Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bar Trip Day 10

Today has been a mixed experience. We didn't cover as much ground, but we hadn't needed to, because we were planning to spend some time in and near Washington, D.C. And at first it went quite swimmingly. We decided to make up for yesterday's rush by stopping at Fredericksburg, where we caught up on a little bit of history. I even had a discussion with a couple of the National Parks Services staffers/officers about the importance of the battles in the Fredericksburg area in the context of Gettysburg. One thought that Fredericksburg was pivotal; another claimed that the Battle of Chancellorsville, during which Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, a brilliant leader, was mortally wounded. As a bit of trivia, General George S. Patton reputedly patterned his tank strategies after General Jackson, whose troops frequently lightened their load, enabling them to cover greater distances in shorter time, such as a 70-mile march from Winchester to Fredericksburg in just four days.

The visitor center is free, and there's a 22-minute, $2.00 video, a great rate. If you're in the neighborhood or plan on passing by, take a little time out to get to know about this chapter of our nation's history.

In the parking lot, Dad discovered an old, rather large tree that he liked:

Before getting into the District of Columbia, we decided to stop in Alexandria to look for the United States Patent and Trademark Office. We saw this Masonic temple along the way:

Here I am at the James Madison Building itself:

Once we got into Washington, though, traffic became intolerable. Further, looking for lodging in Maryland was no easy task. Most of the areas we went through seemed drab, depressing, and downright unsafe. We did finally find an Econolodge in Takoma Park, Maryland, though it was nowhere as nice as the Econolodge in Richmond, Virginia. Still, as strangers to the area who hadn't planned that far ahead because of the variability of our schedule (thanks, Tropical Storm Fay!), we decided not to waste too much time searching, and settled for this place.

Because we settled in past 5 p.m., the museums were closed. Further, we wanted to meet up with some friends. So we got in some rest, and then set off for Jaleo, a Spanish tapaseria in Bethesda, Maryland, where we had dinner with Travis and L2. (By the way, the directions given by Google maps didn't work very well for us; fortunately, Hraesvelg had lent us a GPS, which was meant to help us find lodging and food along the way. It's now served an even greater purpose: preventing us from getting lost in a strange conurbation!)

At some point during dinner, L2 wondered about this series of blogs. As it turned out, she was intrigued by the idea of appearing in one of the video log entries. Nevertheless, she protested that she would not know what to say. The following video log entry was in no way scripted; you can judge for yourself how she did!

Bar Trip Days 7-9

Hello again, and thanks for waiting for this update!

After the Big Easy, we spent the night in Slidell, just before the border with Mississippi. Day Seven saw us mostly driving through rather boring parts of Interstate 10. For much of that way, we were hampered by the potent remnants of Tropical Storm Fay, seen here from the parking lot of the Motel 6 we stayed at in Slidell.

The storm let up a little when we got to Mobile, Alabama, where we saw a battleship.

It was clear again when we got to Pensacola, Florida. We got out because were were promised Florida's best beaches. It was rather balmy out, and with the tropical winds it felt rather nice, actually.

For lunch, we stopped at what we on the West Coast would call a Carl's Jr.:

Soon enough, though, the rains came again, wiping out our view of the road.

At Tallahassee, we decided to pull over at a rest stop and wait out the worst of it. We discovered that Florida has beautiful rest stops.

It was a while before we could get back on the road, and in any case we'd wanted to give Icy Z a bit of a break.

I took over again at the wheel after Tallahassee, as we pushed on toward Jacksonville. Before we got to Jacksonville, though, I was feeling very tired, and a fever had begun. It didn't help that the area of Jacksonville we were in, between Interstates 295 and 95, was atrocious: the Denny's there closes, and the McDonald's restaurants are impossible to find again after you discover one for the first time. Not to mention the 5-cruiser police activity near the motel we stayed at.

On Day Eight, however, aided by daylight, we saw a little more of Jacksonville. Once past Interstate 95, a downtown takes shape.

The distance from downtown to the beaches, though, was far greater than with its West Coast counterpart. Further, Interstate 10 ends miles away from the East Coast of the United States. We were a little bummed by that, but we pushed on through to Neptune Beach.

From there, we had hoped to be able to stop in Savannah; but before we even realized we were in Savannah, we were exiting Savannah, Georgia. We decided not to backtrack, and pushed on through on Interstate 95 to Columbia, South Carolina. It was a good thing the total distance from Jacksonville to South Carolina is only about 300 miles, of which 240 miles are on Interstate 95, because it is an even more boring freeway than Interstate 10. Nothing but pines for hundreds of miles.

We reached our hosts' home in Columbia about half past five. The home was easy to find: Hraesvelg's Nismo 350Z thundered its presence.

We became acquainted with Chelsea, one of Hraesvelg and Valkyrie's two greyhounds. The dogs are beautiful creatures!

Hraesvelg and Valkyrie threw a party for the occasion, and the beer fridge, which sits in the backyard, was well and truly plundered.

The party went until late, and even though I was far from the last to get to bed, I couldn't wake up until about noon. The darker greens captured the heat and humidity of Columbia, along with the chirping cicadas.

After treating our hosts to lunch at the world's most fantastic wings place, Wild Wing Cafe, we bade our farewells. We would've liked to have stayed longer, as with New Orleans, but we had to go. Thanks to Hraesvelg and Valkyrie for being such excellent hosts!

Because we left so late (about four in the afternoon or so), we could not cover the entire 500-mile and more distance to Washington, D.C., even though we did not stop at any of the civil war historic sites along Interstates 77 and 85, or to meet up with another friend in Charlotte, North Carolina. We did notice, however, that these routes were at least less boring than Interstate 95. Further, we noticed that, like Texas and Florida, North Carolina and Virginia apparently are important enough that identification signs along the interstates in these states did not indicate the name of the individual states. Finally, after two days of being chased by Fay, we ended up bunking here at the Econolodge in Richmond, Virginia.

It is now very late, so I must retire for the night. Before I do, here is the latest video log entry.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bar Trip Days 3-6

It's been a long four days since last I posted, and in those four days, I have not had real high speed internet access. That just means, of course, more pictures!

Day Three was relatively uneventful. We started by going to Albuquerque to try breakfast at the famed Blake's Lotaburger. It was okay; I think we would have enjoyed the green chile more if we had experienced it growing up.

The rest of the day was pretty much just driving. There was really not much to see throughout the rest of northern New Mexico, nor the part of Texas that we drove through, encompassing Amarillo. (For those who wonder, the locals pronounce the name "Amarillo" according to English rules, not Spanish rules.) From there, we drove into Oklahoma, and checked into the Regency Inn just before the built-up part of Oklahoma City.

On Day Four, we went into Oklahoma City, as I had insisted on seeing the National Memorial commemorating April 19, 1995, when Timothy McVeigh unleashed the single most awful act of domestic terrorism on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Across the street, at St. Joseph's Old Church, there is a different, and equally poignant memorial.

One of the great joys of this trip, due to the long, uneventful drives, and the weather patterns stirred up by Tropical Storm Fay, has been trying to find shapes in the clouds. Too often, we get so caught up by life that we forget to make time for that wide-eyed wonder that made childhood so magical. Here's a rain cloud trying to hitch a ride; unfortunately, we've been bringing California sunshine to every place we've stopped.

From Oklahoma City, we traveled south to Dallas. The plan had been to see if we could meet up with my cousin there, but she didn't return my call, and it was short notice. Without a local guide, there was really nothing else to do. All I got out of Dallas was this shot of a life-size Dirk Nowitzki bobble head in a McDonald's located in a rather grim-looking part of town.

From Dallas, we drove all the way down to Houston. Along the way, we encountered some rain, and Val, our rendez vous in Houston, reported rain where he was at, as well. But he said he'd be down to go out as planned no matter what, so we headed toward his place. By the time we were near Houston, the rain had stopped.

Due to some logistical considerations, we decided to bunk an extra night at my uncle's place. Thus, Day Five was dedicated to Houston. We began the day with some Mexican-style rib eye steak at Las Rosas along Highway 6 on the west side of Houston:

From there, we proceeded to Space Center Houston. The admission was expensive, and because it was toward the end of the day, we really could only make the tram tour. The tour took us into and throughout the Johnson Space Center. It is a huge complex, sitting on top of 1640 acres. Of those acres, 640 are owned by the Federal government, and 1000 are leased from Rice University at the rate of $1 per year. (Law students will recall from their Dukeminier books why such token rents exist.) We made our first tour stop at Mission Control.

Here, we got a quick briefing on the room. We were seated in the gallery where relatives and VIPs were able to watch the communications with the astronauts. The equipment in the picture is the original equipment, which was moved back after the more modern equipment for the shuttle was moved to the newer mission control center downstairs.

Our next tour stop was the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, which holds mockups of all major space vehicles. These mockups are used for training astronauts, as well as to give technicians a visual reference to trouble-shoot problems reported by the astronauts. Here, for example, is the International Space Station.

Behind the full mockup of the space shuttle hang banners with names of the fleet of spaceworthy shuttles. (Enterprise is not represented because it cannot go into space; it is, however, otherwise airworthy.) Of this fleet, Challenger blew up 73 seconds after launch in 1986, and Columbia disintegrated on reentry in 2003.

Indeed, space exploration has not been without human cost. At JSC, there is a circle of memorial oaks, dedicated to the men and women who have lost their lives during the space program.

Our final stop was at the warehouse which holds the only complete Saturn V rocket still in existence. This behemoth is taller than the Statue of Liberty, and weighs over 2000 metric tons. It is the workhouse on whose back the Apollo programs rode, and is the brainchild of Wernher von Braun, whose rockets had rained terror on the British Isles during the Second World War.

After the Space Center, we got to see a little bit more of Houston, including the circular street name indicators along Westheimer Boulevard ...

... and the rise of a modern Chinatown along Bellaire Boulevard.

Today, on Day Six, we again visited Bellaire, having yum cha (飲茶) at Ocean Palace. It is without a doubt one of the largest scale Chinese restaurants I've ever been to, if not the largest.

From there, it was back on the road. We got back on Interstate 10, east bound, and got into Louisiana, whose waters made for much more interesting scenery.

We drove through most of southern Louisiana, and found our way to the Big Easy, New Orleans!

For those that don't know, New Orleans is a city at the mouth of the Mississippi River, which can be seen here:

Then it was off to the French Quarter, also known as the Vieux Carré.

Jackson Square, once known as Plaza d'Armas, is located within the French Quarter, and features an equestrian statute of Andrew Jackson, who was a Major General at the time of the Battle of New Orleans at the close of the War of 1812. It was during this battle that Francis Scott Key penned the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner".

And of course, what would the French Quarter be without Bourbon Street?

Although we had a limited budget, we definitely wanted to try things out, so we went to the Tropical Isle, where we got some food and drinks, and sat out on the balcony of the second floor.

We even made some new friends!

So, all in all, it's been a long four days. Tomorrow, we head to Jacksonville and the end of Interstate 10. Before I turn in for the night, here is the video log entry for these past four days: