In 1636, British settler Reverend William Blackstone (Blaxton) owned all of Beacon Hill including Boston Common. The Common got its name because the land was used as a common pasture for grazing livestock. Once the Puritans moved into the Boston area, the reclusive Blackstone moved to Rhode Island to get away from the crowds. Imagine how he’d feel today if he could see what’s become of his former land.

Boston Massachusetts State House
Massachusetts State House sits on top of a hill overlooking Boston Common. On a sunny day, the gold dome sparkles and is almost blinding. The State House can be toured free of charge on weekdays between 10:30 to 3:30. Click here for more information.

Boston Acorn Street
Acorn Street ~ one of the most photographed streets in Boston. Under the snow is a lovely cobblestone road.

There have been many interesting and famous people who live (used to live) here:

  • In 1625, William Blaxton (Blackstone) ~ was the first settler in Boston and owned all of Beacon Hill.
  • John Hancock, first signer of the Declaration of Independence and the one with the most wealth to lose by waging war against the British, lived here most of his life and was buried in Granary Burial Ground.
  • Robert Frost lived here for three years in the 1930s.
  • Before he became a famous author and film-maker, Michael Crichton went to Harvard Medical school and then worked at Massachusetts General Hospital. He brought us Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain and “ER”.
  • Teresa Heinz Kerry (one of the wealthiest women in the United States) and Secretary of State John Kerry are current residents.
  • Senator Ted Kennedy lived here.
  • Sylvia Plath lived in Beacon Hill for a few years and she visited poetry classes at Boston University.She’s the author of “The Bell Jar” , a classic novel about mental illness and feminism.
  • Charles Sumner, ardent abolitionist Senator during the Civil War lived here as did Jack Welch, the former CEO and Chairman of General Electric.

The North Slope side of Beacon Hill was a central meeting place for abolitionists when Massachusetts banned slavery in 1783. The African Meeting House, under the leadership of William Lloyd Garrison, became a lifeline for runaway slaves. Beacon Hill was an important destination on the Underground Railroad which is where runaway slaves were hidden, fed, and clothed as they fled to freedom. Many of the residents were supportive of the Underground Railroad even though there were laws enacted making it illegal to help a runaway slave. Only two slaves who made it to Beacon Hill were returned to their owners and thousands of others gained their freedom. During the Civil War, men were recruited at the African Meeting House and made up the first black military regiment in the United States, known as the 54th Massachusetts regiment.

Old City Hall and Ben Franklin Statue
Old City Hall and Ben Franklin Statue

Boston Burro
Donkey Statue in front of the Old City Hall

Boston Church and glass building
The Old reflected in the New

Boston Buried snow
Couldn’t resist another snow photo. If I knew a blizzard was coming with an expected 2-3 feet of snow and I parked on the street, I would move my car to a public garage for the duration of the storm and pay the overnight parking fees just so I wouldn’t have a buried car.

According to the National Weather Service, Boston set a new record this past week for the most snow in a seven-day period: 40.2 inches. The average annual snowfall is 47 inches. We managed to fly in and out between the two blizzards. Despite the snow and cold, we wandered walked briskly around Boston Common which is approximately 50 acres and is the oldest park in the United States.

Boston Common Sign

Boston Common is the starting point of the Freedom Trail (a 2-mile walk with historic markers explaining the history of each stop). Due to the cold, we only managed the sites around the Common. The tour is self guided or arrangements can be made with a tour guide.

Boston Common Ice Skating
Ice Skating

Boston Common snowy pathways
Boston Common Paths

In the winter, Boston Common is used for ice skating and letting your dog romp through the snow. I imagine in the summer it’s a lovely gathering place for lovers of the outdoors.

The Common has a rich history:

  • Until 1817, there were public hangings
  • British troops used the Common as a campsite prior to the Revolution and was the departure point when they left to confront the colonist at Lexington & Concord in April 1775.
  • Many activists have given speeches in the Common including Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Many of our Founding Fathers, Presidents, Vice Presidents and other historic figures have walked through this park. I kept imagining John Adams, Sam Adams, Paul Revere and John Hancock wandering around the area.

Boston Common Dome and Learning Statue
The Massachusetts State House was built on Beacon Hill which sits across from the park. The land was originally owned by John Hancock (first to sign the Declaration of Independence and the first elected governor of Massachusetts). The beautiful, bright dome is made of copper and 24k gold.

Boston Common
Another view of the State House

Boston Common with Dome and Learning statue
I can’t decide which angle I like best!

Boston Common Learning statue with dome in background
With so many colleges and universities in the Boston area, the Learning statue is very appropriate.

Once we left the park, we stopped along the Freedom Trail…

Despite the snow and cold, Boston is always a fun town to visit. Haven’t been here in years but the vibe is the same. After a smooth 1 hour flight from DC, we landed at Logan Airport and grabbed the Silver Line Shuttle to South Station. Then caught the T (Red Line) to Cambridge. Too easy!

Boston Bike snowed in
Best way to get around Boston after a blizzard ~ walk!

Boston throwing snow
Fun in the snow

Tufts Chapel
Chapel at Tufts University

Harvard Snow man building
Snow building at Harvard

IMG_2526 (1)
The “Man-Bun” is very popular in Boston ~ I like the style

Veggie Galaxy
Veggie Galaxy Restaurant, Cambridge ~ very friendly service and delicious food. We liked it so much we went back for breakfast this morning. Warning: go hungry, the portion sizes are crazy big. Especially breakfast. They’re located at 450 Massachusetts Avenue and it’s just a block or so from the Central T stop (Red Line).

Boston Breakfast

Next to Veggie Galaxy is Cheapo Records which has an extensive inventory of vinyl ~ 45s and LPs
Cheapo Records

Heading into downtown Boston tomorrow…

Alexandria, VA: Sugar Shack Donuts

After having Georgetown Cupcakes and Baked & Wired pumpkin muffins on Friday, the last thing I needed this morning was a donut. But I couldn’t resist checking out the newly opened Sugar Shack in Old Town. There was a line out the door as we drove up to 804 N. Henry Street but it moved quickly and we were ordering our donuts within 10 minutes.

The original Sugar Shack, located in Richmond, was named one of the top 10 Tastiest Donuts in the USA.  During his time representing in Richmond, Virginia Delegate Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax) enjoyed Sugar Shack so much, he decided to bring his favorite donuts to Northern Virginia by opening his own shop. After tasting my first one (caramel with nuts on top), I’m glad he did ~ they are decadently delicious!

Not only are the donuts tasty but the store is also helpful to the community. Sugar Shack Alexandria has teamed up with Together We Bake (a non-profit that trains women in need)to staff the labor-intensive kitchen where each donut is hand-crafted. No machines! The flavors, such as mint julep, maple bacon, s’mores, change frequently but there’s always the standard ones (chocolate, glazed, etc).

Sugar Shack Hanging Donut

Sugar Shack Donut Display
Some of the many choices.

Sugar Shack Coffee
Delicious Coffees

Sugar Shack and GW
Looking through a porthole inside the shop

I highly recommend Sugar Shack the next time you’re in Northern Virginia and get a craving for donuts and coffee!

A cold, rainy day in January made it the perfect time to visit Luray Caverns. The temperature in the cave remains constant all year so it doesn’t matter what’s happening on the outside ~ it’s always 54°F  (12°C) with the humidity making it feel more like  65°F (18°C).

Virginia has over 4,000 caves in varying sizes and Luray Caverns is the largest and most grand of the Virginia caves, It’s also the third largest cave in the United States. It’s a two hours from Washington DC and gets an average of  over 3,000 visitors a day. The tour takes about 1 hour and winds through 1.25 miles of paved walkways through enormous chambers. There are about 70 stairs so beware if you have bad knees.

Having gone on a much more organic cave tour in Doolin, Ireland with only six other people and having to wear a hard-hat, Luray Caverns felt much more commercial and sterile. But the Caverns are massive, beautiful and definitely worth a visit if you’re in the Shenandoah area. Every once in a while I felt a drip of water which is called a “cave kiss” and considered good luck.

Luray Caverns Discovered point sign
Luray Caverns were discovered in 1878 by Andrew Campbell

Luray Caverns XX
The calcite (crystalline form of limestone) reminds me of candle wax.

Luray Caverns XXIIII
Stalactites (growing from the ceiling) and stalagmites (coming up from the ground) are everywhere.

Luray stalactites
I tried to stay at the back of the group to get photos but then it was hard to hear the guide.

Luray Caverns Rock Fish
Known has “The Fish Market” These stalactites are amazing and looked fake since their formation is so symmetrical.

Luray Caverns Redwood Tree
Looks like a waterfall

Luray Caverns Mirror Lake
My personal favorite in the cave is Mirror Lake. The illusion of it being so much larger than it is had been staring at it for a while.

Luray Caverns II stalactites
A beautiful chandelier made of calcite

Luray Caverns Dripping
Another chandelier like formation

Luray Caverns Archway
Archway in the cave

Luray Cavern Fallen
A fallen stalactite ~ looks like tree that’s been cut

Luray Caverns Organ
Another item which was a bit jarring ~ the Great Stalacpipe organ which vibrated off the walls and played “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” tune. According to the guide, there have been over 500 weddings at this location.

Even though the Caverns are on the US Historic registry, they are privately owned by the Graves family and unfortunately, as is too often the case, the siblings are squabbling over the future of Luray Caverns. A much more in-depth article here in case you want to read the details.

After the tour, we drove a little ways on the beautiful Skyline Drive which is beautiful even in the dead of winter.

Skyline Backpackers in the wild
We were looking for bears but only came across backpackers in the wild

Skyline Drive Ice Fall
Along the Skyline Drive: Icicles

Skyline Drive
Shenandoah National Park is fantastic year-round (well, maybe minus the snow days). In the winter, there will be less crowds but I’m looking forward to seeing it in the spring and fall as well.

Washington DC: National Gallery of Art

Yesterday, I cut through The National Gallery of Art and found myself face-to-face with the beautiful Rodin, Degas and Bartholdi sculptures. What a treat! I couldn’t resist lingering in the gallery just to gaze at the following:

Little Dancer
Degas’s Little Dancer (Photo: The National Gallery of Art)

Rodin's The Kiss
Rodin’s The Kiss

Rodin's The Thinker
Rodin’s The Thinker

Degas Dancer Fourth Position
Degas’s Dancer in Fourth Position

Little Dancer Degas
Looking through the glass of the Little Dancer 

Allegory of Africa Bartholdi
Bartholdi’s Allegory of Africa

The Degas Exhibition is at the Gallery until February 8, 2015. Click here for more information on the Exhibitions at the Gallery. I’m going back soon to see the El Greco paintings which are only here until 15 February, 2015. 

Washington DC: The Money Factory

The Money Factory is the official website name for the The Bureau of Engraving and Printing. And what a money factory it is.

It’s only open for tours during the weekdays which makes scheduling a visit a little harder for the working folks but for tourists, it’s another interesting and free place to explore during their stay in Washington DC. Especially on a cold & windy winter’s day.

Engraving and Printing Bureau

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing was established by President Lincoln in 1862. The original office was located in a single room in the basement of the Treasury Building. There were six employees who printed and sealed $1 & $2 notes. Today, there are over 2,500 employees working out of two sites in Washington DC and a building in Fort Worth Texas. Together, they print over a billion dollars a day. I found that an amazing amount and re-checked with the tour guide. Yes, a billion!

In the past, the Bureau has also printed currency for the following governments: Cuba (1934), the Philippines (1928), Siam (Thailand – 1945) and Korea (1947). Each government paid for all the work connected with printing their money.

The Secretary of the Treasury is responsible for all designs on paper currency including the portraits. In 1929, the size of the notes were reduced and are all the same size. This is a common complaint I’ve heard from my non-American friends. They find the same size notes to be confusing. And I won’t even get started on how they feel about our coins.

The $100 note is the highest denomination still in circulation. The portraits of well-known statesmen on the currency are as follows:
$1 = George Washington
$2 = Thomas Jefferson
$5 = Abraham Lincoln
$10 = Alexander Hamilton
$20 = Andrew Jackson
$50 = Ulysses Grant
$100 = Benjamin Franklin

The 40-minute tour begins with a short film and then takes you through the steps of the printing production. It was a lot more complicated process then I had previously thought. It’s the off-season and not a highly advertised tourist destination so I was expecting the tour to be sparsely attended but it was full. Be sure to get a ticket in advance during the summer months.

For security reasons, photography is not allowed on the tour but you can snap a few shots in the waiting area and at the gift shop (which sells uncut sheets of notes). Here are my photos:

Printing & Engraving One Million Dollars
“One MILLION dollars” (said in my best Doctor Evil voice)

Printing and Engraving display
Uncut monetary notes for sale

Jefferson Memorial
The Jefferson Memorial is within easy walking distance of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. I would recommend a visit there before or after the Bureau tour. Also, next door to the Bureau is the Holocaust Museum.

Click here for ticket/tour times.


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