Monday, March 30, 2015

Coming soon: Festival of Spring - Holland in Haymarket

Now this is a great event, especially if you like flowers and photography. I discovered Burnside Farms tulip festival in 2013 and last year attended its Summer of Sunflowers event. This year I plan to get back to the tulip festival.

Highlights of 2015 Festival of Spring – Holland in Haymarket

Burnside Farms says its 2015 Festival of Spring – Holland in Haymarket event will feature 5 acres full of daffodils, tulips and Dutch iris. This year’s event is being advertised as being in a new location (2617 B Logmill Rd., Haymarket, Va.), and from the sounds of it, the field will be bigger than in years past. The farm says, with its new location, is one of the largest pick-your-own flower events in the world.

pick your own flowers at Burnside Farms
Photo taken in Burnside Farms' previous tulip location. I look forward to seeing the new site!

Visitors can pick their own flowers. We came home with about a dozen tulips in 2013 and some of them still had the bulbs, which we planted (last year one or two came up). So far 2 are coming up this year in my yard and I’m hoping a few others pop through too.


Entry to the Festival of Spring is $4 for a 1-day pass, or you can buy an unlimited re-entry pass for $7 (babies under 1 year are free). Daffodils are 2 for $1, tulips - $1 each, Dutch iris - .75 per stem. The farm is a bit of a ride for me, but I am thinking I might buy the pass this year and make at least 2 trips being so many more flowers are being planted this year. The views will continuously change with different varieties blooming at different times, would be really fun to photograph and see the different types of flowers.

pick your own flowers at Burnside Farms
A closer view of the tulips


As of right now, Burnside Farms does not have specific dates listed. We've had a pretty cold February and March here in Northern Virginia, but in my own yard the hyacinth, daffodils and tulips are beginning to show through, so it shouldn't be too long now. You can follow Burnside Farms on Facebook to get the latest updates on when the festival will run. I suspect they'll be posting dates in the near future.   

UPDATE APRIL 9, 2015: The fun is almost here! According to Burnside Farms,  the festival opens on Thurs., April 16. 

As I mentioned earlier in this post, if you enjoy flowers or love to take photos, this is a terrific event to do it. Great memory-making opportunities with the kids too. I can't wait! 

Two more photos from 2013. The kids (and adults) loved trying all on the wooden clogs.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Photos on Friday: Gardens at Oatlands Plantation

Oatlands Plantation is a historic property which highlights 200 years of American history (I wrote a much more detailed post about this grand historic home in June 2014). The house itself is gorgeous and the tour is interesting, however, in the spring and summer months, the gardens are also a must-see.

Today's Photos on Friday post highlights a few photos I took in the Oatlands Plantation gardens during a 2010 visit. I believe this particular visit was in May so many of the flowers were in full bloom. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

'Braddock Day' to be held at Carlyle House in Alexandria

Carlyle House, located in the Old Town area of Alexandria, has a rich history. Built in the early 1750s the home has stood the test of time, although it almost didn’t make it. 

For years it stood in its majestic state, but over time became dilapidated and then was blocked by another structure. Thanks to efforts by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, since the 1970s, the home has been brought back to its original state. And it is gorgeous.

Front of Carlyle House
In between its build and its restoration, a lot of history has occurred. According to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, Carlyle House was used by the British as headquarters during the spring of 1755. NVRPA writes:

“From March 26 through April 20, 1755 Major General Edward Braddock, the Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty’s Forces in North America, made Colonel John Carlyle’s elegant Alexandria mansion his headquarters.”

On March 28, 2015 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. visitors are invited to come to Carlyle House to learn more about this historic period of time. General Braddock “himself” will be present as well.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it to this event, but have attended other events at Carlyle House over the years and wanted to share as I always find these of interest and to be a good experience in learning new things. Costumed interpreters will also be present to answer any questions.

While in Old Town, there are plenty of other things to see and do!

To learn more about Carlyle House, I have several additional photos in my much more detailed post about this historic property. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

15 fun facts about Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon, the majestic home of George and Martha Washington, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Washington D.C. area. Every year one million people visit this historic property.

Today the grand home stands as a reminder of Early American history and a man who played a pivotal role in the formation of a new country. While much is known about the man, how much is known about the U.S. first president's beloved home?

Front view of Mount Vernon

1fun facts about Mount Vernon


1. The land Mount Vernon sits on was patented in the late 1660s when Thomas Lord Culpeper granted 5,000 acres of the then-wilderness region bordering the western side of the Potomac River to Colonel Nicholas Spencer and Lieutenant Colonel John Washington.

2. This land was originally called "Little Hunting Creek". The name was later changed to "Mount Vernon" after Lawrence Washington (George's older half-brother) was deeded the land. Lawrence had named the land after his former commanding officer, Admiral Edward Vernon.

3. For almost three centuries, Mount Vernon has consistently had a home on the land. The original structure was built in 1735 by Augustine Washington, George Washington's father. Washington himself was just three years old at the time. The home was a modest 1.5 story farmhouse with six rooms.

4. George Washington first leased Mount Vernon in 1754, he did not inherit the property until 1761 when Lawrence's widow passed away.

5. Despite being "on the road" much of his life, Washington worked tirelessly to build and expand Mount Vernon to become the grand house visitors see today. At the time of his death on Dec. 14, 1799, the property had grown from 2,000 acres to 8,000 acres. The house itself had grown to 21 rooms and was enlarged to 2.5 stories tall.

6. After Washington's death, Martha Washington closed up the marital bedroom on the second floor and moved to a modest room located on the third floor.

7. Did you know if you visit Mount Vernon during the  the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's (usually until January 6th), you can tour the mansion's third floor? It's tight quarters and is only opened for a brief time each year.

8. There are two family tombs located on the property. The "old tomb" was the original family crypt, however, in his will Washington designated a new larger burial vault be built and family members were to be moved to the new crypt. This move occurred in 1831.

The original Washington family vault

9.  After Washington's retirement in 1798 after serving 2 terms as President, George and Martha hosted more than 600 overnight guests at Mount Vernon; they barely had any time alone at all. It is said some of these guests stayed for weeks or months at a time!

10. While he was a surveyor, soldier and president, Washington actually considered himself foremost as a farmer. This is evident throughout his home. The "new room" (the "fancy" large room in the mansion, the last addition made) ceiling highlights farming tools in its elaborate design.

11. The "new room" has several paintings hanging in it that feature some of the rivers located in the United States, including the famous Hudson River.

12. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association purchased a very much dilapidated Mount Vernon in 1858. The organization has steadily restored the mansion and preserved its interior to its original glory.

13. Washington had built a unique 16-sided wheat treading barn. Horse would walk over the wheat, taking the grain out of the husks and drop to an area below the barn's floor where it could be retrieved and shucked. This barn has been reproduced and is open to the public down near the river at the "Pioneer Farm".

14. Several trees from Washington's day still survive on the property's bowling green. These are marked with plaques designating their historic significance.

15. The presidential chair, the trunk Washington carried during the Revolutionary War and the key to the Bastille (a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette) can all be viewed inside Mount Vernon during a tour.

Mount Vernon is open for visitors 365 days a year, hours do vary depending on the season. Throughout the year there are different events and fun things to see and do. We usually try to visit during the different times of year.

I hope you've enjoyed these fun facts. Visiting Mount Vernon is truly an experience. 

[Related post with more details and photos about visiting Mount Vernon: A trip to George Washington’s Mount Vernon is a visit to remember

View of Mount Vernon from the Potomac River. This shows the rear of the grand mansion, you can see the lovely porch.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Blossom Kite Festival to take place on March 28

It's finally here! The time of year for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The festival officially started yesterday and it snowed here in the DC area.

While I haven't been downtown since late January, with the unseasonably cold weather and snow we've had in recent weeks, the blooms are probably not very far along. Local news channels appear to confirm the absence of blossoms. However, the festivities go on despite the lack of blossoms with lots of things to do.

On March 28, 2015 the annual Blossom Kite Festival is planned. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is free to attend and/or participate. While the National Cherry Blossom Festival has been running for years, this is the 5th year for the kite festival. 

Throughout the day they'll be kite making, competitions, displays, challenges, battles and awards. For a more complete list of the day's kite events, please see the full schedule.

I've never participated but have wandered in to watch. It looks like a great time. Hopefully, next weekend's weather will be more aligned with spring as it is this weekend with beautiful kite-flying weather. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Photos on Friday: Geese flying over the Washington Monument

In January we had a wonderful 60-degree day and decided to take a ride downtown. We arrived early morning and decided before hitting the National Museum of Natural History we would see if we could get tickets to take the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument. On our way over we saw thousands of geese setting near the Washington Monument. 

We didn't realize just how many geese there were until a group of young men ran towards them, sending the geese into a frenzy and scattering in all directions. I felt bad for the geese, however, had to admit they looked beautiful gliding rapidly across the sky.  It wasn't until they passed the Washington Monument itself that you could see a fraction of just how many birds there were that morning.

You can see more groups of geese in the background

On group of geese takes off and glides past the Washington Monument

Friday, March 13, 2015

Photos on Friday: Spring has sprung in Northern Virginia (finally!)

Overall I didn't think this winter was too bad, but January saw some wicked cold temperatures and February wasn't much fun. March came in with a blast, but this week it looks like spring is finally arriving here in Northern Virginia.

Yesterday our overdue crocus flowers decided to pop out and give us a peek. One arrived mid-day and the second arrived by early evening. Hopefully this means the next few weeks will see our normal blooms in the Washington D.C. area, especially as cherry blossoms begin to arrive

With spring arriving, this means fun times ahead with so many things to see and do in the region.

Close up of crocus #1  

Another angle of crocus #1

Crocus #2

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Things to do at the National Cherry Blossom Festival

This has been an odd year where weather is concerned. Usually by this time flowers are blooming and signs of spring have been in the air for weeks. However, not until this week has Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia seen too many signs of spring. Looks like the last of the snow is about to be gone (hopefully!) for this winter.

This year's festival runs from March 20, 2015 to April 12, 2015. Will we see blossoms during the actual festival? As of right now, it's a strong possibility towards the end of the festival. According to the National Park Service's peak bloom prediction is from April 11 to April 14 (these dates have remained the same throughout March each time I checked).

However, if you're planning to attend the National Cherry Blossom Festival even if the peak hasn't arrived there is still lots of fun to be found. By the second half of March there should definitely be some blossoms to see, and even if they are not showcasing their beauty in full, it's still a great time of the year to be in the U.S. Capital.  

Here are some photos from previous festival years (one of which had about 50 percent blossoms in view during the festival) and our family and friends had a great time even without the peak views.

cherry blossom bud
Cherry blossom bud taken in March 2013 during the festival

Lots of performances to be expected during the National Cherry Blossom Festival

The Blossom Kite Festival is scheduled for March 28, 2015 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The kids enjoy sending messages to their friends in Japan

Visitors can view the lovely artwork and messages sent from children in Japan
Chances are many blossoms will be visible before the peak arrives

Festival gear and souvenirs

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Seeing Old Town Alexandria in the spring is a visit to remember

Springtime in Northern Virginia is a beautiful time of the year to spend time outdoors. While true, this year spring appears a bit delayed, but normally this time of year the weather is beginning to get quite mild (looks like we'll see that next week if the forecast is any indicator). 

This year is an oddity in my almost 10 years in the region, by now usually the cold temperatures of winter have melted away, but the heat and humidity of summer has not yet arrived. The historic city of Alexandria is a great destination to enjoy what the region has to offer during the delightful spring season. 

Spring is a time of awakenings and the seasonal outdoor activities come alive in Alexandria. For the resident or visitor, there is plenty to see and do.

Walking tours

Alexandria offers several organized walking tours and the mild temperatures of spring make for a pleasant experience. The city's website lists some of the different tours available. If you are already in the city and unsure of where you want to start, you can visit the Ramsay House at the Alexandria Visitor's Center, which is located at 221 King St. The center is always happy to offer information and there are a ton of brochures available.

A number of the walking tours primarily focus on the history and architecture of Old Town Alexandria. Additionally, if you are interested in Alexandria's famous people, museums, and related history, some of these companies will customize a special interest tour which can be made by appointment.
If organized tours don't interest you, grab a map at the Ramsay House Visitor's Center and hit the streets on your own. There are many interesting landmarks to observe throughout the city, and more specifically in Old Town.

Cemetery at Christ Church

St. Patrick's Day Parade

Every year the City of Alexandria hosts a St. Patrick Day celebration which is full of family fun events. Some of the highlights are a classic car competition, a dog show and of course the highlight, the parade. A nonprofit group, Ballyshaners, runs the parade and maintains a website you can check to get the latest updates.

Historic Garden Week in Virginia 

Alexandria takes part in Virginia's annual Historic Garden Week event. The festivities are located in Old Town and visitors are treated to an open house like environment and have the neat experience of visiting some of Alexandria's most beautiful gardens. The event takes place each April and you can purchase tickets or view the current year's schedule if you plan to be in the area.

Waterfront boardwalk

Spring is a terrific time to wander around the Potomac River's waterfront area. This is a popular location and there are some nifty things to see and do. Often performers hang out in this area and you can see fun or music. You can have lunch at one of the nearby eateries, visit the many art galleries in the Torpedo Factory, or simply sit on a bench and watch the boats and birds sail by. Or you can buy a ticket and take a boat ride yourself. There is also a wide open grassy field nearby where you can let the kids run around and let off some pent up energy. Wandering the riverfront area is always a pleasant way to spend some time during the spring when visiting Old Town.

Ghost tours

Are you fascinated by ghost stories? Do the tales of historical haunting catch your fancy? If so, a ghost tour may be in order. Alexandria has two popular ghost tours offered by Footsteps to the Past and Alexandria Colonial Tours. The mostly agreeable Northern Virginia evenings in the spring set the perfect backdrop for a walking ghost tour. I love to go on a good ghost tour when in Alexandria during an evening. Reservations are recommended, but in my experience, often you can walk up and purchase a tour if the tours are not filled. However, if you are set on a specific tour, it's probably best to make a reservation, especially if your visit to Old Town falls during spring break.

Farmer's Market

Alexandria hosts one of the oldest Farmer's Markets in the United States, having begun in 1753. Spring time is a pleasant time to browse and select items ranging from traditional produce and baked goods to art, handicrafts, jewelry and other kinds of art. The market takes place at Alexandria's City Hall and is open year round and operates every Saturday.


Many of Alexandria's fine restaurants are set up for outdoor dining. A spring evening in Northern Virginia is typically pleasant and a great opportunity to spend the evening on one of the restaurant's patios having a meal or a few drinks with friends or a special romantic evening with a loved one. Alexandria emits a romantic ambiance and is definitely a good place to go for "date" night, whether you are local or visiting. 

The city is also a very family and pet-friendly city. These suggestions are only a handful of the many ideas for things you can do during your visit to this section of Northern Virginia. There are also cruise dinners and tours, museums and other highlighted areas of interest for you to wander about and enjoy. 

A trip to Alexandria in the spring is a visit to remember. Oh heck who am I kidding, a visit to Alexandria is memorable at any time!