Saturday, August 1, 2009

Cannonball Run...I Mean Trail

A couple days ago we donned our walking shoes and set out to explore 400 years of Norfolk history - sounds like a tall task you might think, but Norfolk has made it easier by setting up the Cannonball Trail, a self guided walking tour through the historical highlights of the city. There are little bronze trail markers and diamonds in the sidewalks to guide you along with narrative plaques describing particularly interesting historical points - wish we had realized that from the beginning as it would have saved us that one wrong turn along the water - oh well....
Cannonball Trail Marker
We started our tour at the battleship Wisconsin since we are docked right on the other side of it - it is HUGE!!! - 887 feet, 3 inches long and 108 feet, 2 inches wide to be exact - I won't bore you with all the guns and missiles it carries (yet) but suffice it to say, it comes fully loaded!! From the front it looks really bizarre since it is so flared with its bulbous nose - the fact that it is riding so high in the water also makes it look weird - but it was designed to hit top speeds of 33 knots so I guess looks weren't the most important criteria!! Given that we go about 7-8 knots, that's one really fast ship!!! The warship was commissioned in April 1944 and spent WW II in the Pacific theater, supporting the landings at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. She saw action in the Korean War as the flagship for the US 7th Fleet and was reactivated in 1990 for Operation Desert Storm where she fired the first Tomahawk missiles of the engagement (on each of her gun turrets you can see a running tally of marks for the strikes she fired in the Persian Gulf War). Although she has been decommissioned and remains in the Inactive Fleet, reserved for national emergencies, it is amazing to think of all the places this old broad has seen and all the history of our country she has played an active role in!! We saved actually boarding the Wisconsin and walking around her decks for another day as we had lots of ground to cover.
The USS Wisconsin (BB-64)
The VERY High, VERY Narrow Bow of the USS Wisconsin

Norfolk and Newport News across the river have played a monumental role in our nation's naval history - both in terms of shipbuilding and also housing vast naval forces - much more so than I had ever imagined not being from these parts. A walk through the Hampton Roads Naval Museum is awe-inspiring - it was unbelievable to me how many ships that were important in our nation's history over the years were built in this area and how many battles were fought in the waters of Hampton Roads (not only in the Revolutionary War but the Civil War and WWI and II as well) given its strategic location as the gateway to the Chesapeake Bay - the battle of the first ironclads the Merrimac and the Monitor was fought here during the Civil War. Because of the prominence of the naval presence in and around Norfolk, a walk along the waterfront yields many maritime statues and memorials - including ones to the seamen from this area that died in the Cole bombing and in the attack on the Pentagon in 9/11
Pentagon, 9/11 Monument
- historically important cannons and anchors also dot the landscape as do whimsically painted mermaids (you know what they say, all history and no fun...)

From the waterfront we came upon the Taiwan Friendship Pavilion, a beautifully decorated building with lush flowering gardens, that was a gift to the City of Norfolk from the Taiwan Provincial Government in 1981 due to a sister city relationship - all the materials where built in Taiwan and shipped to Norfolk for assembly. The scent of jasmine greeted us as we walked through the friendship arch and mingled with the scents of the flowering water lilies amid the fountains and pools (a scene Monet would surely have loved to capture) and other indigenous plants. The koi ponds overflowed as the serenity of the place encapsulated us - the pavilion and gardens are quite tucked away so who knew such a place existed in this teeming modern city? (In the picture below see how the pavilion lies against the backdrop of brick apartments and the Wisconsin).
Taiwan Friendship Pavilion
Archway Leading to the Thai Pavilion
Thai Pavilion with Wisconsin in Background
Water Lily Pond
Water Lily
Flower at the Water Lily Pond

Next it was on to the West Freemason District, one of the first areas of the city to be developed outside of the original 50 acre colonial town. On either side of its cobblestone streets are brick sidewalks and historic colonial houses in architectural styles spanning more than three centuries (Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Romanesque Revival, Beaux Arts Classicism, Queen Anne and Georgian Revival - aren't guidebooks wonderful??) Many of these wonderful homes sported detailed cast iron fences and grill work along with exquisite porticos, friezes, columns, turrets, arches and gargoyles.
Note the Gargoyles on the Facade
Unlike Charleston and Savannah which seemed to have a distinctive style to their architecture which set them apart from other early southern belle towns, Norfolk seemed to draw on the best of the best from many different eras and styles.
The George Wisher Roper House
Addison-Petty-Dickson House

The churches in this district also exhibited many different architectural styles but all were magnificent in their intricate design and craftsmanship
Epworth United Methodist Church
Baptist Church
- our especial favorite was the Old Second Presbyterian Church which had been converted into the Freemason Abbey Bar and Grill - I love this southern tradition of turning churches into bars - there's just something naughty about drinking in church!! This one was much more formal than the one we often frequented in Charleston - with its beautiful stain glass windows and high arched ceilings and chandeliers - but the beer still tasted wonderful and cold - just what we needed to soothe us on a hot, humid day!
The Freemason Abbey Bar and Grill
Drinks at the Freemason Abbey Bar and Grill

We stopped in at the Norfolk History Museum at the Willoughby-Baylor House for some more Norfolk History and learned of the devastating Yellow Fever Plague in the late 1800's that wiped out whole families and at least 1 out of every 3 citizens at the time and the historic school desegregation battle of the 60's and early 70's that had Norfolk on the front pages of many newspapers as the school board fought against such integration - what was amazing to us is that as we get older, those events don't seem like all that long ago!!
Norfolk History Museum at Willoughby-Baylor House
Next it was on to St Paul's Episcopal Church which was originally built in 1641 and was the only structure in Norfolk to survive the bombardment of the city and the resulting fires of New Year's Day 1776 - a British cannonball fired by Lord Dunmore's fleet is still embedded in the outer wall in the southeast corner of the building near the old graveyard, with graves dating back to the 17th century.
St Paul's Episcopal Church
British Cannonball Embedded in the Church Wall
Gravemarker, Maybe for a Pirate?

The Trail led us to the MacArthur Memorial which is a four building complex dedicated to the life of General Douglas MacArthur - he and his wife Jean (who died at the age of 101 in 2000 - again not that long ago) are buried here in a building designed by Thomas Walter, who designed the dome and the House and Senate Wings of the US Capitol Building. The complex contains a theater, museum archives and a gallery - quite a fitting tribute to a man who thought so much of himself!! It was pretty cool though to see the surrender documents he received from Japan aboard the USS Missouri and to see mementos/historical artifacts including his trademark corn cob pipe from a career that spanned so much of America's recent war history.
MacArthur Memorial
We wound up down at the water once again - all things in Norfolk somehow revolve around the water as it is bounded by the Elizabeth River and Hampton Roads - after passing the Customs House and several wonderful old buildings with great gargoyles and friezes on their facades. Time to relax back at the boats and chill before a shrimp scampi dinner on Gypsies with the shrimp our friend Dave from Manteo had given us - yippee! Bootsie loved the shrimp - you knew she was going to get some didn't you??Bootsie Devours Good North Carolina Shrimp

Yesterday we decided to continue our historical retrospective of Norfolk and spent the day walking around the Wisconsin and then Nauticus, which includes the Hampton Roads Naval Museum as well as an aquarium. The Wisconsin is even cooler to walk around than it is to look at from the street - although only one deck was open we got to get up front and personal with its big guns!! As we boarded, there was a ceremony in progress for new sea cadets who had just completed their 3 week training - my god did they look young!!! Maybe that's just us getting older but seriously if any of them has shaved yet, I'll be a monkey's uncle!!
Sea Cadet Graduation Ceremony
We walked around the ship awed not only by its history and the battles it had waged (WWII, Korea, Persian Gulf) but by the size of everything - it's two anchors each weigh 30,000 pounds (our whole boat weighs 66,000 pounds!!!!) and carry 1,080 feet of chain - each link in the chain weighs 120 pounds!!! Doug was transported back to his time on a destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War so I think his walk around the ship while fascinating was pretty weird!! The guns on this boat are enormous - 9 - 16 inch/50 caliber, 12 - 5 inch/38 caliber, 32 armored Tomahawk missiles launchers and 16 Harpoon missile launchers - this thing could do (and I'm sure did) some serious damage in its day!!
Strike Marks in the First Gulf War

All that climbing around on the Wisconsin made us hungry and instead of settling for cafeteria food at the Museum, we bolted across the street to the Bayou Boogaloo Cajun Festival for some Bourbon Chicken and Barita Beer!!
Lunch at the Bayou Boogaloo
We wouldn't allow ourselves to walk around too much yet though as we had the Naval Museum to conquer that afternoon. The Museum was great - not only did it walk you through Norfolk and the surrounding area's role in the naval and shipbuilding history of America, but there were the most amazing replicas of many of the ships! I've always been fascinated with who would ever have the patience and skill to put together those mini-models of ships and planes - well these were on a monumental scale!! but it really brought to life the evolution of ships over the years!!
Model of the USS Virginia

After a few hours immersed in naval history, it was time for some serious fun - too much history and culture makes Tammy a dull girl!! Time to kick up our heels and do some serious gastronomic damage at the Bayou Boogaloo Food and Music Festival!!!! When attacking a fair such as this one, it is important to scope out all options before settling in and sampling the wares - there may be something better just around the corner!! The waterfront park had been transformed by mardi gras beads, masked clowns, streamers, lounge chairs and large plastic crawfish into something straight out of the Bayou or Bourbon Street!!
Stephanie and Tammy Prepare for Some Rajun Cajun Fun
Lounge Chairs and Streamers
Warning at the Hot Sauce Tasting Booth
The festivities included stall after stall of cajun foods (think beignets, jumbalaya, po'boys, crawfish, oysters, gumbo, shrimp and grits, etc!!!), cajun crafts and 3 different stages where music rang out with such a pulsing beat that you just couldn't help stomping your feet and swaying to the music just a little (OK maybe a lot)!! We settled on some food and hit the first stage to watch Lil Malcolm and the Zydeco Houserockers light up the stage - Malcolm on the accordion (a quintessential part of Zydeco music) was accompanied by his father on guitar, his brother on the drums, his cousin on another guitar and his uncle on the washboard (which is a piece of metal that goes over your shoulders and hangs down over your stomach and looks like a washboard!!!) - talk about a family affair!!
Lil Malcolm and the Zydeco Houserockers
They got us in the mood for some more beat stomping cajun zydeco music so we headed over to the main stage to see grammy award winning Terrance Simien - what an amazing performer!! According to one of the tee-shirts we saw on a female groupie dancing in front of the stage - he is a barefoot, bead throwing, zydeco wildman and he lived up to it!! He along with one of the most eclectic bands I've ever seen (and that's really saying something) lit up the stage and had people dancing in the streets (OK the grass pavilion!!) - in between throwing mardi gras beads out into the outstretched hands of the screaming fans, he went through three different accordions in his one hour set and even brought several people up from the audience to don extra washboards - how fun!!!!!
Terrance Simien
Terrance Simien et al
After hearing a little blues and rock from a band on the middle stage, we listened to Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Cha's for some more foot-stomping zydeco music - we wanted to hear the final act Marc Broussard but it had started to rain so we headed back to the boat where we could still hear a little of his music (but not before picking up a plate of hot beignets which we inhaled back at the boat!!!) What a rajun cajun fun day!! Can't wait for later today when the bands start up again at 12:30 - sounds like a cajun lunch and adult libation might be in order!!!

Click here to see a Google map of our location at the Nauticus Marina

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