15 January 2013

2013 SOUTH & EAST COAST through to Connecticut 20 - Deb Does Driving


Deb is not a good passenger in high traffic or busy city driving. A real butt clincher for her and, yes, she (why am I talking in third person!!) realizes it is a "control" issue!!! Anyway she drove all day today, so didn't take notes on her raggedy steno pad. Mike wasn't bummed as he got a chance to view the sights for a change.

We drove from the hotel to downtown Baltimore (to the aquarium) and on through four new states for a total of 250 miles. Almost all of it was heavy traffic on I-95 and the NJ Turnpike. Drive time was 5 hours even. Driving stress time was double that. Elevation finally going up. From lower Alabama to Baltimore was hanging in at less than 10 feet above sea level. Right now in Fairfield CT it is 89.


Big stop was the National Aquarium in Baltimore. It is a bit of a misnomer as it does not "belong" to the US like the National Zoo (a bit of a rip off in advertising if you ask me). The other little thorn was one of the two main buildings is being renovated. Some areas were closed and lots of extra stairs involved to get between levels. We did see some of the back areas though. Even though it does not live up to our fave Monterrey (CA) Aquarium, all in all, it was pretty nice.

The featured display was Australian Wild Extremes. This included three stories of bee-u-tiful and colorful birds (emerald dove above), reptiles, amphibians (snake necked turtle - spooky and couldn't get a good pix), fish, all in a tropical forest /river set-up (so tropical that it fogged up my camera!!). Very informative guides that pointed out things we might not have seen like a frog about the size of a penny.

Next we went to the fishy area with lots of tanks, large and small. There we saw starfish, anemones, coral, crab, octopus, puffins, penguins, frogs, snakes, turtles of all sizes, seahorses, and many fish species. Of course there were two large tanks--one was Shark Alley with various types of shark and the other an Atlantic coral reef display. In both of these you took a spiral ramp down and the huge tanks surrounded you as though you were walking through water.

Other special exhibits included the stunning Jellyfish Invasions (with eight unique  species), the dolphin show (we passed), the kids area (we passed), and the amazon river forest with lots of tropical fish. They also had many interesting large format close-up photos of various water fauna, so you could really see details of eyes, lips, camouflage, etc. Not the real thing live, but very cool for photo fanatics like us.

At one point we did get fooled. We looked down over a railing and saw a 30' or so pool with a string ray swimming around. Then there were two and three and six and then a shark. It was amazing. And even more amazing to figure out it was a digital "pool" and not real sea life at all.

Baltimore is located on the Inner Harbor of Chesapeake Bay and the aquarium itself is surrounded on three sides by water. So there are nearby historic ship tours that include the USS Torsk (a 1944 submarine), the Lightship Chesapeake (built 1930 and served in place of a light house), US CG Cutter Taney (last ship floating that fought in Pearl Harbor and also served in the Viet Nam war), and the frigate USS Constellation (built 1854 and the last sail-only warship built by the US Navy).

It was closed, but there is also a  concession where you rent paddle wheel dragon boats to explore the bay on your own. We did not have time to tour any of these, but will save that for another time. By the way, traditionally US subs were named after fish and the Norwegian torsk is a relative of the North Atlantic cod.

We wandered a bit more around the wharf. Cops rode around on Segways. We saw beam from the WTC that was placed in honor of all the Maryland folks that died in 9-11. Ravens signs were everywhere, in hopes they would win the Super Bowl and they did!! Saw Federal Hill from afar. Then we asked a security guard where was a good place for a seafood lunch. He started rattling off a bunch of places. We asked him to narrow it down to "where would YOU eat lunch?" He said Phillips Seafood.

Wow, what a great recommendation. This endeavor has been around for some 55 years and started as a crab processing venture. It is very classy, but accepting of us in our keep-warm sweatshirts and jeans. The decor is model ships of the USS Constellation and others, historical photos of their business, and other historical memorabilia. And the food could not be beat. Mike ordered a dozen raw oysters. He was in heaven with six types to compare. I had a shrimp salad sandwich. Mike topped it off with our last order of Key Lime pie on this trip.

Then headed out for the thrill ride of a lifetime, destination unknown. Drove through downtown Baltimore through John Hopkins Hospital area, then a residential area with run down brownstones that we had seen often on TV on crime shows (and are even more apparent now that we've been there in person). First leg was the New Jersey turnpike. As busy as it was, we were glad to take it. It was kind of like two turnpikes going side-by-side each way. Trucks were not allowed on one of them, so just speeding cars to compete with. I think the toll on that section was $22.

Late dusk was closing in as we hit the NYC area. I wouldn't really call it rush hour as I feel it must be this busy all the time. We bobbed and weaved to make each junction switch called out by the Garmin. Only one really close call where we entered on the left side and had a quick exit on the right side shortly there after. It seemed others were cautious or wary or just use to it, so somehow we made it through without car-to-car touching. I had no idea which bridge we would cross into Manhattan on, but it was a thrill at the George Washington Bridge to see Mayor Bloomberg's Welcome to Manhattan sign. I think that one cost $13. How can folks afford this on a daily basis!!?

Mike was trying to get a good shot of what we thought was the Manhattan skyline, but night shots are hard to do when you are driving. We think this is a glimpse of the Empire State Building if you can find it (white lighted building to left of middle?)

Traffic continued to be a tough go. Deb finally had had enough at Black Rock, near Fairfield CT. Checked in. No restaurant open within walking distance except pizza. We decided to try Taco Bell, cheap, fast and easy. Wrong. Directions from the clerk did not jib with our understanding and we got lost. Not a good physiological time for this. Decided we would try anything, but nothing open!!

Finally found at a little place called The Chelsea in downtown Fairfield. It looked innocent enough, but turned out to be high class and I, at least, felt out of place at that moment in time. College student types dressed in their trolling best. All very chic-chic and I wasn't in the mood. But I got over it when the wine and food arrived. Mike had their $14 burger. I was sticking with the Taco Bell idea no matter what and ordered an inside-out taco (all the stuffings around the plate and a taco filling concoction shaped in a wedge and deep fried, laying on top). All pricey, but good.

Back to the hotel, very pooped, and ready to see our niece T in Providence the next day. Yay ...

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