Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Vacation - Part 5: Gettysburg

This is my last vacation post! I will try to keep it brief. It's a shame, really, because I remember being super excited to write about this final part of our trip. But a lot has happened since early September, and I am sick of waiting to write about it all. Hopefully, the pictures will help to do the talking.

We spent a day and a half exploring Gettysburg, PA. I think two would've been perfect. We were camping again; this time at Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland. The park was wonderful! I hope to return someday just to explore the hiking trails. However, a word to the wise: the campgrounds got very busy on the weekend.

The first morning, we drove straight to the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center. It is a big, beautiful building with lots of parking. We booked a personal tour in advance. I highly recommend it! For almost the same price as two bus tour tickets, we had a delightful guide drive our car around the park for us. His name was Ted Gajewski, and we loved him! His delivery was polished, but he paused often to ask if we had questions. His enigmatic presentation made the battle feel real and immediate to me. When he concluded the tour on Cemetery Hill, I had to resist the urge to applaud him!

Included with the tour was admission to the visitor center's museum, video presentation, and cyclorama experience. If I had a do-over, I would check out the indoor stuff first. We breezed through the museum before our tour, which gave me the background I needed to truly understand the story our guide walked us through. But I would've liked to have had a closer look. We saw the video/cyclorama presentation after our tour. The video was terribly redundant at that point, but the cyclorama is spectacular! It is a giant wrap-around painting accompanied by a recorded light and sound presentation. A voice-over talks about the battle with gunshots and explosions in the background. Sadly, I could not stay in that room for very long. After our immersive tour, it was too much for my poor emotionally spongy self to handle.

Me & Abe outside the visitor's center

After the battlefield, we took the free trolley from the visitor center to downtown Gettysburg. I was impressed by how non-commercial the place was (esp. compared to Williamsburg). It didn't seem like a tourist town so much as just a small town which happens to have some tourist business.

There was a house museum on my agenda which advertised a look at everyday family life around the time if the Civil War. I figured it would be a nice break from all the upsetting battle talk. Boy was I wrong! Please don't misunderstand; the Shriver House is a great place. The tour guide was nice and competent, and wore period clothing. But I was not going to avoid sad stories there. The Shriver family had it rough! Granted, most families in Gettysburg did. The battle left behind something like 15-20 times more wounded, dead, and dying soldiers than there were local civilians. Essentially, every building became a hospital in some way.

After all that sad, we went to Hunt's Battlefield Fries for dinner. It doesn't look like much, but the reviews online were great. They were right! We enjoyed awesome cheese-steak, and super friendly service. Also, they had more bottled craft soda than I've ever seen in one place.

We were beat after dinner, so we called it a night early. On our second morning in Gettysburg, we packed up the tent and drove downtown. We found good coffee at the Cafe Saint-Amand, but the wait time for food was super long. That was a bit of a problem because we had an appointment for our photo to be taken. The experience we had with Victorian Photography Studios was great, though. Check out our awesome wet-plate photo:

I plan to use it for our Christmas card! (Nothing says "Happy Holidays" like a picture where are heads are being held still by metal brackets, right?) Incidentally, I'm still trying to come up with a good caption for the card. Something like "Party like it's 1859", but you know... good. Please tell me if you have any ideas!

After the photo session, we got delicious ice cream from Mr. G's Ice Cream, toured the Gettysburg Foundation's headquarters/free museum called the Rupp House, and hit the road for home. It was fantastic to take a whole week off! We saw family, explored history, and enjoyed the great outdoors. I ticked two places off my "Travel Dreams" pinboard, and discovered another destination that I liked even better! I don't know when we'll have another chance to take a vacation like this, but I hope it's soon.

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