Category Archives: Travel

First Road Trip

For some time now, I have been thinking about what should be my first road trip after I retire. Just to be clear, I am not talking about a road trip where the destination is the main purpose of the journey. No what I am talking about is a trip where the drive itself is the purpose. I’ve done a few of these over the 20+ years that I have had fun little cars to drive but I have always been limited by the number of vacation days I could take from work.

One of the first of these road trips was my inaugural excursion on the Tail of the Dragon in Eastern Tennessee. My wife was not interested in a trip where the main purpose was to experience a road but when I mentioned the idea to my sister, she readily agreed to come along. We did combine it with a final destination to one of our favorite places in the world, Montreat, but experiencing that fun road with 318 curves in 11 miles was as close to a roller coaster ride in a car as you can get, one that I would repeat multiple times over the years.

Probably the granddaddy of all these road trips was in 2010 when I drove the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) together, another trip my wife was not interested in going on.

Over a five day period, I drove by myself about 2,000 miles, almost 600 of the total being just the two roads for which I took the trip. For the most part, the weather was perfect and allowed for all day top-down driving in my little red convertible. The only negative of the trip was on the last day when I encountered construction that had the last 75 miles or so of the BRP closed to traffic. 2010 was the 75th anniversary for the BRP and I was most surprised during its Diamond Jubilee year that part of it would be closed to traffic.

While I had driven the part that was closed many times before, it still irked me that I couldn’t say I had driven the whole road all in one trip.

So what will my first trip be?

Ever since I found out that I would be retiring this year, I have had this question in the back of my mind knowing that I would no longer be limited by the number of vacation days I had. Frequently as I would be driving to work or running errands, the question would come to the forefront of my thoughts. I know to interest my wife in coming with me that it has to be more about the destination and the things we may see along the way than the road itself. With two of our kids living on the west coast, I’ve thought a cross country trip would be fun as there are many things along the way that we would both want to see.

In fact, an opportunity presented itself for just such a trip this year when my nephew (the one that made me an uncle for the first time), announced that he was getting married in Pasadena in November. But a cross country trip at this time just wasn’t in the cards so that won’t be the first.

I also have been toying with the idea of trying to drive as much of the historic Route 66 that still exists. This trip would afford the opportunity to see many sites I have never seen and would end up also in Los Angeles where a fun drive up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) would allow a visit to San Francisco where our oldest son and his family lives.

I’ve also thought of doing the BRP again to complete the whole 469 miles in one trip. And I’ve considered that maybe I need to research another fun road to drive in the US and experience that.

My most recent idea is to just stay closer to home and head over to Nashville and pick up the Natchez Trace Parkway, not as long or likely as scenic as the BRP but a road that I have never done.

But with road conditions and open-air driving not conducive to the cold weather starting to creep into the forecast, it will probably be spring before I actually decide on a specific trip to take. However, this gives me the winter to research other roads that may be my first post-retirement road trip. And when I do, I’ll be sure and report all about it here so you can enjoy part of the trip too.

Because for someone who loves car and loves to drive, what’s better than a fun road trip!

Sideways in Georgia

Unless you’ve seen the movie, Sideways, or read the book by the same name, this blog post title may not make sense to you.

But as unlikely as it may seem for those of you who are familiar with this fictional tale of California wine experience, one that single handedly reduced the sale of Merlot wine once it was released, this was the theme that kept running through my mind during my recent vacation to North Georgia with my wife. As I explained in that post, one of the reasons we went to this location was to experience the wine country set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, an industry we had no idea even existed in Georgia.

In years past, we have made numerous wine excursions to Napa and Sonoma counties in California. These trips gave us our experience as to what to expect at a winery. But this would be our first chance to visit multiple wineries in a state much closer to home.

Reviewing Trip Advisor, we found that a number of the wineries were only open on weekends. While this prevented us from visiting some of the ones we had considered, going during the week meant much smaller crowds and no waiting. Montaluce was one of the highest rated wineries and since it was open seven days a week, we chose it first.

In some of the review comments, it had been described as a winery right out of Tuscany. Although we have never been to Tuscany, this winery certainly looked like the images I had seen in photographs. And set on a hill, it reminded me of one of the first California wineries we had visited, Sterling.

We immediately found a seat at the tasting bar and began our experience.

Looking through the doors of the tasting room, we saw an expansive porch overlooking the vineyards and learned we could take our glasses there. The weather was perfect and the view most pleasurable.

Once we had found our favorite wine, we decided to have our lunch there. Montaluce has a large and elegantly styled restaurant with outdoor seating on the porch as well. We dined alfresco on a delicious lunch prepared with many ingredients grown on the property. Although their wine prices were on the higher end of our price range, the wine we chose was delicious and the remainder became our starting wine for dinner that night.

Our second winery was Frogtown, claiming to be the most award winning US winery not in California. We got there about an hour before closing and almost had the place to ourselves.

It too was elegantly decorated and had an even better view of the mountains from the porch outside the tasting room/dining room.

So close to closing and during the week, we had the sommelier to ourselves and so received special treatment.   One of the wines included in our tasting was the only grape indigenous to the United States, Norton. While it was not one of our favorite wines, it was interesting to try the one varietal native to the US.

When it came time to make our purchase decision, we asked our sommelier what her favorite wine was. She gave us a complimentary tasting and we agreed with her, it was very good and so added a bottle of it to our purchase.

Their grounds were very nicely landscaped and I thought a photo with their wine and Koi would make a nice reminder of our visit there.

For our third winery, we traveled about 20 miles away from our home base of Dahlenago (pronounced “Dah-lahn’-e-ga”) to Helen, GA to Habersham Winery which is just outside of town. We had read that Helen was a bit like Gatlinburg, TN, only smaller so we knew we would encounter more tourists. When we pulled into the city, we were met with a quaint little German town but with no free parking anywhere and lots of pedestrians. Thankfully we were there during the week so the crowds were smaller.

We made our way to the winery and went inside. This was the smallest of the wineries we visited with a tasting bar that could accommodate only about 12 to 16 people at a time. There were no chairs for tasting but the nice thing about their reasonably priced tasting was that you got to pick your own wines. And their wines were the most inexpensive we’d seen ($14 to $20 range).

We even found a nice Rose’ for our daughter-in-law.

With the lower prices, we opted for a half case garnering the discounted price.

Our fourth and final winery was Kaya, back near our cottage. This winery had previously been Blackstock (closed in 2012) and with the new owners, big plans had been developed for an on-property hotel and cabins. They had two separate tasting rooms, one small and one large as well as an outdoor tasting area.

The view from their outdoor area offered the best view we had seen of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Since this was our second winery of the day, we chose to split a tasting and they generously poured us a larger portion of each wine since we were sharing.

We found a favorite red here also and so had to take a bottle of it home as well.

Sadly this was all the time we had for wineries on our trip. But since the main purpose of our 3-day vacation was not just to visit wineries, we felt we had done a good job of introducing ourselves to North Georgia wineries. And we had purchased a nice collection of wines to take home and enjoy…

…although some of them ended up as “fallen soldiers” (with a couple of CA wines thrown in for comparison) before we’d left town.

With nearly 30 wineries in the area, we felt we should definitely make a return trip to sample more of what this area had to offer. And with a newfound appreciation for their wines, I will certainly look for some of them on my next stop at our local wine store.

Finally, a Vacation!

The last weekend in July/first week in August my wife and I finally took a long overdue vacation. With me still working full time, most of my vacation days each year get spent teaching and visiting family leaving little time off for just the two of us. But that certainly got remedied with this trip.

My wife wanted to pick a place that we had never been before and one that was not too far away so we would not end up using a lot of my vacation time just driving there and back. Since she no longer works full time, she did the research and made our arrangements to travel to Dahlonega in the mountains of North Georgia, a place neither of us had ever heard of but an area which had a flourishing wine country.

At the last minute, our vacation got combined with a quick trip to visit my wife’s dear sister in North Carolina for a celebratory party so we did not get to our rental cabin until late Sunday afternoon. Getting there was an adventure in and of it self.

Relying on the trusty GPS in my wife’s Subaru Outback, we had no trouble getting to our remote destination until the very end when our GPS directed us to basically follow what appeared to be nothing more than a footpath and fjord a creek. Fortunately our contact at the rental agency was available by phone that Sunday afternoon to reroute us to a less treacherous path. We had been told the last mile was a rough dirt road but this partially washed out road was actually an improvement over the one we were faithfully following on the GPS.

Our cottage could not have been more perfect. With a quant and cozy interior,…

…a deck overlooking the river,…

…a screened in porch for if the bugs started biting,…

…and a dock right on the river where we could enjoy breakfast each morning.

We could not have asked for more.

Our first night we drove into Dahlonega to eat dinner. When we pulled into the historic downtown square, we found that the old courthouse had been turned into a Gold Mining museum. This got me thinking way back to a time when our young family of five had vacationed in Atlanta and went to Six Flags over Georgia. I recalled a roller coater ride we all thoroughly enjoyed, the Dahlonega Runaway Mine Train (my kids were most impressed I had remembered the name of the ride).

A little research on my part confirmed that this ride was based on the old gold rush days that started in 1829 in North Georgia, the first gold rush in the US predating the one in California by over twenty years. It felt really satisfying to be staying in a place that we thought we had never heard of before but which turned out to have had a fun family connection many years ago.

After wandering around the historic square for a while, we settled on an Irish pub for a hearty dinner.

The next day, we hit our first winery, Montaluce, which had been described as a winery right out of Tuscany (more information about wineries in next post).

Our next stop was back in Dahlonega since many of the shops had been closed the day before. We took in the Mine Museum first where we finally learned the correct pronunciation of the town’s name (I recalled pronouncing the Six Flags ride as De Longa which was totally wrong, the correct pronunciation is “Dah-lahn’-e-ga”, native Cherokee for yellow or gold color). Having had a late lunch after our wine tasting, we decided to pick up groceries to cook out a nice dinner to have on our river deck.

Our second full day was to take in one of my wife’s main objectives, getting to hike on part of the Appalachian Trail (AT), the southern trailhead for which, is less than 25 miles away. My wife found a portion of the AT that also had a fabulous overlook of a falls near by. We had attempted to hike a portion of the AT on a previous trip but had been foiled by blisters which developed on my wife’s feet on the three mile uphill hike just to get to the AT. This time we could drive the whole way to the AT path crossing, although the Forestry Service dirt road was described as “rough in spots”.

At times, I felt I was trying to drive our car on a washed out footpath with stretches where we could not exceed five miles per hour due to the rocky and washboard contour. Thank goodness for my wife’s all-wheel drive Outback! And when we came across an owl just sitting in the road (a special bird to my wife), we knew we would make it.

In spite of getting treacherously low on fuel, we found the AT crossing and hopped out for our adventure. The mile hike up to the falls was not too steep and when we found a sign along the way; we knew we had to get my wife’s photo.

And the falls were fabulous, being some of the tallest in the state.

After returning to our cottage to get cleaned up, we made it to our second winery, Frogtown, with a very large tasting room that overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains.

On our third and final full day, we drove a short distance to Helen, GA, a cute little German town but probably a bit too touristy. My wife thoroughly enjoyed going through an antique store in a historic three-story house. It was a multi-level maze of displays, one that left me so overwhelmed, I had to just sit outside and read while my wife thoroughly explored it. Then it was off to our third winery next door.

Right across the road was an old gristmill, which on Saturdays, the old stone mill is water driven to grind the various grains. They had containers of cooked porridge and Southern grits for sampling, both delicious and of course we had to purchase.

At an old grocer in town, we had a quick lunch and then picked out some nice ingredients to have with our wine for dinner.

Returning to Dahlonega, we found our fourth winery and enjoyed another tasting overlooking the mountains.

That night we cooked our dinner to have on the porch of our cottage overlooking the river.

While dining, it gave us a chance to reflect on what fun our vacation had been. We both commented that it had not been one of those vacations of just sitting around and relaxing. Knowing that our days were limited, we tried to do as much as we could in the time we had. We agreed that it was not tiring at all but actually very enjoyable getting to see and do all these things in a locale neither of us had been to before.

We couldn’t say any one particular activity was our favorite as there were so many we had enjoyed. But for my wife, I know deep down one of her most pleasurable was getting on the AT, a goal she has had for quite some time of getting to hike.

At over 2,100 miles long, we only got a small taste on our short AT excursion but it will probably be motivation for her to take the next step (no pun intended). And since there were many more wineries we did not get to, I know we will plan another trip here sometime in the future.

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.