Friday, May 31, 2013

Summer Trip 2013 (Part One) - It's A Wrap!

Garden at Planting Fields Arboretum - Oyster Bay, New York
May 22, 2013

We are safely back at home in Tennessee after a wonderful two weeks in New York.  Unlike last year's misadventure which included a comedy of errors (none of which deterred us from having a good time anyway), this year's trip was flawless.  Following our time in New York City which I wrote about here and here, we had four days left and still two full days worth of things I wanted to see and do prior to leaving Long Island.  We had not yet explored the Gold Coast Mansions or Sagamore Hill, summer White House of Teddy Roosevelt, nor had we visited Fire Island.

Two things transpired against us.....first, the weather did not cooperate and three of those four days were cold, windy and rainy.  Second, we just plain realized that we were tired.  The days in NYC had worn us down and the thoughts of spending those cold, windy days in our cozy little apartment in Greenport was just too tempting to pass up.  So we chose to visit Sagamore Hill and two of the Gold Coast Mansions leaving Fire Island for another time.  Fire Island was heavily damaged during Hurricane Sandy and many of the access points, boardwalks and trails haven't been reopened, so that made our decision easier.  

I'll not go into a lot of detail about Sagamore Hill or the Mansions as the links do that so much better than I do, but I will say that we enjoyed that day immensely.  We took route 25A west from Greenport rather than the Long Island Expressway and found ourselves meandering through quaint little villages with names like Stony Brook, Head of the Harbor, Port Jefferson, Cold Spring Harbor and finally, Oyster Bay where Teddy Roosevelt built his much loved Sagamore Hill.  Sadly, the house itself was being renovated, but the museum and film were excellent and we thoroughly enjoyed meandering around the grounds.  

We chose two of the Gold Coast Mansions to visit.  It is still early in the season and their hours are shortened so even visiting two plus Sagamore Hill in the same day was pretty aggressive.  

First up was Planting Fields Arboretum and we spent a delightful couple of hours touring this mansion, learning its history and enjoying the spectacular gardens.  We did not realize until after the fact that we never got a full picture of the mansion, but there are plenty on the link above and yes, the gardens are as gorgeous as the pictures on their website.  And you must remember, Biltmore Estate is in our backyard and with our season passes, we visit it frequently.  We aren't easily impressed by gardens at other places, but have maybe learned a lesson.  The gardens at both these mansions were stunning!

Conservatory at Planting Fields Arboretum
May 22, 2013

Our second mansion was the Old Westbury Gardens.  It would be hard to choose which of these mansions was more impressive.  It is beyond my imagination that people actually lived in these and called them home.  

Old Westbury House - Westbury, New York
May 22, 2013

I think my favorite spot of the day was this adorable thatched cottage out in the gardens at Planting Fields.  It was used as a Tea House.

Thatched Roof Tea House as seen from the mansion at Planting Fields Arboretum.
May 22, 2013

Taking the slow, scenic route, visiting the two mansions, strolling the gardens and Sagamore Hill made for a long, long day.  We were exhausted and pretty much done with the sightseeing.  When the next day dawned dreary and cold, we very easily made the decision that it would be a rest day.  I planned our route home and we just enjoyed being quiet.

Although we had three full days to make the 850 mile journey from Greenport home, we decided to do it in two so Bill would have a full day at home before beginning his summer teaching schedule.  We also felt that since we would be driving the very busy I-81 corridor through Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia perhaps traffic would be more reasonable if we were traveling the two middle days of the holiday weekend.  In retrospect, it was a good decision.  We left Greenport very early on Saturday morning and easily made it around the south side of New York City continuing on to our overnight stop in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  Harrisonburg turned out to be a lovely place with a beautifully restored downtown area and a marvelous city park with a 1.5 mile walking trail which gave us a chance to get some exercise after a long day in the car.  An early start on Sunday morning got us home by mid-afternoon.  

I'm always grateful for the opportunity to travel and see new things.  There is so much to see and so much to learn in this country of ours not to even mention the rest of the world.  Bill and I so value the time we have to unwind and spend together.  Even when we are going at a wild pace trying to see and do everything we possibly can, there's still a calming element that we find simply by just being together AWAY from the demands and pressures of home.  I always hope that our travels will find me where I can meet new friends made through this blog or reconnect once again with friends I've already found.  That happened THREE times on this trip and I am still so excited that I was able to hook up with Tish again plus meet Karen and Carol for the first time.  All three meetings just left me wishing for more time with each and hoping for a way to make that happen in the future.

We are already repacking our bags and heading out of town this weekend, but not very far this time.  But I am excited because it is to attend an event I've wanted to experience for a long time and it seems that finally it's going to work out.  Come back early next week to hear all about that.

Although this trip involved a lot of walking particularly while in NYC, it did not include the level of hiking and biking that past trips have.   Therefore, I've got a bit of work to do and some post travel pounds to lose.  Not worried - there aren't that many.  I'm actually more concerned about weaning myself back to the way of eating that had become second nature to me.  It will just take some concentrated discipline, but I'll make it happen.  I have no doubt about that!

Any special weekend plans?

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Boy And His Trains

NYC on a foggy and drizzly evening.  Made for some gorgeous pictures.
May 19, 2013

Regular readers know that I normally post blog entries at 5:30 a.m. in the morning. I posted the first entry about our days in NYC at an odd time, so if you missed it, here it is!!  Today, I have all sorts of things rolling around in my head, so this one may be all over the place although I am excited to write about yet another visit with a friend whom I met through this blog!  You may also realize how random my trip planning really can be. LOL!

I've mentioned that the details of this trip came together very slowly.  Our "home" in Greenport was secured early on as well as Bill's plane tickets that would get him to New York.  So the framework of the trip was set, but specifics were changing on a daily basis.  Bill (in his unbelievably easy going/whatever you want to do mindset), had made one simple request.   He wanted to ride the train (not the subway - the TRAIN) into NYC from Long Island.  In accordance with that request and since the Long Island Railroad Greenport station was just a few blocks from our house, I decided we'd take the train into the city and set about finding an affordable place to stay for one night.  I literally stumbled upon an unheard of rate at the Residence Inn Manhattan/Midtown and as I've learned to do, secured it immediately.  We are so loyal to the Marriott chain which means I know their website well, can maneuver around in it quickly, understand their cancellation procedures, am highly aware that rate structures change by the minute and most importantly, appreciate the NO SMOKING at any of their hotels that they implemented a few years ago being the first major chain hotel to do so!!  But this rate was so low, I questioned it's validity and did some further research.  It turned out that this was a new hotel to the chain and these were introductory rates.  I just happened to be on the website at the right time.  But as time went along, things changed and for several reasons, that wasn't going to work as we decided we wanted more time plus we learned that the train didn't run all the way to Greenport on weekends.  So I went back into research mode and found the Fairfield Inn where we stayed for two night/three days at another fantastic rate I grabbed that included free parking.  Sadly, that had eliminated the train ride, but for some reason, I still didn't cancel the original reservation.  It was so cheap I just couldn't bring myself to do it.  Then I received an email from Blog Friend Carol asking if I wanted to meet up while we were in New York.  With a fresh perspective, I revisited the whole scenario and came up with something which allowed us to stay in that hotel that we'll probably never experience again AND give Bill his train ride. 

So yes, we drove back to Greenport on Saturday morning and then returned to Islip on Sunday morning where we rode the Long Island Railroad (it does run from Islip on weekends) from the Ronkonkama Station directly into Penn Station. Bill was a happy little boy.  Sharon was a happy girl because the hotel was wonderful, in a perfect location and being the tightwad that I am, I kept looking around at all the other people in the lobby realizing that most of them had paid at least $400 more than I did for their night in the hotel. 

After we arrived via the train (about a 90 minute ride), we hopped on the Blue Line for a quick ride to Lexington Ave/53rd stop and a five block walk to our hotel.  It was raining, but we decided to go for a walk anyway and ended up at Grand Central Station.  This was the third and last time that I was bothered by the noise and crowds while in NYC.  The old cliche, "it's like Grand Central Station" is quoted often for a reason and when we descended to the lower level into the food court, I took one look around and headed back up!  Nope, not for me!

We met Carol, who blogs at Buttercup Counts Her Blessings, and is retiring next week after 19 years in a job which I will not name, but was fascinating to discuss.  Let's just say she and Bill had much to discuss about their mutual love for trains.  As I've found with every single person I've met through writing this blog, the conversation flowed swiftly and easily.   We literally could not believe that we had sat in the restaurant for over four hours talking.  She had a lengthy commute back to her home on the Upper West Side and an early morning, but she didn't seem to mind and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.  Carol was very patient answering our questions about 9/11.  She was working in her office only five blocks from the twin towers and her story of getting out, getting home and making certain all her employees were safe (some of whom had disabilities) is spell binding.  We've met and talked with others who were in NYC, but none as close to it as Carol was.  And even more special were her words about the lingering effects and the problems, difficulties, health issues that are only now being seen.  A life-changing event for all of us, but not nearly so poignant as for those who actually lived it.  We were once again reminded that our thoughts need to remain with not only those who lost loved ones, but to those who were in the midst of it and are (to this day) continuing to rebuild their lives.  Normal is not in their vocabulary and likely never will be.  

Our new friend, Carol
Taina Cafe, New York City - May 29, 2013

After we said goodbye to Carol, we started back into our hotel which was right next door, but Bill suggested we take a walk.  It was no longer drizzling, but the swirling fog was casting such an interesting glow on the lights of the city and as one of our favorite songs from Les Miserables says, "in the rain, the pavement shines like silver."  We returned to Rockefeller Plaza, Times Square, Herald Square and all points in between and it was so beautiful.  Bill took some great pictures which likely will make up a post all its own once we are back home in Tennessee and I can upload pictures quickly.

We spent a quiet night and found ourselves back on the train by noon the next day headed away from the city towards Greenport.  Would we do this again?  Absolutely!!  The nights in NYC put us way over budget for this trip, but we'll make it up somewhere along the line.  It was totally worth it.  

Two stories about my husband of soon-to-be 36 of them I've known almost since the day we were married back in 1977.  The other I only learned recently.   Which goes to show that no matter how long you've known someone, there's still neat stuff to learn!!

I loved Bill's parents from the day we met and the love was returned a thousand fold.  From day one, they treated me like a daughter and loved me unconditionally.   Bill was a much loved and long awaited only child, but (for the most part) you'd never know it.  However, for some reason, he never had an electric train.  Now I grew up in a household of girls so I'm no expert, but I thought ALL little boys got an electric train at some point.  I learned about this oversight pretty early on, so on December 25, 1977 guess what Bill got from me on our first Christmas?  He loved that train and would sit for hours watching it circle the Chistmas Tree where it did for the first 15+ years of our marriage.  He finally relented and we gave the train to precious friends of ours who were moving to Africa.  Bill still talks about that train and will forever be fascinated by trains.  He can sit and watch them for HOURS.  So no surprise that his only request was to ride the train.  He has a lengthy list of trains he wants to ride all over the world!

While in NYC, I caught Bill taking pictures of Macy's department store AGAIN!  It reminded me of how frustrated I often get when Thanksgiving rolls around and he INSISTS that we be at his mother's house early enough to watch the ENTIRE Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.  Come on, give me a break - who watches that anymore?  Or in my case, who EVER did??  At least not every single minute of it.  But not so very long ago, I learned that tradition has  a very deep meaning to Bill.  His parents always had large crowds of people for Thanksgiving Dinner.  That's just who they are.   The more, the merrier.  Bring anybody and everybody that doesn't have someplace to go.  Between our families (my parents immediately became part of this tradition after Bill and I married) and friends, the house was full.  To keep Bill out of the way, he tells me that early on Thanksgiving morning, she would sit him down in the front of the TV to watch the Macy's Parade and under no circumstances was he to move until the parade was over.  To this very day, it's not Thanksgiving until he has seen the Rockettes dance in front of Macy's and Santa Claus parade through Herald Square.

So you know what?  It's o.k. with me for him to take all the pictures he wants to of trains and Macy's!!

Anybody learned anything recently about a spouse/friend/child that explains the "why" behind something they do?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The City That Never Sleeps

Midtown Manhattan looking to the northeast from the Observation Tower on the 86th floor of The Empire State Building - May 16,2013

We went, we saw, we conquered!  We also decided we are too old to try to do as much as we did in the four days we were in New York City.  We had a great time, but I think the highlight for both of us was spending time with friends, both old and new!  It was the first time we'd ever been in NYC in the company of people who actually live there and it gave the whole experience a completely different dimension, one which makes us excited to return sooner rather than later.  For me particularly, that's a pretty significant admission.  My disdain for large crowds, enclosed spaces and other people invading my space make it difficult for me to relax, but this time felt different and with the exception of only one or two tight spaces, I really did have a great time.  

This post will just include some highlights as there is no way to recapture all the moments in writing and I'm sorry to say there will be only a few pictures.  The only negative we have to say about our home in Greenport is that the internet connection is woefully slow and pictures are almost impossible to load.  The one above took over three minutes!!  And speaking of our home in Greenport, I am writing this on Thursday morning because we are relaxing on what is the first truly rainy day of this entire trip.  We have been so fortunate with cool, dry days and truthfully, we are both exhausted, so this day is more than welcome.  In retrospect, we've tried to cram lot of activity into a shorter period of time and are paying the price in terms of just plain old physical exhaustion.  But it's all good as we have the day and the time to recoup!

We arrived in Queens early last Thursday morning and checked into the Fairfield Inn LaGuardia/Astoria.  There was a method to our madness.  A hotel outside of midtown was within our budget and this one had EXCELLENT reivews on Trip Advisor.  It offered free shuttle service to the nearest subway station and most importantly of all, offered free PARKING!  We will likely use this hotel in the future as it also offers free shuttle service to/from LaGuardia airport and with such easy access to the subway, one can easily be in Times Square in 20 minutes tops!  

But we were headed for Rockefeller Plaza and a meet-up with a dear friend we had not seen in almost three years.  Candra has been living and working in NYC for almost seven years and we had a blast getting caught up while doing the touristy thing.  She herded us up and down the street, through the subway maze and got us to where we wanted to be in half the time it would've taken us on our own.  Lunch of traditional NY pizza (eaten while standing up of course) was followed by a trip to the top of the Empire State Building and then a journey to the Upper West Side for the best cookie I've ever had in my life eaten while sitting on a rock in Central Park after paying homage at the John Lennon Memorial.  Thanks Candra, for a perfect day.  Hopefully, there will be others.

Three happy friends on the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building
(It was so crowded up there, I'm amazed we got this pic with no other faces/bodies showing!)  - May 16, 2013

On Friday, we visited the 9/11 Memorial and were very lucky to be one of the first admitted when it opened at 10.  The place is large (which you can certainly understand if you ever saw the Twin Towers) with the two Memorial Pools following the exact footprint of the towers.  To have a picture of the south pool with no other people in it is truly special and we are glad to have made the effort to arrive so early.  It is very moving to walk around the pools and see the names inscribed in the granite. 

Leaving the memorial, it was time for lunch so we headed to Chelsea Market, one of the places on our "list" that we had never visited.  We knew about it, but hadn't really paid much attention until it started becoming so frequently mentioned on Food Network, whose offices and kitchens are now actually physically located on the upper floors of Chelsea Market.  We had a wonderful lunch at Friedman's which Bill had picked out for their reputation of the best hamburger in NYC.  It was good, but I'll have to admit, I didn't see that it was any better than a burger at my much-loved Five Guys and this was one of those places where the noise and the crowds really got to me.  It was wall to wall people and the tables were so close, you could hardly cut your hamburger without elbowing the person next to you.  Even Bill mentioned how enclosed it felt.  Normally that isn't bothersome to him, so at least I knew it wasn't just me.

Next up was the 3 1/2 hour Circle Line Tour which boasts a trip around the entire island of Manhattan, 101 of the most popular city sights and close up views of the Statue of Liberty.  We had done this tour on our very first visit to NYC in 1986, but did NOT remember it being as wonderful as it is.  Perhaps it was our young age and acting silly rather than paying attention or perhaps, we just had a better tour guide, but this trip was amazing.  I cannot believe all that I learned about NYC, its history, its people, the boroughs, etc., etc.  Despite the fact that our boat was VERY crowded, we both highly, HIGHLY recommend this.  Once the boat got moving, the crowds began milling about and didn't feel quite so oppressive to me.  

Our boat trip ended at 4:30, so we walked back up to Times Square where we enjoyed a snack and walked through that area until we realized how tired we were.  At that point, knowing we still had a .6 mile walk from our subway stop back to the hotel (it's faster to walk than to call and wait for the shuttle), we headed back.  Grabbing a slice of genuine NY pizza and a bowl of fruit from the deli near the subway station, we made it back to our hotel where we ate the pizza and talked about our day.

On Saturday morning, we headed back into the city from our hotel in Queens for another visit to Chelsea Market and a walk on The High Line.  The High Line (please read about it) was recommended to us by Blog Friend now friend IRL, Carol.  I had never heard of it, but when I read about it, I knew it was something I wanted to experience.  It seemed like a laid back Saturday morning thing to do before checking out of our hotel and heading back to Greenport so off we went.  It did not disappoint and along with Carol, we highly recommend it as just one more unique experience in NYC.

Walking The High Line - May 18, 2013

Following our meander along the entire length of The High Line, we headed back to Queens, checked out of our hotel and enjoyed an easy drive back to Greenport.  And this is where the story gets somewhat interesting because the next morning, we actually returned to the city for another 24 hours.  That story coming up next!

Thanks For Reading!

Monday, May 20, 2013

At Home On Long Island

At the end of our street in Greenport, New York
May 11, 2013

I can't believe we have already been in New York for an entire week.  We have fallen in love with Long Island and the quiet village of Greenport where we are living for two weeks.  We have been on the go quite a bit discovering this island from one end to the other, but have also found time to just enjoy being in our lovely apartment and taking long walks discovering every corner of Greenport.  We like being here before tourist season officially starts and have gotten a taste on the weekends as to what it must be like during the summer months.   We like the weekdays better.  There's no wait and we've gotten quite well acquainted with the guy who runs our favorite ice cream shop................

Sandpiper Ice Cream - Greenport, NY
May 12, 2013
We are able to walk to Sandpiper Ice Cream from our "home" which is the entire top floor of this wonderful house...............

Our "home" in Greenport, NY
May 11, 2013

The owners live downstairs and are delightful folks whom we've enjoyed getting to know.  The house is comfortable, spotless, well-equipped and a perfect place to hang out for a couple of weeks.

However, we certainly haven't spent much time hanging out in the house as there is plenty to do and see on this island.  Long Island is 118 miles long and and 23 miles wide at its widest point.  It encompasses four counties and includes the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.  Most people associate all of Long Island with New York City, however, nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, once one passes the town of Islip, the entire area becomes very rural with rolling farm land and wide open spaces.   You are never very far from the water with Long Island Sound, the Atlantic Ocean and numerous bays and inlets around every turn.   You will see bucolic scenes like this........


that are never very far from scenes like this..............

and always an easy drive or walk to the quaint village of Greenport or one similar to it........................

Here is a sampling of things we have done over the last week.

Sunday - Visited the tip of the North Fork of Long Island.  This includes the Cross Sound Ferry Dock where I had come onto the island from Connecticut.  We enjoyed Orient Beach State Park and walked the nature trail.  This park was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy and the damage/repair areas are easy to see. 

Monday - Decided to visit the South Fork of Long Island which includes the Hamptons, land of the rich and famous. We did this via Shelter Island accessible only via a short ferry ride and made our way to the Mashomack Nature Preserve.  This preserve occupies more than 1/3 of the land on Shelter Island and is managed by The Nature Conservancy.  We hiked one of the nature trails and had a great time in this very well managed preserve.   Driving all the way to the tip, we saw the beautiful  Montauk Point Lighthouse and then made our way back through the obviously well-to-do communities of the Hamptons.  This was a long day, but it was fun.

Tuesday - We visited the Horton Point Lighthouse and enjoyed the nature trail there followed by the more challenging Soundview Dunes hike.   Yes, it was just as it sounds.  Although a portion of the trail was in a lovely forest, much of it was trudging up and over sand dunes.  This is not easy!   Completing this called for a celebratory trip to Sandpiper Ice Cream for more Maple Walnut Ice Cream!

Wednesday - We traveled inland to visit the Walt Whitman birthplace and national historic site.  We both learned a lot about Whitman and his place in literary history.  We had an excellent tour guide and the museum is very informative.  Driving to this museum as a "destination" also took us through an area of Long Island we hadn't yet seen.

On Thursday, we left Greenport for a few days in New York City.  Bill loves the big city and couldn't wait to visit again.  Me, not so much!   I am definitely a country girl, but since it had been many years since I'd been to NYC, I was looking forward to it.  We had some pretty aggressive plans plus we were hoping to connect with a couple of friends while there.  Check back to see if all that happened!

Thanks for reading!  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Relaxing In Connecticut

View from my balcony at Inn At Harbor Hill Marina - Niantic, CT
May 11, 2013

As our Summer Trip 2013 details came together, we realized that I would have a few days on my own while Bill returned home to complete his teaching responsibilities and attend graduation.  I wanted to visit somewhere unfamiliar, yet convenient to New London, CT where I had already made reservations on the Cross Sound Ferry to take me to Long Island where I'd pick up Bill at MacArthur Airport in Islip. 

A little research drew me to the village of Niantic, CT and then to the Inn At Harbor Hill Marina.  Niantic appeared charming and I was immediately drawn to the information about a 1.1 mile boardwalk the village had built alongside Long Island Sound.  Finding a beautiful balcony room available and a delightful discussion with the Inn's owner convinced me this was the place I wanted to go.  If there was not enough to keep me busy right there in Niantic, I was well within day tripping distance of both Mystic, CT and Newport, Rhode Island.  These were both places Bill and I had visited previously and I knew I would enjoy returning.  

As it turned out, other than a quick jaunt through the neighboring communities of New London and East Lyme (I was actually looking for the Walmart, but we'll pretend I was sight-seeing), I never left Niantic.  It was a perfect place to spend a few days and since weather refused to cooperate on two of those days, I could not have designed a better place to be than my room at the Inn.  With windows on three sides looking out over the marina and Long Island Sound, plus a cozy electric fireplace to take out the chill, it was just perfect.  I did lots of reading, thinking, meditating, writing and planning and enjoyed every minute.

 The Gull Island Room at Inn At Harbor Hill Marina - Niantic, CT

The second day brought gorgeous, blue skies and warmer temps, so I was off to explore the town by foot and finally, walk this widely acclaimed boardwalk.  I knew where one entrance was, but my first clue that I was about to be disappointed should've been the response of the desk clerk when I asked where the other end was.  She was very vague, so in the end, I just decided to go to the entrance I knew and walk from there.  So imagine my surprise when after dutifully taking this picture......

.......and then walking through the above mentioned "hole in the wall"....................

......I was greeted with THIS!

 It seems hurricane Sandy did a number on the Niantic Boardwalk.  I was later told that part of it (from the other end) is scheduled to reopen on June 24.  No one seems to know when this part will be repaired.  Needless to say, I was quite disappointed, but quickly found another park near this point with a path overlooking the sound and benches along the way.  

But the best part of my days in Niantic was a leisurely morning at Cafe Sol spent with my friend, Karen, who blogs at Karen CL Anderson.   I knew that Karen lived in Connecticut, but she doesn't live in Niantic and I really didn't connect how close I would actually be until the week before I left home.  I hastily sent off an email hoping she'd have some time and received a quick reply that yes, she'd love to meet for a cup of coffee.   After three hours of non-stop talking, we parted ways knowing we'd each made a new friend in real life as well as through our blogs.  As with all the friends I've met through writing this blog, I sincerely hope that isn't the only time I am ever able to spend time with Karen.  

 Sharon and Karen at Cafe SoL - Niantic, CT
May 9-2013

On Saturday morning, I boarded the Mary Ellen, a ferry that would take me from New London, CT to Orient, New York.  Although the Mary Ellen holds 85 cars and 675 passengers, there were only a handful that made the 90-minute crossing with me on Saturday.  Exiting the ferry into the beautiful landscape that is Long Island, I made my way 55 miles east to pick Bill up at Islip.  Picking him up had become quite the adventure in and of itself, but that'll be the topic of the next journal along with our first days here in Greenport.  We are having a wonderful time exploring this beautiful corner of the world.  Who knew??

When was the last time you visited somewhere that took your breath away?

Monday, May 13, 2013

District Overload!

McCook Point Park - Niantic, CT
May 10, 2013

The Embassy Tour left us physically exhausted.  My pedometer had recorded the amount of steps that normally equates to a 10-mile hike, so the following day we opted for mental and emotional exhaustion rather than physical.   We had visited the Unted States Holocaust Memorial Museum several years ago, but had been unable to devote the time needed during that visit and I had always wanted to return when we could spend as long as we wanted.  This museum is not for the faint of heart, nor is it something someone should visit looking for a good time.  But its significance to history is something of which we should all be aware, understand and as individuals, pledge to do everything possible in our own little corner of the universe to see that nothing like that ever, EVER happens again.  A common perception about the Holocaust is that the persecution was handed out only to Jews, but this is NOT true.  It was a hatred and prejudice directed at many other groups on political, ideological and behavioral grounds.  Here is a link to more about the "why" of the Holocaust in much clearer terms than I can write.  I believe that this is a one-of-a-kind museum that will teach you and leave you desparately hoping for an end to prejudice of EVERY form.  Some people may not like this next statement, but I also believe that this is a museum everyone should visit at some point in time.   I have no patience with refusing to acknowledge that horrors like the Holocaust ever happened or brushing it off by saying it's just too sad.  The museum is well-done, in excellent taste and calls you to a demeanor of awe and reverence.  (I have experienced nothing else like the atmosphere throughout the museum EXCEPT at Pearl Harbor.)  It is quiet and peaceful.  You will see people with eyes wide and hand over their mouth.  You will see parents leaning down quietly whispering to children.   And yes, you will see tears.   Since the last time we were at this museum, Bill has personally stood at Auschwitz, Birkenau and Dachau.  Yes, there were tears.   Please visit this museum someday.   It will change you!

The evening after visiting the Holocaust Museum, we had plans to meet my friend Tish and her husband for dinner.   Tish and I enjoy biking together, but unfortunately that didn't happen this year as we don't have our bikes along on this trip plus Tish and her family are getting ready to move to a new home and a day off for biking just wasn't in the schedule.  So it worked out perfectly and we enjoyed a nice dinner at Quarttro Formaggi, a cute little place just around the corner from our hotel.   When you only see a friend once a year or so, there's lots to catch up on and conversation certainly flows freely.  Tish was the first friend that I met in person as a result of writing this blog and her friendship is quite special to me!  We are hoping to resume our bike trips soon with a ride along the eastern shore area of Maryland.

Our last full day in Washington, we chose to visit The Newseum.   By DC standards, this is a relatively new museum and unlike most places there, this one charges admission.  A rather hefty $21.95 although tickets purchased online receive a 10% discount and tickets are good for two consecutive days.  I have no idea how to describe the Newseum except to say that it is 250,000 square feet of all things dedicated to journalism and the news.  It features 15 theatres and hundreds of exhibits.  There are permanent exhibits and temporary ones.  It is seven floors of galleries in a architecturally unique structure.  It was WONDERFUL!  Some of our favorites included three temporary exhibits commemorating the 50th anniversary of JFK's assasination (Can you BELIEVE its's been 50 years???), the 9/11 movie showing much footage taken by journalists who were running TOWARD the towers rather than away from them, G-Men and Journalists (we almost didn't go in this one and it turned out to be a favorite for both of us), the front page wall showing that day's front page of each state's newspaper, Tim Russert's office (I was a big Russert fan and Bill actually met him in a restroom on the Island of Nantucket), and a huge room where you could find and read a newspaper from any day you chose.  We were there when the Newseum opened at 10 and we left when they closed at 5.  We left for about an hour to grab lunch and give ourselves a break, but otherwise spent the day there.  And no, we didn't see it all.   Worth the money??  You bet!

I reluctantly put Bill on a plane heading home to finish out the school year and attend graduation.  I left Washington very early the following morning on a trip which would take me around DC, through Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City before arriving at Niantic, CT.   This type of fast paced driving through huge metro areas is not the kind of road-tripping I look forward to especially when driving AND navigating, but this turned out o.k.  I planned my routes in advance, did NOT rely on GPS solely and even sought advice from a AAA office in the DC area.  I was as prepared as I could be even down to having my toll booth money counted out in advance.  I left my hotel at 5:55 a.m. hoping to avoid rush hour traffic in both DC and Baltimore and praying the weather gods would be with me and hold off on the heavy rain that was predicted all day.  All of that preparation paid off because the trip was easy.  I pulled into the Inn at Harbor Hill Marina several hours later $30 poorer (yes, tolls were that much) and thrilled because other than a brief downpour near Philadelphia, I had encountered no rain.  This, I learned later, despite the fact that Brooklyn, NY was receiving major flooding following torrential downpours that morning.  

With that behind me, I was looking forward to three days of "me" time in the Gull Island Room at Inn at Harbor Hill Marina.  I was also looking forward to meeting a friend the following morning.  Come back in a day or so to hear who that friend was and all about my time in Connecticut! It was great!

FYI - No pictures were allowed in the Holocaust Museum and only in certain places could pictures be taken in the Newseum.  So no pictures today.  Sorry!

If you've been to either of these two museums, what were your impression?

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Few Days In The District!

 Thursday Morning - May 2, 2013

Yes, it was very early a week ago when I drove northeast out of Knoxville heading for Alexandria, Virgina.  Summer Trip 2013 was here and the morning began with this incredible sunrise.  Only problem was that I was enjoying the sunrise alone as Bill would not be joining me until the next day.   But it's a pretty well known fact around here that I love road trips, so was looking forward to the drive anyway.  My goal was to make it to Alexandria before 3:00 p.m. and hopefully avoid rush hour traffic on the dreaded I-495 Beltway (or Outer Loop) in Washington.  All worked out perfectly and early evening found me all checked in here.........................

..................the Residence Inn by Marriott Old Town South at Carlyle for the next six days.  Using a combination of low weekend rates and accumulated points, I got a really sweet deal at a place I've stayed previously in an area I've come to know well.  Third level from top, first two windows were our home and we enjoyed some comfortable days in an almost empty hotel where it seemed all they wanted to do was take care of us!!  

Having a few hours on my own before Bill arrived, I began researching something interesting for us to do on Saturday and immediately hit the jackpot.   We would have three full days together. I knew I wanted to make a return visit to the National Holocaust Museum plus I'd read about something called The Newseum, a fairly new attraction dedicated to journalism and the news media.  A quick glance at a magazine I picked up at the desk while checking in led me to the Cultural Tourism Passport DC festival which was being celebrated during the month of May.   The Around The World Embassy Tour was happening on Saturday and sounded like fun.  

At approximately 4 p.m., on Saturday, I was able to confirm that it was most definitely FUN, but we were EXHAUSTED.   We were standing in line at the Austrailian Embassy at 10 and we did not stop until 4.  Even then, we were only able to visit nine of the 40 Embassies that were open for tours.  Each Embassy was different in their approach, but all had at least one thing in common - they were serving food representing their country.  Most were giving away a trinket of some sort artfully hidden among pretty slick information promoting toursim in their country.  

An entire day (this coming Saturday) is dedicated to the Western European Embassies, so none of them were open for tours.   But that was o.k. with us as we would have chosen more unique (or maybe I should say unfamiliar) countries to visit anyway.  We carefully selected those we wanted to go to trying to choose a cross representation of the world.  We enjoyed Australia, Peru, Trinidad/Tobago, Chile, Botswana, Nicaragua, Mozambique, Kazakhstan.  In addition to the wonderful aspect of learning more about these countries, most of the Embassies are located along what is known as Embassy Row in old Washington DC homes with simply stunning architecture.  The kind you walk by and dream of being able to see inside.  Well, we got to see inside a bunch of them and they are beautiful!

I have so many pictures I don't know where to start, but enjoy a few of our favorites.

 Australia (we think he had on something, but not 100% sure)


 Trinidad - Tobago

 A native resident of Trinidad - Tobago (the animal, not the human!)


(We actually HEARD people say they would "avoid" this Embassy because it was where the Boston bombers were from - now isn't that just SAD?  We couldn't get there fast enough!  Beautiful, beautiful people and oh, so kind and generous!)

This was a day we stumbled upon simply by opening up a magazine and boy was it ever a success.

Next Up:  Holocaust Museum and The Newseum


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Summer Trip 2013 Revealed

 No need to drive to a trail to find this gorgeous azalea!  It's in my own backyard!
April, 2013

Sorry for the delay in posting what was promised last Monday!  One of these days I'll learn not to say I'm going to post something on a specific day when it seems as if some days, I don't even know what day it is myself!  For some reason that I just can't put my finger on, this spring has found time simply flying by for me.  I'd like to think that it's another accomplishment in my sincere desire to slow down and enjoy every moment while continuing to wage on all-out war on "busyness" or the idea that frantic activity equates to productivity.  

However, getting ready to leave for our Summer Trip each year usually does require some scrambling around as departure day draws nearer.  Packing and loading the car for an extended time away from home is actually the EASY part.  What's difficult is making sure all the bases are covered so that the house is secured and things are all taken care of so that it appears as if nothing is different.  Bill and I are leaving separately this year, so that adds another dimension in that he'll be responsible for closing up the house the final time and making sure everything is secured.  That's usually MY job, so it seems I'm making endless lists all of which he will have to accomplish early one morning before making it to the airport for a 6:00 a.m. flight!  Should be interesting!

For several reasons, Summer Trip 2013 looks a bit different this year.  Long time readers know that Bill traditionally teaches the July Summer Term at the college.  This year, he had the opportunity to teach both the June Term AND the July term.  We talked about it for a long, long time as this would require us to have a much abbreviated summer trip, but in the end, decided it was a good opportunity for some additional income plus he really enjoys teaching summer classes.  He will have two full weeks in May before the June term begins and then we will take advantage of another two full weeks after his July term ends.  In both cases, we are headed to one destination and he will fly in order to maximize his time at each place.  I am actually looking forward to being at home during the month of June as our mountain laurel/rhododendron season is simply incredible and I have totally missed it for the last several years because we are always traveling somewhere else!!

I haven't revealed specific plans until now because they keep changing.  I've mentioned how ill my mom has been with acute bronchitis and until late last week, I just did not feel comfortable leaving.  Thankfully, the solo trip plans I had made were changeable, so I simply elected to cancel them and wait.  I met my mom and dad for breakfast yesterday morning and except for a still horrible sounding cough, she has recovered and couldn't get through breakfast quickly enough because they were headed to the golf course.  LOL!  She's still only playing a few holes at a time, but just being well enough to ride in the cart with daddy is enough for now.  How blessed I am to have two parents who, at 85 years old, still play golf 2-3 times each week!

But now I'm headed out and when you read this on Thursday morning, I should already be heading north out of Tennessee, through Virginia and into Washington D.C.  I spent a lot of time in DC during my career and it never grows old.  There is ALWAYS something new to see.  Bill will fly in Friday evening for a long weekend.  We've got several things on the agenda that we hope to accomplish in addition to lots and lots of walking.  

Bill still has finals week at school before his semester ends completely, so he will fly back home after a long weekend and I get to have some "me" time.  I'll be leaving DC and driving north up the I-95 corridor (I'll need some kind of mega stress reduction pampering after THAT) to the shores of Connecticut and will be spending a few days at Inn at Harbor Hill Marina.  Our ultimate destination for this trip is Long Island, New York.  Following my days at the Inn, I will cross Long Island Sound via the Cross Sound Ferry and pick Bill up at Islip's MacArthur Airport.  We intended to explore Long Island as we returned home from New England last year, but time ran out.  I had done a good deal of research on the area and found much to like.  We have rented an apartment which is the second floor of what looks like a grogeous Victorian home on a tree lined street two blocks from Long Island Sound.  It is all the way out on the eastern end of Long Island, an area described as being much more like southern New England than the metropolitan area of New York.  There is so much to do and see that we will need two weeks to get it all done. 

Somewhere in there, we will make a trip to the city.  We have a friend there with whom we are hoping to connect plus I have never been to Ground Zero.  We hope to visit the Empire State Building (a tradition we always honor when in NYC) and Bill wants to check out Chelsea Market.  

It promises to be an exciting, yet low-key adventure in a place we've NEVER even been close to and we are both looking forward to it.  I'll work hard at sharing it with you along the way.

And just for the curious among you, part two of Summer Trip 2013 will be a return to one of my favorite places, Rocky Mountain National Park.  Our prior trips have been in May and we are so excited about returning in late July/early August.  There are parts of the national park we've been unable to access and trails we've been unable to hike because they are still closed due to snow and avalanche danger in May.  But we'll cover all that when the time comes. 

For now, let Summer Trip 2013 commence!

What travel plans do you have coming up?