Mt. Vernon and Shenandoah

11 July, 2016
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What a whirlwind Odyssey this one has been! Thanks again for playing along and looking at my pretty pictures and silly stories. Coming to you today from the Hyundai Elantra — the first place in a couple of days where there’s been a half decent connection.

George Washington's back yard

George Washington’s back yard

We started out from DC on Saturday and drove 45 minutes to George Washington’s historic paradise, Mount Vernon. They wouldn’t allow photography in the house itself, but encouraged it when we went out the back door onto the long veranda, where Washington entertained his guests by serving tea and exchanging stories while watching boats come and go down the Potomac.

The reason this view is pristine is because of a ladies’ group in the 1950s, who started buying up all the Maryland property facing Mt. Vernon. They wanted to preserve the land so that future generations could visit the mansion, look across the Potomac, and see *exactly* what George Washington saw when he sat on his veranda. How cool is that?

As was the case with our entire time in DC, the heat was oppressive. I was dreading the tour inside the mansion, but either I’d forgotten the place was air conditioned since I was there 30 years ago, or they had installed air conditioning in the house since I was there last. Anyway, cool, literally!

View from our door

View from our door

After the tour, we headed off to Shenandoah National Park, and checked into the Big Meadows Lodge. Of course, the natural beauty of the place was breathtaking. We pulled over to many of the dozens of “overlooks” the National Park Service carved out in order for people to pull off to the side of the road and take photos.

We went on the Limberlost Trail hike (not a difficult trail at all, but the 1.5 miles felt a bit longer for some reason). We enjoyed the quiet, the restaurant, the walks, the history and the animals.

Over the last seven years, we’ve visited over a dozen national parks, monuments and battlefields, countless preserves and state parks, and a hundred different unplanned side-trips to see cool things in nature, and never before have we seen so much wildlife up-close as we saw this trip. We even saw our first bear! Days upon days at Glacier, Grand Teton, Mt. St. Helens, Yellowstone and Sequoia, and we never glimpsed a single one.

We decided that as much as we admire and love looking at the gorgeous natural spaces and unspoiled wilderness, we are not rustic travelers. Rather, we will in the future admire it from the roadside, a small stroll, or from a train or car. The lodge/camping experience (at least when we’re paying outrageous prices — if we’re going to do that, Mama wants room service and stunning cityscapes and fantastic food), isn’t really for us, so we’ll do something different in the future.

What’s that, you ask? Well, Odyssey 2017 is this. :-)

Again, thanks so much for tagging along for the pictures and stories. We loved this rather brief, but fantastic voyage full of history and beauty and relaxation. Ciao!

Fink and the Thriller, just crossing the Pennsylvania line

DC Day 3

9 July, 2016
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I’ll apologize at the get-go: there are no photos of the Air and Space Museum, sorry. haha

But it was definitely part of another interesting (and ghastly hot) day — our last full day in the city. We have really enjoyed our stay in DC proper, and our hotel is very pleasant and convenient. In spite of the heat, we really have no complaints (as I sit here at 5:30 a.m., wrapped in a blanket).

I didn't take this of course, but this gives you a nice perspective on it.

I didn’t take this of course, but this gives you a nice perspective on it.

Day Three’s highlight for me was Washington National Cathedral — the 6th largest of its kind in the world.

We wandered through at our own pace on a morning when few tourists were there, for some reason or another. I loved it. There are many chapels in this enormous church, from the ornate to the miniscule (seriously, that’s the entire chapel in that photo).

Staff were cleaning the great altar, part of the tons and tons of marble and Indiana limestone carved into beautiful art throughout the structure.

The beautiful nave

Naturally, my favorite part was the choir, at the front of the huge nave.

We took the elevator up to the observation deck, where you can walk around almost the entire perimeter of the building to see great views of the surrounding cities. On the walls were placards telling the story of the 2011 earthquake that sent parts of the cathedral crashing to the ground below, and precipitating a multi-million-dollar restoration project to secure the structure from any future damage.

It was a hazy, humid day, but across the mist you can see the Washington Monument.

After touring the crypts and the gift shop, we hailed a taxi and headed back to the Smithsonian and had lunch and a tour of the Air and Space Museum. We hoofed it to Capitol Hill and took the tour there, and were a little disappointed to find that all the scaffolding on the outside of the rotunda dome was also present on the inside. Boo. There was some longtime rust that needed to be cleaned and repaired before it became a threat to the beautiful artwork on the ceiling, so they began the work several months ago, knowing that it had to be finished by the upcoming presidential inauguration.

We had planned to go to the White House, but by the time we were done with Capitol Hill and the museum, we were fagged out. So we made our stop for dinner and snacks, and went back to the Mayflower, where we watched a sad, frightening and beautiful documentary on HBO. After that, I read and the Thriller watched the White Sox on the computer.

Today, we pack up and leave for Mount Vernon, and then head out to Shenandoah National Park. I’ll check in with you tomorrow, fiends, hopefully to report that I did *not* come face to face with a bear or a snake. That would totally ruin my day.

ScaredyFink

DC Day 2

8 July, 2016
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We’ve renamed it Walkington, DC.

You can walk a long, long time there. We planned to use our Metro cards for everything, but we’ve learned that the Metro in DC isn’t like the subway in NYC. It’s not near as ubiquitous and convenient. It’s OK though; we not only needed the walking (although it would have been nicer in temperatures under 90), it allowed us to really experience the city in a “boots on the ground” sort of way, rather than just from train or bus windows.

Arlington National Cemetery, the American History Museum, the Holocaust Museum and Ford’s Theater were our major destinations yesterday. We had a nice lunch in the Castle, and we’ll go back to the Smithsonian area before we leave tomorrow.

There were 26 funerals scheduled for the day we were there.

There were 26 funerals scheduled for the day we were there.

We did the trolley tour at Arlington. I can’t imagine doing it any other way on a hot day — or maybe even on any day. The place is so large (never knew 1 square mile was that big), you’d be walking up and down steep hills all day long. To some, that would be no problem; to these creaky bods, however…Anyway, the trolleys allow you to decide where you’d like to get off and look around, and they stop to pick up folks every 20 minutes at designated areas. It was really convenient for us to stop at the places we wanted to see, and just stay on the trolley for stops we didn’t want to make.

Of course, the highlight was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And to my everlasting embarrassment, the sentinel on duty had to “speak” to the crowd about silence and respect when a group of students wouldn’t shut up. In their weak defense, they were not from the US, but their tour guide should have known. I wonder how many times the guards have to turn in the direction of the noise and (rightfully) scare the crap out of people. We were fortunate to be able to see the changing of the guard — if you’ve never seen it, give it a looksee on YouTube.

After lunch, it was time for our appointment at the Holocaust Museum. We arrived probably 15-20 minutes ahead of time, and a docent approached us and asked if we had tickets. When the Thriller said yes, but we’re a bit early for our appointment, she looked at his hat (it said “Vietnam Era Veteran” on it) and said, “You’re a veteran. Here are some tickets that are good for anytime.” So we traded out our tickets for the others and didn’t have to wait. I thought that was really nice.

Photographs of people whose village was erased from existence by the Nazis.

Photographs of people whose village was erased from existence by the Nazis.

You don’t enjoy something like the Holocaust Museum. You endure it. You shake your head in sadness and wonder at it. When you leave, you realize its importance in the international narrative of human rights. I think we’ve become desensitized to the personal toll war atrocities actually take. Suffering is so much a part of the fabric of world news coverage, it’s become easier and easier for people to simply write it off as a crying shame that happens to other people. The Holocaust Museum gives those “other people” a voice, 75 years later.

Walking through a transport car was horrifying. The fact that the museum (for reasons of preservation or realism or both) does not provide light inside this car drove the point home that playing mental games as well as inflicting physical suffering was the order of the day. Train transport of Jews (and Gypsies and Socialists and homosexuals — anyone who was considered an enemy of the state) to the camps often took days, with stopovers as long as a week, with all the inhabitants — 100 to a car — still stuck inside in the pitch black, slowly dying of starvation, disease and suffocation.

We visited a silent chamber of remembrance and reflection after the tour, and lit a candle at the Buchenwald memorial wall. After that, we needed the sun, so we walked to the Smithsonian and had a delightful meal of cheeses, crackers, fruits, drinks and chocolate pudding. Then it was off to Ford’s.

For someone who’d seen Ford’s Theater years ago, I was surprised at how little I remembered. We waited a long time in line outside (even though we’d bought tickets in advance), and enjoyed the museum and the theater. We love the whole “Lincoln was here” feeling the sense that you’re part of history for just a moment. The Thriller commented that he was not surprised that Booth snapped an ankle when he jumped from the president’s box — ouch.  That’s gotta be 10 feet up.

After the tour, we were told we could go across the street to Petersen House to see the room where Lincoln died. We went out the theater doors into the 94-degree heat and saw the line of people, snaking down the street, waiting to get in…and said forget it. By that point, it was dinnertime, but we were too hot to eat.

So we Walkington’d back to the Mayflower, stopping en route to grab some salads, fruit and snacks to go, and spent the evening scheming about tomorrow, which is now today.

The Capitol buildings, the Air and Space Museum and the National Cathedral are on the menu. We’ll see what other trouble we can get into as well. Thank you for coming along with us once again — we love the company!

Till tomorrow,

Walking Fink

DC Day 1

7 July, 2016
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Greetings from Connecticut Avenue!

After a fantastic couple of hours with RtB fiend RD and his wife, we drove the final 90 minutes into the city yesterday. It wasn’t a bad trip at all, and we found the hotel easily.

We’re staying at the historic Mayflower, where many presidents and dignitaries have dined, danced and slept. We took a walk after a late dinner last night, and opened some doors to peek in at some of the dated but beautifully ornate architecture. The Grand Ballroom has seen its share of important feet across its carpets; looking in on it gave us a creepy sort of Overlook-from-TheShining feeling, but it was gorgeous and smelled of history and I loved it.

OK, rewind a bit. After checking in around 3 p.m., we walked down to the Mall for our monuments tour. Remember last year, when we walked and walked and walked and walked the streets of New Orleans, gazing at the beautiful homes in the Garden District in the 94-degree heat? Yeah, this was just like that. Except longer. Like, almost three times longer.

It’s a very long walk from Washington to Lincoln.

The National Mall is larger than you might imagine. It’s a mile and a half between the Washington and Lincoln monuments alone, and farther beyond still is the Capitol building, which you can just barely see in the far distance in the picture I took at left. (Click the expander icon at the upper right after clicking on the photo to see it at full size.)

We walked from the hotel (up behind the White House) to the Washington Monument, to the Lincoln Memorial and its 145 steps, to the Viet Nam and World War II monuments, through Constitution Park, back out onto 17th St. and back up to the Mayflower. Over three miles. Kinda toasty.

After guzzling drinks and taking showers and cooling off, we decided to have a small, light dinner at Edgar, the restaurant inside the hotel. Neither of us felt much like schlepping out onto the sidewalks again to find food, so this was perfect.

We looked at the appetizer menu and asked the waiter about the Wagyu (Japanese cows) meatballs on brioche. He said there were four small meatballs on the piece of bread, with crushed tomatoes and shaved Parmesan. Perfect. We both ordered one, and a side salad: the Thriller got the wedge salad, and I ordered a Caesar. Nice, light fare.

This is what arrived.

Again, as with the size of the Mall, the photo doesn’t do this “appetizer” justice.  And the size of my salad bowl rivaled what I put mashed potatoes in at holiday family dinners. We both said “Whoa!” as the waiter set down the food. We did the best we could under the circumstances, and forced much of the deliciousness down our gullets. After our walk around the building, we came back to the room, where the Thriller watched his White Sox game online and I read. Then it was time for Zs.

While I’ve been up since 3:44 (I was so hoping my clock said 5:44, alas), I’m not tired. I’ll be tired when it’s time to hit the Metro to go to Arlington, the Holocaust Museum and Ford’s Theater/Petersen House, though, so bring on the coffee, bro.

Hope you’re all doing well — I’ll check in tomorrow morning.

Ciao!

Presidential Fink

Happy newses

28 June, 2016
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Where to begin? In a world where really good things are treasured because they happen in sometimes less-than-equal measure with the bad, it’s nice to crow about positive stuff.

So behold, in random order, my list of happy things for today:

  1. The teachers ratified our contract (of the 59 faculty, 56 voted yes, and three didn’t vote). It makes all the hard work and long hours worth it, and I must say I am humbled by my colleagues’ support of what the negotiations team was able to put together. It makes me want to fight for them more and better. Now we wait for the school board to vote on it tonight. I hope all goes well and no one raises a fuss, because going back to the bargaining table after all this would definitely be a bad thing. I’m hopeful, though.
  2. Odyssey 2016 is just around the corner! We leave on 6 July, and we are excited. We’re also tremendously grateful to my sis Mavis and her husband for uprooting their lives to house- and dog-sit so Remy and Pax can maintain a sense of routine and normalcy (and Mavis will spoil them rotten) while we’re gone. The Thriller has already begun packing. Me? I’ll wait till Tuesday night. :-) A special highlight will be stopping in Virginia to have lunch with RtB fiend RD and his wife Bonnie — can’t wait to see them! It’s been too long.
  3. As many of you know, I struggle with osteoarthritis in one joint. After some problems over the last year (I hadn’t been to the doctor about it for the last five), I broke down and went back last Friday. Test results showed good news, although I confess I’m looking forward to getting that socket shot up with cortisone today.

Can you handle any more happy newses? Good, because I’m clean out. But as always, you could share some of your own, and I’ll crow with you.