MISSION: To visit every state and territory in the U.S. For my mission a visit is greater than a stop over; I wish to explore the natural and cultural environments of these areas. Each of these locations has a story to tell, and I want to find it.

As of February 2018 I have visited all 50 states (and Puerto Rico and 2 island in the US Virgin Islands) at least once.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2014 Year in Review (and a New Years Resolution)

What a year!!! Its hard to believe that 2014 is already over. I guess I missed it because upon looking back, I was busy. So busy in fact, I feel horribly behind writing about it. Heck, I have trips where I have not even gone through pictures I took with my “real” camera. Admission – I got an iPhone this year, and it seems to suck up my creative juices. Instead of writing for myself and posting on this blog, I have taken to Twitter and Instagram (@DCJerseyGirl) to document my travels, communicate with electronic friends and post pictures. Sadly, most of those pictures are the quick shots from my phone and NOT the ones I take with my cameras. So – new year’s resolution time, I will get back into this blog – the one I resolved to start a few years ago, and I will start reviewing my real pictures! As you will see, I have a lot to catch up on.

Starting with a quick review – I had some huge travel firsts this year! New state, new national parks, new countries!!! I made my first trip to Europe. I survived the Bermuda triangle. I went on my first New Kids on the Block cruise (yes, you read that correctly). I saw some legends in concert (and another legend cancelled on me (Cher)). I went to some games. I tried new sports (curling). And of course, I visited some favorite places! So that summary:

Year of the concerts:
• Billy Joel
• Sting/Paul Simon
• Lionel Richie
• Michael McDonald/Toto
• Nick & Knight
• Trans Siberian Orchestra
• Music of the Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo

New National Parks:
• Death Valley
• Franklin D Roosevelt (and Vanderbilt) Historic Site
• Craters of the Moon
• City of Rocks
• Fort McHenry
• Minidoka
• Hagerman Fossil Beds
• Horseshoe Bay Beach in Bermuda

New US Cities/Art Towns:
• Roanoke, VA
• Charleston, WV
• Steamboat Springs, CO
• Boise & Twin Falls, Idaho
• Matlacha &Cape Coral, Florida

States Visited: NV, CA, OK, LA, CO, ID, FL, NY, NJ, DE, PA, CT, MD, VA, WV

New Countries/Cities:
• Hamilton, Bermuda
• Venice, Italy
• Rome, Italy
• Milan, Italy
• Florence, Italy
• Sorrento, Italy
• Lugano, Switzerland
• (plus quick stops in Como, Pisa, Sienna, Sirmione, Pompeii, Capri, Naples, and some other place where we only stopped for a Cathedral with a tongue)

Yes, I hit a new state! Number 47 was bestowed upon Idaho. I traveled throughout the southern region (the breadbasket) of the state. I power-toured my way through Boise. I had always heard good things about this city… it’s true. Situated at the base of the foothills, the state capital’s sand color blends in beautifully; the city park hugs the river and the rose garden throws color into the mix. Stopped by the The Peregrine Fund as a homage to my NJ roots (home of the Raptor Trust) and to support the work that they do to save raptors. It’s a small facility doing HUGE work in the breeding of these falcons as well as others (notably the condors). I fed sharks at the small Boise Aquarium! I saw a great modern art exhibit at the Art Museum AND was wowed by the Peace Memorial featuring Anne Frank. In fact of all the things I saw in Boise, this was the most striking – in its size, scope and message.

After hitting city sites, I made my way through several National Park sites. Craters of the Moon has been on my wish list for a long time. It sounds so odd, and descriptions of the park – black vomit - do it no favors! Here at this park I got to refresh my basic geologic knowledge of lava beds and spatter cones, hike though a lava tube, see tree imprints in the lava fields and was dazzled with the Day and Night Sky programs! It was an amazing experience and reminds you that landscape beauty can mean different things. Here, panoramics might be fields of black rock, but up close, the beauty is in the details. City of Rocks was another geologic park in Idaho, but for different reasons. Here, it is all about glorious granite structures. It’s a rock climbers paradise! In contrast, Minidoka offered me a history lesson; how much did you learn about Japanese Internment Camps in school. Me, not so much. We learned they happened and the government quietly stopped it. That was all… this park filled in the gaps AND I felt dirty as a result. I will admit, I actually teared up at times. People make bad decisions when they are scared or angry. I teach this – and our history is riddled with examples… and here is a perfect one.

Hitting a new state may have been huge for the goal this year, but the HUGE accomplishment (and the huge burden on my wallet) was my fancy new stamp in my passport! I made my first trip to Eurpore. Yep – my first trip! I have had 2 near trips, but it never happened. This time it did. A 2 week trip with some family to Italy!!! I realized that places we went reminded me of American cities… so at the risk of sounding like a lousy American tourist, here is my list and comparisons: Rome=New York (obvious); Florence=DC (the skylines and river situations, along with the museums are oddly similar); Venice=New Orleans (minus the canals, they could be the same place); Sorrento = Santa Barbara (quiet, gorgeous coastal area with some agriculture); Sienna=Lexington (life is around a horse race track); Como =mix of Aspen and Miami/Ft Lauderdale (fancy homes away from the “people”); Sirmione=DisneyWorld (tourist stop with a castle in the middle); Milan=not positive but would say LA (nondefined city with everything very spread out)

Now – that said, I loved my time, albeit very short amounts of time in a handful of places. I fell in love with the hidden beauty of Florence once you got out of the touristy old town market area. There were outdoor museums, sculptures, amazing architecture and yes, David took my breath away. Took a tour outside of the tour group I was traveling with, and a local showed me the city at night! Over the bridge to the “other” section of town housed cafes, outdoor restaurants, shops where people didn’t pester you for the “most fantastic” leather goods you will ever see. Ahhh – Florence, I didn’t have enough time.

 I loved the artsy feel of Venice. I could have stayed there for the whole trip, exploring the small side streets and taking in the galleries, the views and the feel of it! Not sure my pocketbook would have liked that since I am a magpie at heart, and that city is filled with pretty shiny baubles. My camera, on the other hand, would have gotten some good use – those canals are so damn photogenic. Then there was Sienna; a small city it has a medieval feel, cobble stone streets, a race track in the center – an endless maze of winding streets that flow through districts. There is a humanized version of the Hunger Games that happens here every year, with districts offering up riders and horses to race for glory (and for their shield to fly) over the Capital.

Sorrento was full of citrus and was set on dramatic cliffs over the sea. The site knocked your socks off, it was practically a sheer drop down to the blue water. I was able to hunt for sea glass- collecting all sorts of colors. I still can’t believe how much there was! Reds, yellows, deep blues and the more common green! It kept me busy since I didn’t pack a suit! Silly me, thinking we were going to the beach on our tour of Italy! I also got my science geek on – teaching some in the group about the basic of sea cucumbers, after someone found one on the beach. While in Sorrento, we headed to Capri for the day. What can you say about a limestone rock with no water and yet has a thriving community on it? Well, I learned that Italy built a system of pipes the run from Sorrento to Capri to that it could sustain a small city and tourism could thrive. It is beautiful. But it’s a lime stone rock! Took the boat to the Blue Grotto! Took the chair lift into the clouds to the top of the island. Got red fire coral jewelry to remind me of the story of Medusa’s blood that I learned in Florence.

Rome has the hustle and bustle of home – how could I not love it? It was probably most accepting of tourists! There was so much to see. I even skipped the Vatican tour to wander around on my own! I wandered into a random art museum/historical house and discovered a new artist to learn about (loved the 4 paintings on the seasons), and took in tons of ruins. Since 7th grade, I have been fascinated with Greek and Roman mythology and here I was staring at former temples (modified by the church), looking at Egyptian obelisks outside of these churches and smiling at the history they represent! I grew up in Jersey, a hotbed for American history, surrounded by “old” things and yet, here I was in Rome, staring at stuff that dates to BC times. It puts our country’s history into perspective. And it’s inspiring! Cleopatra and Mark Anthony married Egypt and Italy and here was proof… and then the church stuck a cross on top of it!

I could go on and on about the tour! The good – the amazing history, the architecture, the landscapes. The bad – we ate at truck stops 2x (could have been 3 but I complained). The ugly – you really only got quick views of many of these places. We were only in Pisa for 1 ½ hours – no time to climb the stairs! BUT – I got to Italy (and a very very quick trip to Switzerland) And that made my 40th fan-freaking-tastic!

I also made it to Bermuda for the first time. Bermuda – home of the pink sand beaches. A tip of the Bermuda Triangle. Easy breezy island culture… did I mention the pink beaches? In less than 8 hours off a cruise, a friend and I ferried to Hamilton, walked the main street in Hamilton, took in a few shops, government buildings, city parks, ate and hopped a bus to the beach for a bit. Took in sun, waves and took some pretty pictures before we hopped another bus to ride through the island on the way back to the harbor. We visited a glass blower and wandered around before we headed back out to sea with our favorite boy band. What can you say about a cruise with New Kids – music, laughter, shows, parties, and NO SLEEP. I didn’t sleep, but for a few hours for 4 days. It was insane. I was so exhausted I had to set my phone alarm every 10 minutes while I was in in NYC’s Penn Station waiting hours for my train! And yes, it was worth every day minute of it! A fangirl’s dream come true.

My nature and culture loving sides were fed often this year:

  • After numerous trips to Vegas, I finally made it to Death Valley this time. January is the perfect time to go – the temps won’t kill you.  I truly wanted to see the mysterious floating rocks of the park (since demystified by science), but with a rental car and struck instructions not to take it off roading, we had to skip The Racetrack. We did visit the Golf Course, and no, that isn't for the sport. Instead, its a valley filled with huge rock salt boulders - sharp, ragged and utterly beautiful.  And I say this every time I visit a mega park (really any park) – people are idiots!!! There we were, in the salt flats – an expansive area of salt and there is one tiny area where a spring pops up from the ground and an endangered brine shrimp lives. The sign says “Do not walk here” And yet, there were people, stepping over the small barrier to get a better look… I just pisses me off to no end. With that trip to the salt flat, I have been to the lowest place (not underwater) in our country. And you go in January because it is also the hottest, on the planet (and driest in N.America) in the summer.
  • Although I grew up in the north Jersey area, I never made it to Hyde Park.  The picturesque Hudson Valley is about an hour north of New York City, and is home to the FDR presidential library, his home, Eleanor's home and the Vanderbilt Mansion.  With the anniversary of the New Deal art movement, the library hosted a special exhibit showing posters of modern interpretations of those pieces.  It was the perfect opportunity to visit the home of my favorite president, and see art honoring a national act to promote open spaces through art!  History, scenery, and art - it was a perfect combination!  
  • In complete contrast to the natural beauty of the national parks - I also headed to South Beach for some sun and fun ... well, it would have been fun if the airline did not "misplace" my luggage for the entire trip!  But, having traveled enough, I was lucky to had packed a few things in a carry-on... it was enough to site-see with a straight face.  And even though I have "been there, seen that" before, I am always tickled with glee at all the art deco decadence of South Beach.  And if you think that is it... well, you haven't lived until you have seen the king size penis poster bed at the Museum of Erotic Art... yep, it's a thing.
  • I attended a few concerts, saw a few musicals and went to a few art festivals this year… Hedwig (with NPH), Violet (With Sutton Foster), Aladdin (with James Monroe Iglehart), Rocky (where the entire cast signed a playbill for my niece)! Touring shows of Flashdance (fantastic), Dirty Dancing (not so much) and regional show of The Nutcracker Musical (I cried). Took my mom to her first mega concert and we saw Billy Joel! I swayed and grooved my way through Sting and Paul Simon (I still have that finale in my head 8 months later). Filled by boy-band loving heart with an awesome show by Nick and Knight. And internally did they “I didn’t know they sang that” during Toto’s set!

Over the course of the year I did a few other smaller trips. I headed to my 4th or 5th home - NOLA and went to my first Mid City Bayou Boogaloo. Had to get my Cajun groove on somehow this past year. I miss that city tremendously – I used to go often for work. Now that I don’t travel anymore for that, I need to find more affordable ways to get there, and that means I can’t do Jazzfest often! I headed back to Colorado and finally got to see Steamboat Springs - but honestly the less said about that trip the better. It’s a ski town. It was small and lovely. There! I was in Oklahoma, sick as a dog, but went to be with someone and watch the Superbowl. Toured Tulsa and learned more about its oil and gas history. We Jerseyian’s didn’t learn much about Oklahoma in school. That was my 3rd time to that state, I am not sure I have reason to go back unless it’s necessary. I was also sick as a dog when I visited the west side of West Virginia. I am still mad at myself that I couldn’t take more in because that flight over the folding Appalachians was stunning. Good thing that United runs sales there often, I might have to go back and really see more than downtown and the arts center (although hearing Toto’s Africa live was worth the pain) And then there’s Florida. Yes, I have family there and I have been there tons, BUT it’s a huge state and there is still more to see. This round, I explored the west coast of Ft Meyers, Cape Coral and Matlacha – sleepy west coast of Florida is quite relaxing and that was what the doctor ordered. While I was there, I learned that Ford and Edison were the best of friends and had winter homes right there in Ft Myers along the river. Even titans of business and genius minds needed some R&R, friendship and time to play (though their playing was looking for rubber making plants)!

So what is coming up for 2015… well, I have a lot planned already. I will be heading to Florida to take my mom to a Frankie Valli concert. I loved that voice as a little girl listening to the Grease album and while skating at the roller rink… it’s about time I see him! I’m working my way back to California for a girls’ roadtrip and plan to visit “new to me” places like Palm Springs and Joshua Tree NP as well as stop off at Disneyland. Big Girls may not cry, but I do if I don’t visit NOLA, so I have a trip back to the Crescent City to see another friend and get my zydeco on at French Quarter Festival in the Spring. My Eyes Adored the area of NJ where I grew up and it looks like I will be headed there for work!!! I am so excited that I get to go to Delaware Water Gap again; it’s one of the prettiest areas of the country even if I am a bit biased! I can’t take my eyes off that map of the US – it’s almost finished! I booked a solo trip to knock states 48 & 49 off my list – so hello, Minnesota and North Dakota! That trip should cross a few more parks and monuments off my list as well – I got my eyes on Teddy Roosevelt NP and Voyageurs among others! And of course, Who Loves You, New Kids? I do, I do and in the fall, I have the NKOTB cruise to Grand Turk just to prove it (well maybe it has something to do with the insane fun this year’s adventure was). And that is just what I have on the agenda for now!

Someone tell the lottery commission that I need to win! PLEASE!

Wishing everyone a wonderful new year full of adventure and discovery.

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