Friday, March 23, 2012

Family Trip, part 4 (or Where We Visit Mount Vernon)

Another of our very favorite parts of our trip was going to Mount Vernon. Now, this is where I have to admit that I didn’t really remember exactly what the significance of Mount Vernon was before we were in Alexandria. (I know, terrible, but history is really not one of my strong subjects!) Once I read the blurb about it in the tourist guide we picked up somewhere I did remember a bit more, but still really was fairly ignorant about it.

(Don't you love that Aleah is holding George Washington's hand?!?)
So, for those of you who don’t know, Mount Vernon was the home of George Washington. It is where he grew up, and then where he raised his family (except of course when he was the president). I don’t really know how to describe what a wonderful experience it was visiting this incredible historic site. It isn’t incredibly flashy or fancy, doesn’t have any rides to go on, and doesn’t even have smoothly paved walkways to get from place to place. It does have gift shops (of course). It also has an incredible aura of the history that it holds.

We spent our time there starting in the visitor center where we attempted to watch a brief video on the life of George Washington, but some of our family got a bit overwhelmed when they showed some war reenactment scenes (probably didn’t help that we were in the front row…thanks Dylan). After that attempt we got our maps of the property, and headed out to explore.

We got to take a look in the many buildings that were on the property including the slave quarters, blacksmith shop, cook shack, livery and many more.

It is a very rural setting, considering it is so close to Washington DC. There are animals, gardens, and during the peak tourist season, they even have people reenacting what farming during this time period was like.

One of the things Aleah wanted to be sure everyone knew is that when she went to pet one of the sheep,
it turned around and started scratching its backside on the fence right in front of us. It was very funny!

We got to take a tour of the main house which is still basically left as it was when George and Martha lived there. Even the paint on the walls is the original colors still! You aren’t allowed to take pictures in the main house, so I don’t have any from in there (yes, I followed the rules). Apparently there are a group of women who own Mount Vernon and they want to protect the integrity of the home.

Climbing the hill by the river in the back yard of the main house

A huge old pecan tree in the back yard...very cool
The beginning of the melt-down
The big brother trying to help out. How sweet is that?!?
We walked down a fairly steep path and staircase to the Potomac River on which the property is located. It is an absolutely beautiful setting and the weather was perfect, if a bit windy.

For anyone who knows Dylan, this picture shouldn't surprise you...

It was somewhere around this point of our time there that Aleah totally melted down. She was tired, hungry, and didn’t see the importance of all those old buildings. Poor girl had hit the wall!

She and daddy went to the food court (yep, in the midst of all that history, they may not have had any rides, but they did have a food court!) while Dylan and mom went to the gift shops. Things didn’t improve significantly even with some food (that is usually a given in improving her mood!), so we arranged for our ride back to our hotel and headed home. Aleah fell asleep on the ride back, and then she and I took a nap in the hotel room while Dylan and Mike wandered Old Town, ate wings for supper, and sat down by the river for a long time. Not a very exciting afternoon/evening for me, but having a well-rested girl was worth it!
Remind me to tell you a little about our very own private driver we hired for the trip in another post. Ok, maybe we didn’t hire him for the entire trip, but we did have a great driver we ended up calling on multiple times during our week there since we didn’t have a car. Ah, the good life…
So, in a nutshell (or maybe a coconut shell since this is kind of a long post), that is our trip to Mount Vernon!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Family Trip, part 3 (or, Where We Visit An Apothecary Museum)

One of the unexpected highlights of our trip came on our very first day in Alexandria. We were just walking from our hotel the 10 blocks or so down to the water (the Potomac River for those of you who are as unfamiliar with Virginia geography as I am!) when we happened to start a conversation with 2 ladies who were from the area. They made several suggestions of things we should be sure to do with the kids, and one of the suggestions was just a few blocks away…it was an Apothecary Museum.

What is an “Apothecary Museum” you ask? Well, it is a delightful old pharmacy (Apothecary is the fancy, old-fashioned word for pharmacy. See, you do learn something new every day!). The actual name of the museum is the “Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum”. It was a thriving family business in Alexandria from 1792-1933 when the business failed during the Great Depression (Okay, so it obviously wasn’t a “thriving” business at the end…). Anyway, shortly after it closed, it was purchased and was made into a museum complete with the original ingredients in the original jars and drawers as the day it closed. Seriously.

How cool is that?!? So, we paid the small admission fee and got a personal tour of this unique piece of history. There were indeed all the original counters, cabinets, display cases, and most importantly…the “ingredients” of the drugs of the day. I wish I remembered the names of some of the ingredients in the bottles. The photos I took will have to tell the story on their own.

One the second floor was the area where they made most of their products, so this was actually where the dry ingredients were kept in wooden drawers. The drawers and ingredients are again, still all there (crazy, huh?). There was one section that had all the “roots”, another that had the “flowers”, still another with “saps”, and the list went on.
There was a very old version of an elevator in the middle of the floor between the floors of the building to bring supplies up and down. There was a large wheel on the 3rd floor that a person would turn. This would turn a rope that would raise or lower a platform in the middle of the floor. There were other details to the ingenuity of this invention that my brain hasn’t held onto unfortunately. The kids definitely were wishing they could use the wheel but that is off-limits for the tour!

Some of the more “gruesome” aspects of the tour included a small display case that held items used for “blood-letting”. (Wow, some of you are going to learn 2 new things today! Blood-letting was done many years ago when someone was sick, and it was believed that the different components of the body were out of balance. For example, if someone had a fever, it was thought they had too much blood in them, so they would “bleed” them using different instruments hoping to get their system back in balance.) One of the items was a small gold-colored box with 10 slits on one side of it. When a trigger was pressed, it released 10 very sharp, small blades that would obviously cause the “patient” to bleed. Why so many slits? If there were fewer, the body would clot them off too quickly and they wouldn’t get enough blood. Seriously.
ok, you can't really see it in this picture, but the devices are in the small, top case. Guess I didn't think to take a close up picture of the creepy old things.
Really crazy thing? When Mike and I were watching t.v. in the hotel one evening we watched a show where 2 guys go around the country looking for unique antique (ha, that is a funny combination of words!) finds. One of their “finds” was an exact duplicate blood-letting device to what we had seen earlier in our trip! Hmm, maybe that isn’t as funny if you weren’t there. Believe me…we were really amused and amazed!
Well, to summarize this rambling post about something as silly as a small, very unusual museum, if you are ever in Alexandria, VA, the Amundson’s definitely recommend looking it up!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Family Trip, part 2 (or, The Part Where We Spend Time in Old Town)

We spent the main part of our trip right in the heart of Old Town Alexandria, on King Street.

We LOVED the crooked brick unique!

We enjoyed good food...

Looked at all the old buildings...

Rode the King Street Trolley (Free, and runs all day!)

Enjoyed ice cream...

We ate at Ernie's Crab House (which ironically was out of crabs when we were there)

and just generally loved the time that we spent there!

We did a couple other things in Old Town, but they will probably be posts of their own as this one is long enough already.  As a hint for one of the things that I will post on next, look up what "alchemy" means...we went to a great little museum all about this!