Colonial Williamsburg Weekend

Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps (I would have been in this were I a local child for sure

Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps (I would have been in this were I a local child for sure

Why: My love of things related to historical reenactment is no secret. I first visited Williamsburg during our most epic RV trip from CA to VA in June 1997. (That was the same trip where I first visited Disney World and hand-wrote our ride-by-ride schedule). At that time, aged almost-11, I was at the height of my interest in American Girl and American history, so it was glorious. I even still had Felicity dresses of the 1770s to wear. So I had long intended to return to Williamsburg during my DC sojourn. When I found out that Peace Corps friends-turned-Arlington transplants Chelsea and Whitney also wanted to go, we planned a weekend trip for shortly before my move.

Williamsburg stocks in 1997 and 2013

Williamsburg stocks in 1997 and 2013

When: April 13-14, 2013. Williamsburg is something like a 2.5 hour drive from Arlington, so we headed in on a Saturday morning and went straight to Williamsburg. We stayed overnight, and in the morning we visited the Jamestown Settlement before heading home. The weather was perfect–72 and sunny.

How: Williamsburg itself takes a few hours–we were there from about 11:30 until just before closing at 5, and that was plenty of time to see everything we cared to and to feel satisfied. Jamestown took a little over two hours.

We stayed overnight in a cheap motel I got from bidding on Hotwire. In a situation like this, where hotel location doesn’t matter because we have a car and everything is close, and where hotel quality doesn’t matter that much because we are all people who have stayed in $1-a-night hovels in China, a bidding-for-travel scheme works nicely. I recommend researching any travel bidding schemes online before you start (just Google “bidding for travel”) and you’ll get plenty of evidence from forums about acceptable bids. After winning a bid, I also recommend calling the hotel to confirm and to make any simple requests, like for type of beds or for a rollaway, which Hotwire won’t guarantee but which most domestic hotels will do. We got the Days Inn bid for $45, which saved $20+ from the cheapest-available online rate.

How Much: A one-day ticket to Colonial Williamsburg costs $42. They had a promotion when we visited for Virginia residents, who could get an annual pass for that same price with proof of residency. The motel–Days Inn–cost $51 with tax, split among us. The Jamestown Settlement cost $16. Other costs included meals and gas. Whitney drove her car.

Williamsburg Milliner with Chelsea

Williamsburg Milliner with Chelsea

What We Did: I hadn’t done a ton of planning about what we would see at Williamsburg, since the exact schedule of what’s open changes daily and since we received a detailed schedule/map upon arriving. Williamsburg is small enough that you can basically wander through each of the main areas and see almost everything open in a few hours. Besides chance encounters with colonial folk in the shops and on the street, are also special events that are more performative. On the day of our visit, there was a series of skits lasting about an hour in which colonists and soldiers reacted to the start of the American Revolution. Some shops you walk in and out at will and check out whatever’s happening; other’s have more elaborate happenings on a specific schedule (e.g. every half hour).

We ate lunch at one of the colonial eateries–an outdoor BBQ-sandwich type place that got the job done. We planned on dinner at one of the upscale restaurants in the shopping village on the edge of the colonial district, Berret’s. The cioppino was lovely, FYI.

After the decent Days Inn-provided breakfast on Sunday morning, we debated what to do among Jamestown Settlement, Yorktown Victory Center, Williamsburg outlet shopping, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, and assortment of other historic towns in our midst. The beach also would have been an option if it had been a little warmer. We decided on Jamestown since it was close and seemed most interesting, and that turned out to be a good choice. Even if we got slightly confused about the difference between Jamestown Settlement (the historically re-built and reenacted extravaganza) versus Historic Jamestown (the archeological site of the actual Jamestown remnants, which we did not visit).

Jamestown Settlement - Some 50+ people would sail on one of these ships

Jamestown Settlement – Some 50+ people would sail on one of these ships

Jamestown Settlement features a surprisingly-excellent museum of pre-colonial and early colonial Chesapeake history (good prep for the California state social studies credential test I was taking a couple weeks hence), and various features like a movie about Jamestown that we didn’t watch. The site itself has three main sections: the Indian village, historical ships in the harbor, and the fort, each of which includes reeneactors and demonstrations in the style of Williamsburg. All in all, it was a nice complement to Williamsburg for seeing the earlier history and for rounding out the weekend.



Great Falls and Harpers Ferry: Casual Hiking Day Trips from DC

Great Falls

Great Falls

Why: Every once in a while, you want to see some nature and breathe some country air. For a couple of hours, anyway.

When: Great Falls on Sept, 29, 2012, a nice early-fall day. Harpers Ferry on April 6, 2013, windy and coolish but sunny.

How: Having friends with cars helps. In each instance, Chelsea drove from Arlington. Great Falls should only be a half-hour drive from Arlington, but we got lost a bit (my faulty usage of iPhone navigation being to blame). Harpers Ferry is about an 80-minute drive from Arlington (no getting lost that time). We picked Great Falls since it was close and a coworker gave me a tip on the popular Billy Goat Trail (Section A). We picked Harpers Ferry because I wanted to visit West Virginia (Robert’s home state) before leaving, and this is both the closest point to DC and a good hiking spot.

How Much: Parking fees at national parks like Great Falls and Harpers Ferry were $5 and $10. For Great Falls, we parked at the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center. For Harpers Ferry, you can park by the visitor center and then take a shuttle to the historic town area where there are trailheads.

What we did: Hiked! Nothing serious, but enough to get some good breaths of fresh air, some good pictures, and get away from the city for a few hours. The Billy Goat Trail features plenty of scrambling over rocks–usually not my favorite activity, but this was so much tamer than my last rock-scramble hike in Sumatra, it was NBD. This was the kind of place where you could customize the length of your hiking experience by adding additional loops or trail sections in the park, or not. A couple of hours later, we were satisfied and headed back into town for a top-notch Sichuan linner in Falls Church. This was a trip of four China Peace Corps Volunteers, after all.

For Harpers Ferry, we planned to do a moderately strenuous 5-mile section of the Maryland Heights trail, but group interest cut the hike slightly shorter. After enjoying some lovely vistas, we walked around the historic/quaint town of Harpers Ferry, reading up on our Civil War history. We elected to skip lunch in Harpers Ferry itself because never have I seen a whole town with such pervasively negative Yelp reviews, and instead stopped in Leesburg on the way back for Mexican. Though, note to self, why can I never remember I shouldn’t try to eat Mexican in DC?

I’ve gotten a few other recommendations of hikes in the greater DC area, like Old Rag Mountain, VA and Sugarloaf Mountain, MD (you know how I feel about Sugarloaves), and for more serious hiking, but those will have to be saved for another DC life.

Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry

Good Morning, Baltimore: Day Trip from DC

Sometimes I wish I had a boat

Sometimes I wish I had a boat

Why: I’d been meaning to get to Charm City for months. Seafood galore!

When: Sunday, April 7, 2013. Lovely first sunny-springy day of the season.

How: On Tuesday, Theo and I talked about going to a baseball game at Orioles’ park thanks to a ticket hookup. By Friday we had roped in more friends and decided to cut the game and just visit the city on Sunday. I researched activities on sites like New York Times 36 Hours (they’ve covered Baltimore 3 times in 7 years), mapped out a few activity options, and left the rest up to be played by ear. Since our group included four carless DCers, we rented a Zipcar for the day. The drive from downtown DC took just over an hour.

How Much: Costs included the car rental, lunch, dinner, snacks, and drinks. We didn’t pay entrance fees at any sites (e.g. the aquarium is around $30 pp, American Visionary Art Museum is $16, Fort McHenry is $7) because most of our activities involved either walking around or eating/drinking. Instead of renting a car, it would have been possible to take the train or bus from DC and rely on public transportation, like the excellent/free Charm City Circulator bus.

Harbor view from Federal Hill

Harbor view from Federal Hill

What we did: My main priority was seafood eating, so the first stop of the day was L.P. Steamers, recommended for its “authentic” vibe and blue crabs. Well, actually, our first stop, upon realizing the restaurant wasn’t quite open yet at 11am, was a wine bar. Another good thing about travel, it doesn’t feel weird at all to drink in the a.m.! It was the rest of the group’s first Maryland crab experience, and as Theo put it, “That was absolutely the correct choice to go there, but I never want to do it again.” I, of course, like high-activity/DIY meals (e.g. fondue, artichokes, Korean BBQ) and was therefore delighted.

Next up was a stroll to For McHenry, famous for its role in the War of 1812 and the inspiration for Francis Scott Key to write the Star-Spangled Banner. Hey, do you know this story? Key actually wasn’t at the fort; he apparently sailed his ship out directly into the midst of the British forces and was captured, so he spent the night sitting as prisoner watching the battle unfold as the British attempted to take the fort. Obvi, when he saw that banner yet wave in the morning light, he knew the Americans had held the fort. Sidenote: our attitude about the War of 1812 is slightly ridiculous; this is a topic about which I feel fairly strongly. Anyway, there’s a nice museum and movie that are free to visit; we elected not to pay the entrance fee to visit the fort itself (seeing from the outside=almost always good enough!)

Cannolis from Piedrigotta

Cannolis from Piedrigotta

From Fort McHenry, we drove towards the Inner Harbor, passing the American Visionary Art Museum and stopping by Federal Hill Park. Twelve minutes in the parking meter got us a walk up the hill, great views over the harbor and city, and a walk past some of Baltimore’s tonier real estate.

After depositing the car in a downtown lot, we debated between visiting the aquarium and eating again. Guess which won. Another great thing about traveling in the age of iPhones is that it’s so much easier to stray from the original plan and find fabulous alternatives. Walking through Little Italy, in response to group desire to drink coffee, a quick Google/Zagat search turned up an amazing Italian bakery two blocks away, Piedigrotta, which lays claim to the invention of tirimisu. Now, you know how I feel about cream-based desserts, but this cannoli made me a believer.

We continued our stroll along the waterfront towards Fells Point, which is filled with cute cobblestone streets, bars, and restaurants. We secured a waterfront table at a wine bar (more wine, always wine). Two members of our party are serious fans of Roy’s, the upscale Hawaiian chain whose only East Coast outlet is in Baltimore’s Harbor East. The much-discussed butter fish did not necessarily meet the group’s overly-lofty expectations, but it was still a very good and festive way to conclude the day.

Day Trips from DC

I say I love travel of any and all kinds, and that extends not just to exotic adventures. Local travel–day or weekend trips around one’s hometown–can often be planned on the fly, can feel just as excitingly “away from it all,” and often costs little more than a weekend spent at your usual neighborhood haunts.

Especially given my impending departure from the East Coast, I’ve been trying to get in as much “local” travel as possible. For your travel inspiration, I’m posting a roundup of new musings on day or weekend trips I’ve taken from DC: cities, nature, history, beach, and everything in between. I’ll be updating these links as each new post goes live!

Williamsburg (April 13-14, 2013)

Baltimore (April 7, 2013)

Harpers Ferry, WV (April 6, 2013)

Northern Virigina Wine Country (Mar 2-3, 2013)

New York (Mar 13-17, 2013; Nov 2-4, 2012)

Long Island (Jan 26-27, 2013)

Great Falls Park, VA (Sept 29, 2013)

Atlantic City (July 6-8, 2012)

Gettysburg (May 26, 2012)

Best day ever: aka, the Newsies Fan Day and show recap

In 1899, the streets of New York echoed with the voices of Newsies…and in 2005, so did the halls of Stanford’s FroSoCo, my freshman dorm. For you see, one April afternoon Newsies entered my life, and the world would never be the same.

I first saw the 1992 live-action Disney musical in high school, but for unclear reasons it didn’t make much of an impression until I watched it again with college friends. That first week of that “re-discovery” we watched Newsies four times, and I wrote a drinking game to go along with it (sample item: “Pelvic thrust: two drinks.” Email me for a copy). A year later, the Newsies obsession enjoyed its most sublime moment when we stalked got to meet one of our favorite secondary Newsies at a special event nearby. Yes, yes I did have my DVD case signed.

Today, I estimate that I’ve spent perhaps 60 hours watching Newsies, either straight through or as select scenes. I can do all the songs, some of the dances and blocking, and can quote vast swathes of dialogue. Although I’ve moved on to other obsessions over the years (most notably the High School Musical franchise), Newsies has never strayed far from my heart. Since it’s basically a requirement for being friends with me to have seen this movie, I’ve enjoyed introducing many newbies to it over the years, and have been delighted to continue enjoy the fandom with similarly devoted college and then Peace Corps friends.

You can imagine my delight when rumors started to trickle out a couple of years ago that Newsies was being prepped for Broadway. The movie was an abysmal failure in its day, costing $15 million to make but grossing only $3 million at the box office and garnering a slew of negative reviews. However, it did help gain notice for its 17-year-old star, Christian Bale, even if he hated the project through and through and likes to deny his involvement today. But more importantly, with its later releases on VHS and DVD it began to gain a cult following, mainly among adolescent girls. The Newsies online “fandom” in the mid 2000s (the time when I was most interested) was small but rich, with wildly passionate fans who usually had, like me, discovered or re-discovered Newsies in high school or college. This fan energy is clearly part of the reason why Disney felt it would be a worthwhile project to consider for the stage.

Newsies had it’s world premiere two weeks ago at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, and this big-budget, big-cast run seems to be a set up for an eventual Broadway transfer. Of course for months I have been following the run-up to the production but, being no where near suburban New Jersey I figured it would be a while until I could see a theatrical version. However, the stars began to align. I planned a trip to New York to visit Matthew, and then had the realization that maybe this dream was within reach. Turns out Paper Mill is easily public transport-accessible from NYC, and tickets were available for several performances during my visit. But wait! On Oct. 2 there was going to be a special event: Newsies Fan Day. This would combine an evening performance of the show with special events with actors from the original movie. I know. I know.

We arrived in New Jersey around 4pm for an hour of games and activities led by Radio Disney staff, and as a sidenote to the Newsies topic I volunteered to perform the Hoedown Throwdown (from the Hannah Montana movie) and got a bandana for my efforts. A little before 5, however, all attention being paid to Radio Disney was abandoned as two vans pulled up and a handful of men in their 30s and 40s got out. After a moment there was a collective gasp from the fans (mainly girls in their teens to 30s). The actors. And specifically, Gabriel Damon, who played Spot. The screaming began.

Newsies cast, present and past, after the show

The events included a reception, featuring the entire cast from the stage show plus the special movie guests, and then a little panel discussion. There had been no explicit information in advance about who exactly would be there, and I wonder how this group ended up being assembled, but it was a fabulous, albeit a little motley crew. This included actors who played David (David Moscow), Spot, both Delancey brothers (Shon Grenblatt and David Sheinkopf), and dancers who played more secondary/tertiary (but still beloved) Newsies Boots (Arvie Lowe, Jr.), Swifty (Kevin Stea), and Pie Eater (David Sidoni), there was screenwriter Noni White, lyricist Jack Feldman, stage show director Jeff Calhoun, and Kenny Ortega himself.

Now, as to the audience for this event: obviously I’m a big fan, but there are much more extreme levels of fandom that I’ve never taken it to that many of these people did. Girls in costumes, people overheard talking about how they couldn’t stop shaking they were so excited, etc. Also, though, an odd assortment of things like men in their 30s who seemed to be at the event on their own and of their own volition. Several people also seemed unable to stop yelling lines from the movie.

While fans spent the reception mobbing the actors (mainly David and Spot) and getting pictures and autographs, but I was too shy so mainly watched (I know, I know). Next they corralled everyone into the mezzanine of the theater for the discussion. I took copious notes on this, and I think it worth relating some highlights, annotated by character name:

David: I was not a singer or a dancer [when I did Newsies]. [Yes, that’s fairly obvious. But that’s part of the reason why you’re so lovable!]

Spot: The reason Spot has become so popular is that a big part of the fan-base is young women, who like a bad boy with a heart of gold. It was a fantasy to play Spot Conlon…that people would listen when I spoke and I’d command respect like that.

Morris: My first memories of the shooting…After the first dailies were coming in the producers told me I had to water it down, I was playing it too perverted, licking my lips and stuff, so they told me to bring it down a notch. [And then at this point, a 30-something man who appeared to be at the event by himself yelled, “Let’s soak ’em for Crutchy!”]

Then the writers talked about how amazing the experience was, how thrilled they are that it lives on, etc. Then, to get some of the lesser-known people to have a chance to speak, the moderator asked for stories from the filming, backstage secrets, etc. At this point there was much yelling of suggestions the audience, especially about “Blood Drips Heavily on Newsies Square,” the silly project horror movie spoof project that several of the boys made backstage during the original filming. (If anyone wants more info about this, I purchased it on DVD and have it somewhere…) Boots talked about how fun it had been doing things like that on the set.

Pie Eater: I had one line, and two flips. That was me. [We did fun things like, one late night on the set] we started playing stickball, and the choreographers had this version where you had to do a different dance move between each base. So like chasse to first, chaines turns to second, etc. It was like summer camp for a bunch of dudes on Universal. It was great.

Boots [on asked about how he’s been taking as many pictures of the events/audience as they’ve been taking of him]: My people at home won’t believe me when I tell them about this, it’s insane [referring to the fan enthusiasm]. I have one story of a little wardrobe flub that unfortunately made the final cut. I had this watch that I always wore and I would take it off when I filmed, they made me take it off. Well one day I wrestled it back from teh wardrobe guy and we’re doing this scene where we’re all chanting ‘Strike, strike, strike!’ [demonstrating a fist pump] and the sleeve goes down, and there’s the watch. I don’t think they had a lot of digital Timexes at that time.

Les: I was the youngest. They were all older, hanging out and drinking having a good time, and I was 12. [Lots of cheering about the drinking, and mild good-natured embarrassment from the cast and ‘shut up’ gestures] It was a coming of age for me.

Finally, the current cast of Newsies discussed how many of them had been inspired by the original film when they were kids.

Guy who plays Crutchy onstage (I think, I kept less copious notes on this): Especially for boys in the 90s, there weren’t as many resources [as examples of dancers/theater people who were boys] compared with now, where you’ve got High School Musical, Glee, etc. So seeing all these boys being so cool and masculine [uh really?] and dancing…thank you.

So that was, obviously, wonderful. There were other things I would have liked to have heard about, like more backstage stories, and more talk about what these guys are doing now. But fabulous in any case.

Now, on to the show! Some spoilers below if you don’t want to know about the changes made in plotting, characters, and scenes, so be forewarned. Continue reading