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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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Breakfast in a Brothel

Eggs and Ham

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

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The South Shire Inn in Bennington, Vermont

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South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be booked at the South Shire Inn following an event in Bennington, Vermont. Having checked out the inn’s website weeks before my stay, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take my grandmother along for a bit of a girl’s weekend.

Designed by William C. Bull, this beautiful 1887 Victorian inn was originally owned by Louis A. Graves. Located at 124 Elm St. in Bennington, Vermont, the home was beautifully renovated and lovingly looked after by it’s current owners and caretakers.

3a. Lobby

Entryway at the South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

Walking through the front door into the lobby, I honestly fell in love. From the wooden dutch door, oval windows, wall paper, window seats, antique furniture and reception desk my grandmother and I felt like we stepped back in time.

While we stood in the lobby admiring the over all charm of the place we were greeted by the owner.

As she introduced herself, I could tell she was a bit thrown off by the fact there were two of us checking into the Peach Room. She was only expecting me…

3. Lobby

South Shire Inn Reception Desk: Photo by Kris Williams

This was my mistake.

When the event manager put me up in this location, I never told him I was bringing my grandmother. However, when I was sent the booking confirmation it stated it was booked for two guests-which is pretty standard in most accommodations even if there is only one guest checking in.

Having stayed in so many hotels, I hadn’t thought much of letting the inn or the event manager know I would be bringing a guest with me. I just figured it would be fine, forgetting the fact inn’s are a bit different than an impersonal hotel with 50 rooms.

Inns tend to be more one on one with their guests, more personable and tend to include breakfast.

Rather than get cranky about the fact I slipped up, the owner was very sweet. She simply stated, “Oh, there are two of you! …the bed is kind of small…” and then went on to apologize about the stairs.

While the staircase is absolutely beautiful, I will say if you have a hard time climbing stairs it would be smart to book a room on the first floor. While grandma did get up and down them OK… being 91, a room on the first floor would have been a smarter option.

Again-mistake on my part!

Now for the room…

1. Bedroom

The Peach Room at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

Excuse our bags and random soda bottle… eventually I will learn to take photos of a location BEFORE we get settled…such a newbie…

Regardless… as you can see, the room was warm, comfortable and decorated for the time period. My grandmother and I spent a good amount of time admiring the ornate details in the wood and metal work on both the bed and bedside tables.

Once you have a look at the wall paper in the room, it’s pretty obvious why the room is called the Peach Room. The color wasn’t overwhelming at all though… the light carpet, white curtains, ceiling and trim balanced the color well giving the room a clean, crisp, bright and cozy feel.

1a. Bedroom

The Peach Room at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

The bed… while it was small in size (full), my grandmother and I fit on it just fine. The mattress wasn’t bad, firm but comfortable. I tend to like mattresses that are like pillows (even though my back hates them) but it really is a matter of preference.

Overall, neither of us had any complaints.

Besides… the antique bed came with a pretty cool roommate…

1c. Bedroom

Phooooone Hoooommme at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

While I laid in bed resting from our 2.5 hour drive to Vermont, Grandma setup in a comfy upholstered armchair reading the guestbook to me. I was just about to doze off when I heard her say…

“Hey! …It’s that go home alien!!”

That’s right-stay in the Peach Room at the South Shire Inn and you too can bunk with E.T.!

2. Bathroom

Peach Room Bathroom at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

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Peach Room Bathroom at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

The bathroom was large, bright and clean with plenty of storage and closet space. Looking at the bathroom’s layout, it was obvious that it was once a small bedroom converted into a bathroom.

There was one detail in the bathroom that had my grandmother and I laughing… check out the window near the toilet and the white wicker bench. Notice it is literally floor level?

From what the Inn owner told me, this was a typical feature of Queen Anne style homes. Windows were placed where they looked good on the outside of the home… but that didn’t always mean their placement in the house made sense.

It definitely added a bit of character to the room… however, keep in mind-this room is on the second floor. If the window shade is up, you have an amazing view down of the parking lot… from the toilet.

Which also means… for any unlucky guest who just happens to look up from the parking lot-there you are in all your glory sitting on your peach room throne!

While slightly hilarious, closing the shade is a good idea.

4. Dinningroom

Breakfast Room at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

One of the things that was repeated over and over again in the guestbook was the “delicious” breakfast, so of course grandma and I couldn’t leave without giving it a go!

We made our way down for breakfast about a half hour before it ended which was nice because the room wasn’t loud or crowded. In fact, we were just getting seated as everyone else was leaving.

Looking around the room we were again in awe of the old workmanship… you just don’t see detail like it anymore. The decorative, cream colored walls, 10 foot ceilings, wooden floor, colorful carpet and linens… and again the antique furniture…

“This definitely wasn’t a Williams’ house…” Grandma said joking, noting that not everyone lived in homes like this in the 1880’s.

That’s when the owner mentioned the home was owned by a family of bankers. While the main part of the house was built in 1887, an addition was added in the early 1900’s by the same family which included the breakfast room and the equally impressive library.

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Library at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

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Sherry and a good book by the fire at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

The breakfast you ask?

It was as delicious as all the previous guests had stated in the guestbook.

Breakfast started with a fruit plate of melon and strawberries along with buttermilk poppy seed coffee cake and your choice of coffee or juice. The poppy coffee cake was ridiculously good… and luckily it didn’t keep me from passing my work related drug test three days later.

Next up was a broccoli, cheddar quiche with sausage and a choice of toast.

We had zero complaints with breakfast-left full and happy!

1b. Bedroom

Peach Room Guest Book at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

Overall, the owners of the South Shire Inn were helpful, friendly and accommodating. The Peach Room was spacious, beautifully decorated, comfortable and included a large bathroom. The guestbook didn’t lie-breakfast was delicious and the inn’s location was central to a lot of Bennington’s attractions and sites (many of which were in walking distance).

In my opinion, the South Shire Inn provides an enjoyable step back into the past with all the modern conveniences. It’s a great place to book if you are looking for a romantic getaway or a girls weekend in southern Vermont!

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Australia: Driving On the Left

Taken by the Captain, December 2011

In Australia Driving on The Left, Taken by @CaptnWing_n_it, December 2011

Having spent a lot of time in Australia, I’d say the biggest challenge I have faced has been getting around my fear of driving.

Here in the United States, I love driving. It has always given me a sense of freedom and a chance to escape. Long stressful day at work? Disagreement with a friend, family member or your other half? Feeling stir crazy? The answer for me was always to jump in my car, blast some music and go for a cruise.

Although I had been to other countries before that drove on the left, I really didn’t do much driving in them. If I did, I was part of a five-vehicle convoy and all I had to do is be sure to not lose the cars in front of me and follow their lead.

Easy enough.

Australia is different. Its not a quick stop for work, it has become my second home. The Captain goes to work and when he does, I am on my own. Luckily he lives in walking distance to a ton of shops, restaurants and hiking trails. Beyond that, he had given me a bike for Christmas one year so I have used that to get down to Lake Burley Griffin and the surrounding museums.

After avoiding the challenge at all costs, the Captain insisted on my last trip that it was time for me to learn.

Working as a pilot, he can be away for days at a time, which left me at the apartment alone with no transportation while his car sat at work OR he’d take a cab to leave me with a perfectly good car, sitting in a parking garage that I refused to use. It was silly. I really couldn’t argue with him… don’t tell him I said it… but he was right.

It was time.

For someone who loves driving, what were my reasons for avoiding it in Australia?

  1. I was worried about ending up on the wrong side of the road, leading me to harm someone else, harm myself or damage his car. Sure, he had me on his insurance… but still.
  2. I wanted more driving time with him in the car to get used to the rules of the road as well as getting used to driving around Canberra.
  3. I was extremely worried about driving once I returned home, for the same reasons listed above in number one.

My third reason may sound a bit strange. However, I have found driving at home (on the right) can be dangerous following a trip that had you driving on the left. Why is that?

Think about it… Let’s say you go to Australia and you spend a week or two driving on the left when you are used to driving on the right. You are aware of the danger so you are overly cautious while driving. You are overly aware. You are constantly making sure you aren’t making any silly slip-ups that could have you on the wrong side of the road. After a few days, you become more comfortable and by the end of the trip driving on the left isn’t much of a worry.

Then you return home.

You’re now at home, where you are comfortable driving on the right. You know what you’re doing, at least you think you do. For those reasons, you don’t think so hard about it. You don’t worry. You’re not as aware as you were overseas and before you know it you’re driving down the left side of the road because that’s what you just spent the week plus doing.

It may sound silly, however there were several times I almost got hit just crossing the street once I returned home because I looked the wrong way first before crossing. This is a pretty common mistake that I have heard other travelers make upon returning from a trip.

Funny enough, the streets in Canberra have markers spray painted on the streets for morons like me-letting you know which way to look before crossing. Doesn’t do me much good once I return to New Hampshire (weekend spray painting project perhaps?).

How difficult is it to drive on the left?

Let’s start with the car.

  • You climb into the driver’s seat…on the right side of the car. Odd.
  • You go to use your blinker but instead turn on the windshield wipers. You go to turn on your windshield wipers and your blinker comes on. Yes…all those controls are in reverse too (in most cars).
  • You go to switch gears and surprise… if you use your right hand you’re just grabbing your door. You shift with your left.
  • Break and gas pedals are the same as home.

Doesn’t sound all that difficult?

Now add the above to driving on the left side of the street…

Tight left turns, loose right turns.

Going around “roundabouts” (rotaries) the opposite way (around clockwise rather than counter clockwise).

Add to the confusion (at times) by getting directions by a local. Example…

Captain: Go through the roundabout and take a right…

Me: Ummm… so, stay on the rotary?

Captain: No, take a right…

Me: Take a right where? The only right I can take is to continue around… I like the view and all but I don’t care to stay on the rotary all day…

That’s when he explained that in Australia you don’t see 4 way intersections like you do in the United States. Four-way intersections in Australia are turned into rotaries… So when he said, “go through the rotary and take a right” he meant “go through the rotary and take the 3rd exit” OR “take a right at the four way stop”. In most cases driving with a local is HUGELY helpful but be prepare for moments of confusion-even if you speak the same language.

Speed cameras everywhere that will “book you” (ticket you) for barely going over.

Sometimes there are signs warning you that speed cameras are coming up ahead-other times there are no warnings. Usually they are placed on a pole at the side of the road or at an intersection. Other speed cameras are sneaky… they have speed cameras that are placed in cars that are parked on the edge of the road. You drive by speeding thinking you’re just passing a broken down car but surprise… Your ass has just been booked!

Add street signs to the mix that you have never seen before…

One thing to be aware of is that in most places in Australia you cannot make a U-turn. It depends on the state but most states don’t allow it. However… if they DO allow it at a particular intersection, there will be a sign saying you can. I found this confusing since back home you can make U-turns at just about any intersection as long as there isn’t a sign saying you can’t. Again, it’s the opposite from home. Same with turns on a red… back home you can turn on a red unless there’s a sign saying you cant. In Australia you cant unless there’s a sign saying you can.

Seat Belts are mandatory-no ifs, ands or buts.

Sobriety Check Points…

In the states, an officer my lawfully stop you if you give them reason to (probable cause). You can then be subjected to a breathalyzer test if they believe you are under the influence. This is not the case in Australia. Everyone gets stopped at a Sobriety Check Point and EVERY driver is required to take the breathalyzer. There is no argument for probable cause-if you drive, you are subject to taking one. This is one of those times where you leave the “being an American” attitude at home because you are not in the U.S. Their country, their rules. Lesson being-Australia has zero tolerance for stupid.

The passing (or “overtaking”) lane on a double lane highway is located on the right.

At home the left is a pass only, in Australia the right is a pass only.

Finally add the lines on the street being different from home.

In the U.S. we have yellow lines that break up the two oncoming sides of traffic …in Australia it’s not like that. There are white lines everywhere, so I always have to be extra cautious since it makes me feel like I’m on a one-way street-when I am not. The only time I have seen yellow lines is to mark places not to park, stop, etc.

Best piece of advice for driving on the correct side of the road?

Regardless of whether you are in Australia driving on the left or the United States… the driver sits closest to the center line of the road. If you can remember that, it makes staying on the correct side of the street much easier (especially when it comes to making turns at an intersection).

Overall, it isn’t impossible. Be aware and be careful. If you have a GPS or map app that obviously takes away the stress of getting lost, then you can focus on safety. It took me only a few days to feel comfortable with driving on the left but I do want to stress the importance of being cautious when you return home.

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Night In The Berkshires: The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

After a big lunch at the Freight Yard Pub, my grandmother and I waddled into The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa to check into our room.

This was the second time I was booked at Porches for work and the main reason I asked my grandmother to join me on the trip. I knew she would love and enjoy the inn as much as I had.

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Located in North Adams, Massachusetts, The Porches Inn was once a dilapidated block of Victorian row houses used by local mill workers.

Inspired by MASS MoCa (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), each building was beautifully renovated; structurally keeping its Victorian charm while gaining an updated and edgy twist through the use of color and decor.

Connected by long verandas, each building was assigned it’s own exterior color. These colors give the inn a playful look from the street while giving you small taste of what’s in store just inside it’s doors.

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Walking up to the front desk, I pointed a table out to my grandmother that held a plate of fresh baked cookies. As I was busy checking us in, I looked over to have a peek at my grandmother, who grabbed two cookies… then after a look around, grabbed two more.

Note to Porches: When the Williams’ are in town, hide your baked goods.

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Grabbing our bags we made our way down to the gray colored building and entered using our security key.

One of the many fun features of the inn are the hallways.

Even though you are inside the building you get the feeling you are still outside on a porch. Looking up from the first floor you will find porches that run along the second floor rooms, which can be accessed by a staircase in the hall. Along the walls of the hallway you will find windows. These windows give guests the ability to look out from their rooms into the hall.

For those worried about hallway peeking toms, all the rooms have blinds so there’s no need to worry!

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Using our key (real, metal key-not a cheap plastic card) we entered our “Deluxe Standard” room.

It was beautiful.

Grandma and I wheeled our bags in and tucked them away in the closet. She had a seat in a chair by the window with a magazine while I sank into the giant king sized bed. We both sat chatting, poking fresh baked cookies into our faces while groaning over our full burger bellies from lunch.

It was pretty funny.

Starting with the key, our room had a few details that we really got a kick out of… a second was this giant window in the wall that separated the bathroom and the bedroom. Lucky the glass was frosted so there were no scary views but it didn’t keep us from being silly about it.

The third detail my grandmother noticed. While hanging out in the room, she spotted a painting on the wall that had hinges on one side of the frame. Having a look, she pulled at the opposite side of the frame to find a safe hidden behind it.

What can I say, they were cute features and we are easily amused.

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

The first time I stayed at Porches, I was placed in a one bedroom suite that looked a lot like the photos above… it was awesome.

There was a sitting room that included a sofa, chair, television and desk to work at. The bedroom was huge and the bed was beyond comfortable… to the point work was lucky I remembered to show up!

As an added surprise, the bathroom was a lot larger than I expected. Being a female with all the extra crap I drag around, it was nice to have a decent amount of counter space and… a large tub.

Heaven.

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Getting all nerdy on you for a second… While working away at the desk, I really enjoyed looking out at the old mill.

It made me wonder, what was day to day life like working in the mill? And what about the workers that lived in these buildings? Especially in the room I was occupying…

There is something to be said about older buildings… so much more interesting to stay in an inn over some chain, lackluster hotel.

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

For breakfast, Porches provides it’s guests with two choices.

You can either get your lazy butt out of bed to enjoy a buffet in their cozy breakfast area OR you can have breakfast delivered to your room in retro, metal lunchboxes.

Super cute…

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Before heading out to the Norman Rockwell Museum, my grandmother and I choose to start our day in the breakfast area. Breakfast consisted of a variety of juices, coffee, breads for toast, cheese, fruits, cereals and hard-boiled eggs.

Overall, I love The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa for it’s artsy feel without the artsy attitude. The rooms were clean, comfortable, cozy and full of character. The staff was helpful and friendly.

My one and only complaint?

Having to check out.

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Australia: Scratching The Surface

Otway Lightstation, Australia

View From The Cape Otway Lightstation, Cape Otway, Victoria, Australia-Dec 2011.

If you were to look at countries as part of a family unit, Australia feels like a long lost cousin. There are many similarities between the United States and Australia while there are many things that make us very different.

As an American, what have I noticed about the country and people from my many visits?

Independent: Australians have a deep sense of pride in their country and are fiercely independent. Although they still have strong traditional ties to England-they are very much their own people and Australia is very much it’s own country.

Population: Although Australia just about matches the U.S. in landmass, it has a fraction of our population. As of 2013, Australia had a population of 23 million people… while the United States had a population of 316 million people. In Australia, the majority of that population lives on the coast since much of the interior is desert and considered uninhabitable.

The Good ‘ol Days: One of the many things I have noticed and loved about Australia is that it feels as though it is a generation “off” or “behind”. As strange as this might sound, it is meant in the most positive way possible. Many of the stories my Australian boyfriend tells me about his childhood sound a lot like the stories my parents told me about theirs. Many of the stories the his parents tell me about their childhood, sound a lot like my grandparent’s. Things seem off by a generation but in all the best ways. Things aren’t so rush, rush, rush-go, go, go like it is here in the United States. As a country, they still seem to have their innocence, trust and sense of humor intact.

Innocence: Although Australia did see some action at home during WWII they haven’t experienced an all out terrorist attack like 911. The country, for the most part, is welcoming and feels at ease, which is a nice change of pace. This is something you will notice right away when you experience the differences in airport regulations and security between Australia and the U.S flying domestically.

In Australia, you can still bring water through the security checkpoints, you don’t have to remove your shoes and your loved ones can accompany you to the gate to see you off. One of my least favorite parts is leaving but I must admit I am always glad to have my guy there with me as I sob like a little girl, stomp my feet and protest the flight home.

Sydeny Opera House, Australia

Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia

This isn’t to say Australia hasn’t experienced any tragedy. On my last trip, I watched on as the Sydney Siege played out. I really felt for the country. It felt very much like watching the Boston Marathon Bombing unfold… the country was blindsided and beside it’s self.

The other tragedy that is mentioned most frequently is the Port Arthur Massacre, which was the cause of Australia’s strict gun ban.

Sense of Humor: On a lighter note! I love Australia for the fact it hasn’t been beaten to death with political correctness. Although they do strive to treat people fairly, they haven’t lost their sense of humor and they sure as hell aren’t afraid to use it. Evidence of this can be seen from TV to street signs. Many of the Australians I have met have a sense of humor that is very much like a New Englander’s… be prepared for sarcasm.

Humorous Street Signs, Australia

One of Many Humorous Australian Street Signs.

Language: Although Australians speak English… you may find yourself getting lost in their frequent and colorful use of slang. I cannot tell you how many funny and embarrassing misunderstandings my guy and I have had with each other even though we speak the same language (supposedly). I will share some of those stories with you guys in the future!

Of all the countries I have visited so far, I would say if you are an American looking to travel overseas, Australia is a great place to start. From the people, traditions, colorful slang, vegetation, wildlife, cities and beaches it’s different enough to be exciting and new. However, there are just enough similarities to put you at ease with international travel, which will help build your confidence before tackling a more challenging destination.

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Breaded Brain, Chicken Liver and Sex Glands-Oh My!

Did the title catch your attention?

I can promise you, breaded brain, chicken liver and sex glands caught my attention when I spotted them on a menu in a Serbian restaurant.

No joke.

As if the menu wasn’t enough to make your stomach turn, let me take you down memory lane… so you may enjoy my entire dinning experience.

While on the road looking for things that go bump in the night, we found ourselves in Serbia. Besides the hotel restaurant, which really didn’t serve much but cold sandwiches… all we had was one other restaurant in walking distance.

For those that like to think we lived the life of luxury while on the road… guess again (not to say we didn’t find ways to have fun)!

There were only five cars to share among 11-17 people. So, if there was still work left to be done, those of us off the clock had to depend on our feet to get us where we wanted to go.

I’d say our second night in town, four or five of us decided to venture out to the restaurant, located just a few doors down. The place really wasn’t all that big… At first,  it felt like you were walking into someone’s home.

Inside, the lighting was on the darker side and the tables were set in a way you’d expect to find them set at grandma’s… we were greeted by a friendly man, who lead us to our table and set us up with English menus.

And there it was.

Chicken Liver… Breaded Brain… Thymus (lymphoid organ found in the neck) and…

Drum roll, please!!!!

SEX GLANDS.

I seriously could have puked over the first three options under SPECIALTIES but when I read sex glands… I just about fell off my seat.

While the group screamed, giggled and gagged over the surprising dishes… we all settled on something and put in our order.

Waiting for my burger to come out, I remember being in mid-convo with one of my coworkers… when I realized the guy at the bar was picking his nose.

Yes, you read me right – Picking. His. Nose.

Now, I’m not talking quick, little poke to scratch an itch kinda picking… I’m talking two knuckles deep, picking and from what I could see… being caught wasn’t a worry.

When he was done, he went back to cleaning.

The first thing I remember thinking was, “Thank god I didn’t order anything from the bar…”

As the conversation continued, out came our meals…

A burger seemed like a safe choice, right? I can’t exactly say that it was horrible-it wasn’t. It was just weird. Think of the burger patty being more like the consistency of a sausage breakfast patty. The patty was huge and placed to the left of the plate.

To the right of the weird meat patty, were toppings like lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions… all in their own, neat little piles. Add to that-no bun. There was no bread to be found anywhere on the plate… and no sauce for that matter.

While continuing conversation and trying to make sense of my burger, which was more like some sort of meat salad… I noticed the final blow, making dinner the stomach twister of all stomach twisters…

Mr. Two Knuckles Deep Nose Picker was busy placing silverware on the surrounding tables.

And that for me, was dinner in Serbia.

What can I say… when it comes to restaurants… I guess we picked a good one.

Who’s hungry? 😀

serbia kris

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Australian Food, Sweets and Spreads

Half the fun of traveling can be trying new foods… depending on the location. I can’t say I jump at the chance to eat fried guinea pig in Peru or fried brain in Serbia. In Australia, the craziest thing I have tried so far is Kangaroo. It was weird… and did not taste like chicken. That aside, I am not a huge foodie but I do like my sweets.

Here are just a few common Australian food, sweets and spreads I have tried on my travels…


 

SconesScone: Australians say scone… Americans say biscuit. Australians eat these things for dessert… while Americans eat them for breakfast. Either way… they are far from healthy.

So how do Australians eat scones (biscuits)? They cut them in half then put a layer of jam on each piece followed by a layer of whipped cream. Sounds pretty weird if you’ve never tried them that way but it’s actually pretty good!

For our Australian readers…how do Americans eat scones (biscuits)? We make a breakfast sandwich out of them! We’d cut it in half then throw on any combination of cheese, egg, sausage, bacon or ham… if you live in the south you could even eat them with gravy…

I’d say we beat the Aussies in making them more fattening.


 

VegemiteVegemite: Holy hell-can it be disgusting. Let me give you a little heads up so you avoid the mistake most people make when trying it for the first time… It is NOT peanut butter, jam or butter.

The more you throw on your toast, it will not-I repeat-it WILL NOT taste better.

Less is more with this evil salty spread unless you want your face to turn inside out. If you avoid the mistake of slathering it on-it’s really not all that bad but I’d still say it’s an acquired taste. You either grow up with it and love it or you wonder what the heck is wrong with some people’s taste buds.

Still interested in trying Vegemite? When the Captain made toast for me he threw some margarine on first then a THIN layer of vegemite on top.

Key word-thin.

I have just learned there is something called a cheesymite scroll, that is a spiraled baked bread with vegemite and cheese.

I have never had it-but now that I know it exists I may have to try it on the next trip!


 

Meat Pie: Yep. It sounds gross doesn’t it? Apple pie, yum. Pumpkin pie, yum. MEAT pie? Let’s say I was more than skeptical on this one.

So what is it?

You’ll find them mainly in cafes and bakeries; they are a great takeaway (takeout) option if you’re on the go. Meat pies are hand-sized and are filled with all sorts of good stuff, usually minced meat and gravy but there are many filling combinations. Once you get past the name-they are pretty damn good! Warm, flaky, meaty, gravy filled pies… yum.

A common condiment paired with meat pies is ketchup… but if you ask for ketchup you’ll be looked at funny. Ask for tomato sauce and you’ll avoid sounding like a tourist… minus the accent of course.


 

BeetRootBeetroot: I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the beetroot obsession. I can’t say I had ever tried it before visiting Australia either. Australians will throw it on burgers, salads and sandwiches… Usually when I find it in my burger or sandwich, I’ll get a few bites in then find myself picking it out of my sandwich. I don’t hate it… it’s just strange, not sure how else to describe it.

The added bonus… it can stain your clothes and fingers purple. Sexy stuff.


 

LamingtonLamington: These things are weird but the Captain has told me they are a pretty standard Australian dessert, one that makes an expected appearance at most holidays or get togethers. He bought them on my last trip and he insisted that we freeze them-he swears they taste better that way.

So what the heck are they? They are little square, two layer cakes made from what I think is sponge cake. Between the two layers was a layer of jam and the entire outside was covered in a very thin layer of chocolate sprinkled with coconut. He did tell me that some have a layer of cream in the center rather than jam.

They were pretty good but they weren’t my favorite. For a sweet tooth… I would have been happier if there was a thicker layer of chocolate!


 

MaltesersMaltesers: I must confess. I am a Malteser monster.

Although I have heard you can find them in Canada and parts of the U.S. they are not easy to find. In Australia they are about as common as Reeses Peanut Buttercup are in the U.S. They are every where.

Maltesers are made by Mars, Incorporated and are small, round, bite sized chocolates that have a center made of malt honeycomb. Love them.

For those who are thinking it… They are NOT Whoppers. Whoppers are disgusting… Maltesers not so much. If you are lucky enough to find them in the U.S.-grab ‘em!


 

tim-tamsTim Tam: I am a fan of Tim Tams. The Captain tries to stay away from sweets but this is one of the first he wanted me to try. They are a biscuit (or cookie as we’d say) and they are made up of two chocolate biscuits, separated by a layer of chocolate filling and coated with chocolate.

 

They are very common and easy to find. Tim Tams can be found in several different flavors too. I’ve seen white chocolate, dark, caramel, orange, original… My favorite is the chocolate/orange combo.


 

caramel Slice 2Caramel Slice: Evil layers of yum. I was first introduced to these in Townsville, Australia by the Captain. They are hands down my favorite.

If you have a sweet tooth, these things will destroy it. Layer of soft chocolate, caramel and a shortbread base. Sometimes the base will have coconut in it… which just makes it that much more evil.

These are not the type of dessert you could sit and eat several of in one sitting-they are heavy. I have made them several times at home now and have introduced my family to them in the states… they curse me every time I bring them to a family holiday but the plate always comes home empty!

And we all leave 10 pounds heavier.

Interested in making them? The recipe I use can be found here on Taste.com.au. There are a couple of things I do different though since some of ingredients are hard to find in the states.

If you are unable to find golden syrup you can use honey (although it will change the taste slightly).

For the top chocolate layer, copha might not be so easy to find in the U.S. so I substituted it with a recipe I use to make the center of my truffles. I’ll take a half cup of heavy cream and add a teaspoon of vanilla extract, bringing it just to the point of boiling I then remove it from the heat. Then I add a cup of chocolate chips, mixing until it is melted. Once it is melted, I pour it on top of the other two layers then place it in the fridge to harden.

These things are so worth the effort. If you give them a go, let me know how they turned out!

If you have any suggestions on other Aussie foods I should try, let me know in the comments below. I will be adding new foods as I try them, so keep looking back for updates!

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The Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination

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 ever learned of a location that left you with an extreme desire to go? For me, that was the Antietam National Battlefield. Not only did I have to get there someday, I needed to get there for a specific day.

That one special day, everything in me insisted on experiencing, was The Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination.

I am willing to bet many of my readers will be left wondering the same things I did when I first heard of this location and event… What is Antietam all about? And what is an Illumination Memorial?

It is amazing how much we don’t know about our own history. While I am sure every American has heard of the Civil War, I think Gettysburg will be the one and only battle they are familiar with.

Although Gettysburg is definitely one of many battles that shouldn’t be forgotten, the devastation at Antietam is one most Americans have never heard of… Unless, of course, you live local to the battlefield or you’re a Civil War buff.

So, what was Antietam?

On September 17, 1862, about 100,000 soldiers engaged in battle in the small town of Sharpsburg, Maryland. Antietam, referred to as Sharpsburg by Southerners, was a 12-hour battle that left a total of 23,000 men dead, wounded or missing. Known as “The Bloodiest One Day Battle in American History”, it was a narrow victory for the Union Army.

At the cost of 23,000 men dead, wounded or missing, what did the Union gain?

There were a few things the Union gained from the victory at Antietam.

  • Due to other losses, the Union’s morale among soldiers and citizens was shaken. The North needed a victory more than ever in hopes of turning things around. The win at Antietam not only give the North a badly needed morale boost, it put a stop to the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia’s first invasion into Union territory.
  • It also enabled Lincoln to release The Emancipation Proclamation. With its release, the North not only fought to preserve the Union, it looked to bring an end to slavery.
  • Finally, the victory squashed all threat of British intervention on the side of the Confederacy.

What is the Illumination Memorial all about?

The Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination is an annual event that honors the memory of each soldier who was killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Antietam.

On December 5, 2015, I was fortunate enough to experience their 27th Memorial Illumination, which was hosted by the Antietam National Battlefield, the American Business Women’s Association and the Washington County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.

In memory of each solider, a candle is carefully placed on the battlefield. In total, 23,000 candles line a five-mile route that is included in a driving tour.

During this driving tour, visitors are instructed to only use their parking lights and are expected to drive through without stopping or getting out of their vehicles.

Due to the popularity of the Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination, lines to get into the event can be a two-hour wait.

I promise you; it is well worth it.

My Visit to Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination…

Starting my day at Visitor’s Center, I had a chat with the staff before grabbing some pamphlets and a self-guided Battlefield tour.

Jumping back into my rental, I started to make my way around Antietam’s 11 points of interest. However, before I could even focus on Antietam’s history something else caught my eye.

The first thing I noticed, which was hard to miss, were the volunteers. I had gotten to the battlefield around 10am but you could tell they had started their day hours earlier.

They were everywhere.

Young and old… Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, veterans, local organizations and residents. Working in large groups, they carefully placed each luminary. Using rope, they worked tirelessly to be sure each was placed with the others in straight lines.

Watching the process and the number of people involved was pretty impressive.

Battlefield Highlights…

While there are several points of interest at Antietam, I have decided to highlight the ones that affected me the most during my visit since It would be impossible to cover each location and monument properly in this short article.

Dunker Church

Built in 1852, this little church became the center of several attacks made by the Union Army against the Confederates. As if a battle breaking out around a church wasn’t odd enough – the use for it following the battle would put a chill up most spines.

Like most homes and buildings at the time, the church was used as a makeshift hospital looking after some of the 17,000 wounded soldiers. Some even believe the church was used as an embalming station by the Union Army following the battle of Antietam.

Bloody Lane

The three-hour battle, which took place on The Sunken Road is an unimaginable one. In that short period of time, 5,500 men were killed or wounded… earning the otherwise quaint, country road the name, Bloody Lane.

It was on this 1.5-mile trail that 2,200 Confederates did all they could to hold off 10,000 Union soldiers.

The survivor’s stories of the battle are horrific to say the least. Then there are the photographs that show the old farm road over flowing with the dead…

For a place that would otherwise be viewed as peaceful countryside – this location was once someone’s worst nightmare and final resting spot.

As I stood where 5,500 men once fell… I couldn’t help but get upset.

Antietam National Cemetery

Antietam National Cemetery was created to solve problems the large number of dead created for the living. Originally, soldiers were buried where they fell in shallow graves. Before long, the bodies started resurfacing.

Besides the fact this would be a horrific sight, this problem would lead to disease and death for those living in Sharpsburg. In order to solve the problem, money was raised to build a cemetery to bury the dead.

At first, the plan was to bury both Union and Confederate soldiers in the new cemetery. However, tensions between the North and South were still too fresh. To deal with the problem, Confederates were moved to three local cemeteries while 4,776 Union soldiers were moved to the newly created, Antietam National Cemetery.

Before it became a cemetery, this plot of land was used by Confederate artillery. Today, you can visit and pay respects to the Union soldiers who were buried here, as well as dead from four other wars.

There were a few things that hit me emotionally at this location…

  • One was knowing those buried here were just fraction of those who died during the Battle of Antietam…
  • Second, For every stone that bared the name of the dead… there were several markers that just displayed a number. The number of bodies that weren’t identified are heart breaking. Imagine how many families saw their loved ones off only to hear nothing in the end. I’m sure in their hearts they knew their loved one’s fate… but not knowing the how, when or where they were laid to rest must have been hard to deal with.
  • Finally, the statue of a Union private, which stood in the middle of the cemetery, was hard to miss. Encircling this statue were lines to a poem, followed by headstones… his comrades, that all seemed to be standing at attention.

The Antietam National Battlefield Illumination

Headed back to the Visitor’s Center with a new appreciation of Antietam, I was lucky enough to attend the Illumination Ceremony.

During the Illumination Ceremony, many people involved in the memorial including organizers, volunteers and state representatives spoke on the importance of the Memorial Illumination and what it has meant to them personally. There was prayer and song for those who died during battle. At one point TAPS could be heard from Dunker Church followed by Amazing Grace on bagpipes from the Visitor’s Center.

It was during this ceremony that I learned the Antietam National Battlefield Illumination was in its 27th year and 1,500 people volunteer annually to help setup the candles.

The fact that that many still people care today, about an event that happened so long ago, left me speechless.

There were several points during the ceremony that touched me, but the moment that stuck with me most of all came when a musician approached the microphone.

Taking to his guitar he began to play as he sang the words to Hallelujah. His voice and the words to the song eerily drifted over the battlefield and with it my heart sank.

The reality of my trip, of the whole experience had finally hit. With a fresh pair of eyes and a sun that was quickly setting, I stood surrounded by thousands of flickering little bags of light.

These flickering little bags of light stood in formation, stretching for as far as I could see in all directions.

23,000 luminaires.

23,000… each representing a husband, father, brother, son, uncle and friend who had died, had been wounded or had gone missing where I stood in a 12-hour battle.

23,000 men.

I stood imagining the shadows of these men standing beside me. I imagined the sounds and smell of the gun and cannon fire. I imagined the chaos, horror and fear that would come with battle. I imagined the dead, the dying and the wounded crying out for help.

To say I was overwhelmed with emotion would be an understatement. I wondered if it were strange to be so emotional over an event that took place long before I was born?

As the ceremony came to an end and the crowd began to disperse, I found myself left behind in the silence with a handful of others who had permits to photograph the memorial.

As I sat, surrounded by candlelight, I realized two things.

  • One was that numbers are cold and are incapable of telling the full story. Simply hearing or reading the number 23,000 does not make the same impression as seeing that number physically represented. I found the candles made it easier to grasp just how devastating Antietam was.
  • The second thing I realized, no distinction was made when it came to who was Confederate and who was Union. No one cared. The purpose of the memorial wasn’t to remember one side or the other. Who won or who lost. The point was… They were all American.

The Civil War wasn’t some far off battle fought between two foreign lands. It was fought in our own backyards and pitted our ancestors against each other. It tore families apart, leaving in its wake hundreds of thousands of dead and left a generation of Americans in shambles.

At a time when our country couldn’t be more divided, there are many lessons to be learned at Antietam that couldn’t be more important.

I would encourage everyone reading this article to visit.

From the history of the Antietam Battlefield itself, as well as the buildings and memorials that stand as reminders of the past, to the 1,500 volunteers that give up countless hours to thoughtfully place each candle and the hundreds if not thousands who wait to enter the memorial each year…

The Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination is an experience I will never forget.

I will be forever grateful to the Holiday Inn for helping me check this must see destination off my list and – I look forward to returning one day.