America

New York State’s Capitol Building

* The capitol took 32 years to build (1867-1899), and cost $25 million (equivalent to $500 million in today’s dollars).

* The Great Western Staircase, famously known as the Million Dollar Staircase, is a masterpiece that took an astonishing 14 years to build.

* The Capitol Flag Room has a large collection of flags, including those from the Civil War, the Battle of San Juan Hill, the Spanish-American War, and World War I and II.

Some building details from the capitol’s interior:

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

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The Albany Mummies

* In 1909, Samuel Brown, a board member for the Albany Institute of History and Art, purchased two ancient Egyptian mummies and their coffins from the Cairo Museum in Egypt.

* The mummies date from the 21st Dynasty and the Ptolemaic Period.

* A study of the hieroglyphs on one of the coffins revealed that it contained the mummy of a sculptor and priest named Ankhefenmut.

Albany Institute of History & Art Mummy and Coffin

Albany Institute of History & Art Mummy and Coffin

Albany Institute of History & Art Mummy and Coffin

Albany Institute of History & Art Mummy and Coffin

Albany Institute of History & Art Mummy and Coffin

Albany Institute of History & Art Mummy and Coffin

Albany Institute of History & Art Coffin

Albany Institute of History & Art Coffin

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Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site – Hyde Park, NY

* This mansion boasted having electricity before all other homes in the town.

* With its prime location, the estate has majestic views of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains.

* This country retreat was built in 1898 for Frederick Vanderbilt (grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built the Vanderbilt fortune) and his wife Louise, and donated to the National Park Service in 1940 for the public to enjoy.

Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, NY

Interior room in Vanderbilt Mansion – Hyde Park, NY

Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, NY

Vanderbilt Mansion – Hyde Park, NY

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Hayden Butte Preserve Park – Tempe, Arizona

Actually a mountain, the Hayden Butte Preserve Park provides stunning views of the city of Tempe and Camelback Mountain. It’s also great for a quick, yet moderate-level, hike.

Hayden Butte Preserve Park

Hayden Butte Preserve Park

Hayden Butte Preserve Park

Hayden Butte Preserve Park

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A Hunka Hunka More Than Just Elvis

A few years ago, my best friend of 20+ years and her family moved to Alabama after living in the northeast for their entire lives. One day it dawned on me that I should be a good friend and go visit.

The thought of the deep south didn’t excite me (not that I actually knew anything about it). Once she moved to this self-perceived black hole, I thought, “Well, she’s in Alabama now. That’s that. Clearly, the only thing I can do is replace her.”

As I planned my trip, I couldn’t find any direct flights to Tuscaloosa. One layover location that kept popping up in my flight results was Memphis.

Didn’t I know something about Memphis? A quick Google search revealed that’s where Elvis lived. Elvis = Graceland. I had always wanted to go to Graceland but never really thought about where it was.

I looked on the map to see Memphis’ distance from Tuscaloosa and it wasn’t too far apart. Well, considering I was already traveling ~1,300 miles, what was another 200 miles, really?

Dreaming about the land of Elvis, I quickly revised and expanded my vacation plans. I’d have four solo days in Memphis before taking a bus to Tuscaloosa. (Ironically, when I tried to get a direct flight to Memphis, none were to be had.)

I arrived at the Memphis International Airport in mid-October to lovely weather. Unfortunately, the public transportation system wasn’t quite what I was used to in the northeast, so the only way I could get to my hotel downtown was via a cab, which ran me about $30-$40 for the 12-mile drive. Note: don’t just wing getting, well, from anywhere to anywhere, let alone from the airport to the hotel. Look this up in advance.

I was going to be on foot for my entire trip, so I chose to stay at the Sleep Inn at Court Square, which was in the heart of the city. With a one-track mind for Elvis, it was a treat to open the blinds of my hotel room window to discover a view of a lovely, small park and a trolley gliding by along a picture postcard tree-lined route.

It was dinner time on a Sunday evening. I walked and walked and couldn’t find food. Again, being from the northeast, not seeing ANY restaurants or fast food places open was baffling to me. BUT, this is what travel is all about – taking yourself outside of your comfort zone, and briefly living and conforming to another way of life. Not only is this the type of thing one should research before traveling, but you should always have some non-perishable food with you just in case.

So, how did my story end? After a while, I did find a hotel nearby that had a little sandwich shop open inside that was closing for the evening after my order. Crisis narrowly averted.

Soul Satisfying Southern Meal

Soul Satisfying Southern Meal

The food slate was wiped clean the next day as I excitedly toured the city. Not only did they have food, Memphis had GOOD food. I’m not embarrassed to tell you that I ordered the meal you see to the left just for me and devoured all of it. Oh, the barbecue pulled pork, the corn bread, the macaroni and cheese! I was in food love. I repeated similar gluttony each day for my dinners, ordering large portions of food – with desserts – to go. I didn’t want to be out alone once it got dark, so a dinner-to-go-for-three as I watched local TV would suffice.

One day I stumbled upon the Greek revival style historic landmark Arcade Restaurant. This frozen-in-time 50s style diner/restaurant is located at the corner of South Main Street and G.E. Patterson, and was clearly the place to be for lunch. From the marker outside on the sidewalk, it also turns out that movies like The Firm, 21 Grams, and Walk the Line all filmed scenes inside this restaurant. Not a bad accidental find in the South Main Historic District.

My own private trolley car ride

My own private trolley car ride

One day I decided to take a ride on the lovely trolley I had seen from my hotel, and whose tracks I walked alongside for many of my excursions. For $1 I rode around for the longest time, getting in a nice view of the city. At one point, I was the only passenger on the trolley.

The driver asked me, “Are you in a hurry?”

I answered with a hesitant “no”. I found it odd in the funniest of ways that I was on a form of public transportation whose sole purpose was to regularly take people from point A to point B, but the driver hoped I wasn’t in a hurry to do so.

He then asked if I minded if we stopped for a little while so he could go get a sandwich. Assuming that he meant he’d run in somewhere, and grab a sandwich to go, I agreed. I sat there by myself for about 20 minutes and realized that this was a sit-down sandwich where the bread was being made fresh. Not one car, not one person passed by. I wondered if people were watching me, laughing at the fact that I was sitting there. I wondered if the driver was actually playing a joke on me, testing to see how far he could push me. And, then I wondered if something happened to me, would anyone know because I was literally on a deserted street in a deserted trolley car. I hopped out and continued walking just for the pure sake of forward motion.

A few quiet streets later, I turned to the right and saw a colorful, old-fashioned familiar sign standing high above the building behind it. Why did I know the name on the sign and why was the logo on it so familiar? I walked down and as I got closer, it all unfolded in front of my eyes. For the most part I was looking at a generic two-story building. I shivered a bit as I got closer and realized what I was looking at, where I was, and what had taken place there.

The Lorraine Motel / The National Civil Rights Museum

The Lorraine Motel / The National Civil Rights Museum

Those blue-green doors and huge floor-to-ceiling windows for each room… I read the plaque in front. This, the Lorraine Motel, was where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated up on the second level. Oh my God. Because of what I knew had happened, I immediately felt like I needed to look around me for danger. Silly, I know. And then my mind wandered as I turned around, wondering where behind me the shots had originated from back on that day. I suddenly felt very emotional as my thoughts swirled around trying to accept this very historically significant place that I had no idea was there before I planned my trip.

On the exact opposite end of the spectrum was the boisterous Beale Street. Boy, why hadn’t I researched beyond Elvis for this trip? What an amazing street! I was traveling by myself so, as a single woman, I made my way up and down this street a total of once during the daytime, wishing I’d had some friends with me. There was music blaring from all parts — in some restaurants, and even in an outdoor park with a live band. There were colorful characters, great shops, and lots of great southern-style food.

Another day as I walked, I saw a lovely riverboat in the water. I trekked down to check it out. It was the Memphis Riverboats, which offered Paddlewheeler cruises up and down the “mighty” Mississippi. I thought, “When will I ever get the chance to be here again, and to cruise along the Mississippi?” So, I took the 90-minute cruise for $20, and enjoyed the informative and historic commentary given by our trip’s host. I will have to admit that I thought the cruise would physically go much farther than it did. I was disappointed in how short of a distance the boat went from the dock. I would have loved to have seen more. But it was still a nice experience.

What a great place Memphis was. I’d love to get back there again someday, and hope others will find their way to the deep south as well. It’s worth the trip.

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Witch Way to the Historic Sites?

When one thinks of Salem, Massachusetts, immediate images of witchcraft spring to mind. While the 1692 Witch Trials are an infamous part of its history and the bulk of the city’s tourism is centered around it, Salem also played a large part in the early development of the United States. Some lesser known historical attractions worth a visit in this coastal City of Peace include:

  • Salem Maritime National Historic Site – Comprised of nine acres of land, buildings, and wharves along the waterfront, ships from Salem carried cargo back and forth from the West to Asia during the United States’ early days. The overseas trade helped build the new nation’s economy and made Salem home to America’s first millionaires. This site includes: a tour of the Custom House built in 1819 that collected taxes on incoming cargo; the 171-foot Friendship of Salem, a scale replica of a 1797 East Indiaman merchant tall ship; and domestic homes of early successful businessman, the Narbonne House and the Derby House.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne's Birthplace

    Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Birthplace

    Architecture – Thanks in large part to Samuel McIntire, Salem is home to one of the most impressive collections of Federal style architecture and ornamental carvings in the world. Named after the celebrated architect/wood carver, the famed McIntire Historic District includes Chestnut Street’s Federal Era townhouses. This beautiful street provides a glimpse into the powerful mercantile and maritime history of Salem.

  • The Peabody Essex Museum – Founded by Salem’s sea captains in 1799 in order to share their explorations, this is the oldest continually operated museum in the country. The museum includes: collections of objects obtained from the Northwest coast of America, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and India; books, manuscripts, and documents; and Yin Yu Tang, the only complete Qing Dynasty house outside of China.
  • The House of the Seven Gables – Built in 1668 by sea captain and merchant John Turner, this house still has many of its original period features and is significant to American architectural, maritime and cultural history. This campus also includes five other structures which were moved to this site: The Retire Becket House (1655); The Hooper Hathaway House (1682); author Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Birthplace (c. 1750); The Phippen House (c. 1782); and The Counting House (c. 1830).

The House of the Seven Gables House

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Conquering Seattle During a Layover

On a 10-hour trip to Hawai’i from Boston, I decided that breaking up the trip into two parts would be a good idea so as not to completely exhaust myself, and to also squeeze in some more sightseeing. I had always wanted to go to Seattle, Washington and I figured this would be a good test to see if it would be somewhere I’d like to go back to for a longer amount of time.

Hotels were within walking distance of the Sea-Tac Airport so if staying near the airport, just walk yourself to your hotel; you’ll feel like a fool waiting for the shuttle that takes forever when you just could have walked. Trust me. Also, the Sound Transit Link Light Rail is located at the Sea-Tac Airport so getting into the city center is easy from there.

With about nine hours to pack in as much Seattle as possible, and needing to be back to the airport to catch a 6:50 pm flight to Hawai’i, the race was on for all things Seattle Center. The Link Light Rail from Sea-Tac to Seattle Center took about 45 minutes and was a great above-ground ride.

After getting off the Link Light Rail at Westlake Center, I easily found my way to the Westlake Center Monorail station. Originally built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, it was a quick ride at just under one mile. If you want the experience of riding on the nation’s first full-scale commercial monorail system, then it’s worth the $4.50 round-trip adult ticket. Once I realized how short the distance was from Westlake Center to Seattle Center, I felt silly that I hadn’t just walked. But… I would have missed sitting in the very front seat of the Monorail and getting the experience of feeling very queasy looking down at the straight drop to the ground below me. Totally worth the nausea and, for the video nerd in me, the footage.

So what’s in Seattle Center? Known as a cultural and civic gathering place, some of its highlights include: the EMP Museum, the Pacific Science Center, the Space Needle, the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor’s Center, The Children’s Museum, the Seattle Opera, the Seattle International Film Festival, and a whole lot more that I wish I had been able to see.

As I exited the Monorail station, just a short distance away was this magnificent “garden” and glass house. What was this? There were real plants mixed in with glass plants. And then inside the glass house were even more amazing glass plant sculptures built to an astonishing height. It was named… wait for it… The Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit. Genius. Because of the limited amount of time in Seattle, I had to forego seeing the inside and spending what would have been many nerdy hours photographing/filming and “ooo-ing” and “aaa-ing” at all of the art. So a free tour outside the walls of the exhibit had to do, standing on benches and reaching really high to get photos and video.

Next to the Garden is the famous Space Needle, which rises up 605 feet in the air. For you fellow fun fact nerds, the elevator travels at 10 mph, 14 feet per second, and 800 feet per minute. The elevators are on the outside of the Space Needle so, again, nauseating, but a great view of Seattle. The view from the observation deck is fantastic, whether just looking down at the nearby attractions in Seattle Center, enjoying the water, or being captivated by the busy city in the distance. It was windy and quite cold up there (even in May), but I loved it. The experience is definitely worth the $19 adult admission. Oh, and you also get a free picture taken of you in front of one of a number of Space Needle backgrounds, and it then gets sent to your email. And, no, I won’t be posting my photo. It is awkward, and I don’t want you to feel bad for me.

A few steps away from the Space Needle was the impressively built Frank Gehry Experience Music Project Museum. Hendrix and Nirvana fans…this is the museum for you. But, even if you don’t go inside (and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t), the outside is just breathtaking. As the story goes, Gehry looked to music for inspiration, and his structure symbolizes the energy and fluidity of music. The plan was to have the red sections fade with time, thus altering the appearance of the building’s exterior and reflecting how music is ever changing. Deep stuff.

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market

Next, I was off to the century-old Pike Place Market, or “The Soul of Seattle”, which is America’s premier farmers’ market. As a local told me when I asked him for directions there, just head down Pike Street and you’ll walk right into it. Yup, I did, literally. “The Market”, as locals call it, was phenomenal. There were pastries, meats, fruits and vegetables, flowers, performers – everything you could possibly want. The vendors were eager to have people try their products but weren’t very pushy. I was given a kumquat, and the not-so-great-outter-skin-taste stayed in my mouth for hours. So be careful what you try. Kumquats = bad. And, yes, the Market includes the Pike Place Fish store where fishmongers throw huge fish to one another and catch it. Entertaining. And slightly stinky.

So, did my 1-day excursion in Seattle make me crave to go back? Yes, indeed it did. Looking forward to it!

Categories: America, Memoirs, Washington | Tags: , , , , , , ,

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