Friday, August 3, 2012

10 States in 10 Days! Part 1: The North

Well, after the two weeks of driving across America that I've just had, I just had to post here again!  I drove from the top of the country to the bottom, not east to west, but still quite an accomplishment, and quite a bit to see.

Overall, I spent time in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and finally into Florida, and hit most of those places for a second time.

Lake Shore Drive, where you can picnic on the grass, walk along the lake 
o either Navy Pier ( in the distance) or to the museums, catch a boat ride, or just hang out.

I actually started in Ohio, went through Indiana, to Chicago Illinois where it was, like the rest of the country this summer, hovering around the 100 degree mark.   In Chicago, I visited the Shedd Aquarium for the first time, to see the baby dolphin there.  I have to say that it was a lot of money to spend a day at the aquarium, and I didn't even see all the shows there. It is a nice place, but the Field Museum next door was a lot more reasonable, especially for eating.  I guess dinosaurs can pay for themselves better than sea creatures can. Both places are worth the visit... the beluga whales at the aquarium were fun to see, and some of the sharks are amazing.  And that baby dolphin was a blast. (I'll be posting a video of him swimming with his mom.  I'l place the link here when I do) :0)

Beluga putting on a show at the Shedd Aquarium.

I must say that I was skeptical about Chicago style pizza, especially after seeing pics of the stuff on the hotel local tv channel.  I love a good New York style, and regret often that Ohio just does not offer a good pizza, except for the rare exception (Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers is my favorite here).  Fortunately, I was in for a nice surprise; I actually liked the Chicago style, and it's unusual crust. 

After a couple of days in the hot and windy city, I went an hour north to Waukegan, Illinois for a couple of days, which led me up into Wisconsin for an afternoon, to visit the Jelly Belly factory tour.  I'm not even crazy for jelly beans or belllies, but I must say that their cocktail collection of jelly bellys are very tasty!

From both Waukegan and Chicago I had some amazing views of Lake Michigan, and some of it's lighthouses.  There wasn't much to see in Waukegan, but they do have a small stretch of sandy beach with a view of two lighthouses and tons of seagulls.  After a short visit, I headed slightly south, passing through Chicago and into Indiana.  I wanted to do more in Indiana than just fill up the car, so I decided to visit the Indiana Dunes State Park. The park looks awesome, but they do want $15 for the day, which is a bit too much to spend for just stopping by.  Fortunately, I asked at the Indiana Dunes visitors center, and was directed to Mount Baldy, the last of the dunes that you can actually climb upon.

 The beach on Lake Michigan, in Waukegan, Ill.

This brought visions of a massive pile of sand with people climbing up and sliding down, but this was not exactly the reality.  As I parked the car there really was a wall of sand before me, at least 40 feet high, but there was a fence in front of it, and signs explaining that the dunes are moving, and won't survive if people keep climbing on them!  After a few moments of "What the-?" I decided to follow a sign that lead down the road a bit, and I think it mentioned a beach, so yeah, let's go.  Turns out we really did get to climb the dune, but a part of the dune with a path cut into it, and the part of the dune overgrown with sassafras and larger trees and shrubs, so it was like climbing any other hill, just with a slippery sandy slope. A tough climb, but well worth it!  At the top you can see Lake Michigan spreading before you, and reaching out to forever, with large white capped waves and a sandy beach at the bottom of a rickety wooden staircase.  It looked and felt like visiting the ocean, but with a slightly different feel to it.

If you look to the right, though, you see this giant power plant smokestack that looks like a nuclear reactor taking up part of the sky line.  A park ranger told me it is a coal burning plant and that all that smoke is just water vapor, so just look left and enjoy, :0)

The beach was stunning, and seeing the dunes behind us was amazing.  I watched an awesome sunset begin, but then had to get going after too short of a break.  Then it was hours of driving back to Ohio, where there was time to do some laundry before getting back in the car and heading south.

More on that next time in Part 2, so please stay tooned!

JOHN :0)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Washington, DC... in 5 Hours?

Is it possible to do Washington DC in one afternoon? The answer is no, of course, but then again, if you're nearby enough to pop in on the train, there is plenty to see and do in a few hours, and the experience can be quite rewarding.

After the Baltimore Comic-con, I stopped in Silver Springs Maryland for the night, and the next day took the metro to the Smithsonian stop in Washington. I had to change trains twice, but things went pretty smooth, and it was only 20 minutes or so until I was standing within an area surrounded by the Smithsonian Museum buildings, and gazing over at the Washington Monument.

Now, being there for the afternoon, I had to prioritise, so standing in line was out. It was well worth it just to walk around the Washington monument, tilting my head back ever minute or so to see just how high it is, and looking for the secret inscription that Dan Brown mentions in his new book. From there it was a short walk to the Lincoln Memorial, with several other memorials to see along the way.

The biggest disappointment so far was that big long pool of water you see in all the movies, including Logan's Run, where it was full of weeds from centuries of neglect. In reality, the pool looked a LOT like it did in Logan's Run, having green water that was overflowing in places onto the dirt path that followed alongside. Stick to the sidewalk about 20 meters away is what I recommend, although I stuck to it and followed the pool all the way to the steps. Looking left you can see the Jefferson Memorial, by the way, and turning around you can sometimes spot the Capitol Building in the distance, behind the Washington Monument.

See how much we've seen already?

The Lincoln Memorial is awesome in it's own sobering way, and definitely one of the monuments worth going in and walking around for a bit. Take time to read Lincoln's words on the walls, and to just stand there gazing up at the man himself.

I then walked back to the Smithsonian making a slight detour east to see the Whitehouse, which unfortunately had a big white tent in front of it, marring the view. It just didn't seem worth going any closer since there was no time for a tour, so back across the park under the Washington Monument, and back to the Smithsonian.

Once there, there were many options from Art museums, an information Castle where Mr. Smithson is interred, the Air & Space Museum, and the Natural History Museum. I love Natural History Museums, and was curious to see how much the Night in the Museum resembled it, so spent my few remaining hours there, where I saw a LOT of cool stuff, and even learned a few things. Highly recommended, especially if you have kids. Be warned, though, that food inside is expensive, but good, and the gift shops are marked up considerably. Still, you gotta buy something while you're there. :0)

After that it was another short train trip back, and then into the car for the ride home. A very good afternoon, indeed, walking amongst our nation's history, and seeing close-up all those things you see in the movies, which is really what travel is all about, isn't it? Experiencing life first-hand.

Cheers, JOHN :0)