A staff member who works at George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore vacationed in England, Austria, and Hungary last September and October. Little George accompanied her and enjoyed seeing new sites and delving into the history of Europe. As the real George Washington left the shores of North America only once to accompany his ailing brother Lawrence to Barbados, this was a chance for Little George to experience an abbreviated version of the traditional Grand Tour of Europe popular in the 18th century.
The first stop was London, where George’s Revolutionary War nemesis King George III once lived, and where Little George already spent some time last summer. On this return trip for Little George, we saw the usual sites, such as the Tower of London, Parliament, and Big Ben (which was covered in scaffolding), but also mixed in a little ancient history, iconic pubbing, and English football.
Upon arrival, we immediately had to have the nation’s favorite dish, some traditional Fish and Chips! The Stanhope Arms, a pub built in 1853, used to have a private jazz club upstairs and was visited often by the author during her college junior year abroad (1979-1980).
At Chelsea Football Club’s home field of Stamford Bridge, we watched Liverpool Football Club win the match from the nosebleed section of the stadium. Look closely and you can see Little George participating in the opening ceremonies!
On a river cruise we passed beneath the iconic Tower Bridge over the River Thames. Built between 1886 and 1894 in the Gothic style, the bridge stills opens to river traffic. Little George is waiting in line to enter the exhibition inside the Tower.
Mudlarking along the Thames’s foreshore can reveal centuries of history hidden among the cobbles on the riverbank. Fragments of medieval and modern pottery, glass and ceramic bottles, tobacco pipe stems, buckles and buttons are all mixed in with 1st century roman roofing tiles, prehistoric tools, World War II shrapnel and spent shells from the Blitz. Little George was very helpful in spying things as he was so close to the ground! During our search of the shore, we found what may have been a Roman roofing tile (below right) from when the Romans ruled Britain between 43 and 410 AD.
After London, we headed for the Continent to begin our Grand Tour-inspired travels. Our first European stop was Salzburg, Austria, the birth place of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a classical pianist and composer who lived from 1756 to 1791. Mozart and other contemporaries, such as Haydn, were extremely popular and well-known during their lifetimes, and copies of their compositions were present in Washington’s personal musical collection. Mozart and Washington would never meet, but one can imagine George and his family enjoying Mozart’s music after hosting a dinner party.
A side trip to Festung Hohenwerfen, a medieval castle where the popular 1968 World War II film “Where Eagles Dare” was filmed, included a fascinating falconry exhibition. We watched as a falcon was released, flew around in a huge arc over the castle valley, and then swooped back to the handler, just missing our heads. Little George would have been easy prey for these hunters so, although always fascinated by anything to do with hunting, he kept his distance.
After walking the streets and alleys of Salzburg’s old city and crossing the river to stroll through the world famous Mirabell Gardens and Palace, we retired for a late afternoon respite in a local beer hall, the Augustiner Brau. This brewery has been serving beer since 1621 and is Austria’s largest. We sat in one of several halls inside the brewery and tried our best to have a conversation with a local using high school German and an English-German dictionary. During the 18th century, whether in the colonies or Europe, beer was drunk daily since water was looked upon as unsafe, which it often was. As a child, George Washington drank “small beer,” which contained almost no alcohol. In later times, Washington built a whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon. In 1799, his distillery produced almost 11,000 gallons of whiskey.
In Halstatt, Austria, we enjoyed walking this picturesque town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and visiting the famous bronze-age salt mine and graveyard in the mountains above the village. The unique preservative qualities of salt and sealed caves allowed the preservation of two thousand-year-old leather goods, such as the sandals pictured below. In contrast, acidic soil conditions at Ferry Farm and Kenmore do not allow the preservation of 200-year-old leather items.
The 19th century excavation of the Halstatt’s bronze-age cemetery and its thousands of funerary goods led to the designation of the epoch from the 8th to the 5th century BC as the “Halstatt Culture.”
Of the many sites we visited at our next stop in Vienna, Austria’s capital, our time spent at the world famous Spanish Riding School was perhaps the highlight of Little George’s trip. Here at the Winter Riding School located in the Hofburg Palace, we watched the famed Lipizzaners and their riders perform their morning exercises to classical Viennese waltzes. George Washington himself was an excellent horseman and would have appreciated the dedication these riders demonstrated towards learning their lessons.
On a side trip to Melk Abbey, a Benedictine abbey in the town of Melk overlooking the Danube River, Little George had the pleasure of meeting up with a contemporary of his, Empress Maria Theresa, a member of the Hapsburg dynasty and Queen of Austria and Hungary. Maria Theresa reigned from 1740 to 1780. They had much to talk about, as she was the first and only female Hapsburg ruler, and George was the first American president.
Melk Abbey is noted for its extensive library containing hundreds of medieval manuscripts. George himself did not have the classical education in an English school that his older half-brothers had, but he spent his life reading as much as he could and enjoyed amassing a library of his own at Mount Vernon.
After a short stay in Sopron, Hungary, our last stop was Budapest, the capital of Hungary. We spent five days here, exploring and learning about the ancient and modern history of the city, walking around the castle on top of the hill, taking road trips outside the city to visit more castles, and taste testing the new fall Hungarian wines.
One of the last things we did in Budapest was visit the famous St. Gellert Thermal Bath and Swimming Pools. It is a natural hot spring spa housed in a beautiful building with additional outdoor pools and relaxing spa treatments. George Washington was certainly no stranger to the healing powers of hot springs, as he visited and enjoyed the warm springs in present-day Berkeley Springs, WV, and eventually purchased property in the town, which in his day was called Bath.
Then it was time to head back home. Little George had a wonderful time exploring the archaeology and history of our host cities, meeting contemporary persons of fame, relaxing in the spas, cafes, pubs, and restaurants, and trying new foods.
Archaeology Lab Assistant and Co-Field Director