Best Things to do in Owls Head, Maine – Rain or Shine!

 Posted by on September 8, 2013  Comments Off
Sep 082013

With a population of just over 1,500,  tiny Owls Head  is a must see destination on any family vacation to Maine’s Mid-Coast.  Just 2 miles south of Rockland, ME, via Route 73,  Owls Head is home to the Owls Head Transportation Museum, a thriving non-profit educational organization founded in 1974. The museum is active in the collection and preservation of many early-era aircraft, cars, bikes, and trucks.  Many of the 150 plus items in the collection are operational.  The expansive indoor space makes the Museum a great rainy day destination.

Check out the classic cars at the Owls Head Transportation Museum

Check out the classic cars at the Owls Head Transportation Museum

The Aircraft Collection contains replicas and originals representing the first century of flight. The auto exhibits span the late 19th Century and early 20th century including a recently refurbished 1908 Stanley K Semi-Racer and a 1935 Stout Scarab, one of only six ever made.   We particularly enjoyed the MGs and Microcars special exhibit.  The Museum also holds classic car auctions and a series of special family-friendly events during the summer.

Lobster Traps at Owls Head Harbor

Lobster Traps at Owls Head Harbor

After visiting the Museum, be sure to take the time to visit the town’s often painted harbor as well as the quaint Post Office and the Owls Head General Store , which was voted Maine’s Best Burger by the Food Network and Best of the Best Burger by Village Soup, and the readers of Down East Magazine for two years in a row!

Owls Head Post Office is a Maine classic

Owls Head Post Office is a Maine classic

Also be sure to stop by Owls Head Light and the surrounding Owls Head State Park.  The  30-foot tall lighthouse is managed by the Friends of Rockland Harbor, but owned by the Coast Guard.  It is not usually open to the public, although the day we visited the steep steps leading up to the lighthouse were open and provided access to a beautiful view from 100 feet above West Penobscot Bay, near the mouth of Rockland Harbor.  The former lighthouse keeper’s house is used as a gift store and educational center.

Owls Head Light

Owls Head Light

The lighthouse is rumored to be haunted and many have reported seeing unexpected footprints after rain or snow – we didn’t see any on our visit although it had rained earlier in the day.

The rocky beach at Owls Head State Park

The rocky beach at Owls Head State Park

The land surrounding the Owls Head Light is protected as part of Owls Head State Park which also includes a small classic rocky Maine beach, a  short walking trail, and picnic tables near the beach.

Plan the better part of a day to see everything Owls Head has to offer.  This is a great destination for family vacations with kids of all ages since there is something for everyone in this delightful small town hidden away on Maine’s Mid-Coast.

The Vatican Museums Through the Eyes of a Teen

 Posted by on March 31, 2012  Comments Off
Mar 312012

As part of #1 Son’s recent school trip to Italy, the group spent a day at the Vatican Museums.  Although perhaps best known for the Sistine Chapel and the works of Michelangelo and Botticelli, the Museums are actually a vast interconnected complex of museums and chapels housing centuries of artwork collected and managed by the Catholic Church.  From ancient Egyptian art to modern day sculptures, the Vatican Museums have it on display.

Welcome to the Vatican Museums

Welcome to the Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums do not permit flash photography in order to help preserve the art.  #1 Son took hundreds of non-flash photos during his tour and wanted to share his favorites with our readers.  They include some of the Museum’s most famous works including Michelangelo’s Pieta, a sculpture of Mary holding a dying Jesus.  It was completed in 1499.

The Pieta at the Vatican

The Pieta at the Vatican Museums

Many images representing the Crusades caught his eye.

Images of the Crusades

Images of the Crusades at the Vatican Museum

Many popes and saints of the church are commemorated as well.

Sculpture of Pope Leo XIII at the Vatican Museums

Sculpture of Pope Leo XIII at the Vatican Museums

The Hall of Animals was an unexpected high point with its many ancient animal sculptures.

The Hall of Animals at the Vatican Museum

The Hall of Animals at the Vatican Museum

Artwork is on display everywhere, including the ceilings such as areas as the Gallery of Maps.

The Vatican Museums Gallery of Maps

The Vatican Museums Gallery of Maps

The art doesn’t stop at the door, the grounds around the museums are used to display larger pieces such as this modern globe:

Vatican Museums Globe sculpture

Vatican Museums Globe sculpture

There are few places in the world where so many important pieces of art spanning so many centuries can be seen in a single day.  #1 Son greatly enjoyed his visit to the Vatican Museums during his class trip to Rome.

If you have been there, what was your favorite work of art?

Aug 172011

Many visitors motor straight through Soldotna, Alaska on their way to Homer and the other  picturesque fishing hamlets along the Kenai Peninsula’s western coast.  We were in town to go fishing and bear viewing but with a little time to kill we decided to stop by the Soldotna Homestead Museum at 461 Centennial Park Road near the Soldotna Visitor Center.  The visit ended up being a highlight of our week in Alaska with the teens.

Don't miss the Soldotna Homestead Museum

The museum consists of about a half dozen historical structures moved from various locations on the Peninsula.  Most were built in log cabin fashion although we learned that there were several different techniques, as each cabin took a different approach to constructing corners.   The buildings include a school, a community hall and several homesteader cabins.

Typical Alaskan Homesteader cabin at the Soldotna Homestead Museum

Rustic is the only way to describe how the homesteaders lived while they worked the land to earn a patent on their 40 acres.  The Museum’s map of the original homestead plots showed how the early birds got the best access to water while the later arrivals had to haul theirs in.

Wood stoves were the order of the day

Coming from New England, the teens were surprised to learn that homesteading in this part of Alaska lasted until the mid 1950s.  As a result, the artifacts on display included many items they might have found in their grandparent’s basements such as canning jars and vintage cookware.  Some were a bit more unusual like the  dentist drill powered by a foot pedal and a wood stove made from an oil drum.  The native animal and bird taxidermy collection was fun too!

Stuffed owl on display at the Soldotna Homestead Museum

One of our favorite buildings was the one room schoolhouse, which reminded Camera Guy of his youth in Central Vermont.

One room homesteader school house

We thought the 1950s metal lunch boxes and the Dick and Jane reading books were a nice touch!

Soldotna Homestead Museum school room

The highlight of the visit, however, was the opportunity to talk with the two wonderful historical society members who were staffing the museum that day.  Their parents had been homesteaders and these ladies brought to life the days before the main highway through town was paved and recalled the excitement of Alaska gaining statehood. The teens thought is was cool, but  Mom and Dad had a hard time believing hardy Alaskan homesteaders were raising families in log cabins off the grid at the same time we were watching cartoons on black and white TVs!

The Museum does not have a web site and is only open May to September but be sure to stop by if you are in the area for a glimpse at a unique slice of 20th century Americana.

Aug 142011

In between fishing, flying and cruising, we also found time to visit two of Anchorage’s major museums during our recent family vacation visit to Alaska.  The Anchorage Museum is home to the Smithsonian’s Arctic culture collection as well as a number of local and travel exhibits.  We spent an hour or two there on a rainy afternoon.   By comparison, the teens and their parents found the Alaska Native Heritage Center to be much more engaging because of the opportunity it provided to talk with representatives of eleven of Alaska’s native peoples.  If you only have time for one, we recommend spending a few hours at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

Native peoples perform at the Alaska Native Heritage Center

The Center houses a relatively small collection of indoor displays that showcase native cultures, the pressures they face and the ways the different native groups have adapted since Alaskan statehood was recognized.   In addition, an indoor performance space hosts a non-stop series of dancing, singing, instrumental, and athletic demonstrations. The real highlights for us, however, were the six authentic life-sized Native dwellings located around a small lake in back of the main building.

Totems representing the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures are on display

Each of these dwellings was staffed by natives of the culture represented by the dwelling.  They were extremely generous in sharing their personal stories and taking the time to answer our many questions.

Traditional dwelling for native peoples from Northwest Coastal Alaska

Many of the cultural representatives grew up actively participating in their cultural traditions.  They also spoke about the lives of their parents and grandparents, many of whom had lived in traditional style dwellings until the 1930s.

The traditional homes of the Unangax and Alutiiq peoples were built to weather harsh winters and wet maritime climates

The teens were fascinated to learn about the ways that small handbuilt kayaks were used to hunt whales and fish.  They even got to try their hands using some of the traditional tools.

Native peoples hunted whales from small kayaks similar to these

We also enjoyed hearing the stories one young woman shared about her summers spent hunting and skinning moose while living the traditional Athabascan lifestyle.

A representative of the Athabascan people recounts her childhood summers spent at traditional hunting camps

We opted to tour the native dwellings on our own rather than joining an escorted tour around the lake.  In many cases we were the only ones inside a dwelling and had ample opportunity to ask questions.  This is a great activity for families visiting Anchorage with teens, but be sure to budget a couple of hours in order to get the most out of your visit.  If you have visited the Center let us know what you thought about it.

Dec 122010

     Newport, Rhode Island is well known as a glamorous summer boating and beach destination that is home to an amazing collection of Gilded Age Mansions, many of which are now owned and opened to the public by the Preservation Society of Newport County.   A hockey tournament recently took us to Newport, which provided us an opportunity to explore this town in the off season.

     Despite brisk early winter weather, the downtown, the Mansions and the famous 3.5-mile Cliff Walk trail along the coast were all busy.  We were delighted to discover that several of the grandest mansions were not only open, but festively decorated for the holiday season.  From November 20 to January 2, The Elms, Marble House and The Breakers can be visited daily.  For the rest of the winter, The Breakers remains open daily but the other houses are on a more limited schedule until Spring and Summer when hours expand and more Mansions open for tours.  Additional special Holiday evening events are also offered including Holiday Dinner Parties, visits with Santa and a presentation of the Nutcracker.

The Breakers Mansion in Newport, RI

     With 5 energetic teenage hockey players in tow, a group of us took a morning away from the rink to explore The Breakers, which is the largest of the Mansions.  Built as a summer home for New York railroad millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt II, this opulent 70 room Italian Renaissance- style palazzo overlooking the Atlantic Ocean was completed in 1895.  Throughout the house, marble and rare woods are prominently featured as are intricate mosaics and sculptures.  Dazzling wall treatments and even entire room interiors were imported from Europe.  The $7 million construction cost would equal about $150 million today.

     The house and surrounding grounds were maintained by a staff of 40.  Many of the original furnishings and housewares are still in place.  The 7 bathrooms featured hot and cold running water, with an option for sea water in some bath tubs.   From the kitchen to the ballroom to the less formal living areas the 90 minute audio-guided tour was very informative and managed to hold the interest of the teens.

A chilly day at the Newport Cliff Walk

     After the tour, and the obligatory stop at the extensive gift shop, the girls got to work off some energy running around on the grounds.  The views of the Atlantic are breathtaking.  Directly in front of The Breakers along the coastline snakes the free public access Cliff Walk trail.  While some sections are fairly rugged, the portion in front of the Breakers is well maintained.  Access is available via a gate at The Breakers near Ruggles Avenue.  We wished we had been able to take the time to walk part of the trail but we had to hurry back to the rink!

     Newport is a four-season destination for families with teens.  The summer’s beach attractions are obvious but off season the history and elegance of the Gilded Age engages teens, although it might be a bit boring for younger siblings.  If you are in the area to see colleges, such as Salve Regina University (which is located next door to the Breakers) or Roger Williams College in Bristol, be sure to save some time to visit some of Newport’s historic sites.

Newport Things To Do on raveable

Mixing College Tours with Family Fun in Mystic Country

 Posted by on August 22, 2010  Comments Off
Aug 222010

Between searching out new ideas for family fun with our teens, and making plans to check out colleges, we’ve been doing a lot of travel research lately and are coming up with what look like some great ideas.  The Mystic Country area of coastal Connecticut recently peaked our interest as a place that offers a nice mix of history, adventure and fun to keep families with teens and tweens on the move and under sail — whether taking a break from college visits or just looking for a weekend getaway from New York or Boston.

The Charles W Morgan at Mystic Seaport, photo courtesy Mystic Country

In terms of colleges,  Connecticut College, Mitchell College and the US Coast Guard Academy are all in New London, next store to Mystic.   Many other schools are within an hour’s drive including Wesleyan University Middletown, CT and University of Connecticut a bit north in Storrs, CT and the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, RI.

Besides the  Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods gaming  resorts  which are within 15 minutes of the town of Mystic, most of the area’s attractions are linked to the ocean and the area’s impressive nautical heritage.  The Mystic Seaport is a unique living 19th century maritime museum.  The 60 acre site includes dozens of historic buildings, as well as an impressive  collection of restored schooners and sloops, a steamer and the last surviving wooden whaling boat, the Charles W. Morgan.  The Seaport’s buildings include a chandlery, sail loft, ropewalk, cooperage, shipping agent office, printing office, bank and more.

Beluga Whale at Mystic Aquarium, photo courtesy Tracy M Brown

The Seaport is open year round,  as is the nearby Mystic Aquarium with its collection of beluga whales, African penguins, sea lions, seals and other sea creatures.  Check out the Deep Sea 3D ride to feel what it is like to go 9,000 feet underwater in pursuit of deep-diving Sperm Whales and Giant Squid. We are told that a combination of 3D film and special chairs make it feel like you are really in a submersible.

Another opportunity to explore the country’s  maritime history is found at the Submarine Force Museum on the Thames River in Groton, Connecticut.   Operated by the US Navy, the museum traces the history of subs from Revolutionary War days to the present.  The highlight of any visit to the Submarine Force Museum is a tour of the USS Nautilus, the country’s  first nuclear powered submarine.  Admission is free.

If you make it to Mystic when the weather is warm and have a few hours to get out on the water, there are a number of options for day sails including a 5-hour cruise on the tall ship Mystic Whaler (a reproduction of a 19th century vessel).  The local ocean beaches are another refreshing activity in the warmer months.

Visit the Nautilus at the Submarine Force Museum, photo courtesy Mystic Country

We haven’t made it to Mystic Country yet but hope our travels take us there soon.  In the meantime, if you’ve visited there let us know your thoughts and comments.

This is one in a series of articles about fun family activities to add onto college visits (or to check out if you are planning a fun family weekend).  Check the full list here.

Mystic Family Vacation on raveable

A Walk Around Dartmouth College and Hanover, NH

 Posted by on August 4, 2010  Comments Off
Aug 042010

     Hanover, NH is best known at the location for Ivy League Dartmouth College.  With a population of just under 11,000, Hanover is a perfect picture postcard New England college town located in central New Hampshire on the Connecticut River border with Vermont. 

Dartmouth's Baker Library

     Just 2 hours north of Boston, many a family on college tours stops in Hanover each year.  Many others, like our hockey princess visit in the summer to participate in a wide range of summer camp and sports programs.   We found our way to Hanover to deliver the princess to a week long hockey camp run by Elite Hockey.  Not only are the athletic facilities at Dartmouth top notch, but she had a chance to stay in a Dartmouth dorm, eat on campus and explore the town with her new hockey buddies.

On the ice at Dartmouth's Thompson Arena

     On drop off and pick-up days mom and dad didn’t have much time to explore but we couldn’t leave without walking around the campus and strolling the downtown stores.  

Downtown Hanover, NH

     And of course we had to eat.  On drop off day we managed to squeeze in dinner in the outdoor courtyard at the Hanover Inn, located in the middle of downtown just across from Baker Library.  The setting was perfect for a drink and a leisurely adult meal.

Hanover Inn

     On pick up day, we followed a tip from the girls and had brunch at Hanover institution Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery which has been dishing up comfort food to Dartmouth students and visitors for decades.  If you only have time for one meal in Hanover this diner is the place to go.  Servings are enormous and the fresh made baked goods are amazing.

Welcome to Lou's

     We wished we could have stayed in town a little longer.  Dartmouth’s  Hood Museum of Art houses a surprisingly large collection of artwork from around the world and hosts a number of traveling exhibits.  When we were in town the featured exhibits included an Andy Warhol retrospective and a review of Hollywood photos from 1920-1960.     The nearby  Hopkins Center stages a wide range of theatrical, musical, dance and film presentations all year round and offers another reason to stay in town a little longer. 

     The princess really enjoyed her camp and found Hanover was the perfect small town to explore on foot with her new gang of hockey buddies.  We expect to visit again for camp next year – we’ll just try to stay a little longer.

Hanover Things To Do on raveable