Wednesday, June 25, 2008

At long last, Virginia

Today, only a year late, we finish up the travelogue we started last summer. (For earlier chapters: It also has links to earlier posts on the subject.)

Today, it's Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, Va., known as the Colonial National Historical Park.

The best part is you don't have to drive that U.S. 17.

Actually, you would be hard put to find a better place to take children who are studying American history, especially pre-Colonial, Colonial and early Federalist periods.

Yes, I know Gettysburg is only a few hours' drive away, but children have to be older, say in late middle school or high school to truly understand Antietam and Gettysburg.

While we are driving up I-26 from Charleston, S.C., to I-95 to I-295 around Richmond to I-64 to Williamsburg, it's a good time to remind those of us who have passed our 62nd birthday about the Golden Pass the federal government offers. For a single $10 payment, it entitles the senior citizen and everyone in his or her car to free admission to all national parks, forests and the like forever.

What it doesn't cover are optional tours, admission to privately owned historic sites (such as privately owned Jamestown Settlement.) What it does cover is admission to the nearby National Park Service Jamestowne park, which is wonderful in itself. More about that later.

This also gives us a chance to reiterate (or iterate if we haven't done so) that one should take the comments posted by travelers on hotel-booking sites to heart. We didn't and checked into an inexpensive motel that had drawn some negative reviews. It wasn't horrible, but we could have done better.

By the way, if you have left early enough, have avoided traffic and arrived in the Richmond area with lots of daylight left, you can pick up Route 5 east off I-295 and take the scenic route into Williamsburg.

The thing about staying in Williamsburg is that it is between Yorktown and Jamestown. You can easily spend a week there and spend a good part of your yearly disposable income. But you don't have to. Colonial Williamsburg has packages that include admission to the restoration. But there are so many things to do that don't cost that much. The Colonial National Historical Park Pass is $10 per adult and lasts for a week. Children 15 and under are admitted free. The pass is good for both Historic Jamestowne and Yorktown Battlefield national parks.

You get between Jamestown and Yorktown on the Colonial Highway, a scenic, two lane brick (mostly) highway that cuts out traffic, lights, locals and the like. Picnic grounds and scenic pullovers abound.

At Jamestown, the place where the English established their first sustained colony in this country in 1607 (yes, you missed the 400th, but I'm sure most of the goodies are still there). Delightful National Park Service volunteers lead tours of the site.

On the tour my wife and I took, the volunteer, whose name I stupidly neglected to note, led a wonderful play about John Smith and Pocahontas and her father, Powhatan, the Indian chief. Members of the tour took parts. That's yours truly with the feather, playing the big (in all ways) chief Powhatan. It was a blast.

Your kids will probably insist on touring the park next door, the privately owned Jamestown Settlement. Admission to the Jamestown Settlement, which is quite nice and worth the price if you can afford it, is $19.25 for adults and $9.25 for children ages 6-12. Children under 6 are free. The ticket also gets you into Yorktown Victory Center. Figure on a full day each for the Yorktown and Jamestown combinations.

Yorktown, your kids can tell you, is where Lord Cornwallis surrendered to Gen. George Washington and that convinced the British that it wasn't worth trying to hang on to the American colonies.

You can walk the ground where this took place and there is a nifty museum.

Of course, Colonial Williamsburg is the granddaddy of Colonial-era restorations. There are tours, houses to visit, demonstrations, including firing off of all kinds of ordinance. It's a ball. You can easily spend a couple of days there.

You'll notice, I make no attempt to talk about food. There are no kosher establishments (except for Ben&Jerry's ice cream in Yorktown and Williamsburg). The supermarkets do have some kosher foods. Please be sure your hotel room has a fridge and microwave. For those not keeping kosher, I'm told that wonderful eating places abound in all price ranges.

And, of course, there's Busch Gardens.

Well, that's it. If you have older kids, you may want to head north and west for Gettysburg, Pa., where in 1863, a Confederate force raiding into the north heard there were shoes for the taking. There was a Federal army in the area.

But that's another story.

Until next time...

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