Normandy: Preparation & Travel

It should be explained clearly that I am by no means a World War II expert. I remember covering it in AP US History during my high school years. In one of my college history courses I had transcribed a World War II letter collection, following the journey of a soldier who was put into a German POW camp. In another course, I had written about World War children’s literature (what can I say, I love C.S. Lewis & A.A. Milne). But that was about it. I had never taken a course just about World War II – nor could I recite numerous facts, dates, or statistics about World War II.

In order to strengthen my knowledge of basic information (e.g. 1939-1945, D-Day was on June 6, Allies vs. Axis, etc.) I spent some time researching and reading about World War II prior to the trip. As I shared in an Instagram post, I purchased Ambrose’s D-Day and Band of Brothers. I watched documentaries, looked at historical pictures, and used resources from my university’s library. I was still no professional scholar on World War II or even D-Day, but I felt more comfortable with the subject.

And somehow, the day finally drew near. On Friday,  March 9th, I found myself on a plane ready to take off for the seven hour flight to France. Opening this paragraph with that sentence may suggest that it was some kind of fluke I was traveling to France. It really wasn’t. This trip had been planned for a couple of months, but the reality that I was actually traveling internationally to Europe for the first time didn’t feel like reality. Maybe it was because I had just finished a final only a couple of hours ago.

Regardless, here I was traveling to France! Suitcase packed, raincoat in hand, euros exchanged, and camera ready, seven hours later I found myself in France 7:00AM in the morning. (Remember the time difference!) Jet lagged but nevertheless excited, I landed in Paris and drove to Bayeux, Normandy – one of the few villages that was not totaled in the area during World War II.

The first day in France, I was able to walk around Bayeux and explore. Like I stated before on my Instagram, it is a charming place and easily reminds me of the village from Beauty and the Beast. The chapel is gorgeous and can be easily seen if one just simply looks up from whatever street they are on, and a watermill can be found in the town. Tourist shops can be located on several streets, and cobblestone streets can be found everywhere (insert drool here).

By making myself stay up until the evening, I was able to adjust to the time difference more quickly than if I had taken a nap at some point during the day. Exhausted, I climbed under the covers and was out instantaneously.


Revolutionary America

During the summer of my junior year, I was a participant in NIAHD (National Institute of American History & Democracy) program. (“Class” of 2014 alumni here!) Being able to be on the campus of the College of William & Mary, being able to literally walk into Colonial Williamsburg, meeting fellow students who were as passionate and interested in American history, and learning from some amazing teachers – it was an amazing experience. The opportunity to dedicate a part of the summer to learn about the American Revolution to the Civil War – I was on cloud nine the entire time.

When it was announced that a course on the American Revolution would be taught for Spring 2018, it was a dream come true. I think I may have mentally drooled at the thought of spending a whole semester studying it. I instantly got NIAHD flashbacks, and remembered my wonderful experience during the summer of 2014.

And so far, I am happy to say that my course has been amazing. We just finished reading Braddock’s Defeat (should it really be called “Braddock’s Defeat”?) by David L. Preston. I really enjoyed reading this book because it was about a campaign I had never heard of, yet as I learned, was so critical because it paved the way for the American Revolution and shaped the leaders that would play a part in it. There were of course big names in the book including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Gage – but I believe the book was so much more than just the “star” names. It discussed how British soldiers perceived the colonists, and vice versa, the logistics, the terrain, and the politics. As I stated before, I thought that this was a delightful and engaging read.

I look forward to learning more about Revolutionary America, and am more than eager to share my experiences with you all.




Escaping the Snow: The Astrophysics Edition

It’s no secret where I am currently located. Take one glance at my Instagram profile and you’ll see that I am currently on the east coast in the lovely town of Princeton, New Jersey. Which has some lovely historic sites such as Drumthwacket (the governor’s residence), Morven Museum & Garden (which was previously the home of Richard Stockton – a signer of the Declaration of the Independence – and later used as the governor’s residence), the Princeton Battlefield State Park, and of course, Princeton University.

However, today I am taking a different kind of journey. With the snow dancing in the air, and the wind howling – I’m currently wrapped up in a blanket on the couch, listening to Enya’s album And Winter Came…, and reading Neil deGrasse Tyson’s newest book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.

I never considered myself a true technical science-y person. I am an environmental studies minor, but my courses do not entail heavy (if at any) physics or chemistry. I do remember physics and chemistry during high school, and still can recall the fascination I had as I learned about concepts that I couldn’t 100% wrap my mind around. Biology in high school turned out to be one of my best subjects. During my childhood, I remembered asking my parents all about black holes, dark matter, and what exactly happens when a star explodes. (Sorry, mum and dad!) I think in elementary school my science textbook had one page that showed the life cycle of a star.

So coming into with a mostly humanities based mind (History and Classics), I was not sure what to expect or think. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book has pleasantly surprised me. Not only is the author engaging, but he explains concepts well and thoughtfully. I am currently on chapter four, learning about what is actually between galaxies, and had to drag my eyes away from the book in order to sit down and write this blog post.

Yes, there are equations in the book, and yes, you should brush up on some of your knowledge about Einstein’s theory of general relativity and other physics concepts – but I find Tyson’s work to be relatively accessible. From time to time you may take a moment to look up a concept (for example, I had never heard of a quark or hadron), and while it may feel frustrating that you do not understand what Tyson is saying immediately – take it slow and digest it. By looking up information to help you understand the text, you are taking the time – investing in yourself and your knowledge – to come away with a better understanding of the universe.

In addition, you may feel like you need to pause, put the book down, and think. And that’s totally okay! I had to do that a few times – after all, here I am in the comfort of my own home on earth, and I’m embarking on a journey with Tyson to space – talking about how the universe came to be, how space acts, dark energy, and how we fit into this.

Yes, even though I am only about 1/3 through the book, I not only have a better understanding the universe – how it was created, how it is continuing to expand, and our own location in all this (aka within the Milky Way solar system), but also come to get a sense of who we are. As Tyson writes:

“And yes, every one of our body’s atoms is traceable to the big bang and to the thermo-nuclear furnaces within high – mass stars that exploded more than five billion years ago.

We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out – and we have only just begun.” (page 33)

Q: What book are you currently reading or is on your to-read list?

Woodford Mansion & Historic Strawberry Mansion

About two months ago I was invited by En Route Marketing to visit Woodford Mansion and Historic Strawberry Mansion, both historic homes located in East Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, this was truly a new adventure – a place that I had never discovered. Therefore, I was able to experience a completely (what was to me) foreign place and explore all that it had to offer.

What made an impression on me instantly was the location of these two historic homes. Woodford Mansion and Historic Strawberry Mansion are right near each other (a win for those who dislike driving). The estates themselves, while located in Philadelphia, are not in the heart of the city. Instead, as the very knowledgeable guide at Woodford Mansion told us, the seventy-five wealthy families back in the 18th century would move this area outside the city in order to avoid the “insufferable” city. (Disease such as yellow fever often spread due to how the stagnant waters attracted mosquitoes to the city and its surrounding areas.) The land which is now known as East Fairmount Park, was believed to be the perfect solution, and became a location for those wealthy families who were able to afford a summer home. Yes, that is another important distinction. Both Woodford and Historic Strawberry Mansion are summer homes.

I first visited Woodford Mansion, a Georgian exterior greeted me as I walked up the brick pathway. The weather wasn’t the beautiful weather I had recently been experiencing – the skies were a rather ominous gray – but nevertheless, it was not raining. I rang the buzzer, and was admitted inside right into the narrow hallway. A pale peachy color, combined with sections of a creamy white, were the paint colors that greeted me. My tour guide was friendly, informing me that he enjoyed having a conversation instead of just reciting information to the visitors – a refreshing take on what a tour should be.

He tailored the tour and the information that he shared to my interests. He asked me as we began to walk to the first room, “What is your favorite kind of history?” I chirped, “Colonial America and the American Revolution.” He hummed as he shook his head in an approving manner, “Well, this house tells the Loyalist side of the American Revolution.”

That was new. I knew about the Loyalists and Patriots from AP U.S. History, and from my readings, but to actually be in a house that had been the home of a loyalist family? That was new.

Perhaps the aspect that caught my attention the most was the fact that this estate was the original estate. It was not rebuilt on the original foundation. I was in fact stepping the same hall – on the same wood that Benjamin Franklin had walked on. How neat is that?

While on the outside of the house it was of the Georgian style, the Queen Anne style furniture decorated the rooms throughout the house. I was able to see the parlor, the kitchen, bedrooms, and even the ballroom. I was able to learn about the various owners of this estate, the extensions that were made to the home, the furniture, and how this house fit into the “larger” history, that is to say, Colonial America and the American Revolution.

Strawberry Mansion, on the other hand, was a summer estate built by Judge William Lewis after the American Revolution. Where Woodford Mansion seemed more conservative and traditional – containing Queen Anne and Federalist style furniture – Strawberry Mansion contained bright furniture and seemed to be influenced by the Empire style. The furniture seemed lavish and the walls were brightly colored with colors of salmon, green, and blue. Whereas the tour at Woodford Mansion just consisted of me, my mother, and the tour guide, the Strawberry Mansion tour consisted of a larger group.

The tour guide was knowledgeable about the estate, offering great insight about Judge Lewis and what the functions of the rooms would have been. One difficulty I experienced was that I was so focused on taking pictures during the limited amount of time we were in each room, that I often was not processing the actual information that was being said. (A big shout out to my mum who listened to the tour guide attentively and caught me up as I clicked away!)

In the end, it was a successful day! I am very grateful for being able to visit these two historic homes, and being able to hear the stories of both estates. I do not visit Philadelphia often, even though I live nearby, so it was a great chance to visit and learn more about what Philadelphia has to offer! A big thank you to En Route Marketing for inviting me to photograph the homes, and to the tour guides who welcomed my mother and me with great hospitality!

Coming Up: October Edition

Now that midterms are finally finished (along with several servings of local pumpkin ice cream) – Huzzah! – I am excited to be able to finally write another post (it’s really been too long) and share with all of you some of the upcoming adventures that will be occurring in the following weeks!

This weekend I will be visiting Woodford Mansion and Historic Strawberry Mansion which is located in East Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. I have never been able to visit these colonial homes, but when a representative reached out to me to see if I would be interested in visiting, I immediately said “yes!”. I am excited to be able to discover and explore these two historic homes, and look forward to sharing with all of you my findings. I am also looking forward to returning to Philadelphia (the last time I was in Philly I visited the Museum of the American Revolution which you can read about here). I really enjoy Philadelphia because of the wonderful history it has, but have unfortunately not visited it as much as I would like to. Therefore, I really appreciate the opportunity to be able to visit the city of Brotherly Love in only a couple of days!

Later this month I will be visiting Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library – a place that my family enjoys to visit (in addition to Longwood Gardens). Later this month a new exhibit called Royal Splendor will display the coronation gown from Netflix’s The Crown. For those who may not know, I am an avid anglophile and a passionate Downton Abbey and The Crown fan! In fact, I first visited Winterthur because they had an exhibit that contained the costumes from Downton Abbey! (Of course now I love Winterthur in general and all the wonderful events and beauty it offers.)

These are the two big historical adventures I have planned for the month of October, but I can assure you that smaller historical adventures such as Longwood Gardens, Historic New Castle, Washignton’s Crossing, and pictures from a recent trip my parents took to Colonial Williamsburg (they are such active empty nesters) will soon be on my Instagram.


Visiting the Museum of the American Revolution

The Museum of the American Revolution (also affectionately known as MAR) opened on April 19, 2017. It is conveniently located just two blocks away from Independence Hall, and near other historical sites such as the Liberty Bell, the National Constitution Center, the American Philosophical Society, and the Second Bank of the United States Portrait Gallery.

The MAR was originally going to be located at Valley Forge, but by negotiating and discussion, a land swap commenced which changed the location of MAR to be located in Old City, Philadelphia. This is the first museum dedicated to the American Revolution in Philadelphia. This fact surprises me since Philadelphia holds so much crucial history concerning the American Revolution, but I am pleased nevertheless that MAR is located in Philly.

On Thursday, July 20 I had the opportunity to visit Philadelphia – to be more specific, Old City, Philadelphia. I am fortunate to live only a mere hour away from Philadelphia, and have been able to visit the city on multiple occasions, although the reasons for such visits have been solely to see the Philadelphia Orchestra perform. It was therefore a new and exciting adventure to be able to visit the recently opened and still new-smelling MAR.

Old City, Philadelphia is a charming place with even more charming houses that line the cobblestone streets. Potted plants and cheerful flowers stood diligently in the blazing sun as I made my way towards the museum. Towards the entrance, a musician dressed in colonial clothes played the violin and then the flute. A Benjamin Franklin puppet happily danced to the tune.

When you first walk into the lobby, you feel the cool breeze of air – a refreshing sensation to me since it was nearly 95 degrees. Interpreters are there, strolling about and talking about their lives and experience to curious visitors. Look to the right, and you will see a gorgeous staircase that will lead you to the second floor where the exhibits are. On the ground floor, that is to say the floor that you first enter, the museum shop and café is to the right. On the left is where you can dress in colonial clothes and see some tents.

I took the guided highlights tour which lasted an hour, and involved walking around the exhibits. The tour guide was friendly, and was eager to answer any questions. The information that was conveyed about the American Revolution was the basics, the kind of information that one learns in high school. (What was the Stamp Act? What was the Tea Act? Did “all men are created equal” really mean all men?) As a current history major who possesses a particular interest and passion for the American Revolution, the information that the tour guide provided was elementary although, since I was out of the academic mindset thanks to summer vacation, it was nevertheless a good review. In regards to time management, the tour group felt quite rushed towards the end. In addition, many tours were happening and so it was difficult to maneuver around the space, and at certain times was a challenge to hear the tour guide.

My conclusion is the following: For those who are hardcore history buffs and know the ins and outs of the American Revolution, perhaps the highlight tour may not be ideal. However, if you would like a “refresher” on the American Revolution, would like to a few artifacts of importance in the exhibits be emphasized, or would like to get a “lay of the land’ and become familiar with the structure of the exhibits, this tour may be ideal for you.  

There is much to see in the museum, and I believe that one could spend a whole day without seeing and reading completely everything. One of the features that I especially like is that the museum hopes to have half of their collection on display to be permanent, while the other half is on loan. This way the museum’s collections do not stay static, and people who do visit again will be able to see some new features. The collection is well developed and the museum has clearly thought out how they want to tell the story of the American Revolution. The story is told in chronological order, and emphasizes that the War for Independence did not just occur in 1776 and 1777. No, this event was a long lasting event, and its effects are still echoing till this day. MAR also wants to inform you that events concerning the War for Independence didn’t just happen in the Americas. In one exhibit room, half of a ship is built (that you can board) and the staff there are happy to tell you all about seapower. When you first enter the room, if you look to the left, a map is shown with all the seapower occurrences. The colonies are of course included, but so is India and South America.

There are a couple important features that I want to include in this post. To start off, the museum made sure to include topics that are more difficult to talk about. What exactly do I mean? One of the biggest things that caught my attention was the dedication to tell about Native American involvement during the American Revolution – mainly the Oneida Nation. An employee told me that the Oneida Nation contributed around $10 million dollars and were heavily involved with the process of planning MAR. While I may be knowledgeable about the American Revolution, the information that was included about the Native Americans was new to me. I had never really learned just how much a role Native Americans had in war during my elementary or high school years. One of the difficulties the museum faced was the lack of actual artifacts. Instead, they used the power of oral history with the assistance of only a few artifacts to tell the story of the Native Americans involvement.

Another difficult topic was slavery and Dunmore’s proclamation that if the slaves fought on the side of the British, they would be rewarded with freedom. This time, the museum used the power of technology and allowed you to read the story of five individual figures who were slaves, and what their ultimate decision was in regards to fighting in the war.

While I loved the museum as a whole, there were a couple of artifacts on display that really made an impact on me. The first was a portrait of George Washington. In the painting he is wearing a blue sash. Harvard was generous enough to loan the museum the actual, tangible, blue silk sash that he had worn. The portrait and sash are displayed together, something (according to the tour guide) that has probably not happened in at least 200 years. Unfortunately, as I have written before, the silk blue sash is a loan and will only be there temporarily.

Another artifact on display is George Washington’s War Tent which, I am happy to say, is part of the permanent collection. To see the tent you must go into the theater on the second floor, which shows “Washington’s War Tent.” Once in the theater, a short movie plays explaining the significance of the tent and how it was acquired. Once the movie is close to finishing, the screen rises and the war tent is revealed. Since this particular artifact is delicate and sensitive, no photography what so ever is permitted. However, to be able to even just see it with your own eyes is a wonderful experience. The whole presentation moved me, and was very well done.

To conclude, (I don’t want this post to be too long) my experience visiting the Museum of the American Revolution was completely and utterly enjoyable. I was pleased at how the museum decided to tell the story of the American Revolution, and appreciated how they combined artifacts and technology to tell the story. I hope to be able to visit this museum again very soon.

Q: Have you visited MAR yet? If so, what are your thoughts?




Colonial Williamsburg: 10 Places You’ll Most Likely Find Me

In today’s blog post, I will be discussing ten unique locations you will most likely find me at in Colonial Williamsburg. Not only are these places that I frequent, but these are also destinations that I would highly suggest for anyone who wants to explore, gain a well rounded experience of Colonial Williamsburg, or just wants to shake it up and try something new!

1.  Aroma’s – Located on Prince George Street, this coffee shop is an absolute favorite of mine. I am a big believer that a good breakfast is needed to start the day, especially if I’ll be running around with a busy schedule. I am a person of routine, so I always order a traditional breakfast platter (which includes scrambled eggs, home fries, wheat toast, a fruit garnish, and your choice of bacon or sausage). The atmosphere is welcoming: staff are so friendly, the interior of the shop is cheerful, and both locals and tourists enjoy coming here. Did I mention that it’s dog friendly too? I love sitting outside and meeting all the dogs (and their owners too) that come by!

2. Running on DoG Street – The summer after my junior year in high school, I applied and was accepted into the National Institute of American History & Democracy’s (NIAHD) Pre-College Summer Program in Early American History at the College of William & Mary. To spend a summer studying about the American Revolution to the Civil War in Colonial Williamsburg with fellow peers who also shared the same passion for history? It was a dream come true!

When we had the time and if it wasn’t too hot, a few of the students would run to the Capitol a la Duke of Gloucester Street. It was a good way to either start the day, or wind down after a whole day of activities. To this day, if the weather isn’t too atrocious, I will take the occasional run down DoG until I reach the Capitol. As a small bonus, one of my Residential Advisors told me that running from campus to the Capitol on Duke of Gloucester Street equaled one mile! How convenient is that?

3. Watching the Fifes & Drums Perform – If the Fifes & Drums are out and about in town, chances are I’m there too! I always enjoy taking the time to watch them perform, and also it gives me the chance to truly admire how composed they are in their uniforms even though it might be 100 degrees. And, of course, it gives me some great photography opportunities!

4. The Governor’s Palace and its Gardens – What can I say? I like the finer things in life. The Governor’s Palace is such a charming place, I always enjoy touring the inside as well as walking the grounds. The gardens in particular are lovely in the summer, and if you are feeling up to the challenge, make sure to try out the garden maze!

As an additional note, attending a musical performance at the Governor’s Palace has been on my bucket list for quite a while now. Maybe one day soon my dream will be fulfilled.

5. Attending a musical concert at the Capitol – Even though I have not had the pleasure of attending an event at the Governor’s Palace, I have been fortunate enough to see a musical performance at the Capitol. As someone who enjoys classical music, I really appreciated the music that was performed. The musicians were all in colonial attire, and were wonderful musicians and vocalists. While musical concerts at the Capitol may only occur on select dates, I do encourage you to look at evening programs! Just because the sun goes down doesn’t mean the magic of Colonial Williamsburg stops. I enjoy attending theatre productions (as I mentioned in one of my Instagram posts, I was able to see a performance of Jefferson & Adams) and comedic plays, so if there is one occurring in Colonial Williamsburg, there is a good chance I might be in attendance!

6. Walking in the Opposite Direction of Ghost Tours – I know I just encouraged you to look into evening programs, so perhaps a ghost tour may suit your tastes. If that’s the case, I hope you enjoy your experience! However, I will be walking (or running) in the opposite direction of such a tour. I am a very timid person, which is a humorous fact when I tell you that I attend one of the most supposedly haunted academic institutions in the United States (at least according to various people on the internet).

7. Visiting the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum – As someone who enjoys the finer things in life, it makes sense that you may find me here. This museum houses the world’s largest collection of southern furniture, as well as a large collection of British ceramics, and a gorgeous collection of silver. Anything dealing with the Baroque era or influence is of interest to me, which is one of the reasons I enjoy exploring the furniture collection. Currently in the Gilliland Gallery, Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home is on display. Although I have not had the chance to see this exhibit myself, I hope to be able to do so soon!

8. With the Founding Fathers – If there’s an opportunity to have a public audience with the founding fathers, I will be there. Its captivating to not only watch them and their mannerisms (even the way they hold themselves or simply walk seems so different from society today) but also the way they speak and form sentences. How I wish I had their vocabulary! I have been fortunate enough to meet Thomas Jefferson on multiple occasions (although I have only met young TJ once) as well as Lafayette, Patrick Henry, Martha Washington, George Washington, and Liberty.  It is with my deepest regret that I have never met James Madison. Perhaps one day!

9. The Historic Trade Shops  – As I mentioned in my last post, the bindery is perhaps one of my favorite shops although I do enjoy the millinery, barbershop, shoemaker, tailor, post office, and printer as well. (Can you tell that I like clothes as well as the written word?) The apprentices/historical interpreters are so knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly. I always learn something new when I exit one of the historic trade shops, and feel comfortable asking questions if curiosity strikes me in regards to their trade. One thing I definitely recommend is to ask questions! They want to share their knowledge with you!

10. The Trellis. With it’s pleasant outdoor seating and quirky yet charming interior, the Trellis is an ideal place to eat at. The location is right in Merchants Square, which is a perfect place if one wants to simply watch fellow vacationers come and go or want to take in all your surroundings. Want a dinner and a show? Make sure to get outdoor seating during when the Summer Breeze Concert Series is happening! For all the chocoholics out there, a slice of Death by Chocolate cake is a dream come true.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do in Colonial Williamsburg?