Category Archives: Travel

Amsterdam and Beyond

Having been to Amsterdam 29 times over more than a 20 year period, it seemed appropriate to explore beyond the quaint and serene canals of Amsterdam. Typically before I teach my course, I only have the weekend to take in sights while I acclimate to the seven-hour time change. After nearly thirty trips, it is getting more difficult to discover new activities that I have not experienced. On my most recent trip, I decided to split my weekend between Amsterdam and The Hague (Den Haag in Dutch).

On Saturday, I was able to find an Amsterdam museum exhibit that I had not seen before, one of Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci was one of those unique individuals who was not only an accomplished artist producing well-known masterworks, but also a talented inventor as well. This exhibit, while it explored both talents, prominently featured his inventions.

Included were hands-on, accurate replicas of many of his inventions that allowed one to explore the insightful creations of the inventor. It was truly amazing to see some of the ideas he came up with that pre-dated actual inventions by hundreds of years (think flying machines, gliders, and mechanized rolling wagons). One exhibit was of an unique 8-sided mirrored booth that allowed viewers a 360-degree view of themselves, reminding me of a house of mirrors at a fair.

It was quite an enjoyable display, particularly for someone like myself most interested in science and inventions.

My next new activity on Saturday was a visit to the Amsterdam Royal Zoo, the Natura Artis Magistra, oldest zoo in the Netherlands. When I looked up all of the top Amsterdam sights on Trip Advisor, I ran across many of the familiar ones that I had been to multiple times over the years. But the Artis zoo was one very high on their list that I had never visited.

It was a beautiful day and so was able to see many interesting animals. Knowing that my grandson particularly liked giraffes, I snapped this photo especially for him.

The Zoo also had an excellent aquarium and when I heard numerous people clamoring “look, its Dory”, I knew I had to get a shot of the colorful Blue Tangs.

Between these two enjoyable outings and walking to dinner, I was also able to log a new personal record for the week on my Fitbit although I missed achieving my second 25,000-step day by about 1,500 steps.

On Sunday morning, I set off on my “beyond Amsterdam” adventure. As is often the case when I travel by train on a Sunday, track maintenance precluded me from taking the most direct route to Den Haag and so had to make a connection through Utrecht adding about 30 minutes to my commute. But I had the whole day so it didn’t matter that much.

Although I have been to Den Haag multiple times, most recently to tour Madurodam, I still knew I could find some new activities. First on my list was the Mauritshuis museum, the Royal Picture Gallery. It was listed as number #1 on Trip Advisor so I knew I couldn’t go wrong. I also selected it, as it was less than a half-mile from Central Station in Den Haag. I was pleased to discover several well-known paintings of extreme interest to me.

First was this one by Rembrandt which was of particular interest to my siblings and I when we had been to Amsterdam a couple of years ago. I had seen a print of it before but seeing the real work was amazing.

I knew this painting by Vermeer, probably his most famous, was a part of the collection and so anticipated discovering it for some time as I strolled through the galleries. When I found it, I examined it from several different perspectives and wherever I was, it appeared as if the girl had her eyes directly on me. Even when I glanced back from the door leading to the next room, she hauntingly seemed to follow me.

But my most exciting discovery of the exhibits was this small painting by Carel Fabritius, entitled the Goldfinch.

This was a Pulitzer Prize book I had thoroughly enjoyed reading several years ago about a fictional, multi-year secretive journey this painting took outside its rightful home in a museum. It was as if I had found a long lost friend in finding this painting. For anyone who has not read the book, it is probably hard to grasp the significance of this small painting but just like the Girl with a Pearl Earring, it was a book that had made the painting so well known.

Over lunch, I explored what to do next. I had considered seeing an M. C. Escher exhibit but when I discovered that the Louwman Automobile museum was within reasonable walking distance, it was an easy decision.

My walk from the Mauritshuis took me through a heavily wooded park, Haagse Bos, an urban park on scale in size with Central Park in New York. It was nice that it was mostly shaded as this was the warmest day for me in the Netherlands.

At one point, I came upon a clearing with a large historical marker. When I approached it, I discovered from the photos that this was a secluded launch site for the German V-2 rockets that rained down on England in World War II. Given how poorly many of the Dutch were treated during the war, it surprised me that such a marker had even been erected.

Once I reached the Louwman, my first car to see was a classic “split-window” Corvette, a quite rare car. Ascending the elevator to the third floor where the exhibit started, I was presented with many firsts.

The museum was arranged in chronological order and housed some of the oldest and most unique automobiles any where in the world. Having over 250 cars on exhibit, in a word, it was HUGE.

My main interest was more modern cars but even here I found unique examples I had not seen.

As I rounded one corner, I began to hear Elvis music, very familiar sounds for someone from Memphis. Of course they had to have one of his customized cars.

Another car of interest to any Bond fan was the original James Bond Aston Martin featured in the early Bond films.

To say the museum was overwhelming is an understatement. Towards the end, I could only glance at some of the displays as I traversed the three separate floors.

But upon finding this unique car, I had to pause to take in its unusual design.

On my return trip to Amsterdam, while awaiting my connection in Utrecht, I realized this was the interesting train station that I had seen in miniature at Madurodam many years ago.

As I relaxed on the last leg of my train ride back to Amsterdam, I reflected on what an enjoyable day I had had. Over all the trips I have taken to the Netherlands, it always seems that I could find something new and interesting to do. With the photos that I captured over the weekend, I felt that I had permanent reminders of yet another successful adventure.

While there are always things I enjoy doing multiple times on my visits, on my next trip, I will definitely explore even further beyond Amsterdam for new adventures.

Amsterdam – Not a Visitor or a Resident

There must be a word to describe someone who has traveled to a city so many times, that they know it almost as well as the town in which they live. They’re not merely a visitor but at the same time they’re not a permanent resident in spite of having an intimate familiarity with that destination. This was a thought that ran through my mind as I landed at Schiphol airport to teach my course in Amsterdam for the 29th time. If I add up all the days I have spent in Amsterdam over the 20+ years I have travelled there, typically staying for at least a week, I come up with almost seven months. Even though it was not consecutive weeks making up those months, which I guess would make me a short-term Ex-Pat, surely I am still something other than just a visitor.

As with my trip to Amsterdam in 2016, this year found me travelling without my wife or other family members. And so being the sole guinea pig, I decided to try an experiment in my travel plans.

Normally I would be landing at Schiphol about 10:30 or 11:00 in the morning and then arriving at my hotel before noon which often meant I could not check into my room. This frequently after a fitful night of less than successful sleeping in coach for an eight or nine hour flight when the hardest thing to do upon arrival is to stay awake the rest of the day so you don’t fall asleep at 7:00 PM and then wake up in the middle of the night (which is really sometime in the afternoon to your body).

For this trip, I booked a connection through Atlanta that didn’t leave until 10:30 at night. Normally, I would be leaving on my direct flight to Amsterdam around 7:00 or 7:30 PM, which by the time you get wined and dined, you’ve lost, 2.5 to 3 hours of your potential sleep time during your flight. This late flight was advertised as only serving breakfast so I figured I would be able to get a reasonable five or six hours of sleep.

And the bonus was this connection was operated by KLM, an airline I used to enjoy flying with but have not been able to ever since Delta bought out Northwest. In the “good ole days”, I could even get a direct out of Memphis on KLM and earn Northwest frequent flier miles. And an even greater bonus for me this time was that it would be my first chance to fly on a Boeing 777, something I have wanted to do ever since watching the PBS special of how Alan Mulally brought this modern airplane into existence.

With a 2-hour layover in Atlanta, I managed to get in a number of steps walking between terminals, eat a quick sandwich for dinner, and begin to tire myself out reading before boarding. Once on the plane, I must say I was impressed with the modern interior. The technology was also up-to-date with what appeared to be an iPad in the back of the headrest of every seat. This allowed superior graphics and entertainment.

The ergonomic seats and generous legroom allowed me to easily stretch out my six-foot frame without encountering a hard surface; all the better for me to get some sleep.

Assuming they would keep the cabin lights off after take off, I read a little more to make sure I could easily fall asleep. But no sooner had we leveled off than the flight attendants began coming around with their noisy drink carts. Armed with my sleep mask, I whipped it on to get a head start on my sleep and so not be disturbed since I had already satiated my appetite for food and drink on the ground. Not long after, having squirmed around to find the least uncomfortable, partially reclined sleeping position, my olfactory glands began to sense Indian spices. Pulling my sleep mask up, I was amazed to see the passenger in the aisle seat chowing down with delight. Argh! That was not supposed to happen on this flight.

Needless to say, irritating serving and clean up noises disturbed my sleep multiple times (I unfortunately forgot to bring ear plugs).

Probably my longest period of uninterrupted sleep was about 45 minutes and all told, I might have gotten a total of about three hours of non-contiguous sleep. But I did get a delicious hot breakfast (KLM is known for their superior food), a cheese omelet with sausage and cottage fries, fresh fruit, yogurt, and actually very decent coffee which left me fairly refreshed and awake when I deplaned. Which helped me with my next surprise.

Typically I teach the three-day course staring on a Monday and to help acclimate myself to the 7-hour time difference, I usually arrive on a Saturday morning. But since I would be arriving much later having a 10:30 PM departure out of Atlanta, I booked my flight to arrive on Friday rather than Saturday. When I went to exit the airport, I found a phenomenally long queue line to go through passport control. Whether it was due to arriving during the business week or heightened security due to recent terrorist activities, it took me over 45 minutes to get through, about 44 minutes longer than normal.

As a result, I didn’t actually arrive at my hotel until 3:00 PM, about normal check-in time, which assured me of getting into my room for a sorely needed shave and hot shower.

Refreshed and cleanly clothed, I took in one of my favorite activities, sitting by a canal and enjoying a Dutch treat, a cold “domestic beer”…

…before wandering along the canals that I know so well. At the end of my first day, I was having a delicious dinner…

…at a balcony restaurant overlooking Leidseplein square.

But even following a small after dinner nightcap…

…and having had the rest of the day to ponder my original question, I still had not come up with a term that I could use to describe myself instead of simply visitor. But even if the visitor term is the best I can come up with, I was still glad to be back in this city that I know and love so well; a city that in spite of my numerous trips, I always find something new and fun to do.

Two Days in San Francisco

On my springtime trip to the West coast, not only did I get to visit with my daughter, son-in-law and grandson in Seattle, but I also flew down to San Francisco to see my oldest son, daughter-in-law, and youngest granddaughter.   I had a total of a week for this trip, a Tuesday to Tuesday but due to less than ideal airline schedules, I only had about two and a half days in San Francisco with my son’s family. So we had to make the most of the time we had together.

Sunday turned out to be a real treat of a day. As we were finishing up dinner on Saturday night, we began to talk about how we wanted to plan our day on Sunday. My son mentioned he was planning on running in the morning and I mentioned that I wanted to get up and run in the morning too since I had not been able to run in Seattle due to the cold and hilly topography. So I suggested we run together.

The last time I could recall us getting to run together was on a trip to visit my sister in 1996. So it was a real pleasure for the two of us to get run together for the first time in over 20 years. His pace, with him being much younger than me, was faster so he slowed down so we could stay together for the 30-minute run. I progressively picked up my pace as we went, so as we approached the end of our 30-minute run, our pace was fairly matched. It was interesting to think that 20 years ago, our roles were reversed and I was probably the one slowing down for my son as I was in my prime running days then.

After we got cleaned up, we headed to the Academy of Science Museum where we all had a great time. My granddaughter especially enjoyed all the aquariums there and this swinging pendulum caught her interest as well.

After we got back home and my granddaughter went down for her nap, my son and I got to go to a local bar for a beer and some lunch, one of my favorite activities to get to do with my kids.

Then after her nap, we headed off to a park where it was swing, swing, and swing, just like my other granddaughter.

On Monday, my son had to work and so I rode in with him to his office.

View from my son’s office

After a quick intro to the project he was working on, he settled down for his workday and I went in search of breakfast.

I found the perfect combination, a Peet’s coffee (a Bay area institution my daughter introduced us to many years ago while at UC Berkeley) and a New York style bagel, the other city my son lived in after he got married. After that, I took my son’s advice and went to the Ferry Building, a sight I had never visited in all my multitude of trips to San Francisco. The first floor of this old building had a lot of unique shops in which to browse.

After that, I thought I might visit a museum. But as I made my way along the Embarcadero, I quickly realized that being a Monday, many were closed. I kept walking along the piers and came across the ferries that toured Alcatraz, another sight I had not visited yet.

However when I saw the price and figured it would take more time than I had, I decided I would be satisfied just viewing the scale model of the island and facilities.

As I made my around the model reading the information…

…I spied what must have been placed as a joke, a period-dressed prisoner almost half the height of the water tower.

Zoom in to see the giant prisoner hiding

No one else seemed to notice it but maybe when they got home and started looking at their photos, they might see something strange.

Leaving there, I made my way on around the many harbor piers, completely bypassing the touristy Pier 39 to arrive at my ultimate destination, the Maritime Museum, which was open on Monday and even better, free. Three items in particular caught my attention.

First was this portion of a ship rudder of the Niantic, from the 1840s. It was uncovered near the Transamerica building when some renovation work was being done. Turns out in the Gold Rush years, many ships sailed through the Golden Gate in search of riches but many anxious prospectors left quickly simply abandoning the ships. This one had been turned into a hotel but then burned and was simply buried under the city’s land progression into the harbor.

Model of Niantic as a hotel

Second was what I at first thought was a Fresnel lens but turned out being a lens built by Henri LePaute and installed on Farallon Island in 1854.

I was automatically drawn to this having been fascinated by the first lighthouse I had seen at Point Reyes (north of San Francisco) a number of years ago and how the series of prisms could focus a single light source such that it could be seen over 25 miles away.

Point Reyes Lighthouse

This fascination was stoked further by reading a book on the Fresnel lens that my son had given me for Christmas.

The third exhibit that caught my eye was only a map but it showed a portion of the original San Francisco shoreline in 1848 (blue line), how wharves had been built out into the water, and then ultimately filled in to form new land, the very land I had been walking on all day. Included on the map were the locations of each of the ships buried under the present day ground. And at the top of the map was pictured where the Niantic was discovered, right next to the Transamerica Building. What was most fascinating was just the day before my son had explained to me how after the wharves were built out into the bay, that water lots were sold for future land sites, land that didn’t exist at the time but came some time later. It gave a whole new flavor to the shrewdness of “land” speculators in a rapidly growing major city.

With this interesting exploration over, it was time for lunch, a favorite of mine: a Boudin’s sour dough bread bowl, clam chowder and an Anchor Steam beer.

What an exciting visit it was to San Francisco! One I know my wife will accompany me on the next time we travel to the West coast to visit kids, in-laws, and grandkids.

Museum of Flight

On my recent “Granddaddy” trip to Seattle in the spring of 2017, I got a chance to visit a museum I had wanted to explore previously. In August 2013, my wife and I met our daughter in Seattle for a weeklong adventure. One of my goals on that trip, in addition to hitting as many brew pubs as we could, was to take in some of the aviation-themed attractions. Going to the Boeing plant was, at least for me, a highlight of the trip. But after spending almost an entire day there, I didn’t think my wife and daughter would go for another multi-hour aviation adventure so I didn’t suggest the Museum of Flight.

So on this most recent trip, when my daughter suggested we take her son, my grandson to the Museum of Flight, I jumped at the opportunity. A word of disclosure is in order: This is not a paid advertisement for the museum. We had such a great time there; I just felt it was most worthy of a post.

We arrived on a rainy Wednesday morning not long after the museum opened. After purchasing our tickets, we made our way into the main hall where many airplanes were on display. One of our first stops was boarding one of the first Boeing 737s built, the world’s most popular airplane in terms of numbers manufactured.

It was glorious to see the plane lined from front to back with what we would refer to today as first class seats. It made me a bit sad to think I never got to fly in the 1960s when all passengers had this nice of accommodations (my first time to fly was not until 1980).

We then moved on to a children’s area where they had real single seat airplanes for kids to play in. My grandson had a great time “piloting” one of these…

…and getting to “fly” a helicopter.

I enjoyed getting to see some of the scale model biplanes hanging from the ceiling in this area.

One of my grandson’s favorite exhibits, one we would return to multiple times was Molt Taylor’s “Aerocar”, an actual flying car (my grandson, like me, LOVEs cars).

 

Another area of interest was the warplane exhibit which included warplanes from World War I (WWI) and World War II (WWII).

On display were many of the most significant planes from WWII but what intrigued me the most were the WWI planes, the old bi-planes and tri-planes I would have loved to have been able to fly.

Included were examples of Snoopy’s Sopwith Camel and a SPAD XIII much like the balsa and tissue scale model I built growing up.

Another display area of interest to all of us was the Boeing Red Barn, a replica of the original Boeing plant when planes were made of wood and canvas.

In a covered outdoor area, were many important modern airplanes. It was a real treat to get to board the Concord and experience what the luxury of Mach II flight might have seemed like.

This was a plane I had only seen one other time when one landed in Memphis many years ago.

Another fun plane to enter was Air Force One, the Boeing 247D jetliner used by Richard Nixon on his historic trip to China.

A real treat was to enter a modern Boeing 787, the Deamliner, currently Boeing’s newest airplane design. Maybe one day we would get to enjoy flying on one of these.

This particular one is the third built which was used for certification.

After climbing aboard the other planes on display, we realized it was unfortunately time to leave before traffic got too bad. Without realizing it, we had spent almost five hours at the museum.

But we couldn’t leave before one more stroll past the Aerocar.

Over the next few days of my visit, my grandson mentioned several times about the “airplane museum.” My daughter recognized this was a destination they should return to as a family.

So on Saturday after dropping me off at the Seattle airport, they went back to the museum and bought an annual membership. Now my grandson could go as many times as he wanted.

And his dad would get to enjoy seeing the delight in his son’s eyes as he made his way from one display to another, over and over again.

SIBSAB XI – 2017

The first weekend in May, I got together with my three siblings for our annual SIBSAB—the once a year event when just the four of us go off by ourselves for some sibling bonding time. We’ve been doing this since the year after our dad died (preceded by our mom’s death three years before that) and we figured out this was the 11th such activity. We typically travel somewhere to get a break from our everyday lives and to enjoy activities of the locale. The granddaddy of these was two years ago when we went to Amsterdam. But even when we do not venture far from home, these are always special times.

This year was one of those “stay close to home” times as we celebrated our SIBSAB during the Bentonville Film Festival in Northwest Arkansas, close to where my two sisters live.

Driving over from Memphis in my still new car, I got to Bentonville in the afternoon just in time to meet my siblings at the house we had rented just a few short blocks from the downtown square where all the festival activities would take place. After getting settled into our house, we walked back to the square and took in one of our favorite activities, for our sisters having a great cup of Joe and for my brother and I, a great beer.

Then we wandered through the BFF tents and booths set up by the sponsors and vendors, getting lots of freebies and enjoying the splendid weather at this third annual event, cofounded by Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis.

The first day of our SIBSAB also coincided with it being the Bentonville First Friday, which is a monthly outdoor block party on the square with live music. This afforded my sister a chance to dance to the music with her grandson when we ran into him and his mom at the square.

The next morning, we had tickets to one of the featured films Mully. What an incredible story! Without giving out too much details to spoil it for you, it is a true rags to riches story but with a twist as it documents how one man forsook those riches and saved the lives of many orphan children in Kenya, as told in his own words and with some of his own home movies. It was an unbelievably moving story that left most of the audience in tears, myself included, that only got that much more emotional when Charles Mully himself…

…strolled up the aisle after the film for a Q&A session with the director and producers.

A story of the film along with its BFF award, and a snapshot of Mully made the front page of the local newspaper in a photograph in which my brother also happened to be captured.

It is scheduled for release in October so watch for it. You will not want to miss it. As we left, still wiping a few tears from our eyes, Geena Davis strolled by cordially speaking to everyone, as this was the film she chose to attend that morning.

We followed up the film with a delicious lunch and beer at the restaurant at Crystal Bridges before wandering through some of the exhibits.

In the early afternoon, we had guided tour tickets to the Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian house that has been relocated from New Jersey to the Crystal Bridges property.

On my visit to see my sisters last fall, I was able to go through on a brief self-guided tour but this hour long guided tour was outstanding. With one of the most knowledgeable tour guides, we gained an immense background insight into this home, its construction/move to Arkansas, and its owner’s history. If you are ever in the area, this house and Crystal Bridges as a whole is a must see.

That evening, just before sunset after a fabulous dinner at Press Room, we wandered back over to Crystal Bridges to experience James Turrell’s The Way of Color. This Skyspace is one of several he has created throughout the world where observers experience color as well as your own unique perception of color as dusk turns into night.

Blue sky before dusk

As the sun sets, photography cannot capture the color of the sky we see through the open aperture, as it only exists in our minds. With the walls tinted pink from hidden LED lighting, the sky turns a beautiful emerald green color before transforming into yellows and blues as the wall color changes.

Only in your mind could you see the emerald green sky

It was an incredible experience, captured only as an image in our minds as these photographs documented just the projected colors and not the cerebral ones.

As a nightcap, we made our way over to the front entrance of Crystal Bridges to view Leo Villareal’s LED lighted sculpture Buckyball. Around the base, the museum has provided comfortable wooden chaises upon which to recline and watch the multi-colored light show.   I don’t know how long we stayed as the color pattern never repeated it self but it was a wonderful conclusion to an absolutely fabulous day.

Our last day together started with my sister’s grandson’s third birthday party…

…a great time made even more fun as the birthday boy captured our images with his own camera from his shorter perspective.

That afternoon, we went through some old photo albums of our mom’s divvying the photos up among us.

It was a trip down memory lane with some photos reaching back 50 years, saddened only by the images of our mom in the late 1980s as her health deteriorated just months before her death.

The saddest part of our annual SIBSAB is always the saying goodbye, which we had to do at the end of the evening since we were not all staying at the same house before traveling home Monday morning. But our experience was uniform as we all upon parting expressed that we each thought it was one of the best SIBSABs we had had. And our time together was enhanced further by a greater sense of closeness to each other even though we live many miles away. And has also become tradition; we selected our next SIBSAB venue even before this one ended so we would all have a full year to look forward to our next Sibling Sabbatical.

See you next year!

Travel 2016

I thought I would start out the New Year as I have done before reflecting back on the trips we took in 2016, some of which I wrote posts about last year (linked below if you are so interested to read more details). When I started this post, I didn’t think I had taken that many trips but when I started recalling them all, I discovered that I had actually taken more than I did in 2015.

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Often times, our first trip is very early in the year—right after New Year’s Day—as we are coming back from our friend’s cabin in Boone, NC after ringing in the New Year with them. But this year, our friends had the cabin up for sale so we didn’t make that trip. So my first trip was actually not until March when I went to New Jersey to teach my Validation course. It was strictly a business trip with no time for site seeing.

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Then in April I actually had three different trips so it was a busy travel month. First up was a business trip to Washington, DC but again there was no time for site seeing.

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Then in the middle of April, I was off to Amsterdam to teach my Validation course again. Fortunately for this trip I was able to tack on some actual vacation days on the front end for a very nice visit, even though I was alone on this trip.

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On the last day of April, I was off to New Jersey again, this time to teach my Stability course. Before the course began, I visited Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty for the first time. It was truly amazing touring both.

In the middle of June, I traveled to Richmond, VA to teach my Validation course for a third time this year. It was a very short trip and thus no time for site seeing.

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At the end of June, we took our really big family vacation to Montreat, NC, the one we had been planning for over a year. It was a very enjoyable weeklong visit with 15 family members, including two of our three grandchildren.

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Through July and August, we stayed home suffering through the summer heat of Memphis and then over Labor Day, rented a cabin at the Natchez Trace State Park for our first trip by ourselves all year—a trip long overdue. The only down side of this trip was that we were both sick which prevented us from doing some of the things we had wanted to do.

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At the end of September, I took a quick weekend trip over to visit my sisters in Northwest Arkansas. It was nice chance to get to visit with them, take my first road trip in my new WRX, and to explore the Frank Lloyd Wright house that has now been relocated to the grounds of Crystal Bridges.

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October found us in San Francisco for our annual trip there for me to teach. This year, I actually had both my Validation and Stability courses scheduled just a week apart so between courses, we had four days to visit with our oldest son, his wife, and our youngest granddaughter. An added treat for me this year was to get to visit my son’s office—with a great view of downtown San Francisco—and learn about the work he was doing there. Prior to heading in to his office, we got to go onsite to a major redevelopment project his firm is working on at a former sports complex.

My last trip of the year was another quick trip, this time a weekend trip just before Thanksgiving out to LA to visit my daughter, son-in-law, and grandson.

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Although an ulterior motive for me was to go to the LA Auto show, …

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…my main reason for going was one last chance to visit with them in Pasadena before they moved out of the area in 2017. It was doubly sad this time driving away on Sunday afternoon leaving all three of them there knowing that the fun visits we have had there over the last five years were coming to an end. However, this sadness was tempered somewhat with the knowledge that they were moving to another really cool place that we would certainly visit in 2017.

So if I’ve done the math right, I had a total of ten trips in 2016, not a huge number but certainly some very special trips. With my planned retirement later this year, I should have even more time to travel in the future. And with the extra time, we should be able to even take some extended road trips to see parts of the country that neither my wife nor I have been to.

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So cheers to another fun year of travel in 2017!

 

 

1st Road Trip!

Back in September, I took my new Subaru WRX out on her first road trip.

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Ever since I took delivery of the WRX in May 2016, I have wanted to get it out on the road to see how she did. I had been thinking of running up to Nashville and driving down part of the Natchez Trace Parkway but I had put that off not knowing how her ride would be on the highway on a 400+ mile trip.

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Now that my wife had a Subaru Outback and I had experienced what a comfortable ride it had on our summer vacation, I was concerned that my Gluteus Maximus (i.e., bottom) might be overly “jolted” by the sport suspension in the WRX. In 2010, I had learned from my 2,000+ mile drive in my Mazda Miata, that my aging posterior had become less tolerant of extended rides in a car with stiffer suspension designed to minimize body roll around sharp corners. If you’ve never ridden in a car with sport suspension, imagine driving a go-cart (which has no suspension) on a rough road.

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The trip that came up for this first road trip was a visit to see my two sisters in Northwest Arkansas, a one-way distance of about 350 miles. Although I see my sisters at least once a year at our annual SIBSAB (Sibling Sabbatical) and I also had just seen them this past summer on vacation, I had not been over to their homes in several years. I set off early one Saturday morning and in no time after crossing the Mississippi River, I was experiencing that familiar rough road surface of I-40 in Arkansas as well as the frustration of sporadic sections of the road under repair.

Over the many years of driving through Arkansas, it has always amazed me how poor a condition the roads are. It seems they are constantly either very rough or under construction which means you are often riding on the shoulder of the old road, an even rougher surface. I guess I don’t travel through the state often enough to experience the smoothness of newly completed construction. I guess by the time I am crossing the state, the new roads have already returned to their previous state of disrepair.

After about 3 hours of my total 5.5 hour trip, I had to stop and take a break. I decided to go ahead and fill up just to add some legitimacy to my stop even though I still had about a half a tank of gas left. Soon after, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I-40 in the western part of Arkansas was in much better condition and I-49 up to Fayetteville was in great shape although north of there, long sections were under repair. I made it to my destination just in time for lunch.

After lunch, my oldest sister and I headed down to the garage where some of our parent’s things were still stored, having been relocated there from their home after our dad’s death in 2002.

While certainly the main focus of my trip over was a chance to get to visit with my sisters, nephew, niece, and their families, an important draw for me for this trip was to discover the contents of this file cabinet (a story for another time).

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That done, we headed over to Crystal Bridges.

Many people are only familiar with Bentonville, Arkansas because it is the headquarters for Walmart, that behemoth retailer founded by Sam Walton. But what you might not know is thanks to the Walton family that Bentonville is also home to a world class museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. And a unique, upscale boutique hotel 21c located just off the Bentonville town square.

I had previously visited Crystal Bridges early in 2012, not long after its November 2011 opening. But this visit was specifically to see the Bachman-Wilson House—a fine example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s classic Usonian architecture—that had been relocated from its original location in New Jersey and reconstructed on the Crystal Bridges museum grounds. I have always been an admirer of Wright’s work and this visit afforded me the opportunity to explore inside one of his homes for the very first time.

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Inside photography was not allowed but if you click on the link above, you can get a virtual tour of the interior. It was absolutely amazing! The intricate details that were included and the continuity of the architectural design that made the house seamlessly blend from interior to exterior were incredible. It was the visual highlight of my trip over.

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After Crystal Bridges, it was on to the Bentonville Square where we stopped by the 21c Museum Hotel and toured the modern art on display that is also for sale (we didn’t ask how much any were), then a delicious dinner (and good beer) with all family members.

The next morning, I got up early as I needed to return home to complete some activities I had started the weekend before. Originally, my plan was to drive the Pig Trail, the scenic, curvy road that would allow me to experience the handling of my all-wheel drive WRX on winding roads. But on the drive up on Saturday, I had noticed a huge number of motorcycles everywhere I looked. Little did I know this was the weekend for the Bikes, Blues and BBQ Motorcycle Rally?

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My previous experience on the Tail of the Dragon, when there were large numbers of motorcycles present, that it was difficult to get in a spirited run on the road due to all the traffic congestion. I decided to save the Pig Trail for another trip over and so just headed home.

With the better roads in western Arkansas at the beginning of my trip rather than at the end, my first stop after well over 3-hours driving time was not due to posterior fatigue but rather the need for food and fuel as both my stomach and gas tank were near empty.

From an automotive perspective, it was a great first road trip in my WRX. With decent roads, it convinced me that I could easily handle longer distances. Since I still need to take a run on the Pig Trail, I know I will be heading over to visit my sisters again in the future. And with this first road trip under my belt, I now know that other road trips to the Tail of the Dragon or the Blue Ridge Parkway are well within reach as on smooth roads, the WRX was quite comfortable. Now it is just a matter of figuring out when the next road trip will be.