and ultimately joining the dearly departed.

Bones are stacked in a decorative manner at the underground catacombs in Paris, France

A lamp inside the Catacombs of Paris

We were so fascinated that we did our best to hang back from the rest of the crowd, and after a little while noticed that no one else was around.

It started to feel pretty creepy.

At one point we weren’t sure which way to go. We followed an arrow toward a door and found a sleeping guard blocking it. It was not the exit, and we didn’t want to wake him, so we pressed ahead.

Truth be told, we were finding a tiny bit of perverse enjoyment out of our predicament.

Catacombes de Paris

Veronica even started mentioning things like, “wouldn’t it be cool if we got locked in here for the night?”

David was less than on board with that idea, so we kept moving forward, correctly assuming that the exit must be around somewhere.

Next thing we knew, we went through a door and out onto a small side street.

Funny souvenir shirt from the Paris Catacombs
We did find a souvenir shop nearby, but did not buy this shirt!

But after walking about a mile underground, twisting and turning the entire time, we had absolutely no idea where we were.

Our handy-dandy map was no help at all, so we walked toward the sound of traffic.

Once we hit a main thoroughfare we caught our bearings, made our way to the nearest metro station, and felt relieved.

Even though it meant going back underground.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Thanks to Paris je t’aime and Hotel Vic Eiffel for this adventure that made us exclaim Ooh la la! As always, all opinions are our own.

DELVE DEEPER:
See where we stayed in Paris
Want to see our full collection of odd art at the Louvre?
Take a peek inside the Arc de Triomphe
Check out more about Notre Dame Cathedral
See more of our antics at the Eiffel Tower
Follow us to Versailles – there’s so much over-the-top royal stuff to share!
Want more Paris? Click here!
Check out all of our adventures in France!

YOUR TURN: Is Paris at the top of your must-see list? Or have you already checked it off? What would be YOUR first stop in Paris?

Ever Wonder What’s at Woodstock Now?

In recognition of the 53rd anniversary of Woodstock, here’s a look at what is going on at the famous farm these days…  CONTINUE READING >>

Woodstock Poster

Woodstock. The name instantly brings to mind a whole era to any of us who were old enough to listen to music when the concert happened.

I didn’t go to Woodstock, I saw the movie — at a drive-in, no less — with my brother pretending to be my uncle/guardian because it was rated R for showing muddy hippy-chick breasts… oh, and maybe that part where Country Joe led the crowd in a chant.

I may have been too young to get into an R movie all those years ago but I was old enough to know something big
was happening.

Decades later, while driving through the Catskills in upstate New York, I was surprised to find that we were right by the place where it all happened. How could that be? We were miles away from the town of Woodstock.

It turns out that the famous festival that bears its name took place nowhere near the actual town. It happened
in a farmer’s field just outside the tiny town of Bethel, near White Lake.

We had to go see it.

On the road to the Woodstock site

The first thing that struck us when we pulled off the main highway onto the winding little route towards the Mecca of modern music was the preponderance of Orthodox Jews walking along the road.

What’s going on?

This area is home to what are known as “bungalow colonies”  enclosed clusters of small cabins where Jewish families have been spending summers to escape the New York City heat and smell for decades. In its heyday, the Catskills area was nicknamed the “Borsch Belt.”

Signs in White Lake, New York

This is where many entertainers, especially comedians, cut their teeth at the famous hotels and showrooms.

But with the advent of cheaper, easier travel and air conditioning in the city, fewer and fewer folks come up to these Catskill camps.

The colonies that remain are now mostly populated with Hasidic families.

Pulling into White Lake, I expected hippy stuff to be everywhere, a veritable psychedelic tourist trap, but no.

Very few signs that the biggest love-in in history took place a couple miles away. Just a typical upstate New York lake town.

Moving on, we found ourselves in beautiful rolling farmland and couldn’t help but wonder how several hundred
thousand hippies would fit in to the surroundings.

“By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong…”

The site of the Woodstock concert! GypsyNester.com

The plaque commemorating Woodstock in New York

Not quite, for us it was more like half a dozen.

It was getting late in the evening and the museum was closed so we just stood there looking at a big, empty, sloping field in the middle of what once was Max Yasgur’s farm with a handful of flower children refugee pilgrims.

For years and years nothing was here to commemorate the biggest event in Rock & Roll history except a plaque.

Finally, in 1996, entrepreneur and local boy made good, Alan Gerry, bought the farm — so to speak — and created the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.

Commemorative bricks at the site of the Woodstock Concert

Forming the Gerry Foundation, he launched the $100 million project using hundreds of local laborers and artisans, taking a decade to complete.

Gerry’s idea was not only to immortalize the hallowed ground but also to provide an engine for economic growth in his home region.

Bethel Woods Center for the Arts at the site of the Woodstock concert

The Center has several state-of-the-art venues for events and concerts, and a fantastic Woodstock festival museum.

The site is beautiful and hosts dozens of concerts throughout the summer and early fall.

The museum is an amazing visual achievement.

Max Yasgur at the Woodstock Museum

The Woodstock museum at Bethel Woods Center of the Arts in New York

Walking in, we were hit with wall after wall of stunning imagery.

In a breezy walk-though fashion, the museum first took us on a cultural tour of the sixties, leading up to the hippy movement.

The 1968 theater at the Woodstock Museum in White Lake New York

Civil rights, the cold war, television, the space program, Vietnam, the Kennedy and King assassinations are all covered.

The 1968 Theater has a phenomenal blend of news coverage, speeches and TV commercials that transports viewers
back in time.

Every aspect of Woodstock is showcased, from the planning to the aftermath:

Why was Woodstock called Woodstock if it wasn't in Woodstock?

Why was the festival in Bethel instead of Woodstock?

How did it grow from the original expectations of a few thousand people to become New York’s third largest city for three days?

How did they feed all of those people?

How did the local folks, politicians and the police react?

What was the social impact?

The magic bus at the Woodstock Museum at Bethel Woods Center of the Arts

Volkswagon beetle at the Woodstock museum

It’s all covered in interesting and original fashion.

Want to know how all those people got there? Sit in the Magic Bus and watch through the windshield.

The Festival Experience Theater put us smack in the middle of the concert, seriously, it was great.

Surrounded by huge screens, floor to ceiling, and laying on bean bag chairs we were wonderfully bombarded.

The Woodstock experience at the Woodstock Museum

The music, the scene, the announcements from the stage, the chants from the crowd, right down to the lightning and rain–even a little quasi acid trip… “don’t take the brown stuff that’s going around, man” and Jimi Hendrix playing The Star Spangled Banner are happening from every angle.

We had to watch it twice to catch everything.

The Woodstock experience at the Woodstock Museum

The fact is not everybody was thrilled to have a festival like this take place in their community and there was some public outcry.

Local opposition near the original intended site in Woodstock, NY is why the festival ended up being moved to Bethel.

But once the site was set, Max Yasgur, the owner of the farm and staunch conservative, said to his neighbors:

“Look, the reason you don’t want them here is because you don’t like what they look like. And I don’t particularly like what they look like either. But that’s not the point.

They may be protesting the war, but thousands of American soldiers have died so they can do exactly what they’re doing. That’s what the essence of this country is all about.”

So that brings us back to our big question, how did several hundred thousand hippies fit into the local mix?

Surprisingly well, it seems.

The curators are proud to point out that there were no major incidents or arrests during the festival and that many of the area’s residents came to the rescue by bringing in food and supplies when the original supplies proved woefully inadequate.

It really was three days of peace and music.

David, GypsyNester.com