Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Fortunately for me, I had a relatively good experience at the airports. Not so for some of the people I saw elsewhere at the airports. The gate next to mine at DFW had an announcement similar to this:
4:30pm - "Attention passengers, we just want to inform you that the flight to New York that has been delayed by air traffic control will likely not be cleared for departure until 7:00pm. However, there are no spare gates and the airport is full, so we will be boarding the flight at 5:00pm and then sitting on the tarmac for up to 2 hours prior to takeoff. We just wanted to let you know so you can prepare for it."
Well, that wasn't me. So now I make it to San Diego, stop number 2 on my flight adventure. After having to walk outside from one terminal to another and then pass through security again, which was a pain in the neck, though I was switching airlines, so it's understandable, I then made it to my next departure to Seattle. The gate right next to me, another departure to Seattle that was scheduled to depart an hour and a half earlier than mine. Their flight was delayed because the plane arriving was delayed, and as a result my flight that should have arrived 1.5 hours after the other actually ended up arriving first. HA. At least the luck was with me.
But finally I'm home, reasonably adjusted to Pacific Time again. Time to upload the last of my pictures and get them all labeled. Vacation is a lot of work... where should I go next? :)
Once we had our fill, we headed downtown to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and museum. Quite appropriate considering Birmingham is often credited as the start of the US civil rights movement. This was another very interesting and well-designed museum, though no pictures because of their strict "no photos inside the museum" policy. I tried to figure out why exactly this museum had such a policy that so few of the other museums I encountered had. Now in general I don't find the need to take a lot of pictures of things in museums, because you really don't get much out of it later. If anything photos would serve as quality advertising of the museum and its quality. Perhaps it's out of a respect for the sanctity of the subject. Perhaps it would detract from the other patrons experiences throughout the museum. That may infact be the best reason of all, but my only detraction from the museum was the barrage of kids who would keep steamrolling through, paying little attention to the many displays and content that was there. But thinking back, what kid actually wants to read all of that? They want the interesting displays and interactive stuff. Fair enough... I guess anything they take away from it is better than nothing.
Following the museum we went on a driving tour of Birmingham. Lots of historic, old, new and interesting stuff to be seen everywhere. We drove past Rickwood Field, the oldest surviving baseball stadium in the country. Saw the buildings of downtown, and the fancy houses out in the suburb of Mountain Brook. Eventually came back and ended up relaxing back home where I was able to watch the series finale of The West Wing. (Hey, everyone has his priorities. :)) After that we headed out to dinner and came home. Fly home the next day and the vacation is over.
Monday, May 15, 2006
We headed out and had a stop at Sonic for lunch on our way to historic Lynchburg, Tennessee. What makes it so historic, you ask? Simple... the home of Jack Daniels Tennessee Sippin' Whiskey. Yet another tour of a distillery... after reading my blog you might think that I have an obsession with distilleries, and that surely if you've seen one you must have seen them all. Well, you're probably right on the second count. But they certainly are a sure-fire way to find something to do along your journeys. The tour of Jack Daniels distillery was unique in several accounts: first, it was by far the biggest, they turn out millions of cases a year. Second, it was by far the most obviously contrived and organized tour I went on... almost like an ad pitch more than anything else. And finally, the tour guide was both the worst, yet most entertaining tour guide on any of the tours I went on. He was unmistakably Tennessee, including every spiel he gave the tour group starting like, "Friends... this is the Jack Daniels distillery"... "Friends, how do you drink your Jack Daniels?" Personally, I think he had some Jack Daniels for breakfast that morning. A trained monkey could have provided the information about as well as he did, though he was definitely an entertaining fellow... until you asked him a question that you'd think a man giving a tour would know, but if it wasn't in his script he was clueless. Oh well, I guess that's one place you can't beat the small distilleries.
In any event, after that we were essentially on the road back to Birmingham with a stop at Huntsville, Alabama, also known as Rocket City USA. We visited the US Space & Rocket Center (also home of NASA's Space Camp). This included both the museum of the history of space flight, and everything surrounding that, as well as what I affectionately call the "Rocket Graveyard" where they have about a dozen old rockets from the early US space launches. We wandered around and visited everything, but not too much else I have to say about that I guess.
We got back on the road and made it down to Birmingham. Our original intent was to grab some dinner and head over to an outdoor shopping mall where the Birmingham Symphony was having an outdoor concert. But alas, we arrived to find out that the outdoor concert was cancelled due to inclement weather. I guess they thought it would rain, or they figured nobody would show up because it was sooooo chilly (I think it was about 65 or so... whatever people). So instead of that we headed over to the dollar theater. Every show $1, if you don't mind watching movies that were released 3-months ago. Enjoy a movie for $1, and have $6 small popcorn. :) OK, not quite like that, but they have to be making money some way, I guess. We watched The Pink Panther starring Steve Martin. I had originally wanted to see this movie when it came out but never got the chance, so what a deal. In this case, I'm glad I only paid $1 and not the $9 or so it would be back home. It was well worth $1, but I'm not sure how much more than that. It was a funny movie, but not so great. But of course, everyone else has probably seen it, so why do I even need to tell you that?
By then it was after 11pm and time to sleep. One last full day of Birmingham before I head home.
After lunch at Chick-fil-A we met up with Rebekah and headed down to Nashville. Nashville adventures began with the ginormous Opryland Hotel. We parked and walked in like we owned the place, the only way to visit a hotel you're not staying at and not get crazy looks from people. :) First of all, you stick a casino in the basement of this place and it would fit in perfectly on the Las Vegas Strip. Atriums everywhere under huge glass ceilings, waterfalls and rivers through the walkways, and unmistakable southern style. It was pretty hip (and gets quite the photo
dedication in my album).
Following that we got the driving tour of Nashville, driving by the Grand Ole Opry (which is right next to the Opryland Hotel), traversing music row where many of the big record albums are housed, and visiting the Parthenon.
Yes, the Parthenon... straight from Greece to Nashville. Someone had the bright idea to build an exact scale replica of the Parthenon right in Nashville, Tennessee. Why? You know, as much as I read all of the signs and historic information as I was walking around, nobody seemed to answer that simple question. I think the answer is an equally vague: "Why not?" After the Parthenon we dropped over to the Tennessee Capitol area of Nashville and checked out the capitol mall grounds and such. Nice, scenic, but the most interesting part was probably the 95-piece carillon that is at the far end of the mall. This supposedly plays "famous Tennessee songs" every hour on the hour, though we never were able to hear what it sounded like. Surely it was most excellent if it actually played.
Enough sightseeing, time to head downtown. We made it down to 2nd Avenue and Broadway, the music centers of Nashville. Had dinner at a brewery/restaurant that reminded me a lot of the Ram or Rock Bottom, but the food tasted much better. :) Being in the South, I had the obligatory chicken and ribs, which was quite tasty indeed. At least quite a bit tastier than I think I've had in recent memory back home in Seattle. But I also admit, I don't often go around craving barbeque in Seattle. But I digress... after dinner the nightlife of the clubs was starting to pick up, with quite literally live music coming out of every doorway along the street, from the restaurants, to the clubs, to even the ice cream parlor. We dropped by the Nashville Crossroads which is a smallish bar down on Broadway (supposedly pseudo-famous, though I am no country music afficianado, so don't ask me). A country group was playing there, playing a lot of music. Such as I don't regularly listen to country music, I knew few of the songs they were playing, but the music was still good. After an hour or so we hopped down to the ice cream parlor down the street, and had ice cream while listening to a solo guitar singer, who was also quite entertaining. We didn't stay out too late considering we had about an hour drive back to Clarksville, then had to get up early to get on the road again in the morning. Nashville was definitely the only city I came across that actually had things happening after about 5PM... I guess that means something.
A few days down the road and I'm back to update the last 3 days of adventures. I got out on the road in the rainy morning from Lexington and headed out bound for Clarksville, Tennessee. Rain, sun, rain, sun, rainsun, I made it to my first stop the historic (aren't they all?) Makers Mark Distillery. Managed to arrive there just in time for the first tour of the morning. By now, of course, I'm an expert on bourbon distilling, but fortunately this tour actually was interesting and had a bit more science and detail than the previous tours had. I also put on my John Ratzenberger hat once again and found the hand-bottling assembly line where the distinctive red wax dipped seal is placed on each bottle. The red wax being their trademark, the obligatory gift shop contained a wide selection of red-wax-dipped merchandise, most of which was actually rather cool. I also had my chance to dip my own bottle of Makers Mark bourbon to seal the bottle.
On the road again, this time stumbling across Lincoln's boyhood home which is really nothing more than a little falling-apart shack on the side of the highway. Stopped, took pictures, done. Next I came into Hodgenville, KY, which stakes claim to the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln Museum in town was nothing to write home about (but writing on the internet about is apparently OK). The museum had about 12 scenes with wax figures of Lincoln throughout his life, and accompanying story to go along with it. Not glamorous, especially compared to the museums I have experienced earlier on the trip, but hey, it's history. Following that and a stop at McDonald's (the first, and I guarantee last such stop I will make on my entire trip, bleah) I ended up at Lincoln's Birthplace. This is the good stuff, probably because it's actually a national park and monument, and thus has real funding. The "symbolic" log cabin that he was born in (they don't actually know if it's the actual one, since it has been moved around so many times in its history, but they think at least part of it's legit) is enclosed in a huge marble building that is vaguely reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Interestingly enough, that building was built back around 1910, long before the actual Lincoln Memorial was built in the 1930's. The Sinking Spring (apparently famous, though new to me) was nearby along with the site of the Boundary Oak (the large oak tree that is often referenced along with Lincoln's birthplace, but died a few years back).
Next stop was Bowling Green, Kentucky, home of one of General Motors vehicle assembly plants (in fact, the plant that manufactures every Corvette made) as well as, to no great surprise, the National Corvette Museum. Now I have no great interest (nor small interest, for that matter) in cars whatsoever. As long as a car gets me where I need to go in an efficient manner, I don't care too much about the finer details. But I succumbed to the intrigue (and the need to kill some time) and went to it. My suspicions were confirmed, the museum was filled with quite the obsessive car crowd--people who love everything cars, especially Corvettes. Sure there were some interesting displays, and it was interesting seeing some of the older cars and the like... but that's about it. The engines and inner-workings of the cars, not the most interesting in the world to me. But I succeeded in killing probably an hour or so and was back on the road.
At this point came the difficult decision-- really need to kill more time because I'm way ahead of schedule, but what is there to do? Pulling out and scanning the AAA map of Kentucky I notice a marking for "Jefferson Davis Memorial Monument." It's reasonably on the way I need to go, why not? Off I go along the highway, and eventually see something that looks vaguely reminiscent of the Washington Monument in the distance. Now, I must admit seeing this in the middle of Kentucky farmland sure is a shock, but I was reasonably certain that this was what I was looking for. Made it out there and yup, sure enough, it's a monument to Jefferson Davis, complete with an elevator that will take you up to the top (for a small fee, of course, which I did not pay). Yeah, uh-huh, ok, time to go.
Rounding the turn and headed down to Clarksville where Andrew's sister Rebekah lives. I arrived and found her, Andrew would be about 3 hours later arriving, so I went with Rebekah to meet one of her friends at a local bar they go to. This bar is the definition of redneck, with a Harley shop across the street, and colorful, yet friendly people who frequent the place. We ended up playing pool for several hours, prior to heading back to meet Andrew at Rebekah's apartment. I have a renewed appreciation for Washington State's new smoking ban that keeps smoking out of bars.
Today's blog has been brought to you by: Parentheses... they make the world go 'round.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
As I was starting out to Louisville, I came upon the exit to go to Frankfort... and in the spirit of adventure, I decided to take a small detour. That detour to Frankfort turned out being far more interesting than anything I found in Louisville.
My first stop was the Kentucky Capitol building in Frankfort. As the rain continued to come down, I made my way to the ultra high-security building. The ultra-high security included a guard with a metal detector, which I only had to walk through because as I went in the door, I looked over to the side and the guard dude was like "oh, come over here".
I navigated through the crowds of elementary school kids touring the capitol, and found that it was remarkably similar to the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. The notable differences were that it was much more open and welcoming (far less security and closed doors than Olympia), and the House and Senate chambers were way up on the 3rd floor rather than on the main floor, that was rather odd I thought, but maybe that was just me.
After the capitol I dropped over to the Kentucky History Museum in downtown Frankfort. Another outstanding museum, this one very similar to the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma. But I've found myself a bit museumed-out as these all start looking the same after a while. Still interesting stuff. This one also had a special exhibit about flags, and the history of US flags as well as Kentucky flags. That was really interesting.
I almost decided it was time to head to Louisville, then changed my mind and headed to the north edge of Frankfort to visit the Buffalo Trace Distillery. A slightly different distillery tour than yesterday's tour of the Woodford Reserve, and actually still interesting. It's funny how each distillery claims all of the reasons why their bourbon is the best in the world. :) However, I actually did enjoy the Buffalo Trace a bit more than the Woodford Reserve. Does that mean anything? Probably not. The especially interesting part of this distillery was that several of the brands they make there are hand-bottled. This quite literally means that there is an assembly line of folks who fill, label, and package the bourbon. I felt like I walked into an episode of Made in America and that John Ratzenberger was going to walk into the room. Fascinating stuff though, that was probably the most fascinating part of the tour.
Finally time to get out of Frankfort, and I got back on the road to Louisville. My destination? The historic Churchill Downs racetrack, where just 4 days ago the 132nd Kentucky Derby was run. Little did I know that today was also a race day at Churchill, so there were lots of people around. Though I managed to get waved into a parking lot without having to pay, nice man who really didn't care much at the gate. Anyway, went on a "guided tour" of the track, which really consisted of going out and watching a race, which was fun. Then I explored the Kentucky Derby Museum which is on the ground of the track. Another well done, highly-interactive museum which I enjoyed. After a bit, I went back out to the track and decided it wouldn't be right if I didn't place a bet at Churchill Downs when I was there, so I did so. I fully expected to come away with a betting slip "souvenir" of my trip to Churchill Downs, but much to my surprise, my horse came in second, and I won the exacta, netting me a $6.40 profit which caused me to promptly return my souvenir for cash. Oh well, that's where I say "take a picture, it will last longer".
And so ended my day at Churchill Downs. By then it was after 5pm, which means the tourist world shuts down, but I still took the opportunity to drive downtown Louisville, explore a bit of the Ohio River and check out the monumental sky-high Louisville Slugger bat at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. It looks far more interesting inside the windows than it did from the outside, but I had a action packed day regardless. Headed back to the hotel in Lexington and here I am.
Tomorrow I'm off to Nashville. Plans to stop at yet another distillery, where I will test the famous mantra "seen one, seen them all", followed by a stop at Lincoln's birthplace and such. The rest is a mystery. You never know the mysterous powers of the brown signs along the highways.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
The mission was to make it to the Woodford Reserve distillery, though taking the scenic route left us travelling for miles along narrow 2-lane roads through the Kentucky countryside. Horse farms, rolling hills, tree-lined highways are my view of Kentucky thus far. It would have been much nicer to look at, had I not been travelling along these narrow roads at 55 mph trying not to slow down traffic, gripping the wheel firmly each time an oncoming car whizzed past in the other lane.
After quite the adventure we made it to civilization and to a Dairy Queen in the middle of nowhere. Now it feels like we're in the Kentucky I've heard about. Nice country people, but be sure to speak loud and slowly, and you'll communicate just fine. :)
Finally we arrived at the Woodford Reserve distillery in Woodford County. We arrived just shortly before the 2pm tour which was starting, and had quite the entertaining tour guide. I've been on many winery and brewery tours in my past, but never a distillery. Apparently this is the best of all tours, and our tour guide wasn't in a hurry to get rid of us, as the tour lasted just short of 2 hours. Good thing people weren't in too much of a hurry. Definitely an interesting tour, but Amy and I couldn't figure out if that was just because we've been on so many wineries and breweries that the distillery was new to us, or if it was actually an interesting tour. Perhaps the later. I now could talk at length about how bourbon is made, but won't. Follow the pictoral tour in the photo album and you'll get the idea. The most interesting thing I learned is the answer to the question on everyone's minds... if the bourbon is too strong, how do you get it down to a consistent proof? People have speculated complex answers to this, but the simplest answer is the correct one. They water it down until it gets to the right alcohol content. There seems to be slightly more to it than that, but ultimately that's what it comes down to.
After a drive back to the hotel and dinner at Applebees, it's time to relax for the evening. Tomorrow I'm leaving the working Vault team here and driving over to explore Louisville on my own. At least that means I don't have to worry about them sleeping in until noon when I'm ready to leave. There are some advantages to travelling on your own, I guess!
Monday, May 08, 2006
Day 1 - Travel to Indianapolis was quick and efficient. The brief layover at Chicago O'Hare was just long enough to stretch my legs (and walk about a mile through the airport to get from one gate to the other) and then take off again. The flight from Chicago to Indianapolis was certifiably the shortest flight I have ever taken in an airplane. It makes the flight from Seattle to Spokane feel like an overseas flight.
The efficiency ceased the moment the plane touched down in Indianapolis. We arrived at precisely 8:30pm, at which point it felt like the entire airport was shutting down. All stores and food places were literally locking their doors, and then we realize that American Airlines has exactly 1 baggage crew working, with the task of unloading planes and delivering baggage to be claimed. As a result, my luggage was not in my hand until 9:45pm.
Luggage in hand I proceeded to my rental car, a lovely silver 2006 Hyundai Sonata. Nice car, so far it has served me well. I made it to West Lafayette by about 11:00pm, fortunately for me still being on Pacific time, it only felt like 8pm or so.
Day 2 - Scenic Indiana. Krista and I went to the Sunride Diner in Lafayette for breakfast, which was about as much of a diner as anyone would imagine. But accordingly, the food was great. We then took a walk around Lafayette and its historic places, which mainly consisted of its downtown historic district, and the old train station on the Wabash River. I must say, the water of the Wabash river looks about as disgusting as it possibly could. Not somewhere I'd like to go swimming.
We then went and checked out Purdue's campus and Krista's office and lab in the Chemical Engineering building. Pictures say much more than words, so check the photo album for interesting stuff there.
The afternoon consisted of adventures at Wolf Park just outside of West Lafayette. Wolf Park is a wolf education and research facility that has a couple dozen wolves, foxes, and coyotes. It was quite an interesting place, including demonstrations of feeding and handling the wolves. The main enclosure at the Wolf Park contains 7 wolves, which get fed a fresh (or sometimes frozen) deer 3 times a week. We were fortunate enough to view such a feeding, though the wolves were apparently not hungry at the time. Of course, Wolf Park doesn't have any trouble obtaining fresh deer due to the efficiency of Indiana drivers who hit them on highways throughout the state with great frequency. An additional feature of the Wolf Park is the wolf and bison demonstration, where as one might expect, they let loose a couple of wolves in their bison range where the bison and wolves are natural adversaries. Once again, on this day the wolves were in no mood to cause a ruckus with the bison, so not too much of interest occurred. But seeing the bison wandering around was definitely interesting.
After the adventures at Wolf Park, we went to the Tippecanoe Battlefield historic site. The only slightly-interesting museum was there, as well as the actual battlefield which is now a historic monument. The Battle of Tippecanoe was between the US and the Indians in 1811, which set the foundation for General William Henry Harrison's future presidency. After wandering the grounds for a bit, hunger set in and we headed back to Lafayette for dinner.
Dinner was good, then we went to Krista's and watched a movie, the 1938 Oscar winner for Best Picture, "You Can't Take it With You". A surprisingly hilarious movie that I would watch again, actually. Very entertaining. Sleep after the long day was next on the menu.
Day 3 - Off to Lexington - An early start to the morning had me on the road to Lexington, and into Cincinnati by about 11:00am. After exploring getting lost in the less-than-desirable part of the city, I ended up at the Cincinnati Museum Center, which is contained within the old Union Station. The highlight of that was definitely the Cincinnati History Museum. I have been to many quality history museums in my travels, but none as outstanding as this museum. First, it was huge, once inside it just kept going and going. Then, it was almost 100% interactive or 3-dimensional, or something interesting stuff to look at. Not just words on displays, but context and interesting stuff. An interesting exhibit about machining tools had a man who was demonstrating the working tools, and I proceeded to spend at least a half hour listening to him telling stories about the history of Cincinnati. That was the interesting stuff. Plus, it makes old men happy when you're interested in hearing their stories. All in all an outstanding museum.
Also in the Museum Center was the Natural History Museum. This was a good museum, but appeared to be a bit dated. It was geared much more towards children than adults, but did have its fair share of interesting exhibits.
After the museums, a driving adventure around Cincinnati took me to the Roebling Suspension Bridge, at the time it was built the longest suspension bridge in the world. After a quick drive across and back, I took a moment to snap some pictures of the bridge, along with the nearby baseball and football stadiums. Following a visit to the presidential birthplace of our 27th president William Howard Taft, off to Lexington I went.
I finally tracked Amy down and after we went to dinner, in this hotel room I am. Tomorrow's adventures may take us down to the land of the bourbon distilleries, or it may not. Who knows? We'll see how early I can wake these silly people up instead of sleeping until 1pm like they usually do.
Friday, May 05, 2006
There, now that I've scolded myself for not blogging more recently, it's time for a real update. We'll go ahead and pretend that nothing interesting has happened in the past 3 weeks, and start fresh. Today at about 3:00pm I officially left work and started my vacation. I'd like to thank my company for taking this week to remind me why I was going on vacation. Things were nothing but crazy all week long. But that is the last time I will think of work until the 16th, because I am now on vacation.
Tomorrow morning I will head to SeaTac and hop on a plane to scenic Indianapolis, Indiana after a brief layover in Chicago. From Indianapolis I shall begin what I will call "Joe's Great MidWestSouthern Adventure"! I'll spend the weekend in with my friend Krista who is at Purdue in West Lafayette, IN before I begin my driving adventure. The short version of my plan is to drive down to Lexington, Kentucky where my sister will be at the time, on a stop during her 6-month promotional tour for Coca-Cola. After a few days I'll continue on down to Nashville, Tennessee where my buddy Andrew will meet me and we'll spend a couple of nights at his sister's place. Following that I'll head with Andrew down to Birmingham, Alabama for the last weekend before I fly home on Monday the 15th.
What happens in the time between each of those checkpoints is still a mystery. Only the trusty AAA Tourbook knows for sure... and it's not telling. I'll endeavor to take a goodly number of pictures along the way and post them when I have the chance. Hopefully I'll have some interesting things to blog about!
Let the adventure begin.