A Travellerspoint blog

Planes, Trains, (Boats) and Automobiles

My kinda town, Chicago is....

sunny 81 °F

Where did April go to? The month began with Cherry Blossom fever hitting D.C. The annual pilgrimage to view the three thousand plus cherry trees around the Tidal Basin (a gift from Japan in 1912) began in earnest as local stores festooned their windows in cherry blossom merchandise and visitors poured into the nation's capitol, allergy remedies on hand, to view the famed spectacle. Only one problem-where were all the cherry blossoms? An unusually cold and dry spring had kept the buds snuggly tucked up in their waxy cocoons and they weren't coming out for anyone-visitor or resident! Even the annual "Cherry Blossom 10 Mile" race,(held 7th April, and in which John participated enthusiastically), couldn't coax the baby blossoms to push their pretty petals out into the cold...until the sun broke through! Two days after the race, a multitude of camera-laden pilgrims descended on the Tidal Basin to photograph, be photographed, pose and picnic against the backdrop of a pink canvas. It truly was an amazing sight and it was all over by the following weekend! Carpe Diem!

Think Baltimore and you think ..."Hairspray!" (as well as Edgar Allen Poe!) None of the cast of the show-stopping musical were in town when we visited for a weekend by train in April but we had plenty to look at and enjoy. Renovation work on the Inner Harbour area started in the 1980s and the location now attracts locals and visitors alike who mingle around the waterfront, home to several beautifully preserved historic ships, enjoying paddle boat rides and the Inner Harbor's many shops and restaurants. Staying at the Royal Sonesta Hotel overlooking the harbour, we were close at hand to sign up for a walking tour of the immediate area (only four participants and so it felt like a personal tour!), followed by a harbour cruise. The illuminated red neon sign of "Domino"sugar, keeps watch over the harbour at night and is a easily recognised landmark of the city.

"When you go, will you send back a letter from America?" "The Proclaimers" hit town (Alexandria VA, actually) a few days later at "The Birchmere"
a well known and loved venue for travelling musicians. Craig and Charlie gave a crowd pleasing performance, (with a passing reference to their boyhood encounter with the late Margaret Thatcher!). It's good to know that their talent has made it across the Pond and that they have a loyal and eager following.

At the Otani restaurant in Chantilly VA, there's no time for idle conversation between ordering and your meal being served-it's all done in front of your eyes: cleaver, fire, smoke and magic! I'm Cindy's guest and she's been keen to let me experience the occasion. "I'll bet they don't have restaurants like this in Scotland," she says and she'd be right (at least not in Aberdeen!) The talented and witty chef intersperses banter, humour and magic with cleaver wielding finesse that leaves you speechless! "I've never met anyone from Scotland before," he says, and so right away, I'm feeling like a cause celebre in this fun, high energy sushi cum steak Japanese restaurant. The food tastes amazing but I'm not tempted to try this at home for fear of calling out the fire brigade!

The rest of April is whittled away with attendinga National Symphony Orchestra concert at the Kennedy Centre, a Gilbert and Sullivan Society production ("Trial by Jury-very funny!) at the Georgetown Law Centre and a premier of "Twelth Night" at the Folger,

and then it's off to Chicago for the Fulbright end of program seminar!

John and I arrive the day before the seminar and make good use of our time by visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright House and Studio in Oakpark, a very leafy suburb of Chicago which has some wonderful examples of Frank Lloyd Wright homes. The following day is spent wandering aroung the Chicago Art Institute's galleries and marvelling at the wonderful collections on display.

We meet up with fellow Fulbrighters that evening and enjoy a good "catch up"! It's down to work on Saturday as we reflect on our experiences to date, and deliver our presentations. It's amazing the range of experiences that everyone has had and we know that our perspective on who we are and what we do will be changed for ever.

Late afternoon, we enjoy a very relaxing cruise on the river and then out onto Lake Michigan. Dinner is in a lively Mexican restaurant which we all enjoy.

It's time for further reflection of our experiences on Sunday morning and preparation for our return home-HOME! It's hard to believe that our year is almost over...okay, no time to stand still-got to keep moving and soak up as much as we can in the time that is left! To be continued...

Posted by mhwedwards 16:38 Comments (0)

Sopranos Gather at the Met and in New Jersey

Spring Break Stateside

sunny 54 °F

Students and staff burst out of AHS at the end of last week (24th March) eager to begin Spring Break - a week of freedom for personal travel and indulgence. Amid clear blue skies and bright sunshine, we made our way north to Gettysburg, where we had booked accomodation at the Herr Ridge Inn, a historic building which had witnessed the advance of Confederate forces marching past towards the town of Gettysburg. Our room's guest journal, revealed occurrences of unexplained "happenings" both in and outside of the room:creaks, voices, ethereal figures, misplaced objects etc. The only "spirits" which John and I experienced however, were those amber ones which come out of a bottle!

The Gettysburg battlefield site, managed by the National Parks Service, is fascinating as well as being deeply moving given the immense devastation and carnage which was wreaked on both forces and community during those three days in July, 1862 (1st-3rd). Our wonderfully charismatic and knowledgeable guide, James Martin, brought to life for us the real horrors of war and the ultimate sacrifice made by so many for a deeply complex cause. The National Parks Service is gradually restoring much of the natural landscape and recreating the original appearance of the area as it would have looked prior to the Battle through purchasing battlefield land as it becomes available, a major undertaking as the battle took place over a ten mile radius.

Snow...snow?!! A Christmas card landscape greeted us on the second morning of our stay. It was the most snow that I'd seen
since arriving in D.C. and so the spring outfit was hastily replaced with winter boots,(fortunately, they were still in the "trunk" of the car),and our heavy winter jackets-bizarre! Poor Mr Lincoln,whose statue in the town square greets visitors to the David Wills House,(where Lincoln put the final touches to his "Gettysburg Address"), was festively covered in snow!

One day's rest back in D.C. and then we were heading north again but this time by "Bolt Bus" to reaquaint ourselves once more with the "Big Apple." After familiarising ouselves with the workings of the NY subway system, we headed uptown to Upper West Side. After dropping off our luggage at the Belnord Hotel, we headed off via Central Park in the direction of the Guggenheim Art Museum, zig-zagging through runners as they made their way round the Reservoir, a lake rimmed by a 5km running track. Opened in 1959, the building, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is like no other in the city. From the outside, its circular external appearance makes it a readily identifiable NY landmark. Stepping inside, its spiralling open plan galleries, flooded with light, draw the visitor's eyes immediately upwards to the stunning occulas in the centre of the ceiling. The current exhibition in the open galleries is "Gutai" an exhibition showcasing an avant garde collective of Japanese artisits, established in the 1950s and who exhibited their art through performance, painting and installations in outdoor spaces.

That evening we took our seats in the balcony of the Metropolitan Opera to be enthralled by a stunning performance of Verdi's "Othello", memorable for both exquisite singing and sets. (Desdemona was hard done by!).

Thursday morning we set off downtown for a round trip on the Staten Island Ferry, by-passing Ellis Island (where my Grandmother had to disembark for immigration checks in the 1920s en route to visiting her brother), and giving a wave to the Statue of Liberty. Back on Manhattan, we passed Ground Zero with the One World Trade Center building under construction. Sauntering up and around Wall Street, we stopped at Federal Hall National Memorial where a bronze statue of George Washington on the steps, marks the place where the nation's first president took his oath of office. It's hard to imagine tall ships in NYC but walk down to South Street Seaport and there they are, "Peking" and "Wavertree", floating exhibits of the South Street Seaport Museum. A few steps further on, and the iconic Brooklyn Bridge was in our view, spanning the East River over to Booklyn.
Feeling peckish, we headed north into Chinatown and found ourselves at the "Great NY Noodletown", 28 Bowery, where we feasted on steaming plates of seafood and spicy beef with noodles, accompanied by copious cups of hot tea. For dessert, we headed onwards to Little Italy where we tasted the best gelatto ever (pistachio and caramel) at Ferrara's, a traditional Italian cafe.

For Seinfeld fans, "Tom's Restaurant" is a favorite meeting place for the show's characters and so we made our way on Friday morning to sample its famous breakfast, (it's a favourite spot for students from the nearby Columbia University). Blueberry pancakes and Florentine omlette were duly ordered, served with juice, toast and hot coffee! Yes, John did get the t-shirt and a few other goodies besides!

The Cathedral Church of St John the Divine, begun in 1892 and still incomplete, is the largest catherdral in the world. After admiring the magnificent bronze Peace Fountain adjacent to the Cathedral, which is surrounded by minature bronzes of interpretations of "creation" designed and sculpted by school students (K1-12), we made our way into the cathedral to attend a Good Friday service. The cathedral serves as a venue for leadership, learning, and celebration for people of all faiths, as well as avant garde musical and theatrical events.
On leaving the cathedral, we made our way to the north of central park and meandered through the park's many pathways, enjoying clusters of daffodils, hyancinths and crocuses passing the "Strawberrry Fields" memorial in view of John Lennon's Dakota apartment building and exiting near the Bethesda Terrace.

For dinner, we dined at "Shalezeh" a Persian restaurant where we enjoyed a beautifully presented meal with exotic flavours and colours. We still had one more stop:The Metropolitan Museum of Art! So much to see and so little time to indulge but we tried our best and marvelled at the art on view as well as the building!

Saturday-a day of contrasts! From soprano's at the Met to Sopranos in New Jesey?! John set off with other "Soprano" series afficianados for a five hour bus tour of "Soprano" haunts! I meanwhile, headed to the Chelsea district where the "High Line", an elevated former train track, now a walkway laid out with trees, shrubs, flowers and art installations, has transformed the area. I also stopped by the Chelsea Market, a former Nabisco factory where the first "Oreo" cookies were made, now redeveloped as a food market.

Mid afternoon, we boarded the "Bolt Bus" on 33rd St and headed back to D.C., Manhattan's skyline drifting out of view but forever imprinted on our memory.

Posted by mhwedwards 15:42 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Georgia's On My Mind

Collards, cornbread and crabcakes-cookin' Southern style!

sunny 45 °F

The first thing that hits you when you arrive in Savannah is the gorgeous Spanish moss dripping like tinsel from the oak trees. Technically, neither Spanish nor moss, this air plant is, infact, a distant relative of the pineapple! After an extremely relaxing eleven and a half hour train ride from Washington DC, and traversing four States, (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia), I felt eager and excited to experience yet another facet of the USA.
My Fulbright colleague and friend, Jane, (from Fettes College, Edinburgh), had kindly offered me accommodation in her apartment. Could those really be oranges pinned to the tree in her back yard?! Yes they were, and for breakfast the following morning, I savoured the best pink grapefruit I have ever tasted, hand-picked from a friend's garden!

St Vincent's Academy is a Catholic girl's school,(approximately 300 students), founded in the 19th Century by the order of the Sisters of Mercy, Irish nuns who came over to settle in Savannah. The school is adjacent to the catherdral and makes for a stunning setting for anyone's education. It boasts a proud history including providing education to the children of Jefferson Davis, the leader of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. I was fortunate to spend a good part of the day at the school and enjoyed meeting staff, taliking to students and observing classes in English and World History.

Favourite Food No.1:Ice-cream
"Leopold's" has been a Savannah tradition since 1919. As its promotional literature says: "One of the top 10 ice-cream shops in the World!" That had to be the first stop on my walking tour of the downtown historic district with Jane and Carmela. So many flavours and so diificult to decide...
tutti-frutti and butter pecan won the day!

Reluctant as I was to pull myself away from the pavement table where we sat in full sun enjoying our ice-cream treat, I realised that Savannah is the perfect waliking city, and the best way to experience its many wonderful squares and buildings is on foot. We duly set off to walk along by the Savannah river, a mighty stretch of water which carries megalithic container ships up the river to the container port, the third largest in the USA. The waterfront is a bustling tourist centre, filled with restaurants, shops, street musicians and vendors. Trolley cars carry residents and tourists alike up and down the thoroughfares and all for free! The legacy of Savannah's pivotal role in the cotton and tobacco trade is seen in the restored warehouses which line the waterfront and are now used as offices, restaurants and apartments.

Favourite Food No. 2: Chocolate Peanuts
Can you believe a shop devoted entirely to the selling of peanuts? Where else but in Savannah! My dream of heaven unfolded as I was encouraged to sample as many varieties and flavours of nuts as I wanted and inevitably, I ended up purchasing a few of my sampled nuts in larger quantities! I did pick up a copy of their mail-order catalogue as well, (just for future reference!).

Favourite Food No. 3: Grits
A very Southern food, similar to semolina in texture but milled from corn, smooth (not gritty at all!) and very delicious! It can be served plain, sweet or savoury and is used to accompany several dishes, e.g. shrimp and chicken.

Downtown Savannah is set out on a grid system and is reknowned for its very beautiful, charming and quaint squares which serve as welcome havens, especially when the weather gets so hot. I was pleased to see that even my family name lived on in "Johnson Square"!

On Sunday, we headed north by car, courtesy of Cade and Katie, friends of Jane, to Charleston, South Carolina, one of the most architecturally stunning cities I have ever visited. Think "Gone with the Wind" and "Tara", times that thought by three score and more and you have an idea of the type of mansions that you see in the historic area. Just off the coast lies Fort Sumter, where the growing friction between North and South erupted in civil war on April 12, 1861. Confederate artillery opened fire on this federal fort in Chaleston harbour, resulting in the fort's surrender. Sadly, no time on the schedule for the boat trip out to the fort but all the more reason to return!

Before I knew it, Monday arrived and it was time to get on board for my journey back to D.C. but "just an' old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind"...

Posted by mhwedwards 19:09 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Dragons in D.C.!

Ravin' about "The Raven!"

sunny 36 °F

Brightly patterned dancing dragons are not normally what visitors to D.C. expect to encounter in the city’s streets but last Sunday, 10th January, was a cause for celebration - the start of Chinese New Year, the year of the Snake.
Flag waving children from DC’s Chinese Community, danced and tumbled along the crowd lined thoroughfares bordering the city’s Chinatown. Amid splendid January sunshine, the onlookers cheered and clapped as young performers demonstrated polished Kung Fu skills under the direct tutelage of experienced Dans. Costumed Chinese New Year characters entertained the crowds accompanied by marching bands and enthusiastic flag wavers. Explosive firecrackers and fortune cookies in abundance, all contributed to a great carnival atmosphere!

Following my first encounter with “The Raven” , Edger Allen Poe’s gothic masterpiece, a few weeks ago in Baltimore, he seems to have been my shadow ever since! Even the most reluctant sports follower must know that the”Baltimore Ravens” (named of course after their most famous son’s poem), won the Superbowl beating the San Fransisco 49ers 34-31 in New Orleans! The airwaves and TV screens were awash with their victory and the staffroom at school as well! Fresh from that historic win, I next encountered “The Raven” set to music! The premier of a choral work set to the words of the aforementioned poem was sung at Dumbarton Church, a multi-purpose arts venue in Georgetown in northwest D.C. I was intrigued by this offering and so procured a half price ticket to catch up with the “bird” again! The concert, comprising two contrasting works , (first half-“Stabat Mater"-second half-“Nevermore”) was a very clever program descision as each covered heart-wrenching themes of grief and loss yet dealt with different subjects set in completely different time periods. As the days are lengthening and a hint os spring is in the air, perhasps the dark raven will not feature so prominently in my DC experiences but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say “Nevermore!”

Posted by mhwedwards 19:23 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Fair Fa' Yer Honest Sonsie Face...

What exactly is in haggis?

sunny 39 °F

Haggis is not readily available in Washington DC; in fact butchers' shops as we know them are non existent and so the search begins for a purveyor of that finest of Scottish delicacies-the haggis! Where would we be without the Internet and I am rewarded within a short span of surfing time, with the US producer of "authentic" Scottish haggis prepared in Maine under contract from McKean's of Scotland, (never heard of the company but never mind!). Within the space of a few days, 8lbs of haggis is delivered to my apartment and I am anxious to sample for quality assurance purposes but that will have to wait...

With an extensive shopping list, I head for Eastern market and the "Yes!" organic store for the additional ingredients which will contribute to a Burns Supper menu for sixteen of my colleagues from Annandale High School. Anne (where would I be without her!) has very kindly opened up her home as a venue for proceedings and so all I need do is prepare the meal, enlist "volunteers" for key roles in the evening's festivities and set the programme.

Saturday January 26th (one day after the Bard's birthday): The tables are set, draped in tartan cloths (flannelette sheets but don't tell a soul!), Burns napkins, crystal, fine silverware and floral decoration. The meal is prepared: cock-a-leekie soup, haggis, bashed tatties and neeps, with cranachan (raspberries, cream, whisky and oatmeal) and to follow, coffee and shortbread. A bottle of "Tullibardine" malt whisky is on hand for the toasts.

As guests arrive, each is given a typical Scottish saying/expression with which they are assisted in the pronounciation of and are asked to weave into conversation at least three times during the course of the evening.

Let the supper begin!

First course:
Anne recites "The Selkirk Grace" and the soup is served.

Second course:
Lyndsey has kindly volunteered to adopt the role of "Poosie Nancy" and ceremoniously carries in the haggis on a platter, accompanied by the skirl of the bagpipes!

I adopt my best Ayrshire brogue and address the haggis with the traditional opening verse of "Tae a haggis!" (I think the company are impressed if not somewhat puzzled by what I've just said!) Anyway, the haggis is removed to the kitchen for assembly with the accompanying traditional fare: neeps and tatties. No "traditional" "HP" sauce to accompany meal but a tasty "steak sauce" acts as a satisfactory replacement.

First -timers to haggis find the dish surprisingly tasty as long as they don't dwell too long on the ingredients. For my own part, I can't quite make up my mind if this is really haggis or some masquerading imposter. So many foods taste so different over here that I'm beginning to question my own taste judgements!

The entertainment:

The Immortal Memory is delivered by yours truly and I am remarkably surprised (and relieved!) that x number of attendances at Burns' Suppers has paid off and that I can actually remember quite a lot about Robert Burns as well as throwing in a few personal refelctions on the man of my own.

Joe delivers the "Address tae the Lassies" with vigour and enthusiasm-it is very well received!

Vicky and Cindy both reply "fae the lassies" in their own unique style. (Cindy is still on the lookout for a man!)

Poems are read by Vicky, Melissa and Bill, each delivering their lines with mastery of the Scots tongue!

Vicky: "Sae Far Awa"

Melissa "Ae Fond Kiss"

Bill: "John Anderson My Joe"

Determing that I need to know the extent of Americans knowledge of Scotland, the evening is rounded off with a quiz on "Who Are the Scots?"

This proves to be illuminating as no, Aberdeen is NOT the capital of Scotland!!!

(I'll probably be given a quiz on USA before I leave just to get me back!).

A truly warm, fun and memorable evening was rounded off with Cindy's rendition of "The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen"-what more could I ask for?!

Happy Burns' Night- USA 2013

Posted by mhwedwards 18:13 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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