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Independence Hall: Deal or No Deal?

August 31, 2010 by · Comments Off on Independence Hall: Deal or No Deal? 

Meet the History Makers at Visitor Center

The US National Park Service protects and promotes nearly 400 sites.  At most locations visitors pay an admission fee. However, entrance to Independence Historic Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania remains free. That’s a good deal because the Park includes numerous attractions like Carpenter’s Hall, Franklin Court, Federal Reserve Bank, the Liberty Bell and the famed Independence Hall.  Who can complain?

But, then again, shouldn’t tourists pay at least a nominal fee?

Recently I visited with my two grandchildren, ages 6 and 8, and their parents. We started at the Visitors Center where we obtained complimentary timed tickets for a tour inside the legendary center. These vouchers are available on a daily basis and prevent time wasted queuing in line.

Prior to our scheduled entry, we cleared security and entered a holding room. Now trust me, I’m a big fan of the National Park System and have never been disappointed with the value of a visit anywhere.  However, on this particular occasion, the Park Ranger acting as our guide was either having a very bad day or felt the need to control others.  Her opening 10-minute history lesson fell flat (as did her jokes) and many of the tourists became restless and fidgety. She would periodically stop her oratory and scold the “rude” guests, threatening to expel them.  I personally felt uneasy and not particularly proud of this introduction, especially to foreign travelers.

The presence of a screen at the front of the room begged for a slide show, power point presentation or a short video. I’m sure one of these would have captivated  the audience’s attention far better.

Once we entered the former Pennsylvania State House, we received another disjointed speech concerning the historical events that took place in the area. Unfortunately a group of East Indian tourists continued to talk amongst themselves- likely trying to interpret the saga. Our Ranger walked back to them and actually forced the group to leave the building. She returned and we scurried across the hall.

We arrived at  the signers room, the meeting spot where the Declaration of Independence was adopted and eventually signed. Sadly, our guide’s presentation  just wasn’t captivating or compelling . The grandkids weren’t able to grasp the explanation and most of the visitors seemed disconcerted. Sorry NPS– No deal. My overall impression was disappointment; surely passion can be portrayed at to the birthplace of the United States.  I regrettably discourage an inside visit  for children younger than 8 or 10 years.

Eventually the tour moved to the second floor and only then did  I feel I was actually exploring the structure.  The ascent and descent of the magnificent, wide staircase gave me the sense of traveling back in time.  My footsteps were pounding the floorboards traversed by our Founding Fathers.  This interaction was what I came for, to feel the history within the walls, not just stare at a roped-off  room full of chairs.

Further Exploration Around the Park

The Liberty Bell

Happily, our adventure through the Liberty Bell exhibition hall proved far superior. The kids loved seeing the crack in the bell and being close to the real thing, the symbol of freedom.  Although the glass building is very modern, the Liberty Bell rests in a spot where visitors can look outside and see the steeple where it originally hung.

We also meandered through a portrait gallery in the Second National Bank. To my delight, this exhibit offered an opportunity to come face to face with priceless works of art. No barriers here; numerous paintings of our nation’s forefathers, dignitaries and other illustrious 18th century characters cram the space.

Afterward, we stopped for lunch at the Food Court (just what you’d expect) and walked a block to Franklin Court. Here we descended into an underground museum and watched the movie Ben and Me.  The 1955 film remains as much a hit with today’s high-tech kids as it did years ago when my own youngsters first enjoyed it.  I highly encourage viewing this 20-minute animated presentation.

We also stopped into Franklin’s printing office. And… guess who demonstrated the press? None other than our original Ranger guide from Independence Hall!!  I was flabbergasted, but must admit she improved her act in the print shop. Here she gave a lively hands-on demonstration. Perhaps ink is her calling.

Lastly, we returned to the Visitors Center so Kyra and RJ could get their Junior Ranger badges.  The Park employees reviewed the question and answer booklets and the children took a oath.  Upon completion, they were also handed a set of Historical Park trading cards.  As far as the kids were concerned, these tokens were the best deal of the day. Anyone want to trade a John Hancock for a Tom Jefferson??

Demonstration of Franklin's Printing Press

According to the UNESCO World Heritage Statement of Significance: Independence Hall was declared a World Heritage Site in 1979 as the location where The Declaration of Independence was adopted and the U.S. Constitution framed in the 18th-century. It is listed for association with the universal principles of freedom and democracy set forth in these documents, which have had a profound impact on lawmakers and political thinkers around the world. They became the models for similar charters of other nations, and may be considered to have heralded the modern era of  government.

Greater Philadelphia Area on Dwellable

Take a Boston City Break

August 20, 2010 by · Comments Off on Take a Boston City Break 

Old North Church

My brother and sister-in-law are planning a Boston City Break with the help of my daughter, who lives in nearby, Sudbury.  Boston makes one terrific destination for history buffs.

My favorite site is Old North Church, place where Paul Revere hung the famous lantern–one if my land, and two if by sea--the phrase, combined with my last name, that lead to the name of this website.

While in the North End, I always stop for dinner at one of the small Italian restaurants. No chain eateries here, these are Mom and Pop establishments handed down over generations. The homemade pasta delights the palate and the budget.

Consider a walk along the Freedom Trail, tour of Faneuil Hal marketplacel or the Paul Revere House. Kids love to step aboard the Boston Tea Party ship and participate in a reenactment of the historic protest.

Further out in the suburbs, the neighboring towns of Lexington and Concord beckon with an authentic colonial era look and feel.  Every April the famous battle that officially started the Revolutionary War is played out at dawn for spectators. A stop at The Wayside Inn for lunch will make you think you have stepped back in time.

The Boston area offers so much to see and do, a quick break doesn’t suffice. Plan to stay a week for a true taste of New England’s heritage.

Interior of Faneuil Hall

A Visit to Sainte-Chapelle in Paris

August 18, 2010 by · Comments Off on A Visit to Sainte-Chapelle in Paris 

Upper Chapel

Took three trips to Paris for me to finally get into Sainte Chapelle (sant-shah-pel’), but worth the wait. This chapel is one of the most glorious places I’ve ever seen.

Sainte-Chapelle lies in the courtyard of the former royal palace on the Île de la Cité (Central Paris). Since I stayed in a center city hotel, I could easily walk.  First I stopped outside Notre Dame to stare at the gargoyles. Just loved those medieval rain gutters!

On I walked to the Palace of Justice complex. Here, King Louis IX, later Saint Louis,  commissioned and built Sainte-Chapelle  (Holy Chapel) from 1246-1248. This became his personal church used to house his precious relics including Christ’s Crown of Thorns and the True Cross. He purchased these from the Emperor of Constantinople for the exorbitant sum of 135,000 livres. To compare, the cost of erecting the entire building was 40,000 livres.  Only on Good Friday were the treasures were exhibited to the public.

The relatively small Gothic structure, compared to huge cathedrals of the time, measures 118 feet long, 56 feet wide, and 139 feet high. It stands more vertical than horizontal, with delicate stonework and arches. Unfortunately, construction within the inner courtyard surrounded and confined Sainte-Chapelle.

I waited in line about 15 minutes, then passed through a security check. I leaned backwards to see the top of the steeple. Then I strolled around to enter the lower chapel or parish church used by non-royals who worked within the palace. The arched ceiling supports the king’s upper sanctuary and glows with gold paint between a starry sky. A statue of the Virgin Mary dominates the church to whom it is dedicated.

Lower Chapel

In the corner lies the entrance to a narrow winding staircase which leads to the magnificent upper chapel.  Even though visitors expect to see the best stained glass of its type in the world, almost everyone entering drops their jaw in a gasp.  The translucent reflections of colored light and golden hues beam down and surround in rare beauty. The wall of windows soar to great heights producing a twinkling ambiance of tranquil light. A 15th century rose window adds some contrast. Benches allow people to sit and meditate or read the biblical story told in the window panes.

An amazing two-thirds of the predominantly blue and red stained glass is authentic. The others were created by artisans during a painstaking twenty year restoration begun in 1840.  The building suffered during the French Revolution. Fortunately, the chapel was converted to an administrative office and the windows were largely obscured, which likely saved them. They were removed briefly during the early 19th century and again during World War II to protect them from harm. They were painstakingly reinstalled after the war.

As for the prestigious relics, they disappeared or were melted down with the reliquary. Well… some prefer to believe they mysteriously survived and are saved as the “relics of Sainte-Chapelle” stored at Notre Dame. Of course, it seems  if all the pieces of the cross displayed in Catholic churches were assembled together, we might have a forest. Fraudulent relics aside, Sainte-Chapelle is a Parisian must-see.

If you go:

I highly recommend choosing one of the hotels in Paris city centre for ease of visiting the Louvre, Notre Dame and Sainte- Chapelle.

Winding Stairway to Upper Chapel

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