George Washington Birthplace National Monument

In celebration of Presidents Day Weekend, I decided to visit a very interesting place last week: George Washington Birthplace National Monument.  The monument is located right off the Potomac River on Virginia’s Northern Neck.  When you first get to the site you are greeted by a replica of the Washington Monument in Washington DC.  Take a right hand turn at the replica and you will find yourself at the park’s visitor center.  The visitor center is nothing special with some brochures and a small gift shop in the interior, but the back of the visitor center has a porch where you can enjoy the views of the surrounding water.

The entrance road to the monument

After leaving the visitor center I walked into the surrounding farmland that is supposed to replicate what life was like here during the age of George Washington.  It was quite a cold morning the day I went so there weren’t that many animals out so I made my way through the area quickly.  The loop trail next led to a replica of what the house where Washington was built may have looked like along with a marking of where the house actually stood.  If you came here to learn about Washington’s life or see some artifacts from his time you will be greatly disappointed (Morristown National Historical Park and Federal Hall National Memorial do a much better job of this).

Some farmland along the way

That being said, if you continue along the loop trail through the park you will eventually make your way to the marshland and Popes Creek.  This area features a hiking bridge and numerous views of the surrounding bay.  It’s a beautiful area that instantly makes you realize why someone would pick here to build a family.  Despite the cold I saw numerous species of bird (the only one I was able to recognize though was tundra swan) and really enjoyed the walk.

A walking bridge over Popes Creek

Ultimately, I spent only about an hour at George Washington Birthplace National Monument.  It’s light on history but the views are worth it.

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Courthouse National Military Park

A cannon on Lee Drive

Just last week I made my way into northern Virginia to visit the sites of some of the most intense fighting in the American Civil War.  Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park holds the remnants of four major battlefields: Fredericksburg (the Union’s delayed and ill-advised attempt to deliver a decisive blow to the Confederacy), Chancellorsville (a surprise flank attack by the Confederacy), the Wilderness and Spotsylavania Courthouse (both battles in Ulysses S. Grant’s deadly Overland Campaign).  The area is smack dab in the middle of Washington D.C. and Richmond (the seats of power for the Union and the Confederacy), which explains why so many battles took place in such a small area.

I started my day here just as the sun rose and decided to do a hiking tour of the Fredericksburg battlefield.  Large portions of the battlefield are contained on Lee Drive (named for the Confederacy’s revered general), a beautiful road that feels out of place with the more industrial elements around the city.  On one portion of the road I caught a woodland trail that took me about three miles to the end of the road.  The views were nothing special and it rained the day before so a lot of the trail was muddy.  So on the way back to my car I decided to just walk on Lee Drive, which offers many stops to learn about the history that took place there.  The park has a visitor center a couple of miles away from Lee Drive, but the exhibits there are rather disappointing and fail to shed enough light on some of the more unique and interesting facts about the battle (such as the Irish Brigade’s heroic but failed attempts to break the Confederate lines or the Aurora Borealis showing up out of nowhere in the sky in the aftermath of the battle).  

Lee Drive

From Fredericksburg, I went to the Chancellorsville Battlefield.  There’s another visitor center here and numerous hiking trails but I was worried about running out of time for the rest of the day’s events so I just did the battlefield’s auto tour.  I did do a small walk at the first site commemorating the site where Confederate General Thomas Jackson sustained injuries that eventually led to his death.  In fact a lot of this battlefield feels like a memorial for Jackson (which yes most of the battles that this park covers were Confederate victories but the lionization of much of the Confederate leaders that this park and a lot of historical analysis delivers does get a bit ridiculous).  

A memorial for Thomas Jackson

Next up was The Wilderness, where I did the auto tour again.  Most of the auto tours at this park were nothing special, but that’s mostly because the park doesn’t have as many first hand artifacts as most other parks that I’ve been to.  Personally, seeing these artifacts helps me ground myself in whatever shows up on the auto tour.  That being said it was interesting to see the battlefields get more rural as I went away from the Fredericksburg battlefield.  The Wilderness certainly lives up to its name.

A view from one of the stops at the Wilderness Battlefield

The best of the four battlefields is by far Spotsylvania Courthouse, which is located in the middle of nowhere but is easily the most gorgeous and historically fascinating of the bunch.  Spotsylvania is where the Confederacy starts to use trench warfare as a tactic (more than half a century before World War I), and you can still see a lot of the remnants of these trenches a century and a half later.  There was also a surprising amount of wildlife out and about for a cold winter day as I saw a few deer, frogs and many different types of birds.  I decided to cap of the day with a four mile hike through the battlefield that hit most of the main points of interest, and it’s this battlefield that does the best job of laying at why each army chose to defend and attack and where.

A cannon overlooking the battlefield at Spotsylvania

Ultimately, this park provides ample opportunities to hike and explore in the footsteps of some of the most important moments in American history.  That being said the Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War seeps a little too much through in this park.  Lee and Jackson get so much of the attention at all of these stops while Grant is forced to step aside to the background (a visitor center for The Wilderness and/or Spotsylvania Courthouse is sorely missed).  If you can get passed that, you will have a lot of fun here.

92nd Academy Awards Final Predictions

Best Picture=1917
Best Director=Sam Mendes, 1917
Best Lead Actor=Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Best Lead Actress=Renee Zellweger, Judy
Best Supporting Actor=Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Best Supporting Actress=Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Best Adapted Screenplay=Jojo Rabbit
Best Original Screenplay=Parasite
Best Animated Feature=Klaus
Best Documentary Feature=For Sama
Best International Feature=Parasite
Best Animated Short=Hair Love
Best Documentary Short=Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl)
Best Live Action Short=Brotherhood
Best Cinematography=1917
Best Costume Design=Jojo Rabbit
Best Film Editing=Parasite
Best Makeup and Hairstyling=Bombshell
Best Original Score=Joker
Best Original Song="I'm Gonna Love Me Again", Rocketman
Best Production Design=Jojo Rabbit
Best Sound Editing=1917
Best Sound Mixing=1917
Best Visual Effects=1917

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) Review

While Disney and Marvel have been dominating the cinematic world, the comic book company’s arch rivals, DC, haven’t had as much luck in their cinematic partnership with Warner Bros.  Ever since the Dark Knight Trilogy ended almost a decade ago, Warner Bros and DC stumbled with their attempt at a cinematic universe.  There has been the occasional hit in their cinematic universe like Wonder Woman (which actually was a critical success and a box office juggernaut), but it wasn’t until last year’s Joker, which completely abandoned the cinematic universe format, that the companies really hit it big.  It’s odd then that Warner Bros and DC’s newest release is Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), a movie that not only takes place within the DC Cinematic Universe but also references a completely different version of the Joker character that appeared in Joker.  Fortunately, the movie itself is much better than the odd release strategy.  Birds of Prey is a lot of fun as numerous stylish action sequences and witty, fourth-wall breaking dialogue overshadows a slight plot.

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) takes place in the aftermath of the breakup of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie in a well deserved starring role) and the Joker (the Jared Leto version although he never appears onscreen).  With no protection from the crown prince of Gotham’s underworld, Harley finds many of her previous victims looking for revenge, which ends up leading her on a journey with a young girl (Ella Jay Basco) who holds the key to a former kingpin’s fortune.  The plot is completely filled with typical superhero and action movie tropes so the movie can get a bit tired when it stops and takes a breather.  However, this movie rarely does as it goes from showcasing a funny gimmick to delivering an energetic action sequence before it goes back into delivering funny zingers.

This movie is 100% sugar so if you like that kind of diet you will love this, and director Cathy Yan does a shockingly good job of never letting this style feel overbearing.  The movie does take a while to get going as it deals with the baggage of its predecessor (2016’s terrible adaptation of Suicide Squad), but once it gets past the Joker relationship stuff and becomes just a Harley Quinn movie it turns into a blast.

Almost everyone in this movie looks like they’re having fun.  Margot Robbie does great in her return to the role as Harley Quinn feels more like a real character in this one than she did in Suicide Squad.  Ewan McGregor is hamming it up big time (but in an enjoyable way) as the movie’s villain, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Rosie Perez give the impression that they can be good additions to this franchise (although there is too much going on in this movie for them to leave a complete stamp on their roles) as the members of this movie’s superhero team up squad.

Birds of Prey is about as different as you can possible be from DC’s last movie, Joker, but it still succeeds because it knows that it’s just dumb fun and it finds a way to make that as energetic as possible.


Fort McHenry National Monument and Memorial Shrine

Last week I was able to visit the site of an under reported moment in American history, albeit one that is instrumental to the American identity.  Fort McHenry National Monument and Memorial Shrine is the site of the Siege of Baltimore during the War of 1812.  The War of 1812 is largely forgotten in American history, but it was during the Siege of Baltimore that Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the “Star Spangled Banner”.  

Fort McHenry is tucked inside of the Baltimore Harbor and it’s located in a gated section of the harbor.  As you enter the gates, the visitor center is directly ahead.  The first thing you have to do when you get to the visitor center is watch the site’s video.  The video gives a good overview of the events that happened here and includes some interesting interactive elements.  The visitor center also has a couple of exhibits that do a great job of explaining the causes and effects of the War of 1812.  There was clearly a lot of work done to make sure visitors come away from this place with a proper understanding of the war.

In the visitor center there is a back exit that leads to the fort.  There is an entrance fee into the actual fort but it’s well worth it.  The views from the fort gives you glimpses of the rest of the Baltimore Harbor, and almost everything in the fort is accessible.  There seems to be an exhibit inside every single door in the place, and a lot of the rooms try to maintain a 19th century aesthetic.  

The view from the top of the fort

Surrounding the fort is a path alongside the water.  It seems like a great place for jogging.  Signs on one side of the path try to point out the numerous waterfowl that call this place home, but it was a cold, somewhat wet day when we went so all we saw was a couple of ducks.  We weren’t jogging either, but the path gave us a nice stroll that led us to a couple of statues in front of the fort that were dedicated to some of the leaders of the battle.

View of the fort from the river walk

All in all, Fort McHenry is a must visit location as it does an extensive job of giving the War of 1812 its due.

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