Atlantic City ~ June 23-26

I had been to Atlantic City once before, but have no recollection of the city from that time.  I was 12 and traveling with family friends and we headed straight to the beach.

Life Guard's Boat @ Atlantic City Beach
Life Guard’s Boat @ Atlantic City Beach

I didn’t really have a strong desire to visit Atlantic City again; however, Trey saw our visit to the Jersey Shore as an opportunity to play black jack and check out the casinos.  He enjoys Las Vegas casinos, so I was fine with basing our Jersey stay in Atlantic City, as he has made numerous such concessions for me on our travels.

We used points to stay at a downtown hotel adjoining the city’s convention center that had hosted Miss America Pageants since the pageant’s inception, but apparently not in a decade or so.

Phyllis George's dress from Miss America Pageant in 1971
Phyllis George’s dress from Miss America Pageant in 1971

Throughout the hotel’s lobby and restaurant were exhibits of the evening gowns worn by past Miss Americas.  Photos from the pageants were displayed all along the outside walls of the convention center.  It was a bit like stepping back in time, except the exhibits dated only up to the year 2000, so it was more like the hotel and convention center were stuck in time, still basking in the glory of days long passed.

Atlantic City Boardwalk @ Night
Atlantic City Boardwalk @ Night

Most of the casinos we explored had large sections of gambling tables closed and few people in the areas that were open.  It was very evident that the city is no longer the east coast’s premier gambling city.  Trey and I assumed that new competition from surrounding states is a large factor.  An NPR story we happen to catch a couple of weeks after our visit confirmed this assumption.  We also later came across a headline that reported the Miss America pageant is returning to Atlantic City this September.

The area between our hotel and the beach was taken up by an outdoor Tanger Outlet Mall that looked relatively new, but few shoppers were taking advantage of the bargains.  I came to the conclusion that Atlantic City should re-brand itself and invest in a serious PR campaign.

Atlantic City, Brighton Beach
Atlantic City, Brighton Beach

The city has miles of great shoreline and great shopping; with some investment and change of focus, it could become the east coast’s new premier family destination.

Trey spent twice as much time in Atlantic City than I, so is happily contributing to this post…

Our original plans were to go to Atlantic City and tour the coast, driving up and down the coast line to Avalon, Ventnor City, Cape May, and other small towns, but the best laid plans sometimes fall through.  We left DC and headed to Baltimore where Mart flew to Austin the following morning for follow-up appointments for her ankle (see Wichita Mountains), and my job was to head to Atlantic City and get settled in.

View of Atlantic City from our hotel room
View of Atlantic City from our hotel room

Despite missing my navigator, I arrived at our Atlantic City hotel fine around 4 p.m.  Being a card player, I was excited to head down to the boardwalk and check out the casinos.  I cut through town for the Showboat Casino.  A prudent person would have headed straight toward the ocean and then worked their way up and down the boardwalk.  Despite my off the beaten path route, I got there — live and learn.

The boardwalk was great.  The casinos, well, I will say, so so.  I stopped in the Showboat, the Taj Mahal, the Resorts (Margaritaville), Bally’s, and Caesars.  The action wasn’t anything like Las Vegas.  After several hours, I walked the boardwalk watching people.

Atlantic City Boardwalk Casinos
Atlantic City Boardwalk Casinos

Upon leaving Caesars for the Sheraton, I middle-aged man on a BMX bike intentionally tried to run into me.  This sent him flying in front of a car, missing it by inches.  It wasn’t even a minute later, and he had run into a woman, lightly injuring her.  Not sure if he was a pic-pocket or what, he scooted off quickly, looking back the whole time as cars and people were stopping to check on the woman.  All I can say is beware!

The following day I played cards a little more at Tropicana and Caesars before heading to the Philadelphia airport to pick-up Mart.  I happened to find a replacement bicycle for the one stolen in Washington, D.C., at a bike shop near the University of Pennsylvania.   Keswick Cycle staff quickly put it together for me and I was able to quickly swing by and pick it up on my way to the airport.

That evening we walked to the boardwalk and happened upon a light and music show.  It was not as good as the downtown Las Vegas light show, but still interesting.

Brighton Beach People Watching
Brighton Beach People Watching

The next morning we headed to the beach for a swim and people watching.  Some may recall the 1980’s movie Working Girl.  Well, we had fun watching a guy that could have been Alex Baldwin’s character from that movie – stereotypical jersey shore male.  He had the accent, was on the phone with a cigarette in his mouth the entire time, including while his girlfriend rubbed sunscreen over his face. He even came back from getting into the water with his cigarette still lit even though he was completely soaked.  I’m not sure how he managed that, but we had a nice laugh.

Atlantic City, Brighton Beach fun
Atlantic City, Brighton Beach fun

Mart and I got in the water for a while.  We had a young teenager following us with his bogey board, especially when we waded out in the ocean.  We thought it strange, but then realized he didn’t want to be by himself out in the waves.  I guess we were the shark bait.

We had a great day, and that night walked the boardwalk again and I gambled a little.  Overall, Atlantic City was okay, but I don’t think I would choose to visit it again.

Cloud rainbow
Cloud rainbow

 

 

 

 

Washington, D.C. & Chesapeake Bay ~ June 17-23

We traveled from Asheville, North Carolina to Washington D.C. via Charlottesville, Virginia, specifically to stop in on friend of my parents from when I was a child and she a young woman going to college in Wichita Falls.  We had a wonderful evening catching up and she was kind enough to indulge me with stories of her time with my parents.

Charlottesville, VA
Charlottesville, VA

We arrived in D.C. the next day in time for rush hour, but not too late to enjoy a simple evening visiting with my sister who hosted us for the week.  Her and her husband’s apartment is very conveniently located to the Smithsonian museums and national monuments, so on our first full day, we opted to use our bicycles instead of dealing with traffic and parking.

Early Congressional meeting area when the capitol would get to hot
Early Congressional meeting area when the capitol would get too hot

After a quick ride through the Capitol grounds, we headed to the National Botanical Garden, but did not stay there long as it was the hottest day of the year for D.C. and botanical gardens aren’t the best places to cool off.

Patriotic bloom in the National Botanical garden
Patriotic bloom in the National Botanical garden

The next stop was a short ride to the National Gallery of Art.  We locked our bikes on the rack located near the entrance to the west gallery, which houses the older more traditional pieces, planning to spend an hour and a half there before grabbing some lunch and moving onto the contemporary galleries in the east building.

New Acquisition -  Vincent van Gogh, Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890
New Acquisition – Vincent van Gogh, Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890

The beauty of the art took over us immediately and we completely lost ourselves in the worlds and times of Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir and Pissarro.

Only da Vinci in the U.S. - Leonardo da Vinci's Ginevra de' Benci 1474-1478
Only da Vinci in the U.S. – Leonardo da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci 1474-1478

Three hours later, the hunger pangs in our stomachs demanded our attention back to the present, so we headed out of the museum with the intention to find a nearby diner or deli.  Those plans quickly changed when we arrived at the bike rack to find only one bike – there was no trace of Trey’s.  We got the attention of a security guard standing nearby who escorted us back into the museum to file a report.

On the upside, we did get to walk through the gallery’s basement on our way to the security office and see the large art crates being unloaded in the receiving area.  Plus, the evening ended well with our first of many planned ballpark stops…

Nationals Park - Nationals vs Astros, June 18th
Nationals Park – Nationals vs Astros, June 18th

at least it ended well for the Nationals who beat Trey’s Astros 6-5. (It was a rough day for Trey.)

National Museum of the Marine Corps

The old and the new -- two veterans in foreground with groups of young Marines on both sides
The old and the new — two veterans in foreground with groups of young Marines on both sides

My sister had previously visited the Marine Corp museum and relayed her positive experience.  She knew we would enjoy it, especially the exhibit related to drill instructors. Our father, who enlisted in the Marine Corp when he was 17 and was a veteran of World War II and Korea, had been a drill instructor and rose to the rank of Master Sergeant.

Famous 2nd flag raised at Iwa Jima
Famous 2nd flag raised at Iwa Jima

The museum provides a comprehensive history of all major battles, and the stories of the evolution of the Corp from its beginning in 1775 to present day.  It was a great complement to our visit to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

World War II National Monument with the Washington Monument
World War II National Monument with the Washington Monument

United State Holocaust Museum

On the day we toured the United State Holocaust Museum we were lucky to catch a lecture by one of the museum’s archivists regarding the ongoing coordinated efforts to research and return artwork looted by the Nazi’s during WWII, beginning with the works rescued by the international group of volunteers known as the “Monuments Men.”  The biggest challenge facing this effort was not the lack of record keeping by the Nazi’s, it was, and still is, the fact that those records were scattered among 18 different countries in the chaos immediately following Germany’s fall.  More recently, the verification of the authenticity of records has become more difficult due to advance forgery techniques.

White House West Wing

Outside of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building
Outside of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building

The highlight of our time in D.C. came on the last evening in the city. Our daughter, Lindsey, flew in from Austin for business and, along with my sister’s son and daughter-in-law, joined us for the evening.  Following a fabulous dinner at the Bombay Club, my nephew led us on a tour of the White House’s west wing.  The tour included peeks into the Oval Office, the Roosevelt Room where the President meets with cabinet members, and the Navy Mess where cabinet members, senior officials and commissioned officers eat lunch.

White House Press Room
White House Press Room

The familiar press room is the only indoor area where photos are allowed, and is much smaller than it appears to be on television.

West Wing of the White House
West Wing of the White House

Greenleaf on the Magothy

Blue Heron @  Greenleaf, MD
Blue Heron @ Greenleaf, MD

We ended the week at my sister’s and brother-in-law’s house near the Chesapeake Bay.  Their dock and beach area are perfect for bird watching and all possible water recreation activities.

Greenleaf, MD
Greenleaf, MD

Trey and Lindsey headed directly to check out the dock and in only a few minutes Trey was set up to fish.  Unlike the fish in North Carolina, the Maryland fish were very cooperative – Trey caught 28 small bass and one keeper-sized catfish.  He released each fish immediately, but as the smile on his face indicates, he had a fabulous time!

The Big Catch, Greenleaf, MD
The Big Catch, Greenleaf, MD

Lindsey happily and peacefully snoozed through all the excitement.

Sleepy Lindsey, Greenleaf, MD
Sleepy Lindsey, Greenleaf, MD

My brother-in-law arrived from California early on our last morning at Greenleaf, and despite only a couple of hours of sleep, he was up for kayaking with Trey and Lindsey…

Kayaking @ Greenleaf
Kayaking @ Greenleaf

and later, for a ride out into the rougher, and much busier, waters of the Chesapeake.

Chesapeake Bay, MD
Chesapeake Bay, MD

It was a lovely day, but the afternoon sun soon began bearing down on us and caused us to turn back to shore early.

Sleepy Lindsey on the Chesapeake
Sleepy Lindsey on the Chesapeake

Greenleaf is an incredibly special place to visit, and I can tell it will be a wonderful gathering place for my sister’s family for generations to come.

Osprey, Greenleaf MD
Osprey, Greenleaf MD

Asheville, North Carolina ~ June 9-16

With Austin’s zealous housing market, surging population and current questionable water supply, we realize that it may not be feasible for us to be able to return to the city we love and have called home for the last 26 years.

We’d heard good things of Asheville for some time, so scheduled an entire week there in order to be able to thoroughly check the area out and get a feel for the city as a potential place to settle once we decide to do so.

Blue Ridge Parkway crossing the road to where we stayed
Blue Ridge Parkway crossing the road to where we stayed

We quickly found out from locals that we are not the only couple considering Asheville as a future place to settle. The rumor is that President Obama has bought property and plans to move his family there upon leaving office. While newspaper reports state that the White House is denying such a purchase, the people of Asheville continue to think otherwise.

Asheville is definitely laid back, slower paced than Austin, and lacks the traffic issues.

Cat Asheville Cottage

We thoroughly enjoyed our time there, particularly the easy access to the seemingly infinite options of outdoor activities.

Just outside of Asheville

Just outside of Asheville

We stayed just outside of the city in an “eco” cottage located just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Country living for the week was a welcomed change after staying in the city centers of New Orleans and Atlanta. We awoke with the sun each morning and to the sounds of chickadees, woodpeckers and goats.

Baby Goat - Asheville
Baby Goat – Asheville

The easy pace of Asheville took hold of us immediately as our first full day was spent strolling through artists working studios in the city’s River Arts Districts and enjoying the funky culture and food of West Asheville, which was reminiscent of that of Austin’s South Congress 10-15 years ago.

Buddies, Asheville, NC
Buddies, Asheville, NC

However, the bulk of our time was spent enjoying the gorgeous landscapes, winding mountain roads, and some of the numerous hiking trails, rivers and lakes that surround Asheville.

Chimney Rock State Park

Located about 25 miles southeast of Asheville, this is a beautifully maintained state park that offers tremendous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Chimney Rock, NC
Chimney Rock, NC

We trekked the 491 steps to the top of the park’s namesake rock, followed by a short hike to Hickory Nut Falls.

Descent from Chimney Rock, NC
Descent from Chimney Rock, NC

The falls is featured in the movie, The Last of the Mohicans, which we have yet to see.

Hickory Nut Falls, Chimney Rock, NC
Hickory Nut Falls, Chimney Rock, NC

Lake Lure, NC

Just beyond Chimney Rock lies Lake Lure, a quaint to upscale community in a narrow valley on a southern inlet of the mountain lake of the same name.

View of Lake Lure from Chimney Rock
View of Lake Lure from Chimney Rock

We took time to walk the footpath along the waterfront, where we watched boats loaded with tourists head out to and in from the main part of the lake, chatted with locals fishing, and admired the lakefront houses.

Beach at Lake Lure, NC
Beach at Lake Lure, NC

Nantahala Gorge

The Nantahala offers some of the best rafting in the area and normally we would have partaken in such activity, but being less than three weeks since breaking my ankle, we instead opted to enjoy the river by train.

Rafters on the Nantahala, NC
Rafters on the Nantahala, NC

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad departs from Bryson City, North Carolina, which is 68 miles west of Asheville.

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

We arrived in the city early with the intention of eating breakfast before catching the train.  Yelp offered reviews of several restaurants, but we choose the Everett Street Diner because of the local police cars and five Harley Davidsons that were parked outside its entrance.  Outside of New Orleans, it offered the best breakfast we’d had to date, and it was certainly the best price.

The 4 hour round trip train ride wound through narrow passages, crossing the Appalachian Trail and Lake Fontana (which is a dull murky green color due to the copper deposits at its bottom), and along the Nantahala River.

Lake Fontana, NC
Lake Fontana, NC

The river’s most challenging rapids are along the Nantahala Outdoor Center where the 2013 U.S. Olympic kayak freestyle team trained.

Nantahala Rapids
Nantahala Rapids

We also found it interesting that the water flows along this section of the Nantahala are slowed to a trickle each evening by an upstream dam.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park ~ Deep Creek

Trey spotted a national park sign as we were leaving Bryson City and decided to follow it.  Stumbling across the Deep Creek area of the park was a great addition to what was already a full day.

Deep Creek Section of Smoky Mountain Nat'l Park
Deep Creek Section of Smoky Mountain Nat’l Park

We followed two of the three trailheads accessible from the parking lot and leading to separate waterfalls.

Deep Creek, Smoky Mountains National Park
Deep Creek, Smoky Mountains National
Park

We also loved watching the tubers navigate through the creek’s rocks and currents and found ourselves wishing that we had our bicycles to further explore the parks paved pathways.  We did end up returning to the park with our bikes later in the week.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Upon finally leaving the Bryson City area, we decided to loop 10 miles out of our way to check out Cherokee, North Carolina, despite plans to visit it the coming weekend. It is the headquarters of the Eastern Band of Cherokees – the band of Cherokees that broke with the Cherokee Nation prior to removal (The Trail of Tears).

We simply drove through the city and made mental notes of places we wanted to visit on our return.  I had recalled that Cherokee was the western end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 469 limited access national park road that cuts through and along the top of the Blue Ridge range of the Appalachian Mountains from eastern North Carolina to northwestern Virginia.

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway
View from the Blue Ridge Parkway

Since a quick check on Google maps showed that returning to Asheville via the Blue Ridge Parkway would add only 16 miles to our trip, we decided to do such that and add to the day’s adventures.

Rain over the Blue Ridge Mountains
Rain over the Blue Ridge Mountains

Light rain started falling as we entered the parkway at milepost 469, and fell off and on at varying strengths throughout the three hour drive limiting the vistas, but not to the extent that we were not completely impressed and in awe of the surrounding beauty. However, the clouds that sat at higher elevations kept our eyes keenly focused on the only thing visible – the road’s stripes keeping us in our lane.

Despite the occasional nervousness of the drive we foraged through bypassing several opportunities to escape to the lower elevations of state and interstate highways, arriving safely back in Asheville as the sun set.

Fishing and Drawing on the French Broad River

The French Broad winds through and around Asheville and is dotted with “river parks” designated as fishing, swimming, and water craft areas.  Trey tried out his casting skills at two such parks but the fish were not biting those days.  I took advantage of the scenery and good weather to do some sketching – something I very much enjoyed in my much younger, and less scheduled, days.

Sketch of he Blue Ridge Parkway over the French Broad River
Sketch of he Blue Ridge Parkway over the French Broad River

Voices of the Cherokee Festival

We returned to Cherokee, North Carolina for the Eastern Band’s annual festival celebrating their heritage, stories, art and culture. We particularly enjoyed a story about the examples we set for our children in the way we care for aging parents, probably because it “hit close to home” for both of us.

Similar to Austin’s painted guitar sculptures, Cherokee has bears
Similar to Austin’s painted guitar sculptures, Cherokee has bears – (Sequoyah)

The story of why there is an Eastern Band of Cherokee is told at the museum and it describes how, after initially and legally avoiding the forced march west, the band persevered through continued removal efforts through various legal means and also by simply hiding in caves among the Smoky Mountains.

Food & Father’s Day

Like everywhere we’ve traveled and will visit, the Asheville area is not short of amazing local fare.  The Everett Street diner was relegated to second best breakfast since New Orleans on Father’s Day when, at the recommendation of a friend, we brunched at the Stoney Knob Café in Weaverville.

Our delightful server at Stoney Knob, Emily, elaborated on President Obama’s plans — she had heard that not only is he moving to Asheville, but that he also plans to follow his passion for craft beer by opening a brewery.

Mountain Trout, Genny's, Chimney Rock, NC
Mountain Trout, Genny’s, Chimney Rock, NC

We also enjoyed Tupelo Honey Café in Hendersonville, a streamside lunch at Genny’s Family Restaurant in Chimney Rock Village, and paninis and cherry pie at the West End Bakery in West Asheville.

Trey took some time on his own to play golf on Father’s day at a municipal course close to where we were staying.  He reported that the course is well laid out and a fun course with a challenging back 9, but he was particularly impressed with the price – a total of $64 for the green fee, clubs, a cart, 5 balls, a bag of tees, and a golf glove.

We thoroughly enjoyed our week in the Asheville area and left it with the feeling that it is a community that offers everything we think we’ll be seeking after our travels, with one notable exception — family.

Deep Creek, Smoky Mtn Nat'l Park
Deep Creek, Smoky Mtn Nat’l Park