Fishing with Gators

It was really HOT in Georgia.  It was in the triple digits, and the humidity must have been in the same range.  

Savannah is smaller than I thought it would be.  The historic district is laid out around 22 green parks (there were 24 when the town was laid out around 1733), each one named for a historical figure, and each one with a statue of a historical figure, but not the figure the park was named for.  Don’t know why statue "A" isn’t in park "A", but I guess that’s part of the charm.  The streets are so beautiful, lined with wonderful live oaks, which themselves are heavy with Spanish Moss.  It looks just right- something about that trailing greenery fits the whole southern mystique.  Spanish Moss doesn’t look nearly as good on other trees, but on live oaks, it is perfect.
We had lunch at The Wilkes House, which serves amazing, old fashioned Southern cooking at it’s best!  I literally could not count the dishes they set on the table.  We started with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, cornbread, green beans with bacon, and rice (they have that a lot here).  Then they started bringing other dishes - sweet potatoes, dressing, carrots and raisins, BBQ pork, beef stew, baked beans, rutabaga, greens, okra and tomato, macaroni and cheese, cucumber salad, biscuits, sausage with rice, and cream corn.   Plus sweet tea, and the best best banana pudding I’ve ever had.
The next day we had lunch at the Lady and Sons (aka Paula Dean’s).  It was a really good fried chicken buffet, but it wasn’t as good or as bountiful as WIlkes.   
We had a great time at nearby Tybee Beach.  The sand was burning hot; there are signs about leatherback turtles nesting there, and little holes dug into the sand.  I’m not sure those holes were made by turtles, but they could be… What we did find was a cute horseshoe crab.  We did a photo op with him, then left him alone.
We laid our towels on the sand and walked into the water, which was warm enough to be comfortable and cool enough to be refreshing.  And for entertainment, dolphins showed up!  Their beautiful curved backs rose smoothly out of the water and slipped back down.  We watched them for a long time, just relaxing in the sun and water.  Randy got stung by a couple of small jellyfish but he came right back into the water.  I found out later than I’d burned my neck and shoulders badly, but it was worth it.
We are in the deep south here, which means we find stores like Piggly Wiggly.  I love the cute name, but it turns out that Piggly Wiggly was the first large self-serve supermarket.  Before them, customers had to give their grocery list to the store personnel, who retrieved the items.  Seems like stores sell a lot more by letting customers wander around.
We spent a whole week in the Salt Springs Recreation Area in Ocala National Forest.  We had a full hook-up but no Wifi or Internet.  No bars at all on the phone.  Once we parked in a Walmart parking lot because the phone found one bar, and we could use it to power the PC. It turns out I don't like being out of touch!
Randy put on mask and snorkle and checked out the springs.  The water there full of fish, but it's also 72 degrees.  He kept telling me that the cold water wouldn’t kill me, but I saw a lot of black vultures sitting around, watching us.  
Randy also went fishing for bass.  Randy’s Indian name must be “Fishes with Gators”; alligators cruised by where he was fishing and one of them stayed, right about where he was casting.
In the dusk alligators have a slight blueish color, and they make almost no wake in the water; they move with just a gentle swish of their tail.  Like my first sighting of a bear in Alaska, my first sight of a wild gator took my breath away.  It’s really different than seeing them in a zoo.  This is their land and although they didn’t feel like coming on shore, they could have at any point.  And I would have moved out of their way - very quickly!

July 16, 2011

On our last day in Washington we went to see the Capital Building. But the recent budget problems have given us such a bad feeling about our government that it wasn’t even interesting.  We just took a quick look at it and left.  We spent a little more time at the Supreme Court building.  It sure is a fancy building for something that was built during the depression.  Nearby is the US Postal Museum, where they have information about mail delivered by pony express, planes, trains and trucks.  And lots of stamps.

So we went back to Smithsonian’s American History Museum, where they have some of the coolest things.  How cool?  How about the ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz!  

Julie Neumar’s Catwoman suit, and Fonzie’s leather jacket.   Some Stradivari violins (hope those get played once in a while). 
Lots of stuff from the country’s early days; I was surprised by the number of George Washington’s things that are still around - his field telescope from the revolutionary war, clothes, and battle sword.  They have the gunboat Philadelphia, which was sunk by the British in 1776.  And Alexander Graham Bell’s 1876 telephone prototype, and the pocket compass used by William Clark on his trek to the ocean.  From more recent history: part of the broken structure from the twin towers.  The C-3PO costume worn in Return of the Jedi, and the broken file cabinet from Watergate. 

By now we have really gotten the hang of the subway system here.  It’s actually pretty good.  There are a couple of things that could be improved; they have a good subway map but it doesn’t include any streets, so you have to use a subway map and a street map, and cross-reference between them.  And in the subway cars, the maps are only located at the doors.  But beyond that, it’s a useful system.  There are 2 kinds of cards accepted - Smart cards and Fair cards.  You have to have a Smart card to use the Metro parking lots but it costs $5, beyond how much you put on it to pay for parking and subway.  The Fair card is just for the subway, with no extra charge for the card.  So for us it made sense to have one of each.  Once you put money on either one of those cards you don’t get it back, so we figured out how pre-pay just enough for the last trip.  Not easy since every since trip has a different price.  The fares between each point is different, depending on where you start and the time of day.
I would recommend the subway to anyone.  I can also recommend Fro-Yo (frozen yogurt stores) and Old Ebbitt Grill’s, who have the best french fries I’ve had in the US.  And for anyone who considers themselves a foodie must stop at the Smithsonian American History Museum to see Julia Child's kitchen - it just makes you smile. 

July 14, 2011

We spent a few days in Washington DC, which is full of wonderful monuments and historical artifacts.  The Washington Monument stands tall and serious, just like the man.  The reflecting pool in front of it was not reflecting anything while we were there; it was drained for maintenance.  

We walked to the Vietnam Wall, which wasn’t as depressing as I thought it might be; probably because I was not looking for somebody’s name.
It was great to see the Lincoln Memorial, and we learned a little about the statue.  One hand is closed to represent the strength needed to win the war, while the other hand is open to represent the heart to pardon.  The drapery behind his chair is actually the US flag.  Randy and I both think that President Lincoln was the best President the US has ever had.
The White House was cool to see, but right now we are so discouraged by what is going on in all branches of government (and in all parties) that it wasn’t that exciting.  

Ford Theater was destroyed at one point, but it has been completely restored.  If you didn’t know it was restored, you’d think it was the original.
A surprising number of original artifacts are on display there.  Back in 1865 Brooks Brothers created a special coat for President Lincoln to wear to his second inauguration.  On the inside lining was quilted design of an eagle holding a banner with “One Country, One Destiny” on it.  The President must have liked the coat because he wore it to Ford’s Theater.  And now they have it on display there.  By the time the coat was saved for posterity, souvenir hunters had snipped off pieces of the right shoulder, causing the sleeve to de-attach, but still...  It is displayed behind a heavy curved glass cover and doesn’t photograph well, but that’s OK, since the glass is necessary to preserve it.  They also have Lincoln’s gloves displayed  (surprisingly small).  They even have the actual gun that John Wilkes Booth used; it was weird to see that.  Across the street is the Petersen house where President Lincoln died, but it was closed for restoration. 

Arlington Cemetery made a profound impression on us.  As you walk into it, the rows of small white grave markers go on and on.  You think one section ends, and then notice the hill beyond it with more rows.   President Kennedy is buried here, with his wife and two of their children who died very young.  Their graves are in a large section marked with granite fieldstones and an eternal flame.  Nearby Bobby Kennedy’s marker is a simple white cross.  
The tomb of the Unknown Soldier is also in Arlington.  Every half hour the guard is changed, in a very formal process that conveys great respect for those soldiers.
Tuesday we caught a special bus out to the Iwo Jima Memorial to watch the US Marine Sunset Parade.  The Marine band (aka the Commandant’s Own) played several numbers, marching in formation, and then a group of marines in dress uniforms marched onto the field and performed a Silent Drill.  This is an exhibition of precision drilling without any audible commands; just soldiers moving in perfect unison, with only the sound of rifle clicks.  The great Iwo Jima memorial made a perfect backdrop.  
After the show, the return buses filled up quickly.  Just when we thought we’d have to walk, a Marine bus showed up and opened it’s doors.  So we got to ride in the Marine band’s bus!  By the way, it’s a pretty nice bus.

The next day we went to the Pentagon; no photos are allowed, even though we could only walk around the outside.  The 9-11 memorial gave us some serious thoughts.  9/11 has left it’s mark everywhere.  Even where there are no memorials, there are new rules and regulations.

We had lunch at the Department of Agriculture cafe.  The food was reasonably priced but unfortunately it was also mediocre.
The Smithsonian is the BEST.  A lot of free museums full of the best stuff ever!  First in the day and in my heart - dinosaurs!    At the museum of Natural History.  I just love old bones; can’t explain it.  I took a quick look at the Hope Diamond, but to me it didn’t compare with those dinosaur bones.  
Of course, they have some interesting shark jaws, too,
The Space and Air Museum is wonderful; it starts with the Wright Brother’s Kitty Hawk plane (the original, although the cloth has been replaced), and goes all the way to stealth planes, with everything in between.  There is a section about aviation and war, which is somber.  Many original space exploration vehicles were strictly one-way and therefore are not around anymore (at least not on this planet), but the Smithsonian has the test versions of those vehicles.  And Russian donated a lot of their early space crafts - I recognized Sputnik right away which dates me, but that’s OK.  Below is the Gemini IV capsule, carefully enclosed in a clear container to protect it from the thousands of tourists:
Apollo Command Modules, Skylab Orbital Workshop, Minuteman rockets - it’s all here, plus a full scale model of the new rover that will go to Mars this November.  

In the American History museum we saw the original (and very huge) flag that flew over Fort McHenry in the war of 1812 and inspired Frances Key Scott to write the “Star Spangled Banner”.  It’s too threadbare to hang so it’s carefully laid out behind glass, at a slight angle so it’s easy to see.  Another important artifact that is still accessible to the public, thanks to the Smithsonian.  
Also in the same museum is Julia Child’s kitchen.  It was so cool - Julia was an inspiration to so many people.  Randy was checking the cookbooks on her shelves, and he has most of them!  Wish we could have met her. 
The museum also has a great section on travel: ships, cars and trains.  I didn’t think I would be interested in that, but they have so much good stuff there that I was.
At the end of the day we took a quick tour through the First Ladies exhibit.  I am no fashionista but I do like learning about women in history.  They actually have a dress worn by Martha Washington!!   And Mary Lincoln’s dress is there, although I didn’t think she was that . .  slender.

From the Natural History Museum:  I love this.  I don't know what to call it - something like "Tim Burton's Angry Birds"!

July 10, 2911

From Randy:  Philadelphia is a city full of history but there are a few pieces that seem to be significant to me.  The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.  They represent and are the real items that were there when this country first started.  
Independence Hall is where the founding fathers met to sign the Declaration of Independence and where the Constitution was created and signed.  The actual chair that was used by George Washington as he presided over The Constitutional Convention is there.  The walls of Independence Hall has been witness to some of the most important conversations, the most important decisions and the most important events of our nation’s history.
The Liberty Bell stands alone as the most recognizable symbol of America’s freedom.  It is not perfect, it has a crack running through it that was attempted to be repaired and yet the crack remains perhaps symbolic of imperfect people trying to form a nation.  When you are within it’s sight and you understand what it represents  you can not help but to be moved by its awesome presence.  
Walking around town you have a chance to walk where people such as Ben Franklin, Sam Adams, John Adams, John Hancock, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, etc  walked.  It has changed tremendously since they were there but hopefully they would still recognize it as the place where they risked their lives to start a new nation.  
There were a many things I learned in Philadelphia, here are a few…   John Hancock presided over the convention where the Declaration of Independence was signed and George Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention.   During the Declaration of Independence Convention George Washington was already busy fighting the British.  The Declaration was set in print before it was done in the calligraphy style we are so used to seeing.  George Washington did not become president until 1789.  Between 1776 and 1789 we were under the Articles of Confederation and there were various “Leaders” in charge.  What this means is that it could be argued that George may have been the first president but not the first leader of the United States.  That is not said to discredit Washington but to share some information I have recently come to understand.  As it seems France assisted the colonies as a means of causing great irritation to the British.  France actually did not receive anything of value in return for their helping the colonies.  
The amount of history that exist is Philadelphia is phenomenal and is something I highly recommend experiencing. 

On our last day in New York City it felt like we walked every inch of Manhattan.  When we got off the subway we went to the Empire State Building.  They charge $21 for an elevator ride which didn’t seem a great deal, so we checked out the main floor.  The foyer ceiling, which has an mechanical pattern in it, has an odd coffin-like shape.  Everything on the main floor is really beautiful, but go up to the second story and it’s plain walls, a rough black ceiling and  the duct work shows.
On to the Theater District and Times Square, where the crystal ball sets up on top of the One Times Square building, changing color and waiting for New Years Eve.  Times Square is a big open area where lots of tourists mill around.  It has over sized electric signs advertising current theater shows (similar to London's Piccadilly Circus), plus a huge screen that shows everyone in the square, from overhead cameras.  So everyone moves a little bit to find out where they are on the big screen, then takes pictures of the picture of themselves.  Me too, of course!
Rockefeller Center is not as large as we thought it would be.  The part that is an ice rink in winter is currently set up with little tables under blue awnings.  At the corner is the NBC News building where the Today Show is filmed, although it was too late in the day for that.
We walked down 5th Avenue, home to some fabulously expensive stores: De Beers, Cartier, Harry Winston, Tiffany, Louis Vuitton, Versace.  Trump Tower is also on 5th Avenue; we used their restrooms.  
Radio City Hall is nearby, and just off 5th Avenue is the Cathedral of St. Patrick - absolutely beautiful!
Madison Avenue has Dolce and Gabbana, Armani, Prada and the Waldorf Astoria.  Nearby is FAO Schwarz, where the doorway greeters are dressed up as toy solders.  Inside are zillions cool toys, including the Big Piano from the movie BIG.

We walked through some of Central Park, with it’s Delacorte Clock, but didn't go through the whole thing.  We also went to Grand Central Station, with it’s beautiful, wide use of space and a ceiling full of constellations.

During the day we got a hot dog from a street vendor, and a pizza roll at Liberty Deli, but after all that walking it was time to find something more substantial.  We went to China town but the streets were absolutely packed.  Since we weren’t looking for anything in particular, we left there and headed to Little Italy.  The bread at Giovanna’s looked good, so we went there.  Their specials start at $9, but when you add sangria, tax and a big tip, it runs over $50.  I really enjoyed that sangria.  I don’t drink much, so one glass completely did me in.  Randy got me home safely, although I fell down once on the subway; not my fault, it was a bumpy ride!
Today we left NCY and went to Philadelphia.  First stop - the Mutter Museum.  That's a lot of weirdness on display in one place.  They have bones and skulls of all sorts.  They have cross sections of body parts and wax models of facial deformities.  They have way too many babies, with every abnormality imaginable.  The “Soap woman” is here, too - a nameless woman whose body was converted into a soapy material by the chemicals in the soil she was buried in.  They even have part of John Wilkes Booth there, for pete’s sake!  Enough is enough - time to get out of there and find something normal.
Since our travels always include food, we couldn’t visit Philadelphia without getting a steak sandwich. There seem to be 2 worthy of note: Pat’s Steak, which claims to be the original, and Geno’s, which right across the street from Pat’s.  Both had long lines so Randy got in line at Geno’s and I got in line at Pat’s.  Pat’s is so busy they have two lines - one for sandwiches and the other for soda and fries.  The classic steak sandwich has Cheese Whiz (really) and it’s best with grilled onions.  So to order a sandwich at Geno’s  you ask for one “Whiz wit”; if you’re ordering at Ray’s, ask for one “wit Whiz”.  They were both good, but Pat’s gets my vote.  Not as good as Randy served in Lambert’s, but I would wait in that line again for another one!  
By the way, Philadelphia has the worst drivers EVER.  Most of the roads are one way and they use that as an excuse to ignore lanes and drive where ever they want.  And the center lane that normally would be a turn lane, is used for parking.  Seriously, they park and leave their cars in the center of the road, facing either direction, between the yellow lines.  

Love the New York skyline!
So far, New Yorkers have been unfailingly nice.  We’ve gotten directions and information from people on the street, construction workers, transportation workers - everyone.

Today we took a short ferry ride across the Hudson, then another ferry ride out to Ellis Island.  Ellis Island is so amazing!  Lots of information about the people who came here: what they left behind, what they hoped to find, how they traveled, what kinds of procedures they went through at Ellis, and how they lived after they were accepted.  They came with everything they could carry, although at least one couple came with an empty suitcase;  they didn’t want the officials to know that they didn’t own anything.  That sounds sad, but who knows what happened to them after they got here?  That was the draw of the US - anything could happen here.  We take this for granted now but at that time and in many countries, it simply wasn’t possible.  Only here.  How amazing.
From Ellis Island the ferry took us to LIberty Island.  It is amazing to see this huge statue standing out there.  America has nothing else like it.  Ancient cultures created larger-than-life statues to be worshiped, but America, originally founded mostly by Puritans, Christians, Quakers and the like, did not go in for that sort of thing.  So this statue is unique.  It is breathtaking to see her standing in the harbor.  You would never paint a statue that shade of green, but it works because it’s natural, full of little variations that soften the lines.  The entire time I was there, every single time I would look at something else then look back at her, I’d say the same thing - “She is so beautiful”.  

Since we came directly from Ellis Island to Liberty Island, I was struck by the number of languages and cultures represented by the tourists today.  It’s interesting to think that every day there is a cast of characters here similar to a day at Ellis Island over a century ago.  It feels like the presence of all these cultures today is a way of acknowledging to the people in the past that it was all worth it.
Today we rolled into New York area, crossed the Hudson river and parked at Liberty Harbor RV Park in New Jersey, right across from NYC.  It’s basically a parking lot with electricity and water hookups, but the location is as good as it gets, because a couple of blocks from the park we can catch the light rail to cross back over the river into NYC.  Then the subway took us to Ground Zero.  Can’t see a thing at ground level because the entire area is surrounded by construction fence, but a couple of tall buildings are well under way.  

Just for grins we walked to Wall Street to see the NY Stock Exchange.  Since 9/11 visitors aren’t allowed in there, either. 
For dinner we had pizza at Lombardi’s, where they still cook their pizza in a coal-heated oven.  It’s pretty good, but Randy’s is definitely better!

And we walked out on the Brooklyn Bridge.  Very cool, makes me wonder how they did it way back in 1883.  The bridge has a slight wobble that made me dizzy.  
 On the bridge tower, they use this high-tech security: Duct tape!
Back at the RV park, we were really, really glad this place has 50 amp that can handle both air conditioners, ‘cause it’s HOT and HUMID here today.

July 4, 2011

Today we got as far as Mansfield, Maine, parked at the Canoe River Campground, then drove over to look at the “cottages” in Newport.  Here’s Randy, considering making an offer for a sumer place.  It’s a bit old, but we could make it work.

For casual food, I recommend the Newport Creamery. Their shakes are called “Awful Awful”.  Terrible name (it stands for Awful Big and Awful Good), but they taste great!  

Last night Sugarbaby didn’t feel well (by the way, a dog lets you know he doesn’t feel well by throwing up).  So he got to stay up late, chilling on Randy’s lap.

Since it’s the holiday weekend, it’s impossible to find an RV site in the New York area, so we stayed in Maine and went to see Portland.  The old dock area is full of shops and interesting stuff.  And I learned something:  one lobster in every 2-5 million is blue, instead of red.   At Free Range Fish and Lobster, this little beauty is for sale.  He'll be somebody's dinner soon!

The most relaxing day today…The sun was shining all day, warm enough to feel wonderful but not enough to make us sweat.  And there were no black flies anywhere in sight!  So we lay on the beach, closed our eyes, and listened to the endless sound of waves coming in, punctuated by the high-pitched squeal of children who couldn’t resist the water even though the water was COLD.  As the day progressed, we could hear the sound of the rides in the boardwalk.  Overhead a plane flew, dragging a banner advertising breakfast somewhere.  We relaxed and napped and just let the day unwind, part of a great big crowd, enjoying the holiday.
When we decided it was time to move or burn, we got up and walked around the town.  A big crowd was gathered outside The Original Pier French Fries, so we got in line to see what the draw was.  The fries were pretty good, but I think they are mostly famous for being famous.  

On the way back to the RV, we stopped to buy some sliced turkey for our littlest cat, Manna.  Yes, grocery shopping for the cat.  No, she’s not spoiled at all. 

July 2, 2011

Oh, Canada....So like the USA, but still different.  I learned they pronounce Quebec as Kay-beck, instead Quee-beck, like I do.   And there is always road construction everywhere, but there are also, always, the great, wide sweeps of forrest on both sides of the road.  The forests are really beautiful, with the dark green of old first and the lighter green of new growth.  Beautiful, tall flowers called lucernes, in shades of blue and pink, grow everywhere.
During high tide, the waters of the bay reach inland through meandering paths.
When the tides wash away most of the land but leave a section big enough to grow plants, it’s called a Flower pot .  Some Flower pots are big enough to grow trees -  although eventually  trees will outgrow the pot.

Nova Scotia, naturally, has strong Scottish roots.  Names like McDouglas are always spelled "MacDouglas".  And every so often, a bagpiper in full kilt comes to the RV park and walks around the whole park, playing the bagpipes.  It sounds just right!
Tim Horton’s is Canada’s answer to McDonalds - there is one in every small town.  We tried it once but didn’t think it was good enough to try again.  Randy did stop at a McDonalds once for me, and we found that Canadian McDonalds burgers taste more like beef than the US ones; probably because Canada has stricter controls.  And their Hershey Kisses are better too.  Scotsburn is the ice cream of choice here, and you can get ice cream cones everywhere.  It’s excellent! 

This is a picture of our favorite breakfast place - the Canada Petro, with that great home-made blueberry and strawberry jam, plus fried baloney!
But some things are hard to get used to, like four chicken breasts for $26.68.  I am not sure what they feed the chickens that make it worth that!
And this place has the worst bugs we’ve ever met, including the famous Skagway mosquitoes!  The Nova Scotia black flies are simply terrible.  They literally feast on everyone, leaving big red welts that start out itching and end up painfully sore.  And they are everywhere!  We found that we could not sit out in the evening to watch the tidal changes because within 2 minutes the flies were all over us.
We went to Halifax for a day (one of the 6 sunny days there have been since we arrived).  It's a harbor town, of course, but I was surprised to see jellyfish in the harbor.  They have a glass shop where glassblowers work in view of the tourists; it was fascinating but an RV is not the best place for expensive glass, so we passed.  We toured one of the boats in the harbor, and I thought Randy looked right as home behind the wheel!
The same day we went to Peggy's Cove, a cute little harbor town.  The day we were there a group of folks with very old cars were touring the place so we got to see some interesting cars from 1911 or so.  But the cove itself was the main draw.  The town is picturesque, with several small buildings scattered about almost randomly.
At the edge of town the coastline is made of huge granite rocks.  They are big enough that people hike over them like dunes, and lie down and sunbath on them like the beach.  
And at the very edge of this granite land stands Peggy's Cove lighthouse.  It's become sort of a symbol of the area.  It must have been difficult to anchor it on top of all that granite, but it is easy to see why it was necessary .
All of this probably sounds like a wrap-up, and it is.  The never-ending rainy season took a toll on Nova Scotia tourism, and there wasn't a need for us to stay at the RV park.  So Thursday we left the cloudy weather and black flies behind, and are now sitting in southern Maine.  It's been sunny since we got here, and not a single bug bite!