2019 Summer Road Trip

Who plans a summer road trip just to see a bridge? We do!

So, this past Memorial Day weekend my wife and I embarked on one of the longest road trips we’ve ever done – driving down the east coast to Cape May, NJ, and then along the shore to the Chesapeake Bay, over the bay and back up north via Richmond VA, Washington DC, Baltimore MD, and of course a large portion of the NJ Turnpike.

The idea for this road trip stretches back years and years – when my wife first heard of the “Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel” and decided she’d like to see it someday. So back in January of this year we decided that it was time to finally make this trip, and we started planning and booking hotels.

Eventually we settled on the long weekend of Memorial Day, plus an extra day for traveling (Friday – Monday). We’d drive down to Cape May NJ and explore the town a bit before catching the ferry over to Delaware, where we’d spent the night in Ocean City in Maryland before heading down a bit further to Chincoteauge in Virginia, and then finally onwards to the bridge/tunnel – with a final overnight in Richmond, Virginia, before the long drive back home.

The trip started a little bit late on Friday morning, mainly due to the fact that my wife had been in Ottowa, Canada, during the week and due to severe thunderstorms had been delayed there overnight Thursday – meaning I was picking her up at the airport very early that Friday morning, instead of early the prior Thursday evening as originally planned.

However, we got on the road and made good time down the Garden State Parkway to Cape May, where we stopped at a brewery (Cape May Brewing) for lunch & some very nice beer (with a suitable wait before heading out again).

Cape May ferry
A beautiful day for a ferry ride

Then it was the roughly 90 minute journey across the Delaware Bay via the Cape May ferry to, uh, well, Delaware! But we didn’t dwell long in Delaware, setting our sights on Ocean City Maryland, where our hotel awaited us.

Ocean City was a bit of a shock for the both of us – we’d never been anywhere like this, and we’re not used to this sort of tourist-focused area. “It’s like another world,” we kept saying to each other as we drove down the main road, past hotels, mini-golf courses, and other curiosities.

Nevertheless, we had a good nights sleep there and set out again the next morning to explore the barrier islands via the parks on Assateauge Island: Assateauge State Park and the Chincoteauge National Wildlife Refuge.

These islands were beautiful to explore – though I wish there weren’t so many people there (and that I’d had the right equipment on hand to qualify for driving on the beach) and we had a few very nice walks (and one not-so-nice walk that took us through the woods that were filled with mosquitoes after we’d mistakenly decided to forego bug spray). We even saw the famous wild horses (or ponies) of the island – though I didn’t stop to take their photos, as there were too many other people around.

Sunset over the bay
Sunset over the bay

One stop we did make along the way was at Wallops Island – because I, as a huge space nerd, couldn’t help but stop at the NASA installations on Wallops Island.

We spent the night at Chincoteauge before pushing on to the main event: the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel.

It was at this point along the road trip that my car, the Keithombile-E, really hit its stride as far as fuel efficiency was concerned, topping out at 41 MPG – a remarkable feat for an angular SUV that weighs nearly 4,500 pounds! That little 2.1 liter twin-turbo diesel can really sip fuel when on flat roads with almost no stopping. (In case you can’t tell, I was very proud of this achievement!)

We only got a photo while it was at 40.6; it hit 41 MPG shortly after.

Finally though, at long last, we approached our goal: the bridge. We’d known that it was going to be big, but we were not quite prepared for just how big it was. We had already decided we’d cross the bridge 3 times: once going up, then back, and then across one last time. The first crossing was done almost entirely in silence as we took in the experience: over the first span, then on to the artificial island in the middle of the enormous Chesapeake Bay, the into the tunnel, then back onto the bridge again, then another artificial island and tunnel combo, and then the final span.

Selfie just before the start of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel

What a marvel of engineering! It’s a shame that the islands are closed at the moment (they are adding a second tunnel in each direction) – because apparently there was a restaurant you could stop at on them, and I wish we could’ve done that – it would’ve been very cool!

After our first round-trip over the bridge we stopped off at Cape Charles to visit another brewery (and completing the “cape-to-cape” portion of our trip).

Cape Charles Brewing Co. Beer
This brewery had some very good beers!
Oversized cans of beer from Cape Charles brewing
The beer was so good that we bought a few cans to take home with us. And did I mention the cans are HUGE?

We filmed our final crossing (my wife did all the picture-taking and filming since I was driving), and then it was onwards to Richmond for our final stay of the trip.

Although the hotel we stayed at in Richmond had a fancy roof-top bar, we didn’t make much use of it – we were both very tired by the end of the day and so we went to bed rather early.

We got up early the next day and started out on the long push for home – roughly 5 hours straight from Richmond, VA up to Morristown, NJ. With the holiday weekend ending we didn’t want to delay for too long lest we encounter bad traffic – which we had thus far mercifully avoided.

Once again, my faithful Keithmobile performed admirably, making the trip home an easy one. We only had to stop once – and that was for me, not for the car! We arrived home safe & sound (and relatively early in the day – about 12:45pm), and that was the end of our epic roadtrip!

Final MPG: 38.1
Final MPG for the second half of the trip: 38.1 MPG. Not too shabby!

All in all it was a great trip – we hit very little in the way of traffic, we got to see a lot of neat places, and we were comfortable the entire way. We were glad to be home, but we were just as glad we did this trip. Now given the success of this trip, who knows… maybe another road trip will be in our future? We’ll see!

Traveling around the Southeast

Not as photogenic as the southwest, but still pretty fun!
I recently did a little bit of traveling around the southeast US – namely, Florida and Louisiana – and of course I took a whole bunch of photos while I was there.

You can view the whole collection here, but here’s the short version:

mother alligator

baby alligator closeup

I went to Florida and saw some alligators, both big and small.

the everglades

I saw the Everglades.

view of the 7-mile bridge

I drove across a LOT of long (and short) bridges.

keith and the southernmost point marker in key west

I stood at the (almost) southernmost point in the continental United States.

bourbon street lit up at night

Then I jumped over to New Orleans and experienced Bourbon Street in the French Quarter at night.

steamer natchez (side)

Then I took a steamboat ride on the only remaining truly steam-powered passenger paddle steamer left on the Mississippi River.

sunset aboard the natchez - port side, looking aft

sunset and the city of new orleans

Did I mention the steamboat ride was a leisurely 2-hour cruise at sunset?

wall of graves

Then I saw a neat cemetery.

st charles tram

And rode on an old tram train.

houmas house from the front

Before finally visiting some beautiful old plantations…

bocage plantation at dusk

…VERY beautiful plantations…

having some light snacks at bocage plantation

…one of which we stayed in overnight!

amanda in the red room in the morning

As you can imagine, it was a very fun trip and we saw a lot of neat things and places. If you’d like to see more pictures (along with comments about what I was doing at the time), feel free to check out the full collection over on Flickr.

Traveling around the Southwest

Vacation pictures from a trip around the Southwest US.
I recently took a little vacation to the Southwest US, and of course I used this opportunity to take lots and lots of pictures.

You can view the full collection of photos here, but be warned – there are a lot of photos. If you’d rather not spend all day looking at all those photos (and keep in mind, those are just the GOOD ones – I actually took a lot more than that; it took me nearly 3 days to sort through them all) then here are some highlights:

our plane for the ride to the bar 10 ranch from las vegas

I flew on a very small plane.

keith gets ready to shoot-1

Did a little skeet shooting at a ranch.

keith and helicopter

Took a helicopter ride…

into the grand canyon by helicopter

…down into the Grand Canyon.

getting the raft ready for our first day on the river

Got on a raft.

shooting some rapids

Went through some rapids.

my wet foot

Got soaked.

keith's adventuring pose on the raft on day 2

Did some adventuring.

my bed

Camped out.

beautiful clear blue skies and gold canyon walls on the 3rd day

Saw the Grand Canyon from the bottom.

keith at the hoover dam (nevada side)

Saw the Hoover Dam.

flower snail

Spent some time in that crazy place known as Las Vegas.

keith the adventurer

Did some more adventuring in canyons (different ones this time).

sunrise with filter

Saw the sun rise from 8000 feet above sea level.

keith does his adventurer pose at zion national park

Did lots of hiking.

the virgin river in the zion narrows

Did some hiking through some very narrow places.

grand canyon panorama 1

Saw the Grand Canyon (from the top this time).

grand canyon rim at sunset

Both at sunset…

the sun rises over the rim of the grand canyon

…and at sunrise.

All in all, a fun trip. And a great chance for me to really use my camera and try and take some interesting photos (different from the photos I usually get to take around home).

The full collection of photos is available (and nicely organized) over on Flickr, if you care to look.

Road Trip!

I’m going to be away for the next week, taking a whirlwind road-trip tour of New England with some people who’ve never been here before (hint: they’re from Australia!). Should be fun!

I’ll also probably have lots to say about the rental car we’re using to lug ourselves around in… but for now, it’s a secret!

I’ll be back Saturday October 11th, so hang in there!

Canadian Continuum

Back from Canada! Here’s the breakdown of my trip.
Back from Canada! Here’s the breakdown, me hearties:

Day One

Left the house at 6am, gassed up the car, put some air in the tires, and ate some McDonald’s (mmmm… those biscuts are to die for). Then… lots of driving. Out Route 2, up Interstate 91 in Vermont, and then up Interstate 89 (also in Vermont). Whew! What a long drive that was! Thank goodness for cruise control. The Keithmobile handled the ride quite well (as you would expect), keeping pace even up the steep, steep hills of the Green Mountains. Eventually, near St. Albans VT, I let Amanda drive. Shortly thereafter, we got to the border crossing. (We were closer than I thought, but I was tired, damnit!) So, after about a half an hour wait to get through the border, we were on our way on Canadian route 133. From there, Amanda got us a bit lost with her amazing driving skills, but we made it into Montreal anyway. By this time, I had taken over driving, and Amanda tried to guide me to our hotel, but she took too many turns and didn’t really know where we were going, so we spent some time dodging the local traffic.

Let me just say that Canadians drive REALLY FREAKIN FAST. That, and they simply DO NOT give way AT ALL. I thought Boston drivers were rude, and they are, but Canadians are rude AND oblivious. It’s a dangerous combination.

So we finally made it to our first hotel… Comfort Inn. It was too early to check in (being about 1pm) so we parked in the hotel parking lot ($15, Canadian though) and walked around downtown. It’s an interesting city, but I was a bit bedazzled and didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have.

A strange note about Montreal… something I noticed right away was the abundance… almost the exclusiveness… of *cue music* the beautiful people, the beautiful people (dun nun nun…) *end music*. Now, I’m being serious here – there were just too many good looking people there, male and female. It made me feel a bit out of place! And the french – oh god the french!! Everything in bloody french!! The bigger places had english as a “subtitle”, on signs and menus, but many places simply had French only. Wacky!

We ended up having lunch at a place called “Dunns,” suposedly world-renowned for its (get ready for it) smoked meat. Yes, that’s right – Canadians have this strange love for “smoked meat.” I don’t know what kind of meat it is, but it’s smoked, and supposedly very good. I had a smoked beef salami sandwich, and man, was it good. The meat, and I’m serious here, was like 2 inches – and the slices were thin, so that’s a lot of slices! Tasty though. The waiter greeted us with “bonjour-hello”, apparently a common greeting used to figure out what language you speak. Useful information, indeed.

So after doing some more window shopping and exploring of downtown, we went back to our room (exhausted, we didn’t sleep enough the night before) and napped. The city was busy, too… the Montreal Film Festival was in town for the weekend.

That night we decided to go out somewhere interesting for dinner. Using Amanda’s Lonely Planet guide book, we selected a little bistro. Little did we know we’d have to walk a bit to get there… le Metro only came so close to this place, which was kind of on the outskirts of the city. Needless to say, I had made a reservation, not knowing how busy it would be… and of course when the guy answered the phone I had no idea what he was saying, so I just figured “what the hell” and started speaking in English, hoping that he’d understand. Thankfully, though, he did. (this became my modus operendi for the entire trip, since I was too embarrased to say “parle vou Engles?” or whatever.)

The bistro turned out to be a REAL nice little bistro, with wood floors and intimate little tables. Amanda and I dined by candlelight, drinking some supurb red wine and snacking (to start) on little bread slices and salmon mousse – which was surprisingly good. Then, the main course… I had a wonderful steak, marinated in some insanely good port wine sauce (I think, the menu was in French after all). It was SO tender, and it came with some dijon mustard, which I tried (after trying the steak without it of course). It was also GOOD. What a kick it gave the steak! My mouth still waters thinking about it.

I should mention at this point that pretty much EVERYTHING we ate in Montreal was 10x better than you could get back here in the states without spending a fortune at someplace like, say, Maison Rober in Boston or something.

Anyway, dinner was fantastic – the waiter was SO nice, we gave him a HUGE tip… as in, bill + tax = $75, we tipped him another $25 to round it off to $100. That’s like a 33% tip! But he was REALLY nice, he even gave me another glass of wine (we got the wine by the glass) for free. And it’s something special when the waiter lets you taste the wine before you accept it. He even opened the bottle RIGHT THERE for us! Amazing!

Amanda had a remarkable lamb dish, but I can’t speak for it as I didn’t eat it. But she said it was GOOD as well. Naturally!

So then we went back to the hotel and to bed – and thus ends “Day one.”

Day Two

We rose somewhat early and headed out to find bagels – apparently there’s a different kind in Montreal, not at all like what you’re probably used to. They’re soft and a bit sweet and thinner than “New York” style bagels, but honestly, I didn’t care for them. Amanda did, however… there may still be some bagels in a bag somewhere around here, but if Amanda finds them, they won’t be around for long.

After breakfast we went back to the hotel and checked out. Now we were on our own, and actually driving in the city (something I don’t like doing because everyone drives like a psychopath). We went up to something I think called “le mont royal,” but really it’s just a big hill in the middle of the city, that’s covered with a HUGE park. It was nice, there was a villa at the top with an amazing view of the city. It’s HUGE too, you could spend all day wandering on its trails.

And another thing about this park… the squirels there are SO TAME! There were people feeding them peanuts, and they would just sit there, eating their nut, and one person we saw was even PETTING them! Amazing! Squirels would NEVER sit that still in, say, Boston Common.

From the park we went east a bit to “le Biodome de Montreal,” a huge domed complex that was like a big enclosed zoo, with very realistic environments. Very cool. The jungle was my favorite, it was hot & humid in there, just like you’d expect. I’ll put some some pictures of that part later, I think.

From there we went across the street into the Jardin Botanique, or the botannical gardens. Very, very neat. They have a little exhibit near the entrance, called the “insectitarium,” which is, as you would expect, all about bugs. Kinda cool, but more for kids, I think.

The gardens – oh my freakin’ god, the gardins. They are simply HUGE. Amazing. Wonderful. I wish I had a bigger memory card (only 16 megs, it’s what came with the camera!!) because I could have taken dozens of pictures. The flowers, the different arrangements… so wonderful. And in the China gardin, they had those paper lamps strung up all over the place, in fantastic shapes & colors… oh wow! And it was all so cool, so real, so lively… amazing. We could have spent an entire day in the gardins, but in the end, we had to leave and only see the China and Japan gardins. In the Japanese section, there was a class of students (all adults) practicing with samurai swords; first with wooden (bamboo) practice swords, and later with the real thing (undoubtably unsharpened though… but maybe not?). It was COOL. Except that they spoke in French, which I didn’t understand (except when they went “HAI!” when they swung their swords).

After the gardins we went to our second (and last) hotel, the Hyatt. VERY nice. We jumped ship for a while and got something to eat at a nice outdoor bistro downtown, where I had some chicken with mushrooms in a red wine & cream sauce (oh so nice). We stopped at the film festival on the way back and watched the crowd for a bit, but the movie wasn’t starting for a while yet, so we went back to our room, watched some stuff on the only English channel we could get (the Discovery Channel), and then went to bed.

I should mention that both of our hotel rooms had KING sized beds, and truthfully, we’ve never slept so well. We NEED a king sized bed!

Day Three

After a restful night’s sleep, we had breakfast at the hotel, and checked out. We wanted to get an early start back because the border crossing can get very busy. We packed our things and headed out, leaving the city behind us. An uneventful drive for 6 hours brought us home around 4:30pm Monday, and Amanda unpacked our things while I went down to the do-it-yourself car was and scrubbed all the dead bugs off the front of the car :-). Road trips can take a toll, it seems.

Then, we just relaxed for a bit, and went to bed. And now it’s early Tuesday morning and I’m going to wrap this up, because I have to get to work!

So if any of you are thinking of going to Canada – GO! It’s close enough, and aside from the French thing (outside of the city, very few people speak English – it is, after all, Quebec, the province that tried to seperate from Canada and become its own French (only) speaking country) you’ll have no problems communicating. (Reading signs and menus is a different matter, however.)

Ta ta for now!

-Keithius