Sunday, March 4, 2012

Colonial Williamsburg and Newport News

It was a short drive from Fredericksburg down to the Newport News Park, so we skipped the manic interstate and instead drove on more secondary roads - a more peaceful, less frenetic pace. Upon arrival we found that our site was perfectly level side-to-side, but front-to-back required us to use every inch of our front jack's adjustablility to get the Whale level. Still, we got trued up OK.

We weather was poor during our stay, and it limited our activities. We had both been looking forward to taking our bikes out on the mountain bike trails within the park, but it was either raining, or had just stopped raining, or was just about to start raining, so trail conditions were too poor.

We went in to see Colonial Williamsburg, but between work and rain got their mid-afternoon. Tickets to get into all of the staffed old-timey buildings were expensive, so with only a couple hours left in the day, we opted to wander around and look only at free stuff. They've done a nice job creating an island within the town that is true to our colonial times. If you took away all of the ambling tourists, the iPhone wielding parents trailing wild-eyed kids, all hopped up on root beer and swinging plastic swords and rubber band pistols, you could really imagine yourself in 300 year old Williamsburg. Most of the structures are private residences, but there are no visible indication of modernization. Cars are kept enclosed in garages, exterior lights look oil-fired, electric wires are underground. The staff manning the museum buildings (the taverns, blacksmith, chair-maker, armory, etc.) are all in period costume, and in character. They speak loudly of political issues, like that rumor about the folks up in Boston throwing tea into the harbor (that's hahbah, if you're from Boston). They wear powdered wigs, knickers and stockings. They side-step horse poo, bathe once a year, might die from a splinter, and are lucky to live past 36. Anyway, it's a fun place to visit, and we didn't do it justice. Speaking of justice:

Scenes from about the village:

The next day we went into Newport News to the Mariner's Museum, which was really good. Having grown up in and around boats, this is my favorite type of museum. Others of note are the Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, and the Maritime museum in Astoria, Washington. This one had a section devoted to Chesapeake bay, which was appropriate, and showed some of the shallow draft sailing work-boats of the day, like the sharpie, which was the basis for the boat that my father built:

Another section focused on the maritime aspects of the Civil War, a big focus in these parts. We spent most of our time, though, in the area which followed man's seafaring endeavors through history, from Indian dugout canoes, early China's first cargo vessels (junk), Arabic Dhows, to the heyday of Britains Navy and the career of Admiral Horatio Nelson. The exhibit also went on into modern times, submarine warfare, luxury liners and even cargo freighters.

There was one amazing room full of the models of Winnifred & August Crabtree: incredibly detailed and beautiful ship models, encased in glass, and ingeniously illuminated. It was magical.

Lastly was the small-craft exhibit, which featured examples of craft from an Eskimo skin kayak to an Italian gondola to an experimental sailing hydroplane (clocked at over 35mph!):

I enjoyed seeing a catboat, similar the one in which my family cruised the coast of Maine when I was young...

...and the coracle, a small "wearable" boat, that you could carry on your back when you weren't desperately trying to keep it afloat and pointed in a direction loosely approximating that in which you'd like to travel:

This area of Virginia certainly deserves a dedictated trip all its own. There's so much to see and do, and we hardly scratched the surface. Didn't get to Jamestown or Yorktown at all. Next time... But now, we're hellbent for South Carolina and warmer weather.

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