Monday, July 28, 2014

Carlyle House’s rich history is preserved and shared with the public

The Carlyle House Historical Park is a museum located in Old Town Alexandra. This museum is a former home, built and owned by John Carlyle, who was a British merchant and one of the original settlers who was instrumental in Alexandria's establishment.

This grand house has an interesting history due to its uniqueness in architecture for the region during that era. It was truly innovative for its time, having been built entirely of stone modeled after European homes of distinction in Scotland which reflected John Carlyle's heritage.

History of the Carlyle House

Construction for Carlyle House began in 1751 and the efforts came to fruition in 1753. The home was built for Carlyle's bride, Sarah Fairfax, who also was from a prominent family. The home was constructed on one of the best properties in Alexandria, right along the Potomac waterfront in the rear with the Market Square a short walk from the front of the property; an ideal location for a merchant who's shipments came up the Potomac.

Significance of the Carlyle House

In addition to Carlyle's having established himself as a prominent member of early Alexandria society, his ornate home soon became the center of many gatherings. Some claims to distinction are the social and political ties the Carlyle house had during the era. For instance, when General Braddock used the home as his headquarters in 1755 during the time leading up to the French and Indian War, the Carlyle House permanently cemented its prominence in history.

Revival of the Carlyle House

Despite the property's rich connection to colonial history, the remains of the Carlyle House spent a good amount of its lifetime falling into a deteriorated condition from 1827 when the home left family hands. Over the next century and a half, the property changed hands multiple times and served several purposes. It was a hospital during the Civil War, and later on a hotel was constructed on the property. Additionally, the home served as a private residence to many. For several years, a hotel was erected in the front portion of the property which hid the home from sight.

In 1970 the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority acquired Carlyle House with the intent to preserve its rich history with plans to restore the home back to its former glory to serve as a museum for all to learn and enjoy. Having saved the home from ruin, the house is open to the public for all to enjoy.

Visiting Carlyle House 

Today, the home has been restored and indeed serves as a museum. Visitors enter in the basement to purchase tickets for the tour. There is also a small gift shop in this area of the house. As visitors wait for their tour to begin, they are provided with a short video that details the history of John Carlyle, his relevance and connection to early American history and specifics about the house itself.

Once the video is over, your tour guide will invite you to climb the passageway to the main floor. The staircase is a unique structure, narrow, windy and small steps. This was the servants' passageway when the home was originated; visitors today do not enter through the main or rear doors. Once on the main floor, the guide takes you through each room and provides a history and description of each room. The main hallway and elaborate staircase are fascinating, as are the large windows facing the Potomac River. 

After the tour of the main floor, visitors are brought up to the upper level to view the rooms upstairs, which are primarily bedrooms. One of the rooms has been left unfinished and visitors can literally see the history through the layers on the floor and walls that highlights original portions of the house.

Tours groups are typically small and the guides are always very knowledgeable with historic information, architecture of the house and very helpful in answering questions. I've taken this tour a few times and learn something new each time. It's an interesting experience and one I'd recommend if you are an architecture or history buff; or if you simply enjoy touring historic homes

Located at 121 N. Fairfax St., in Old Town, visitors are welcomed, no reservations are necessary. There is a nominal admission fee. You can check the museum's website for current tour times and admission prices.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Photos on Friday: The Natural Bridge

This trip is a bit off the beaten path from DC and Northern Virginia, but it is too beautiful of a place not to write about. 

Ever since I've moved to Virginia (close to 10 years now), I've always wanted to travel downstate to visit The Natural Bridge. Finally, this month the opportunity arose and we made a stop to see the beautiful handiwork of Mother Nature during our travel downstate. We only were able to stay a couple of hours, but it was well worth it.

The Natural Bridge, Virginia
Visitors walk underneath the Natural Bridge. There is an active road that crosses the top, but driving over it, you'd never know what was below.

Natural Bridge in Virginia - The Lost River
This is the Lost River, which is located on a pathway beyond the Natural Bridge. The source of this water is unknown. 
The Natural Bridge can make a good day (or more likely better as) an overnight trip. There is also plenty to see and do along I-81 if you're looking to make a weekend out of it. You'll pass towns, such as Staunton and Strasburg, and Charlottesville or Luray Caverns aren't too far out of the way, to name a few ideas.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Visit to Burnside Farms - Summer of Sunflowers in Haymarket, Va.

Last month I wrote about Burnside Farms' upcoming Summer of Sunflowers. The time has arrived. I was reading on their Facebook page this week would be a good one to stop by so made the trip out to Haymarket, Va.

Beautiful day out on the farm and the sunflowers were gorgeous! Lots of different varieties were in bloom and the bees were steadily at work (as an aside Burnside makes really good honey...)

Here are some photos taken today: 

Summer of Sunflowers Burnside Farms
One of the sunflower sections full of gorgeous color

Many bees were busy working during our visit

Summer of Sunflowers - Burnside Farms

I'm told there are still a good couple of weeks for blooming, so there's still time to stop by if in the area.
  • $3 for a single day Sun Pass
  • $4 for unlimited re-entry Sun Pass (kids under 2 years are free)
  •  Sunflowers are $1.50 per stem
Also, I was told to hold onto my Sun Pass and could get the $1 rate if I come back before the Summer of Sunflowers is over. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get back out that way before the event was over, but is good to know if you think you might want to come back.

Burnside Farms is located at 4905 James Madison Hwy. Parking is easy. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Experience 18th century farm life at the Claude Moore Colonial Farm

The Claude Moore Colonial Farm, located in McLean, Va., is a living history museum that highlights Northern Virginia farm life in the 18th century ─ the year 1771 to be exact. Unlike many of the grand homes in the area that have been restored and opened to the public, this museum portrays Colonial family life on a low-income farm, so it is a different perspective.

After paying admission, visitors can pass through the gatehouse shop and enter the grounds. You begin your walk through a path surrounded by woods and nature. Hard to believe the hustle and bustle of modern-day is very close by, when walking to the farm area, you do feel as if you are transported back in time, rather than being just a few miles from the Beltway.  

As you walk through the farm, you'll see living history staff dressed in period clothing going about their daily work (and they stay in character, speaking in first person about the farm, and are very happy to answer any questions).

You'll pass through tobacco and corn fields and other farm work-related structures.

Tobacco field
Tobacco field

I'm not sure of the purpose of this building as it was closed off  during the weekend I visited.

You'll even see some animals, such as the turkeys. On our visit, this turkey did not seem to want his photo taken as he "yelled" at me when I snapped his picture.

Turkey at Claude Moore Colonial Farm
You'll also see the family home. It is a small one-room farmhouse with a loft above for sleeping.

Claude Moore Colonial Farm farmhouse

According to the park's website, the museum has seen more than 1.9 million visitors since it opened (in the 1970s). The farm also has special events throughout the year. This past weekend we attended the annual Market Fair, which is offered on three weekends during the year. The next one takes place on Saturday/Sunday Oct. 18 & 19, 2014.

For farm visits, the site is open on Wednesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (last admission at 4 p.m.). See the website for current admission fees and/or other discounts available. The farm is located at 6310 Georgetown Pike, McLean, Va.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A walking tour is a great way to explore Old Town Alexandria

When visiting a destination, one of the best ways to really get to know a city is
to take advantage of a walking tour. Bus tours are good, however, hitting the pavement really gives a unique opportunity to see landmarks up close and really get a feel of history through firsthand experience.

Alexandria, Va., a wonderful historical city located just outside of Washington D.C., offers a number of walking tours. 

Alexandria's Footsteps to the Past

This company was started by a native Alexandrian who is a local historian and whose family has lived in Virginia for nine generations. The tours cover important landmarks, as well as the little-known facts and locations which aren't as publicized. Daytime tours and evening ghost tours are offered.

The latter is a great option for those who are interested in learning history. It's sprinkled with tales of chilling events or paranormal activity. The tour is usually given by a historian dressed up in Colonial-era era garb and these outings are not only interesting, but very knowledgeable and entertaining too. 

This company also offers several special tours, if you visit their website, you can learn more about the many aspects of history the guides cover through these specially designed visitor tours.

Old Town Experience


This tour focuses on the history and architecture of Old Town Alexandria and the duration of the walking tour is about an hour.  During the walk, the guide highlights the city's architecture, historical landmarks, folklore and talks about Alexandria's famous residents. See their website for tour days and times. Additionally, if you are interested in Alexandria's famous people, museums, and related history, there are customized tours can be made by appointment.

Alexandria Colonial Tours


This company offers a neat ghost tour. The guide is dressed up in 18th-century attire and leads tour groups by lantern. As you walk Alexandria's streets in the evening you'll be treated to hearing interesting facts about history, unsolved mysteries, spooky tales, legends and some romantic tales of an era gone by. If you visit the company's website, you can find out more about what kinds of tours they offer.

Self-guided tours

If an organized tour doesn't appeal to you, there is always the option of creating your own walking tour and guide yourself through Old Town's landmarks. Stop by the Ramsay House Visitors Center, located at  221 King Street, grab a map
Lee-Fendall House in Old Town Alexandria
Lee-Fendall House
 and plot your own walking tour destination or visit Alexandria's official website for ideas.

Alexandria's walking tours are a great way to get up close and personal to connect with the rich history of the city. Exploring the city of Alexandria on foot, either through a guided tour or on your own, is an experience you won't regret. 

Truly, Old Town is up there as one of my favorite places in Virginia.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Photos on Friday: Space Shuttle Discovery and Shuttle Enterprise nose to nose

In 2012 I was thrilled to be able to have the opportunity to go to the Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum in Chantilly (Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center) on the day Space Shuttle Discovery arrived to be moved into the museum.

The first day, on its final voyage, the shuttle had arrived atop a modified Boeing 747.

The following day the transfer ceremony took place as NASA charged the Smithsonian with the care of Discovery. Shortly after this day, Enterprise made her way to New York's Intrepid Museum and Discovery took her place in the hangar. 

Here are a couple of images from that amazing day:

Shuttle Enterprise and Space Shuttle Discovery nose to nose
Space Shuttles Enterprise and Discovery come nose to nose in a historic moment in April 2012

Discovery crew members attended the ceremony and here was when the astronauts arrived on stage

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cultural and ethnic festivals in the Washington DC area (2014)

Summertime brings a number of local cultural events and ethnic festivals to the Washington D.C. metro area. The diversity represented in the region is highlighted during the year through celebration. Here are a few of the upcoming events which will be taking place throughout the region over the next couple of months:

German Festival: The 114th Maryland German Festival takes place on Sat., July 26 from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sun., July 27 from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, 2200 York Rd, Timonium. This event features German entertainment, food and drink. There is an admission fee for this event which is $8 adults, $6 seniors, Active Military $6; children 12 and under are admitted free with a paid adult ticket. 

Peruvian Festival: This annual event takes place on Sun., July 27 in Arlington at the Gunston Arts Center, located at 2700 S. Lang Street. This event honors Peru's day of Independence (July 28th) and features Peruvian dance, music and food. This is an annual event, but I had a bit of trouble finding details this year, other than on this calendar listed by Arlington Democrats. In previous years, this event was free.

African American Heritage Festival: For 23 years this festival has been taking place in Prince William County on the first Saturday in August. This year's African American Culture Arts Festival takes place in Manassas at Metz Middle School on Sat., Aug. 2, 2014 and will run from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. According to the official website, this year's event will feature 125 exhibitors, entertainment (see schedule) a classic car show, games for the kids and much more. Admission to the festival is free.

2014 Irish Festival in Alexandria: This annual event takes place on Sat., Aug. 9, 2014 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Alexandria's waterfront park (1A Prince Street). Visitors can experience Irish culture including arts and crafts, food, refreshments, cultural dance and entertainment. This is an event open to all ages and entrance to the event is free. Proceeds go to support the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in March.

Annual Pakistan Festival: Now in its 28th year, this increasingly popular event takes place this year at Bull Run Regional Park, Centreville, Va. on Sun., Aug. 24, 2014.  Visitors can expect lots of traditional Pakistani food, folk music and more. Admission and parking for this event is free. You can learn more on the Pakistan Festival USA website.

Annual Cambodian Community Day Festival: This festival will be a celebration of Cambodian culture, which will showcase folk and classical dance performances, live music, traditional foods and entertainment for the kids. You can learn more about the event on the Cambodian Community Day website. 

KORUS Festival: This annual event takes place in 2014 from Fri., Sept. 19 to Sun., Sept 21 at Bull Run Regional Park. Run by the 
Taken at KORUS 2012
Korean American Association of Washington Metropolitan Area, a
weekend full of fun, food, music and more throughout the days and nights. For entertainment, Friday is listed as "singles night", Saturday as "family day"  and Sunday as "cultural day" (all are family-friendly though in my experience). Activities for the kids too.

September also brings the Reston Multicultural Festival. The 2014 festival takes place on Sat., Sept. 27, 2014 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. This is an annual event, now in its 14th year, which celebrates the diversity represented in the community. Attendees are encouraged to come dressed in attire to represent their own cultural background. There will be entertainment, music, dress, food and anything related to cultural diversity. The event takes place at the Lake Anne Village Center located at 1609-A Washington Plaza in Reston. Rain or shine! The event is free to all ages.

The annual Turkish Festival takes place on Sun., Sept. 28, 2014 from 11a.m. - 7 p.m. downtown in D.C. Now in its 12th year, the festival will culminate Turkish Cultural Heritage Month. The website doesn't seem to provide current information, other than a date, but you can check out last year's festivities.

While many of the cultural festivals in the area have already occurred (May is a big festival month), there are still lots of celebrations left this summer and the rest of the year throughout the Maryland, Northern Va. and Washington D.C. areas.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reviews: Pop's Old Fashioned Ice Cream, Old Town Alexandria

Whether you're young, or young at heart, if you are simply a fan of ice cream, Pop's Old Fashioned Ice Cream Shop is a great choice. The store is located down in the heart of Old Town Alexandria, about a block from the riverfront at 109 King St.

If you enjoy and seek the ambiance of an old-time ice cream parlor, Pop's fits the bill.  

Not only is the shop reflective of a time long gone by, but the on-premises made ice cream tastes good too. On occasion, you can even see employees making the ice cream.

Pop's has the standard flavors and then some variety of unique flavors. I've been looking for a peanut butter ice cream flavor that rivals the one I had in Walt Disney World several years ago. Never been able to find anything remotely close. Well...Pop's had it! 

The other flavors the family tried were all good too, and the kids were already planning the flavors they were going to order on the next time around in Alexandria. The sprinkled cones were a big hit.

We'd first stumbled upon Pop's sometime around 2008-09, and any time we are in Old Town, we typically pay another visit.

The entire family gives Pop's Old-Fashioned Ice Cream a big thumbs up. A terrific spot to stop off and indulge in a cone or a cup!