Packing Tips

By Christina VanGinkel

If you are planning a vacation of any length, packing for it can quickly become an unpleasant task at a time when most things about it should be fun. It is what is often referred to as a necessary evil. Nobody really likes to do it except for an odd few, but most would not mind it as much if they at least had an idea of how to accomplish it. To try to bring some semblance and less stress to the activity, there are steps to take to make it as simple as possible.

Make a List

Make a list outlining how many days you will be gone, where to, and if you have any idea of schedules or stops, include those details too. A list maker by habit, for me, it makes it easier to plan if I have a visual in front of me for reference to work from initially. From this list, I will build my secondary and most important list, from which I will pack. For example, if I know I am going to be spending three days pool side, I know I need my swimsuit, and if I am going to be living alongside of the pool for that same span of time, I know two suits is much more reasonable. I also know I need my flip-flops. If dinners other than room service are planned, I consider the types of restaurants we will be frequenting, and consider if they have a dress code. I also leave the list out in an accessible spot so that I can add to it easily in the days building up to my trip. This way, it is much harder to forget to bring something along.

Lay it all Out

Once I have my packing list complete, I lay out everything in similar groups. Items such as shoes are individually bagged, even if they are clean going into the luggage, just in case they are not on the way home. I go over the contents of my toiletry bag, and double check that I have separate containers for anything that might leak. I actually use heavy-duty Ziploc freezer bags. That way if anything does leak, it is contained and the chance of it leaking through and staining anything else in my luggage is decreased. As I pack, I then check items off the list, and in this way, I am assured that I am not forgetting anything important.

Tag It

If I am packing abnormally shaped items, or anything fragile, such as my laptop, I double-check the zippers and locks to make sure all is in good order. I also make sure everything is labeled and tagged. My sister-in-law always makes sure each bag has a similar, but odd zip tie. They can be different colored, but otherwise all the same. For instance, I forgot to add anything to my son’s luggage on his recent trip to visit her, and when he arrived, back home, each of his bags had a small woven ball made to loop through a zipper’s end. They were in various colors, but they made it easy to spot each of his bags on the turnstile at the airport.

Pack and Extra Bag

If my destination is a place that I am likely to bring home extras from, I also pack an extra bag itself, something that can be easily folded up and tucked into the bottom of my luggage that I am using until I need it. This way I can avoid the cost of having to purchase a bag at the last minute for more than I would normally be willing to pay. I also will tuck an extra bag that could be used as a carry-on, a bit bigger than my usual small bag. Again, if I find myself heading home with more than I left with, I do not the worry of finding a bag or two that will be sufficient for my needs.

The biggest thing to remember is that a bit of planning where your packing is concerned will go far toward having a good trip. There is nothing more annoying than arriving at your destination and realizing that you forgot something basic and needed!

Bar Harbor, Maine

When I was a little girl, living in the southwestern part of the United States, my parents took a vacation to Maine. They came back with stories about all the lobster they could eat, amazing fall foliage, and a scenic little town on the coast called Bar Harbor. They loved telling stories about the Maine accents and how the locals called Bar Harbor, “Bah Hahbah.” Many years went by, and like much of the rest of the United States, I sort of forgot about Maine altogether. Fast forward about 25 years when my husband got out of the military and found a job in, none other than, Maine. Although neither of us had ever been, we liked adventure, so we packed up our three kids, two dogs and two cats and drove from California to Maine.

After we had been in Maine nearly a year, we decided to drive to Bar Harbor to find out about this romantic little place that has legendary views and scrumptious dining. We were not disappointed. From our home in southern Maine, we drove up along the Route One coastal road to Bar Harbor. Much of Route One is simply farmland and a bit of suburbia once one gets past the beaches of southern Maine, but by the time we hit the Wiscasset area, we were spellbound by the beauty of the area. It was early May and all the trees were in bloom with spring time color. Route One weaved around through the hills, across inlets, and along the rocky coast until we finally found ourselves at the gateway of Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park and, yes, our destination, Bar Harbor.

Bar Harbor used to be known long ago as simply a fishing village and then a ship building community. In the early part of the 20th century wealthy philanthropists and artists moved into the Bar Harbor area, building the famous cottages that dotted the coastline of the island. These “cottages” were actually mansions for the rich and famous. The fire of 1947 all but wiped out Bar Harbor, destroying most of the grand cottages on Millionaire Row. While some rebuilt, most did not, and Millionaire Row became a great place for putting up hotels and motels for the more frugal travelers of the 1950s.

We found Bar Harbor and the surrounding Mount Desert Island to be nothing short of paradise. Granted, the weather was absolutely perfect for our weekend; the sky was blue, the weather in the upper 60s, and even the evenings were warm enough to enjoy dining on the outdoor patio of one of the downtown restaurants. We walked all around town, admiring the old inns and the scenic sea port. We drove around the island, marveling at the seals, the tree-lined carriage roads for bicyclers, and of course, majestic Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Atlantic coastline.

The town of Bar Harbor has a local population of only about 5000, although that can triple in the summer time when tourist season is at its peak. The weather is pleasant and mild for the spring, summer, and fall, but the winters are typical of the rest of Maine – cold and snowy. There are endless things to do in Bar Harbor. The aforementioned outdoor entertainment and recreation of Cadillac Mountain and the carriage roads are popular, as well as opportunities for sailing, windsurfing, fishing, whale watching, kayaking tours, bicycle tours, lobster fishing tours, horseback riding, white water rafting, mountain climbing, and of course, moose watching tours!

For indoor entertainment, Bar Harbor has a host of dining and lodging opportunities, including special hideaways for honeymooners. There is a cabaret theater and a lumberjack show. Seafood is plentiful, especially lobster, just like my parents promised all those years ago. There are romantic inns, large hotels, and small cottages. And just about every place in town gives at least a partial view of the ocean.

Go find out why Fitz Hugh Lane, Thomas Cole, and others chose to model their famous paintings after the Bar Harbor area. While their paintings are legendary, there is nothing like seeing Bar Harbor in person. The colors, the rocks, and the sea, will come alive and you will feel like you’ve stepped into one of their masterpieces. Like them, its beauty is something you will never forget.

A Travel Guide to Gettysburg’s Historic Homes

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that legendary town where perhaps the most infamous battle of the Civil War took place in 1863, is famous for many things. The battlefield is, of course, the best reason to visit, but any Gettysburg traveler will discover that a great many historic homes and churches abound throughout the town. Many existed in some form or another when the battle took place, and so have existed for at least 150 years. If you’re planning to walk the streets or even visit some of these old homes, you will need to know where to look.

Quite a few of Gettysburg’s historic buildings can be visited and offer insightful tours, sometimes with costumed guides. Many are restored to look the way they did in 1863. One such house is the George Washington Schriver House, built in 1860, three years before Gettysburg was embroiled in battle. Built by Mr. Schriver, the house had an upstairs and downstairs used by the family and a basement where Mr. Schriver’s saloon operated. You will be amazed at the authenticity with which the house has been restored; stop by and see perfectly reconstructed Victorian bedrooms, an attic where Confederate sharpshooters made their nests, and a kitchen and parlor.

At Schriver House you can embark on a tour that will take half an hour to complete. The rates are extremely reasonable, charging $4.50 for kids under the age of twelve and $6.95 for adults. The senior rate falls between the two. At the end of your tour you might decide to stop by the newly expanded gift shop for anything relating to the Schriver House or Gettysburg itself.

The Jennie Wade House is one of the most famous historic homes in the borough, and with good reason. It was here in July 1863 that a 20-year-old named Mary Virginia Wade (known as Jennie) was providing baked goods for starving soldiers and was shot by an unnamed sharpshooter. No one is certain from where the bullet came or even if a Union or Confederate soldier was responsible. The home, actually a double house occupied by Jennie’s sister Georgia and Georgia’s husband Louis, became known as the Jennie Wade House.

You can take a tour of the Jennie Wade House’s upper and lower levels, passing through both the McClain and McClellan sides. On the McClellan side you will notice the kitchen where Jennie was killed. The entire house is beautifully decorated to really give you a glimpse into 19th century pure and simple style. Once you climb the appropriately creaky stairs, you can step through the hole made between house sections when a shell rocketed into the house and terrified the occupants. Once you venture outside you have the option of visiting the cellar where Jennie was brought after her death.

General Lee’s Headquarters is another well-known Gettysburg home. Occupied by the widow Mary Thompson, the 19th century stone home served as Lee’s center of operations during the three-day battle. Now a museum with small but entertaining rooms, there are also modern dormer rooms upstairs, where you can actually stay overnight if you are willing to pay the price. Who is to say you won’t catch a glimpse of the “general” himself?

Stop by the small gift shop after exploring the house; it is also in this building that you will purchase your tickets for the headquarters tour. Keep in mind that the museum is open from 9-5 but that hours may change slightly during the warmer months. Children can tour the museum for free if they are younger than 15, and adults pay $3.00 for admission. The last time I stayed at the adjoining Larson’s Quality Inn, guests at Larson’s were able to enter General Lee’s Headquarters Museum free of charge.

Unfortunately, some historical homes are now bed and breakfasts and can only be visited if you are planning to stay overnight. I would definitely recommend that you consider a few of these for your accommodations, especially the Farnsworth House Inn, known during the battle as the Sweeney House. Built in two sections, each part in the 19th century, this old brick house is full of local lore. Ghost stories and tales of haunted happenings abound, and each room is painstakingly restored to look as it did many years ago.

If you’re feeling brave, you can trek down to the cellar for the Farnsworth House’s “Mourning Theater.” This is a creepy place where guides tell stories from the past. If you don’t think you’d like to recreate a Victorian funeral parlor, this is *not* the place for you, though it does appeal to many “ghost hunters” who come to visit.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

Eastern Maryland’s Furnace Town

If you’re visiting an oceanside resort, the city of Salisbury, or just eastern Maryland in general, there are many small places relatively close in distance that would help to enhance your East Coast vacation. If you’re tired of skyscrapers and traffic and want a less-visited solution, there is one area you could choose to consider. In the quaintly-named Snow Hill you can find a living history museum known as Furnace Town. True to its name, there is indeed an old furnace here from the 19th century. It is the focal point of the walking tour, but there is much more to see here than a rustic old furnace (although for schoolchildren especially, learning about the history of the important furnace is much more than a boring history lesson).

It is always a good idea to begin an introduction with a little bit of history concerning the area. The official name of the furnace for which Furnace Town is named was the “Nassawango Iron Furnace.” The community made use of this furnace from the early-to-mid 1800s and a few hundred people were once living scattered around its base. When the furnace was no longer needed, it fell into disuse. Fortunately the former village has returned in its modest beauty and is a great destination for anyone interested in Maryland’s history. You can walk up the long ramp to the furnace tower (the only part of it still in existence) and look down over the woodland. I recall walking behind the tower to hunt for unusual flowers. Furnace Town can be a nature walk as well if you visit in the spring.

You can enter many reconstructed buildings to get a feel for what life was like over a century ago. The finely-preserved church, historical homes and workshops make Furnace Town a great choice for school-age kids, but also a good place for mom and dad to learn some useful facts as well. There are many historical villages, but Furnace Town’s ambiance, set in the woods like a country village, makes it exceptional. On my own visit I remember continuously seeing an elusive pure white rabbit. In the 19th century, villagers may have kept such a creature as a pet. Such small details really throw you into the olden days.

More about the old buildings: Inside the church you can find a modest but elegant pulpit and dress displays showing what women would have worn in church in the 1800s. The printer, woodworking and blacksmith shops are all exquisitely recreated for the curious eye to explore, and you will find costumed “villagers” who should be happy to answer questions and give your children a glimpse into the past. The woodworker’s shop contains old tools and shows how these important implements were once made. The fact that Furnace Town is not a huge, bustling tourist attraction actually works in its favor, because it is much more pleasant to walk among the old buildings and enjoy a leisurely walking tour than to rush and scurry because of the hundred other people behind you, wanting to do the same things you are doing.

Furnace Town offers family activities throughout the year. Usually these are hiking trails or sky-watching tours, but sometimes there will be something very different: an archaeology dig. For $10.00 a day you can do your own “exploring” on the grounds. This is a great activity for kids, and the program is offered many times between April and October (visit to find out if anything will be happening when you plan to visit). In December you can experience something truly wonderful if you attend Furnace Town’s “19th century Christmas.” This is a free event and will be a holiday outing you will never forget.

Check out Furnace Town’s gift shop for 19th century charm and perhaps some terrific jams and other foods. Here you can also purchase things made by the village “workers” like authentic brooms and artisan reproductions. If you have a travel or history room (or perhaps just a corner of a room) like I do, these items would be a fantastic addition to your decor.

Another great thing about Furnace Town is its reasonable entrance rates. Kids pay $2.00 and adults $4.00. It’s very important to note that the Living Heritage Museum can only be visited between April and October, so if you are thinking about visiting you will have to make sure to plan your vacation around this time. It is worth the extra effort to make sure you arrive when all buildings are available and open to the public.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

Uncovering Vacation Deals

By Christina VanGinkel

Finding deals on vacations can hinge on myriad details. When you book, your age (senior or student), time of year, and more can all have a bearing on if you can find a deal, and how big a deal it will be. With the rising cost of fuel affecting everything from the drive to your destination to the cost of your airline ticket, finding a way to save money on the overall cost is more important than ever. No one wants to give up their annual vacation, or especially a once in a lifetime getaway because of rising costs, and no should have to. There are deals to be had, with some of them obviously blatant, and others just waiting to be found.

If you belong to any particular, type of organization, such as AARP, SAMS Club, or have a credit card that allows you to accumulate points that can be traded in toward the cost of hotel nights or airline tickets, be sure to use them. These deals can often add up to bigger savings than we realize. Some hotels offer discounts through programs they create, such as the Choice Privileges Reward Program. You accumulate points by staying in their hotels, which can then be traded in for free stays. One free night of a three-night stay is a significant savings.

Online avenues such as Hotwire often have last minute travel discounts available at deep discounts. These might not be good if you need to plan in advance, but if you suddenly find yourself with some extra time and some extra dollars, they might be the magical mix needed to use some of the deals that can be quick to expire.

Planning a group vacation can often net big bargains. The type of group is rarely an issue. It could be a church group, a book club group, even a family group, or a group of co-workers as a long as everyone wants to go to the same destination. Keep in mind that just because you go to a destination as a group does not always mean you must spend the whole time together. Many groups book the travel and hotels together, but everyone is more or less on their own when they arrive. Other groups may also net discounts on attractions, such as tickets to shows, but still spend a large part of the vacation enjoying quiet leisure time. Others may plan to do everything together as a group. Having the details all spelled about before traveling though, can be a good way to avoid confusion and hard feelings, so consider the details. The discounts can be had by being able to provide more business for the destination. For example, if you phone up the hotel you would like to stay at, and ask the rate on a room, then tell them that you would like to know what they could offer you per room if you were to reserve ten rooms instead of the one, you might be pleasantly surprised at the discount they will be able to offer you. Hotels often end each day with empty rooms, so if you can bring in more business by coming as a group, they are often more than willing to share some of the extra funds with you through discounts on the rooms you are renting.

If you have always dreamed of going somewhere in particular, but the cost seems blatantly out of your reach, consider the time of year that you plan to travel. While traveling in the off-season to some destinations will not make sense, other destinations really do not matter. The off-season may even mean less crowds and more leisurely activities than during the peak season, not to mention discounts on everything from lodging to airfare.

Coupon books are another option that can save you big on meals and activities, often the two most expensive parts of any vacation. You can often request these from the tourism bureau of your destination, or websites affiliated with the destination. The Wisconsin Dells is a huge Waterpark vacation spot, made up of many different hotels and activities. You can often find discount coupons for many of the attractions online. Many of the businesses use the books and coupons as a form of advertisement and in return offer the user discounts that can really add up.

If traveling as a family, a hotel that offers free breakfast and allows kids to stay free, can add up to big savings. Breakfast for a family of four can easily cost thirty dollars or more a day. To start each day with this as money saved is always a good deal.

Moving from Coast to Coast

When my husband was still in the military, we found ourselves having to make frequent coast-to-coast moves across country. It seemed that the Navy wanted us in California for a couple of years, then in Rhode Island, and then in California again. Sometimes Virginia was where they took us. Either way, whenever it was time to move, the move was always a big one. No moves across town or into the next county. Never even just a matter of packing a truck and driving to our destination in one day. Our military moves were huge, life-changing events that took us to a different climate, a different type of city, and practically to a different country. Many of our friends and colleagues, also in the Navy, chose to ship their cars, along with their furniture and other belongings, and simply fly to their next destination. This made a lot of sense. Driving, or taking a train or a bus across country took many days, while flying could get us there in a matter of hours. Yet, the change was so big, it seemed to us that we needed to ease into it gradually. Thankfully, my husband was always given nearly a month off from work in order to move, so we chose to drive our way across the country from one coast to the next.

Driving from the East to the West coast was always a thrill for me because I grew up in the West. As we first headed out, navigating our way past New York City, we enjoyed spotting the city skyline, but that was pretty much where the fun ended for a couple of days. We then drove through Pennsylvania, which, in my western eyes, was simply a state full of trees which blocked our view. By the time we had traveled through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, I was ready to see something besides the lush trees of the eastern half of our country. That was about the time we came to St. Louis, saw the incredible Mississippi River, and of course the St. Louis arch. After traveling for at least another half day, we came into Oklahoma where we met Interstate 40, which would take us all the way to California. Partway through Oklahoma, the trees began thinning out considerably, and the West began calling my name. By the time we hit Amarillo, Texas, we were in wide-open grassy plains. Heading through the sometimes desolate-looking deserts of New Mexico and Arizona were like music to my soul. I could see the horizon and I felt free. When we drove into San Diego and still felt the desert like climate, but with palm trees and a blue ocean to boot, I was in heaven.

My husband, an East Coaster at heart, was always excited when we went the other way. He preferred that we took the more northern route through Wyoming and South Dakota when we traveled from east to west, so we set out from Southern California heading back across Arizona and New Mexico, but then we turned north at Albuquerque, up Interstate 25. We drove through beautiful Colorado and the wide-open spaces of Wyoming, where I could enjoy my West just a bit longer. We saw Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, as well as the badlands, until we finally headed into Minnesota and Wisconsin, where the trees began showing themselves to be more plentiful once again. My husband would get excited about the trees, and if we were lucky, we moved in the fall and were able to enjoy the fall foliage, which is at its best in the eastern half of the country. After skirting down through Chicago, we headed back onto our original route, going back through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, and then across Connecticut and back into the tiny state of Rhode Island.

I would strongly suggest that anyone moving across country take the time to drive it. There is no better way to see and get to know our great country, than by driving across, seeing everything up close and personal. The change in scenery will prepare you for what’s ahead, and remember, getting there is half the fun!

Vail, Colorado in the Summertime

Visiting one of Colorado’s many ski areas is a treat to the senses any time of year. Most of us do not think about ski areas until the snows of winter begin to fall and Christmas music is heard wafting out of our stereos. When the weather turns chilly. we break out our parkas and gloves, take the skis out of the storage shed or the rafters in the garage, and begin to plan our next trip to the slopes. But what many of us forget is that the ski areas are wonderful to visit in and out of ski season. Remember, most of Colorado’s ski areas are huddled around a charming town or village that is full of great dining, shopping, and lodging during the winter months; yet those things do not go away when the snow melts. Summertime is one of the best times to visit a Colorado ski area because we can enjoy the town, the mountains and the scenery in a different light, and we don’t have to bring all the cold-weather clothing for our outdoor activities!

Our family used to make it a summer tradition to visit Vail, Colorado in the summertime. We lived only two hours away and had friends who let us use their condo there. Vail was fun, because like some of the other larger ski areas, Vail had a gondola that took skiers and other adventuresome visitors to the top of the mountain. The gondola operated in the summer months as well, so our family, clad in shorts, t-shirts, and hiking boots, would ride the gondola to the top, share a lunch out on the grass or a picnic table, and then walk back down the mountain, via the grassy, open ski slopes, to the town. It was a long walk that took us most of the afternoon, and often our shins were sore the next day from so much downhill hiking, but it was a pleasure to see the ski slopes up close in the summer. When we were used to seeing the slopes covered in snowy moguls, now they were covered in wild grass and wild flowers. Birds and butterflies flitted in and out of the woods and it was not unusual to see other wildlife such as deer, woodchucks, and the occasional hawk. The scents which greeted us on that mountain were pine, wild flowers, and fresh air. The sunshine warmed our backs and we wished the day would never end.

Once back down in Vail village, we enjoyed walking casually to the various shops the town offers. There were plenty of fun places for children including toy stores, stuffed animal stores, and eclectic candy shops right out of a fairy tale. The adults found art galleries, pottery stores, and a plethora of specialty shops to delight all types of tastes. And of course there were the ski shops and Christmas shops, which were also open in the summer, tempting folks to purchase and make plans for the upcoming winter season.

In the summer, the restaurants in Vail often open their doors to outdoor patios where diners can enjoy a meal under a sunny umbrella or simply under the stars at night. The crisp mountain air is clean and invigorating, but mild enough to require only a light sweater at night. Vail has a multitude of restaurants for every taste under the summer sun: Mexican, Asian, American, formal, casual, unusual, and everything in between.

Not far from the village of Vail, families and vacationers will find opportunities to go horseback riding, white water rafting, hiking, sailing on mountain lakes, fishing, and many more summer mountain activities. Glenwood Springs is just a bit of a drive up the road from Vail and it offers the natural hot springs for which it is famous. A drive to Glenwood Springs for a day is well worth the trip from Vail. Hanging Lake, a popular hiking trail to a high mountain pond, is set on the highway between Glenwood Springs and Vail.

Consider taking your summer vacation to one of the Colorado ski areas, to get a different perspective on the slopes this year. Vail, and many of the other beautiful spots, are waiting.

Seeing Maine like the Locals

Maine is one of the remotest states in the Union, besides perhaps Wyoming and Alaska. The woods in Maine are so thick, people have been known to get lost and not be able to find their way back to a campground or home, even when they are only 100 yards away. Maine, while having its southernmost border only an hour or so from the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Boston, is a world away. It is quite, pristine, and untamed. In Maine, visitors will still see moose, bald eagles, bears, and a plethora of other wildlife. When seeking to take a trip into Maine, visitors ought to consider avoiding the touristy places, which Maine has aplenty, and instead take the backroads, visit the county fairs, and avoid the beaches. Portland is a wonderful city, but it is still a city, much like a miniature Boston. To really get a sense of the real Maine, its people, its culture, and its rhythm, take a drive on the meandering, tree and cow lined roads and meet the Maine that the locals know and love.

When first driving into Maine, consider getting off the highway; not on Route One, the coastal route. While Route One is charming and has much to offer the tourist, it is not quite different from the coast of New Hampshire, Massachusetts or Rhode Island, until one is well past the Brunswick and Bath area. Instead, take a northern route toward Sebago Lake and travel northeast from there. Drive to the Rangeley area and go for a hike. Have lunch at one of the small diners or convenience stores along the way. While all modern fast food establishments can be found in most Maine towns, some of the smaller villages are still unblemished by modern chains. And in Maine, when one sees a local, Mom & Pop convenience store, he can just about bet that there will be a tiny eating establishment inside. Most of these types of stores will cook made-to-order pizza and hot dogs, or they will serve you up a sandwich or bowl of soup. These places are where the locals hang out. Spend an afternoon in a convenience store and you will get to know the real Maine.

Of course, once you leave the coziness of the mountains, you may want to keep heading north and go all the way up to the Presque Isle and Caribou area to see the miles and miles of potato fields. A trip to a local summer fair may give visitors a glimpse of the potato queen or princess. The small towns are incredibly close knit communities where everyone knows everyone else, and many of them are related.

When you head back down toward the downeast area of the state (which simply means, the coast along the eastern side of the state) be sure to visit Baxter State Park and consider taking a hike up Mount Katahdin. While campsites must be reserved months in advance, day hikers will enjoy the mile or so walk up the highest and most rugged mountain in Maine. The summit of Mount Katahdin is also the northern most end of the famous Appalachian Trail. The town of Millinocket, nearby, will supply hikers and visitors with picnic supplies and hiking or camping gear, if necessary.

Continuing to head down east, visitors will ultimately come to the coast. One of the most famous coastal Maine towns is Bar Harbor, on Mount Desert Island. Not only is the town charming, it is still small and relatively unscathed by commercialism, because of its limitations being on the island. Mount Desert Island is home to Cadillac Mountain, the largest mountain right on the coast of the eastern seaboard. Visitors will enjoy the carriage roads and beautiful, rocky coastline that gives breathtaking views again and again, around each turn. Seals can often be found on the rocks and the sunsets are magnificent.

The next time you head to Maine, consider these suggestions and find that the state is more than you originally imagined. Go along the backroads and get to know the locals, not just the summer folks. Eat where they eat and see what they see. Then you will have a sense of what really makes Maine tick.

Newport, Rhode Island in the Summertime

Nearly one hundred years ago, Newport, Rhode Island was the fashionable destination for wealthy travelers up and down the East Coast of the United States. Presidents, statesmen, actors and actresses, and many more of the rich and famous, rode in their buggies, on horses, on ships, or even in the new motorcars, to the breezy shores of Newport. Newport gave East Coasters what they were trying to escape in the summertime – heat and humidity. While most of the East Coast, even up into Maine, is exceptionally hot during July and August, the beaches and town of Newport, Rhode Island, located on Aquidneck Island in the extreme southeastern corner of the tiny state, are mild, breezy, and perfect for a summer vacation.

Today, Newport is still the quaint, breezy town in the summer that it was all those years ago, and it looks much the same as it did then, but with all the modern conveniences. Long rows of century old houses line the narrow streets, tiny shops and churches are dotted throughout the town, and the famous Thames street, which runs along the height of the shopping district, just across from the marina, is made entirely of old bricks. Visitors will enjoy a tasty lunch or dinner at the Brick Alley Pub on Thames Street, and remember, in Newport, Thames is pronounced phonetically, not the proper British pronunciation as in the River Thames.

The beaches in Newport are plentiful and the ocean water in the summer is nearly perfect. It is not the bathtub warmth of Florida or the frigid 50 degree water found in Maine and Nova Scotia; rather, with 80 degree sunshine, it perfectly offsets the air warmth for a quick cool-down. Many beaches are within walking distance of downtown Newport and there are hotels, restaurants, and hot dog stands near every beach.

Other than the mild, summer weather, one of the things that makes Newport unique is its unusual tie to the past. While many cities boast museums and political or agricultural history, Newport, Rhode Island boasts wealthy history. Take a drive alone Bellevue Avenue for an amazing tour of the Mansions that were once known as summer cottages for the rich and famous. Names such as Rockefeller, Kennedy, and others are well-known there. The summer cottages are what most of us would refer to as castles. Multiple levels, high ceilings, many rooms, servants quarters, and beautiful grounds that edge right up to the ocean; many of the mansions now are museums or theaters.

If visitors are ambitious enough to take a brisk walk, the Cliff Walk is a sight to behold. Cliff Walk is a sidewalk that runs along the side of a low cliff above the ocean, just behind many of the famous mansions. Walkers will be treated to the backside and grounds of the mansions, as well as a scenic view of First Beach, the surrounding cover, and other parts of the island. Surfers often surf the swells of the rocks below Cliff Walk, so there is always something to behold.

While Newport affords all these incredible and unusual sights, it also has all the benefits of a modern town. Chain hotels and restaurants, Wal-Mart, and small strip malls are found in different areas around town, available to those who need them, but not interfering with the historic feel of the old town.

Newport has also served as home to the famous America’s Cup races. A visit to the downtown marina will afford sightseers with an array of impressive boats, yachts, and crystal blue waters. Boats can be chartered for fishing, sight-seeing or whale watching, and visitors should be on the lookout, as famous faces are often found spending time on the boats at the marina at Newport.

Newport is easily accessible by air from New York, Boston and Providence. It is about a three hour drive or bus ride from New York City, less than two hours from Boston, and less than an hour from Providence. That first drive across the Jamestown and then the Newport Bridge will take visitors’ breath away.

The next time you are on the East Coast and are looking for a summer vacation that is not too hot, Newport is a summertime paradise.

Traveling to Germany? Don’t Leave Without Seeing Berlin

All of us have different pictures in our mind when we think of Germany’s capital. Some envision the stiff confines of a war-era compound, others, old churches and buildings. The truth is, Berlin has a certain ambiance and feel for history; if you’re visiting that great and controversial country of “Deutschland,” it should not be missed. For those of you who have German ancestry, this is *the* city to begin your journey to self-discovery. The place is of course famous for the Berlin Wall, so you may wish to start at the Berlin Wall Museum. Once you’ve learned some interesting tidbits about the Wall and Berlin in general, it’s time to explore the city and find some great things to see and do.

It may seem odd to find a Jewish museum in the middle of a country well known for the infamous Holocaust, but Berlin is full of such surprises. To learn about the experiences of the Jewish people who have lived in Germany for countless centuries, stop by the Jewish Museum. Everything from fascinating exhibits to ancient documents can be found here. If you have Jewish ancestry or are interested in the Holocaust, this is a great place to go. It is a fantastic museum for a “teaching tool” if you’re traveling with children.

You might want to visit Berlin’s Parliament Building, also known as Reichstag, just to experience the architectural achievement. The huge Renaissance structure, seemingly more fit to be an ancient palace, will be one of the most impressive sights you will see while you travel through Berlin. It is hard to comprehend the work that went into creating such rich detail. This will be one of the places you will most likely put your camera to good use! The glass elevators are particularly striking. If you travel extensively, you might notice the similarity in design of other palaces and government buildings throughout Europe.

For an older piece of history, visit Brandenburg Gate (also known as Brandenburger Tor) which was constructed in the 1700s. If you do your research you will learn that it is a definitive landmark in Berlin. This is another great photo stop; as I’ve said in previous travel articles, it doesn’t cost anything to look and capture special sights on film, so save some cash in Berlin and take advantage of these *free* experiences. Brandenburg Gate is especially important to Berlin’s history because of its association with Friedrich Wilhelm, and its classical Roman design adds elegance to the modern city.

For some shopping and dining, stop by Unter den Linden in East Berlin. This well-known street is like “Anytown U.S.A.” in many ways. Historical sites compete with shops and pedestrian traffic. Grab a bite to eat, enjoy Berlin’s architecture, and don’t be surprised to find little surprises hidden behind every nook and cranny. Unter den Linden’s historic past is evident in many places and it is one of the most noted streets in the city. From there, stop by the Pariser Platz, another largely visited part of the city, for some shopping experiences. Shopping isn’t really your thing? How about Victorian history?

If you’re a history buff, especially in the Victorian department, the Berliner Dom (the Cathedral) may be of interest to you. It doesn’t have such an old and venerable history as more famous European churches, but it is a beautiful sight to behold. Although the Cathedral was built between the 1890s and the first years of the 1900s, a similar type of cathedral has stood on this spot since the 15th century. If the baroque architecture and beautiful domes don’t draw you in, the interior certainly will. You can plan your visit any day of the week, as the Dom’s hours are extremely flexible. Don’t forget to see the almost 500-year-old Sauer’s Organ and striking stained glass windows.

One of the most important things to remember when visiting Berlin is to keep all your senses open. Don’t forget to see all the historical elegance, smell the fresh goods baking at the market, and hear the native tongue that will remind you that you’re “not in Kansas anymore.” The greatest piece of advice for aspiring travelers is this; don’t just visit as a tourist, see a few small sites, buy some cheap souvenirs and go home. Truly *look* at everything, use your senses, and let the city of Berlin imprint itself in your memory.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer