A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Finishing the Loop #11 – Maryland (again), Virginia (again), West Virginia and Washington DC

Wednesday 15th May - Charles Town WV (via Maryland and Virginia)

On arising after a flood-free night, we found that both our colds have finally gone and so had the rain. In fact it was a beautiful clear sunny day – although still only 54F (12C). We headed to our next destination, again, with a plenty of scenery and more evidence of livestock that had been allowed out to play in the sunshine. We left Pennsylvania and passed through the Maryland for a while, then brushed by Virginia for 5 minutes - not that we needed to go back to those states, that’s just where the road went. We arrived in West Virginia at Harpers Ferry, which was considered a strategic location during the Civil War and changed hands 8 times during the conflict. We stopped in the National Park for a few pix, but didn’t bother to do the self-drive tour of the battlefield.

By the time we arrived in Charles Town, we had crossed the Susquehanna (for the second time), Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers – all very historical, we felt. Again, we were too early for check-in at the motel, so we took a drive around Charles Town – which is very quaint – and finished up at the Hollywood Casino, which is at the racecourse and is bloody huge. Naturally, they had a lunch buffet and, naturally, we had to give it a try – at $13.99 each you’ve just gotta, eh! By the time we were done, and I had lost $20 (and Carolyn $14) on the pokies, it was time to check in at the motel.

Thursday 16th May – Chantilly VA

We got away early and it was only a little over an hour to reach the motel which is near Dulles airport and the Steven F Udvar-Hazy museum (the off-site Air and Space Museum run by the Smithsonian). Carolyn was feeling a bit poorly again, so we thought we would try to book into the motel early (it was only 9am) or, at best, drop Carolyn and her luggage so she could check in when a room became available. At first they told me that nothing was ready but, when they checked the booking, they found a room that was available as I was a Wyndham Rewards Gold member so they would check us in immediately. Sometimes loyalty programs do actually provide real rewards. Go Wyndham Hotel Group (that’s my plug for them)!!! After getting Carolyn settled into the room (which is large and rather nice) I set off for the museum and arrived just in time for it to open, and just as 4 buses turned up disgorging hordes of schoolchildren.

Still, the museum is big enough to dodge most of them, although they do have a tendency to not look where they are going, and they can get a trifle noisy which can be annoying when you are trying to watch the movies in the iMax theatre. I finally bailed out at 4pm and headed back to the motel to see how the invalid was getting. Which, as it turned out, was not too great, so we had another supermarket dinner and an early night.

Friday 17th May – Washington DC

The rental car had to go back to Hertz today, and Carolyn was still feeling seedy, so she decided to stay in. The battle of the $55 overcharge was a non-event, even though the agent said the car I had “upgraded” to was considered a luxury model, not the “full-size” I had ordered. Anyway, he sent an email to Hertz in Baltimore for an explanation of the additional charge and when they hadn’t replied after 15 minutes, he just deducted it from the bill. Hertz's shuttle bus took me back to the airport where I then took the 5A Metro Express bus to Washington DC @ $3.75 (for us seniors). This took me to L’Enfant Plaza, which is 2 blocks walk from the National Mall, and the on-site Air and Space Museum. Again, I arrived just before opening and, if I had thought there were boundless schoolkids yesterday, today's offering blew the doors off that!! There seemed to be trillions of them, made worse by the fact that this museum is tiny compared with the one at Dulles and every single person has to go through security as tight as any airport. I had noticed yesterday that the Dulles museum had signs that said the City museum was being renovated and many of the exhibits were in the process of being relocated temporarily to their facility, Sure enough, about half the museum was closed off (which made the rugrat problem even more pronounced), so it was as well I had seen most of it when we last visited back in 1989.

I think these might be Donald's choppers - POTUS on the move

Believing that maybe most of the schoolkids were probably more interested in the A & S museum, I fled across the Mall to the Museum of Natural History – the other one I had found so interesting on our previous visit 30 years ago. Well, that didn’t pan out either – there were just as many kids there as the last one. On top of that, the gallery that I was most interested in, Dinosaurs etc, was closed for renovation and not due to open until the 8th June. It was still interesting, though, and the exhibits have changed quite a bit in 30 years. The Hope diamond is now in an entirely different enclosure and far more accessible – visually, that is. I’m curious to look back at my pix from 1989 and see what else has changed

By now, I was starting to run out of puff and figured I would need to manage my time carefully to ensure the legs would last long enough to get back to L’Enfant plaza and the bus back to Dulles airport. So I decided the next place of interest might be the Holocaust museum, which is right down the Washington monument end of the Mall on a side street. You know how, when you’re a little kid, everything looks big and far away. Then when you grow up, those big places look little and close together. Well, let me tell you when you get old and stuffed, they go back to being big and far away. I remember when we were here in 1989, we raced around the museums in the mall, and from one to another as we only a short time there – didn’t seem that far back then. Now, 30 years later, going from one to the other feels like crossing the goddam Himalayas! To make matters worse, by the time I reached the Holocaust museum, they were no longer issuing passes (tickets) to the “main exhibit” for the rest of the day, as it was full up with a billion or so schoolkids. So I took a wander around the rest of the museum then, having decided that enough was enough, I headed my weary way back to the 5A bus to Dulles. On the way I looked for somewhere to buy a late lunch (and a beer). Well, in that part of DC there seems to be nothing but Federal buildings and not a Bar or restaurant in sight – just streets lined with these cute food trucks where everybody was having lunch. There being nothing else on offer, I partook of a hot dog from one of them, then promptly walked around the next corner to find a Holiday Inn that had a sidewalk bar and restaurant (big sigh).

Fortunately I arrived at L’Enfant Plaza in time to grab the 1.25 bus back to the airport, which took 15 minutes longer than scheduled due to the traffic (and we think Auckland’s traffic is bad – you ought to see it here!). I then had to wait for the Hotel shuttle to pick me up, but did have enough time to squeeze down a beer – very necessary, even at airport prices! I finally got back to the hotel at 4pm. I think tomorrow will be a day of rest!

Saturday 18th May – Chantilly VA

Funny, yesterday I could have sworn it was Saturday and only this morning I discovered it wasn’t. No wonder the 5A bus didn’t run to the Saturday schedule I was looking at – and  why there were so many kids at the Smithsonian. It were a schoolday, weren’t it?

On that subject, I was thinking about how come our return to Washington DC has seemed a little anti-climactic. When we visited DC in 1989, it was one of our first visits to the USA and the Smithsonian is a microcosm of that country packed into a (relatively) small area in one place – hence its popularity with schools to send their kids to. Back then, we only had 2 days here and though we were younger, and (relatively) fitter, there was just not enough time to get round all the museums in the Mall area, hence our desire to return some day and spend more time. However, since then we have travelled to the USA many times, and even lived here for a short while, and over that time we have been to a lot of places and attractions that the Smithsonian represents. I have been to the Space Centres at Huntsville, Houston (twice) and Kennedy (three times), and even watched a launch from Cape Canaveral. I have been to air museums at Dayton (twice), Davis Montham and Atwater as well as those associated with other militaria, such as the USS Intrepid, USS Alabama and USS Yorktown museums. Even an ICBM silo in Arizona at the Titan missile museum and several plane “graveyards” in the deserts of Nevada and Arizona. So there is not much that  I haven’t already seen examples of, that is on show at either of the Smithsonian aerospace sites.

Likewise, we have visited the Grand Canyon and Death Valley plus Dinosaur museums at Vernal and Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, and Casper and Thermopolis in Wyoming. We’ve been to Meteor Crater, Yellowstone and, of course, we live in a geologically active, geothermal/techtonic country so there isn’t much shown in the Natural history museum we haven’t experienced before.

Although we haven’t been to any of them, I doubt that the Museum of the America Indian would tell us about any more than what we have encountered on our trips though Apache, Navajo and Dakota Territories and visits to the Little Big Horn and Crazy Horse Memorial. The American History museum? Well, we’ve travelled the California trail, visited the Wild West at places like Cody and Deadwood, been to Texas and the Alamo and hey, we’ve just spent the last month travelling up the east coast, at times with our own Historian telling us all about the Revolutionary and Civil wars, as well as all the historic battlefields and other places we visited during our 7 months on the Great Loop.

Getting to the Smithsonian from where we are is not difficult but does require an expenditure of energy – and then there is getting round once you’re there, which is far more tiring than I remember from 30 years ago (as I found out yesterday). With Carolyn feeling unwell, it would not be possible for her to make the expedition and therefore it is unlikely we will try, even though we don’t leave for LA for 2 more days. I would have expected to feel bad about “missing out” on seeing more of the Smithsonian but, for the reasons already expressed above, I don’t. We’ll spend the next couple of days resting up for the journey home and I’ll try not to feel too bad…. about not feeling bad…..about not seeing as much of the Smithsonian as I thought we should.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Finishing the Loop #10 – Vermont, New York, and back to Pennsylvania

Sunday 12th May – Albany NY

BTW and before I leave it behind, that “death by burger” was priced at $18.99. However for $26.99, you could have (quoted from their menu):

Double everything on the Death by Burger. 36 oz. of meat? Childs play. This is how to find your way onto the wall of fame or the wall of shame. Includes a t-shirt regardless. Good luck!”

Well, no Tee shirt, but the group next door clapped me when I finished the smaller one and that’s good enough for me

As we departed Lincoln for Albany we found that Carmen wanted to take us back down the I-93, which was the way we had come up, so I had to put up with her nagging “recalculating” for several miles until she figured out which way I wanted to go and steered us to the I-91 further west which took us through Vermont and on into upper New York State. We had skipped breakfast at our motel to get an early start ( and I was still somewhat burgered out) so at 10.30 we stopped in at a truck stop to pick up a sandwich. However, when we got to the door of the truck stop shop, we found a queue on around 40 people waiting to get in. It turns out this was also a Diner with a Sunday brunch buffet and, not only was it Sunday, it was Mothers Day as well and every mothers son was taking his mum out for brunch at the truck stop. Anyway, we managed to fight our way through to get our sandwiches (and lemon meringue pie – with REAL whipped cream) without being torn to shreds by the locals thinking we were queue-jumping.

As the day wore on, we passed through some interesting countryside and the Green Mountain National forest  and stopped in the early afternoon for a pit stop at a cutsie little town called Peru. The JJ Hapgood Store and Eatery (est. 1827)  there also had a mother’s day celebration going on there, including a jazz band – well attended but not to the same degree as the truck stop. They also had NZ wine on the shelves, amongst other intriguing things, and the footpath and outer dining area (no-one was out there – it was 46F) were paved with marble

The motel we stayed at in Albany, NY, was being renovated and they had us in a nice big room that happened to be set up for handicapped folk. We had done our laundry in the afternoon and while doing so I found that the laundry area had about 1” of water over the floor that did not appear to be draining down the floor drains. A cleaner guy came and mopped it all up but, after I did the laundry, I noticed there was more water back in its place (although not as much).  After dinner, we were preparing to retire for the night when the toilet bowl began to fill and overflow after flushing. Shortly after that, water combined with effluent, began to bubble up through the drain in the shower. Being a handicapped shower designed for a wheelchair, there was nothing to stop it running across the bathroom tiles and onto the room carpet and eventually into the hall carpet. I raced around and told the receptionist, who said there were no maintenance people around, and she couldn’t contact the owners (being Sunday) so there was nothing she could do. I raced back to the room, which was well flooded and managed to turn off the water to the toilet – but stuff was still coming up through the shower drain and the damage was done. The receptionist turned up a few minutes later and suggested we might want another room. We suggested we might, too. We got a smaller room in an adjacent wing of the motel, but felt quite anxious every time we used the bathroom. There are obviously some serious plumbing issues that need to be addressed there (and some management ones as well). You'll be pleased to know I didn't take any pix.

Monday 13th May – Nazareth PA

We got away good and early after a quick brekkie, as I wanted to get to Nazareth in time to do a tour of the Martin & Co guitar factory before they stopped for the day at 2.30pm. Our toll road avoidance route followed the Hudson river south through some pretty picturesque countryside and quaint towns. Unfortunately it was raining hard and the temperature remained between 46 and 48F, so not a lot of incentive to get out of the car and snap pix. One thing that did tickle me was that Rest Stops are now also labelled as Text Stops and there are signs 5 miles before each one saying” You can wait – Text stop 5 miles”. There are also signs that say “Caught texting three times and you lose your licence”. Must be a big problem over here! We also had a small fox run across the road in one state park area we were driving through, which is the only undead item of wildlife we have seen on the entire trip.
Not the best pic, but from the top the sign reads "Text Stop, Rest Area, Truck Inspection"

At 12.30 we arrived at our hotel (which is apparently near the Crayola factory......... you know, kids crayons) so I dropped Carolyn off and drove the 4.8 miles further to the CF Martin factory. The 1pm tour was full so waited for the 1.30, which turned out at first to be only me and 2 tour guides – although another 3 guys turned up about 5 minutes into the tour. Each guitar is built from scratch and takes 8 – 10 weeks to finish. They make 200 per day, so there would be around  8-10,000 under construction at any one time in the 200,000 ft2 (18,500m2) factory. There is a lot of robotics and laser cutting, but there is also a lot of hand finishing as well, and in the custom department (where the high end instruments can cost up to USD150,000), each one is hand built.  If you like acoustic guitars, you gotta see this place. It just reeks perfection and quality control – no wonder they are such expensive beasts. I have lots of pix, but posting them all will make this a long posting.

Apparently robots do a better job of final polishing than humans can (on the production models)
Custom models are still done by hand.

There is a gift shop (yes I bought the Tee shirt) and a museum with guitars right back to the beginning. There was a private tour going on while I was there and the guide took out the oldest guitar in the collection (1834) and allowed them to play it – so I got to as well. It was slightly out of tune, but still sounded awesome for a 185 year old instrument. I also had a pluck on a new 12 string (Hotel California – what else) and could have bought it on the “visit the factory special” for USD679 – but just too hard to get it home. Which was a shame because it was a beautiful sounding guitar, and one of the new build that uses carbon fibre reinforcing under the bridge that adds 4dB to the sound output of an already naturally loud instrument

We had an early dinner at a nearby Diner that turned out to have the best Pecan Pie I have ever tasted (apart from my own).

Tuesday 14th May – Lancaster PA (via Delaware)

While reviewing our route for the blog a couple of days ago, I realized that the Tiki tour that Carmen took us on through the Pennsylvanian countryside to get us from Baltimore to Philadelphia on the 6th May had completely bypassed the state of Delaware. The Interstate would have taken us through it, but her “revised” route missed our crossing the border by 7½ miles. Rather than come all the way across here sometime in the future just to visit that state to tick it off the list, I figured we had better drop in on the way back to Washington and today was the best day to do it. Although the direct route from Nazareth to Lancaster took a little over an hour, the diversion to Delaware added about an hour more – but we had plenty of time today.

So we got away at 8am and headed for 2 Fat Guys restaurant in Hockessin, Delaware  We had to put a target address in for Carmen, so that was it – and we figured we might stop for lunch there, too. However, we got there at 10.30 and they didn’t open until 11am, so we toodled back into Pennsylvania and pushed on to Lancaster, which was about an hour away.

Again, there was some pretty interesting scenery and townships on the way and we even got to see some animal life, including 2 dead deer on the side of the road. Most of the livestock is still being kept in barns, although we began to see more as we neared Lancaster and Amish territory. There was even a sign proclaimimg “lambs for sale”, but we never saw any of them. We stopped at a bakery/gift shop that claimed to have “the best Shoo-Fly Pie” in the USA”, and gave away free tastes. As Carolyn has been determined to try it, we decided to stop and sample. It was OK – tasted like pecan pie without the nuts, but the hint of cinnamon put me off (can’t stand cinnamon). Next door was a traditional Amish restaurant which was serving Wednesday buffet @$11.95 per person. Naturally we had to go and try it out – very basic food, but very tasty and hard to criticize the price.

The weather was not conducive to buggy rides around Amish farms, so we drove around town for a look before booking into our motel. Later Carolyn did a little shopping at a Target store, and we did a supermarket dinner again. This was mine – ribs, baked tatie and salad. Its amazing what you can cook up in a wee microwave in a motel room.

BTW (and you can check on Google maps if you don’t believe me) our motel is 6 miles from the township of Intercourse, PA, and you have to drive through the village of Bird in Hand to get there – and Virginville, PA is 50 miles to the north – makes you wonder what these folk were up to round here, back then?

 Footnote to the motel dunny flood saga of a couple of days ago. When we checked into the motel in Lancaster, we couldn’t help but notice a pile of used loos stacked up against a shed by the carpark. We also noticed that the motel had rooms with planked hardwood floors, instead of the usual carpet. The confirmation that there had been issues with flooding from their was the sign in each bathroom that stated, basically, that; ”we have issues with flooding from our toilets”, and what to do in such a case. I think that the Albany motel is not the only one that has had problems

New loos at reception waiting to be installed!

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Finishing the Loop #9 – Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont

Thursday 9th May – Hartford CN

I had looked at routes for the next leg of the journey on Google maps when planning the itinerary, and every one that came up involved a toll somewhere through New York City. So, before we departed our motel in New Jersey, we checked with Carmen to see what she reckoned. By avoiding tolls, she calculated a trip of 707 miles, and by not doing so the trip was 114miles. It was mainly up the Interstate 95, and but we were unsure of where the toll was incurred, but we activated the EZ pass provided by Hertz. This brings about an automatic billing of the toll plus a $5.95 “administration charge – but better than an additional 600 or so miles of travel. It turns out the toll was for crossing the Washington bridge, over the Hudson River, which we did at snails pace. This was just as well as the number of off ramps we had to navigate around would have been nightmarish at 55mph. However, just as we got to a junction with a choice between ramps 31A (Queens) + 31B (Albany - North), Carmen lost her signal! So, knowing Queens was an area of New York City, I chose B as it seemed to be heading the right direction., Well it wasn’t and it took us to Interstate 83 instead. However, this turned out to be a scenic route, that was built to take traffic load off the main highway and ran parallel to the 95 anyway. Lots of pretty architecturally designed bridges (some of marble that we saw being chiselled off the roadside during road widening earthworks), and plenty of laybys with restrooms. Thus, we arrived too early at Hartford  to check in to our motel, so we went straight to visit Mark Twain’s  house. An interesting place, even though he didn’t live there all that long – he was away when his daughter died there and he couldn’t bring himself to move back in. It cost him $40,000 to build and he sold it for $28,000 It’d be worth a bit more now!). We weren't allowed to take photographs inside - it was very dark in there and I suppose they worry about the flashes doing damage? - so you just get pix of the outside:

On the way back to the motel and having not had lunch, we stopped for an early dinner at an Italian deli but when checked in to our motel, we found it was next door to a lobster & Prime Rib restaurant. The motel had obviously been recently renovated, made more obvious by the plastic, c/w price tags, still on the lampshades!

Friday 10th May – Lincoln, NH

It was raining and 50F (10C), and getting colder as we headed further North. It was only a 2½  hour drive to Lincoln,  so we stopped at several shopping centres on the way so Carolyn could buy more shoes. We arrived Lincoln at  2pm, the rain had stopped but  the temperature had dropped to 46F (8C) and there was snow still on the ground from a storm last week. And this is at only 800ft above sea level, and not that far inland.

The motel had an indoor heated pool and spa bath in room our room, but we were both  too crook to partake. It is also the 1st motel I can recall staying at in the USA with central heating as well as air conditioning.

Saturday 11th May – Mt Washington NH

We awoke to a cloudy morning, but with some sun peeking through. However it was a bit windy and we had been told; “if you can feel wind in Lincoln, it will be howling on Mt Washington". We left at 9am for the 45 minute drive to the cog railway to catch the 11.30 train to the summit. This is the first cog railway built in the world and second steepest, with one section, Jacobs ladder, at 37.4% inclination and an average of 25% (ie 1ft rise to every 4ft distance). It used to be all steam locos but now they mainly use biodiesel powered engines as well as a couple of aging steam trains . The railway was built in 1869 by Sylvester Marsh (any relation, I wonder?) so this year is its 150th anniversary and it is still largely as it was back then. The temperature was 43F (6C) at the Base station, elevation  2700ft, as we departed, but then…...

….we started to encounter Rime ice at 5000ft, as we as we reached the cloud line and the earlier train coming down.  

At the top it was COLD.   The temperature was 24.2F (-4.3C) with a wind chill of 2F (-16.7C), and the wind speed was 58mph.This is well below the highest wind gust ever recorded there oft 231mph, which is the highest wind gust ever recorded. There is a weather observatory at the top, with a museum and café attached Unfortunately both of these were closed as ours was the second train up this season -  the first being the 10.30am train we saw coming back down on our way up.

The steep gradient was a lot more obvious on the way down and you could really notice it with the brakeman standing alongside. There were some pretty spectacular views once we broke through the clouds, but pix were hard to get as the windows tended to fog up and you couldn’t stand because of the angle of descent

The original "little engine that could" cog train that was used to build the railway.
Named Peppersass because the boiler looked like a bottle of hot sauce with the same name
Once we reached the bottom, the temperature had risen and was a balmy 52F (11C) when we got back to Lincoln. It was recommended that we try a restaurant in a nearby town, Woodstock (no, not that Woodstock!), so we did and it met all the expectations we were promised. I had  a meal called “death by burger” which was a burger with an 18oz (500gm) pattie and all the trimmings. I didn’t have my camera so the pic following is one I lifted off the ‘net and happens to be the one used on their menu. I can assure you that this isn’t the sort of pic you see in a McDonalds advert – the burger actually looked just like the picture and was just as big. A group at the table watched it arrive with wide eyes and kept a close watch on my progress – so I felt obligated to finish it, and I did. No breakfast for me tomorrow!