Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Monday, September 28, 2015
The two hardest things to do in Baltimore is to get there and to leave, at least if you go by our experience. One hard part is done after an all day flight, hard light rail ride, and a grungy walk to our hotel. We were exhausted and slept like logs last night.
At least Tim and I did. Letty was kept up by a group of cheerleaders in a nearby room.
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Now, it’s Sunday and we’re ready to see this city but we’re carless. That’s OK, it’s by choice. We are doing this entire trip via public transit, save the flights and the taxi back to the airport when we’re done.
Baltimore has a plethora of transit choices. Subway, light rail, bus, and water taxi, to name a few. The water taxi is not accessible but everything else is.
This city is one of our country’s more historic places, so let’s start our journey into Baltimore history at the big one…Fort McHenry.
This is the fort Baltimore attorney Francis Scott Key watched while being detained on a British ship during a fierce battle during the War of 1812. When he saw the stars and stripes rise above the early morning smoke after the battle, he was inspired to write a poem that was eventually mated to a British drinking tune to become our national anthem.
The number 1 bus route goes by the corner of our hotel and out to the gate of the fort, making for an extremely easy accessible trip to the historic site, although it is a bit of a walk from the gate to the visitor’s center, especially in the heat we’re experiencing this week.
In the visitor’s center, after getting tickets for the site (free for Golden Eagle pass holders and their companions), we see a moving if, at times, corny movie about the events of that night before venturing to the fort itself.
We’ve been to many an old fort like this and Fort McHenry really isn’t much different that most but it is still exciting to stand in a spot where a very famous and significant point of history occurred. There’s an American Legion convention in town this week and the site of so many veterans visiting such a meaningful spot in their lives is inspiring.
Speaking of the Legionnaires, they’ve come up with a brilliant idea for a souvenir. They’re all buying flags at the gift shop where they then take them to the fort. A docent there takes each flag and runs it up the pole where the Star Spangled Banner flew for a few seconds before lowering it and doing the same with the next flag. Now, these heroes of America can go home with a flag that flew over Fort McHenry.
There’s a nice, but unprotected, accessible walk along the sea wall here that takes us back to the visitor’s center with great views of the harbor.
Done with the fort, we want to see some more Baltimore history. Our friend Brian told us we should visit the bar he got kicked out of when he was a teenager. It’s in the Fells Point neighborhood. The regular buses don’t go there but it is served by the (non accessible) water taxi and the Charm City Circulator.
This, my friends, will be your best friend when in Baltimore. The circulator buses are accessible, come every ten minutes, and go almost everywhere in the downtown area. They are also free.
It’s a two block walk from the hotel to the nearest Green Route Circulator stop. One of those blocks is what we can charitably call the Strip Club District but we end up in front of a police station and just wait a few minutes for the bus.
In Fells Point, it’s another two block walk to the 1600 block of Thames where you’ll find the oldest bar in the United States, The Horse You Came In On. This is the bar our friend was thrown out of and it’s next to an add-on to the original, The Horse You Rode Out On.
Both bars have a rather large step to get in but one of the workers taking a smoke break outside shows us an almost invisible little door in between both places where we can get into both bars with a wheelchair.
Once inside the circa 1775 bar, a server helps us find and accessible table we can relax at, watch football on TV, listen to the live music, and have a few cold ones. Another perk of using transit is we don’t have to worry about driving after a session at the bar.
While Tim and I have a couple of their outstanding burgers, Letty has her first Maryland crab cake. She pronounces it delicious.
Another Natty Boh (National Bohemian, the beer of Baltimore) and a shot of Don Julio, we’re feeling pretty good when we head back out in the hot and humid air of the waterfront neighborhood.
We take another scenic, waterfront walk until we get back to the Circulator stop.
Cobblestone streets, charming but bumpy for Tim’s wheelchair, lined with townhomes guide us back to an old back bay ship berth where this gent takes a nap at the bus stop.
No, he’s not dead or homeless, just getting 40 winks.
Eventually, the Orange Line comes by. This will take us by our hotel so we can rest up and recharge a bit before getting right back on to the west side of town.
Here, we visit another historic patch of land. In 1830, the first mile of railroad track in America was laid. There are still a couple of old trains and even a wheelchair accessible train platform.
This is the Baltimore and Ohio (or B&O) Railroad Museum.
In a large, non-air conditioned roundhouse are stored many historic locomotives and livery. The Tom Thumb, the first locomotive, is here.
Outside in the maintenance shop are many more, very large, steam locomotives along with a model train exhibit.
The displays are beautiful and the trains big and impressive but it’s damn hot today and we make our way out into a sketchy neighborhood. We walk a few blocks east to our next historic site.
On a small street, a few blocks from the current home of the Baltimore Orioles, sits a small, three-story townhouse. It’s air conditioned and has an elevator. Heaven for us today.
Upstairs, a small bedroom is preserved. This is the birthplace of George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth, one of the giants of the game.
It’s a small museum and easily seen within 30 minutes. It makes for a quick and fitting end to our historic day in Charm City.
Copyright 2015 – Darryl Musick
Photos Copyright 2015 – Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved
Friday, September 25, 2015
It’s tough waking up at 2:30 in the morning for a flight but getting to fly out of Ontario makes up for that. We slog through our morning rituals and make it out in time to make it to the airport with a nice cushion of time before our 5:40am boarding time.
The flight is uneventful and we don’t have to change planes but we do have to make a stop in Denver before a midafternoon arrival at Baltimore Washington International Airport.
It’s our first time in Charm City though we have been in Maryland before. We’re here to chalk up another couple of stadiums on our quest to see every Major League Baseball park. This trip will complete our northeast teams when we go to an Orioles game in a couple of days and a Nationals game two more after that. We’ll have 25 (out of 30) ballparks under our belts at the end of this trip but first, we must make it out of the airport.
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First, our plane’s assigned gate is occupied, so we wait about an extra 15 minutes until another gate is made available for us. Next, it’s another 10 minutes before a gate crew can make it over to operate the jetway. Finally, we’re off the plane, at baggage claim, and no luggage. It hasn’t been unloaded yet and eventually it’s routed to a different carousel.
Suitcases claimed, we now head into the light rail station to make the final leg into town. It is a very, very long walk from baggage claim to the station. Once there, we can’t find ticket machines and eventually learn they’re back in the terminal.
Letty and Tim wait on the platform while I go back to get them only to return and just miss a trail. About half an hour later, we finally get out of the hot, humid air onto a cool train.
In Baltimore, it’s a three-block walk through a sketchy looking area to our hotel. We have no more problems, however, and soon check into our room at the Springhill Suites, just off the Inner Harbor.
Welcome to Baltimore.
It’s not the greatest Springhill Suites we’ve stayed in but it’s roomy, the A/C is not blowing directly on my wife, we’ve got a fairly accessible bathtub for Tim, and breakfast is free.
Hungry after that all day flight, we head out to eat. I saw a nice looking restaurant on the corner by the hotel. As we walk out the doorman asks if we need help or directions. I tell him no, we’re going over there, unless you know someplace better.
“I sure do, head down that alley across the street and look for the sign that says ‘pizza.’ It’s Supano’s and you’ll really like it.”
OK, we take him at his word and head down the alley where we find the pizza sign, a fiberglass statue of a chef, and a door…not much else. We open the door and a tall black man comes out to help us get in with the wheelchair. This, we would later learn, is Derek and he would become our friend while we were in Baltimore.
Inside, we find an expansive restaurant with three levels and non-stop videos of Frank Sinatra concerts playing. We had entered via the back door but find that it’s the only accessible entrance anyway.
The friendly server sets up glasses of Yuengling beer and takes our order. Seafood fettuccine for Letty, lasagna (Baltimore’s Best, the menu promises) for Tim, and veal saltimbocca for me.
The food is in one word, heavenly. We take bites of each other’s dishes and it’s hard to pick a winner. They’re all good.
Letty’s seafood dish tastes very good even to a non-seafood lover like me. Tim’s lasagna is the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant anywhere. The saltimbocca takes me back to North Beach in Boston to the incredible version I had at Pagliuca’s…I couldn’t really tell you which one was best but those are the best versions I’ve ever had. This would be the best meal we’d have on the entire trip.
After dinner, we walk off our meal at the nearby Inner Harbor where it seems half of Baltimore is out enjoying this warm Saturday night. As we walk by the historic ships on display, a street juggler performs. A three-masted Coast Guard ship is in giving tours. The aquarium has two waterfalls, a giant one indoors falling into a salmon pond and a smaller one outside feeding a creek to the sounds of crickets and cicadas. A fine cover band serenades us at the Hard Rock as we relax waterfront before heading back in for the night.
Now, let’s say it loud and proud without any hint of sarcasm…Welcome to Baltimore!
Stay tuned, there’s much more to come.
Copyright 2015 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.
Photos by Letty Musick, Copyright 2015
All Rights Reserved
Monday, September 21, 2015
We live in beach country. No, we don’t live on the water or even particularly close but a half hour drive down the freeway and there we are.
So what are our favorite beaches in Southern California? Not too many that tourists come to see. Santa Monica is OK, Venice is a bit too weird for us, Malibu’s just too hard to get to…especially in a wheelchair.
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Some of you are scratching your heads and wondering just what’s left. Plenty. Read on, watch the video above, and you’ll find our choices for the best beaches in Southern California.
Starting at the south end of Orange County, one very well-known and popular beach starts us off. Laguna Beach is an artsy town full of coves popular with snorkelers and scuba divers. The main beach is a people watcher’s paradise.
Nearby, artist Robert Wyland…the famous painter of whale murals around the world…lives on the waterfront. On the lower floor of the house is his office, a shop, and a hallway leading out to his terrace on the sand. You’re welcome to spend some time relaxing there, looking through his telescope, and just drinking in the view.
As with most area beaches, parking is tough but you should be able to find something.
Up the coast is ritzy Newport Beach. Waterfront mansions abut expensive shopping malls and high end restaurants. In the middle of all this is Balboa Peninsula which protects Newport’s harbor.
In from the peninsula is tiny Balboa Island reachable by bridge from Pacific Coast Highway. That’s the boring way. Instead we launch from the Fun Zone amusement park on the little Balboa Island Auto Ferry, a barge-like boat that has been floating cars…three at a time…across the channel for almost a century.
Huntington Beach, incorporated in 1909, struck oil…literally. Pumps are sprinkled through the town, which has now grown into a city with a population approaching 200,000. World renowned for its surf, it is not uncommon for major surfing championships to draw over 100,000 spectators.
The wheelchair friendly concrete pier allows good, close-up views of the local surfers tackling the swells.
Beginning surfers find the gentler swells and small town atmosphere of Seal Beach more welcoming than its big neighbor to the south. We like it for the number of great restaurants and laid-back ambiance. A winter’s night dinner by the fireplace at O’Malley’s Pub on Main Street, followed by an evening stroll to the pier is about as good as it gets.
Across the county line from Seal Beach, Long Beach is the largest waterfront city in California except for San Francisco. It’s also the 7th largest city in the state, just ahead of Oakland and just behind Sacramento with around half a million people living there.
There truly is a long beach here but the port’s breakwater kills any ideas of waves. While not popular with the surf culture, families with kids flock here for uncrowded beaches with safe waters. At the sailing center in Alamitos Bay, the sand on the beach is packed hard enough for wheelchairs to roll on.
We like to take in a dinner in Belmont Shore or Naples Island and stroll along the waterfront mansions nearby.
Palos Verdes Peninsula is one of the last wild stretches of coastline here. From San Pedro to Torrance, the road hugs the coastal cliffs as it winds through cove after cove. In the middle, the Point Vicente visitor’s center provides a nice place to whale watch, have a picnic, and even access to a small beach nearby.
The views of Catalina and the neighboring lighthouse are spectacular on clear days.
Our tour ends just to the north at Tim’s favorite beach, Redondo. Along with a nice stretch of sand, we like it for the pier which is loaded with shops, restaurants, bars, and attractions.
After buying Letty a pearl at the oyster shop, we’ll have dinner at one of our favorite restaurants…either Kincaid’s on the pier or Gambrinus in the neighboring marina. Our food is digested with a lingering stroll around the pier before going home.
Next time you’re in the area, take some time to explore one of these great ocean side destinations away from the usual tourist trail…maybe we’ll see you there.
Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Friday, September 18, 2015
This trip contains one of the most popular videos we've yet produced. Why? I don't know, apparently you all like the beach! Personally, I think our video on Morro Bay is a bit better, but you be the judge. Anyway, here is my pick for the best beach in Southern California...
Watch the Video for this trip
It has the makings for a boring, frustrating day. The day after Thanksgiving usually presents us with nothing to do, unless you want to join the mobs at the mall. Not really our cup of tea (to be fair, my wife loves to shop but even she can’t stand the Black Friday stress).
It’s days like this that are made for a day trip. I know “staycation” is the new buzzword, but I just can’t stand that. Occasionally, though, we just like to go out for the day and see what we can find in our general area. That’s what we’re doing today. Hopefully, if you have a trip planned with Southern California…especially Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm…as your destination; you’ll find this information valuable.
I had always wanted to try the Original Pancake House, especially for their Dutch Baby pancakes, so we head down to the City of Orange for our closest location. While waiting for the server to take our order, the table next to use gets their Dutch Babies delivered and they looked burnt from having been in the oven too long.
Instead, we order a stack of regular buttermilk pancakes, some crepes with lemon/strawberry filling, and some “49er” cakes, which are very thin pancakes…sort of like a crepe that has not been rolled. All three are very delicious and we’ll give the edge…just a slight edge…to the 49er cakes.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Robert A. Estremo under CC-BY-SA license
The mission grounds are very beautiful but the original church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812. A side chapel has the twin distinctions of being the oldest California building still in use and is also the only documented existing building that Father Junipero Serra said mass in.
We’ve seen the mission many times before, so today we concentrate on the Los Rios neighborhood. This is the street time forgot, sitting across the tracks from the train station. Years ago, I would come here and walk down these shady, tree-lined streets and wonder how much longer it would last with the exploding development happening in this part of the county.
The residents must have wondered the same thing, now it’s a protected historic district. It’s still a neighborhood…families still live in the houses, small shops and a couple of cafes crouch up to the tracks, and it’s a place like no other you’ll find in the area.
Homes dating back 200 years line streets so quiet you can roll your chair along with few worries. A collection of fountains sits in front of little beauty salon. Around the corner, an ancient pickup truck sits in a chicken wire encased garage. Dozens of finches fight over the birdfeeder out back. A huge wall of bougainvillea lines the street.
Around the corner are a sleepy looking nursery and a petting zoo. Llamas sit in the sun waiting for food. A curious emu strolls up to see my camera. The luckiest turkeys in the world strut their stuff on the day after.
The 12:20 to LA arrives and we leave.
Back in the car, we head south to Dana Point and then double back up Pacific Coast Highway to our next stop, Laguna Beach. Even in late November, traffic still snarls in the downtown stretch that has traffic lights on every corner, none coordinated with the next. After the knot of traffic, we turn up a side street and find a spot at the curb to park about a block from the main beach.
Laguna is made up of a series of coves, the largest one, about a half mile long, makes up the main beach in the heart of town. An accessible boardwalk runs the length of the beach. On the north end, a step-free but steep access leads to the next series of smaller coves. When the water’s calm, these small coves attract hordes of snorkelers and scuba divers.
On the main beach, we find a concrete ramp that you can use to go to the high-tide line next to the northernmost life guard tower. In the summer, you can borrow a sand chair from the life guard to go all the way to the water. The mid-beach is a hot bed of beach volleyball, so we take a few minutes to watch. No pros practicing today, however. A musician plays for tips and a bird trainer puts on a pretty good show on the edge of the boardwalk.
We continue up the street where artist Wyland, the whale mural guy, lives and has a gallery.
We stop to take a look at the art and to use his very nice, clean accessible restroom. A secret spot is located here. Outside the gallery is a hallway…continuing to the end and you’ll come out onto a private, quiet deck where Wyland has set up a small telescope overlooking the beach. It’s a nice place to come and get away from the crowds.
Back out front, we wander around the town a bit, doing a little window shopping and have a quick drink at one of the local pubs. I won’t name the pub…it’s a brew-pub…because the server tacked on an extra six dollars to the tip (which I found out while balancing my checkbook). That burns me up because the total bill was $9, to which I added $3 for tip…plenty, don’t you think?
Later, we head back up PCH and then inland to Placentia where we have dinner at one of our favorite Pizzerias, Tony’s Little Italy. This is a real hole-in-the-wall with only 8 tables and a giant mural of Wrigley Field covering an entire wall. The other walls have Cubs, Bulls, and Bears memorabilia along with a smattering of Angels, Cal State Fullerton, and other local team pennants, surrounding the two flat-screen TVs…usually showing whatever sports are going on in Chicago. This little piece of Chicago has some of the best deep-dish style pizzas around.
As Tony himself brings out our pizza and drinks, we bid farewell and hope to see you on another trip soon.
Copyright 2009 - Darryl Musick
Pictures courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Robert A. Esterno under CC-SA license
Monday, September 14, 2015
It’s only 40 minutes away in good traffic but riding the train out here seems like you’re on the east coast, taking the Metro North out of the city. The streets are lined with leafy, mature trees…many that drop their leaves in late fall…the coffee bars filled with bearded college professors and students trying to get a degree within this lifetime.
Known as the “Ivy League of the West,” the handful of universities that make up the Claremont Colleges are names that regularly appear on each year’s list of the best… Claremont-McKenna, Pomona College, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, Scripps.
There’s money, talent, and knowledge wandering around here. It’s also a good reason why so many people fall in love with the Inland Empire town of Claremont separated by two sets of hills, a valley, and four freeways from Los Angeles and bumps up right against the San Bernardino County line.
Possibly the most transit-enabled town in the Inland Empire, Claremont is served well by Metrolink commuter rail from Union Station in Los Angeles and the buses of Foothill Transit. The trains and buses converge on the beautifully restored train depot at the south end of The Village making everything within walking distance and eliminating the need for a car.
Arriving in the morning, you can grab a quick breakfast at Crepes de Paris at the new addition to The Village, the Packing House, on the west side of Indian Hill Boulevard. The Packing House is an old citrus packing shed that’s be redesigned into a space for shops, restaurants, and nightclubs. Night owls will want to visit the Hip Kitty jazz club here or the comedy club upstairs.
Walking off breakfast, head east to Yale Avenue…one block east of Indian Hill…where The Village’s “downtown” is. The last Rhino Records shop exists here along with the world famous Claremont Folk Music Center. This little music shop, crammed with every instrument you can imagine, and many you can’t, is a popular stop for some of the world’s top musicians to stop by and give impromptu concerts.
Going a couple of blocks further east you come across the campuses of the colleges, all kind of mixed together. Check bulletin boards…you can catch some free entertainment such as concerts or plays. The colleges are associated with SCIAC, a NCAA athletic conference, and you can catch some college sports there too such as football, basketball, and baseball. The stadium where the Claremont-McKenna-Scripps Stags play…located in a little pine forest…is one of the prettiest you’ll ever see.
If you’re hungry for lunch, stop in one of the several cafeterias on campus or Café Sagehen, a full-service sit down restaurant serving upscale meals with wine and beer available. Back in The Village, a number of restaurants serve a great lunch too. Pizza ‘n Such, Village Diner, and Espiau’s are suitable for a nice midday meal.
After lunch, options include going to Bert and Rocky’s at the north end of Yale Avenue for ice cream and dessert; going up to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens a few blocks north on Foothill for some great wheelchair accessible hiking trails; or taking in a matinee at the Laemmle Theatre on Indian Hill and Bonita Avenue.
If you’re still around at dinner time, Claremont has two of the gourmet burger places in Southern California. The Back Abbey (in the alley behind the Laemmle) serves its signature burger…a large patty with aged gouda, mustard aoli, carmelized onions bacon, and fresh greens served on brioche… along with a nice selection of Belgian beers.
Just around the corner, back at the Packing House, is Eureka!...serving a range of gourmet burgers that is as good as the Back Abbey…along with their selection of local craft brews.
Looking for something more than burgers? Aruffo’s serves quality Italian fare in a relaxed atmosphere back over on Yale.
Some people fall in love enough to spend the night. Casa 425, across from the Packing House, is the area’s trendy boutique hotel.
If you’re in Southern California, save a day to visit this pretty college town just a short drive…or train ride…east of Los Angeles.
For more information, visit The Village's website: http://thevillageclaremont.com/
For more information, visit The Village's website: http://thevillageclaremont.com/
Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Friday, September 4, 2015
After crossing the border we’re no longer in the Golden State. We’ve stepped over to a new metal…the Silver State of Nevada. Coming up on highway 395, the mountains drop away from under the road, giving way to the green expanse of the Carson Valley, guarded on the south by the towns of Gardnerville and Minden.
The steep, rocky Sierras still peer at us on the left where they hide the beautiful Lake Tahoe just over that ridge.
It’s not long before we roll into the capitol of the state, Carson City. It’s not a huge place…Vegas and Reno are both much bigger…and before we know it, we’re downtown and hungry.
Smack in the center of downtown is the Nugget Casino where we can while away a little time at the slot machines and roulette table before heading into the coffee shop to get one of the great under $10 prime rib dinners you’ll get in a casino. Not Morton’s, but for the price it’s hard to beat this tasty, tender slab of meat served with baked potato, veggies, and salad.
We need to keep heading north where we’ll find Washoe Lake. Turning in from the highway, it’s along the eastern side of the lake…home to a family of bald eagles…where we’ll find our bed for the night at the Deer Run Ranch run by David and Muffy Vhay.
Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Rick Cooper under CC BY 2.0 license
The Vhay’s run an alfalfa farm here and David built this eco-friendly inn into the hillside near the barn. The name comes from the herds of deer that roam the alfalfa fields where you can see antlers sticking up above the stalks.
It’s a wheelchair-accessible escape far from the busy cities and highway nearby. Bullfrogs croak in the pond and owls nest in the barn. Many varied guests…from the family looking to get back to nature to the gentleman who comes into town for a brothel tour…enjoy the quiet surroundings.
Over breakfast, after David tells us about the brothel fan (he’s not here today), he explains the process of growing and, more importantly, selling the alfalfa nearby. He gives discounts to local ranchers who come and pick it up, saving him the cost of delivery.
Upon checkout, we travel slowly along the banks of the lake looking for the eagles but are not having luck today. It’s back on 395 as we head up the the “biggest little city in the world,” Reno.
We try our luck at the Horseshoe Casino but the heavy smoke and the depressing empty buildings nearby tell us we should move on.
North of the city, we finally leave the ribbon of asphalt that we’ve been celebrating these last two weeks and head west on the big Interstate 80 back towards California.
A bit west, over the state line, following the river of the same name, we end up in the cute town of Truckee. Truckee is a legendary train town. The station still serves passenger trains coming up from the Bay heading for Denver and Chicago.
The downtown area surrounding the station holds many boutiques, high priced snack shops, and a couple of really good restaurants.
After spending some time here, we turn south at the end of town and follow the Truckee River up the mountain to its source on the north shore of Lake Tahoe where we picnic on deli sandwiches and throw fish food to the giant…and I mean GIANT…rainbow trout living in the protection of the “no fishing” zone where the river begins.
From Reno, highway 395 continues its course back across the border along California’s eastern frontier, into Oregon and the cold, high country desert before reaching Pendleton and crossing over to southern Washington’s tri cities of Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland.
Continuing north, you can follow it to Spokane and beyond, where it finally terminates across the Canadian border where it meets highway 3 in central British Columbia.
Not this trip, though. We say goodbye here in the beautiful high country on the border of Nevada and California on the edge of Lake Tahoe, not far from the mythical Ponderosa.
Truly a different take on California, highway 395 is a beautiful road connecting some of the most lonely, stark, and historical areas of this Golden State.
Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved