Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A roundabout route to DC

Currently, I'm sitting on my first (& probably last for some time) Amtrak train returning to Philadelphia after my small trip over the last week. The trip to San Diego was really just an exercise in medium distance travel – almost two hours of train travelling to PHL & eight hours of flying & stopovers & I arrived in San Diego & back to the heat (thankfully not the 106 that it was in Phoenix when I changed planes). Kindly, Beverley picked me up from the airport & it was back to La Jolla. Nice to catch up with the Turners that were home – Anna-Marie had returned from a month or so in Europe the previous day. As the Turners had a foreign student staying for a while & both girls home, I was relegated to sleeping on the couch in the lounge – just as I was going to bed Andrea wandered in from opening day at the races, so that necissated a catch up & talk about tomorrow's testimony. After all that travelling, I thought I would sleep, but it wasn't really the case; I must have had two or three hours of sleep. Up at six, as it was light & Beverley was up, & ready for our date in court at eight o'clock.

After Andrea handing & me studying my summons, the three of us (Anna-Marie was persuaded that she should get up & come too) were off to court. It was of course a big anti-climax – we sat in a waiting room while our case was assigned a courtroom & judge; it was quite annoying that I had my iPod in my pocket, but no earphones – so I had to settle for staring at the walls & reading year old magazines for the best part of two hours. Eventually we had a courtroom & we walked a very long way through the building & then through the next one to find it & the DA & detective met us there. After all that, the three defendants saw the writing on the wall (as the DA had managed to get five witnesses & countless police testimonies together) and they all pleaded guilty. It took a bit more waiting in a corridor for this to be confirmed & the paper work done. So in some ways I had travelled all the way across the States to sit & wait for three hours, just to go home. On the other hand, it was a good to get a result & it's one less thing for us to think about & hopefully Andrea will be able to go back to plan one & go to Costa Rica to live. After leaving the courthouse, the girls took me down to the SDPC HQ & I got my stolen money back (finally) – the lost/recovered property & evidence room in the basement of the headquarters was massive (I think it covered an entire city block). It's a short drive from downtown to SAN, so the girls dropped me off at the airport & I was off again cross-country.

The trip was uneventful, but from Vegas to DC I was stuck between the window of a 737 & one of those wonderful people who are intent on sharing your seat with you & spill over the armrest – just as well I have no discernible upper body presence. Due to a change of planes in Vegas, we were well late getting in to Dulles – but Adam & Jen (the friends I stayed with in DC – Adam is a Te Puke friend from way back) faithfully met me & they only live ten or fifteen minutes from Dulles – so in bed by two in the morning, fantastic (at least I was back in the same time zone as I had been thirty-six hours before).

Wonderfully, I didn't get up until 10.30 & proceeded to do not a lot the rest of the morning. After lunch, Adam & I decided to go back to Dulles as the National Air & Space Museum (a Smithsonian museum) has another site out there (the main one is on The Mall in DC). This site consisted of a huge hangar filled with all sorts of aircraft & a sizeable tower that you could go up to get a great view of the airport & the surrounding area. Also there was a air traffic control exhibit on the floor below the observation deck – as well as the display, an interesting part was the live audio & radar feed from Newark airport. Of course there were all sorts of planes & other aircraft – the highlights were a Air France concorde (it fitted across the width of the hangar), Enterprise space shuttle, SR-71 Blackbird (it once flew from LA to DC in sixty-four minutes & then promptly was transferred to the museum) & the Enola Gay (the B-29 that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima). We managed to cover most of the hangar in detail, before having to leave to meet Jen & some of her workmates for Friday happy hour. It was at some Italian restaurant that had great pizza & twenty buck carafes of sangria – I rated the pizza, but the sangria went down pretty well (at least judging by how quickly some of the glasses were emptied) too. It was a great group of people & conversation & the couple of hours passed quickly. Afterwards we had a few options when some of the group dissipated – five of use went around to Dave's & tried our hands & voices at Guitar Hero World Tour. On the way, I had my first ride in an American muscle car in America – Dave's Corvette, of course we had to put the top down. I had never played Guitar Hero before & it showed – as well as my complete lack of timing & musical ability. I was able to play the guitar to some level eventually & sing a little bit – but the drums completely evaded me. That may have been something to do with the red I was drinking – I found later in the night, that it wasn't just me that though it tasted bad (beef jerky apparently) – but after two, who can tell & who cares? Somehow it was two o'clock before we got home & I went to bed – nevermind, a great evening & I learnt some new songs.

Another big sleep in on Saturday – I don't recall doing too much for most of the day or perhaps I recall doing not much for most of the day. The last few days' travelling & late nights had caught up with me & it was nice to sit around on the couch watching TV or Blackadder & napping. Plus it was very hot & humid outside so the chilled townhouse was a pleasant alternative to that. Did get my first visit to Trader Joe's – a great variety of food there, a pity all the NZ wines were big names & for some reason the only NZ cheese on offer was some no name cheddar (it's the single most popular cheese in the world!) - if you are going to import NZ cheese, why would you choose cheddar?! A big thunderstorm came from somewhere late in the afternoon – but that didn't change our plans of heading to see the monuments after dinner (I'm told that they are better by night). When we got in to town it was still raining, but jackets & umbrellas were more than enough to ward off the moisture – the rain had the added bonus of scaring some of the tourists away. Saw most of the monuments – Lincoln, Vietnam, WWII, Washington (the two red navigation lights on top remind me of The Blackadder - Witchsmeller Pursuivant) , Korean & Jefferson. It seems a bit strange picking favourites, but the WWII & Korean were mine.

Sunday was another good sleep in – we just had to get up in time for brunch in Reston town centre with another couple of Adam & Jen's friends – Eric & Amy. Eric & Amy being long time locals, they know all the best places. For thirty five bucks we got a huge buffet & were supposed to fit a entre off the menu in somewhere. Of course we ate too much of buffet (the desserts were fantastic; I managed to get kiwifruit, boysenberries & blueberries to make the full Willingale Orchard complement), so by the time we tactfully ordered our entrees, we were too full to fit them in & just took them home for dinner. Another nice nap & we were off to check out the Marines Corps/Iwo Jima monument – another pretty good one & then a nice walk to burn some of the brunch through Arlington Cemetery. Saw JFK & family's graves & the Tomb of the Unknowns. The changing of the guard (that we managed to stumble on at the correct time) was pretty good – quite simple & with lot of clicking/banging of heels. Back home for my paella & then it was Transformers on DVD – a favourite of Adam & Jen's but I hadn't seen it. Was pleasantly surprised by the humour & action (I'm easily pleased). Also balanced the bearded lizard on my shoulder.

Six-thirty was a bit of a shock to get up on Monday morning to head in to DC to check out a few of the other sights. I think I was in town before nine & wandered from the Metro to check out the White House. Good to finally see it in the flesh, but funnily enough no real surprises – I knew it would be small. It appeared a lot smaller than it would have if the turf in front was managed properly. We had hardly had any rain over the weekend & the park infront was sodden – very poor drainage. I was not much more impressed by The Mall – the grass & patches of dirt were a mess. After walking around the Washington Monument (flags at half mast everywhere – apparently the anniversary of the end of the Korean War), it was off to the Holocaust Museum. Much as I expected – well done & quite sobering, plenty of artefacts from Germany & Poland & Czechoslovakia to help illustrate the awful story.

By now it was noon & after another disappointing hotdog from a street vendor conveniently placed to sucker tourists like me I checked out the science & transport parts of the Museum of American History. Some good parts, but mostly didn't really do much for me. Then off to the Air & Space Museum – ultra popular & crowded. The place was in desperate need of the exhibits, more the explanations, having a makeover. The crowds were too much for me – but a very good exhibit on the Wilbur & Orville Wright and all the experiments they went through with gliders & windtunnels & aeronautical engineering; also got to go in a 747 cockpit (it was really old). As there was not as much space in this facility as at Dulles, there were not nearly as cool exhibits. I was quite impressed by the Capitol building, walked around it to see the Supreme Court & then was amazed by the Library of Congress (Jefferson Building) – had to go in the largest library in the world of course. A tiring day on the feet, but very cool over the last few days to see so many places that I have read about in thrillers, seen on TV & in movies. Back home on the Metro (which is very clean & well signposted – pity about the crash on the Red Line a few weeks ago) & Adam & I decided to go & see Transformers 2. The movie was better than I was expecting (but who takes infants to a movie at 8pm? In a small, almost empty cinema they were so annoying & the parents next to useless) & I was quite pleased to see sights in NYC that I just been to the top of or walked across, then shots across the The Mall & low & behold a whole scene in the Air & Space Museum at Dulles. It was – “I saw that plane, & that plane, & that plane too, walked along there, walked up those stairs, saw that plane & that one too” - very fun; a shame our schedule (or is that sked-ule?) did not fit seeing the film at the Imax at the museum – that would have been quite a coincidence.

Tuesday morning was pack up, say goodbye & thanks a bunch to Adam & Jen, on the Metro & in to DC. Had a few hours to kill before my train, so went around the International Spy Museum & enjoyed it immensely.

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