Iceland is one of my bucket list trips. It is almost the perfect place for me. When I think of Iceland I think of three things:
Ponies! Yes, I know that they are officially called Icelandic HORSES and I would never want to offend them but they are little and cute and furry and that gleefully screams PONIES in my soul.
Hot springs – I do love soaking in any available source of hot water. I’m totally up for lazing about in hot springs.
Epic landscapes just hanging out waiting to be photographed.
To be honest, I’ve set foot in Iceland four times. However, I’ve never left the airport. I’ve flown Icelandair to Europe and back twice. Each time you land in Iceland to refuel and to take advantage of the giftshop. The first time I bought an Iceland wool sweater that was too itchy to ever wear. The second time (years later) I was smarter and bought a felted wool horse that I hang on the Christmas tree.
My goal is to sometime go and be able to get out of the airport.
I’ve been reading and doing stuff. Honestly. What I haven’t been doing is writing. Since I don’t seem to have enough info for a full post about anything in particular here is a list of random stuff that’s been going on around here.
I’ve been reading a huge amount of Julia Quinn’s backlist. I’ve finished a few of her series but I haven’t even started her big series that has about 18 books in it. Maybe that’s why I’m not writing reviews. “Yep, that there was another Julia Quinn book….. stay tuned for the next one….”
I have fancy finger nails. I always have pedicures but don’t do my fingers because nail polish doesn’t survive in vet clinics. There is way too much hand washing. My sister-in-law started selling ColorStreet. They are sort of like nail polish made into a sticker. (I’m sure that’s not the official explanation.) They stay on for a least a week on me. It is a miracle.
I have watermelon right now but I think my favorites are the glittery ones. Here’s a link to her page if you want some.
My mom and I are starting a run of musical watching. I bought her some tickets to touring companies for Christmas. We just went to see Dear Evan Hansen. (Note my glitter nails. We were going to the theater after all.)
Next up is Come From Away, about the town in Canada that hosted all the people whose planes were grounded on 9/11. I have a book about that. I should read that before I go see the play. Those two were her Christmas presents. We just added in tickets to The Book of Mormon in September.
I’m going on vacation! Not any time soon though. We booked another Viking river cruise for next fall. We’ll be starting in Germany and cruising the Danube to Budapest. We may add on a few days in Prague before the start of the cruise.
My poor garden is floundering. It has rained everyday here for weeks. Everything is stunted and sad. I pulled off the mulch to try to get the soil to dry out. Now we’ve had a few days of no rain and my tomato plants are trying to grow. They are sad little things with about 6 leaves and 2 tomatoes on them. I may pull the tomatoes that are starting to try to save the plants’ energy to put towards growth.
I’m playing the Wizards Unite game. My friend code is 9673 0870 8286 if you are playing too.
I’m making two baby quilts. One is bigfoot and one is flamingos. I’ve been wanting to make the flamingo quilt and I’m using my neighbors having a baby as an excuse. They have plastic flamingos in the yard. I’ve never met these people but my husband talks to them a lot. I need to get moving though. I just had this idea and the baby is due in a few weeks. The background fabric just showed up so I can get started.
I think that’s about it for now. What are you all up to?
Yes, I did go to France all the way back in November and never even blogged about it. I’m such a blogger failure. So here is the start of the story…
AVIGNON Day 1
We flew into Marseilles and were driven on a bus to Avignon to meet our river cruise boat. We were told that our trip was going to take a bit longer than normal. They said there was a problem on the road. Turns out that the Yellow Jackets were out. This is a group in France who are protesting new gasoline taxes. They do things like shut down roads or intersections. We saw them in action (or their effects) a few times on the trip.
Avignon is a really cool place. All I remembered about it when I heard we were going there was that it was the seat of the anti-Popes. I did read a book in preparation for the trip that helped a lot with the historic background of the town. Basically, in the 1300s Rome was a hot mess and the Pope was getting death threats and kidnapped and all sorts of nonsense.
His main supporter was the King of France. At this time the town of Avignon was part of a territory known as the Papal Free State, which belonged to the Pope. It was located on the banks of the Rhone River which isn’t very wide and there was also a bridge here. On the other side was French territory. The Pope came here because it was safer. For about the next hundred years, the papacy was located in Avignon. It was a boom town because the Pope doesn’t come to town alone. After one of the Popes decided to move back to Rome, there was a contingent who considered him a traitor and installed their own Popes in Avignon. Those were the anti-Popes.
We got to Avignon in the afternoon and crashed. I know you aren’t supposed to do that and the city was literally RIGHT THERE outside our window but we had been travelling for about 18 hours at that point. Even I couldn’t muster up the energy to go exploring right then. We recuperated overnight and then hit the city the next morning.
We started with a guided tour. I was worried about this. I’ve never wanted to be part of a large group following a guide around like little ducklings. Now here we were doing just that. It was ok though. We had headsets so we could hear the guide without having to stay right on her heels.
We made our way through the city walls. Thank you 18th century people who decided not to tear them all down. You go through the walls into an alley that they opens into the town.
We started at The Pope’s Palace which is a huge structure. It served the same purpose as the Vatican during the Pope’s time here. It was actually a disappointment for me after all my reading up on the subject. There was a fire here long after the Popes left that left the interior mostly just stone walls. What you see now is big cavernous spaces that are described as previously ornate. I know it is Avignon’s Big Thing but I’d read about it and skip the visit.
We did really enjoy a garden that we found by chance on a cliff overlooking the Rhone. Even in November, it was beautiful.
Avignon has a bridge. The bridge is important. This was built in the 12th century and was the only bridge across the Rhone anywhere near. It was part of a pilgrimage route from Italy to Spain. It washed mostly away a long time ago.
It even has its own song. That is obvious to French people. Everything written about this bridge tosses in “from the song” like it is self-evident what song you are referring to. I am an ignorant American. I had to Google. There is a French children’s song about dancing on the bridge. It seems to occupy the same mindspace in French people where “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” lives in English-speaking brains. Everyone just knows it. No one can remember actually learning it. French guides tried so gamely. “The bridge is just down there. You know, from the song?” Blank stares from 20 Americans. French guide bursts into “Sur la pont d’Avignon” with the bouncy rhythm and embarrassment of an adult singing a children’s song alone in front of a group of people who have never heard of it.
The husband and I wandered around most of the town. It isn’t a huge place so you can get a good feel of it in a few days. Of course we stopped at chocolate shops for a snack.
We rode a carousel because you should never pass up a chance to do that even if your husband is going to start yelling, “Wheeeeee” as he goes around and will be waving to French people who are just trying to live their lives.
Meet the coolest cat in Avignon. This guy was playing music on the edge of a busy intersection while this cat just lounged. He didn’t even care.
When we decided to go on a Viking River Cruise the aspect I was most worried about was the food. The husband has life-threatening food allergies and I’m a vegetarian who prefers to eat mostly vegan. We can be hard to accommodate. Everything I read online said that we’d be fine so how did it actually go?
The husband came home from France safe and sound so the staff did a wonderful job with the allergy issue.
They don’t have people with food allergies flagged because you can sit anywhere you like for meals. That meant that at every meal he had to give his allergy talk to the waiter. That’s not his favorite thing to do and after every lunch and dinner for a week I could tell he was getting really tired of it. The waiters seemed to have been well versed on what was in each of the dishes ahead of time and they were quick to ask if they had any doubts.
They actually were a bit confusing at first about what they would and wouldn’t let him eat. His allergy is to sesame. We were on the boat on Thanksgiving and they had a pumpkin pie. They told him that night he could have anything but pumpkin pie. Who puts sesame in pumpkin pie? The husband was muttering about how unAmerican it was. (Yes, in France while talking to a Serbian waiter. Of course it was unAmerican.) I was worried that if they did that then what else, that we generally consider safe, would we need to consider potentially unsafe.
After a few days I think I figured out the pattern. They wouldn’t let him have anything that contained bread at all, whether or not there was known sesame in it. So no panini, no brioche on the side of main dish. They also did not let him have things if they weren’t made from scratch on the boat. That was presumably the problem with the pumpkin pie since all other pies for the rest of the trip were fine.
They also had no problem changing my meal if it had sesame. The vegetarian option one night was udon noodles and they made a portion for me with no sesame oil in it.
Verdict – Allergies A+
I’m not a breakfast food fan. I’d much prefer left overs from dinner than traditional breakfast food. So, I wasn’t hopeful about the morning breakfast buffet.
The bar consisted of an omelet station with a lot of add-ins if you eat eggs. There was oatmeal, cream of wheat, and muesli. All of these were made with dairy milk. There was an assortment of fruit. Every day there was a changing assortment of small dishes usually with things like smoked salmon or other meats so I didn’t pay much attention to them.
Another table had a bunch of breads and pastries. A toaster was available. Three types of cereal were offered but again there were no non-dairy milks. (If I was going to want this daily, I would have bought some non-dairy milk at a store and kept it in the mini fridge in my room.) You could also order prepared food like pancakes.
I mostly ate fruit, toast, and oatmeal. I ordered the pancakes once too even though I’m sure they were made with eggs and milk.
Lunch and Dinner
If you’ve been on large ship cruises before you may be used to having a choice of places to eat and times to eat. That isn’t really the case here. There is one dining room and you eat at the precise time they tell you.
Both lunch and dinner had an appetizer, an entree, and dessert. In theory there was supposed to be a vegetarian option in each one at every meal. That didn’t always happen. I could have asked for salads to be made without meats for example but on those occasions I just skipped that part of the meal.
The vegetarian food was made out of vegetables and wasn’t a bunch of fake meat substitutes like you sometimes see in places that are trying to serve vegetarians but don’t really know what to make.
Some of it was well done and others were horrible. It wasn’t just me. People we sat with all had at least one meal that had them poking the food and questioning what exactly it was since it didn’t resemble what they thought they had ordered. When I had the udon noodles (which were actually pretty tasty), the Japanese man I was sitting next to whispered to me, “Those don’t look like any udon I’ve ever seen in my life.” Apparently the steak was horrible and one person even tried the hot dog on offer which he regretted.
Portions were small especially if you are used to American sizes. I was pretty hungry every time meal time rolled around and I usually do fine on 2 meals a day at home.
Overall, I’d give the food a rating of “Okay-ish” which isn’t really what you want on a cruise in France.
The husband has been fascinated with Viking river cruises for years. I have been less enthusiastic. My idea of a good vacation is to get settled in a city for about a week and explore the heck out of it. Get off the beaten path. See all the touristy sites but then also have the time to explore a five story department store in Lisbon and go see a movie, for example. A day at each stop just isn’t enough.
But, he really wanted to do a river cruise and he’s been dragged up and down mountains because I read about “something cool up there” on a website. I decided to be a good partner and entertain his plan. He started saving money. Weird thing #1 about Viking cruises – You can’t really figure out how much they cost. There are listed prices but they are vague and subject to change and what about airfare? We saved until we figured we had it covered and then he called.
Thing #2 about Viking cruises – You have to plan ahead. We got serious about scheduling in the early spring of 2018. There were 2 cruises left available in 2018. By that I mean there was one cabin available on a boat for a specific week on a Danube cruise and another one cabin available for one specific week only on a Rhone cruise. Each of the cabins was in the bottom of the boat, or “steerage” as I liked to call it to harken back to my Polish immigrant great-grandparents and the fate of those on the Titanic. This was good for our budget though.
How did we decide? We picked the most boring one. That seems counter-intuitive but stick with me here. Reread paragraph one. Ok, now on one cruise we’d be hitting cities I’ve longed to visit – Vienna, Budapest – and then sailing away the next day. How do you pick what do in Vienna in that time frame? Obviously, the Spanish Riding School and then compress the whole rest of the city into an afternoon. When do you spend hours in cafes? Even thinking about it in my living room made me start to hyperventilate. So, we went with the Rhone cruise. I’ve been to Nice before. I never considered going to Avignon or Lyon. We’ll get two days in each small city and in between we hit some small towns. One day is enough to see each small town’s Roman ruins and fancy church. I don’t feel like we’re missing must-see sites.
Thing #3 about Viking cruises – They plan for you. The thing I stress over the most on European vacations in getting from the airport to the hotel and back. I’m good from there. Here other people are in charge of that. They also figured out the air connections. I was dreading that, especially with not arriving and leaving from the same city in France. They fly you from the closest airport to your house. Our closest airport is small. We are relatively close to a larger one. We offered to fly from there. They said no. We are going from small airport to Chicago to Brussels to Marseille and then from Lyon to Brussels to Newark to home. Guess what this cost per person? $300. Yeah. That took a while to grasp. I was convinced it was a deposit on the airfare. Nope. We paid $300 when we booked the cruise and then they figured out our airfare later. I want to fly to Europe all the time for $300. Heck, I want any flight in the U.S. for $300.
After we booked our cruise, the husband started haunting the website. When he noticed another availability pop up suddenly on our boat, he called and got us upgraded out of steerage to the cabin of the people who had just cancelled. There haven’t been any other cancellations on the boat. We’re classy now. I’ve apologized to the ancestors for getting uppity.
We have our free excursions booked. Each day we have a guided tour of the area. Our afternoons are free to do what we want. I just hope that our tour guides don’t have those little flags to keep the group together. I don’t want to be part of a big block of tourists following the flag like lost little ducklings.
A few years ago the husband and I went to Nice. We didn’t have any great desire to go to France specifically but it was a good place to be based to be able to also visit Monaco and take a day trip to Italy just to say we’ve been.
I planned the trip. I always plan our trips. I tried to engage the husband in the trip planning but he was dismissive. Anything I picked would be fine. But then, starting with the seats I chose for the plane ride, he had a negative comment on everything as it happened. He even wanted to do a day trip to Paris one day even though Paris is nowhere near Nice.
(“But they are in the same country!!!”
“If we were sitting in my parents’ living room in western Pennsylvania and you got an urge to go see the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, it would be a mighty undertaking even though they are in the same state.”
“Oh, yeah, I guess so.”)
Of course then we got home and he sung my praises for what a wonderful trip I planned. He really did have a good time. He frayed my enjoyment though with his nit-picking. So, armed with that experience and reading a bunch about how women do so much emotional labor in relationships, when he started talking about wanting to go on a river cruise in Europe I told him that he was in charge.
Turns out that planning a big vacation is hard work. Who knew? (I did.)
He talked about it for few years. Then he decided to start setting money aside for it. He would randomly ask me how much money I thought we would need to save. “I don’t know. You’ll have to check the prices on the website.”
“But it is really confusing.”
“Yes, it is.” Take that, buddy boy.
Another reason I wasn’t an enthusiastic helper is that I’m not a cruise fan. I want to fly to a city, dig in, and explore the place to death. The thought of cruising up to Vienna and having to pick one or two things to see before sailing off again stressed me right out. I also don’t want to be one of the ducklings following a tour guide with a flag. Also, eating meals at tables with strangers is awful. The husband is the person that introverts like me are horrified to be seated with. He will know everyone’s life story before the appetizers are cleared.
In the end the decision was pretty much made for us. Last week he looked at the Viking Cruise website and saw that for 8 day cruises there were only 2 cruises that weren’t sold out for 2018 and each of those only had one room on one trip available. If we were going to do it, we had to book then. Our choices were a Danube cruise stopping at Bucharest and Vienna and a French cruise. I still got anxious just thinking about trying to see as much as possible in those cities. The French trip is on the Rhone. It stops at places I don’t have strong feelings about. I thought that would be a lot more relaxing. I could spend a day happily wandering around a small French town and seeing the local cathedral and Roman ruins and not feel like I was missing out on several other amazing things to see. We chose to do that cruise. I reminded the husband that this was France. He was not a fan after our last trip. Actually, he thought it was a lovely place full of rude people who yelled at bumbling Americans a lot. He said he was going for the scenery.
To schedule a Viking cruise you have to make a phone call. He loves to talk to people. I don’t know how long it normally takes to make this booking on the phone but he was on with his new best friend for close to 1.5 hours. Things discussed:
We can’t do any add on days because “they don’t like to let my wife out of the clinic that long.” It makes me sound like I live in a mental institution.
His tendency to get harassed in airports because “I’m a lovely caramel color.”
His experience trying to leave France where we got separated and he got pulled aside for extra screening on the jet way. “So they searched me in very rude ways while my wife was sitting on the plane marinating in her white privilege.”
The cost of living in Ohio vs California
Does the rep get free cruises? Does he get harassed in airports?
The trip is over my birthday (by total coincidence, not planning) so the rep wanted to know about celebrating. He told him to keep it subtle while I was yelling, “I’m fine with fancy desserts in my honor.” I think keep it subtle means no singing to me at dinner.
The trip ended up costing several thousand dollars less than we expected. I think a lot of that is because we are going steerage. We’re the people at the bottom of the boat with windows you can only look out of if you stand on the bed. That’s fine though because there are a lot of seating areas available to watch the scenery go by. There is even a library. The room is tiny. Our hotel room on the last France trip was tiny too. This was an issue that some people felt it necessary to comment on repeatedly during that trip. This time since he booked the trip it is perfectly fine and normal. The cruise operator is setting up our airfare too. That’s nice because it isn’t a round trip cruise and figuring that kind of thing out hurts my head. The price is included in the trip as a ridiculously low add on. It isn’t booked yet but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that we will be strapped to the tail of the plane on the outside for the duration of the trip for that price. It will be nice to have them pick us up and take us to the boat. For some reason coordinating transportation from the airport to the hotel is always the thing that worries me the most in a new city.
The trip isn’t until winter so I have time to brush up on my Duolingo. I tried to review the other day and failed miserably. I also told the husband that he can spend the rest of the year sidling up to other husbands and asking, “What did you get your wife for her birthday? That’s nice. Me? I’m taking my wife to France for her birthday.” That don’t have to know it was a total accident.
My favorite Smithsonian museum by far and the one that I have to visit every time I’m in D.C. is the Renwick Gallery.
This museum is dedicated to crafts. It is directly across from the White House by Lafayette Park and next to Blair House.
They always have some quilts on display. This quilt is a map of an area of D.C. Each of the exposed seams are roads. Each of the red pieces are houses that were foreclosed on.
I always love art that fools the eye. Ghost Clock is one of my all time favorite pieces at the Renwick.
This isn’t a clock covered in fabric. It is a solid piece of wood carved and then bleached to look like this. I so desperately want to touch it because even up close it still looks like fabric over a clock.
This is Impressions. It is made of marble.
It looks more like marble in the picture than in real life. I thought it was a pillow when I walked up to it.
This looks like a typical quilt.
It is made of 16mm film.
I love the stained glass in this piece called The Birth of Eve.
When I was there one large gallery was being used for a single piece.
A net-like fabric was hung from the ceiling. It mimicked the graph of the seismic activity during an earthquake that caused a tsumani. Beanbags were on the floor for people to lay down and look up at it. The light was a muted pastel. It was very peaceful.
If you can’t get to D.C. you can browse the collection online at Renwick Gallery.
“The United States Postal Service is a wondrous American creation. Seven days a week, its army of 300,000 letter carriers delivers 513 million pieces of mail, forty percent of the world’s volume. It is far more efficient than any other mail service—more than twice as efficient as the Japanese and easily outpacing the Germans and British. And the USPS has a storied history. Founded by Benjamin Franklin, it was the information network that bound far-flung Americans together, fostered a common culture, and helped American business to prosper. A first class stamp remains one of the greatest bargains of all time, and yet, the USPS is slowly vanishing. Critics say it is slow and archaic. Mail volume is down. The workforce is shrinking. Post offices are closing.”
I’ve always been fascinated by the workings of the post office.
I’ve never understood how they can sort all that mail and get it to where it is going. If you told me that this was involved, I’d believe you.
That why I was so excited to listen to this book about the workings of the post office. I also had just visited the Smithsonian’s Post Office museum in Washington D.C. when I started the book. In all my visits to D.C. I had never known about this museum. It is right next to the train station.
Did you know?
Many of the major roads of the United States were laid out by mail carriers
Mail used to be delivered up to four times a day in U.S. cities
There have been a few times when mail volume got so high that the system collapsed
It was illegal for anyone other than the U.S. mail to deliver letters
The United States Postal Service is now an independent company that reports to the government instead of a government department
The Post Office is required to deliver everywhere. At times that has required mule trains to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, sled dog teams, and even reindeer. Mandatory rural delivery allowed farmers to get daily newspapers. This kept them informed of the best time to sell crops for the highest profit. It kept everyone in the country informed about events. The United States mail has helped to hold the country together.
I particularly liked learning about the mail trains. Specialist clerks rode these mobile sorting cars, picking up letters at high speed and getting them sorted before the next town. There was one of these mail cars in the museum and a video of former clerks showing their system of sorting. It was amazing. I also learned about Owney, the famous mail dog.
Technological advances have helped the mail be delivered faster and faster. Optical scanners were developed to read printed labels of bulk mailers and now can even read handwriting. After a few passes through the scanners, mail can be sorted into the order in which each carrier will deliver it. I think that’s just magical.
One thing that wasn’t covered at the museum but was well covered in the book was the Comstock Era. This is a time of strict censorship of the mail. Items that were judged to be obscene were not allowed. This included information on contraception. There was a lot of entrapment by postal inspectors who would order an item and then arrest the person who sent it.
Also not covered in the museum but talked about in the book was the wave of violence at post offices in the 1980s and 90s leading to the phrase “Going Postal.”
We all know the Post Office is having problems. First class mail is down as most people send emails instead of letters. The Post Office is not allowed to get involved in electronic forms in the U.S. by law, unlike in other countries. Amazon’s new partnership with them to deliver mail on Sundays is helping as is a renegotiation of the labor contracts of Post Office employees.
Those of us who love getting mail hope that they will find a way to survive and thrive.
I’d recommend this book for anyone who love learning about how everyday things work. The audio narration was very well done. The story moved quickly enough to keep my listening interest.
We followed the panda’s advice and spent a lot of time inside. We really liked the huge aviary.
Everyone was having a nap.
Or staying inside in the air conditioning
Outside was nice though if you found a cool shady spot to sit.
My best advice for visiting the National Zoo
Take the Metro from Washington D.C. to the Cleveland Park stop on the red line which is one stop past the stop labelled Zoo. If you get off at the zoo spot it is a long walk uphill to the zoo. If you get off at Cleveland Park it is slightly downhill.
The food available isn’t very vegan friendly on the menu but the paninis seem to be made on site so you could ask for them to be made without cheese. They weren’t very appetizing looking though. I just had a pretzel.
The zoo is large and is on a hill so be prepared to hike. To go from the back of the zoo to the exit is an uphill climb. Maybe head to the back of the zoo first and gradually make your way to the front while seeing the animals so you gradually work your way back up the hill.
I never even realized that there was a United States Botanical Garden until the torture/interrogation scene in Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol that takes place in the middle of the jungle room. I’m not sure what that says about me that I:
Read a scene like that and think “I bet that’s a nice place to visit. “
Never noticed a huge glass building sitting next to the Capitol
There are outside gardens but we were there in July and it was roughly 10,000 degrees outside with no shade so we didn’t look at them. We headed straight inside.
I wanted to throw myself headlong into this fountain.
I loved this fountain’s tiles. It wasn’t running but it was located in the blessed air conditioning (or maybe it was just cooler inside from all the plants) so that was ok.
It is a typical botanic garden where you move through rooms with different ecosystems or organized by use of plants like the medicinal plants room.
In the Jungle Room. I did consider taking a picture on the bench from The Lost Symbol but decided after much deliberation that I’m not quite that weird yet. Actually, that’s not weird at all but I didn’t want to have to explain it all to the husband.
Orchids are always good for close ups.
Water everywhere kept it much cooler than outside.
I love public transportation. I live in an area where it isn’t developed enough to make it a practical option for everyday living so when I travel to a city with a good system, I love it.
We went to Washington D.C. for the weekend. Our hotel was right across from a Metro station in VA. Perfect. Well, it would have been perfect if there wasn’t a track closure on that line this weekend.
There was a work around. You took the train to the next station from where we got on (less than one minute after getting on). Get off. Take a free bus service to the next clear station. That added 20 minutes to what would have been a 10 minute trip. It was also roughly the same temperature as the surface of the sun and you were crammed on the bus with a gazillion grumpy people and sometimes you couldn’t get a seat. I didn’t want to try it during rush hour on Monday morning.
Download the app before you need it
I thought about this before I left home. But, but, public transportation is available. It is just a little more complicated, right? No need to add to the congestion by hiring a car.
Then we tried to leave the National Mall on Saturday afternoon when some large prayer rally was letting out. I’m actually glad there was a prayer rally because I noticed that a lot of people on the Mall were wearing Christian t shirts and I was afraid. I’m glad it was a Christian gathering and not just a bunch of people independently feeling so superior that they needed to proclaim their faith through their attire. Mind you, we wandered all over the Mall and never noticed this gathering actually happening. To be fair, my eyes were on the gay men’s kickball tournament.
Anyway, the point is, we couldn’t get into the Metro stations because of all the Christians. There were also ambulances everywhere. We later heard that many were passing out from the heat which made me ask why they didn’t pray to their God to be saved from heat stroke but I digress again.
I sat on a lawn and tried to download the Uber app. It took forever to get it to download outside in the middle of a crowd of people using devices. It never did connect to Paypal. There was also a storm coming in. Seriously, if there is any chance you will use it, download at home.
Know your pricing
In this situation when there were lots of people trying to get away, hello surge pricing. The app helpfully informed me that surge pricing was in effect and my rate would be 2.5 times the regular rate. Did I want to accept? No, because I am cheap but it was still cheaper than a taxi might have been.
I like the fact that Uber gives you a price up front. I always worry with a taxi that the driver will wander around the long way and jack up the price.
On Monday morning during rush hour I looked at the app to see how expensive it was to get to the Capitol visitors’ center. I was given an option of sharing a ride and it was actually cheaper than what the Metro would have cost. I contemplated the fact that I was a horrible person contributing to the destruction of the planet from overuse of fossil fuels in air conditioned luxury.
Take a car person
I don’t know cars. I refer to cars solely by color. I don’t know the icons on the front and what brand they represent. When the Uber app connects you with a driver it tells you the driver’s name and the make of car. It doesn’t tell you the color. Luckily, the husband is a car person and he understood what he was looking for. When I used it alone, I quickly googled to know if I was looking for a car or an SUV.
The app has a map that shows you where the car is in relation to you. So then a car that you think might be the right type slows down near you. You rush over to it and you and the driver question each other’s identity to make sure you aren’t getting into a random person’s car who just happened to slow down. That would be awkward.
I wasn’t murdered by getting into cars with strangers.
I never got heat stroke.
I have a solo, quiet, just me and don’t worry about anyone else trip coming up. I wrote about it here.
Now, the husband has decided that he is coming with me. So much for that plan.
Conditions to Go on Vacation with Me
I planned this vacation specifically around the fact that he wasn’t coming with me so I’m possibly doing things he won’t want to do. I told him that I’m not changing my plans so if he doesn’t like it, he can make his own plans for that time.
He said that he would just do whatever I was planning and that would be fine.
I plan our vacations. He doesn’t want any input until we are in the middle of it and then he bitches about every little detail. (For example, we were in Nice in the far south of France and he decided that we should just spend a day in Paris. Geography is important. I imparted an understanding but it was a painful process.) I hold myself back from killing him and then when we get home he tells everyone what a wonderful vacation we had.
There WILL BE showtunes.
If I can’t listen to the audiobooks I had planned for the trip (and I can’t, because he’s a talker), then there will be showtunes – including the entire Hamilton soundtrack, but I didn’t tell him that part. He asked today if I had Oklahoma on my iPod. I do not. I sang “Oklahoma” for him and then took a request for “Surrey with the fringe on top” which got interrupted by him insisting that a surrey was a car. No! I wasn’t having that. He finally caved to saying that it was a method of transportation and that was close enough. Harrumph. I’m not downloading Oklahoma but I do have the fine distinction of having not one but two Angela Landsbury songs on my iPod. “Beauty and the Beast” and “Substitutiary Locomotion”, thank you very much.
Get a @#$$%^%^% epi-pen
For a man with actual, literally life-threatening food allergies, he cares very little about safety. He never had an epi-pen until he met me and he still doesn’t carry one. The one I carry and the one in the house are expired. I informed him of this in April. I’m not going on vacation with him with an expired epi-pen. He doesn’t get in the car until I see an up to date one.
PTSD and unfamiliar northern Virginia traffic do not mix. I’m driving. Besides, my iPod plugs directly into my car for better showtune enjoyment.
Oh, dear readers, it will be hot and there is a lot of walking on my plan. There will be whining. He says there will not but seriously, husbands are a bit like toddlers on vacation. You have to keep them fed on a regular schedule and let them have scheduled breaks. It adds a level of difficulty. This has been true for both of the husbands that I’ve personally owned. Is it universal?
I say that as an actual Dan Brown fan. I loved The DaVinci Code. Actually, I love the exposure of the suppression of women by the institutional church – not the adventure story. I consider the ending of Inferno to be the best ending of a book EVER. I swear, if they change that perfect ending to make it more palatable for movie audiences I will have a meltdown. So when I say The Lost Symbol is a hot mess, it is a hot mess.
Let me sum up. Robert Langdon gets tricked into going to D.C. to help a friend. He whines about it. Then he has to run from bad guys. Gets to a new landmark. Whines about it. Gets an info dump about stuff. Claims he doesn’t understand and whines some more. Rinse and repeat.
I love Washington D.C. It is my favorite U.S. city to visit. So, when I decided to plan a quick vacation to D.C. in July, I reread The Lost Symbol to find out about some new places to visit. Here are some new-to-me places I’ll be visiting that featured in the book.
This isn’t actually new to me. I just haven’t been here in a long time.
I was here in 1989(ish) when I got kicked out of the Senate Gallery for looking at a schedule. You weren’t allowed to read while in the gallery. We were checking what time we needed to meet our group and got thrown out. Shortly after that, there were bombings that closed the Capitol to visitors. (Strangely, I can’t find that incident on Google. I swear, a week or two after I was there, a bomb was found in one of the galleries. I’m starting to think I’m nuts now.) Now you need to get a pass in advance to go in. I got one so I’m going back on the tour.
This is the Apotheosis of George Washington on the dome. It features in The Lost Symbol. It shows Washington becoming a god. Gods around the outside teach Americans about technology.
The Library of Congress
I can’t believe that I’ve never stopped in here.
I just want to wander around and look at the rooms.
United States Botanical Garden
This is right next to the Capitol.
I like plants. There will be lots of photo ops here.
There is an interrogation scene in the Jungle Room in The Lost Symbol. I won’t do that.
I was here when I was in 4th grade. It was still under construction. I don’t remember much about it. I think we just walked around the parking lot.
There is a self guided tour you can take to see all the gargoyles. There are cat ones and even one of Darth Vader.
For non-book stuff, I’m going to:
Lunch at the American Indian Museum which has the best museum cafeteria ever
Afternoon Tea at the Willard
Smithsonian – Renwick Gallery, Asian Art, and whatever else strikes my fancy
I ended up taking Z to Animal Kingdom because the husband got sick. They also needed a break from each other. She ended up being the best that I’ve never seen her. She was calm and focused and self aware. It was actually really weird.
It always amazes me how few animals you actually get to see at Animal Kingdom. I guess it shouldn’t. Most people are there for the rides. When you actually go to animal areas, there aren’t many people around.
During this visit most of the trails where you can walk and see animals were closed. The only major animal viewing places were this safari ride and the petting zoo.
When I was in London I had to go to King’s Cross and get a picture at Platform 9 3/4 even though my mother did not understand at all.
Anywhere you go in England could count as a literary place because there is probably a book set there but we went to Bath specifically because of Regency romances. I wanted to cause a scandal in London so we had to flee to Bath to let society settle down but we didn’t manage that. We did manage to have tea at the Pump Room, to visit the Jane Austin museum, to see the Assembly Rooms, and to see the famous architecture.
I’ll admit that I’ve never read any Hemingway. Way too much macho posturing for me but the husband is a fan. We stopped at his house in Key West. I just went to see the cats that hang out and get petted by tourists.
John Brown’s House
After I read The Mapmaker’s Children, I decided to go see John Brown’s house in Akron. I don’t have any pictures because they don’t allow them. It is a guided tour only. He lived in Akron until he got run out of town and moved to New York, where the events in The Mapmaker’s Children take place.
We drove through the Florida Keys a few years ago and I saw the Turtle Hospital. We didn’t have time to stop then but when we decided to go back, I made sure that we were going to have time to visit.
The Turtle Hospital opened in 1986. They rescue and rehabilitate injured sea turtles. They see over 100 turtles a year.
The main problems they see are:
injuries from boat strikes, trash entanglement, or predator attacks
tumors caused by fibropapilloma virus
foreign material ingestions causing impaction
The grounds of the hospital is an old hotel. The rehab people stay in the rooms of the hotel. The turtles stay in an individual pool when they first come in. Eventually they are moved to group pools. Some are housed in the old swimming pool. This is a salt water pool that draws water directly from the ocean. Fish are even able to swim up the pipe and into the pool.
Most of the turtles they had when we visited were green sea turtles. They got the name because their fat is green from all the sea plants they eat. There were a few loggerheads and one Kemp Ridley’s turtle but they were too shy for pictures.
There are tours starting every hour. They last 90 minutes. You can make reservations. That would be a good idea if you know when you are going to be in the area. We were on a 3:00 pm tour on a Tuesday in October and it was busy.
The tour starts with a talk about the different types of sea turtles and the injuries and diseases that they see there. Then you see the small operating area. After that you walk out to the pools and discuss each of the turtles in the hospital.
There are also iguanas running around. They are an invasive species in the Keys so local people are not very excited about them like tourists are.
The Turtle Hospital is a nonprofit and relies on donations, tour admission fees, and gift shop purchases. I did my part by buying socks with turtles on them and a stuffed turtle.
We recently spent an evening on our vacation in Florida at a Standardbred track in Pompano Beach. I don’t particularly care for racing, but I like the challenge that photographing racehorses gives me.
I’m using a super zoom and not a DSLR because I carry my camera with me on vacation and I don’t like carrying a bag full of lenses. I have a habit of switching from zoom on one shot to macro on the next and I don’t want to change lenses. That limits what kind of pictures I can take because I don’t have the full range of manual adjustments available that I would if I had a DSLR but the ease of use is more important to me.
I took most of the pictures while the horses were warming up. I mostly focused on the horses while they were getting close to the spot where I wanted to get the picture. Then I panned with them in focus until I clicked the shutter. That gave an in-focus horse and a blurred background.
The opposite effect can be fun though. This was taken with the camera on a post.
The shots aren’t as sharp as I like due to the combination of darkness and speed.
But I’m still happy with them for the limitations I had.