A Travellerspoint blog

North/South Carolina and Tennessee

I'm Ba-a-a-ack!

Did you think I fell off the face of the earth?? In my last blog (over a couple of weeks ago), I said I was on my way to Fayetteville, North Carolina to see my son Scott. I've been pretty occupied (or preoccupied) since then and hadn't made the opportunity to get back to my blog -- but here I am!

Travelling to Fayetteville

We just had a relatively short trip down to Fayetteville. One thing that struck me funny is that we saw literally dozens of billboards for "JR's." The billboards said things like "everthing from brassieres to chandeliers" as well as "the state's biggest tourist trap." We saw it as we passed by (a HUGE warehouse), but we didn't stop as we didn't need either a brassiere or a chandelier.

Scott met us on the freeway into town (he actually came up behind us on the freeway, which is so "Scott-like") ;-) He had to lead us to the campground because it was on the Fort Bragg Army base. Because we are family, we got to stay at the Army campground, and for a price that was about half of what we were used to paying. Good deal, huh? Those federal taxes we've paid came in handy this time!

As we were coming in, it was raining (one of those afternoon thunderstorms). But by the time we got to the campground, it was a downpour! Like someone was pouring buckets of water on us. We decided not to do our usual "set-up" in the rain, so we just ran out of our truck and over into Scott's truck. We drove over to Starbucks to get a cup of coffee before heading to Scott's house.

Scott and his gal Chris (more about her later) live in a beautiful home in a very nice golf community. It's decorated beautifully -- the wood and tile floors, as well as the wall colors, are exactly to my taste. I could have moved in without changing a thing! (Well, Scott might have something to say about that!).

I've heard about Chris for some time -- she and Scott have been together for over a year -- so I was very glad to meet her. She's an Army Intelligence Officer, and very smart and pretty. And she's a pretty tough cookie -- she's gone over to Iraq several times to interrogate Al Qaida. She told us a lot of interesting stories of her experiences.

She and Scott also do "Adventure Racing" together on a coed team. That means that they go off out in the boonies and compete in a triathalon of mountain biking, paddling, and treking. They're both in excellent physical condition, of course. Those two seem to have a lot in common.

The "Zoo"

The surprise when we walked in to their house was the "zoo". They have a miniature pinscher named Minnie, two cats named Charlotte and Scaredy (and yes, she IS a scaredy cat!), a 100% wolf named Chevy (more about him later), an iguana (in a cage, of course) also named Charlotte, and a coatimundi (koh-duh-mun-dee, part of the raccoon family) named Cody (also in a big cage). Everyone gets along well (except for Scaredy, who stays under the bed). But we absolutely fell in love with Chevy.
East_Coast_153.jpgChris had rescued him when he was a baby (she's from the southwest, part Native American, and loves animals). I was wondering, before I met Chevy, whether he would ever "act wild", but he is the most mellow, friendly, gentle "dog" we've ever met. He has the best personality. It made me want to get a wolf! By the way, I have pictures of the whole menagerie (including the humans) on my photosite.

Chris is an excellent housekeeper, and there's no evidence (sight or smell) and there are animals in that house. Pretty impressive (and a lot of work!).

Just about the whole time we were there, we played the card game Rook, watched a little comedy on TV, and went out to eat. We ate at some great places, and at one place, we had the best gyros ever!

The day before we left, we all drove over to the Southern Pines area -- that's where they have the famous golf tournaments, and Tiger Woods has a home. It's a pretty, trendy area with a lot of nice homes. It was fun to walk around there.

They were worried about entertaining us, but we just wanted to hang out and relax, so that's what we did. We had a good time with them.

By the way -- one interesting story -- on the first night at the Army Campground, we went to bed late, but started hearing helicopters overhead. They kept flying by, closer and closer. At one point, I felt like the helicopter was going to scrape the top of our RV! We laughed and laughed about that adventure! We were finally able to go to sleep. I'm not sure if we just passed out while they were still flying by, or if they actually stopped. We found out the next day that we were right next door to a helicopter base at Fort Bragg, and they were doing drills that night! Oh well. :-)

On To The Coast

We left Fayetteville to head toward Wilmington, North Carolina, on the coast. All the way over there we saw field after field of tobacco. When I saw these big plants, I was wondering who the person was who first had the idea of cutting those leaves, drying them, and smoking them. And then lots of his friends and family thought that was a good thing and they did it too. And here we are today. Hmmm... a mystery.

Anyway, we got into Wilmington. It's just a cute little town on the coast, but their claim to fame is that they have the USS North Carolina docked there.
That was a battleship used during WWII that this town later acquired. Michael and I have both seen battleships (both he and my dad were in the Navy), so we didn't take the tour. But it was impressive to see it sitting there. We parked in the parking lot and ate our sandwiches looking at it. Cool, huh? (By the way, when you just read the word "battleship", was the first thing that came into your mind "You sunk my battleship!"? No? OK, maybe it's just me).

Myrtle Beach Craziness

We headed on down the coast to stay a couple of days in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I really didn't know what to expect, although I had it in my mind that it was a classy little beach resort area. Boy, was I wrong! Yes, it's a beach resort area, but I wouldn't call it classy -- it's the most "touristy" area I think I've ever seen!

There is mile after mile after mile of things for tourists to buy, see, do and eat. There were over a dozen of huge "beach stores" -- the kinds that sell bathing suits and boogey boards. There are hundreds of restaurants, with dozens of those being all-you-can-eat Calabash-style seafood places (there's a long explanation for "Calabash", but the short one is that the fish is all fried). We went to one of those restaurants to check it out (since they were everywhere), and it was pretty good (that is, until all that fried food started catching up with you). I was mostly focusing, though, on the all-you-can-eat crab legs. Yum!

There are shopping areas everywhere, including TWO large outlet malls! There was also a very unique shopping area called "Broadway at the Beach". It had a lot of cool shops in it, lots of ice cream shops, and an IMAX theater.

There were also Branson-like shows everywhere, from Medieval jousting, to country variety shows, to chinese acrobats -- you name it. But the thing that started becoming a joke for us was seeing the number of miniature golf places around town. Now we've all gone miniature golfing, and maybe to the nice Scandia-type golf courses. But I've never seen courses like these. They looked like what I would expect if Disneyland had miniature golf. They all had "mountains" and waterfalls, then various themes like dinosaurs or pirates or you-name-it! There were literally over 20 golf courses like this, everywhere you looked. It's hard to imagine how they all made money -- although there were tons of people down there. I found out later that it was "Senior Week" -- in other words, it's a tradition for seniors to graduate high school and come down to Myrtle Beach for a week. Kids were everywhere!

By the way, a side note -- when we drove into Myrtle Beach, we saw a sign that said "Myrtle Beach, Home of Vanna White." Are you impressed yet?? ;-)

Back to North Carolina

Well, Myrtle Beach was as south as we're going at this time (we're going to go on down to Georgia and Florida after our trip to the northeast this fall -- it's too muggy to go now). So we're heading back up the road, this time to Asheville, North Carolina. I've been to Asheville briefly, a few years ago, and always wanted to go back to check it out -- this time as potentially a place to live.

Asheville is a beautiful place with moderate temperature. The average elevation is about 2200 feet, so it doesn't get as hot as other places around here. It's in the Blue Ridge Mountains (which, along with the Smoky Mountains is part of the Appalachians), and is extremely "treed". The trees are very pretty, but it actually proved to be difficult when you're looking around trying to check out the community. You know when you drive down the highway, you can pretty much look left and right, close and far, and get a good feel for how a community is laid out? You often can't do that in Asheville. As you drive along the highways, or even many of the city streets, you look left and right and see trees. Interesting.

We looked at a lot of houses there, and we actually found one that we both absolutely fell in love with. Of course, we would never buy a house unless we've found a nearby church first, but we had talked to a gal who went to Biltmore Baptist and highly recommended it. So we decided to go there Sunday morning. It was a huge, but awesome, church, and felt very comfortable. After Sunday morning, we were just about ready to buy the house, but we were finally able to rein in our emotions and slow ourselves down. There was a big reason we needed to do that: we hadn't even seen Tennessee yet -- our planned destination! So we figured that if God wanted us in Asheville, he would bring us back after our "due diligence" in Tennessee.

Finally in Tennessee

Michael and I have been talking about Tennessee for so long, that it was good to finally arrive. We left Asheville, driving over the Blue Ridge and the Smoky Mountains, and arrived in Knoxville. It was a beautiful drive. By the way, the Smoky Mountains really ARE smoky! I didn't understand that until I read up on the Internet. It said that rains so much up in the mountains (it's actually considered a temperate rain forest!) that it forms a constant condensation that appears as smoke. Interesting.

Before we started house hunting, we decided to drive on over to Sieverville and Pigeon Forge -- the home of Dollywood. I couldn't believe it when I saw Pigeon Forge -- it was a combination of Myrtle Beach and Branson! It was very much like Myrtle Beach with its touristy spots, shopping, restaurants, and "beach stores" (wait, there's no beach here!). It also had the numerous extravagent miniature golf places! But it also had a lot more family theater shows like you find in Branson. We drove over to Dollywood to get a peek. But you actually have to park in this big parking lot and they tram you over to the park. You can't even see it because it's all behind the trees (there's those darn trees again!).

Before this trip began, we really thought Knoxville was where we would end up. But after a couple of days driving around, looking at the various homes and areas, we realized that that was not where we were supposed to live. Frankly, that was a surprise.

Since we had already paid for three days at the campsite, and had made this decision in two days, we decided to take the third day and drive down to Chattanooga to look. When Michael did his Internet research on homes, he discovered a town of about 40,000 to the northeast of Chattanooga called Cleveland. It seemed to have a lot of homes within our parameters, so we looked around there. It was a nice little town, and we really liked it. Since we had already made campground arrangements in Nashville for the next day, we ralized we were going to have to come back to Cleveland later.

We drove over to Nashville and were quite surprised at just how dynamic it was. The main reason we were surprised is that a person we had talked to told us that Knoxville was the classy city and that Nashville was the hick city. But we didn't see anything classy about Knoxville, and were quite impressed with Nashville.

There are tons of suburbs around the Nashville area, so we looked around for three days -- and didn't find aything that seemed right. UGH! We also didn't do any of the touristy things there in Nashville (like Opryland, etc) because we were on a mission. We'll come back and do all that later. Overall, the Nashville excursion was quite a frustration, so we headed back to Cleveland.

Cleveland's IT, right??

We really cranked up the house search in Cleveland. We drove around looking at about 30 homes the first day, to narrow it down to those we would go see with the realtor. We also went to about four FSBO's (for sale by owners). In the meantime, we went to church on Sunday, the Westwood Baptist Church. The pastor was really good, although I will say that the rest of the "church factors" weren't quite what I had in mind. Then the next day, we went with the realtor to see about 10 houses. We had it down to three houses, and we were going to try to decide what to do. At one point, Michael said "What are we doing here in Cleveland?" He said it as a joke (because I had said that several times over the last couple of days), but then I said, "Yeah, I know -- I'm having problems with this." Bottom line is, something was nagging at me about those three houses and about the church. Michael liked them all, and liked the area, so I thought it was just me. However, with that kind of nagging feeling hanging out there, we decided to just slow down. We're actually leaving Cleveland to go to some other places.

You know, I've told many or most of you that both Michael and I just want to live where God wants us to live, and frankly, I've been frustrated that He doesn't just send me a note or a fax to let me know where that is. Whatever He wrote on the note, I would do. However, for some reason He's choosing not to do that. I had a good talk with myself last evening (fortunately, I didn't answer back), and realized that (1) we haven't been looking THAT long, (2) we had to look first in those places that WE thought we would live before we were open to anything else, and (3) the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before they got to the Promised Land. While I hope it won't be 40 years until we find where God wants us to be, I think I can muster up a little more patience in the meantime.

Soberly and humbly, but with great hope and anticipation, I remain here in Tennessee with my eyes and heart open....

Posted by semitte 10:18 Comments (0)

OOPS -- My Bad!

In the blog I just published, I mentioned 71 photos in my photosite. However, I left off about 30 pics -- all of Virginia Beach and Williamsburg! So if you've already looked at the 71 pics, you may want to go back and look at the others.

Here's the link again to my photosite.

Posted by semitte 22:15 Comments (0)

The American History Tour

Exploring Independence

I've always wanted to visit Philadelphia, so was excited that I was finally there! The first area I headed for, of course, was the Independence National Historical Park.

The first exhibit we happened to come across was the Liberty Bell. They've built a new exhibit for the bell in recent years. There's a whole big building with a lot of written info about its history -- both its manufacture and its significance throughout the years -- then finally the bell. I would say that it's smaller than I thought it would be, but it was exciting to see it nevertheless.
Philadelphia_008.jpg The other thing about it that struck me was how crudely it was made. You would expect the bottom rim to be perfectly round and smooth, but it appeared that the edge was very crudely banged out. I guess I wasn't expecting that. The information about the bell was interesting. I don't remember reading in history class about its significance in both the abolition/civil rights and suffrage movements, but the info there about these 2 causes were impactful. It was pretty cool.

As we left the building, we came across an actual ongoing archealogical dig. You could see the foundation of a building or house several feet down. I was surprised at how far down it was. Later we happened to come across another building where the archealogical team was working on the stuff that they found. In this big room were all kinds of pieces of pottery, etc., that they were trying to put together like a puzzle. It looked pretty overwhelming, but we saw some pieces that they had already put together. I asked one of the guys about why these items and buildings were not preserved better than they were. He said that the appreciation of something comes only after many, many years. In other words, we may not appreciate something that we owned, say, 20 years ago, but we would probably appreciate something that was 100 years old. At the time things were thrown away or torn down, it was probably because they just considered it old or useless or junky, and it was time for something new. Interesting...and sad too.

Then we wandered up the street and came across the old Christ Church burial yard where Benjamin Franklin was buried in 1790. This old graveyard was full of old stones, some crudely fashioned, mostly from the 1700's. It was cool to walk around and see all the names and dates, and I tried to imagine the ceremony that took place at that spot at the time of Ben's burial.

Across the street was an old Quaker Meeting House. There was info there about the Quakers, and the most interesting was how they got their name. One of them appeared before a judge for something, and he told him that he should tremble at the responsibility he had to make the right decision in this case, and his accountability before God. The judge said something to the effect, "I'm not the one who should be worried -- you're the Quaker, not I." So an entire religious group is accidently named by some random judge!

On down the street, we came upon Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drafted. I was very disappointed because we didn't get to go in. You have to get a ticket first at the Visitors Center (where we had been about an hour or two before), but we didn't know that, and they had already given out all their tickets! What aggrevated me was that we went into the Visitors Center when we first got there, and I asked the man for information. He gave me a brochure and asked me if I had any questions. I said, no, I'll just follow the map around town. I didn't realize that I SHOULD have had a question. I'm thinking he should have said at that point that if I wanted to see Independence Hall, I'd need a ticket, and there probably would have still been some at that time. And with the rare and expensive parking downtown, I wasn't going to come back the next day just to see that. Oh well. At least I got to see the building.

East of there was a place called Carpenter's Hall. This was the place where the first Continental Congress came together in 1774 -- the first of the discussions about independence. I enjoy trying to imagine those first people there -- Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, George Washington, and so many others -- and think about the fact that they were standing there at the same place I was, talking about this very important matter. That's fun to me.

From there we walked down to the First Bank of the U.S. It was the site of the country's first Department of Treasury. If front of that building still remains some of the original cobblestone in the streets. It's hard to imagine an iron-wheeled buggy going down those very bumpy rocks. It was hard to even walk on it without turning your ankle! Also, it seemed so odd because the buildings were beautiful and very finely crafted. It seemed to me that the streets should have had some of the same craftsmanship, but what do I know?

We walked around behind Independence Hall and over to Washington Square, where there's a monument commemorating the unknown soldiers of the Revolutionary War. On the monument are the words of George Washington, and he refers to the thousands of unmarked graves within the Square.

We walked back towards the middle of that area and saw Jewelers Row, America's oldest Diamond District (established in 1851). There are hundreds of jewelry stores on that street. It was quite a sight.

The Rest of Philadelphia

We got in the pickup and started driving up towards the very old City Hall. Along the way, we saw the historic Masonic Temple (most of the founding fathers, including Washington, were members there), the Philadelphia Museum of Art (most famous for Rocky running up its steps), and at least a dozen weddings going on in one of the large parks. We ended up driving on down to South Philly, to the "Italian Market" area, which is famous for all its famous sons such as Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Vic Damone, Chubby Checker, etc. (In fact, there was one building that had all of their pictures -- and others -- painted on the side of the building). Anyway, we were driving towards the area, and we turned a corner, and all of the sudden there were dozens and dozens of people, lined up in the streets, cars everywhere. We thought, what the heck is going on? Then we realized that right there, catty-corner across from each other were Geno's and Pat's, both renowned for their Philly Cheese Steaks. I had wanted to try out the original item, although I wasn't sure where to find them, so it was serendipitous to run across them like that. So we went to find a place to park -- not an easy task! We drove and drove up and down all the one-way streets. We ended up parking 22 blocks away! Now I know that sounds like a long way, but it was actually about .6 miles. Anyway, I'm actually glad we parked so far away because we got to walk through all the old Italian neighborhoods and seeing how other people lived. When we were about a block or two away, we ran across an Italian family who were out in their lawn chairs on the sidewalk (that's the only place they could be). I stopped and asked the group, "Could I ask you a question?" The older woman in the group stood up and pointed her finger at me, and she and I said at the same time, "Which one is better?" I started laughing and said, "Boy, you're good!" Anyway, the whole group of them -- about 8 or 9 people -- unanimously said "Geno's" -- so Geno's it was!!

We walked up to the next block where Geno's was located, and started standing in line (out in the street!).
Philadelphia_063.jpg It went pretty fast, and I could tell that the people at the window were cranking them through. I also realized that we wouldn't be able to dawdle at the window (it would be like those VISA check card commercials where everything comes to a standstill because someone wanted to write a check). Anyway, Michael stood in line while I went up near the front of the line to check out the choices. Well, your choices were steak, with or without onions, and with or without cheese (either cheese-whiz [traditional] or provolone). You didn't even get your drink there (you had to go to the next window). So we were ready -- steak with onions with provolone. It was almost intimidating to go up to the window when it was our time. I felt like if I didn't say what I wanted perfectly and quickly, I would be shoved aside! But I said it all ok. We got the food immediately and then went to the next window to get our drink (Pepsi or Diet Pepsi). The only condiment for the sandwich was ketchup (no thanks), so we just sat down and ate it. To tell you the truth, it wasn't all that great (of course, Michael was talking about all the things he would have done to it to make it taste better) -- but that wasn't the point. The point was that I had a traditional Philly Cheesesteak in South Philly! It was fun to just be a part of the craziness.

Biking and Museum

When we drove over near the Art Museum, we we also drove through Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River (pronounced Skoo-kill -- it's Dutch). It was pretty, but more significantly, it had a great bike trail along both sides of the river. So we decided to take our bikes down there the next day so we could ride the trail and go to the Museum.

It was a nice flat trail right along the river, with the occasional long row boat floating by. We rode about 2/3 of one side and came to the Art Museum, so we parked and went in. Of course, I first had to take a picture of Michael up at the top of the stairs in the Rocky Balboa pose.
Philadelphia_016.jpg That was a requirement!

It was a nice museum, with a wide range of eras and styles. My favorite was the European artists from the 1800's, such as Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Degas, Goya, etc. But it also had art back to the 1500's (a lot of middle ages kind of stuff). I enjoyed it a lot.

We went out and ate our lunch in the courtyard (we had brought the backpack and supplies that day). While we were in the Museum, it had started to drizzle. We decided that we didn't care (you have to decide those things, don't you know?!) and just sat there and ate in the drizzle. Then we got back on our bikes, crossed the bridge, and started up the other side. It was drizzling all along our ride, but it wasn't really bad. The good part was that all the sane people had decided to go home, so we had the trail almost to ourselves! The park was very pretty. We rode as far as the trail went, then crossed on yet another bridge, and came back to where we started. We had a good ride.

Princeton Bound

We left Philadelphia and decided to drive on up the road to check out Trenton, New Jersey. When we got there, we saw that it was actually a crummy little town. BUT I saw that if we continued on up the road for another 10 miles or so, we would come to Princeton. As soon as we started leaving Trenton, the landscape started getting prettier and the homes fancier. The town of Princeton was gorgeous, and then we saw the campus. It was very old and very spread out, with lots and lots of trees, but it was probably the most beautiful campus I had ever seen. The buildings themselves were just random, with lots of trees in front, so I never could get a good picture to share with you.

In the campus area there was also a very trendy little shopping area that reminded me of something you might see in Carmel or something. Very cute. We didn't stroll the streets at tha point since it had passed from drizzle to rain, but we enjoyed driving up and down the streets. At one point, we saw a courtyard area with hundreds of chairs. It only took me a minute to figure out that that was graduation day. As we continued to drive along (it was around 4:45 at that point), we started seeing people, including a couple in caps and gowns, walking toward that area, so we figured we'd better get out before the traffic got too crazy. I felt a couple of emotions when I saw the graduates -- one was "wow, good for you for graduating from Princeton", and the other was "bummer that it's raining on your graduation day".

Random Road Report, Part I

When we were driving into Philadelphia, I had seen there was a toll road going in from New Jersey. As we got closer, we saw a sign that said the toll was $3. We commented on how that was on the higher side (tolls in the San Francisco bay area usually run $1 or $2). But we were in for a shock. When we came to the toll booth, the guy said $9! After we composed ourselves and asked why, the guy said it was because our dually pickup was over 7,000 pounds, and if we looked at our registration, he could prove it. I don't know if that was true or not (although it probably was), but he had a real smart-mouth attitude so it made the $9 payment even harder.

The next day when we went into Philly, I looked on our atlas and saw an alternate route that wasn't green (the designation for a toll route), so we decided to go a little out of the way to go that direction. Again, we drove up and saw a toll booth -- good grief! Michael asked this guy whether the other guy was blowing smoke (we had wondered whether or not the other guy had decided to just take advantage of some Oregonians). He said, "no, it's based on weight." Michael said, "well the weight is not on our registration like the other guy said, so what is it based on?" This guy was a smart-mouth too, and he said "do you want to talk to a cop?" Michael said "YES!" Great.... So we pulled over to the side, ahead of the booth, and waited a couple of minutes for a couple of New Jersey cops to come over. We had a nice conversation (I told Mike to be nice!), and I guess neither one of the toll guys were blowing smoke, so we decided we would go ahead and pay the toll, even though it was a rip off. We couldn't figure out how to drive back around and pay. The cops were already heading back to their cars, so I yelled at one of them to ask him where we turn around. He looked around a bit, and I could tell by his demeanor that he realized there was no easy way to do it, so he said "just go on this time." YEAH! Our toll average just decreased to $4.50! ;-)

On to something else -- between Clarksboro NJ (where we stayed) and Trenton NJ, it seemed that there was a Dunkin' Donuts about every mile. I couldn't believe how many we saw -- and wondered how they were all supported! (Of course, we did our best to support the local economy and got a few donuts ourselves!).

There are a lot of "townships" around this part of the world (as well as boroughs and cities). As you come up to a directional sign, in order to save space, instead of saying "township", it will say "Twp of ---". That makes me laugh every time, because I see the word "twerp" there. (OK, maybe it's just me). ;-)

Off to Washington

We visited Washington DC about 6 years ago, and saw a lot of stuff, so we had decided that we probably wouldn't stop there this time. We thought it would be too hard with the fifth wheel, and too expensive to find a park close to DC. However, it was difficult to be so close and NOT go, so we decided to look for an RV park. We found the perfect place, not too far from DC, not too expensive, and close to the bus and then metro rail, so we were going to get to go after all.

When we got set up, we just had about a half day, so didn't want to go into DC that late. Instead, we headed for Prince William Forest Park, a national park (that I had never heard of) that was close to Quantico Marine Base. They had a 7-mile scenic loop and bike trail there, so we took our bikes.

When we got there, we thought it looked a little hilly, but not too bad. But they had a cool set up. Around most of the scenic loop, it was one-way traffic on a two-lane road. The right lane was for cars, and the left lane was just for bikes. It was nice to ride that far without having to worry about cars.

The hills were pretty balanced at the beginning. We would ride for a bit on an uphill, but then there would be a little downhill soon in order to recuperate. It was all working out well. I think there were probably more uphills than downhills, because on the other side of the park, we found ourselves in a very long downhill. I've never gone so fast on my bike! I hit my brakes a few times just to slow it down, but I smelled burning every time. It was exhiliarating, but also a bit scary (especially considering my not-so-long-ago bike crash history!). But all good things must come to an end, and there was a huge uphill after that. We ended up walking our bikes halfway up.

Into DC

The next morning, we took the bus to the Metro Station, then the Metro into DC. I must say that DC has one of the best mass transit systems in the country -- easy and quick. We bought an all-day pass so we could go anywhere we wanted.

When we came to DC before, we had seen all the usual stuff -- the White House, Capital, Smithsonian American History Museum, Lincoln Memorial, etc. My goal on this trip was to see some of the other stuff we hadn't seen before. Our first intended stop was the Ford Theater where Lincoln was shot. But after getting off the Metro and walking a few blocks over, we found out it was closed for renovation. Bummer. But right across the street from there was an old hotel where Lincoln was brought and was cared for until he died. They had all the original stuff in the same room -- including the bed he died in. Again, I just stood there and imagined what it was like that day and seeing Lincoln lie in that bed, and all the chaos in the room. It was interesting being there.

We got back on the Metro and rode two stops down to the Smithsonian area. However, our first stop there was the Holocaust Museum. Matt had been there before and had recommended it. And even though it sounded very interesting, I knew it would be pretty heavy. (When I told Mike that we were going to start the day with where Lincoln was shot and then the Holocaust, he said, wow, this is going to be a fun day). ;-)

The Museum was very well done. It was very realistic and didn't pull any punches. As I was walking in, I told Michael that I hope by the time I leave to have the answer to one question -- where was the US during all this? Well, I got my answer, but I wasn't too happy about it. I found out that there were several attempts made by various senators, citizens, etc. to bring in refugees. But because of the rampant antisemitism in the nation's leadership, they came up with all kinds of excuses why we couldn't take these people in. There was even a ship full of Jewish refugees that had escaped who were at our port, but we wouldn't let them in. I was pretty disgusted by the time I left. But even though it was a pretty heavy morning, I would recommend this museum to everyone. I don't think we should ever forget what happened.

When we left there, we walked over to the World War II Memorial, located between the Washington Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. When we were here six years ago, they had just done the groundbreaking for this memorial, so I obviously hadn't seen it. I hadn't even seen a picture of it, so wasn't sure what to expect. But it was very nice -- very well done. And it was bigger than I had imagined. There was a big fountain area, surrounded on the two sides by the Atlantic struggle, and then the Pacific struggle on the other side. Then there was a pillar around the pool representing each state. I'm glad I got to see it.

After that, we headed over to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. It was pretty cool to see representations (and/or the real thing) of all our space history -- like the module that landed on the moon, the space shuttle, the nose cone of various Apollo moon flights, etc. It was very interesting to go through there (even though there were a bazillion teenagers in there at the same time on their end-of-school trips).

Arlington Cemetery

From there, we got back on the Metro and rode over to Arlington Cemetery. It was very impressive. It was incredibly well-maintained (which I was glad to see) and a very beautiful cemetery. Of course, we walked over to see JFK's grave.
East_Coast_058.jpg I had forgotten that Jackie was buried beside him. They also had two of their babies that they had lost buried there with them. The eternal flame was burning, and it was a very respectful area. In fact, one of the random tour guides had taken his people up there to the burial area and started talking to them, giving them some factoids. After he was done, this guard came up to him and really chewed him out, telling him that next time he was to talk to his people away from this area first, before he gets there.

We headed around the corner from there to see where Bobby Kennedy was buried. I was surprised to see how understated that gravesite was -- just a small cross and marker.

Finally, we walked over to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For some reason I had imagined that the Tomb would be near the front as you walk in, but it was way the heck over on the other side. I also did not realize until we walked up on it that there is a big arena-type memorial there that can seat quite a few. Anyway, we started seeing some people running over to the Tomb. Since the Changing of the Guard Ceremony takes place only every 30 minutes, we figured that it was just about time (we don't wear our watches -- it's a "vacation thing"). Sure enough, we had to wait only about 5 minutes. First of all, the soldier's walking was a thing of beauty. It looked like he was floating on air -- it didn't even look human. And the changing of the guard ceremony was amazing. You can tell it is steeped in military tradition -- very formal and deliberate. The entire ceremony takes about 10 minutes. When you consider that they do this every half hour, it's quite impressive. Of course, I took lots of pictures (on my photosite), but I also went to You Tube to see if there were any videos of this. If you're interested, you can look at this special report: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XiuZRb_4UU There are also other videos on that same page if you're interested. I would definitely tell anyone going to DC that this is a must-see.

Well, I just read through this DC section and realized that yes, I did have a "death theme" going -- Lincoln's death, Holocaust, WWII Memorial and Arlington Cemetery. Hmmm.... But it was a really good enjoyable day. Go figure.

Random Road Report, Part II

As we were travelling to DC, in the short trips across Delaware and Maryland, we saw something interesting. In those two states they have what they call "Service Areas". These consist of gas stations, restaurants, etc., and they're in the broad middle of the highway, between the two lanes. You enter those areas by exiting left, then you just drive right back onto the freeway. I thought that was a clever idea, although I realized that the space is limited and the only way to get your business in there would be to enter into a contract with the government -- kinda stifles free enterprise, huh?

Of course, I ranted on and on about the tolls to get from New Jersey into Philadelphia. However, that was nothing! When we left NJ heading to DC, we had to pay a toll to go across the bridge into Delaware (we did finally deduce that no matter which direction you go, you have to pay to get out of NJ). We were in Delaware just a few minutes, and then we had to pay a toll to get into Maryland. Again, just a few minutes in Maryland, through Baltimore, we came to Virginia, where we (you guessed it) had to pay a toll. Then right before we got to our campground, we entered a toll booth and paid to go about 300 feet to our turnoff (thank goodness that one was only $0.25). All in all, in 2-1/2 hours of driving, we paid a total of $25.50 in tolls!!! Now you would think after all those toll roads, the roads would be perfect, as smooth as glass -- WRONG! They were some really lousy roads -- so I'm not sure what they're doing with all that money!! (OK, enough ranting).

One cool thing they have in DC is regarding their commute lanes. Those of you who have lived in or visited California know that they have commuter lanes (diamond lanes) that only those cars with 2 or more people can use during certain hours. They have that in DC too. But the cool thing is that there is a 2 or 3-lane barriered-off section in the freeway median area that they use for that. But what's even better is that these median lanes all go IN to DC in the mornings and OUT of DC in the afternoons (there are gates that help make the switch). So in other words, this system adds 2 or 3 lanes to the freeway during commute times. It's still incredibly crowded, though. Given the quality and ease of use of their mass transit, I know I'd do anything possible to not drive around there.

Finally, we were in a county park outside of DC and saw a game of kickball going on. It was evidently an adult co-ed league. It looked like a game of baseball, running bases and all, except that they pitched and kicked a big elementary-school-type red rubber ball. We sat and watched them for a while, and it looked like a lot of fun. I thought that was interesting -- adult co-ed league kickball.

On To Virginia

We headed on down into Virginia, through Fredericksburg and Richmond, and on down to the Chesapeake Bay area. After we dropped off the fifth wheel in Gloucester Point (and paid a toll to get there!), we took off south of there. We drove through Hampton and Norfolk (and saw the Navy base and the big ships there), then on down to Virginia Beach. We went out on the beach there in VB -- it was really a nice beach. It was really long and really deep, and the sand was perfect.
East_Coast_079.jpg I went down and put my feet in the water. It was pretty cold, but there were lots of people in it. But I'm still having a hard time seeing the Atlantic Ocean as an ocean -- there are no stinkin' waves! I'm used to the west coast where there are always waves. It's weird!

While we were there, we kept seeing lots of tents being set up, along with nets and markers. When we asked what was going on, we found out that there was going to be a big Sand Soccer tournament that weekend. I guess people from all over the world come to that beach every year to do this -- people from 6 to 60. Here I've never heard of Sand Soccer, and all hundreds or thousands of people do this all the time.

Colonial Williamsburg

The next day we headed over to Historic Williamsburg. I did not have a clear understanding of what this was until we were there. Basically, this is the historic district within the City of Williamsburg. Anyone can walk down the street, since this is a regular city street. However, you pay an entry fee to be able to go into the various buildings. It was worth it.

I found out that several years ago, this was a deteriorating section of the city. However, in the early 1900's, John D. Rockefeller thought that this area was worth saving, and put millions of dollars into restoring it. All these buildings were from the 1600's and 1700's. There are some original buildings, and then others have been restored in various degrees. Anyway, now it is like an entire city. It's about a mile long, and about 3 streets wide. On every street are various shops and taverns like they were back in the day -- everything from the blacksmith, cabinetmaker, apothecary, gunmaker, silversmith, shoemaker, wigmaker, cooper and on and on. And these shops are filled with workers producing their wares in the manner and with the equipment of the 1700's. (And in the carpenter's shop I got to play a harpsicord -- very cool!). There were also houses of noblemen, with their kitchens outside of the main house (because it was too hot), and the slave quarters out back. We attended a local trial held in the courthouse in the manner it would have taken place, and went into the armory where all the guns and ammunition would have been kept.

We also went into an Episcopal Church that George Washington and others attended, and that is still used today. Each pew had a little wall and door around it so that people could bring in a little container of coals to keep them warm. The women sat on one side and the men the other. The pulpit was elevated so that the people could see over the little walls, and it had a little "roof" so that the sound would bounce off and down to the people. I sat in one of the pews, and it was cool to think that George worshipped there.

At that time, the state capitol was also there in Williamsburg, so we saw where the legislature met (the House of Burgesses). Later in the day, they put on this drama where the Governor showed up and put more restrictions on the people, because of the Boston Tea Party. Some of the leaders, including Patrick Henry, were standing up for their rights. At various times during the afternoon, they re-enacted various vignettes leading up to the Declaration of Independence. It was really very cool and I would recommend everyone visit there.

At the edge of this historic area, we also saw the College of William and Mary, the second-oldest college in America (behind Harvard), founded in 1693. It's amazing that this is still an active college, more than 300 years later.

I have 71 new pictures of all this adventure on my photosite. I've made an album #2 for ease of viewing.

Random Road Report, Part III

Something interesting we saw all the way from Richmond to the Bay area was that almost all of the off-ramps and on-ramps had red and white striped barriers available to let down. When we finally got to the Bay area, we asked about it, and it's for hurricane evacuation. In case of evacuation, they can shut off the ramps and head everyone out of town going the same direction without worrying about someone coming up the ramps.


Well, it was very fun and very interesting to look at American History through the 1600's, 1700's, 1800's and 1900's. It was a lifelong goal for me to go to all those areas.

We're heading off to Fayetteville, NC to see our son Scott, so more later.

Posted by semitte 19:31 Comments (0)

Ohio, Indy, and Pennsylvania

Off to Candi Land

When I last wrote, we were on our way to Lebanon, Ohio, the home of Mike's niece Candi (Barbara and Lyndell's daughter). Candi's in-laws, Bill and Rosa Porter, were kind enough to allow us to park in their big driveway and plug into their electrical, so that was great. We had dinner with Candi Friday night, then decided to drive over to Indianapolis the next morning.

Serendipitous Parade

You may recall, in my last blog entry, I mentioned that we knew the Indianapolis 500 was going on over Memorial Day weekend, and that's why we didn't stay there. But I just re-read where I said that "everyone will probably be over at the raceway, so the downtown should be empty." I couldn't have been more wrong!

When we drove into downtown, we noticed hundreds of people on the streets. I said, "Let's go see what's going on over there." Well, we found a parking garage (and for some reason, the parking attendant let us go in at no charge), and we walked over to the main street to find out it was the annual Indy parade! This was the 50th year, in fact! Where we walked up was right by the grandstand, and we were able to get close to the street and had a great view!

This parade historically consists of all the Indy drivers (row by row), several "B-list stars", then the usual parade stuff. Well, this was the best parade I've ever been to! I guess my parade history has been more along the "small town" type, but this was truly a "big city" kind of parade.

All the drivers came by. Of course, I'm not an Indy fan, so a lot of the names didn't mean much to me. But I did recognize the names of several drivers, such as A. J. Foyt IV, Al Unser Jr., three of the Andretti brothers, Danica Keller and Dario Franchitti (who the next day won the race). Each of the drivers had their own Corvette convertible pace car they were riding in, along with a beatiful companion. Dario Franchitti's wife is Ashley Judd, and she was riding with him, although she had a big floppy hat on so that you really had to look to see that it was her. We were only a few feet from them, so I could tell it was her. I thought that was good that she wanted to be there with him, but didn't want to take the limelight from him.

Celebrity Sightings

There were various "celebrities" along the route. I use the word "celebrities" in quotes, because some of them hardly fit the description, but it was fun to see them nevertheless. Super Bowl MVP (and Indy favorite son) Peyton Manning was the Grand Marshall. Also in the parade were the Governor of Indiana (riding a Harley), the Mayor of Indianapolis, A. J. Foyt Sr., Gene Simmons (of the rock group KISS), Florence Henderson (she actually looked good), Ruth Buzzi (hadn't seen her in years!), General Chuck Yeager (cool), rapper Ludicris (yeah, it was ludicrous), McDreamy and McSteamy from Grey's Anatomy (cute), TV tabloid hosts Melissa Rivers, Pat O'Brien and Carlos Dias (ok, whatever), John Oates (from Hall & Oates), and a couple of other TV and/or soap opera stars that I didn't know. My favorite star was Apollo Anton Ohno (six-time Olympic gold medal winner, and 5-day-old "Dancing with the Stars" [DWTS] winner). I had been watching DWTS, and saw him win that week, so it was fun to see him 5 days later.

Besides all these people, there were some great marching bands (including some state and area-wide All Star players), some huge balloons (like you see at Macy's parade), various horse, police, and other drill teams -- it was a great parade!

Now you'll notice that I haven't posted any pictures of this parade. That's because I left my camera in our vehicle!!!! UGH! I was heart-broken!! My camera is always in our pickup, but we decided to drive Candi's vehicle, and I forgot the camera. Indianapolis also has some great buildings, monuments and parks, but I don't have any pics of them either. :-(

Visiting Heritage

Sunday morning we were able to go with Candi to her church, Heritage Baptist. It was nice to be there. The people were very friendly (even before they knew who we were related to), and the preaching was good. Here's us in the church lobby (thought we'd better get a picture while we were still dressed for church!). ;-)001.jpg

Candi took us out to Smokey Bones (yum!), then we just hung out for the afternoon. That night we played some "three-handed Rook". You know I hate to brag (yeah, right!), but I won both games!!!

It was great seeing Candi and her new digs (the place looked great), and getting to know her in-laws and see her church. We had a great time that weekend.

By the way, as we were getting ready to leave, I was outside by myself for a bit, and saw this critter slowly and awkwardly crossing the street toward the neighbor's creek. I thought it was a beaver, but I wasn't sure I was seeing the tail correctly. I asked Bill about it, and he said it was either a woodchuck or a groundhog. As we were talking about it later, I had forgotten what he said, and asked "Did you say it was a groundchuck?" He said, "No, that's what you get in the meat department at the grocery store." I thought that was pretty funny!

Pennsylvania Bound

Monday morning we headed east toward Pennsylvania. Eastern Ohio was very pretty -- very hilly and treed. At the border, we crossed the Ohio River. It's a huge river, and its surroundings were very green and lush. The border was the one with West Virginia. As you may recall from geography, WV has a little "pointy thing" at the top. I had mentioned before that each state has its own personality. We were in WV for a total of 14 minutes, but even in that short amount of time, I saw a difference from what we had just driven through. It was really beautiful.

Frustrating Pittsburgh

We arrived at our RV site early in the afternoon, so we decided to drive up about 25 miles to Pittsburgh and check it out. We were driving toward downtown, so drove through miles of surrounding areas. It was all old and pretty shabby. We never did see the "good part of town". I realized from the map that the downtown area was almost a peninsula surrounded by three rivers, the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny. As we approached the downtown, I could see that the rivers were very big and very beautiful. However, driving around downtown Pittsburgh was a nightmare. There are various bridges in and out of town, and you don't know whether they are attached to a main road or not, or whether or not they're one-way streets. There are one-way streets everywhere, and you often "can't get there from here." We drove around and around, trying to get to where we wanted to go. It was very frustrating! I was just glad it was Memorial Day and there were almost no people downtown. At one point, we decided we wanted to see a particular riverfront area, but again, we couldn't seem to get there. Instead, we ended up going up this very steep hill where I got a great picture of downtown Pittsburgh. 003.jpgThat was the one and only satisfying part of this adventure. We finally decided to get the heck out of town, but here's the great picture I got!

Flight 93 Memorial

We headed out of town the next morning, toward Gettysburg. But on the way, we decided to stop at the Flight 93 Memorial outside of Shanksville. Wow, what a moving place. Over these 6 years, thousands and thousands of people have visited this very crude memorial site out in the boonies to pay their respects. Someone put up a section of chain link fence where people can leave notes, pictures, momentos, etc. 020.jpgOver 30,000 momentos have been left there so far. They clean off the fence about every 2 weeks or so, and take the stuff to a warehouse where it's catelogued and stored. Also, various groups, from motorcycle clubs to veterans groups to boy scout units -- you name it -- have left memorial plaques or stones. It all seems very spontaneous and heartfelt. Volunteers from the community are out there every day to tell the story of what happened and to help answer questions. The volunteer who talked to us lives about a half mile from the crash site. She said she had the cops and the FBI stationed at her house for the first two weeks after the incident.

It's pretty eerie to look out over that field. There's a big indentation still, but grass grows over it. They have a relatively small American Flag out there where the plane crashed, but the entire area is still fenced off, so you can't go out there. Even though it's been almost 6 years since the plane went down in the field, it's still considered a crime scene. Every spring, after the leaves have fallen off during the previous autumn, then the winter snow melts, they still find stuff that has fallen from the trees. Sad.

As I said, this crash site is totally out in the boonies. Three more seconds, and it would have fallen on the town of Shanksville. Just 15 more minutes, and it would have crashed in Washington DC. It's truly amazing that the plane fell in such an isolated area.

The federal government is going to make a permanent memorial there -- one of the volunteers showed us a picture of what it will look like. They hope to start on it next year and have it done by the ten-year anniversary in 2011. The proposed memorial looks nice, and it's the right thing to do, but it's a little sad that this heartfelt, personal, spontaneous site will go away and be replaced by something more formal.

I've put several other photos of this site on my photosite at http://semitte.photosite.com.

Scenic Route 30

From the Memorial, we got on scenic Route 30, also known as the Lincoln Highway. I had read in a book that this was a very scenic drive, but that's because it goes through lots of little towns, and up, down and around lots of hills and mountains. Beautiful? Yes. Good driving with a fifth wheel? Not so much. ;-)

At one point, we were going over the mountains on a 9% grade for about 5 miles. The summit was only about 2900 feet, but when you start from the bottom and go straight up, it's pretty substantial. It was truly a beautiful sight, though. We were driving through both the Alleghany and Appalachian Mountains. You could look out in the valleys and see gorgeous rolling greens hills for miles. I took this picture from Mt. Ararat, which was about 2500 feet (and no, I didn't see an ark there!).024.jpg

As we were going through the Appalachian Mountains, we saw the Appalachian Trail. This is the longest walking trail in the country and enables a person to walk all the way from Maine to Georgia along the crest of the mountains. Hmm, maybe I'll try that another time. ;-)

Getting to Gettysburg

We arrived in the quaint little town of Gettysburg early in the afternoon, so we went ahead and drove over to the Visitor Center to get our bearings. One of the smartest things we did over there is to purchase an audio CD of the battlefield sites. The most common way for individuals to tour the battlefields is by auto self-tour. You get a brochure that points out the various sites and talks about their significance, and you drive from point to point along the 18-mile route. But this CD went into a lot of detail and background about each place. It truly enhanced the tour.

Since it was early in the afternoon, we went ahead and started the 3-hour tour, the 3-hour tour (did a song just come into your head??). It was so very interesting, but I always have a difficult time when it comes to the insanity of wars, especially in this case with American against American. In case you don't know (or to review if you do), the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place July 1-3, 1863, resulted in more casualties during the Civil War than any other battle, with 23,000 Union soldiers and 28,000 Confederate soldiers killed, wounded, or missing. On the final day, there was a loss of 5,000 soldiers within a 1-hour period. When you see the open fields, ridges, hills, etc., it's mindboggling to imagine just running out there in the middle and starting to kill each other.

After the war, many various groups went out to the battlefield to erect monuments to their leaders and/or fallen comrades. It seems like every unit, every batallion, every company, every state, EVERYBODY erected monuments. I never did see a count, but I would say there are hundreds of monuments in the area -- you see them everywhere you look. Even that was a moving experience when you think about the motivation each group had in erecting their monument. I have a lot more pics on the photosite too.

National Cemetery

The next day we went over to the National Cemetery where over 3500 Union soldiers are buried. At the dedication of this cemetery in November 1863 was where Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address. It was very cool to think that I was walking where he had walked and to imagine him standing there and addressing all those people on such a solemn occasion.

As a side note, after the 3-day battle was over, there were obviously bodies everywhere. Some had been buried in shallow graves where they fell, some just laid there. The then-Governor of Pennsylvania was appalled at this, so he asked a particular person to purchase some property to be used to give these men a proper burial. It took months, but they disinterred these thousands of men, identified them the best they could, and re-buried them in this cemetery. Now this was only the Union soldiers. The Confederate soldiers they mostly threw into a common grave (that makes me ill). Later, those bodies were again disinterred and shipped off to their families in the South for reburial. What a sad piece of national history.

Eisenhower Farm

I knew that President Eisenhower was brought up in Kansas, but I didn't realize he had lived for quite a while in Gettysburg. Being a military man, he had moved all over the world during his career. So when he was considering retirement from the military, in 1950 he bought his first home -- a 189-acre farm on the edge of Gettysburg. As he was anticipating retirement, he was convinced to run for President and, of course, won and was in office for 8 years. During that time, he would spend weekends at the farm. He would also bring any and all important people out there to show them his prize Angus cattle. People such as Churchill, De Gaulle, and Kruschev all visited there.

After he left office in 1960, he and his wife did retire there and raised cattle (well, their staff did, at least). They lived there until each of their deaths, Ike's in 1969 and Mamie's in 1979.

The home itself looked like it was stuck in the 1950's. The Park Service has pretty much kept it looking the same as when they lived there. They had a big formal living room full of interesting items. Back in those days, a president could keep whatever anyone gave them (that was later changed). As a result, they had all kinds of exotic gifts given to them by foreign officials and others. It made for a very interesting living room. But they mostly lived in the back area where there was a small family room (with an old funky 1960's TV) and wicker dinette set. They seemed to live a very simple life, which one would expect from the Eisenhower's. The house was very interesting, but definitely looked like your gramma's house. ;-)Gettysburg_031.jpg

Out back was several barn areas, including the show barn where Ike kept his show cattle. He had won several blue ribbons for his outstanding Angus cattle.

Over to the side of the house, not too many steps from the front door, was a helicopter pad. Ike was the first president to use this new mode of transportation (and every president since has used it). Using the helicopter, his home was only 15 minutes away from Camp David, and 30 minutes from the White House.

It was a very interesting experience, and an often overlooked attraction in Gettysburg, I think.

Boyds Bear Country

I've always told everyone that "I don't do cute", but there's one cute thing I have a weakness for, and that's Boyds Bears. Well, Gettysburg is the home for BB, and south of town is the huge "Boyds Bear Country". This place is a huge 4-story barn-looking building, filled with everything ever made by BB. I've never seen so many bears in one place. It was very fun to go through every floor. He would never admit it, but I think Michael enjoyed it too.

Harley Davidson Tour

We continued east from Gettysburg, heading toward Lancaster County. On the way, we stopped in York to take the free Harley Davidson tour. We both like factory tours, and this one was great in that they allowed us to actually walk through the factory (with strict instructions, of course), to see how everything was done. It was amazing to watch a hydraulic press use 400 tons of pressure to mold a sheet of steel into a fender in a matter of seconds. It was also interesting to watch the motorcycle ride around on a conveyor while the employees were assembling the various parts.

The tour may have been a mistake, though. After going through the tour, and seeing all the cool motorcycles (and sitting on several of them in the showroom), I think Michael has the bug again! We went through our big motorcycle phase in the 80's, and I thought we were done. But maye not. Well, with him, who knows??? We'll see what happens. ;-)Pennsylvania_008.jpg

George's Woodworking

On the road again, this time crossing the Susquehanna River between York and Lancaster. Wow! It was incredibly wide, although not too deep. But it was quite a site!

We decided that since we were "in the neighborhood" we would go visit George's Woodworking in Marietta. Let me give you some background. For years, when we would go to Mike's sister's house, we would put our feet on this little footstool with an inclined top. That made so much sense to us, and we wished we had one. She had told us that she had gotten it from the Amish Country. We hadn't given that any thought until we went to Candi's house. She had the same footstool. We looked on the bottom of the stool, and lo and behold, there was the name and address for George's Woodworking, so we decided we would go visit George.

Marietta didn't look very far from the highway on the map, but we drove and drove, down more and more rugged little roads, until we finally arrived at a little farm house with a barn (where the woodworking was done). They have quite an operation there. The young salesman took us for a tour of the place and it was quite impressive. And their workmanship was incredible. You could tell that they took the time and care to produce a quality product.

It was a very interesting and fun experience. We didn't buy the stool (because we don't have that much spare room in the fifth wheel), but we're going to buy it eventually, and maybe have it shipped. Who knows? We may buy one of those beautiful bedroom sets too (that is, unless Mike buys the motorcycle!) ;-)

Lancaster County

We drove into our destination, Lancaster County. I had some vague notion that we were going to "go see the Amish", but I was a bit stunned by what I saw when we drove into the area. It was incredibly "touristy". There were two outlet shopping centers (within a mile of each other), there were various other shopping centers, restaurants, motels, buggy rides -- all along the theme of "Amish". There was even a store called "Amish Stuff". UGH!

Now when you drive out in the country, you see the various Amish families out working in the field, or riding down the road in their buggies. I'm thinking they do their best to avoid town and seeing how their life decision is being exploited. It just seems a little disrespectful that, because of their religion, they are treated like attractions at the zoo. (OK, Sherri, tell us how you really feel).

Now back out in the country, the farms were very picturesque, on rolling green hills. We saw several Amish farmers tending their fields with a six-pack of mules, while they ride behind them on the equipment. Or there were 3-4 young girls on the back doing some hand-seeding. We also saw people (usually women) using push mowers in their lawn. We saw little boys wearing their straw hats and riding wheeled scooters up and down those big hills. And, of course, we saw many people riding around with their horse and buggy. At all the grocery stores and such, there is a pole over to the side with which folks can tie up their horse while they shop.

One thing that really interested me was that everywhere we looked, we saw little girls going barefoot,whether in their yard, at the store, or on the (hot) pavement. We also saw the women mowing their yards barefoot. I felt like there was some kind of significance in that, but I don't know what that might be. Just interesting.

I didn't want to be obvious in taking a picture of any of the Amish, but I did snap this picture of a guy leaving the parking lot at the grocery store we were at.

The Tabernacle

The most interesting thing we did while in Lancaster County was go to the Mennonite Information Center. Even though it was interesting to find out the differences and similarities between the Mennonites and the Amish, we actually went because of what they had there -- a life size replica of the original Tabernacle talked about in the Bible. I've taught studies of Exodus, Numbers, etc. and felt like I knew all the various parts of the Tabernacle, but I've always been curious about the relative size and layout of everything. They did an excellent job in laying everything out, coating all the appropriate stuff with "gold", showing the priest's clothes and the veil to the Holy of Holies, and showing the Ark of the Covenant. There was also a lady there who gave the group the history and story of this tabernacle, and presented the tie-in regarding deliverance by the shedding of blood in both the Old Testament and the New. For many years I had thought in the back of my mind that it would be cool if someone would put something together like this, so this was very amazing!

To Philadelphia

The next stop was Philadelphia. Even though it's basically the next major city over from Lancaster, we got there by way of two states. Actually, the closest RV park to Philly was in Clarksboro, New Jersey, and we didn't want to drive directly through Philly -- so got there by way of Delaware. Previously, I mentioned that we were in West Virginia for 14 minutes. Well, we did a little better in Delaware -- we were there for 26 minutes. As we crossed from Delaware into New Jersey, we crossed the Delaware River (like George Washington did!). The Delaware River was huge. I took a picture, but it just looked like a big lake. It was hard to convey what we were seeing into a photo.

We'e in Philadelphia now, but I'd like to close out this (very long) blog and catch you up on our adventures here next time.

Random Road Reports

Before I close this blog, here are just some random things I've seen along the way.

All the way from Ohio through Pennsylvania, we've seen dozens of stars on houses. These are the kind of stars that are about 2-3 feet wide, and about 4" deep. They're everywhere! I'm not sure what this phenomena is about, whether Walmart had a big sale, or if this means something. I'm not sure, either, why this is so prevalent on this side of the country, and not the West. But it's become kind of a joke with Michael and me. We just drive down the road and say "star".

Many of the small towns have "roundabouts". I'm sure originally it was the Town Square, and they've adapted it for modern traffic. It's a very quaint thing, with the businesses broadly around the edge of the square.

There are a chain of convenience stores called "WaWa", and another called "TurkeyHill" (no space). There's also a chain of pharmacies called "Happy Harry's Pharmacy." Just kind of amusing.

In southeastern Pennsylvania, just before you reach Delaware, there are at least a dozen mushroom farms. I'm not sure exactly what makes that area prime for fungus, but there were plenty of farms.

In southeast Pennsylvania, we also reached the 10,000 mile mark. Of course we had no idea before we started, but that's about the number of miles we thought we'd travel for the entire trip. Oh well. I'll be curious to see what the final number is.

For those of you working backwards in my photosite, I posted 33 new photos this time.


Posted by semitte 15:02 Comments (0)

Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana & Ohio

Before I begin, I need to tell you that this blog has only a couple of pictures in it, so sorry there's so much writing. I'm allowed to download only a certain number of pics each month on this site, and I just reached my quota for May! However, you can see all the pictures at my photosite at http://semitte.photosite.com. (I just posted 12 new pictures).

The Frozen Tundra

The morning we left Minnesota, it was a brisk 43 degrees. The day before, it got up to 85 in the afternoon; but within 3 hours, it fell to 52 -- a drop of 33 degrees in 3 hours! (A cold front came in). Of course, that morning at the campground, we saw campers outdoors fixing their breakfasts, dressed in hoods and parkas. But being the terminal west coasters that we are, we were out there in our shorts and flip-flops. I'm not sure which of us campers were crazier! Garrison Keilor refers to that north part of the country as "The Frozen Tundra", so that's been our affectionately-given nickname for it!

Beautiful Wisconsin

We rolled into Wisconsin, and it was beautiful. I've consistently been surprised every time we drive into another state that each one has its own personality and its own look. Wisconsin was no different.

The landscape consisted of rolling hills, with all kinds of small-diameter trees -- pines, cedars, birch, spruce, maple. It was beautiful! To add to that bucolic scene, everywhere you looked, there were farms and cows (it is the Dairy State, after all). The barns were all alike -- they sat on a stone foundation about 3-4 feet high. Then they were red, tall and rounded, with a little peak at the top. Then each barn was flanked with one, or two, or three silos. In any direction you looked, you saw several of these settings.

I had to laugh, though, thinking of those Wisconsin cows. I'm reminded of the commercials for California cheese -- the ones that advertise that they have happy cows. There was one commercial that showed the Wisconsin cows shivering in a blizzard, explaining that their cows were not happy cows. I couldn't look at the cows without imagining them shivering! (I know, I'm weird!).

As we drove through Wisconsin, I loved the names of some of the cities -- Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls, Altoona, Wausau, Menomonie. I found myself looking forward to seeing upcoming road signs.

By the way, also in Wisconsin they have the large, permanent fireworks stores. This seems so strange to me. I'm not sure about Oregon, but I know in California they put up little shacks, and are allowed to have them up and running for about 2 weeks. They're very strict about that. So to think about having year-round fireworks is a strange thing for me.

Random Road Report

I've been amazed at the rest stops in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. They're all very big and nice, with tourism information, nice and varied vending machines, and big clean restrooms.

We saw several advertisements (on signs or billboards) for used cars "with no rust". I thought that was funny until Mike explained to me that they put tons of salt on the roads every winter, and that salt flies up underneath the cars and rusts the metal. So these dealerships will go to the auto auctions in Arizona or someplace and bring back cars with no rust. I've never thought about anything like that.

I reported last time that we passed the road sign to Medford, Minnesota, and included that picture on my photosite. In this leg, we also passed Medford, Wisconsin, although I wasn't quick enough to snap a picture. I think that will be one of my past-times while I travel -- to see how many cities called Medford we can get near! ;-)

I saw several signs around Wausau advertising a ski area -- Rib Mountain. I thought, "Huh? Skiing in Wisconsin?" But when I looked it up, I found out that Rib Mountain is just 1900 feet high! I guess that's high and ski-worthy for Wisconsinites (is that what they're called?), but it's kinda hard to swallow for an Oregonian/Californian! Can you say "Bunny Hill"??

On the West Coast, I'm used to passing fields of alfalfa that is harvested and fed to the cows. Back here, they don't grow alfalfa, but clover. It's very green and grows to about 5-15 inches high. They still cut it and bale it, but it looks very different.

And now, here's what you've been waiting for -- the roadkill report. There have been a few raccoons, but probably over a dozen white-tailed deer. We never saw any in the trees, but we certainly saw plenty in the road (sad).

Packer Country

We finally made it across the state and drove into Green Bay. Of course, we saw Lambeau Field, the stadium of the renowned Packers! But what is amazing is the Green Bay area itself. Probably some of you long-time football fans may already know all this, but I didn't, so I'm going to assume that some of you don't either. The GB area has only about 100,000 in population, and it's totally out in the boonies, yet it supports a major NFL team, with a stadium that sits about 72,000. Think about a city you know that has only 100,000 people, and the ridiculousness of it all becomes clear. Also, the city itself owns the team and the stadium, etc. so that the community can enjoy this team into perpetuity. A lot of the city is very blue collar too, so I just imagined that these people saved some of their weekly pay all year long so they can go support those 8 home games each year. It's pretty mind-boggling!

The rest of GB was not necessarily too noteworthy. We went out to the bay, but it's kinda nasty and muddy and brown (not green at all!), not to mention that that day, it was about 45 degrees. The town next to GB, Ashwaubenon, was nicer -- it had some shopping and restaurants, etc.

In a couple of other states we had seen a store called ShopKo, and had wondered what it was. So when we saw one in Ashwaubenon, we decided we would go in. I had imagined by its name that it was kinda like a Winco (for those of you who don't live in the West, that's a discount, bag-your-own grocery chain). But actually, it was more like an upscale Fred Meyer (for those of you who don't live in the West, that's like a ShopKo) ;-) I actually bought 3 pair of very cute shorts that were on sale, of course. Oh, and ShopKo had fireworks in it too (althought I didn't buy any of those).

Up to the U.P.

From Green Bay, we decided to travel up and over Lake Michigan, through Michigan's Upper Peninsula (the "U.P." as the natives call it -- native Michigonians, not native Americans -- and what DO they call people from Michigan? Sorry, I digress).

Michigan quickly established its own personality as well. It was very beautiful, and was 76 degrees the morning we left -- although there were definitely signs that this was some cold country. In Escanaba, we say a sign that was advertising the "Ice Fishing Extravaganza" that took place in February. Darn it, we missed it! But maybe we can come up next year! (NOT!!) Also, as we passed the Escanaba High School, we saw that they were the "Home of the Eskimoes". Then in Nahma, we saw a sign for "You drive/you ride dog sleds". Hmmm.....

What was the prettiest of all, though, was that Lake Michigan (LM) was to our right just about the entire trip. After seeing that Green Bay was brown, I was expecting more brown. But I was surprised to see that LM was a beautiful blue, and even a bright turquoise near the shore, like the beaches in Hawaii. Wow! As we drove along, it felt like it had many times in our experience in driving along the Oregon or California coast, but something felt different. It wasn't the terrain -- in fact, the area kinda looked like Monterrey with the trees and hills. We finally realized what it was -- there were no waves crashing onto the shore! That body of water was so huge, and looked more like an ocean, so it was hard to imagine that it was actually a fresh-water lake! I got out in Brevort because I just had to put my feet in the water. It was definitely cold, but it was nice and clean, not sticky and salty.

Random Road Report, Part 2

We saw many, many log trucks along the road, but they were very different than those we see in Oregon. The Oregon trucks might carry 4 or 5 fat, long trees, and carry them lengthwise in the truck. But all the ones we saw carried a much smaller diameter cedar tree. They had been cut into about 8 foot lengths and packed in the back of the truck sideways. And since they were so small around, they could pack in dozens of logs.

I saw a couple of interesting signs: one was in front of a little shack and said "Honest Injun's Tourist Trap" (ah, I love truth in advertising). The other was at a "Dairy-Flo" just past the Tacoosh River: the sign said "We now have monkey sticks." Now I didn't stop to find out what monkey sticks were, but I certainly pondered it over the next few miles (but with no success).

I haven't talked previously about gas prices, but I must comment here in Michigan -- these are the highest prices we've seen yet! I started keeping track of the highest price I would see (which was, of course, for the "supreme"), and the winner was in Michigan at $3.85/gallon! UGH! Now we haven't had to pay that since we use diesel, and that's lower now than gas. In Michigan we were generally paying about $2.89. The lowest price we've seen so far is in Oklahoma City at $2.60. The highest we've paid so far was in California (a tie between Northridge and Turlock, of all places) at $3.10. (After I wrote this, I just found out that gas is over $4.00 in Medford. That diminishes this paragraph, but I'm leaving it in!)

Crossing the Bridge

We reached the end of the U.P. and came to the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the U.P. with the L.P. (the lower peninsula). It's a pretty suspension bridge, and it's very tall (about 200 feet above the water) so that ships can pass under it. It reminded me of the Golden Gate Bridge, although it's green instead of orange. As we were crossing the bridge, all that cool wind was coming off the water, and it was 46 degrees. By the time we had driven 30 minutes inland, the temperature had increased by 30 degrees.

We were ultimately heading to Traverse City (TC), the home of my Medford friend Margie. She had told me so much about the area that I just had to see it for myself. It was indeed a beautiful area. All around that area they grow cherries, so we saw a lot of cherry trees.

When we got to TC, we saw that it WAS a wonderful place. There's a big bay there which is divided by a long skinny peninsula called the Mission Peninsula (MP). It separated the bay between the east bay and the west bay.

We drove out to the end of the MP, about 18 miles, where there is an old lighthouse at the end. All along the way were beautiful homes, vineyards and wineries. After that, we drove over to the much larger Leelenau Peninsula (LP). It's also full of beautiful homes, wineries, and lots of cherry trees. We found this one winery called Black Star Farms that made its own cheese (from happy Leelenau cows!). We sampled the one and only cheese they make, a Switzerland-inspired cheese called raclette -- we tried the newer 3-month-aged cheese, and it was really good. But then we tried the 8 to 10-month-aged cheese and OHMIGOSH it was absolutely the best cheese I've ever tasted in my life! We bought 3 chunks, and took an order form with us. It's kinda spendy, but definitely a luxurious experience!

We wandered around the perimeter of the LP and found the beautiful sandy beaches. I imagine that area is really nice in the summer -- pleasant, not too hot. I was surprised, though, because it was 83 degrees on a beautiful day, and no one was there. I don't get it!

Baa Baa ZuZu and Other Treats

Along the way, we saw an out-of-the-way little shop called Baa Baa ZuZu (don't you love it?). They buy old wool coats from places like Goodwill, then cut them up into a random patchwork and make new trendy coats. It was a very cool concept. But the cutest thing we saw there was the "shop dog" -- she was a Golden Doodle (a mixture of Golden Retreiver and Poodle). That was the cutest, most mellow dog I've ever seen. We hung around there for a while just to play with the dog. A picture of her is on the photosite.

We also walked across the way to what we were told was a coffee shop, where we, of course, planned to get a cup of coffee. However, they didn't sell retail, but were coffee roasters and distributors. We talked with the young girl there for a while, and found out about the coffee roasting process. She had open bags of raw coffee beans there from Mexico and Sumatra, so I asked her if I could taste one (she said yes, of course). It was interesting. The beans were tough and relatively tasteless. After chewing on them for a while, I could eventually taste the coffee taste a little bit, but it was a stretch. It's amazing just how much the coffee taste we enjoy comes 99% from the roasting process.

Lake Michigan Circle Tour

We decided to head south by going down the lakeside highway. There were signs along the highway as we headed up from Green Bay that said it was the "Lake Michigan Circle Tour". So we decided to head south by taking the same Circle Tour route. I was disappointed, though, because the southbound highway was just far enough from the Lake and separated from the water by hills that we never saw the water. That's ok, though. I've now just about circled the Lake, and considering that we've already seen the Lake around Chicago, I just have a few more miles that I'll have to drive in the future to complete the Circle Tour!

Notre Dame

Our next stop was South Bend, Indiana. I had always wanted to see the Notre Dame campus, so that's where we went. As you can imagine, the city of South Bend was extremely loyal to their Fighting Irish, but the city itself wasn't too impressive. Then we drove onto the campus. Wow! We got out and walked around the campus, since it wasn't really very accessible by vehicle. It's the most beautiful campus I've ever seen. I also saw certain buildings and yard areas that I had seen in the movies before, which was fun. In the middle of the campus are all the old original buildings, first built in the 1800's. Among those was the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, built in 1870. It was a very beautiful cathedral with lots of stained glass.

RV/Truck Accessory Mecca

After visiting Notre Dame, we drove a few miles east to the city of Elkhart. You have to understand that since Michael has been in the RV and truck accessory business for probably 35 years (and we've been married 26 of those), I've heard of Elkhart for years. Elkhart is the place where dozens of the top RV and truck accessory manufacturers are located, along with the additional dozens of their sub-contractors and suppliers. I was amazed at the massiveness of their industrial parks and was imagining just how low their unemployment rate must be (I know I'm weird for thinking about such things). Anyway, I'm glad to have seen it after all these years, so now I know what Michael is talking about.

Revised Plan

We were originally intending on going on down to Tennesee from here and look around before heading to Louisville in September, then up to the Northeast and work our way down. Since we're (way) ahead of schedule, we decided to take a different approach, so we decided to go over to Indiana then Ohio, and head off to Pennsylvania, then work our way down the east coast before heading to Tennessee. (Did you follow that??) ;-)

Anyway, we decided that we would go down and see Indianapolis, to see what's there. We just about figured out what we were going to do and where we were going to stay, then Michael remembered that Memorial Day weekend was the time for the Indy 500. We certainly weren't going to find a place to stay anywhere near the city! So we decided to go on down to Lebanon, Ohio (near Cincinnati) to see Mike's neice, Candi (which we WERE going to do in September anyway). We're going to drive over to Indianapolis and just look around -- although we're going to stay far away from the Speedway. I figure everyone will be over there, so the downtown and other areas should be relatively empty!

Random Road Report, Part 3

In Southern Michigan, we stopped at a rest stop, and pulled up next to a trucker who was up on a ladder fixing something on top of his cab. We both went in to the restroom, then came out and went on down the road. When we arrived at our campground about an hour later, we realized that our ramp was gone. Michael had built this very awesome wooden ramp that helped us level out the fifth wheel. He always threw it into the back of the pickup, never worrying that anything would happen to it -- after all, it was very heavy, and you really couldn't even see it -- that is, unless you were on top of a ladder next to the pickup. We've commented many times along this trip that that was one of the best things we brought along, so I was really bummed that this bum took it. We're making do with other stuff we have.

On a happier note, we were driving through the country and saw the coolest thing. This big farm house had an oval pond out front, and this kid was riding a jet ski around in it, doing "rooster tails" to splash his friends. How cool would that be, to have a jet ski in your own pond?! I had already mentioned to Michael that my ideal house would have a pond, so if I get that, I'll have to add a jet ski to the mix!

For miles and miles now, I've seen field after field of either the remainder of last year's corn fields, or empty ready fields. During that same country drive, I finally saw corn coming up -- it was about 6-8 inches tall, and there was mile after mile of this stuff. I've been amazed to think about just how much corn is used in this country -- corn to be eaten by humans and animals, to be made into corn syrup (which is in everything!), corn starch, etc. It's just a huge industry!

We entered Ohio by a country road, and I have found that country roads don't usually have the big "Welcome to (new state)" on them. However, this road did have a big sign, but it was placed right between two little farm houses right on the road. I wish I had noticed them quickly enough to take a picture, but it was quite a sight. And I bet they had fun telling their friends and relatives that their next door neighbor was located in the next state.

And I saved my favorite for last -- outside of South Bend, there was a nice clean little building with a sign that said "Dad's Transmission and Flea Market." Ah, small town America.

More about the trip to Indianapolis and visit with Candi next time!

Posted by semitte 18:47 Comments (1)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 17) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 »