Friday, October 26, 2007

Beaufort County, SC –Something for Everyone

Beaufort Inn
Parris Island
View from our "house" on Fripp Island

Each day is beautiful and each day is unique. With the sun was shining, my husband and I sipped wine while motoring silently along the narrow tree-shaded canals of Hilton Head Island in an electric boat. Another day we walked along the beach on Fripp Island with the incoming tide gently washing away our footprints. Still another day we watched young recruits at Parris Island being ordered to "Stand on those yellow footprints." Yet another day we visited Penn Center where the world seemed to have stopped generations ago. Our last day we wandered the streets of historic Beaufort admiring the antebellum homes nestled under ancient live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Each day was wonderful, each day was different, and we never left Beaufort County. With the South Carolina Low Country’s natural beauty, mild climate, interesting mix of cultures, and slow pace no wonder it attracts visitors from near and far.

Hilton Head
That’s all one has to say. The very words conjure up visions of luxury. Hilton Head is the "perfect" place. Everything is built in harmony with nature. No buildings are higher than the trees and there are no billboards assault one’s view. Malls are discretely hidden behind lush vegetation. Housing developments are referred to in genteel terms as "plantations." The gated plantations are planned keeping both esthetics and convenience in mind. The roads meander past well-landscaped properties that border a canal or one of the many golf courses. The hotels are some of the best in the world plus there are furnished homes for rent. Even the 12 miles of glistening sand beaches seems designed for those who want to be seen walking the beach but don’t want to get sandy. The sand is firm enough to ride a bike along. It is a beautiful place for beautiful people.

Fripp Island
No less exclusive but not as costly or busy, Fripp Island is often overshadowed by Hilton Head. Crossing the bridge to Fripp Island is to enter the sublime world of sun, sand, sea, and golf. With miles of beaches, award-winning golf courses, plus tennis courts, fishing, and kayaking there is something to please even the most discriminating person. The best pastime is doing little or nothing: walking along the beach, enjoying a good book around the pool, watching the ever-changing ocean, spotting a Snowy White Egret catch his dinner, then taking the ubiquitous – and quiet – golf carts to one of the many restaurants for dinner.

There are a plethora of accommodation options from those located on the beach, the canal, or golf course with some suitable for a couple looking for a romantic getaway and others are fully equipped houses that accommodate dozens. The posh houses are perfect for a wedding party, family reunions, gal or guy getaway weekends, or corporate team building. One of the best perks for families is Camp Fripp where children from 3 – 12 can enjoy and learn with special programs that range from Survivor Day to Nature Day.
Offshore fishing for sailfish, mahi-mahi, grouper, and snapper along with inshore fishing for flounder, trout, and tarpon can be arranged at the marina store along with Sunset and Dolphin Cruises.

Hunting Island
Just minutes from exclusive Fripp Island is Hunting Island State Park, one of the most popular state parks and beach areas in South Carolina. Hunting Island is not just another beach it is a nature and wildlife paradise. The pristine sandy beach, natural setting, and warm Atlantic Ocean makes it perfect for camping or renting a cabin right on the beach. With an historic 1859-lighthouse, lagoon, fishing pier, wide sweeping beach, and nature trails it is a "kick-back" place for the whole family.

Historic Villages
South Carolina's first European settlement was in Beaufort. In French "beau" means beautiful and beautiful it is. It survived the civil war and so did the beautiful southern homes. The waterfront is designed for a leisurely stroll and for sitting in one of the swings watching the sunset. The main street is lined with trendy boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. First visited by the Spanish in 1520, Beaufort was the site of the first fort on the North American continent. A walking tour of Beaufort is a trip through history from St. Helena's Episcopal Church that traces its origin back to 1712 to the oldest house built in 1717 to antebellum mansions.

There are other quaint villages waiting to be explored. Located just across the bridge from Hilton Head Island, Bluffton sits on a bluff overlooking the beautiful May River. Antebellum homes, historic churches and unique shops line the moss-shaded streets of the historic district. Once it was the private summering place for plantation owners, today Bluffton attracts scholars, artists, musicians, writers, and tourists looking for a slow-paced ambiance. Port Royal is still a sleepy fishing port where one may dine at a restaurant while watching the boats arrive with the catch of the day.

Penn Center
In the words of the Gullah people—"when oonuh dey yuh, oonuh dey home"—or "when you are here, you are home." The Gullahs are the local African-Americans with their own distinctive culture. So close to Hilton Head but a whole mindset away, Penn Center is midway between Beaufort and Fripp Island. It is a place that seems stalled in a quieter and different time. Scattered under the massive live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, Penn Center is one of the most significant African-American historical and cultural institutions. It is where the first black school in America was established in 1862. The National Historic Landmark is a campus of nineteen buildings including the York W. Bailey Museum founded in 1971 to interpret the history of Penn School and to share the cultural legacy of the Sea Islands. Located in the Cope Industrial Building, the museum features an excellent video introduction and a permanent exhibition, "Education for Freedom," which tells the story of Penn School and its history.

Parris Island
Are you one of the few? If so you can get a free stay in Beaufort County by signing up to be one of the few – a marine where some of the first words you will hear will be, "Stand on those yellow footprints." Marines were first stationed on Parris Island in 1891, in the form of a small security detachment, and by 1915 Parris Island was officially designated a Marine Corps Recruit Depot and training center. It has continued and grown. Today about 18,000 recruits are trained at Parris Island each year including 1500 women. Visitors will find a newly remodeled museum where every artifact tells a story and a guided bus tour that explains the facility, operation, and the life of the marines stationed at Parris Island.

Water, water, everywhere… and the eatin’ is good! Local specialties include crab cakes, she-crab soup, and Frogmore Stew, a hearty Low Country concoction of shrimp, sausage, potatoes, and corn on the cob boiled together to make a one-dish meal. Great restaurants are everywhere. At the 11th Street Dockside Restaurant in Port Royal watch the fishing boats bring in the catch of day, at the Old Oyster Factory on Hilton Head Island the oyster beds are in view at low tide, and enjoy alfresco dining on the deck at Kathleen’s Grille in Beaufort watching the sunset then head inside for live music.

Quoting Pat Conroy, author of "Prince of Tides" and Fripp Island resident: "Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers, that the mind can never break off from the journey." This is especially true of Beaufort County where the visions will remain fresh in the quiet chambers of your mind.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Williamsburg and the Historic Triangle

Fife and Drum Parade
Benjamin Lincoln at our "house"
Tea with Ladies Dunmore and Randolf

Tea with Christiana
Powatan Village

The sound of the fife and drum band marching down the Duke of Gloucester Street was too stirring to resist. My husband, John, and I stopped unpacking and rushed to join the parade. We arrived at the Capitol in plenty of time to hear the reading of the Declaration of Independence so recently signed in Philadelphia. The crowd cheered and so did we. It was July 25, 1776 in Colonial Williamsburg. The rest of the day we followed the live action vignettes that took us from 1776 to September 28, 1781 when we listened to General Benjamin Lincoln, Washington’s second in command, address his men and the citizens in front of Raleigh Tavern as he prepared to leave for Yorktown.

We returned to our Williamsburg home to finish unpacking. Our "home" was Market Square Kitchen, one of many 18th century accommodations available within Colonial Williamsburg. Once the kitchen for the Market Square Tavern our two-floor "home" had a canopy bed, two twin beds, a fireplace, a garden, colonial furnishing, all the modern conveniences, plus it was just steps off the main street. Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and other notables stayed in the tavern in front of our place. It would have been easy to snug up in front of the fireplace in the wingback chair and never leave, but there was too much to do.

It was tea time. In the Capitol garden we overheard Lady Dunmore sharing her impressions of Virginia Colony with Lady Randolph over tea. Lady Randolph tried to be as English as possible, disdaining the corn bread served with tea, while her hostess, Lady Dunmore, newly arrived from England, was trying her best to fit into the colonial way of life. Since we were not invited to share in tea with the ladies we headed to Christiana’s Tavern where Christiana, the tavern owner, and her daughter, Molly, along with Mr. Bruce, a teacher of plantation children, welcomed us most graciously. Like all tavern owners she was a font of knowledge. Taverns were gathering places where news was shared. Her tavern was George Washington’s favorite. "Mr. Washington has stayed with us 96 times. He steps a fine minuet, you know. All the ladies want to dance with him. And, he is the best horseman in Virginia," shared Christiana. Pouring our tea she continued, "Up Boston way they dumped the tea in the harbor so many of us are drinking coffee now, but I think it is permissible to drink tea on special occasions," Christiana explained. Our tea ended with Christiana reading a newly written protest poem that ended with:

"The tea was conveyed to the daughter's door, all down by the ocean side,
But the bouncing girl poured out every pound, in the dark and boiling tide.
And the she called out to the Island Queen, 'Oh mother, dear mother,' quoth she,
'Your tea you may have when 'tis steeped enough, But never a tax from me.''

In the evening we attended the trial of Grace Sherwood, Virginia’s Witch, who was tried in 1706. It was a starless night as people packed the courtroom of the Capitol. Witnesses testified that Grace bewitched their crops causing them to fail and a neighbor charged her with putting a spell on his wife then escaping through the keyhole in the shape of a black cat. A midwife swore she examined Grace and found the marks of the Devil on her; and, the most damning evidence of all, many saw her survive the dunking test. Grace protested her innocence so vehemently that she had to be dragged from the courtroom - screaming. When all the evidence was submitted, those present were asked by a show of hand to determine if Grace should be found guilty of witchcraft. Guilty!

John and I needed to relax and have a bite to eat after the stress of the trial so we walked down to the nearly deserted Duke of Gloucester Street to Josiah Chowning’s Tavern for gambols. What are gambols? Gambols are fun, games, and songs that were popular in 18th century taverns and pubs. While the musicians entertained, Chrissy, our serving girl, taught us how to play Shut the Box, a traditional game of the time.

In the morning we could hear a lot of activity going on near the Governor’s Palace so we went to check it out. There were tents and soldiers everywhere. "We are headed towards Yorktown, there is troop movement everywhere," said one of the soldiers. Not wanting to miss anything we headed to Yorktown about 30 minutes away – by car – longer if we were marching! Needless to say we beat the army but learned about the meeting of Washington and Cornwallis that led to the British surrender ending the Revolutionary War.

At the Yorktown Visitor Center the display had first-person accounts of ten people who witnessed the Revolution. Outside we checked out the Continental Army encampment, where historical interpreters described the daily life of American soldiers at the end of the war. A re-created 1780s farm, complete with a house, kitchen, tobacco barn, crop fields, and herb and vegetable garden, shows how many Americans lived in the decade following the Revolution. The British may have lost control of America at Yorktown but less than an hour on the Colonial Parkway is where the British gained their foothold in America in 1607, In Jamestown we explored the replicas of the three very small ships that brought the first English settlers to Virginia. We learned about the sufferings of the first settlers, watched bread being baked in James Fort, and visited the nearby Powatan settlement were we met Pocahontas. The day was too short to do everything there is to do in the area.

Our last night we decided to mix the old with something new and had dinner at the Chef’s Kitchen, located a 15-minute walk from our "home." It was the perfect end to three days. The chef, John Gonzales, entertained and educated us while preparing dinner for 20 guests. After champagne and hors d’oeuvers, we had roasted tomato soup, followed by salad, cornbread, jumbo shrimp, pork rack, and ended with Ceylon cinnamon poached pears dipped in German chocolate with crème anglaise and berry sorbet all served with the appropriate wine. The people of Williamsburg never had it so good!

Williamsburg is the largest live interactive history museum in the United States. Just in the historic area there are 88 original structures that have been preserved and restored along with hundreds of reconstructed buildings. I never thought of Colonial Williamsburg as a destination until I started talking to some of the other visitors. "We come every year. I enjoy the spa while my husband golfs." Said one lady. Her husband responded, "And, there is always something going on in the historic village." Colonial Williamsburg is the perfect destination for exploring Virginia’s Historic Triangle. But it isn’t all history. Beside the new spa and golfing, the variety of stores will tickle the fancy of any shopaholic, plus Busch Gardens Europe, wineries, dining, and plantations are all within a short drive. The next time we will stay a week!

For more information:, 800-HISTORY;, 888-593-4682; and

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Civil War Adventure Camp

Our hut
Assembly - The Confederates
Dinner - stew, hard tack, bread, apple, and shrub (drink)

The morning tattoo sounded at 5:45. Slowly, I crawled out of bed and rolled up my sleeping bag, which was a mistake because I didn’t have time to go up the hill to the "sink" – military euphemism for toilet – before assembly.

My husband, John, and I signed up for the Civil War Adventure Camp, part of the Pamplin Historical Park. I volunteered for the Army of the Potomac and John joined the Army of the Confederacy. I wonder how many volunteers knew what they were getting into – then and now! We didn’t. Regardless of the era the visions of glory when enlisting in the military quickly fades with the intensity of training and the horror of war. Dressed in my blue uniform, I stood next to John in his gray uniform as we were sworn is as privates. We were each issued a haversack, canteen, cartridge case, and cap case.

"Platoon Assemble," barked First Sergeant Young. "A sorry looking bunch of fresh fish if ‘er I saw one. Here is how you wear your uniform and equipment. What do you say?" We quickly learned the correct reply was, "Yes, Sir!" First Sergeant proceeded to teach us the proper way to salute – "Palm out!" He made us look somewhat presentable and then instructed us in commands: "Form columns of companies!" "Count off!" "Dress right!" "Right face!" "Right Flank!" and, my least favorite, "March, One, Two!"

It took a bit of doing and redoing but we finally looked somewhat orderly. We marched to our encampment where we were issued blankets and assigned our quarters. We were lucky we didn’t have to build our houses and dig the trenches like the Civil War soldiers did. The log and canvas quarters were surprisingly comfy – and inviting after the drilling and marching - two bunk beds with foam mattresses and a little Franklin stove, which we would not need given the unseasonably warm weather.

Before we had time to enjoy our accommodation we heard the familiar command "Platoon assemble!" Back in line we were issued muskets – albeit wooden ones to practice with. We learned the proper way to handle our muskets in a variety of situations – at ease, for inspection, marching, and climbing over fences. Then the learning curve increased as First Sergeant Young taught us to "load in nine." During the Civil War most of the southern soldiers were familiar with muskets and rifles but not the northern soldiers. Following the commands we positioned our musket at an angle by our left heel, took out a cartridge, tore off the paper with our teeth…. "All infantrymen must have at least four teeth, preferably two on the bottom and two on the top." "Spit that paper out, you don’t want to swallow it. I want to hear everyone spit!" We poured the power into the barrel squeezing to make sure the ball went in. Drew the ramrod and used it to ram the cartridge into the barrel, returned the ramrod, moved the musket to our right hand. "You are all right handed here." We reached into our cap pouch and put a cap on the cone of the weapon. Using the right thumb, cocked the weapon, and aimed and waited for the order to fire. We drilled and drilled some more – and it was hot, but I guess we were lucky it wasn’t raining. Off we marched to the firing range where we actually got to fire a real black powder musket.

In the evening, after a hearty dinner of beef stew, some was fruit donated by a local farmer, hard tack, shrub (fruit drink) we took turns on patrol with some standing watch and others waiting to stand watch. The moon was full offering a bit of light. The only sound was an owl in the nearby woods. It is said that Stonewall Jackson had a soldier shot for falling asleep on guard duty. That was enough to keep everyone alert. Soldiers not on guard duty were in camp playing card and dice games. "If’n happen to buy the farm promise you’ll get rid of the cards and dice in my haversack. I don’t want my momma to know I was gambling." No one had to be told twice what taps meant. Hitting the sack was a wonderful respite.

In the morning, after assembly, we lined up to get our field rations – hardtack, dried fruit, corn muffin, and beef jerky – filled our canteens and marched off to battle. We Union soldiers took up our position in a field trying to be as inconspicuous as possible in the grass. We were trying to break through General Robert E. Lee’s line near Petersburg. Tension built. Then through the trees someone thought they saw a movement. "Hold your fire!" Sure enough the Confederates were advancing through the nearby woods. With a rebel yell the Confederate army broke out into the open. "Fire!" Using the buddy system we took turns firing and loading. "Watch your left flank." After a few intense minutes the skirmish was over, we assembled, and marched back.
Some of the "wounded" were treated in the field, most of the injuries were minor, but one unlucky soldier was brought to the surgery where he had to have his leg "amputated." In graphic detail, the doctor explained the process.

Just when it seemed that we were getting with the program it was time to muster out. We assembled, received our "pay" and "walking papers."

The Civil War Adventure Camp is part of the Pamplin Historical Park where their Civil War Battle video, "A War so Terrible" graphically depicts the realities of combat. At their National Museum of the Civil War Soldier we picked the name of an actual Civil War soldier and followed him through seven galleries with interactive displays. Pamplin Historic Park also included Tudor Hall Plantation, trails, and a military encampment.

The campaign of Petersburg lasted 292 days in 1864 and 1865. Known as "The Breakthrough," the Union victory led to General Robert E. Lee’s surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House that ended the Civil War.

The Civil War Camp Experience was one of those things that I am glad we did. It was a "real life" experience. I keep thinking, "We can check that off our to-do list." But, I’d do it again, especially if I had a young person to take along. Our group was a mix of all ages, mostly male, and a few females that were mainly part of family groups.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Buffalo, New York - Architecturally

The Botanical Gardens
City Hall

In 1901 Buffalo hosted the Pan-America Exposition which celebrated the modern developments of the day. Buffalo’s location at the juncture of the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes plus its proximity to the power generated by Niagara Falls along with these developments helped to create more millionaires per capita than any other American city – and that was when being a millionaire really meant something. The millionaires left their mark on the architecture of the city.

1. City Hall: The observation deck on the 28th floor of the monolithic Deco–style building is the perfect place to start a tour of Buffalo. The panoramic view presents Joseph Ellicott's radial street plan and views of the tops of buildings where much of their beauty is not visible from street level. Don’t miss the spectator gallery with its magnificent sunburst skylight.

2. M & T Building: Capped with a gilded dome, the Neoclassical, Beaux–Arts building still carries the name "Buffalo Savings Bank." One highlight is the interior of the dome with its spectacular 16 wedge-shaped ornamentation against a background of gold, some of which feature signs of the zodiac.

3. Electric Tower: A tower that brings to mind the Pharos Lighthouse in Egypt dominates the wedge-shaped building that was once home to Niagara Mohawk power company. The tiered wedding cake-style was modeled after the Electric Tower that impressed visitors at Buffalo's 1901 Pan–Am Exposition. It is where crowds gather on New Year’s Eve to see the ball drop signaling the start of a new year.

4. Albright-Knox Art Gallery: Located in a Greek Revival building that includes caryatids that support the side porches reminiscent of the Acropolis, the gallery features 20th –century art from abstract expressionist to pop art and include Andy Warhol’s soup cans and architecture drawings from the L.J. Cella Collection., 716-882-8700

5. Darwin Martin House: Considered one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most important Prairie School houses, the Darwin Martin House has the signature horizontal lines with broad overhanging eaves, windows grouped in horizontal bands, earth tones, and Wright’s distinctive "Tree of Life" windows. The reconstruction offers a unique opportunity to see a progress in work., 716-856-3858

6. Graycliff: With a jaw-dropping view of Lake Erie, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Graycliff was the summer of the Darwin Martin family. It features Wright’s signature integration of the land with the building that makes it outstanding. Like the Darwin Martin House, Graycliff is in the throes of reconstruction. It makes revisiting at regular intervals to see the progress especially interesting., 716-947-9217

7. Forest Lawn Cemetery: Pick up a map at one of the entrances so as not to miss the many highlights of the rambling, picturesque cemetery with stone bridges over meandering creeks. Highlights include The Blue-Sky Mausoleum, the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed memorial available to the public, the Blocher Memorial with life-like figures under glass, plus the resting places of President Millard Fillmore and the great Seneca chief, Red Jacket.

8. Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens: When the Gardens opened in 1900 it was part of the Pan American Exposition. The glass Victorian tri-domed conservatory’s design is based on England’s Crystal Palace and Kew Gardens Palm House. The Gardens offer one surprise after another with secluded sitting areas to dinosaur topiaries to a 27-foot waterfall along with it collections of plants, flowers and trees from around the world., 716-827-1584

9. Our Lady of Victory Basilica and National Shrine: In a classic Baroque Revival style the Basilica is a testament to the faith of Father Baker, the "Padre of the Poor," who wanted a shrine to pay homage to the Blessed Mother. Without any seed money the Basilica went from a vision to completion in four years and opened in 1925 debt-free., 814-237-7832

10. Market Arcade: Originally named "The Palace Arcade, " it was modeled on similar buildings in London and Naples. Of Neoclassical beaux-arts design, it was constructed as a place for indoor shops and offices much as it does today – an early version of the mall.

The architectural treasures of Buffalo are found in the city center and in parks plus also along Delaware Avenue, dubbed "Millionaires’ Row," which is lined with large elegant homes of the Gilded Age. For more information architectural treasures check,, or call 800-BUFFALO.

Favored accommodations: Hampton Inn,, a city center hotel where the indoor pool has a Greco-Roman feel and the Hotel Indigo,, a trendy hotel which incorporates the principles of a universal design constant found in nature, art and architecture known as the Golden Mean, the Fibonacci Sequence or Phi.

Favorite eatery: Everyone has heard of Buffalo Wings, and the Anchor Bar,, is where they originated. It is a must-do in Buffalo.