Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia with Spring Bounce Tickets

Last year my family and I went to Williamsburg, Virginia with the main purpose to go to Busch Gardens. We were going to have a few hours to kill the morning after we went to the amusement park, so I thought we could go to Colonial Williamsburg and see what we could see without purchasing an admission ticket. Long story short, there isn’t a whole lot you can see without a ticket other than walking around the roads and going into some of the shops selling things. You can read more about our experience at Colonial Williamsburg without a ticket here if you’d like.

This year, we decided to allot more time in Williamsburg so we would have plenty of time to take in the sights. I made reservations for 4 nights and bought Spring Bounce tickets, which allow you to go to both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens for a week. There are also Summer Bounce tickets, single day tickets, and many combination tickets where you can combine Water Country USA, Historic Jamestowne, Jamestown Settlement, American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, and Yorktown Battlefield. The website for tickets is here.

IMG_1893
Governor’s Palace Gardens

With general admission tickets, we were able to tour the Governor’s Palace and Gardens, and pretty much any of the other homes and most areas that were open while we were there.  For example, the Governor’s Palace was only open from 4-5 pm so we needed to be there during those hours. I remember touring the Governor’s Palace when I was a child with my brother and mother and the gardens still looked exactly as I remembered them. The people working at the Palace, as well as all of Colonial Williamsburg, are extremely knowledgeable and thoroughly answered any questions we had as well as telling us about the sites.

IMG_1896
Governor’s Palace from the gardens

Some things do cost extra even with general admission tickets, such as firing a flintlock musket, which is an additional $76. My daughter was dying to go to the Ax Range where she could throw axes, something she had wanted to do ever since seeing it on one of her favorite TV shows, “Property Brothers.” We bought tickets for her and my husband for $10 each and went to the Ax Range. After being given a safety demonstration and instructions on how to properly throw an ax, my daughter and husband’s fun began. They were allowed to throw for about 15 or 20 minutes, which was plenty of time really. Both my husband and daughter managed to land some of the axes in the target as well. My daughter said later that this was a highlight of her time at Colonial Williamsburg.

IMG_1935
Ax throwing!

My husband and I also toured the extensive Art Museums, which have a wide array of galleries including portraits, furniture, Folk Art, silver objects such as tea sets and much more. You can easily spend a couple of hours here if you enjoy art museums. Although admission was included in our general admission tickets, you can buy day passes to the art museums for $11.99. When we went, the art museums also had a hands-on activity for children, where you could make a toy like ones on display in the toy section of the museum. Adjacent to the Art Museums is what’s left of the Mental Hospital that used to be on the grounds before it was moved to another area outside Colonial Williamsburg. It’s pretty much just a hallway now but has some displays of objects historically used to treat mental illness and some of the appalling accommodations mental patients used to have to endure.

This year, since we had more time to spend in Colonial Williamsburg, we went in more of the shops and buildings than we did last year. Two of our favorites were the printing press and book bindery buildings. We chatted for quite a while with the people working in both of these rooms. In addition to being shown how the printing press works and how books were historically bound, we talked to an art apprentice who showed us some of his pencil and ink drawings. He showed us some of the tools he uses and discussed the differences in these tools. Clearly the people working at Colonial Williamsburg are passionate about their trades and love discussing all of the techniques involved.

IMG_1945
One of many shops- this one sells toys!

With the Spring Bounce tickets, we were able to go between Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens any time we wanted, which was great. Originally, I had thought we would spend the first full day at Busch Gardens, then the next full day at Colonial Williamsburg, then back to Busch Gardens, and finally spend a few hours in the morning at Colonial Williamsburg before we drove back home. Instead, we ended up not spending the first full day at Busch Gardens so we went to Colonial Williamsburg and toured the Governor’s Palace and watched the Fife and Drum corps evening march. We continued to divide up our days between both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens, and that seemed like a better way to spend our days.

IMG_1914
Fife and Drum Corps

Planning tips for Colonial Williamsburg:

1. There are many, many other activities you can do for additional fees, as well. You can take a carriage ride, participate in a local court session, take several guided tours, take an ox wagon ride, watch a play, go to an organ recital, and go on ghost walks. Depending on what you choose to add on, a visit to Colonial Williamsburg can be quite expensive, however, so plan accordingly.

2. Williamsburg, Virginia gets hot and humid during the summer months so if you can manage a visit during the spring or fall, the weather should be more pleasant. While we were there in mid-May, the high for the day hit 95 degrees one day, so even in May it can get extremely hot here.

3. If you have a week to spend in the area, visit Yorktown and Jamestown also, which are a short drive from Williamsburg. Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg are about 15-20 minutes from each other. In my opinion, three full days for Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg (bouncing between the two places on all three days) is the perfect amount of time to spend if you’re only going to these two places. If you plan on going to Water Country USA in addition to Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg, I would plan on spending four full days total in the area.

4. You will be doing a ton of walking no matter where you go in the area so wear comfortable shoes.

5. You can stay at one of the hotels within Colonial Williamsburg, or at a hotel in Williamsburg, but don’t feel like you have to stay within the colonial grounds. The hotel where we stayed was less than a five minute drive from the colonial area, and there were numerous hotels that were also this close.

6. A car is essential for getting around Williamsburg and the surrounding area so if you’re flying to the area, get a rental car. Busch Gardens is approximately 55 miles from Richmond and 150 miles from Washington D.C. Although you could fly into Washington, D.C. and drive from there, most people fly into Norfolk, Richmond or Newport-News-Williamsburg International Airport.

Have any of you been to Colonial Williamsburg? If so, tell me about your experience and if not, would you like to go? Any history buffs out there?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

Advertisements

History, Science, and Wine in Gran Canaria and Tenerife, Canary Islands- Some Rainy Day Ideas

The Canary Islands are full of places for outdoor enthusiasts like me. If you want to read about some beautiful beaches in Gran Canaria and Tenerife, I have a post here. My family and I wanted to go beyond exploring the beaches, though. We wanted to go to the Canary Islands and go hiking as much as possible. When there was a high chance of rain several days in a row I started exploring some indoor activities.

Being big history buffs, my family and I decided to visit La Cueva Pintada. The Painted Cave, in the historical center of Gáldar, is in the north of Gran Canaria (Calle Audiencia 2) and is well-marked with signposts. Cueva Pintada Museum and Archaeological Park is a site from the Paleolithic era and includes part of a village with over 50 houses and caves. For more information regarding hours, admission, and tours, see the website here.

Before we went to La Cueva Pintada, I didn’t expect the area to be that large, but the archaeological area was big enough that we spent quite a while here. The actual painted cave is only open to guided tours but you don’t have to spend the entire time on a guided tour. We pretty much just went with a group inside the painted cave and spent the rest of our time here exploring on our own. All of the areas have information in multiple languages, including English, French, German, and Spanish.

IMG_0902
La Cueva Pintada Museum and Archaeological Park
IMG_20180221_115629571_HDR
Inside one of the homes from La Cueva Pintada

Later during our vacation on the island of Tenerife, we also needed a rain contingency plan. There was an almost 100% chance of rain and strong winds all day during one of our vacation days so we decided to go to a museum rather than sit around in our hotel room all day.

The Science and Cosmos Museum is a great rainy-day activity especially if you have children, even older kids, or if you love science and technology and don’t have kids. I saw plenty of adults at the museum without a child in sight, so this isn’t just for kids! Admission is a reasonable €5 for adults and €3 for residents. The website is here.

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 3.49.52 PM
The Science and Cosmos Museum

There are tons of hands-on activities at La Ciencia y el Cosmos as well as a planetarium. All of the signs for each activity area are in Spanish so if you’re not at least somewhat fluent, you probably won’t get as much out of the museum. Also part of Los Museos de Tenerife are La Naturaleza y el Hombre (Nature and Man) and Historia y Anthropología (History and Anthropology). We spent a couple of hours at the science museum playing before we went to a nearby winery, Casa Museo del Vino.

Casa Museo del Vino is much more than just a winery and I was lucky to have stumbled across it because honestly it didn’t come up in the usual searches. Located in Santa Brígida in Gran Canaria, the wine house museum combines the tasting and marketing of Gran Canaria Denomination of Origin wines along with a museum. While my husband and I were tasting red wines, our daughter was walking around in an adjacent room learning all about the history of the winery and the area and trying to pet the resident cat.

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 3.24.58 PM
Museum part of Casa Museo del Vino. Credit holaislascanarias.com

At Casa Museo del Vino, food is also available during busier months, with a speciality in Canary cuisine, an assortment of cheeses, and traditional sweets. Although entry is free, wine tastings and food are of course not free. We tried four different red wines for one euro each, and these were generous pours so there was enough of each for both my husband and myself. There are also a wide variety of bottles you can buy inside the store and we left with one bottle from the four that we had tried. More information with hours and location can be found on the website here.

Science, history, and wine are always a good combination in my book! This coming from a scientist, history-buff, and wine-lover. I was glad to see Gran Canaria and Tenerife didn’t disappoint on any of those fronts. I know Gran Canaria also has a science museum and many wineries, so there are lots of options on both Gran Canaria and Tenerife.

Do any of you like checking out local science museums, historical sites, and wineries when you travel like I do? What are some of your favorites in or out of the United States? In the United States, San Diego, Chicago and Washington, D.C. has some fantastic museums.

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

The Blue Grotto, Dingli Cliffs, and My Favorite Temples in Malta

For our exploration of the southern area of Malta, we decided to go to the Blue Grotto, Dingli Cliffs, Hagar Qim Temples, and Mnajdra Temples. Since it was late in the year, I thought it would be too chilly to enjoy a boat ride, but there were a few other boats going out for tours while we were there. I would definitely do it during the warmer months- next time! Still, it was fun to just walk around and look at the beautiful water for a bit and snap some photos. There are a few small restaurants where you can get a quick snack but it’s a pretty small undeveloped area (which is a good thing).

IMG_1394
The Blue Grotto

To get to Dingli Cliffs, we started in Buskett Gardens, an area with woodlands dating back to the 16th century. There are historical sites nearby such as prehistoric cart ruts and Ghar il-Kbir (a complex of caves that were inhabited up to 150 years ago). Although there are numerous trails you can hike around Buskett Gardens, we just walked straight from Buskett Gardens to Dingli Cliffs although we could have just driven straight to the cliffs. If I would have had more time, I definitely would have spent more time hiking around Buskett Gardens since it seemed very pretty in the area.

IMG_0718
Dingli Cliffs
IMG_0722
Looking down Dingli Cliffs

Hagar Qin Temples were my favorite of all of the temples we went to (and we went to a lot). I thought the preservation of the temples were some of the best in the area and the location of the temples by the Dingli Cliffs just added to the experience. Mnajdra Temples were within walking distance from Hagar Qin, just a bit closer to the water but not quite as extensive. First excavated in 1839, the remains of Hagar Qin suggest a date between 3600 – 3200 BC, a period known as the Ġgantija phase in Maltese prehistory.

IMG_1375

IMG_1387

It was nice that the last temples we went to were my favorite ones; we saved the best for last. After all of this history, we were ready to see some other things, so we decided to see some beaches in the area. Join me for that upcoming post!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Harbour Area of Malta- A Palace, a Fort, and Temples

Right beside Valletta in Malta is the Harbour Area. If you missed my post about Valletta, you can find it here. We tried to combine Valletta and the Harbour Area but it was too much for one day so we ended up splitting it into two days. I found the Harbour area to be a bit less hectic and crowded (a bit but not a ton) than Valletta and liked the Harbour area a bit more because of this. We enjoyed just walking around admiring the huge yachts and coming up with names for our future yacht after we win the lottery.

IMG_1363
Plan B looks pretty good to me!

IMG_0716

Continuing with our historical tour of Malta, we began with the Inquisitor’s Palace. This unused (at the time) palace was offered as a residence to an inquisitor in 1574 and is the only inquisitor’s place open to the public in the world so it’s a rare opportunity to be able to tour such a place. Although it’s sad to think about what went on here, especially when you see the prison and torture areas, it is a part of history that can’t be forgotten.

IMG_0708
A display in the Inquisitor’s Palace

It was getting late in the evening when we toured Fort St. Angelo so we got to see views of the harbour at dusk from the top of the fort, which was nice. There really isn’t much to see at the fort other than take in some stunning views of the area but the views are some of the best in the Harbour Area. While it’s not the biggest, oldest, or strongest fort in Malta, it is said that who ever controlled Fort St. Angelo controlled Malta. To me, that’s one powerful fort.

IMG_1358
View from Fort St. Angelo

IMG_1367

The Tarxien Temples turned out to be some of my favorite temples on Malta. Built between 3600 and 2500 B.C., they were re-used between 2400 and 1500 B.C. and are four megalithic structures. I really liked being able to walk around and get up close to these temples and see the prehistoric artwork unique to these temples. The temples contain highly decorated stone blocks and screens, reliefs of domestic animals and spirals, the colossal statue and a number of altars, one of which contained a flint knife and animal bones.

IMG_0737
Tarxien Temples
IMG_0742
Tarxien Temples

We tried to visit a dog rescue place, Island Sanctuary in this area but were turned away, since visitors are only admitted on Sundays from 9 to 12 and it was not a Sunday when we went. There was also a sign on the gate that said dog walks were cancelled until further notice. I had checked the website earlier and it seemed like there was a possibility we would be allowed in so I thought it was worth trying. It was a shame we weren’t allowed to go in and walk one or more of the dogs because I was looking forward to it. When we visited Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah and took one of the puppies on a walk with us and back to our cottage there for the night, we loved it. We were told there weren’t enough volunteers at Island Sanctuary for visitors other than the scant hours available. If you go, make sure you call in advance.

Like the rest of Malta, the harbour area did not disappoint. I loved this area for all it had to offer and couldn’t wait to see more of this beautiful island.

Happy travels!

Donna

Rabat/Mdina/Mġarr Area of Malta- Touring a Roman House, Temples, and Catacombs

After our short stay in Gozo, we took the ferry back to Malta and decided to dive into some of the historical sites first. The diverse history of this small independent country is fascinating to me and I was very much looking forward to seeing some of the ancient ruins and other sites first-hand. You can read more about this beautiful archipelago located off the coast of Sicily on the Wikipedia page.

First we decided to explore the northwest corner of Malta which includes Rabat, Mdina, and Mgarr. Like so much of Malta, this area is rich with historical sites so we wanted to spend our day here visiting several historical sites that were part of the Heritage Malta Pass. The Heritage Malta multisite pass includes access to 22 sites and museums plus the Malta National Aquarium and the Citadel Visitor Center and is good for 30 days. If you plan on seeing multiple sites rather than one or two it’s worth the 50 Euro per adult or family pass for 110 Euro good for 2 adults and up to 2 children.

We began at the Domvs Romana, a wealthy aristocratic Roman house built in the first century B.C. and discovered in 1881.  A museum was built around the remains and opened in 1882. Although most of the house has been destroyed over the years, beautiful mosaics remain along with marble statues of Emperor Claudius and his family. I think it’s worth going to this site, just don’t plan on spending more than 30 minutes max here.

IMG_1279
Domvs Romana

The Skorba Temples are small but of great historical significance. There are two remaining monoliths, one dating to before the Temple Period before 3600 B.C. and these structures are among the oldest constructed structures on the Maltese islands. We only spent about 15 minutes here because there simply isn’t that much to see but it’s still impressive.

IMG_0660
Skorba Temples
IMG_0664
Ta’Hagrat Temples

Ta’Hagrat Temples are comprised of two structures, the oldest of which dates back to 3600-3200 B.C. The temple has a well-preserved doorway and facade and is the only temple built entirely of local upper corralline limestone. Ta’Hagrat Temples are bigger in scope than the Skorba Temples and we spent a bit more time here to be able to take it all in.

St. Paul’s Catacombs was our final stop on our historical tour of the Rabat Area and it is the best in my opinion at least of the sites we saw on this day. We chose to only go to St. Paul’s Catacombs even though Ta’ Bistra Catacombs are also in the area because it seemed like St. Paul’s would be more interesting. You can actually walk into over 20 different burial sites at St. Paul’s and although I don’t know for sure since I didn’t go, it doesn’t look like you can do that at Ta’Bistra.

IMG_20171118_135706516_HDR
If you’re claustrophobic, you’d hate going in the catacombs!

St. Paul’s Catacombs consist of over 30 hypogea or burial grounds that were in use until the 4th century A.D. They are the earliest and largest evidence of Christianity in Malta. Roman law prohibited burials within the capital at the time so the burial grounds were chosen just outside the city of what is now Mdina.

I really liked being able to go inside so many hypogea and explore the catacombs completely on my own (versus with a guide or workers there standing guard). Some were bigger than others but typically you would go down anywhere from a few to several stairs and you could walk around and see areas where the people would have been buried. If you’re claustrophobic this would not be a good place for you, though, since it was very tight, confined spaces. In case anyone is wondering there were no skeletal remains left in any of the catacombs.

IMG_20171118_135345222_HDR
The lighting in the catacombs made it really hard to get a decent photo!

As much as I enjoyed these historical sites, the ones we went to later during our vacation only got better (for the most part), although we had no way of knowing that at the time. Join me as we explore the capital city of Malta, Valletta in my next post!

Have any of you been to the catacombs anywhere else in the world, like Italy? What do you think of catacombs? Creepy or cool?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

I’m Sorry but I Just Didn’t Love Athens

I had high expectations when I visited Athens, Greece on my way to Crete. I had seen photos of the Acropolis and many other ruins. As a kid, I had read about the Greek gods and Greek mythology. As an adult, I had heard other travelers rave about Greece. Athens had been touted as a thriving city full of history and good food. I couldn’t wait to see it for myself, so of course I planned on spending a few days in Athens en route to Crete, where I would be spending a week.

DSC01322
Just try to ignore all of the construction and scaffolding all around

Alas, Athens seemed dirty, overly-crowded, and noisy upon first impression. Yes, I understand that Athens is a large urban city, but I don’t think other cities of comparable size are all like this. Some parts of Athens didn’t seem safe and were definitely sketchy. It was also unrelentingly hot, which didn’t help any.

DSC01330
One of the not-so-great ruins sites in Athens

Some of the ruins were a bit disappointing, too. The Parthenon was covered in scaffolding and the ruins of the Ancient Agora were a bit difficult to find because they were so nondescript. The Acropolis was pretty cool but had crazy-long lines, which isn’t cool when the sun is beating down on you.

DSC01325
Crowds and scaffolding in Athens- check and check!

We did stay at a nice hotel with a rooftop pool and bar, Melia Athens, so it wasn’t all bad. The food was really good as well and we especially enjoyed the light and flaky pastries from the abundant bakeries around Athens.

Overall, I’d say Greece has much more to offer than what you find in Athens. I felt like when we reached Crete after leaving Athens, it was like being in another country. Crete was full of beautiful scenery, well-maintained historical sites and ruins, and the food was delicious everywhere we went. My daughter fell in love with the yogurt with fresh honey drizzled on top while we were there and still talks about how great that was. Probably my favorite part of Crete, though, was the beaches. We went to several beaches in Crete and loved Elafonissi the best.

Although we didn’t go to any other islands in Greece, I’d happily go back to explore them. I think I’d skip Athens, though!

What about you guys? Have any of you been disappointed in a place you’ve visited?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

How to Plan a Vacation to Charleston, South Carolina-Part 1

Once again Charleston, South Carolina was chosen best city to visit in the United States by Travel and Leisure for 2017. In fact, Charleston often makes the top ten list for many travel companies, whether chosen by the editors or readers. However, to make the most of your visit to Charleston, some planning is involved. Hopefully that’s where I come in.

While I don’t claim to be an expert on all things Charleston, I have been there many times through the years, both before kids and with my daughter so I do have the perspective of what young couples and families might be interested in. When it comes to planning a vacation anywhere you first have to ask yourself what are you interested in doing or seeing there. For Charleston, what you do may be dictated by what time of year you go.

DSC03753
The walk along Battery Park is lovely no matter what time of year it is!

If you’re not familiar with the weather of Charleston, the summers get quite hot and humid. The average highs in July and August are 91 and 89 F and the lows are 73 and 72 F. For someone coming from a much cooler climate, this might be a bit much, even for relaxing by the beach. You might want to wait until October when the average high is 77 and the low is 57. The water would still be warm enough to swim in the ocean this time of year as well. The average highs in December and January are still quite comfortable, at 62 and 59, respectively, with average lows then 40 and 38 F. This is definitely too cold for most people to swim in the ocean and even relax at the beach in a swimsuit, however.  All that being said, my family and I have taken our annual beach trip to Charleston in August several times and we’ve always had a great time but we are from the south, so we’re used to heat and humidity.

DSC03766
The beaches are very clean with soft sand and dunes scattered about
IMG_0515
Morris Island, an uninhabited island accessible by boat

What if you’re more of a foodie and are primarily interested in partaking in some of the fabulous restaurants that Charleston has to offer and have zero interest in going to the beaches? In that case, November would be lovely, or alternatively you’ll find near identical temperatures in March (70 for the high, 47 for the low). These times of year would also be great if you’re a history buff and are interested in seeing historical sites in the area.

20160828_075829
USS Yorktown at Patriot’s Point

Now that we’ve got time of year down, we can move on to specifics, like where you’ll stay. There are no shortage of hotels and inns, such as the number one rated hotel in 2017 by Travel & Leisure The Vendue. Other highly rated accommodations are Zero GeorgeFrancis Marion Hotelthe Meeting Street Inn, and Governor’s House Inn. There are literally dozens of inns and bed and breakfasts in the area, so if this is where you’d like to stay, there are no shortage of this type of accommodation. Many of the inns are in the heart of the historical district of Charleston, so as you may guess, they are not exactly for the frugal traveler. The advantage of staying in the historical district is you can walk to many restaurants, shops, and art galleries so you don’t  have to worry about parking which can be difficult to find and/or expensive.

If you’re traveling as a family with young children, be advised, some bed and breakfasts do no allow children to stay at their establishments, so a hotel would be a better option. Basically, the further you get from downtown Charleston, the more affordable your accommodations are. However, I do not recommend staying in North Charleston, which is also where the airport and convention center are. North Charleston is very residential (which that alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing) and the stores and restaurants there are generally not independently-owned so you would be spending much of your time in your car to get to places of interest and the better (in my opinion) independently-owned restaurants. Unless you enjoy eating at chain restaurants and shopping at chain stores, in which case, you’d be very happy here.

IMG_20160826_101658525_HDR
City Market

Personally, I like staying in Mount Pleasant, which is located in-between downtown Charleston and the beaches of the area. I’ve stayed in both hotels and Airbnb lodging and was always happy with my choice. No matter if you’re going to historic Charleston, Sullivan’s Island, or Isle of Palm, you won’t be any further than a 20 minute car ride there, and often it’s only about 15 minutes. However, if you have no interest in going to the beaches in the area, I would stay closer to downtown Charleston. Again, there’s no shortage of hotels or Airbnb properties.

20160828_081939
Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge connects Mt. Pleasant and Charleston

Now that we’ve worked out the when to go and where to stay, we’ll move on to where to eat and what to do in my next post.

How many of you have been to Charleston or would like to go there someday? If you have any questions or comments about Charleston, I’d love to hear them!