Friday, September 4, 2015

Bradford, Pennsylvania: Penn Brad Oil Museum

Tucked on Route 219 south of the city is this little museum of sorts - easy to miss as you go buy. It's designed as something of a tribute to the oil business of the region. This part of Pennsylvania is famous for its natural resources; check out Titusville sometime for an even bigger history lesson.

There are some working machines on the grounds that date back to the 1800s. The derrick on the grounds, pictured here, certainly has that old time feeling to it. But the building inside actually is quite modern.

Now, it would be nice to learn more about the place, but the website is, um, shall we say incomplete. If you click on the link, you'll find that most of the pages on the site is filled with what is called "dummy type" - something close to gibberish designed to fill space. So, visitors don't need to go any place other than the home page, which has a brief story of the museum.

Time to update the site, guys, and finish what you started. It might help get attendance above 1,200 visitors per year.

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Manassas, Virginia: Manassas National Battlefield Park

The battlefield at Manassas, Virginia, offers a discount. It was the sight of two battles in the Civil War, but there's only one admission charge.

The name might not be familiar, but the "phrase" Bull Run is known to those with even a passing interest in that conflict. Run is used in that part of the world for stream or creek, by the way.

The first battle of Bull Run took place in July, 1861, and it was essentially the first battle of the Civil War. Most expected the North to win easily and start to put an end to this little uprising. Civilians even took the trip out to the area to watch from the hills. What they saw was a Confederate victory. The Union side made a disorderly retreat that mixed in with others such as Congressmen who looked on from Centerville. The South was in no position to follow up, so the North escaped. But, it was the first sign that there would be no easy victories.

Along the way, Confederate General Barnard Bee took a look at General Thomas Jackson and said, "There stands Jackson like a stone wall." The nickname stuck forever. The statue pictured is where Jackson was at the time of the remark. General Bee, meanwhile, died shortly after speaking those words, and a monument honors him on that spot just a handful of feet away.

A little more than a year later, the two sides met on more or less the same spot. It was a bigger battlefield and a bigger battle. About 3,300 people died in the three-day battle, a shocking number. The South won again, thanks to a great plan by General Robert E. Lee. Full of confidence, Confederate troops headed north ... and fought an even more bloody battle at Antietam.

The National Park has a few statues and monuments on the grounds, and a couple of buildings and bridges uses in the battle are still standing. Luckily, the visitor center has a nice 45-minute movie that explains what happened, as well as a museum with some relics of the battle.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lewiston, New York: Our Lady of Fatima Shrine

Every so often, it's tempting to play the game called "What attraction in my region have I never seen?"

Time to cross the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine off the list, having paid a short, nice visit the other day.

The centerpiece is a Basilica with a dome on top. When inside, the roof looks like the Northern Hemisphere.

For those who want to climb 63 steps, visitors can reach the top of the Basilica. There's a large statue of Our Lady of Fatima, and the views of the well-landscaped grounds and the countryside are quite nice (see right). About 130 statues of saints have been placed in the area leading up the entrance to the Basilica. There's also a nice pond with a waterfall nearby, which seems like a good spot for a quiet moment. 

The Shrine has been open since 1954. There is a store and a cafeteria; the latter is only open at certain times. This all is located in Lewiston, although it has a Youngstown mailing address. Check the website for directions if you so inclined to pay a visit.

Guess it's time to find the next unexplored attraction in my area now. 

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Niagara Falls, NY: Aquarium of Niagara

It's always nice to be greeted by the host when arriving at a tourist attraction. This is what awaits visitors to the Aquarium of Niagara. In fact, as many as four such creatures are in a pond outside the front door.

The Aquarium is a nice little place a little bit north of the Falls. There is an assortment of sea lions, penguins, seals, fish, etc. on display. You can even set up a personal encounter with some of the critters. The staff has a reputation for being friendly.

Don't expect this to be anything like a big-city aquarium. The facility just isn't big enough. But, you'll probably find it to be an entertaining stop among the attractions in the area, especially if you time it to see some presentations.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

London, England

There's a line in the movie "Fail Safe" that has always stayed with me. An American and Soviet general are talking on the phone. They are talking about London, where they were both stationed during World War II. The American general asks his counterpart if he liked London.

"Very much," the Soviet replies. ""The great cities are those where one can walk; I would walk all the time in London. Wherever you turn, there's history."

That's London, New York's economic vitality mixed with Washington's history and government structures. It's tough not to bump into something familiar while visiting. Go to one area, and it is the inspiration for some of Charles Dickens' novels. Go somewhere else, and it's where Jack the Ripper hung out. And walk down Whitehall, and see a string of buildings that are familiar to even American tourists.

Maybe the greatest person in British history was Winston Churchill, who at one point in 1940 was the one last, loud, lonely voice for freedom in a world in which tyranny seemed to be winning. He is remembered in a place of honor in Parliament Square, overlooking his old stomping grounds at the Houses of Parliament. Both places can be inspirational, and Churchill's war room isn't far away.

I've hit a few high points on a blog here, but I must come back someday and look at this great city in detail. Here is a video look at some popular highlights:

Learn more about this vacation.
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London, England: Royal Artillery Memorial

You've probably noticed that art can cause controversy - even when it comes in the form of a military memorial. Such is the case with this, located in Hyde Park Corner.

During World War I, both sides spent much of the time throwing shells at each other. As a result, more than 49,000 Englishmen in the Royal Artillery died. After the war, that prompted a movement to pay tribute to that branch of the service.

It opened for public viewing in 1925. As memorials go, this is a grim one - more realistic than most in showing the cost of war. Those who thought the whole episode should be a little more, well, glorious, weren't happy. Use of the howitzer, on top, as part of the design didn't go over well either. But it still stands there, one of the best known memorials in Europe.

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London, England: The Albert

Thirsty after all this touring? Thought so.

A London visit wouldn't be complete without a stop at a pub. This one gets points for an interesting design, and some history. It's been around since the middle of the 1800's, named for Queen Victoria's husband.

You'll be happy to know that fish and chips are served here. Check out the menu here.

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London, England: Westminster Abbey

This isn't a typical angle of Westminster Abbey - but at least I can say I was at this famous facility. It is shown on the right side of the photo.

A church was first put on this site in the 7th century, and coronations of British monarchs have been held here since, gulp 1066. There have been 16 royal weddings here since the year 1100 (the last was Prince William and Catherine Middleton - too bad we don't hear much about that couple), and the current building started to go up in 1245.

As you'd expect, it's a great honor to be buried here. Sir Isaac Newton is here, and so is Charles Darwin.

After getting this close to the building, I was curious about what it looked like. There are clues here:

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London, England: Church of St. Margaret

If members of Parliament need a place to pray when things aren't going well, the Church of St. Margaret is right next door. Thus, it gets the nickname "the parish church of the House of Commons."

It's right across the street from the House of Parliament and Parliament Square, and right next to Westminster Abbey. This could be called the Abbey's little brother, since it was designed for the common folks and built late in the 11th century. There have been changes since the last major reconstruction in 1523, but people from then would recognize it now.

Among those buried here are Sir Walter Raleigh and John Milton. On Sept. 12, 1908, Winston Churchill was married here.

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London, England: Buckingham Palace

Anyone can take the classic picture of Buckingham Palace from the front? Not everyone has the imagination to take it from an angle.

Yes, the Queen and family do live here, and it's also their workplace. It's been the official palace since 1837, although other facilities are used as well. The chapel did get hit by a German bomb during World War II. That area was rebuilt as the Queen's Gallery to be something of an art museum.

Yes, tours are available. And even when you aren't allowed inside, the place is a good spot for celebration. You can imagine the crowds on V-E Day in 1945. There's also a famous here, where the Queen can do her Queen wave to her subjects, new babies can shown to the masses, etc. You can find plenty of other information about the place at other sites, like this one.

Surely we need a video of this place:

Oh, and if you ever want to see what the side of the place looks like, I've got a picture.

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