Thursday, April 26, 2007

Photographic Evidence

This is the map of my 2003 trip. Some of the pictures I took can be found in my Travel Set.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My Big Fat 2003 Road Trip

In 2003, I set out on a road trip for 3 1/2 weeks to see the 16 US states that I hadn't seen yet. (No, Alaska or Hawaii yet)

I went through 16 new states (31 states total), two Canadian provinces and one Mexican state

April 16 to Detroit, MI - I drove from Minneapolis to Detroit. I wasn't too eventful, but I did hit traffic in Chicago and got pictures of the Sears tower out my car window. After driving around the airport three times, I realize I forgot to get specific directions to most of my hotels. I had the Priceline printouts and decent maps, but that was it. I finally got to the hotel about 11:00 pm.

April 17 to Montreal, CANADA - I had to cross the border into Canada and they didn't like the fact that I didn't bring my birth certificate, so they searched my car. A crabby immigration lady explained to me that a driver's license does not mean you are a citizen. I got through, exchanged my money and got a map of Ontario from the tourism commission. I stopped at a grocery store and made some purchases while figuring out the exchange rate.
I set out for Toronto and finally got downtown at about 3pm. I had taken a wrong turn and gone a half an hour out of my way. I parked by the CN Tower (the tallest man-made structure in the world at the time) and went up. It was too windy to go the highest part, but I got to the observation deck and took a bunch of pictures. My digital camera wasn't working, but I had a back up Advantix. There's a part where you can see through the floor, all the way down to the ground! It's eerie. I left at 5pm and hit a traffic jam. While stuck, I heard Carolyn Dawn Johnson's "Complicated", which sounded like a lyrical ripoff of Avirl Lavigne's song with the same name. I headed east towards Montreal and didn't get to my hotel until about 11:30 pm.

April 18 in Montreal, CANADA - I drove to a Park & Ride lot, found the subway station and took the train downtown. I had a bagel and very strong coffee. I saw the outside of Notre Dame Cathedral, got some sangria at the SAQ (a liquor store owned by Quebec), had some beers at a bar, and generally wandered throughout the city for the whole day. It's really pretty, and I want to go back in the summer.

April 19 to Portland, ME - I got some gas right before I crossed back over the border into Vermont. They asked a few questions about how long I had been in Canada and what I had purchased (I fessed up about the Sangria) and they just waved me through. Quite a different experience from the Detroit/Windsor crossing. I drove through the White Mountains and thought about going to see the Old Man in the Mountain in New Hampshire (Franconia Notch). I decided not to, and a few weeks later I heard it collapsed! I could have had one of the last pictures ever taken of it :-( I stopped at a SuperWalMart in Maine and got my oil changed and a good battery for my digital camera. I stayed at a sad little Red Roof in Portland.

April 20 to New York City - It was Easter Sunday and I had already been to Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut in 1999. I headed right to my hotel in Rye, NY but had trouble with the exits around White Plains. Finally found the hotel and settled in.

April 21-24 in New York City - Staying in Westchester county, I had to take the commuter train into Grand Central Station each day. I decided to start at the southern tip of Manhattan and work my way North. Passing by the Custom House, I saw a series of sculptures, The Four Continents by Daniel Chester French. They represent from left to right Asia, America, Europe, and Africa. I went to Fort Wood in Battery Park and took the ferry out to Liberty Island. Even though the statue was closed, I wandered around the island for over an hour. The ferry also stopped at Ellis Island, but I didn't get off there, just took a few pictures. I headed north and walked past a mangled sphere that had been in the courtyard of the World Trade Center when the towers collapsed. I walked through Wall Street and ended up at Ground Zero, which I had not planned to see. It was a big fence around a hole in the ground.

The next day I started out in a park near the Brooklyn Bridge (still in Manhattan), then I walked about halfway over the bridge and took tons of pictures. I went past a large Buddhist Temple and entered Chinatown. I did some shopping and then went over to Little Italy. I got some cannolli (some to eat there and some for the hotel).

The next day centered on Central Park. I got some groceries and went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I walked up the stairs of the Belvedere Castle and saw Strawberry Fields. Then I headed over to the Empire State building. Remember those groceries? I had a glass bottle in my bag, which was empty but I had not it thrown away yet. When I went through security, the guy held my bag and said, "Beer?". I laughed and explained I just hadn't thrown the bottle away yet, but he didn't see it as funny. The bottle went into the trash and I was admitted! The view was awesome because I was up there during sunset. So I have several overcast day shots and many night ones as well.

The next day I hit Times Square and then went on a Circle Line Tour on a boat that circles Manhattan. It was quite informative, and they included Ellis and Liberty Islands. The most interesting part was when they talked about the area of wilderness at the northern tip. After the tour, I headed over to Washington Square Park and the area around NYU. I wanted to see the Arch there, but it was under scaffolding. I got some shots of the Flatiron building instead.
To cap off my last day in NYC, I saw the movie Holes and also bought one of those big movie/video guides to start working on my movie lists.

April 25 to Baltimore, MD - After driving through the New York City freeways, in traffic that wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be, I headed for Red Bank, NJ. It is the hometown of director Kevin Smith and I went there to visit Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash, his comic book store. I bought a comic book and some Simpsons merchandise there. I stopped at a Wendy's in Philadelphia and made it to Baltimore just as the rain started.

April 26 to Roanoke, VA - I had to visit West Virginia, so I decided to go to Harper's Ferry. The National Park is full of history that precedes John Brown's blockade there, since it is situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. I also tried to drive through the Shenandoah National Park, but it was way too foggy. I did, however get one of my favorite pictures I have ever taken at a rest stop in the park.

April 27 to Atlanta, GA - Left Virginia and went through North Carolina without incident. I had some issues with customers from NC at one of my previous jobs, but everyone I met was great. There was some more bad traffic outside Greenville, SC, so I pulled off and ate at a Burger King. I didn't visit the city of Atlanta, but stayed in the Renaissance Hotel near the airport, which was nice but obviously aged. I had a hotel room larger than my studio apartment.

April 28 to New Orleans, LA - Next up was New Orleans, and I decided to drive in from the northwest, and wait until I left the city to drive north over Lake Pontchartrain. I stayed in the Doubletree on the Lake, and had a nice view if I stood right by my window. While in New Orleans, I got a call from a friend telling me her grandmother passed away. I wished I could fly home at that point to be there for her, but she said she understood why I couldn't attend the funeral.

April 29 in New Orleans, LA - I was unimpressed with New Orleans as a whole. The traffic was bad, the neighborhoods dodgy, and the prices high. It's not a city to drive through, especially if you are visiting downtown. I went to the Harrah's casino they have downtown, saw the Spanish plaza, paid $14.50 to go through the Aquarium of the Americas, hit Plaza de Armas, some of the French Quarter and shopped at some tourist trap store. The Mississippi actually gets so windy at the end that the river surrounds the city on three sides.

April 30 to Houston, TX - My morning started with a drive over Lake Pontchartrain. They built a 24 mile causeway down the middle of the lake, making it the world's longest overwater highway bridge. When you get close enough to the middle of the lake, you can't see any land around you in any direction, since the lake's area is 630 square miles. You only pay a toll when driving south, so I had made the right choice in saving the drive until after New Orleans. I headed west across the widest part of Louisiana, through Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Lake Charles. The landscape was one of the most unusual I have seen in the country, where the highway dips down below the trees and then rises above the marshy swamps for a breathtaking view. I got to my hotel in Houston early enough to head to a local mall and see Anger Management.

May 1 to San Antonio, TX - I only had to drive three and a half hours to San Antonio, so I had some time to fool around in Houston before leaving. I decided to visit NASA, since I had missed visiting Cape Canaveral when I was in Orlando. After making it through some bad traffic, I went on their standard tour, which was a little disappointing. We saw a large rocket, the old command room and the training area. The gift shops were very cool, though.

May 2 to El Paso, TX - Driving from San Antonio to El Paso was supposed to take 12 hours, but it was more like 10 and a half. I stopped to eat at Sonic on the way. On this trip, I tried not to eat at any restaurant that we have in Minneapolis and I was mostly successful. There was that BK back in South Carolina, and I did end up eating at one Subway and one Cracker Barrel, but that was it.

May 3 to Phoenix, AZ - Since I'd been in Canada, I couldn't be so close to Mexico and not see it, so I parked my car in a lot specifically made for tourists who don't want to bring their cars over the border and walked across the bridge to Juarez. I bought some beer and bad vodka and paid with American money, but got Mexican currency as change. At the time, the Mexican dollar was worth about 10 cents, so you just added or dropped the zero to convert amounts. I walked around the city, snapping some pictures and going into local shops. As I headed back to the border, I had very little Mexican money left and a woman was begging for change right before the line to get back in the US. I gave her the rest of my money, saving a few 10 peso coins for souvenirs. I had to show ID to get back in and declare my liquor purchases, which required me to pay about 60 cents in taxes to the State of Texas. On the way back to my car, I fully expected to return to an empty parking spot, but my car was just where I'd left it.

Somewhere between San Antonio and Phoenix, I drove through Texas Canyon

My mother wanted to join me for a few days in Las Vegas, but while we were planning the flight, we figured she could meet me in Phoenix and drive home with me and would only need to take one more day off of work. I got to my hotel in the afternoon and she took the hotel shuttle from the airport. We were both hungry, so we drove around trying to find some good food and eventually settled on Jack in the Box.

May 4 to Grand Canyon, AZ - My mom and I were impressed with how scenic Phoenix was and we stopped at the Botanical Gardens on our way out of town. There was a Butterfly hut, lots of cacti and very cool sculptures there. We headed north to the Grand Canyon and ended up getting to the campsite after dark. We had keep the car headlights on the pitch the tent! Neither one of us got a very good night's sleep, since the temperature got down to about 50F.

May 5 to Las Vegas, NV - The next morning we set out to visit the rim and were astonished to find that we had been driving right past it the previous night, we just couldn't see it in the darkness. The Grand Canyon was everything they say it is, and you really have to be there to understand just how breathtaking and majestic it is. We did not ride any mules to the bottom, nor did Bobby and Cindy run away at any point. We headed west into some very bright sun and crossed Las Vegas Boulevard on the way our hotel.

May 6 in Las Vegas, NV - We hung out in Vegas hitting the Venetian, the Bellagio, Treasure Island, Ceasar's Palace, and the Mirage.

May 7 in Las Vegas, NV - We went to Hoover Dam today. Despite the myths, there are no dead bodies in it, but there is still concrete inside of it that has not cured, and never will. Backin town, we had a nice buffet at the Tropicana, went through New York New York, MGM and Excalibur. We saw the lions at MGM and I wondered if they took down the Twin Towers from the New York New York casino.

May 8 to Bryce Canyon, UT - I never expected Utah to be anything special, even when I was told to visit Bryce Canyon or Zion National Park. It actually turned out to be the biggest surprise on my whole trip. After setting out from Vegas in the morning and going back through a corner of Arizona, my mother and I went northeast to Bryce Canyon.
We rested for bit in our hotel and then headed into the park to see the Canyon. The sun started setting as soon as we got to the rim, so there were eerie shadows behind the hoodoos. It was easy to see why they were once thought of as the souls of dead ancestors by the Native Americans.

May 9 to Denver, CO - We finished the drive across Utah with more of the prettiest scenery you'll ever see in America, hooking up with I-70 and heading over the Rocky Mountains. By the time we hit Vail, snow was falling pretty rapidly and we still had an hour to get to Denver. These were the worst driving conditions I have ever experienced! Darkness, unfamiliar roads, freeway traffic and sloppy, wet snow all combined in one hellacious mountain drive. At one point, a car passed us and splashed our windshield so badly that the wipers couldn't keep up and I was driving blind for about three seconds, which felt like three hours at the time. We made it into Denver but had some trouble finding the hotel. I think there was construction involved, but I'm not sure.

May 10 to Omaha, NE - I woke up to my mother telling me to look outside, where I found the parking lot buried in snow. We have snow like that in Minnesota, but never in May! Luckily, I'd kept my ice scraper/snow brush in my trunk and we dug the car out. Driving out of Denver, the land was so bright from being covered in snow that I had to wear sunglasses and still got a headache from squinting. We pulled off the freeway and had breakfast at a restaurant with a ranch theme. My mom said her Huevos Rancheros were the best she's ever tasted. We made it all the way to Omaha that night, and it seemed appropriate since that was where my whole idea for the trip started. We stayed in a Sheraton, where the people above us were so loud they kept my mother awake. I had on headphones, so I didn't have much trouble sleeping.

May 11 to Home - We arrived home at about 3pm. Some of my extended family was there to greet us, since it was Mother's Day. My trip was just under 8,000 miles.

Monday, April 16, 2007

T minus 30 Days

I leave exactly one month from today.

I bought the Moleskine City Notebook for Rome and I have been filling it with my schedule, flight times and hotel maps. Amazon's list price is $27.95, and they try to dazzle you by selling it at $16.95. In reality, you won't find it anywhere online for more than $20 and I got mine at Barnes and Noble for under $15. If you go to any of the cities the notebooks cover, I highly recommend them.

I used Google maps to print a small hybrid map showing the route from the nearest tube or subway stop to each of my hotels. My favorite is the one for my hotel in Florence, where you can see the Duomo from the air.

Instead of staying in Naples for two nights, I am going across the bay to Sorrento. From there I can take a boat to the Isle of Capri or a bus to Positano, or I can just veg out on the beach.

I have scheduled most of my days at least as far as the major things I want to do. My 2 days in London are very, very planned out and so is my only full day in Florence. In Florence, both the Uffuzi and Accademia tend to have long lines, so I will prebook my tickets to avoid them. I will also be visiting Santa Croce, to see the tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Fermi.

I am still waiting on my passport. It took 43 days after I applied for me to be able to track the application online, even though their site still says "up to 4 weeks" and some pages are even still saying the old 3 weeks. When you try to call, you are advised that they can only help people travelling within two weeks. So, I will be calling on May 2nd to expedite if I still don't have a delivery date. I should have just expedited when I applied.

The other thing that irks me about the passport process is that the site claims that some Minneapolis area post offices will take applications on weekends and that is not true. I have sent them 3 different emails asking them to correct the info, but they still haven't.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Would You Buy One?

Yes, I would buy a house from IKEA.

But since 100,000 pounds is nearly $200,000, I won't be doing it soon.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Sono ammalato (I am sick)

I currently have a raffreddore and a tosse (Italian for a cold and cough).