First Day on the Road

March 15th, 2008, 2:00 am

Spent all morning and afternoon getting ready for the trip. Finally left home at a quarter to four. I had to stop and buy a quart of oil because the car was a little bit low. I guess it’s not a new car any longer.

I ended up driving out of the city on Interstate 94 in rush hour traffic. What a pain.

Drove until two am and stopped at a rest stop in Indiana, south of Chicago for a few hours sleep.

First Night at the Hostel

March 15th, 2008, 9:00 pm

After sleeping for three hours, I got going once again. Stopped at McDonalds for orange juice, hash browns and a sausage muffin. I should really try to find a way to get my morning orange juice without having to eat the greasy McDonalds food.

There was quite a bit of fog in Indiana and Ohio. It finally cleared up by the time I got to West Virginia. I stopped for gasoline at a small town in Pennsylvania. I was surprised to hear the locals speaking with a southern accent, but after thinking about it, it made a certain sense. It was very close to the West Virginia border after all, and I hear that they speak German in parts of the Italian Alps.

I finally arrived in Maryland and ultimately in Baltimore City. Unfortunately, the freeway I had been driving on didn’t seem to end like it looked on the map. I took the next exit, and ended up miles off course driving through the city looking for a landmark.

When I did arrive at the hostel, my sister Valerie was waiting there for me. She fed me some “bad” spaghetti, and sent me off to bed. There were only top bunks available, so I made the bed, and climbed on up. My first experience with dorm living since the days of my army training, and I can’t say I missed it.

Day Before St. Patrick’s Day Parade

March 16th, 2008, 9:00 pm

There was a minor ruckus in the room late last night. Apparently they had overbooked by one bed, but they couldn’t figure out why they were one bed short. I found out later that was about eleven at night.

In the morning, I was lying in bed awake wondering what time it was. I didn’t have to wonder long. Soon there were church bells ringing. I counted the chimes and knew that it was eight o’clock in the morning. There were several more sets of bells that rang that morning. There are, apparently, many old church buildings in the area.

I climbed down from the bunk and took a shower. I tried to be quiet as I was the first person in my room to get up. Went downstairs to find it raining and Valerie eating pancakes.

After breakfast, we went on a walk down to the inner harbor. It was cool and windy. I even made Valerie climb Federal Hill. From there, we saw some crazy art museum, with a giant bird’s nest on one side of the building and a giant hand coming out of another side. So we hiked down to see it. It was an interesting place with a couple of giant bird sculptures, a giant egg, and a little sculpture garden area. We even saw a small cherry blossom tree along the way that was beginning to blossom.

We headed back to the hostel to switch rooms, but they weren’t ready for us yet, so we went out for lunch. Five Guys Burgers and Fries later, we got back to the hostel. We moved into the private room and settled in.

There was a St Patrick’s Day Parade going by just a block down, so we went to check it out. We missed the beginning, but we still got to see a lot. Marching bands and bagpipers were the highlights. There were lots of different groups marching along though, including some traditional Irish dance school presentations and lots of local businesses.

We stopped by the grocery store when the parade was over. Bought some milk and orange juice. Went back to the hostel, had some more “bad” spaghetti and turned in early, after Valerie had me watch an episode of Eli Stone.

Driving Into the District

March 17th, 2008, 10:00 pm

Valerie had something to research at the National Archives II, so we drove into the District of Columbia. Actually, the site is in a suburb of Washington called College Park, so we were still in Maryland. Once we found the place, we waited for them to issue us credentials. That’s right, I now have an official NARA Research Card. Anyway, we proceeded to the microfische labs, and once finished there, I decided to drive into Downtown D.C.

The road we were on seemed to head straight to the Capitol building, which was kind of cool. From the car, we could see the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Tidal Basin, and lots of barren cherry blossom trees.

After I decided to get out of the city, driving became a real annoyance. When we finally got on the freeway, it ended right away. So we were driving out of town on a six lane highway in rush hour traffic. What a pain.

I was tired of driving, so we went back to the hostel in Baltimore. We walked to a local food court and had some stuffed pizza for supper. After that we watched the first three episodes of New Amsterdam online. By then it was time to go to bed, so we called it a day.

Riding the Metro

March 18th 2008, 10:00 pm

Today was my first proper tour of Washington, D.C. We parked in Wheaton, another suburb of Washington, and took the DC Metro Rail into Union Station. It is practically a sight to see in itself. The halls are impressively huge and ornate and there is no lack of shops or restaurants. There is a massive food court, and we settled on having gyros for lunch. We then headed out to see the sights.

First, was the Supreme Court building. Then, the Library of Congress. From there, we proceeded to the Capitol building. I was hoping that we could climb the steps, but they were all blocked off.

As we walked down the National Mall, we stopped at the National Gallery to see some “high” art. They had lots of interesting things to see, and a huge gift shop area. From there we continued down the mall and arrived at the Washington Monument. That’s the tall pointy thing that you can see from all over. It looks like it would be interesting to go inside and climb. Maybe some other time.

It was starting to get late, so we made plans to end the day. There was a Metro station at the far side of the White house, so we decided to walk around it. We happened upon the Treasury building and saw a cool statue of Alexander Hamilton. We walked all the way around the White House and saw the front and the back of the building. Or was that the back and the front of the building?

Anyhow, after all that, we caught the Metro train back to where we had parked in Wheaton, and drove back to Baltimore.

The National Cemetery

March 19th, 2008, 10:00 pm

Once again, we traveled into the Capital. Our goal was to visit Arlington National Cemetery. By the time we made it into the city, the rain was coming down. But our will was formidable, we would not be turned back. After a couple of minor traffic issues, we arrived.

Valerie didn’t want to climb the hills, and since it was raining, I didn’t argue with her. Hence we bought two Tourmobile tickets for the cemetery tour. We saw the Kennedy grave sites. The eternal flame was burning even in the rain. We stopped at the tomb of the unknown soldier to watch the changing of the guards. And we stopped at Arlington House, famously known as the home of Robert E. Lee before the Civil War, and the Union Headquarters during the war. We also saw the the Mast of the sea ship Maine.

After we visited the cemetery, we were honored with the privilege of driving out of the city once again in rush hour traffic. What a pain.

We stopped at a Bob Evan’s to eat. I had a Chili Taco Salad and Val had a Chicken Noodle Platter. It was far too impressive of a dish to call it soup. By the time we got back onto the road, traffic had cleared. Tomorrow, we plan on seeing more of Baltimore.

Baltimore’s Own Washington Monument

March 20th, 2008, 11:00 pm

This morning, Valerie let me sleep late again. After breakfast, we set out to see more of Baltimore on foot. We headed towards Monument Hill in the Mount Vernon Area of town.

There are four parks, one in each direction, pointing out from Baltimore’s Monument to Washington. It is tall and round and has a statue of Washington at the top. The parks were fenced off with a gold colored chain link fence. I found out later that it was some sort of art project by a college student. Anyhow, it seemed to be controversial and someone had plugged up holes in the fence to spell out “Free the Park”. We had to laugh about that.

When we got up to the monument, I noticed that the gate was open, so we crossed the circle and entered in. There was a one dollar donation to pay at the door. Inside, there were various displays about Washington, including a carved bust that made him look like an ancient Roman. But the coolest thing, was that they let you climb the 228 steps up to the top.

At the top, there were 4 gates to the small deck area outside. Valerie stepped towards the first and I went to explore the other three. All locked up tight of course. Then, I looked back to see where Valerie had gotten to. She wasn’t there! I called out “Valerie”, thinking that perhaps she had started back down, but to my surprise, she had gone outside. The last gateway, was wide open. I was happily amazed to find that you could go outside and walk all the way around the deck area. I must say, that there was quite the view from all the way up there. I took a lot of photographs and hope to stitch them together into one large panorama.

After that, we walked a few blocks further so that I could take a look at the train station building. It was time for lunch, so we decided to split a Five Guys Burger and Fries Meal. One burger and one regular fries was more than enough to fill up the both of us. Although, if I were with more of a regular eater, it would take two burgers and one regular fries.

By the way, the reason we’ve eaten twice at Five Guys, (and will probably eat there again) is that not only do they have a very good burger, but their french fries are truly exceptional. They are fresh cut and the perfect size. Not too thick, and not stringy small. I highly recommend them.

After lunch, we stopped back at the hostel for a short time before venturing back out. This time we headed the opposite direction towards the harbor. We stopped at the visitor’s center and picked up some brochures. Then, we headed to the Barnes & Noble store that is located in an old power plant building. It’s really kind of cool how they have built the store around the old smoke stacks.

Then we stopped by a Best Buy store there on the waterfront, and after that, headed to a shopping mall by the harbor. We got an Italian Desert called a Lemon Napoleon. It was really good, but we probably didn’t need it because we had signed up for the weekly pasta dinner that they have at the hostel, and that was only two hours away. I know, we probably spoiled our appetite. Oh well.

We headed back to the hostel and chilled for a couple of hours. We ate the pasta dinner and chilled for a while longer.

With my sister Renae’s flight due in at just after ten o’clock, we drove to a nearby Target to check out a few things. We killed some time there, and then proceeded to the Airport. While we were deciding where to wait for Renae, she crept up behind us, and we were off, back to the hostel.

The Star Spangled Banner

March 21st, 2008, 10:00 pm

Another full day in Baltimore. We started in the morning by visiting Fort McHenry. This is the fort made famous by the Battle of Baltimore. They held off a British attack during the War of 1812, and in so doing, inspired the words to our National Anthem.

It is an interesting historic landmark. It’s not quite as rugged as the old fort at Mackinack Island, and not nearly so grand as Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas, but it has all the nostalgia you can pack into one place.

We had pizza at a local restaurant in the Federal Hill area, called Maria D’s. It was some of the best pizza ever. Parking was a little tricky, but we managed to find a spot not too far away. We passed a bicycle shop along the way and I snuck inside to check it out. We didn’t make it to the Dangerously Delicious Pie Shop yet, but it’s still on the list.

In the afternoon, we took another trip to the inner Harbor area. Val and I showed Renae all the ins and outs of the area. Stopped at the grocery store on the way back to pick up supplies for Easter breakfast.

After we got back to the hostel, my crazy sisters wanted to go back out to see Edgar Allen Poe’s grave site. I convinced them to stay in and we watched a movie. It was obviously a good idea, because before we could watch the second part, Valerie was falling asleep.

Now, it’s time to go to bed. Goodnight Everybody.

George Washington’s Home

March 22nd, 2008, 10:00 pm

Valerie and Renae were convinced that I needed to see Mt. Vernon, the home of George Washington. We got going a little bit sooner than usual, but it still wasn’t all that early. With minimal detours, we found the place, and gained entry inside. There was a short film to watch, and we were off to the mansion house.

Once there, the wait to get inside the mansion was quite long, but the weather was nice, and the time passed quickly. It was really quite large for a pre-revolutionary home. Although I understand that it was expanded upon from a smaller building, it is supposed to be mostly the same as it was when George and Martha were living there during their later years. I thought that the most impressive room was the large parlor that they started out the tour with. Valerie was more than just a little excited when we got to see the key to the Bastille. The Bastille was an old fortress in Paris that was used as a state prison during the 17th and 18th centuries. The key was a gift to George Washington from the Marquis de La Fayette.

After the mansion tour, we walked around the estate. The highlights for me were the numerous garden areas. They had an orchard where there was a pre-recorded message about the different trees there. There was even a joke put in about how there were no hatchets allowed, just in case you were thinking about chopping down a cherry tree.

There was also a large walled garden that they had cultivated, and put in numerous paths throughout. There were lots of different types of flowers, shrubs, and trees. There was even a small cherry blossom tree grove, and one of the trees was starting to bloom. Renae said that she was happy to get to see a cherry tree in bloom.

Another interesting thing was a large greenhouse attached to this garden that was a re-built version of the original which had burned down. Inside there was an actor in-character who was speaking about how he had worked for George Washington during the war, as a Master-Spy.

After that we headed back to Baltimore, and stopped at a Target along the way. There was some discussion about supper, and after much indecision we ended up going back to Maria D’s (or as Renae likes to call it, Mama D’s). That was the pizza place from the day before.

After pizza, we stopped into the Dangerously Delicious Pie Shop. We ate a slice of Lemon Chess Pie, while we waited for a Triple-Berry Pie to come out of the oven. We took that pie, piping hot, with us back to the hostel.

From there, we made a quick stop back to the grocery store, and then got ready to turn in for the night. We ended the day with the second part of Tin Man.

Last Day in Baltimore

March 23rd, 2008, 10:00 pm

Being Easter Sunday, I got dressed up in a fancy shirt and a nice pair of pants. Renae made us all a special Easter Breakfast. And we had a Bible reading in our room here at the hostel.

Renae had not yet been to Monument Hill, so we walked up that way. The parks had openings in the gold fences, so we walked through all four of them. The Monument to Washington there was closed, and Renae was “really” disappointed that she would not get to climb up to the top. Maybe next time Renae.

When we were done there, we decided to head over to Edgar Allen Poe’s grave-site. It is an old cemetery that has a church building built right over it. The story goes that the church wanted to make sure that the cemetery would not be removed from the grounds so they built the church right on top of it. Very interesting. This all happened more than 100 years ago though, and the building is no longer used as an active church.

After the cemetery, we headed down to the inner harbor and took the water-taxi over to Fells Point. It is another historic area of the city with lots of shops and cobblestone streets.

We finally got back to the hostel and sliced into that Dangerously Delicious Triple-Berry Pie from yesterday. It was mighty tasty. I could taste the raspberries, and I could see the blackberries, but what the third berries were, I could not tell you.

Renae took another walk after that and we had spaghetti and warmed-up pizza for supper, watched the end of Tin Man, and called it a day.

Camping is an Adventure, Right?

March 24th, 2008, 08:00 pm

This morning was a little bit hectic as Valerie and Renae were getting ready to leave for New York City. I dropped them off at the train station, headed back to the hostel, got ready, and packed up the car.

I got to Greenbelt National Park at about noon, picked out a campsite, and set up the tent. Then I headed to town, stocked up on supplies, and headed back to the park.

After making a couple of phone calls, I decided to call it an early night and went to bed while listening to the sounds of the radio.

I Want to Go Home

March 25th 2008, 09:00 pm

It was very cold this morning. I went to Denny’s for breakfast just to warm up. Spent most of the rest of the day getting ready to walk to the Metro and around the city.

I had pie for supper. How sad is that?

Cherry Blossoms in Bloom

March 26th 2008, 10:00 pm

This morning wasn’t quite so bad as yesterday. I wore the long-johns to bed so that I would be warm when I got out of bed. It worked pretty well. It also helped that the temperature wasn’t near freezing when I got up.

I did the dishes, cooked oatmeal on the camp-stove, and did the dishes again. Man that’s a lot of work. I think I’ll have cold cereal tomorrow.

After getting ready, getting cash, and getting ice, I finally got going. I walked the mile and a half to the Metro Station and took the green line in. Transferred to the orange/blue line and one stop later, I was at the Smithsonian.

Then I headed down to the Tidal Basin. I stopped to see the cherry blossom trees at the South-East corner of the Washington Monument grounds. There were several people looking at the trees and even a painter seated on the ground practicing his art. The trees are really starting to bloom and are lovely to look at. They are also quite fragrant, and the sweet smell reminds me of the lilacs in bloom.

I also walked past the World War II Memorial. It looked really cool with lots of fountains. I’ll have to take a closer look at it if I can find the time.

Finally arriving at the Tidal Basin, I see why this is the premier cherry blossom tree viewing area. A flood of cherry blossom trees. There is a plaque explaining how this was the area that the first trees from Japan were planted, and it shows. Many of the trees in this area look very old, and have lots of fresh shoots sprouting from their roots.

Even with the trees not fully in bloom, the view is phenomenal. Every tree you walk by is bright and pink. When you look across the basin, you can see rows and rows of trees.

When I had walked all of the way around the basin, I headed back to the campgrounds. It is supposed to be rainy tomorrow, so I may take the day off.

We will see in the morning.

Hains Point

March 27th 2008, 10:00 pm

I woke up to the sound of rain hitting the tent. I got ready to get going and ate the last slice of pie and a granola bar for breakfast. Then I headed off to the greenbelt public library. I spent a good part of the day there, but as the afternoon went by, the rain finally went away, so I decided to drive into Washington.

I had known that there was free parking out on Hains Point, but had not yet had a good chance to find it, so I decided that today would be the day. Driving around the Tidal Basin was as tedious as ever, but once I got past that area, and into the Potomac parks, it was free and easy driving.

There, I discovered a large, one way parkway, that goes all the way around the East Potomac Golf Course, with parking all along the way. It was two lanes wide and lined with cherry blossom trees. So I just took it nice and leisurely, driving in the slow lane with the windows down. First, you drive along the Washington Channel, all of the way to the point, and then back, along the Potomac River, towards the Tidal Basin. I took several opportunities to stop and take pictures of the trees. They were as beautiful and fragrant as ever.

Alone With my Cherry Trees

March 28th, 2008, 06:00 pm

I woke up this morning, surprised to see what looked like a sunny day outside. It even felt sort of warm. Not so warm that I wanted to leave the comfort of the sleeping bags mind you, but warm nonetheless.

Since it wasn’t thunderstorming, I decided to drive into the city yet again. I got to the Hains Point parkway, and drove as far as I could around the circle. That way, I wouldn’t need to walk quite as far. I then parked the car, and ventured toward the Tidal Basin.

You really could get a good cherry blossom experience, just walking around this parkway. There are lots of cherry blossom trees, in a few different varieties. The only thing you miss is the feeling of being surrounded by the trees.

There were lots of interesting trees to see on my walk towards the basin. There was even a nice group of older trees right on the Potomac, just before you reach the Tidal Basin. I then walked towards the Washington Monument, through the cherry blossom trees, on the west side of the basin.

There was a much larger crowd of people today. I can only imagine what tomorrow will be like, what with it being Saturday, and the first official day of the Cherry Blossom Festival, and a marathon going on. I even understand that Sunday night is the first game for the Washington Nationals baseball team in their new stadium.

As I progressed along, I could see that the trees were more in bloom than they had been on Wednesday. The ones that have reached their peak bloom, have lost most of their pink color, and are almost completely white. The petals are only beginning to fall on a few of the trees, but hopefully, there will be more of them in the next couple of days.

I walked to the far side of the Washington Monument. There is a small grove of cherry blossom trees there that I wanted to check out. They are mostly older trees, there in the North-West corner of the Monument grounds. There is a small fountain nearby, and you are steps away from a view of the White House. It’s a good walk from where most of the other trees are. That’s probably why it seems so secluded. I am of course, not alone here, but for the first time since I entered the Tidal Basin area today, I do not feel crowded.

Alone at last with my cherry trees. They are mostly in bloom here, and there are petals lying on the ground. It is most beautiful.

I walked by the the Washington Monument to see if I could get in, but as expected, there were no more tickets left for today. So I headed back to the Tidal Basin. I stopped at the Jefferson Memorial on the way. It is quite grand, and the view of the ceiling from the inside is quite impressive.

It had turned quite cool. A cold front was supposed to be moving in, and I guess it was here. I headed back to the car, ready to end my day, and prepare for the next.

A Goodbye that Came too Soon

March 29th, 2008, 09:00 pm

Another cold morning, but I still managed to get up and get going. I knew that it would be a crazy day to try and drive into the city, so I decided to walk back over to the Metro station. Little did I know that it would be crazy to take the Metro too. Actually, the ride in wasn’t too bad. The trains were full, but it wasn’t crazy yet.

When I got off the train, I made another futile attempt to visit the inside of the Washington Monument. I think you must need to get there right at 8:30 when they start handing out the tickets if you want to get a chance at it. I then headed over to my “private grove” from yesterday. But alas, it was my private grove no longer. There was a Kite flying contest and exhibition on the grounds of the Washington Monument, and boy, was it packed. I even heard one child say, “It’s like family fun day”. Indeed it was, and there were just crowds of people spilling out of “my” grove.

So, my next plan was to see some of the Cherry Blossom trees by the Potomac river. Since there were four memorials between where I was and there, I decided to visit them along the way.

First up was the World War II Memorial. It is quite grand, with lots of fountains, and pillars standing for all of the states and territories. There are also two large pillars signifying the Atlantic and Pacific theatres of War. There are also cool waterfalls in the back.

Then, I headed towards the Lincoln Memorial. That long reflecting pool is a lot longer than it looks. It seemed to take forever walking down there. I finally made it all the way, and climbed the steps to see that big statue of Abe. In the left hall, there is an inscription of the Gettysburg Address. In the right hall, is the address from his second inauguration. They are really quite moving, both of them.

I then went to see the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial. There is a statue of three soldiers standing there, looking over the famed wall. Made of black granite, it is long, and quite tall near the center. A park ranger was making a pencil rubbing for a visitor, and he had to stand on a ladder, because the name was so high up on the wall.

The last stop here was the Korean War Veterans Memorial. The main component of this memorial is a “field” of statues that depicts a group of soldiers, decked out in full rain gear, trudging along. My sister Valerie told me that I should see it in the rain, but alas, today was quite sunny. There is also a cool fountain, and a stone wall with shallow etching, that has a basic carved image effect.

Having visited the flowing fountains of the WWII Memorial, read the inspiring words of Honest Abe at the Lincoln Memorial, walked the stoic wall of the Vietnam Memorial, and seen the striking statuary of the Korean War Memorial, I headed down towards the Potomac River.

Once again, I found a sanctuary from the crowds. A small grove of trees right there on the river. One tree in particular, is old, and interesting, with it’s branches hanging low.

So here I sit, beneath my tree. The bridge to Arlington before me, the waves of the Potomac lapping gently at the shore. The Lincoln Memorial, in view on my right, and Arlington House on the far side of the river. The trees here have not yet reached their peak bloom, and I am glad. At their peak, they seem to lose some of their fragrance. And the full white color, not nearly so striking, as when you can still see the brilliant pink color of the buds.

The air is cool, but the sun is strong. It has been a most worthwhile day.

After my respite, I strolled down the shore of the Potomac to the place where the river meets the Tidal Basin. I then walked the Tidal Basin path once more. The trees are as lovely as ever, but the travel is quite slow due to the large crowds of people.

So, I made my way back to the Metro Station. This is where the Metro gets crazy. A flood of people were waiting to go in. It took twenty minutes just to get through the gates. Fortunately, most of the people seemed to be going the other direction. So, before too long, I was back at the College Park Metro Station. I stopped to look at a few of the trees on my walk back to the campsite, but for the most part, my day was done.

And so ends my trip to see the Cherry Blossoms. Part of me would like to stay longer, but the peak bloom had arrived, and it is supposed to be a cold couple of nights ahead. Not to mention those crazy crowds for the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

I’ve also had more than enough of the camping life. Living in a tent? I guess I’m still just a city kid at heart.