Saturday, March 31, 2018

2018 Spring Vacation - Washington D.C. / Cherry Blossoms

We had arrived in Washington D.C. the day before and had a full day to see the sights. The main thing on our agenda was to see was the cherry blossoms in bloom.

For centuries, Japanese have held picnics and parties every spring to view the sakura in a custom called hanami. And so my wife was very interested to see the cherry blossoms here from the trees that were a gift to the U.S. from her native country.

After having encountered mostly cooler than normal temperatures all week, and seeing barely any sunshine, we were grateful that we finally had great sunny weather for this day. We started our day by walking over to the Wharf and taking what was billed as a "Cherry Blossom Cruise."

A forty-minute boat ride, I knew that it was not a "cruise" but I was disappointed that it did not go anywhere near where the majority of cherry trees are located. For anyone else planning a trip to D.C. to view the sakura, I would recommend avoiding this "cruise." If you want to go on a boat, rent one of the paddle boats on the Tidal Basin instead and you'll have much better views.

While we didn't see many cherry blossoms on the boat ride, it was interesting to see the new developments in the area.

After we got off the boat, we strolled past the fish market. The live crabs on sale were fun to see as they were very lively.

We then walked over to see the Jefferson Memorial.

I may be biased as I am a big fan of Jefferson, but I think this is one of the best monuments in D.C.

The basin area near the Jefferson Memorial has the most cherry trees. We were about a week early for peak bloom, but we still saw some nice sights.

On the National Mall, the Blossom Kite Festival was going on. It was fun to see so many different kites against the backdrop of the monuments.

After a late lunch, Kai and I went to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Kai wanted to see the Hope Diamond, but was a bit disappointed that it wasn't too sparkly. But as someone who loves rocks and minerals, he really enjoyed the vast collection of many different minerals here.

We also saw the sections on dinosaurs, mummies, and bones. We both thought this bird skeleton was funny.

For dinner, we walked over to Chinatown for dinner again, this time to find a Japanese restaurant. We have enjoyed walking around D.C. It is reminiscent of New York City, but much cleaner and less gritty.

The first Japanese restaurant we went to had a two-hour wait but we found another one that seated us in 10 minutes. My wife had nabeyaki udon.

I had sushi, while Kai had octopus sushi and calamari.

And for dessert, we returned to the place where Kai got bubble tea the night before. This time I ordered one, too, and the lady who made them gave us the extras.

Our vacation is coming to an end. We fly home tomorrow afternoon.

Friday, March 30, 2018

2018 Spring Vacation - Baltimore and D.C.

On our last morning in Baltimore, Kai and I went to the Maryland Science Center.

They had a lot of hands-on exhibits which Kai enjoyed.

The place was crowded with small children, but we managed to have a nice time. I still have vivid memories of going to children's museums when Kai was very young, and leaving after only a few minutes because he could not tolerate all the noise and chaos. So it was nice to see him having fun here.

One of Kai's favorite things was this ball run.

He also got a kick out of this human made with fruits and vegetables.

Kai loved the exhibits where he could spin or move objects to cause something to happen.

My wife is still not feeling well so she rested at our hotel in the morning, then joined us for lunch. We drove over to the Fells Point neighborhood. It started to rain heavily so we chose this pizza place that was near where we were able to park the car.

After lunch, we left Baltimore and drove to Washington D.C. where we will spend the rest of our vacation.

On this afternoon, we had time for one activity so we went to the International Spy Museum. To our surprise, there was a line out the door with a crowd of people waiting to get in.

It was interesting to see the hidden cameras and other spy equipment. They also had an ongoing activity where you assume the identity of a spy and then see how well you can execute your mission.

Kai did pretty well while my wife and I failed as spies.

Much of the latter part of the museum was taken up with a series of exhibits on James Bond movies. I didn't particularly like that but Kai seemed interested in certain aspects.

After the Spy Museum, we walked over to Chinatown and had dinner.

My wife says she can't taste any of her food so she just wants to have soup. I can taste the food, but this meal was not particularly worth tasting... a bit of a disappointment.

After dinner, we went to another place to get bubble tea for Kai which he really enjoyed.

It was nice to walk around that part of the city. After all the other places we had been to on this vacation, this is the first place that had a big-city vibe to it.

We will have a full day tomorrow to see more of the city.

2018 Spring Vacation - Baltimore

My wife is still not feeling well so just Kai and I went to the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

We were able to see the Inner Harbor as we walked over there.

This aquarium is one of the better ones we have been to with large rays, turtles, sharks, and a wide variety of fish and other wildlife. It was crowded, but Kai seemed to enjoy it.

One of his favorite parts was being able to touch these jellyfish.

Later, he liked looking at several tanks of different types of jellyfish.

At the top of the aquarium is a tropical rainforest exhibit that has a sloth and monkey among other animals.

We were at the aquarium for about 3 hours, and then Mom joined us for lunch.

Later in the afternoon, my wife returned to the hotel while Kai and I explored a couple of the historic ships in the harbor. The first is this submarine.

And then we went on the USS Constellation, the last sail-only warship designed and built by the United States Navy, and was used during the Civil War.

I think Kai enjoyed exploring the ship and going down the different levels.

Up top, you can see that this was a rare sunny day and the warmest day of our vacation.

After using the swimming pool, we went out for dinner to have the steamed crabs that I had been looking forward to. My wife was still not feeling well, but she came along and was able to eat.

The restaurant we chose, L.P. Steamers, is very casual and they serve the crabs right on the brown paper on the table. The waitress showed us how to open up the crab to get to the meat.

It was messy, but Kai enjoyed tearing into the crab. He also loved the hush puppies (fried cornmeal). We also had crab soup, oysters, clams, and scallops. Based on Kai's enthusiasm in eating, I'd say that it was his favorite meal of the trip.

Afterward, back at the hotel, we had the "Radioactive Soda" we bought at the novelty soda store back in Richmond, along with the wedding ring cookie that was in our gift basket that the bride's mother gave us.

So, while my wife continues to be ill, it was a pretty good day for Kai otherwise.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

2018 Spring Vacation - Annapolis and Baltimore

Our morning in Annapolis was spent taking a guided tour of the Naval Academy. As my wife grew up in Japan, she is not familiar with many American institutions so it is a great learning experience for both her and Kai when we go to places of significance like this.

Our guide was a long-ago graduate of the Academy and he provided great stories and explanations. Here he is explaining why a goat is the mascot of the Naval Academy.

The part I enjoyed seeing the most was Bancroft Hall where the midshipmen live. It is a huge building with nine wings that houses all 4500+ students.

Bancroft's Memorial Hall was particularly impressive.

The crypt of John Paul Jones, known as the father of America's navy, was stunning as it was sculpted out of a black and white marble.

We had lunch in town and walked around the historic colonial district of Annapolis a little bit before leaving. It reminded me of Boston with its cobblestone streets and charming old buildings.

From Annapolis, we made the 45 minute drive to Baltimore where we would stay for two nights. Kai and I used the pool and then we went to a Ripley's Believe It or Not. Kai had a great time!

Here he is standing next to a reproduction of the world's tallest man ever. Kai has hit a growth spurt lately and surpassed his mother, but he looks short next to this fella.

And here he is by a sculpture of a penny made by over 80,000 pennies.

Though it does frustrate me a bit that he showed more interest in all of Ripley's oddities like two-headed cattle than he did in Jefferson's Monticello.


My wife is still not feeling very well so we postponed plans to have some of Baltimore's famous steamed crabs. Hopefully tomorrow night.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

2018 Spring Vacation - Shenandoah National Park and a Change in Plans

In planning our drive around the state of Virginia, one of the places I most looked forward to seeing was Shenandoah National Park which extends along the Blue Ridge Mountains.

We had planned to drive the entire length of the park from the south to the north along Skyline Drive which extends 105 miles. The views along the drive are said to be spectacular, and I was also hoping to do a couple of hikes as well.

So we were very disappointed when we awoke to a rainy, foggy day.

When we got to the park, the temperature in the mountains was in the upper 20s, freezing rain was falling, and the fog was quite intense. A sign near the entrance warned of winter driving conditions.

We had reservations at the Skyland Resort in the middle of the park, so even though we wouldn't be able to hike or see much, we drove on.

Here is what it looked like.

Out past Kai is supposed to be a spectacular view of the valley below, but we could see nothing.

As we drove a few more miles down the road, a park ranger stopped us and told us that they were closing the road. There was black ice ahead and a couple of accidents had already occurred. There would not be any more cars allowed in.

And so we had to turn around, and our day in Shenandoah came to an abrupt end.

We left the park and was able to cancel our room reservation.

We decided to go to our next destination of Annapolis Maryland a day early.

On the way, we stopped at Chancellorsville, where a major battle had taken place in the Civil War. At the visitor center, we saw a short film and learned about the bloody battle. Due to General Robert E. Lee's audacious battle planning, the under-manned Confederate troops emerged victorious here, but hampered by the great number of casualties suffered including the loss of General Stonewall Jackson, the South would never fare as well in the remainder of the war.

The rest of the drive to Annapolis was exceedingly long due to heavy traffic through the Washington D.C. area.

We arrived in Annapolis near 6 pm. Kai and I went to the swimming pool, and then we all went to a seafood restaurant for dinner. The dinner was good but the lava cake for dessert was especially good.

It didn't completely make up for the disappointment of the day, but man, that lava cake sure was good!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

2018 Spring Vacation - Charlottesville

We headed out from Richmond toward Charlottesville, but stopped at a Duck Donuts for breakfast. We had gone to a Duck Donuts several years ago at one of their original locations in the Outer Banks. At the time, we thought their freshly-made doughnuts were the best, and looked forward to see if we still thought so.

We were not disappointed.

At Duck, you choose your own topping and drizzle and the doughnuts are made to order. Kai chose chocolate while my wife had strawberry and vanilla icings. I had chocolate and glazed.

They were oh so good!

After that, we drove on toward Charlottesville. The main thing I wanted to see was Thomas Jefferson's plantation home, Monticello, which is a World Heritage site. Jefferson is my favorite hero from the American Revolution as his ideas on liberty helped shaped the country we became.

We took the 40-minute tour of the house. It was fascinating to see how intellectually curious Jefferson was, as the house was full of inventive devices or artifacts from around the world.

There were several kids on the tour who were as young or younger than Kai. Many of them asked great questions and showed much interest throughout the tour. And so it was particularly disheartening when Kai groaned loudly and asked "how much longer is this going to go on?" It was so rude to the tour guide who was doing such a great job of describing everything, and very embarrassing as well. I expressed my displeasure to Kai but am still frustrated that he doesn't show interest in things like this.

We did later walk around the outside of the house afterward. You may recognize Monticello from the back of the nickel.

Monticello is set on the top of a small mountain with a nice view of the surrounding landscape all around.

After visiting Monticello, we checked into our hotel in Charlottesville. With the colder than expected temperatures, my wife's cold from last week came back. She felt ill and rested in the hotel for the rest of the day.

Kai and I used the swimming pool, then walked around the campus of the University of Virginia which was founded by Jefferson. The most iconic part of the university is the Rotunda at the end of The Lawn.

54 dorm rooms line each side of The Lawn, and it is considered an honor to be selected to live in one of these rooms even though they are heated primarily by fireplaces.

In the evening, Kai and I walked to the downtown mall and had dinner. We brought back soup and dumplings for Mom.

We then rested up for a big next day in the mountains.

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