Train Gardens

IMG_0451By Mary Jo

Moving to a new area means discovering new things.  When I moved to Maryland, among the new things I discovered were sauerkraut for Thanksgiving, and train gardens. 

Train gardens, you ask? These are elaborate miniature landscapes with electric trains created at Christmastime, most often in firehouses. They are charming and great fun, and apparently, like sauerkraut, they have German ancestry.

The custom has been traced to 18th century Moravian settlers in the Lehigh Valley of Eastern Pennsylvania.  Christmas trees came from Germany, and apparently in some German areas it was customary to build a little village around the base of the tree.


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Cruising the Chesapeake part 2

Cruising the Chesapeake 2

by Mary Jo

I chronicled the first part of our April Chesapeake Bay Revolutionary War themed IMG_0217 (1) here.  Now for the second exciting installment!

Washington, DC:

After leaving Yorktown, Virginia, the site of the British surrender to the new United States in the Revolutionary war, we headed north. Next stop: Washington, DC.!

As usual, there were several excursions available to passengers.  The Mayhem Consultant and I are fond of taking coach tour overviews because they give a broader sense of the area and show both highlights and lesser lights. Also, the guides are generally specialists in local history and have many interesting things to say. 

Our Washington coach tour was of this type, and because it was in DC, there were a number of monuments and memorials.  We saw a nice assortment of these, but the one that impressed me the most was the Marine War Memorial which is adjacent to the Arlington National Military Cemetery.


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Cruising the Chesapeake

by Mary Jo

Map_american_revolution_071417-01A vacation!  A real vacation!  The Mayhem Consultant and I are recently returned from a 10 day cruise of the Chesapeake Bay with a Revolutionary War theme. 

The cruise was with American Cruise Lines, a small ship cruise company that operates entirely within the US, including having ships built in Maryland and an all-American crew.  In these uncertain times, all passengers and crew had to be fully vaccinated and other safety protocols were followed.  We all obeyed because a real vacation was so lovely.


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Ireland Revisited

The Emerald Isle: Another classic travel blog

 by Mary Jo

Ironically, yesterday the Mayhem Consultant and I returned from our first vacation in a year and a half: a cruise of the Chesapeake Bay.  But I didn't have the time to write a proper blog, so I'm recycling an older blog about a week we spent in Ireland, because who doesn't want to visit Ireland???

The Mayhem Consultant and I sailed from New York to Southampton on the Queen Mary 2 purely to enjoy the leisure and romance of a transatlantic crossing.  But once we reached England, we certainly weren’t going to waste being in Europe! 

We’d vaguely planned to go to Ireland some day.  I’d spent a week there many, many years ago when I was living in England, and the MC had never visited Ireland at all.  Clearly, it was time. <G> 

Neither the MC nor I have any known Irish blood, but no matter.  We loved Ireland forIreland by satellite its beauty, wonderful friendly people, and deep sense of history. Rather than ramble on indefinitely, here’s a few bits and pieces, with a modest selection of pictures.  (Ireland is a very photogenic country!):

Travel the easy way:

We decided to try something new: instead of hiring a car ourselves, we’d hire a car with a driver/guide to take us around.  No stress, and a driver who not only knew the fun, off the beaten track places, but could tell us the history.  We worked through an agency recommended by a friend of a friend, and the Ireland Chauffeur Travel company turned out to be a good pick.  We worked out an itinerary, rooms were booked, and it worked as smoothly as silk. 

We were particularly lucky with our guide, John Daly, Besides being capable, welcoming, and knowledgeable, he’was a certified tour guide with a special expertise in Irish history.  Hog heaven for a historical novelist! 

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Christmastide Train Gardens!

by Mary Jo

Christmas decorations are being packed away now, and that includes train gardens, which might be a custom unique to Baltimore. I was once told that they're done in Pittsburgh, an industrial city rather like Baltimore and not far away, but when I googled "train Train garden 1," the only hits I got were for locations with them in the Baltimore area.

Basically, train gardens are train sets on steroids. I'm told they began at firehouses, where the firefights often had time on their hands so at Christmas they would build elaborate train environments for people in the community to come in and enjoy.

I don't know when this custom began–I'm not a native of these parts–but it is well established. Does it have anything to do with the fact that Baltimore is the home of American railroading? Haven't a clue!

Train Garden 3The train garden I'm most familiar with is built annually at a small but lively local mall. It's enormously complex and I believe the assembly work is done by volunteers, and some of the mall merchants provide financial support.  Here's a picture of this year's from the mall's website:

Kenilworth Train Garden 2018

Really, this is all hearsay! But one true fact is that EVERYONE loves the train garden, all ages from infants to oldies! Parents hold little kids on their shoulders. Slightly larger kids Train garden 1leave nose prints on the barriers around the exhibit. When I was there before Christmas,
a half dozen young people in wheelchairs were tootling around the edges and enjoying the show. Often one must wait for people to move away in order to get up to the glass wall around the exhibit.

So enjoy the train garden pictures. Do they have any such custom where you live? I'd love to know more.

In the meantime–toot, toot to you all!

Mary Jo