Most trips are taken with a particular purpose and destination in mind, but sometimes, an opportunity arises to go off itinerary and you discover a gem (though places that prove to be less interesting can also provide good stories). On a recent trip to New Haven, we came across a brochure entitled “Christmas in Poland.” A temporary exhibit at the Knight of Columbus Museum, it seemed interesting enough, plus it was free!
Arriving at the museum, we discovered a construction vehicle out front. After circling a couple times in search of a parking spot, we ended up in an hourly public lot with a self-serve kiosk. We thought an hour would be sufficient, most free museums are small and don’t take long to walk through. Then we got inside and heard about all the exhibits. It was then that we also learned there is free parking under the building (note: read the brochure carefully), which of course we would have seen if it weren’t blocked.
The museum’s permanent displays detail the history of the Knights of Columbus, which has origins in New Haven, CT. Founded by Michael J McGivney in 1882, it is the largest Catholic lay organization in the world. The exhibit includes several sculptures and other artwork related to both the Knights and the Catholic Church as well as bits of American history, such as steel girders from the World Trade Center.
A temporary exhibit dedicated to World War I has been extended to April 14, 2019.
The exhibit includes artifacts and documents
from the war and traces the contribution of the Knights to the war effort, both at home and on the battlefield. More than 1,600 of the 116,000 Americans (including both the first and last American military officers) who died in this conflict were members of the fraternal organization.
We took our time through these exhibits (moving the car to the garage after the first hour) before moving on to the reason we came – to explore Christmas in Poland. This is the 14th year the museum is showcasing the Christmas traditions of a world region.
We learned that in Poland, festivities begin December 24 with Christmas Eve dinner, called wigilia (no meat aside from fish is served at this meal; this would sadden many of our relatives) and continue until February 2, with the feast of Candlemas. People sing kolêdy, or carols and create nativity scenes called szopki. A number of examples of szopka are on display, both from their collection and on loan from museums around the world.
In addition, there are two dozen Christmas trees decorated by local elementary schools with the theme, Christmas in Poland. Visitors are invited to vote for their favorite to determine the “People’s Choice Award.” Dozens of handmade ornaments adorn each tree. Some also created szopka for under the tree and included information explaining the reason for some of the decorations. (For example, a spider ornament is included to commemorate the spider said to weave a blanket for the baby Jesus.)
Overall, it was an enjoyable way to spend a couple hours. The museum staff was friendly and informative and the exhibits were both entertaining and educational. Perhaps we’ll take a trip again next year to discover other Christmas traditions around the world.
Fort Delaware, originally built to protect the cities of Wilmington and Philadelphia, is a Union fortress that once held Confederate prisoners of war. The fort, which dates to 1859, sits on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River and is only accessible by ferry via Forts Ferry Crossing which runs from Delaware City, DE. Tickets available on the day of visit at the park ticket office (first-come, first-served).
The park offers a number of activities, from exploring the fort to birding (it is the summer home to nine species of herons) to hiking, (the Prison Camp Trail, is an easy 0.8 mile loop over grass and packed earth) to Living History events. Visitors are free to walk throughout and around the fort and see numerous artifacts as well as reproductions of items that would have been present in the fort which appears as if it were stopped in time over 150 years ago.
The daily schedule of events has costumed re-enactors explaining life in 1864 with enough to see and do to easily keep you busy for much of a day. Visitors are welcome to ask questions and sometimes even to help with tasks.
Visitors learn how everyday tasks such as cooking and laundry were accomplished and witness soldiers preparing to defend the fort as they complete the steps involved in loading and firing a cannon. In the barracks, a soldier welcomes visitors to talk about conditions in the barracks (and maybe share a secret about the ghosts that linger there). Out on the lawn, recruits are schooled in practicing drill as enlisted soldiers.
Included in the ferry fee is the option to travel to Fort Mott, which is on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. The fort was built up in the late 1800s in preparation for the Spanish American War, as part of a three-fort defense system, along with Fort Delaware and Fort DuPont in Delaware City. This 124 acre state park also offers picnicking, an easy walking trail and special educational events.
There are no food vendors on the island, but packaged snacks are available in the gift shops. Picnic tables and grills are available if you choose to bring food with you.
On the northern end of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the town of Corolla is a popular vacation destination and the one-time home of North Carolina’s state horse, the Colonial Spanish Mustang, (for their safety the horses have been moved north of Corolla in the area beyond the paved road which is only accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles).
The town has a long history. As is common with coastal land, nature has shifted the coast and created and moved dunes and inlets. Numerous hurricanes have changed the structure of the Outer Banks, which have effectively served as a protector to mainland North Carolina. Up until early 1800s, it was only accessible by boat and its residents survived through hunting and fishing as well as salvaging items from shipwrecks. Other towns came and went, but the residents of Corolla stuck it out.
Government jobs in the 1800s increased the population. Between 1873-75, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the Jones’ Hill Life Saving Station were created. In 1895, Jones’ Hill (as the area was then known) had grown enough to get its own Post Office and the US Postal Service asked for suggestions for a name. Corolla (which is the inner part of a flower) was suggested and ultimately chosen by the postal service. In 1905 a one-room school was established. Some of these 19th century structures remain in what is now known as Corolla Village, a collection of charming buildings surrounding the 162-foot tall lighthouse, including the Corolla Wild Horse Museum and several charming shops.
In 1922 the Knights of Newport, RI began building their 21,000 square foot winter home, Corolla Island, which was completed in 1925. In 1940, under new ownership, Corolla Island was renamed the Whalehead Club, and was leased to the Coast Guard during WWII.
The Club was used as a boy’s school in the summers in the 1950s. Today, the building has been restored to its appearance in 1925 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Owned by the county, it and the lighthouse are both part of the Currituck Heritage Park. Whalehead offers seasonal tours of the building and hosts special events throughout the year.
In the 1970s, only about 15 people lived in Corolla. The road to town was an unpaved trail along the sound. The state later took over the road, and it became part of NC Rt. 12 in 1984. More than 1500 homes were built over the next ten years. Over 500 more were added over the next five years, most of which are vacation homes, with more than half 5000 square feet or more. This road continues through most of Corolla, but then simply ends at an expanse of sand. There are homes (and the horses) beyond this point, but they are not accessible without the use of a 4×4 vehicle.
Today the town of Corolla is relatively quiet and family centered. The houses are packed close together and are a variety of sizes and styles. Needing a place that would accommodate our extended family and two dogs, we rented a home a short walk from the beach with ample space inside, plus a balcony and “bird’s nest” rooftop sitting area which sat higher than most of the other buildings, where we could view both sunrises and sunsets.
A reservoir in our neighborhood was home to a few turtles, and the kids were entertained simply watching them. We also saw a few deer, including a fawn napping in our backyard.
We happen to own ocean kayaks and had brought them along with us (rentals are also available). We spent one lazy afternoon exploring the sound and another day my husband and son tried them out in the ocean. We also spent time lounging on the beach, playing in the ocean and the sand and searching for seashells. My niece was fascinated by the exoskeleton of a horseshoe crab that she discovered.
There are a number of restaurants in Corolla, but for the most part, we chose to shop at the Food Lion and Seaside Farm Market and prepared food back at the house.
We did pick up pizza from Tomato Patch Pizzeria our first night there, which was very good. We also enjoyed our dinner at Sunset Grille and Raw Bar in Duck where we got to sit outside on the dock and were amused by the fanciful drink glasses that we got to bring home.
Shopping included the traditional beachy souvenir shops, upscale gift boutiques and antique markets as well as outfitters for water sports. An 18-link golf course, mini golf, go carts and a movie theater are right in town, and tours via 4×4 vehicles are popular and are probably the best way to see Corolla’s horses. Fishing, surfing, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding rentals and lessons can be found for those who would rather be in the water.
The Outer Banks have much more to offer, outside of Corolla, but we spent most of our week locally. The ride in on a Saturday morning (which is when most of the rental periods start) had us almost at a standstill for a couple hours, causing some to not want to venture out until the week’s end. Having a fondness for lighthouses, I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit another one nearby, so my son and I made a trip south to explore.
The Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is the location of the first English settlement in America, which tragically ended in mystery. All 117 people in the colony vanished without a trace. At a ranger-led talk at our visit, we explored the possibilities and most popular theories of this strange vanishing act. During the summer months, a live performance, The Lost Colony is put on by the non-profit Roanoke Island Historical Association. The nearby Roanoke Island Festival Park, a North Carolina Historic Site offers a peek into history as costumed interpreters demonstrate life in the 1585 settlement or onboard the Elizabeth II, which represents one of the seven ships bringing colonists to America in 1585.
The Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills celebrates the birthplace of aviation. While there, one can visit the Flight Line where history took place, peek into 1903 camp buildings and explore the Visitor’s Center.
Jockey Ridge State Park in Nags Head is home to the Atlantic’s tallest living sand dune. A visitor’s center and boardwalk provide information about the dune’s ecology. Shoes are a must while walking on the sand; the park website warns that the sand can be up to 30 degrees hotter than air temperatures.
Between Corolla and Cape Hatteras. there are 5 lighthouses. Just south of Nags Head, the Bodie Island Lighthouse (pronounced “body”) stands 150 feet tall and is open to climb subject to weather conditions. On the day of our visit, thunderstorms were threatening so admission was limited to the ground floor. The other lighthouses on these barrier islands are the Currituck Lighthouse in Corolla, the Okracoke Lighthouse (which is the nation’s oldest operating), the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (the tallest brick lighthouse in the country), and the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse.
The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras delves into maritime history. The coast of North Carolina is known for its density of shipwrecks, which is one of the highest in the world. The waters are known for their tales of pirates and Civil War battles, as well as engaging with submarines during the World Wars.
We only had a week on the Outer Banks, so we still have much to see. I look forward to future visits and to further exploring the historic sites.
The oldest city in the state, Savannah, Georgia boasts a wealth of history and Southern charm. With several museums and art galleries, Revolutionary and Civil War sites, ghost tours, riverfront shopping and dining, one can easily keep busy for several days. The Andrew Low House, the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts is also a popular attraction. There are various ways to discover the city: you can wander about on your own, join a walking tour, or book a tour via segway, bicycle, trolley, carriage, water, even helicopter.
Since we only had a couple days to visit, we started exploring via a trolley tour, which was a good introduction to the city. The ticket allows you to hop on and off all day, and we discovered that the continuously looping trolley was a handy method of transport for tired feet (and also to get out of the rain).
One of the trolley stops is at Forsyth Park, the largest park in the historic district. It is home to the Confederate War Monument, which sits on the site where soldiers drilled before going off to war. The park also features a large fountain (the water is dyed green each St. Patrick’s Day) and a bandstand at the Forsyth Park Cafe. Large expanses of grassy areas provide ample space for play and picnicking, or simply relaxing.
While walking around, we experienced a summer downpour as we approached the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, where we sought refuge. (But not before we were soaked to the skin – everything in my purse was soggy, even the chewing gum.) This beautiful church is open for tours from Monday to Saturday. The parish dates back to 1789 when French Catholics (some were
nobles fleeing the French Revolution) came to the area after an uprising in Haiti. The Diocese of Savannah was established in 1850 and, at that time, included all of Georgia and most of Florida. A statue of St. Patrick has a place of honor in the cathedral and his feast day is one of the largest celebrations in Savannah each year.
River Street has wonderful views, shopping and dining
We spent an evening wandering River Street, which has an interesting assortment of shops, while trying to decide on dinner. We had tickets for the trolley ghost tour, so a fancy sit-down place was out of the question. We found a small seafood place where I had an amazing oyster dinner.
There are several ghost tours offered in Savannah, whose history would indicate the abundance of spirits. We chose to take the trolley tour (there was a package deal) and were entertained by our guide with stories of ghostly presence and more history of Savannah (she was especially concerned that a ghost not accompany us home as we were leaving one site on the tour).
We didn’t make it to nearby Tybee Island, with its beaches, featuring birds, sea turtles, pirates and water sports. It is also home to a lighthouse, so we will be back!
The residents of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania take pride in their heritage. In 2016, the city celebrated the 275th anniversary of the signing of the deed to 500 acres that transferred ownership of the land that would become Bethlehem from William Penn to the Moravian community who settled in the area where Monocacy Creek meets the Lehigh River. The city is known for its festivals, especially Musikfest and Celtic Classic, which are said to be the largest of their kind in the U.S. Besides these two, there are another 10 major festivals and more than 150 lesser fests or community events each year, making the city a popular destination year round.
Steeped in History
The city has seen a great deal of history, from its inception, through Revolutionary times and to the present day. Brethren’s House, which now houses the music department of Moravian College, was used as a hospital for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and over 500 soldiers who died in Bethlehem are buried there. Also within the city are a number of items designated by the National Register: six Historic Districts, 165 buildings, nine structures and four objects.
The Historic Bethlehem Partnership manages 20 of these buildings and sites, including the Moravian Museum, which is housed in the Gemeinhaus, a National Historic Landmark, which was the second building built by the early settlers, and is the starting point for several walking tours of town.
The 18th Century Industrial Quarter (likely the first in the country), just off of Main Street on the Monocacy Creek, is the location of some of the earliest building in Bethlehem. One of these, the 1762 Waterworks (a National Historic Landmark) is said to be America’s first pumped water system. Also surviving from the 18th century are a saw mill, blacksmith shop, tannery, miller’s house and springhouse as well as the ruins of other structures. One can wander among the buildings at any time, and tours of the interior are available by appointment. Through the warmer months, blacksmiths can be seen at work on weekends. Information on all their properties and events can be found on their website.
Although they are now separate entities, the histories of Bethlehem, the Central Moravian Church (the oldest Moravian Church in North America) and Moravian College are intertwined. The Moravians came from all over Europe, and though they all had the German language in common, they spoke a total of 15 different languages. Moravians have a tradition of inclusion and tolerance, and believe that everyone, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity, deserves the same opportunities. This was evident in the early years of the community, when Europeans, African-Americans, and American Indians all lived, worked, worshiped, and went to school together.
Education has always been important to Moravians and in 1742, they established both a school for girls and another for boys. Both schools continued to grow and it is a point of pride for the college that the two merged in 1954, becoming the first co-educational institute of higher learning in the area.
In 1845, the Moravian Church started selling off land and soon the farms on the south side of the Lehigh River became peppered with buildings as the railroad brought factories and mills to the area. In 1865, Asa Packer donated land and $500,000 to found a university with a focus on math and science. The first class had 39 men and today Lehigh University is consistently listed among the top colleges and universities in these disciplines.
A Tradition of Music
Like education, music has always been a part of Bethlehem. One of the first orchestras in America was founded here in 1744 and in 1754 the oldest musical group in the country, the Moravian Trombone Choir was founded. There are several other musical groups that call the city home, such as the Bach Choir of Bethlehem.
Although music can be found in Bethlehem year round, in various bars, clubs, or on any of the college campuses, the big event is every August. Since 1984, the city has been home to Musikfest, a city-wide festival showcasing music of all types, many of which are free, as well as food, beer and arts. This year the festival runs from August 5-14. The city also hosts other major festivals (including the Blueberry and the Blast Furnace Blues Festival) as well as over 150 events or mini fests throughout each year.
This humble city in the Lehigh Valley was once known as an industrial powerhouse. Bethlehem Steel was once the largest shipbuilder in the world (building 1127 ships during WWII alone) and a major employer to the city’s residents. The rise of railroads brought factories and mills to town as well as many workers. The steady decline of manufacturing industry in the late 20th century led to the company downsizing and ultimately filing for bankruptcy in 2001.The people of Bethlehem however have shown resilience and are a good example of what can be done to revive old industrial towns.
The past twenty years have seen dramatic changes. Bethlehem now has a thriving restaurant and entertainment scene. As is common in many college towns today, the selection of cuisine is diverse, including your standard pizza, deli and pub fair, as well as tapas, Thai and vegan restaurants. Two of my personal favorites are Bethlehem Brew Works which opened in 1998 and Roosevelt’s 21st. Both have good food, good beer and celebrate the history of the area. There are also a number of charming boutique shops and galleries.
The old Beth Steel property now houses Arts Quest Steel Stacks, a four-story performing arts center that brings top acts to the area and Sands Casino, as well as The Outlets at Sands Bethlehem shopping center.
There are a number of hotel accommodations to choose from, most notable of which is the historic Hotel Bethlehem. Built in 1922 on the site of the first house in Bethlehem, and later the Golden Eagle Hotel, the hotel is said to have hosted such celebrities as Winston Churchill, Amelia Earhart and Thomas Edison, and is purportedly home to a number of ghosts.
Across the street from Hotel B (as it is affectionately known) is the Moravian Book Shop, the oldest continuously operating bookstore in the world (it opened in 1745) and the starting place for a number of historical and ghost tours throughout the year. The book shop hosts events throughout the year and in addition to books, the store also has an extensive collection of gift items and a year-round display of Christmas tree ornaments.
The Christmas City
As early as 1937, Bethlehem was considered the Christmas City, and in that year, a campaign to have people send their holiday cards bearing “Christmas City” cancellation flooded the post office with over 185,00 pieces of mail. Since then, committees have been formed to unify and fund the decorations and events that take place each December. The historic district is decked out in white lights and across the Lehigh River, on the south side of town, colored lights brighten the streets. More than 800 trees also adorn public spaces.
Each December, the city is home to Christkindlmarkt, an authentic German-style Christmas market listed among America’s best by Travel & Leisure Magazine. Originally housed in heated tents in center city, it is now located in the Arts Quest Center just across the river. With this move, a smaller, open-air version of a Christmas market has sprouted up in the historic district, with artisans selling their wares from individual huts. The
The Christmas City also hosts a “Live Advent Calendar” whereby each night in December at 5:00, a different merchant gives treats at the Goundie House. Throughout the month, there are horse drawn carriage, bus and walking tours of town, and even an annual visit from Charles Dickens’ great great grandson to perform the Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Story.
Bethlehem has become a destination and has much to offer, any time of year. If you love music, history, or food, there is plenty to choose from. The abundance and variety of events is sure to keep you coming back for more.
Note: No compensation has been given for the mention of businesses, organizations or schools listed in this post. All opinions are that of the writer.
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the charming and historic Lexington, Virginia is a friendly town that is proud of its heritage. Named one of the “Best Small Towns to Visit” in 2013 by Smithsonian Magazine, the town offers shopping, eating, history, education and the outdoors, all within a short distance. With several hotels and charming bed and breakfasts, the small town can serve as a home base to explore the wider area, or as a relaxing setting for a weekend trip on its own.
The town is home to both Virginia Military Institute (est 1839) and Washington and Lee University (est 1749), each of which hosts museums open to the public. The VMI Museum, the first public museum in Virginia, has 15,000 artifacts, including a Revolutionary War musket, that help trace its heritage; W&L’s Lee Chapel & Museum is dedicated to the university’s history and how it is intertwined with both George Washington and its 11th president, Robert E. Lee.
Lee Chapel is a focal point on the campus and is where you will find what is possibly the first Peale portrait of George Washington. The lower level museum includes Lee’s office, and a changing exhibit as well as the main exhibit, Building and Rebuilding a Nation, which shows the contributions both George Washington and Lee made to education and reveals an interesting family connection between the men.
The museum offers a glimpse of this Confederate general, and makes it apparent that he was faced with a very difficult choice: either fight for the North, against his family and neighbors, or fight for the South, against the nation he loved. It is also apparent that he was a true gentleman, taking defeat with grace and continuing to serve. The university owes their honor code and more to him.
In addition to the history found at these schools, the town is also home to the Lee House (now the residence of W&L president and their families), the Stonewall Jackson House and the George C. Marshal Museum. Many of the town’s buildings date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. A few blocks away, the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery is the final resting place of the general, as well as many other Confederate veterans.
Named after Lexington, MA, the site of the first shot of the Revolutionary War, the town also has found an interesting way to share the history of her famous people, from George Washington (who endowed the university that now bears his name) to Meriwether Lewis to Patsy Cline. Pavers throughout town commemorate deceased people deemed to be “The Righteous and Rascals of Rockbridge County.” The related website offers biographical information and locations of related sites throughout the county. Several movies have been filmed in and around Lexington, including Sommersby, Gods and Generals, War of the Worlds and Field of Lost Shoes.
Not far outside of town is Natural Bridge State Park, which was once owned by Thomas Jefferson (and is rumored to have been surveyed by George Washington) and is on both the National and Virginia Historic Landmark lists as well as the National Register of Historic Places. This natural formation is where the county, Rockbridge, got its name. The main feature is a 215-foot natural limestone arch. Today a visit to the park includes not only the view of the bridge, but also admission to a number of trails and the Monacan Indian Living History exhibit which shows visitors what life was like here over 300 years ago.
Besides this national treasure, outdoor activities in the Lexington area are plentiful. The Maury River, a tributary of the James River, is a popular destination for small watercraft and tubing. There also are many trails for hiking, from the relatively flat 7-mile Chessie Nature Trail, to the rocky Devil’s Marbleyard Trail near Natural Bridge or even the Appalachian Trail in nearby Shenandoah National Park. The area boasts beautiful skies at all times of year.
The surrounding area is home to several wineries and breweries and many antique shops and malls. In addition to the accommodations in town, camping is also available nearby, at one of several state or national forest areas, as well as privately owned campgrounds.
Lexington has a number of chain hotels, though the Hampton, an easy walk from Main Street, blends in to the city charm. Formerly the historic Col Alto Mansion (which is on the National Register of Historic Places), the reception building adjoins the 76 hotel room and also houses the breakfast room as well as 10 restored manor rooms.
When you get hungry, there are a number of options to choose from, such as The Palms Restaurant, featuring “Classic American Fare,” and a regular schedule of live music and Macado’s, a casual, eclectic place popular with the college crowd. Niko’s Grille offers “Authentic Greek Cuisine” for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For dessert, you can’t miss with a stop at Sweet Things for homemade ice cream or Pronto for gelato or a pastry and coffee. Sweet Treats offers breakfast and lunch as well as a variety of baked goods including specialty cakes. If you are just looking for a quick pick me up, stop in Lexington Coffee Shop for gourmet coffee and homemade baked goods.
Note: No compensation was provided from any of the businesses mentioned in this article. The opinions are those of the writer.