Summer 2015: East Coast
Lisa’s off to the East Coast for ten days, chaperoning a large contingent of Evergreen Middle School 8th graders to visit the historic and famous sites of colonial Williamsburg, VA; Washington, DC; Philadelphia, PA; New York City, NY; and Boston, MA. While I don’t have any 2015 photos, I do have some from our trip in 2013 when I was able to accompany the group as a last-minute replacement chaperone…
We also took a short road trip up to Vermont to visit Acadia National Park…
We spent a few nights in Boston and couchsurfed with a new friend, Shuky,
Before taking a five-day New England cruise over the 4th of July holiday.
Though we don’t have a perfect summer 2015 plan like two years ago, we’ll still manage to take in a little adventure here and there!
Day 1: The Long Travel Day
Less than 12 hours after Lisa arrived at the Portland Airport, she was right back at the airport leaving for New Orleans. So yeah, she got to go home to sleep for a few hours, do some laundry, and repack for our journey to the South.
We got to the airport on time, and our first leg flight was on time 3 we flew into Houston Southwest Airlines and found out that our second flight league was delayed by a half hour. So we had a little time to hang out at the Houston Hobby Airport and got these following images for your viewing pleasure.
Day 2: New Orleans Plantation Tour to Natchez, Mississippi
First up today, cool things you might only find down here in the South!
Today, we visited three plantations enroute up to Natchez, Mississippi.
First up, Destrehan Plantation, a filming location for the movie Interview with a Vampire
Our second visit was to the beautiful Oak Alley Plantation, famous for the oak alley leading to the Mississippi River.
Finally, our last stop to the garden centric Houmas House, aka “The Sugar Palace.”
Our evening adventures brought us to this one a kind place.. Of course we had to try this out!
And finally we made it to Natchez, Mississippi just in time for the sunset.
Day 3: Gas Leak Aftermath, Vicksburg Military Park & Natchez Trace Parkway
The hotel gas leak was an inconvenience of just under an hour. Hotel management let us back into our rooms just after 11pm. So that was it for the gas leak, right? Yeah, no. We woke up early to take advantage of the free sit down breakfast at 7am. We went to the dining room and found it empty. We asked the front desk staff what was up, and she laughed off that breakfast would be delayed by a few minutes. She didn’t tell us that the gas leak rendered the kitchen unusable, so we waited around for half an hour before they broke the news to us. The best they could offer was coffee and doughnuts. Sheesh, that meant breakfast on the road. That was some wasted time, plus the extra time we would need for breakfast outside the hotel. So we went to the rental car and…. discovered a bunch of scratches all over the hood and on the driver’s side front door. You see, when they kicked everyone out last night, that included a rowdy group of pool and hot tub freeloaders that just happened to be parked next to our car. They basically partied while we all waited, using the car for a drink holder and who knows what else. And of course the hotel claims no responsibility for damage or theft in the parking lot. So be it. We will await the damage claim fees the car rental company will assess when we return the car. Stupid gas leak!
Despite the rotten start to the day, we were able to turn it around with our days’ adventures, starting with…
Day 4: Corinth & Shiloh National Military Park and the Natchez Trace Parkway Continued
Three states today: Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee via the Natchez Trace Parkway. We visited the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, spent the afternoon at Shiloh National Military Park, and enjoyed a bunch of side trips along the Parkway. We have found this region to be very beautiful and…. moist, ha ha. Lisa loves the fireflies because they make her happy, and Edwin loves the long summer days where the Sun doesn’t go down til 8 p.m. Here are a few pictures from today’s outings.
Day 5: The Battle of Franklin, Stones River National Battlefield and Scenes from Nashville
The first day of July brought about these memorable highlights from our day around Nashville…
– Huge thunderstorms, lightning and deluges of rain
– A visit from the President and the local news documenting every minute of his arrival
– Visiting the Carter House and learning the fascinating story of the Battle of Franklin
– Touring through the Stones River National Battlefield and listening about the bloody history of over 23,000 Union and Confederate casualties in just 2 days of combat
– Walking over the Shelby pedestrian only bridge into downtown Nashville and enjoying the nightlife
Day 6: Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage & the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
The thunder storms raged all night long, making for a sleepless night in our Nashville Airbnb room. The heavy rain continued until noon, but fortunately for us we were mostly indoors, visiting former president Andrew Jackson’s mansion the Hermitage…
We left around lunch time, and like Harold and Kumar, made a pilgrimage to this world famous place…
After our less than satisfying meal, we drove down to Birmingham, Alabama and took in a late afternoon visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which was very well presented and provides visitors with an important reminder about the fight for civil rights for all Americans.
Day 7: McWane Science Center and the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail
We spent the morning playing around Birmingham’s McWane Science Center with complimentary admission courtesy of our OMSI membership passes. Sure, it was overrun with little kids and children from summer camps, but we are just big kids at heart so we fit right in.
After our visit to the Science Center, we drove down to Selma, but first stopped at a Cracker Barrel restaurant for a lengthy two hour lunch (most of it waiting). Once in Selma, we visited the interpretive center and took in some sites and monuments commemorating the voting rights march made famous in the recent movie Selma.
Day 8: A Low Key 4th of July
Happy 4th of July! We took a little break from our whirlwind tour of the South to have a more relaxed day, beginning with a civil rights trail through Montgomery, Alabama’s capital and scene for a number of historic events that have shaped our country…
After our morning in Montgomery, we drove the three hours down to Mobile Alabama but first stopped for lunch at this major competitor to White Castle…
Our day ended in Mobile, Alabama, city on the Bay. We checked into our boutique 1862 hotel, then took a short visit to the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center, dinner at a barbecue joint and finally capped off with fireworks over Mobile Bay.
Day 9: Gulf Shores to New Orleans
Our final day of road tripping took us from Mobile, Alabama to New Orleans via scenic Highway 90, hugging the Gulf Coast through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Unfortunately, our entire day was pretty much washed out, though we were able to have one dry hour at Gulf Islands National Seashore…
The storms followed is all the way to New Orleans. Today was the final day of the Essence Festival (a cultural and empowerment festival for black women) and there were a lot of soaking wet people scrambling for cover throughout the evening. Needless to say, though we are hardy Oregonians used to the rain, it would be ludicrous of us to brave the elements to partake the French Quarter. Yep, we choose to stay dry and indoors for our final night in the Big Easy.
Road trip Musings: Random Oddities
Ah, the things one finds when traveling outside your home…
America by Rail: Onboard the Sunset Limited & The Coast Starlight
We departed New Orleans last Monday, July 6th at 9:00am. Never mind the rip off taxi cab ride from our hotel to the Amtrak station, less than a 2 mile drive. The driver never turned on the meter, so what was probably a $5 ride turned into double the rate. I figured $10 would be the maximum I would “accept” to be gauged with, and sure enough, when he dropped us off he said “$10.” Fine, it happened, we got to the station on time, in one piece and without the sweat pouring off our back so $10 seemed like a fair deal.
The Sunset Limited westbound route runs 3 times a week to Los Angeles. It used to be the only trans-continental railroad, running from Orlando, FL all the way to Los Angeles, but thank Hurricane Katrina for taking out the a lot of the track and now there’s ‘just’ the route from the Big Easy to the city of Angels. It is a 2,000 mile journey that passes through Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. It is a 44-hour ride through bayous, big Texas sky country, desert environments and some barren landscapes. All from the air conditioned comfort of our private roomette with folding bunk beds.
A few years ago we purchased the 15-day USA Rail pass, and had the pleasure of traveling from Portland to Sacramento, Sacramento to Denver, Denver to Chicago, Chicago to Spokane and finally back home to Portland. We rode the Coast Starlight, the California Zephyr and the Empire Builder. Unfortunately, we did it all in coach class, which meant sleeping overnight in our seats. Because you can’t fold the seats flat, a full night of restful sleep is an afterthought, since you are dealing with noise, smells, light and an uncomfortable sleeping position. So get a sleeper car, right? Sure, if you can afford it. For example, a coach seat on the Coast Starlight from LA to Portland will set you back $113. However, choose a roomette for the overnight and you are looking at $617 – a jump of 600%! Granted, the roomette can sleep 2 people and it includes all meals, but it can be cost prohibitive if you truly want to travel in comfort for all your days on the train. And thus we choose the coach class on our prior trip.
However, for our 4 day, 3-night trip we found a great deal through my credit card to use miles and transfer them over to the Amtrak rewards program. And like magic, we were able to book the roomette for all nights on the train through our credit card reward points, an excellent value indeed. The train offers a lounge car and one dining car for all passengers to use. The dining car offers breakfast, lunch and dinner and these meals are included in our roomette rail fare. Lisa and I brought plenty of snacks on board, but just like a cruise ship, we were never really hungry because we were fed so well.
Wait, back up — 4 days and 3 nights on a train? Wouldn’t you get claustrophobic, especially in such a small cramped room? Well, yes and no. Yes, the room is small. Yes, sitting all day long for 4 days straight can lead to DVT and a sense of being trapped. But like I said, there is a lounge car plus 8 or more other cars you can poke your head in. And there were the scheduled “smoke break” stops en route — step off, get some fresh air, stretch out your legs — in Tucson we had a lengthy 90 minute stop, in Houston almost an hour. All in all, yes, you can get stir crazy, but there are plenty of stops and plenty of opportunities to walk around so you’re not stuck in any one place.
One of the best features about riding the train is the chance to see the changing landscape right out your window. Prior to our trip, I downloaded route information on our tablet and we would play the audio recording clip regarding that region, town or landmark. Additionally, Lisa and I finished a book on tape “Shipbreaker,” and we also had our own books to read when it got too dark out or when we just wanted a different escape. We stayed in our rooms for half the time, and the other half we enjoyed the lounge car, the dining room car and the parlour car. We had a number of occasions to meet fellow travelers, from the Grandma and her granddaughter traveling up to South Dakota, to the National Park Service volunteer riding the train to visit her ailing friend in Oregon. We also spent a good chunk of our afternoon visiting with a young German couple on their honeymoon, learning about the German culture and swapping our travel stories. It was truly a great experience and one that we continue to enjoy here in America and in Europe, and hopefully one day on Canada’s ViaRail system and their famous 4-night Vancouver, BC to Toronto route. In the meantime, here are some scenes from the train…