CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia -- To deepen your appreciation of the USA, take a history vacation. Here's a fun, sure-fire way to do it that worked for us.
1. Read or listen to the new biography, George Washington, A Life by Ron Chernow. It's a brilliant work, reads like a novel. We checked out the audio book from the library and listened before and during the drive to Virginia.
2. Head for Colonial Williamsburg, in Virginia. You can get a hotel package which includes admission to the sites you'll want to visit. We called on the phone, but you can do it on the Web. Spend two nights to see Williamsburg thoroughly over two days, and that includes Jamestown and Yorktown. We stayed at the Williamsburg Inn, pricey but worth it.
3. Then drive to Charlottesville, Virginia, where the homes/estates of three presidents await: Madison, Monroe, and of course Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.
In Charlottesville, we stayed at the English Inn, very reminiscent of the former Jumers in Peoria. Classical music fills the air, there's a great breakfast, better than the chain motels offer, even a swimming pool.
Except for the Yorktown battlefield, these sites are privately operated by foundations, so there are admission fees, but they are not exhorbitant. Check the websites for times and dates that they are open.
Get advance tickets for the Behind the Scenes tour at Monticello, and for events at Williamsburg such as the evening dramas and music. They sell out.
Always start by seeing the short films at the visitors centers that give valuable background, then take the tours. All of our guides were entertaining and very knowledgable. At the Yorktown battlefield our ranger/guide was amazing. A battlefield made fascinating? Even funny? Yes.
The presidential houses, actually museums, offer windows into real lives. They are filled with art and antiques, most owned by the presidents. And now archeological digs at these sites are revealing tales that the history books ignore.
Slavery is the big issue for these revolutionary heroes who risked all for liberty. They owned slaves, and didn't free most of them. The lives and personalities of their African American slaves, whose work made possible the heroism of the nation's founders, now have become part of the fascinating information at all the sites.
We're waiting for the definitive film on Jefferson, like the new one on Lincoln. It hasn't been done yet.
-- Elaine Hopkins