Amtrak Adventure: Washington DC to Chicago

Heading out from Washington DC’s Union Station in route to Chicago, Illinois. This train configuration is different and we are in cars with seating on the top floor and restrooms downstairs and no wifi on board. BOO! We use this “down-time” to plan ahead and research our future adventures. We brought some salads and noodles on board for dinner. Hot water is free. We like to pack Starbucks Vias and flavored creamer, which we have in the morning with fruit and a bagel.

The sunset is beautiful, but we only had about thirty minutes of daylight after we left DC.  It was nice to see all the people’s homes and city streets we passed along the way decorated in colorful lights. You’ll have to use your imagination though because the pictures didn’t turn out due to glare from our windows. We had a layover in Cleveland, Ohio from about 1 am to 2 am due to a medical emergency. Kirk got off to stretch his legs and found out someone in another car passed away and they removed the body here. My heart goes out to the family.

We had hoped to surprise Andrew and Hannah Ryver at their church. Andrew was part of our Worship Team at First Christian Church in Santa Maria. He took a position at Parkview Church. Well, after a two hour delay, there was no way we could make it. (And, it turns out it was a lot further away than I thought). We just had time to set up out tablet in the Chicago train station and live-stream our church. There was pretty good wifi here in the food court. We had a Chicago Dog and a Diet Coke during the sermon. 😁

After church service was over, we took a taxi to our hotel. The adventures continue!

Washington DC: A Capitol Idea

We arrive in Washington DC and check in to our hotel. We unpack, explore the neighborhood and grab some dinner.  Sunday, we go downstairs for breakfast and take the day off to do some research and planning for future adventures. We need to take a day here and there to “refuel.”

Monday, we head out on the metro to check out the REI, our favorite adventure accessory store.  When we got off the metro at NoMa-Gallaudet U station, we were surprised by Mr. Jackson, the man who helped us at Union Station on Saturday when we arrived.  He recognized us and we thanked him for his help again. Another coincidence?

From here, we head to the Ford Theatre, where President Lincoln was assassinated. They are doing a production of A Christmas Carol there, so we purchase tickets for Wednesday’s matinee performance. Around the corner, we find a Christmas Market to stroll through. From here we head to the National Archives and see history documented: The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, in addition to many other documents that changed history. Something I did not know, these documents are printed on parchment, which is NOT paper, but animal skin! And, the ink they used was a mixture of blood and iron gall, so when this was applied to the parchment, the ink penetrates permanently like a tattoo. After this, we head out to see a beautiful sunset on the Washington Monument and the colors reflecting on the Capitol as the lights are coming on. We grab a bite to eat and head back to out hotel.

Tuesday, we decide to check out the Botanical Gardens because they are decorated for Christmas and include scale miniatures of many DC buildings and monuments made completely out of plant materials. They also have a special exhibit with trains running through Roadside Attractions across America. These too were made of plant materials. They had Randy’s Doughnuts and the Hollywood sign in California, the Corn Palace in South Dakota, The World’s Tallest Concrete Gnome in Iowa, the World’s Largest Pecan in Texas, etc. Kirk and I agreed we should add these Roadside Attractions to our cross country exploration agenda.

From the Botanical Gardens, we made our way to the metro and on to the National Zoo. We arrive just in time to see a demonstration of feeding a Sloth Bear on the Asian Trail. He is so cute and funny. He sucks meal worms through a tube and gets excited. We were hoping to see the pandas, but they are not out because it is too chilly for them today. We see some Red Pandas, cats, and head over to see the elephants. There are six females here and we can see three of them.  The youngest is 17 and she is quite entertaining. When we started to move on from watching her, she would do something else. She would fit in with the girls in my family, “Look at me!” The apes were fun to watch. One Orangutan and I hit it off. She came up to the glass and I think she was trying to communicate with me. The Orangutans have what they refer to as an “O Line” which are ropes attached to the tops of towers allowing them to move about overhead outside their enclosure. The Small Mammal Exhibit had lots of fun critters I would love to take home, especially the Lemurs (“I like to move it, move it”) lol. As the sun starts to set, the lights are coming on as the Zoo is decorated throughout for “Zoo Lights”. We make a dash to see the great lions before they close the exhibit. I have never heard one roar and interact (show off) like that before! As we walk through, the lights are fully lit and beautiful. You can stop by the fire and toast marshmallows, and they have food courts with treats for purchase and live music, etc. I’m craving a Chai Tea Latte, so we head to the Starbucks across the street. It was another fun day in DC!

Wednesday, we head out to Ford’s Theatre to tour the museum before seeing our play, A Christmas Carol. The museum presents Lincoln’s struggles as well as his achievements, maybe keeping true to “Honest Abe” reputation. I can’t help but wish that character was stronger in leadership of late. We enter the theatre to take our seats for the play, not far from the Presidential Box where Lincoln was shot. You can see how Booth would have broken his leg jumping from the stage. The production of A Christmas Carol is done brilliantly! The costumes, sets, acting, singing, they even had fly wires. After the play, we went across the street to the Peterson House, where they took Lincoln after he was shot to tend to him and gather up troops to search for the conspirators. From there, we toured the Aftermath Museum, where they compiled the evidence against all the conspirators who helped Booth. All of these are run by the National Parks Service (NPS) and those people are passionate and know their stuff. We learned so many interesting facts they don’t cover in school, etc.  We finished up they day by heading to the Lincoln Memorial making this a “Lincoln Day.” We have seen it several times before, but I don’t think it was any less amazing than the first time. His Inaugural Speech and the Gettysburg Address are engraved larger than life there. I think everyone should re-read them now and again. I love the glow at night and the view sitting on the steps and looking out over everything. We realize we are sitting right where Martin Luther King gave his Dream speech and looking around, we think of all the historical events that have taken place in this spot. I’m feeling quite humbled at the end of the day.

Thursday, we have a tour of the Capitol. Thanks to my friend, Etta, she was able to use connections to get us a staff led tour through Congressman Randy Weber’s (TX) office. Staffer, Erica, showed us around, pointing out the surviving construction from the War of 1812, the medallion marking the center of Washington DC, the tobacco leaves and corn tied in to Americanize the European looking architecture. Each state chooses a statue to display in the capitol representative of their state. We saw the original Supreme Court, Senate and Representative meeting areas. We saw down where Speaker Ryan’s office is and we saw Congressman McCarthy (CA) passing by from there. We parted ways when she got us through security in to the House Gallery. They had just finished up and only a few people were still lingering there. Afterwards, we went back to watch the movie you typically start your tour with and then walked around to look at some of the statues and artwork before leaving.

SMILE SURVEY: As we have been walking through DC, Kirk expressed that, “nobody here is smiling”. I pointed out they are on their way to work, and we can change that by smiling first. Kirk began to take a count. If you can’t make eye contact, you can’t make them smile. After we had walked for two blocks, we only observed three people smiling. Then this woman exclaims, “I want to know how I can get some of that, or buy some of that! You are so joyful and smiling!” Kirk explained his survey and I explained the source of my joy comes from the Lord. She let out an “Amen!” and we hugged and took a picture! Remember to smile, it is one of the few gifts you give that you WANT to be returned!

From the capitol, we took the metro to get to the White House. They were preparing for the lighting ceremony for National Christmas Tree later this evening, so the perimeter was blocked off all the way back to Washington Monument. A host of performers are scheduled for the lighting ceremony, including The Beach Boys, and one of our favs, Mannheim Steamroller. We stopped to look at the stage and decorated tree in the distance and talked for a while with a young man dawning “Stage Crew” credentials who gave us a rundown of the evenings festivities. The event is not open to public and we had not made the cut. We stopped further up and talked with a Motorcycle Policeman as we were admiring his Harley with sidecar attached. Interesting to learn they attach them in the winter for stability during impending hazardous road conditions. Washington Monument is closed for construction of an upgraded elevator, but the views from here are beautiful.

From the Washington Monument, we head to the nearest metro to take us to Arlington National Cemetery where we are going to meet up with our travel friends, Chris and Deah Hester, for the changing of the guards at the “Tomb of the Unknown”. We met Chris and Deah during our Transpacific cruise from LA to Australia in 2014. Chris had retired from the military that spring and hiked the Appalachian Trail while Deah finished the school year teaching, put their stuff in storage, rented out their house, and booked the cruise to begin their year of traveling. They were our inspiration. Deah also inspired us to create a blog and she has given us tips on “how to”. After the COG ceremony was over, they drove us by the school where Deah is working and to Chinese restaurant where we could sit down and pick their brains. They will head to Omen and Qatar during Deah’s winter break, then they plan to sell their house and travel for another year or two. They have been to over 130 countries. Their thoughts on travel are similar to ours; stick in a budget, utilize public transportation, look for free entertainment to supplement a couple of paid things a week, engage with the locals, etc. Check out their blog at After dinner and a page of notes, they dropped us off at a metro and we headed back to our hotel.

Deah & Chris Hester – The couple who inspired us.

Friday, we decided to do laundry before packing up for Chicago tomorrow. I was SO EXCITED to find out the hotel’s guest laundry was only a quarter to wash and a quarter to dry! It’s these little luxuries or perks that you get that just brighten my day!

We headed out at noon, with clean clothes, heading to the Museum of the Bible, which opened mid-November this year. OMG!!! This was so much more than I ever imagined! We spent six hours on just three of the floors and didn’t put a dent in what there was to offer! It was filled with high-tech, interactive areas, giving you the opportunity to test your hand at translating, calligraphy, art, archeology, etc. You got to take chards of the Dead Sea Scrolls and try to rebuild it, they gave you the text with words defined in different languages so you could pick the translation, and you could sit at a writing desk, much like the type a friar would use, and copy exactly what was on one page on to another… We walked through a typical village you might find along the Sea of Galilee, we drove through the History of the Bible with Dave Stotts, and more. I thought about all of our missionary friends and our outreach teams as we are standing in a room containing complete Bibles in 671 languages and 1,525 New Testament only, yet there are many more languages to go before “every nation hears”… I wish we had planned more time here, even though we were here almost six hours.


We hate to leave the Museum of the Bible, but we have tickets to see Dunkirk at the IMAX theatre in the Museum of Flight. We have to hustle, but we make it in time. OK, I think I understand the point of the story they were trying to tell, but it was not put together very well. The movie replays and flashbacks characters, but never really ties them together. At the end, we were confused and disappointed. We agreed that we could have made a better movie if they had asked us. LOL.

Saturday is time to move on from Washington DC to Chicago. We do another load of laundry and head down to breakfast. Another great perk of this hotel (Hyatt Place Washington DC/Georgetown West End) is we have had a free, amazing breakfast every day and free wifi! Kirk heads out after breakfast to Trader Joe’s to pick up some salads and snacks for the train ride while I pack…again. And, we’re off on to the next leg of our adventure.

Amtrak Adventure: NYC to Washington DC

It is time to leave NYC and move on to Washington DC, where we will be for the next week. We are taking the train from Penn Station departing at 12:50 pm and we arrive at Union Station at 4:10 pm. From the train station, we head down to the metro.  Thank you to Mr. A. Jackson, who assisted us with the purchase of a 7 day, short range metro pass ($81 for both), which would allow unlimited usage over the week.  He also helped get us on the right train and off at the station closest to our hotel. Bless you, Sir!

From the Dupont Circle metro, we are a few blocks away from the Hyatt at 2121 M St NW, which was a nice find including free internet and a nice breakfast daily.  Kirk and I have been here in DC three times previously, so we really don’t have any plans. We have a few friends in the area we are hoping to hook up with at some point and we want to see some of the Christmas decorations, like the National Tree.  There is also a new Bible Museum here which just opened earlier this month which we would like to check out.

New York, New York: Start Spreading the News!

The Wyndham New Yorker was our choice for both location and price.  Located on 8th and 34th, it was walking distance to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route (Bucket List Item), yet still at a reasonable price, and across from Penn Station so we don’t have to carry our packs very far. Since we will walk most places and we are only here until Saturday, we just purchase a reloadable Metro Pass for $10/each. We have been to NYC before, so aside from the Parade tomorrow and the Inflation Celebration tonight, we have no plans while here this time. We head down to Time Square where there is a place you can purchase same day tickets at half price to see what plays are available today. Matinee tickets go on sale at 10 am and evening tickets go on sale at 3 pm. People typically line up 45 minutes before the booth opens to get the better seats. Honestly, most theatres are small and there are really no bad seats, so we are not in any hurry.

At the TKTS booth, there are several plays available for today’s 2:00 pm matinee performance. The newest, big production is Anastasia and it is available! I love the storyline – the tragedy, the longing, and the mystery, so I knew I would enjoy the play.  I must say the set, the costumes, the music, the humor in the right places, was all great and exceeded expectations.

After the play, we head to the metro and to the Inflation Celebration. This is where, the night before the parade, the balloons are on display by Central Park between 77th and 81st, with a controlled/designated path going past each one. The balloons are inflated and remain tethered to the ground in the order they will appear in the parade tomorrow.  In front of each balloon is a sign with its name and the year it made its debut in the parade. There are several new balloons this year – the most popular is Olaf from Frozen.  The line to enter begins on 73rd and Columbus and is 50+ people wide and we are body-to-body. I’m going to guess that I am currently in line with a million or more people. By the time we have passed through security and enter the park to see the balloons it is after 9:00 pm and it is almost 10:00 pm when we finish.  It is 39 degrees out, but we are entertained by the reactions of others. There are thousands of police officers throughout the streets and along the route and in the subways and every officer we moved past was courteous and we wished each other a Happy Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving morning 7:15 am, we are headed to the parade route later than we had hoped to. I think I am moving slower because I am still frozen from last night.  It is 32 degrees today, but I’m hoping there will be lots of body heat lining the street while watching the 91st Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Just outside our hotel, we get a taste of the parade because the buses to shuttle the participants to the staging area are here. Also, we may be the only two staying in our hotel who are not IN the parade. We find a spot on 6th and 39th where we can stand against the building (lean on it…lol) and leave ourselves an escape route, if necessary.  At the curbs, it is already 5 or 6 people deep waiting. The parade starts at 9 am about two miles away.  At this point, we have at least three hours to kill before the parade reaches us and the sidewalks are filled on both sides as far as we can see with people still filing in. Kirk and I are humored at people’s desparation to find the perfect place and their optimism that, if they keep walking, a spot on tbe curb will miraculously open for them. Most of the people on the curb have been here since 5 or 6 this morning, but you folks coming 10 minutes before the start of the parade keep hoping…and walking. We strike up conversations with the people around us. Wendy and David are here from upstate New York to see their daughter and her boyfriend who are balloon handlers; one for Olaf and one for Charlie Brown. We talked with another couple who used to live in the city and retired to Florida and this was their first time to see the parade. We enjoyed sharing travel experiences and eventually, shared our story.  As the parade finally reaches us, it is exciting! People are still coming and looking for a spot.  It has grown to 9 or 10 deep in front of us and the walkway in front of us is only about two feet now…and more humerous to us. It is really cool to look up the street and see the line of balloons heading our way. We all yell for Jenna, Wendy and David’s daughter, as she passes by with Charlie Brown. In between the balloons are floats with celebrities performing, groups of people in costume, and huge marching bands from schools across the country. The parade comes to an end with an energetic Santa passing by.  Now…to get out of here. Navigating our way back, we see them taking the balloons down, packing up the floats, etc. I photo bombed a band. It is estimated that 3.5 million people lined the parade route today, but it was a great, fun experience!

After the parade, I soaked in a streaming, hot bath to thaw out before dinner. Tick Toc, the 50’s style diner in our hotel, is offering a Thanksgiving Day menu which includes turkey, gravy, stuffing, yams and cranberry sauce, along with choice of soup or salad, and pumpkin pie. Sold! While we miss being with our family and friends this holiday, we are so thankful for this adventure, for all the kind people we have met along the way, and for all the blessings that have been bestowed upon us by the good Lord above!  We sit here humbled and grateful with hearts and bellies filled, in a warm room, with a roof above our heads.

Black Friday, we are usually up before 5 am and out amongst the crowds looking for the “deals.” Two things have changed for us: 1) Since merchants opened on Thanksgiving day last year, the excitement of the Friday morning frenzy is gone. Last year, it was out and out boring; No fights, no pushing, no yelling…always a GREAT way to bring on the Christmas spirit…lol, and 2) We have spent a year disposing of everything we own and are living out of backpacks. Yes, we could ship stuff to our family, but why? We are out for coffee and a bagel and decide to head back to Time Square to see if TKTS is offering discounted tickets to see the Rockettes. Along the way, we see Wendy, who we met at the parade yesterday. THAT is amazing! There are millions of people out on the streets and in the stores and we run into someone we know by coincidence…or is it?!

We got tickets to see the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at 1:00 pm and are able to go right in, which gives us enough time to check out the beautiful theatre before the show starts. Our seats are up on the third floor, but we can see perfectly and the seats and leg room here are good. OMG!!! The show is amazing! It is so much more than just the Rockettes, who are awesome…but there is a cute production that explains how Santa can be in multiple places at one time and there was a nativity scene featuring the three kings, complete with live animals! They also do a 3D ride along with Santa in his sleigh. If you are ever in the city and have an opportunity to see this show…DO IT!!!

After the show, we walk to Rockefeller Center to check out the tree, which will be lit on Wednesday (we won’t be here) and the skating rink. The Salvation Army Bell Ringers are all around and they must have a competition of the most clever way to get your attention (and $$$). One group was singing karaoke, one group was line dancing, etc; They are all very engaging. Everything is decorated for Christmas around this area. The front of Sachs Fifth Avenue looks like Disney’s It’s a Small World ride and the windows are celebrating Snow White’s 80th Anniversary.

We head to the metro and on to Central Park to watch the sunset. The fall foliage here is spectacular. As the sun sets and the lights come on in the buildings in the background, it makes for a lovely walk to top off a great day. We also have worked up an appetite.

We decide to grab a slice of pizza from NY Pizza Suprema, located just up the street from our hotel.  It was opened over 50 years ago by an Italian immigrant and has remained family owned in this same location. You can buy pizza by the slice or whole, eat in, take out or delivery. When we arrive, there is a line of people out the door, all wearing Ranger jerseys. The Rangers are at home (Madison Square Gardens is across the street) against the Detroit Red Wings. We may be the only two here NOT going to the game. The wait was worth it! So good!

After exploring the streets and watching people continue to shop Black Friday specials, we head back to our hotel to pack up.  We head out at noon tomorrow to Washington DC by train. We entered the lobby to find a 15 foot tree and the entire lobby decorated for Christmas! What? None of this was here when we left this morning!

In closing this post, we have to compliment the people of New York City. Whether we were in a subway looking at a map to plot our route, or standing in line for a play, pizza or a parade, there was ALWAYS someone extending help, guidance, a kind word or a smile. It was heart warming and greatly appreciated! It really is “up to you, New York, New York!” We will be back!

Land Ho! Tampa, Florida

After two weeks at sea and without internet access, we sailed in to Tampa, Florida.  The dock is new to Rhapsody of the Seas and since the ship is entering the states after being international, it will take longer to get cleared to debark.  Since we are carrying only backpacks, we are in the first group to go through customs. It took roughly two hours to move through and clear customs. Our hotel is a 20 minute walk from the port.

Hello Tampa! Waiting for our ship to clear.

We are staying at Embassy Suites right on the River Walk. Our room is on the 19th of 20 floors and we can see our ship from our window. It was dark when we sailed in, and now that it is light, we watched another cruise ship come in. It is amazing to see how these big ships maneuver in the channels.

Once we are settled in, we head out to do some exploring and look for a store to get supplies and snacks for our train ride to New York. We grabbed some dinner and headed back to do laundry.  It was nice that the hotel had a laundry room.

More important, I got to get updates on the newest edition.  Ripley is two weeks old today! Thank you, Lord, for your continued blessings for me and my family.

I pray your travel mercies during this next leg of our adventure and that those we meet along the way continue to see your light in me. Amen!