East Coast – The Carolinas – Cary, NC

The plan to write more often has not been achieved.  I’m still battling bedbugs and visits from the exterminator which means packing up stuff before he comes, then unpacking stuff and doing lots of laundry after he leaves.  It’s exhausting.  The best way to handle bedbugs is don’t get them.  They are ridiculously difficult to get rid of.

Cirruzzo Family 001

2010 Christmas Card

Back to happier times. . . the next stop on my RAT was Cary, North Carolina.  I arrived late Sunday, December 14 and stayed in the Windsor by Wyngate near the arena.  Don’t be fooled by the regal sounding name. I was here to visit Laurene and her family (husband, Doug, daughter, Julianna, and pet dog, Snickerdoodle). We met at work in Colorado Springs, CO several years ago.  Laurene and her husband are native New Yawk-ers (like me!) and there is always an instant bond between New Yawk-ers! They moved to Cary, NC about 6 years ago.

LC Paint to winWe always laughed a lot together, even during difficult situations, and managed to entertain each other on the job. In fact, I do believe I was once instructed to stay away from her desk because I was keeping her from doing her work. Haters gotta hate. Laurene is a great storyteller shared some of her incredibly interesting experiences with me which I enjoyed through gales of laughter.  Some of the experiences weren’t funny at the time, but she made me laugh when telling the story nonetheless.

Another amazing skill she has–the girl can cook! But, she can’t sew.  Laurene is petite and every pair of pants she ever bought was too long for her.   We had this deal: Laurene would give me one homemade genuine Italian meatball for each pant leg I hemmed for her.  Reminds me of The Wedding Singer getting paid in meatballs for singing lessons.  Worked out well for both of us.

Their new home in Cary is lovely and it was a joy to see them all.  One room in the house is filled with a cardboard box fort.  What a fun and unique playground for their daughter and her friends!  I was sorry post-trip that I didn’t take any pictures.  I was so wrapped up in traveling and visiting that I rarely thought about pictures. Now I wish it had been a priority.  I’ll never see a fort like that again.

Laurene and Doug had to work the next day and Julianna had to go to school, so I kept my visit short.  Even though we hadn’t been together for many years, our friendship crosses miles and time and we had no trouble filling every minute with conversation.  They talked about maybe someday moving back to Colorado.  I hope they are there by the time I visit this summer.

East Coast – Washington, DC and environs

Baltimore is included in the commuter system which serves Washington, DC. Abandoning Amtrak for this leg of my R.A.T. (Retired American Tour), I boarded the MARC from Baltimore’s Penn Station to DC’s Union Station, changed from MARC to Metro Red then Metro Yellow to arrive at the Pentagon.  Though a partly sunny day, a nice change from weather on my trip so far, the temperature was frigid.

I was again challenged to manage luggage that didn’t work as expected.  The new suitcase I bought in Baltimore at Ross or Marshall’s (I forget which) rolled smoothly on the store’s linoleum flooring when empty, but now packed to bulging, it waddled like a duck. Clearly there was a defective wheel on this discount purchase and the sooner I could get rid of it, the happier I would be.  More on that later.

Courtney, a lovely young woman I met while working in San Diego, became one of my bosses during our time together at the job, left for grad school in Texas, returned as one of my bosses again and then, having achieved her doctorate, left to work in the DC area. Courtney had recently married Mark, a Lt Col in the Marine Corps.  I couldn’t make the wedding and we planned that I would visit while on the East Coast leg of my R.A.T.  Mark has top-secret clearance at the Pentagon. If I knew more than that, they’d have to kill me.

I texted Courtney when I surfaced from the underground Metro line and wandered around with my waddling duck and other rolling bag while shouldering my purse, awaiting instructions from Courtney.  I stood in the windy and frigid cold and attempted to take a picture with the Pentagon behind me so Courtney could have a visual of where I was and a voice shouted out “NO PICTURES!  MA’AM, THERE’S NO PICTURE TAKING!”  I about jumped out of my skin, firstly because I thought I was alone, secondly the statement was clearly a COMMAND, and thirdly when I located the body that went with the voice, he had a gun.

Courtney arrived and brought me to and through security where we met Mark.  It was my first time meeting Mark and his polite, respectful and humble manner won me over instantly. Pentagon floor plan

Mark brought us upstairs to his department Christmas party. Never mind which department–top-secret, remember? What a spread! All kinds of food, beverages, and people.  The party was held in one of the corners or points of the star.

Mark then escorted Courtney and I on an extensive tour of the Pentagon, taking us places where the public usually doesn’t go, unless personally escorted by a USMC Lt Col.  In addition to being the seat of military administration and authority, the Pentagon is a museum.  The displays were impressive, ranging from war photos and mementos to dedications about one well-known military personality or another, including their contributions to our military history and their uniforms and medals, as well as numerous other photos and displays.  I hope to do that tour again one day. (Hint, hint Courtney and Mark.)

Another imposing characteristic of the Pentagon is that it is, in effect, its own city. There are florists, dry cleaners, barber shops, jewelry and clothing stores, optician, numerous food courts, a gym and a post office.  I’m sure I’m leaving out something–there was so much to see.

Courtney and I left Mark to finish his work day.  We brought my waddling duck and other luggage to her car and then visited the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial.  We had seen the memorial while on tour from inside the chapel dedicated to the memory of those who died that day.  It was in the chapel that I picked up the card which explained the details of the memorial’s design. Thoughtfully laid out on the ground under the flight path American Airlines Flight 77 traveled as it approached the building, the memorial covers a lot of ground.  Click on the images below for an enlarged view.  To return to this page, click your browser’s back button http://pentagonmemorial.org/ 20150526_174137

We left the memorial and Fratellisheaded to an international deli near their home not too far from DC to pick up some special goodies, and met up with Mark at their home.  I was treated to dinner at Fratelli Italian Restaurant.  In spite of my best efforts to pick up the tab, Mark pulled rank and somehow trumped my plan. http://www.fratelli2.com/  Everything was delicious and we couldn’t decide so we ordered all the desserts we were interested in. Nothing wrong with 4 desserts for 3 people, right?

My visit happily coincided with the 2 week period of discounted shopping I could enjoy at Anthropologie, courtesy of my daughter’s Christmas season employment there, and the next day, Courtney and I had to shop!  We enjoyed lunch at a lovely bistro up the street from Anthropologie, shopped at Michaels for decos for my ugly sweater and returned the waddling duck suitcase.  Courtney blessed me with a suitcase she was giving up. Time would tell if my luggage woes were over. IMG_8920

Another fun coinci-dink is I was in their town at the same time as their 2nd annual Ugly Christmas Sweater party, held at Bugsy’s Pizza Restaurant and Sports Bar. http://www.bugsyspizza.com/  I’m in the back on the right raising my left hand and swearing that I will never tell of the things I saw that night.  My eyes are still burning..

The next morning Courtney brought me to Amtrak so I could continue to my next East Coast stop.  It was raining again which matched my mood–I was sad to leave.  The 2 days I visited flew by so quickly and were filled with fun and adventure.  I had a grand time!  Thanks Courtney and Mark!  You are wonderful hosts and I hope you’ll accept my company again one day.

East Coast – Baltimore

The weather was cloudy and/or rainy since I left San Diego on December 3 and this travel day is no exception.  Taking the LIRR to Penn Station in New York to switch to Amtrak to get to Baltimore was non-stop action.  Because I had two rolling bags to manage, I had no hands free for train station photos, Starbucks, scratching an itch, etc. Stairs, escalators & many people going every which way made me feel like a bumper car.

I used the Amtrak Android app to buy all train tickets and struggled with my bags and needing my phone out with e-ticket showing for the gate attendant.  The attendant was positioned at the top step of the escalator and with the crush of humanity pressing at my back to get down to the station platform I was anxious that I’d be trampled. Note to self: get a better luggage system soon!

I was on my way to visit Karen.  We met through Urban Walkers, a San Diego meetup, back in 2009. Karen moved to the East Coast to spend more time with her family, planning a return to San Diego after a couple of years.  However, life intervened and she has stayed. She lives in an ocean front community in Delaware. Being off-season, it would have taken many hours and four public transportation changes to go to her home, so we made arrangements to meet in Baltimore.

20141210_190827The Wyndham Peabody Court in the Mount Vernon neighborhood was my resting place. Sounds posh right? The room was gi-normous, feeling even more so after the really tight quarters at the Americana Inn in NYC. However, the hotel was showing its age and could use some remodeling. Perhaps someone could take down the sheer drapes and get them cleaned. Nonetheless, I had a deep and restful night’s sleep in the king-20141210_190926sized bed and met Karen the next morning.

We drove to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and had brunch at the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court. Karen and I haven’t seen each other for a couple of years yet our visit felt like just a week or two passed since our last visit. Talking has never been a problem for us! 🙂 http://www.sonesta.com/baltimore

Our next stop was the American Visionary Art Museum (http://www.avam.org/), a unique exhibition of the unusual.  Life-sized sculptures made of match sticks, a huge ship model made of toothpicks (I think it was the RMS Lusitania), scientific displays about things I can’t remember but found interesting, garments made of wool, paper art, paintings . . . an eclectic collection.  The Visionary Experience: Saint Francis to Finster was a somewhat unsettling exhibit, like living in the book of Revelation.

I was most intrigued by a sculpture hanging from the ceiling down through the center of the spiral staircase.  It was called Falling Angel and I regret I did not note the artist.  The sculpture spun slowly and but for the expression on the angel’s face, you wouldn’t have known there was a problem.

FallingAngel AVAM

This photo of American Visionary Art Museum is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Overall, art that was, to me, offbeat and odd yet compelling and arresting.  I would definitely visit again!

20141211_130123Even the gift shop was, well, offbeat and odd. The Sideshow Shop (http://www.sideshowbaltimore.com/) boasts a unique potpourri of items, in addition to many art books.  One of my favorites is Criminal Crafts. This D.I.Y. craft book has the instructions for making many “useful” projects, including a ransom note kit and a John Dillinger soap gun. http://www.amazon.com/dp/1449409857/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

CriminalContentsThis entertaining bulletin board can be found in one of the ladies rooms. Click on image to zoom in.20141211_123720

20141211_131019While we were at AVAM, it began to snow.  Big fluffy flakes.  It was the first snow I’ve seen in years.

20141211_135519We went shopping, visited a pub in the old part of town, some more shopping, and generally did those things friends do when they get together. A short but sweet visit in a place I’ve never been.  Thanks for the whirlwind tour Karen!  It was great to see you.  As the former California governor says, “I’ll be back.”

Ending Confusion

Over the past few weeks as I’ve posted about my travels, I’ve heard from numerous people who think I’m writing about something I’m doing now.  However, these posts are about my travels from December 3, 2014 through January 31, 2015. I’m re-living my adventures by sharing them with you.

If you visit the first post of this series (Coming Home, http://wp.me/p1BaJh-59), you’ll understand how this all began.  Perhaps these calendars can help keep things straight as you follow along.  The next post will relate traveling to Baltimore December 10 for my visit with Karen on December 11-coming soon!

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East Coast – New York, New York

Note to reader: I did not snap any photos of NYC on this trip.  I know! Crazy, right? This photo is from the internet. cropped-wtc-blue-lights1.jpg

New York, New York.  So nice they named it twice!  I boarded the first of many long distance Amtrak rides on Friday, December 5 from Framingham, MA.  I was on the Acela Express, a daily commuter train (http://www.johnnyjet.com/2014/08/the-good-bad-and-ugly-about-taking-amtraks-acela-express-train/).  Amtrak-Acela-Express-NY-to-Wilmington-Delaware-Aug-2014-002-150x150I chose the “quiet car” (hereinafter referred to as “the QC”) so I could write thank you notes to the many people who had blessed me with retirement gifts. The QC passengers are very serious people.  These folks were not on an adventure, like I was, but just wanted to get from point A to point B with very little interruption and could this d–n train arrive on time please!

Even the conductor had a no-nonsense, Dragnet persona (just-the-ticket-ma’am).  I guess the QC is for sleeping.  Don’t be talking on your cell phone in the QC and, whatever you do, don’t talk to your neighbor.  I was asking people sitting behind me a question about the process and the conductor chastised me!  “This is the quiet car.  There’s no talking in the quiet car.”  He conveyed that information to me by talking. In the QC.

Writing on the Acela Express was very challenging.  The bump and sway of the train made my handwriting look like I had Parkinson’s, so I gave up the thank you note task.  In addition, the quiet car was creepy quiet, so I made my way to the café car.  I didn’t realize how dark the “quiet car” was until I was in the café car.

The café car had large windows and the lights were on.  The QC was to the cafe car as a morgue is to a circus.  People were talking on cell phones (which I could do without–they all talk LOUD about their personal business, gossiping and complaining), playing cards and board games, and talking with each other and laughing.  One guy was watching porn. No joke.  A true slice of American pie.

I had a nice conversation with a man who was trying the train for the first time.  He has to make many trips between Boston and NYC and usually flies.  The rest of the time I watched the scenery fly by.  I did not take pictures of the scenery because by the time I thought “that would be a nice picture” it was gone.  The Acela can reach speeds of 150 mph.

My much younger sister.

My much younger sister.

My sister and I were meeting in Penn Station. I was arriving by Amtrak and she by Long Island Railroad.  The original plan was to dash to our hotel, dump our luggage, head to the TKTS booth for Broadway show tickets, grab a quick bite to eat and then go to a show. My sister saved us from dashing and bought tickets in advance to a revival of On the Town. Happy retirement to me!

With so many people on the move, it felt like the options were move with or get out-of-the-way!  It was raining a good part of the time and we had to have our umbrellas out.

We had dinner at Desmonds Steakhouse on West 38th http://desmondssteakhouse.com. We both ordered short ribs and talked about a million things I don’t remember.  We walked in the rain to the Lyric Theater for On the Town.  The show was fun fluff with great dancing and exaggerated New York accents.  We headed back to the Americana Inn on West 38th (if you can avoid it, don’t stay there!) to get some rest for a full day on Saturday.

Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005; Distributed by Yale University Press

Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005; Distributed by Yale University Press

Our first stop Saturday morning was The Cloisters. If you have never been there, you must put it on your bucket list. We were as far northwest as you can get and still be in Manhattan.  Once an independent museum, The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park, New York is now a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This grand collection of medieval art and architecture will amaze you. Read more here: http://www.metmuseum.org/visit/visit-the-cloisters. It’s one thing to ship a sculpture, painting or rooster aquamanile from Europe to the US, but to dismantle entire rooms, ship and then reassemble them on site is mind-boggling.  The stonework is impressive.  We’re talking massive columns, carved stone archways and gigantic doors with original hardware as well as limestone tombs.  I did not ask if the bones of the dead originally buried therein were still in the tombs.  It was something I wondered.  Photography is not permitted, I cannot show you any pages from the book without express written permission from the publishers which I did not get.  😥   It is beautiful, just go and see for yourself.

We headed to the completely opposite end of Manhattan to go to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.  After several hours at The Cloisters and nearly another hour traveling by bus and subway, we stopped for a bite to eat.  It was raining on and off all day and outdoor pictures were not a thought.  I can’t remember if photography was permitted inside the museum; however, I didn’t even consider taking pictures. I was just about being there.The pools are imposing, though with the rain and our need to catch a train to Long Island, there wasn’t a chance to walk around.  I did look over the edge of one and the feeling is of bottomless infinity.  Hypnotizing.   I don’t believe one must be a native New Yorker to feel the solemn intensity of this place, another destination to add to your bucket list. http://www.911memorial.org.

We high-tailed it back to the Americana to pick up our luggage and get on a train to Long Island.  The timing couldn’t have been more perfect as we just made it on the train that was leaving NOW.  I stayed the next 3-1/2 days at my sister and BIL’s home on Long Island, visiting a couple of nearby relatives, being treated to several restaurant meals, and just hanging out. My sister set me up in grand style with a bedroom, sitting room, and separate room for my luggage-like a suite at the Ritz Carlton.

All good things come to an end and it was time to move on.  Thanks Cathi and Steve for being so generous.  I enjoyed my visit and look forward to next time.