Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Nation's Capital

Washington DC, Maryland

It didn't take us long to get from Shenandoah national park to the big smoke. This is the first big city we have explored in the US. When we booked our RV park, I'm positive that she said that we couldn't come in before the Tuesday but when we got our confirmation, it said Monday, so we went on Monday and the site we were given had been vacant all weekend - go figure. Who want's to be in DC during Memorial weekend anyway, it would have been bedlam. There was a war parade the afternoon we arrived but we decided not to brace the crowds. Even our neighbours who had come specifically for the parade, didn't stay until it finished. Memorial Day is like our ANZAC Day.

There is only one RV park in DC and it's huge. So far, it's the most expensive we have paid, it's out in the suburbs but it's the only one around. It's supposed to be a ten minute trip to the metro station but invariably takes longer, then it's another half an hour by train to the city. The transit system is pretty easy to use and we decide to drive to the station instead of waiting the extra time for a bus. You can use your transit card to pay for the car park as well as your train trips, which is right next to the station. The Archives station is on our line and brings us out right near the National Archives Museum which isn't far from the National Mall.

The National Mall

The National Mall is a rectangular area right in the middle of the city, dotted all around it are various memorials for influential people and various wars of the last century. We run into Greg and Kathy who are parked across from us in the RV park and join them walking down the mall visiting the Washington Memorial, WWII Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. Greg served in Vietnam, so they want to spend more time there and we move on. The sun is hot but we go via  the White House, look at the Capitol from afar as it was under scaffolding and go into the National Air and Space Museum. It was a humid 28°C and hot when you stood in the sun. On another day we visited some of the other memorials such as Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Roosevelt Memorial, Martin Luther King Jnr Memorial, and Korean War Veteran's Memorial. Other museums we visited were the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the News Museum and the International Spy Museum. While most of the museums here are free, the last two you have to pay for.

The Washington Memorial
WWII Memorial
WWII Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial

Vietnam Veterans' Memorial

Vietnam Veterans' Memorial

There is a wall with all the names of the soldiers that died in the Vietnam War. In front of the wall are flowers and envelopes that say “read me”. Inside are stories from people who have been affected in different ways, a granddaughter, a soldier. I read a number of these and it really gave me a personal and different perspective on the war. I didn't bring my good camera in as we are doing a lot of walking and it's pretty heavy. I don't know if it's the humidity, but there seems to be a haze on my lens which I try and fix in Lightroom. There are so many school groups here, I think we picked a bad time to come.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Martin Luther King Jnr Memorial
Washington DC Memorial
Korean Veteran's Memorial
Franklin Roosevelt Memorial
There were many of President Roosevelt's quotes on the walls
the White House
We talked about getting tickets to tour the White House but you have to go through your Consulate if you aren't American. Unfortunately we didn't do anything about it as we were unsure of the dates we would be there.

Engraving and Printing Museum

Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Federally printed money was needed to pay for the Civil War, so in 1862 the first notes were made by six workers. The workload is now shared with another bureau in Fort Worth Texas. Coins are made elsewhere.

Here are some interesting facts:
  • The same company has had the contract for the paper for over 100 years, which isn't paper, its a combination of linen and cotton
  • It takes 2 weeks to print US currency
  • They now have a magnetic strip and watermark - took them a while...
  • Only the notes higher than $1 & $2 have colour (why do they even still have these?)
  • The green and black ink is like peanut butter, I would say golden syrup
  • They will never change to polymer like the rest of the world
  • They are adding a raised bit for blind people to read
  • A $1 note lasts 5 years
  • A computer checks for errors and rejects 2% of the stock which is shredded and sent back to the paper manufacturers to remake into note paper
  • The building is 27 acres - we only saw two areas but they apparently have four floors of printers. The printing rooms aren't that big, what do they do with the rest of the space?
  • This building used to print postage stamps, bonds and a lot of other highly sensitive things, but they don’t anymore
  • We were looking at 5 stacks of $20 bills, each stack had a value of over 6 million dollars
  • Money isn't legal tender until the serial numbers have been validated

The National Air & Space Museum

The usual plan stuff

There were some interesting exhibits, but maybe we weren't so enthused as we had been to the Air Museum in Seattle.

U2 Spy camera, it can resolve features of 2.5 feet from 19 miles high

Showing the air traffic over the US at midnight and again at 8am
Some interactive displays that let you see water levels, temperature etc around the world

The Archives Museum

An impressive building

After taking half an hour to get in, there was another huge line to see the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. We didn’t need to see it that badly, so we left.

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum

To see the permanent exhibition you need a ticket. You can either book them weeks ahead, stand in line at 9am or sit by your computer at 6am - we did option 3 and printed them. There are limited numbers of tickets and you are given a time to enter. It was incredibly crowded with a number of school groups as well as tourists.

The rest of the world were warned, but did nothing
In 1939, 936 Jewish Europeans went to Cuba to seek refugee status but were not allowed to disembark. Cuba already had more Jewish refugees than they could handle and two other boats arrived at the same time. Unbeknown to the passengers, their landing passes had been invalidated just after they had left Hamburg. Belgium, Britain, France and the Netherlands all took some of the refugees, the rest were returned to Germany and died in the holocaust. I'm ashamed to say that Australia's response was that we didn't have a racial problem and they didn't want to introduce one, so they didn't take any Jewish refugees.

They talk about how the German's introduced their radical policies. Polish schools were closed, Jews were banned from all other schools, dismissed from their jobs, banned from certain professions, their businesses and property were confiscated, their civil rights were restricted. Then in 1942 they began deporting them to the concentration camps - not just from Germany, but also from the countries they invaded - France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and Poland.

While we have seen many movies about the holocaust, this museum covers so much more and gives you a lot more to think about. It was excellent.

The News Museum

There is a section that has many of the front pages of significance over the years.

Some of the front pages - War, Titanic disaster, Moon Landing and the end of the Vietnam War

The Pulitzer Prize Photographs are from 1947 to the present day – this is not a photographic competition, it is capturing moments of significance. Around the room are full sized pictures of the prize winners and a story about each one. In the middle was an interesting film with interviews of the prize winners talking about their photos.

The Flag Raising at Iwo Jima, Japan
The grim headlines
The 9/11 section tells a story of a photographer who was killed when the second tower came down. His friend found his camera and had the pictures printed. There is news footage and journalists' stories that was really hard to watch.

3D IMAX film on D-Day

Lindsay loves WWII movies, so it wasn’t surprising that he wanted to see D-Day at IMAX. We went to Normandy last year, so it was good to see another perspective which filled in a few more pieces of the jigsaw. Neither of us knew about the 2,000 mile German Atlantic Wall which ran from the French/Spanish border on the west to the top of Norway. It cost billions of dollars and didn't secure the front. We also didn’t realise that without the help of the Resistance, the invasion may not have succeeded. The Resistance were instrumental in blocking the Germans from getting to the coast by blowing up bridges and wrecking train lines. While you don't have as many things flying at you as the IMAX movie from space, it was still used 3D effectively to entertain us. We really enjoyed it.

The Spy Museum

Governments have always wanted to know what is going on in other countries. This museum takes you from the middle ages to about the sixties. I would have really liked to see some new things.

After seeing a short film, we had to choose an identity to assume and try and remember our names and other information we are given. Later on, we are tested. I got everything right, but am told not to be complacent as it’s difficult to sustain an assumed identity and you can easily be caught out. There is no way I could have lived this kind of life.

I loved the story of how two American women catch a soviet spy. They narrowed their list down to three people and asked them how they would go about becoming an international spy. The other two answered in a way they expected but the real spy was actually stumped.

There was a James Bond section and it was after seeing facial recognition in one of the movies that the CIA went about creating their own. Many of the Bond films were playing which we skipped as we have all of them anyway.

There are many stories of American spies in other countries and spies from other countries in America. They often use misinformation to fool the enemy. There are interactive displays that test your ability to spot potential risks or spies. On the whole though, we were both a bit disappointed with this museum. It was interesting but not worth the admission price.

We catch up with Greg and Kathy a number of times for drinks and dinner. You don't need to meet a lot of people on the road, just the right ones, and they certainly fit into this category. We hope to see them at Lake Tahoe next year.

As of 4th June 2016, the train system is being overhauled and will have disruptions for the next year.

If you are in DC when the schools are visiting, it can take half an hour to get into some of the museums because of the security measures. All bags are scanned and everyone has to go through a metal detector. The only drink that can be taken in is water and you may be asked to drink it in front of them.

Cherry Hill RV Park in College Park

Monday, 23 May 2016

The Skyline Drive

Shenandoah National Park

Sunset at one of the many overlooks

Shenandoah National Park surrounds the Skyline Drive which is an extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway and is still in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Tom Turkey

When we tried to book a campsite in Shenandoah online there were no sites available. There are two loops that are non-reservable, but that doesn't mean that they will be available, so we rang the National Park, as we have been disappointed before and we were worried because the weekend was the Memorial Day weekend. We told them we were planning to come in on Monday, shouldn't be a problem they advised and it wasn't. We got a great site on a corner but when we went to put our rams down, nothing happened. So Lindsay put the generator on and we brought the rams down and opened the slides. There was no power going from the batteries into the trailer and he couldn't work out why. The fridge can work off gas, but it needs power to operate. No battery power meant we wouldn't be able to stay. What to do. Of course there was no mobile reception at our site, so we went up to the office and they told us we should get reception up at the amphitheatre. We ring Keystone, the trailer manufacturer and talk to their help line; we have two hours to sort it out the problem before they close for the day. She and Lindsay discuss the issue but don't find a solution, but something she says makes Lindsay think about the relay he replaced last week. You see the hydraulics that open and close our slides had been tripping, they would go for a few centimetres/inches then stop, I would wait for it to reset and then push the button again. We rang the hydraulic manufacturer and he said it wasn't his product but the relay, so we bought a new one. Perfect, the slides worked effortlessly and the rams also worked better than ever before. It turns out the new relay we bought has a manual reset button while our previous one automatically reset itself. Something had made the relay trip and we all we needed to do was to push the reset button. Problem solved and we got to stay for the week. It's funny, I don't think anyone stays longer than a few days because when you say you want to stay for a week, they clarify it not once but three times. You want seven days, yes, seven days. Seven days. Yes seven days, a week. Is it my accent?

Dark Hollows Falls
It was supposed to rain, so I thought it might get cold, but it didn't

The campground at Big Meadow is one of the nicest National Park campgrounds we have been in. Green grass with lovely shady trees and large sites. We could easily fit our 5th wheel and truck too. We have sunshine after a couple of overcast days, just the weather we need to sit outside to have a drink. Life is good.

White tailed deer fawn

Lots of black bears

There are plenty of trails. Wildlife in the area includes black bears, white tailed deer, squirrels and many birds. There are a few waterfalls here and we walked to two as it's always nicer if you have a reason to walk somewhere.

Rapidan Camp

The Brown House

President Hoover wanted a summer house to escape the heat and humidity of Washington DC. He wanted it to have a stream so that he could fish and be within an easy distance of the White House. His personal secretary found a fishing lodge called Rapidan Camp through William Carson, who had heard about the search and lured the President to Shenandoah by building a road, securing fishing rights and stocking the stream with trout. It paid off.

Congress and William Carson had offered money to help pay for the property but Hoover refused. While Hoover paid for the property and all the building materials himself, 500 soldiers built the roads, cabins and other buildings, installed a water supply, sewage systems, built furniture and landscaped the grounds with paths, bridges and waterfalls. From the beginning Rapidan Camp was always intended to be donated to the national park when he had finished with it. Not surprisingly though the public were not happy about him using military labour to build the camp. He was the first President to donate his salary to charity, so I guess that made up for some of it. After construction the Marines ran the camp and guarded the Hoovers and their guests within a two mile radius around the camp - no easy feat when you see the forest.

The two mile walk here was through beautiful lush forest, three creek crossings

The Lodge consisted of two living areas with large fireplaces. Lou (Mrs Hoover) had an office which looked down towards the river as she was involved in lots of things including the girl guides. A second bedroom and bathroom was created by closing in a verandah for Mrs Hoover when President Hoover started being woken up during the night to attend to his presidential duties. As was the era, they slept in separate single beds. There are three buildings left – Creel Cabin where the volunteer curator lives, the Prime Minister’s cabin which was a guest cabin and the Brown House (as opposed to the White House) – a lot of thought went into that name.

The Brown House was refurnished seventy years after Hoover used it, so the original items were long gone. Photographs were used to recreate it as authentically as possible. Mrs Hoover liked to shop local, so many items could be recreated by local tradesmen. Native Indian rugs adorned the floors but are no longer on display as mice like to eat them. All the other buildings including the Mess Tent building have been demolished. There is a huge fireplace outside, this was never enclosed by a building, it was like an outdoor fire that everyone could sit around. Other activities for guests to do in the area were horse riding, hiking and of course fishing. Both the Hoover’s were geologists and Mr Hoover’s first job as a mining engineer was at a gold mine in the region around Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.

Now that's an outdoor fireplace
There are two ways of getting to Rapidan Camp, a six mile drive down a fire road or a two mile hike via Mill Prong Trail from the Milam Gap parking area. It’s a moderate hike, steep in places with three stream crossings. As this was our walk for the day, we hiked.

President Hoover was not well liked as the opposition told the people that he was responsible for the great depression and his summer camp was nearly left to decay.

A lone Yellow Slipper

Big Meadows National Park Campground

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Colonial Williamsburg

Williamsburg Virginia

Williamsburg is a colonial town, a couple of blocks in the centre of town have been blocked off to traffic. There are numerous free long and short-term carparks dotted around the perimeter. People are dressed up in period costume and talk as though they are still living in that period, sometimes giving a history of the town. It’s probably the only town in America who still love the English!

Booking for busy periods

Graduation Weekend

This weekend is graduation weekend, where relatives come from all around to see their grandchildren etc graduate from school. No such pomp and ceremony like this happens at home, it’s nice to see that some traditions still continue, especially ones that involve the whole family. For us, it meant that we couldn’t get a site at the RV park in Charlottesville on the Friday night, luckily we had booked the next two nights last week when we worked out what days would suit Wells and Dana to catch up. We found a nice county park near the Chickahominy river about 12 miles where we had been the night before. Lindsay loved the short drive, but he better not get used to it, I doubt you will ever have that short a distance again!

Wells, Dana, Jane & Lindsay

We had a great night catching up with Wells & Dana, and meeting Dana's parents. We hadn't seen them for two years, so it was the first time we met Fern, everyone would want a little girl like her, she's just a delight.

Memorial Day Weekend

When we booked Washington DC, we couldn’t get in on the Saturday of the memorial weekend, so we have to add days to Shenandoah national park. Going onto their website they are all booked out, but there were a few walk up sites, so we rang them. They assured us it isn’t that busy during the week, so we should be okay getting a site for the whole week, including the Memorial day weekend. Memorial day is a big thing over here. It’s the start of the school holidays, and a long weekend. American’s don’t get many public holidays, so they all make the most of them when they get them and that means booking up campsites months in advance. We have always been in Yellowstone or just leaving on this weekend, so have never needed to worry about it. We know about it but we still forget.

Summer Holidays

Summer holidays start and finish at different times throughout the country. Where we at the moment they start on Memorial Day weekend and go for a few months. It's weird to think they end their school year in the middle of the year, when we finish in December. Friday and Saturday nights are always busy most weekends, but the weeks start to get busy too during this period. Therefore we need to look ahead and start booking or we may find ourselves out in the cold. 

While over in the west you can often stay overnight in a Walmart (if they allow it), but over on the east coast it's not a good idea. Luckily I saw a comment about crime in a Walmart in Richmond, VA, where we were thinking of staying. Two men would knock on your door in the middle of the night, say you couldn't stay and then rob you at gunpoint when you opened the door. Being in a 5th Wheel, we can't just jump into the driver seat and leave. Scary stuff. It turns out that Richmond has only just been superseded by Detroit as the murder capital of the US! Luckily I found a county campground in Williamsburg for a much safer night.