State Capitols: Indianapolis, Indiana

As the name implies, the name of the state of Indiana came from the many Native American tribes that once inhabited the area. Originally formed as territory lands for Native Americans that were relocated from the east, new treaties pushed the inhabitants into new lands and the state of Indiana was formed in 1816.

The first capitol was in Corydon but was two small. To save money they eventually moved the capitol to an old courthouse, but that again was too small. The Federal government donated some land to the state capitol was moved to Indianapolis. The first capitol in Indianapolis was very grandiose. It was best known for one of very many funeral ceremonies for President Abraham Lincoln. That building however was not well maintained and so was condemned (because the ceiling fell down), so it was demolished in 1877.

Indianapolis is very proud of it’s civil war heritage.

The current building was started in 1880 and the construction was overseen by Civil War general turned civil engineer, Thomas A. Morris. The general was very efficient in his duties and built the building for $200,000 under budget. Finished in 1888, the building houses the governor’s office, the state congress, and the state supreme court. With the very long wings it kind of has a cathedral like look to it.

The city of Indianapolis seemed to be a very calm city. Although the city gets very excited if you talk about fast cars or football.

Visited: July 11, 2018

Almost like you could be in church.

Welcome to Indiana.

Coming into Indianapolis you can see the long Lucas Oil Stadium home to the Colts.

Learning from past mistakes renovation is now constant at the Indiana State capitol building

The stain glass dome of the Indianapolis State Capitol.

The long hallways give kind of a cathedral feeling.

Office of the Indianapolis Governor.

Indiana Senate Chamber

Looking out from the capitol.

Scottish Rite Cathedral

State Capitols: Lansing, Michigan

Austin Blair was known as the Civil War Governor and was a firm opponent to slavery.

Michigan got it’s start on July 13th, 1787, when the Second Continental Congress created the Northwest Territory. Almost instantly there were lots of land disputes and in 1803 Ohio was formed and in 1805 Michigan became it’s own territory. Michigan immediately wanted to become a state but the land disputes prevented it from the application.

During the war of 1812, Detroit, which was the territorial seat got occupied by British forces, but the militia fought back and soon regained the territory. After the war the idea of statehood intensified. In 1835 Michigan formed a state government in Detroit without Congressional approval. Part of the problem was land disputes with Michigan’s neighbor Ohio. The land disputes came to a head when the two state militias took up arms against each other in what was known as the Toledo War. At the heart of the matter was the city of Toledo. Ohio won the fight, and as condition for entering the Union, Michigan was forced to cede Toledo, but did get a strip of and that was won in the war in 1812, and so Michigan became a state of two land masses.

Another concession given was that the capitol of Michigan had to move. Congress did not want the state capitol getting run over again by the British so they mandated that Michigan move their capitol to a safer location. Detroit of course protested but eventually relented and the first construction of a state capitol building began in 1847 in Lansing.

The current capitol building was built in 1872. It was a bit of a scandal because the architect, Elijah E. Myers was from Springfield, Illinois, and everyone thought that it must be a kickback having a out of state architect. The thing about it was that he actually built the building within budget and thinking of what happened to some buildings during the Civil War, it became one of the first fireproofed buildings in the nation by using fire resistant materials such as glass, steel, and stone.

Visited: July 5, 2018

The Coamerica building is one of the oldest buildings in Lansing.

Up in the dome of the capitol.

Senate chambers.

There are tours of the capitol or you can do what I did and do a self-guided tour.

Govenor’s ceremonial office.

The battle flag room with a steel and glass floor.

The view up to the capitol.

Columbus, Ohio

The Ohio State Capitol looks a bit unfinished without a dome.

Ohio achieved statehood and like any new state had to make a lot of decisions. One of course being where to put their new capitol. Like all state legislatures Ohio couldn’t decide on where it should go. There was a lot of back and forth but in the end they decided to compromise somewhere in the middle, literately in the middle, and thus Columbus became the capitol of Ohio.

We spent a lot of time on our road trip in Ohio, but Columbus was kind of a stopover to other things so we didn’t have much time to really stay in the capitol. It was Tuesday, July 10, 2018 that we visited Columbus, Ohio. It was early in the morning and our schedule had us going to a theme park that same day so we weren’t able to go inside, we did however see some interesting things on the outside.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Ohio State Capitol is the lack of a dome. The building is Greek revival (like many state capitols) and has a tube cylinder shape in the middle but then it just stops. The locals I saw told me they call it the “Chinese hat” because that is kind of what it looks like.

Visited: July 10, 2018

The old post office building now owned by Bricker & Eckler LLP.

In front of the state capitol.

Monument dedicated to the Civil war.

Columbus is the 14th most populus city in the US at 879,170 citizens.

Side view of the state capitol

 

Springfield, Illinois (Part of Travel Goal #4)

Front this railroad station Abraham Lincoln gave his last speech to Springfield.

We collect National Park cancellation stamps when we travel within the USA. On the way out from Springfield, Ilinois Denise asked if I could get a quick stamp from the old railway station in Springfield.

I went to the railroad station and the door was closed but the hours on the door said they were open and so was the door so I let myself in. Once inside the historic depot I noticed no one was there so I walked briefly around the depot looking for the stamp and found it at the ticket booth. It was while I was getting the stamp ready I hear this voice…

“Hello”, said the voice.

“Hello,” I replied. Must be a park ranger I thought.

“How are you doing?”

“Good, I just came to get a stamp and then I will be on my way”

“I am going to miss you dearly.”

Wow, this place must not get many visitors.

“I am now on my way to Washington DC.”

What is this guy talking about?! I went to the next room from where I heard the voice. It was at that point that I came face to face with a video projection of an actor portraying Abraham Lincoln, giving Springfield a farewell speech from the station (sadly he never came back). And that is my story on how I had a conversation with Lincoln. I am happy to say Lincoln was a kind host and I was able to get my stamp and continue on my way.

Abraham Lincoln is an interesting character in history because he is so well loved that he is claimed by so many places. He was born in Hodgenville, KY in a simple log cabin, but as an adult he clearly made Springfield, Illinois his hometown.

Lincoln’s home is a modest home but it is yellow, which in the 1800’s was a very expensive color.

In 1839, Springfield had become the new capital of Illinois. In 1842 Springfield was a growing city and was a perfect setting for Lincoln to set up a law practice. Him and Mary were not poor but they did not have a lot of money either. The story goes that when Lincoln arrived he asked the local shopkeeper how much bed sheets were and when he was told they were $17 he had to buy them on credit from his profits as lawyer.

Lincoln’s practice went well and he was soon able to pay off his debit and in 1843 for $1,500 he was able buy a house and a small plot of land. Lincoln’s home started out modest and as his prestidge grew so did the house. Mary Todd Lincoln employed help but she really liked to cook so she had a very nice stove (even though the kitchen itself was small). The highlight of the house was seeing Lincoln’s desk. I can only imagine all the idea he had there.

Unfortunately, Abraham Lincoln never made it back to Springfield alive. After being assassinated, there was a very solemn funeral train back to Springfield in which Lincoln was laid in state at the capitol building and then at the Oak Ridge cemetery in a huge memorial tomb.

The gold inside Lincoln’s tomb was donated by California.

The Lincoln tomb is an impressive structure that features on the outside scenes from the civil war and on the inside impressive amounts of granite and marble. In the first room you will find the model sculpture that is featured at the Lincoln Monument in Washington DC. The dome in the first room is made of palladium which is supposedly one of the more durable metals on the planet. In the burial chamber you will find a big tombstone, which 10 ft. under is buried Abraham Lincoln. They had to bury Abraham Lincoln under 10 ft. of concrete to prevent grave robbers. Also in the burial chambers is the crypts of Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of Lincoln’s four sons, Edward, Willie, and Tad. There is a memorial to the eldest, Robert Todd Lincoln, who is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, which is interesting because if you look close they made a mistake on his birth year and had to correct it (he was born in 1843).  If the tomb looks bigger than it should be it is. It was meant to be a tomb big enough for all of the Lincoln family, but most of the Lincoln family chose to be buried elsewhere so they wouldn’t be overshadowed by President Lincoln’s memory.

Visited: July 3, 2018

The trip to Springfield, Illinois was part of my travel goals. To see all my goals please visit http://goaltravels.com/about/ 

Lincoln’s home is a modest home but it is yellow, which in the 1800’s was a very expensive color.

Lincoln’s bed is modest, it is also noticeable that he had a separate room from his wife.

Lincoln’s desk. I also thought the carpet was very decorative.

Mary’s stove.

Lincoln is eternally in front of the capital building.

I thought it funny that the “cornerstone” was not actually attached to the building.

Inside the capitol.

Springfield dome.

The Springfield Capitol was built with modest funds, which meant they didn’t have money for fancy wood or stone, so they painted everything to make it look fancy.

Front this railroad station Abraham Lincoln gave his last speech to Springfield.

One of the local foods I found was Cracklins, fried chicken skin. It was OK, but I prefer pork grinds.

The gold inside Lincoln’s tomb was donated by California.

If you look close you can see they changed the year from 44 to 43, even though Robert Todd Lincoln was not buried in Springfield.

Outside the Lincoln tomb it shows scenes from the civil war.

There is a tradition that you are supposed to touch Lincoln’s nose. Not sure why, but it is really shiny from all the touching.

Tried White Castle, the oldest fast food restaurant in the USA. Only available in the east coast.

Guanajuato, Mexico: City of Mines, Music, Muses, and Mummies.

The thing about Mexico that any visitor who travels any distance will soon find the diversity that is embedded in the country. Due to the fact that Mexico is a cradle of an original civilization and thus millennium in age this is inevitable. The modern mixes with the ancient, colors collide, and food mixes in new ways never imagined. Then there is Guanajuato.

So, we arrived in Guanajuato in the very early dawn of the morning. Mexico is not really a morning country. If you want to see silence wake up in any city of Mexico really early and you will find yourself soon by yourself. Maybe if your lucky you might find a rooster, but even the chickens sleep in late in Mexico. We say this to say to let you know that when we arrived no one was there to greet us. Luckily there were a few taxis in operation and we were able to get a ride into downtown. We told the taxi we weren’t exactly sure where we wanted to go but wanted to go downtown. I had heard that there was a funicular in town and I figured that was a good place to start. He must have looked at me pointed and then looked at my T-Shirt because the next thing I knew we were at the San Diego Church.

The scene was classic tourism. A bunch of Americans on the corner with a bunch of bags in tow. Being Mexico we were promptly approached by a tour guide. We had no idea what we wanted to do, but he said he had a tour that was leaving soon that was 4 hours long. It was only 150 pesos (about $7.25 USD) and we said why not?! So we that we soon packed into a white van with 10 total strangers. Sounds like the begining of a kidnapping story but here I am writting this blog so it couldn’t have been that bad.

The van was packed but we did learn a lot of things about Guanajuato. Guanajuato is a very old city. It was an ancient Aztec city that means “city of frogs.” You’d think with a name like that we would have seen lots of frogs but it is nothing like that. Apparently the city got it’s name when the Aztecs looked at a bunch of rocks in a valley and said they looked like frogs. They figured it was the goddess of frogs protecting them and so the name stuck. I saw the rocks they kind of look like frogs, I guess it works.

Speaking of rocks Guanajuato is a ancient mining town. Even before the Spanish arrived the locals were mining copper and silver from the surrounding mountains. Of course you know what happened when the Spanish found out about that. Mines, mines everywhere. At one point there were over 4,000 of them. We went to the oldest one called La Valencia and the second oldest one called Bocamina San Ramon. At La Valencia there was not much to look at, but at Bocamina San Ramon they let you go down an old mine shaft which was pretty cool. All I can say is I am really glad I was not a miner in the 1500s. They dug for 5 days at a time in the dark and if the debts were inherited to your heirs (luckily my ancestors were not Mexican miners). Needless to say the life expectancy was not long. Today there are only three mines in operation and surprisingly they are owned by Canadians.

More plentiful than abandoned mines in Guanajuato is music. Music is the rhythm of life in Mexico and Guanajuato takes that to a whole other level. Music in Guanajuato has been going on for several millennium. Whether it is the beat of the drum, the twang of a guitar, or a trumpet sounding music is everywhere. It is in the plaza, it is on the streets, it is in the restaurants. My favorite singers were the wandering minstrels dressed in medieval garb. It was like going right back to 1600s and Shakespeare’s bards had come out to make life merry. They play, they dance, and it is joyous.

With the music in the air it is no coincidence that the arts flourish in Guanajuato. The colors are everywhere. The streets tunnel and wind and inspire the mind. In fact there are 3,200 what they call “callejones”, little street ways that can only be accessed by walking. The most popular of which is called “El Callejon del Beso” where lovers can climb up to two balconies and kiss from each side. All of them have names. My favorite was the one called “Salsipuedes” (get out if you can), if your big like me you have to suck in your gut a bit to get through that one (it has the record for the narrowest alleyway). It was in this enviroment that world renown muralist Diego Rivera was born.  His childhood home has been preserved and is now a museum. Also, it should be know that the people of Guanajuato are big fans of Miguel de Cervantes. The most popular character of Cervantes was Don Quixote, put there are many others. The have a museum and festival entirely dedicated to his works and the playhouses often stage productions of his works.

In Guanajuato there is a mummy mine. To understand why this is you need to understand two things: how burials in Mexico work and the water. In Mexico cemetery plots are not bought for all time, they are bought in 7 years increments. If you have a trust set up or your family renews the contract, all is well, you rest in peace. If the seven years come up and no one pays, they dig your body up and your are cremated, that is that. Regarding the water, there is a phrase that says “it must be something in the water.” In Guanajuato it really is all about what is in the water. As mentioned before, there are many mines in Guanajuato, thus it is not hard to see why the water naturally has a lot of minerals in it. If you live in Guanajuato long enough these minerals will get in your bloodstream and when you die, you will not rot, you will be preserved and become a mummy. And if this happens and your family doesn’t pay for you, you will be put in a museum in Guanajuato and people will pay to see you forever and ever. Kind of strange at first glance, but it is a small Mexican reminder to that life is short and it is to be lived.

Do describe Guanajuato in just words does it an injustice. It is really a place that needs to be felt, it is a moment of time and space that comes and then it is gone. If only to sit in the Union Plaza underneath the trees and slowly watch the sun set while the children play in the gazebo. The music will come to your ears, the smell of the food will come to your nose, you will feel the air around you and you will feel alive for a moment and then the moment will be gone, but it will be there for another such time, because as they say in Guanajuato, “don’t worry the mummies are not going anywhere.”

The day was long, we got back to the bus station late. We ended up taking an overnight bus to Mexico City. $40 for the three of us to take a 6 hour bus ride.

 

One of the ancient water fountains.

AJ enjoying the view of Guanajuato

The oldest mine is the La Valencia mine.

The University of Guanajuato was founded in 1732.

The local transport company hosted the parade.

This tunnel shows the many layers of Guanajuato. The bottom arch is from the 16th century, the red bricks are from the 17th century, and the top is 18th century.

The sweet potato seller’s chimney sounds like a steamboat whistle.

Frog like mobiles roam the streets.

This mine shop was interesting but I was not interesting in bringing home rocks.

The local singers lead a community sing a long.

San Ramon mine established 1549.

The air shaft to the San Ramon mine.

The legend of San Ramon says if you offer him a key, he will lock up the mouth of those gossiping about you.

The mine hacienda was beautiful.

The alleyway “Salsipuedes” is so small you can miss it easily.

Mother Mary out for a Saturday stroll.

Hanging out in a plaza is classic Mexico.

The gazebo at Plaza La Union.

A canopy of tree hides the local plaza.

A view up to the Pipila monument.

Pipila is a hero of Mexican Independence.

In front of the opera house.

The opera house.

In Mexico death is not feared, it is embraced and is part of life.

AJ did not appreciate the music at lunch.

Prices are quite reasonable. The exchange rate was 20 MXN to 1 USD.

Some paintings by Jose Para exploring the idea of the imperialism of Maximillian.

The inquisition museum was a bit gruesome but it was part of Mexico.

The inquisition museum started when a guy bought a hacienda and found a hidden dungeon in the basement.

The granary/fort is a important part of Mexican history. It was the first battle win in the Mexican Independence war.

The locals in full plummage.

Enchiladas Mineras are chicken enchiladas with potatoes that was the specialty of the region.

Me and Diego looking for a taxi.

An early sketch by Diego Rivera.

Diego’s childhood kitchen.

At Diego’s house.

A sketch showing Hernan Cortez suffering from syphilis was used in the Mexican National Palace.

Diego Rivera liked communism but he was a big capitalist when it came to selling his artwork.

The devil parades his showcase of sins dancing.

We saw a wedding reception at the mine.

AJ and Denise made it out of the mine, a little red in the face, but they made it.

A view of the San Diego Church

Finished the day with a chocolate milkshake.

Chalk art.

Monument to Miguel Cervantes.

Want to stay at a real castle, it is a hotel in Mexico.

The Callejon del Beso

Down in the mine.

The end of the first mine shaft was 90 meters (300 ft.) down.

Before there were steps, the miners would go down in notched tree trunks with bags of rocks on their back.

A map of the mine. We went to the first landing.

We left our bags at this hotel for $30 pesos.

I think this was a bachelor party, there was a lot of singing and drinking going on.

In Mexico not living well is feared, not death.

Pre-Dawn ETN Public Bus in Mexico

Omnibus de Mexico is one of hundreds of bus companies. As you can see you can travel anywhere in Mexico and then some by bus.

It is 4 AM in Aguascalientes and we need to continue on our way to Mexico City. We have two more days to get there and the distance is about 8 hrs. of driving on Mexican roads. We know nothing about driving in central Mexico so we opt for the public bus.

When most Westerners think about the public bus they probably think Greyhound. Greyhound will get you to where you need to go, but in an era of cheap flights there is no reason to take the long distance bus in the USA. That is, unless you just don’t like taking long times to get to a place and want to spend the same amount of money as it would have been to fly. Not to mention the quality of the bus is going to be sketchy, the people and the bus. Greyhound buses recently added wifi but that is as far as the amenities go.

Mexico is a different ball game. Long distance bus travel is one place where Mexico has the USA beat. The buses are cheap, big, and come with lots of amenities.

AJ kicking his feet up with his goodie bag.

When you buy your ticket you get to select your seat. I suggest you don’t buy it in the back, it can get a bit bumpy. Also don’t buy the first two rows or you will be listening to driver cumbia music your entire trip. I like the middle rows the best.

Many of the lines have their own special waiting rooms where you will find free wifi (as will many of the buses). Upon boarding you will be asked what kind of drink you want and be given a pastries and some cookies. If you go on a very long trip you will be given a small sandwich.

On the bus you will find plenty of legroom, an entertainment center, and charging ports.

So if you need (or want) to experience some intercity travel in Mexico you may want to kick your feet up and let the Mexicans do the driving.

The countryside view from the bus is often amazing.

The buses are really big.

 

 

The Unexpected Trip to Aguascalientes, Mexico

Something no one wants to see when they get to an airport.

As soon as I leave the house that is when vacation starts. In this case it started with a two hour drive to the Tijuana International Airport. We were going to try the Otay Mesa crossing but missed the exit to the 905 and ended up at the Chaparral (San Ysidro) crossing).

Getting to the airport was not bad. Parking was about $12, which is $8 dollars cheaper than parking at X-Border Express, not to mention we saved the $15 fee (one way) for crossing the bridge. Getting in the airport we were told that we needed to buy a tourist card. The cost was $30 dollars (each). Had we done a little bit more research we could have done this online for free since we were in the country for less than seven days. All you have to do is go on-line (https://www.mexicotouristcard.com/), fill out the form, print it at home, and stamp it at the declaration line. In the end the question was moot because at no time in this adventure did it ever get asked of us. Oh well, the $30 dollar version is good for 180 days (and I kept the receipt for proof of payment).

I should mention that we have Mexican car insurance,which is required if you are driving into Mexico. The cost is usually about $22 a day, but we have a yearly liability only (no one wants to steal our car) that cost us $250.

We got through security, which is a breeze in Mexico because you don’t have to take off your shoes and half the time they don’t care about electronics. I did still have to take off my belt.

After getting through security we looked at the departure board and saw something no traveler wants to see “flight canceled”. We didn’t know what to do so we started walking around the secured area looking for a Volaris worker. We went to the gate where the plane was supposed to leave but no one was there. Eventually we found a Volaris worker who told us that we would have to go outside the secured area.

We go outside the secured gate to the bag check-in. The Volaris representative confirmed that our plane to El Salvador, due to technical difficulties, had been canceled. They didn’t exactly tell us what those technical difficulties were, but considering our tickets only cost about $100, my guess is the “technical difficulty” was more of a cash flow problem. At any rate we were presented with three options: Go to El Salvador on Sunday (this didn’t work because it was a Friday and I had to be back at work on Tuesday Morning), cancel altogether and get a full refund (I didn’t want to go home), or go somewhere else (our options were Guadalajara or Aguascalientes).

We decided on Aguascalientes because we had relatives living there. The challenge would be getting home because the flight going back to Baja California on Monday left out of Mexico City. That gave us a three day challenge. What could we see and do in Mexico with three days and a just about $300 in cash. Turns out a lot.

I will try to do my best to describe what we did but this is mostly about Aguascalientes. For one day in the city we did a lot. We arrived early in the morning and although it took us awhile I was able to get in contact with my uncle who makes cheese. Lucky for us he has to wake up really early to get milk from the local farms. Denise and AJ took a nap but I took a little bit of time to catch up with my uncle while he was making cheese.

When Denise and AJ woke up, we went for a walk and we ended up at the regional museum. The regional museum took us through a mini-history story that started in paleo days and ended with the Mexican Revolution.Suffice to say Aguascalientes (which means hot water) has had a long history. After the museum, we followed the footsteps of my grandfather and hung out in the main plaza. I love the idea of the plaza and wish we had something similar in the United States. The plaza is just an easy place, almost always in the center of the city, where everyone can go and it is expected that you will interact with your community. There is music, vendors, tai chi, runners, it is a very active scene. After a $1 shoe shine (in which the guy thanked me for paying so much), we went to have some lunch.

For lunch we went to a place called Los Faros (the torches). Aguascalientes is known for beef. So we had beef in various forms. I shared a big plate of dried beef with three of my uncle. Denise had steak with nopales (flat cactus). AJ had Aztec tortilla soup, which he didn’t like because although it was tortilla soup, the Aztec version is very dense with extra spices (not spicy) and seasoning.

After lunch I participated in the most solemn of Mexican traditions, the siesta. Why don’t we have this tradition in the United States. It makes sense to me. You get a nice big meal in the middle of the day. Sleep when the heat is out and then finish out work a little bit later in the day.

As the sunset went down we decided to go visit an aunt and then took to Plaza and Jardin San Marcos and went out a evening stroll. Another Mexican tradition, everyone comes together at the end of the day to enjoy the cool evening air. Dinner is smaller than lunch in Mexico. We got a small snack of Eloteloco (tostitos with mayonnaise cheese, and corn) and a chocolate filled churro.

The churro was the perfect end to a beautiful day. I have had many churros all over the world but I have not found one as good as the little filled churros I get for $1 at the little plaza stand known as Churros San Marcos. The stand has been there for over 60 years, I know this because my dad remembers them when he was little and so do I. It is a family run business that is passed on from father and son and now has three generations going.

AJ studying some ancient bones.

The best churro in the world hands down.

So good, so cheap…

The Aguascalientes regional museum was in a converted colonial mansion.

The regional museum finished with the Porfiriato. Basically it was a period of Mexican history where one man ruled for 40 years.

The plaza is the center of life of any Mexican city.

Apparently the history of Aguascalientes started with Wooly Mammoths.

The Jardin de San Marcos is a magical place of peace and tranquility, except in April, then it is a den of drunk people.

Those hot dogs are 3 for 30 pesos, about $1.50 and they are fully loaded.

Elote locos are a crazy bit of cheesy goodness.

El Ocote is an ancient pyramid on the outskirts of Aguascalientes.

AJ and my uncle Carlos at El Faro

Skeletons are a big thing in Mexico, but they were born in Aguascalientes.

The Xochipilla were the natives to Aguascalientes. The Spanish did not take prisoners in Aguascalientes

From Hernan Cortez in 1519 to the last Viceroy in Mexico in 1816, the Spanish influence in Mexico was long.

The first Spanish Viceroy in Spain arrived in 1568 in Aguascalientes.

The cost of one Mexican Tourist Card in pesos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We decided for our next day we would go to Guanajuato, Mexico by bus, so we retired in a good night sleep.

Kennedy Space Center

“We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.” – Kennedy 1962

This map shows how Cape Canaveral is part of, yet detached from Florida.

These were the words of a president with a vision and the courage to bring that vision into reality. Unfortunately, Kennedy was not able to personally see his vision come to fruition but despite his Kennedy’s tragic death in 1963. The vision however lived on in Florida with a center bearing his name.

 

 

 

 

We scheduled our visit to Kennedy on our last day of our Florida trip. We only had a 3/4 day due to our flight leaving that same night but we made the best of the day that we had.

This countdown clock counted down all the Saturn and Apollo missions.

Head first to the bus tours as the lines get longer later in the day.

They have some cool robots at the space center.

In the Apollo/Saturn building we got to touch a moon rock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to do the best we could we decided to rent a car from our Hotel so we could get there as soon as the complex opened. On the way we saw a Waffle House and felt obligated to have a nice breakfast. This proved to be a bit of a mistake as the Waffle House was very busy and the waitress we had seemed to have a never ending supply of take out orders that came before us.  We did eventually get our breakfast but it put us a bit behind our schedule and we did not get to the Kennedy Space Center until about an hour after they had opened.

It was a Saturday and the ticket and security lines at the Kennedy Space Center were long. Lots of spring camps in line. We had tickets waiting for us in pre-sale and we decided the best thing we could do was have Denise wait in the security line while AJ and I waited in the pre-sale line. This worked out pretty good because by the time I had gotten through the pre-sale line, Denise was almost upfront at the security line.

The Kennedy Space Center is a huge complex of over 144,000 acres. The main part of the center has four different complexes that feature different aspects of space exploration and a rocket garden with many different rockets. The second part is the launch pads which are only accessible via the bus tours.

AJ getting ready for the Shuttle Launch Experience.

While on the bus tour we saw lots of crocodiles hanging out in the canals that surround the launch pads.

The shuttle assembly building has the largest doors in the world that are over 10 stories high.

This photo was taken from behind launch pad B and you can see the assembly building that is 4 miles away from the launch pad.

NASA is not currently launching any rockets but Space X has rented the launch pads to develop their Falcon Heavy Rockets. These rockets are designed to bring commercial ventures into space.

The Apollo 8 launch control is impressive. What is also impressive is that most smart phones today have more computing power than all the computers in this room, but despite that they got to the moon and back.

In the Apollo/Saturn building we got to touch a moon rock.

An up close moment with the Atlantis Space Shuttle.

Another closeup of the Atlantis Shuttle, the payload arm was developed in Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knowing we had limited time we headed straight to the bus tour. The bus tour is a 90 minute drive (the center is big) and it takes you to several launch pads, the rocket assembly building, and mission control for the Apollo 8 mission. The Apollo 8 control center is an amazing experience that lets you feel what it was like to be there during that historic flight that took the United States out of Earth orbit to the moon and back again.

Also, at the Kennedy Space Center is the retired Atlantis space shuttle. This is a multimedia experience that lets you get up close and personal with the space shuttle. At the Atlantis pavilion we were also able to experience the Shuttle Launch Experience. This is an interactive ride that helps you feel what it was like for those astronauts that rode on the Atlantis space shuttle. Unfortunately, we waited a long time to be place with a teenage spring group that were very noisy. It looked like a great experience, but I had to cover my ears due to all the high pitch screams of teenage girls.

We had a brief lunch at the center and quickly walked through the rocket garden. There was much more to see but our time was short. In total we probably only saw about half of what there was to see. If we were ever back in the area it would be fun to visit again (sans teenage spring groups).

Harry Potter and the Florida Theme Parks

I was recently doing some vacation planing (one of my favorite daydreaming projects) and for a brief moment (about 2-3 minutes) I could not remember where we had gone in April. As part of this process of remembering I went to the blog and to my dismay I discovered I had not written about our April journies. The stupor of though over I now recall where we went but luckily, as with all places we visit, I took lots of notes. So without further ado I will start writing about our April visits. Which is important because we have some exciting travel coming up and I need to make sure I take care of the old before I start experiencing the new.

As someone committed to travel I have a big list of travel locations I want to see. I have been very blessed with the opportunity to visit many locations on my list. This said, I am a family man so I need to make sure I take into my family’s wants and wishes as well.

When we were thinking of a family trip for Spring Break it came to mind in talking to Denise that AJ had become a big Harry Potter fan. This year he finished off reading all of the Harry Potter books and he is anxious to learn anything he can about the world of Harry Potter. Earlier this year we went on a studio tour of Warner Brothers and there was a section dedicated to Harry Potter complete with the sorting hat and a flying broomstick and he loved it.

I think the Internet algorithms knew about AJ’s Potter fandom because I started to notice a lot of Internet ads for Universal Studios in Hollywood. The thing is living in Southern California we had been to Universal Studios in Hollywood many times and while a stay-cation is an affordable way to spend a vacation week, we had the time and money to something a little bit bigger.

We decided to go big and book a vacation for Universal Studios Florida. We knew going during Spring Break was going to be crazy for crowds and we knew if we stayed at certain on-site hotels we could get an included express pass (a pass that lets you skip the regular line). The thing was that the price for an on-site hotel for Spring Break was very expensive. Denise did her thing and used some on-line hotel comparisons and through Priceline, that were soo much cheaper than the on-site hotels that it didn’t make sense for us to stay on the Universal Studios property. In the end we spent our first night a few blocks from the property and the rest of the nights across the street from Universal Studios at the Double Tree Hotel. All the local hotels have free or low cost shuttles that go into Universal Studios, it is really a much cheaper option than staying on-site.

For the flight we chose Southwest, they are very cheap and convenient. They are considered a US budget carrier, but I have flown on all the other major US carriers and Southwest feels like the most luxury of them all. The A,B,C boarding system is very straight forward, you still get sodas and snacks on the flight, and two free checked in pieces of luggage. Travelers are getting sick and tired of being nickeled and dimed for everything. I can sometimes fly cheaper than other airlines but it has to be significantly cheaper or somewhere they don’t go before I pick something other than Southwest.

For tickets we kept watching and looking for different deals but none of them stood out to us but we had lots of preparation time. In November I spotted a special deal on the Universal Studios website that was 4 single day tickets, that didn’t expire until the day after our Spring Break, that included unlimited express pass and the water park. We scooped that deal up and it was great. At $1,200 for the three of us it was not cheap, but the extras helped us a lot. The lines were indeed long but with the express pass we skipped all of them and were able to get on all of the rides we wanted in 15 minutes. At Volcano Bay, the water park, they have this cool system called Tapu Tapu. It is a plastic wristband you wear and you go to the ride you want to go on and tap the wristband to the ride and it gives you a time. You are then free to do something else like the wave pool or lazy (or fast) river while your wristband waits in line for you. I liked it a lot. With the passes we had we went on every ride we wanted and had time to do a few more a second time.

AJ loved Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios. He got to be picked for the wand choosing ceremony, we rode the Hogwarts Express, cast some spells, tried butter-beer, at a the Three Broomsticks, and went on some very thrilling rides. The level of detail is amazing. It is said that J.K. Rowling supervising the construction herself and she made everything detailed to her specification. Once you are in one of the wizard lands, it feels as though you stepped out of even the theme park world and went to this magical world of witches and wizards. I was very impressed.

We had some extra days on both sides of our vacation so we used Orlando as our base and visited many other destinations such as Medieval Times, St. Augustine, and Matanzas, and Cape Canaveral. I am hoping to post at least a quick post about each of those destinations as I get some more time.

The Family Ready to take on Universal Studios Florida

Hanging out with Gru’s minions.

This dragon protects Diagon Alley and spits out real fire.

I preferred frozen butter-beer to regular butter-beer, but the surprise beverage was spiced pumpkin juice.

Denise and I hanging out at Gringott’s bank.

We had fun at the ET ride gift shop.

This train ride at Suess Island was very fun.

The food at the park was surprisingly good. Got this Pad Thai at Mythos which is a great sit down restaurant and was not too crazy with the prices.

The Cat in the Hat ride is the craziest thing I have ever saw. I went through it but I am not sure I still know what happened.

Denise and Aj entering into Volcano Bay.

The magic at Voodoo Donut is they put you into a sugar comma.

The family hanging out with Monroe and Ball.

Singing with the Toad Chorale

 

 

The Ramona Pageant

Ramona is sponsored by the local Native Americans.

Part of 4th grade education in California is California History. One of the traditions of that historical education is that 4th grade children get invited in April to the dress rehearsal of the Ramona Outdoor Play. This year was AJ’s turn but about 40 minutes into the performance it rained. Denise was with AJ as a chaperone at the time. I had other plans for that weekend but Denise and AJ were so sad that I (John) relented to their request and scrapped my plans and bought us all tickets to the Ramona Outdoor Play.

The Ramona Outdoor Play, but most commonly known as The Ramona Pageant is a play held every year on the outskirts of Hemet, California. The 2018 season marks the 95th year for what has been officially declared a California Historical Landmark (#1009). This California tradition started in 1923 and is based on a 1884 novel called Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson.

The pageant costs $30 per ticket (or free if you are a 4th grader going to dress rehearsal) and is held every April and May in a specially made outdoor theater. Due to the fact that the theater is outdoor the play is interesting because it can only be held in the daytime and there is no curtains for each scene.

The complete show is three hours long. Which when I thought about it was really long, but due to everything happening in the play, you don’t really notice it. Being a pageant there is much more than just singing and acting. There are live horses, typical dances , a native american celebration, gun shots, and even a cannon.

The story is a romance story of this lady named Ramona who is trying to deal with her mixed ancestry and the evolution of California. Being that the screenplay was written in 1923, it felt a little patronizing, but it does a good job in summarizing the crazy cultural mix of cultures that makes California what it is today.

Taking a selfie at the end of the play.

After the show we got to meet with some of the actors.

Continuously running since 1923, this is the oldest play in the nation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a little video of some of the sights and sounds of the pageant: