Wednesday, May 21, 2014


We are meeting friends near the Friendship Park Metro station for dinner at a nearby Greek restaurant. On the way we check our urban spoon app and the closest Greek restaurant to our stop is The Parthenon  Reading the menu, we really hope this is where they will be taking us.  The metro is running behind schedule due to weekend repairs and we finally arrive 30 minutes late.  Sure enough dinner is at The Parthenon.  There is a line out the front door when we arrive and the place is packed… but no fears… it’s all about, whom you know, LOL.  Our friends are regulars here and although we have missed our reservation time by a half hour, we are promptly shown to our table.  After perusing the menu and discussing the dishes with our friends, all four of us decide on the Baked Lamb (3 with orzo and 1 with spaghetti), a large Greek salad to share and a bottle of red wine (Greek of course), as recommended by our server. Dinner is spectacular. The salad fresh and crisp with a light dressing, the perfectly seasoned lamb melts in our mouths, and the wine a perfect match.  Meeting up with friends is always fun, but an amazing dinner with friends is unforgettable. (Thanks Bill & Peggy you guys rock!)

Supreme Court

Government and tourism are the two main industries in Washington DC.  We’re doing the tourist thing, but it’s time to check out the government.  We hike over to our Senator Diane Feinstein’s office and pick up gallery passes to the House and the Senate. On Capitol Hill we stop at the The Supreme Court  Building, watch an informational video, view historical exhibits and take a quick tour.  The majestic marble building and decorative carvings inside and out are fitting for the highest court in our country. President Taft, who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is credited with persuading Congress to authorize construction, and his ever practical wife insisted that,  “the building be easy to clean.”

Three buildings hold the The Library of Congress with the centerpiece

Library of Congress
Thomas Jefferson Building.  This is by far the most beautiful building in the Capitol.  A cathedral to knowledge, with grand arches, marble columns, sweeping staircases, frescos, mosaics and carvings dedicated to learning, creativity, and intellectual achievement.  Regular tours are held throughout the day that start with and introductory video and then a docent led tour that includes information on the decorative interior while stopping to view the Guttenberg and Mainz Bibles and Thomas Jefferson’s book collection. After our tour we take the underground passage way to the James Madison Memorial Building and ride the elevator to the 6th floor cafeteria where we get a decent meal and enjoy great views of the river and

Getting into the Senate Gallery is an exercise in persistence. First you have to get a gallery pass from Senator or Representative, then you have to go through a first screening much like the TSA screening in an airport and finally you have to turn over all cameras, cell phones and any electronic equipment which is held in a check area before entering the gallery.  Once you make it to the gallery it’s pretty underwhelming, unless you happen to hit a voting time.  The Senate was “in session” but we could not identify the speaking senator since he was under the balcony where we sat.  The chamber was empty except for a few aides, clerks and a designated president pro tem.  Yes, the wheels of government turn slowly… really, really slowly…

In Chinatown we stop at the New Big Wong Restaurant (actually we dine here twice so we could try more dishes.)  The decor is average, the service is ok, Sing Tao beers arrive cold, orders get taken and food gets delivered hot from the kitchen.  Portions are large (so lots-o-leftovers to take home.)  The Peking duck is better than Beijing, Pork Fried Rice has lots of finely chopped veggies, egg and meat, Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce is bright green, crisp and perfectly seasoned, Beef with Broccoli is tender and flavorful and the Vegetable Egg Foo Young is fluffy, chock full of vegies and smothered in a smooth creamy gravy.  Each dish maintains a distinct, unique flavor.   There are lots of choices to dine in DC and we are happy to discover this place.
New Big Wong on Urbanspoon

The U.S. Botanic Garden established by Congress in 1820, is a living plant museum located on the National Mall.  Hundreds of orchids are in bloom. The Conservatory with its huge greenhouse showcases an impressive state-of-the-art indoor garden with approximately 4,000 seasonal, tropical and subtropical plants. Stairs and catwalks throughout the green house allow us to climb to view the tops of the palms.  We spend hours exploring the plants and gardens.  There is even a room with spices where we can smell the ingredients of curry mixes and essential oils.

The Freer and Sakler Galleries host an impressive collection of Asian art.  There is a special exhibit of Whistler in conjunction with a Kiyochika exhibit of Japanese wood block prints.  We sign up for a tour of these special exhibits, the docent leaves a lot to be desired and not being huge Whistler fans, we leave the tour after a bit and continue on to the Japanese prints. 

We don't know what to expect when we visit The National Archives so we start with the introductory
National archives
film. After getting our bearings we view the original Declaration of Independence  and the Constitution.  There are also numerous documents associated with the founding of our nation and one of the four remaining original copies of the English Magna Carta.  The museum and exhibits are well designed with state of the art interactive displays.  It's one of our favorite stops in the capitol.

And then there are the  Monuments and Memorials.  The Washington Monument reopens while we’re here, but since we never plan in advance and tickets have been sold out for months, we can’t take the elevator to the top, but we can walk around and touch the monument.  The WWII memorial is massive and grand with lots of eagles, flags and fountains. The Korean Memorial depicts the soldiers in the jungle. The Vietnam memorial is black and somber, a simple list of the dead. 

On our final day in the DC area we head over to George Washington's Mount Vernon across the
Mt. Vernon
Potomac in Virginia. 
This eighteenth-century plantation served as home, farm, and business for our first president. Well-preserved out buildings, show the range of common plantation activities such as blacksmithing, cooking, laundry, and spinning. The 16-sided treading barn was an innovation that Washington designed himself to allow horses to thresh wheat indoors.  The outbuildings also include housing for the slaves that were essential to the plantation's success and the wealth of our first president. George and Martha Washington are buried on the plantation and fifty yards behind their vault is the slave memorial. This was the cemetery for slaves and free blacks that worked at Mount Vernon during the 1700s and first half of the 1800s. Because the graves were unmarked, the identities and numbers of those interred there are largely unknown.

Once we finish touring the mansion and grounds, we stop for lunch at the Mt Vernon Inn Restaurant.  We choose regional favorites, Fried Green Tomato appetizer, Turkey Pot Pie, Shrimp and Grits and Bread Pudding for desert.  The service and food is quite good.

Whiskey Barrels

After Lunch we head a few miles down the road to the Gristmill and Distillery.  We watch some corn being milled and tour the distillery.  Unfortunately there are no samples of Mr. Washington’s Whisky.  We could purchase a bottle of the un-aged stuff for $95.00, but for that price, we’d rather get something worth drinking.

It is finally time to leave DC… BTW today marks our two year anniversary on this adventure… who knows what year three has in store for us...


Saturday, May 10, 2014


With storms on our tail, we hang out a few days at the Dixie Caverns in Salem, VA.  When we first arrive our camp space is awash in gasoline fumes.  Seems the folks in the RV next to us have accidentally filled their fresh water tank with gasoline and they are attempting to siphon the fuel into the gas tank.  YIKES! We call the office and are promptly moved to the other end of the park, while park employees go to help these clueless travelers. It rains on and off, but the WIFI is decent so we just chill out and wait for the weather to improve.  As the weather begins to clear we move closer to Washington, DC and overnight in the North Fork Resort in Front Royal, VA.  The place is nothing to write home about, but it’s fine for an overnight.

Then it’s on to our ultimate destination in the DC area, theCherry Hill Park in College Park, MD.  Cherry Hill is the closest RV Park to Washington, DC and they have a bus stop in the park where we can catch a bus to the Metro station and take a break from driving.  We plan to stay here one week.  After getting settled, we attend their daily meeting that explains the Metro system and purchase a couple of Metro Smart Cards.  We also book a night tour of the National Monuments for later that evening.

Jefferson Memorial

The tour is not really our style of travel and the tour guide pretty much sucks, but DC after sunset is stunning.  The monuments in shadows and light take on an almost mystical quality. We drive by the Capital, stop at the White House, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, View the Washington Monument in the distance, stop at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, and drive past the Pentagon on our way back.  Lots of great photo ops, but light on information from our guide. 

The next morning armed with our Metro Smart Cards, we hop on the bus to the College Park Metro Station where we board the Green Line train and head into DC. The Metro drops us off a couple of blocks from the National Mall and so we begin the daily pattern of our exploration of the Smithsonian Museums. 

First stop the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.  The museum has decent exhibits, but frankly in our opinions the Museum of Man in San Diego is better organized with much of the same information.

The Last Conversation Piece
Juan Munoz
After spending the better part of the day with natural history, we stroll across the Mall to the Smithsonian Castle and then on to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The Sculpture garden is wonderful with some really great pieces.  The building is a crisp cylinder open in the center and it raises expectations of the art within.  The top floor of the museum, which houses their permanent exhibit of contemporary art, is closed for renovation and we are disappointed. However, the second floor holds a special exhibit Damage Control: Art and Destruction since 1950, This ground-breaking exhibition explores destruction as part of the creative process through painting, sculpture, photography, film, installation, and performance pieces created by a diverse range of international artists post World War II, through the atomic age, and up to the present. It’s emotional, challenging and completely fascinating.

After our first day on the Mall we realize that in order to really explore the Smithsonian and the government buildings we will need to pace ourselves and only attempt one or two museums each day.  So we extend our stay another week.
Would you land on the moon
in this?

The Air and Space Museum is one of the most popular on the mall.  Under one roof we view the Wright brother’s, Spirit of St. Louis, Space Ship One, the Apollo 11 command module, the Hubble Space Telescope test vehicle, and hundreds of aircraft, spacecraft, missiles, rockets, and other flight-related artifacts.

American Indian
The American Indian Museum is home to a large and diverse collection of Native art and historical and cultural objects.  The exhibitions are designed in collaboration with Native communities from across North and South America.  The introductory film Who We Are, is moving and a must see for anyone visiting the museum.  On the lower level the Mitsitam Cafe features a Native-inspired menu.  A snack seems like a good idea so we grab some chips and guacamole for a snack.  Stale chips and bland guac… when will we learn? Mexican food east of the Mississippi never fails to disappoint…

The National Gallery of Art is not part of the Smithsonian.  It is, as aptly named, our national art gallery and is equal to the other great national galleries worldwide.  It takes us two full days and a few more hours to explore the museum. (And that’s because the East Building is closed for renovations and we can only tour the atrium styled lobby.)  In addition to the outstanding permanent collections we are fortunate to be able to view some absolutely spectacular special exhibits… where to start…

Garry Winogrand (1928 –1984) was a New Yorker who traveled around the United States during the postwar decades. His legacy is a sweeping black and white portrait of American life focused mainly on the middle class. In these photos we see a country that glitters with possibility but threatens to spin out of control and each picture exposes some deep current in American culture. The exhibit ends with an interview with Gary Winogrand filmed at Rice University in 1977, which enhances our appreciation of the artist.

Modern German Prints and Drawings from the Kainen Collection:  This exhibition presents more than one hundred German drawings, prints, and watercolors from 1910 to 1930 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and others in his circle. Some of the finest examples of expressionism, a movement that rejected the academic pursuit of timeless, idealized beauty in favor of creating dynamic art that reflected life and experience in the modern world. Kirchner’s art leading up to his suicide in 1938 is disturbing and emotionally exhausting.
Looking Out, Looking In

Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In gathers together — for the first time — a
 select group of Wyeth’s images of windows. The exhibition begins with Wind from the Sea (part of the National Gallery’s permanent collection) and includes images that reflect his extended study of windows. 

Degas/Cassatt.  Mary Cassatt, first met Edgar Degas in 1877 when he invited her to participate with the impressionists at their next exhibition. Over the next decade, the two artists collaborated and challenged each other to experiment. This collection contains some of the finest works that these two produced during this time. It is thrilling to see such a wonderful collection displayed.

Tucked away in a small screening room the film, “Street” by Cheryl Dunn loops continuously through the day. This slow motion documentary filmed from two vehicles driving through the city captures New Yorkers as they go to and fro.  We planned to just watch part of the film, but the voyeuristic fascination is too compelling and we stay for the entire movie.

Da Vinci
The permanent collection displays works by all the greats.  We are especially thrilled to see some wonderful works by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Pollack and others. Da Vinci’s portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci is the only painting by Da Vinci permanently exhibited in the United States.

Trippy Tunnel

Connected to the main gallery building by an underground tunnel, the east building is mostly closed for renovations but we are able to tour the sculptures in the atrium.  The building itself is a work of art and we spend the better part of a day photographing the building and the stunning sculptures.

And so ends week one in our nations capitol…


Monday, May 5, 2014


From Amicolola we head up into North Carolina to the town of Cherokee, the gateway to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We stay at the The Flaming Arrow Campground. This time of year it’s comfortable and quiet.  The road in is narrow but not a problem for us.  We have a back-in space among the trees and the WIFI works great.  The owner Joanie is super friendly and is a great ambassador for the area. 

Appalachian Trail Posers
Since it’s a bright sunny day, she suggests a trip to Clingmans Dome for a 360-degree view of the Smoky Mountains and five states. At 6,643 feet it’s the highest mountain in the Smokies, highest point in the state of Tennessee and highest peak on the Appalachian Trail. (AKA the AT)  So as soon as we unhitch and set up we head over to the The Great Smokey MountianThe Great Smokey Mountains National Park  for our second stop on the Appalachian Trail.

Great Smokey Mountains

At Clingmans it’s a good news - not so good news situation.  The park service provides a parking lot a half-mile from and 300 feet below the top of the dome. The not so good news, it’s straight up (no switchbacks here) and once you reach the top it’s another 45-foot climb to the top of the observation tower.  Once we reach the top of the tower the views are worth every step.  Below the tower the AT runs along the North Carolina /Tennessee border.  We laugh and hike a bit along the trail with a wide stance so we can be in both states at the same time.
On the way back to camp, we stop at Paul’s Family Restaurant (a Joanie recommendation.)   First impression: Service is not a high priority here.  When we finally order the Indian Taco, Fry Bread with Chili and the Corn Nuggets, they take forever to arrive and every time our waitress passes she apologizes and rushes off. (How can anyone appear to be so busy and accomplish so little?)  The Fry Bread dishes are OK, but we’ve had better.  But the Corn Nuggets – Ahhhhh…. a huge basket of little fried balls of cornbread and corn kernels super yummy!  The patrons here are a mix of locals and tourists. At nearby tables:  A group of middle aged Ducati riding road warriors, decked out in motorcycle leathers bitching about local police issuing tickets for driving 10mph over the speed limit, a Native American family laughing and teasing each other, and across the way a family that looks like cousins of the Duck Dynasty who are also laughing and having fun.
Paul's Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

With over nine million annual visitors, the Smokey Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country.  The entrance from the south is through Cherokee, the capital of the eastern Cherokee Nation.  It’s a bit touristy, with some souvenir shops and a casino, but it’s also a charming town with parks, public art and open spaces.  The northern entrance is through Gatlinburg a tourist destination on steroids, celebrating hillbilly roots, bumper to bumper traffic and mobs of sightseers.

Cherokee Bear
While in Cherokee, we visit The Museum of the Cherokee Indian. The first exhibit is a film about the Cherokee creation story and then we meander through the exhibits. This is a well-designed museum that tells the history of the Cherokee Nation from the Paleo Period to the Trail of Tears. It’s both educational and moving.

Mingus Mill
The The Mingus Mill at Oconaluftee was built in 1886 and is still operational today.  While the mill's turbine is not as photogenic as the overshot wheels that power other mills, it is more efficient and requires less water to operate. The turbine generates approximately 11 horsepower (8.2 kW) turning at 400 rpm.  We stop to tour the mill, take some photos and purchase a bag of freshly ground corn meal.  Maybe I can figure out how to make those yummy corn nuggets?

No visit to this area is complete without a drive along at least part of The Blue Ridge Parkway. The views are great since the trees are just starting to sprout.  In summer this will be a sea of green and the variety of trees create great fall colors.  Hmmm… we may have to come back here in autumn.

One of the things we have to watch in this lifestyle is the weather.  We have weather aps and a weather radio.  Things aren’t looking too good right now.  A huge storm is headed our way so we pack up and head northeast into Virginia.  Two hours outside of Cherokee, our weather radio sounds the alarm… Tornado watch in Cherokee… looks like we got out just in time… hopefully it will be a bit calmer in Washington DC?