It rained the whole time and you might not be aware of this but the battlefield is outside so the weather plays an important role in one’s experience.
The first place we visited was a total tourist trap. It was utterly cheesy and corny. I loved every minute of it. I don’t always go for tourist traps. In Cairo, our guide insisted on us taking this complete-waste-of-time boat ride through a “museum” and she actually finger flicked the back of my head because I was laughing (with my friend whose head she did not flick; I’ve always been a bit flummoxed by that) because the entire experience was so unsophisticated and ridiculous. Maybe Pennsylvanians do a better job with history-based tourism than the Egyptians do (though those pyramids were pretty impressive). Whatever it was, the largest battle ground diorama in the world captured our attention and held it.
We consciously visited the diorama first so we could give the girls a bird’s eye view of the battlefield and its proximity to town. I don’t know if it helped them or not but Danny and I learned a whole lot and I’m glad we visited it. At one point they had a little show and turned all the lights off. We sat on supremely hard bleachers facing the diorama which lit up here and there as a booming voice took us through the days of battle. Then we made our way downstairs past a huge gun collection to tour through the battle again but this time led by ghosts. Again, so silly but also very Americana. At the end we found ourselves on the battlefield with cannons and guns firing at us! We ate lunch in a local bar and grill which was severely lacking in excitement after all that.
During our visit we took a self-guided tour through the battlefield with me reading off historical information and Danny pulling over for us to explore here and there. State memorials dot the battle ground, honoring each fallen soldier, no matter which color uniform he wore. The rain sputtered and threatened but for the most part we were ok. Until we weren’t.
We’d known for months we wanted to tour the battlefield on horseback with our little equestrians. It ain’t cheap but I’d budgeted for it and we decided one, last splurge before heading back to the middle of the country was a good idea. The girls didn’t have a clue what was happening until we walked up to the horses. We love surprising them with crazy, awesome experiences and this has to top the list.
The girls eagerly mounted their horses, didn’t protest when we insisted they wear helmets and patiently waited for all the other tourists to clamber up their beasts as well. We wore headphones and a certified battlefield guide rode along with us, pouring Gettysburg facts into our ears while our horses clomped along in a slow, orderly fashion. I always feel so sorry for the horses that work for these outfits. How many tours have they given today? But apparently, I don’t feel sorry enough not to do it.
Paige and Reagan glowed with happiness and I had a hilarious view of my very tall, lanky husband trying to lengthen his stirrups while also taking pictures and steering his mount. It was great. Paige had repeatedly told the guide up front (who insisted that Paige ride right beside her) that she knew what she was doing and could control the horse on her own, thank you very much. About 30 minutes into the experience, the lady finally realized Paige wasn’t kidding and let Paige do her own thing. Due to her size, strangers often underestimate our youngest but during their time together, Paige won a forever fan.
You remember the rain, though, right? Well, it remembered us. The thunder and lightning came first. Our guides got twitchy. A few sprinkles fell from the dark clouds. Our guides held a quick conference. The wind picked up. Our guides announced the end of the ride and we were probably only ¾ of the way through the scheduled itinerary. Disappointed but with a respectful understanding that sitting horseback in a big field is probably not the safest place to be in a rainstorm, we reluctantly followed them back to the beginning point.
One side note here, a couple weeks later the riding company called Danny and gave us a full refund with their apologies. We were so surprised. They couldn’t control the weather and took us off the battlefield for our safety but they went above and beyond to honor our agreement.
The rain had nothing on the visitor’s center so we spent a couple education-packed hours in that beautiful building. We experienced the Cyclorama which I don’t even know how to describe. I linked to a video that’s short and gives you an idea of what a Cyclorama is. We stood in the center of a large room way at the top of the visitor’s center. We were in the middle of a ginormous painting, created in a 360-degree manner. In front of the painting were various artifacts and props that make the painting feel 3D. A narrator led us through the third day of battle complete with smoke and cannon fire. I just reread this and my description is so lacking. It sounds silly and like something our Egyptian guide would force us to endure, not the super cool experience it was. I could not tell where the painting ended and the tangible wagon wheels, shrubs and cannons began. It was such a weird, eerie feeling. Paige kept putting her hand out to try to touch things and I didn’t know whether to stop her because she was actually standing close to a real object or let her lunge forward since the painting itself was protected from curious hands and separated from us by a “moat” that went all the way around the circular room. There I go again. Just go. Stop reading this.
We stood where Lincoln stood. Danny and I repeated as much of the speech as we could remember from eighth grade social studies. We read the rest aloud to the girls while they fought over who was going to hold the umbrella. We paused quietly in front of the rows and rows of white markers (by this time in the trip, both our daughters knew what they meant and definitely how to behave in their presence).
We slipped out of Gettysburg and pointed the big truck toward home. I think I’ve put off writing these last few adventures because somehow if I hadn’t told you about them, they weren’t over. Bear with me as I continue to share our trips in the future. This 10-month, grand, insane, wild, beautiful mess of a journey ended with Gettysburg, though.