Historical Vacations, Near and Far from Plymouth

There are many options for activities around Plymouth, from historic buildings to wineries, but Plymouthites are going further abroad to stretch their vacation legs, too.
The Piazalle Michelangelo, one of the highest and most popular vantage points in Florence, Italy, offers panoramic views of the historic city that's just a fast train ride north of Rome, including the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence, and the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, more commonly known as Il Duomo di Firenze.

When seeking traveling advice, many go first to their local traveling agent.  Premier Travel Services in Plymouth has tips for any family planning on traveling abroad. The editor of this magazine, for instance, just brought her two young daughters (ages 2.5 and 5) along for a 16-day adventure in and around Rome.

There’s no leaving the Eternal City unchanged, whether approaching the experience from a historical vantage point or one of greater spiritual significance. Indeed, the sights to see often cross-sect these aspects, and not just because the city itself and the Roman Catholic Church are respectively 6,000 and 2,000 years old.

Ancient Romans, for example, considered their royalty, their empirical families, to be divine, that after death they became gods, and the history and archeology of these times reflects the intersection of polytheism to monotheism in a great deal of imagery found in and around the Forum Roma, the Coliseum and the catacombs on the outskirts of town, all great adventures for families of all ages. (Note that when traveling with small children, most of Rome does have cobblestone, but tiles that are small enough that strollers are an excellent option; the one exception is, however, the ancient area immediately surrounding the Coliseum, the old, larger marble roads still running unevenly throughout.)
Authentic Italian pizzerias, gellaterias and pasterias can be found pretty much on every street and are favorite memories of children (and adults) of all ages, but mix these in with some of the classic religious architecture from the likes of Michelangelo, Rafael, XXXX and others. There are four major basilicas in Rome proper, but definitely see St. John Laterine and St. Ignatius church for their ornate ceilings; St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls for their historical value; and St. Peter’s Basillica, with its mountable Doma that easily could house the Statue of Liberty’s height within it, when you take a tour (a guided English tour is worth the extra euro) of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. (Note: There are dress codes for both men and women in many of these religious establishments, so pack accordingly.)
A trip to Rome is a trip to Southern Italy, and there’s a distinction in both food and custom, but daytrips within reach are equally accessible and worthwhile: Pompeii and Vesuvius; the beach town of Ostia (near the primary airport in Rome); Assisi in the foothills of the XXXX Mountains; and Florence just an hour-and-a-half fast-train ride away.
In a recent article written by the Huffington Post, the owners of Premier Travel Services suggest the following safety tips while traveling: Email someone a copy of your itinerary before leaving; separate your money to not have credit cards and cash in the same place; research your destination beforehand; clear all credit card hurdles; don’t use shortcuts like back alleys when abroad; be aware of all emergency numbers; don’t pet stray animals; stay healthy with proper immunizations; and invest in a cellphone with free roaming.

Family Vacation: When in Rome

Rome isn’t typically considered a family-friendly destination, but if you plan it right, there’s plenty to see and do in and around south-central Italy. Give yourself a couple of weeks; the cost of the plane tickets alone warrant a longer trip, so plan at least two. From a home-base of Rome, day trips to Naples, Sorrento, Florence and the southwest coast are easily accessible and great diversions from the history-laden grandeur of Rome itself. Be sure to see the Coliseum, Spanish Steps, Truvia Fountain and Borghease Museum, but relax, too! Some of your family’s best memories will be lazy afternoon picnics in a city green space or park, or starting each morning at a local café.

Laura and Coraline Haraldson stop for a rest halfway up the winding stairs to St. Peter's Duomo in Rome.

Coraline Haralson (2 ½) takes in the main level of the Coliseum.

Get out and live a little bit out of your comfort zone, says Katie Lahti, a fourth-year communications coordinator at Providence Academy in Plymouth, who recently left her position to attend graduate school. This was the impetus for her 2012 excursion along the Camino de Santiago, or “Way of St. James,” a nearly 500-mile pilgrimage walk across Spain from the Pyrenees Mountains in France to the western region of Spain in Santiago. It’s a journey that is said to follow the trail the body of St. James the apostle took to its final resting space in the Cathedral in Santiago around 1,300 years ago.

“I planned my ‘Camino’ with a friend who had been teaching in Spain for over a year and was living near the Camino path. Our relationship already had included a lot of walking and talking along city trails,” Lahti says. “With that, and as recent college grads with adventurous spirits and a shared love for travel, there was no time like the present. We committed to going the following summer, at whatever cost.” Cost, of course, can be prohibitive in any excursion (Lahti used airline miles for her flight, but says though one can easily get around for approximately 20 euros per day), but with proper planning and saving can easily be accrued—and it’s worth it.

“We made some modifications to our journey, starting later on the path and reserving some hostels in advance. We finished at the Cathedral in Santiago after a 90-mile walk, just long enough to receive the official compostela as certification for completion,” Lahti says. “I completed the walk, but I don’t think I’m finished with it. I’m still reliving lasting memories of walking through city, forest, farm and mountain regions with new friends from all over the world. [Many fellow “pilgrims” strike up conversations and friendships along the trail.] I’m still struck in new ways by the countless hours of reflection and pushing through the physical stress. I plan to go back in the future for an entirely new experience on the same Camino de Santiago.”

Given the potential challenging nature of the hike, Lahti recommends some physical preparation as well, and notes she would undoubtedly recommend the trip—to other adults.

“People have been following the trail for many, many years, and each with their own intentions: Some are seeking to unplug for a while, some to travel and others a deeply spiritual experience,” she says. “It looks different for everyone depending on how long you go and what route you take. We met the groups of 20-somethings, father-son pairs and couples around age 60—not to mention the many who zoom by on bicycles. If you feel compelled to walk the Camino de Santiago, I can’t think of a reason not to.”

Adults-only Destination: Camino de Santiago

Tours are available for the uninitiated (followthecamino.com). Many routes exist, regardless of your mode of transportation (by foot or by bike, with or without a guide). They run throughout summer, some beginning as early as mid-April and none lasting longer than early November.

Regardless of the length of your hike, there's no greater feeling of achievement than arriving at the stoneplate of the city of Santiago.

Pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago.

The city of Plymouth always has been one with great history. Officially organized in 1858 when Minnesota first became a state, it was primarily composed of farmland, with the exception of a few early resorts, dance halls and boat rentals around Medicine Lake, Bass Lake and Parkers Lake. A dramatic change began to shape Plymouth’s culture when it began to evolve into a fast growing Minneapolis suburb in the early 1960s. Yet the beautiful aesthetics of these natural resources remained a great asset to quality of life around the area, which ultimately helped earn the city Money Magazine’s No. 1 “best place to live” designation in 2008.

 “The most attractive day trips for families would be to visit Medicine Lake, Bass Lake, Parkers Lake or French Regional Park to spend time picnicking, boating and swimming. Plymouth also has great walking and biking trails connecting the many parks and lakes with the regional trails,” says Gary Schiebe, treasurer for the Plymouth Historical Society. “A family could spend the day riding the Luce Line Trail. Located on the north end of Medicine Lake also is the Three Rivers French Regional Park which has swimming, picnicking, boating and many other trails that are connected to the walking and biking trails all around the lake which connect with the West Medicine Lake Park and other parks around the lake.”

Schiebe also notes to be sure to also check out the old Town Hall which was built in 1885, located on Fernbrook Lane in Plymouth Creek Park, and now the home of the Plymouth Historical Society Museum.

Family Staycation: Tour of Plymouth Yesterday and Today

Plan a day at Medicine Lake. First, bike some of the trails around French Regional Park. Detour to the historic Plymouth Town Hall on Fernbrook Lane, or make your way into Medicine Lake Township. The Plymouth Historical Society website has references to where many historical buildings were located, as there are only a handful remaining. Picnic back at the lake, and stick around the beach for swimming and perhaps some boating into the afternoon.

When embarking on a historic "stay-cation" here in Plymouth, pepper in picnics and fishing excursions between milestones like the historic Mount Olivet Church and other markers.

We’ve established that summer is the time to get outdoors and take in all our fair countryside has to offer—why not include new tastes with a new experience? There are plenty of wineries popping up in the nearby west metro that offer samplings and tours worthy of providing plenty of fun for any Saturday afternoon.

Take Buffalo Rock Winery in Buffalo, for example, just a quick jaunt up Hwy. 55. “The winery opened in 2010, so I’m now heading into my fifth season. With the help of friends and family, the land was cleared and the first 320 vines were planted in 2007, then I expanded the vineyard with another 200 vines in 2009,” says Nicole Dietman, founding owner and winemaker. This is probably more a date-worthy adventure, she says.

“Being a winery, we naturally cater to adults. It’s an opportunity to learn more about local wines and cold-hardy grapes, and find new wines and styles you like,” agrees Ashley Schram, who along with co-owner and husband Aaron Schram started Schram Vineyards in 2008. Both Buffalo Rock and Schram Vineyards offer wine tastings and samplings for all adults age 21 and older.

“A full tasting of our wines is $10 per person and includes a souvenir glass. There  are other options, including partial tastings and full bottles,” Ashley Schram says. “It’s a fun way for people to come and try a flight of all of our wine offerings. Aaron is our winemaker, and if he’s available, he loves to give tours of the vineyard or winemaking area to anyone who is interested.”

A wine tasting is $7 for up to seven 5 oz. samples at Buffalo Rock. “Wine tastings are the most popular draw; there are also discounts when using cash,” Dietman says. “A variety of chocolates, caramels, meats, cheeses and crackers are available to purchase as well.” New this summer, semi-private wine tastings can be scheduled to accommodate groups of six to 20.

Both vineyards also offer different activities of interest to keep adults entertained throughout their entire experience. “We also have fun events throughout the year such as a Wine and Shoe event, where we have a designer shoe sale; Cigar Rolling with a professional cigar roller on-site; and Western Weekend, which is sort of self-explanatory, to name a few,” Schram says. “This year we are going to offer a series of Yoga in the Vineyard classes on July 20, August 17 and September 14, all at 11 a.m., followed by wine and food pairings. We often have different food trucks come so customers can have wine and grab a bite to eat. We also have three Bocce Ball leagues, which were a big hit last year.”

Adults-only Staycation: Wine Tours

Wine tours are a fun way for people to be outside, drink good wine and meet some new people—and with the summertime activities planned at many of the area’s offerings, maybe enjoy a little friendly competition, too. Pretend you’re driving the coast of California into wine country; start your day at Buffalo Rock in Buffalo, then head down to any (or all) of three wineries in Waconia: Schram Vineyards, Parley Lake Winery and Sovereign Estate Winery.

Aaron and Ashley Schram offer insights into the ancient art of winemaking at Schram Vineyards.



Buffalo Rock Winery
Parley Lake Winery
8350 Parley Lake Road, Waconia 952.442.2290
Plymouth Historical Society
Premier Travel Services
10655 44th Ave. N. Ste. F763.551.9900
Schram Vineyards
8785 Airport Road, Waconia
Sovereign Estates Winery
9950 N. Shore Road, Waconia 952.446.9957