A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about cities

From Philadelphia to Washington D.C.

Walking in the Footsteps of History, Walking Through Philadelphia, An Amazing Three Days in Washington D.C.

sunny 40 °F

I have no interest in politics, but I have a keen interest in history. I’ve been walking in the footsteps of my forefathers from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Washington D.C. In a historical sense, these two cities are among the most important to our country. Our chief revolutionaries met in Philadelphia to strategize the birth of our nation in the late 1700‘s. Their successors moved the whole kit and kaboodle to Washington D.C. in 1800 - the newly minted capital.

The Potpourri of Philadelphia
Philadelphia.jpg
I’m well into a seven-hour walk through the streets of Philadelphia. It’s a good day for walking. The sun is bright, gliding through wintry pale blue skies. It’s brisk and downright cold in the shadows. But I’m moving fast, and feeling warm in my woolen layers. I tuck into a coffee shop for a cup of warmth. It tastes amazing. I pull out my notebook and make a few notes about my day.
DSC_7347.jpg
In Philadelphia, it’s easy to get a sense of what the city looked like in the old days. Much of the old city is just as it was hundreds of years ago. The brick buildings have a colonial clean look to them. However, the tenants drive cars around the narrow cobblestone streets instead a horse and carriage.
DSC_7343.jpgIMG_4862.jpg
I’ve walked all around the old city following signs that point the way to historical landmarks. The signs are helpful. Many of the old locations in Philadelphia stand among modern businesses and buildings. So far, I have seen Betsy Ross’s quaint brick house. I peered through the wrought iron bars at Benjamin Franklin’s Grave. I paid my respects to the unknown revolutionaries buried in Washington‘s Square.
DSC_7334.jpg
My heart beat a little stronger as I walk around Independence Hall. I’m not sure if its patriotism or if I’m realizing that I’m walking in the same footsteps as Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, and Hancock among many others. What is it like to overthrow a government and create your own? It must be an awesome feeling. On the one hand, you fervently believe your cause is just. Yet terrifying to think about what you are actually doing. At the time of the American Revolution, nobody had overthrown a government before.

Beyond that, I like Philadelphia’s trees. When combined with the deep shadows formed from the low angled winter light, they are beautiful.
IMG_4870.jpgDSC_7321.jpg
DSC_7335.jpg

Three Days In Washington D.C.

I push open the front doors of Union Station and step out into Washington D.C. I’m not sure where I am. When I look out at the city, I see the U.S. capital building in the distance. I know the capital is south of where I am, and therefore, my hostel is west. I turn right and walk two hundred yards. Sure enough, there is Massachusetts Avenue right where it ought to be. I tighten the straps of my pack and walk on.

I check in at my hostel. I grab my pack and head out for the National Mall. It takes me 15 minutes to get down to mall. I only have three days to explore the mall. I know I cannot see it all, but I can explore several museums and monuments.
DSC_7366.jpg
I turn into Joe Tourist. I’ve never to Washington, and I aim to make the most of my visit. The first thing I see is the Washington monument. I’m impressed. It’s a cool monument.
6879E4E22219AC68178900083CFB1179.jpg
I walk along a straight path bordered by trees with birds singing in them. For some reason, I really like this trail. I think it is the warmth of the day. I’m happy to see the soggy green grass of the park. It reminds me of early spring. Where there are signs of spring, there is a sign of hope. And I’m digging my life.
DSC_7393.jpg
There is an impassive ranger standing against a pillar in Lincoln’s main chamber. He looks as though he is thoroughly sick of tourists and all that goes along with them. I can’t blame him, we tourists mob Lincoln’s statue as if it’s a celebrity. There is a sign at the top of the stairs that attempts to set a quiet, reflective mood when viewing Lincoln. Instead, the braying calls from camera toting tourists echoes throughout the main chamber.
DSC_7382.jpgDSC_7380.jpg
Lincoln is much bigger in person. He looks a bit haggard sitting on his throne, as if he had too much to drink the night before. I prefer the deserted side chambers that have two of Lincoln’s speeches etched into the wall. As a writer, I can admire the Gettysburg address for its succinct prose. It’s not easy to say so much with so few words.
DSC_7418.jpgIMG_4905.jpg
I like the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Wall. They are both moving in their own way, a reminder of the true cost of war: human lives.
DSC_7431.jpg
It grew dark and I find myself somewhere out in the middle of the mall. To the west, a brilliant sunset bloomed right behind the Washington monument. It’s the best sunset I’ve seen this year, and I can’t help but admire my timing.
DSC_7443.jpg
To the east, the capital building glows white against the darkening sky. It’s beautiful in its own right, but it doesn’t compare to sunset behind me. I turn around and watch the orange glow of the clouds fade as the monument grows brighter under the floodlights.
DSC_7456.jpg

The Museums
DSC_7486.jpg
I knew before I set foot in D.C. that I would never be able to see all of the museums given my limited time. I didn’t want to race through them in a mad attempt to see everything. I wanted to enjoy each museum for everything it was worth.

With that mindset, I’m going to mention the museums I visited, and which exhibits struck my fancy.

Smithsonian Museum of American History
IMG_4884.jpgIMG_4887.jpg
This was one of my favorite museums. I saw Horatio Jackson’s automobile. Jackson was the first person to cross America by auto long before there were any reliable roads. I saw Julia Child’s Kitchen (which would have made my mom happy). I saw the gold spike that marked the completion of the first continental railroad. I saw the 30 by 38-foot Star Spangled Banner that inspired Francis Scott Key’s poem.

Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian
I played an interactive Peon Game of the Kumeyaay tribe. I loved the song they sing while playing. I like the exhibit about the Mohawk ironworkers. I would like to learn more about the Tohono O’ odham people of the American southwest. There were dozens of beautiful hand crafted items with each exhibit. I am in awe of the craftsmanship and detail put into each piece.

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
IMG_4917.jpg
I saw Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” and The Wright Brothers “Flyer.” I really enjoyed World War I flying ace Ray Brooks’ story of facing eight Fokkers in a hellish dogfight. “It got to the point where I tried ramming the other planes, to see if I could knock them out of the sky.” I enjoyed the exhibit about Aircraft Carriers and I learned how fighter pilots launch and land their jets on a pitching deck of a ship at sea. I liked this museum more than I thought I would.

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
IMG_4926.jpg
By far my favorite display was the Nature Photography Contest Winners. The photographs were stunning. When I left, I wanted to get my camera and head out into the wild.

National Portrait Gallery, West Building
I didn’t give myself nearly enough time in this gallery. I stopped in for an hour as I had an hour to kill. This museum was full of gorgeous paintings, portraits, sculptures and the like. My favorite pieces are Thomas Cole’s “The Voyage of Life.” I could look at these paintings all day without tiring of them.

Smithsonian Museum of American Portraits
IMG_4938.jpg
This museum has later hours than most of the galleries on the mall. I stopped in after dinner for an hour to walk through the main level. One exhibit was about Amelia Earhart. The single piece that caught my eye was her pilot license. Her photograph is beautiful. I wonder why the government started using mug shots of people instead of a beautiful likeness such as this. My passport photo makes me look like a homicidal killer with social interaction problems.

This museum also featured large-scale sketches from contemporary artists. I love to sketch, but I’ve never showed much talent in my art. These pieces were mesmerizing. How can they draw the human form so accurately?

International Spy Museum
I love this museum. This museum is completely interactive, giving you the chance to spy on your fellow tourists. For example, I climbed through an air vent. The goal was to pass through without making any noise. It was simple enough, but it put me into a sneaky mindset for the rest of the museum. I loved listening to the stories about famous spy rings, and dangerous escapes. The museum was full of interesting gadgets and tools of the trade. Spies used many of these clever devices in the field during World War II and the cold war. They seem clumsy to use by today’s standards, but cutting edge back in 1944.

I could have spent all day in this museum alone, but alas, I had to go.

I didn’t spend nearly enough time in Washington D.C. Three days is not enough. If I was planning a trip to D.C. I would plan to spend at least a week if I could spare the time. There is so much to do and see. I only scratched the surface with my visit.

Like MacArthur, I shall return.

Next week? Florida!

Posted by Rhombus 21:32 Archived in USA Tagged museums cities walking history monuments photography americana philadelphia Comments (2)

A Day In Chicago

The Pleasures of Sleeping In, The Chicago Institute of Art, Reflecting at Millennium Park, Miller's Pub, Business, and a Long Walk Home

rain 64 °F


It’s funny how most of my adventures begin by sleeping well past my alarm. A rare January thunderstorm rolled through last night, and I took time to appreciate it from the comfort of my bed. When my alarm went off at 6:30 a.m, I didn’t want to get up. I decided to catch the 8:40 am train to Chicago instead of an earlier one. I reset my alarm, and happily dozed off.

Moments later, my nieces started up their daily morning ruckus-not happy at all about having to go to school. Sleeping in is that much sweeter when your housemates have to get up while you lie in about in warm drowsy comfort.

An hour and a half later, my sister came into the room to inform me that, “It’s probably going to rain all day in Chicago, tomorrow is another day.”

She woke me out off a sound sleep. I grunted, and then sleepily told her, “I’ll think about it.” She left, and I wondered why I said that. I’ve learned that if I respond politely to people waking me up, they will go away. I looked at my clock and saw that I had failed to turn my alarm on after I had reset it. I was going to have to get up and get moving if I wanted to catch my train.

I ate a quick breakfast. My sister dropped me off at the train station, and I stepped aboard the Metra north line bound for Chicago.

I took a relaxed approach to Chicago. I walked east to the Chicago Institute of Art. I paid my admission and started wandering through paintings, photographs, statues, armor, antique furniture and the like.
IMG_4628.jpgIMG_4623.jpgIMG_4618.jpgIMG_4625.jpgIMG_4650.jpg
I enjoy a good piece of art.

I started to get weary and drowsy. This always happens when I visit a museum. Museums strictly regulate the air as not to disturb the paint. I’m a guy who thrives on fresh air, and museum air saps my will to remain upright. I decided to get some fresh air before I became an exhibit called, “Comatose Man on the Floor.”
IMG_4661.jpg
The cool air of Chicago revived me. I walked a short block north to Millennium Park. I sat down on a strategically placed bench near the buildings of changing faces.
IMG_4658.jpgIMG_4652.jpg
I walked across the park to “The Bean,” less commonly known as the “Cloud Gate.” I love the bean. Everyone loves the bean. It’s a great piece of art that brings a smile to the face. I doubt anyone ever walked up to the bean, and said, “I hate this thing.“ Instead, people walk up to it, grab their camera, strike a pose, and snap a picture. I’m no different.
IMG_4694.jpg
IMG_4701.jpg
It was time to eat. I walked a block and a half to Miller’s Pub. I did my research the night before. I found this pub not only convenient and decently rated, but it had a great name. I kept it simple. I ate a great burger with two Dead Guy Ales.

Satiated, I went in search of a cup of coffee. On Jackson St. I stopped at Intelligencia Coffee Brewers. I ordered a medium roast and sat down at a table. I pulled my book out of my pack and began to read. I overheard the other patrons talking about business. I hate business. Business is designed to keep you busy for the wrong reasons. I peeked over my pages and saw that I was the only one reading a book. I try to lead by quiet example. Coffee tastes better with a book in hand.
IMG_4704.jpg
I finished my time in Chicago by walking through Union Station. It was a reconnaissance mission. I wanted to see the layout of the Amtrak station before I arrived there two days later to catch the train to New York City. It was a straightforward layout and I passed through to the west entrance. I walked outside and found these giant columns. I love symmetry.

I was satisfied with my day. Chicago is a great day trip. I boarded my train and listened to music until I arrived in Kenosha. “It was a dark and stormy night,” (to steal Snoopy’s line). I decided to walk home. It was a long walk in the rainy gloom. I passed by a cemetery, and I was struck by the darkness of the scene. It became my closing photograph.
IMG_4711.jpg
That’s all from the Midwest for now. I’m off to New York City.

Posted by Rhombus 07:17 Archived in USA Tagged art parks cities walking restaurants chicago museum sleep coffee Comments (1)

A Pedestrian In Portland

Breakfast in the Park, A Walk up Tenth Ave, Powell's, Hoagies and a Thirsty Birds

sunny 60 °F

I think I’d be a good companion to explore an unknown city. I don’t think enough people take advantage of my accessibility. I am available, and carry a keen interest in wandering around large cities. Now, this may ring of conceit, but hear me out. I’m not a lecture circuit. If we walk around Paris for instance, I’m not going to chatter on endlessly about the history, the food, wine or art. I will offer friendly companionship, an open mind, and good-natured conversation. Our focus is simply what we find from moment to moment.

I prefer to explore my cities on foot. After all, the life of a city is in its pedestrians. Walking a city offers a more intimate view of urban life. I tend to notice the details, and it is in these smallest tendrils that a city keeps its charm.

Late Morning Breakfast in the Park
IMG_3213.jpg
I’m in Portland, Oregon. Have you been? Portland is The City of Roses. Random fact: In Portland, you are free to walk around naked so long as you claim your nudity is for artistic purposes.

It‘s sunny, yet cool in the shade. It’s just after eleven a.m. and I’m sipping a mug of steamy Stumptown medium roast coffee. Its companion is a delicious pecan bar. It’s a condensed version of pecan pie. It’s a good start to my day.

My breakfast takes place near a flower garden on the western banks of the Willamette River (pronounced Will-LAMB-et) near Portland’s downtown. I’m relaxed, and moving slow. Since my brother isn’t answering his phone, I decide to set up my slack line in some out of the way trees near the boulevard.

It’s a great session. My balance is good, and I’m able to walk the line with ease. I practice a few tricks that I continue to try and perfect. It’s great fun. A man walks up to me with a camera. He asks politely if he can take my photo, and I give him full consent. He’s a foreigner, his accent slightly British. He’s intrigued by this weirdo in front of him. I give him a good show, and he seems satisfied. Who knows where that will go?

I’m surprised at the comments I overhear as I play. “Now that’s different.” “What is that?” “I could never do that.” They never ask me questions directly. Instead, they ask their buddy who‘s as clueless as they are. I would think that in Portland, slack lining would be more popular. Apparently, I’m wrong. No matter. I watch the joggers, bicyclists, and power walkers zoom by. I’m confident I’m having more fun.

A Walk Up Salmon St.
IMG_3450.jpg
As I walk, I hear snippets of conversation. “Hi, I’m calling to see if I can have a prescription transferred…” says a forty something woman in smart casual clothes. “No, I just got out, I haven’t done anything yet…” answers an elderly woman talking on the phone to her ride. To some, eavesdropping is rude. I don’t feel that way, because I’m only interested in a sentence or two of their lives. Overhearing two mundane sentences of a stranger’s life isn’t a crime or rude; It’s interesting. It helps me understand the life of a city dweller.

I have invaded the personal space of a man walking in the same direction I am. I’m about five feet behind him, and keeping pace with him. I know I’m crowding him, but our strides are nearly identical. Eventually, he crosses to the other side of the street to ease his discomfort. I am slightly relieved; walking shouldn’t be this stressful. You can tell I don’t spend much time in cities.

On the next corner stands an elderly gentleman in a vintage suit. The suit is a rich caramel color with a pale yellow tie. His face holds character; his lower lip protrudes a fraction more than it should. He reminds me of a fish, perhaps an Atlantic codfish. He has disheveled silver hair that he has combed back on his head. I decide he’s either a writer, or a barrister. His theme is a man who has spent too much time in quiet studies presiding over a stack of leather bound books. He reeks of unstated opinions.

I pause for a light at Broadway. A woman drives by in her car. Her face is expressionless. It’s so blank that she could pass for a fashion mannequin standing in a shop window. Across the street, the opposing pedestrians won’t accept my eye contact. This is the way of the city. To acknowledge a passing stranger is rare. Eye contact could invite trouble. I wonder why this is.

At 6th Ave, a rabble of down and outs congregate along side of a brick building. There is strength and camaraderie in numbers, and these folks spend their day comparing notes, smoking endless cigarettes - passing the time. A wooly bearded man asks for some change. I’m no better than anyone else is, and I pretend I don’t hear him. I move along, wondering if I could have made a difference.

At Park Ave, I stop to write this in my journal. Portland always seems to stimulate my writing. I’m sitting on a stained park bench next to three smokers. The light is incredible, deflected from the building across the street. A leaf falls and taps into my hand. “Hi there.” One of the men notices my bike tires that I have been carrying.

“New tires, huh?” He asks. “Yep, ‘cept they are the wrong size. I should have measured first.” He offers no reply. It’s human nature to point out the completely obvious.

Exchanging Money for Tangible Wealth

At a bike shop, I exchanged my bike tires for fifty dollars. I walked along Tenth Avenue until I hit Burntside. At Powell’s City of Books, I exchanged those fifty dollars for six books. I would happily make this trade any day of the week. “What books did you purchase?” Well, I’ll tell you. I picked up three books on philosophy. Alan Watts wrote two of the books. Lin Yutang wrote the other. I opened up “Zen and the Beat Way” (Watts) to the preface. There I read the following:

Robert Wilson: What is Zen?

Alan Watts: [Soft Chuckling]

Robert Wilson: Would you care to enlarge on that?

Alan Watts: [Loud Laughing.]

In the aisle of the store, I started laughing aloud. I knew I didn’t have to read another page in the book to understand the point. It was clear to me in these four short lines. I bought it anyway.

Beyond philosophy, I bought a collection of short fiction by H.P. Lovecraft, A biography of Bruce Chatwin (one of my favorite travel writers of all time). Finally, “On Writing Well”, by William Zinsser perhaps the best book on writing I’ve ever read. I left one of the world’s great bookstores, satisfied with my efforts.

Humanity in Hoagies

The chief mate of my ship is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the week, he began to tell me of his cravings for a good hoagie. A “hoagie” is a sandwich of sliced meats, veggies, cheese, and sauces. They come in a variety of styles and carry a variety of names. In Philly, they are hoagies, and John was jonesing for one. I decided to remedy the situation.

The night before, I researched the likeliest sandwich shop online. I made a mental note of its location, and this brought me to the “People’s Sandwich of Portland” on the corner of 1st Ave Northwest and Couch Street. The theme of the shop was Communist based, and the sandwiches for sale carried clever names. I bought a “Hammer and Pickle”, a “TKP“, and a “No Frills.”

I walked a mile back to the boat. I shared my bounty with John and the Chief Engineer. We decided the “No Frills” was the clear winner. It had girth. There was a pile of turkey, roast beef and a slice of bacon on a fresh hoagie bun. It was delicious. After our meal, John asked me how much he owed me. I told him, “Not a thing.” I explained to him that I felt it was more of a human gesture to share my food with him than to accept payment for it. It would make me feel like I was fetching him some food, instead of a friendly gesture. He accepted this, and we both felt better about our humanity.

Thirsty Crows and Paddy’s Pub
8962B3D12219AC68174B07A3CA2FB87C.jpg
On my way back to the boat, I happened to encounter two crows perched on the rim of a brass drinking fountain. One flew away, but one held its ground. I stopped, and slowly pulled out my camera from the front pocket of my shirt. I kept talking to the crow, “Stay. Stay. Wait a minute.” My camera in hand, I took its picture.

The crow had a good idea. After eating lunch, I headed back up to 1st Ave SW. I walked north a couple of blocks until I found my destination: Paddy’s Pub. I stepped in and walked up to the bar. It was quiet in the place. There were only a few people seated in the booths quietly watching the start of a baseball game. I ordered an IPA and went off to sit at a quiet table near the entrance.
IMG_3460.jpgIMG_3462.jpg
The light was very interesting at my table. The sunshine filtered through Venetian blinds casting zebra striped shadows all over my table. I took several photos, and finished off my day by sipping delicious ale and writing my last thoughts in my trusty journal.
IMG_3468.jpg
Portland is perfect for pedestrians. What a great day.

Posted by Rhombus 07:20 Archived in USA Tagged shops parks cities walking oregon restaurants portland Comments (2)

4000 Miles In 30 Days: Side Tracked in Chicago

Miscalculations of Bliss and Twenty Four Wonderful Hours in Chicago

overcast 47 °F

I have an amendment to make to the title of this journey. I was halfway across the heartland of Wisconsin, when I tapped my odometer button to see how far I had driven on this trip. It read 2,812 miles. I was surprised. I didn’t think I had driven that far. My original estimates were WAY off. Who is in charge of logistics and plans here? What clown is running this show? My estimation of two thousand miles was a joke, as I have at least another thousand miles to go before I near my destination. Not only that, it looks like I shortchanged myself a week as well. My flight to Seattle leaves on May 9th making this a thirty-day trip, not twenty-two.

I like the changes. Every trip should be flexible and free to morph as it will. If I had chosen to, I could have forced this journey match my original parameters, but that would have robbed me of some wonderful experiences somewhere along the way. Despite my poor planning, I am humbly and happily changing the name of this journey to “Four Thousand Miles in Thirty Days.”

Chicago Explorations
IMG_1170.jpg
I want to tell you about Chicago. This was my third trip into Chicago, though I have driven through the city at other times on other trips, and have flown into O’Hare International on numerous occasions. In my mind, those visits don’t count. I need to spend quality time wandering around a city for it to register as a visit.

Before I get into my Chicago explorations, I want to talk about my approach to large cities. For those (both) of you that read my blog, you know I am happiest out in the wilderness, tramping around a park, viewing the wonders of the sea, or on the road passing through some lonesome landscape. However, I love visiting cities.

Large cities look intimidating from the outside, but once you get past the outer loops of frenzied freeways, the charm of the neighborhoods and bustle of urban life takes hold. They lose their intimidation factor.

Chicago is a good example. Driving around the outskirts of Chicago offers nothing to the driver (other than frustration). On my last visit, I had to concentrate on driving, usually at a high rate of speed as though I was in a race. I hardly had time to enjoy the brief view of the city before it was gone. When I rode the train downtown and spent my day on foot, I found Chicago a very approachable town. It has a decent public transportation system and teeming with interesting sights, parks, restaurants, history, and life. Chicago has it all.
IMG_1189.jpg
I find when I am walking through urban centers that I notice everything. I enjoy getting completely out of my element, and city life fascinates me. Why do people live here? How they live here? What makes them tick? In a city like Chicago, there are hundreds of stories all around you, and interesting vignettes of every day life, if you care to notice them.

With that mindset, I boarded the Metra Train in Kenosha, Wisconsin headed for the wonderful city of Chicago. The Metra train I rode connects the northern suburbs with the city itself. The train line has expanded since I had last ridden it. I used to have to board in Waukegan. I was glad to see the rail line expand further north. I hope to see it connect to Milwaukee some day.

Riding the train was novel. I don’t ride trains very often, but I enjoy them when I do. There is something proper to riding a train. It evokes a sense of historical appreciation, especially in Chicago. For decades, people have lived out in the suburbs and have ridden these trains to get to their jobs in the city. It puts into perspective the growth of the city. As for me, I enjoy the speed, the ease of travel, and the satisfaction of using good public transportation. While on the train, I passed through suburbs and neighborhoods with strong North Chicago names. Names like: Winthrop Harbor, Lake Forest, Ravinia, Wilmette, Highland Park, Glencoe and Evanston.

As I rode, I thought of how this trip bloomed into reality. Two days before I drove down to my sister’s house, I sent a note off to my niece to see if she was up for some company down in Chicago. As it turned out, not only was she around, but she had free time, VIP tickets to see a band I had never heard of, and excitement about my visit. It made sense to stay the night, and explore the city of foot the following day. I had hatched a solid plan, and I was on my way.

She picked me up at the train station just north of downtown. We drove into Edgewater down a long street packed with charming, brick apartment buildings from a bygone era. Each building was wide, on average three stories high, and built of brick. The amount of bricks that went into the buildings of this street alone was staggering. A skilled mason laid and set each one of those bricks. I am a fan of brick buildings. I like their clean look, and historical feel.

We stopped briefly, to drop off my things and to pick up her boyfriend. We went out for sushi (which was delicious), then took the L train (elevated train) down to Wrigleyville where the nights entertainment would be.
IMG_1096.jpg
After walking a few blocks, we crowd surfed into a small theatre, and stepped into the queue to show our tickets. We had to pass scrutiny of the bouncers and collect our wristbands, before finally climbing up the wide stairs into the balcony to get to our seats. It was a great show. Imagine seeing a young James Brown as the front man of a young Blues Brothers band. Now they are not playing at that elite level yet, but the band was tight, and carried a fat sound. The front man had moves, timing, one hell of a voice, and had the crowd licking the tips of his fingers (if he wanted). The music they played was a mixture of originals and some covers, played and sung with a soulful funk that had us all on our feet.

It was a great night, and it was fun to catch some live music from a tight Chicago band. I would go see JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound again.

IMG_1103.jpg
The next morning I awoke to a very comfortable and quiet apartment. In the morning stillness, I sat in the kitchen, and admired the small green garden that my niece cared for in her back lot. I caught up on my journal, and read from Niehardt’s “Black Elk Speaks.” When my niece arose, she made breakfast for us, and I relished the relaxed freedom of Saturday morning. I enjoyed scrambled eggs on toast, fresh squeezed orange juice, and hot black coffee. Eating a relaxed breakfast on Saturday morning is one of my favorite pastimes in the world.
IMG_1108.jpg
IMG_1114.jpg
After breakfast, we ventured out into the cold, gray Chicago April. The wind blew steadily off Lake Michigan, and I was glad I had chosen to wear my woolen coat to combat the chill. We took the train downtown. I took polite glances at all of the riders. I kept wondering what was going on in their heads. Everyone who rides public transportation keeps their face fixed in a mask of introverted boredom. Nobody wants to look too long at anyone else. Nobody shows any emotion. Almost everyone keeps to themselves listening to their Ipod, staring off at a neutral point within the train car or out the window. It was though any outward showing of humanity would get them branded with a scarlet A (for Animated). There were a few conversations going on between friends, but nobody else said a word.
IMG_1155.jpgIMG_1153.jpg
We started our day by walking over to Centennial Park. Centennial Park is home to the Cloud Statue, more commonly known as, “The Bean.” The bean is a photographer’s dream. It has a unique giant bean shape that has been highly polished to a mirror finish. The skewed reflections of people and cityscape it produces are interesting, and this statue makes everyone smile. Everyone likes the bean. As you might imagine, there are hundreds of happy photos taken there every day. Memories are made of this.
IMG_1142.jpg
IMG_1165.jpg
The flowerbeds of Centennial Park are beautiful. There were long rows of purple and cream tulips in healthy blooms. I enjoyed walking through the rows of flowers, appreciating the quiet oasis away from the sounds of the city.
IMG_1168.jpg
My niece had free tickets to the Chicago History Museum, and so we went back the subway, which took us closer, but we still ended up walking five blocks or so. When my travel companions ask if I‘d like to go to a museum, I‘m usually excited. I like the idea of collecting history, and seeing old objects, and scenes from the past. However, when I start walking around the knick-knacks of history, I kind of feel a little let down, a little bored, and often stifling a long yawn. The stuffy air of the museum started to put me to sleep, and my feet felt as though they were weighed down with concrete blocks. After walking through the exhibits for a while, I found my niece sitting down on a bench and I happily joined her. I was beat.
IMG_1191.jpg
IMG_1194.jpg
“It feels good to sit down,” she said. I agreed. “How do you feel about deep dish pizza?” I asked her. “That sounds amazing,” she replied. One of my objectives for this trip was to get a true Chicago deep-dish pizza. I didn’t particularly care where I got it from, but I wanted a legitimate pizza. We left the museum, and went to find a good pizza joint.
IMG_1115.jpg
After wandering around Old Town, we still hadn’t found a place that served deep dish. Finally, she called her boyfriend and got directions to Gino’s East. It was eight blocks away, almost back down town. We laughed, and started on another long walk. We were getting our exercise in for the day, that was for sure.

Gino’s East is one of the more famous deep-dish pizza joints in Chicago. I was glad I was going there, so I would get this pizza straight from the source. Our timing was good, and we had a table after only a brief wait. The ambiance of Gino’s was fun. It was dark, very spacious, and loud. The dull roar of the restaurant was raucous with stories, punch lines, laughter and music. On almost every surface of the walls, seats, tables, and picture frames, were the signatures of past diners. Gino’s encourages graffiti, but you have to bring your own marking device. White was the most popular ink, as most of the furniture is painted black at Gino’s.

We ordered our pizza. Deep dish pizza takes about forty minutes to an hour to bake. We were tired from walking all day, and thirsty. We ordered some beers and settled into our seats. That first sip is always amazing after a long day. It was Ed Rickett’s of Steinbeck fame who said, “The first glass is for thirst, the second for taste.”

It had been awhile since I had hung out with my niece and I enjoyed a thorough conversation with her flitting among the subjects like a bumblebee amongst the dandelions. We chatted of family, dogs, memories, Rex (her brother, my nephew), life, relationships, drugs, Chicago, and what else, I forget.

The pizza was as good as I hoped it would be. If you have a chance to try a true Chicago deep-dish pizza, do not hesitate. I am always amazed at the versatility of pizza. I have traveled throughout the U.S. and I am always amazed at the regional differences in the pizza that people make. In New York, the slices are huge and you fold them to eat them. In Chicago, it is deep-dish, that looks a lot like a pie. In Minnesota, they have a fetish for thin crust, and it is delicious. In Ohio, you order the number of slices you want, and they are square, thin and very crunchy. In California, they emphasize fresh ingredients with a medium thickness to their crust. I could go on, but you get my point. No matter what style of the pizza, I have enjoyed them all.
IMG_1197.jpg
We finished our beers and I paid the bill. I was tipsy at this point and felt great. What a wonderful way to finish off my day in Chicago. My niece hailed a cab, and we rode back to her apartment. I had to catch my train back north to Kenosha. She dropped me off at the train station, and it wasn’t long before I climbed aboard and sat down. I was exhausted. I rested my head against the window glass as so many riders have before. I shut my eyes, and smiled.
IMG_1201.jpg
What a great weekend.

Posted by Rhombus 11:00 Archived in USA Tagged trains parks cities flowers walking chicago breakfast music photography pizza Comments (1)

Duluth Revisited

On Returning to Your Old City, Pastimes, and Habits. Also, The Death of a Camera.

semi-overcast 65 °F

I’ve finally found time to relax. I’ve had two weeks of “downtime” at my disposal and I decided to spend them rambling around my old stomping grounds near Duluth, Minnesota. It’s weird to come back to a city you used to know intimately. It’s almost like revisiting an old friend you haven’t talked to in a while, it could be really good, or perhaps not. Sometimes it’s best to leave some cities to the good memories you have instead of trying to relive them. Ultimately, I had some business to take care of in the area, and so I decided to spend a week. I wanted to visit some friends, practice some of my old pastimes including: getting my van back together, bouldering, slack lining, and taking a culinary cruise through some of my favorite restaurants.

It took a week to get my van back from the repair shop. I had planned ahead, but apparently I hadn’t planned far enough in advance (everyone likes a good mechanic) and so I had to wait for it to get ready before I could hit the road. A week of downtime is equivalent to a prison sentence to me. I was a bad customer, and kept calling them everyday. I couldn’t help it. When my vacation is winding away, I get impatient.

In truth, it was probably good for me to be grounded for a bit. I have a tendency to keep moving, without taking time or making time for things that are just as important to me as my vagabond lifestyle. Namely, my family. I’m not a great brother. I don’t call enough, I don’t visit enough, and I don’t write enough. I hope y’all can forgive me for me rascality. I’ve made some sacrifices to make this lifestyle possible, and unfortunately, my family bears the brunt of these sacrifices. The good news is they take it well enough, humoring themselves as they attempt to answer questions about my whereabouts.
“So where’s Thom these days?” asks some yawning distant relative.
“Well, he spent the winter in Mexico, but he just got off of the boat in Alaska, and he was in California for a bit, but now I think he went to West Virginia for the weekend to go rock climbing. Come to think of it he just got back, but left again, now he’s in Minnesota spending some time on the North Shore before he flies out to Alaska in a week.”

I like to think of my life as entertaining if nothing else. I’m just a squirrel trying to get a nut, just like everyone else. I happen to prefer to migrate instead of hibernating. The jury is still out on how I’ll turn out; I’m putting my money on “happy.”

Random Photos From My Sojourn

This is some of the coolest graffiti I've seen.
DSCN2475.jpgDSCN2473.jpg

I visited an old graveyard and was struck by the dilapidation and the green of the place. It was peaceful.
DSCN2494.jpgDSCN2489.jpgDSCN2491.jpg

DSCN2499.jpg
It’s taken a bit of an adjustment to get back into this idle lifestyle after seven months at sea. The first night I slept out in my van, I felt alone for the first time in a long time. When I woke up to a beautiful morning of blue skies, white gold sunlight streaming though my windows, and all the lush greens of late spring in the Midwest, I felt at peace once again, and was reminded of why I love my van. Go to sleep with a view, that’s what I say. Who doesn’t like waking up to a gorgeous morning view?
DSCN2503.jpgDSCN2506.jpgDSCN2479.jpg
I’ve been getting reunited with the parks of the area. I stayed a couple of nights in Jay Cooke State Park. I went climbing along the shore just northeast of Duluth, solving one problem that I’ve been trying to solve since 2003. This reinforces the fact that I’m in the best shape of my life, at 30. I’ve slack lined at Brighton Beach, and also in Enger Park. Brighton beach is in east Duluth, and is a pleasant place to chill out on the lake and spend an afternoon balancing on your slack line. Enger Park is high up on the hill in west central Duluth. You can see it’s location from almost anywhere in Duluth, by looking at the high stone tower that stands high above the skyline. It is a pleasant park, full of cultivated flowers, a peace bell from Duluth’s sister city in Japan, that makes a rich metallic song when struck with the wood chime that resonates nicely through the park. There is also a beautiful little copse of mature hardwood trees. I really like the trees.
DSCN2483.jpg
I also spent two nights up at Temperance River State park, a mile south of Tofte. The Temperance River is an awesome example of the cutting power of water. The river descends down from the hills and has cut its way through a very narrow rock canyon. The river empties into Lake Superior, after coursing over a series of waterfalls. It’s a very cool park with a lot to offer the energetic vagabond. There is great hiking, long boarding, or biking, bouldering, swimming, and slack lining. The usual suspects…

Temperance River was also where I dispatched my camera to a finale. In other words, I killed it. I didn’t mean to of course, but these things happen. I had set up yet another self portrait at a secret spot of mine, and was in mid pose when I heard a “CRACK” and looked up in time to see my camera and tripod slide down the incline of a rock into a small pool of water. It had completely submerged itself, as if to reiterate the fact that it was dead. As I ran to it, I wondered if the last picture would turn out, I imagined some low angled shot of myself with a surprised look on my face, my mouth open in a tragic, “NOOOOOOOOO!”

I took out the battery and memory card, shook it, turned it on, and it briefly revived. Then nothing. I laughed. I honestly did. What can you do? It was my own fault, and I’m not one to dwell on things I can’t do anything about, so I laughed. It was a fitting end. I had taken well over 12,500 pictures with that camera, so it wasn’t like I didn’t use it. It had given me many great photos, and I’ll remember my first digital camera fondly. R.I.P.

Besides, now I have a new camera… :-D
DSCN2569.jpg
This is a picture of my friend Joe. He wanted some pictures of him on his motorcycle, and so he gets the honor of the first subject for my new camera.

One week to go, before I return to Alaska for two months. For now, Bon Voyage!

Post Script: On Food
Where to eat should you find yourself in the Duluth area.

Gordy’s Hi-Hat in Cloquet, MN. Classic Diner, great burgers.
Vintage Italian Pizza, in Duluth.
Texas Roadhouse in Duluth. Dynamite Steaks.
New London Café in Duluth. Cinnamon Strudel French Toast, aka Heaven on a plate.
Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake. Great Sandwiches.

I offer this list as a good place to start, and nowhere near comprehensive. These restaurants just happen to be my favorites.

Posted by Rhombus 17:11 Archived in USA Tagged food parks cities cemetaries camping graffiti bouldering slacklining Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 6) Page [1] 2 » Next