A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about history

Who Am I?

In My Own Words...

all seasons in one day 70 °F

I get around, you know? I'm a professional visitor, a homeless (is that a typo?) romantic, a voyageur of sorts, a guy who wonders what‘s around the next bend. I spend most of my time outside. I've yodeled under a glacier. I've walked around in a blizzard in Antarctica. This makes me sound cold, but I am not. I once took a spelling test which received two gold stars on it. But, so what? We’ve all done great things. I like creativity in action. I love pointless challenges. What makes you happy? Why aren’t you doing that? It’s all in the details. I'll probably skip the small talk. Keep in mind that i am not a serious person, though I can be sincere. I'll probably make you dinner at some point. My sense of humor is irrepressible. I've been known to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I am a work in progress. I'm not sure I belong here...

Given the opportunity, I’d rather whisper secrets to the trees than go through the motions. I like giving honey to injured bees. I like picking up trash and I never use bug spray. I’ve become a social creature. Who knew? The path of life takes interesting twists, doesn’t it? I’m not the same man I was three years ago. Can I tell you the truth? I’m enjoying writing this.

If you were to ask me how old I am, I won’t give you a straight answer. I tend to get a deeper look into humanity than most people. I think it’s the questions I ask. But people tell me things I would never ask about. I give strange advice.

If I stay awake for over 20 hours I develop amazing powers of concentration. If I drink during this time, I become chatty. I like to jump into really cold water, yet I am obsessed with hot springs.

One of the best conversations I’ve ever had was with a mountain man from Oregon. We talked about ghosts, living in the woods, heaven, beer, hamburgers, jobs and wandering.

My brother taught me at an early age to keep my mouth shut. Since then, I’ve been a safe harbor for gossip. I can’t remember everyday that I have lived, but sometimes I try. I think it might be possible. People tell me I look like a Viking. I tell them they look like themselves.

Balance is important to me. I’m not sure if its an obsession, or simply a way of life. My head empties with the sound of a gong. I like to tie knots. I have many talents. I’ve read many books. Ask me anything, I don’t mind. I eat out a lot, though I prefer to cook. I love the ritual of coffee, especially in the morning.

I have an accent but its hard to place. Do I interest you? Think about that. Where does that feeling come from? “It’s better to live a short life doing something you love than a long one doing things you hate.” Alan Watts said that. I say it too.

Did I tell you I feed birds from my hand? My niece is dying to know my secrets. Speaking of secrets, I’m only ticklish on the bottoms of my feet. Oops. Say that backwards. That might be my next tattoo.

My hearing isn’t so good. My eyesight is worse. I’ve never met anyone who is famous. I love graham crackers in milk. I write long emails. I like hard work. Give me your shittiest job, I’ll do it. What do I care? I’m here to help.

Life doesn’t follow my Illusions. I need to be right here, right now. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I see myself sitting on a park bench in Strassburg sharing an ice cream cone with you on a beautiful spring day. You can’t tell employers that though, can you? I think I might start…

Posted by Rhombus 12:31 Archived in USA Tagged me history photography philosophy vagabond writing Comments (0)

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
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.
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.
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.
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.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

The Museums
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
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
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
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
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)

The Best of Astoria

Some History, Good Eats, The People, The Column, and the Columbia River Bar

sunny 50 °F

I’ve been spending time in the small coastal town of Astoria, Oregon lately. Astoria has some charms, beyond being famous for the home of “The Goonies.” First, some historical facts. Astoria started out as a fur trader’s settlement in the early 1800’s and has been settled ever since. In fact, it is the oldest permanent settlement west of the Mississippi River in the U.S. John Jacob Astor’s controlling grip on the North American Fur Trade brought fur traders, opened the settlement, and was named after him. When the fur bearing animals disappeared, the people turned to Salmon for their livelihood. Salmon sustained the town well into the 1900’s. The fisherman caught the fish and sold it to the cannery who sold it to the consumer. “We didn’t mind the smell (referring to the stench of fish products). To us, it smelled like money, and we felt prosperous.” ~ Astoria Fisherman, talking about the Astoria fishing industry.
There aren’t any canneries open anymore. Hundreds of wood pilings line the shore line of Astoria, reminders of former industry. Astoria lives on, a nice town, an enjoyable place to spend some time if you get the opportunity.
On my first visit, I had three hours to explore the town. I was free from ship duties for the day, and we didn’t set sail until the evening. It felt fantastic to be walking on land, in the bright sunshine. I felt good, and wanted to see what this town had to offer. I moseyed toward the downtown area, and soon found myself on a binge of impulse buying. What does a vagabond spend his money on when he’s on a “spree? “ Well, the first thing I found was a music store, and I needed a capo for my banjo, so that was an easy decision. Continuing on, I found a chocolatier who had fresh truffles for sale. I’m a man who can’t resist chocolate, and refuses to feel guilty about it. Five truffles were purchased, three of which went to some of the hard working stewards on our ship. I’m quite generous with my chocolate.

Walking around the corner, I started my way back east on Commercial Ave, the other main downtown street. I stopped in at a local market to buy some hand soap for my cabin on the boat. A plan formed in my mind, and I bought an ice cold drink to enjoy later on at the Astoria Column, a lofty tower that overlooks the country side from high atop the steep hills above town. It was a good thing I did, as the hike up the steep hills of Astoria was a grueling, dehydrating climb. I’ll talk more about that later. I digress, and want to talk more about the downtown spending spree I was enjoying. I decided I wanted a book, so I stopped in at a likeable new and used bookseller (Godfather‘s). I briefly glanced around at the well ordered shelves of books and found myself in the Non-Fiction section. I remembered the last name of an author of a book I wanted to read, and looked at the shelf for “Larson.” Sure enough, they had the book I was looking for. “Thunderstruck” by Erik Larson. It was a done deal. I made my purchase, and was about to leave, when I decided to write an email before I continued on my grand adventure up to the column.

As I said, the climb up the column is arduous. The people of Astoria have legs of steel, without a doubt. I enjoyed the hike. It felt really good to stretch my legs out on some serious uphill. It was kind of maddening however, as I didn’t see the tower until I finally rounded a bend after many blocks of walking. I was following the signs that led up to the park. I like to see my goal, when I’m laboring that hard.
Then there it was. A tall lighthouse like pillar set atop a hillside towering above the nearby coniferous trees. My timing was good. The soft puffs of the clearing white clouds dotted in the azure blue sky made for a pleasing backdrop for the sunlit column. The grounds of the tower were landscaped and well manicured. The tower area had uniform sidewalks of concrete led people to the entrance of the tower, and the spiraling staircase that rose up to the viewing platform. I was getting tired from all the vertical footwork I was making on this jaunt. However, I knew that soon enough I would be at the highest point around, and there would be nothing more to climb. When I walked through the door to the viewing platform, the entire northwest corner of Oregon spread out before me in every direction. It was gorgeous. I could easily see across the river into Washington, and Cape Disappointment. I could see the famed Columbia Bar, also known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” An area of violent seas, where the 1300 mile long Columbia River meets the raging north Pacific Ocean. I’ll be writing more about the Columbia Bar, in a few days, as I’ll be crossing over it myself for the first time.
Looking down onto the concrete far below, some kids were messing around with the gliders they sell at the gift shop. The slanting low angled sunlight of late afternoon made for interesting long shadows on the grid of concrete.

After awhile I tromped back down the stairs and out into the sunny meadow where I relaxed on a picnic table for awhile, before back tracking down the hills to the ship. I was probably making the longest strides of my life as I made my way back down those steep hills. I’d like to see an Astorian walk on flat ground; I bet it would look awkward and funny, like a bowlegged cowboy getting off his horse after many days of riding.

The people of Astoria are open to street conversation. I’ve spoken to four random people on the street, each with their own story. I met a college student studying to be a marine biologist. I talked at length with an elderly lady about what types of meat she prefers to eat. She eats buffalo way more than fish, chicken or red meat. She doesn’t eat pork at all. You might be wondering why I’m relaying this onto you, poor reader; after all, the eating habits of a random woman are hardly vagabond material. This lady spent the better part of fifteen minutes explaining her eating habits to me, and I was patient enough to listen to her, even though my own half pound burger and fries from the Custard King was slowly cooling in its wrapper. I just wanted to share her story with you. I met the leader of a litter pick up crew who told me about some of the better beaches along the coast. Most of them I’ve been to, but he did tell me about one called “Indian Beach” which I’ve never visited. Finally, I met a bookseller, who gave me the location of the bookstore I had already visited. A nice lot, and all of them seemed generally proud of their town.
If you find yourself looking for a good café in Astoria, look no further than the Columbian Café on Marine Drive. I had a day off, and I was looking to go out for breakfast. I ordered Italian sausage, eggs and toast and with it they offered four kinds of pepper jelly. I’m now a huge fan of pepper jelly, cayenne, in particular. It was sweet and spicy, and excellent on toast.

I ended off my day by visiting the Columbia River Maritime Museum. This is one of the better museums I’ve ever visited, and I was pleasantly surprised at how informative and interesting it turned out to be. It covers a lot of ground, from shipwrecks, aids to navigation, the coast guard, fishing, canneries, tug and barges, steamships, and Bar Pilots. I liked all of it, but I was especially into the old stories from the gill netters, the ship wrecks, the history of the Columbia Bar, and the bar pilots.
The Columbia River bar pilots are the elite class of the marine navigators. All commercial vessels must take on a pilot to navigate them over the bar. To board the super container ships, the pilots head out during any kind of day or night, in 60 knot winds, and seas commonly over 30 foot seas. They pull along side the monstrous ships, and climb up a wood and plank ladder. Then they direct the vessel safely over the bar.
I can’t wait to see the bar for myself. It’s going to happen tonight at 2 am. There is so much sea faring history in the bar. It’s known as the graveyard of the pacific, and dozens of ships have floundered and sunk in its dangerous waters. It’s going to be fun…

Posted by Rhombus 07:30 Archived in USA Tagged parks rivers fishing history photography astoria Comments (4)

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