Thursday, 24 May 2007

Blog so far

I am cutting and pasting my blog from Word 2003, and do not understand why there seems to be some text instructons in place that I have not put in, bear with me while I try and sort this


I am also going to try and get some photos in as we have taken some lovely ones on our journey - around 4000 now I should think



Day 7

Monday 7th May 2007 <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


Well today we set of West from Tomah (the entry to the Cranberry region)  and went to find the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Mississippi and ended up at La Crosse, where we hoped to get a paddle steamer ride up and down and river.  Well, surprise, surprise it is not the tourist season here yet, so unless they could muster 10 bodies for a ride then the paddle steamers did not move.     As the 11.00 am one had not gone due to the fact that there were only two of us, we were asked to hang around until 1.30 and if there were 10 then we would be off.  We had also been alerted to the Blue Herons that were nesting on the opposite bank, so spent some time watching out for them.


Well we were off, in the direction of Winona, which was further up the Mississippi and we got some good views of the river.  At Winona we finally discovered what a Hoagie was when we each ordered one for lunch; basically it was a soft bread roll sandwich.  This we had a nice place called the Acoustic Café


Quite nice.  Bob had not been happy about this detour as he wanted to head off west again with the intention of driving as far as possible in one day, but I thought the town was cute and took a few pictures for our album.


We had left the Sat Nav in the car window, but Bob reckoned it looked like a place without crime, so was not concerned, and yes it was still there when we got back from lunch.  From Winona we took the road south to rejoin the I90, which then went through nicely wooded valleys and stopped unexpectedly at a rest area called Oakland Woods and Bob at last allowed me to drive.  His eyes had got tired from the driving and he needed to rest. Whilst at the rest area we did a spot of bird watching.  There was a bird feeder placed outside the back doors of the rest area and we watched several birds’ antics.                                                     


As we could not identify most of them Bob decided at the next opportunity that he would purchase an American bird book (which at present he is perusing to see if we can tell you what we saw).


I then took over the driving and managed to get around 200 miles under my belt, this included coming off the I90 twice for fuel, the first time the promised garage did not appear and the second time it did.  Once at our destination – Sioux Falls - I then managed to negotiate the road system to the hotel and later the town to find something to eat.  Once at the hotel, another Super 8, we were greeted by an English lady with “I’m Liverpool, what are you?” which was a bit disconcerting.  She had come here some 28 years ago to visit her war bride sister, and had never gone home.  Married to an American with two children she now lived some 35 miles from the hotel, which we have now come to realise means – just down the road.  Realising that we were English, she took us under her wing and organised the next couple of days of our tour and decided where it would be best for us to visit.  Out and about in Sioux Falls in the evening we finally decided on the Outback for our evening meal.  We ordered Vienna Filet Steaks and were they delicious, I have to say mine was better than the one I had in Chicago at Smith and Wollensky – when I said I wanted medium to well done without charring they got it right, whereas the previous steak had been charred, which, for parts of it, made it rather chewy.  This was accompanied by a fine bottle of wine.  We also had a starter of a “bloomin’ onion” which was highly spiced and absolutely delicious.  Half of it we took away in a take out box, and put it into the fridge of the hotel, where it is probably still languishing unless they checked the fridge.  Yes – we forgot to take it with us today for our picnic lunch.


A voice now pops up – we definitely saw a Rose Breasted Grosbeak, a White Breasted Nut Hatch, Black Capped Chickadee, Red Bellied Woodpecker and warblers which he has been unable to identify.

Day 8

Tuesday 8th May 2007<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


Suitably fortified from a reasonable night’s sleep, first I had to deal with a load of email hassle from work.  Then Bob took over the driving again.  Armed with various instructions from the hotel manager – Anne – we went off to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Falls Park to see the water falls and surrounding countryside.  This was rather fraught as the road we wanted was closed and the diversion signs were not explicit. What has amazed us is the fact that when the Americans say they are doing road works, what they mean is they are digging the whole road up and re-doing it, not just patching it in the way we do in the UK.


We eventually found our way to Sioux Falls and were impressed with the sights it had to offer, the way the waters fell, the tourist information centre and so on.      

We were allowed onto the viewing tower free of charge on the condition we signed the visitors’ book, and, of course, on learning that we were from England, the desk clerks demanded that we give an explanation of Bob’s six months secondment in New York and our month’s holiday traveling around USA.  After a good walk around we once again got into the car and headed toward our next destination, which was Kadoka, via an enormous Barnes and Noble so that Bob could buy a bird book.  Naturally we bought lots more than that, including disgraceful chocolate cookies/cup cakes and coffee and tea.  Bob’s been reading his Blues magazine while I typed this.


On the way to Kadoka, we stopped at Mitchell, which boasted the only Corn Palace in the world.  They have a whole building whose façade is made of corn.  Twelve different colours of corn are grown especially for this project (sweetcorn) along with wheat, rye etc.  Each year they have a different theme and around May they start to make the new display.  This year’s theme is the Rodeo.  Inside the museum you could see pictures for most years since they started this project.  The first museum was pulled down because it was not big enough, the second one because it was made of wood and buildings are no longer allowed to be made of just wood.  The current building is steel and concrete with the corn on the outside.  Apparently corn (sweetcorn) is cut in half long ways and affixed to the building with a nail.  It costs approx 130,000 dollars per year to do this (approx 70,000 pounds), most of which they get back by using the building as a theatre, graduation centre, boxing arena and so on, along with public donations).


After leaving Mitchell we once again headed onto the I90 until we reached Kadoka, where we then dropped onto the Badlands loop.  Up until then the scenery had been flat and pretty boring, causing me to sleep,  It had been hot in the car and both Bob and I appear to be sunburnt through the windscreen.  The Badlands loop was fantastic, although when I got out to take photos my knees went weak when Bob mentioned the fact that there were signs that said beware of Rattlesnakes.  For those who know me, one of my biggest hates is snakes.  Most people think it is because they can be poisonous, but in fact it is the way they move that makes me feel so ill.  So I let Bob go off with the camera.  I made sure I had the car keys – just in case.  I managed to get some good photos from my vantage point, and left him to take ones in snake territory!!.






Connie Garman, by now, had become completely confused and was trying to send us East, instead of West and we ended up traveling around 10 miles on unmade roads, before re-programming her finally got us going back toward Rapid City which was to be our destination this evening (some 450 miles since leaving Sioux Falls).  On arrival here we checked into our pre-booked hotel (done by Anne at Sioux Falls).  We immediately went to Chilis next door for a meal, which was very good.  Our starter was a Nino Margarita, followed by Margarita Chicken for me and Baby Back Ribs (Kentucky Bourbon style) for Bob, washed down with red wine.  The whole meal cost no more than 67 dollars.

Day 6

Sunday 6th May 2007<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


We got up about 10:30 and breakfasted on trail bars and coffee, finally clearing the room at just after noon.  We had agreed to take a bus tour or river trip, and to spend the next couple of days doing more sightseeing than driving, but Mary sensed that Bob was impatient to get on the road again, so that’s what we did.  It was easy enough finding the I-90 but Connie soon got cross with us when we were unable to join the ExpressWay, which was closed.  We were able to stay on the Local I-90 and she was eventually assuaged, taking us out past O’Hare Airport towards <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Rockford Illinois on the I-90/I-94.  I’m sure it’s famous for something but can’t remember what.  After Rockford, we headed N, still on the I-90, but now also on the I-39, towards Madison, Wisconsin, and thence NW past the Wisconsin Dells to Tomah, Wisconsin, where the I90 and I-94 part company.  The countryside was again bland for the most part but occasionally relieved by the odd hill, wood, lake or river.


There are a few “tourist features” along this route, such as factory outlets, ski-slopes, Disney-style or Butlins-style holiday resorts, but nothing much of real interest until we suddenly came across Castle Rock, a strangely shaped pillar of weather-beaten limestone standing beside the freeway.  We stopped there to have a quick look around and shortly after found our bed for the night at the Super 8 at Tomah, on J143 (Highway 21 and I-94).  This gave us time to look around the area, buy some wine and try the local “Four Star Family Restaurant”, whose “Roast Pork Dinner” was virtually unrecognisable as such, being braised pork on a bed of a vast quantity of indeterminate stuffing, smothered in glutinous and bland-tasting gravy, accompanied by tinned mixed veg and a baked potato that had seen better days.  My soup was nothing to write home about either, although Mary had said hers was good, but the water was nice.  This was the first really disappointing meal of our trip so far… but at $14.95 for the two of us, who’s surprised?


Then it was back to the motel to catch up on internet activities and reading.  Tomorrow – the Mississippi and beyond …We’re glad we took this Northern route as we’ve avoided the twisters that wreaking havoc in Oklahoma and Kansas, where the small town of Greensburg has been obliterated.  Our weather is overcast and calm with temperature in the low 60s F at present.

Day 5

Saturday 5th May 2007 <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


Refreshed from our night’s sleep and a rudimentary breakfast in the lobby of the motel, chatting with the Indian proprietor and his wife, both of whom have several relatives in the UK (a doctor in Scotland, another in Ilford, others in Wolverhampton and Northampton), we set out once more on the road.  We also signed up for the Triprewards programme, which means we will be able to have a couple of freebie nights in participating motels before this trip is out.


We immediately upset Connie by diverting to a gas station to use a pay-at-the-pump pump that nevertheless told me to collect my receipt from the cashier.  Mind you, we have now tamed Connie Garmin and taught her left from right.  It would appear that if she is not in the windscreen when you programme her (we had been doing it nearer to our laps and then putting her in the windscreen), she gets a tad confused. It is just a pity that she does not recognise that cars have passengers, so she goes into “Safe Mode” and refuses any new instructions because the car is being driven: hence we need to pull over and stop to issue new instructions.


Then we were on our way, able once more to see though the windscreen by dint of a scourer and warm soapy water and my elbow grease.


We followed I76 and then I77 and I80/90 all the way across <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Ohio and Indiana, stopping ata couple of bleak service areas and several poll plazas.  The terrain was almost uniformly flat but relieved by woods and farms and small towns.  Our musical accompaniment was provided by our iPods, relayed through the car radio by a Belkin gadget, which we had finally fathomed out how to work by virtue of ignoring the instructions that came with it.   Our previous attempts to use it had been foiled by excessive interference but in these more sparsely populated areas we got good reception and a good selection of music.  While Mary slept, I was able to enjoy my motley collection of blues, folk, reggae, jazz etc but then Roy’s high tones in the middle of McGoohan’s Blues woke Mary up, prompting her to disconnect my iPod and connect hers, which I had previously populated with much more “easier listening” for her (lots of Enya, Van Morrison, Daniel Donnell, Corrs and some classical stuff).  As we were pulling in to a service plaza, I allowed this sacrilegious action and calmly attached my own iPod to my ears as we went in for refreshment.  Once I’d had my fill of the sea roaring with laughter, we communicated together again.  Up until now we had been selecting CDs from the collection that remains after I managed to stop Mary taking it back to England on her last two trips along with the two case loads she has already taken back.


Eventually, the battery in Mary’s iPod died and proper order was restored, as my iPod was reconnected.  Suitably equipped we entered the desolate industrial wasteland of Gary, Indiana, and embarked on the grim reality of the Chicago Skyway.  It is undergoing severe roadworks at present, one of which spat us out on S State St, so I made the best of a bad job and headed for the distant skyscrapers representing Downtown Chicago and the hope of some civilization.  For the first couple of miles the scenery was classic industrial despoliation: parks and schools were all that were left from sites of factories, surrounded by wreckage and run-down, somehow surviving buildings, punctuated by churches and other religious buildings displaying their crude messages of hope for this and the next life: how graphically is illustrated that old Marxian doctrine that “Religion is the opiate of the masses”.  Here are people whose lives are desperate because no one wants the fruits of their labors any more, yet they seem to gladly bear their troubles in the “comfort of the Lord”. Many of the overpopulated housing areas showed extreme examples of deprivation with boarded windows, and tumble down housing – a lot of which appeared to be no bigger than the holiday caravan we own in the New Forest. Was it coincidental that the only faces we saw here were non white?


Gradually, the road took on a slightly better kempt and prosperous appearance: new housing and office blocks, more even road surface, more complex junctions and speed cameras, accompanied by flashing blue lights, presumably designed to warn us of the risks of speeding.  Then there were tall buildings and more prosperous looking people and commercial properties and shops and we were into downtown Chicago, which, at first glance, was remarkably like midtown New York.   We stayed on State St as it crossed the Chicago River and became N State St and came out the other side of the commercial district into a very genteel leafy area of prosperous “Georgian” or “Victorian” town houses (if those terms are appropriate in defiantly republican America).  At the end of State St we turned into a park and then drove South along the shore of Lake Michigan, with the wonderful skyline of skyscrapers to our right, before ducking again into E Ontario St, where, after a few more explorations, we ended up, booking into the Courtyard by Marriott for “$339”, which turned out to be $419, after taking into account $28 for parking, and City Tax and Room Tax, not to mention the tips we had to fork out to bell boys, without whose help we were not allowed to borrow a trolley to decamp our cases.  I think Mary would have said “No Thank You”, worried mostly by the cost, and headed for the outskirts to find a more reasonably priced motel, but I’d decided that, as we were in Chicago, we ought to do it properly.


In for a penny, in for a pound.  We went for a walk up “The Magnificent Mile”, the “honorary name” of N Michigan Ave, where we took lots of pictures of the Chicago Tribune office building and similar landmarks, crossed the Chicago River and visited the Millennium Park, then walked along Randolph St to State St and walked back across the river, where we dined in the Wollensky Grill at Smith and Wollensky.  We had the most exquisite Filet Mignons of recent memory, accompanied by delightful creamed spinach and steamed broccoli, washed down with Bylington Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, at $53 a bottle, one of the cheapest on the extensive and proudly compiled list.


We then strolled back to our room, via an off-licence, and drank a $13 bottle of Californian plonk.  This allowed the filets to settle and our minds to turn to adventure once more, taking advantage of the hour gained when crossing into Illinois.  So into a taxi we climbed and headed for Blue Chicago on N Clark St, to be regaled first by Calvin McKenzie and his band, then by singer Shirley Johnson, supported by the same band.  The second guitarist was a Japanese guy called Hirotaka Konishi, who played some sweet but unassertive solos.  The most impressive player on show was the saxophonist, Lawrence something.  His accompaniment to Shirley’s delivery of Etta James’s “Dreams” (or something similar) was note perfect: neither too much nor too little and beautifully tuneful.  Followers of John Martyn will recognize how difficult such a balance is, ashis saxophonist has been slated for overdoing things.  The bassist played a six-string instrument and got his chance to show his chops to, as did the drummer.  Both are, I hope, featured on Calvin McKenzie’s album that we bought, along with Shirley’s “Killer Diller” and Konishi’s “A Blues Project”.


The bar was packed but not unbearably so, and the music was just at the right level of decibels: loud enough to be heard clearly over the general hubbub without endangering our eardrums.  Calvin did a good line in buzzing guitar solos, Shirley did the big black mama thing and the Japanese guy sang Howling Wolf’s “Killing Floor” in rather a reedy, feeble voice – but somehow it still worked.


The usual CDs were on sale and we purchased all the ones that I did not already have, after Mary sent me off to fetch more cash, trusting me with her bank card and pin number.  I still haven’t been able to resolve my problems with the bank as to why I cannot get cash: I’ve tried emailing them via the secure internet connection and got no answer.  I’ve tried phoning them but failed to get through the automated answering system as “talk to someone about a problem” is not an option and I don’t have a telephone banking password, required by all other options.


There was a crazy lone dancer among the writhing and spectating couples, doing his own weird and oddly choreographed and self-conscious moves.   He later came and kissed Mary on the forehead, without warning, and told her how beautiful she was.  This took us by surprise but we laughed it off.  He’d probably seen Mary’s long tied-back blondish hair and mistaken her for his wife, with whom we soon fell into conversation.  They were English and were accompanied by her cousin-and-boyfriend, who were also English and visiting.  The wife had been in Chicago since 1997, apart from a brief absence in Switzerland, and always came to this bar because of the music and ambience.  She was surprised at finding other Brits there as it was seldom found by tourists.


When we left the bar, we bumped into this group again as hubby was trying to walk in front of the speeding traffic.  We made sure that they safely got into a taxi then walked back to our hotel, on the way admiring the Bloomingdale’s that seems to be a converted church.  We finally hit bed around 2:00am and slept soundly …

Day 4

Day 4<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


4th May 2007


Again up around 8.30ish, this time with Bob having had a bad night, rather than me who had had one the night before.  Breakfast was at the diner where we had had dinner the previous evening- a true truckers’ diner with indecent portions of everything.  In our case we restricted ourselves to a couple of eggs each and ham (Mary) and corned beef hash (Bob).  Bob continues the narrative.


Then, after the rigmarole of repacking and working out how to use the fuel pump, what fuel to use and asking directions, we headed off through Harper’s Ferry towards <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Sharpsburg.  Harper’s Ferry is famous for being the site of John Brown’s raid on the Federal Arsenal in 1859, one of the contributing events that built the tension giving rise to the American Civil War, 18561-65.  John Brown became a great hero of the Northern armies, lending his name to “John Brown’s body lies a-mould’ring in the grave…”  Harper’s Ferry was also a key strategic crossing of the Potomac, that divided Maryland from Virginia (three states meet there, West Virginia being the other one), and was thus a route for two invasions of the North by Confederate armies, in 1862 and 1863.  The one in 1862 culminated in the Battle of Antietam Creek, or Sharpsburg, the one in 1863 at Gettysburg, which, combined with Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, was seen as the turning point in the war and thus provided the perfect setting for Abe Lincoln to play a typical politician’s role and spout the Gettysburg Address, one of the great masterpieces of political oratory of the era.  The Battle of Antietam Creek saw the most casualties in one day of any battle in the whole Civil War.  If I remember correctly, something like 62,000 died in one day.  Looking out across the field from the position occupied by the Confederate artillery, it was just possible to imagine what it might have been like.  The whole area had a feeling that was hard to comprehend.  Everything was so quiet and serene now, but past events had given it an indefinable aura. Unfortunately, the storyboards sited on Harper’s Ferry Road to describe this were not as clear as they could have been and I wished I’d had a map to show the positions of the brigades and divisions etc.  Still, imagination is sometimes the best illustrator.


Having stumbled across the Confederate artillery site and being lured by the promise of more such information boards below us, but unable to approach them directly due to No Entry signs, we then proceeded to attempt to tour the battlefield in our car. Unfortunately, there were no further signs to what promised to be a tour, we got lost. Despite seeing some delightful countryside, we never saw any more than a memorial to some Ohio troops.  We then took a series of wrong turns and ended up almost back at Harper’s Ferry, some two hours later.


Studying the map, we realised that we had hardly made any progress in our grand venture and so determined to put some miles under our wheels.  Connie was instructed to chart a path to Chicago, which she duly told us we could reach at 1am the following morning.  We decided to see how far we could get.  The I70 and I68 through Maryland Panhandle proved to be a beautiful scenic route, the rolling hills and mountains rising to 2740 feet eventually, where the trees were still bare, which had been a contrast to our earlier journey which had lovely new green growth to the trees and lots of purple coloured trees which we think were cherry blossom. Then leading into West Virginia, we found one of the most useless Visitors’ Centers known to mankind.  Even though the car park was full and there were lots of outdoor picnic tables, there was nowhere to buy food and the only drinks on offer came out of a vending machine.  We sampled the delights of peanut butter ice cream, also from a vending machine.  We turned north at Morgantown, heading up through western Pennsylvania on the I79, missing Pittsburgh completely (although we had no intention of stopping there anyway), and then taking the I76 West, which eventually brought us through gradually less dramatic countryside to Akron Ohio, where we sought a bed for the night.  We found a Super 8 Motel at Kent, site of Kent State University, and an inevitable chorus of “Four dead in Ohio” from RSJ.


And oh what joy, this motel had free internet access, free coffee and free breakfast for about 5 dollars more than we had been paying at the grotty motels.


Alas as soon as we entered our room, Mary opened the curtains and the air-conditioning unit fell apart: Bob sent downstairs to notify the receptionist, who booked us into another room.  By this time we were ready for some red wine, which we had fortunately purchased at our lunch stop some time earlier, where we had ordered a pizza (all 14 inches of it that I had managed to eat two pieces of and Bob had scoffed the rest).  At around 10ish we realised that we had not had any supper so ordered in some chicken and salad from thelocal pizza place.  This was good and to finish our supper off I went downstairs to get some of the free coffee,, which was cold, but the young man at reception soon rectified that by making us some fresh coffee and ringing our room for us to pop down and collect it.   Mind you the milk had vanilla flavour added, so an interesting taste experience.





Day 3

Day 3 <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


3rd May 2007


Woke up around 8.30 ish in our grotty little motel room.  Well grotty it was or may have been, but still up market from the one we had stopped in the night before.  We breakfasted on what we could find in our bags – breakfast bars (Apple and Cinnamon) and over-ripe bananas - they do not respond well to being too close to ice blocks!!).  All the other food we had with us had to be dumped as there was no fridge in this motel room.  Tea without milk – ugh - but still we managed.


Today Bob had to work in the morning so we had to be ready for his conference call at 10.00 am, which he took with good grace and was bold and resolute with his client.  At around 11.00 am we popped back to the Macy’s complex – no not for shopping, but to leave the car so that we could get the Metro from <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Pentagon City to Union Station and from there catch the Duck Tour.   Arriving there at lunch time we braved the vastly over crowded food mall for a burrito, where they got our order wrong and we had one between the two of us.  Well, just as well, given the size.


Leaving on the Duck bus at 1.30 am for a 90 minute tour we thought we were going to be the only two aboard, but at the 11th hour five other people joined the trip (a family from Ghana and a lone senior American lady, who was trusted to pay her fare on her return), and off we went around Washington.


The tour was comprehensive.  Our major disappointment was the White House.  In comparison to everything else we saw it was tiny and insignificant.  No wonder we hadn’t found it yesterday.  Many of the other buildings were more impressive and indeed some seem to have been modeled on the government buildings on the Mall in London.


The Pentagon was just AWESOME; we could not believe how much space it took up.  There was a new memorial just dedicated to the Air Force which was a major stainless steel structure representing the vapour trails of three diverging jet fighters.  Unfortunately we couldn’t get a picture of that.


The Botanical Gardens were pretty impressive. Apparently, in it and the Arboretum that surrounds the Capitol, there is at least one of every tree that grows in America.  We had arrived just after the normal Cherry blossom season but this year it peaked on April 1 and was then killed off by a big freeze, so we could only imagine what it would have looked like; but there were many other trees still in flower.  Apparently the normal lifespan of Cherry trees is about 47 years, but the ones in one particular grove in Washington have been there for over a 100 years.  The first Cherry trees to be gifted by Japan were rejected by the local customs officers because they were blighted under the bark but the next year’s crop was clean and allowed to be disembarked and planted.


The reason why this is called the Duck Tour is because the vehicle used is an amphibious military vehicle known as a Duck (officially DUKW).   Our Duck was called the Lame Duck and one of the others was called the Sitting Duck.  Halfway through the tour the bus slips into the River Potomac and you get to see Washington from a different angle, before coming back onto land and completing the rest of the bus tour.  Sights passed included  Christopher Columbus Circle at Union Station, the Postal Museum, the Capitol (with the statue of Freedom and her eagles wings on top of the building) and the Memorial to all those Japanese Americans who had been put in US detention camps (because they were supposedly hostile Aliens) during the Second World War.  Then there were various trade union buildings.  The Carpenters Union was interesting due to the fact that there was no wood on the outside, because, after the 1812-14 War, it was decreed that no building in Washington Downtown could be made of wood, because during the war the Brits had set fire to the city, destroying all the wooden buildings.  Also noted were the Mellon Museums of Art and their fountain and The Lincoln Memorial with its 39 pillars representing the 39 states at the time of its being built.  We also saw the Federal Reserve where Alan Greenspan used to take regular lunchtime strolls and say hello to our driver/commentator (who used to be a travel writer).  Einstein’s memorial was covered in people and then we went past the Vietnam War Memorial. We then drove through the park past the Jefferson Memorial to the marina where we joined the water.


Visible from nearly every direction was a large obelisk, the Washington Memorial, which was paler at thebottom than for most of its length because the Civil War intervened between the building of the first part and the rest.  At the end of the war, all the pale stone in the quarry had been used up.  They didn’t seem to have the nous to look for somewhere else to obtain matching stone.


Out in the river we watched a Cormorant trying to eat a fish he had caught, but it looked like it was speared on its beak, which meant it was in trouble.  We also saw a mother duck and her newly hatched ducklings.  We got a good view of the Pentagon from the water.  We passed under several bridges: two for cars, one for trains, which used to incorporate a swing bridge but, after the control tower caught fire, became inoperable, so it was decided it was not cost-effective to repair it.  This effectively caused Georgetown to die as a port. 


Back on land, we continued around Washington seeing various other sites before returning to Union Station.  Back onto the Metro we went back to Pentagon City.  Before liberating the car from the car park we spent an hour in Starbucks catching up on our emails and, yes, having a coffee and scrummy cake, not to mention sandwich and a granola clogged yoghurt.  Heaven help our weights if we carry on like this.  Bob did his email business first and then got bored whilst I was doing mine, even though I am sure he spent more time on the computer than I did.


Then it was back into the car and a drive to our next destination of Harper’s Ferry.  This was a lovely scenic drive through the fresh-green-leaved-tree-lined Potomac Valley, once we’d negotiated the hell of Washington’s rush hour, trying to get onto the I270.  As we arrived at Harper’s Ferry, we crossed the Shenandoah, invoking Bob’s appalling impersonation of Paul Robeson singing “Shenandoah, I love your daughter, ‘way, you rolling river..“.  We arrived there around 7.30 pm and booked into yet another fairly grotty motel, run by another Indian of little grace and his wife.  The first room they offered us was so heavy with cigarette smoke that we refused it.  The second was much better, but to shut the door you had to lift it and push it up as the top hinges had pulled away from the door frame.  We then went to the diner for our evening meal – very basic food – I had pork chops and Bob had chicken bits – but his baked beans were better than my green ones, and nothing alcoholic to drink, so we contented ourselves with water, orange juice and coffee.  After which I finished the book I was reading and then went to bed.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

First two days

The Grand Tour Part 1

<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /> 

Wednesday May 2, 2007


It’s the evening of the second day of our trip and we’re sat in a grotty little motel (the Crystal City Motel) in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Crystal City, Arlington, VA, West of Washington DC, under the shadows of the Marriott, Sheraton and Hilton, just up the road from the Pentagon.  Yesterday we completed our packing and caught a taxi from New York Tower just after 11:00am.  The taxi driver reminded me of Mary’s late dad: a wizened little man with attitude, called Marvin Rabinovitz.  He didn’t recognize the address of the Budget car rental place near La Guardia airport where we were due to collect our car, but worked out how he would be able to find it from the address.  He took us up FDR Drive and across the Triboro Bridge, the first time we’d crossed it in six months.  Roosevelt Island on the way was delightfully festooned with trees in new leaf and cherry blossom.  We had good views back over Manhattan, the Chrysler Building glistening silver in the sun.


After asking one passer-by the way to our destination, the driver got lucky and we spotted it before him.  Then he was worried about entering because of the one way spikes designed to stop unauthorized escapes, not unauthorized entries.  Eventually he dropped us at the office and complained at the tip (I’d added $5 to the $29 on the clock, so I dug out another $20 bill and got back $10 and saw him off grumbling about all of our luggage).


The rental staff were ready for us and had a people carrier (or minivan as they called it), that need taking to Los Angeles, so we agreed to be “upgraded” to it and now are driving a Quebec-registered Montana SV6 around, complete with smoked glass and automatic shift on the driving column.   All our luggage fits quite well but is slightly visible, even through the dark glass, so it’s a bit of a hassle carting it all in and out.


Yesterday, our first challenge was to get out of New York, following the instructions of the Garmin GPS we’d hired with the car.  We told it to take us to Philadelphia but were unable to follow half the instructions at the beginning of the journey, because of misunderstanding the instructions or because the instructions used different names for junctions and roads than were displayed on the roads (eg it told us to turn off at Junction 3, which didn’t exist, so when we failed to turn off on J 4/5 it complained and told us rather crossly that it was recalculating our route (annoyingly pronounced “rout” in the modern American way).  Ultimately the revised route took us back over Tribro Bridge and down FDR Drive to 53rd St, then down 2nd Ave and along 42nd St, past the office to 9th Ave, where we undertook a hair-raising left turn across hostile traffic and right onto W39th St, where Connie (so-named after the AOL woman) thought we should take the ramp to the Lincoln Tunnel but that was cordoned off with traffic cones, so we had to loop the loop up 12th Ave and back on 40th St, where we were able to get into the tunnel.


After passing Newark Airport some 2 hours later it did occur to us that we should have hired the car from there, rather than Laguardia, but then we would not have had the last fleeting glimpses of New York or the chance to get caught in a couple of traffic jams – even  resisting the urge to toot the horn.


Unlike on my last trip into New Jersey, I didn’t get caught in the wrong lane at the other end and we safely made it onto I95 heading South, where we stopped for lunch at the Alexander Hamilton services and ate in a Roy Rogers café.  I had Chicken Caesar Salad, Mary had a plain salad with a piece of battered chicken which she enjoyed.  Culinary excellence didn’t come into consideration but a basic human need had been successfully met and on we drove, across the swamps of New Jersey and down the New Jersey Turnpike, where, of course I had to break into song, “counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they’ve all gone to look for America..”.  Somewhere along the line we stuck a CD in the player, which turned out to be an orphaned Vine: Splinters I, so as we crossed Delaware Memorial Bridge, we were regaled with the mellow but ever more lustful tones of Joe Penczack reciting a poem about a youthful sexual encounter.  We blinked while crossing a corner of Delaware and next we were in Pennsylvania, following Roosevelt Boulevard into Philadelphia, finally entering the city proper along a wide and winding river that, with its numerous rowing eights and row of boathouses, was reminiscent of the Thames.  After a brief trip around the main downtown thoroughfares we found a parking lot at Arch St and 15th St and phoned Tim Wilson at work (, whose office turned out to be only a couple of blocks away.  We wandered off to meet him, Mary taking loads of photos of buildings and scenes in JFK Plaza and then couldn’t find him.  A couple of calls later and we approached each other talking into our phones till it was obvious who we were.  We than had a very pleasant two or three hours being shown around the historic parts of Philadelphia (Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell etc) and slaked our thirst in an ancient tavern (The City Tavern) where the staff all wore period costume.  Tim and I had “George Washington’s favorite porter” while Mary had a red wine.  We chatted about families and Stormcock (, work and this and that and had could easily have carried on longer; but Tim needed to get home and we still needed to find somewhere to stay, so we headed off, leaving Tim at the subway station.  On our way we were accosted by more beggars than we would have experienced in London or New York in the same distance – very strange.


The parking lot attendant told us that the lot was now closed, so we had to pay the exact amount of the ticket, which fortunately we could do, and we drove out.  As we did so, he let another car in, so what that was all about I’ve no idea (a strange definition of a “closed” parking lot?).


With a vague intention of heading South towards Washington DC, we set off down Benjamin Franklin Boulevard, which was very impressive, decorated with flags of the world and lots of green trees.  At some stage we had to turn back and drove back past our starting point before picking up a sign to the I695 East, I think.  I didn’t think I wanted to go East but it was the only sign taking us out of the City, so we followed the signs through narrow streets until eventually we got onto it and, shortly after, back in New Jersey once more, the I295 going South.  As we drove along, we espied a garish sign for the Westwood Motor Lodge, so we left at the next junction and doubled back to it, where we were served by a miserable young Indian gentleman.  $61.60 including tax and we got what we paid for.  Seedy room, smelling of stale cigarette smoke, even though it was a non-smoking room.  We dined on microwaved meals we’d brought with us, rescued from my freezer, and a bottle of wine from the nearby Liquor Store, where the service was friendly with Southern charm.


Our night was reasonably comfortable, despite the room’s atmosphere, which by now we had become inured to, and we rose to another sunny day, showered in the surprisingly efficient shower and dried ourselveswith the mere napkins provided.  We breakfasted on over-sweet Danish and yoghurt and washed it down with tea and coffee.  We set off just after 10:00am with the temperature registering 69 degrees F.  As we headed south it rose rapidly and, by the time we hit Washington, it was 89.  The air-conditioning made us oblivious to that, fortunately.  We were accompanied on this drive by more Splinters and Mr Bill’s Wild Ride #29, Disk 1: “Them Strange Changes”.  Connie took us towards Pennsylvania Ave, as instructed, then Mary tried using the “find a hotel” feature and this confused the hell out of it and us as we kept “arriving at our destination” while completely unable to find anything that matched the description.  Alternatively it was obviously too expensive as it was a big name brand, right in the center of town.  Eventually we drove out on Rhode Island Ave and, when we thought we’d gone a safe distance tried again, but it advised us to do a U Turn, which I accomplished with some aplomb, narrowly avoiding a bus, and took us back into the maelstrom of traffic circulating the central streets, looking for non-existent long-term parking.  Frustration threatening to boil over, we then followed I66 out of town and pootled around Alexandria (I think) before rejoining the I395 and heading back towards Washington.  Caught in a traffic jam, we spotted a sign for Gas, Food, Lodging (excellent Green on Red album of about 20 years ago) and followed it to this little oasis, stuck in a backwater left by enormous posh developments all around it.


Once we’d settled in, we hit the Macy’s mall, just up the road and ate Cajun Chicken, Mary then relaxing with her book while I listened to the iPod, shuffling through various cool tracks, of which I remember nothing, except Van Morrison doing one of his country numbers – and he was being piped as muzak anyway…


Suitably refreshed and my good humour somewhat restored (with headache now gone), we headed back into Washington, determined to see the sights but again we could find nowhere to park, so this time we deliberately drove around in circles, giving Mary time to take lots of pictures through the windscreen, but we never did see the White House. Having looked at the map since we go back to the motel we now at least know where it is, and tomorrow is another day.


In the evening, we went in search of a Liquor Store to buy wine to accompany our humble repast.  Finding none, we settled instead for a Lebanese Taverna, in a pleasant square surrounded by bars and eateries of various nationalities, including one called Murali – probably not named after the Sri Lankan spinmeister but you never know…We had the meat Mezza, accompanied by a bottle of Chateau Kefraya Meritage, an excellent Lebanese blend that accompanied the scrummy food superbly.  This square was infinitely preferable to the food hall in the mall where we had eaten earlier and was now inhabited by a million schoolkids, roaming the place like so many herds of wildebeest and hyenas on the African savannah. It also made a wonderful playground for a few very young children, most of whom looked like they had only just learned to walk, who amused themselves greatly running around, chasing after each other and in one case one young lad curious enough to come close to the diners.  We are not sure who won the battle of the ball.


I had a couple of moments of existential angst involving my ATM card.  First I tried one of the Bank of America machines littering the mall.  I dipped my card and pressed the blob on the screen that indicated English.  Nothing happened.  I kept trying to press the English button but nothing happened.  Mary tried pressing the button but nothing happened.  Eventually it asked if I’d like more time to complete my transaction.  I said “No I just want the thing to work!” and abandoned the attempt.  Next we found the Chevy Chase Bank and I put my card in the slot and entered my PIN.  Next I selected $200 but it responded that my card wasn’t valid for that transaction.  Next I tried $100: same response.  Fearing I’d lose the card if I tried again, I abandoned this attempt too.  Echoes of Nick Harper’s song of alienation ran through my mind – title anyone?  I knew I shouldn’t have trusted a bank named after a comedian J…Tomorrow I’ll have to phone my bank and sort it out.  Then we got lost on the way back, and Connie didn’t help by getting her left and right confused but eventually we made it and opened our door to be confronted by a blast of hot air.  On with the air-conditioning and it’s now quite satisfactory.  I’ve been typing for an hour and a half and Mary has read at least 100 pages of her latest brick-like novel.  Off to bed.