Colonial Williamsburg

We had to start early again today, but the view outside our stateroom was almost worth getting up for all by itself.

We arrived in Colonial Williamsburg about 9am, just as things were opening up for the day. Our guide took us to the blacksmith’s shop; they were getting the fire ready for the day’s activities. One interpreter talked to us while the other tended to the fire.

A few minutes later, the fire was hot enough for them to start making hardware.

The shoemaker’s was also open – he was training a new apprentice (or at least that’s what they told us), but he still had enough time and attention to sew up a shoe while he was talking.

Our next stop was at the textile shop (spinning, dyeing, and weaving). The interpreter there told us about how some of the dyes were made – urine was involved in the blue dyes, much to my surprise.

There was more than commerce, of course; we visited the courthouse (which remained in use well into the 19th Century), where the bailiff helped us with our manners – he explained court customs, contempt of court, and the difference between misdemeanors (which could get you flogged) and felonies (which could get you killed).

Being in a group with a guide was a mixed blessing – she took us to good spots and explained a lot to us, but we had to wait a lot for other members of the group, and she had to repeat things frequently. And she wanted to make sure everyone could find the meeting spot, so she took us there before letting us go – so we only had about half-an-hour to wander around on our own; we found a garden which was planted with various fruits, vegetables, and flowers. They try to use heritage varieties when they can like this China Rose.

Open pollination is important to them, so they encourage pollinators like bees. The interpreter told us that the Welsh Onion is mild-tasting, but we didn’t get to try it.

We didn’t have a chance to go into the Governor’s Palace, but we got close!

We sailed about an hour after we got back to the ship; the next stop is Washington, tomorrow morning.

Jamestown and Yorktown

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia, so I learned about Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg in school. We even took a field trip to Williamsburg in fourth grade, and I’ve been there many times since – but the closest I’d ever come to Jamestown or Yorktown was driving on the Colonial Parkway. Until today.

Our ship docked in Yorktown early this morning, and after breakfast, we boarded the bus for a visit to Jamestown Settlement, not to be confused with the actual site of Jamestown, which is an archeological dig. Jamestown Settlement is a reconstruction and a museum, and I enjoyed it immensely.

We began our visit by exploring the reconstructed Paspahegh town (the Paspahegh were the Powhatan tribal group living closest to Jamestown). We walked through a house that would have been occupied by an extended family.

Cooking didn’t happen in the houses – it was done outdoors, and we saw a demonstration of food preparation.

We also saw how the Paspahegh made rope from fibrous plants and from animal sinews; here’s an interpreter with a rope he’d spun from locally-grown yucca. The children learned to spin rope when they were 3 or 4; he learned much later, of course, but he can spin up to 10 feet an hour if he’s not being interrupted by tourists.

They’ve built reproductions of the ships that brought the colonists from England; the Susan Constant and the Discovery were in port (the Godspeed was away for maintenance). The Susan Constant was the larger of the two ships and sailed for Virginia with 71 passengers and crew; it was not exactly luxury travel.

We took a quick tour of Fort James, the reconstructed colony. The most impressive building was, unsurprisingly, the church.

We also visited the Governor’s House and met the surgeon, who explained his tools and procedures. Things have improved.

On our way back to the visitor’s center and museum, we saw a couple of bald eagles flying around.

We stayed in Yorktown for the rest of the day to visit the American Revolution Museum. Its chief feature was a reconstructed Continental Army camp, complete with a demonstration of firearms. First we learned about the way muskets, bayonets, and rifles were used – the objective wasn’t necessarily to kill the enemy; scaring them into abandoning territory was just as good. A musket capped with a bayonet was a scary device!

We also were treated to a firing of a six-pound gun; it was loud!

We made a brief stop in the reconstructed farm; they actually grow crops and raise chickens there. We visited the tobacco house where the settlers would dry tobacco in preparation for selling it.

This evening, the ship held the Eagle Society Reception at the Watermen’s Museum. We didn’t get to explore the museum (probably just as well!) but we were visited by two members of the Fife and Drum Corps of Yorktown who explained the role that fifers and drummers played in the war (sending signals, as well as keeping morale up) and played a few brief songs including “Yankee Doodle” and “The World Turned Upside Down”.

We returned to the ship for dinner.

Kitty Hawk

Diane and I took separate excursions again today – she went to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens and Virginia Beach while I took the long bus ride to Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The tour guide had to be brought in all the way from Williamsburg because the local guides are tied up by the Norfolk International Tattoo.

The drive down was so uneventful that we arrived half-an-hour before the Black Pelican restaurant where we were having lunch was open and we had to wait for them; I walked over to the beach for a quick look and was lucky that I didn’t lose my hat to the wind!

After lunch, we got back on the bus and drove a few minutes to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Our visit started with a drive to the full-sized replica of the Wright Flyer and its crew as they might have looked just before the first flight.

Only a few of the people on the tour wanted to walk up Big Kill Devil Hill to see the Wright Memorial up close and personal; I was one of them. We waved goodbye to the bus and hiked up the hill (about 80 feet of vertical gain).

There’s an inscription running around the memorial:

In Commemoration of the Conquest of the Air
The Brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright. Conceived By
Achived by Dauntless Resolution and Unconquerable

The Wright Brothers picked this area for their flight testing because of the steady high winds, soft sand, and isolation. Two out of the three are still present.

The actual site of the first flight was a few minutes’ walk away. There were four flights in all on that first day; the longest took nearly a minute and covered 852 feet.

From there, I walked to the Visitor Center which was interesting, but not terribly picturesque. I had wondered if our schedule gave us enough time at the Memorial, but everyone was back on the bus before the appointed time – and I wasn’t even the last one on.

It was a long bus ride for a fairly short visit, but I’m glad I went. And I was even able to cull and edit my photos and write this posting on the way back to the ship!

Norfolk and Portsmouth

It’s been a very busy day; I’m only going to cover some of the highlights.

Our morning excursion was a guided walk through Portsmouth, led by Andrew and Mary, who were dressed as 17th and 18th Century settlers. They didn’t just tell the stories, they sang them! Some of the songs were on the baudy side – not what I expected, but all in good fun!

On the way to the ferry, we stopped by the Armed Forces Memorial, which has the text of letters sent home from the front in wars from the Revolution to the Gulf War – the letters were sent by service members who never made it home. It was sobering.

“The Homecoming” depicted a much happier moment.

Mary warned us to be careful as we walked on the streets and sidewalks: “you may trip, you may stumble, you may fall, but you may not sue!”

Some of the houses had a “firemark” on the outside, showing which fire company the owners were paying to protect the house.

The busybody (below the air conditioner in the photo) was invented by Franklin to let the occupants see what was happening on the street!

We continued walking through Old Town Portsmouth, visiting Hill House and Trinity Church; it would be an interesting area to explore in more depth; we found a walking guide that I’d use if we came back.

In the afternoon, Diane went to the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Museum while I went to the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach.

My tour started with a visit to a WWII “Watch House” (we’d call it a control tower) from Goxhill, England; it was used by the British early in the war, then given to the US Army Air Force as they were building up for the assault on Europe. After the war, it fell into disuse and was eventually taken apart, shipped to Virginia, and rebuilt.

There was a Quonset hut outside the watch house – that’s the American name, chosen to honor the base in Rhode Island where they were built. In Great Britain, they call it a Nissen hut after its inventor.

We then went to the WWI hangar, filled with airplanes. There was one original WWI “Thomas” plane which is no longer flyable; the others were modern replicas and are flown regularly.

The visitor center had planes from WWII and later, as well as a few other interesting vehicles. I especially liked the “Glimpy”, an airplane which was attached to a blimp; if the blimp saw something interesting, the airplane would fly back to base and report it while the blimp kept doing recon.

It was a very informative day!

Baltimore Morning

When we went down for breakfast this morning, we could see our ship getting ready for the onslaught of passengers.

After breakfast, we walked along the Inner Waterfront to the Baltimore Visitor Center and turned into the Otterbein neighborhood. In the 1970s, it was a slum; in desperation, Baltimore started to offer houses to urban homesteaders for as little as one dollar. It worked, and now the area looks a lot like the Fan District in Richmond – lots of well-kept townhouses.

Many of the houses had nice gardens in front; I couldn’t resist another photo of a tulip.

We also got to see a very nice dogwood tree in full bloom.

Our path then took us into the Federal Hill neighborhood, loaded with interesting shops and markets. We had no time to patronize them, though.

I liked this nice old firehouse near the Inner Harbor.

When I picked out this walk, I thought we might climb Federal Hill itself, but we didn’t have the time before getting onto the ship. I did get a photo.

It was a nice area that I would have liked to explore in more depth.

We went back to the hotel, packed, and walked to the ship. We passed the mandatory Covid screening, so we’re all set for the cruise!

We are currently at sea off Sharps Point, Maryland (near Annapolis) en route to Norfolk. Cocktail hour awaits, so I will sign off and post this now in case we lose connectivity later – I don’t know how far offshore we’re going to be.