Saturday, 6 July 2013

Jamestown, Yorktown, Colonial Williamsburg and Washington DC

Craig Writes;
1/07/13. The first of July, where has the time gone. Today we drove to historic Jamestown, the place where the first permanent English colony in America was established in 1607. At first it seemed that the new settlers and the local Powhatan indians would be able to cohabitate with a mutually satisfying trade of settlers goods for food and tobacco.  Things started to turn mutually sour early on when the indians fancied some of the settlers shiny tools and swords and thought it would be ok to just take them without saying please. Sometimes while the settlers were in the middle of using said tools or wearing said swords. The colonists on the other hand didn't like it when the indians stopped trading food with them because they were running low, so they just took it. Hhmm, feed my hungry children or give my food to a boat load of smelly tourist with frilly shirts and funny hats. Not a hard decision, but, the settlers didnt see it that way.
As you can see, not a recipe for success here. So, they started fighting and of course the team with the biggest gun always wins. Within a short time this tribe that had been there for thousands of years, was wiped out. 
Meanwhile back in England The Virginia Company who had financed the whole trip were concerned that their investment wasn't going to pay off and were getting prepared to write it off when it was decided to send one last small flotilla with more men and women and see how it went.  Well, obviously it eventually went pretty well. They  managed to survive, only just, and go on to form the mighty US of A, but, the early years were devastatingly hard. In the Starving Year, 1609 -1610 food was that scarce that only 61 of the 500 colonists survived. They ate the horses, the dogs, the rats and finally, each other. Corpses were dug up and consumed, the demise of others was likely hastened to fed those with a better chance of survival. It was not a good year. The Virginia Companies flotilla arrived in time with food, men and arms and, just as important much needed blacksmiths, farmers, carpenters etc. 
The tour of Jamestown started with a twenty minute introductory film. These are always worth doing and are usually well produced and very informative. There was a fantastic exhibition of forts, much like the ones in Harrisburg but with plenty of costumed guides to explain what was what.  It was the same for the Indian villages and the three life size replicas of the ships that made the first landing.
Our local ferry boats are bigger

Captain and crew

Authentic Indian tools made of animal bones and tendons

Making bread the old fashioned way

A young blacksmith hard at it
We could crawl all over the ships, in the Admirals quarters, the crews and the passengers quarters. The conditions were unbelievable, and that's unbelievably BAD. Imagine someone put you in a tea chest with a paddle made of pop sticks and told you to row around Australia. You'd be more comfortable than spending months in the cramped dark hold of one of these ships with dogs, chickens and a tea cup to piss and poo into.  And these were not prisoners, these were the passengers. But, miraculously every member of the crew and it's passengers survived. That was quite a feat back in those days.  
After a couple of hours here we moved on to look at the battlefield and the museum at YorkTown. It was here the Patriots and the French fought there final major battle against the  English and it was here that a complete and unconditional surrender by Cornwallis reverse the fortunes of the waining Patriots. It is quite conceivable to say that it was here in YorkTown that America was truly born. This was Washington's last ditch effort to win the war of Independence and but for some fickle weather and a couple of wrong decisions by the British, America would be the land of tea and crumpets not coffee and doughnuts. 
Original field artillery belonging to the English

This peaceful field was the scene of the most important battle of the Revolutionary war.

The English ramparts and original cannon
I have to stop here and add a, SCRAPPLE WARNING.
Did someone say SCRAPPLE
If you ever see this on a menu and feel tempted, let me give you a word of advise, the same advice I was given by the waitress at The Colonial Pancake House in Williamsburg who served us. DON'T !!. It is a mush of hog offal, fat and bone boiled up to make a broth, then drained. The remaining mush then has cornmeal and seasoning added, formed into a loaf then cut, fried and served. You would only eat this after you've already eaten your way through the contents of the cats litter tray.

2/07/13 Today was our last day in the south before heading north and we couldn't leave without a visit to Colonial Williamsburg.  There is a live museum in the actual town of Williamsburg where many of the original buildings are still standing. 
The original Williamsburg courthouse

Americas first theatre. Before Broadway there was, "The Playbooth"

I've already placed an order for one of these
There are actors in costume everywhere, ready, keen and very eager to launch into their routine to any that may dare stop for more than a brief moment. Even if your only trying to get directions to the toilets, you wont get away before they've told you how they made oyster ice cream in the 1800's.
This is what greeted you and your sore tooth at the apothecary
The buildings that are not original are lovingly built to represent the architecture and spirit of the time. The blacksmiths shop is one of the original buildings and operates as it did over two hundred years ago. 
It was hard to choose from the 20 photos Christina took of this guy

Hard Yakka
The bellows heating the coals to over 1000 degrees celsius. The Smithies belting out stirrups, spoons and nails from white hot iron, bashing and bending it like it was putty. The printer pads his press with large ink filled pads before stamping newsprint out one page at a time. It was great fun and very interesting. We leant that the term lower case and upper case came from the fact that the letters the printer used to set his type were kept in a big case which when opened had an upper case and a lower case. Can you guess which case the big letters were kept and which one the little ones were kept in? 
Old time printing press in action

Upper case , lower case, makes perfect sense when you think about it
There was a reenactment of the reading of the Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the Governors residence complete with cheering crowd and a drum and fife procession. 
It was a hot day and soon we found ourselves turning our attention to the trip north. It appeared the weather on the drive up to DC was starting to get getting a bit dodgy. There are some major thunderstorms happening on the east coast but miraculously we seem to be a step ahead of them everywhere we go. We did cop a fair bit of stormy weather  on the trip up but by the time we got to DC and had to start negotiating the twisting, turning highways and byways of the inner city it had cleared.  The Saint Gregory is a really nice little hotel, Christina's endless hours of research have once again paid off. A little bit of luxury at a hostel price, well done.

3/07/13 The day started off grey and drizzly and by the end the sun and the humidity was sucking the moisture out of us quicker than we could put it in. If I thought I could have jumped into Washington's Reflecting Pool without getting tasered, I would have but the whole thing was fenced off and full off explosives for the fireworks.
Oh to have been able to just dunk a foot in, it was a hot day
We started the day at the American Museum of History. They had some really cool stuff. There was one of George Washington's uniforms and a set of epaulettes he wore at the battle of Yorktown.
Sorry, George Washingtons slightly out of focus uniform, epaulettes to the left
There was his private quarters tent with small patches where pieces had been cut out over the years to be taken as souvenirs, Judy Garlands Red Ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz. 
Dorothys Ruby Red slip ons
Thomas Edisons actual notebooks on how to perfect the carbon filament that would change the world.
Amazing, Edisons actual original notes, WOW
 "The" bland looking grey filing cabinet, complete with crow bar dents, from the WaterGate offices and so much more. 
The password to break into the system was, "crowbar"
It was a few hours well spent. The section dealing with Americas war time history is very revealing. It is hard to find a reasonable gap in their history where they have not been at war with one country or another. The rich soil of democracy is well watered with the blood of their young and it would seem that to protect their dominance they are prepared to continue to go to war and to throw their young into the bottomless pit of the battlefield. God help them.
There is a great and tragic irony here too, that a country that tore itself from the yolk of oppression of a distant Monarchy, at great expensive in terms of human suffering , owes it's own early successes and indeed it's early survival to an arguably more reprehensible form of oppression - slavery. So enthusiastically did early America embrace the use of slaves that at one stage 40% of it's entire population were in enforced servitude. They can probably thank their lucky Stars and Stripes that the slaves were not organised or America would have looked an entirely different place.

4/07/13 Today was the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Time for another WOW. Christina and I were here 20 years ago and this time we took the tour. It makes a huge difference. Last time we took photos of the Apollo 11 Command module that took Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins to the moon but never thought to look inside at the tiny seats they had to it sit in. The tour guide takes you right up and encourages you to stick your nose right up to the perspex shield and have a real good look.
Apollo 11 Command Module, simply, WOW
Plus, with the guide you get all the back stories like how when Allan Shepard was going to be shot up into space for 15 minutes then straight back down to test a module, he needed to go to the loo. 
"Too late", command said," we cant get you out now, we're ready for lift off".  The engineers check the details of his suit and decided there was nothing in it he could damage so they said, go in your suit Al, so he did. The tour guide did not elaborate on numbers one or two and no one asked.
They have THE first engine powered plane to ever fly. The very same one the Wright Brothers used in their first four successful trial flights at KittyHawk.
They have a working model of the space station and a working model of the Apollo 11 lunar landing module. Apparently NASA make at least two of everything in case something goes wrong with the first. If it doesn't, The Smithsonian gets the second fully working model. They still have a piece of moon rock you can touch, just feels like a well rubbed bit of rock but still, it's from the moon. They have Amelia Earharts plane that she flew solo across the Atlantic.
Amelia Earharts Lockheed Vega 5B 
They have Charles Lindbergh's, The Spirit of St Louis, that he also flew non stop across the Atlantic in May 1927, landing in Paris and collecting $25,000 for his efforts. 
The Spirit of St Louis
They have the plane that legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager used to be the first man to break the sound barrier
The first plane to break the sound barrier
They have some seriously cool things here. The tour guide was brilliant. He worked for NASA for 30 years as an engineer before retiring and working here as one of the many volunteers. Just giving something back I suppose. 
We caught a cab back to the hotel after spending an amazing few hours at the Smithsonian to rest up a bit because tonight we were walking back down to the Mall to see the July 4th fireworks. Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow were playing a concert down on the West Lawn by the Capitol Building but that was going to be absolutely packed.
The Capitol
Instead we just followed our nose from our hotel straight down 21st Street for about 20 minutes and ended up sitting on the steps of the Federal Reserve.  The fireworks were amazing, after five minutes the smell of gunpowder was already thick in the air and the powerful staccato cracks and bangs hit your chest like a punch.
Happy happy fireworks

No words needed

After the finale, where they let off the equivalent of our entire Skyshow back in Perth in the last 45 seconds, an enormous thick cloud of smoke hung heavy in the night air with not a whisper of breeze to send it along. 

It was like a great grey fluffy pillow that ever so slowly started to drift and descend. We we're on the periphery where the crowd was thinner but I would not have liked to have been among the many thousands jammed in together when that fell upon you.  
5/07/13 Museum of Natural History. Wish we'd seen this before The Museum of Natural History in New York. It was like meeting Madonna in the flesh on your way to Madame Tussauds then going inside to look at the wax model. It's good, but it's not the same thing. Not to complain thought. We still spent a good couple of hours there. The worlds biggest diamond, The Hope Diamond was very impressive and there was a very interesting section on the mapping of the human genome.  Afterwards it was a walk down to Macys for a bit of shopping then back home to the St Gregory. We had all sorts of plans to lock the kids in and go down to indulge in some of the hotels very fine $5 martini's, which we did last night, but, packing got the better of us.  We stayed in and opened a bottle of Argentinian Merlot we'd been carting around since Richmond and went over the road for takeaway kebabs and rice from the local. It was perfect.

6/07/13 After three amazing months, today we finally bid adieu to the USA. Even for all it's excesses, it's propensity for warfare and it's pugnacious desire to stay number one at any cost, for it's stewed coffee, it's sweetened bread and it's propensity for high fructose corn syrup, we loved it. We loved the diversity of the people and their crazy gorgeous accents. We loved the diverse country side from the vast wildness of the badlands and it's towering monuments to the rolling green pastures of Kentucky and the vineyards of the Napa Valley from the beauty and the serenity of the natural parks to the crazy joyful insanity of it's theme parks. We loved the cities, the food, the passion and the warm and generous hospitality of it's people. We will return.

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