Visiting a Part of History: Gettysburg, PA

I visit the hallowed battlefields of Gettysburg as often as possible and I never come away disappointed. There is “something” that remains and I have heard many people say the same. Maybe it is simply a feeling of realization about what happened there, but there is a draw to go back that can not be easily shoved aside.

Gettysburg is located in Adams County, Pennsylvania, just minutes from the Maryland state line. The severe battle that took place here in July of 1863 was one of the bloodiest Americans have ever seen. Visitors are taken back into the past with countless markers and monuments that are found in town and the surrounding territory.

The first thing I would definitely recommend is to plan for at least two days in Gettysburg. I have done day trips in the past and there simply isn’t enough time to see everything in a day. If you are not familiar with the area, it may be a good idea for you to take a guided tour the morning of your first day there. That way you will have a little history of the battle and can still drive around on your own for the rest of your visit. You will also be able to buy an auto tour cassette or CD at the visitor center.

In fact, the visitor center should be your first stop. They are currently in the process of building a new structure and changing location, but there are signs pointing to the visitor center at various strategic places throughout town. While there, or later in the day you may want to catch a bus to visit the Gettysburg home of Ike and Mamie Eisenhower. It is a very short drive, but everyone needs to go there by bus. No private vehicles are allowed on the grounds.

As you enter the lovely town of Gettysburg, start looking at the buildings. If a building was standing during those first three days of July in 1863 and thus witnessed the battle, many of them have a plaque on the home or other building reading “Civil War Building.” There are also a few trees around town that are called “Witness Trees” having been standing during the battle.

There are various hotels from which to choose when visiting Gettysburg. Many are found in the main part of town but some are also a couple miles outside of town on Rt. 30 also called York Street. The variety of hotels will fit into any budget from the smaller motels to a Hampton Inn on Route 30. If you are traveling with a pet, as I often travel with a feisty feline “fur child” as well as my human daughter, I have stayed each time at the Holiday Inn Battlefield and they have accommodated pet owners very well.

Be prepared for some great shopping and eating here, too. From antiques to Civil War related items, there are many stores and shops in town if you want to do some shopping. Restaurants are found all around town, too. I have had some very memorable meals in Gettysburg.

Watch for my next blog that will cover some of the great places to see in Gettysburg from Devil’s Den to Pickett’s Charge and everything in between.

Family Travel Trips

By Christina VanGinkel

I have amassed some tips to make traveling with family members this holiday season, or any season for that matter, more enjoyable, or at least more bearable; Pick those that apply to your family, and tuck away the others just in case they might someday apply:

Make detailed plans for any trip that is going to take you further than two hours away from your home. Book hotel rooms, research restaurants, and attractions. Purchase tickets to shows or attractions ahead of time that may be sold out.

Always take an emergency credit card with you, as there are places that cash, or traveler’s checks, just will not work namely hotels and car rental agencies.

Make sure everyone has at least one form of identification on them at all times, no matter their age. If you have a young child that does not yet know their name, address, and phone number, now is a good time to start working with them, but do not depend on anyone’s knowledge to identify themselves. Accidents can and do happen, so all family members, young and old, need some form of personal identification on their body at all times.

If you will be traveling out of the country, make copies of everything pertinent, such as birth certificates and travel visas, in case of loss or theft.

Assign everyone a travel buddy, and always take your travel buddy with to places such as gas station bathrooms.

Make sure everyone brings with one thing that can occupy his or her time. A book, video game, headphones, whatever they want. Once they have something picked out, tell them to pick one more thing, especially for long trips. Boredom is the fastest way to ruin a trip, yet you cannot always be occupied doing travel related things. You need backups.

In the same element of the tip before this one, ‘They’re looking at me’, or touching me, or staring at me, or they stuck their tongues out, they are drooling, should all be dealt with immediately, or before you even leave to begin the trip. Tell your children, preschooler through teens, what you expect from them including respect for each other, common decency, etc. If they listen or not will depend a lot on how they act normally, but a friendly reminder is not going to hurt. Bribery with items such as small toys, treats, etc, will often work no matter the child’s age, and even if you normally forgo things like this, I honestly believe that extended travel is the perfect time to introduce your kids to them.

If you are going to a destination that someone you know has been too, and you value their honesty, ask them if they have any tips to share with you. Maybe they know a restaurant there that serves a great menu at reasonable prices, or a hotel to avoid from their own personal experience.

If you are staying with friends or relatives, ask hem specifically what you can contribute, any rules they may have, etc., and then respect these rules. For example, if they do not want you bringing a pet along, do not ask why not just do not bring them. Arrange to board them. Be safe, and have fun.

Some World Heritage Sites in Kyoto, Japan

When tourists head to the sprawling city of Kyoto, they usually have a short list of temples that they want to see.  Included at the top of everyone’s list are such mainstays as Kiyomizu Temple (kiyomizu dera) and the Golden Pavilion (kinkakuji).  These are definitely worthy destinations that you should make every effort to see, especially if you have a limited amount of time to spend in the city.  However, if you have an extra day or merely want to explore some temples that are slightly off the beaten path (they are still very popular with tourists, but tend to be a bit less crowded), then be sure to visit the places listed below.

The Silver Pavilion
Unlike the Golden Pavilion, which is actually covered in gold leaf, there is no descriptive rationale to the name given the Silver Pavilion (ginkakuji).  In other words, there is not the least bit of silver on it.  Instead, it is a rather simple wooden structure that is surrounded by beautiful grounds that include a pond and a sand garden.  Despite this simplicity, or perhaps because of it, walking around the grounds of the Silver Pavilion is an excellent way to spend an hour soaking in the atmosphere of 15th-century Japan.

The Moss Temple
The proper name of this temple is saiho-ji, and it has been around since the year 1339.  I would venture to say, however, that most tourists to not visit this place in order to see the actual temple.  Rather, the biggest draw is the expansive carpet of green moss that covers the temple grounds.  There are 120 different types of moss growing there, and the effect of seeing all that lush greenery — particularly in Japan, a country not known for open spaces —  is simply amazing.  In addition to the moss, the grounds feature a pond in the shape of the kanji character for the word “heart”.  

Ryoanji Temple
To cap off your hectic day of sightseeing, spend an hour or two contemplating life while viewing the rock garden at Ryoanji Temple. It is believed that this rectangular garden, consisting of 15 large rocks dispersed in groups across a bed of small white pebbles, was designed back in the 1470s.  What makes this particular Zen rock garden famous is the fact that you can only see 14 of the 15 large rocks at one time, no matter what your particular vantage point.  You’ll be able to see the fifteenth rock once you achieve enlightenment through meditation.  To help you along on this process, there are benches set up in front of the garden where you can sit down and enjoy the silence.  

In addition to the rock garden, the large pond on the temple grounds is worthy of your time.  You can walk around the perimeter of the pond and view the beautiful lotus flowers that cover its surface.  You will also be able to see the numerous koi fish that inhabit the waters.  All in all, you will come away from the Ryoanji Temple with a lasting feeling of serenity and peacefullness.

Article written by The Fire Pit.