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A Weekend with Washington

I would like to thank Holiday Inn for partnering with me to make this post possible. As always, all opinions are my own!  Kris Williams

 

For some time now, Alexandria, Virginia has been one of my favorite destinations in the United States. Located on the western bank of the Potomac River, the city is just a short drive or train ride to the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C.

From the art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and antique shops of it’s historic center, “Old Town” to the cobblestone streets lined with 18th and 19th century architecture – complete with gas lanterns and American flags – Alexandria is one of those special places that will steal your heart.

Unlike all my previous stays in Alexandria (which revolved around work in D.C.) this trip with Holiday Inn put Alexandria front and center as I set out to get better acquainted with the man we refer to as the father of our country.

With the Fourth of July just around the corner, I would like to share with you my favorite stops in Alexandria that were once a part of George Washington’s stomping grounds.

 

The George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Built to honor the memory of George Washington, his role as a free mason and as a way to preserve the heritage of American Freemasonry – The George Washington Masonic National Memorial left me feeling as though I had entered a Greek or Roman temple.

The Memorial Hall was striking with its eight large granite columns leading you down to an enormous statue of George Washington. There he stood presiding over the hall – gavel in hand while wearing his Masonic apron and jewel. I cannot stress how small I felt in this room or how drawn I was to the statue and colorful murals that lined the walls.

  Not far from Memorial Hall was the Replica Lodge Room – a room designed to look like Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 which was once located on the 2nd floor of City Hall. This room mimics the lodge Washington used to attend and displays furniture from the original location along with artifacts that once belonged to Washington himself.

From the Replica Lodge Room we made our way up to The George Washington Museum. Besides the fact the room was another jaw dropper – some of the artifacts in this room that belonged to Washington were pretty impressive.

From his family bible (complete with signature) and items that traveled with him during the Revolutionary War – right down to a strand of his hair… I was wishing I had more time to look around.

I would say my one and only complaint with the tour is how quickly they would move you through each area.

Last stop at The George Washington Masonic National Memorial was the Observation Deck.

The view from the top was absolutely beautiful – I could not have asked for better weather. Not only could I see all of Alexandria, it was easy to spot the Capital Building and the Washington Monument in nearby D.C.!

 

George Washington’s Townhouse Replica

Located at 508 Cameron Street, wedged between two larger buildings, stands a replica of George Washington’s modest home away from home.

The original townhouse – designed, built and completed by Washington in 1796 – was used by George and Martha as an office and as a place to stay when visiting Alexandria for both business and social events.

After falling into disrepair in 1855, the residence was demolished and the lot was turned into a garden.

Later in 1960, lot owners Gov. and Mrs. Richard Lowe built a replica of Washington’s former townhouse based on rough sketches drawn by a neighbor. The structure was built on the original foundation using bricks and stones evacuated from the site.

Over the years, the property has had several owners but remains a private home and is known as Alexandria’s only replica of a historic building.

Although it’s only a replica, I enjoyed this stop quite a bit.

The first thing that struck me was how small the home was – it wasn’t the grand property you’d expect to be associated with a president.

To me, George Washington has always been this larger than life character – the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, a Revolutionary War hero, the first United States president and the father of our country.

While I knew he had Mount Vernon as his main home, the idea of such a successful historical figure staying in this humble little home put a smile on my face. For some reason, I found it easier to connect to him.

Beyond its size, it was fun to watch as many others stopped to have a look. Like me, they commented on the structures size and laughed when they spotted the plaster bust of George Washington peaking from the first floor window.

 

Christ Church

Located at the corner of N. Washington Street and Cameron Street, its hard to believe this little church was once referred to as, “The Church in the Woods”.

While the town of Alexandria has changed significantly since Washington’s time – Christ Church has not.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been additions, modifications or restoration efforts since it was completed in 1773 – they have just been minimal enough that you’re still able to see what Washington saw when he attended.

The biggest changes made over the years have been the addition of balcony seating with support columns, the replica wine glass podium, the silver candelabras and two memorial plaques – one for George Washington and the other for another famous attendee, Robert E. Lee.

Whenever Washington stayed at his Cameron Street townhouse for business or social events, he would attend Christ Church with his family.

Funny enough (in those times) it was common for attendees to buy or rent box pews. When I heard this, I immediately thought of someone buying box seats at a baseball stadium.

…Entertainment has certainly changed over the years.

As much as I loved this stop as a whole, I think the highlight of my visit was getting to sit in the pew that was once owned by Washington himself.

Yes, it is still there!

Getting to sit where he sat, where he worshiped and where he socialized… looking up at the podium – imagining the balconies and support columns, silver candelabras and plaques removed… looking around imagining people trying to read from their bibles using the sunlight that poured through wavy glass windows…

What a wild experience.

I will never get over opportunities like this and am so grateful historical structures like Christ Church are still standing.

 

Gadsby’s Tavern Restaurant

Built in the late 1700’s the Gadsby’s Tavern consisted of two buildings – a tavern and hotel. Operated by John Gadsby from 1796 – 1808, Gadsby’s Tavern was the place to go in Alexandria for fine dinning, drinks (including the tavern’s famous – rum punch), social events and meetings, as well as a place to crash for the night.

George Washington was not only known for eating here – he and Martha Washington also attended two birthday celebrations that were held in his honor.

Today the two buildings function as a museum and a restaurant, serving lunch and dinner daily, along with Sunday brunch.

On one of my nights in town, I stopped into Gadsby’s for dinner and absolutely loved it. The first room I walked into had more of the tavern feel – a lot of worn woodwork, a fireplace and a full bar.

Just off this first room were two other dinning spaces with a completely different feel – more formal. The chairs and tables were a little more decorative (but still worn) and the walls were an off white with a light blue trim and crown molding. The room was decorated with curtains, a painting and other framed drawings.

One of the best parts were the server’s uniforms – they looked like they jumped right out of the late 1700’s with their high stockings, cropped pants, vests, shirts and aprons.

Talk about a time warp!

I spent most of my meal admiring my surroundings while grinning like a total nerd.

 

For dinner, I started with a French Onion Soup with bread and a glass of the tavern’s specialty – rum punch.

After all – how could I say no to a drink they’ve been serving since the late 1700’s?

I blame George Washington.

Following the soup, I went for the Gentleman’s Pye… described by the tavern as, “a colonial favorite – tender cuts of lamb and beef in a savory red wine stew topped with mashed red potatoes and a puff pastry crust”.

The entire experience was fantastic in both food and atmosphere.

 

Mount Vernon

The last stop on my trip brought me to Mount Vernon – Washington’s plantation home just south of Alexandria.

The estate, which sits on the banks of the Potomac River, originally belonged to George’s father, Augustine. Following Augustine’s death, the home was left to George’s half-brother Lawrence Washington. Lawrence renamed the property Mount Vernon and following his death – the property eventually made it’s way into George’s ownership.

Today, the property is operated as a museum by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association – who rely entirely on private donations and admission sales to keep Mount Vernon running.

With admission you are free to explore the grounds, which include: the mansion, blacksmith shop, slave quarters, pioneer farm, gardens, wharf, slave memorial and burial ground, Washington’s tomb, museum and education center.

Of all the stops, my favorite was the guided tour through the mansion, which was decorated to look as it did in 1799 (the year of Washington’s death). It was amazing to be able to walk through a property that old, to see it so well preserved and to get a feel for how Washington lived.

The rooms in the house were beautiful – some were very ornate with high ceilings, green walls, marble fireplaces and large crown molding, while others fell more on the simple side for daily or private use.

Of all the items in the home, I really enjoyed one of Washington’s prized possessions.

Hung on the wall of the first floor landing or entry is a case made by Washington that displays a one pound, three ounce, wrought iron key. The key – which belonged to the Bastille – was sent to Washington by Marquis de Lafayette as a gift.

On December 14, 1799 George Washington passed away at the age of 67 in his home from a short illness that started with a sore throat. His funeral was held on December 18th where he was interred in a family crypt at Mount Vernon.

As the crypt began to fall into disrepair and an unsuccessful attempt was made to steal Washington’s skull – plans were made to move his remains.

While attempts were made by some to move Washington’s body to the Capitol, Southerns fought hard to keep him where they felt he belonged – in the south.

Eventually – on October 7, 1837 – both Washington and his wife Martha were moved to the new tomb on the grounds of Mount Vernon.

After spending the weekend in Alexandria walking in George Washington’s footsteps, I was surprised by many things.

It blew my mind that so many buildings from his time are still standing. Being able to walk down the same streets and see some of the same sights Washington would have was such a surreal experience.

Also, to learn that he prided himself as a farmer first and foremost and questioned his own capabilities as a leader in the Revolutionary War went against every heroic, patriotic image I grew up with. To know a man who is still so loved and admired had his own self-doubts helped me see past the legend and straight to the man himself.

I want to thank Holiday Inn for giving me the opportunity to get better acquainted with the first president and father of our country, George Washington.

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!!!

(Photo of Painting hanging in The George Washington Masonic National Memorial)

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Holiday Inn. The opinions and text are all mine.

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Gold, Gunslingers and Presidential Profiles

I would like to thank Holiday Inn for partnering with me to make this post possible. As always, all opinions are my own!  Kris Williams

My trip to Deadwood was spurred by a desire to see Mount Rushmore. When Holiday Inn told me they had two locations perfect for such a trip – one in Rapid City and one in Deadwood – I jumped at the chance to visit the old, rough and tumble, gold mining town.

Named for dead trees found scattered throughout its gulch, the legend of Deadwood has far outgrown its 3.83 square mile border. From the discovery of gold in 1874, the town’s colorful history and Gold Rush Era architecture to its notorious residents and visitors, it’s not surprising the entire town of Deadwood is listed as a National Historic Landmark District.

As with all of my trips, I looked for a starting point – a place to get my feet wet with the local history and it’s prominent players.

The Adams Museum was not like other small town museums I have encountered in my travels. Unlike others who fill their walls with junk they’ve tried to sell as some historically significant treasure – the Adams Museum was bubbling over with some of the most interesting artifacts I have ever laid eyes on.

 

From a two-headed calf and odd artifacts connected to U.S. Presidents to exhibits covering Deadwood’s history of gambling, mining, transportation, clothing, brothels, gunslingers and Native American tribes – there was no shortage of things to look at!

Of all the bits and pieces they had, my favorite corner of the Adams Museum revolved around, James Butler Hickok – better known as “Wild Bill” Hickok. This American, Old West lawman and gunslinger met his demise in a Deadwood saloon shortly after his arrival.

Photographs of Wild Bill and his personal effects covered the walls. Some of the items in the collection included a handwritten letter to his wife, his 1860 Army Colt revolver, straight razor, a “good luck” stone found in his boot and cards from the deck he was using when he was shot.

There were even two detailed, hand drawn portraits of Wild Bill – one of which – left me feeling like I had come face to face with the handsome legend himself.

Beginning as an illegal settlement on land that was granted to the Lakota people, I decided to have a better look at what put Deadwood on the map for thousands of fortune seekers, gunslingers, painted ladies and lawmen.

Broken Boot Mine was a fun family friendly stop that gives visitors an opportunity to tour what was once a working mine and gives them a chance to try their hand at panning.

The tour wasn’t very long but it was fun to walk through the chiseled out pathways, learning about living conditions for the miners, tools they used, lighting they worked by and the minerals that could be found. I also really enjoyed having a look at the wooden structures and supports built to help reinforce the pathways.

I honestly couldn’t imagine living or working in those conditions!

Following the tour, I paid a little extra to give panning a go. Lead to a covered outdoor area that had large basins filled with water – I was given a bag of pebbles and a plastic bowl known as a “pan”. Dumping the pebbles into the pan, I was given a lesson on panning techniques. With a lot of patience, persistence and soaked clothes – I got pretty excited when sparkling little gold flakes started to surface!

With every bag of pebbles visitors are guaranteed to find something – nothing you could retire on but a cool experience nonetheless.

If you are a fan of the Old West and its larger than life characters and events, you really can’t pass through Deadwood without making a stop at Saloon No. 10. While it is best known as the saloon Wild Bill Hickok was shot down in by Jack McCall – this is not the original location of the saloon.

After the original location burnt to the ground, Saloon No. 10 was moved to Main Street – where the front section was built to replicate the original saloon. From the worn woodwork, saw dust covered floors and thousands of photographs, animal heads, artifacts and antiques that cover the walls to the slot machines, live music, drinks, food and historical reenactments (where you can regularly watch Wild Bill meet his demise) – there is no shortage of entertainment.

  

One of the weirdest artifacts can be found on display above the saloon’s entrance – Wild Bill’s “Death Chair”. Supposedly, this was the chair Wild Bill sat in while playing a game of poker when he was shot from behind.

While Saloon No. 10 is a fun mix of past meets present and museum meets bar, the thing I enjoyed most about it was…

I walked in feeling like a tourist but left feeling like a local.

Over looking the little mountain town of Deadwood sits Mount Moriah Cemetery – burial place of Wild Bill, Calamity Jane and many other notable residents.

For a small entrance fee, I was given a map of the cemetery (highlighting points of interest) along with access to the restrooms. It has always struck me as funny paying to get into a cemetery – especially when paired with a gift shop on site.

We are weirdly morbid creatures, if you think about it!

 

For the most part, I really enjoyed this stop. It could get a little busy at times since tours would come through with bus loads of people but there was enough time between each tour to have some quiet time to yourself.

The graves of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane were littered with offerings from visitors – everything from bottles of alcohol to silk flowers, stacked rocks, coins and bullets.

Beyond visiting the graves – the view of the town from the cemetery is well worth the trip. You get a birds eye view of everything from the Holiday Inn Deadwood Mountain Grand Resort (large building on far left) to the main street of Deadwood (center to far right).

Speaking of which, I have always wondered… why do the deceased have some of the best views?!

For my final stop – the one that inspired the entire trip – I spent the afternoon exploring Mount Rushmore. After years of hearing people say, “Mount Rushmore was a lot smaller than I expected” … I was finally getting the chance to experience it for myself!

I cannot tell you how excited I was when I turned a corner and spotted Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln perched on the mountaintop for the first time.

I was still driving and there they were watching over South Dakota!

Standing at the main viewing platform, I could understand why people might walk away feeling like it looked small. However, they seem to be forgetting these faces are sitting at the top of a rather large mountain.

Up close – they would be enormous!

One thing that I almost missed out on – that I highly recommend doing – is the Presidential Trail. Its about a half mile trail and isn’t hugely strenuous. There are some twists, turns and stairs but the views cannot be beat. The trail gives you the opportunity the view Mount Rushmore from many different angles.

I cannot tell you how many times I put my camera away thinking, “Ok, I have enough photos” only to pull the darn thing out again because a new angle left me awestruck.

From the allure of old stories surrounding fortunes built on gold and the infamous gunslingers it attracted, to the profiles of some of our countries most beloved presidents – my trip to Deadwood did not disappoint.

I want to thank Holiday Inn for providing me a place to hide away from the world while I escaped to the past. I will never forget the opportunity I had to walk in the footsteps of legends – who lived in a time when the world danced on the line of lawlessness and law & order.

 

 

 

Wondering why Saloon No. 10’s floor is covered in sawdust? Or why I almost missed out on the Presidential Trail? Looking for tips on visiting or places to eat? Join me on Instagram or Facebook where I will be posting more photos, tips and stories from my trip – Hope to see you there!

Kris Williams

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Holiday Inn. The opinions and text are all mine.

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American Servicemen In Australia

The Japanese military attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, thrust the United States into WWII. It wasn’t long after that Australia and New Zealand found themselves also under threat of Japanese attacks. While the majority of Australia’s soldiers fought alongside the British Royal Army against the Germans in the Middle East and Africa, the Japanese made their way through South Asia and South Pacific with little resistance. It was then that Australia and the United States joined forces to stop their military expansion.

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My grandfather was one of a million American servicemen who found himself in Australia during World War II. While Australians had popular Hollywood movies to familiarize them with American culture, Americans knew very little about Australia or its citizens. Our soldiers were in a foreign land trying to make sense of the currency, a new environment, unfamiliar foods and, of course, colorful Australian slang.

On a trip to Canberra, Australia’s capital city, I visited the Australian War Memorial. I was beyond impressed and moved by the Australian War Memorial’s collection and its presentation of the artifacts. The memorial was filled with detailed dioramas and paintings that depicted battles, along with pictures of soldiers paired with stories of their bravery. Some displays left me speechless, such as the restored planes paired with a large screen that played re-enactments of air battles which brought the aircraft’s history back to life. Another exhibit – a wall of thousands of names of soldiers who died in battle – was decorated with small red flowers called poppies. The wall left me with an overwhelming sadness that I could only compare to what I felt on my first visit to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.

After spending the afternoon wandering through this shrine to Australia’s fallen heroes, my curiosity was piqued by a little blue book found in the gift shop. The book titled, Instructions for American Servicemen in Australia 1942 was reproduced from the original which was created by the Special Service Division, Services of Supply, United States Army, and issued by the War and Navy Departments Washington, D.C. Although our soldiers presence was mostly welcomed due to our countries’ common goal, that didn’t mean there wasn’t some tension. In order to try and avoid any unneeded drama, this small booklet was produced and issued to each American soldier arriving to Australia, familiarizing them with the Australian people, land, history and culture.

The book mainly focused on our similarities as relatively new countries with British roots. It described Australia as made up of proud, independent people who believed in the importance of personal freedom and democracy. A brief history was given of their involvement in past wars and their record as well-respected, brave soldiers who wouldn’t quit. All of the information covered in the book was used to build respect and a sense of common ground since they were qualities Americans also strived for and respected. More importantly, it stressed the fact we needed Australia’s help just as much as they needed ours.

While the book’s main purpose was to establish a sense of camaraderie between the newly arriving American servicemen and the Australians, at times it tried a little too hard to make that connection. I found some humor as it pushed our mutual love of sports and compared our carnivorous appetite. However, the part that really made me smile can be found at the back of the book, which covers Australian slang. After several of my own visits to Australia, it made me think back on all the words or phrases that ended in funny misunderstandings or left me scratching my head.

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Having a grandfather who spent a great deal of time in Australia during World War II, this book was a fun little find. Sometimes it seems as though our loved ones’ service in the South Pacific during World War II isn’t covered as extensively as our involvement in Europe. Not only is this booklet a piece of history, it allowed me a look into the lives of our servicemen; I can only imagine the mixed feeling of excitement for those who had never left the country before, while also knowing there was a chance they might not come home alive.

Here was a book that was most likely issued to my grandfather that found its way into my hands, 67 years after he served, in the country he fought alongside. There is not one day that goes by that I haven’t wished I asked my grandfather more about his service and his time in Australia. I know he really would have gotten a kick out of my trips to the country he always wished to return to for a visit. It is small unexpected surprises like this that help me put his story together and make me like to think he’s still with me.

grampa-n-me

(Grandpa & I – Early 1980’s)

 

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The Parkes Observatory

July 20, 1969 six hundred million people worldwide sat glued to their televisions watching as Neil Armstrong emerged from Apollo 11. Making his way down the ladder, Armstrong’s feet finally made contact with the moon’s surface. What followed were his famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. Joined by Buzz Aldrin, the two men walked, hopped, and loped across the desolate landscape in ghostly black and white images.

In the short 2 ½ hours they spent on the moon’s surface, they worked fast to collect soil and rock samples, took photos, and raised the American flag. They also received a phone call from then president, Richard Nixon, who described it as “the most historic telephone call ever made”. The success of this historic event, which fulfilled the late John F. Kennedy’s mission to put a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s played out on live television for all the world to see.

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Driving through New South Wales, seven miles north of a small town called Parkes, I noticed a dish towering over a cluster of trees just off in the distance. Miles of flat open land stretched out around it, covered in a grass that gave off a golden glow in the late afternoon sun. Something about it just seemed so out of place-it really was in the middle of nowhere. Parking in the visitors’ lot, I couldn’t get over how enormous the Parkes Observatory was, and the more I got to know about it, it just continued to become even more beautiful.

The Parkes Observatory telescope was completed in 1961 with a 210ft movable dish. It is the second largest in the Southern Hemisphere and is still considered one of the best in the world. Although it has been involved in tracking many space missions over the years, its biggest claim to fame came in 1969 when NASA reached out to Australia asking for help with the Apollo 11 mission. NASA needed stations that could track Apollo 11 while the moon was over Australia.

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A total of three stations were used to track Apollo 11 while also relaying communication to NASA for the live broadcast of the landing. Originally NASA chose the Goldstone station in California and Honeysuckle Creek near Canberra, Australia as the main receiving stations. The Parkes Observatory was only supposed to be a backup station incase the other stations were unable to pick up signals from Apollo 11. However, that all changed when NASA realized the moon would be directly over Parkes Observatory when Apollo 11 was scheduled to land. Parkes then went from a backup to a main receiving station for the mission.

When the cameras on the Lunar Module were triggered all three stations picked up the signal. It was then up to NASA to bounce between each station to see who had the best coverage of the landing. The first eight minutes of the broadcast were carried by Honeysuckle Creek until NASA saw the quality of the images coming from Parkes. For the rest of the 2 ½ hour live broadcast, NASA stayed with Parkes’ signal. This made Australia the first to see the images seconds before the rest of the world. Due to the success of the Parkes’ telescope, NASA went on to build three telescopes for their Deep Space Network matching Parkes’ design.

Walking around the grounds of Parkes Observatory, I couldn’t help but imagine the excitement that went through the small town. Not only were they a huge component in the broadcasting of the Apollo 11 landing, their design went on to directly influence NASA’s program. It was definitely a huge accomplishment not only locally but for Australia as a whole.

The Parkes Observatory is just one of the many beautiful stops I would have never known existed if it weren’t for a little detour in my travels due to curiosity. With the success of Apollo 11, the stars were no longer out of reach of human contact. This one mission opened the imaginations from the young to old from 1969 to today. In that short 2 ½ hour live broadcast, all of those watching worldwide became one-we had done it.

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What to Expect When Flying Economy Internationally

For many, the idea of traveling overseas seems impossible – starting with the flight.

Whether they have never flown before or their experience is limited to traveling economy domestically – the idea of parking their booty in a cramped seat for hours on end seems nothing short of nightmare-ish.

Factor in the one narrow aisle, stale pretzels or lame bag of peanuts and entertainment you’re expected to pay extra for – it’s no surprise domestic travel is enough to turn most people off to international travel.

The truth is though – international flights are miles better than domestic.

Here are a few reasons why:

 

In-Flight Extras

On a domestic flight – you are lucky if you are given a free pair of headphones to accompany the movie you had to pay extra for.

International flights on the other hand… not only is it common to have a blanket, pillow and headphones waiting to greet you at your seat – there is usually a bag or cabinet full of extras to help make the long trip that much more bearable.

 

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Some of the extras that are typically offered are: a travel-sized toothbrush and toothpaste to spare you and fellow travelers from any threat of dragon breath, a sleep mask to help catch some Z’s even if your neighbor has got their interrogation (reading) light on full blast and occasionally socks – to help keep your feet clean and toes from turning to ice blocks.

 

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Extra Room to Roam

Being an aisle seat lover, I really hate the narrow aisles on domestic flights – you manage to get hit, bumped, brushed and smacked by everyone and everything thing passing through it during the flight. Not to mention, the seats are cramped and you are expected to stay seated and buckled unless you absolutely have to get up.

Having back and occasional leg problems… domestic flights can be painful.

International flights on the other hand… you can expect two aisles (wider than domestic) and plenty of open spaces to walk around or stretch your legs. Not only that – flight attendants encourage you to get up and move around as much as possible.

Even the seats seem to have a little extra leg room – on my last flight the distance between my knee and the back of the chair in front of me was about the length of my iphone 6S.

Not bad considering – at 5’8″ – I can barely cross my legs on most domestic flights.

 

Legroom

 

Entertainment

In addition to the swag and extra room, there is usually a ton of free entertainment on international flights – none of that nickel and diming like domestic.

Being someone who is unable to sleep on planes and travels regularly – free movies, TV shows, games and music is a real sanity saver. Curling up with my blanket, pillow and headphones – I actually look forward to watching movies back to back with no interruptions.

A new thing on some international flights has been wifi. Although I have had to pay a small fee to use it the handful of times it was offered  – it’s been totally worth it.

Call me weird but I get a complete kick out of bugging people on social media or text while sitting on a plane, miles above the ocean.

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Food

With domestic flights you are lucky to get a free packet of pretzels, peanuts, cookies or some other less than exciting option. If you are hoping for anything more than that – like a cold sandwich or a sad cheese and fruit plate you are usually expected to pay extra.

Not the case on international flights – prepare to gain 10 pounds at no extra cost.

When flying to Australia (14 hour flight), dinner is generally served two hours into the flight and breakfast is served two hours before landing. In between there are snacks. The food is free, the quality is decent and you are fed often.

Here are examples of dinner, snacks and breakfast from my last flight…

 

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Dinner: Given three options to choose from, I went with Penne Pasta with Creamy Tomato Sauce and Parmesan Cheese. All options came with Herb Bread, White Chocolate and Raspberry Cheesecake and a choice of soda, juices, coffee, tea, beer, cocktails or wine… I went with Merlot!

 

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Snacks: Options vary from flight to flight and between different airlines… Some airlines have given me a goodie bag containing a bottle of water, bag of chips, a chocolate bar and granola bar while others come around during the flight with ice cream, ice cream bars, chocolate, hot/cold sandwiches or cheese and cracker packs. My last flight included a Tomato and Capsicum (bell pepper) Pizza Topped with Feta and Basil, a Kit Kat Bar and Fresh Whole Fruit. Besides what the flight attendants deliver to your seat – all international flights I have been on, have had a snack cabinet of sorts which includes a water refill station… This last flight offered fig granola bars and Tim Tams (an Australian chocolate bar).

 

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Breakfast: On most international flights they offer at least two choices – a hot meal or the standard continental of cereal, yogurt, etc. If I do breakfast, I usually go with the hot. Last flight offered Scrambled Eggs with Bacon, Sausage, Mushrooms, Hash brown and Roasted Tomato. In addition, both hot/cold choices came with a Orange and Cranberry Muffin, Yogurt with Blueberries and the choice of coffee, tea, juice or soda.

Breakfast, snack and dinner. Doesn’t look all that bad – does it?

I have always found the meals to be enjoyable and as I have said to my friends and family – If you really wanted to, you could spend the entire flight eating.

Geeet In MY Bell-ah!

 

Qantas Flight

 

All in All…

With all the extras of international travel I also find it’s helpful to keep these two things in mind…

Treat the flight as part of your adventure!

How often do you get to turn off and read a book? How about reading through that travel guide you bought before getting to your destination? As I said earlier – you could also enjoy the chance to watch movies back to back for hours on end without the need to be any where else! Or – if you are a procrastinator like I am – flights have always been a good place to wrap up work I have been meaning to finish without any interruptions.

Finally…

Remember how lucky we are and how far we have come.

My great grandfather spent two seasick weeks on a boat when moving from Italy to Boston with his family in the early 1900’s. Today you can fly that distance in about 8 hours while curled up with a blanket and pillow, eating like there’s no tomorrow, watching endless movies, playing games and in some cases – surfing the web!

With that said – no excuses. Get dreaming and get doing!

You won’t regret it.

 

 

 

***Do you fly international regularly? Is there anything else you might add to ease the minds of those dreading a long flight? Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on international flights!***

 

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The Elusive Niagara Falls

I would like to thank Holiday Inn for partnering with me to make this post possible. As always, all opinions are my own!  Kris Williams

 

Have you have wanted to visit a location that always seemed to have a way of escaping you – regardless of how big it was or how close you got to it?

For me, that location was Niagara Falls.

Over the years, I cannot tell you how many times I have worked in Buffalo, NY. Every time I have gone, I went with the full intention of finding time to visit Niagara only to fail miserably.

Heck, one of the many times I attempted to go was with a co-worker at two in the morning… only to learn it was closed.

CLOSED.

How in the world does one close a waterfall? At that point I was pretty sure the waterfall gods were against me.

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After learning about all my crazy and less than successful attempts at visiting Niagara Falls, Holiday Inn reached out in hopes of helping me check this stubborn stop off my bucket list.

Having visited Buffalo many times, we decided it was time I try my luck somewhere new. For this trip, I would stay at Holiday Inn Toronto Downtown Centre.

I was pretty excited since, I had never been to Toronto and I had always heard the Canadian side had the best view of Niagara Falls!

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Arriving at Niagara Falls, I was a little confused. For some reason, I always expected it to be kind of remote.

Instead of venturing off into the wilderness, Niagara Falls was actually lined by a bustling boardwalk followed by Niagara River Parkway.

…Not at all what I envisioned.

Walking along the boardwalk, the size of the falls still hadn’t smacked me like I expected it to. Don’t get me wrong – Niagara is huge but I found standing nearly level with the top of the falls made it hard to gauge it’s height.

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Mist poured out of the falls as the water rushed over the rocks and splashed into the river below. I watched as it formed a giant cloud that rose at least a couple hundred feet (above the highest point of the falls) into the sky.

Walking along the boardwalk, the mist began to fall on sightseers like light rain.

Those who came prepared (armed with raincoats, ponchos and umbrellas) leisurely walked the stretch unfazed… I on the other hand, half laughed and half cursed while scrambling to cover my camera equipment. Once my electronics were safe, I have to admit it was pretty funny watching other first timers as they squealed, laughed and ran for cover.

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Another unexpected surprise was Niagara’s endless supply of rainbows.

They popped up randomly from several different locations, moving and changing with the sunlight. Some sat at the bottom of the falls, waving and bubbling in the mist. There were also half and full arches, some burst from Niagara River while others stretched across the falls like bridges between the U.S.A and Canada.

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Looking down into the falls, I watched as the Maid of the Mist made several trips out to the falls packed full of poncho-clad people. At times the mist was so thick, the boat became difficult to spot.

As the Maid bobbed around in the mist, some movement just to the right of the falls had caught my eye. At the base of the cliff, that supported the boardwalk I was standing on, was the platform for Journey Behind the Falls.

I watched and laughed as people dressed in bright yellow ponchos scurried across the platform getting soaked. From where I stood – they looked like ants! Finally – I was beginning wrap my head around just how big the falls was and decided…

I had to get down there.

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The entrance to Journey Behind the Falls was located inside Table Rock Welcome Centre – right next to Horseshoe Falls (the Canadian section of falls shaped like a horseshoe). After buying a ticket, I was given a yellow poncho and directed into an elevator that brought me 150 ft. down into the underbelly of the falls.

When the elevator doors opened, I found myself staring into a tunnel system that split in two directions – one that led visitors 1/3 of the way behind the falls’ wall of water to two portals and another that lead to the main platform, which included an upper and lower observation deck.

Walking through the damp, dimly lit tunnels, I made my way to the Cataract and Great Falls portals.

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The portals were just sections of the tunnel that ended abruptly where the back of the falls began. I was surprised there were only hip level fences keeping people about ten feet away from the openings.

The water violently crashed, splashed and swirled in front of the portals. There was no seeing through the falls – it was a thick, bright white, wall of water. Besides the debris, concrete and rushing water – wishes littered the ground in the form of coins.

The tunnel to the upper and lower observation deck was buzzing with both young and old. Some were soaked having just come from the viewing platform (lower observation deck), while others prepared for what was sure to be a wet experience.

The upper observation deck was sheltered with a roof but it had large open windows on all three sides. Wind whipped through the windows while water dripped in creating puddles on the cement floor.

It was my last chance to cover anything that wouldn’t survive getting wet on the lower observation deck.

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Standing at the foot of the falls, Niagara towered over me. I watched and listened as water came crashing down, letting out a thunderous roar. The mist fell like big, thick, raindrops making it difficult to see.

I watched as adults ran around like children, yelling with excitement while taking in the sights and I laughed as strong winds inflated our ponchos leaving us all looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

From the boardwalk, the people on this platform looked like ants to me… from the platform – I felt like one!

Niagara had finally “smacked” me… the overwhelming power of the falls left me wide eyed and at times breathless, due to the enormity of it all.

With my experience at Niagara complete, there was one more stop I had to make before heading back to Holiday Inn Toronto Downtown Centre…

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Celebrating its 100th year, the Whirlpool Aero Car was an experience that is hard to forget. Suspended from six cables, the antique cable car takes visitors on a round trip aerial tour of the Great Gorge, high above the raging Niagara Whirlpool.

As we were loaded onto the car that was standing room only, the operators joked that everything was 100 years old – including the cables.

Talk about a lot of nervous laughter.

Once the car reached its carrying capacity of 35 passengers, the gate closed behind us as an alarm sounded – letting us know the adventure was about to begin. With that, the cable car lurched forward off the loading platform, which lead to a lot of gasps and laughs.

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With the exception of that initial bump off the platform, the cable car smoothly glided out over the whirlpool.

As the river rushed down from Niagara Falls, I watched the clear, turquoise water get caught in the gorge, swirling below us in a counter clockwise direction.

Between the water and the dense vegetation that covered the land around us, I would have thought I was in Puerto Rico – not dangling between the Canadian and United States boarder!

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Reaching the end of the line, everyone switched positions so they could ride back with a different view while the car came to just enough of a stop to enable it to change direction.

Given the fact the car hung from cables, high above a whirlpool – I honestly expected to be a nervous wreck.

Surprisingly, I was the exact opposite.

Besides the bump off and back onto the loading platform – the whole ride was pretty smooth. Add the beautiful view and the fact I was busy taking photos and video, the ride was over before I had a chance to be nervous!

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Sometimes the biggest challenge with traveling – especially to places you’ve dreamt of getting to for years – is getting past the expectations you’ve built up around the location and not letting the reality ruin your experience.

Once I allowed myself let go of the remote image I built up and mentally navigated myself around the crowds and overly commercialized attractions, Niagara actually exceeded my expectations.

Niagara Falls took me out of my comfort zone, reminding me just how small I am and how powerful, beautiful and amazing the world around us is.

After years of missed opportunities and failed attempts, I had finally made it to Niagara Falls.

Luckily for me, it was worth the wait!

 

 

 

HUGE thank you to Holiday Inn for helping me get to Niagara! Amazing experience and as always –  a fantastic stay!

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My Michigan Road Trip: Detroit to Traverse City

I would like to thank Holiday Inn for partnering with me to make this post possible. As always, all opinions are my own!  Kris Williams

Summer – the season of cookouts, camping, lazy beach days, and road trips!

Kicking off the summer of 2016, I teamed up with Holiday Inn for a chance to explore Michigan with a road trip from Detroit to Traverse City!

Over the years, I have worked in Michigan several times but have had little time to actually look around. The little I did see, I loved but the part that stood out most on each trip were the locals – so down to earth and friendly!

Between their welcoming nature and sincere display of local and state pride, I thought – why not road trip through Michigan to experience what the state has to offer, further connect with the locals and get a little time to reconnect with myself?

A Day in Detroit

Although I only had a short time to spend in Detroit, I enjoyed my time viewing street art and relaxing in my room at Holiday Inn Detroit Metro.

The Heidelberg Project, located on Heidelberg St. in Detroit’s east side, was a fantastically weird mix of cool urban art meets odd junk heap. From polka dotted streets and houses to side walks that smiled back at you, it looked like kids were given a box of chalk and let loose on a two block stretch of street!

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The art displays or structures were made from discarded objects found from in and around Detroit. Some of it looked well thought out, some made political statements, some were just funny and playful… others were just piles of junk.

It was a mixed bag but I found myself smiling like an idiot.

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I enjoyed watching the reactions of other tourists and I loved interacting with the locals who were out in the street joking around with tourists. From the bright and colorful displays that overran yards and homes, to Motown blaring in the street and getting a chance to interact with the locals… it all felt like a bright spot in an otherwise rough neighborhood.

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Following a long day of travel and exploring what felt like a scene out of Alice in Wonderland, I checked into Holiday Inn Detroit Metro Airport.

As a solo traveler, I appreciated the huge, well-lit parking lot and (what appeared to be) safe neighborhood.

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Checking in, the lady at the front desk was extra helpful – going as far as making suggestions on places to visit as well as printing me out directions for the next day’s drive.

Although I was surprised to find that my room was enormous, it was everything else I expected – bright, clean and comfortable. When it comes to the unpredictability of a road trip, it’s nice to know something will be reliable and consistent!

One of the many reasons I love Holiday Inn.

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Hopping Around Holland

After driving three hours west of Detroit, I was starving. Talk about a lucky find with Crane’s in the City at 11 East 8th St. in Holland, Michigan!

Best. Sandwich. On. The. Planet.

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The City Cristo (marked as their most popular sandwich) was made with “turkey, provolone cheese, apple slices, honey mustard, grilled on apple-butter bread & sprinkled with powdered sugar”.

When I first read the description I was like, “I don’t know about this…” but when I started throwing it into my head, I didn’t know if I was having lunch or dessert!

The bread was warm and had gooey apples baked in – tasting like the center of an apple pie. Then I tasted the warm turkey and melted provolone… then the powdered sugar… I have never had anything like it but I cannot say enough just how much I loved it.

It was weirdly delicious!

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Following my pig out at Crane’s, I headed over to Windmill Island Gardens.

Also located in the town of Holland, it consisted of a replica Dutch village, an old working street organ (gifted to Holland from the city of Amsterdam), an antique Dutch carousel (with hand carved and painted horses), a replica Dutch drawbridge and acres of manicured gardens but the real show stopper was an authentic, working Dutch windmill named “De Zwaan”.

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I really enjoyed wandering the grounds hearing the street organ playing the same songs it would have played in the 1940’s on the streets of Amsterdam and loved having the opportunity to tour the only working Dutch windmill in the USA.

The background of the windmill was interesting, hearing stories about owners decorating the blades for holidays and how the structures were used as lookouts during WWII was fascinating.

How and why did a Dutch windmill end up in Michigan?

The answer to that question lead to a fun and unexpected lesson in ancestry!

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Turns out Holland was settled and founded by Dutch Americans in 1847. Since then, the town has continued to embrace its Dutch heritage. For that reason, a deal was struck with the Netherlands in order to have the windmill shipped to Michigan by boat.

The town had to promise that they’d not only allow public entrance but they also had to keep the windmill working – to further teach those visiting about the structure and Dutch way of life.

Having been to the Netherlands several times, I fell in love with Holland, Michigan. Had I not known any better, I would have thought I was overseas!

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Tripping Through Traverse City

Driving three hours north of Holland, I finally made it to my final destination – Traverse City, Michigan.

As much as I was exhausted from the road, I cannot tell you how excited I was over Holiday Inn West Bay Beach Resort.

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I was so excited by my room and it’s gorgeous view of West Bay Beach, it gave me a new burst of energy, which left me wanting to explore the resort.

At first, I wanted to make use of the waterfront patio and bar but it was a little too windy and cold for that time of night. Instead, I hit the bar for a caprese salad, drinks & live jazz!

I may have been tired but I was in heaven.

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Over the next couple of days at Holiday Inn West Bay Beach Resort, I took my time getting out of my comfy bed, spent plenty of time being lazy with fruit drinks on the waterfront patio, made use of the private pool and enjoyed breakfast – through room service or in the restaurant over looking the pool.

I have to add – my breakfast server PJ, was a total sweetheart. It’s always nice to be looked after by someone who enjoys his or her job and is great at it!

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While in Traverse City I signed up for two tours, one with Traverse City Wine & Beer Tours and a second with Traverse Tall Ships Company.

Both were excellent.

I loved that Traverse City Wine and Beer Tours picked me up from my hotel – completely killed the worry of driving while winery hopping. Plus, it was nice to go with a company that knows the area and wineries well.

Our driver Luke was fantastic and patient with the group of five ladies he was subjected to for the afternoon. We were all a little nutty – in a good way (I like to think)!

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Luke brought us to four different locations that all offered free tastings. There were three wineries and one stop that served spirits (the drinking variety).

My absolute favorite stop was Chateau Fontaine. The location was pretty, the gift shop had some fun and kooky things to look through, the wine was fantastic and the guy who helped us was hilarious and helpful. He took the time to explain the history of the wine, the flavors to look for and answered our questions – no matter how ridiculous they were.

As someone who normally doesn’t like white wine – I was a little worried when I saw just about everything thing we were sampling was white… then pleasantly surprised when I liked most of what I tried.

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Traverse Tall Ships Company was a completely new and different experience for me. I had wanted to do a tall ship cruise for years and never got around to it.

So, I thought – why not cruise Lake Michigan?

The Manitou was beautiful. Watching the sails be hoisted into place was quite the sight… and a laugh since they took volunteers who wanted to help.

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The crew was great with answering questions and provided everyone with a picnic-like meal (turkey club wrap, pasta salad and cookie). They also had drinks (beer wine and soft drinks) and snacks available for purchase.

For 2 hours we sailed around Lake Michigan, watching the sunset and chatting with each other… only thing it could have used was a little music!

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The next two stops I spotted while driving around on the winery tour – Country Christmas and the Irish Farm.

I am notorious for collecting Christmas ornaments from where ever I travel… So, there was no skipping Country Christmas.

I loved this little rustic, Christmas wonderland for so many reasons. One of the main reasons, were the owners Lee Ann and Bill Smith.

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Residents of Traverse City for 50 years, owning a Christmas shop was a life long dream of Lee Ann’s. In 1982, they opened their shop and they have remained at the same location ever since!

The thing I loved most – Lee Ann designs and creates many of the ornaments herself and it was very obvious her husband was proud of her talents as he showed me around the store.

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They also promote many other local artists, half the inventory was handmade, they look to repurpose old materials to make new decorations and they mark all their made in the USA merchandise with red tags.

There were so many cute ornaments to choose from but one of my favorite pieces were Santas made from driftwood found along Lake Michigan.

Such a cute way to remember your trip, support local artists, a local business and bring a piece of Michigan home with you!

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Located just up the street from Country Christmas was the Iris Farm – it was too beautiful from the street not to stop!

One of my favorite things about road trips are the unexpected GOOD surprises. This stop was definitely a good one.

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The whole field was spotted with purples, yellows, reds, oranges, and shades of white. I fell in love instantly with the old barn with ivy growing up its sides. It was fun wandering the grounds, watching parents picking flowers with their children.

There was even a painter setup on the hill near the entrance under a tree – easel, oils and canvas… I wished I had the time to join her!

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Before heading out of town, I decided to see what all the fuss was about over Traverse City cherries.

Let me start by saying, a friend suggested I try cherry pie while I was there… my response was, “I don’t like cherries…”. I have never been a fan of cherries so I expected my visit to Cherry Republic to be a major fail.

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One Hummus & Pita Salad (Spring mix & crisp romaine lettuce, homemade cherry hummus and toasted pita, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, kalamata olives, and feta cheese, dressed with Sweet Cherry Balsamic Vinegar and olive oil) and a slice of Cherry Crumble Pie with a scoop of Midnight in the Orchard (Chocolate ice cream with flecks of tart cherries) later, I had to let that friend know I was a liar.

Delicious.

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My trip through Michigan with Holiday Inn reinforced what I had learned in previous trips – the locals are welcoming, friendly, funny and sincere. At each and every stop I had encounters with locals that were positive, memorable experiences.

What new things did I learn and appreciate about Michigan?

From the wineries, Crane’s in the City and Cherry Republic to De Zwaan grinding grain grown from local farmers – There was a strong sense of pride in Michigan made or homegrown products and in supporting those business.

From The Heidelberg Project to Country Christmas, they looked for creative ways to repurpose and reuse – making old things new while promoting, bringing attention to and adding to their local community.

Finally, I would say, the Pure Michigan experience includes a strong appreciation of their natural surroundings, local culture and heritage.

 

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Discovering New Orleans Through Its Civil War History

I would like to thank Holiday Inn for partnering with me to make this post possible. As always, all opinions are my own!  Kris Williams

It has been a few years now since I learned about my ancestor William Z. Morey, who served on the side of the Union during the Civil War. At the age of 44, William enlisted as a private in the 26th Regiment, Massachusetts infantry, company H.

In November of 1861, the 26th regiment was ordered to report to General Butler. Sailing from Boston on the Constitution, they arrived on Ship Island off the coast of Mississippi on December 3, 1861.

It was here that William worked chopping wood, while Butler’s forces were readying themselves for their big move on New Orleans.

In April of 1862, the mouth of the Mississippi River was opened to the Union army by the success of Farragut’s fleet, which led to the occupation of forts St. Phillip and Jackson by the 26th Regiment.

In July of the same year, the 26th regiment moved on to occupy the city of New Orleans. This is where my 4th great grandfather’s regiment stayed until the summer of 1863.

However, the journey ended for William on January 12, 1863 when he died in a New Orleans Hospital.

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Up until I learned of William, New Orleans is where I had my first drink. It was a place that revolved around food, music, old cemeteries, mysterious swamp stories, voodoo and of course, Mardi Gras.

New Orleans was never a stop I associated with the Civil War.

With the generous help of Holiday Inn and inspired by my family’s personal connection to the city and time period, I decided to revisit New Orleans in hopes of getting a unique view of the city through it’s Civil War history.

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Civil War Tours of New Orleans:

My first introduction to the city’s Civil War history was through a Civil War French Quarter tour with Civil War Tours of New Orleans. Owned, operated and created by Nic Clark, the walking tour lasted about three hours and covered everything from secession to Union occupation.

With a love for Civil War study that spans over 20 years, over a decade of experience as a tour guide and a degree in History from Centenary College of Louisiana, Nic was like a walking encyclopedia.

There wasn’t one question he didn’t have an answer for – his knowledge on the topic was pretty impressive!

Although there were many points of interest covered on the tour, I wanted to share with you the ones I enjoyed most… the most surprising, lost little details (unknown to many visitors) on how the Civil War has played a part in shaping New Orleans culture.

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Tujagues:

Located a short 10-15 minute walk from Holiday Inn Chateau Lemoyne, Tujagues was not only the first stop on the tour – it was one of my favorites.

Nick explained that much of the bar remained the same as it had back when it was a popular hangout for Union soldiers. The soldiers would have walked through the same door, would have belly upped to the same bar and looked into the same mirror that you do today.

What put this stop on my list though… were the coffee cups.

Nick made a point of ordering a coffee so I could see what it was served in – a plain old glass tumbler.

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This is when I got a lesson on the Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862, which allowed Union forces to confiscate Confederate property. From weapons to slaves, right down to silverware and fine china – whatever wasn’t nailed down and held value could be confiscated.

The decision to continue using cheap, glass tumblers are a defiant, daily reminder of when the city was ransacked by the Union army.

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Café Du Monde:

Popular with both locals and tourists, Café Du Monde has become a New Orleans landmark and tradition since opening in 1862. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – you will find patrons covered in powdered sugar, while enjoying their beignets, and chatting over cups of chicory coffee.

While beignets are delicious and understandingly popular, have you ever wondered how chicory coffee became a New Orleans’ staple?

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During the Civil War, the port of New Orleans was slapped with a blockade that was put in place by the Union Army. While the act crippled the local economy, New Orleanians were forced to find creative ways of making due with supplies they had on hand.

Being the second largest importer of coffee in the United States, the people of New Orleans decided to cut their coffee with another ingredient to stretch their remaining supply.

Enter chicory.

Although New Orleans was not the first to use chicory as a coffee substitute, I was surprised to learn that the use of chicory in New Orleans is a direct result of the blockade that was placed on New Orleans during the Civil War.

As to why New Orleanians still drink chicory today, Nic speculated it could be attributed to combination of tradition, an acquired taste or again, a defiant reminder of the city’s past.

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Jackson Square and “Beastly” Butler

While touring the French Quarter with Nic, the last thing I expected to hear was that Butler was from Lowell, Massachusetts – the town of my birth.

On this third stop, I learned several things of interest about the disliked Union General Benjamin Butler, the treatment of Union soldiers in New Orleans, confiscated goods that made their way to Boston, as well as a mark Butler left on Jackson Square.

Benjamin Butler was known in the North as a successful lawyer, a controversial Major General in the Civil War and politician, who served as a Massachusetts congressman and as the 33rd Governor of Massachusetts.

Known as “Beastly” Butler in the South, he was strongly despised and is still disliked today.

One of Butler’s most notorious and widely disliked orders was Butler’s General Order No. 28, which was put in place on May 15, 1862.

During the occupation of New Orleans, the women of New Orleans would publicly disrespect, insult, even physically abuse the Union Soldiers in protest of their presence in the city. From swearing and spitting at soldiers to ignoring their presence and dumping the contents of their chamber pots on soldiers heads from upper floor windows…

Butler looked to put an end to the unlady-like behavior.

The act basically stated, if a woman were to openly mistreat any United States soldier or officer… it was then acceptable to treat her like a common prostitute.

Although the purpose of Butler’s act was to tell the women of New Orleans – if you weren’t going to behave like a lady, you wouldn’t be treated like one – it opened the door to women of the city being assaulted by less than respectable men who perversely twisted the intention of the act.

I can see why Butler would have been hated.

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In addition to acts like the one above, Butler was known for his questionable behavior when it came to the Confiscation Acts.

Butler was known for seizing everything from property, to cotton and other personal belongings of value from New Orleanians he deemed disloyal to the United States. Adding salt to the already festering wound, Nic said Bulter would then sell these goods at rigged auctions – making a personal profit off of the confiscated property.

During this part of the tour I was surprised to learn, one of the many things looted… errr confiscated… from New Orleans by Butler were five bronze-colored bells that were sold to a church in Boston.

Another unexpected connection to home!

After all these years, there is still at least one physical mark left on New Orleans from Butler. To check it out, Nic brought me to Jackson Square to have a look at the statue of General Andrew Jackson.

The statue, which was erected before Butler’s arrival, sits on a large stone base in the center of the square. Just beneath the statue, “Beastly” Butler had the words “The Union Must and Shall Be Preserved” engraved …serving as a final reminder (or dig) of the city’s fall, which goes unnoticed by most today.

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St. James General Hospital

For as long as I have known about my Civil War ancestor William Z. Morey, I have struggled to locate the hospital he passed away in. Every document I have lists his place of death as St. James General Hospital in New Orleans, LA… cause of death consumption.

With every new search on its location, I hit a new dead end – until I met Nic.

Although St. James was not on his Civil War French Quarter Tour, I have to credit Nic for helping me break through this brick wall.

When Union forces occupied New Orleans, it wasn’t uncommon for them to use local hotels as makeshift hospitals. So, the hospital William died in was actually St. James Hotel – used and referred to as St. James General Hospital during the war.

Once Nic filled me in on this little secret, I was bummed to learn the hotel had moved a couple of doors down and it’s original location was torn down in the late 1800’s to make way for the Board of Trade Plaza.

Being the persistent (annoying) person that I am… I decided to reach out to several local historical societies as well as The Board of Trade Plaza, in hopes they might have more information on the original St. James… or with any luck – a photo of the old building.

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I have had no luck finding a photo, however chairmen from the Board of Trade Plaza were kind enough to leave me a book titled, 316 Magazine Street March 16, 1968 Plaza Dedication – The New Orleans Board of Trade, Ltd written by Edward J. Cocke. The book dives into the history of New Orleans and The Board of Trade Plaza… which included a couple of blurbs on the St. James Hotel.

Located on Magazine St., the St. James Hotel was built in 1856 and was considered a fine hotel for its time. Just five years later, the hotel began to serve as a Union hospital until 1865.

My ancestor William, was admitted into St. James Hospital on January 1, 1863… dying 11 days later on January 12th of consumption.

According to the book, the entrance to the Board of Trade Plaza was hidden by a five story structure that stood in front of it, the St. James Hotel. In 1889, the hotel was bought by the Board of Trade to serve as an annex and the lobby was renovated into an elaborate, open air entrance way from Magazine St. Once the building was bought, St. James hotel moved to another location just a few doors down from the original structure.

While I was upset to learn the original hotel was gone, I was happy to learn elements from the old building were salvaged to decorate the open air entrance way into the Board of Trade and it’s courtyard.

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According to the book, the “square Corinthian cast iron columns and arches” from the first floor of the St. James were reused in the entrance of the Board of Trade (pictured above on the right). In addition to the columns and arches, they also utilized “the cast iron arched lintels of the fifth story windows to form a blind arcade of five arches, corresponding in detail and spacing to the original windows of the old hotel…” to decorate the opposite side of the plaza (pictured above on the left behind the trees).

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They also reconstructed three of the six original window openings with the “cast iron cornices and consoles” from the third floor of the old hotel to decorate the inside of the open air entrance. Looking past the main gate in the photo above, you can see these details decorating the inside wall on the right.

Even though the actual building is long gone… the character of the original St. James has been carried over into the open air entrance and courtyard of the Board of Trade Plaza.

As I stood peering through the main gate, I couldn’t help but wonder if any of these elements decorated the window my ancestor may have gazed out of during his stay…

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Oak Alley Plantation

While Oak Alley Plantation is not located in New Orleans, I felt that it was important to visit a plantation since they played a huge part in the Civil War and would have been directly affected by the war and  blockade in New Orleans.

Located an hour west of Holiday Inn Chateau Lemoyne in New Orleans, I was excited to revisit Oak Alley Plantation. Known for it’s beautiful oak lined entrance and appearances in popular TV shows and movies like Interview with a Vampire – I have always appreciated Oak Alley’s straight forward approach in teaching the history of plantation life.

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The Plantation House:

Situated on the west bank of the Mississippi River in Vacherie, Louisiana, Oak Alley Plantation was built in the late 1830’s by Jacques Roman. Nine years later in 1848, Jacques died of tuberculosis leaving his wife Marie Therese Josephine Celina Pilié Roman (aka Celina) in charge of the estate.

Besides the fact Celina was incapable of running a sugar plantation, she had an extreme problem with spending which nearly bankrupted the business. This lead to her son, Henri taking control of the property in 1859 in hopes of getting things back on track.

Although Oak Alley didn’t suffer from any physical damage from the Civil War, like all plantations, it did suffer economically. Between the family’s debt and the end of slavery, Henri’s efforts to save the estate were failing.

The family was forced to sell the plantation at auction, where it sold to John Armstrong for a $32,800 ($480,000 in today’s money).

From there, the property changed hands several times and began to fall into disrepair. For a while it was even inhabited by a herd of cows… Not kidding. During a bad thunderstorm, the cows managed to break into the abandoned plantation house and there they lived for 12 years – destroying the Italian marble that once covered the entire first floor.

It wasn’t until 1925 that the mansion and it’s 1,200 acers were bought by Andrew Stewart for $50,000. Andrew and his wife Josephine renovated and modernized the house running it as a cattle ranch and later reintroduced the growing of sugar cane.

Following Andrew’s death and shortly before her own on October 3, 1972, Josephine decided to create a non-profit foundation known as the Oak Alley Foundation. Donating the home and 25 acres of land, the purpose of Oak Alley Foundation has been to keep the historic home and grounds open to the public.

(An interesting side note… one of the co-owners of Cafe Du Monde is a descendant of the original owners of Oak Alley Plantation!)

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Slavery at Oak Alley Exhibit:

What I love about Oak Alley is that it does not hide it’s history. It is dedicated to teaching visitor’s of the Plantation about life on the plantation in full – from the grandiose life of the plantation owners to the daily life of Oak Alley’s enslaved community.

Wandering this section of the grounds visitors are able to check out a house slave’s cabin, a field slave’s cabin, a post-emancipation residence and a sick house.

It was interesting to learn about the difference in work, treatment and clothing between the house slaves in comparison to the field slaves. The work was not as physically demanding, however their work did not end until the plantation owners went to bed. They were responsible for watching the children, cooking dinner and running errands for the family. For this reason – house slaves were dressed well to reflect the plantation owners social status.

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Field slaves faced grueling 12-14 hour work days… which I would imagine was unbearable in the hot and humid Louisiana summer. One plaque even discussed the inadequate food rations provided by the Roman family, which resulted in slaves growing their own gardens and raising their own animals to make up for the stingy rations.  Add the efforts in tending to their own gardens and raising their own animals after a 12-14 hour day in the fields… sleep doesn’t sound like something they got much of.

I was surprised to learn some slaves sold what they grew back to the Roman family. The small source of income helped them buy young livestock and other necessities to further provide for their own families.

Although slavery is no doubt one of the darkest periods in our history as a nation – the stories from this time period are important ones to tell. Oak Alley does a fantastic job of covering the history of the plantation as honestly, accurately and tastefully as possible, which I believe is an important element in making sure we never repeat the failings of our past.

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Civil War Encampment: 

On the grounds of Oak Alley plantation you will find a Civil War encampment, which consists of a commanding officer’s tent. I was told all the artifacts in the tent belonged to Confederate General Richard Taylor.

The encampment was one of the many reasons I wanted to return to Oak Alley. I hoped that visiting this section would give me a better idea of what life might have been like for my ancestors who served.

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Stationed at the camp was a man dressed in Confederate uniform, who was able to give me some background on the tent and all the artifacts inside. I was surprised to learn the tent would have taken a total of two hours to put up and take down.

While the tent was an example of a Confederate General’s tent, I was told a Union General’s tent would have looked similar. For my ancestor William and my other ancestors who served as privates, the best they would have had was a pop tent or a blanket and tree for cover.

Between the unfamiliar climate and lack of cover – no wonder so many soldiers died of disease!

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Chalmette National Cemetery:

Driving 20 minutes east from Holiday Inn Chateau Lemoyne, I finally arrived at the last stop of my journey, Chalmette National Cemetery.

Originally established in May 1862 as Monument Cemetery, Chalmette National Cemetery has become the final resting place for nearly 16,000 soldiers and some civilians. Out of the 16,000, about 200 of those are unknown – no names mark their stones,  just numbers.

Luckily, William Z. Morey was not one of those 200.

In fact, like many others, William had been laid to rest at another location before being moved to Chalmette National Cemetery.

The cemetery was long and narrow – I couldn’t get over how many headstones there were. There was only one road in and out making it easy to navigate but I still had no idea where to begin.

Grabbing a printed self guided tour, I noticed there were only five highlighted graves… one of which was only 5 plot numbers off from William.

Talk about luck!

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After a few minutes of searching section 62 and 13 fire ant bites later (a story for another day), I finally found my 4th great grandfather, William Z. Morey!

For awhile I stood in silence, wondering what it was like to be his wife Elizabeth… learning that her husband had passed and that her eight kids were then fatherless.

I wondered what it would have been like for her, knowing that his body wouldn’t be coming home. Instead, he’d be laid to rest in some far off state. What kind of ceremony did they have for soldiers like, William – if anything?

Having seen photos of his grave online, I knew other descendants had visited his grave… but did his wife or kids ever get the chance?

Finally, how would he have have reacted to being known by and having his gravesite visited by a 4th great grandchild?

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Did William belly up to the bar at Tujagues? Did he care for the chicory or spend time in Jackson Square? Would he have had stories to tell about “Beastly” Butler or experienced poor treatment from locals for being apart of the occupation?

It is all very likely…

Its clear to see the Civil War left it’s mark on New Orleans, which leads me to believe the War and New Orleans would have left a mark on my ancestor, William Z. Morey.

I would like to thank Holiday Inn for helping me connect with my ancestor. Being given the opportunity to revisit New Orleans in this unique way, I can honesty say the city’s past and what I have learned about my ancestor’s time there has forever left a mark on me.

 

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Haunted by a Queen’s Broken Heart

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Most people get into paranormal investigation for their love and interest in the supernatural. For me, that was not the case. Although my family and I shared several unexplainable experiences, it was my love of history that pulled me in.

Paranormal investigation has brought me to historic locations across the United States and around the world. These locations opened my eyes to places and people I never knew existed. Many of their stories, which are stranger than any fiction, have left me amazed, horrified and even inspired. One of the stories that still comes to mind is a famous 12th century English castle, believed to be haunted by a queen’s broken heart.

Castle Rising Castle, built in 1140 AD, is located in the English countryside. This beautiful, old stone structure stands surrounded by a wall of dirt carpeted with grass and wild flowers. Inside its walls lay a labyrinth of rooms connected by narrow passageways and spiral staircases. It is within these passageways, staircases and rooms that people claim to see unexplainable shadow figures, and hear the sounds of footsteps and inconsolable sobbing. To get a better understanding of this supposed haunt, let’s take a look at the life of a previous resident who locals believe is responsible for the activity.

Queen Isabella of France was born to King Philip IV of France and Queen Joan I of Navarre in Paris around 1295. From the time Isabella was an infant, her father had promised her in marriage to King Edward II of England to resolve territorial conflicts between France and England.

As a child, following the death of her mother, Isabella was raised by the family’s nurse. Growing up in palaces around Paris, she was given a good education and developed a strong love for books covering topics such as history, astrology, geometry and romance. She grew to be known for her high level of intelligence, charm, diplomatic ways and beauty. However it was a rare talent she developed of rallying people to follow her that would eventually lead to the fall of her husband.

At the age of 12, on January 25, 1308, Isabella married King Edward II of England at Boulogne-sur-Mer. Their marriage was hardly a story of “happily ever after.” From the beginning of their marriage her husband King Edward was rumored to have questionable relationships with other men he had taken a particular liking to. In many ways he was known to have held these men in higher regard than he did Isabella. It was then up to this child bride to use her intelligence and diplomatic nature to find her place within the marriage and political arena.

Piers Gaveston — a soldier described as arrogant, reckless and headstrong — was the first of her husband’s favorites that Isabella was forced to contend with. Although Edward held Gaveston in his good graces, he was strongly disliked by the English barons and Isabella’s father King Philip IV of France. This led to his brief exile to Ireland. After his return to England, the baron’s dislike for Gaveston caused his execution in 1311 following Edward’s failed campaign against Scotland.

Having narrowly escaped capture by the Scots, and despite the civil war that broke out in England against Edward and Gaveston, Isabella stood by her husband. Turning to her family back in France, she wrote asking her uncles for their support of her husband while she worked to make allies of her own.

During this time of turmoil in England, Isabella gave birth to the future king Edward III and soon found herself once again second in her husband’s eyes.

While Edward looked to get revenge for Gaveston’s death, he found a new favorite and confidant in Hugh Despenser the younger.  Being the same age as Edward, Hugh Despenser also shared common enemies. As England struggled through famine, financial problems, continuous failed campaigns against Scotland led by Edward and his power struggle with the barons, Isabella tried, unsuccessfully, to work with Hugh Despenser. The barons who also disliked Hugh, reached out to Isabella asking her to publicly request that Edward exile him to prevent a war.

The Despenser’s exile was short lived. It wasn’t long before Edward formed a plan to bring back Hugh while defeating the barons. Together Edward and Hugh ruled and imposed a harsh revenge confiscating land, and imprisoning or executing their enemies along with punishing their enemies’ extended family members. They eventually turned their sights on Isabella, leaving her behind to fend for herself during one of Edward’s campaigns against the Scottish. They stripped her of her land and household, arrested and imprisoned her French staff. The custody of her children were given to the Despensers after she refused to take an oath of loyalty to them. Isabella, betrayed by her husband, now looked to take radical actions against him and Hugh Despenser the younger.

As tensions between England and France continued to rise, Isabella saw a chance to act. When Edward refused to pay homage to her brother, King Charles IV of France, her uncle began attacking and taking land under English control. Afraid to leave England — because he thought the barons would use the opportunity to rebel against him and the Despensers — he sent Isabella to France as an ambassador. To mend the tension created by Edward’s disrespect, Isabella agreed to a truce promising her son Edward III would come to France to pay homage in his father’s behalf.

With her son’s arrival, Isabella’s plan was put into action when she refused to return to England. Edward II began sending urgent messages to King Charles for the return of Isabella and his son Edward III, to which Charles responded that the “queen has come of her own will and may freely return if she wishes. But if she prefers to remain here, she is my sister and I refuse to expel her.”

Isabella and Edward’s marriage was clearly over. Dressing as a widow she publicly claimed that it was Hugh Despenser that destroyed their marriage. She then fell in love with Roger Mortimer.

Roger Mortimer was an English lord, husband and father of 12 who had been arrested and imprisoned at the Tower of London by Edward II. Following his escape from the Tower, he fled to France for safety where he was eventually introduced to Isabella. As Isabella worked to assemble a court she also promised her son in marriage to Philippa, daughter of count William I of Hainault, in exchange for a large dowry. With the dowry and a loan from her brother Charles, Isabella and Roger raised an army to defeat their common enemies, Edward II and the Despensers.

After setting sail from France with their army, Isabella and Roger landed in England with little resistance. As their army swept inland, it only continued to grow in size as others opposed to Edward II’s regime joined her forces. As word of Isabella’s success and advance reached Edward, he managed to flee to Wales.  After recovering her children from the Despensers, Edward and Hugh were finally captured.

As punishment, Hugh Despenser was dragged by a horse and presented to Isabella and Roger in front of a large crowd. He was then hanged, castrated and drawn and quartered, while his father Hugh Despenser the elder was captured, killed and fed to the local dogs. Most of Edward and Hugh’s major supporters were executed while those with a smaller role were pardoned. As for Edward II, he was deposed and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life only to die a sudden and mysterious death in which the possibility of Isabella and Roger’s involvement is still debated.

Following the arrest of Edward II, Prince Edward was confirmed as Edward III. Being far too young to lead the country, Isabella was appointed regent. Together, Isabella and Roger Mortimer ruled over England for four years. In those four years the pair became obsessed with accumulating wealth and land, while their former supporters began to question Isabella’s rule and Roger’s behavior.

Isabella’s son Edward III then married and became increasingly annoyed by Roger’s display of power. After working quietly to gather support, Edward III followed through with his plot to take control of England. Surprising Isabella and Roger at Nottingham Castle with 23 armed men, Edward III arrested Roger. Isabella begged her son to have mercy on her lover, and while she avoided execution, Roger was not so lucky. Though Edward III did show him some mercy — by not having him disemboweled or quartered.

After spending a short time under house arrest at Windsor Castle, Isabella moved into her own castle, Castle Rising. It is here that Isabella was reported to have suffered from fits of madness over the death of her love Roger Mortimer.

Isabella was promised in marriage to Edward II as an infant. She was a young woman who had a love for romance novels only to become a queen that was unloved and betrayed by her king. She then gave birth to a son who would grow to execute the only man she ever loved.

Could Queen Isabella be haunting the halls of Rising Castle, still mourning the death of Roger Mortimer? No one could really say for sure, but this is what some locals believe. Learning her story breathed life into what was otherwise just a beautiful stone shell, known as Rising Castle.

Despite Isabella’s flaws and the fact that history has dubbed her as the She-wolf of France, it was hard not to be impressed by her determination and accomplishments. It is also upsetting to think of her still roaming the halls of Rising Castle grieving, hundreds of years after Roger Mortimer’s death.

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Breakfast in a Brothel

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Have you ever had breakfast in a brothel?

No? Well, I have.

Let me start by saying it wasn’t on purpose.

On our last morning in Argentina, I woke up in Buenos Aries looking for a little solo adventure. It wasn’t very often I strayed from the hotel alone but I was feeling up to the challenge and thought I’d see how much Spanish I remembered from my school days.

Wandering out onto the streets, the city was pretty busy. I couldn’t tell you now where the heck I was or where we stayed but with a short walk I found myself in a busy tourist area.

The streets were lined with shops and restaurants and filled with people out for a stroll. While this area was nice, I was hoping to find something quieter for breakfast. Taking a couple of side roads, I found myself standing across the street from a bar that funny enough served breakfast…

Weird.

The outside stood out against the surrounding structures with its weathered wooden face. There was a lot character and charm in this old building… and strangely enough no sign displaying the name of the establishment (this should have been my second clue).

Being a sucker for old locations, I remember thinking, “this is it!”

Walking into the bar, without looking around too much, I grabbed a small table for two by the window. Within seconds a friendly server greeted me and handed me a menu.

There I was, sitting in the capital of Argentina, ordering eggs and ham for breakfast in Spanish-all by myself like a big girl!

“If only Señor Farlow could see me now!” I thought.

As I sat at the table, reading my book feeling a sense of accomplishment, something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention…

At this point, I had been in the place for twenty minutes… Being so content with my small corner of the world, I hadn’t taken a second to look around until then.

Can we say unexpected learning experience?

The exterior walls of the bar were lined with windows on three sides… In front of each window was a table for two… just like the one I was sitting at.

Unlike my table though, all the others had two girls occupying them. The girls, aged between late teens to early 30’s, were dressed like they were ready for the club… skimpy, tight fitting clothing with the makeup and hair to match…

Not very breakfast like.

Confused I looked toward the bar. Normal looking, middle-aged couple having a drink… At the table diagonal to me, a man in a suit in his early 40’s eating breakfast. All three looked unfazed going about their business.

Feeling like I had just found myself in an episode of the Twilight Zone my eyes returned to the girls. This time I noticed most of them were looking right back at me.

“What in the world is going on?” I remember thinking. “Do I have something on my face? Was my Spanish really that horrible? Have I done something rude unknowingly?”

And then, the light bulb lit.

DING, DING, DING!!! B-RRRRRR-O-T-H-E-L!!

“I am having breakfast in a brothel! …holy crap… Have I just taken up some girl’s prime real estate?” I thought, after realizing they were only sitting in window seats.

“Oh, Jesus! Do they think I’m a working girl?! No… I’m sitting here with a book and wearing too much… they’re probably just making fun of the stupid tourist…”

Finishing up my breakfast (which was pretty good I might add) I paid for my meal and headed for the door to be sure I didn’t miss my ride to the airport.

Arriving back at the hotel, one of my co-workers could tell by the look on my face something was off.

“What’s up with you…”, he asked.

“I think I just had breakfast in a brothel…” I responded.

Funny enough, I wasn’t the only one. After a short chat with him I learned two other coworkers had a similar experience.

Eggs and ham with a side of call girls.

While this experience was nothing short of strange and has made for quite the story over the years… I would like to go back to Buenos Aries.

Personally, there was never a point where I felt unsafe walking around and really-I was no more uncomfortable in the situation than I was in the Red Light District in Amsterdam… or even parts of Vegas for that matter.

It was just the shock of not knowing how prevalent brothels were in Buenos Aries or that they were that easy to wander into. Knowing what I know now, I would be more aware of my surroundings before choosing places to hangout!

That said, I did enjoy my short time in Buenos Aries and I look forward to going back to get a better sense of what Argentina is all about.

 

Have you ever been to Buenos Aries and have had a similar experience? I would love to hear about it, any advice you might have for avoiding the brothels and any other adventures you’ve had in the city below!

Thanks so much for reading, commenting and sharing!

Kris