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The Land of the Picts

By Linda Tancs

The county of Angus in Scotland has been dubbed the “birthplace for Scotland,” a site where the Declaration of Arbroath was signed in 1320 at Arbroath Abbey during the Wars of Independence.  It’s also a county rich in Pictish history.  Over 2000 years ago Scotland was roamed by warrior Pictish tribes, a source of irritation for the Romans who erected Hadrian’s Wall in northern England to keep them out.  You can learn more about Scotland’s ancient past at Pictavia in Haughmuir, an all-weather museum sporting interactive exhibits and artifacts exploring the life and times of this mysterious people.  From there, set out on the Pictish Trail, where stone relics bear silent witness to the tribes’ lifestyle, education and culture.  Reputedly, one out of every 10 Scots is descended from the Picts.  Are you one of them?

A Pass Through the Green Mountains

By Linda Tancs

On scenic Route 108 between Stowe and Jeffersonville in Vermont is Smugglers Notch State Park, a narrow pass through the Green Mountains.  True to its name, the passage was used by smugglers.  In the 19th century, for instance, smugglers ran contraband through the passage to Canadian markets.  In more modern times, alcohol was smuggled through during Prohibition.  Today it’s the hiking that draws people in.  Several trails lead up to the top of Mt. Mansfield, where you’ll be rewarded with vistas as diverse as Lake Champlain, the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains.  Look closely and you may even see the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Canada to the north.  Steal a view before the park’s seasonal closing after Columbus Day.

 

England’s Oldest Hotel

By Linda Tancs

Reputedly England’s oldest hotel, The Old Bell in Malmesbury is a luxurious oasis in the Cotswolds that opened in 1220.  Recently refurbished, the property boasts 33 individually decorated bedrooms as well as locally sourced fare for hardened foodies. Until the end of October you can enjoy a special two-night Garden Lover’s Break, including a visit to nearby Abbey House Gardens and Westonbirt Arboretum.

America’s Most Visited National Park

By Linda Tancs

There are lots of reasons to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Hikers love the 800 miles of maintained trails.  There’s also fishing, camping, picnicking and auto touring.  And, oh, the bears–1500 live in the park; that’s nearly two per square mile.  You can view them handily from Cades Cove, one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smokies for wildlife viewing.  The Great Smoky Mountains are also known as the “Wildflower National Park,” boasting over 1500 varieties and year-round blooms.  You might think that, given its popularity, the biggest population of vertebrates in the park is the human variety.  Not so.  Thirty species of salamander roam the park at elevations up to 3000 feet.  That’s why they call it the “Salamander Capital of the World.”  The tallest mountains in the Appalachian chain, the Smokies host five forest types giving way to enviable biological diversity–and human history.  No wonder it’s America’s most visited national park.  Located in the east Tennessee region and straddling the border with North Carolina, you can easily access the park via Gatlinburg.

A Star-Spangled Spectacular

By Linda Tancs

Festivities are reaching a fever pitch this weekend in Baltimore, Maryland, as the city celebrates the 200th anniversary of the national anthem with a Star-Spangled Spectacular.  Lawyer Francis Scott Key wrote the anthem as he watched the Battle of Baltimore from the harbor during the War of 1812, so what better place to throw a party!  Highlights include the arrival of tall ships, Navy ships, Navy gray hulls and the Blue Angels and the biggest fireworks display ever on the Chesapeake.  The anthem has four stanzas although only the first one is commonly sung.  Here it is in its entirety:

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Mountain Biking in the Caucasus

By Linda Tancs

Marking the border between Georgia and Russia, the Caucasus Mountains (the highest mountain range in Europe–sorry, Alps) offer bikers a spellbinding tour among the high and low Caucasus.  The lower Caucasus tower over the capital city Tbilisi, where forest paths meander through quaint villages and greenways.  From the village of Khazbegi in the Greater (high) Caucasus at the foot of Mount Kazbek (one of the highest mountains in Georgia), riders can descend the Dariali Gorge, punctuated by vertical walls of rock marking the border with Russia. From there a journey through the Sno Valley to the granite cliffs of Mount Chauchebi offers more dramatic scenery, churches and historical sites.  When your legs get weary, take advantage of Georgian hospitality.  Guests are, after all, a gift from God according to the locals.

Georgia’s Antebellum Trail

By Linda Tancs

What comes to mind when you think of an antebellum home?  Perhaps it’s something stately, with massive white columns introducing the frame.  That type of architecture is quite characteristic of the antebellum period–that is, the period predating America’s Civil War.   It’s a view of the Old South etched into a traveler’s mind.  Fortunately for Georgia, enough of it remains, despite Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s destructive march through the state during the war.  He managed to spare a 100-mile trek from Macon to Athens.  Including the towns of Old Clinton, Gray, Milledgeville, Eatonton, Madison and Watkinsville, the Antebellum Trail offers stately mansions, a glimpse of frontier living, romantic covered bridges and so much more.  Seven welcome centers along the way will guide you through this part of the Old South’s rich history and charms.

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