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Natchez: City of a Dozen Mansions (Day 106)

November 2nd, 2009 No comments

Some of these were taken on the evening of Day 105. Most of them, actually. Because it wasn’t raining on the evening of Day 105. Which may cause you to wonder why this is labeled Day 106. Life is full of many mysteries.

Natchez is in Mississippi. It’s where the Natchez Trace starts. The Natchez Trace is a trail that runs from Natchez to Nashville. I’m not sure why it’s not the Nashville Trace.

natchez_rundown-houseA run-down house with river view.

natchez_magnoliaThe Magnolia House.

natchez_stantonThe Stanton House.

natchez_rosalie-exteriorThe Rosalie House. We visited this one on Day 106. That’s why.

natchez_rosalie-interiorInterior of the Rosalie House. No one important lived there.

natchez_rosalie-pianoMy mom making the tour guide happy.

Natchez was kind of a cool little city, actually. Every other house was on the historic places registry. Sort of like New Orleans, but without the trash and only 80-percent humidity. Nah, actually the houses are more traditional southern than New Orleans — fewer wrought iron railings, more neo-classical columns. Supposedly, at one time in the early 19th century, like a third of all American millionaires lived there. It’s less than that now.

Also, you can’t easily find the start of the Natchez Trace Parkway when you’re there. It’s not like they have signs telling you where to go. As such, we started at Mile Post 8 (more to come!).

bkd

Charleston Walk-Around (Day 98)

October 24th, 2009 1 comment

Spent about five hours on Thursday just walking around Charleston. I downloaded a walking tour guide and, from what I overheard of the other tour guides passing me, I think the downloaded one was at least as good. Less self-important anyway. Here are some photos, shown gallery-style because it’s so much easier to do that way and I didn’t have snarky comments about these anyway:

It’s a nice town. I now know more about Charleston than any other city in the world, I think. Or at least I did on Thursday. “Genteel poverty” seems like a cool term — I think I might like to have seen that era. The spikes on the top of the wall were put there in case of slave revolt. I can’t really see those spikes helping too much, though. Didn’t those people know they needed barbed wire and glass shards up there instead?

Also, I still felt too burned by Biltmore to spend $x on any of the mansions-for-viewing on my route. There were probably 15 or 20 of the 100 tour entries that had an entry fee if you wanted to go inside.

Yep.

bkd

Someone Over at the Biltmore Estate Needs to Get Beaten Up (Day 90)

October 17th, 2009 17 comments

It costs $55 to give yourself a tour of the Biltmore Estate (a house). Let me type that out in words so you don’t think that’s a sticky keyboard issue: fiffty-five dollars. I didn’t realize this before going in to buy my ticket.

Me: I’d like to see the house.

Woman: That’ll be $55.

Me: U.S.?

Woman: [pretends not to hear]

Let me bash the Biltmore Estate more before putting the price in context. Thanks.

  • While its original owner was a Vanderbilt, his first name was not Cornelius.
  • He was a grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt — all the money spent to build the place was inherited.
  • His two older brothers inherited the family business — the guy who built this house didn’t even have a job.
  • The house was lived in for thirty (30) years before it was opened to the public, at which point it was no longer lived in.
  • It was opened to the public because the family couldn’t afford to keep the house.
  • Therefore, it served as a house for 30 years and as a tourist building to be walked through for 80 years.
  • Some of the rooms weren’t finished until long after the house became a tourist-building.
  • In spite of this, everything in the house makes out as if (a) this Vanderbilt family was important and (b) their time in the house was significant.
  • The estate employs 1,900 people. It’s a non-house house with a bunch of grass around it. 1,900 employees.
  • Despite the $55 cost to enter the house, you’re not allowed to take photographs anywhere inside.
  • Excluding driving time, parking time, and time spent walking from the parking lot to the immediate house area, I saw everything I needed to in about an hour.

It’s The Biggest “House” in the Country, which screams of unfamiliarity with restraint. The interior maybe isn’t as tacky as Marble House in Newport or Hearst Castle (although Wm. Randolph Hearst at least did some stuff to increase *his* inherited wealth) — but then, it’s the gaudy, expensive stuff in those houses that makes them worth seeing. This one just seemed like someone’s outsized ego that, once it came down to interior decoration, couldn’t be matched by his bank account.

biltmore_exteriorBig house.

biltmore_flower-gardenRelatively normal-sized garden.

So, just to help better illustrate how ridiculous $55 for this house is, here’s a comparison of the prices of various attractions I’ve visited on this trip (and a couple other popular sites I haven’t visited).

Site Cost Note
Disneyland $72 Includes unlimited access to rides.
Biltmore Estate $55 Audio tour only $10 extra.
SeaWorld (San Diego) $55
Sounders Game (Scalped) $50
Boundary Waters Canoe+Campsite $44 Per-day price.
Colonial Williamsburg $36
Newport Mansions $31 Includes access to five mansions and audio tours (single house = $12).
Hearst Castle $24 Includes guided tour.
Mackinac Island Ferry $24
Monticello $20 Someone important actually lived here; includes guided tour.
Yosemite National Park $20
Buffalo Bill Historic Center $15
Sea Lion Caves $12
Shirley Plantation $11 Includes guided tour from hot tour guide.
Eastman House $10 Includes photography museum.
Niagara Falls Parking $10 There’s no actual entry fee.
Whiteface Mountain $10 Includes road access and elevator ride.
Patrick Henry’s Home $8 Includes guided tour.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse $7 Was in use for more than 30 years.
Ft. McHenry $7
Air Force Museum $0
Marine Corps Museum $0

The most remarkable thing about the place, IMHO, was that it was fairly *packed* with people, despite my being there on a bad-weather weekday. Is there really nothing better to do in this part of the country? OH man.

Or, in short: bad value.

bkd

Categories: south Tags: ,

Ol’ Virginny Home(s) (Day 85, Part 2)

October 12th, 2009 No comments

Yeah, I know, it’s supposed to be Old Kentucky Home, but I’m not probably going to be visiting any old mansions when I’m in Kentuck, ergo this.

I keep going back and forth between thinking I’m doing too much on this trip and thinking I’m not doing enough. Day 85 turned into the latter, so I decided to compensate by driving to dots on the Rand McNally road atlas. The first was Scotchtown, Patrick Henry’s home northwest of Richmond. It was fine. You have to take a tour to go in. I was the only one on the tour when it started — which would have been great, since it probably could have wrapped up in 20 minutes that way and there was nothing in that house that deserved more than 20 minutes of observation. But then some older couple joined in while we were in the dining room and then I had to hear all about where the cabinets were made and discussions of southern Virginia “famous families” that I’d never heard of.

I get the sense that Southern Virginia is like Utah — there are “prominent families” that everyone wants to say they know or are related to. It’s not my favorite part of Utah, either.

patrick-henry_kitchenThe tour guide leads the other tour participants toward the kitchen, where they will be killed and eaten.

patrick-henry_houseThe actual house. When Patrick Henry’s wife went crazy, he made her live in the basement until she died.

Here’s the rest of what I got out of the tour:

  • Patrick Henry had 17 children.
  • He was the first governor of Virginia (I’m not sure in what sense this is true — he was certainly not the colony’s first governor).
  • He didn’t collect much stuff.
  • When the slaves brought food into the house from the kitchen, they were required to whistle the whole way because if they were whistling, then they couldn’t be picking food off the plates and eating it.
  • At one time the house was occupied by a goat-tending hobo whom the neighborhood children feared.
  • He didn’t like to write — he was an orator. Patrick Henry, I mean. Possibly also the hobo — we don’t have any of *his* writings, either.

Of course, I had to go to *Williamsburg* to learn that Patrick gave his Liberty-or-Death speech at a church in Williamsburg. Or was it Richmond? Eh. It was definitely a church.

Then I went to the Shirley plantation, which is south of Richmond on the James River. It was owned by one of Virginia’s prominent families. The tour guide was good-looking, but a little too urbanized and professional to be giving tours of some plantation home. I think she’s under-employed. If I still had jobs to give out at Toshiba, I might’ve inquired as to her math skills. Ah well.

shirley_gateThat’s not the main house on the left there. It’s the kitchen, I think. The main house had bad lighting and wasn’t all that exciting anyway.

shirley-mansion_cottonCotton!

Supposedly this is the world’s oldest plantation that has been in continuous operation. It’s owned by the Hill-Carter family. Surely you’ve heard of them. It’s in its eleventh generation of ownership. The current heir lives in the top story. He’s used to having tourists take tours of the main story — that’s how he’s always known the home. When any woman in the family gets proposed to, she’s supposed to test the diamond by cutting something into the living room window. Etc.

It was a great day for being outside. Warm, but not hot, clear skies, gentle breeze. If Virginia were always like that, it’d be a hard place to not want to live, I figure.

Endut.

bkd


Everything I Learned at Monticello (Day 84)

October 10th, 2009 No comments

It’s a pretty house, I learned that.

monticello_back-lawn-viewIt’s maybe too centered in this photo? Whatever.

  • The c in Monticello is pronounced “ch”.
  • Thomas Jefferson was six-foot-two.
  • He was pretty eccentric — more eccentric than I am even! — and didn’t seem to equivocate much, even when it seemed like he was wrong.
  • It didn’t seem like his slaves were living as luxuriously as I might have thought.
  • He was really good friends with James and Dolly Madison.
  • They moved into one of the out-buildings (one room upstairs, kitchen downstairs) while the main house was still being built.
  • Jefferson defied conventional wisdom by building the house on top of a hill.
  • Most people in rural Virginia during Jefferson’s time had never seen a map before.
  • Ronald Reagan’s library is more impressive than Monticello. Of course, it has the advantage of having been built as a museum rather than a house, but, inasmuch as you can compare a museum to a house, Reagan FTW.
  • The Monticello tour is a little claustrophobic.

I think that’s about it. Or at least, that appears to be all that’s stuck with me over these two long days since I was there.

monticello_garden-longJefferson seems to have planted corn and other crops in his front yard.

Also went to Appomattox Court House on Day 84. It was a little lame. Here’s a picture so you can see how lame it is.

appomattox-court-houseI should probably just stop visiting Civil War sites. The photo itself probably doesn’t come off as all that lame.

And here’s what I learned there:

  • Appomattox Court House was the name of the village where the armistice was signed. It was not signed at the courthouse (pictured above), but at some guy’s house (not pictured).
  • The modern town of Appomattox moved closer to the railroad once the courthouse burned down.
  • The guy’s house that is currently set up at Appomattox Court House is a re-creation. The real one was dismantled and taken to DC, where it disappeared or something without ever having been exhibited as planned.
  • The guy who gives tours through the house is sort of cranky to people who don’t know they have to be led through it by him, even though there’s no indication anywhere that they’re not allowed to just walk into the house like they can every other house at Appomattox Court House.
  • It’s hard to use three words in spelling Appomattox Court House.

I didn’t take the tour. It’s probably a fantastic site if you’re into the Civil War. They also had a guy dressed up as a union soldier who acted like he was stuck in 1865. It probably would have been more convincing if he hadn’t been ethnically Indian (from India). I mean — the illusion’s pretty well broken before he even tries to talk to you about how expensive the tavern is, which makes playing along sort of stressful. He also has all his teeth and lacks powerful body odor, which should probably also have been illusion-breakers.

Looking forward to kayaking around the Outer Banks. I think that’ll help.

Oh, and I also went to Chancellorsville, another Civil War battlefield. I took one photo:

chancellorsville-battlefieldDespite plenty of trees to hide behind, Stonewall Jackson died here.

But it was getting on toward evening, the rangers were closing up shop, and so I pressed on. The campground I slept at that night is probably one of the ones on the western part of the map in Fallout 3. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. And I think I saw a super mutant while I was there — but, sadly, I found no jet, mutfruit, stealthboys, or railway spikes. They had a shower, though.

bkd

Three Hours in Newport, R.I. (Day 76, Part 2)

October 2nd, 2009 3 comments

It took me a while to figure out where the mansions were. On my way to that discovery, I found the yacht club, yacht museum, and some fort that you had to take a tour to get into and that I therefore stayed outside of. Here’s a picture commemorating the yacht experience:

newport_bridgeA lighthouse protects ships from hitting the right-side stanchion.

And because I don’t think either of them are that great, here’s another photo. I imagine if you take the decent aspects of both of these photos, they might add up to one all-right picture.

newport_three-mastsI like how everything other than the truck on the bridge is leading the viewer’s eye *away* from the frame.

Then I found the mansions. It was about 4:30 and they close up at 5, so I just stopped at the first one I came to on Bellevue Avenue, which turned out to be the Marble House and to look like this:

newport_marble-houseYou’re not allowed to take photos inside.

It was designed and lived in by an ex-wife of some Vanderbilt. She was into women’s suffrage (that was the story they told about her inside the mansion) as well as inflicting suffering on women (she was apparently pretty awful to her daughter). She was also very, very tacky about her decorating decisions — basically like Hearst, but without *quite* the means. Versailles is so over-done. IMHO.

I imagine the other mansions are sort of similar. If they’re not, nobody tell me, otherwise I’ll feel like I have to go back some time. (Thx.)

bkd

Day 2: Hearst Castle

July 13th, 2009 1 comment

Ten Things About My Day at Hearst Castle:

  • Definitely worth going to once — a great monument to wealth and questionable taste.
  • $24 seems steep for a 75-minute tour (not including the 15-minutes-each-way bus ride from the visitors center).
  • Especially given that, if you touch a tree, the assistant tour guide yells at you.
  • The main house is actually a cathedral. If you ask the guide why William Randolph Hearst would want to live in a cathedral, she’ll tell you it’s because he had traveled Europe extensively and wanted “the ranch” to seem like a Mediterranean village. Yeah, but living in a cathedral?! Seems either misguided or sacrilegious. I mean, I’ve traveled a bit in Europe myself, but I don’t want to live in a cathedral. Maybe that’s why I’m not rich.
  • And aside from the cathedral in the middle, I’m not sure how this is in any way similar to a Mediterranean village.
  • Feels like the “Golden Age of Hollywood” in real-life form. Sunset Boulevard seems like it took some hints from here.
  • I don’t actually know anything about architecture, just that it seems odd to have old choir seats that had been ripped out of a Gothic cathedral lining the walls of your dining room. Doesn’t the Gothic cathedral still need those?
  • If I ever have a pool at my house, it should be like one of these (neither of which belonged in a Mediterranean village).
  • The ceilings were all very, very fancy.
  • And the tri-tip sandwich was pretty good.

Some photos:

hearst_castle_garden_cathedralAh, cathedral-sweet-home. Nice flowers, though.

hearst_castle_outdoor_poolPlus, if you can get bored, you can play hitch-hiker’s chess on the bottom of it.

hearst_castle_viewThe view.

End of post.

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