Before saying goodbye to our DC family we made one last trip downtown wanting to fit in a couple of things we hadn’t done yet. We wanted to go to the rooftop bar on the 11th floor of the W Hotel for a drink. DC is an expensive city but this was one place it was definitely worth the splurge. I’ll never get used to how alive American history becomes as I look at the streets and buildings and realize all the people from history who have walked those streets. And as if a reminder to this point, as we left the W Hotel walking toward Lafayette Park, we passed former Senator Lugar from Indiana. The White House is beautiful during the day, but to me it’s even more awe-inspiring at night. I could feel the pride of being an American swell up inside me as the White House came into view with all the lights focused on its grandeur, lights which seemed to block out everything else. The right to free speech was never more evident than listening and watching as a demonstrator in front of the White House shouted the most disgusting obscenities while waving the American flag. We continued on and had a late supper at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a DC institution that’s been in existence since 1958, the year that President Eisenhower ordered federal troops to integrate the Little Rock Arkansas schools. This is the area of the riots of 1968 following Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination; where Stokley Carmichael asked for special permission for Ben’s to stay open to feed activists and firefighters. Ben’s remained through the devastating decline of the neighborhood that followed because it was the local gathering area for so many. Ben’s Chili Bowl is like visiting a history book! We were there about 11 pm and the place was hopping with folks of all ages.
And the half-smoke was just as good as advertised!
January had flown by and it was time for us to head to Amelia Island, Florida right on the Georgia border. It’s funny I never realized how much I like proximity to water. But as I look at our locations for February through June every one of them is right on the water. Amelia Island was the perfect choice for us. Fernandina Beach, on Amelia Island, is a small Victorian town with gorgeous historic homes dating from the Civil War and none of the hustle and sprawl we often associate with the state.
Our condo was located down a canopy road and a boardwalk from our condo led to the beach. The condo faced east so each morning the sunrise provided a blaze of color!
Eight flags have flown over Amelia Island including France, Spain (twice), Great Britain, The Patriots of Amelia Island, The Green Cross of Florida, the Confederate States and the United States. Most of the people we encountered were visitors but the area had a quaint small town feel to it. Our condo was right at the edge of the Atlantic and we spent our days walking the beaches, reading, playing trivia, trying new restaurants and just exploring the area. We enjoyed watching the manatees (especially mother with her baby) at Blue Spring State Park a couple of hours drive south of Amelia Island. We also drove to Flagler Beach just south of St. Augustine hoping to see right whales (called that because whalers thought they were the right ones to catch!) but no luck. Wherever we travel we are fascinated by the different birds we see and also find that visiting local zoos provide us with insights into local flora and fauna.
And compared to Michigan, temperatures were very pleasant, generally in the 60’s and low 70’s.
My least favorite thing about our full-time traveling, is figuring out the packing for the transitions between locations. We left Amelia Island on a Wednesday and were flying out of DC the following Sunday…spending two nights in motels and another two nights with our son’s family in DC. I have a pretty detailed process for where to put things as we move from one location to another, but I still need a plan for items we need before we arrive at our next long term destination. Instead of having a written inventory of the items we have stored with our kids, our son, Stephen, suggested I take pictures of the items! I really like this idea given that our memories are not what they used to be and after months of wearing the same limited wardrobe we are really ready for some changes! But I still need to research an efficient way to deal with the transition stuff!
On our way north, we stopped in Columbia SC. We’d never been there before and wanted to see the state house where infamously the Confederate flag was removed just last summer. It really is a beautiful square! I associate South Carolina with the Civil War and was surprised to find so many monuments to Revolutionary War Heroes. The north south streets of the city are even named for officers who fought in the Revolutionary War. We also found it interesting that there are six gold stars on the statehouse marking the spots that were hit by Sherman’s cannons. And of course, we had to search for them. There’s also a cement cannon base from the Spanish American War from which the cannon was removed during World War II to use for scrap iron.
In front of the capitol there is a statue of George Washington with his cane, the tip of which is broken off. A plaque explained that it was “brickbatted” by Yankee Soldiers. (A few days later we saw a similar statue of Washington inside the Washington Monument with the cane intact.)
But most impressive is the African American Monument with life size figures depicting events in American history: Emancipation, Share Cropping, Jim Crow, Brown v Board of Education, Lynchings, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman etc. In front of the bronze relief mural is marble map showing the different slave routes from Africa to Charleston.
Most telling, however, is the fact that the monument was not dedicated until the 21st century. There are other statues throughout the square of heroes of the Confederacy, statues we did not feel compelled to visit. I am amazed that US Highway 1 is still called The Jefferson Davis Highway at least from where we saw it here in Columbia and all the way to Alexandria Virginia.
From South Carolina we headed up to DC and while snow was threatened we lucked out that it didn’t amount to much. We were to visit the Washington Monument Friday afternoon after which we were to spend a couple of days with Stephen and Sadie’s family in Rockville. It didn’t make much sense to drive past DC and then take the train back in, but because parking in a big city is always such a pain I wanted to find an alternative. It turns out there’s a fabulous app called Park Whiz which allowed me to find a parking garage literally next door to the restaurant, Le Pain Quotidien, where we were going to meet Stephen and Patrick for lunch. You reserve a place online assuring that when you arrive, there will indeed be a place to park and the cost for the whole day was $17. I was impressed! We got there at 11:30, had a great lunch with the boys and then trekked down to the Washington Monument. In an attempt to eliminate long lines, the US National Park Service now allocates tickets online. (You can also take your chances and get them at the office at the monuments but that was a risk we didn’t want to take in early March.) There is no charge for the tickets and it was really nice to just show up at the appointed time and be escorted into the elevator to the top.
Even though it was a cloudy day the views from all directions at the top were just as spectacular as I remembered them from my childhood except then my sister and I climbed to the top of the monument (all 897 steps) while our parents took the elevator. On the way down the ranger did stop the elevator twice to point out interesting donated stones along the way. He also explained that there are not wires or masonry holding the monument together. It’s all gravity! THAT I didn’t remember! After Stephen got off work, he picked up the car, then picked us up and we were on our way out to their home. My daughter-in-law had thoughtfully planned a special “early” birthday dinner for me and we had fun catching up with family for the weekend.
Although we only booked a one way ticket to Europe, we planned on flying in and out of London first because it’s cheaper and second because it’s shorter. So Sunday night Stephen took us to Dulles and we boarded a 7:45 flight for London via Rejkavik. Not only is Icelandair the cheapest flight but we like the fact that we can get out and stretch our legs after several hours. To show you how long the flight is I was able to start Downton Abbey’s first season with episode 2 and was able to watch all of the first season before we landed in Reykavik.
Heathrow has been added to my list of airports to not fly through again. It is incredibly big and you walk and walk and walk without really having any idea of where you are. We needed to get our baggage and then go through customs. It took us the better part of 2 hours. (The good news is we did exceed our step goal for the day!) It was a pleasant surprise also when we went through customs that there were two lines: one for folks with EU passports and one for non EU passports. The non EU line had no one in it and we whizzed through in just a few minutes! Then when we finally got out of the airport and found a taxi to take us to our nearby hotel, we found that they wouldn’t take plastic so it was another trek inside to find an ATM.
We only nap for a couple of hours when we cross the Atlantic going east. We find that takes the edge off our exhaustion so we can stay up until regular bedtime and then by morning we are pretty well set on local time. Ibis is a great no frills hotel chain that we like. It’s clean with good beds, and wifi and that’s all we need. Before we headed to bed we did decide how far we would drive the next day and made a hotel reservation in a town about halfway between Bilbao, Spain where we would pick up our rental car and Lagos, Portugal which will be our home until early April. I set both Bob’s and my phone alarms just in case one didn’t work.
Luckily I woke up about 5:45 am London time. My own phone was dead thus the alarm didn’t go off and while I had set the alarm on Bob’s phone to 5:30, I set it for 5:30 pm instead of am. But the gods were with us. (We had also learned from a couple we met in Iceland last fall that TMobile has free data and free texting in Europe so we had changed our phone carrier while we were in the States and are enjoying the family connections it allows us!)
We were able to get a cab from the lobby of our hotel and arrived at Heathrow in plenty of time. I didn’t like Heathrow any better this time because there was no gate posted for our flight until it was time to board, but once seated we really did enjoy British Airways. The staff was very helpful and surprisingly a light breakfast was provided and although we didn’t take advantage of it, there was free Heineken! It was a quick smooth flight to Bilboa, Spain where we picked up our rental car. We felt like the arduous part was done. We were in Spain, looking forward to the drive through parts of Spain where we had not been. Next stop: Salamanca!