August 2017

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Wednesday was Bobby's 34th birthday and also the last day of our trip, so we saved the excursion we were looking forward to the most for this day. Shell Island, as I noted in the last post, was created when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the channel between the Grand Lagoon and the Gulf of Mexico to allow for the passage of shipping traffic. It is an uninhabited section of the park with absolutely no amenities and accessible only by boat. A shuttle boat runs regularly from St. Andrew's to Shell Island. There are some wooden poles stuck into the water to show where the shuttle boat will ride up onto the sand, but that is it. There are signs posted at St. Andrew's: Shell Island contains no water, shade, or bathrooms. If you want it, you have to bring it over with you.

The NO SHADE worried me the most. We brought over two big bottles of water, and if I needed the bathroom, it would not be the first time peeing in a wild place (or the ocean ... tmi!) by far. Despite properly applying sunscreen the day before, I was becoming tender in places, as was Bobby. So that morning, we stopped at the Ron Jon surf shop and picked up a pair of rash guards with SPF 50+ so that we could spend the day in NO SHADE in comfort.

We had lunch again at Finn's--the third time! The food was delicious and the open at 10. We had the scallop ceviche this time and I had the shrimp crunch wrap ... which, yes, is like the things they make at Taco Bell but about 100 times better! At St. Andrew's we rented a tandem kayak for the day, which was loaded onto the shuttle and across we went.

Shell Island was beautiful and wild. We donned our rash guards and launched our kayak and headed out along the coast on the channel side. I love rowing--there is something immensely satisfying about pulling yourself through the water--but I kept getting a crick in my right bicep that was annoying and sometimes painful. We pulled to shore so I could give it a rest and also to explore the island.

More and pictures below the cut ... )
On Tuesday, we were to receive the paddleboards we had attempted to rent the previous day and return to St. Andrew's State Park. Bobby had found a highly rated Mexican restaurant in the area that opened at 10 for lunch, so we planned to grab a bite to eat there and then head over to the park. We had a catamaran cruise scheduled that evening and had to be at the marina at 5, so we actually were working on a schedule for once. (Usually, our schedule more or less matches the sun: When the sun starts to set, we come off the beach and get supper.)

Of course, we showed up at the restaurant, and they were closed. Allow me a brief grouse about places that make changes and don't update their websites. Seriously, folks, as someone who has managed a website for eight years now? It's not that hard. Bobby found another lunch place that was supposed to open at 10. We drove out, found it ... and they were also closed because this was the day they were having a new stove installed. We were both grouchy at this point. I made a snarky remark about just going to someplace I invented in my grouchiness called Happy Jack's Happy Flappy Flapjack House. I just ... don't like breakfast. Well, I like Bobby's breakfast, which has been carefully honed over many years to my tastes. I don't like dessert, so why would I want to eat what amounts to dessert at the beginning of the day too? We ended up at a Waffle House because it is one of the few places that has breakfast that I like: a peanut butter waffle (with no syrup for the love of all things holy!) and a double hashbrown with cheese, onions, and jalapeños. When this is the biggest blip in your vacation, you're doing alright.

We headed over to the park, and Bobby called the stand-up paddleboard (SUP) rental guy. Within ten minutes, he was pulling into the park with the boards strapped to the top of his truck. So the day was looking better already.

Bobby mentioned wanting to try SUPing about two years ago, when we saw people doing it in Ocean City. At the time, the joints in my feet were so swollen and painful that I wanted to weep for the thought of standing on a board and trying to float across water on it and them by extension. I made up my mind that I would miserably have to endure it for Bobby's sake. Well, thank goodness that chapter of life is behind me. I was actually able to enjoy it--it was quite a lot of fun!

St. Andrew's State Park is located at one end of Panama City Beach. In the 1930s, the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the Gulf-Bay Pass to allow for shipping traffic to pass between the Grand Lagoon and the Gulf of Mexico. On the west side of the channel is St. Andrew's State Park; the east became Shell Island, which I'll say more about when we go there. Several rock jetties were built, which on the St. Andrew's side, block most of the effect of the surf and create a very calm area for swimming ... or learning to SUP, in our case!

More and pictures below the cut )
Bobby ended up placing fifth in his category today at the Mountain Dew Vertical Challenge. This was a very impressive result (in my admittedly biased opinion!) There were 36 competitors in his category, which was ages 26-35, so he was also competing against guys significantly younger than him. And it is also worth remembering--and it's easy to forget sometimes because he's come so far so fast--that he has only been doing this for four seasons now, and missed part of two of those seasons due to injury. So I am very, very proud of him. :)

Pictures below the Cut )
Sunday was a wickedly cold and windy day. Remember how I posted that we got in the hot tub on Saturday night, and I was all proud for walking barefoot in the snow? While Bobby and I were in the hot tub, we were talking about what we thought the temperature was and whether this was the coldest weather in which we'd ever been in a hot tub. "Oh, it's probably about 7-8F," we figured (-13 to -14C). Which would have been the coldest for me but not Bobby, who got in the hot tub in Deep Creek Lake once when it was 4F/-16C. Well, the taxi driver who took us to the train station this morning was the same who picked us up on Saturday night, and we were talking about the extremity of cold compared to home and how it was -20F/-29C in Stowe when Bobby woke up this morning, and the taxi driver was like, "Well, that's nothing considering that it was -24F/-31C when I picked you up on Saturday!" OMGWTFWHY WAS I IN A HOT TUB WHEN IT WAS -24F. It does make me feel less wimpy for my reluctance to strip down to my swimsuit once I was outside in the apparently -24 temperatures and much more badass for my barefoot dash through the snow back into the B&B clad only in a bikini. And it's an item I can check of my to-do list of stupid-things-that-done-once-one-has-no-need-to-repeat. (Actually, it really wasn't that bad!)

Randy the innkeeper at our B&B makes a pot of homemade soup every day at around 4 o'clock, when the mountain closes and all the skiers/boarders start to come back. The soup is complimentary, and pretty much everyone gathers in the common room at 4 o'clock or so to thaw out with a cup (or in my case, to just eat it because I'm hungry and love soup). Sunday, it was black bean soup. Bobby and I were eating soup and debating where we wanted to go for supper. We wanted sushi, but there was a sushi bar within walking distance of the B&B and also the Matterhorn, which is considered one of the best ski apres bars in the country. (THE WORLD!!! ... okay, I don't actually know if it is in the world; I just wanted to yell THE WORLD!!! and wave my hands about on my journal in a dramatic fashion.)

We asked Randy, and he couldn't really choose one as better than the other, so we decided on the Matterhorn, even though we'd need to take a taxi to get there. (Well, initially, we tried to stand out and wait for the free Stowe shuttle, but the wicked cold and winds was just a little too much to bear for me.) We just couldn't pass up the chance to try one of the best ski apres bars in the country. I'm glad we did; the food was incredible, and we had the best time. We ordered three sushi rolls to start, and Bobby ordered Buffalo wings for his main while I had the "Matterhorn bowl," which was pretty much a blend of different sushi chopped small over rice with "yummy sauce." I had wanted to try real sushi (not just rolls), and this was a good way to do it since the pieces were small and mixed with other things. I really liked it. We washed all of this down with several Switchback Ales, one of the local beers. We tried it, I liked it and didn't have an allergic reaction to it, so I drank it for the remainder of the trip with nary a wayward itch. (A sign that I'm potentially allergic to a beer is itching in weird spots, like behind my elbows.)

More and Pictures below the Cut! )
Bobby and I and my parents decided a few weeks ago that we wanted to go to Ocean City for the holiday weekend. It was a short trip--we left Friday around noon and came home today--but was very, very nice; I wish I was still there. Friday morning, Bobby left for Liberty Mountain to get first chair on their opening day of the season, which was--like last year--unusually early. (The Western resorts like Jackson Hole and Vale also opened this weekend.) He returned ecstatic, having spent the morning on snow that he said was more like January snow than November.

While he was gone, I rushed around getting things ready so that we could leave as soon as he came home. The Goldens knew that something was up as soon as the suitcase came out. As soon as their leashes and seatbelts followed, I had Alex on my heels for the rest of the morning. Despite having been thoroughly exhausted by the Thanksgiving festivities the day before, they managed to ratchet up some excitement for what they knew was an impending trip. Phil went to sleep in the car but Alex stayed awake for the whole three-hour ride.

We arrived in OC at around 3:30, only a couple minutes after my parents arrived. We were staying at the Fenwick Inn, which allows dogs in the wintertime. I took the Goldens to pee; they were both acting like wild animals and drove me crazy in just the short walk to the grassy spot where we take them and back to the hotel. We dropped them off in the room, knowing they were thoroughly exhausted enough to go right to sleep, and headed off to get a late lunch.

More and pictures below the cut! Including the tale of the old creaky hinge ... )
I've been in Ocean City all this week (hence I'm quieter than usual, i.e., pretty much silent except for handling site-related stuff), home last night. It was a beautiful week for the beach and, all in all, pretty nondescript, which is sometimes exactly what a vacation needs to be.

My parents came down with us for the first half of the week. I woke up Sunday morning, post-beestung nose, with diffuse facial swelling that made me look rather like a non-cute Avatar character: non-cute because, unfortunately, the swelling didn't also come with large luminous eyes and blue skin; I just looked puffy and weird. We left on Sunday and got into town around 1:30 and had the traditional arrival lunch at Piezano's, then headed for the beach. The temperatures this week were in the low 80s (~27C), sunny, but with a breeze off the ocean that kept the beach cool. Actually, at times, it was almost chilly.

A breeze off the sea is not good for surfing, though, as it flattens the waves. Poor Bobby has had awful surfing all week. More and pictures below the cut! )
Well, I'm back. We got home about an hour ago. Bobby is putting the air-conditioning units in because it was hot and sticky (aaah ... Maryland summers!), and it is presently pouring rain, though no thunder yet.

I spoke too soon when I said summer had arrived because, yesterday on the beach, the sun went in and the wind kicked up, and it was quite chilly actually. Then it was a cool evening; Bobby went out in just a T-shirt and was cold at various points in the evening. Bobby did get some decent surfing in after the lifeguards went in when the wind very briefly died down. (Wind off the sea flattens the waves and makes for poor surfing. I didn't know that!) I was hoping that he'd finally taken up a hobby that I could support him in without freezing my ass off (as with hockey and snowboarding), but it seems I have to wait till later in the summer for that to be the case.

We went to supper at Shenanigan's Irish Pub last night on 4th Street, then walked down the Boardwalk to the Inlet. We rode the Freak-Out, which is a smaller and therefore much more intense version of The Claw in Hershey Park. Because it is smaller, it swings higher and faster and spins faster.

Freak Out! )

I am not a publicly demonstrative person when it comes to emotion. I do not tend to show fear or sadness when others can see. Nor do I show a lot of noisy joy, so I'm not a whooper or a cheerer or anything like that. If I were to win a large sum of money at, say, a casino, I would be a disappointing person to feature as a winner. But on this ride? I shriek and cackle like a madwoman. Which in turn cracks Bobby up. But the ride is intense, and I say that as a person who has never met a ride she won't try. I reached a point last night where I wasn't sure which direction was up. I think I come by it honestly, as my mom--also not particularly emotionally demonstrative in public--used to be hilarious on thrill rides, to the point that a ride operator once kept us on the Tilt-a-Whirl for about ten minutes because he was cracking up at my mom.

After Freak-Out, we went out on the fishing pier, but it was too chilly to stay out for long, then walked up the Boardwalk. We wanted to try the new microbrewery that opened, the Backshore Brewing Company. I ordered the stout and Bobby the brown ale. Oh my, the stout was divine, with a strong taste of coffee and milky smooth. I have had allergic reactions twice to craft beers--once the oatmeal stout at Mountain State Brewing Company in Deep Creek and once to a chocolate stout from a microbrewery in Colorado--so especially with stouts, I have developed the habit of taking a good swig and meditating for a minute on the deliciousness as I wait to see if I start to itch. I did this with my stout last night and nothing happened, so I drank it slowly to make it last while Bobby finished his brown ale and went back to try the black IPA.

I also tried his brown ale (we are very much a take-one-down-pass-it-around family and will try whatever the other one orders), which was tasty, and so I also tried the black IPA. And started to itch. Cut for Possible TMI Involving Allergies and Belching! )
I think this weekend can be said to finally usher in summer, for reals yo (as my students would say), at least in the House of Felagund. We had the first day of cultural summer (Memorial Day) and the first day of meteorological summer (June 1), but the chilliness lingered back home, and it just didn't feel like summer yet.

Thursday, Bobby and I went to see Jack Johnson in concert in the evening at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia. This is one of our favorite venues: outdoors; nice, vast, soft lawn; doesn't take forever and a day to get in or out. (DC venues could take a page out of there playbook there.) We stopped for supper at our favorite restaurant from when we lived in Ellicott City, the Trolley Stop; our usual server was still there and still remembered us. We arrived at Merriweather when the gates opened at 6, and the line was already massive, and we ended up near the back of the lawn. Read more... )
Bobby and I went to Ocean City for a long weekend, having taken off work on Friday. (So tomorrow I get to see what the person who covered for me actually did with the work I left for my students, since Ms. Karen was also off yesterday.) The reason for going was multi-faceted. It was the Maryland International Kite Expo, which we were interested in checking out. Bobby wanted to take the surfboard he got for his birthday out for a spin. And we just felt like going.

No Goldens this time; this was the last weekend they would have been allowed on the beach and boardwalk, but we were unable to find pet-friendly accommodations at the somewhat last-minute. It turned out to be just as well since Alex--who is doing very well and hasn't limped in almost two weeks--isn't supposed to do more than 5 or 10 minutes of mild activity at a time until the vet clears his ACL injury on Thursday, so he would've been basically stuck in the room all weekend. As it was, he and Lance stayed with our friend Dawn, who certainly lavished them with attention.

We were supposed to have gorgeous weather, and we did ... sort of. We left Friday morning with Bobby's surfboard securely strapped to the car. Me being me, I was a little nervous about that, but it didn't budge either way, even going over the Bay Bridge with its wicked crosswinds. Friday was the worst weather day of the weekend; in the 50s F (~10C) with rain at night as the warm front rolled in. After arriving in town, we stopped for pizza at Piezano's--our first of the year! Bobby called the day before to see if they were open, and we rejoiced that they were. It is tradition that we stop at Piezano's on our way in. We were staying at a new hotel, the Coconut Malorie, which was a bit fancier than where we usually stay. We were a bit early but were allowed to check in and, after that, headed for the beach.

The breeze was brisk and coming off of the sea, i.e. cold. But the sun was shining, so I wrapped up in the beach blanket and was comfortable. Bobby donned his wetsuit and off he went. Read more... )
Bobby and I went to Ocean City again this weekend. We took the Goldens again and also met my parents this time. We had a great time. We took a half-day from work on Friday and made really good time getting there; the traffic over the Bay Bridge can be hell. We arrived 15 minutes after my parents and, after getting unpacked, headed to the beach. The shelling was really good again this time, and we found several sand dollars as well as a number of pretty shells.

Like last time, it was cold and windy when we arrived. Aside from the late-afternoon beach walk (which my parents skipped), we stuck indoors on Friday: went to dinner at Adolfo's, a lovely Italian restaurant on the Boardwalk, and went back to the hotel to hang around the pool. Saturday, though, the weather was gorgeous: 68F/20C, sunny, no wind, and not a cloud in the sky. Bobby and I took the Goldens down to the beach at about noon; within a few minutes, we had stripped down to summertime clothing and removed our shoes, the weather was so perfect. Not surprisingly, we were among the only people on the beach. I told Bobby that I thought it was fitting that we were probably among the first people of 2014 to sit on the OC beach in beach chairs! :D

We ended up staying for close to three hours and both of us ended up getting a little sun: not enough to hurt (and it's already faded, except for a very stark stripe across my right bicep) but enough to remind us that summer is coming. We went next to the Boardwalk. Poor Lance becomes frightened by too much excitement and noise, and this was the busiest we've ever had him on the Boardwalk. He is particularly frightened of people on skateboards, especially since, when we were there in February, there was a guy dressed in a blue Grateful Dead bear outfit that kept skateboarding past and terrified poor Lance. We had dinner reservations at 7 and so decided to have a snack while on the Boardwalk, so I held the Goldens on a bench, and Lance jumped up next to me and curled into a little ball as much behind my body as he could manage. People kept coming by, seeing Alex and exclaiming over him, followed immediately by, "Aww, there's another one!" when they saw Lance wedged in beside me.

Read more... )
We didn't think that we were going to make it to Ocean City this weekend. We got dug out from the big snow just fine (one of the good things about living in town limits: that we don't have to wait for county plows to make it to the side streets!), but the "snow showers" that were supposed to leave us with a dusting on Friday night got bumped up to a "winter weather advisory" with the possibility of another 6 inches/15 cm through Saturday afternoon. *headwall* Then, to add injury to insult, Bobby came down with this weird 24-hour virus that has been going around the school and had chills and fever for much of Friday. We didn't want to trust that it would run its course in 24 hours with him, so we held off on making reservations.

But Saturday morning, we woke up and Bobby was not only feeling better but the winter weather was actually downgraded for probably the first time this winter. (The winter weather advisory was cancelled everywhere but ... Carroll and northern Baltimore Counties. *sigh*) So Bobby made us a reservation, we grabbed some leftovers for lunch, and packed ourselves and the Goldens into the car. It started snowing lightly in the early afternoon and snowed the entire way down, until we were within a few miles of Ocean City, but the temperatures were several degrees above freezing, so it didn't stick to the roads. I had some final revisions to do on my paper, so these were done at 60 mph, while cruising down the highway. (Bobby was driving, not me. I can read and write just about anywhere, but not while driving!)

When we arrived, the weather was awful. It was raining with a fierce wind and about 38F/3C. We ended up staying at the Fenwick Inn because it was the only place Bobby could get a pet accommodation at the last minute. (The last time we stayed here, someone died in the pool, among other horrors!) We swore we wouldn't stay here again but such is the desperation to get away from the almost three feet of snow we have at home and see the ocean. And it's been nice; they've put a literal and figurative coat of paint on the place.

We went for a delicious and HUGE supper at Tequila Mockingbird, then headed back to the hotel to hang out in the pool and hot tub (which no one has died in this time, to the best of my knowledge). We went to bed ridiculously early; we were both exhausted. We woke in the small hours of the morning to Phil sitting on the other bed and barking at the air, then again a short while later when something went rolling across the floor overhead. (The restaurant is above us, so for all I know, someone dropped a cantaloupe.)

As miserable as was yesterday's weather was as beautiful as was today's. The skies were clear and the sun was beaming; it was a balmy 40F/4.5C but felt more like 50F/10C in the sun. Bliss. And there is no snow down here. It's like being on another planet.

We had lunch at The Shark on the Habor, which is an incredible restaurant in West OC set alongside the commercial harbor. They serve all local foods. I had southwestern sweet potato soup and a cauliflower "steak"; Bobby had the fisherman's stew and a crabcake sandwich. We stopped at the inlet on the way back and blew $10 in quarters in Marty's Playland, playing pinball and the two-player Deadstorm Pirates game that includes such lovely English translations as "Shoot that burly monster!" (Not as good as the infamous--but turned off this time--Ocean Hunters game, in which one is encouraged to "Aim the throat!" and "Aim the eye!" whilst fighting various monsters.) Then, back to the room to get the Goldens and take them for a turn on the Boardwalk.

At this point, we started taking pictures, so the rest goes below the cut. More and Pictures below the Cut! )
We returned home from England last night in an experience that I'm not eager to repeat anytime soon: We flew home in the middle of a snowstorm! The East Coast has been hit with quite a whallop of a snowstorm, and while we didn't get hit nearly as hard as people did further north, we did end up with a few inches, and it was in full swing when the plane came down.

It was very weird. We were descending through seemingly endless clouds; it was so thick that we could barely see the light on the wing. Then ... the clouds broke and we were over the runway, with the lights from the airport coming up out of the dark. About ten seconds later, we plunked onto the ground. The runway was completely snow-covered, which was rather ... disturbing. I always assumed they cleared the snow before allowing planes to land.

The flight was pretty good, although there was understandably some turbulence. Right in the middle of the tea/coffee service, the plane started jostling up and down enough that my still-very-hot cup of tea started sloshing all over, which was not good.

My inlaws came to pick us up from the airport. We had originally purchased tickets to return on New Year's Day to Baltimore-Washington International, which is the nearest airport to us; a day after we bought our tickets, that flight was cancelled and we were rebooked on a next-day flight to *cue ominous music* Dulles International Airport. Washington, DC, has three local airports. Travel tip from a local: If at all possible, fly into BWI or Reagan. Dulles sucks. It's like it exists in a self-contained pocket of gray existential sadness. It looks like a warehouse, everyone who works there is pissy or miserable or both, and as a result, it is ridiculously inefficient. The nicest people we dealt with were the Border Patrol agents and the British Airways representative. Even the Christmas decorations looked sad as shit.

My sister--who has also had negative experiences at Dulles--told me that you start out in a moving room to get from terminal to terminal. I was like o.O, but she was right: The shuttles are not buses in the usual sense; they are large boxes--yes, as big as a midsized room--and if you thought something that large would be more stabilized and offer a smoother, more comfortable ride, then you would be wrong, because you are at Dulles, and nothing is smooth or comfortable there. After being herded into one of these boxes by an unsmiling and irritable Dulles employee, we were shuttled across the snow-covered tarmac while the driver blared the horn all the while (because, apparently, the people who drive the little luggage trains and such wouldn't otherwise see the giant, rolling box careening towards them) and I clung to a pole inside for dear life. At the baggage claim, when half of the luggage was unloaded, the conveyor belts suddenly stopped and apparently there was no one downstairs to fix them, so the employee who was exuberantly slamming suitcases from laying flat to laying on their sides crawled down the conveyor belt, was missing for a few minutes, and then crawled back up. Of course, no one was told what was happening, so a bunch of us who hadn't received all of our luggage came to the conclusion that it was lost and reported to the BA desk, at which point we were given the comforting news that, no, our luggage made it just fine, it was just that no one could find the people who were supposed to be in the baggage loading area to do things like fix the conveyor belt, so the people who had been hired to slam luggage from one position to another had to do it instead.

When we finally left the airport, it was snowing something fierce. Driving on the Capitol Beltway is harrowing under the best of conditions--a recent study by Allstate insurance found that DC drivers get into accidents at roughly twice the rate of the national average--and was super-fun in heavy snow. By now it was about 10ish--our flight having arrived at 8:15--and my brain was telling me that it was 3 AM. It is about an hour's drive from Dulles to my inlaws' house, but it took quite a bit longer. The roads were in awful shape, even the major highways. It was about midnight by the time we arrived at my inlaws' house, and Bobby and I decided that a middle-of-the-night journey an hour further northward through the dark, unplowed country roads of Carroll County was not a wise course of action, so we spent the night at my inlaws' and drove home early this morning.

Despite not getting into bed until after midnight, we were both wide awake by 6 AM--oh, the wonders of traveling east to west! Getting up early is briefly and blissfully easy! We were both due to go back to work, but by 6 AM, the good news was already posted: Schools were closed for the day! We both very much needed the extra day off. Bobby said tonight that he didn't know how we'd lucked out so well. The best he could think of is that we got on Jesus's good side for visiting so many cathedrals and old churches in England and France.

By the time we drove home to Manchester this morning, the highways were clear but the side roads were touch-and-go. The streets in our neighborhood had been plowed but not salted; in fact, our street still looks pretty crappy and is mostly still snow-covered. We only got about 4 inches/10 cm out of this storm, so I'm not sure why it was so hard to clear when I've seen twice that amount cleared out by early afternoon.

We are expected to have the lowest temperatures we've had since 1994 (which I remember well, since I was in seventh grade and the school where I went made us stand outside for 20 minutes every morning before letting us in, and I remember my bones just aching relentlessly that year). Right now, it is 10F/-12C outside; we have a fire roaring in the woodstove, but my hands are freezing and feel like they've been all day. We're also expected to get more snow in the week to come.

I have pictures and travelogues to post from our excursions around England, and I hope to get those posted this weekend.
About six months ago, Bobby and I decided we wanted to visit my sister and sister-in-law in England for the holidays. We haven't been able to make that happen in the eight-or-so years that Sharon has been here. So Tuesday night, we made the onerous overnight flight to London, then the short flight north to Newcastle. (Including a layover in Heathrow in which I fell soundly asleep in a chair and woke up after having drooled all down the front of my shirt.) We usually like to do a little excursion with Sharon and Kirsty during our visits to England, and this time, we decided to go to Lille, France, to visit the Christmas market there. (Lille is the third largest city in France and located in the north of the country, near the Belgian border.) So Thursday morning, having arrived in Newcastle the previous afternoon, we went back south by train, to London, and then onto Eurostar for our first trip to the Continent.

Onward for Pictures and Details ... )
... than Ocean City, Maryland, on a sunny day, in the low 80s F, with a brisk breeze blowing off the sea.

We arrived yesterday, having left Manchester at about 8 in the morning. We dropped the Goldens off at Bobby's parents' house the night before, so all we had to do was pack the car and hit the road.

It rained sporadically the whole way down, until we got about a half-hour out of OC--it takes us about three-and-a-half hours from Manchester--and then it was bright and sunny and beautiful. We got into town at about noon, stopped at Piezano's for lunch--they have the best pizza in the world, with the sauce on top of the cheese, as weird as that sounds--and then strolled around the Dew Tour, which was this weekend. The room wasn't ready, so we sat on the beach until evening.

It is hot in the sun but there is a strong breeze coming off the ocean that actually makes it a little chilly to sit in the shade of an umbrella on the beach. In other words, perfect beach weather. As I told Bobby, if I can moderate my temperature just by sticking a leg out into the sun, versus having to go out into the ocean, which is the only way to cool off later in the season, then that's perfect in my mind!

We drove across the bridge to West Ocean City for dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant in OC, La Hacienda. There used to be a La Hacienda in Ocean City, but it closed; thankfully, it has a sister restaurant in Ocean Pines. They have an outdoor deck-bar, and there was a bona fide bar fight. We were sitting by the window overlooking the pond and the deck and so got to see the whole thing. It felt like being at work! The male server, who was about 18 years old, and the busboy, who was about 16, broke it up, so just like at work, it was probably more of a show put on in a safe place where the fighters knew they wouldn't actually be hurt before someone broke it up. (Our students are fond of waiting to fight until there are about a half-dozen of the biggest male staff in the room.) The manager told us that these people come in and cause drama frequently. She said she never saw the kind of drama at the OC restaurant that she sees since moving to the sleepy Ocean Pines' restaurant!

Last night, we walked about two miles on the Boardwalk, got on the ferris wheel, and went out on the pier (rebuilt since Hurricane Sandy took about a third of it) and watched a fishing boat come in and people catch various things off the pier. It is amusing and sad to go out onto the OC pier when people are actually catching things because their "knowledge" of sea life is so wrongheaded that it'd be comic if that ignorance didn't lead to people doing dumb things. The waters around OC are full of skates, which become stingrays--and therefore dangerous--in the minds of most people. Oh, and horseshoe crabs have a stinger as well. I was surprised to learn this, as was the horseshoe crab that got hooked on the pier last night.

Today we did lunch at Brass Balls and a long day on the beach. I am almost finished A Feast for Crows by GRRM. It's the usual GRRM: entertaining as all get-out at times, not very well written (if I read the phrase "fearsomely strong cider" one more time or if some overweight character "puffs" one more time, I might chuck the book into the sea), and punctuated by long dissertations on the various movements and goings-on of minor lords. GRRM really is an artist when it comes to random interval positive reinforcement. Just when you think you can't bear to read another account of how various minor characters are related to each other or another heraldic description, then he'll come out with something truly shocking and keep those pages turning.

Off to supper at a new restaurant now and back to the Boards for arcade games tonight!
This week was midterms. This is good because it means the semester is halfway over and *checks pulse* yep, I am still living. And I am well done over half the work in both of my classes, so the latter half should be significantly less intense than the first half. I have around a 98% in both classes, so I am floating buoyantly with my head and upper chest above the water at this point. I had two midterm essays to write this week for my Renaissance class that were like pulling teeth to write; neither topic was very interesting (I had to choose two of three and the third was even less interesting), and the one book I had to discuss, Gargantua and Pantagruel, however ... intriguing ... and sometimes entertaining it was, was not a book I found easy to write about. I just finished both essays, and they are posted, and I am caught up on other work for the week.

So I am rewarding myself by writing in my journal. \0/

Bobby and I went to Ocean City last weekend so that we could take the Goldens. Dogs are not allowed on the beach or Boardwalk May through September, so it was one of the last weekends we could go. We had a good time. We left Friday after school, sat in horrendous traffic to cross the Bay Bridge, and were in OC by 8 PM. There are very few pet-friendly hotels in OC, but we have stayed at the Barefoot Mailman before and liked it, plus it is rated #7 in all of OC on Trip Advisor, which is saying something! It keeps company with the Hilton and Princess Bayside and other luxury hotels that, in season, cost several hundred dollars a night to say in. It is a humble little motel that doesn't even back up on the ocean, but it is very clean. ("Pet-friendly," unfortunately, tends to equate with "slightly skeevy" in my mind; I had a former coworker who stayed at a pet-friendly hotel once where the chair had fleas!)

The Goldens were good. This was Lance's first trip to the ocean. We took Alex when he was still a baby, before we had Lance, when he was afraid of the ocean and ate sand that he later shat out on the Boardwalk. (I just looked back at those pictures. Alex looks so young! I look so skinny! Bobby looks so beardless!) Alex is still afraid of the ocean, as is Lance, but no sand was consumed or shatted out on this trip, although Alex did poop once on the beach, right on the edge of the ocean, and got washed over by a wave in mid-poop, which he did not like, Bobby said. (This was early morning. I wasn't there.) The weather was decent but not great; the Goldens behaved better than the weather. It was chilly and so windy on Monday, the day we left, that we decided to skip a final walk on the Boardwalk and just go home instead.

More about Our Trip with Pictures below the Cut )
Monday, April 1, the day after the Grand Canyon trip, was pretty low-key. Luxor had just opened a Titanic exhibit that Bobby and I went to see in the afternoon. Okay, okay, go ahead and laugh: Titanic was possibly my first fandom, unless one counts playing Hey Dude with my sister when we were kids. The Titanic movie came out when I was sixteen, and while my classmates were mooning over Jack and Rose, I became fascinated by the history, which spurred a spate of book purchases and the construction of a website (that never made it to the web) in Microsoft Front Page ... so yeah, sixteen-year-old me is a lot like current me it seems.

The Titanic exhibit was really good: a display of various artifacts brought up from the ship, coupled with, of course, a description of the ship's brief life and profiles of various passengers. It was informative without verging into being pedantic and blended the various threads of the story very well to keep it interesting. The exhibit had reconstructions of parts of the ship (including the grand staircase that pretty much anyone who's seen the movie remembers) that were really cool for a one-time nerd about this stuff like me. There was a poignant irony in the survival of so many delicate things--porcelain cups, letters, clothing, delicate jewelry--brought up from the deep after a hundred years, in a disaster where so many people died. The showpiece was the "Big Piece," a large section from the side of the ship. I hadn't realized that the ship is decaying so quickly now that no trace of it may remain in as few as a couple of decades.

Photos weren't allowed, so you don't get pictures of all of this stuff!

Luxor is the Egyptian-themed hotel-casino. The decor was very cool, but the people were very pushy and annoying. We discovered, as we journeyed in and out of the various hotel-casinos, that some of them have legions of employees devoted to trying to convince you to go to "free" shows and meals--I put "free" in quotes because I'm not so dumb to think that there isn't a gimmick, especially in Vegas--and it's nothing to be accosted by one of these people every few minutes while strolling around or heading to a particular place. It had the effect of making Bobby and me not want to go back, if we could help it; Bobby was going to go play over at Luxor, since it was basically across the street from the Tropicana, but decided against it because of the pushiness of the people there.

Here it is.

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Rest of Diary for April 1 & 2 and Pictures below the Cut )
Saturday, March 30, we picked up Bobby from the drop-off spot after he was done snowboarding and then had supper at a California Pizza Kitchen that was right across the street. The next day was an early one--our Grand Canyon trip!--so we kept it low-key that night and went to a neighboring casino, Mandalay Bay, to walk through their Shark Reef Aquarium.

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The highlight was the two tunnels where the sharks and other fish swim over and around you.

The next morning, the tour van picked us up at 7:30 in front of the hotel. *groan* Bobby and I have had a lot of luck with smaller tour groups like this one--not the huge buses where the guide sits at the front with a microphone!--because they tend to go off the beaten path quite a bit more, and it's nice only being with a handful of other people, whom you generally get to know a little by the end of the tour. This one was no exception; our tour guide, Tracy, was an energetic blond-with-pink-highlights who had seemingly bottomless knowledge about the area and a great sense of humor. The south rim of the Grand Canyon, where we were headed, was a little over four hours outside Vegas. The west rim was closer but is not on National Park land; it is owned by the Hualapai Indian tribe, and not only is it very expensive, but they do not allow cameras or cell phones into the park. They take pictures of you, which you can buy. They do allow helicopter tours, which is apparently very disruptive (and the helicopters for the Grand Canyon tours flew directly over our hotel pool, so I can believe it). The west rim is the site of the famous Skywalk, which is supposed to be pretty awesome, but the consensus still remains that the south rim is the better spot to visit.

Rest of the Day's Diary and Photos below the Cut )

Vegas, Baby!

Mar. 30th, 2013 11:57 am
dawn_felagund: (tiki hut)
This semester has been really intense, so I have not been writing in my journal and, therefore, I don't think I ever mentioned that we were going to Vegas for Spring Break. My dad turned 70 on his last birthday, and I think this had some sort of goading effect on him, as in he realized that he doesn't have all the time in the world to do various things that he wants to do; my grandmother (his mom) only decided she wanted to travel once she was too infirm to do so. Anyway, long story short, my parents invited Bobby and me to go with them to Vegas for Spring Break, so here we are.

The funny thing is that, when I was a kid, Vegas was constantly held over us as the crowning achievement in vacations, always set for next year. Next year, next year ... considering that, prior to about 1:30 PM EST yesterday, the furthest west I'd been was West Virginia, next year never came then, but I guess it finally has now.

The flight was uneventful. Our past few flights have been to Europe, and it's seemingly impossible to get a flight from the east coast U.S. to Europe that doesn't leave at night, so it was nice to fly during the day for once, rather than trying unsuccessfully to sleep and arriving exhausted. The highlight of the flight was flying over the Grand Canyon and the desert more generally. I loved the desert as a kid (in my imagination since, as noted above, "next year" never came!) and the closest I've come to this point is the dry forest in southern Puerto Rico. The middle "flyover" states were pretty uneventful except that the roads were very, very straight, and I was in the midst of thinking that the world looks pretty much the same everywhere from the air when the landscape began to change, and the earth went brown and then red, with the mesas sketched in long, graceful curves, the stretches of red-brown land occasionally broken by mountains, some of them with snow at the tops. Then the Grand Canyon, which was ... grand.

Vegas looks pretty much like it does on movies and TV. This is going to be an interesting experience, for the people-watching alone. After we arrived last night, we had dinner reservations and tickets to see the Beatles-themed Cirque du Soleil show Love. I was tired from the week leading up to our departure, which was crammed with preparing for a week's absence from my various obligations, and already footsore and hungry, being as it was hours past suppertime by my mental clock. It was only a two-block walk, according to Dad; Bobby and I, never having been here before, took him at his word. It wasn't a two-block walk; it was almost a two-mile walk that made us late for our dinner reservation, to say nothing of the fact that I had no energy for such a walk, and my feet were dead by the time we got there. I love walking places--I think it's the best way to get to know a place--but last night was not the night for it.

The show was great. There were two young men two rows in front of us who looked like Beavis and Butthead and showed up drunk with huge drinks in their hands who got kicked out after the one passed out in his seat. It's Vegas, I guess! Given the costs of show tickets, though, to say nothing of the probable cost of those drinks, that was an expensive no-shit story to tell their friends, if getting kicked out of a Cirque du Soleil show is worth bragging about. I guess to some people it is! It definitely added a little something to the show, especially considering that a theme in the show was challenging authority, so there are hippies on the stage being accosted by cops in riot gear, while two kids that look like Beavis and Butthead are being dragged up the steps by a blond woman in a business suit. An interesting contrast and sad commentary on the rebellious nature of my generation!

Then we took a cab back to the hotel.

It is now a little after nine. I have pruned by email inbox and answered/handled what I must; Bobby is snowboarding today. He would find a place to go snowboarding in the desert! So I'm with my parents all day today. I'm going to call them now to see about breakfast, then plan to spend the day by the pool, but before anyone gets too excited that I'm loosening up in the sin-saturated desert climate of Las Vegas, Nevada, I'll be reading for grad school while I do. I did get all of my writing assignments done, so I won't have to write while I'm here, but the reading is unavoidable.
Bobby and I decided to take an impromptu trip to Deep Creek Lake this weekend. We're on our second summer break this week from school, and we weren't originally going to go anywhere, but we both know ourselves well enough to know that we will spend any time at home working. So the best solution? To spend some time away from home.

Pictures Etc. Below the Cut )
Edinburgh )

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