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We were going to hit Water Country USA next, but realized that going to a water park ON Memorial Day when it was 95 degrees out was probably a poor idea.  So we got the two-day Colonial Williamsburg passes and put off Water Country until Wednesday.  Good plan.  When they went to the water park (I stayed in to get all of our clothes washed and packed so we could drive home Wed. night), it was utterly deserted and they were able to go on every ride as often as they could haul themselves up the steps.

Likewise, CW was not at all crowded since there is plenty of room to spread out there.  I first went when I was 7, on an extended family vacation.  Cousin Karleen was 8, so we fudged our ages to go on both of the kid tours–one was for 7 and under and one was for 8 and over.  I remember them both fondly and was planning to at least get Lily into both…but they do not exisit.  Family vacations are family vacations, bub, and you will stay together eternally and LIKE IT.  Furthermore, we at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation have no intention of taking responsibility for your feral, media-addled offspring.  You made ’em, you deal with ’em.  Have a nice day.

Luckily, we had the grandparents along, keeping our number of adults higher than our number of children and thus freeing up everyone to wander at will.  It was h o t.  We were very happy that they didn’t go all period-authentic on the air conditioning.  We have that at home–on vacation, we want artificially cooled air.  The visitor’s center was in a different place than when I was last there fourteen years ago, so I foolishly left our lunch supplies in the car, thinking it would be nearby…It wasn’t.  I did keep some nuts and such in my backpack, though, and it was so flipping hot that mostly we just wanted water all day.  Water bottles easily refilled at the water fountains–free!  The walk from the visitor’s center to the park is very pretty, though, under quaint brick bridges and by a little stream.  The kids were all busy snapping photos and didn’t mind the hike.

The path comes out behind the Governor’s Palace which–yay!–is air conditioned.  So our first stop was to cool down a bit while seeing how the other half lived.  With a lot of weaponry on the walls, apparently.  It’s good that that is the first thing you see, b/c it got Ben involved before he could become dulled by the parade of old beds and wallpaper.  Ever mindful of my own childhood declaration that “If I have to look at one more old house, I’m just going to lay down in the road and let a horse run over me,” I tried to spare the kids my adult fixations on old crap.  I’d probably used up all their good will cooing over the ships at Jamestown.

Turns out that each kid has just enough history geekery to sustain two days in W-burg.  Julianna would happily move there and sleep on a pallet in exchange for being allowed to become a re-enactor.    I understand the impulse.  Some of you may know that I wrote my Master’s thesis at the Maryland Renaissance Faire and would be perfectly happy to have a reason to don a costume every day.  As opposed to now when I just do it for kicks.  Huzzah!  I think William & Mary moved to the top of her college list while we were there.  If only they offered Costume Geek scholarships.  Ben was well into the weaponry and other trades.  We spent a good deal of time at the Gunsmith’s house.  Our favorite stops tended to be the shops where the tradesperson could take the time to tell you about how things were made and sold and used–gunsmith, shoemaker, cabinet maker, tailor, etc.  Those are the jobs I most coveted, too.  Julianna wanted to be like the guy running the coffee house tour–he was in character, pretending to welcome guests from 1774 (or, you know, something close) to this new place to meet and have a bit of coffee or drinking chocolate (yum!  just barely sweet and lightly spiced.  Far better than their watery, under-roasted coffee). Or to be a part of the street theater, acting out high dudgeon over the new Stamp Act.  High Renfest Geekery, in other words.  I prefer the job where I get to wear a costume and be a know-it-all. Shocking, I know (see?  know-it-all).  Every day a new group of people hanging on my every word and assuming I know what I’m talking about?  yes, please.  Throw in a costume and I’m in heaven.  I think I want the tailor’s job.  I found him all alone in a cool, empty building, hand sewing linen shirts and frilly bits of frippery.  A job most folks nowadays see as Black Magic–clothing out of cloth?!  without a machine?!–and so don’t stay long, but when they are there, they’re dead impressed.  And he gets to touch nice fabric all day.  Sold.

Some photos from Day One:

Steve and the kids in the weird twisty arbor next to the Palace

Obligatory Child-in-colonial-pillory shot

They're required by law. You cannot leave the park without proof of at least one stocks and/or pillory shot.

crazy mushroom colony growing under the benches of an outdoor theater. A Colonial colony.

Lily checks the colonial map

Julianna photographing the colonial sheep.

Ben and Steve on the colonial fence.

Day two, we started at the Palace again, since we’d missed the maze.  it was not, alas, as grand as I recalled it from when I was 7, but still fun.  There were far more Harry Potter jokes flying around this time, though.  When we reached the Palace, we planned to just cruise on by, but in the kitchen, they were making chocolate!  We had been quite captivated by colonial chocolate (just let me know when you’re tired of the word “colonial.”) at the coffee house the day before, so getting to hear about how it was made was cool.  Not literally.  Literally, it was about 100 degrees, but it was quite interesting.

Just below that guy’s right hand is a cocoa pod.  he told us that the flesh is edible and tastes like a citrusy avacado.    It had never occured to me that there was a tasty fruit connected with chocolate and now I really want to try one.  He and an elderly woman were shelling the seeds, a pretty painstaking task.  Smelled good, though.

Then we went back to the gunsmith’s b/c the house attached to the smithy was to be opened.  It had been closed on Monday.

It was also blessedly air conditioned, so they could have just read us algebraic formulas and we’d have been happy to listen.  But instead, we got an interesting talk about the family that had lived there AND dancing lessons.

I know it’s all luddite and simplified, but I must admit, the notion of having to dance and play games to entertain oneself and one’s family does sound appealing.  Esp. in the summer when I’m constantly trying to wedge bodies away from the TV and computer (and look where I am now…).  Yes, I much prefer having access to antibiotics, dental care, and Google, but there is something about having work that must get done and simple pleasures that seems soothing.

Back to the present…Steve and I had gone to the Capitol building the day before and had a really interesting tour.  Our guide was very knowledgeable and really helped me to see the political issues of the time.  There was little I didn’t know, but much I’d never really thought about.  She talked about how the colonists had chosen to model the judicial system on British Common Law, maintaining the philosophy of “innocent until proven guilty” when that was far from the norm at the time.  It’s so much a part of how we think that I’d never really considered that that was a choice, to assume innocence, and how very different things would be if we’d chosen otherwise.  Likewise “a jury of one’s peers,” which at the time really meant the jury was made up of people who knew you and could speak to your character.  The court in the Capitol was for federal crimes–all punishable by death.  The jury had to deliberate in a room with no light, food, drink, or bathroom breaks.  The average return was in about 20 min, but very seldom was a death sentence handed down.  Most of the time, the defendant walked free.  That surprised me, I guess I’d had an image of old-time justice resulting in a lot of dead folks.

When the tour went to the other side of the building and talked more about the weight of the decision to side with the revolution, it was all pretty eye opening.  The guide really brought home how brave and risky it was.  When I was a lass, our schooling gave us this Johnny Tremain picture of things, in which all the colonists were grumbling and ready to revolt and fight together,  but really there was no sense of country.  Each colony was kind of its own country and even within those there wasn’t much cohesion.  Particularly in a huge one like Virginia.  At the end of the tour, we’d decided that some of that Virginia arrogance is well-earned.

I went back the next day to take Julianna through and got a different guide.  This one was more in the re-enactor mold, very engaging, but not as informative, to my ears.  Still, it was good to hear and I think she enjoyed it too, although probably wasn’t as moved to patriotism as we had been.

Next to the Captiol is the gaol (or, as we say in America: jail).  It wasn’t as entertaining as it should have been, but we did learn that Blackbeard’s pirates had been held there for trial.  When we went into the original cells, we saw the toilets that Blackbeard’s pirates must have pooped on!  I kept telling the kids to go sit on them–put your butt where pirate butt has been!–but they’d have none of it.  Losers.

straining on the pirate throne.

I was, at least, able to shackle Lily to the wall.

One of the unexpected aspects of the trip was all the weird plants.  I spent a good deal of time photographing plants and trees I’d never seen before.  It’s only about three hours from our house, but the flora was all different.  I still need to sit down with my tree book and google images and sort it all out.  I loved this tree, that I’m pretty sure is a live oak:

And here’s Ben climbing in some tree that split, dramatically, a very long time ago:

Attention phone app makers: I would happily pay for a “flora and fauna of” app for most places I visit!  I have an app called San Francisco Trees, where it can tell you what trees are next to where you’re standing.  Super cool.  But I’d settle for just a bunch of photos and labels.  I’m unsettled when I don’t know what things are called.  I may be the only one.  But I doubt it.

Anyway.  Good trip, everyone enjoyed it and wants to go back.


In honor of the 4th of July, I finally pull myself together enough to report on the trip to Williamsburg.  From a month ago.  SO many photos, so overwhelming.  If I’d blogged every day, like I did in Aruba, I’d have been fine.  Or if I’d taken notes at night, like I did in Wisconsin…but no.  So, in the end, it’ll be a few half-recalled anecdotes with supporting photos.

It was fun.  It was h o t.  So hot.  We went to Jamestown and Yorktown on the first day.  I only vaguely recalled these from my own childhood trip and I suspect they are much changed.  I was jazzed to see the big ships, even though they’re not from my beloved Napoleonic era.  Julianna was looking forward to the native American village.  Ben and Lily were looking forward to rock candy, even though they wouldn’t get it until Williamsburg.

We headed to the ships first, since we all knew I’d just keep pestering everyone until I got my way.  As it happened, you pass through the recreated settlement at Jamestown first, so I had to practice my patience.  It was just the sort of thing I like, just a village set up that you can wander through, with the occasional re-enactor/docent to answer questions.  We were free to touch most things, look into drawers, flip through the skins and furs.  I tend to like recreated sites for that reason–you still get a sense of what life was like, but without the museum restrictions necessary for stuff that is Really Old.  it’s cool to see that stuff, think “Historical Dudes made pancakes with this!” but I’d rather be free to immerse myself at will.

We all enjoy listening to the people who have learned some period skill and love to talk about it.  Throughout our weekend, our favorite bits were always these encounters with enthusiastic re-enactors and tradespersons.  The blacksmith worker at Jamestown was a woman who really enjoyed her job even though she was stoking a fire on a 95 degree day.  She helped kids figure out how to get a spark with a flint and steel:

We poked around in the little houses and marveled at the tiny beds (as you do).  We went into the church and I delivered an impassioned sermon about the need to get to the ships pretty soon:

Heading for the back gate, we encountered this guy, escorting a black snake to safety.  He just walked along with it, like a snakeherd:

We walked out through the gardens–so much farther along than ours were, only a couple hours south–and to the waterfront.  There were three ships, all pretty small for making a voyage like that.  Nearly 5 months at sea in very close quarters.  Passengers had to stay below decks almost the entire time.  I was allowed up on the quarterdeck, though, b/c the captain rather fancies me, I think:

I’ve told him that those kids hanging around me can be put to work.

So then I went down to meet him back in his quarters:

Where IS that Jack Aubrey? Oh right. 1607. rats.

After we left the ships, we had a snack on the dock and encountered a guy who knew a lot about navigation at sea.  Sensing an eager audience, we went into a supply closet and hauled out his instruments.  He showed us a whole range of equipment, showed us how it all worked–super cool.  Steve and I were motivated to really learn how to use it all…for our extensive time at sea.  At night.  I was struck by how Super Smart the folks who came up with that stuff must have been.

Our return trip brought us through the recreated Powhatan village.  Like the English village, we were free to meander around and pick things up and root about.  Lots of “what animal was this,Mom?” as we looked at pelts tacked to the walls.  And lots of “what on earth was THIS for?”  I picked up a tool of some sort and tried to figure it out.  Lily decided it was so that the Indians could paint their toenails:

Seemed as good a theory as any.

Done with Jamestown, we ate our lunch–I very cleverly put foil packets of lentil stew on the dashboard before we went in and they were piping hot for lunch!–and headed to Yorktown.  Yorktown had a very cool shipwreck exhibit in a museum.  When we exited the museum, it was into a re-created Revolutionary encampment.  I got to chat with the surgeon (completing my Aubrey/Maturin experience):

We finally brought Ben up on charges:

There was a little settlement here, too, nearly deserted b/c of a heavy rain just as we arrived at Yorktown.  Again, it was nice to just be able to poke around at our leisure.  The gardens were inspiring–I either need more land or terracing.

It all closed down at 5, so we headed out to change, have dinner, and hit the pool.  Dinner was at Food for Thought–so smug.  So overrated.–the pool smelled bad.  So we played board games and went to bed.  Rest up for Williamsburg…


July 2010
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