Thursday, April 28, 2016

East bound and down

I’m really thankful that Cindy and I are fortunate to be able to travel like we do. The good Lord has blessed us with the opportunities to take cruises and other trips when we find something we want to do. This blog is about our most recent trip to Washington DC and Virginia Beach to visit friends and family. I’m also fortunate to have friends and family that represent a huge cross-section of jobs and interests, so this particular blog may be excruciatingly detailed to some. So, sit back, relax and make sure your seatbacks and tray tables are in their fully upright and locked position. We are cleared for immediate departure.

We actually booked this trip a few months ago to take advantage of one of Southwest Airline’s sales. A first for us on this trip was to book lodging through Airbnb. Airbnb is a website for people looking for short term lodging instead of a hotel. These are privately owned houses, condos, etc. and usually the prices are a bit lower than a regular hotel. We happened to find a room just a short walk from some family we were visiting. More on this later, though.

Our plan for this trip was to leave on a Wednesday morning, and stay in DC until Saturday morning, where we’d pick up a rental car and drive to Virginia Beach to visit some friends of mine, and drive back up to DC the following Monday morning and fly back home.

Traffic to Houston Hobby (HOU) was light, even though we were on the early fringe of rush hour. We got to our parking location and a shuttle bus was there within minutes to whisk us to the terminal. We already had our boarding passes, so we used one of the self-serve kiosks to print our bag tags and dropped them off with no delay. TSA was particularly efficient, giving us plenty of time for coffee and donuts (the breakfast of travelers, if not champions). I was initially concerned about a possible weather delay, but we left the gate a few minutes early. Remarkably, our flight was just a little less than half full.

For my aviation friends, we were on WN432, N420WN, a 737-7H4. We departed Rwy 22 and according to my GPS (yes, we are allowed to have it on during takeoff and landing, thankyouverymuch!), we rotated at about 150 mph. Our departure took us quite a bit south, crossing the west end of Galveston Island before we made our turn to the northeast. Climb out and cruise were remarkably smooth, and with minimal cloud cover I spent most of the 2 ½ hour flight either looking out the window or at my GPS map display.

N420WN



Our inflight snacks were clever, to say the least. This is the first time I’ve seen this particular snack, and actually laughed out loud when the flight attendant handed me the packet. I even woke up Cindy with my laughter. They were just “plane cookies,” but I think when you see the photos you’ll see the humor in it.

“Plane cookies”



Yes, the cookies face both ways.



Our approach into DCA was similar to previous flights we’ve taken there. We flew right up the Potomac River on final and landed on runway 1 with a little “rudder dance” to keep things interesting. Overall, we arrived about 20 minutes early. Our bags showed up within a few minutes and we were ready to link up with Cindy’s sister.

After dropping our bags off at my sister-in-law’s condo, we walked over to Tryst for a late lunch. On our previous trip, we ate there for breakfast, so this was our first taste of their lunch menu, no pun intended (Yes, actually the pun was very much intended!). I had the “Liam” sandwich, which was essentially a Cuban sandwich. While both their breakfast and lunch were most tasty, I think I prefer their lunches. We headed back to the condo to take our bags over to our Airbnb lodging.

We saw photos of our room from the Airbnb site, but were pleasantly surprised at the décor. Our host does mosaic artwork, and the shower (a double-headed shower at that!) was beautifully decorated with this mosaic art.

Is this cool, or what?



We met our host during our stay, and she was attentive without being intrusive. For this particular lodging, we had the basement to ourselves. Although the bathroom wasn’t directly connected to the bedroom, it really didn’t matter, as we were the only ones in that part of the house.

So, after dropping our bags off, we walked to Beau Thai for dinner, where Connie’s husband joined us shortly thereafter. This time of year is almost perfect, weather wise, for DC. The temps were mild throughout our stay, so we were able to eat at the outside tables for pretty much all of our outings. Since we had a late lunch, neither Cindy nor I were overly hungry, so an appetizer and small entrée were all we needed. The grilled marinated pork belly appetizer was fantastic!

Tummies full, and tired from a day of travel, we headed back to our room and called it a day. I knew the next several days would be full of activities, and lots of walking, so I was happy to stretch out and read my Kindle before falling into a sound sleep.

Quick side note: Our cruise director on our last Carnival Magic cruise was this funny and talented gentleman named Eversen Bevelle. Each morning on the cruise he would sing his “good morning” song. I thought it would make a great song to wake up to, so I found it online (check his website) and installed it on my phone. That’s what we woke up to each morning. One word of caution, though. This is a very catchy tune, and will get stuck in your head, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Anyway…..

Our first full day in DC started out with a walk to one of my favorite restaurants in the area: Ted’s Bulletin. This is a 50’s style diner, and everything I’ve had on their menu is fantastic. One of their specialties is a version of a pop tart that they make in house. Of course, these are superior to those produced en masse at a factory. Life is full of hard choices, and on that Friday morning I had to choose between their salted caramel tart, which I’ve had before, a blueberry cheesecake tart or a key lime tart. The key lime won out and my first bite of it transported me to Key West on a magic carpet of flakey yumminess. A small dollop of whipped cream cut the tartness of the key limes just right.  Ted’s is definitely one of those places that will be my “go to” whenever I’m in DC, just like El Pato is when I go to The Valley.

A hearty breakfast fueled us for a walk to the National Zoo. My first thought upon entering the zoo was “Hey, cool, free admission!” until I realized that this was taxpayer supported. Based on how much my paycheck is taxed, it definitely is not free. We still had fun, though, and while Cindy’s favorite exhibit was the Panda bears, mine had to be the orangutans. At this point I need to mention just how hilly the DC area is. I didn’t really notice it before, when in a car, but walking is a whole different matter. It seemed to me that everywhere we walked was uphill. I kept waiting for the downhill part, especially at the zoo, but we always seemed to be going up. So, back to the Pandas. Our timing was just right, as mama and her baby engaged in a cute wrestling match while we watched.

Mama and baby wrestling



After all of this uphill walking, we decided to let Uber take us to the Mellow Mushroom near the condo for lunch and some liquid refreshment. The three of us shared two appetizers, the bruschetta and the pretzels, both of which were entirely satisfying. I think I had more liquid refreshment than solid food, but one must observe both the yin and the yang of life, right? We took our time here, and before too long Connie’s husband Jeff showed up from work and we plotted where we would have dinner.

My mind started edging towards “cruise mode,” in that we were doing lots of “grazing and drinking” throughout the day……a little here, a little there. We picked Smoke & Barrel based on previous experience with their food and drink list. The last time I was there I had the fried chicken with jalapeno-cheddar grits. Being a native South Texan, my standards are impossibly high with such dishes, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how well both of those foods were done. This time, instead of fried chicken, we split a BBQ sampler plate with some of those awesome grits on the side. While the BBQ was good, I think their fried chicken is much better. The next time we are in DC, I’m sticking with the fried chicken, with the grits of course.

BBQ and grits



What’s the best thing to do after eating lots of good food? How about walking to an outdoor beer garden for a drink or two? Off we went, on a road march to Dacha Beer Garden. Cindy and I prefer a light “postprandial stroll” when we are home, so why not have one here, right? This place is very dog friendly, and we had fun watching how many patrons brought their dogs along. Connie and Jeff frequently play card games when they visit the various pubs/bars/beer gardens, and they brought along an interesting game called Pairs. This was the first time Cindy and I ever played it, and we enjoyed playing a few hands before it was time for “dessert.” See what I mean about being in “cruise mode?” Eat, drink, and repeat. Oh yeah, where to for dessert? How about Diner DC for milkshakes? Yes, there it is: Peanut’s Revenge Shake. Think about taking a Reese’s peanut butter cup, blending it up and mixing it with vanilla ice cream. That’s what this shake tasted like. I’ll just add this to the ever growing list of places to visit on our next trip. That shake was the perfect nightcap, and a short walk later Cindy and I were back at our room, already thinking about what fun we’d have the next day.

Once again, Eversen Bevelle woke us up with “Good Morning” and soon we were walking over to the condo to meet Connie. Naturally, we had to visit The Coupe for breakfast. This restaurant, from what I understand, is owned by the same company that owns Tryst. For not being a resident of DC, I find it almost funny that I don’t need a menu at some of these places, as I already know what I want. I ordered their hash brown bowl, which is this heavenly mixture of hash browns (duh!), sautéed onions (I left off the mushrooms….yuck!), bacon, cheddar, sliced jalapenos and a scrambled egg. Of course, if this was done in Texas, you’d automatically get a couple of tortillas on the side to hold everything together. I was afraid that if I asked for any tortillas there, they’d probably kick us out. Probably not, but why take chances?

Hash brown bowl



We actually didn’t do a whole lot, except run a few errands after breakfast. This was fine in many ways, as it gave Cindy and Connie time to just visit and hang out. Between the previous day and this day, I also got lots of Ingress activity in…..many more unique hacks and plenty of frog portals getting stomped. I even managed to squeeze in a short nap! Yes, life is good!

What could be better than a plate of fajitas at Don Juan Restaurant? How about free beer? Yes, you read that correctly! Apparently Dos Equis was having a promotion, and the representative came by our table twice and set us up with a round of Dos Equis. Oh, yes, yes, yes! Score! Did I mention that life was good? Good food and free beer. What more could one wish for? How about another postprandial stroll? OK, good enough….let’s just stroll right over to Meridian Pint for, well, a pint. Wait a minute, what about dessert? Fine, let’s just throw in a slice of pineapple upside down cake to go with our brewski. Since we were leaving the next day for Virginia Beach, we made it an early night.

Yawwwnnnn……wake up at 7 a.m. so we could meet Connie and Jeff. They would pick us up and take us to the car rental place, after breakfast of course. We went to an actual “diner” this time, Bob & Edith’s Diner. With a little trepidation, I ordered the biscuits and sausage gravy with hash browns. Why would I be scared about ordering something simple like biscuits and gravy? Please refer back to my comment about having impossibly high standards for certain foods. Biscuits and gravy are soooo simple to make, but soooo easy to mess up. All I can say is, wow! They knocked it out of the park with this dish, and I’d happily order it again. Since it was raining, and the forecast called for more rain, we didn’t delay, and headed to the rental place as soon as we were done with breakfast. It would be a potentially long drive to Virginia Beach depending on the weather and traffic.

Gahhhh! Traffic was crazy heavy on I-95 pretty much from DC to Richmond! We experienced the same thing last December when we drove from DC to Bumpass, VA.  After Richmond, traffic was much lighter, and we got to Virginia Beach only 30 minutes past when I estimated we would during our planning. My friend John (sorry, brother, I just can’t call you “Jack”) texted us and we met him and one of his sons at Fort Monroe. It was a little misty and rainy, but John took us on a “windshield tour” and I managed to take a few photos. I’m glad he met us there, as this was a really cool place to see, especially for a Red Leg like me.

We ran a few errands with him, then headed to his house. By now I was ready to be out of the car and stretch my legs. I already met Suzanna and his kids (well, three out of the four) in December, so I finally got to meet their two dogs, Hampton and Calvin. A little liquid refreshment in hand, and I was now ready to “supervise” John as he grilled steaks for dinner. Suzanna was in the kitchen making a fantastic rice casserole, we started telling war stories and “remember when” stories and soon enough it was time to eat. I arranged to trade Suzanna’s casserole recipe for one of my dishes to be named later. I didn’t even need to give up one of my draft picks, either! Once again, we enjoyed a huge feast and by the time we had some tres leches cake for dessert, I was stuffed. Yep, still in cruise mode, apparently….

I’m glad they aren’t early risers, and enjoy sleeping in like we do. Yeah, we had plans to see the sights, but we didn’t have to get up early to do so. You may recall I wrote a blog about comfort food, and if you had a chance to read it, you’ll see why breakfast this morning was especially nice. That’s right, we had breakfast tacos! Oh, yes! How can life not be good when starting out the day with homemade breakfast tacos? After breakfast we took our time getting ready for the day, and eventually John, Cindy and I made our way to the USS Wisconsin and Nauticus Museum.  Many years ago I toured the USS Texas, which is an older battleship. Touring the Wisconsin makes me want to go back to the Texas and tour it again as an adult. That makes five Navy ships I’ve had a chance to visit in one fashion or another: USS Texas, USS Brooke (I’m pretty sure that was the ship. Again, this was many years ago, and I toured this when it was still an active vessel visiting Corpus Christi.), USS Lexington and the USS Oriskany (as a “wreck dive” in 2013).

And what, dear readers, did I get the biggest kick out of when touring the Wisconsin? They had an onboard donut shop! The Homer Simpson in me immediately took charge and out came the infamous “mmmmm, donuts” in Homer’s voice. I’m totally writing a blog about donuts in the near future, so stand by for that one. And for you, my faithful few, I’ll personally taste a variety of donuts to ensure the most accurate blog on the subject. See what I’m willing to do for my readers?

Donuts!



We had fun touring the Wisconsin, and between John and I, we gave Cindy more information than she probably wanted. She was a trooper about it, though, and didn’t roll her eyes even once when we volunteered those little tidbits of knowledge.

John and I on the fantail



Now that we had finished touring the Wisconsin and the Nauticus Museum, we were thirsty and ready for a snack. John astounded me when he said there were, I think, twelve breweries in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area! I had no idea that many breweries could be sustainable. John drove us around the area, pointing out some really cool places that we need to see the next time we go back. Eventually we decided on the Brick Anchor Brew-House for a snack and something to slake our thirst.

This was another cool place that had a steampunk feel to it. The beer was good and the appetizers we shared were perfect. We split the Brick Wing Trio and Fondue Bowl, served in a bread bowl. The wings made a perfect complement to the cheesy fondue, and had we not already had something planned for dinner I would’ve gladly ordered more of the same. On the way back to the car, John pointed out some artwork his daughter designed. It’s on permanent display at the front of the art institute she attended, The Governor’s School for the Arts. The scientist in me immediately saw a DNA helix. Of course, I totally forgot to get a photo of it.

As soon as we got back to the house, John started dinner, which was their version of spaghetti carbonara. Now that I’ve tasted it, I prefer John’s version to the traditional recipe. Foodie recommended, yes, cardiologist recommended, not so much. I had to be content watching from the sideline, as John refused to let me help. He kept saying “just make yourself at home,” and when he fussed at me for, gasssp, putting my dirty dish in the dishwasher, I reminded him that “making ourselves at home” was exactly what I was doing. At home, we’d put our dishes in the dishwasher. Hah! Point scored for me!

Unfortunately, we had an early wakeup the next morning, as we had to be on the road by 7’ish. Given the uncertainty of traffic between Virginia Beach and DC, we couldn’t take the chance of getting too delayed and missing our turn in time for the rental car. We managed to squeeze in a little more story telling before calling it a day. John’s appreciation for song lyrics impressed me, and the wide variety of music we listened to spanned everything from punk to Irish folk music.

It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be to get up at 6, after sleeping in all those other days. We had everything pretty much ready to go, so after a cup of coffee we hit the road. Traffic was relatively light all the way back to DC, other than a few slow spots here and there. We dropped the rental car off with plenty of time to spare and Connie picked us up at the rental place. We had a “final” lunch with her at Carlyle Shirlington. After all the feasting we’ve done over the past few days, we weren’t that hungry. I had their amazing “Tex Mex eggrolls,” which are similar to what Chili’s does (but better….sorry, Chili’s, that’s just the way it was).

Tex Mex eggrolls



What a wonderful trip we’ve had! Time to head back to the airport for our flight home. Since we left in early afternoon, we missed the heaviest times and were able to drop our bags off with the sky cap with no waiting. As at Hobby, the TSA agents were efficient and we were through security in no time. We had just over an hour to wait before boarding and spent the time reading our Kindles. Our aircraft arrived and once all the arriving passengers were offloaded we got in line to board. As we were boarding WN429, I happened to notice a co-worker sitting at an adjacent gate. I had time to wave and exchange a greeting, but that was about all. Small world, huh?

Our ride home: N7825A (737-7CT)



We departed on time to the south this time, on rwy 19 (it must’ve been Ka), rotating around 148 mph. Another smooth, uneventful flight, and with good weather most of the way I was able to again enjoy an awesome view. We arrived on time, landing on rwy 12. Timing, as usual for this trip, was in our favor and we got our bags quickly and met the shuttle bus at the curb. From there, it was home, via the grocery store for a few quick essentials, and our trip was over.

Thank you, Jeff and Connie, for the wonderful time in DC. 

Thank you, John, Suzanna, Lane, Penn and Ash. We had lots of fun visiting with you, and I’m glad Cindy could finally meet all of y’all. We are looking forward to another Virginia Beach trip soon.

Next up, you’ll get a chance to go backstage with ventriloquist Marc Rubbén. I’ll post that blog next week, on Friday the 6th.

Until next time……



carpe cerevisi