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.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

12 days at Sea, 5 Islands and Some Big Apple Fun

This was it, my last trip of the year and it was a HUGE one... it was going to be my longest cruise ever and it was taking me to a bunch of new places.  To say I was excited would be putting it mildly.  Things seemed to be lining up nicely; I planned a great evening out with my city friend to see the limited run of Sweet Charity, I was coming in early to squeeze in another show that day, I had a great room not too far from the train station, my train was on time and the weather was holding out... I was all set for my cruise out of New York... ummmm, cruise out of Brooklyn.  (Note to Cunard:  you should differentiate these boroughs... they are not the same place and it can take an hour to get from Manhattan to Brooklyn, just saying).

After I rolled my bags through the streets of New York for a few blocks, I quickly checked into the Element, grateful I didn't stay deeper into midtown... I was weighed down in luggage (I was going away for 2 weeks on a fancy boat and need everything), so my arms and back were relieved to find the hotel. I looked worse than Millie moving into the city, just ready for a room and the Element checked me right hours early!  Woohoo for SPG status!  After resting up and re-bundling up, I headed for TKTS not really worrying about scoring tickets to my intended show target, Holiday Inn... I had no idea the city would be this packed on a weekday ... but there I was at the booth, getting the last ticket to the show.  Phew!  I was lucky.  So, off to Studio 54 I went, to the most uncomfortable seats in all of the theatre district for anyone over 5'2".  The theater itself is gorgeous, and even had a tree in the lobby, but those seats leave no space for longer legs... I am sure the people in front of me don't appreciate my knee in their back anymore than I appreciate the tension either.  I ended up shifting and squirming through act one, hoping for intermission to stretch.  The seats even made it difficult for me to toe-tap my way through the climatic dance numbers (the whole reason I went)... if you saw the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, you know I was waiting for the jump rope garland routine... it just is not as much fun watching people dance their hearts out when your knees are killing you.  But I might just have to rewatch that routine a few dozen times to see all the tricks on each rope - there was a LOT going on! 
I had no such issues in the small Pershing Square Signature Theatre, off Broadway to see the 50th Anniversary production of Sweet Charity!  These tickets were hard to come by, and you understood why when you stepped into the tiny theatre.  We were 3rd row - you could see spit flying from the casts' mouths, you could step on the stage and dance with them... (temptation was killing me).  I make no secret that I love Sutton Foster... I think she is the greatest thing to come off Broadway in my generation.  A triple threat and she doesn't just dance, but she owns the stage. 
This production allowed us to see her charisma, mannerisms, charm, wit and flash up close. 
This small production stripped down and laid bare the hurt and humiliation Charity faces and you watched it all play across Sutton's face... you just wanted to give her a hug.  You wanted to tell her it would be okay, but you knew it wouldn't because even though "If My Friend's Could See Me Now" is funny and playful, even silliest number in the show, it showed just how desperate and sad, lonely and vulnerable Charity is.. this production just plain broke my heart in a million pieces (and ignited feminist ire as her last suitor talked about how she wasn't pure enough for him.) 
What a treat to share this intimate theater experience with a good friend and that amazing cast.    We headed off to dinner and raved to Oovina's staff about our amazing evening.  we were the only ones eating out that late on a Wednesday - we had the place to ourselves. The place was lit up to create an almost theatrical setting, with silver grape vines above our heads, purple floor lights and sleek settings.  And the food was scrumptious - we tried a little of a lot! Amazing food, amazing company, amazing last day on land! 

Cruise Day!  I scrambled to pull myself together and headed off to Brooklyn.  I was meeting friends at the terminal, so I was on my own for a while... I worked my way through the endless lines, waiting rooms and finally into the boat... when you have 2 weeks worth of clothes and 4 formal gowns (told you it was a fancy boat), you have a lot to unpack.  I wanted to settle in and get things up and out of the way before my friend and their "almost" 2 year old made it into the room.  It's a good thing I got things somewhat organized because it went crazy almost immediately.

I will say it, this was a cursed cruise.  I truly felt for the captain and crew... for the families... for my friends.  Before I get to my good stuff - let me just say that a cruise that starts with a likely death (woman overboard on night 1), a couple's so savage breakup that they defy customs and leave the ship at port never to return on 2 different islands, a fire, racist and ignorant comments, and a gang of unruly teens stealing stuff and playing pranks just might be cursed... I don't think that this is what anyway wanted on the Queen Mary 2's holiday voyage (if ever).  It was truly a horror story at times. Me, I let my Jersey Girl flag wave boldly, I was not having any of this craziness... I called out horrible people that made comments about kids, ethnicities, and classist behavior.  I was not going to tolerate being told to move because someone thought I was loud, the kid was loud or whatever else bothered their sensibilities.  It was nauseating how nasty some people could be... so I kept myself busy.  On days that we spent at sea, my friends and I played trivia, lots of trivia. We visited the planetarium (yeah, they had one on the boat).  Attended lectures from the college professors brought aboard (Caribbean history, pirates and Broadway).  I tried my hand at Bingo 3 times!  Went to almost every entertainment performance - seeing the boat performers, and special guests (including London stage star Ruthie Henshall).  We hung out on deck/at the pools where the little munchkin liked getting into the water.  (I am not mentioning the food because it was horrible).  It was a lot of relaxing time... And I was ready for the islands. 

Five Islands.  Lots to see.  And I had plans for each of them.  The first day I hit the ground running - St Maarten!  I was off on a hike, up the highest peak to see some views and a hike down.  And it rained... oh yes, it rained.  They warned us the trail was muddy and slippery... and it was.  The walking sticks provided (that I wanted to turn down),
were, in fact, handy.  I made my way to the back of the pack so I could hang back and snap some pictures... our guide could not identify many of the features we were seeing and my eyes needed time to scan.  Otherwise, I would have missed sights like the snail, the spiders and the incredible trees!  I was so busy taking pictures I did not notice that my lens cap fell off my camera's attachment, so by the time I made it down the island, I was capless and had no idea where to look.  Good thing the tour dropped me off in Phillipsburg where I was able to replace it in one of the camera shops in town. Turns out that Philipsburg was the largest Caribbean city we were visiting (until St Thomas, and even then I think its bigger than Charlotte Amalie).  There were endless stores peddling diamonds; in fact almost every island we visited peddled diamonds (it was horrible).  In  Philipsburg there was at least some diversity of shops filled with textiles, local crafts, boutiques, and liquor.  I was able to find some Larimer, my lens cap, get some food, take some pics of colorful island bungalows and the beach - a great way to cap off a wonderful hike.  This was a great start.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

End of Year 2016 - Lots of Wins and 1 Mission Failure

Let's start off immediately by saying that I did not make it to my final state this year.  It was a goal.  I had a plan... and plans change.  Needless to say, I am miffed about this, but that does not mean I did not do and see amazing things this year.
Year End Summary

States/Territories Visited: NJ, NY, PA, DE, VA, MD, AZ,  NC, SC, FL, LA, CO, KY, AR, WA & US Virgin Islands
Countries: USA, Canada, Dominican Republic, St Kitts, Dominica, British Virgin Islands (Tortola)
Key Cities: NYC, Philadelphia, Tucson, Phoenix, Scranton, Little Rock, Bowling Green, New Orleans, Denver, Victoria, Ottawa, Miami, Charleston
Art Towns – Cooperstown, Charleston, Hot Springs, Coral Gables, Charlotte Amalie

Parks: Mammoth Cave NP, Hot Springs NP, Wright Brothers Nat Memorial, Fort Raleigh NHS, Tumacacori NHP, Paterson Great Falls NHP, Saguaro NP, Coronado Nat Mem, Valley Forge NHP, Hopewell Furnace NHS, Steamtown NHS, Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHP,  Lincoln Boyhood Home Nat Mem, Fort Sumter NM, Little Rock Central High School NHS, Wolf Trap NP for the Performing Arts, Great Falls Park, Shenandoah NP, Montezuma Castle NM and Canadian National Park 1000 Isles, Dominican Republic National Parks Sanoa Island and the Caves; The Baths, British Virgin Islands; Morne Trois Pitons NP, Dominica

Concerts:  Hall & Oats, Trombone Shorty, Santana, William Shatner, Tony Bennett, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson (THE Beach Boy), Elle King, Bryan Adams, Chic, Duran Duran, Ricky Martin,  Kristin Chenoweth,  NSO and New Kids on the Block plus a lots of amazing Broadway shows (Allegiance, Finding Neverland, Waitress, She Loves Me, Beautiful, American in Paris, Fully Committed, Disaster, Bright Star, On Your Feet, The Illusionists, Sweet Charity [off Bway] and Holiday Inn ), tours Bridges Of Madison County, Maks & Val Dance, Grinch Stole Christmas and regional shows Freaky Friday. (I love live music and theatre)

Aquariums: Virginia Marine Science Center, South Carolina

Ghost Tours: Ottawa, New Orleans

Iconic or Plain Ole’ Amazing Sites: Central Park in the snow storm, Philly Flower Show, Canadian Capital, Little Rock HS, Bathhouse Row,  Parliament in Victoria, Pineapple Fountain of Charleston, Grand Ave in Mammoth Caves, Coors Tour in Golden,  Baseball Hall of Fame, Columbus Museum in Santo Domingo, The Baths in Virgin Gorda, the Caribbean Reef
2016 was a full year.  It was a year filled with beauty, wonder and adventure, beginning with a crazy snowbound trip in NYC in the epic snowstorm and ending in the Caribbean visiting a few new islands. 

This year marked the 100th birthday of the national park service, and everyone knows how passionate I am about visiting (and protecting) these amazing places.  I made a point of getting to some new national parks, as well as revisiting a few favorites along the way.  And with them, I made it to lots of other types of park units – monuments, historic sites, memorials and more.  With all my visits to national park elements, you would think I would be almost done, but I am not even close.  There is a lot to see out there, and visiting these places helps me connect to our environment just a tiny bit more.  I went out to cave country this year to visit Mammoth Caves in Kentucky  - we hiked by lamp light, we saw cave critters evolved to live in a lightless environment, and imagined rooms filled with gypsum flowers.  I revisited Saguaro National Park in Tucson Arizona to catch a sunset over these iconic cactus before I took off to hike to the Mexican border at Coronado National Memorial, visited a mission at Tumacacori and walked around an ancient Native American dwelling carved into the mountainside in Montezuma Castle.  John and I traveled to Arkansas to honor civil rights history at Little Rock Central High School and partake in a bit of history by taking a traditional bath at historic Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs National Park (I also got in an amazing hike to see the beautiful folded mountains).  I took many weekend trips, some solo some not, to explore area park sites – we rode an historic steam engine in Scranton, PA, at the Steamtown National Historic Site, we learned about theories for Croatian at Fort Raleigh and listened in awe to the stories of first flight at Wright Brothers, both in North Carolina; I learned about colonial iron forging at Hopewell Furnace; visited Hamilton’s designer city at Paterson Falls; and more…

This year finally marked the year I made it to things that have been on my list for what seems like ages– Charleston, SC & its pineapple fountain!  Cooperstown & the Baseball Hall of Fame.  John and I made these trips to celebrate our birthdays… on one, we hit the beach and burned our feet before a monstrous storm rolled in, we toured via foot, bike, boat and horse and buggy to see a Southern gem and soak in the history, and on the other, we wandered an amazing museum on baseball and another on cars, and took time to enjoy a beautiful lake before an amazing storm rolled in practically each day.  YEP, my weather luck is still rolling!