August 31-September 2
This is our most thoroughly planned road trip ever, and still we are finding surprises along the way.
Our first, and most pleasant, surprise is a stop at the Corning Museum of Glass, which I fondly recall visiting on one of my family’s many educational day trips, back when I was about twelve years old. We get an early start from Rochester, and have plenty of time to get to Philadelphia--our next destination--so when we get near Corning we decide to make an unplanned stop at the museum. Surprise! This is not the museum of my childhood. Not even close.
Our expectation is to drop in for an hour or so. Four hours fly by, and we find it hard to tear ourselves away. This is a science museum, an art museum, and a history museum synergistically combined to create a sensory and mind-bending wonderland for all ages.
|Scale: this installation would fill our living room|
We are wowed.
This display shows how much copper wire it takes to equal the communication capacity of one fiber optic cable, which is slightly larger in diameter than a human hair when sheathed for use. A scientist does a fifteen minute demo that helps us understand how fiber optics work.
We watch a glass blower make a vase, while her partner talks us through the process.
There are many galleries of glass. This contemporary fused glass piece reminds me of a quilt.
Dale Chiluly is well represented here, of course.
There are exquisite samples from the museum’s collection of over a thousand paperweights from all over the world, displayed like precious jewels. A gallery takes us through the history of glass making from ancient times to the present, with amazing artifacts.
Tiffany glass, ornate royal chandeliers, and intricately cut crystal party supplies--it is all so sumptuous as to be overwhelming.
Even the gift shop is an aesthetic treat.
We agree we could spend all day here, and someday we will come back and do just that.
But, today, we really do have to be on our way to Philadelphia.
Within less than two hours of our arrival in Philadelphia, we get our second surprise. As I step out of the elevator in the Crowne Plaza on our way to dinner, I suddenly go airborne on the polished granite floor of the lobby. After the fall, analysis reveals that someone fresh out of the pool dripped little puddles on the floor while waiting for the elevator, and I have intersected badly with one of those wet spots. I spend dinner with ice on my ankle, but by the time we walk back across the parking lot to the hotel, it is becoming clear that our plans for exploring Philadelphia by bike and on foot need to be shelved.
The next morning we check out prematurely and begin our long drive home.
Although Dick naively thinks that he (I am not driving, due to injury) will drive all the way home in one day, reality sinks in by late afternoon. We stop when we are tired, in the town of Wilson, North Carolina. We have never heard of the place--this is just a stop of convenience. But, it turns out, as is so often the case when we randomly stop off the beaten path, this place has a few surprises in store for us.
Back in the early 1900s, Wilson was known as the “World’s Greatest Tobacco Market,” but today downtown Wilson is looking pretty dismal, while a few miles out, the suburbs we drove through look to be stuffed full of all the chain stores and restaurants that homogenize our national landscape so that we can hardly tell one town from another.
Wilson has a grand plan to bring folks back downtown, and its centerpiece is the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park.
It is a work in progress now, but we get the vision.
Vollis Simpson died a couple years ago, and the city has 31 of his fanciful wind-driven sculptures that they plan to install in this park.
The effort is a seven million dollar program with grants by all sorts of organizations, including the NEA, which has funded the work of professional conservators and a program to train unemployed and under-employed citizens of Wilson to repair and maintain these whimsical works of art.
After this park is completed, the town plans to create a hip neighborhood around it, converting old tobacco warehouses into loft apartments and trendy restaurants and shops. We hope it works.
On the outskirts of the urban core, we visit the Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House Museum.
Freeman was an African American mason well known around town for his stone masonry skills, and fanciful cement sculptures. Like many of his buildings, this one contains a wide variety of of stones and bricks--maximizing use of found and recycled building materials. Freeman built this round house as a rental property for veterans returning from World War II, and it is now a museum dedicated to tracing the history of Oliver Nestus Freeman, his family, and other African Americans of note in Wilson. About half of the 50,000 people in Wilson are African American--this little round house is crammed with pictures, scrapbooks, and all sorts of artifacts that people have donated. A volunteer staffer tells us stories of Nestus and his family, and shows us a plan for a significant addition to the museum, since it has obviously outgrown its current home.
Okay, now we are heading straight home, we think.
|Just another roadside photo magnet|
But we can’t resist one more quick stop at the Fort Bragg Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville.
It dramatically traces the history of Fort Bragg's valiant soldiers from World War II until today, through lifelike dioramas and multi-media presentations. If not for my injury, and our now more urgent yearning for the comforts of home, we could wander around here for quite a bit longer, too.
|Dramatic atrium entry sets the theme|
One final surprise awaits us when we return home and find that one of our air conditioning units has stopped working. Fortunately, the unit that covers the end of the house where our bedroom lies is pumping out the cold air just fine.
We love our travel adventures, but coming home to sleep in our own bed is heaven.