On the road through the years

Road tripAs I write this, we’re driving down to Washington DC to attend a wedding. Things sure have changed from the days of MapQuest and driving as a couple to today’s GPS and the boy seating in front and me relegated to the back.

I remember how we used to fight because I failed to prompt the turn or exit in time until I got the rhythm of reading the directions and calling them out. These days, any wrong turns are more because of the kid talking over the audio prompts or an outright miscalculation of the driver.

I still travel with my bag of “go-to” items… Paper towel, folded plastic bags, sanitizer, snacks, water, baby wipes. And there are the chargers, the various handhelds, the iPad, etc. the technology actually came in handy today as the boss started texting me early this morning. While I am happy he misses me, I worry that I’m out at the wrong time and day and start feeling guilty. I am lucky that he is generally very mindful of reaching out to me when I am out of the office, so when he does, I pay heed.

But back to being on the road.

I don’t know about you but I like visiting the rest areas. The ones in Maryland, in particular, have been recently renovated and Angelo says that they feel like you’re in an airport food court. I like browsing the convenience stores for postcards and other souvenirs. During the last trip, I got some wood-mounted postcards that were quite a find. We also got the tiniest snow globe magnet of New Jersey for my nephew, Art.

Each trip is different even if we have a familiar destination we’ve driven to and from before. This one’s been easier for the usually car sick 10-year-old this time around, thanks to his sea bands and meds. I let him sit in front and enjoy the drive with his Dad behind the wheel. I sit at the back and do my own thing.

We usually seek out the Cracker Barrel restaurants along the way, but we were in a rush to get going given all the traffic we hit, we’re postponing that for the trip back.

Flowers & butterflies in Williamsburg

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I finally uploaded the pictures to my Flicker account and you are welcome to browse anytime as all the photos are public.  I haven’t quite had the time to organize them under an album yet but they are there for sharing.

I got lucky with most of these shots although for every one you see, I probably discarded or deleted another one or two.  This is what I don’t get from the iPhone — a real tight macro shot and crisp photos even when the subject is in motion.  I guess you can say my camera and I are back together again.  I’m trying to plan a trip to Central Park one of these days, or before the summer is over.  Unfortunately for me, I just discovered that the Butterfly Conservatory at the American Museum of Natural History finished it’s run this June.

Flowers and Butterflies

There were so many butterflies that I manages some doubles — and there were quite a few.  The two shots here were taken at Busch Gardens (somewhere by France).

Flowers and Butterflies

The most striking, though, were the close ups of the beautiful butterflies.  The one above, though, was at the North Garden of the Governor’s Palace in Colonial Williamsburg.

I even spied one or two which had damaged wings but which flew about from flower to flower with no worries or cares.  A simple reminder that no matter how your wings may get clipped or damaged, life goes on.
Flowers and Butterflies

I hope you enjoyed my photos.  I am going to use these in my ongoing Thank You Postcard Project (which, by the way, has it’s own blog.  Click on the link and it’ll take you to “The Project” page.)  And of course, a couple will land on my Instagram feed.

Just trying to spread the love and the wonders of nature… More about our vacation in Williamsburg coming soon.

Of roadtrips, etc.

Vacations are things I look forward to and dread at the same time.  It’s not so much the vacation per se but the getting there.  Sometimes we fly, sometimes we drive.  Last week’s vacation was a drive to Williamsburg, VA which was probably our fourth if not fifth trip there.

This year was different because the ten-year-old now chooses to travel comfy (translated: with a pillow and blankie) and he packs his own backpack now.  (I still pack his clothes in the suitcase, though.)  And while car sickness is still a problem despite his Sea-Band Acupressure Wrist Bands, it’s a little easier to manage.

I personally pack my go-to tote which contains my journals, art stuff to bring, magazines and other knickknacks.  The sanitizers and wipes go into either his backpack or my tote, but always INSIDE the car.

Things to remember before leaving the house:

1.  Pack your chargers and make sure all handhelds are fully charged.  (You only have so many plugs to charge into in the car.)

2.  Bring drinking water and other beverages to save you from buying at every stop.  If you travel with kids who drink from juice packs, freeze a few the night before and keep it in a cooler.  You won’t need any ice to go with the drinks because the individual packs will cool the container.

4.  Don’t forget snacks.  Kids often get hungry between rest stops and you don’t want to have to stop just for food.

5.  Pack a plastic bag specifically for trash in the car and discard at the next stop or when full.

6.  If your child tends to get car sick, fold and pack several good plastic shopping bags.  Make sure they have no holes so that you don’t have to scramble with gooey drips if you happen to have the kid throw up into a bag with holes.

7.  Pack ample napkins or a roll of paper towels if you can.  You never know if you will have to clean up.

Things to remember when in the car:

1.  Make sure the seats are comfy and that your child stays buckled up.

2.  Keep the drinks in cupholders where they will be upright and will prevent spills.

3.  Use the compartments behind the seats wisely by putting items that you might need to grab in a huff like napkins or barf bags.  Keep the maps, information sheets or ticket printouts there as well.  Avoid storing bulky items that might impede movement of the passengers.

I enjoyed this particular road trip.  It was relaxing even if I had to grab a bunch of motion sickness tablets an hour into the trip at a stop, and coax the boy to down the tablet.  The good news is that it worked almost instantaneously as promised!  We did our usual stops — finding one Cracker Barrel restaurant along the way for lunch. Browsing their country store is always a trip in itself and the food is reasonably priced and satisfying.

I had the seasonal Campfire Chicken Meal which came out wrapped like the left and unwrapped to a sumptuous feast on the right.
Cracker Barrel Campfire Chicken mealCracker Barrel Campfire Chicken meal

All for $9.99!  It’s always an enjoyable experience going around their stores and eyeing the decor in their restaurants which are, uncanniliy, almost perfect repiicas of one another.

Needless to say, we did another Cracker Barrel stop on the way back.  It’s now part of our road trip routine.  Cracker Barrel branches are located off of most high way stops all throughout the United States.  If you haven’t tried it yet, just going in is an experience that should make your trip worth it.

Washington DC in Snapshots

Out of order: Fire hydrant in Washington DC – good to know that this one is out of commission. #outoforder #firehydrant #washingtondc
Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC: Looking up #lookingup #hirschhornmuseumandsculpturegarden #washingtondc #sculpturegarden
Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC: Looking up #lookingup #hirschhornmuseumandsculpturegarden #washingtondc #sculpturegarden
Dusk. End of the day. Thankful that I’m still up on my feet. #thankful #treeline #dusk #lookingup
The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC: Looking Up – We always have a grand time visiting here #Washingtondc #smithsoniannationalairandspacemuseum #lookingup #space #nasa #museum

My not so good Lake George experience with the Post Office

Saturday morning in Lake George
It’s a beautiful Saturday here in Lake George and Angelo and I are enjoying this view of the lake from the hill in lounging chairs in the shade. A lovely way to cap what has been a nice vacation in Lake George.

I’m also cooling my heels after a not-so-good experience at the local post office this morning. Although I refuse to let that ruin the experience, I feel very strongly about it because the postcard diary I was putting together for this trip was a special one, given the deliberate effort to gather the postcards and the special stamps I was using for this set. I had gathered some of my special stamps purchased from eBay and had carefully wet them and affixed them on the postcards. I thought it would be nice to have them hand-cancelled at the post office, and just get the postcards back instead of letting them get beat up in transit.

Besides, the post office was very “inviting” as we saw the sign below the couple of times we had walked past it while going around town the last couple of days.

Lake George Post Office sign: We appreciate your business - Really now?

I gathered my 13 postcards along with a few others I had hoped to mail, all duly stamped. It was a slow morning and I walked up to the window requesting for hand cancelling on the 13 as I explained I collected them. The lady on duty at the solitary window became obviously miffed when I made the request to hand-cancel, more so when she found out I had 13. She proceeded to hand-cancel the postcards but complained they normally don’t hand cancel as these are done by the machines, and I didn’t even get the chance to explain about the special stamps I had used. She gathered the postcards and some other mail I said didn’t need cancelling and she proceeded to dump them in the bin behind her. So there went the idea to get the postcards back.

I held it in and didn’t say a word, but I was upset at her attitude for several reasons.

1). I don’t think I asked for anything unusual in requesting that the postcards be hand-cancelled. This was part of a regular post office function. I had 13 postcards and not a hundred and thirteen.

2). There was no line and it was not a busy morning. 13 postcards meant 13 motions with her dater/canceller which required nominal effort.

3). I am a taxpayer who went into a government-service institution requesting for service expected of that office.

4). As a postal employee, I thought that she would understand the relevance of the local postmark to a collector. I guess not.

5). I thought that for a town with less than their usual volume of tourists at this time of the year, the town and its vendors –the post office included — would be more appreciative of the business — more so for a “store” that has that sign emblazoned on its door.

I guess not.

It’s such a disappointment considering people are beginning to find it more and more difficult to keep the postal service relevant. There are talks of canceling Saturday delivery altogether in the midst of post office closings. And if we go to the nitty gritty of customer service, this is a sore point for a tourist-oriented town.

No wonder my previous postcards were postmarked “Albany” — they were not postmarked by the local post office.

Maybe she was having a bad day — but for someone working in a service-related job, even that is not an excuse, more so when you have this sign. Take it off the door, I say, if you can’t deliver.

On the Road: Driving up to Lake George

An hour and a half away from Lake George, I picked up my first set of postcards from the Faber gift shop at the Walden Service Station in the Catskills area. My first postcard for my postcard diary for this trip is a map of the Catskills. The real catch were three lighthouse postcards I snapped up for my collection and for trading. (Will post about that separately.)

Lake George: Almost there

We’re driving up the New York State Thruway and it’s been a smooth ride with no hassles. No traffic, no construction to slow us down. This is one reason this is our third time in this area for a short break from the city — it’s not exactly a hop, skip and a jump away but it’s so easy to reach.

Finally arriving just after 2pm at the Fort William Henry Hotel and Convention Center, we headed to the Lookout Cafe to grab a bite. It’s a cloudy day but that helps keep the heat index down. The breeze blowing our way is cool and relaxing. My vacation has officially begun!
Lake George: My little guy enjoying his lemonade
Angelo had his usual burger (meat patty only, no bun) with french fries. I usually go for the seafood meat roll, and I spied a Cape Cod Crab and Shrimp Roll which was spicy hot but delicious!

Lake George: Lookout Cafe Cape Code Shrimp & Crab Salad Roll

Alan had the Cape Cod Clam Roll which had some deep-fried clam strips and tartar sauce. I’ll probably try out next time.

Lake George: Lookout Cafe Cape Cod Clam Strip Roll

We walked up and down McGillis Avenue and Canada Street. The townscape looks very different with a markedly thinner tourist crowd compared to the first time we roamed the streets during the Fourth of July weekend of 2010. There were many places that were just too crowded for us to make a stop at back then, and it wasn’t surprising that we walked into several shops and areas of the street we didn’t get to see before.

I took some breathtaking panoramic shots of the lake but I’m not going to be able to upload until I get back home.

We’re hoping there will be more sun tomorrow.

We’re right next to Fort William Henry of the “Last of the Mohicans” movie fame. This was where it actually happened. We toured the grounds and the museum in 2010 and it’s a little eerie imagining how crowded the fort had been with the wounded and the dying. There’s a reenactment this weekend of the Fort’s surrender, and we’re hoping to catch that one as a piece of a “live” history lesson.

One day down and I’m savoring every minute of it. Love my bed, love my pillow and tuning out of work. (I’m officially off!) No more work e-mail until next week.. now to go back to my postcards.. time to write the 2nd and so forth…

Baltimore on a cloudy day

Storm clouds over Baltimore

Saying goodbye to family is never a matter of hi and goodbye, so we ended up having lunch together which was a fitting way to end the gathering of the Gonzalez cousins.  It was short but fun, and it is always heartwarming to see Angelo getting to know his Uncles and cousins on either side.

It was well after lunch by the time we headed for Baltimore, and highway traffic caused us further delays.  When we finally drove up to the inner harbor, the clouds were threatening rain.

Pirates?

The boys went to Ripley’s Believe it or Not which I easily wiggled out of as I preferred to go window shopping rather than visit an exhibit I had seen more than once before in other parts of the country.  Angelo enjoyed it, primarily because Bumble Bee greeted him right at the entrance.
Grey skies over the Inner Harbor

We capped the day with a fancy dinner at Phillip’s Seafood and then headed on our way back to New York.  It was midnight by the time we got home and two days after, I am still exhausted.  I haven’t quite caught up with sleep yet, but I’m trying to keep going.

Dinner at Phillip's in Baltimore, MD

Summer isn’t quite done yet, so we’re making plans about what we will be doing in the coming days.  Another month to go!