Wednesday, October 26, 2016

New York City

Since we had been to New York City three years ago, this time we wanted to do some of the things we didn’t have time for before (or weren’t opened at the time).  So we bought a New York Pass that covers admission to over 80 attractions.  It was a good way to go, but I think I’d need about a year (or at least a couple months) to enjoy everything.
For this trip to NYC, we stayed at the Meadowlands in Secaucus, an easy 15 minute bus ride into New York City, because we’re too cheap to pay Manhattan hotel prices (or we like to maximize our travel budget).  Matt only had one day to spend with us before flying home, so we started by taking the subway to Battery Park.  From there we took the boat to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  Then we walked up to the 9/11 Memorial.  The plaza is now open to walk around (last time we had to go through security to enter the area), but the line for the museum (that wasn’t opened when we went in 2013) was too long for the time we had, so we went back another day.  We also went on the grounds of St. Paul’s Trinity Church, one of the oldest churches in the country, that was miraculously undamaged on 9/11.  Matt insisted on eating NY pizza, so we did that for lunch and then boarded a hop-on, hop-off bus for a city tour.  We did the lower Manhattan loop and got off at Chinatown.  Then we took the subway back up to Times Square where we shopped and hung out with the hundreds of other people that were there on a pleasant Saturday evening.
The next day we took our rental car to La Guardia airport, then took the bus and subway through Queens and into Manhattan.  There we took the upper Manhattan hop-on hop-off loop and got off at the Guggenheim Museum.  After that museum, we walked down to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I didn’t realize what a huge place it is; it would take days to see it all.  So since we only had hours (it closes at 5pm), we had to be selective.  Then we finished the bus loop and headed back to the hotel. 
The following morning we took the subway back to the 9/11 Memorial and visited the museum.  It is an excellent museum that touches on every aspect of that day, and is a sobering reminder of the tragedy.  From there we walked to the seaport area on the East River and took a water taxi under the Brooklyn Bridge, past the Statue of Liberty, and up the Hudson River.  From the terminal we walked to the Intrepid Museum, which has the aircraft carrier, a submarine, and the Star Trek Experience.  That would be cool if you’re a big trekkie (I’m not).  Then we took a bus to Rockefeller Center to go to the Top of the Rock.  The view from there is amazing; from one side you can see Central Park and upper Manhattan, from the other, lower Manhattan and beyond.  We got some dinner at the Tri-Tip Grill (good and inexpensive) before doing the tour of Rockefeller Center.  I didn’t know that it consists of 19 buildings that house offices of many international companies as well as broadcast studios and Radio City Music Hall. 

For our last day, we went back downtown to a couple historic locations we wanted to visit.  The first was Federal Hall, where George Washington was inaugurated as our first president.  The Bible he used when he was sworn in is displayed inside, and outside is a large statue of Washington.  This location (although the building is not the original but was rebuilt in 1842) was the original US capitol under the Articles of Confederation and then the Constitution.  It is located on Wall Street across from the US Stock Exchange.  A couple blocks further down is Fraunces Tavern, built in 1719 and one of the oldest buildings in Manhattan.  It was the site of many important events of the revolution, including Washington’s farewell to his officers of the Continental Army at the conclusion of the war.  The building is owned by the Sons of the Revolution and still houses a tavern and restaurant downstairs, but the upper floors are a very interesting museum.  It contains many handwritten documents, paintings and flags from every era of American history.   After that we took the subway back up to Times Square area and did some shopping.  The next day we took an Uber ride to the airport to catch our flight home.
Statue of Liberty
9/11 Memorial

in 9/11 Museum
St. Paul's Trinity Church

Freedom Tower
Times Square on a nice Saturday night

Lower Manhattan skyline from water taxi

Central Park and Manhattan from Top of the Rock

Rockefeller Center

Washington statue at Federal Hall

Fraunces Tavern

view of Hudson River and Statue of Liberty from airplane

Friday, October 21, 2016

Virginia, DC and Philadelphia

Our fall trip this year took us back east.  We flew into Dulles Airport where we met up with our son, Matt, who flew in from California.  We drove into Washington, DC., after midnight and walked from the Lincoln Memorial to the World War II Memorial enjoying the quiet and peaceful atmosphere when few are there.  Matt’s company is headquartered in Fredericksburg, Virginia, so we spent a few days there while he was at meetings.  The first day we drove north and took the Metro back into Washington, DC.  We took a tour of the Capitol building arranged a through our congresswoman’s office.  I recommend doing that; so much nicer than being in a large group.  From there we went into the Library of Congress.  Both buildings are magnificent in their architecture and filled with artwork, sculptures and history.  We also visited the National Archives, which was too crowded last time we were there.  They house the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights and a copy of the 1297 Magna Carta among many other important historical documents. 
The next day we drove through the beautiful green rolling hills of Virginia to Monticello, the plantation and home of Thomas Jefferson.  His home was full of innovative things he made, like a writing desk that had a second pen that made a copy of his writings.  He wrote over 40,000 letters during his lifetime and kept a record of each one this way.  He also had a dumbwaiter, a great clock that worked on a week’s time, and artifacts he was sent by Lewis and Clark from their exploration of the west he commissioned after the Louisiana Purchase.  Jefferson was an amazing man in many ways.
On our way to Monticello, and then the next day we were able to visit four Civil War battlefields that are in the Fredericksburg area.  The first was Chancellorsville as we headed west out of town.  There is no town, it was just the home of the Chancellor family that was located there.  As with many Civil War battlefields, the location was where several roads intersected.  This one may be most remembered as the location where Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded.  A few miles further on is the location of the Battle of the Wilderness which was fought a year later in 1864.  Both these areas are beautifully wooded, with some open fields and trenches still visible over 150 years later.  The Spotsylvania Court House and Fredericksburg Battlefield were the other two we visited. At Fredericksburg the Confederate Army had the high ground and a still intact stone wall to defend against the Union Army’s offensive to cross the Rappahannock River in 1862.  There is also a Union Cemetery there; their losses were tremendous.  Crossing the river we visited the Chatham House, a plantation house that was used as a Union hospital during the war.  Also in Fredericksburg we visited the home of Mary Washington, George’s mother, where she spent her last years.  Close to there is Kenmore, a plantation house that was owned by Mary’s daughter and is an interesting place to see.
Leaving Fredericksburg, we stopped in Maryland for fine dining at the Waffle House, then drove north to King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, about 20 miles outside Philadelphia.  In the morning we visited Valley Forge, site of Washington’s winter camp during the Revolutionary War.  From there we went to Independence Hall in Philadelphia and saw the Liberty Bell as well.  We topped off the day with Philly cheesesteak sandwiches and a drive past the newly dedicated LDS Temple before heading north to New Jersey. 

Lincoln Memorial at night
US Capitol

inside Capitol rotunda

inside Library of Congress
Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson
Chatham House, Fredericksburg, VA

Confederate trenches at Fredericksburg

at Valley Forge, PA

Liberty Bell, Philadelphia, PA
Independence Hall, Philadelphia

LDS Temple, Philadelphia

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Spring and summer 2106 in Utah and Wyoming

Okay, I admit I’m a lazy blogger.  We’re now in October and I haven’t written about any of this year’s travels since January.  So here’s a quick synopsis.  In March we took a trip to Vegas and saw Celine Dion; wonderful show.  We then went to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. We’d wanted to see Bryce with snow, and even though the snow was gone at other places there was still quite a bit at Bryce due to the elevation.  Of the five national parks in Utah, Bryce is my favorite followed closely by Arches.  But they all have their own special beauty.
We took two separate trips during the summer to Wyoming.  The first was to see some areas where the pioneers traveled on their way west.  We went to Fort Bridger and Independence Rock, named because the goal was to be that far along the way by the fourth of July.  Just west of there is Martin’s Cove, named for the Martin Handcart Company that left too late in the season and was caught in a blizzard in early October 1856.  Many of them died, including my g-g-g-grandmother.  Her son, my g-g-grandfather, was among the rescue party sent from Salt Lake City (he had emigrated four years earlier) to bring supplies and help.  His young sister was a survivor who lived to be 85 years old.  I’m really thankful for the sacrifices and difficulties they endured to settle the west that we enjoy now.  We also went to South Pass City near the continental divide and “parting of the ways” where the Oregon Trail separates from the Mormon Trail.  They great expanses of empty, rolling prairie are amazing and nice to see from our truck, but I sure wouldn’t want to have to walk all those miles.

In July we took out trailer to Victor, Idaho, where we camped for our visit to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  From there we drove without the trailer over the high pass into Wyoming.  We had great fun on a whitewater rafting trip on the Snake River.  It was a blast! That was the reason we went there in July when Jackson is quite crowded.  We also spent a day hiking around Grand Teton National Park which is a beautiful park just south of Yellowstone.  We also took a horseback ride in the mountains on the Idaho side.  We were glad we stayed on the Idaho side of the mountains where the cute towns of Victor and Driggs are not as crowded as Wyoming but still have summer activities.  We ended the trip back at our youngest son’s house in Wellsville, Utah, just outside Logan in the beautiful Cache Valley.

Bryce National Park in early spring

Zion National Park

Parting of the ways
still visible pioneer trail ruts

Trail marker
Pioneer village replica

Martin's Cove marker

South Pass at continental divide
Whitewater rafting on the Snake River

Grand Tetons and the Snake River

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Florida and Caribbean

January: time for our winter escape.  We had enjoyed the Alaska cruise so much we decided to do another cruise, this time we headed to the Caribbean.  We flew to Fort Lauderdale on New Year’s Eve and spent New Year’s Day there.  We took a harbor cruise to see all the nice homes and boats along the New River and the Intercoastal Waterway.  Temperatures in the low 80s were a nice change from being in the 20s.  The next day we boarded the Holland America Westerdam for an Eastern Caribbean itinerary.  Our first port was Half Mon Cay in the Bahamas.  Half Moon Cay is a small private island owned by the cruise ship line.  It was a beautiful beach day with barbeque lunch under the cabanas. 
Then we sailed to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.  We took a shore excursion called “Peaks, Panoramas, Pirates and Plunder”.  It sounded better than it actually was, but first it got us to the top of the island to see some beautiful vistas.  The day was not quite as clear as I would have liked; I need a haze filter for my camera.  But it was beautiful nonetheless.  St. Thomas was a Danish colony until the U.S. bought it in 1917.  As a result, they follow the Danish custom of driving on the left side of the street even though the cars come from the US and are left side drive.  We were glad to not be driving up the narrow, winding road to the top of the mountain.  Then they took us to Blackbeard’s Castle on the hillside above the town.  A “pirate” there told us about Blackbeard’s history on the island and we got to climb up the tower on the property.  Then we walked down the “famous” 99 steps back to town where we spent the afternoon shopping in Charlotte Amalie.  We went inside a sandwich shop while we waited for the tour taxi back to the ship.  It was good timing, because it poured rain during the half hour we were there, then it stopped.  The ship had a nice barbeque buffet on the topside deck for our sail away that evening. 
The next day we docked at San Juan, Puerto Rico.  We spent the morning walking around Old Town, and walked all the way across the island to the old Spanish fort on the other side.  It is a really fascinating place; a World Heritage Site that was built in the late1500s and is now run by the National Park Service.  The walls extend from there making old San Juan a walled city.  As we walked back along the cobblestone streets through the town we passed the Governor’s Mansion and the Cathedral.  Another cool thing about San Juan are the iguana that were at the fort and in the parks we walked through.  We didn’t have enough time to see all we would have liked to, so now Puerto Rico is on our list of places we would like to visit again. 
We set sail in the early afternoon in order to arrive in the morning at Grand Turk.  We had booked a snorkeling excursion there.  It took us to two areas on the reefs that were full of fish and coral.  I think the fish were more abundant in areas we’ve snorkeled in Hawaii, but the coral and plant life were much more beautiful in Grand Turk.  It was a fun morning, followed by a pleasant afternoon at the beach.  It was the Columbus Landfall Beach, where Columbus arrived on his second voyage in 1493.  The ocean nearby is also where John Glenn splashed down after his first space flight, and there is a replica of his space capsule there.  We were certainly enjoying the warmth and sunshine of the beautiful beach.
The last day of the cruise was spent at sea and enjoying the ship life.  I went to a cooking class, a Windows 10 class, a steelpan class, and enjoyed the pool, walking the promenade, and the buffet.  Our favorite thing on the Westerdam was the BB King Blues Club, which we went to every night.  We went to some of the other shows (comedian, magician, etc), but the band at the blues club was amazing.
When we returned to Fort Lauderdale, we picked up a rental car and headed south to Miami Beach.  It’s a pretty area, but very crowded.  We drove through Coral Gables and stopped for lunch, drove out to Biscayne Bay National Park, and spent the night in Florida City.  The next day we drove down to the keys and made the 100 mile trek to Key West.  Parts of the drive are nice with views of the ocean and the gulf, but lots of it is just lined with bushes and trees.  At Key West we parked the car, had lunch and key lime pie, and then spent the day on foot.  We walked down the full length of Duvall Street, filled with shops, bars and restaurants, and ended up at the southernmost tip of the US where you’re just 90 miles from Cuba.  On the way back we went by Ernest Hemingway’s house and the Truman Winter White House.  There are a lot of neat buildings in Key West and we also saw several roosters wandering loose, a common thing there.  We stayed that night at a place on the beach at Key Largo.  The next morning we took a glass bottom boat out to the reef that is part of Pennekamp State Park, where we got good views of more fish and coral.  After a nice seafood lunch, we walked the trails in the state park.  The keys are a nice place for diving and snorkeling, but not so good for beaches.  We ended the day sitting on the small beach listening to the waves of the gulf.  It was cooler that day, but the next day was rainy as we headed to the Fort Lauderdale airport.  We got a laugh from the weather girl on the radio who said it was a freezing 64 degrees outside.  We arrived back in Salt Lake to our beautiful snow covered mountains and home where we do have freezing temps.  But its always nice to get home.
Fort Lauderdale harbor party

Half Moon Cay

Sunset over the Caribbean

St. Thomas, USVI

Blackbeard the pirate

Charlotte Amalie harbor, St. Thomas

Blackbeard's 99 steps

iguana in Puerto Rico

at La Fortelezza

Governor's mansion, Puerto Rico

Old Town, Puerto Rico

La Forteleza, Puerto Rico
beach at Grand Turk

snorkeling at Grand Turk

busy Miami Beach

driving through the Florida Keys

Truman Annex at Key West

Key West rooster

Key Largo