Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Off the Bike and Back Two Centuries

We last left you two weeks ago at a B&B in Portsmouth VA built in 1784. We have been largely in the 18th century since. But first we paid a visit to Jim and Anita, our new friends who have been boating up the Intracoastal Waterway parallel to us. We met them at Dafuskie Island, then ran into them by chance in Georgetown SC.
This time we had a planned reunion at their boat, which just happened to be moored near our B&B! Jim prepared a great scallop dinner, we added wine, and a good time was had by all as they say.

We next biked two days to the northwest, to Williamsburg. The route scared us, but Jeff found someone who posted a bike commute on that used the roads we needed to take (without a very lengthy detour, that is). We admire that person's courage if he/she truly commutes on those roads. We got through safely, but they were challenging due to narrow or nonexistent shoulders and a fair bit of traffic. Virginia may be for lovers, but not for bike lovers.
As we got close to Jamestown we did get on this lovely country road, one of the first actually since we have been largely on the coast, where you just don't get "away from it all" like here.

In Williamsburg we locked up our bike at the Alice Person House B&B and walked to the train station to meet
Jim and Nancy Schoepflin. This photo is NOT at that train station but rather at Union Station in DC, more about that later. For the next 5 days the four of us basked in the 18th century
at Williamsburg, 3 days there plus one day each at Jamestown and at Yorktown. And had one foray into more recent history with the most astonishing coincidence yet, which we'll also get to down further. Jim and Nancy are not bikers, so we had a pedestrian two weeks. The B&B, however, was anything but pedestrian. It's a large comfortable and attractive place, and Jean the innkeeper went above and beyond with things like storing our tandem and panniers while we went to Washington DC, ferrying us over to Williamsburg, and entertaining us at breakfast with hilarious stories. She's "Exhibit A" for why we like B&Bs.

The four of us agreed afterwards that 5 days was a good amount of time to see all we wanted to see without OD'ing on history. We particularly liked the dramatizations at Williamsburg, including both music and
yet more musket and cannon-firing but also an intriguing little love story, played out in three 20-minute mini-dramas in different buildings around the town, showing how the revolution affected even that area of life
(her dad was a patriot, his dad a wealthy Loyalist who eventually left for England -- without the son, who became a patriot and later Washington's first Attorney General).

Jamestown was surprisingly interesting, particularly the museum built by the National Park Service to house artifacts and skeletons unearthed in just the past dozen years. It was astonishing to see what forensic scientists could deduce about the deceased from the bones and traces of clothing,
such as buttons and pins, that they found (e.g. lots of buttons meant all the clothes were left on, which meant death of an infectious disease, as nothing was removed from the body before burial). The State also has a museum in Jamestown that was equally captivating, including full-size replicas of the boats that brought over the settlers. This was the LARGEST of the three boats!

Yorktown was so interesting that Louise and Jeff came back by bike a week later and rode a dozen miles on gorgeous one-way roads
through the battlefield and to this quiet field where 7500 British soldiers laid down their arms in 1781.

Earlier with Jim and Nancy we explored the area where the British had essentially boxed themselves in. When the French Navy successfully fought off a British rescue mission, Cornwallis found it "quite annoying" as one diarist described it, with cannon balls falling all over town. The so-called Clinton Building had two of them still there, one up high and the one in close-up about as high above the ground as a man's head. Boy, one of those could really ruin your day!

After our 5 days in the "Historic Triangle," the four of us took off by Amtrak to Richmond for 2 days and Washington DC for 5 more. We found downtown Richmond interesting, particularly the State House and the Confederate White House (actually never white but rather grey, then and now), where President Jeff Davis lived until Grant was about to enter town. He headed south (of course!) hoping to reach South America but was captured. The Museum of the Confederacy nextdoor showed a popular cartoon showing Jeff Davis captured in women's clothing,

but insisted that this was a misunderstanding by newspaper reporters, and asserted that this outfit was in fact what he was wearing. Gee, can't a politician do a little cross-dressing now and then without someone trying to cover it up?

After exploring the recently rebuilt canal around the rapids that led to Richmond's founding at the fall line, we continued on to DC. We had sent to Williamsburg a suitcase with clothes we took to Austin for Becky's wedding in January, and

here we are at the Kennedy Center in clothes we normally don't have with us on bike trips! We heard a great concert featuring Saint-Saens' 4th Piano Concerto, and Jeff enjoyed seeing this magnificent facility for the first time.

After the concert we went on to Alexandria and next day went with Jim and Nancy to the Metropolitan Opera (yes, that Met up in New York City), in the form of a simulcast screening in a movie theater. The Met has signed up 700+ theaters around the globe for 8 performances this season, 11 next season, and we strongly urge the known or potential opera lovers among you to check this out. The price was an affordable $20/ticket, and the surround sound was almost as good as in person. The close-ups of the singers made the drama of the opera come alive, and we LOVED the performance! It helped, of course, that the female lead in Donizetti's comic opera La Fille du Regiment was a great comic who had us rolling with laughter as well as enchanted with the singing.

We also explored the old part of Alexandria, and were astonished. It was gorgeous! It has as much 18th century architecture as Williamsburg, or so it seems, but in a vibrant living city. Of course no costumed interpreters, and lots of "modern" stuff from the early and mid-1800s, but it was an interesting contrast and complement to
our week in Williamsburg. We closed out our stay in Washington with 2 days at the home of Louise and Masaharu Shimizu, Louise's best friend from their years together in Tokyo. It was great to catch up on our respective families. On our way back to Amtrak to return to Williamsburg, we stopped at the National Museum of American Art and caught a beautiful special exhibit of the work of little-known artist Chiura Obata. This is one of his lush watercolors-turned-woodprint that he painted in Yosemite in the 1920's.

And what was that about an astonishing coincidence? We know Jim and Nancy through Jeff's former job as an attorney for the University of Washington and Nancy's as the equivalent at Washington State University. On day 2 at our B&B a couple arrived in the evening and Jeff discovered that the husband (we'll call him "John") went to his alma mater and that the wife ("Jean") was from Seattle. The next day our group of 4 plus John, Jean and their 12-year-old daughter were sitting around the breakfast table when Jean mentioned that she had gone to the University of Washington. Louise and Jeff said that they had just retired from jobs there. When Jean asked where we had worked, Jeff said the Attorney General's Office. Jean replied that she was once married to someone from that office.

Jeff, Louise and Nancy looked intently at her to hear who. She named someone we'll call "Jay," who spent 10 years in the office DIRECTLY next to Jeff's, and who had regular email exchanges with Nancy over legal issues both handled at our respective institutions! Problem is, "Jay" separated from his wife "Jane" several years ago, and Jean was clearly not "Jane" (whom Jeff and Louise knew well) or the woman "Jay" ran off with! We sat there speechless, trying to comprehend this (and quite failing...) when Jean finaly said, "It was quite a while ago, when we were in our early twenties." In unison, Jeff and Louise said, wide-eyed, "You mean "Jay" was married to someone else before "Jane"!!!

Well, it's time to head north to see who else we can run into, or failing that to return to Ithaca. From here we bike to Norfolk over 2 days and get a lift from the bridge authorities across the tunnel-bridge that spans the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. That will put us on the DelMarVa peninsula and on the road ultimately back to Ithaca, which we hope to reach by the end of May. We'll say more about our route there and then from Ithaca to New England in our next post.

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