NYC/DC vacation

I was fortunate enough to visit New York City and Washington DC with my stepfather and aunt and uncle in July 2008. I wanted to keep a record of what happened so I’ve decided to put it on my blog.

Introduction
Ann decided that she and Paul should go to see a game at Yankee Stadium before it was demolished. She made all of the arrangements and bought four game tickets for her, Roger, Paul and Mom. However, Mom didn’t feel like going and so I was lucky enough to take her spot.

Mon Jul 7 2008 – Travel Day 1
We woke up early and Ashley and Mom drove us from Owensboro to Evansville to meet with Ann and Roger. On the way, we encountered a major downpour, but Ashley handled it like a pro. We met up with Ann and Roger at a truck stop and transferred our bags to their Pacifica in the rain.

From there, we drove I-64 East until we merged onto I-79 East. The view in the mountains was amazing! We stopped in Morgantown, WV for the night at a Ramada Inn; it was a pretty nice hotel. Paul and I ate dinner in the hotel’s restaurant (I had a burger, Paul had a club sandwich) and Roger joined us later to eat.

Tue Jul 8 2008 – Travel Day 2
I woke up around sunrise and took a couple of pictures of the beautiful sunrise. After a quick breakfast, we got back on the road and took I-68 East to I-70 East towards Baltimore. We stopped at a Burger King in Frederick MD for lunch. I saw an interesting trike (“The Stallion” from Boss Hoss Cycles and Trikes) and managed to get a quick picture of it between traffic.

After lunch, we continued on I-70 to Baltimore MD and then took I-95 North. I-95 is a toll-road and the tolls were not cheap! We crossed into Delaware (who had the highest tolls – Wilmington DE is where a lot of financial corporations have their main offices; I wonder if there is a correlation there? :))

We had planned on getting on the New Jersey Turnpike but we missed our turn. We decided to take Highway 322 into New Jersey and pick up the Turnpike there. On 322, we ended up in the middle of nowhere (which made me homesick for Indiana! *laughs!*) We stopped at a convenience store to get drinks and ice for the coolers; Roger tried to find a New Jersey map to buy but nobody had any.

We turned north on the NJ Turnpike and headed for New York. We stopped at one of the rest areas to fill up the tank and get more drinks; I was happy to find Peach Tea at the store – I can’t find them often around Lafayette. I struck up a conversation with the teller of one of the shops and she seemed surprised that somebody was talking to her; after her initial surprise, she was quite friendly. I made myself a souvenir penny; it was one of those machines that stretches the penny and imprints images on it – my design had a four-leaf clover and horseshoe with the words “Good Luck” on it. As the Yankees logo was in the horseshoe, I thought it was a good omen for tomorrow’s game! 🙂

We continued on I-95 until we reached I-495 and that took us into North Bergen NJ, where our Super 8 motel was located off Columbia Avenue. It wasn’t the nicest hotel I’ve been in. There weren’t many amenities and our room had a very noisy air conditioner, which woke me up often the three nights we stayed there. We noticed that our room had bars on the window; Paul mentioned “Now I feel safe”, but actually I did – it’s better to have the bars than not have them and need them! Somebody actually tried to enter our room one night, but I suspect that it was somebody who didn’t know which room they were staying in – at least, that’s the way I’m choosing to take that incident! 🙂

The motel also had a bus service that would take you into Manhattan for $2.00 a trip. That was pretty nice, as I can’t imagine trying to drive there!

The best thing about the Super 8 was that it had the YES Network; Paul and I watch that channel most of the night. For dinner, we ordered delivery from a local restaurant; Paul and I both got a sampler, which had wings, cheese sticks and chicken tenders.

Wed Jul 9 2008 – Game Day!
We woke up early and showered. Paul got some breakfast from Super 8’s continental breakfast but nothing looked good to me so I skipped it.

We met Ann and Roger in front of the motel and waited for the bus to take us to Manhattan. When it arrived, it didn’t have any air conditioning and was extremely hot inside; Paul had brought with him a bunch of paper towels to use as sweat rags and they were soaked before we made it to Lincoln Tunnel. Traffic really was a mess, with people merging whenever they felt like it; it made me glad I wasn’t driving.

Ann was sitting behind us chatting up a storm to the other passengers; I held my breath a bit when Ann announced quite loudly that we were out-of-town tourists – I was just hoping that nobody would follow us and mug us after we got off the bus! 😉 But that was Ann; she really was fearless and she liked talking to people.

When we got off the bus on 42nd Street, I found the subway entrance and a nice helpful worker gave us directions on how to get to Yankee Stadium. We got our tickets and got on the D train, which took us right to Yankee Stadium.

We arrived there about two hours before the gates opened, so we sat at gate and waited. We were actually sitting between Yankee Stadium and the new Yankee Stadium, so I got some decent pictures. Paul and I saw the cutest little boy wearing a Derek Jeter shirt.

When the gates opened, we walked through Memorial Park; it was a great experience.

We then grabbed some food – I had a cheeseburger, fries and a coke. I don’t remember how much it cost, but I do remember being pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t more expensive. We then found our seats and got ready to watch the game. And what a game it was! Melky made an amazing catch, Ponson pitched well and the game went to 10 innings with the Yankees pulling out the win in the bottom of the 10th inning. I was even able to see Farnsworth pitch in relief. It was fun watching the grounds crew raking the infield dirt between innings dancing to YMCA, and there is something very special about the 7th inning stretch in Yankee Stadium when you are actually there.

I went out during one of the inning breaks and found a cap for Ashley. I was also able to find the All-Star patch and the Yankee Stadium tribute patch for my jersey, which Mom sewed on my jersey when we returned home. I was annoyed at myself when I bought my jersey for not getting the version that had the All-Star patch on it; now it’s even more special since I got the patch from Yankee Stadium and I also have the stadium tribute patch as well.

After the game, we made our way outside the stadium just in time for the downpour that had been threatening much of the game. Our subway station was underground; it was extremely crowded and very hot and steamy due to the rain. We got on the subway and made it back to the Port Authority. We ate an early dinner at one of the vendors there; I had a great turkey sandwich and a peach tea. We then got back on the bus to take us back to the hotel, where we turned on the YES Network and ended up watching the replay of our game. All in all, it was an incredible day.

Thu Jul 10 2008 – Touring NYC
We got up, showered and went to eat breakfast at a local IHOP (I think that was the first time I have ever eaten at an IHOP); it was very good. We then took the bus back into Manhattan to the Port Authority. We looked around at the vendors and bought a few items. We decided to go on the boat tour around Manhattan Island and took a cab to the pier. We actually arrived too early so we had to wait for about 1 1/2 hours. Paul and I walked to get a snack and then Ann and I talked. It’s funny; I was a little annoyed that I didn’t get the NYC paperweight from the vendor at the Port Authority, but it turns out that Ann had bought one and was having buyer’s remorse (as she had bought two). So I bought the second one from her. 🙂

While we were waiting on our boat, I was able to see the NYC DUCKS tour bus/boat enter the waterway; on our next visit to NYC, I will definitely be taking that tour.

The boat tour was amazing; it shows how small Manhattan Island really is, as you can see the same buildings all around the island. The tour took us past the Statue of Liberty; I actually got a bit choked up looking at it – you see it on television and movies so often that you don’t think much about it, but then you get there and see it in person, think of all of the immigrants that saw it as a symbol of hope for a better life, and then it hits you. It was a pretty powerful emotion.

After the tour we were all tired, so we decided to go back to the hotel and call it a day. We stopped for dinner on the way back and I had two pieces of pizza – New York style pizza is by far the best pizza I’ve ever had! We got back to the room, watched a little television and then turned in for the night.

Fri Jul 11 2008 – Travel to DC and visit Arlington National Cemetery
We got up, checked out of our hotel and drove down to Washington DC.

On the way to DC, Ann decided that she wanted to eat a crab cake. She initially wanted to stop in Baltimore MD but it was decided to stop at a town called Havre de Grace for lunch. We found a nice little restaurant that overlooked Chesapeake Bay with an amazing view. Ann got her crab cake and I had a burger; it was the most tender burger I’ve ever eaten. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I had finished half of it before I realized that it wasn’t quite cooked completely. It upset my stomach a little, but not too much.

When we arrived in DC, we checked into our hotel and then Paul, Roger and I decided to go ahead to see Arlington National Cemetery. Ann decided to stay at the hotel because she was tired. We thought that we could see Arlington today and then see the Monuments on Saturday.

I really cannot put into words the emotions I felt at Arlington. It really is hallowed ground; to know that these people gave their lives for our country made me profoundly grateful. And to have Paul there beside me to point out places of interest and to tell some of the stories about the soldiers was priceless; that will be a memory that I will cherish forever.

Seeing the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was very moving. It made me proud to see that everybody there was affected by the ceremony.

I found the memorials for the Challenger and Columbia shuttle tragedies; that was nice to see as I am such a space enthusiast.

We went up the hill to the Arlington House; from there, you can see an amazing overview of Washington DC, including the Pentagon.

After a lot of walking, we had to hightail it out as the cemetery was closing. So we took the subway and a cab back to our hotel. We ate dinner at the hotel’s restaurant and then called it a night.

Sat July 12 2008 – Touring DC
We woke up and ate breakfast in the hotel, planning our day. It was decided that Paul and I would tour separately from Roger and Ann; there was a lot of things that Paul wanted to show me and Ann wouldn’t have been able to keep up (I had problems keeping up myself! :))

We started out by all four of us going to the National Archives; I really wanted to see the Constitution and the Declaration. While we were waiting in line to enter the building, we saw a large Ron Paul march; they were quite fervent in their demonstrations. It’s democracy in action! 🙂

We made our way through the National Archives; it made me very proud of our country.

Next, Paul and I went to the Air and Space Museum. I enjoyed seeing all of the space displays (even walked through Skylab) but I really loved seeing the military displays and talking about them with Paul – that made my day!

We had lunch at the McDonalds in the Air and Space Museum and then walked the Memorial Mall – that place is so much bigger than it looks on television!

Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the American History museum, as it was closed until fall. Both Paul and I were disappointed, but as it turns out, we may not have had enough time to see it and see everything else; one day is definitely not enough to see everything in DC.

We next visited the Washington Monument but we couldn’t get into the tour; you apparently have to buy tickets the day before as they sell out quickly. So after a brief rest, we went down to the World War II Memorial; that was quite beautiful.

Next we visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; oddly, it wasn’t what I expected. For some reason, I pictured it as a large freestanding wall but it appeared to be a smaller V-shaped wall dug into the ground. However, when you actually get near it and start seeing all the names, you realize that it is far, far too large. Paul told me of some of his experiences in the war and how close he came to being on the wall; that was quite sobering to know just how close we came to never knowing him.

The Lincoln Memorial was visited next, and yep, as Paul said “He’s in there”. I went in to see the statue and then we walked to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. That is amazing; the statues are almost too real. We then walked over to the White House for a few pictures.

We estimated that we ended up walking about 20 miles over the entire day; we drank plenty of water but we had a Gaterade at one point and it was amazing how much more that helped recover our energy. After taking pictures of the White House, we made our way back to the subway and ate at one of the vendors in the food court. Then we went back to the hotel and called it a night.

Sun Jul 13 2008 – Traveling back home
We got up, checked out of the hotel and started home. Roger wanted to take a different route home, north to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He hoped this route would be less twisty than the route we followed initially. We took the Turnpike through Pennsylvania up into the mountains; we ran into a quick downpour at one point – it was amazing to see the clouds that low, barely over the tree tops. Near Pittsburg, we got off the Turnpike and continued west on I-70.

We continued into Ohio on I-70W until Columbus, where we got on I-71S, skirted Cincinnati and continued on I-71 to Louisville, KY. As we approached Louisville, we encountered a traffic jam; a wreck ahead stopped both lines of traffic for a long time (I think it was about 45 minutes, if memory serves). Once we got moving again, we got on I-64W and followed it towards Evansville. Mom and Ashley met us at US231S, where we transferred to their car and made it back to Owensboro.

Final thoughts
This was definitely the vacation of a lifetime, something I will remember the rest of my life. I wouldn’t mind going again sometime in the future (perhaps see a game in the new Yankee Stadium), allowing for 2-3 days for touring each city), but if I don’t make it back, this trip was memorable enough. Being able to spend time with Paul was very special to me. And as this was also the last time I saw Ann, that made this trip even more special.

RIP: Aunt Ann, part 2

I just got back from my Aunt’s funeral; that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

It was a beautiful ceremony. I’ve never been to a catholic funeral; it was quite moving.

One thing that really stands out in my memory; I’ve always pulled over to allow funeral processions to pass but I’ve never realized just how much that means to those in the procession. I even saw city workers on the side of the street stop working and take off their hardhats until we passed. That meant quite a lot to us. And it just goes to show that civility and respect still exists. 🙂