Mount Vernon

Today was our last day in Washington, and we actually spent most of it in Virginia at Mount Vernon. We’d been there before, many years ago; it is a much more sophisticated enterprise these days!

We started at the Visitor Center and watched the orientation film, then we headed out to explore the grounds before our appointment to take the mansion tour.

We started by paying our respects to the President and his wife at their tomb.

The burial ground for enslaved people who had lived on the estate was not far away; there were two memorials there. The first was installed in 1929 (and was the first such monument in the country), and the second in 1983. Language has changed!

It seemed like a good idea to visit the necessary before taking the mansion tour.

One of these photos was taken in the 21st Century necessary; the other was in the reconstructed version of Washington’s necessary. Can you tell which was which?

We also took a look at Washington’s coach house and one of his coaches. I like our Prius better.

We started our mansion tour in the “New Room”, named because it was the last room added to Mount Vernon.

George Washington himself picked the paint in the dining room; the color is verdigris and was very expensive, so he was showing off his wealth. Good thing he didn’t think of gold toilets!

There were many guest bedrooms; one is called the “Chintz Bedroom” because of the drapes and bedspread. Chintz, too, was not cheap.

Washington had a very functional office; he even had a desk fan over one of his chairs, powered by a servant.

The mansion was warm, so we were happy to be outside again to enjoy the scenery.

Of course there were flowers to enjoy, too.

We got back to the ship and I took advantage of the last of the high-speed wifi from the Wharf; I had to be outside to get a good signal, which meant that the helicopters doing practice runs were very loud. One of the other guests said that they saw a Presidential copter at least once, but I don’t think I got a photo of that one.

This afternoon, the ship’s resident entertainer and expert, Robert Yonskie, gave us George III’s side of the Revolutionary story, complete with a rendition of “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton. He’s going to be the entertainer and expert on the Fall Foliage tour this fall – we may be back!

We’re en route to Cambridge, Maryland for tomorrow’s tours; it will be a much quieter place than the Wharf. Internet connectivity may be limited tonight, so I’m posting now while we’re still very near DC.

Arlington and Alexandria

While we slept, the ship sailed to DC and docked at the District Wharf, a new shopping and dining destination on the Potomac River a short walk from the Tidal Basin and National Mall. We didn’t go to either of those places – instead, we joined the morning tour to Arlington National Cemetery.

After clearing security, we got on a tram with our guide, Mike; our first stop was the John F. Kennedy gravesite.

Many Supreme Court justices are buried nearby, including, of course, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and her husband, Martin.

We then went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to see the Changing of the Guard. There were many veterans at the ceremony who’d been brought in through Honor Flight, and I was moved to see them there.

We also saw the memorials to the Challenger and Columbia astronauts before going back to the bus.

We returned to the District Wharf – Diane and I had lunch at Chopsmith; it was quite enjoyable and a change of pace from eating on the ship. Our timing was good – the place was nearly empty when we arrived but there was a line when we left. And as we left, we saw a fireboat on the Potomac; it was saluting the Yacht Club at District Wharf on their 130th Anniversary.

We didn’t stay on the ship very long because we had another excursion this afternoon, this one a guided walk through Old Town Alexandria. It was raining when we started but cleared up by the end of the tour. We had the same guide as this morning, and he told us many stories of life in Alexandria during the Revolution – but I didn’t get many interesting photos, other than this pipe. It was cast and installed before 1847, so it shows “Alexandria DC” instead of “Alexandria VA”.

When we returned to the ship, we were greeted by a special guest, Ben Franklin, who gave a short talk about his favorite subject – himself. It was a lot of fun and somewhat educational, too.

We met our Rabbi Emerita, Melanie Aron, for dinner; she’s living in DC for the next year or two to be closer to her children and grandchild. It was good to see her again and we had a nice conversation. She gave us a copy of her husband’s new book, This Way to the Universe: A Theoretical Physicist’s Journey to the Edge of Reality; it’s intended to explain interesting aspects of theoretical physics to non-physicists and is guaranteed equation-free! I’m planning to read it on the way home.

Colonial Williamsburg

We had to start early again today, but the view outside our stateroom was almost worth getting up for all by itself.

We arrived in Colonial Williamsburg about 9am, just as things were opening up for the day. Our guide took us to the blacksmith’s shop; they were getting the fire ready for the day’s activities. One interpreter talked to us while the other tended to the fire.

A few minutes later, the fire was hot enough for them to start making hardware.

The shoemaker’s was also open – he was training a new apprentice (or at least that’s what they told us), but he still had enough time and attention to sew up a shoe while he was talking.

Our next stop was at the textile shop (spinning, dyeing, and weaving). The interpreter there told us about how some of the dyes were made – urine was involved in the blue dyes, much to my surprise.

There was more than commerce, of course; we visited the courthouse (which remained in use well into the 19th Century), where the bailiff helped us with our manners – he explained court customs, contempt of court, and the difference between misdemeanors (which could get you flogged) and felonies (which could get you killed).

Being in a group with a guide was a mixed blessing – she took us to good spots and explained a lot to us, but we had to wait a lot for other members of the group, and she had to repeat things frequently. And she wanted to make sure everyone could find the meeting spot, so she took us there before letting us go – so we only had about half-an-hour to wander around on our own; we found a garden which was planted with various fruits, vegetables, and flowers. They try to use heritage varieties when they can like this China Rose.

Open pollination is important to them, so they encourage pollinators like bees. The interpreter told us that the Welsh Onion is mild-tasting, but we didn’t get to try it.

We didn’t have a chance to go into the Governor’s Palace, but we got close!

We sailed about an hour after we got back to the ship; the next stop is Washington, tomorrow morning.

Jamestown and Yorktown

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia, so I learned about Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg in school. We even took a field trip to Williamsburg in fourth grade, and I’ve been there many times since – but the closest I’d ever come to Jamestown or Yorktown was driving on the Colonial Parkway. Until today.

Our ship docked in Yorktown early this morning, and after breakfast, we boarded the bus for a visit to Jamestown Settlement, not to be confused with the actual site of Jamestown, which is an archeological dig. Jamestown Settlement is a reconstruction and a museum, and I enjoyed it immensely.

We began our visit by exploring the reconstructed Paspahegh town (the Paspahegh were the Powhatan tribal group living closest to Jamestown). We walked through a house that would have been occupied by an extended family.

Cooking didn’t happen in the houses – it was done outdoors, and we saw a demonstration of food preparation.

We also saw how the Paspahegh made rope from fibrous plants and from animal sinews; here’s an interpreter with a rope he’d spun from locally-grown yucca. The children learned to spin rope when they were 3 or 4; he learned much later, of course, but he can spin up to 10 feet an hour if he’s not being interrupted by tourists.

They’ve built reproductions of the ships that brought the colonists from England; the Susan Constant and the Discovery were in port (the Godspeed was away for maintenance). The Susan Constant was the larger of the two ships and sailed for Virginia with 71 passengers and crew; it was not exactly luxury travel.

We took a quick tour of Fort James, the reconstructed colony. The most impressive building was, unsurprisingly, the church.

We also visited the Governor’s House and met the surgeon, who explained his tools and procedures. Things have improved.

On our way back to the visitor’s center and museum, we saw a couple of bald eagles flying around.

We stayed in Yorktown for the rest of the day to visit the American Revolution Museum. Its chief feature was a reconstructed Continental Army camp, complete with a demonstration of firearms. First we learned about the way muskets, bayonets, and rifles were used – the objective wasn’t necessarily to kill the enemy; scaring them into abandoning territory was just as good. A musket capped with a bayonet was a scary device!

We also were treated to a firing of a six-pound gun; it was loud!

We made a brief stop in the reconstructed farm; they actually grow crops and raise chickens there. We visited the tobacco house where the settlers would dry tobacco in preparation for selling it.

This evening, the ship held the Eagle Society Reception at the Watermen’s Museum. We didn’t get to explore the museum (probably just as well!) but we were visited by two members of the Fife and Drum Corps of Yorktown who explained the role that fifers and drummers played in the war (sending signals, as well as keeping morale up) and played a few brief songs including “Yankee Doodle” and “The World Turned Upside Down”.

We returned to the ship for dinner.

Kitty Hawk

Diane and I took separate excursions again today – she went to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens and Virginia Beach while I took the long bus ride to Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The tour guide had to be brought in all the way from Williamsburg because the local guides are tied up by the Norfolk International Tattoo.

The drive down was so uneventful that we arrived half-an-hour before the Black Pelican restaurant where we were having lunch was open and we had to wait for them; I walked over to the beach for a quick look and was lucky that I didn’t lose my hat to the wind!

After lunch, we got back on the bus and drove a few minutes to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Our visit started with a drive to the full-sized replica of the Wright Flyer and its crew as they might have looked just before the first flight.

Only a few of the people on the tour wanted to walk up Big Kill Devil Hill to see the Wright Memorial up close and personal; I was one of them. We waved goodbye to the bus and hiked up the hill (about 80 feet of vertical gain).

There’s an inscription running around the memorial:

In Commemoration of the Conquest of the Air
The Brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright. Conceived By
Achived by Dauntless Resolution and Unconquerable

The Wright Brothers picked this area for their flight testing because of the steady high winds, soft sand, and isolation. Two out of the three are still present.

The actual site of the first flight was a few minutes’ walk away. There were four flights in all on that first day; the longest took nearly a minute and covered 852 feet.

From there, I walked to the Visitor Center which was interesting, but not terribly picturesque. I had wondered if our schedule gave us enough time at the Memorial, but everyone was back on the bus before the appointed time – and I wasn’t even the last one on.

It was a long bus ride for a fairly short visit, but I’m glad I went. And I was even able to cull and edit my photos and write this posting on the way back to the ship!

Norfolk and Portsmouth

It’s been a very busy day; I’m only going to cover some of the highlights.

Our morning excursion was a guided walk through Portsmouth, led by Andrew and Mary, who were dressed as 17th and 18th Century settlers. They didn’t just tell the stories, they sang them! Some of the songs were on the baudy side – not what I expected, but all in good fun!

On the way to the ferry, we stopped by the Armed Forces Memorial, which has the text of letters sent home from the front in wars from the Revolution to the Gulf War – the letters were sent by service members who never made it home. It was sobering.

“The Homecoming” depicted a much happier moment.

Mary warned us to be careful as we walked on the streets and sidewalks: “you may trip, you may stumble, you may fall, but you may not sue!”

Some of the houses had a “firemark” on the outside, showing which fire company the owners were paying to protect the house.

The busybody (below the air conditioner in the photo) was invented by Franklin to let the occupants see what was happening on the street!

We continued walking through Old Town Portsmouth, visiting Hill House and Trinity Church; it would be an interesting area to explore in more depth; we found a walking guide that I’d use if we came back.

In the afternoon, Diane went to the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Museum while I went to the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach.

My tour started with a visit to a WWII “Watch House” (we’d call it a control tower) from Goxhill, England; it was used by the British early in the war, then given to the US Army Air Force as they were building up for the assault on Europe. After the war, it fell into disuse and was eventually taken apart, shipped to Virginia, and rebuilt.

There was a Quonset hut outside the watch house – that’s the American name, chosen to honor the base in Rhode Island where they were built. In Great Britain, they call it a Nissen hut after its inventor.

We then went to the WWI hangar, filled with airplanes. There was one original WWI “Thomas” plane which is no longer flyable; the others were modern replicas and are flown regularly.

The visitor center had planes from WWII and later, as well as a few other interesting vehicles. I especially liked the “Glimpy”, an airplane which was attached to a blimp; if the blimp saw something interesting, the airplane would fly back to base and report it while the blimp kept doing recon.

It was a very informative day!

Baltimore Morning

When we went down for breakfast this morning, we could see our ship getting ready for the onslaught of passengers.

After breakfast, we walked along the Inner Waterfront to the Baltimore Visitor Center and turned into the Otterbein neighborhood. In the 1970s, it was a slum; in desperation, Baltimore started to offer houses to urban homesteaders for as little as one dollar. It worked, and now the area looks a lot like the Fan District in Richmond – lots of well-kept townhouses.

Many of the houses had nice gardens in front; I couldn’t resist another photo of a tulip.

We also got to see a very nice dogwood tree in full bloom.

Our path then took us into the Federal Hill neighborhood, loaded with interesting shops and markets. We had no time to patronize them, though.

I liked this nice old firehouse near the Inner Harbor.

When I picked out this walk, I thought we might climb Federal Hill itself, but we didn’t have the time before getting onto the ship. I did get a photo.

It was a nice area that I would have liked to explore in more depth.

We went back to the hotel, packed, and walked to the ship. We passed the mandatory Covid screening, so we’re all set for the cruise!

We are currently at sea off Sharps Point, Maryland (near Annapolis) en route to Norfolk. Cocktail hour awaits, so I will sign off and post this now in case we lose connectivity later – I don’t know how far offshore we’re going to be.

Travel Day

Before we left the St. Regis this morning, we took a stroll through their “Historical Avenue” on the lower level.  They had displays of memorabilia from the hotel from its opening until about 1960 (I guess history stopped then).  Two items caught my eye – the first was an advertising brochure from 1957 with information about the King Cole Bar (men only at lunch!), and the second was a brochure from a few years post-Prohibition bragging about their wine list and saying they were lowering prices in order to increase the volume of sales.

King Cole Bar

Low Wine Prices

Things have changed; happily, women are now welcome in the King Cole Bar at all times.  Unhappily, the wine prices have gone up; the one wine I checked was being sold at three times retail.

We took one last short walk around the neighborhood before getting into a taxi to meet our train to Baltimore.  Traffic was heavy (what a surprise!) and the driver dropped us on the East side of 8th Avenue because it’d be faster to walk to the Moynihan Train Hall than it would be for him to cross the street.

Moynihan Train Hall

We’d only seen Penn Station on the walk we took last week, so the Train Hall was quite a contrast – modern, quiet, easy-to-read signage, and places to sit!  We bought lunch from H&H Bagels to eat on the train; neither of us was particularly impressed with the bagel.  sigh

We got to Baltimore about four minutes late; I wanted to take a taxi to our hotel, but there were none to be found, so I used Lyft and we were at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront ten minutes later.  Our room is on the top floor; it’s a typical newish Marriott room – lots of power outlets and almost no storage space.  I miss the St. Regis!

Our ship is docked at the next pier; we can see it from the elevator lobby.

American Constitution awaits

We took a walk around the Inner Harbor, passing the National Aquarium and getting a nice view of the sign on the Domino Sugar refinery across the water.  The refinery is still very much a going concern, refining about ten percent of the sugar used in the US.  The sign is 120 feet by 70 feet!

National Aquarium

Domino Sugars Building

We avoided the chain restaurants surrounding the Inner Harbor and walked over to Little Italy for dinner at Dalesios; it’s an old-school place, with good service, simple food, and reasonable prices.  On the way back, we happened upon the National Katyń Memorial commemorating the Katyn Massacre during World War II when the Soviets killed thousands of Polish prisoners on Stalin’s orders and tried to cover it up.  Does that remind you of anything in the news lately?

Katyn Monument

Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

Today, we explored Lower Manhattan and a tiny bit of Brooklyn on the last of the four year-round New York City Volksmarches offered by the Princeton Area Walkers.

We got off to an inauspicious start, thanks to the MTA and Google; the walk directions emphasized that we should go to the Chambers Street Station serving the 1-2-3 lines instead of the one serving the E. Google suggested we walk to the 59th Street station and take the R train to 42nd Street and transfer to the 2 (Express).

Easy, right? But when we got to 59th Street, the next few trains on the schedule were N trains; we let the first one go but then I looked carefully at the map, and then at the Google results, and realized that the N and the R both went to 42nd Street. That was ten minutes lost.

At 59th, the first train going to Chambers Street was the 1 (Local), so we let it go by. Ten minutes later, a 2 pulled in and we got on, only to hear the conductor announce that it was going to operate on the local tracks and make all stops – another ten minutes lost.

But we finally got to the starting point and began the walk. We were greeted by a wonderful display of tulips in front of PS234.

We also passed a Zucker’s Bagels & Smoked Fish restaurant – they were so busy that they hadn’t taken down their Passover special board.

This neighborhood had been badly affected by the damage caused by 9/11.

After a few minutes, we reached Nelson Rockefeller Park and the Esplanade. Like almost everywhere else we’ve been on this trip, there were tulips in profusion.

Colgate-Palmolive used to be headquartered on the Jersey side of the Hudson; they moved, but left their clock behind.

Near the North Cove Marina, we got a very nice view of the top of the new 1 World Trade Center reflected in a nearby skyscraper.

We also got to enjoy the ferry and sightseeing boats near the Statue of Liberty.

If we come back to the area, I’d like to visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Ellis Island is nearby, so this statue of Mother Cabrini (the first naturalized US citizen to become a saint) is in the right place, as is another sculpture called “The Immigrants”.

The American Merchant Marine Memorial fits the area, too. The sculptor based it on a photograph of an actual event.

We’ve heard a lot about Castle Clinton on the Bowery Boys podcasts, so I was happy to see it in the flesh…errr, stone. It was built to defend New York from the British, and placed so that its guns had a 360-degree field of fire. The guns were never used, and the expansion of Manhattan brought it firmly onto land; it became a theatre for a while and is now the National Park Service headquarters for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It’s rather low and nondescript, so I didn’t get a good photo, but it provided a great vantage point to see all of 1 World Trade Center.

Our walk next took us to Bowling Green, the oldest park in New York. It’s tulip time there, too!

We walked by other historical buildings, including Fraunces’ Tavern, where George Washington bade farewell to his officers. It’s still an active restaurant, but we went to Just Salad instead.

I might not have noticed this mural on the International Telephone and Telegraph building if the volksmarch instructions hadn’t pointed it out.

No trip to Lower Manhattan is complete without seeing the New York Stock Exchange and Federal Hall.

We didn’t go into Trinity Church, but we did pay our respects to two of its permanent residents.

Our next stop was the National September 11 Memorial. The last time we were in New York, the site was still under active construction; now, you can see the pools where the Twin Towers stood as well as seeing the new 1 World Trade Center towering over the area.

The Oculus is a very interesting building above the new WTC Subway/PATH station. It’s supposed to look like a hand releasing a dove, and it’s aligned so that its floor is washed with light every September 11th between 8:46am (the first impact) until 10:28am (the collapse of the second tower). Naturally, it’s also a high-end shopping center.

The climax of today’s volksmarch was a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. This was the second time that Diane and I had done the bridge walk; it was quite a nice day for it!

And then all we had to do was walk back to the Chambers Street subway station to finish the walk. We took the E train back to midtown; it was a lot easier than our morning trek!

We had dinner at Raku It’s Japanese on East 52nd Street; it was a nice, unpretentious neighborhood place with friendly service and good food. The waiter talked us into trying sparkling sake and we liked it!

On our way back to the hotel, I saw what looked like LARGE parking tickets under the wipers of several cars. I was wrong.

Each ticket contained a different quotation about kindness; seeing them was an unexpectedly pleasant way to finish the evening.

Fair Memories

We didn’t do a volksmarch today – instead, we took a Bowery Boys Walk through the site of the New York World’s Fairs – Flushing Meadows Park.

We entered the park from the 7 train at Gotham Plaza, just as I had done on my visit in 1965 (Diane lived on Long Island, so her family drove to the fair and used an entrance near the parking lots).

There’s an mosaic based on an Andy Warhol portrait of Robert Moses at the entrance to the park; it was installed in 1998 and has seen better decades. Warhol and Moses didn’t get along well – Moses had the murals that Warhol painted for the fare covered up; this mosaic is based on one of the images that Moses had covered.

There were less controversial subjects for the mosaics, though, like Elsie the Cow, one of the stars of the 1939/40 fair. Our guide told us people were upset that Elsie didn’t have a companion, so the Borden Company created Elmer – who became the namesake of the glue. Diane’s Dad always called Elmer’s “cow glue”, but I guess “bull glue” would have been more appropriate.

Our next stop was the Unisphere (which had been the site of the Trylon and Perisphere in 1939/40). It’s aging well, though the lights marking cities around the globe no longer light up at night.

The 1939/40 World’s Fair took up almost 1200 acres; the 1964/65 version was 646 acres – much of the rest was used for parking lots. We walked through a good part of the park; there aren’t that many clear reminders of either fair left, since almost all of the structures were taken down soon after the fair ended, which left room for some nice trees.

One remnant is much older than the fair – it’s the Column of Jerash from 120 CE, donated by the King of Jordan. It’s not the oldest artifact in New York City – that distinction goes to Cleopatra’s Needle in Central Park – but it is the oldest human-made object in Queens.

The New York State Pavilion is still standing, though the terrazzo floor embedded with a map of the state showing all the Texaco stations is long gone. It was used as a skating rink after the fair closed and Diane skated there; our guide told us about plans to try to restore it.

There are time capsules from both fairs buried together, to be opened in 6939; they were sponsored by Westinghouse, which is unlikely to survive as long as the capsules.

It was an interesting experience and brought back some memories of the time I’d spent at the Fair – Kyle told many stories and showed us photos from both fairs that helped bring the site to life.

I’m glad that the site has been turned back into a park for the most part – there were lots of people there playing games, barbecuing, and enjoying the weather. And it’s still tulip season!

We took the subway back to midtown and did our part for global warming by having lunch at Angelo’s Coal Oven Pizza on 57th. It was delicious.

After dinner, we met an IBM friend for drinks at the Campbell Bar (formerly The Campbell Apartment) at Grand Central. It’s an interesting place, and it was quiet enough to encourage conversation – so when a band started setting up, we left.

Our last stop for the day was for ice cream, at Emack and Bolio’s on Second Avenue. It was excellent, and I look forward to trying their Boston location next time we visit Jeff.

First Impressions Can Be Deceiving

The Princeton Area Walkers offer four Volksmarches in New York City – today, we did the one closest to our hotel, Midtown Manhattan.

The walk started at Bryant Park with a glorious view of the Empire State Building in the distance.

Bryant Park itself was well-supplied with flowers, especially tulips.

Even though the New York Public Library wasn’t on the walk route, we couldn’t resist visiting Patience and Fortitude (not seen in this picture).

And how could we resist visiting the Treasures of the New York Public Library exhibit?

The exhibit covered a wide range of topics – such as a poster advertising Houdini, the first printing of the Declaration of Independence, and a nice photo of the Moon taken just a few miles from home (using the 36-inch telescope at the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton – I don’t think my camera can compete).

I really liked the exhibits on “Belief” including an original King James Bible and a good bit of Judaica, like this Megillah (for Purim), 18th Century Haggadah from Munich (for Passover), and the 1946 “Survivors’ Haggadah” used in the Displaced Persons camps, also around Munich.

By the time we left the library, we’d been “walking” for over an hour and hadn’t even gotten to the second step in the instructions! It was time to pick up the pace, but on our way to the next stop (Grand Central Terminal), I got a nice view of the Chrysler Building.

We’d taken a walk through Grand Central on Tuesday, so we made short work of it today, with only the briefest of stops to admire the Apple Store…oops, I meant the view from the Apple Store!

The walk took us back to 42nd Street and on to the UN. Trees were in bloom all around the complex – which seemed appropriate on Earth Day.

We had lunch at the Morning Star Cafe on 2nd Avenue; I had fond memories of the place (under a different name) from my 10 weeks in New York for IBM Systems Research Institute in 1980. I’ll try somewhere else next time.

We walked up 50th Street to Rockefeller Center, getting a nice view of St. Patrick’s glowing in the sun.

The skating rink at Rockefeller Center used to be a winter-only facility, but that’s changed.

The plaza was ringed with flags for Earth Month, and there was an explanation at the entry to 30 Rock, our next stop.

The route took us past the St. Regis, giving us a chance to dump our jackets, and then on to Central Park and Columbus Circle before reaching its northernmost point, Lincoln Center.

We walked Broadway south to 42nd Street and turned on 8th Avenue for what might have been the most exciting spot on the route – the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

The rest of the walk passed in a blur – to Macy’s, through Penn Station and up 7th Avenue (slightly off the official route) before we returned to our hotel.

Dinner tonight was at Bengal Tiger. It’s a small Indian restaurant on the 2nd floor of a nondescript building. The place was packed when we got there just before 7, but we only had to wait about 15 minutes. They offered a three course $25 prix fixe, including dessert. And that brought back memories.

When Diane and I went on our honeymoon, we picked Toronto. There were many reasons, but one was that I’d been there a year or so previously and I really liked an Indian restaurant I’d eaten at. Of course we went there and enjoyed a great meal – until it came time for dessert. I’d ordered Gulab Jamun, based on the menu’s description of it as “Indian rosewater-flavored ice cream”. I didn’t like it at all, and didn’t do a good job of hiding my reaction – the restaurant offered me something else, but I’d been unwilling to have Gulab Jamun again.

Tonight, though, I felt brave and gave it another try – and this time, I liked it! It was warm (not at all like ice cream!) and pleasantly sweet. I guess I just needed to give it some time.

Shabbat Shalom!

Walking and Music

We did another Volksmarch today. This one was billed as the High Line Park, Greenwich Village, China Town, Little Italy Walk and it lived up to its description.

The walk started in front of Macy’s; we decided the event would give us plenty of walking, so we took the subway. It was very nice to be able to pay with a tap instead of having to guess how much to put on a MetroCard.

I was slightly alarmed by the first train that pulled up.

Our train arrived a minute or two later; it was quieter and far less crowded than I remember being typical on previous visits. We got off at Macy’s and headed West to enter the High Line at the northern end, 34th Street at 11th Avenue, only to find out that part of the walkway was closed and we’d have to walk down to 30th Street.

On our way, we got to see “The Vessel” outside Hudson Yards.

And then it was finally time to explore the High Line. I liked the way they’d put rails by the trail as a reminder of the history and had used them as an element in the garden design.

There are some George Rickey mobiles at 27th Street; they’re not the Chrinitoid from RPI, but I liked them anyway.

We walked the rest of the High Line, emerging in the Meatpacking District at Gansevoort Avenue, and continuing through the Village. We were getting hungry, and I found a likely-looking spot just before we reached 7th Avenue: Snack Taverna. As I was looking them up on Yelp, the manager came out and told us that they were Greek (I’d figured that out) and had been in business for 19 years. Normally, I’m unlikely to go into a restaurant where they come out to sell it, but we were hungry, Yelp had mostly favorable reviews, and we like Greek food. It was a good choice – I had lamb triangles and Diane had chicken boureki, both of which were very good. We chatted with the manager about the Volksmarch we were on and about The Music Man – he’d seen it twice and liked it both times, which was encouraging.

We left satisfied and continued the walk into SoHo, Chinatown, and Little Italy. The directions for the walk suggested stopping at La Bella Ferrara Bakery for a delicious treat, so we did.

And then it was onward to Bleecker Street, MacDougal Street, and Washington Square Park. Washington Square Park had everything – chess players, tulips, an Extinction Rebellion demonstration, the Arch, and bathrooms we were happy to find and even happier to survive.

We walked up Broadway to Union Square for some more statues and flowers.

And then we continued until we reached 34th Street and hopped on the subway to return to the hotel before walking over to the Winter Garden to see The Music Man.

We’d splurged on the tickets – E107 and E108 – and luckily, the people in front of us were not so tall as to block the view. Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster were great – they nearly broke each other during the second act – and there were no slouches in the rest of the cast, either. It’s “Broadway Cares” month, and after the show, they auctioned off the gloves that the leads wore tonight – autographed, of course – and raised $11,000 in the process.

And so ends another day in the Big Apple.

Only in New York

We had breakfast in the Plaza Court here in the St. Regis; I’m glad I’m have Titanium status or it would have been really expensive!

After breakfast, we walked down to Radio City Music Hall to start the Central Park Volksmarch.

The first instruction took us right back 6th Avenue to the park; en route, we saw one of many street corner Covid testing places. This one looked more respectable than most of them did.

Soon enough, we were in the park at the General Sherman statue at Grand Army Plaza.

Diane and I had both attended IBM’s Systems Research Institute in the early ’80s; it was a ten-week session in Manhattan, so there were ample opportunities to explore the city. But neither of us did much exploring of Central Park – it was not considered terribly safe territory. Things have changed for the better!

There was a temporary statue of Diane Arbus at the entrance to the park.

The route took us through the Central Park Zoo. We didn’t have time to go see the animals, but we did enjoy the Delacorte Clock’s performance.

There were, of course, flowers, like this wild daffodil we saw en route to the next landmark, the statue of Balto the sled dog.

We continued on, passing the Boathouse and the model boat pond, as well as the first robin of spring and some tulips.

We walked past the Alice in Wonderland statue and the back side of the Metropolitan Museum of Art before reaching Cleopatra’s Needle.

Cherry trees were in bloom, too.

We walked around most of the Reservoir, enjoying the views of the city.

We left the park to walk down Central Park West to the Dakota by way of the American Museum of Natural History and the New-York Historical Society.

Then back into the park to see Strawberry Fields and the Imagine Mosaic.

Our last stop was the Bethesda Fountain.

We picked up sandwiches from Le Pain Quotidien and ate them in our room in the short time before we had to leave for The Ed Sullivan Theatre and a taping of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

We had priority tickets, so we were guaranteed seating as long as we arrived by 4pm. We got there at 3.

A few minutes later, we’d had our tickets and Covid vaccinations checked and received the wristbands that would let us into the theatre.

Once they started letting people in, the line moved quickly.

We stayed in the outer waiting area for what seemed like an hour (but was probably only 30 minutes).

After a first and only chance to go to the bathroom, they let us into the theatre – but we had to turn off our cellphones, so I have no photos. We were warmed up by Paul Mecurio, then instructed on how to be an energetic audience by Mark, the stage manager. And then the real fun started, with Jon Batiste and Stay Human doing a short set, then Stephen came out and did some audience Q&A until it was time to roll tape.

We saw the cold open, heard the credits, and Stephen ran out on stage and the show proper began. It’s live on tape – so there were a couple of re-dos when something went wrong, but nothing major. Alexander Skarsgård was the first guest; they shot the interview in one continuous segment, then they recorded the intro and outro for the commercial break during the interview. Jack White was next – they recorded the interview, then “Maybe Dropping Soon” (which will air some other time, not tonight).

Jon Batiste and the band performed entire songs during each break – they were the highlight of the afternoon.

They set up the stage for Jack White’s first song, recorded it, and then had to reset for the second song (which is in support of a different album, so I expect it’ll air in a couple of months). Stephen took more audience Q&A while they were setting up for the second song – which had to be recorded again due to technical difficulties.

And that was it – everyone left.

I was happy to see a drawing of Ed Sullivan as we left.

I’m looking forward to seeing tonight’s show – not to see myself on TV (we were seated in an area that doesn’t get much love from the cameras), but so I can hear the whole show. Often Stephen and his guest kept talking while the audience was still laughing, and we couldn’t hear the first couple of sentences!

If you can attend a taping, it’s a lot of fun – but it’s a long process!

What city has two names twice?

Our flight from Richmond to New York uneventful, as we like it. Probably the most noteworthy aspect of the flight was that most of the time between “departure” and “arrival” was on the ground, not in the air: 20 minutes from pushback to takeoff, 51 minutes in the air, and 35 minutes waiting to get to the gate. We even saw Jeff briefly at the airport – we emerged from security about a minute before he boarded his flight to Boston.

As we descended into New York, we saw supply chain issues at work – a bunch of container ships (and others) offshore in their own holding patterns.

We’re at the St. Regis on this trip (I decided to burn a lot of Marriott points before yet another devaluation); the room is very nice and has LOTS of storage space (some hotels don’t seem to understand that their guests need places for clothing, toiletries, and suitcases). There’s no view, but we do have a butler!

One of the attractions of the hotel is the King Cole Bar with its Maxwell Parish mural, so we went there to have a drink before dinner. The bar claims to be the home of the Bloody Mary (originally the “Red Snapper”), but neither of us is a fan, so Diane had an Expresso Martini and I had a Charlie Chaplin. And we enjoyed those so much we had dinner at the bar, too, though the menu was pretty limited.

After dinner, we took a short walk down Fifth Avenue to 34th Street, stopping at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The Empire State Building was lit in support of Ukraine.

We returned along Park Avenue with a brief stop at Grand Central Terminal; the Apple Store was already closed for the night, so we had to content ourselves with a quick photo on the concourse.

Into every life…

There’s a saying in Norway, Iceland, and probably elsewhere: “There is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.” Today was a very rainy day (1.32 inches at my brother’s house so far), and we definitely had brought inappropriate clothing – no rain gear of any kind. My sister-in-law lent us an umbrella and some ponchos (still in their package) and off we went!

Our first stop was Greenwood Cemetery to say ‘hi’ to my mother. We had problems finding her grave the last time we visited, so I was careful to make a note of the location; unfortunately, I only noted the section, which was insufficient to find her. As I was going to the office to get help and remembered that I’d also created a waypoint in the GPS app – and that got us to the right place. I’ve now added an additional line to my note saying that she’s near the “Simon Family Bench”, so I have great hopes of needing to search less next visit.

We grabbed lunch at a Greek restaurant named “Greek Cuisine”; Jeff and I liked it but Diane was not impressed. And then it was off to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts – Jeff wanted to see the mummy and other ancient art, and Diane and I wanted to see the Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France which had opened on Saturday. We had a little over an hour, which was just about enough time for the exhibit – I wouldn’t mind seeing it again, but I don’t think I missed much.

Our niece wanted to show us her apartment, so that was our next stop; it’s very nicely furnished and she was a gracious host – but she only was able to take an hour out of her work day before telling us “goodbye”.

And then it was time to say “goodbye” to Jeff; he’s flying out early tomorrow and wanted to see a Tulane friend who lives in Richmond, so we crossed the James and dropped him off before returning to my brother’s house to dry off and pack. Our feet were wet, but we seem to have survived.

Tomorrow, we are off to New York City for the next phase of our trip.

All paintings from Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts through July 31, 2022. In order:

  • The Ten Cent Breakfast – Willard Leroy Metcalf
  • The Sketchers, 1913 – John Singer Sargent
  • Lighthouse at St. Malo – Maurice Pendergast
  • The Birthday Party – John Singer Sargent
  • Le Pont des Arts, 1907 – Edward Hopper
  • The Young Sabot Maker, 1895 – Henry Ossawa Tanner
  • L'Apertif – William J. Glackens

Who Knew?

We did the Richmond Capitol volksmarch today. The start point was Legend Brewing, a micro brewpub on Southside; we had lunch there but skipped the beer in deference to Passover.

The route took us to the Manchester Floodwall Walk and over the James River on the Potterfield Memorial Bridge. There’s a rock-climbing area just before crossing the river, and it was a busy day there.

While crossing, we saw the remains of several bridges that had been used in the evacuation of Richmond at the end of the Civil War.

Our first stop on the North side of the river was the Virginia War Memorial (dedicated to fallen veterans of wars from WWII to the “Global War on Terrorism”). En route, we saw Ethyl Corporation HQ, where my Mom used to work.

Even though my Grandfather had a store only a few blocks from the War Memorial, I’d only been there once or twice in all the time I lived in Richmond, and today was undoubtedly the longest time I’d been on the grounds.

We returned to the river and walked down the Canal Walk to Brown Island.

The walk took us to Shockoe Slip; my mother used to work at Virginia Elevator Company at 1210½ East Cary, which is now Sam Miller’s restaurant.

We continued to East Main Street and passed the former location of Branch Cabell in the Ironfronts (where my brother worked for many years as a stockbroker).

The next stop was Capitol Square, where we walked past the Capitol, the Washington statue, the Stonewall Jackson statue (Old City Hall is behind him), the Civil Rights memorial grouping, and the Executive Mansion.

We left Capitol Square and walked down to Main Street Station; it still has a little passenger service, but it’s mostly being used as a tourist center today.

We continued on Main Street to 20th, passing busy restaurants and the Poe Museum on our way.

On our way back to the river, we passed the Virginia Holocaust Museum and discovered that we had been taking the Richmond Slave Trail for a good part of our walk.

We returned to Legend Brewery and our car via the Mayo (14th Street) Bridge and the western section of the Floodwalk, enjoying the views of the James along the way.

I’d been in Capitol Square and on East Main Street many times while I lived in Richmond, but most of the rest of this walk was new territory to me. Who knew?

Tulips and Butterflies and Turtles, Oh My!

We’ve taken the AmaWaterways “Tulip Time” cruise out of Amsterdam twice – the highlight is the day we get to spend at Keukenhof admiring the amazing tulip displays. I’ve been there a couple of other times, too, and I hope to return.

Somehow, though, I’ve never posted any of the photos I took there to the blog.

We couldn’t go to Keukenhof this year, but we did the next best thing and spent the afternoon at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden here in Richmond with Jeff, Cliff, and Michael Ann.

We started the afternoon by wandering around their tulip beds, which were in full bloom.

Our next stop was the butterfly exhibit in the conservatory. Our timing was good – today happened to be Opening Day.

While we were in the conservatory, we visited the orchardium (Michael Ann volunteers there).

The conservatory was quite warm, so we enjoyed the slightly cooler air outside. There were more tulips, of course.

Love was in the air all over the gardens!

Syndor Lake was pleasant to see.

No spring trip to Virginia is complete without seeing some dogwoods.

Just before leaving (through the Gift Shop, of course), we enjoyed one last tulip.

I want to get back to Keukenhof in the not-too-distant future, but Lewis Ginter Botanical Park is a great place to enjoy the spring, too.

It was a Breeze

I drew heavily on my stock of travel karma this morning. When I called the bell desk to arrange airport transportation, they said it might take as much as 30 minutes to get someone, which didn’t thrill me. But I thought I’d give them a chance before calling for a Lyft, so we headed downstairs.

I expected to have to wait the usual several minutes for the elevator (the Francis Marion is a nice hotel but the elevators leave much to be desired), but there was one waiting for us – and we didn’t have to stop before reaching the lobby. We had to take the stairs the half-flight to the exit because that elevator was broken, but it wasn’t a big deal. And when I found the bellman, he said that the shuttle was ready – we were at the airport and checked in at least ten minutes earlier than I would have believed remotely possible.

This was our first flight on Breeze; we’d sprung for the “Nicer” fare, so we had lots of legroom and overhead bin space. There was even plenty of space under the seats in front of us – so much that I didn’t have to put my backpack in the overhead. The flight left on time and got to Richmond early, too.

And then I ran out of my day’s supply of karma. The first hint came at baggage claim – the belt started moving and then stopped with a loud bang. Twice. Then an agent came out and said they were having belt problems and to move to the next belt, which did work.

Hertz offers “Ultimate Choice” in Richmond, which means we didn’t have a pre-assigned car and could choose from any of the four cars in a certain area. I wanted the Mazda CX-30 until I discovered it didn’t have CarPlay (or at least it didn’t seem to have it), so I went with a Chevy Malibu, which seems to be OK. But when I drove to the exit booth to get my contract, no one was there – there was a hand-printed sign saying “Bathroom Break, back soon”. By the time someone came to the booth, there were eight cars stacked up behind me!

Jeff’s flights were delayed, so we had to kill an hour or so, and then we were off to my brother’s house for Seder. It was a full table with four generations present. They’d gotten a new set of Maxwell House Haggadot for this year – using the original translation, which was awfully dated and hard to follow. But we persevered; dinner was delicious and it was great to see everyone in person.

Passover always begins with the full moon; it was nicely visible from their backyard.

Chag Sameach Pesach!

Houses and Gardens

Today’s touring began with a short bus ride to downtown Charleston and a walk to the Nathaniel Russell House. On our way, John Meffert showed us Rainbow Row, which was one of the first areas successfully preserved by Susan Pringle Frost, who founded the Preservation Society of Charleston.

Our next stop was the First Presbyterian Church (aka the “Scots Kirk”) and its graveyard.

The church is right next to the Nathanial Russell House; Russell was a merchant and slave trader from Rhode Island who made a fortune in Charleston and stayed there; he built the house in 1808. It’s a large three-story “single” house, with an amazing free-flying three-story cantilevered spiral staircase (off limits to visitors).

The house is furnished appropriately to its period (though most of the pieces weren’t original to the house); I wish I could have the desk in the office!

We heard about all of the research that they did to ensure that the colors are faithful to the house’s history. The work continues – currently, they’re restoring the kitchen.

We spent a little time in the garden, but it was only a prelude to what came next.

Our next stop was across the street – we were invited into the garden of the Pruett House. It’s a small garden by Charleston standards, just 240 feet deep (and maybe 60 feet wide); the owner came out to greet us.

It was nearly the end of camellia season, but a few were still blooming.

The garden is divided into four rooms – two mostly grass and two with some hardscaping, ideal for parties.

It was a very nice place to visit.

Our final stop was another private home – it was furnished in beautiful antiques and had been updated with air conditioning and other modern conveniences. I didn’t take any photos because I was overwhelmed!

We returned to the hotel, had a quick lunch at a nearby pizza place, and walked down to Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue for a tour. The congregation has a long history, going back to 1749. Their first synagogue was built in 1792 and burned down during the Great Charleston Fire of 1838.

The current synagogue dates to 1842 and was done in Greek Revival (unusual for a synagogue!).

The tour included a video about the congregation’s history and a visit to the sanctuary, social hall, and museum. It was well worth the time.

This evening, we had our group farewell dinner at 39 Rue de Jean, just a couple of blocks from the hotel. It’s hard to believe that we all met just three days ago!

Mostly Plantations

We were on the bus at 8:30am so we could be the first guests at Drayton Hall, a plantation in the Low Country that was founded in 1738. It’s the only plantation house on the Ashley River to survive the Revolution and the Civil War, and was donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation by the Drayton family in 1976 when a new generation inherited the property and decided they didn’t want to live there because it was lacking modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and electricity!

We were met at the visitor center by our guides for the morning, Carter Hudgins (the CEO) and Eric Becker, the Manager of Landscapes and Horticulture (our tour was sponsored by the National Trust, so we got VIP treatment). Eric gave us a quick tour of the garden at the visitor center and explained their philosophy on the landscape throughout the estate.

Carter then took us to the house itself, which is under active conservation – they’re currently repairing the staircases, so we could only visit the rooms on the first and second floors.

We looked at all of the rooms on the first floor, where most visitors would be received. Drayton Hall has the only hand-carved plaster ceiling in the country, as well as a Rumford fireplace in the rooms which served as the office and library.

He talked about the choices they made to conserve the property as they received it in 1976 versus restoring it to an earlier period; one big question about restoring is the choice of period – should it be 1738, when it was built, or the Victorian era, when it was painted white, or some other time or mixture of times?

After the house tour, I went down to the Ashley River to enjoy the view, both of the river and of the house.

And then it was time for a brief visit to the gift shop before getting back on the bus for our second plantation, Middleton Place. Middleton is the seat of the Middleton family; they made their fortune from rice cultivation. Rice is a labor-intensive crop, and that meant slave labor; there was a lot of discussion (not defense) of slavery during our visit, and it was evident in many of the exhibits.

Middleton was the first landscaped garden in the United States, patterned in some ways after Versailles, so it was only natural for our Study Leader, John Meffert, to lead us on a garden walk. We started at the Reflection Pool, which boasts fountains, alligators, and turtles.

The gardens have quite a bit of sculpture scattered about, mostly Italian (some donated by the Italian branch of the family, who chose not to return to South Carolina when they were in line to inherit the plantation), like this wood nymph.

After our garden walk, it was time for our tour of the House Museum. Originally, it was the “south flanker” of the three-building main complex; all three buildings were burned during the Civil War, but this was the least damaged, and the Middletons restored it and moved into it in 1870. The other two buildings collapsed completely during the Charleston earthquake of 1886.

The museum has been almost entirely furnished with authentic Middleton-owned furniture and clothing (some of which was buried during the war); some of it is on loan from other branches of the family, so photography wasn’t allowed – our docent was very thorough and informative. We were on a “Behind the Ropes” tour, so we were able to go into some of the normally off-limits rooms; the docent even showed us the actual clothing that Henry Middleton (the founder) wore for the Benjamin West portrait that was on display in the house.

After lunch, we had a little time to explore the outdoor exhibits, including Eliza’s House, a freedman’s cabin from the 1870s, where I met another Middleton – he was descended from people who the Middletons had enslaved and was looking at his own history.

And then it was back on the bus for a quick driving tour through The Citadel, South Carolina’s Military Academy. There was a competition of some sort happening on the field we drove around – but it was hard to see because the field was lined with military equipment like this jet!

The Charleston Holocaust Memorial is in Marion Square, about a block from the hotel; Diane and I walked over there after the bus tour. It’s very simple, based on the use of a tallit (prayer shawl) as a burial shroud. I thought it was very moving and far too relevant.


Today’s exploration was bookmarked by bus rides. We started with a trip to the Battery and a walk though the Edmondston-Alston House, which had an incredible collection of furnishings and artifacts. Photos aren’t allowed inside, but they took us out on the second floor piazza so we could enjoy the harbor view; this time, I actually did take a picture of Fort Sumter!

From there, we walked along the Battery before going inland to tour the Heyward Washington House (Washington actually slept there, so they added his name to improve its attractiveness to tourists).

Lunch was at Eli’s Table; we got to choose our own entrée, but the tour had pre-ordered appetizers (fried green tomatoes) and desserts (beignets) to save time. When I told the server that Diane and I couldn’t eat shellfish and I was actually allergic, he told me that he’d have to find alternative appetizers and desserts for us, because of possible cross-contamination. I think we won – the appetizer was a waffle with an amazing cinnamon spread, and dessert was a peanut-butter caramel cheesecake!

We didn’t get to walk off much of the lunch because our next stop was at the Gibbes Museum of Art, nearly 100 yards away. We got a quick tour of the permanent collection – I liked the painting of the Bombardment of Fort Sumter.

I was also amazed that someone could sculpt a very realistic veil in marble.

Then it was back to the bus and the hotel to rest up for our evening adventure. Except that we needed some insect repellant, so we walked to Walgreens across the street. And as long as we were out, we continued on to the first Reform synagogue in the US, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE).

The gate into the courtyard wasn’t locked, but it didn’t want to open easily, so we were just about to go back to the hotel when another couple walked up and levered the gate open. We walked in with them and took a couple of photos, one of the sign over the entrance to the Sanctuary building and one of a much newer sign.

We were interrupted by a guard. As he came out, I could hear him telling someone that “I guess I didn’t lock the gate”; he decided we looked harmless and told us we could enjoy the courtyard for a few minutes, but if we wanted to come back, we should book a tour. We’ll be back on Thursday.

Dinner tonight was different – the group went to Bowen’s Island for a Low Country Oyster Roast. We had a private dining area out on the dock so we didn’t have to wait in the line.

It was a beautiful evening – we’d been warned to bring mosquito repellent, but we didn’t need it.

Lots of people were enjoying the late afternoon sunshine on the water, too.

We took a walk and saw the oystermen hard at work steaming the oysters.

Soon enough, oysters were delivered to the table and our host, Austin, showed people how to shuck them.

Everyone seemed to get the idea and they made short work of the oysters and the Frogmore Stew which followed. Well, everyone but Diane and me – our dinner was salad and pasta (not photo-worthy, I’m afraid).

Sunset was almost too pretty to be true.

It had been a good evening, but we had to get back on the bus and return to Charleston.

Learning Charleston by Foot

Our flight from Dallas was delayed, so we didn’t get to the Frances Marion Hotel until well after midnight, and it was at least 1:30am before we were in bed.

This morning, we had breakfast at the Swamp Fox Cafe (the hotel restaurant) – omelettes, toast, grits, and fruit. There was too much food to finish, though we tried!

The first event on our tour was at 4:30pm, so we had the day to ourselves – we decided to walk the Year Round Volksmarch to get an overview of Historic Charleston. We had a choice of the 5km or 10km distance, and we decided to do the whole thing.

The start point was a few blocks from our hotel, and the first stretch of the walk took us right back to the hotel – actually, to Marion Square across King Street. We took the obligatory selfie and also photographed the remains of the Tabby Horn Work (part of the original Colonial defenses) and the Rotary Fountain.

Next, we explored the College of Charleston, which we’d return to with our Study Leader this evening.

Then we walked into downtown Charleston, stopping at Charleston City Hall to see the Trumbull portrait of Washington in the Council Chambers, along with a bust of Fulton and, of course, a painting of John C. Calhoun.

We continued to White Point Gardens (The Battery) on the waterfront to enjoy the breezes and the views, including Fort Sumter (though the photo below is of Castle Pinckney).

There were even flowers!

We continued on to Waterfront Park for a much-needed Italian ice and more views.

Charleston has recently started to confront the history of slavery, with markers and the Old Slave Market Museum.

We also saw other, happier, historical commerce continuing to the present day.

Our final stop on the walk was Emanuel AME Church, the site of the murder of the Emanuel 9.

And then we returned to the hotel to rest briefly until it was time to meet the others on our tour and get started with a short lecture and a tour of the College of Charleston, led by our Study Leader, John Meffert.

We saw the Porters Lodge (old entrance to the college), Randolph Hall, houses that had been in the community but now were part of the college (such as the yellow “show house” built by a merchant who was using it to advertise his ability to build a similar house for others), and more. John told us how the college had grown and changed over the years, and how it affected the city.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a busy day, too.

Delayed – what a surprise!

I’m writing this entry from “The Club at DFW”, which bears a very strong resemblance to “The Club at SJC”, though it is far more crowded. “The Club at SJC” took over the space of the old American Admirals’ Club where I’d spent far too many hours while traveling for IBM; we were there too early to want to take advantage of the open bar (something the Admirals’ Club didn’t offer), but we did have a nosh to prepare us for the flight.

American has been slowly improving their in-flight catering (not in Coach, of course) and we had a choice of Greek Salad or Turkey Sandwich on the flight from SJC to DFW. Diane had the salad and declared it to be “ok”, which is about what I’d say for the turkey sandwich – the accompaniments were better in both cases. We had Black Mountain Merlot to go with our meals; it was barely OK – afterwards, the flight attendant found some Malbec which was much better.

We got to DFW early, so of course our flight to Charleston has been delayed – so far, by an hour, which means we won’t get to the hotel until after midnight. Fortunately, our tour doesn’t start until 4pm EDT tomorrow, so we’re not terribly upset if we come in late – though I do hope we have enough time to see some of Charleston on our own! The Rabbi Educator at Shir Hadash went to school at the College of Charleston and gave us many suggestions; there’s also a year-round Volksmarch that starts near our hotel that we hope to do before we leave.


Getting Ready

The big task for today was packing; naturally, I interrupted myself by finding other things to do.

I finished (and mailed in) my answers to the Almaniac; I’ll find out how well I did in another month.

I visited the bank to get them to stop mailing me solicitations for additional credit cards.

I finished reading Station Eleven – now I want to watch the TV version.

I updated my phone, iPad, watch, and computers to the latest version of the system; I even cleaned the screens on everything!

Despite my best efforts, we’re packed and should be ready to go tomorrow.

Resisting Temptation

Today, I downloaded a few TV shows to my laptop for our upcoming trip. I have hopes of not actually taking the laptop, so I also want them on my iPad – that means copying them from system to system via WiFi.

Each episode of Benjamin Franklin is about 5.4GB – and that takes a while to transfer – 5-10 minutes each, longer than it took to download them from PBS initially!

I could upgrade to WiFi 6 – but I’m not sure it’s really worth it for the three or four times a year I download videos to the iPad or iPhone. I wonder when WiFi 7 will be available?

In which we say goodbye to a friend

One of Diane’s former co-workers has been a friend of ours for a long time. We went on volksmarches with him; he even helped put together an outdoor play structure for Jeff, and that was no small task.

His health hasn’t been good for the last few years, and he’s been in and out of convalescent facilities several times, so I wasn’t completely surprised when his caregiver called us a few weeks ago to let us know that John had passed away.

He’d married a Russian who already had a son; the marriage only lasted a few years, but the relationship with the son continued, even after the son’s career took him back to Russia (where he’s founded a couple of businesses).

Today, we attended John’s memorial – his son had flown in to arrange it and take care of all of the things that need to be done after a death. The service was short and meaningful – the pastor asked us to think about ways in which John had touched our lives. The attendees included John’s family, neighbors, and co-workers, and we all chatted for a while after the formal service ended.

It was sad to think that we won’t be able to talk with John any more, but it’s good that his suffering has ended.

Rest In Peace, John; your memory is a blessing.

In which I stop counting

I read a lot of science fiction when I was in school; my favorite authors were Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein, but I enjoyed many others, including James Blish. Blish’s “Cities in Flight” series was one of my favorites (the protagonist of the last three volumes was the Mayor of New York, which, of course, was a city flying through the Galaxy), but I read much of his shorter fiction, too.

One story that stuck with me was called “Common Time.” It’s the story of the first semi-successful faster-than-light trip; successful because the ship and pilot return to Earth, but only semi-successful because the pilot nearly went mad due to time desynchronization. He survived, in part, by setting up a subconscious process that counted seconds no matter what he was doing – for months on end. When he returned to the Solar System, he was compelled to figure out how long had elapsed here (versus his subjective time) before he could stop counting.

He finished the figures roughly, and that unheard moron deep inside his brain stopped counting at last. It had been pawing its abacus for twenty months now, and Garrard imagined that it was as glad to be retired as he was to feel it go.

I’ve been counting days on this blog for more than twenty months now, and it’s time to stop. I’ll blog when I have something to say or photos to share, but each entry will stand on its own.

Pandemic Journal, Day 750

I had big plans for tonight’s journal entry, but I worked on the Spring Almaniac instead. That, and trying to figure out what’s going on with the network – we keep losing connectivity, but the modem (and the phone) are working. I’ve rebooted all of the networking gear with no success – maybe it’ll recover overnight.

We harvested our orange crop this afternoon – all five of it. We used to get a lot more production from the tree, but it’s been pretty scant for the past few years. I’m not sure what the lifespan of an orange tree is, but I know this tree is at least 40 years old and might be as much as 60 if it was planted when the house was built.

And we got our second boosters today; we stayed with Moderna, since we’ve had fairly mild reactions with the earlier injections. After we got home, I saw an article in the New York Times reporting on an Israeli study of second Pfizer boosters saying that the added immunity waned quickly, so I’m glad I resisted the temptation to switch to Team Pfizer for this shot.

Pandemic Journal, Day 749

I finished doing our taxes this afternoon, and both California and the Feds have accepted them, so that’s one chore taken care of for this year. My estimates were close enough to avoid penalties, so I’m happy.

That was the most exciting thing I did today, so I’ll stop here!

Pandemic Journal, Day 748

The Ides of April are approaching quickly, so I finally started working on our taxes this afternoon. I didn’t have enough time to finish them because we had tickets for Silicon Valley Shakespeare’s 8th annual 48-Hour Play Festival – live and in-person at Foothill College!

This year’s theme was “Shakesbinge” – each team chose a Shakespeare play and a TV show and had to combine them, along with a required line of dialog (“That’s all, Folks!”), the use of a remote control as a prop, and some kind of commercial, producing a short (and generally funny) play. The process started at 7pm Friday; the script was due at noon on Saturday, and then the director and actors took over.

There were six plays this year:

StreamSpeare Pitch Meeting (The Merry Wives of Windsor + Friends)
Star Rich III: The Search for York (Richard III + Star Trek)
Slay All Day: A Midsummer Night’s Binge (A Midsummer Night’s Dream + Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Chapter VII: The Bounty (As You Like It + The Mandalorian)
Tempest/Battlestar Galactica (The Tempest + Battlestar Galactica)
Diced (Titus Andronicus + Chopped)

The audience votes for their two favorite plays – this year, Diane and I both voted the same way, and the audience agreed with us: Diced won, and Star Rich III was second.

It was a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to the three plays in Silicon Valley Shakespeare’s season: Romeo and Juliet, Measure for Measure, and Sense and Sensibility.

Pandemic Journal, Day 747

Another day, another hike.

We left Yosemite Blue Butterfly Inn for the last time (for now, anyway) this morning and drove into the park to go explore Mirror Lake. There was a lot more traffic today than yesterday, but we still had no problem finding a parking place in the main lot.

We took the shuttle to the Ahwahnee Hotel, then hiked the rest of the way to the lake; it was a pleasant walk, and not very crowded. The water at the near end of the lake didn’t live up to the “mirror” name, so I’m glad we went to the end to enjoy the prettier view there!

We walked back to the Ahwahnee for lunch (much better than Degnan’s Deli yesterday, and only slightly more expensive) and a little light shopping before hopping the shuttle to return to Yosemite Village and our car. But there was a TON of traffic on the road, so we got off at Yosemite Falls and walked back to the car.

Instead of coming home the way we drove up, we left on CA-41 and stopped at the Wawona Hotel; it was picturesque in a very different way than the parts of the park we’d spent most of our time in. We didn’t have the time or energy to walk to Mariposa Grove – perhaps next trip.

And we’re home again – it was a busy three days!

Pandemic Journal, Day 746

We must have been tired yesterday because we slept until 7am, even though one wall of our room is nearly entirely windows and sliding glass doors, without curtains or blinds (we’re on the third floor, facing the river, so there are no privacy concerns).

After breakfast, we left for Yosemite Valley; the park was a lot busier than it was last night, but still not very crowded. It was easy to find parking in the main Village lot, which is unlikely to be the case in a few weeks.

The Visitor Center is closed (they’re building a new one which should be open next year), but there was an outdoor “contact station” with Rangers, so we went there for suggestions and so Diane could get an official Yosemite pin from the store.

We walked down to Lower Yosemite Falls, then followed the Valley Loop trail to the cemetery.

After that, we visited the Ansel Adams Gallery and had lunch at Degnan’s Deli (not worth a special trip), then set out for Curry Village. We enjoyed views of Half Dome and the Merced River on our way.

It had gotten pretty warm, so after a brief stop at the Curry Village market to pick up T-shirts, we took the shuttle back to our car.

We planned to go to Hite Cove next, but on our way out of the park, we stopped near El Capitan for a closeup. There was a crowd just outside the parking lot passing along binoculars and marveling at the campers suspended halfway up the face (I circled them in the second photo).

We tore ourselves away and drove to the Hite Cove trailhead to enjoy the wildflowers there. I guess it’s still a bit early in the season, because the flowers were small and scattered, at least in the first half-mile of the trail, but we enjoyed the hike, the scenery, and the flowers anyway.

We returned to our B&B for dinner at the adjoining restaurant (real vegetables!), and then spent a little while on the deck meeting the other guests and watching hummingbirds. Oh, and eating more fresh-baked cookies. Can’t forget the cookies!

Pandemic Journal, Day 745

This morning, I was the first speaker at the Silver Tongued Cats and I decided to talk about my struggles with home automation over the years (and especially the past couple of weeks). Because I was using the speech for the “Understanding Vocal Variety” project, I chose “Home Automation Blues” as the title and exercised extreme vocal variety by literally singing the blues to start the speech – a capella and undoubtedly off-key. I wonder if a guitar would have helped?

After that, we took off for Yosemite (via Casa de Fruita), arriving at the Yosemite Blue Butterfly Inn just after 4pm. There’s a very nice view from the deck and lots of birds around – the owners told us that when the water isn’t flowing as briskly, you can see the fish swimming around.

We unpacked, got some advice, and headed off to the park to do a quick drive up to Yosemite Village before dinner. We stopped at several of the parking areas along the road and took lots of photos, mostly of waterfalls – but so far, I’ve only been able to get one of them uploaded.

Despite the technical difficulties, we’re off to a good start!

Pandemic Journal, Day 744

Tonight, the Shir Hadash Adult Education committee hosted “A Taste of Adult Ed”. Diane has been the leader of the Book Group, part of Adult Ed, for a few years, so she gave the attendees a chance to engage with a bit of a book (Rav Hisda’s Daughter by Maggie Anton).

I’m not on the committee, but I attended for four reasons: to learn, to support Diane, to look for synergy between Adult Ed and the committee I lead (Ritual), and to eat cheesecake (which is traditional to eat after studying on Shavuot – and Shavuot is only a couple of months away). I’m happy to report that the cheesecake wasn’t the best reason to have been there!

Pandemic Journal, Day 743

It won’t surprise anyone who knows us if I tell you that we like chocolate. And we usually have a few different kinds available so we don’t get tired of one particular variety.

Last year, we picked up a couple of bags of Dove Dark Chocolate Promises® at a post-Halloween sale. They’re not our absolute favorite chocolates, but they’ve always been good, if a little bit on the waxy side. I put them aside for later, and finally got around to opening one of the bags today.

It wasn’t worth the wait. The waxy mouthfeel dominated, and there wasn’t much chocolate flavor. It wasn’t just me – Diane had the same reaction. I tried a second piece just to make sure and couldn’t finish it.

The right thing to do probably was to unwrap each piece and put it in the compost bin – but I did the expedient thing and threw both bags in the trash.

Throwing chocolate away – what has the world come to?