In August, 2006, we loaded the kids into the car and drove south.  Here are some of the highlights of our adventures.

Two young kids from the North went a-driving
To the parts of The States that were thriving.
They did moan, they did whine,
Almost all of the time.
Not to kill them, their parents were striving!

Blue Ridge Mountains rise:
Hilltops fading into sky,
Valley, green, below.

Wednesday, August 9: Little Bunny Foo-foo meets his maker

The drive through to Ithaca was pleasant and uneventful, except for a rabbit who didn’t look both ways before crossing the Interstate.  To atone, we dined at Veggie Mecca, also know as the Moosewood Café.  Our pilgrimage a success, despite Ithaca’s maze of one-way streets, we dined happily on food that was better than I’d been led to expect.  The chocolate fudge brownie we ate in the car as we drove through dark mountain roads en route to Binghamton (and our hotel) didn’t hurt either.

Thursday, August 10: Let it Ring

We got into Philadelphia by ten in the morning.  We’d left Binghamton at six, passing by a kosher bakery in town on our way out.  Again, the roads were good and the weather clear.  The hotel had our room ready, so we dropped off our bags, grabbed a map, and set off on foot across the Schuylkill river into central Philly.   

Of course, the interesting historical sites were on the far side of downown.  Nevertheless, we made good time and saw Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and Carpenters’ Hall (where the US Senate first met) before the skies opened and the deluge began.

Independence Hall
Independence Hall, Philadelphia
Liberty Bell
The Liberty Bell. 
The crack, disappointingly, wasn't the result of some cannon shot or anything, but, rather, faulty construction. 

Luckily, we have experience with sudden downpours.  We waited out the first part of the stort at Carpenters’ Hall, and then took advantage of a temporary lull to dash to the portrait gallery, housed in the building of the Second National Bank.  We discovered two things: American Independence was luckily not a beauty contest; and artist Charles Wilson Peale was notable more for the quantity than quality of his work.  As an aside, John Paul Jones looked an awful lot like Dubya, and George Washington looked goofy in a suit AND a toga. 

George in a toga

Eventually the rain ended and we started the long hike back to the hotel.  Fortunately, Trader Joe popped up in our path, and provisioned us with kosher supplies for supper.

Friday, August 11

Mikael’s conference got started, and I decided to take the kids to the Franklin Institute Science Museum.  Our Ontario Science Centre memberships did the trick again, and got us free admission.  The first section we hit was all about animation.  We must have spent close to two hours exploring the various demonstrations they had.  Eventually famished, we walked to the Reading Terminal Market where we found some curry for lunch, followed by fresh cookies for dessert. We then returned to the museum, marveling at the public spaces and architecture on the way, and explored one more exhibit before returning to the hotel for a swim and supper. 

WWI monument
Statue in memory of WWII
Gavi in Philly
Gavi enjoying the sunshine
Free Library
The Free Library
Fountain in front of library
Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Benjamin Franklin Parkway, looking towards Art Gallery

Saturday, August 12

Today we went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  There is a lovely path along the
Schuylkill leading to the row of boat houses just past the art gallery, and apparently, beyond as far as Valley Forge

Schuylkill pathway
Bike and Pedestrian path along the Schuylkill River

Steps Ahead
But don't forget to walk your bike down the ramp!

Boat houses
The boat houses just past the Art Gallery

With the two kids in tow, we breezed through nine centuries of European art in what must be record time.  The museum is very impressive though: coats of arms and weapons, medieval icons and manuscripts, a portion of an ancient abbey (fountain included), Renaissance masterworks, and impressionist gems including Vincent’s Sunflowers, whizzed past us on our whirlwind tour.  Finally we found the path again and returned home for another swim and rest before Mikael finished his day at the conference and joined us in the room.


One of his colleagues had mentioned a kosher vegan Chinese place that served an all-you-can-eat Dim Sum, and we took the subway there for supper.  The rave reviews he kept hearing were all accurate, for the food was both plentiful and delicious.  Even Hadassah got into the act, devouring taro balls and scallion pancakes with an abandon not usually found in a not-quite-two-year-old.  We went to bed with full tummies.

Sunday, August 13: Mountains

The conference all but over, we left Philadelphia at 6:30am. And hit the highway, after stopping at a yield sign at the bottom of the on-ramp, of course.  The drive took us through the north Delaware, then into Maryland, we the famous Seven Mile Market (thank you, O Ye Kosher Gods) awaited.  We were concerned that it might not be open at 8:30 on a Sunday morning, but then thought, Hey, food and Jews go together.  And lo! The place opened at eight.  Many grocery bags later, we left with directions to Goldberg’s Bagels in hand.  And oh my, but we weren’t the only ones with bagels on the brain.  The place was, to use the technical term, rocking!

Then, back on the highway.  As we approached Washington, the traffic grew heavier, and did not let up much till we joined the I-81 a hundred-some miles down the road.  The resort we stayed in is definitely off the beaten track.  You turn off the highway between nowhere and nowhere else, and then drive for 20 minutes into the mountains on beautiful, shaded and s-shaped mountain roads.  We had a bedroom downstairs with a huge Jacuzzi, living space with kitchen and dining room on the main floor, and a loft with two single beds upstairs for the kids.

 Bryce Resort

So long, city noise.
Shenandoah valley’s song
Sweetly fills my ears.

Monday, August 14: Playdate

Someone neglected to tell my children, but 5am is NOT the correct time to wake up while on vacation.  We were all up, breakfasted and dressed and ready to go by seven.  We needed to pick up a couple of things before Sherri and Janet were expected around noon, and since we had lots of time to kill, we took the secondary highway to Harrisonburg.  The vistas were lovely, as a light blanket of mist lay gently on the mountainsides, softening edges and giving the landscape a dreamlike glow.

Shenandoah scenery

It was super to see Janet and Sherri again.  With a few wrinkles, the boys got on, and the grownups had a great time eating, drinking and yakking.  We ended up at the nearby lake, and took some very tired children home at the end of the day.

Gavi, Grant and Harry

Gavi, Grant and Harry enjoyed tacos and beans at the table, before heading to the lake where they swam and went paddle-boating with Mikael while the girls chatted on shore.
Bev, Janet and Sherri

Beverlee, Sherri and Janet.  I'm the skinny one in the middle.  ;-)

Tuesday, August 15: Deep Dark Secrets

We started today deep underground at the Luray Caverns.  One and a quarter miles of pathways wind through caverns descending as much as 164 feet below ground, passing stalactites, stalagmites, mirror-like reflecting pools, cathedral-like chambers, a stalactite organ, and Pluto’s Ghost. 

Luray caverns reflecting pool
Luray caverns stalactites

After a quick visit to an automobile museum on the same site, we dove up to
Winchester, stopping at a 7-11, where Gavi got the largest cup of Pepsi I’ve ever seen – almost 2L of pop in one cup!

Winchester is a cute old town with a nice pedestrian mall running through the centre.  We spet a lot of time –an money – in a wonderful small bookshop that had all the books and toys that people people really should have, and none of the extraneous stuff.  Home, then, down Route 11, home to Route 11 Potato Chips, where we laid in provisions: salt & vinegar, sour cream & chive, and garlic & herb.

Wednesday, August 16

There was a young lady from Maine
Who wished she had visited Spain
But she didn’t like flying;
The thought set her crying,
So from Spain she was forced to refrain.

This trip has been punctuated by frequent requests from the back seat for rhymes and homonyms: Gavi has discovered limericks!  We spent the drive to Skyline Drive (including a detour down the aptly-named Back Road) trying to explain the required rhymes and meters for this time-honoured poetic form.

My offering of chocolate chip cookies and pina coladas must have pleased the weather gods, for they rewarded us with perfect weather: clear, blue skies, decorated with the occasional puffy white cloud for contrast, and perfect visibility.

View from Skyline drive
The Shenandoah Valley from Skyline Drive
four ranges
You can see the four crests of mountains - the Blue Ridge in the foreground, the two ridges of Massanutten Mountain in the middle, and in the distance, the faint line of the Shenandoahs, part of the Allegheny range.

Skyline Drive takes you down the spine of the
Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park.  We started at the northern gate in Front Royal, and drove south.  The road is slow, the scenery spectacular, and the hikes snail-like, especially when a two-year-old is setting the pace.  The first five miles of road took us an hour to cover, but we enjoyed every inch.  By the time we finished our first short hike, however, Dassa, whose morning mantra had been “walking, walking!” was now moaning “car, car!” And when it was time for the second of the two hikes we did, she changed her tune again to “pram, pram!”
Hiking along Skyline Drive
Hiking along Skyline Drive
An old cemetary along our trail
Our one trail took us past an old cemetary

Along our walks, we encountered all manner of beautiful butterflies.

We drove about two thirds of the park today, leaving the rest for the next day.  Those 65 miles of twisting, turning climbing and descending took us five hours.  Near the exit point for this day’s adventure, we realized we had left Dassa’s sippy cup at the very buggy picnic spot where we quickly ate our lunch.  Of necessity, then, we stopped at a pharmacy to replace said cup.  Mikael found a pink one, decorated with Disney princesses.   “Pink… princesses… what says our daughter better than that?” he asked as he got back into the car.  And indeed, as she examined her new acquisition, she gleefully announced, “Pink pwintet!  Boo pwintet!  Ah-yo pwintet!”  (That last one, by the way is yellow.  She hasn’t quite got the “y” sound down.)

The one disappointing part to our adventure so far was our unsuccessful quest for frozen custard, whatever that may be.  It seems to be a local delicacy, but as always, once you start looking for something, it’s nowhere to be found.  Oh yeah… and who, exactly, WAS Stonewall Jackson?

Thursday, August 17: Town and Country

We started off in
Staunton, a small city about 45 miles from Mt. Jackson, where we were based.  It’s a delightful town, with cute shops, interesting buildings, and a Shakespeare festival that seems to make it the local Stratford.  Definitely a place for the “return visit” list. 


We then drove to
Charlottesville, with the hope of seeing Jefferson’s estate at Montecello.  However, the step admission price, coupled with two un-tour-worthy children, made us reconsider in a hurry, and we left Montecello for the rich American tourists.

It was one in the afternoon by the time we parked in downtown
Charlottesville, near the library where I tried, for the first time, to call Janet.  We walked up to the old court house of Albemarle County, which dates from 17something, and where we discovered that Stonewall Jackson actually had a first name, which we have already forgotten.  There is a terrific pedestrian mall there as well, and we enjoyed our amble and ice-cream, and upon not reaching Janet for the third time, we started our drive home.


We finished the leg of the Skyline Drive we hadn’t managed the previous day, and then managed to find a byway that runs up one side of Massanutten mountain (don’t look down!), through the valley that runs down the middle of the two-ridged mountain, and down the other side.  We didn’t get home till 7:30 that night!

King's Crossing
In the middle of Massanutten Mountain, we passed through the bustling metropolis of Kings Crossing

Friday, August 18: Mrs. S Goes to Washington

We got an early start from Basye, leaving before the resort office even opened.  We decided that since one Interstate looks much like another, we would take the secondary highways towards D.C.  We stopped briefly at Manassas battlefield, and were settled in our hotel room in Springfield, Virginia, before noon.  A few misadventures with parking, and then we were on the Metro heading into town.

Stonewall Jackson statue at Manassas

Statue at Manassas: "Thomas Jonathon Jackson stood there like a stone wall."

Our initial plan was to walk around and get a sense of the place, but the temperatures were beastly and the walking not at all pleasant.

Washington itself is very Grand and somewhat Self-Important, but I found it lacking in soul.  Mikael disagreed.  The Mall, a mile in length from the Capitol to the Washington Memorial, is open and unkempt. The grass is weedy and clearly never watered by man.  Along either side, the Mall is flanked by the various buildings that comprise the Smithsonian Institution, separated by the blasted heath.  In this furnace, entrepreneurial types fleece the public by selling ice-cold water at obscene prices.  I will never be that thirsty.

Washington Monument

We walked up to and around the Washington Memorial, took a peek at the WWII Memorial, wite the long reflecting pool with the Lincoln Memorial at the far end, and then followed the line of shade-giving trees look at the White House.  It’s white.  And it’s a house, and someone obviously waters the lawn.

White House

At this point, exhausted by the heat, we took refuge in the closest public building, which happened to be the Smithsonian’s American History Museum.  The museums are fantastic, and we enjoyed our first glimpse enough that we eventually headed to the Natural History Museum next door.  Dinosaurs for Gavi, the Hope Diamond for me… it was just fine! 

Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond (above) and a Stegosaurus skeleton (left) help populate the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum.

By this time, the furnace outside had cooled to a gentle blast, and we resumed our walking tour.  We traced the circumference of the Tidal Pool to see the Jefferson Memorial (a perfect Grecian temple, including a larger-than-life statue of the dedicatory god inside), then the FDR Memorial, a wonderful architectural poem in rock and water, and finally the Lincoln Memoral (under renovation: do not cross the orange fence) before walking across the Arlington Memorial Bridge to finally catch the Metro at Arlington Cemetary.

Jefferson Memorial
The Jefferson Memorial
FDR Memorial
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Washington/Jefferson Memorial
Looking out from the Jefferson Memorial

Massive, looming, tall:
Washington Monument. Its
Finger says ‘up yours!’ 

Saturday, August 19

Back to
Washington today.  We started off at the Capitol to see what, if anything, lay beyond.  It looks like once you ignore the endless Memorials, it might be an OK city after all.  Nice old brick townhomes speak of not inconsiderable incomes on the parts of their owners.  We walked back to find the Canadian Embassy, which says nothing for Canadian architecture, and then hit the Air & Space Museum. 

The Capitol
Spirit of Saint Louis

This is one where, I must admit, the boys had more fun than the girls.  Eventually we braved the blasted heath again to have a snack and return to the American History Museum to see a couple of exhibits we’d missed the previous day, namely the original Star-Spangled Banner of song, in all its faded glory.

Once we returned to the hotel (at a reasonable hour for a change) we tracked down an Indian buffet take-away place that  provided us all with a terrific dinner, including Dassa, who ate half her body weight in chana masala.

Sunday, August 20

Stop, turn back the clock!
Two centuries fade away;
Walk into the past. 

Today we left the D.C. area to head further south.  The drive to Williamsburg is about 150 miles, which passed quickly on the Interstate.  Quite by accident, we changed up Stonewall Jackson’s “Shrine,” where we finally learned something about him.  His death, at age 39, was not from battle, but rather from pneumonia, exacerbated by an arm wound.  “This is the bed in which he died… this is the blanket that covered him…”  A Romantic figure, never fading out of his prime, never succumbing to the Union army.

We arrived in
Williamsburg very early, and so continued on to Jamestown, established in 1607 as the first permanent English settlement in the New World.  The exact location of the settlement was lost until quite recently, and archeological work continues.


Our historical appetites whetted, we continued to the site of Colonial Williamsburg itself.  Restored and recreated by Rockefeller in the ‘20s, the site is an utter delight.  The whole village has become a living museum, where costumed guides, actors and trades people immerse the visitor in 18th-century life in a colonial capital.  We wandered, getting a sense of the lay of the land, and eventually went to find our accommodations.

These were also a delight.  The Williamsburg Plantation Resort ranks up there in terms of elegance and class.  The huge outdoor pool helps too.

Monday, August 21

We planned for an earlyish start to the day, and took a quick drive through what passes for downtown Williamsburg before finding a parking at the Visitors’ Center and walking back in time to the eve of the American Revolution.  This time, we focused on the shops at the west end of the historical village, exploring a wonderful toy shop and some other specialty shops before settling on the Cheese Shop as suitable for lunch.  A few small tubs of salad, a loaf of bread and two hunks of cheese set us back over $30, but we learned that Princess Hadassah has a fancy for artisanal French sheep’s milk cheese.  Ahem.  It’s an expensive habit.

Gavi's hat

Gavi looked completely natural in his new woolen tricorn, and we walked the length of the town again before returning to complete some purchases and then heading back to the resort for a swim and supper.  <>

Tuesday, August 22

Our first stop today was
Yorktown, where the American Revolution effectively came to its successful end.  A visitor’s centre opens onto the battlefields on one side, and a path leading to the sleepy town on the other.  Ancient British, French and American entrenchments remain to mark the siege lines, and the cannons make great backdrops for photographs.

Cannon at Yorkton

Yorktown is set at a narrowing of the massive York River, before it opens up into Chesapeake Bay, and there is a nice beach area and marina along the waterfront.  We wandered for a while, then got back into the car and followed a driving tour of the battlefields, before grabbing a quick lunch and heading into Norfolk.

York River at Yorkton
This is the narrow part of the York River

Norfolk strikes me as an inconvenient necessity that residents are trying to make the best of.  There are seedy strips dotted with fancy new development all along the waterfront, and the Botanical Gardens are very pleasant, but back directly onto the runway of the airport.  Dinner took us the short drive to Virginia Beach, where Gavi had his first view of the open ocean.

Wednesday, August 23: She smells seashells… 

This was a different day.  We Julie and the kids at Julie’s mother’s house, near the Botanical Gardens, and visited for a while.  We were invited into a
neighbour’s back yard, where we were presented with some of his award-winning roses, complete with fern frond, in a Gatorade vase.

At Rafi’s suggestion, we all went downtown to see the Battleship Wisconsin, part of the Nauticus ( marine sciences centre.  The ship was certainly a hit with the male members of the party.

Battleship Wisconsin 

After lunch at a food court, we parted ways, leaving Julie to spend the afternoon with her old piano teacher while we became temporary beach bums.  It’s clearly low season, since we had a choice of parking spaces a block off the beach.

Gavi at the beach

The children enjoyed the beach, just not the same aspects of it!  Notice Gavi's deep tan.
Dassa at the beach

Gavi took to the ocean like a fish to water, but Dassa was less enthusiastic.  She eventually decided that playing in the sand was preferable to getting wet, until she announced, mid-sandcastle, “My bum tore.”  And sure enough, there, sopping wet and caked in sand, she had filled her nappy. Putting on a clean one involved carrying a naked and screaming child down to the dreaded water to rinse off then sand, and then holding her high above the beach until she was dry enough to clothe again.

Thursday, August 24: Home again, home again

Eight and a half hours of driving driving, driving.  We got to Pittsburgh by nightfall, and even managed to rescue our VERY IMPORTANT BAG from Olive Garden before they closed.  You know the bag… the one with the wallet, the camera, the passports… the perfect bag to leave under a table at a restaurant.

Friday, August 25: Home at last 


We took a quick peek at the amazing downtown
Pittsburgh has, where the three rivers come together so beautifully and dramatically.  What a great city!  Then, we headed to the outlet mall north of the city, where we arrived an hour late thanks to highway construction that blocked up the Interstate to the point where it took us a half hour to drive just over a mile.

School clothes bought and money spent, we suffered through more construction and an extremely busy border crossing before finally getting home much later than we’d hoped.

A few random thoughts:

  1. Never travel without a can opener, a garlic press and a blender.
  2. My highway is busier than your highway.  Everyone warned us about the traffic around Washington, and while we never saw rush hour, we did drive the Beltway at 10 o’clock on a Thursday morning.  It’s busy, yes, but the 401 in Toronto is busier than that at 10 at night.
  3. What’s up with the yield signs at the bottoms of on-ramps to the highways?  That’s when you’re supposed to be speeding up to get into traffic.  And worse… the STOP signs?  Oy gevult!
  4. It seems to be accepted practice in Virginia to place road signs right behind protruding pieces of foliage.  Can’t find the sign you need?  Just look behind the tree.  In Pennsylvania, the local variation is to place the sign behind another, much less important sign.
  5. Dassa’s comments on the trip: “Drive, drive, drive.  Pram, pram, pram.  Drive, drive, drive…”