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As a guy, there are certain obvious signs you have one helluva wife. Chief amongst those signs is her willingness to sit through all four hours of the movie Gettysburg the night before you visit the battlefield, which you are visiting on your sixth anniversary.
We make a point to spend every anniversary somewhere different. Some times they are great, sometimes not. Last year, we spent it in Ljubljana, Slovenia (We loved that city!). The year before, Evanston, Wy., which is not exciting, but at least had a good steakhouse.
Our final stop for this trip is Gettysburg, Pa., site of the Civil War battle and final home of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. The town has every Civil War-related attraction you can imagine and then some, but retains a small town feel regardless. While not a lot of folks’ “ideal” when it comes to spending an anniversary, it is right up our alley.
I am quite sure most of the year Gettysburg is relatively quiet, but not this week. It was Bike Week this week in Gettysburg, which made for its own challenges.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for folks getting together, hanging out and doing their thing, but when it comes to thousands of motorcycles, I don’t want to be nearby. Being around thousands of rumbling motorcycles is not relaxing and the behavior of some of the bikers was irritating to say the least. But, it is their week, so who am I to complain?
It does lead me to my travel tip of this blog:
Check the calendar in the location you are going BEFORE you book to avoid major festivals, bike weeks, celebrations, etc., if crowds are not your thing.
Aside from it being a bit annoying while in town, camping with a couple hundred bikers is not all that great either. They weren’t rude or rowdy, but the rumble of the bikes kept the cat hiding most of our stay and the coming and going at the wee hours got old very fast.
Eisenhower National Historic Site
Gen. Eisenhower was stationed at Gettysburg back when this was the home of the Tank Corps and loved the area. Many years later, after leaving the Army, Eisenhower bought a farm adjoining Gettysburg National Military Park, the first home he and his wife actually owned. The farm served as a refuge for him while he was President, allowing him to grow crops, raise Angus cattle, shoot, hunt, fish and spend time with his grandchildren. It also allowed him to paint and the house has several of his paintings hanging throughout. The general was a pretty skilled artist!
The house itself is fairly unassuming, a nice change from the opulence we saw in Hyde Park, Kinderhook, or Campobello, and aside from the formal living room, it was a very comfortable home.
Eisenhower was a huge student of the battle and, aside from showing off his cattle, would make a point to take visitors on a personally-guided battlefield tour at every opportunity.
Gettysburg National Military Park
Gettysburg is the site of the most important battle of the Civil War. In no other battle was the outcome so precariously perched on a knife’s edge in so many different moments. But, rather than bore you with an account of the battle, let me tell you about the park today.
The park all but surrounds the town of Gettysburg and encompasses most of the major sites of the battle. The park is best explored by car with a very detailed auto tour, which takes you day by day through the battle. You can do a bus tour or hire a guide to drive your vehicle for you. There are a handful of walking trails and the Park Service does do walking tours of the various sites.
If you are going to visit Gettysburg, I cannot stress enough that you should see the excellent movie mentioned above. Yes, it is four hours. Yes, it drags a bit in the middle. But, you will never see a better representation of the various leaders in the battle than that movie. We were fortunate that the campground had a copy to let us borrow since I forgot to load the movie onto my iPad before coming on the trip.
One thing to note about the battlefield itself: there is a monument behind every blade of grass. Seriously, there are more than 1,300 monuments, memorials and markers on the battlefield.
The visitor center is kinda like Civil War World, if Disney were ever to imagine such a thing. Granted, it is a very popular park, but the visitor center is very obviously not a Park Service building at all. It is owned and run by the Gettysburg Foundation and is a great example, at least in my opinion, of a not great partnership. It feels very commercialized and, while the money goes to helping the park, it does not fit with the rest of the park. Perhaps, I am truly becoming a park snob.
These two sites are the last two NPS sites for this trip. Tomorrow, we begin the trek back to Woodstock and home. Tonight, however, is dinner for our anniversary at Volt, the restaurant of Top Chef runner-up Bryan Voltaggio, where we are eating a 21-course meal at the chef’s counter! Expect an in-depth report from Bonnie tomorrow!