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» Friday, October 26, 2012The Last Museum
There's no help for it. We're going to have to come back here someday. There are just too many things to see. We never made it to the museum at Fort Monroe, or the Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis, or took a schooner ride on the York River. Never finished up at Jamestown or Yorktown. Missed half the shops in Williamsburg because of the school groups and James' foot.
But this morning we went to another essential museum for the area, the Mariner's Museum. We'd talked about going to Jamestown this morning and then having lunch at the Carrot Tree, finishing at the National Park portion of Yorktown, and then hitting a couple of stores in the Williamsburg area, including their gift shop again, before coming back to the hotel. However, it was overcast due to the approach of Hurricane Sandy, and we both wondered if they were already battening down the hatches on the shoreline areas.
On the way out this morning, we solved the mystery of the GPS unit and Tidewater Road. When James initially programmed the GPS unit, he told it to automatically avoid bad traffic. This explains why it has taken us off the freeway several times and put us on surface roads or alternate routes. It just does it automatically and doesn't explain itself.
Of course that doesn't explain why on earth it took us to the Mariner's Museum the way we did. We arrived at the intersection across which you could see the entrance to the museum. All we had to do was wait for the light, cross the road, and then turn left into the entrance. Instead it made us turn left at the intersection, go down a mile, and enter the park that surrounds the museum, taking us in through the back! Again, it wasn't a bad ride, the first part through an old neighborhood dotted with homes decorated for fall and Hallowe'en., and the rest through a gorgeous wooded park.
Besides, how could we miss the the main draw at the Mariner's Museum, which is a exhibit about the Battle of Hampton Roads, otherwise known as the conflict between the two famous ironclads, the "Monitor" and the "Virginia." (Most schools still teach that the ship was called "Merrimac"—correctly "Merrimack"—and several of her crew still called her that, but it was renamed after refitting as an ironclad.) The Mariner's Museum has recovered portions and memorabilia from the "Monitor" (she sank in a gale off Cape Hatteras on New Year's Eve, 1862), discovered in 1973, and is carrying out extensive preservation of the ship portions they have brought to the surface. You can even see the big tanks in which the ship parts are being soaked, in the hope that in ten or fifteen more years they may be stable enough to display.
This gallery tells of the earliest attempts to armor ships, showing a Korean vessel that looked like a turtle, and following, the story of the two ships, the Union's "Floating Coffin" and the Confederate's ship made from a Union vessel which had burned to the waterline. There are reproductions of the captain's two-room cabin and those of the executive officer, ship's surgeon (who bored everyone by reading them letters from his sweetheart!), and engineer, and the story of the man who designed the ship. A "lifesize" exhibit chronicles the conversion from "Merrimack" to "Virginia." Finally the battle is chronicled, and then the sad, frightening story of "Monitor's" sinking at the end of 1862. Preserved is the lantern they frantically signaled with. Amazingly, many of her sailors, including the captain, still survived.
You can even step outside on a concrete "deck" that is the top of an exact replica of the USS "Monitor" (well, not the inside, just the shell). It has a ship's bell and, of course I couldn't resist ringing it.
Then into another gallery, which was all about exploration of the seas. There were paintings of the noted explorers, including a rare portrait of Ferdinand Magellan, a huge one of Columbus, and one of Bartholomew Diaz. There were also navigational aids, maps and books on cartography, weapons, ship decorations and arms, ships' decorations, and other unique or beautiful items. This gallery segued into an exhibit about Admiral Horatio Nelson, with oil portraits, busts, commemorative pieces from the Battle of Trafalgar and the Battle of the Nile—even a bust of Napoleon! It was called "The Nelson Touch."
The remainder of the gallery was a history of United States maritime service, from the colonial days to the Navy astronauts. Saw another photo of the "Yeomanettes," young woman who were permitted to serve as clerks in the Navy during the first World War.
One big gallery was called "The Age of Steam," and was about...ta-da...steamships. There was a corner devoted to "Titanic," and beautiful models of everything from paddle-wheelers to the big twentieth century cruise ships. Gorgeously painted figureheads lined the walls, and there were also ships' name boards peppered among them, including from a ship from the Fall River Line. Another walk-through exhibit was the story of people who had survived shipwrecks, or stories about shipwrecks. Here was a watch and a life jacket from a "Titanic" passenger.
A favorite gallery for me was an A to Z collection of some of the items owned by the museum, from an ancient Greek amphora to...well, I forgot what the "Z" stood for. But there was a miniature horse-drawn fire pumper, movie posters, a yellowing calliope keyboard, a wartime target kite...from all eras and all countries.
There was an exhibit of a model builder who does models of ships from different eras, back to the Egyptians. They had a gallery of his stuff, each model, from a foot to several feet long, each in a glass case with a spotlight over each, as if they were little jewels, but they truly were: galleys and warships, galleons, sailing ships all finely strung and sailed...really gorgeous!
They also had a building with nothing but small boats from kayaks to cabin cruisers, and from all different countries. Thee was a sampan from Asia, several boats from the Philippines, the oldest known Chris-Craft from 1923, a bathysphere, a Welsh coracle, an Eskimo hunting boat made of walrus skin, a genuine 19th-century Venetian gondola, an ice boat, a craft that looked like the "African Queen," sailboats, canoes, and two extraordinary crafts: a tiny aluminum boat with a lawn-mower engine that was used by a Cuban husband and wife in 1966 to escape from Castro's Cuba, and "the April Fool," a boat the size of a kitchen cabinet with a sail on it that a man sailed from Casablanca in Morocco to Florida!
We had one more gallery to see, but it was after noon, so we broke for lunch at the museum cafe. I had lobster bisque, astonishingly with no pepper in it, and a grilled cheese sandwich and James had two chili dogs. Afterwards we did the Chesapeake Bay gallery, which was the entire experience of life along the water: lighthouses, fishermen, duck hunters, shipbuilding, buoys, the ubiquitous excursion boats, rowing boats (including ones made for taking your lady courting, with a rowing seat on one side and a wicker seat for the young lady next to it; the one we saw had room for six couples!), and early outboard motors.
What a really, really neat museum!
It had been cloudy when we left the hotel this morning, but it was even more cloudy and chillier when we left. As we departed, it began "mizzling" on the car's windshield. We were headed back up to Williamsburg, where I wanted to do one specific bit of shopping. I have heard for several years now the ladies on my Christmas group talking about a chain Christmas store called "The Christmas Mouse." There was one in the shopping area surrounding Williamsburg, and I just wanted to see one. So we did. This is on a long stretch of motels, shops, restaurants—including more pancake houses in one place than I have ever seen in my life; Williamsburg must be the city of pancake houses as we saw at least a dozen!— amusements like a Ripley's Museum, and more.
It's a cute little shop. I went in there just to look and was seduced by several small things, including two jeweled airplanes for James' airplane tree. They have a good selection of ornaments, including many seashore-themed ones, and a variety of model trees, including a peppermint tree, a gingerbread tree, a Victorian glass tree, an icicle and snow tree (with LED icicles like running lights), a wine tree, a children's interest tree, a bird tree, and a sports tree. So I did come out with a small bag, and James predicts that Willow will have to ride with a bag this year like she did with the Bronner's bag last year. I hope not!
Neither of us were interested in any outlet shopping, so we headed back to the Colonial Williamsburg bookstore and gift shop. I had seen a book here on Sunday that I should have picked up then, one about solely American holidays like Thanksgiving and Columbus Day. I'd seen it sitting on the bargain table, and sure enough, it was still there.
And so were other books. Yes, I was seduced again, but they were all bargain books except for one, which is a history of Christmas celebrations in Virginia. Many of the books had no relation to Williamsburg or American history at all, but that was okay. LOL. James bought a King's Arms T-shirt and also a couple of the bargain books.
Now it was time for two treats! We were going to drive back up the lovely, tree-lined Colonial Parkway to Yorktown, and we were planning to have supper at the Carrot Tree, since we missed lunch there. I was already salivating thinking about the mint melon yogurt dressing for the salad. Well, the Colonial Parkway ride was marvelous. I would love to drive this road every day, especially in the fall, with the trees changing colors around me and going from the shoreline of the James to the shoreline of the York with those delightful brick bridges in between.
But when we got to the Carrot Tree, it turned out they had a huge group coming in, 46 people! Now, this is a tiny cottage, and it was going to be filled. So they asked if we could come back at seven. It was 5:45 and James couldn't wait that long to eat.
We should have gone back to Huzzah!, which was the colonial-themed casual restaurant outside of Williamsburg, but we were both a bit aggravated. We thought the Texas Roadhouse near our hotel might be a good choice, but when we got there it was clogged with people, with a line outside the door. So we just went back to the "main drag" on Jefferson Street and ate at Golden Corral again. We were both a bit dispirited by this time, knowing it was time for us to become landlubbers again.
So it was back to the hotel, starting to pack a bit, watching the last of the lousy channels they have here. (Yeah, I remember when I was a kid we were lucky if the rabbit ears on the television at our motel pulled in four channels! Spoiled, I tell you.)