Category Archives: USA 2014

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National parks and more importantly parkrun

When we visited the USA in 2015 we wrote two blog posts that never made it to the site. We did not blog the entire trip, missing our details of Charleston, Savannah and Florida. Since we wrote these posts though I feel I should add them to the site before we start our next adventure. Hopefully our coming trip will see us keep a little more up to date and provide some fresh insight into the trip as we go.

Travel dates: 24th April – 26th April

Location: Virginia and North Carolina

Road Trip (Rich)

On the road we didn’t have a destination set for Friday night so were winging it. We had to be in Durham, NC on Friday but that left a lot of choice in how to get there and where to stop in between. In the end we were tempted by an indirect route taking in Shenandoah National Park. With 104 miles through the park at a 35 miles per hour speed limit this was never going to be the quickest route but it promised to be much more interesting than heading down the interstate. Our rough route is shown below, at some point I will find a better way to map where we went:

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Having spent until after midday getting the car and visiting space shuttles we only reached the national park at nearly 3pm. We had picked up a picnic on the way from a Mom & Pop road side deli. We ate this at the visitor centre marking the start of the Skyline Drive. This is the 104 mile drive mentioned above running along a ridge through the blue mountains. The road was a pleasure to drive along taking in the stunning scenery as we went. Spring hadn’t quite reached the top of the mountain so the trees were still bare but looking down to the valleys you could see spring fast approaching. The road must be spectacular in autumn as the colours change and I would happily come back and drive it again then.

At one point in the drive we came across a number of cars stopped in the road. We took this as a sign that there was something interesting and were not disappointed when we found a young bear feeding just off the road. We were able to approach fairly closely to get a good picture whilst remaining safely on the other side of a wall from the bear. We were still very aware that the wall would be no match for him or mummy bear should she be around. Safe to say we didn’t hang about too long to find out if she was near. For the next several miles we happily entertained ourselves with “Bear Left” jokes while Vicki gave directions. Quite sad really.

At the visitor centre we had enquired about accommodation and been told we might find a Mom & Pop style motel in a town called Elkton about 60 miles through the drive. Arriving there at 7pm we were ready to stop. Our first pass through Elkton didn’t yield much. There were some closed motels and only one that looked like it was still open. We managed to get phone signal and Trip Advisor told us the one motel we had passed was reasonable so we gave it a go. For $50 for the night we got a small cabin. Although smelling a bit smokey and with a tatty carpet the bed was fine and bathroom clean and functional. The location was stunning though and it lived up to the name Country View Inn.

A short run was made shorter by a yappy dog and a chat with locals who were confused why we would want to run and couldn’t suggest anywhere to go. We didn’t want to explore too much as we were worried Mama might have a gun if we strayed onto her property. Despite Elkton being very small and on first impression not offering a lot it had a great Mexican place recommended to us by the cashier at the 7/11. Fed and watered we got an early night ready to hit the road again in the morning.

Another treat Elkton offered was a country store that served “Bear-ekfast” sandwiches. These were delicious if quite unhealthy and were consumed by us at ‘overlook’ on the Skyline Drive. Finishing the scenic drive we were in Charlottesville before lunch.

Charlottesville is made famous by past resident Thomas Jefferson. We were on the Jefferson trail visiting the university of Virginia that he founded and his home at Monticello. It made a very pleasant day of exploration. At Monticello we were happy to have done the gardens and Jefferson’s grave first as an epic storm arrived during our house tour. Even with a bus ride back to the visitor centre I got soaked when going to retrieve the car.

With a 3 hour drive to Durham ahead of us the bad weather wasn’t encouraging. Fortunately we soon outran the storm and were rewarded by a fabulous drive through the Virginia countryside. The open road through farms and towns was an easy drive. Only when we entered North Carolina and neared Durham on a stretch of interstate to finish the drive did the storms return. By the time we made Durham though the vastly changeable weather had done its thing again and we had clear skies and a beautiful sunset. Fortunately we avoided the tornados that had hit elsewhere in the state.

A quick stop at our Red Roof Inn preceded BBQ food for dinner. QShack provided huge portions of pulled pork, beef brisket and plentiful sides. It was easy to see why our fellow diners were on the large side. We justified the excess as trying the local cuisine and with a run planned the next morning to offset it.

parkrun (Vicki)

As is usual, Saturday dawned, and we found ourselves on the start line of yet another parkrun, this time in a lovely park in Durham, NC. We had checked out the competition on line and were expecting to have to put a lot of effort in just to avoid coming last. A quick chat with the run director Julie and her husband Martin and we were off on  a hilly 3 lap trot around the park. It should be mentioned that the field was a little on the small side  – there were only 10 of us, and perhaps more surprisingly, all but 3 were tourists!

As mentioned, the course was hilly – more to the point, there was a one hill, which you had to do 3 times. It seemed manageable the first time round, but by the third time, definitely not much fun. We decided to set a decent pace for the first mile, and then, finding ourselves in second and third place, decided to carry on, finishing First Lady and Second Man in the end!

Having burnt lots of calories it was time to refuel, and breakfast with Julie, Martin and some of the other parkrunners was at a great little coffee shop not far from the park. The grits were good, but the idea of a breakfast burrito still seems a bit strange. Julie and Martin had kindly offered to show us the botanical gardens in the afternoon, and so after a quick shower we headed back into town to see Durham itself before heading off. Unfortunately we were too late for the Farmers Market, and didn’t have enough time for the Tobacco Heritage tour, but we did have a good time wandering around the centre, looking at the old Tobacco warehouses and newly restored downtown area.

The botanical gardens at Duke University really are a sight to behold, especially with the tulips in bloom. The sun was shining, and it was a lovely way to spend an hour before we had to get back in the car and hit the  road again. Next stop, Wilmington.

Capital Segway fun

When we visited the USA in 2015 we wrote two blog posts that never made it to the site. We did not blog the entire trip, missing our details of Charleston, Savannah and Florida. Since we wrote these posts though I feel I should add them to the site before we start our next adventure. Hopefully our coming trip will see us keep a little more up to date and provide some fresh insight into the trip as we go.

Location: Washington DC

Travel Dates: 22nd – 24th April

Segways. Are. Awesome.

I just wanted to make that clear. We did a Segway tour around Washington DC and it was great fun. Until you have tried one you really don’t appreciate how much fun they are. They are easy to ride being quick and manoeuvrable and contrary to how they appear, very difficult to fall off. I would recommend trying them to anyone and we will be definitely be back on them again in the future. We did a tour that took us around sights such as the White House and the National Mall. As Washington’s sights are quite spread out the segways made seeing many of them light work.

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I am jumping ahead a bit here though. Our Segway tour was on day 2 in Washington. Day 1 involved a bit of orientation visiting a few sights on the national mall including the Natural History Museum, Museum of American History (mainly to see Dorothy’s red shoes) and the Lincoln memorial. Seeing just these few sights already involved a fair bit of walking which is why we decided on the Segway tour.

Our accommodation in Washington was in the embassy area, it is called Embassy Circle Guest House. It is a B&B where guests are encouraged to socialise at both breakfast time and for evening wine and nibbles. This isn’t usually our style as we generally stick to the anonymity of hotels. The guest house feels like staying in embassy and was extremely comfortable. We enjoyed the socialising aspect although we did feel that the host sometimes tried to force high brow conversation. Discussing the political situation in the Ukraine over breakfast was a bit much for us, we were happy chatting about what people were going to see in Washington. Apparently political conversation is the norm though what with being in Washington DC.

Day 1 ended with a salad in a deli as we wanted something a little healthier having been on American food (i.e. burgers) for several days. The salads were huge though so we were still stuffed. After dinner Vicki retired early as she was under the weather. I headed to meet the best man from Tom’s wedding (Edmund) who lives in DC. I had a drink at his apartment where we discussed the wedding and DC plus had the obligatory political conversation with some friends of his who were also there. This time Scotland leaving the UK which I can’t say I am an expert on.

With time short in DC (only 2 nights) we prioritised museums and went for the Air and Space Museum after the Segway tour. Vicki took advantage of the planetarium to have a nap as seems to have become a custom for her in planetariums as she did the same in New York. I won’t be taking her to any more.

Our evening started with a run up to the Washington Cathedral past more embassies. It was a fun game to guess the country from the flag as we ran and went someway to taking our minds off the big hill. The rest of the evening was spent at the baseball watching Washington Nationals take on the LA Angels. It wasn’t a great game and as it was quite cold so we left our seats before the end. Washington were down 4-1 and we figured it was over. As we got up Washington scored a home run in the final half of the 9th inning. They then went on to bring the score level at 4-4 with an impressive double. All they needed was a final run to win which they got much to the delight of the remaining crowd. Fortunately we hadn’t completely left and actually quite enjoyed the atmosphere from the back of the stadium where we stood with a group of others where as we would have been alone back in our seats. It was also very slightly warmer up at the back.

There were more Washington options available that tempted us to stay for an extra day however we decided to get on the road on Thursday morning. We will have to return to DC sometime to explore more. Picking up our car at the airport we did have time for one more activity. We headed to the Udvar-Hazy addition to the Air and Space Museum. This is a huge hanger near Dulles airport. We saw a Concorde, blackbird spy plane but the real highlight was the Discovery Space Shuttle. Well worth a trip out to see.

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Richy Balboa

Travel Dates: 21st – 22nd April 2014

Location: Philadelphia

First stop in Philadelphia was a cheesesteak at Steve’s Prince of Steaks. I went for a “wiz wit”. That would be cheesesteak with cheese wiz (cheese in a can) and onions. Vicki had mozerella on hers. Both were delicious! Well worth the trip out to Philadelphia.

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With the import part of our sightseeing (food!) covered we headed to the historic area. The main site here is the Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Although you are meant to get a ticket in the morning we only arrived on our bus in the afternoon so had to sneak onto a tour. I think they allowed us in because they like having a few Brits present when talking about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, just to rub it in a bit. We were very impressed by the knowledge of the kids on their history. Luckily we weren’t picked on to answer any questions. We had no idea who the second president was and couldn’t tell you what George Washington did after leaving the army. We are now much better informed and can tell you the declaration wasn’t signed on 4th July, John Adams was the second president and George Washington gave up his power as a general to go back to his farm.

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An afternoon walking around the old city was extremely pleasant in the sunshine. There are lots of historic buildings and attractive alleyways to explore. We had a much needed sit down for a drink on the waterside before returning to our hotel to meet people for dinner. We headed to a typical American chain restaurant, Olive Garden, with Paul and Prarthna Skinner. They are friends of Tom’s who were at the wedding and staying at the same hotel as us here in Philly. We have quite a few mutual friends through the banking world and have met a few times before in London. Very pleasant evening despite terrible service finished off with frozen yogurt in the hotel lobby. We were staying in Club Quarters Philadelphia which is well worth it, very comfortable and lots of free snacks and drinks.

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After dinner we needed to arrange our transport to Washington DC. I thought we could get a good deal on a train. I saw a train leaving at 10:45 and arriving at 12:35 on 22nd April. Sadly I didn’t take note of the am/pm which were the wrong way round. I actually managed to book the train after it had left Philadelphia, as we were still in our hotel and not on it, this was problematic. A frantic call to Amtrak resolved the situation at least. Instead we went for the tried and tested method and booked another Greyhound bus ride.

In the morning we were up early to get a run in. There was one more thing we wanted to do before leaving Philadelphia. We ran down to the Museum of Art which was made famous in the Rocky training montage where he ran up the steps. We did the same with the instantly recognisable “Gonna Fly Now” playing as we made it up to the top. Add the music yourself (Rocky Training Montage) and watch our version. I think you will find it is far better than the original.

Richy Balboa

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Next stop Washington DC.

All photos from Philadelphia. Click to see more…

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Travelling again…hello USA!

We are back to our travelling ways nearly 6 months after returning from our Big Adventure. This time it is a much shorter trip though. We have just left New York after a long weekend at Tom & Katie Fontano’s wedding. It was a great weekend with a lovely ceremony that we were happy to be part of. Congratulations to the newly weds!

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We had 2 nights in New York and 2 at the wedding in Conneticut. This gave us chance to catch up with friends and have a couple of runs. No sightseeing done yet. We will be New York sightseeing when we return at the end of May for a second wedding.

I am writing from the bus to Philadelphia. The plan is one night there, bus to Washington DC and then drive south. Not sure exactly where we will spend time or for how long yet. There are some runs we want to do along the way and our destination is Orlando, Florida in 2 weeks time.

It is good to be off exploring again.

All photos from Tom & Katie’s wedding. Click to see more…

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