A Nerd Vacation to Gettysburg 

“I just don’t like sitting in the backseat of a car.”

Several months ago Ken and I flew into the Providence airport to visit my family. My brother also flew in there from Chicago and my sister drove down to Boston. Our flight was delayed so we thought we would rent a car so my siblings wouldn’t have to wait for us. Turns out the tailwind was so strong that despite the delayed take-off, we landed right around when we were supposed to land. Ken insisted that we still rent a car because he “just doesn’t like sitting in the backseat of a car.” No one does. But most people don’t have the travel points Ken does because he travels more for work than anyone else I know. So he got a rental car. I benefit a lot from the fact that he also loves to explore new places, but also from maximizing the airline, hotel and rental car point systems. As much as I try to hike on each trip I go on, it doesn’t always work out. I am adding a travel section to the blog because I do a fair amount of traveling thanks to Ken. 

For the first part of spring break we took the kids to Gettysburg, PA with my parents. Leaving one of our PA section hikes, we stopped there for Starbucks and I loved the adorable historic downtown, the monuments we passed coming in and out and I suggested that we do a family trip there, one of our “nerd vacations.” So the week began not only a car ride up to Pennsylvania but also Charlie’s tenth birthday. My parents met up with us at The Gettysburger Company for a very late birthday lunch, and we were treated to giant, delicious burgers, hand cut fries and a personable waiter wearing bunny ears. My parents were thrilled to see the boys, and to be able to celebrate with their youngest grandchild. As we finished up our late lunch we made some loose plans for our visit and headed off to the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center

The center closes at 4 on weekdays, so bought tickets for Tuesday, stopped for a few photo ops next to the statue of Abraham Lincoln and then drove over to the Gettysburg National Cemetery.  I learned that the most represented state in the battle was New York, followed by Pennsylvania. We walked around and saw the memorials and statues dedicated to the 6,000 buried there, but also the Lincoln Address Memorial and the Soldiers’ National Monument. My children knew bits and pieces about the Civil War, so while we were taking in a ton of information, I tried to teach them some new things, but also made sure that they remembered the basics. By dinner time, we were all still full from the late lunch, tired and ready to check into the hotel. We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott not far from downtown. Birthday desserts replaced any actual dinner and we rested up for the next day. 

Tuesday morning we all got into my car and headed back to the Museum and Visitors Center. We followed the suggested progress of the museum and we watched a short film done by the History Channel and narrated by Morgan Freeman that broadly explains the battle of Gettysburg. From there, we followed the path to the Cyclorama, a 360 painting of the battle done by French artist Paul Philippoteaux in 1884. The cyclorama was the imax theater of the late 1800s. It is a stunning piece of art that weighs 5 tons, 1 ton of which is from the paint. The museum did a phenomenal job creating more of a 21st century flare by adding some lights that mimic the sunrise on the morning of July 3rd, 1863 – the last day of the battle – and narration walks you through how the confederates bombarded the Union. Booms echo through, and sporadic gunfire. You’re directed to look where Pickett led his charge across large farming fields towards the Union, who opened fire on them. In the cyclorama you see Brigadier General Lewis Armistead, who crossed the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge before the Union soldiers stopped them. 

Having taken in two visual and audio accounts of the Battle of Gettysburg, you are then ushered into a more traditional museum with relics, paintings, information, etc. Here is where my boys lost their interests. So while I was trying to read about the entirety of the Civil War, from the secession of South Carolina to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, I ended up having to rush through this section with them. My boys have some outstanding qualities. They are capable of great things. Standing still is just not one of those. We decided to grab some lunch before starting our audio tour. We stopped at The Upper Crust downtown and had a great lunch. They have a few arcade games in the back, free of charge, great for history-weary children. I highly recommend the gyro there. We did order a few items off the BBQ menu from next door, but we all agreed the food from the pizza shop was much better. Small shops line the streets of downtown with a variety of boutiques and specialty stores. 

The National Park Service has a great app, and you can do a tour of the battlefields and monuments from the comfort of your own car, and hopefully you’re not the one relegated to the back seat. The tour took us about 3 hours, including stopping to get out and stretch, look at monuments, and just take in the scenery. It was eye-opening to stand up on the ridges and imagine how many thousands of men were killed, wounded, captured or missing from the 3 days of fighting at Gettysburg. There are many options of touring Gettysburg, but this was the best way for 6 people ranging from 10 to 77. By 6:00 that evening the two boys were dead asleep in the back of the car, and we were all ready to head back to the hotel. We had a light dinner at the hotel, and that evening we played a new board game we had picked up from one of the shops downtown. Seeing as we call our vacations like these “nerd vacations,” we had to stop into Nerd Herd Gifts & Games. They have great gifts, pop culture items and an outdoor life-sized chess board set up that all the males enjoyed. We picked up Ticket to Ride and played that together before bed.

Wednesday we had to leave for part 2 of Spring Break but before doing so we all met up one last time for lunch at my favorite restaurant in Gettysburg, Food 101. The meals were all phenomenal, from the curry salmon sandwich to the truffle fries, it was all delicious. Gettysburg was a very enjoyable trip for all involved. From the fact that there is so much space to explore outside, to the audio tours that you can take at your own pace, Gettysburg is a fantastic vacation spot for anyone who appreciates history. I absolutely love Harpers Ferry, but I found Gettysburg is easier to navigate when traveling with parents who are over 60. My boys’ only complaint about this trip? Having to sit in the 3rd row seats in the back of my car. Because no one likes sitting in the back of the car. 


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