Category Archives: Travel

WELCOME!

Welcome to my blog!

I am a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).

My latest post is the third from my October trip to Leipzig, Germany highlighting the 25th anniversary of the Houston-Leipzig Sister City Partnership. Earlier ones describe my thoughts about this year’s anniversary of the 1989 Peaceful Revolution ending Communism.

My busy summer traveling included a New England cruise with American Cruise Lines, Cleveland and the Lake Erie Islands, and Barbados and Antigua. I’ll be adding posts on these locations at some point.

To see even more of my published clips, visit my website at http://www.richardvarr.com

Thanks for your continued interest!!

(Header image is my photo from St. Barth, view from the Colombier Lookout.)

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My novel of international intrigue, Warming Up to Murder, is available as an ebook, and in Kindle and Nook formats.  It’s about a TV reporter who finds himself chasing the “big story” spanning two continents.  See the links below.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/richard-varr

http://www.amazon.com/Warming-Up-Murder-Richard-Varr/dp/141344976X

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Houston-Leipzig Sister City Partnership

Celebrating 25 years in 2018

By Richard Varr

Central Leipzig. Courtesy Leipzig Travel

Downtown Houston. Photo by Richard Varr

At first glance, one might never imagine that Houston, Texas and Leipzig, Germany are sister cities. Houston’s shining glass towers seem to touch the sky, while Leipzig’s skyline is accented by historic stone towers including those of the Renaissance Old Town Hall building, the New Town Hall with the highest town hall tower in Germany and the neo-gothic St. Thomas Church. Houston’s population swells at 2.2 million, while Leipzig’s is nearing 600,000. Musically speaking, both cities are known for contrasting icons – Leipzig is home to Bach, while Houston’s Beyonce continues to top the charts.

Augustusplatz, Leipzig. Courtesy Leipzig Travel

Uptown Houston. Photo by Richard Varr

San Jacinto Monument. Photo by Richard Varr

But a closer look reveals some striking similarities. Both are crossroads for business and commerce – the port of Houston is one of the country’s largest; Leipzig, a city of trade fairs for centuries. Another example is both have monuments on pivotal historic battlegrounds. Houston’s nearby San Jacinto Monument commemorates when in 1836 General Sam Houston and his army of 800 won Texas independence, while Leipzig’s Battle of Nations Monument marks the 1813 defeat of Napoleon by more than a dozen countries involving 600,000 soldiers – the world’s largest battle before the 20th century.

So what is it that has made the Houston-Leipzig Sister City partnership so enduring as it celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2018? “In spite of the difference in size, the spirit of openness, entrepreneurial attitude, of being concerned about matters of justice and having an adventurous spirit have matched down the line for Leipzig and Houston,” says the Reverend Dr. Robert Moore, Reformation Ambassador for the City of Leipzig and with St. Thomas Church, and formerly Senior Pastor of Houston’s Christ the King Lutheran Church.

San Jacinto Monument. Photo by Richard Varr

Battle of Nations Monument, Leipzig. Photo by Richard Varr

“What brings the cities together is that they’re both very curious and they’ve stayed curious over the years. And they inspire each other,” says Lisa Renner, 2nd Vice President of the Städtepartnerschaft Leipzig-Houston e.V., the association on the Leipzig side. “We stay curious, but it takes a lot of work to keep people curious.”

Market Square, Leipzig. Photo by Richard Varr

Sam Houston Statue, Hermann Park, Houston. Photo by Richard Varr

According to the Association’s website (http://houstonleipzig.org/), the relationship started in the early 1990s with the enthusiasm of Stefan Roehrbein, a student from Leipzig, who contacted Sister Cities International in Washington DC. The Friendship Association Leipzig-Houston was first established in 1992, and then president of the Leipzig City Parliament and a senior pastor at St. Nicholas Church, Friedrich Magirius, became chairman. Soon after, a group of Houstonians supporting the idea approached Houston’s then Mayor Bob Lanier who sponsored a resolution and proclamation that led to officially establishing the association in 1993.

Goals of Sister Cities International include promoting cultural appreciation; creating artistic, academic, business and scientific exchanges; and establishing programs to carry out such goals. The Houston-Leipzig Sister City Association has done just that through a number of initiatives. One involves student exchange visits between Houston Heights High School and Leipzig’s Johannes-Kepler-Gymnasium. Leipzig students visited this year and Houston students will travel to Germany next year, according to Renner.

Downtown Houston. Photo by Richard Varr

There are also exchanges between the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music and Leipzig’s HMT, or Hochschule für Musik Theaterwissenschaften Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (University of Music and Theatre Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy), a public university founded in 1843 by Felix Mendelssohn as the Conservatory of Music. In addition, the American Studies Program at the University of Leipzig has relationships with both Rice University and with the University of Houston. “The exchanges seem to be remarkable as we heard during our last visit to Houston in February,” notes Renner.

Bach statue outside St. Thomas Church. Photo by Richard Varr

Every June, Houstonians attend the Leipzig Bach Festival that brings together musicians from all over the world. “Bach is a great magnet. The program is very extensive and yet we have people who attend every single concert every year,” points out Renner. “Pastor Moore’s and his wife Kathy’s efforts made the group feel welcome. He is a master of managing the extensive program and can handle huge and small groups. It’s a steady thing we can always count on.”

Leipzig’s soccer stadium. Photo by Richard Varr

During my October visit to Leipzig, I had a chance to attend a soccer game – my first ever in Europe – as the home team RB Leipzig crushed FC Nurnberg 6-0. But I never imagined the city would have a baseball team as well – the Leipzig Wallbreakers. “We see them regularly during events and they try to make baseball and softball more popular in and around Leipzig and Germany,” says Renner.

Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. Photo by Richard Varr

Although an amateur team, the Wallbreakers sent a team photo and season finale-winning baseball with Leipzig Sister City Association members during their February Houston visit. They were greeted by Houston Astros PR folks at Minute Maid Park. “We told them of the Wallbreakers’ story to simply introduce them. It is planned that both teams might get together in something like a Skype session or similar,” says Renner.

Downtown Ferris Wheel at the Houston Aquarium. Photo by Richard Varr

Perhaps the true spirit of the Leipzig/Houston partnership surfaced when Leipzig citizens came together to help out during Houston’s devastating 2017 Hurricane Harvey. Donations were collected during a specially organized concert. “About $30,000 were donated and transferred to a relief fund St. Thomas Church had opened,” says Renner. Proceeds went to the Houston Coalition for the Homeless and other charities.

Hermann Park, Houston. Photo by Richard Varr

Even Leipzig firefighters set up their own fund for their Houston counterparts who had fallen victim to the storm, collecting $600 dollars that was handed over during the February visit. “The Leipzig firefighters had started collecting a few Euros for the firefighters and their families as they were aware of what it meant if one always has to work with no breaks, damage control and saving lives,” notes Renner. “We were able to meet some firefighters at Station 16,” she continues. “They were so happy and friendly. The gesture meant a lot to them, just to know that other comrades from around the world were thinking of them.”

Bach grave, St. Thomas Church, Leipzig. Photo by Richard Varr

A particularly notable initiative was the commissioning and purchase of the Peace Window in St. Thomas Church, the final resting place of Johann Sebastian Bach and one of Leipzig’s most prominent landmarks. The large stained-glass window – sharply contrasting the church’s other more traditional panes – was a gift to the City of Leipzig from the Sister City Association in conjunction with Houston Rotarians of District 5890 who helped raise the $120,000 to pay for it.

Peace Window, St. Thomas Church, Leipzig. Photo by Richard Varr

The window, with streaks of bright blue, green and purple – like elongated shards of thin glass – was completed and installed in 2009 on the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Peaceful Revolution, when more than 70,000 Leipzig citizens marched peacefully against the oppression of East Germany’s Communist rule. “It’

Peace Window, detail. Photo by Richard Varr

s an abstract work – like peace breaking out, filled with possibilities and newness – a whole new way of living that people welcomed into their lives.” exclaims Pastor Moore. “This kind of energy you see is meant to say that peace is not simply passive peace, but filled with energy and possibilities.”

Bach window in St. Thomas Church, Leipzig.Photo by Richard Varr

“This window breaks away from the traditional windows that have been with the church for over 120 years,” he continues. “They’ve made a deliberate effort to allow a whole new spirit to enter into the church which signified to them what it’s like for peace to break out, to celebrate that peace and do it in style.” The detailed and colorful glasswork of the church’s other windows depict some of Germany’s favorite sons including Bach and composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and Phillip Melanchthon.

Inside St. Thomas Church. Photo by Richard Varr

So what’s next for the Houston-Leipzig partnership? “The people I meet over the years make me feel that my colleagues and I can continue to contribute to an exchange on a basic level, city-to-city, culture- to-culture, on an everyday people-to-people level,” concludes Renner. “Have a look at what other people do and you’ll see it’s not only me and them, but it’s all of us together.”

 

 

Leipzig Aglow with the Annual Festival of Lights

Photo by Richard Varr

The 1989 Peaceful Revolution celebrated every October 9th

By Richard Varr

They knew freedom would come one day – all they had to do was stand up for it. And on October 9, 1989, they did – defiantly, peacefully. But it was the sheer numbers of protesters that would determine their destiny as they would soon see Communist rule crumble into the history books.

Crowds in Augustusplatz gather for the Festival of Lights, Oct. 9, 2018. Photo by Richard Varr

Every October 9th, on the anniversary of the Peaceful Revolution, Leipzig citizens celebrate how prayers and a yearning to be free brought out a surging crowd – virtually overnight – of more than 70,000 who demanded democracy. Back then, they stood with candles in hand, not knowing whether police would fire upon them. They chanted over and over again, “We are the people” and “No violence” as they marched around Leipzig’s inner-city ring road. And the march remained peaceful because holding candles prevented protesters from throwing stones.

Thousands of candles illuminate the Festival of Lights. Photo by Richard Varr

They demonstrated against East Germany’s oppressive GDR government, the feared Stasi (Secret Police) and Communist rule. Despite threats of police gunfire to quash the rebellion, the overwhelming crowds made it impossible for police to imprison the tens-of-thousands. The Berlin Wall tumbled a month later.

Augustusplatz, October 9, 2018. Photo by Richard Varr

During my visit to Leipzig earlier this month, I took part in the so-called Festival of Lights, held every October 9th, commemorating the Peaceful Revolution. Citizens come together at nightfall, again cradling candles where it all took place – in central Augustusplatz, and earlier in the imposing Romanesque and Gothic St. Nicholas Church, where Monday prayer meetings beginning in 1982 would spawn a revolution seven years later.

An all women orchestra performs in this year’s Festival of Lights. Photo by Richard Varr

This year’s anniversary paid tribute to women for their role during the rebellion. An all-women orchestra performed amidst the chanting of five actresses recalling the hardships they suffered. “Of course we were intimidated,” the actresses shouted as the music reached a crescendo, looking out upon the candlelit panorama beneath illuminated City Tower windows synchronized to display “89.” “We knew of people suddenly disappearing, of children who had to be adopted because their parents were under arrest.”

Five actresses on stage alongside the orchestra. Photo by Richard Varr

“Sometimes, I had downright nightmares about the Stasi attacking our home at night and taking me with them, just as it happened to my father at his workplace in 1952,” one chanted.

St. Nicholas Church.

Key to each anniversary is the Speech on Democracy at St. Nicholas Church. This year’s speaker – in keeping with the tribute to women theme – was former Federal Minister of Justice Herta Däubler-Gmelin, the first woman to give the speech. “Today is a day of remembrance, with our thoughts looking forward. I am thankful to be a part of it,” she said within the packed church. “I think we should state clearly and with more self-confidence what we expect from politics and politicians, and then add what we citizens ourselves could and must do – more and better.”

Single column outside St. Nicholas Church. Photo by Richard Varr

St. Nicholas is one of the sights of the Peaceful Revolution, where Monday prayer meetings swelled in the fall of 1989 as calls to end Communism echoed throughout Eastern Europe, culminating in Leipzig with the October 9th demonstration. In the adjacent courtyard stands a single column –a replica of the church’s inside columns with their sprouting palm fronds design. The outside pillar and a bronze plaque with footprints below symbolize the thousands of people who couldn’t get into the church and who marched during the Peaceful Revolution.

Inside beautiful St. Nicholas Church. Photo by Richard Varr

Another important sight is the former Stasi headquarters building, now a museum, at the so-called Round Corner. “The situation was really dangerous,” local historian and tour guide Theresa Hertrich told me during a tour. “Would the Stasi in the headquarters shoot the people as they walked by? So the people put candles on the stairs so they could show they were peaceful.”

Bugging/recording devices inside the Stasi Museum. Photo by Richard Varr

The museum showcases the Staci’s oppressive methods and spying tactics. One exhibit reveals the Secret Police had about 2,400 employees and 10,000 “unofficial” employees who spied on fellow citizens. “Many worked every day in factories with colleagues and reported any anti-government talk. That’s how the Stasi collected information on citizens,” explains Hertrich.

“People had to have two faces – a private face, and one official face if you talked to people you didn’t know. Because it was really dangerous to say out loud what you were thinking.” Other museum exhibits include bugging devices, a recreated detention cell and a steam-driven machine used to open envelopes of private letters. Yet another sensational exhibit revealed how the police would question suspected citizens for hours in hot interrogation rooms, and then collect their scents from perspiration on a cloth they sat on, so specially trained dogs could later track them down.

Madler Passage. Photo by Richard Varr

Under the GDR, buildings decayed and the environment suffered. “In the 70s, you could still see the charm of Leipzig, but at the end of the 80s there was nothing anymore. Nothing was renovated,” said tour guide Birgit Scheffel while we sipped coffee within Leipzig’s famous Madler Passage, one of the city’s many passageways lined with retail shops cutting through city blocks. Scheffel explained that after German East-West reunification, shops, malls and department stores sprung up where there was once rubble and empty space.

Augustusplatz, October 9, 2018. Photo by Richard Varr

“In my family, we did not starve. We had basic food,” she said when describing day to day life during GDR rule. “But if you wanted something special like oranges and bananas, we could only get those once a year.”

“We had to wait 15-18 years for a car,” she added. “We had to wait for a normal telephone up to 20 years.”

Recreated living area inside the N’Ostalgie Museum. Photo by Richard Varr

Leipzig’s N’Ostalgie Museum adds yet another dimension of daily life under Communist rule. On display are old scooters, kitchen utensils, toys, old film cameras, bicycles and even a Trabi car, to name just a few of the everyday items mostly made in East Germany. Yet there are no signs or explanations of these items in the museum because those who lived during that era know what they are.

Trabi car inside the N’Ostalgie Museum. Photo by Richard Varr

“Most GDR museums are about the Stasi or the Wall,” noted museum owner Nancy Hager. “It’s very interesting for German people, both West and East, to have a place that’s neutral and not political. Many people that lived then had their own personal memories that were not political.”

Market Square. Photo by Richard Varr

“Sure, there were many citizens who didn’t care – absorbed by their daily life,” said Gisela Kallenbach, a former Leipzig City Council woman and former member of both the Saxony State Parliament and European Parliament. “Many were resigned to the fact they couldn’t change anything because we had the wall – like an open prison in the GDR. For myself, I’m convinced that if you suffer, you have to make changes.”

Augustusplatz, October 9, 2018. Photo by Richard Varr

I’m hoping I can make it back to Leipzig for next year’s 30th anniversary of the Peaceful Revolution – an event that, just like the 25th anniversary in 2014, will draw even larger crowds and a march along the inner-city ring road.

“We started to become braver citizens back then,” recalls Kallenbach. “It’s still as if it happened yesterday.”

Leipzig, Germany’s Festival of Lights: Candlelight, Feminism and Remembrance

Thousands of candles illuminate the Festival of Lights. Photo by Richard Varr

On this year’s 29th anniversary of Leipzig’s Peaceful Revolution, the wind is gentle; the feeling, however, powerful and poignant. In my mind, it’s not so much a festival, but instead a remembrance of a bold and courageous stand for the basic freedoms we take for granted today. Thousands hold candles as the more than 70,000 protesters did in 1989 in what was a defiant stand for human rights.

Crowds in Augustusplatz gather for the Festival of Lights. Photo by Richard Varr

Leipzig’s Festival of Lights is an annual event commemorating the city’s October 9, 1989 Peaceful Revolution when Communism began to crumble into history. I was invited by Leipzig Tourism to participate in the festival and write about this year’s anniversary of the historic event. My guest blog is now posted on the Tourist Office’s website.

https://www.leipzig.travel/blog/candlelight-feminism-and-remembrance-festival-of-lights/

I’ll be adding my own posts from my trip this month on this blog in the days ahead!

An all women orchestra and actresses perform in remembrance of the Peaceful Revolution. Photo by Richard Varr

What Not to Miss in Irving, Texas

The Mustangs of Las Colinas. Photo by Richard Varr

Gondola ride on Lake Carolyn. Photo by Richard Varr

I’ve visited the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex many times over the years, but never spent time in Irving, a city just northwest of Dallas. During my visit in late May, I found Irving has several notable sights well worth checking out!

The Ruth Paine House. Photo by Richard Varr

The Ruth Paine House Museum – In the Footsteps of an Assassin

It looks like a simple middle class house with a front lawn and garage. But this house in Irving played an important role in the grim history of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It’s where Lee Harvey Oswald stayed the night before shooting Kennedy in 1963. Oswald would visit the home often because his wife Marina was staying there with her children while he was living and working in Dallas at the Texas School Book Depository. In fact, Oswald at one point hid the gun he used to kill Kennedy in the home’s garage.

Actor projection in the Ruth Paine House. Photo by Richard Varr

The house has been recently restored to the way it looked in 1963. In addition to the period refrigerator, washer, sofa, television and other items, multi-media hologram-like projections showcase actors playing the roles of Oswald and Marina as well as homeowner Ruth Paine and her husband repeating scripts according to what was found in historical records.

Inside the Ruth Paine House. Photo by Richard Varr

Visitors first spend time in a small museum showcasing photos, interviews with Ruth Paine, and mostly black and white videos of Kennedy’s Dallas visit looped through 1960s-era TVs. They are then driven to the nearby Paine House for a tour.

Ruth Paine House museum exhibit. Photo by Richard Varr

What to See and Do in Irving

The Mustangs of Las Colinas. Photo by Richard Varr

The Mustangs of Las Colinas exudes the free and wild Texas plains spirit in the heart of the city. Sculptures of nine galloping mustang horses stand over a man-made fountain/stream surrounded by office towers within Williams Square Plaza. A museum in the East Tower highlights sculptor Robert Glen, an African wildlife artist, and what inspired him to create the sculptures.

The Mustangs of Las Colinas. Photo by Richard Varr

Railroad depot in Heritage Park, downtown Irving. Photo by Richard Varr

Inside the Big State Fountain Grill, downtown Irving. Photo by Richard Varr

I also attended a concert at The Pavilion, an indoor/outdoor music venue on the grounds of Irving’s Toyota Music Factory, a complex with several other music venues, shops and restaurants. Key to what makes The Pavilion unique is its retractable rear walls that in good weather open to a grassy area on a hill, where concert goers can sit on blankets.

Concert at The Pavilion. Photo by Richard Varr

High-rises along Lake Carolyn. Photo by Richard Varr

In addition to the hills and treed streets of Las Colinas, an Irving neighborhood, there’s also the scenic waterfront of Lake Carolyn. Canals weave in and around apartments and other high rise buildings and lead out to the lake’s two distinct bodies of water. It’s also where you can ride “trikes” (aqua-cycles with pedals that sit high above the water) and where you can try your luck on stand-up paddle boards. One highlight was my evening ride on a Venetian-style gondola – a sunset ride with cooling breezes, and a simply delightful way to cap off the day, especially in the hot summer months.

Art on Flag Pole Hill park, Las Colinas. Photo by Richard Varr

Founders’ Plaza by DFW Airport. Photo by Richard Varr

Founders’ Plaza by DFW Airport. Photo by Richard Varr

Irving sits next to sprawling DFW airport, with most sights only a 10 or 15-minute car ride away. Adjacent to the airport sits Founders’ Plaza, an observation area to see roaring jets taking off and landing. Historical plaques pay tribute to traveling military veterans, and the area has picnic tables, telescopes, monuments and actual communications from the air traffic control tower broadcast through loudspeakers.

Lobby of the Four Seasons Dallas at Las Colinas. Photo by Richard Varr

The Four Seasons Dallas at Las Colinas

Often referred to as Texas’ first urban resort, staying at this Four Seasons property was like visiting a country club. It’s a fabulous hotel/resort that lives up to the chain’s luxurious reputation with welcoming staff, fine restaurants, a full service spa and simply outstanding facilities all around.

Pool at the Four Seasons Dallas at Las Colinas. Photo by Richard Varr

In particular, the Four Seasons Dallas at Las Colinas offers a resort vacation with a large tennis and sports club, pool and an 18-hole, par-70 golf course where the AT&T Byron Nelson Golf Tournament was held from 1983-2017. Located between Dallas and Fort Worth, it’s particularly popular as a staycation destination for locals, for a Dallas area vacation for visitors, and as a convenient stopover hotel for passengers flying in and out of DFW Airport.

https://www.fourseasons.com/dallas/

Byron Nelson statue at the Four Seasons. Photo by Richard Varr

 

 

Jamestown Settlement Museum and Historic Jamestowne

John Smith statue at Historic Jamestowne settlement archeological site. Photo by Richard Varr

Virginia’s Historic Triangle brings history to life through excellent museums and open air, living history on or near the sights of Jamestown, Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg. During my April trip, I toured the very grounds where Captain John Smith and colonists established the first English settlement in the New World at Jamestown in 1607. Rugged wooden ramparts on the Yorktown Battlefield clearly mark where General George Washington’s Continental Army and the French navy surrounded the British to end the American Revolution. And I walked in the footsteps of Washington and Thomas Jefferson in Colonial Williamsburg, once Virginia’s capital.

Living history Powhatan Indian village at the Jamestown Settlement museum. Photo by Richard Varr

Jamestown Settlement and the recently opened American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, both operated by the state-funded Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, and Colonial Williamsburg highlight these key historic periods with artifacts, interactive digital technology and outdoor living history exhibits manned by costumed interpreters.

Susan Constant replica on the James River. Photo by Richard Varr

Jamestown Settlement Museum and Historic Jamestowne

Three 17th century wooden ships sit berthed along a quiet cove on the James River. Actually, they’re fully operation replicas – with rope ladders, sails and creaking wooden floors – of the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery, the three ships that brought the first English Settlers to Jamestown. Small and even a touch claustrophobic once you descend into the lower decks, the ships offer a glimpse of the hardships endured during the four and a half months by the 144 colonists who dared to cross the Atlantic.

Godspeed and Discovery replicas. Photo by Richard Varr

Below deck on the Susan Constant. Photo by Richard Varr

“Crowded, cramped, boring and relatively miserable,” says Lara Templin, the Assistant Interpretive Site Manager at Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum detailing England’s first permanent settlement in North America. “You’re eating pickles, salt pork, salt fish, dry bread, hard biscuits. And the water turned green and smelled so foul that no man could abide it. So they drank beer because that’s what would last.”

Replica bow of the Susan Constant inside the Jamestown Settlement Museum. Photo by Richard Varr

With 900 or so original 16th and 17 century artifacts including portraits, muskets, tools, furniture and more, Jamestown Settlement’s main museum building highlights the early colony’s complete history through the entire 17th century – from the 1606-1607 voyage, confrontations with local Powhatan Indian tribes, Virginia’s first Africans and the burgeoning tobacco trade. There’s a replica 17th century London street and reconstruction to scale of the Susan Constant’s bow. “The illusion is you’re coming down a London street toward the docks and the ship is being loaded,” says Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation’s Senior Curator Tom Davidson.

Pocahontas statue in the Jamestown Settlement museum. Photo by Richard Varr

Another exhibit explores the life and legend of Pocahontas. “She’s the one 17th century Virginian everyone knows,” explains Davidson. “Pocahontas was the linking personality between the English and the Powhatan and becomes a kind of cultural emissary between the two peoples.”

Musket firing demonstration at the James at the replica of Fort. Photo by Richard Varr

Outside the museum building are recreations of the colonists’ fort with an Anglican church, Governor’s House and other buildings, and of a Powhatan Indian village with huts recreated with water reeds weaved into mats and secured on a framework of sapling branches.

Powhatan village recreation. Photo by Richard Varr

James Fort recreation with cannon. Photo by Richard Varr

Historic Interpreter inside James Fort replica. Photo by Richard Varr

Just a five minute drive away is Historic Jamestowne, part of Colonial National Historical Park and the actual James Fort settlement site. Excavations on the grounds reveal signs of an often brutal and grisly quest to survive harsh winters and starvation, especially when surrounded by hostile Indians, with archeologists locating many graves and evidence of cannibalism.

Archeological within Historic Jamestowne. Photo by Richard Varr

A statue of John Smith stands over the grounds adjacent to the outline of the church where Pocahontas, daughter of the Indian chief Powhatan, married planter John Rolfe in 1614.

Church perimeter where Pocahontas was married in 1614. Photo by Richard Varr

FOR MORE INFORMATION

www.historyisfun.org

www.historicjamestowne.org

www.nps.gov/colo

The American Revolution Museum and the Yorktown Battlefield

George Washington in the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Photo by Richard Varr

Cooking pit outside the American Revolution Museum. Photo by Richard Varr

Tents, cooking pits and surgeons’ quarters offer visitors to the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown a realistic look of what a typical Continental Army soldiers’ camp may have looked like. It’s all part of the museum’s outdoor living history, along with a recreated Virginia farm is based on an actual homestead.

This historic interpreter will draft you into the Continental Army. Photo by Richard Varr

“The tastes, the smells, and even the ducks and chickens are the same breeds as in the 18th century,” says Interpretive Program Manager Homer Lanier. “We’re a hands-on museum.” Gunshots echo through the camp with flintlock musket demonstrations.

Victory Monument on the Yorktown Battlefield. Photo by Richard Varr

With 500 original artifacts including weapons, documents, period furniture and more, the main museum building details the entire American Revolution from the French and Indian War to the start of the new nation. Original portraits include England’s King George III, British General Charles Cornwallis, Founding Fathers and what’s believed to be the earliest painting of an enslaved African.

Pistols once owned by the Marquis de Lafayette. Photo by Richard Varr

The extensive musket and pistol collection includes the ornately-trimmed pistols once carried by the Marquis de Lafayette, the French military officer who came to the aid of the American rebels. There’s also an original copy of a 1776 Declaration of Independence printed in Boston from a Philadelphia copy.

Patrick Henry. Photo by Richard Varr

Inside the museum. Photo by Richard Varr

Short video clips highlight key American Revolution battles, but most impressive is the Battle of Yorktown presented in the museum’s 180-degree surround sound experiential theater. Seats shake with each cannon fire, with cannon balls seemingly flying directly towards you.

Redoubts on the Yorktown Battlefield. Photo by Richard Varr

Yorktown Battlefield. Photo by Richard Varr

A driving tour of the actual 1781 Yorktown Battlefield, part of Colonial National Historical Park, traces the British fortifications or redoubts. American and French forces had cornered the British with no escape against the York River. The battlefield’s Visitor Center houses General Washington’s original sleeping tent and an original British cannon that was dented by cannonball fire. “It’s called the Lafayette Cannon because when he came back to the United States and toured the East Coast, he saw that cannon, recognized it and got quite emotional,” explains Park Ranger Linda Williams.

Costumed Interpreter at the American Revolution Museum. Photo by Richard Varr

FOR MORE INFORMATION

www.historyisfun.org

www.nps.gov/colo