There is never, ever, a logical reason to have a boat.

WP_20140727_18_31_31_ProBoats are expensive, and if they aren’t they are broken, and need expensive repairs. You need special training to know the navigation, language, and other magic of boat-shit to use a boat. The toilet is called a head. it clogs if you look at it funny. A flat tire is called “sinking”. Everything is trying to kill you or empty your wallet. Everyone on the water is a drunken asshole, with maniacal jet skis swarming about just waiting to lose control and punch a hole in your hull.

But that’s just the cynical view. Mostly true of course, but cynical.

I love boats.

My family had a boat when I was young, not an uncommon thing his the Seattle area. Our first boat was a typical 20-something foot fiberglass Bayliner. It was nice, got pulled about on a trailer, and we dropped it into the lake for the weekend. That was fun, but not so memorable. After my parents divorced, my dad lived on a larger boat for a while. This was a 42 foot Grand Banks type of boat. Wooden decks and rails. A big, slow diesel engine. Multiple rooms and compartments beneath decks. This was the first boat that I drove, and I spent a lot of time on it.

We took longer and longer trips. I learned how to drive, dock, and tie lines. We navigated the Ballard Locks out to the Puget Sound on the way to Shilshole Marina, Blake Island and many other destinations. I always loved the locks, and still do. You pull into the locks, and the lockmasters direct you where to go. Boats stack alongside each other in an aquatic game of tetris, filling the lock. The bells sound when the gates close, and soon you are wrestling with lines to keep the boats from bouncing around as the currents of the escaping or filling water move you about. The gates open on the other side, the water close to level, but never perfect. Currents reverse and swirl as everything comes into balance, and the lockmasters shout down to start moving out. Lines are tossed from boat to boat, engines fire and you head through the gates, under the railway, and out the channel into the sound.

It never gets old.

Now our family has our own boat. We have a 33 foot, twin engine Carver from the late 70’s. It’s big, and slow. I regularly have to go below decks to replace parts that have worn, but the technology is so old that I can do almost everything myself. One engine is rebuilt, the other is overdue for the same. I have a full set of manuals and schematics, so I can work out what is wrong with a flashlight and a multimeter. The engines are Ford and use parts from a Mustang. It is a fiberglass boat, but has just enough wood trim to not look too modern. It is an old Cabin Cruiser design, with the controls on the upper deck, and a full cabin below. Long windows look out from the cabin, so we have views when we motor about the lakes.

Our best summer times are just floating in the sun. Sometimes we anchor, sometimes we find hidden docks along the edge of the lake. You can be right next to where you go every day, but when you arrive by the water it feels like another world. Life and business on the water is different than on land, especially in a city like Seattle. Seattle has a long history as a port town, but also an interesting history in the lakes. Lake Washington is connected to Lake Union via the Montlake Cut. When this cut was created, the lakes weren’t the same level. The cut dropped Lake Washington nine feet.  Two islands became peninsulas. The city built the Hiram M. Chittenden locks in Ballard, and cut from Lake Union to Salmon Bay. Marine traffic could now move from the ocean, to Puget Sound, thorough the locks and up into the inland waterways. This was completed in 1917. It completely shaped our city.

You can drive around the lakes and bridges in the Seattle area, and you see the upscale restaurants, marinas, and parks on the water. Do the same from the water and you see neighborhoods of floating homes and liveaboard boats. Some in the organized marinas, others in little side moorages sandwiched between industrial boat docks and shipyards. Pleasure boats cruise alongside commercial traffic. Seaplanes swoop just feet over your boat and land behind you in the crowded water. The view of the city feels older, like being back in time.

P1030097We do have to deal with some really ignorant and awful boat owners on the lake. This weekend is Seafair, which is the big airshow and Hydroplane races on the south end of Lake Washington. The event is amazing, but it brings out the worst of the worst, and now we just avoid it. We spent Seafair on out boat, away from the events. We had Lake Union to ourselves. We know a public dock in Ballard near the Locks, and went there to cook and swim. We sat and enjoyed the sun. A few planes form the airshow buzzed over our heads. We had no crowds on our cruise back to the dock, and stayed at the dock until the sun went down.

Boating isn’t about the boat. It’s the escape away with your family and friends. It’s a different view of your area and environment. And it is well worth the time spent under decks and in a stinky bilge. The reward more than beats the cost for me.

We ended our vacation where we started, back with family in Philadelphia.

The drive from Lancaster was pretty fast. We stopped for breakfast in a Waffle House on Highway 30. I had heard of Waffle House from so many people, and I love a good greasy spoon breakfast joint, so this was not to be missed. We walked in and were greeted by a very large and sweaty man in a slightly stained apron sitting on a stool in the front area. He had a voice like Wolfman Jack, with a vague South or something accent. He was friendly as hell, and while others were waiting, noted that there were three spaces at the counter. We love the counter. I was certain that this man would die of a heart attack before we were done eating, but I loved the guy. Not enough to give him mouth-to-mouth when he inevitably collapsed, but I was trained for the new CPR that didn’t do that so I felt better about it.

We sat at the counter and the menu was a two-sided laminated placemat. We all ordered Eggs with various sides. Sasha got some OJ and Yulia and I got coffee. I had Bacon, Sausage, and Grits with my eggs. From the counter we could watch the cooks and waitresses in their full action mode. There wasn’t so much of a kitchen, as a cooking and serving area in the middle of the diner. And this wasn’t a restaurant, it was a true diner. I was loving it right away. Our coffee was simple and plain, and very good. It never stopped coming. Our food came quick and wasn’t served in any particular order, when it was ready, we got it. All of the staff took their jobs seriously, but smiled all the time. It was a great breakfast and a great experience. I chatted with our large host on the way out, and he didn’t die in my arms so I was glad. Waffle House gets my approval.

Feeling good and caffeinated, we headed down the main highway and back into Philadelphia. We stopped in downtown by the art museum. We had the whole day, and most of the next to relax. Our flight was at 5:30pm the next day, so we took our time. The Philly art museum was right behind the Water Works restaurant that we ate at at the beginning of our trip, and looked like the Acropolis. It deserved another visit. We parked the car at the riverfront park beneath the museum, and walked through the heat up the steps in the back. Once inside, we asked at the desk where to get in. We thought Sundays were supposed to be free, but apparently that was just the first Sunday of the month. We didn’t have time to take advantage of the full main museum, but the smaller gallery across the street was doing an exhibit on Fashion. Both Yulia and Sasha are fashion hounds, so this sounded like something that was both cool and something that we had time to enjoy.

We walked down the block and across the street. The novelty of the heat had worn off long ago. We were happy to duck into the museum, up a red carpet on the front steps to remind us that the exhibit was about high fashion. How clever.

WP_20140713_12_33_59_ProThe main exhibit was about Patrick Kelly. I know nothing about fashion, but I was fascinated about the man. Patrick was a Black, Gay designer in the ‘80s who moved from America to Paris to pursue fashion design. That was interesting. I liked his designs, they had a bold, brash ‘80’s vibe to them, and were fun. however, I loved the fact that everything had a deep social undercurrent. Patrick had a huge collection of really racist art and sculpture. Stuff that was pretty typical in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Aunt Jemima statues, black minstrel dolls, and so on. And he used these images in his own designs. His personal clothes were based on sharecroppers coveralls, topped with a modern PARIS cyclists’ cap. It was wild stuff.

If you are a fan of Lenny Bruce, then you might remember his “Nigger” sketch. Lenny Bruce was a comedian in the ‘60s who said, among other things, that the word Nigger shouldn’t be whispered. Whispering it only gave the word power that it didn’t deserve. He suggested that Nigger be said loudly, and dismissively. The hatred lived not in the word, but the hateful people who used it to hurt. And that you could take the word, and its power away from them.

Apparently Patrick Kelly had similar thoughts.

Patrick used an Aunt Jemima caricature as the symbol for his brand. it wasn’t shown in America as it was “too controversial”  Many of the Minstrel faces and logos appeared in his work, and his designs had sharecropper influence. It was bold, beautiful work. from both a fashion and political sense.  other exhibits showed the influence that his designs had on modern designers, and their work.

Patrick Kelly died at the age of 35 from AIDS.

On the way out of the museum, we got Sasha a notebook in the gift shop. It was a Moleskine style book, made for fashion design with silhouettes of models and examples of how to design outfits. She has already used it to outline a few ideas. She is a good artist. Thank you Patrick.

WP_20140713_13_17_48_ProWe walked out and headed around the museum. We stopped at the statue of Rocky Balboa. it probably seems silly to have a statue in a city to a fictional character, but fiction is inspirational too. Fiction can be built out of a composite of a group, or a community, or an entire city. I think Rocky is that for Philadelphia. With the rise and fall and recovery. Everyone cheers for Rocky. Everyone wants to take a part of that success for themselves. maybe a statue make sense for just that reason.

We left and finished walking around the museum and back to the car. That was it for us, We headed back to Wynnwood, my aunt and uncle’s house. We stopped on the way to get some groceries, wine, and a bit of shopping, but eventually pulled into the drive and headed in.  Their dog was ecstatic to see us. They were out in Gettysburg, and had a dog sitter, but the dog knew and loved family. Yulia swam a bit, Sasha rested and I wrote. Later that evening my cousin came by with her son, and we hung out.

In the morning Sue and John returned, and we spent the morning telling them the story of our trip. It was good to rest and talk with family.

Every year, we go on vacation to rest and spend time with our immediate family. Sometimes, we get a chance to spend time with more distant family that we see less often. It is great when you can bring them all together. We didn’t relax much this vacation. We were always busy. But our time together was of good quality, and was good times. We connected as a family together, and to our family across the continent.

You can’t ask for much more than that.

The restaurant in the hotel was a bit hit and miss. After a late swim at night, we came out for dinner, and it was a train wreck. Everything we had was undercooked, screwed up, or just nasty. They couldn’t even get stuffed peppers right. Wow. The wine was better, and it was crappy, but they poured a lot. the evening was topped off with Karaoke in the bar, that filled the restaurant and lobby. We slept in a bit again, although Yulia got an early swim in before I was up. Breakfast was completely different. It was a custom omelet bar and full buffet. Really good and reasonable. Strange to have such a difference. Once fed, we got out of the hotel and headed to the farm.

WP_20140712_13_05_10_Pro 1It was a pretty short drive, and was supposed to be a real old farm and homestead that was turned into a slightly touristy learning center. We got there and it was a bit too quiet. There was no one around and the place seemed empty. We went to the information desk in the Main building, and found out that not only was today a “off” day, this wasn’t an Amish farm. This was a German family farm, which was similar, but not what we were looking for. The guys at the desk pointed us back in the right direction, and we left back towards the Amish areas. It was just a short drive, and we got to the Amish farm shortly.

This was nice, it had a local bus tour, a typical Amish house, and working farm. It was also nice that this was partially run by an Amish family, who ran part of the tours. We bought tickets for a full tour, and were just in time to hop on the tour bus. The plan for the bus was to take about an hour drive through the area, showing some of the local farms in action, talk about how the Amish live, and stop at a local Farm/Shop.

The first thing pointed out on the tour was that it was easy to pick out Amish houses in Lancaster, as they all had green pull-down shades in the window. He was right, as we drove we could see green shades at each of the Amish houses. They also no longer had any power wires leading into the house. Custom built farms would have never had power, but a lot of Amish worked other jobs as well, as there wasn’t that much farmland to go around. Some of the Amish businesses pointed out were farm equipment repair, buggy and scooter repair, some furniture manufacture as well. These Amish would buy regular houses and refit them for their needs. We were told that the simplest rule of thumb for technology was that no electricity was allowed in the house, but gas or air driven appliances were ok. Anything electric (like a phone) had to live in a shed by the road. Many of these had solar panels, which was preferred to regular power because it kept the family independent. And independence (or more accurately, preventing intrusion from the outside world) seemed to be the goal of restricting technology. The Scooters and Buggies were similar, as the reduced mobility out of their community. It was still ok to get a ride somewhere, or take the train, but personal transportation was not ok, even a bicycle was too much.

The area was beautiful. We loved riding the tour, and the driver pointed out little things along the way, like some of the oldest farms, the one-room schoolhouses, even where one family bought a house with a tennis court, and turned it into a horse yard, as they don’t play tennis. Apparently swimming and volleyball are very popular though, not sure if the tennis thing was preference or due to some rules. After a long drive around we pulled up into the farm with the small shop. They had some homemade ice great, homemade root beer, and various crafts and items for sale. We got some ice cream and root beer, as well as some herbal rubs that looked interesting.

As a frequent tourist, I think it is a good thing to support the community that you are visiting, and that usually means spending some money. When we did our tour last year in Mexico, I was surprised that most of the places that we visited had no vendors. After all, we’re tourists, we’re supposed to be the suckers here. Supporting local small business is part of the deal. if you don’t do that I feel like we are stomping about someone’s community and not giving anything back. And in this case we got a great deal. The Ice cream and Root Beer were amazing. Nothing beats homemade.

We headed back to the Farm from here. and then took the house tour. The house was setup as a typical Amish house, and our guide was a young Amish guy named David. As he showed us around, he told us some of the same information as the driving tour, including the bit about the green shades. I asked him why the green shades? He looked surprised at the question, thought for a second and told me that he didn’t know. They just all did that here.

Great answer.

We got a rundown of Amish clothing, usually made at home by Mom, usually dark somber colors. Nice hats though. I like straw hats. No electric lights inside the house. Lots of windows, and propane camping laps converted with very nice shades and cabinets to hide the propane. Quite clever actually. Church services are done in the home, rotating weekly between the houses in the community. The clothes wash was done with an old, gas driven Maytag washer (with squeeze roller) usually kept in the basement or summer kitchen (like an enclosed porch). These washers date back to the late ‘50s, but there is a company locally that licensed the design and still makes them new, along with repair parts.

WP_20140712_15_03_26_ProAfter the house tour we walked around the farm and Sasha was having a great time feeding every animal that she could. It wasn’t too hot out so it was nice to relax outside fro a while. Watching animals run about has a very Zen appeal to it.  They had an example of a typical schoolhouse showing the layout (all grades in one room). They go t school up through eighth grade, and take no science. In Alabama or Mississippi I think this would get them a doctorate.  We walked around a bit more and I ended up chatting for a bit with an older Amish woman. I thanked her for opening their community, and mentioned that we were visiting family in Philadelphia. She was really nice, and we ended up trading addresses. Now I have an Amish pen pal. (I will have to check the internet to see how stamps work, apparently you can write on paper, put it in a envelope, and some guy will carry it across the country so the name you write on the outside. How quaint)

We left the farm, and wanted to get some food before our second goal: taking a buggy ride. We checked the reviews of several local places, but every one we stopped into was a nasty super-buffet. I only assume the high reviews came from folks who had lost their taste bugs in a freak sword-swallowing accident. We drove back onto the main highway, and after a short while saw a chain Roadhouse style BBQ restaurant. We walked din, and every table had a bucket of peanuts on it.

Perfect. Unlimited peanuts is the hallmark of quality.

We ended up ordering some good BBQ. and their drinks were good as well. I had the super-sized Margarita wit sidecar of more Tequila because vacation. For a chain place, it was great food. When the supply lines are short (out I farm country) everything tastes just a bit better. Yulia had some Atlantic Salmon, which unlike the Farmed Atlantic in Seattle, is wild and terrific. We ended up mentioning to our waitress that we were from Seattle (some roundabout salmon conversation), and she thought that was amazing. for most of the east coast Seattle is this far away, flannel-clad place. A land of magic and software. Our waitress was enchanted with us for the remainder of the evening, now we were the interesting ones, instead of the Amish.

We went back to Intercourse, and managed to catch the buggy ride place just before it closed. These guys weren’t Amish, but Mennonite (same core religion, but few technology restrictions.) We got the last ride of the day, which was a blast. Sasha got to drive the buggy on the smaller side roads, and our guide told us all about the Amish (our third time hearing this, we assumed that there would be a quiz later.) It was bumpy, but a lot of fun. He showed us how the buggies drove, the little electrical light system, and pointed out how many businesses in the area had buggy stalls for Amish customers (like a mini-barn). We chatted with the guy a bit when we were back, and helped him out unmounting the horse from the buggy, and rolling the buggy up into the barn. Sasha got to meet the other horses, and wash down our horse. The horse seemed pleased. It was a great time.

Back at the hotel, Sasha retired to her room, and Yulia and I sat on the deck off the hotel bar. It overlooked a golf course, with a fountain at the hole nearest us. We drank wine and watched the fireflies come out as the sun went down.

We drove out of Alexandria in the morning. It is pretty nice to be able to rent a one-way car to get around. But I have done this so often now that I am pretty sure I am on some Terrorist Asshole Watch List or something. That’s the way it goes. We had planned on several extra nights in Philadelphia at the end of our trip in our original planning, but since the family was gone, we thought we would make a third stop somewhere instead. The question was really, where to go? We thought about the ocean shore perhaps Atlantic City or something, but nothing was appealing for the price.

WP_20140712_15_15_51_Pro20140712151635So we went to Amish Country.

We reserved a big room in a resort with a pool, bar, restaurant and figured we could relax for two days and see what was around. If nothing else, we could swim. one of the problems with this vacation was that in both Manhattan and DC, it was near impossible to find a hotel with a Bar and a pool that wasn’t in a crap area, or way too expensive. It made my writing harder as well, as usually Yulia and Sasha would swim while I would go to the bar and write. instead we were always around town, so we saw amazing things, but never relaxed much. This was our chance to relax and wind down for a few days, we hoped.

The drive up was easy, we went north through Baltimore, up the turnpike into central Pennsylvania, and found our hotel just outside Lancaster. It was perfect. the room was big, the pool and bar were just what we wanted, and it was in a quiet area. We actually had a King and Queen bed in the room. We gave Sasha the King bed, as it was in it’s own room, and she had a hideabed for the last leg in DC, and needed some teenage space. That and she literally ran into the room and called “dibs”. Gotta respect dibs.

We went to Lancaster for a late lunch. Lancaster is the oldest landlocked town I the US, apparently. It’s nice, but not particularly special. we walked around a while, checked out the historical market, and I used the Phone app again to find some food. We checked a few places out and settled on an Irish Pub near the town center. We sat in the shade on their deck. It was hot out, but much better than in Virginia. A couple of drinks helped, and good food helped more. I had a Sheppard’s Pie that was spot on, and Yulia had a crab dip and salad that was also quite good. We asked out waiter what the best ways to see the Amish and learn a bit were. He pointed out the biggest Amish towns on a map (being Intercourse and Bird-in-Hand), and also recommended a working farm that gives tours and history. The farm sounded like a great idea for the morning.

After the pub, we decided to drive out to Intercourse to at least take a look at the town, and see what was out there. The GPS pointed us out onto Highway 30, and we followed it west. interestingly, if we had headed east, and kept going, this would lead directly back to my Aunt and Uncle’s house, and into Downtown Philadelphia. Highway 30 is Lancaster Avenue in Philly. It is one of the oldest working highways in the US, and the main route for food coming from the farming towns into Philadelphia, at least back when the town was new.  But we headed west. After a bit we turned off 30 onto a local road.

WP_20140712_13_01_49_Pro 1Once the road got a bit smaller, the strip malls and fast food faded away, and we saw the Amish buggies sharing the road. You could se the horse clopping along, the square black buggy behind it. Kids in their traditional dress in the back. The only thing out of place was the orange warning triangle, and electric turn signals and driving lamps on the side. I had heard that the lamps were needed now. Apparently there had been too many nighttime accidents. We weren’t sure how the electric signals fit in with the general anti-technology nature of the Amish, but that would make a good question for the farm tour tomorrow. We drove through the neighborhood, passing several markets, some local small stores, and stopped one we were in the town of Intercourse. It was a nice mix of Amish and “English” (the Amish reference for all non-Amish types). Both groups were working in the local shops together.

We walked through an amazing furniture shop. The local, hand made furniture was in several traditional styles, including a Mission style that was a dead-on match for our own furniture. Ours was made in a factory in Asia, and this was hand made by Amish and shakers. The price was the same as we paid. Crazy. I need to come out here with a U-haul. The local butcher had farm fresh everything, including Scrapple, a local dish which seemed to be some kind of liver and veggie sausage. Not too far off from Haggis. I probably would have liked it. Across from there was a local center with a series of small shops filled with local wares (but geared towards the tourists). The shops were shops. What was fascinating was watching the interaction of the locals (Amish and English) together.

We saw Amish girls on rollerblades heading home, and both men and boys on two-wheeled scooters zipping along. Only the tourists turned to look, this was normal here. We saw a local Amish teenage girl working an ice cream stand, who called out to an English teen boy in a pickup. wanting to know if he would be at the local such-and-such event this weekend. it was typical friendly teenage flirty behavior. we were actually surprised by that a bit. it was all so normal and comfortable. it was really relaxing. We were really looking forward to learning at the farm tour tomorrow. We were strangers in a strange land, but we wanted to become a bit more familiar.

It was getting hot again. The rain was pretty short at night, and didn’t cool things much. We got up and the streets were dry, and getting warm early. We took the Metro into town, our first planned stop was the Air and Space Museum. As soon as we got out of the metro in downtown, it was hot. We had to be careful today.

WP_20140710_12_08_51_Pro Air and Space is the Smithsonian museum that you always hear about. The place is huge and has everything that a nerd could love. I was a bit worried about boring Yulia too much, so I tried to dial my nerd index back a bit. Mostly I failed and ran around flapping my arms like Kermit the Frog. I also had to explain a few times that these weren’t models of famous aircraft, these were the real thing (or test units that were never flown). Then more arm flapping.

My big favorites were:

  • The Wright Flyer
    The first airplane. Made by a couple of bicycle shop guys. Protonerds. I have made the model of this plane multiple times. Read books about the brothers, and did a presentation on it with a diorama in 4th grade. This is always my favorite. I didn’t even take a picture because I know the damn thing inside and out. I just felt good to be near it.
  •  Skylab
    I clearly remember standing at my school bus stop the day that Skylab was falling out of the sky. An oddball, lopsided thing made out of leftover Saturn V rocket parts. They had a full, unused component in the museum you could walk into. It was a backup and never used. It was also cool to give Yulia and Sasha an idea of how big a Saturn V rocket was. Skylab was built out of the third stage. There was a great full exhibit on the station, the failures and successes (including the parasol that saved the station) and its eventual demise.
  • War at Sea
    They had a Aircraft carrier deck mockup, talking about how these planes worked and aircraft carriers work in general. My stepfather Ken is a retired Naval Aviator, and he flew attack planes off a carrier. Carriers are amazing.
  • Boeing 747 Nose
    there is only room for the nose (cockpit and some of the upper deck) of a 747 in the museum. The 747 is one of my favorites from Boeing (I worked as a contractor there when I was in aerospace). As it turned out, our neighbor who was watching our cats for us was involved in installing this exhibit (he works at Boeing).

But really everything was amazing. We walked through all the exhibits, but didn’t pay to do the extra interactive movies or things, that was too much time for us. We were getting hungry and wanted to find some lunch. The food court at Air and Space looked like fast food, so we walked toward the Smithsonian Castle to see what was there. It was a hot walk. By luck, they had a small but nice cafeteria and we grabbed lunch and ate in the first building of the Smithsonian Institution. It was being renovated, and they found some nice mosaics under the modern flooring, which were being restored. The food was pretty good, and I picked up extra water while we were there, and some kind of Brawndo (it has electrolytes!) as well.

We exited out the back, past a massive Lego replica of the Castle, and walked through an Asian art exhibit in the building directly behind. It was good, but the Seattle Asian Art Museum is better (in my opinion). This dropped us back onto the mall, in the shade, but hot. Our next plan was to go look at the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, but we weren’t going to make it in this heat. up ahead I saw one of the Citibike rental stations. Now *that* looked like a plan.

We had been talking about renting bikes for most of our trip, but it didn’t work out in central park, but these were what we really wanted. The rack was mostly empty, but there were four bikes remaining. We needed three. In our way were a very nice Asian family who were trying to make a decision on whether to rent or not. I walked up behind them, and they asked me how the system worked, and if they had to return the bikes here. I politely showed them the system, and pointed out the system map adjoining the pay station that showed the various drop off points around DC, mostly next to Metro stations. They smiled and thanked me, then walked away to go examine the system map.

I promptly rented the three bikes we needed, totally screwing them over. Sorry about that.

WP_20140710_13_37_15_Pro The bikes were great, it took a bit to get them adjusted, but soon we were off, cruising down the Mall. We had little bells that we ran as we passed people to pretend we were being polite, but mostly because it is fun to bike around ringing little bells. Even with the effort of biking it is so much cooler to bike in the heat, the wind cools you right down, so we felt great, We were at the Washington Monument in no time. I pointed out the change in color (that everyone points out) that happened because of the Civil War. (they changed quarries). We weaved around people and kept going towards the reflecting pond.

We hit the World War II memorial first, and walked our bikes in. It was a very grand memorial, straddling the reflecting pond, with pillars for each state and territory and an arch on each side for the Atlantic and Pacific. It is moving, and in many ways exactly what you expect when you see a war memorial. We left and biked down the pond, up the the Vietnam Memorial. Yulia and Sasha had never seen it. I saw it when I was a child. It is a large, black scar, with the names of lost Americans across the stone. I remember it as being very controversial when it was built, but you can’t argue that it doesn’t move you. It is truly amazing. Flags and flowers were left by those who visited lost ones. Someone left a six pack of beer for his fallen comrade. That almost broke me up.  We took some time there before moving on.

We went to the Lincoln Memorial next. I watched the bikes while the girls went up first.  I’m glad we brought extra water, it was boiling out in the sun. The view from the steps of the memorial was so familiar, it was in every movie and speech that i had seen, but it was still amazing to see in real life. When the girls came back down, i had a chance to go up to the memorial.

It is a beautiful memorial. Lincoln seated, the speeches on the wall. You look out he columns and and feel the city flowing in around you. Originally, this was going to be our last stop. But it was so quick and easy to get around on the bikes, that I looked at the map to see what else we could get in.

We continued around to the Korean War Memorial. Like the Vietnam memorial, it was moving, and a bit abstract, showing a group of mixed men moving forward. It noted the multinational force that fought. We continued on to the Martin Luther King memorial, where Dr. King emerges from a mountain surrounded by his own quotes. He directly faces the Jefferson Memorial. Jefferson owned slaves, yet spoke against slavery. a fitting dichotomy. Further down, we walked our bikes through the FDR memorial.

As an unabashed liberal, I have a deep respect for FDR. He took risks to recover America that few at the time were wiling to do. Overcame a deep personal handicap, that he refused to show (for better or worse). He led America through World War II, and worked to setup the United Nations to prevent further wars. He was far from a perfect president, or person, but he always had his heart in the right place and work for what he believed in.

We finished our tour by going to the Jefferson Memorial. You could see the rest of the city from here, over the Tidal Basin, It was beautiful. We stayed for a bit, then bicycled back up the shore, onto the mall, then back to the Smithsonian Station bicycle drop. We returned the bikes there. The metro station was overcrowded sure to a breakdown, so we walked a few blocks back to our main station to return to the hotel.

We went back to Old Town Alexandria fro dinner, to a top rated Blues Restaurant. They had some great southern food. I had an amazing Catfish, we tried Hush Puppies, local beer, Salmon, and a few other dishes. It was great food, we ate too much, and a good end to the District of Columbia.

WP_20140709_10_55_55_Pro The upside of the storm was that it cooled the city down considerably. But we didn’t want to get caught out in something like that again. We tried to sleep in a bit, but it’s hard to do that in a hotel, as the maids always want to chase you out of the room so they can clean things up and go through your underwear while you aren’t looking.

Once out of the room, we headed downstairs and had the hotel shuttle drop us off at the waterfront in Old Town Alexandria. The streets were still wet from the storm, and while muggy, the temperature was down at a comfortable level. There were very few people out in the morning, so we had the waterfront to ourselves.

There was a nice marina on the river, and behind that was what appeared to be some kind of art school called “The Torpedo Factory.” Sure enough, it was made out of an old torpedo factory. There were cool bulls-eye designs in the architecture and everything. On the side was what looked like a really nice food court, but it was sealed up with police tape. We peeked inside, and it was gutted. It didn’t look too old, and there were a few Fire department warnings posted, so we had to assume that some fire damaged something inside, and was never repaired. Too bad really, It had a great view and wonderful location.

We walked up the streets and checked out the shops. Ice cream was everywhere. With the heat yesterday, it made sense. That was probably the best way to cool down in the afternoon. After walking all the way through the Old Town main street, we caught the Tourist Trolley back down again. It gave a free little historical tour as we rode, which was cool to hear. One street led to old defenses for Washington DC from the civil war, another had information about former slave trade buildings. and there were banners about the War of 1812 everywhere. We probably could have done a full day just visiting these sites, but we wanted lunch.

French food remains out default choice, and we found a nice cafe that did amazing open face sandwiches and Gazpacho soup (another thing we found everywhere was Cold Gazpacho. Perfect in the heat.) After some good food I was feeling much better, and I was sure to drink more water than I thought I needed. We checked out one of the little ice cream places later on, and while the ice cream was amazing, the Air conditioning was set so high that we couldn’t actually stay inside to eat it.

The contrast between the heavy heat of the streets, and the super air conditioning of most of the buildings was really starting to knock us around. It hurts your head to keep switching between temperature extremes. Especially when you aren’t used to it.

Later that afternoon, we went into town to meet my friend Blake. I hadn’t seen him in a long time, and we wanted to say hi and hopefully go out on his boat for a bit. As we were zipping through the metro, our phones lit up again STORM WARNING. Looked like we weren’t going out. I texted with Blake, and he had the same warning but we still wanted to say hi at the dock.

We found him at the marina, which was the last live-aboard marina in DC. It was a really cool place right in the middle of downtown. Blake’s boat was a cool old Harbormaster. A funky boat from the 70’s kinda similar to our boat. He had it setup as a liveaboard, and it was a neat place to live. He had views out of his dock to the monuments downtown, and a short ride out into the river. Development was encroaching, we could see cranes down the riverbank building like crazy. We chatted with Blake a bit, and it looked like they would get priced out of the marina within a few years. But for the moment, he had one of the best places in town to live.

WP_20140709_17_42_09_Pro The rain started, and we were really nervous about getting caught in it again. I was nervous about getting sick again, so we cut our visit short and headed back. We didn’t get far and things really opened up. We ducked into a dockside restaurant, and decided to wait it out. We wern’t too far, so I tried to call Blake and see if he could join us, now that we were trapped by the rain, but we didn’t connect. Bummer

We sat and watched the rain on the river. A couple of drinks and some snacks joined us. It was nice to take our time and just rest a bit. It was nice to just sit together and do nothing.

We had a 9:30am appointment with our congresswoman, and we didn’t want to be late.

WP_20140708_10_01_39_ProWe had a Capitol Building tour scheduled with Susan DelBene’s office. We had contacted her office about a White House tour, but that wasn’t available, so they offered us a House tour instead. We thought that was a nice offer and were given a time to come by the office. It was easy to find as it was the only office in the Cannon Building with a Seahawks “I’m In!” poster on the front door. We went in and were greeted warmly by the whole staff. It was a great feeling to be warmly greeted. Susan was coming back from Seattle, so the Chief of Staff met us and introduced us to the rest of the staff.

One of the new interns was our guide. He took us down through the tunnels to the central security for the house. We passed that had had him escort us past the public lines to get into the house. Our guide was a quiet kid from Kirkland, just down the hill from our house. He had arrived for his internship only about a month before, and told us he had just gone through tour training. Apparently tours is a big part of House internship. He said his other jobs included writing up reports and doing basic research. Not a bad gig for the summer.

The House is amazing, There was an art exhibit on the tunnels in, submitted by stepchildren from each state. Distributed around the Capitol building are statues from each state. Every state gets to submit two statues, and they can replace them after a few years if they choose. I knew the Marcus Whitman statue from Walla Walla, but the other was no one I recognized. The Hawaiian statue of King Kamehameha was beautiful in black and gold. Our guide told us that according to Hawaiian tradition, no one is permitted to walk over statues of the king, so they had to hunt to fund a space that would work. This was pretty hard as the whole complex is filled with tunnels and overpasses.

We had some trouble understanding our guide, he was seriously nervous, and tended to walk and face away from us as he talked. We tried to engage him, and he got a little better, but I’m pretty sure we were his first tour. We were taken through the original House and Senate rooms, the original Supreme Court, saw some damage from the War of 1812, and saw the house 9/11 memorial, dedicated to the plane that was destined for Washington, until the passengers and crew took over. Still tragic.

The house was supposed to be in session, but apparently had been postponed until 6:00 that evening. So we were able to go up into the house gallery and sit, but there wasn’t much to see in activity. I still loved sitting there. You can be as cynical as you want about government, but in the end America is defined by our government. Modern democracy started here. The Constitution was an experiment, and for the most part it has worked better than anything else out there. And it has kept working for over 200 years. We had a lot of American History this trip. Sitting in the chamber, even empty, was a treat.

Once the tour was complete, we headed back to Rep. DelBene’s office, thanked everyone, and left the building.

It was hot. Africa hot.

We crossed the mall over to one of the Art museums, mostly to escape the heat. The museums on the mall are free. These were part of the National Gallery of Art. The building we entered first was mostly under renovation, so there wasn’t much to see. But it had an underground connection to the main building. The main gallery was massive, and we found a highlight guide to help us find the best exhibits.

I loved the fact that they sorted the art by era and type, you get to compare artists within styles better that way. I’m not completely sure whether sorting by artist, or period is more common, but I’ve seen both and this was nicely laid out. The collection of Van Gogh and dutch artists was great, and one of Sasha’s favorites, along with the only Davinci in North America. It was a small portrait of a woman, but according to the notes, appeared to have been trimmed smaller at one point. This meant that somewhere in the world was a small, but priceless portrait of a woman’s hand in her lap. I loved the impressionist collection. I saw several landscapes by Monet that I recognized, mostly because I once got sick on my roommate’s Monet print, and had to go buy another, but of course I got a Manet, because they sound the same as spoken by the snotty print shop clerk so I had to go back a second time and I’m never drinking peppermint schnapps again. With the flashbacks over, we continued through the renaissance art, Asian art, and Sculpture galleries. This place was just damn huge.

We finally got out of the gallery, and wanted to walk around for a while, like we did in New York, but we were overheated after a block. The closest place on our list was the Crime and Punishment museum. Sasha has become very interested in forensics after binge watching Bones, and from what we saw on the brochure, it looked like a pretty cool collection of exhibits and crime memorabilia. It was a hot couple of blocks up, but we walked in to a blast of AC. Right in the lobby was Ted Bundy’s VW bug. Wild.

We paid and went up the stairs, The whole building was section after section of various time periods, crimes, police information, and artifacts ranging from Elliot Ness to John Wayne Gacy (clowns will eat me). Sasha was going over everything in detail. I was surprised how huge the place was. I was also surprised how tired I was getting. We hadn’t walked nearly as much as we did in New York, but the transition from extreme heat to full AC was getting to me. I sat a bit and let the girls walk on. Close to the end of the museum they had two simulators. A cop car driving simulator, and a gun simulator. The car scenarios was just driving through intersections, trying to beat the clock. Everyone got hit by someone running a light. I couldn’t figure out the trick to that one. The gun as multiple different scenarios, and you had to fire once the suspect drew their weapon. Everyone pretty much just fired wildly. In the end it would tell you if you had “kill” or “wound” shots, and how many missed. Sasha knew how to use the sights on a gun, and had a couple good body kill shots. better than most of the other kids who tried. I Got two head kill shots, and a body wound shot. Not too bad.

We left the Crime Museum and the heat was worse than ever.

We planned to walk over to take a picture by the White House, then Cab over to Georgetown to get some food and shopping. Again, compared to New York this was a really small walk. We got maybe halfway and had to go into a coffee shop to get some water. Everything we brought with us was long gone. We kept going, Trying to find share but both sides of the street were about the same. Once we got to the Oval, the trees offered a bit of shade, we walked around the security huts, and found the crown out by the front taking pictures. There were security guards and police all around. It looked like one guard for 4 tourists was the ratio. They weren’t smiling, and at this point, neither was I. I could feel Heat Exhaustion coming on, we walked out of the front, and sat over by the side security gate. This turned out to be a good rest stop, as they cleared out the front a few minutes later, and cars started exiting the front parking lot. We weren’t sure if something was going on, or if it was just the end of the work day.

After a bit I felt good enough to walk over to a normal street and we had a cab take us up to Georgetown. Yulia had been there once before, and remembered a small section with shops and wooden streets. She had been to DC 10 years before for gymnastics, and she thought that was a beautiful old part of town that was worth seeing again. The cabbie didn’t know it, and dropped us int he middle of Georgetown. Yulia asked in a shop, the girls there thought they knew where it was, and we headed that direction.

Nope. We couldn’t see anything that looked right. It was a nice part of town, but too much had changed for Yulia to recognize where to go. We were getting hungry, it was really hot, so we went back to the main street and found a nice French place, with a sad Brazilian waitress watching her country lose the World Cup on the big screen overhead. Sorry miss.

We sat, and I ordered a light beer. The menu looked great, but I was so dehydrated and overheated at that point that I was getting chills. The beer and water helped, I had a little of some very good chicken, and both Yulia and Sasha ordered some fantastic looking food. All throughout dinner, our phones kept beeping with STORM WARNINGs from our various weather apps. Outside looked clear. But by the time we were done, we looked out and it was *pouring* rain. I didn’t want to push it by walking to the metro station, so we called a cab. Not a cheap ride, but I was done for the day. Halfway back the lightning started. Once at the hotel I crawled into bed. I was freezing. The rain was coming down in sheets, and the sky was filled with lightning.

D.C. won this round. We will see how the next day goes.

WP_20140707_21_18_10_ProSasha woke with a case of Guliani’s Revenge, and was not looking good. We were supposed to catch the bus down to Washington D.C., but I thought that might be a bit hard with her feeling sick. We called up a rental agency and found a one way car we could rent just a few blocks away. The girls packed and went to the lobby to wait while I walked over to get the car.

Getting the car was easy. My problem was driving back through morning Manhattan traffic to get to the hotel. I had a pretty good idea of the layout of the city to get there, but navigating the taxi and pedestrian traffic was going to be interesting. Getting the correct combination of one way streets was another puzzle to solve.

I pulled out of the rental place and turned down the street. It was one-way, away from the hotel. No worries, I could take the next left. I did, which took me towards the hotel, and I quickly realized that this was the exit ramp into the Lincoln Tunnel. Not good. I pulled into a Driveway, and weaved through a parking lot so I wasn’t sent out into New Jersey. The lot let out into another one way, away from the hotel. I followed this further towards the waterfront, and got on a main arterial. This was good. Unfortunately, the first left I could make was several blocks past the hotel again, so I had to find another left to get me uptown.

The cabs were largely leaving me alone, I think using the turn signal was confusing them, as no one else seemed to know what these lights were for. My next puzzle to solve was that none of the streets allowed left turns uptown. So I ended up looping around the Empire State building with a series of right turns. I ended up circling the farmer’s market from earlier in the week, cut through some kind of delivery alley, but ended up heading north, towards the hotel finally.

The cabs were much more aggressive here, but I was feeling more comfortable with the tailgate-and-brake-randomly dynamic, and made my way over the avenue, hitting the left turn onto 39th just in time. I pulled in front of the hotel, loaded the girls in, and we were gone. I already knew how to get into the Lincoln Tunnel, so now it was just a matter of traffic.

The car was a good call. Sasha lay down in back and took a big nap. We stopped a few times to snack and rest, but by taking it easy she was feeling better by the time we were in Maryland. Our hotel was in Alexandria, Virginia, so we circled the beltway, and avoided most of the city traffic.

Our next hotel was outside the city, not too far from Old Town Alexandria. We had a short walk to the metro station to go into town, and a much bigger room.

We took a little walk in the evening around the area. The cicadas were out in force, and the air was clear. New York was fun, but it was nice to be out of the city.