Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Factory Fun in Vermont!

After two weeks of spending time with the five grand kids, we decided we needed a little "R & R"!  We had just a week before we needed to be in Pennsylvania for a family wedding, so, between New York and Pennsylvania...where?  Jack took a look at the map, etc and said "hey, let's go see where Ben & Jerry's ice cream is made!"  Sure sounded good to me, so off we went to Vermont!

We actually ended up staying in a great little campground just outside of Barre, in Williamstown, that turned out to be a great location because it was so central to so many places. 

First up though, was Waterbury and Ben & Jerry's! (we had our priorities, you know).  As you can imagine, the place is cute right from the start...with their "Flavor Graveyard" where all the flavors that are no longer being made go to die...;-( Before you even enter the factory, there are cute cutouts and even their "Cowmobile" that you can take pictures of.  We lucked out and got in on a tour while they were still "in production", so we got to watch them actually making the ice cream, adding all the goodies, etc.  Of course, "no pictures" are allowed of the production (can't have Baskin-Robbins stealing their secrets!).  Then, what everyone waits for, the free samples of the day...and shopping!  ;-)  Yum!  We had full intention of doing some real gluttony there...but at 10am, and knowing we had other places were were going...we just couldn't do it.

From there we headed over to Cabot Cheese, where I virtually stuffed myself tasting all their various varieties of cheeses!  Who knew there were so many kinds?  Oh my gosh, and so good!  I just had to have (and get some for others) the Everything Bagel Cheddar, the Chipotle Cheddar and the Hot Buffalo Wing Cheddar...I mean, how different are those? Double yum, right?  Jack isn't really a cheese eater, so he just sat and watched...oh well, more for me!  ;-)

Then, it was on to Cold Hollow Cider Mill, where we had hoped to have some nice cold apple cider (I sure was thirsty after all that cheese!)...but believe it or not, they were out and their machine was down being worked on, bummer.  We were told that they had "the best cider donuts ever"!  We bought some, and some tiny apple turnovers "to go" and went next door for lunch (yes, even after all that cheese).  Phew, we called it a day...

The following day, we started off in Shelburne because I just had to go to the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory!  You see, they are the only teddy bears actually made in America.  What a great tour they give too.  Unfortunately, being Sunday, they weren't in production, but Jeff, did a great job describing each step.  Jeff showed us the first bear, made in 1983 by John Sortino and patented his movable limbs and head.  These bears are also guaranteed for life, in that no matter what ever happens to them, even if all you have is an eye, or their tag, they can be fixed or totally replaced for free, forever.  Pretty cool.  Grammy had to send one to her youngest, don't you think?  Yep...he needed "a new friend for life", it's on it's way...;-)

We enjoyed a nice drive & walk through Burlington and lunch along Lake Champlain before returning to Barre to tour the largest granite quarry in the US, Rock of Ages.  What a cool place!  First they take you to the quarry itself where they explain (what you are seeing) how they are slicing up the granite and pulling it up block by block to truck it off.  The granite here (they have sites in PA, Canada, NJ & NY) is the densest (light gray) there is.  This particular quarry has enough to last another 4500 years!  Guess there's job security there for awhile...  From there we went to their factory where they turn all that "rock" into beautiful monuments, statuary, and other pieces.  What a huge place, oh my goodness!  We were up on a catwalk, looking down on the artists, etc and it looks as long as a football field, with two more next to each other.  They have a "sample yard" outside, including a bowling ally!  Close by is a beautiful cemetery called Hope Cemetery that only has Rock of Ages granite headstones, many very unusual & unique ones!

One last stop before we called it quits, and that was to see how maple sugar is made!  Off to the Bragg Farm Sugarhouse!  Now, it's not the right season, so we watched a video and Mary walked us through the "house" and the process...but, we still got to do the taste-testing!  Of course we had to buy some, and some wonderful maple ice cream too! 

We also managed to find a couple of covered bridged before we had to leave Vermont, but then it was time to depart this lovely place.  If we didn't have to, we wouldn't have...still so much to see and do here, so glad we came!

...on the road, once again, to Pennsylvania, Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

Friday, August 28, 2015

Camping, Glamping...and then there's JELLYSTONE!

Like everything  else in life, there are all kinds of campers... Hard-core back-packers who sleep under the stars, tenters, basic vans, pop-ups, campers, trailers, 5th wheels that can be small, or even bigger and more fancy than the big class A motor homes, big fancy diesel pushers up to 45' with as many bells and whistles as you can imagine, and now many campgrounds have cabins and trailers to rent as well.  So, "camping" has taken on it's own meaning.

In our 4 years of full-timing, we've camped in a couple of rest stops, some state parks, national parks, small and large family owned campgrounds, KOA's, a county park, a city park, two farms, and a few "resorts".  Almost all of them have been quite nice, a few have been really beautiful.  Most have been "natural", peaceful, and quiet...what we would call "camping"... until we came to JELLYSTONE.

Two weeks ago we had the pleasure of meeting up with our eastern grandchildren who live in up-state New York.  Because they are so far East, we don't get to visit with them very often, so when we do, we try to spend as much time as we can with them having fun.  There are five of them, ages 5 to 14, so keeping them entertained, is quite a challenge!  It was suggested that we try camping at the Jellystone Campground at Garrattsville, a half hour away from where they live, as "it has everything!"  So, that's what we did. 

Well..."camping" is a very loose term for it.  Yes, you are in an RV, or a tent, or a cabin, but it pretty much ends there!  First of all, forget about the "peace and quiet", and I'm not referring to the kids, because I expected that (and honestly, they were pretty good) it was all that traffic!  I've never in all my life seen so many cars, trucks, vans, and golf carts coming and going, back and forth, up and down all day & night!  You'd think people forgot how to walk!  Granted, the park was pretty large...but not that large! I also thought how strange that a park who's sole purpose was to entertain kids, had a staff that, for the most part, was completely bored!  Only 4, out of about 20, were friendly and smiled at the kids and interacted with them, while the others couldn't be bothered at all.  Granted, I tend to watch staff a bit closer, having been a supervisor over this type of staff for so many years...but still...

The campsites themselves were a bit odd.  Each area was completely different, and if you didn't know the campground before you booked (we didn't, and really lucked out!) you could be in a great place, or in an awful one.  Our site was in a cul-de-sac (yellow) that was always in the shade, no matter how hot or sunny the day was.  That would be great if it had been in the 80's +, but unfortunately, it wasn't and it even rained several times.  The sites there were very uneven, very lumpy and bumpy, making it difficult to level the rig.  Worse tho, was that the hook-ups were way up front of the "back-in" site.  Now, for anyone reading this that doesn't own a motorhome, what that means, is that, it doesn't work for us - as our hook-ups are in the back!  Weird.  This is the very first time we've ever seen this at any campground we have been in!  We ended up moving 3 times to find a spot that would work!

Now, my son's campsite was just across the road (brown across from the blue), out of the cul-de-sac, and his was in total sun, not a bit of shade!  The one great thing about both our sites tho, was that they were close to all the activities - the pool, the pavilion, the boat dock, the slip-n-slide, the lake and the arcade.  That sure made it nice for all of us! 

The pool and the slip-n-slide were not heated, and the temperatures just didn't stay hot all week, so we still got some "I'm bored", but we all seem to manage.  Rainy days turned into "movie days" (thank goodness for Grandma's movie collection!) and "baking time"!

Like all vacations, it comes to an end.  Dirty cloths, art projects and souvenirs gathered, along with our newly baked goodies, all packed and ready to go back to Mom & Dad's. 
Hugs & kisses given and off they went.  Jack and I sat back, looked around and just sighed.

Don't think we'll do a Jellystone again...just not our style...looking forward to the good ol' fashioned peace and quiet kind of camping...;-)

...On the road to Vermont,  Marie

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A quick visit to Pittsburgh!

I've been remiss in getting a blog out lately... I've had a bad case of the "retired lady relaxing syndrome".  Have you ever heard of it?  It's where you just want to sit around and do a lot of...nothing!  ;-)  So, that's pretty much been my "symptoms"!  I've read a couple of nice "summer books", taken some leisurely strolls around the towns and campgrounds we've been in, done some very mild sight-seeing (with very little photography) and sat and enjoyed late afternoon & evening campfires...and that's about it!  So, not much to talk about...except...I did want to share the last stop we made before we left Pennsylvania, and that was to Pittsburgh!

One day in Pittsburgh was not enough, but we jammed in as much as we could!  We started off at the Cathedral of Learning at the  University of Pittsburgh.  The University itself is quite something to see, but all we took time for was the Cathedral of Learning.  It is a 42 story Gothic Revival building that is the tallest educational building in the Western hemisphere and the 2nd tallest university building in the world!  Building began in 1921 and the first class was held in 1931.

But why we were there, was to see the "Nationality Rooms"!  29 Classrooms, designed to celebrate a different culture that had an influence on Pittsburgh's growth, depicting an era prior to (or in the singular case of the French Classroom, just after) 1787, which is the year of the university's founding and the signing of the US Constitution.  The Nationality Room programs began in 1926 when Bowman decided that he wanted to involve the community as much as he could in constructing the Cathedral, so he proposed that each nationality that had a significant number of people in Pittsburgh would be allowed to design their nationality's room for the Cathedral. Each group had to form a Room Committee, which would be responsible for all fundraising, designing, and acquisition. The university provided only the room and, upon completion, upkeep for perpetuity. All other materials, labor, and design were provided by the individual committees. These were sometimes aided by foreign governments and the rooms contain many authentic artifacts and materials from the country represented.

 They give you a mobile tour guide and a key, and you are on your own to check out each room at your own pace.  Appropriate "theme" music accompanies each of the narration.  Each room was spectacular!  We thought we would just "check out a couple" and then go on about seeing the rest of the city, but we were captivated.  With my love of photographing architecture, doors and windows, I was in heaven!  I have to say, this was one of the most unique experiences we've come across in a very long time!

Indian Room
 Swiss Room

 Polish Room
 Chinese Room

 Chinese Room
Well, that took us all morning, so it was time to eat!  Jack's cousin said to "be sure and head over to 'the strip' to Wholey's Fish Market for the best seafood you'll find anywhere!"  So that's what we did...and he was right, yum!  Cool place too, that "strip" area!  

                            The Strip Mural by Carley Parrish & Shannon Pultz (c2010)

Time was getting away from us, so off we dashed to the Duquesne Incline that goes up to the top of Mt Washington.  This gave us a wonderful view of the city!  It was such a clear day, we could see all over the city and down all three rivers: The Ohio, the Allegheny, and the Monongahela.  Incredible!  

                                                   Duquesne Incline (c1877) elev 400'

Well, by then it was "commute time" for those poor people who still have to work for a, we decided the best thing to do, was to take a little walk down the street and have a nice cool glass of wine and just sit back and enjoy the lovely view and wait for the traffic to clear...and then head slowly back to our nice quiet campsite.  

The rest of Pittsburgh will have to wait until another day...we will be back again, I'm sure! 

...kicking back in New York state,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:  

Monday, July 20, 2015

Saying goodbye to Tennessee and hello to Virginia...

As we left the area around Gatlinburg, we still had a couple of stops I wanted to make before we left the beautiful state of Tennessee...A couple of "must sees" on my list!

You know how we like to visit "factory tours", or at least see where, if not how, things are made!  Well, Bush's Best Beans are made in Chestnut Hill Tennessee, not all that far from where we were headed, how about that!  So, off we went!  Unfortunately, they didn't offer a factory tour, but they did have a great Visitor's Center, that included a wonderful museum of sorts that told you their history and showed about "how it all started" and how's it's done!  We probably spent an hour or more there, going through it all.  We even got ourselves weighed in beans!  Lots of opportunities to get your picture taken (they even give you a free one to take with you!)  One of the surprising things, I thought, was that they didn't start out in the "bean" business!  Did you know that?  They actually started out in the "canning" business...and by hand, at that!  Each one was soldered individually by hand.  They canned tomatoes, and other vegetables long before they discovered that beans were the way of the future.

 They started canning tomatoes in 1904, and didn't start canning beans until 1969!  They are still a family owned and operated business.  It was a fun stop, and now we know more about beans than we ever new before! 

As we continued north, we came to the town of Harrogate, where the Abraham Lincoln Library & Museum is located.  He's my most favorite President, and I was so glad to finally be near enough to get to his library!  It's actually on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial University, which is interesting.  It's a small library, but done very nicely.  It had some furniture, and Mary Todd's china along with some of their clothing.  But mostly it was paintings of him, maps of the time, speeches he made, and lots about the Civil War of course.  I loved one note from the gentleman who ran the telegraph office that said he got to know the President "on a personal level" since he came every day, and stayed there most all day long, writing/composing.  Once, he remembered, he would sit, write a line or two, then look out for long moments and ponder, then write another line, and then ponder some more.  He asked the President what he was writing about, and he answered, "I'm writing a speech to end the war".  It turned out to the the Gettysburg Address.  Wow. 

Our last stop we ended our stay at, and that was at The Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.  The Cumberland Gap itself covers three states:  Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky.  Depending on the drive, and the moment, you could be in any of the three states!  Our campground was in Virginia, the Cumberland Gap National Park Visitor's Center was in Tennessee, and the grocery store down the street was in Kentucky!  ;-)  What a beautiful place though!  We thought we would spend a couple of days there at their National Park Campground, and ended up spending a full week.  Most of the time we were only one of maybe 4 other campers in the whole park!  The only time it ever got busy was on Saturday, when "weekenders" came in, and they brought in a great bluegrass group for our evening entertainment, then the place was hopping! 

We spent several days just driving through the many thousands of acres of beautiful forests, hills, rock formations, wildflowers, valleys and great vistas.  We had a few rainy days where we just sat back and read our books and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the quiet nature around us.  The campground was gorgeous in and of itself, it was hard to leave it. 

Cumberland Gap Tunnel VA
Fern Lake KY
L-R: TN, (bottom: VA) KY - The "Gap" is the area along the ridge on the right
Benge's Gap, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park VA
This "grape vine" seems to cover big swaths of trees, ground, anything in it's path!

Eventually, it was time to "break camp" and move on...through West Virginia (which, by the way, have very few campgrounds!) and on to Pennsylvania to visit with family for a bit!

...kicking back in PA,   Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at: 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Our last days in the Great Smoky Mountains

With just a few days left in The Great Smoky Mountains, we still had a couple of places we wanted to see!  Our campground was nicely situated where we could easily get to Knoxville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg easily (we were already in Sevierville which is where Dolly was born, don't ya know!).  So, with our list in hand, we set out to check out the towns! 
Weather played a big part in what we did first...Dollywood was big on our list, but since it was going to be a "full day" outdoors, we needed to make sure to save it for a day it wasn't going to rain.  So far, this week, the weather proved to be an "on & off" rain cloud variety - one best to do "other things" we chose to "wait" on Dollywood til later in the week..

So...we went shopping!  Now, Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge aren't "our" kind of places, actually.  They're best for young families...the kind that have kids who enjoy lots of miniature golf, dinner shows, Wonderworks, and Ripley's Believe It Or Not, etc.  But, Gatlinburg does have an 8-mile loop off of it's main road that is called Great Smoky Mountain Arts & Crafts Community that has about 120 artists from the local Appalachian Mountains.  Wonderful drive and terrific artists!  We found a great wedding present for our nephew and his bride-to-be this fall.  I think something "hand-made" is so much more special than what anyone can buy at a commercial store, don't you?  All the artists were in homes, tucked in along the creek & trees, it was a lovely drive and so nice to be away from the main road that screamed "tourist $$!" 

Outside one of the artist's shops

Our next visit was to Knoxville.  Very different! It was so much more metropolitan, and no "screaming tourist $$!" at you!  Nice.  Hard to find parking tho...But we managed.  We had read about a noon radio show being broadcast at their Visitor Center downtown, called the "Blue Plate Special", so we headed to that as soon as we got settled.  Good thing we got there at 11:30, because the place was filling up fast!  Two groups were playing that day, both bluegrass groups (we love bluegrass!) but get this, one was from Sweden and the other from Iceland!  I guess "the world" loves bluegrass!  Each group played for about a half hour, and they were each great!  What a treat!  Jack spoke with the banjo player from Dunderhead (Sweden) and asked him what got him interested in playing bluegrass & banjo, he said he heard Earl Scruggs when he was 7 years old, and after that, started looking for a banjo in Sweden!  Wow, amazing, huh? 
Dunderhead, from Sweden
Arstioir, from Iceland
After we left there, I had read about an old Victorian cemetery, so we went in search,  The Old Gray Cemetery was established in 1850 and absolutely beautiful. The massive oaks and hackberry trees are part of a wide variety of trees and vegetation here that are living witnesses to the history of Knoxville since before the Civil War at which time this area was an open pasture.  Some of the headstones here are pure art...

We also made a stop at the Museum of East Tennessee History in Knoxville.  They had a wonderful exhibit called "Voices of the Land" that had everything from the Civil War with a cabin you could walk into, right up to an 1800's trolley and pharmacy with a soda fountain you could walk into.  Lots of recordings of people and experiences, crossing through the Cumberland Gap, the music, just about everything.  Very nicely done.
Virginia Road Wagon
"Betsy", David Crockett's First Rifle
Well, with the rain gone, by the end of the week...we finely made it to Dollywood!  Yea!  Well worth the wait too!  We pretty much filled our day with music & food!  We caught every show they had, and all were great (of course!), and each just different enough.  Her "My People" is fun in that her brother, sister, two nieces and two cousins are in it and she appears above in a video that is so well done you almost forget it's not "live".  Her museum is fun to go through as well as her RV (especially since we have one to "compare" to:  Hers has a well lit dressing room tho!).  They did have one really unusual show, we'd never seen anywhere, and that was a "bubble" show.  We couldn't take any pictures, and you wouldn't think "blowing bubbles" wouldn't be that amazing, but I have to tell you, what this guy does with bubbles and lasers is truly amazing!  After 7 hours, we called it a day.  A nice way to end our stay in the Great Smoky Mountains...

"My People" (sister, niece, brother, cousins)
Dolly's "coat of many colors" in her Chasing Rainbows Museum
The make-up spot in Dolly's Home-on-Wheels
Dolly's Childhood Home
...kicking back in Tennessee,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at: