GAP 2, Cumberland, Maryland

Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018

Before jumping into the shuttle service van that was scheduled to drive us, our bikes, and all our gear (in Minnie-Van) to a ‘burb of Pittsburgh (West Homestead, PA), we had time to take a quick walking tour of Cumberland, mostly along the waterfront GAP trail, and up Washington St. to the famous Episcopal Church on the hill, in which Tiffany windows glow even with the dull, cloudy day on which we started our adventure. But more of that in a bit.

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There’s a lot of history in Cumberland, where a very young George Washington surveyed the area, and where Wills Creek (channeled with concrete in the photo to mitigate flooding in the downtown historic district) meets the Potomac River. Historically, Cumberland was first a Fort, then a transportation hub; today, it is a hub for recreation, where the C&O Canal towpath trail meets the Great Allegheny Passage rail-to-trail conversion: Mile 0 of the GAP trail. The terminus of the C&O Canal, in the ebb of its heyday, became the beginning of the first US National Road.

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As a National Historic Place registrant, Cumberland has a lovely pedestrian area where old building facades have been preserved and are in use as boutiques, restaurants, businesses, and shops, accessible from the GAP trail. Much artwork adorns the Wills Creek area.

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This is just a small section of an enormous mural adorning two complete building walls framing the corner of the pedestrian mall area.

As we walked across Wills Creek and up Washington Street toward two amazing tours Allen had arranged for our group (one was a Historic Society preserved Victorian home with most of the period furnishings and structure intact), we saw many homes and churches in the oldest, highest-above-the-river part of town. Among the prettiest is the one at the top of this blog post. 

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Some of the homes need a bit of TLC.

The original Fort Cumberland, a colonial-era stronghold, was built atop the high ridge, with a protective (and controlling) view of the mighty Potomac River.

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Artist’s interpretation of what Fort Cumberland might have looked like when it was used in the 1700s. This image shows the Potomac River in the foreground, with Wills Creek joining it near the lower right—that is not a turn in the Potomac, but rather the two flowing together, then meandering off to the right, out of the picture and toward the Atlantic.
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View of Cumberland today from the old fort site.

At the time, much more of the municipality was on high ground. The earth has been removed for building and roadways over the long years since it was just a fort. Now Cumberland occasionally floods. This knowledge and seeing where our cars would be parked for the trip left the three couples who had vehicles in the Canal St. long-term parking area slightly concerned about local flooding with Florence’s potential trajectory. What we hadn’t counted on was the pigeons—more on that in the final installment of the cycling part of this trip.

Upon the site of the old fort was built, in the 1800s, the Episcopal Church with the Tiffany windows.

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The neatest aspect of this building, in my opinion, is the way in which they preserved some of the abandoned fort infrastructure, and used the old fort’s tunnels upon which the church sat as a stop along the Underground Railroad. For many, many years the pastors of the church hid, nurtured, and transferred escaping slaves to the next stage of safety along their road to freedom. 

Our guide began our tour with a digital “playing” of the old organ (complete with a heraldic horn section). The congregation’s organist is also an organ tuner and builder, and he’s adjusted the equipment so it can be played digitally or manually; from the back of the room or from the front (during special musical events). It was pretty awesome.

Louis Comfort Tiffany was the talented son of Charles Tiffany, the jewelry store owner. L.C. Tiffany was an interior designer in the mid-1800s, when his interest turned toward the creation of stained glass. He opened his own studio and glass foundry because he was unable to find the types of glass that he desired in interior decoration. He wanted the glass itself to transmit texture and rich colors, and he developed a type of glass he called “Favrile,” which he patented in 1892. Favrile glass has a superficial iridescence, which causes the surface to appear to shimmer, and “collects” light from that which surrounds it. “It is distinguished by brilliant or deeply toned colors . . . iridescent like the wings of certain American butterflies, the neck [feathers] of pigeons and peacocks, and the wing covers of various beetles” — according to Tiffany himself.

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While this image appears blurry (and it was, in fact, taken from a long distance, but with the camera solidly on a firm surface) I think it is a technique used by Tiffany to affect a “painting” or brush stroke with the glass. I may be wrong, but I think it’s made of streamer glass. The phrase “streamer glass” refers to a pattern of glass strings affixed to the glass surface, to represent twigs, branches, and structures like feathers. Streamers are made from molten glass that is vigorously swung back and forth to stretch into long, thin strings which rapidly cool and harden. These are pressed onto the molten surface of sheet glass during the rolling process and become permanently fused.
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This Tiffany triptych is not backlit. Instead, it’s made using many, many layers of glass, to “shadow” areas, and to leave other areas able to capture the ambient light and direct it—as with using lighter-colored paints—to illuminate the areas in the scene that either show light or reflect it. Here the light comes off the actual torch raised above the saint’s head, and the glass gathers light where the torchlight hits the martyrs bodies in the scene.
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Another Tiffany window one might think is backlit, but it is not. There are many layers of glass in the darker portions to create the many, many shades of blue throughout. It is an incredibly heavy window.

One of the stories told by our guide involved the integration of the church, just after the American Civil War. Some of the former slaves had been “raised” to be Catholic, but when they got to the north (Maryland was actually a slave state prior to the ACW) they were not welcomed to attend the Catholic Church’s services. One of the white friends of the Catholic congregation asked the Episcopal priest if the former slaves could attend his church (same fellow who ran the underground railroad stop) and he said, of course. There was an upper concourse set aside for the black folks—but even then, some of the Catholic blacks would not attend a non-Catholic service.

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Along this wall above the main floor was once the “blacks only” balcony. In the mid-twentieth century, it was reserved for the choir. And finally, it was removed and renovated as it appears today.

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Later in the tour, we saw the original drawings for a cross and candelabra, also designed and made by Tiffany for the church. None of the pix I took of the golden items nor the drawings turned out, I’m afraid.

As we entered and exited, I was interested in the patterns of the limestone slabs in the walkways, after years and years of erosion. They looked a bit like those relief maps of the ocean floor.

After admiring the “above ground” amenities of the structure, our guide took us downstairs, into the tunnels. There were rooms, narrow stairs, thin “runways” and low-hanging structural elements everywhere. It was frightening to think of a live person with black skin coming here for refuge and respite after a long, dangerous trip from Georgia or Virginia. Afraid every second that he or she would be betrayed. Near starvation or looking over the edge toward starvation at every moment. Too tired to sleep—too afraid or hungry or sick or injured to rest.

The fort’s ammo magazine and all the protective below-ground structures were made by erecting wooden forms and filling behind them with clay and rocks from the river. Those hardened and, with the exception of a few river rocks that have come loose over the centuries, the walls have held up to this day.

Our guide told us that, while the fort used long, underground tunnels to access water for the fort’s uses from Wills Creek and the Potomac, by the time of the underground railroad, the same tunnels were used to get human cargo from the “bad part of town” (the red light district, near the waterfronts) up to safety, nourishment, and rest under the church, and then off to the north and across the Mason-Dixon Line, a mere 10-ish miles by crow flight from Cumberland; Milepost 20.5 along the actual rail line that is now the GAP trail; and freedom for the escaped slaves.

There was much more to Cumberland that we did not see, including the structure out of which George Washington worked, and the Visitor Center. But we had a shuttle to catch at 2PM.

And we were off to West Homestead, a suburb of Pittsburgh. 

It was every bit of a 2-hour drive up interstates and toll roads, but we made it without too much problem, except for missing a turn during Pittsburgh rush hour.

But the hotel we occupied, Hampton Inn, was right on the trail and the Monongahela River (the GAP trail heading east follows the Monongahela until McKeesport, where it turns to follow the Youghiogheny River (pronounced Yawk-a-gain-ee, or the Yawk for short). Milepost 150 of the GAP trail is at what the city calls “The Point” where the Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers come together to create the Ohio River. 

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Homestead was once known as the Steel Capital of the World, symbolizing Pittsburgh’s dominance in the industry. Our city guide (tomorrow) reminded us that, at its peak of production, Pittsburgh was commonly known as “Hell with the lid off.”

Homestead’s flagship complex of US Steel was shut down in 1986. At that time, it had 450 buildings on 430 acres, and employed 200,000 workers throughout its years of making unprecedented amounts of steel.

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West Homestead is a mere 10 miles from Pittsburgh’s Point, and along with other suburbs of the city, is re-making itself as a shopping and recreation/tourism draw. Bravo to Pittsburgh and environs for making progress cleaning up and re-focusing the city.

We took a quick shake-down ride to assure our bikes made the trip in good shape (about five miles) and then got cleaned up to walk across the road to an enormous shopping area, with beautiful plantings and flowers everywhere, and more shops and restaurants than you can imagine, including Rockbottom Brewery.

Our group dinner was at Bravo Cucina Italiana, and it was excellent and fun.

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As we walked back to the hotel, we noticed a poster, but couldn’t quite get the idea of Indoor Axe Throwing into our heads.

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Tomorrow, Pittsburgh and a grand bicycle tour of the city!

 

Bicycling and More

April 19

The plan for the three nights/two days we had left in our trip was to share some of the cycling opportunities in the area with Mark and Angie; they, too, were just starting the cycling season and wanted to take it a bit easy on some flat terrain. Two notable rails-to-trails conversions relatively nearby are the Tobacco Heritage Trail (Boydton) and the Highbridge Trail (Farmville).

Still, our first cycle jaunt was Jack’s and my usual tour of the North Bend campground. Our “game” is to take every paved left-hand turn we can make throughout the campground (even around the barriers to un-opened areas), hitting each campsite loop, boat launch, group-camp loop, picnic area, etc., and eventually ending up back at our campsite.

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The last time Jack and I did this at North Bend, we clocked just over 10 miles. On this adventure, we added a crossing to the other side of the major hydro-electric dam, and got in nearly 13 miles all told (my average speed was 9.5MPH). We were all hungry, so we decided to skip going downhill (and then back up—a serious chug) to the picnic and launch area “beneath” the hydro-plant itself, and instead decided to head back out again, aimed at the Tobacco Heritage Trail, after a good nosh.

The day was splendid, although the wind seemed to never die, as was the case at First Landing. At lunch Jack and I decided the wind was strong enough that we rolled up the awning, leaving it attached to Roomba by the Kieder Rail, and secured the poles and guy lines so they would not blow into the lake.

We loaded the bikes on Mark’s four-bike hitch rack, piled into his van and headed to Boydton to find a trail head for the Tobacco Heritage Trail. As it turned out, the parking area we were looking for wasn’t in Boydton at all, but rather LaCrosse, a small burb just east of Boydton.

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We got started around 2:45, and the beginning part of the trail at this section is paved, which is very nice for riding. But the wind was wicked (again), and we didn’t know exactly how far to go nor how long it would take us. Angie wanted to get back to camp (about a half-hour drive) in time to do some prep work for the dinner they wanted to host for us. So we decided we’d ride for an hour, turn around, and head back. 

Once we started peddling on the cinder/sand surface of the trail, things got more difficult because the footing didn’t seem to be packed as hard as some other cinder trails we’d ridden in the past. But the Tobacco Heritage Trail is a relatively new effort, and has been completed in sections only, so this was not surprising. The last time Jack and I had ridden this trail, we went all the way to Lawrenceville. On this day, we went about 14 miles (7 out and back). The return was a challenge since the wind was in our face the entire time, and still rising with significant gusts. We were all glad we’d decided to roll up our awnings before leaving camp.

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Once we got back to camp, Mark and Angie beavered around getting our dinner together, and insisted we bring nothing but ourselves. The effort was made to sit outside while we enjoyed starters, but the final decision was to make the room inside their 1743 for all four of us to sit down because it was so cold and windy. We had a wonderful meal of “chicken pouches” done on the grill. All the veggies, potatoes, and meat for each person—in other words, each meal—was combined and secured in a foil pouch and roasted on the grill until done. It was quite yummy, with Cole slaw on the side, and ice cream and strawberries for dessert. 

April 20

On the final full day of our trip, we had an appointment to show our Alto to some folks who live nearby. While in Virginia Beach, a newcomer to the Alto-interest group on Facebook (to which we have belonged for years) asked if there were any owners in the vicinity of Boydton. Since we were going to be there, Jack invited Scott and Myra to come by North Bend. We spoke to them for about an hour, and they had really done their research—had even tried a friend’s longer American-made trailer—and asked really good questions. 

After Scott and Myra hopped over to briefly see Mark and Angie’s fixed-roof setup, we used Mark’s bike rack in our hitch (to share the driving) and headed to one of our favorite rail-trails, Highbridge Trail in Farmville. It was about an hour’s drive and we decided that we’d eat lunch in town before setting off on the ride. Scott had recommended a place on the river called Charlie’s and we found it and ate quite a good meal of soup and sandwiches (the full name might be Charlie’s Riverside Cafe or some such).

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Farmville sits at the approximate middle of the entire rail-to-trail conversion. We headed toward the High Bridge itself, which is East of Farmville (we’ve ridden the trail west out of Farmville, but there is nothing to see and it’s an obvious, steady, significant uphill crank going that direction—truly exhausting outbound, but somewhat of a thrill coming back to town on the downhill).

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The High Bridge itself has lots of history both before and during the American Civil War. Just beyond the bridge is a stop with reader boards discussing the Confederates’ attempts to protect the bridge, and the structure’s importance during Lee’s retreat to nearby Appomattox, where the war ended with his surrender.

With Farmville being a college town, there were many young adults using the trail on the day we rode. The infrastructure for this trail is excellent so we did not want for pit stops, and the cinder footing is well-packed and tire-friendly. Also, the wind had finally decided to give us a break, which was a good thing, since the High Bridge is indeed, quite high.

We started the ride at about 2PM and peddled for about 1.5 hrs. covering a total of ~17 miles. My average speed was 11MPH, while Jack’s was up to 12.5MPH because he “found his zone” on the return from the bridge, and smoked the rest of us back to the car.

It was our turn to do dinner, so we put together some Brunswick stew (the area is famous for its Brunswick stew), grilled some bratwursts, and accompanied the whole with some fresh-baked rolls (in the Omnia oven).

During this entire trip, we did not have one campfire, due to the winds and rains. So on our last night, the air wasn’t exactly still, but it was still enough that we did not fear setting ourselves or our surroundings alight, so we enjoyed our dessert of Trader Joe’s chocolate-filled crepes (heated in the Omnia) by the fire until about 9 or so, and called it a night. 

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Mark and Angie wanted to be off early the next morning toward their next destination (Savannah). On our minds was the fact that our house sitter told us he needed to vacate by noon. Even though it’s just a 3-hour drive, we didn’t want the doggies to be left inside the house terribly long. So our goal was to be on the road no later than noon.

Thus ended the April Birthday and Bicycling trip. We hope to do a similar early-cycling adventure next spring.

PS – When we got home, the first thing we saw was our screened-in porch punched in on one panel, with muddy BEAR PAW prints on the outside of the screening. Interesting visitor in our absence, which the house sitter had heard during the 3AM incursion, and yelled at to chase it away. No damage done except the screen.

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Difficult to see in the pic, but the muddy paw prints around and below the tear in the screen indicate the bear was probably not an adult, but certainly (by any measure) big enough. From the ground (my flowers!) it was standing on, it’s about 4 feet up to the tear.

Upcoming International Trip

I’m sort of jumping the gun here, because we’re not gone yet. 

Still, I worry that our international access to the internet might be spotty at best, and since I’m doing my own research for background in prep for departure, I figured I’d check into one of our stops along the way. 

I share this now because, as we tell friends about our trip, we note that we’re going to a World Heritage Site called Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. Everyone asks what and where that is, but I haven’t been able to answer, because I have failed to do my normal background work to date. 

So here it is, from the Ckrumlov.info city info site, and Wikipedia.

Cesky Krumlov

Český Krumlov is a small city in the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic where Český Krumlov Castle is located. Old Český Krumlov is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and was given this status along with the historic Prague castle district.

The city name begins with Český (Czech) to differentiate it from Moravský Krumlov in South Moravia.

Construction of the town and castle began around 1240 by the Vítkovci at a ford in the Vltava River, an important trade route in Bohemia. According to local legend, the name derives from the German “Krumme Aue” which can be translated as “crooked meadow.”
In 1302 the town and castle were acquired by the House of Rosenberg. The majority of inhabitants were German at that time. By 1336, Czechs formed a small minority. In late 15th century, when gold was found next to the town, German miners came to settle, which shifted the ethnic balance even more.
Emperors Rudolf II (1602) and Ferdinand II (later) bought Krumlov, and he gave it to the House of Eggenberg which established the town as the set of the Duchy of Krumlov. From 1719 until 1945 the castle belonged to the House of Schwarzenberg. 
Most of the architecture of the old town and castle dates from the 14th through 17th centuries; the town’s structures are mostly in Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. The core of the old town is within a horseshoe bend of the river, with the old Latrán neighborhood and castle on the other side of the Vltava.
There were 8,662 inhabitants in Krummau an der Moldau (as called by the Germans) in 1910, including 7,367 Germans and 1,295 Czechs.
After the First World War, the city was part of the Bohemian Forest Region, which was initially declared to be part of German-Austria. By the end of 1918 the Czechoslovak army had occupied the region, which became part of Czechoslovakia. In 1938 it was annexed by Nazi Germany, as part of the Reichsgau Oberdonau unit of Sudetenland under the Munich agreement. After World War II the town’s longstanding German-speaking population was expelled and it was returned to Czechoslovakia.
During the Communist era of Czechoslovakia, historic Krumlov fell into disrepair, but since the Velvet Revolution of 1989 much of the town’s former beauty has been restored, and it is now a major holiday destination, with high numbers of tourists from Europe and Asian. In August 2002, the town suffered from damage in a great flood of the Vltava River.
Český Krumlov Castle is unusually large for a town of its size; within the Czech Republic it is second in extent only to the Hradčany castle complex of Prague. Inside its grounds are a large rococo garden, an extensive bridge over a deep gap in the rock upon which the castle is built, and the castle itself, which in turn consists of many defined parts dating from different periods. After the garden had been inadequately maintained in the second half of the 20th century, the site was included in the 1996 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund. With financial support from American Express the garden’s central fountain was documented and reconstructed, and remains functional today.

Tourist Map of the town and surrounds.
 

The Church of St. Vitus (Kostel Sv. Víta) is a Gothic church inside the Castle, dating architecturally to the 15th century, with frescoes from the same period.
Český Krumlov Castle preserves its Baroque theatre, built in 1680–82 under Prince Johann Christian I von Eggenberg and renovated with up-to-date stage equipment under Josef Adam zu Schwarzenberg (1765–66). It is one of few such court theaters to retain its original stage machinery, scenery and props.
Due to its age, the theater is only used three times a year (only twice open to the public), when a Baroque opera is performed in simulated candlelight. Visitors can take a guided tour beneath the stage to catch a glimpse of the wood-and-rope apparatus that allowed stage settings to be moved in and out at the same time as the audience was diverted with fireworks and smoke. 
The castle’s last private owner was Adolph Schwarzenberg. It was here that he received President Edvard Beneš and gave him a large contribution for the defense of Czechoslovakia against the growing threat of Nazi Germany. His property was seized by the Gestapo in 1940 and then confiscated by the Czechoslovak government in 1945.
Krumlov has a museum dedicated to the painter Egon Schiele, who lived in the town.

Panorama of the town from the gardens of the castle.
 

About 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Krumlov is one of Bohemia’s oldest monasteries, Zlatá Koruna (“The Golden Crown”). About 30 km (19 mi) from Krumlov is the Hluboka Castle, established in the twelfth century and later remodelled in imitation of Windsor Castle.
Krumlov is close to the Šumava National Park, the Czech Republic’s largest national park. The Šumava mountains lie along the border with Austria and Germany and offer a range of natural habitats – peat bogs, Alpine meadows, old-growth forest, lakes, and rivers. The area is popular with walkers, cyclists, and Vltava canoeists. Cesky Krumlov is a short distance from the man-made Lake Lipno, on which many people take boat trips to various small towns and to the dam, with its Hydro power plant.

Český Krumlov is home to the Pivovar Eggenberg brewery. It has been used for locations in movies such as The Illusionist (2006) and Hostel (2005), as well as the 1973 German movie Traumstadt (Dream City).

So. That’s what we have to look forward to on Days 3 and 4 of our cycling tour. I hope Eggenberg brewery beer will figure in our sampling of the area’s treasures. Oddly and fun in addition, we’re staying at a hotel called the Peregrin on a quiet street off the main square. AND we’re signed up for a guided tour of the central town, on our first evening there. Definitely looking forward to it.

Troop Movement to Prince Edward Island

Thursday, August 27: Troop Movement Day
All of this day of the tour was devoted to getting our bicycles, gear, suitcases, and selves off of Nova Scotia and onto Prince Edward Island (PEI). We left the Victoria Inn pretty close to our target of 8:15AM, and the final task of Freewheeling until we get back from Cape Breton was to haul everything to the Ferry at Pictou Harbor, and Caribou, NS.

It had rained overnight, and the sky was thick with impending rain. Still, it managed to hold off until after we made the ferry crossing (saw a seal and a porpoise, but no whales). As the enormous ship entered the PEI dock, about a bazillion cormorants were sunning on the pier and as we approached, some of them got nervous enough to fly away.

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Our bicycles were parked on the lowest level of the ferry, next to all the semi trucks and huge tour busses headed our way. It was interesting and somewhat frightening to be with these enormous vehicles — happily, they let us off first.

We met with our support crew, George and his son, Daniel, with a trailer into which we stacked our bicycles and all piled into the vans for the ride to Charlottetown. Allen and Mary drove the “Starship Enterprise” so we made quite a convoy.

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As we rode, the heavens opened up and all the pent-up rain came crashing down. George recommended a local eatery, so we donned our various rain gear and all ate lunch at Pappa Joe’s — a fave of the locals. The food was quite good.

Still raining and filling the streets like bathwater as we left, but by the time we crossed Charlottetown, it had stopped, and we left all the bikes on the trailer but unloaded our suitcases at The Great George right in the heart of historic Charlottetown.

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The Great George

Once the rain let up, it was fun walking around Charlottetown. There was a blues and jazz festival happening down by the waterfront, and the restaurants appeared to be packed with visitors and tourists.

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We paired up with Gaye and Woody, Linda and Bruce (although Bruce went to hear a jazz concert and only joined us later) for our dinner, and we had a fun time walking around. Finally settled on dinner at John Brown’s, on what they call Victoria Row.

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We ate outside and Jack and I had some of the best meals of the trip so far, while the others felt their seafood chowder was a little to creamy and thick and a little to light on seafood. I had a pulled lamb sandwich with a salad, and Jack had perfectly cooked salmon and some of the famous PEI potatoes.

Just as we were paying the bill, the rain began again, so everyone eating outside along the entire street was picking up their meals and heading into the restaurants or under a larger umbrella. It only lasted a small while (even though it got seriously heavy at its peak), and we managed to capture the rising full moon over the glistening night streets.

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Charlottetown/PEI History: The largest city on PEI and the capital of the province, Charlottetown is widely noted for being the seat of the Canadian movement for unification as a nation. Between September 1–8, 1864, Charlottetown hosted what is now termed the Charlottetown Conference. a week in which delegates from PEI, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the colony of Canada met to discuss ideas, challenges, and agree in principle to the unification of the colonies.

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Although many of the meetings and negotiations which would lead to Canadian Confederation were held in Charlottetown’s Province House (closed now due to renovations), various social events spilled over into the surrounding community. The Dominion of Canada was declared on July 1, 1867, with the passing of the British North American Act.

An exiled Acadian community came to PEI from NS but were a small group mired in poverty in the profoundly British PEI for many years until the Farmer’s Bank started up and became a micro-lender for the Acadian farmers so they could rise from their destitution. This became the first of what we now know as “credit unions” in North America (more on that tomorrow).

Prince Edward Island entered Confederation/Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1873.

Aside from being the seat of colonial government, the community came to be noted during the early nineteenth century for shipbuilding and its lumber industry as well as being a fishing port. The shipbuilding industry declined in the latter part of the nineteenth century. In August 1874, the Prince Edward Island Railway opened its main line between Charlottetown and Summerside. The railway, along with the shipping industry, would continue to drive industrial development on the waterfront for several decades to come.

PEI was the first Canadian province to finish its section of the Trans-Canada bike path, and has converted all possible rail beds into bicycling/multi-use paths. There are still some sections that do not “meet” across waterways, but the infrastructure and attitude toward cyclists is quite good.

Fascinating Origins for Common Sayings & Usages

http://origin.worthytoshare.net/ive-used-several-sayings-never-really-knew-origin

Follow the link to read the entire story. These excerpts might help inspire you to read on! The final one is the one I found most surprising:

• They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot & then once a day it was taken & Sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were “Piss Poor.”

But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot. They “didn’t have a pot to piss in” & were the lowest of the low.

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• [Annual] Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the Bath water!”

• Houses had thatched roofs: thick straw piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof, hence the saying “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house [from the ceiling/roof]. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.

• The floor [of most dwellings] was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, “Dirt poor.” The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold.

• Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.

• England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive… So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be saved by the bell or was considered a dead ringer.

(shared here as requested by the site and author)

Danish history

We visited so many castles and palaces, that the history of the Danish realm became somewhat of a ponderable in our minds. As I’ve said before, I love stories of how we all have managed to get where we are today. And our visit to Kronborg Castle allowed some of the gaps to be filled and a few links to be forged. So if you are not the least bit interested in history, feel free to skip this entry. But I found it to be quite enlightening, so I thought I’d share.

Kronborg Castle Notes
When Kronborg Castle was completed in 1585, Frederik II moved into the building, and created his King’s Chamber. From this room, he could assure that ships out on the Sound paid their respects by lowering their topsails: (In a travel diary from 1593, a foreign visitor notes how, after dinner, he and the king sat looking out at the ships sailing past. One of the ships waited until four warning shots had been fired toward it before lowering the topsail). Because a large share of Frederik II’s and later Danish kings’ income came from the dues paid by ships passing through the sound, the king was personally interested in the respect shown to Kronborg.

Kronborg burned on an autumn night in 1629, but Christian IV, the king at that time, was determined to recreate its splendor. As Denmark’s reputation was at stake, money was no object. Kronborg was modernized during that renovation/rebuilding. Following that fire, and because of the restoration, King Christian IV commissioned a series of 84 drawings depicting heroic themes from Danish history. In addition to being used as preparatory studies for a graphic work extending chronologically from the earliest times of the realm to Christian IV’s era, the drawings were to be models of paintings to embellish the walls and ceilings of Kronborg’s Ballroom. Nine Dutch artists, who (with a single exception) were all associated with the famous Utrecht school of painters, were entrusted with the project.

Neither the graphic work nor the series of paintings was finished according to plan. Still, 44 drawings and 15 paintings in the series have been preserved. The paintings are damaged, however, because they were dismantled and taken to Sweden as spoils of war during the occupation of Kronborg in 1658-60. In Sweden, the paintings were scattered among various castles and manors, where they were mercilessly cut and trimmed whenever they did not fit into their new owners’ required spaces. Ironically, only the painting depicting the triumph of Queen Margrete I over King Albrecht of Sweden remained in Denmark. Today, it is displayed at Kronborg, in the Queen’s Chamber, along with three other paintings in the series that were returned to the castle during the 1900s. The paintings on display at Kronborg tell some of the history of Denmark.

The four paintings are described here.

Frode Fredegod Acclaimed by Many Kings
Dressed in an ermine cloak and with his crown and scepter, legendary King Frode III Fredegod, who allegedly reigned over Denmark in the period around the birth of Christ, sits on his throne. The artist depicted an aging king kneeling before Frode, expressing his submissiveness by placing his crown on the podium at the Danish King’s feet. On the steps of the podium, other crowns are evident, and a group of kings is in readiness to follow the kneeling king’s example.

In his famous Gesta Danorum (History of the Danes, c. 1200), Saxo Grammaticus, author of the narrative of Frode Fredegod, says that King Frode, after having conquered vast territories (including Great Britian and large parts of Germany), won such renown that numerous kings submitted themselves to him in pure awe. During the following thirty years, peace reigned in Frode’s empire, which secured him the familiar surname, Frodegod for “Long Peace.”

The so-called Frode Peace was thus the national counterpart of the emperor Augustus’s famous Pax Romana (Roman peace). In all respects, Saxo Grammaticus’ description of Frode’s reign was an attempt to present the Danish kingdom as a worthy equivalent of the Roman Empire. This was an idea that appealed very strongly to Christian IV.

Margrete I Receives the Swedish Crown from King Albrecht
As guardian of her son, Oluf (the issue of her marriage with the late Norwegian King Haakon VI), Margrete I (daughter of King Valdemar Atterdag), managed to take control of both Denmark and Norway. Oluf died in 1387, and they conveniently ignored the fact that his death meant the lapse of the legal basis for Margrete’s position of power. Nevertheless, Margrete succeeded in maintaining the power in both realms upon Oluf’s death, but she was challenged by the Swedish king, Albrecht of Meklenburg. His attempt to take over her realms, however, was unsuccessful, and he was defeated by the Queen’s armies in 1389, and both he and his son were taken prisoner.

The painting depicts Albrecht’s capture and surrender of the Swedish crown. It shows Margrete raising her scepter, indicating that she is placing the Swedish realm under her power. In the eyes of the Danish kings, the episode was the absolute pinnacle of Nordic history, as Margrete’s victory over Albrecht laid the foundation for the Danish-dominated Kalmar Union (1397-1523).

King Hans in the Battle for Rotebro Before Stockholm
This episode of Danish history, from the reign of King Hans (1481-1512), constitutes the historical apogee of the union policy of the Oldenburg kings. In an earlier attempt to force rebellious Sweden under the Danish-dominated Kalmar Union (founded by Queen Margrete I in 1397), Christian I, King Hans’s predecessor on the Dano-Norwegian throne, had suffered a defeat at the battle of Brukeberg (1471). Christian I never succeeded in reconquering Sweden, but the decisive victory at Rotebro in 1497 laid open the road to Stockholm, where his son, King Hans, triumphantly received the Swedish crown. He had thus taken revenge over his father’s defeat and restored the Kalmar Union.

The crowning ceremony in Stockholm immediately after the victory at Rotebro is the subject of another painting in the Kronborg series (not on display here, but rather in Sweden, at Vittskövle Castle). Christian IV’s enthusiasm for the themes depicted in the series is easy to understand, as they glorify a time in history when Denmark held the dominant position of power in the Nordic countries. In reality, the balance of power had already tipped at the time the series was commissioned and painted, and by an irony of fate, the paintings we taken as spoils of war les than two decades later, and transported to Sweden.

King Frederik I Before the Besieged Copenhagen
Accompanied by three riders, one of whom is barely visible due to a later trimming of the canvas, Frederik I on horseback inspects the besieged city of Copenhagen. He points with his sword to a map of the city, indicating to his lieutenants where their efforts to breach the city’s fortifications should be strengthened. The towering city is shown in the background, while workers in the middle distance are seen to be digging attack entrenchments.

What led up to the war was the Imperial Council’s deposition of Christian II in 1523, due to several accusations of injustices and abuses of power. Frederik, the paternal uncle of Christian II, was elected to replace him, and he would soon control most of the country, even though Christian II still had many loyal followers. Christian II went into exile in the Netherlands, but behind the ramparts of Copenhagen, his sworn adherents managed to hold out for 8 months, confident that the deposed king would return with an army to dethrone Frederik I. But the anticipated reinforcements failed to turn up, and after 8 months of siege, a starving Copenhagen had to surrender to Frederik, in January of 1524.

So that’s a fair summary of Danish history until the 16th century, and even though I have the succession plan written down from there forward, I will spare you those dates and names. Suffice it to say that the Danes seem to alternate Christians and Frederiks for the most part through the Danish kings’ history. For the record, the lighting was so poor on the paintings that I was unable to get actual pix of them with my iPhone, although I managed one or two decent ones with the real camera.

Back to Kronborg, however. In 1760, the north wing of Kronborg was renovated to reflect the tastes of the era: stucco ceilings were installed and the black and white tile of the floors was replaced with wood, and other decorative changes inspired by French Rococo and with the era’s fascination with anything Oriental were made.

Despite the modernization, the castle became inconvenient for the royal family. Frederik V (1723-1766) was the last king to reside at Kronborg. The military took the facilities over in 1785; then abandoned it; and by 1991, they also had withdrawn from the perimeter areas.

Here are some pix of and from the castle.

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These are ceiling beams in the Ballroom uncovered when the decorative wooden panels (similar to those in the chapel) were removed. In its day, the Ballroom at Kronborg was the largest in Scandinavia.

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The Kronborg Tapestries
The 7 tapestries of kings in the Little Hall belonged to a series of 43 tapestries originally commissioned by King Frederik II for the ballroom of Kronborg in 1581. A total of 100 Danish kings are depicted on the tapestries, which were made in Elsinore (Hellsinger) under the prudent management of Hans Knieper from Antwerp. One can think of the tapestries as a portrait gallery capturing the distinctions of a royal family. 14 king tapestries, along with 1 of 3 complementary hunting tapestries, survive today.

One I found particularly interesting. A quiet peasant scene and a group of hunters on foot or mounted on horses is seen in the background. This apparently idyllic life is sharply juxtaposed with verses imbedded in the tapestry, including the line: For kingship I did crave/thus my brother I sent to the grave. The wildlife in the foreground carry a hidden symbolism, referring to Abel’s dreadful deed.

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On the left side of the king is a falcon, which has put its talons on a small bird while a poisonous snake is quietly slipping away in the shrubbery below.

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Historians think the scene is based on the classical theme of “The eagle fighting the snake,” which symbolizes the struggle between good and evil. In this instance, evil, in the form of the snake, slips away while the falcon grips the powerless bird.

“Historically, the evil king was himself killed in an uprising, only two years after the ruthless assassination of his brother,” says the plaque. And with a little bit of further study, I found a link from this tapestry, and the Cain and Abel story to Hamlet (Kronborg is called “Hamlet’s Castle”).

The actual story of Hamlet is based on Danish sources. The core of the story dates back to Saxo’s comprehensive chronicle of the exploits of the Danes, Gesta Danorum written around 1200 and printed in 1514.

The brutal tale centers on the brothers, Orvendil and Fengi, who rule over Jutland under the reign of King Rorik of Denmark. Orvendil weds the king’s daughter Geruth, and they give birth to a son, Amleth. In his chronicle, Saxo describes how Fengi (the fratricide) murders Orvendil and marries his brother’s widow to seize the throne (sound familiar, English Majors?). In fear of his uncle’s next move, Amleth pretends to be insane. It saves his life, and he takes the opportunity to avenge his father’s death.

Hamlet’s link to Kronborg
The castle and Elsinore (today the town/city that is the home of Kronborg is called Hellsinger, but in Shakespeare’s time, it was Elsinore) provide a colorful backdrop for the tragedy of Prince Hamlet of Denmark. But why did Shakespeare choose to set his play at Kronborg? The name Kronborg is not mentioned in the play, but the events take place at the “Castle of Elsinore.”

Rumors of Frederik II’s newly-built castle, and the sumptuous festivities that took place there, must have reached England. By about 1600, Elsinore was known throughout the world, and the Danish king had just completed his magnificent Renaissance castle. The fortifications and impressive royal residence clearly demonstrated the king’s power to friends and enemies alike.

In the play there are many details about life at the castle and in the town, which might indicate that Shakespeare had visited Elsinore. We know that some of the actors who later joined his theater troupe performed at Kronborg in 1585-6. And in the 1590s, there are several years during Shakespeare’s life when his whereabouts are unaccounted for. So it isn’t unthinkable that he visited Kronborg, or at least the town, even if scholars and historians are not in agreement.

While it is unlikely that Shakespeare read Gesta Danorum, the story of the Danish prince who avenges his father’s murder by his brother was read and embellished and retold throughout Europe during the 1500s. Around 1590, the dramatist Thomas Kyd gave the work the action and adventure of a revenge drama, which likely inspired Shakespeare to write The Tragical History of Hamlet: Prince of Denmark around 1600. With this treatment, Saxo’s legendary prince was made immortal.

Of course, Hamlet is the most famous play of all time, having been quite popular already in Shakespeare’s time.

In the play, the audience witnesses Hamlet’s dilemma: the spirit of his murdered father appears before him and demands blood vengeance. Tradition and duty put Hamlet in an impossible position – must he follow the medieval dogma of revenge (an eye for an eye)? Or should he behave like a modern, Renaissance man, and tear himself from the past, to look always toward the future?

Hamlet struggles with transitional challenges, he must choose between two different views of the world, and is thus forced to reflect on his own identity and existence. Hamlet embarks on a lonesome journey inside himself, in an effort to slip the bonds of heritage and environment. He wants to create his own identity, that beyond his father’s, and also be true to his own ideals and sustain his dreams for his imagined future.

As a passage to adulthood, he must make his own choices and take that difficult next step; take responsibility for those choices. These themes are timeless and have survived the test of the ages, where any character in literature or drama who struggles with questions of liberty, identity, and the network of nature and nurture that irrevocably connects our pasts and our futures, is, in fact, another Hamlet.

Rosenborg Castle

King Christian IV of Denmark built Rosenborg in 1606-34 as a summer castle. He designed much of this Dutch Renaissance style castle himself. The next three generations of kings lived here, until King Frederik IV erected Frederiksborg Castle in 1710. From then on, Rosenborg was used only for occasional visits and certain official functions. It also became a sort of storehouse, where royal family heirlooms, including the regalia, crown jewels, and thrones, were kept.

Rosenborg is unique for its long museum tradition. As early as 1838 these royal collections were opened to the public. The rooms which remained intact from those kings who had lived in them (Christian IV to Frederik IV) were preserved, while rooms from the times of later kings were recreated using the various objects stored at Rosenborg and other royal castles. Most museums of the time were arranged thematically, by portraits, furniture, etc., so the decision to arrange the collections chronologically, giving visitors an overall picture of the nation’s history, was entirely new.

The museum was expanded to its present form in the 1860s, with rooms representing each king up to Frederik VII, who died in 1863. It thus became the First museum of contemporary culture in Europe.

The castle is surrounded by a lovely green space with formal gardens as well as public areas for picnics and gatherings, and several public art/design installations. While there is admission to the castle and Crown Jewels rooms, the park area around the castle is public.

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Dueling pistols made by S. Colt and engraved by G. Young and Joseph Wolf, given by Abraham Lincoln to the Danish King Frederik VII in 1861.

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