Hiking at Lake Mead National Recreation Area

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April 20-24, 2017

I decided to compete in a triathlon over the winter because it gave me something to do during the cold weather while most of my friends headed to the mountains to ski.  Unfortunately for me, the weather was mild, and I could have been hiking!!

The good news is, I chose to compete in a triathlon at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, so I could do some mini hikes, and they were great!  Not wishing to wear ourselves out prior to the triathlon, we picked a short, flat walk at St. Thomas in the Northshore area.  St. Thomas was a thriving farming community established in January of 1865.  Over time, the population grew to a few hundred people.

The town’s main street featured a post office, grocery stores, a church, an ice cream parlor, and several car garages.  Around the corner was a school.  When the Hoover Dam was built in 1928, members of the community were told they would need to relocate as the dam would cause the Colorado River to back up and submerge the town.  By 1938, St. Thomas was inundated with the waters of Lake Mead.

The level of Lake Mead fluctuates based on the snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains. As such, the town surfaces during low water years.  After being submerged throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, the ghost town reappeared in 2002 and remains above the surface.

Steve and I followed the 2.5-mile sandy loop peppered in shells that led us along main street past remnants of the town.  Not much remained, mostly foundations to a few people’s homes, an engine house, a hotel and more.  The school and the ice cream parlor seemed to fare the best, which wasn’t too well!  It was interesting to see the town, but I felt sorry for all those people that had to give up their homes and community.  I wonder when it will be back underwater.

The second hike we completed was the day after our triathlon, thus again we looked for a short, easy trail.  We found a hike called Owl Canyon in the Lakeshore area of Lake Mead National Recreation Area.  The 2.2 mile out and back trail was described as moderated with 300 feet of elevation gain.

As we descended the trail from the parking area, we came to a junction of several trails zig-zagging through the brush in every direction.  We followed the most used path and ended up in the right place, a beautiful slot canyon.  The side walls did not seem as solid as most other canyons I’ve visited.  They seemed eroded.  Soon we realized, this area was once underwater as well as we crunched along the sandy trail also laden with shells.  No wonder the trail wasn’t shown on the park map!

The narrow canyon was definitely the prettiest part of the hike.  A few desert flowers were still in bloom, so that was nice.  The wash wasn’t too exciting though the culverts traveling beneath the road were kind of cool.  While I wouldn’t rank it as the best hike I have ever done, it was nice to get out and stretch our legs.

We had time for one more hike before we left Boulder City.  Steve’s legs were still shot from the race so we picked what looked to be another easy hike called Liberty Bell Arch with seasonal access near Lake Mohave on the Arizona side of Lake Mead National Recreation Area.  It was 5.5 miles with only 275 feet of elevation change.  We weren’t exactly sure why the park rated it as difficult unless it was due to the hot desert sun.

We soon found out what 275 feet of elevation change meant.  We just didn’t get higher than 275 feet above the trailhead.  It didn’t count all the undulations of the rocky canyon and wash!  We started walking down hill through the wash.  We found the first trail marker where we continued straight though the arrow pointed diagonally which was slightly confusing given another unnamed trail went off to the right.  Eventually, we came upon the next trail marker where we did turn right and began ascending slightly.  We kept climbing and soon we reached some leftover mining equipment and the entrance to a magnesium mine.  I always find mines and the people who found them interesting.  How does someone decide to wander over uneven terrain through the canyons and desert to settle on a spot to dig a hole?

Anyway, after inspecting the old mining area, we continued toward Liberty Bell Arch.  We descendent the hard dirt path to the flats only to climb back up again.  We had hiked nearly two miles and still couldn’t spot the Liberty Bell Arch in the expanse of the colorful canyon.  Finally, as we climbed up the next hill we spotted it.

Sadly, it felt anti-climatic was we approached it.  It didn’t seem that big and the main trail didn’t lead to the opening of the arch.  It was clear a short scramble in the gravel through the brush would get us closer, but we didn’t really feel like adding anymore distance to the hike.

The ranger who told us about the hike specifically said, “Make sure you don’t stop at the arch and you still go up to the viewpoint.”

We followed her advice, and it was well worth it!  We continued climbing until we reached the overlook which provided magnificent views of the blue Colorado River tumbling through the red and green canyon.  We could also see the Pat Tillman Bridge in the distance.  This hike ended up being spectacular!  We really liked it and were thankful for the overcast sky as we started around 8am and it was warming up quickly.  I was excited to get some hiking in and am looking forward to the summer hiking season in Colorado!  ETB

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Things to Do Around Boulder City, Nevada

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April 20-24, 2017

We arrived in Boulder City, Nevada on Thursday morning to compete in a triathlon at Lake Mead Recreation Area on Saturday.  Not leaving until Monday evening, we had time for a mini-vacation, and found a variety of attractions in Boulder City and the surrounding area.

First, we visited Hoover Dam, which was only a few miles away from the Hoover Dam Lodge where we were staying for the event.  This was my third time to Hoover Dam, though Steve’s first.  We paid $10 park and walked down to the dam to take in the view of Lake Mead, the water intake towers, as well as the Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.  Then we wandered into the visitor’s center where we paid for the shortened tour of just the power plant that took place every half hour.

In the power plant, we were shown the water tunnels that transfer nearly 90,000 gallons of water each second to the dam’s hydroelectric generators.  Next, we visited the 17 generators on the Nevada side of the dam.  These generators are held in a wing 650 feet long which is about the depth of the dam at its base.  I marvel at the construction of this dam in the 1930s every time I hear about it.  Amazingly, it was built ahead of schedule and under budget.  If only the government could do that now!

After visiting the dam, we stopped for a walk along the Pat Tillman Bridge as well as for a lovely view of Lake Mead from a nearby overlook.  From the overlook, we could see the marina near where the race start would be.  It was approaching lunch time, so we tried The Bighorn Cafe at the lodge.  It was sustenance.

While we spent much of our time hiking over the weekend, we tried hard to limit our mileage in order to keep our legs rested before the race and stretched afterward.  As such, we stopped at the Nevada State Railroad Museum.  We were pleasantly surprised.  A variety of rail cars and engines were on display under a pavilion.  We could explore at our leisure.  I personally liked the mail car and learning about mail-on-the-fly.  The Railway Post Office would use mail cranes and catchers to retrieve mail without stopping!  Then mail was sorted (very quickly at times) so it could be ready to drop off.

Dinner came early at Southwest Diner.  We both order pasta.  The portions were enormous!  I got three meals out of my chicken, artichoke, mushroom alfredo.  They must have cooked a whole box of angel hair per plate!  I think they may be better known for their Mexican food, however.

The following day, we drove over to Lake Mead Recreational Area.  We stopped at Boulder Beach and then drove thirteen miles along Lakeshore Drive to check out the bike course and enjoyed spectacular views of hills peppered in a medley of colors including different shades of reds, browns, oranges, and greens.  Along the way, we enjoyed a nice hike at St. Thomas Town Site and a quick stop at the Redstone Picnic Area where red boulders peppered the region.

We wanted a simple dinner and early night before our race, so we went to Chilly Jilly’z.  They really should change the name!  It sounds like a yogurt shop, which it is, but it has fantastic broasted chicken.  The chicken, fried in a pressure cooker was so tender and tasty.  We went back on Monday for our last meal in Boulder City, but they were out of breasts, so that was disappointing, but their sandwiches were good too!

After we competed in our race Saturday, we wandered through an art festival which was taking place in town.  A variety of photographers, painters, and handicraft artists displayed their wares.  Having strolled around town for a few days now, we noticed that Milo’s Cellar and Inn had a very popular restaurant with a patio so we treated ourselves to nice a dinner before stopping at Grandma Daisy’s Candy Store and Ice Cream Parlor for dessert.  We tried the ice cream which was mediocre, but the shop was cute.  Perhaps the candy was better!

We saved Sunday for a visit to Las Vegas.  Boulder City is only about a half hour away. Before we headed out, however, we had to try breakfast at the Coffee Cup Cafe, which was featured on Guy’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.  Guy Fieri suggested the pork chili verde omelette which is highlighted on the menu. Steve ordered it while I stuck with good ole bacon eggs.  One good thing about competing in a triathlon is I can eat whatever I want!

We found a parking garage next to the Flamingo for only $10 parking all day.  There is cheaper parking off the strip, but this garage was very convenient to the center of the strip and close to the restaurant where we had dinner reservations.

Steve has never been to Vegas, so I dragged him all the way up to the Wynn with a stop inside the Venetian to see the canals, and then we walked all the way back down to the Bellagio with a detour through the shops at Ceasars Palace.

We had dinner on the balcony at Yellowtail with a view of the fountains.  This is my favorite restaurant in Vegas.  I don’t usually go to the same restaurant twice, but I have been here three times as the tuna pizza is UNBELIEVABLE.  Yes, it sounds gross and pizza may be a misnomer, but it is there signature dish, and it is what keeps me coming back!!

After dinner, we went to Penn & Teller.  This was the first time for me to see a magic show.  It involved several members from the audience and was entertaining.  No matter how hard I tried to focus on their hands and not be distracted, I never could figure out how they did their tricks!

We finished off our visit to Nevada with another hike in Lake Mead Recreation Area, though we had to cross the border into Arizona to do it.  The hike to Liberty Bell Arch offered spectacular views of the Colorado River and canyon.  Who knew there was so much to do in Boulder City!  We didn’t even get to ziplining, kayaking, or four-wheeling.  Boulder City is a great town for those interested in the outdoors!  ETB

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15th Annual Rage Triathlon – Olympic Distance in Boulder City, Nevada

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April 22, 2017

Somehow, I got a wild hair and thought that I would try to do an Olympic Triathlon.  I think I was inspired by the Rock ‘n’ Roll 10K my tennis partner Ann and I ran last fall in Las Vegas.  I felt good at the end of the race that it was fun!  I found out what it is like to train at altitude and then compete at an elevation 3,500 feet lower.  There is a big difference.

As such I searched http://www.trifind.com, to find an Olympic Triathlon that took place before summer hiking and tennis leagues and in a place with a lower altitude than Denver.  I found the Rage Triathlon which was this weekend at Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Boulder City, Nevada.

The race itself was rather dinky and the swag and after race food was not worth the price of admission, but I wasn’t there for that.  On the flip side, the race director, crew, and volunteers were all fantastic and the location as far as being picturesque couldn’t have been better.  The view of Lake Mead and its surrounding peaks was lovely.

Steve likes to be early to his races, so we arrived at set-up time, 5:30am.  We already had our numbers from picking up our packets a day previous at the bike shop, so we only had to check in to get marked and pick up our timing chip.  With our numbers inked on our arms and our age and race written on the back of our calves, we wheeled our bikes into the transition area and found our designated sections.  I was on one side farther up the hill, and he was on the other closer to the lake.

Having only completed one sprint triathlon in my entire life, I wasn’t terribly sure of the best way to set up.  I looked to see how others set out their bike, bike shoes, helmet, running shoes, towels, drinks, food, and more.  I had the oldest bike around, and my hydrating system seemed archaic compared to others.  I walked over to Steve and exclaimed, “I’m going to be last!”

He responded, “It’s better to be DFL (Dead f*#?ing Last) than DNF (Did Not Finish).”

This was true, and I was only there to finish…one and done!

He did a much better job studying the swim, bike and run course maps than I did, so we went over them once more even though we performed reconnaissance mission on Thursday afternoon.  I believe my nerves were finally start to set in an hour before the race while Steve’s nerves seemed to settle an hour before the race!

With everything set up and zipped into our wetsuits, we made our way down to the rocky beach.  The rocks were very sharp, and I couldn’t between flips or no flips.  In retrospect, flips probably would have been a good choice, though most people went without.  Lake Mead’s water comes from the snowmelt of the Rocky Mountains, so it was cold.  Steve wanted to get used to it, so he joined a few others in the small waves.  I decided I’d assume stay warm until my heat was called to the start line, so I found myself zipping people into their wetsuits as I stood on the beach aimlessly.

The Olympic Tri under 40 men started first at 7am.  They were followed by the over 40 men (Steve’s group), then the under 40 women, and finally my group, over 40 women.  The Sprint Tri division followed us.  We were staggered every 5 minutes.

Given swimming is not my strong suit, I joined my group in the back of the pack as I didn’t want anyone swimming over the top of me as I would have come unglued.  We waded onto the sandbar, I adjusted my goggles and swim cap and off we went.  We started out swimming into the waves.  The forecast called for 10mph winds and dying, but judging by the one foot swells, the wind was more like 15 mph and building!

I felt like my arms were swinging and legs were kicking yet I was going nowhere.  At least the wetsuit was keeping me afloat.  As we turned around the first buoy, I was bringing up the back of the pack with a few others.  We headed for the next buoy that looked far away, as did the safety kayaks.  I struggled to stay straight, and found myself stopping to see where I was going, correcting my path while running into people, and telling myself to calm down!  Apparently, I have a fear of drowning because all I could think of is where is the closest kayak in case I need to rest.

It wasn’t until after the second buoy when I somehow settled down.  I managed to get a swimming rhythm that I learned in the pool with the help of the nicest guy, Richard.  He is a great swimmer, and when I noticed he was lapping me in the pool, I got the courage up to ask for a few pointers.  Who knew I was doing everything wrong!  I’m so thankful for his time and expertise.  I could have kept the rhythm if I could have swum straight, but the waves really posed a challenged as my body raised and lowered with the swells and constantly turned left.

Eventually I rounded the third and fourth buoy and was on the home stretch in very shallow water.  Knowing, I could stand up if I got tired and that I was more than half way finished with the mile swim, I sped up, though I was still bringing up the rear. Given I was so far back relative to some of the other swimmers, I assumed I had a terrible swim and took my time tip-toeing across the rocky beach to my bike.

I wish there had been a clock at the swim exit.  I looked for one, didn’t see it, and then managed to forget to look at my watch.  I figured I was so bad at the swim, that I took my time mounting the bike.  I slowly pulled of my wetsuit, dried my feet, ate a banana, put on my shoes, walked through the transition area and slowly climbed the hill to the street which was not blocked for traffic.

The bike course was very hilly!  It gained and lost just under 3,400 feet over 24.8 miles.  I climbed up each hill and hoped to pick up speed on the other side as I descended, but the cross wind made the downhills difficult.  The desert bushes swayed in the strong breeze, still far greater than 10 mph, as I held somewhat tightly to the handlebars while trying to keep from blowing sideways.  As I neared the 10th mile, I saw Steve on his return at around mile 20.  I was a good 30 minutes behind him which is what I expected.

Fortunately, at the start of the race, there was only light traffic, but upon my return to the transition area, now mid-morning, the trucks with boats and campers started passing more frequently.  Most of the time, it wasn’t a problem, but occasionally I wished for a little more room on the shoulder.  I managed to over-take a few riders along the way, though overall my bike time was nothing to write home about…around 2 hours and 12.5 mph pace.

I was finished with two of the three legs in the triathlon, however, with gas in the tank, so I knew I would finish, which was the main goal.  Of course, I had two times in mind…an all goes well time of 3:45 and an achievable time of 4:00.  Assuming a 10-11-minute mile pace, I suspected I’d miss both.

As I left the bike transition area to start the run, the Sprint racers as well as some of the Olympic racers were already packing up to go home, and the winners were being announced over the loud speaker.  I must admit this was kind of demoralizing, and I felt annoyed when volunteers clapped and shouted, “good job”.  Whatever!  I know they were being supportive, but it was like rubbing salt in the wound…way to go…you are last!

None the less, I kept going and I heard “Steve Johnson” get announced over the speaker at the finish line.  I thought great, he is going to have to wait an entire hour for me!  As such, I just stopped and went to the bathroom.  This was the first time I took off my prescription sunglasses and looked at my watch…it was 10:10am. I was stunned.  My heat started at 7:15, which meant I was under my four-hour pace.  While I didn’t know it at the time, I completed my swim in 42 minutes which was within my three best times in the pool.  It was just still much slower than good swimmers. Regardless, seeing that I was within my total time energized me a bit as I started running with purpose up the hill.

Though my legs felt like posts and my pace felt incredibly slow, I was overtaking additional runners.  The 10K course for the Olympic racers had been adjusted due to construction on the trail, so we had to go out and back twice.  I think this extra loop helped me even more as I could grab extra water at the aid stations and at least feel like I was passing more people than I probably was.

With about 1.6 miles to go, near the Sprint turn-around point, I caught up with another girl.  As I tried to pass, she’d speed up.  I’d try again and she’d speed up again.  By this time, my left leg was screaming with a knifing pain on the inside ankle.  She started talking to me about the adjusted course and extra loop.  This was her first Olympic Tri as well, though she had competed in several sprints which she thought were more fun.  She was from the area.  Eventually, we exchanged names.

The talking passed the time and kept us motivated.  She wanted to stop because she was winded.  I wanted to stop because my ankle hurt so bad, but we kept going.  The end of the run took us down-hill toward the beach which was welcome…no more climbing.  I told Rachel as we turned the corner on the rocky beach, “Let’s sprint it in.”

“On the rocks,” she questioned.

“Yes, that will probably get us to normal speed as the rocks slow us down,” I answered.

Not to mention, I was always told to finish strong, and I did!

Shockingly, I ran under an 8-minute mile which I don’t think I have done since high-school, and I finished the whole race in 3:42:52, below my best case hope of 3:45!  Steve was at the finish line cheering me on.  I asked, “Did you finish in 3:30?” (which was his best case).

“No, I had a DNF,” he responded.

Knowing how analytical, methodical and even keel he is, I asked in disbelief, “What happened?”

Steve had the same struggles in the swim as I did.  He fought the swells, got off course, and couldn’t get back in line as other swimmers were in the way.  He swam to the kayak I was eyeing for the first 500 yards as well.  To his credit, he went ahead and completed the bike and run, so he knows what to improve on the next time.  He is going to compete in more events!  More power to him.  If I ever do another one, it will only be a sprint as there is far less training required.

Overall, it felt good to finish the race with gas in the tank, and I wasn’t last!  I was about 2/3rds of the way down.  Looking back, I probably should have checked my watch more often.  I got contact lenses this week, so maybe I will be able to see the time without taking off my long-distance glasses if I ever do another.  While I may have made up a few minutes along the way, at the same time, having no pressure may have relaxed me enough to PR on my 10K run!  As I mentioned at the beginning, it sure helped competing at a lower altitude.  It was a good race in a beautiful setting.  And despite all the problems with the race’s fund raising page, I was still able to raise $2,500 for Alzheimer’s.  Thank you so much for the donations! ETB

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A Long Weekend in Washington D.C.

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April 14-18, 2017

A few long weekends in our Nation’s capital is all it takes to see the best sites of D.C.  I came to D.C. as a teenager as part of a field trip for our middle school.  We saw Mt. Vernon, colonial Williamsburg, the capitol building, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian, and a few of the memorials.  While it was over 30 years ago, some sites have remained the same and others have expanded.  As such, I touched on some newer ones.

Suman and I started our weekend flying into Dulles on Thursday morning as the flight options were a bit cheaper on the Easter holiday weekend which also included our birthdays.  We spent the night with her family in McLean which was lovely before we came into the city the following day.

We were on a DreamTrip and fortunate that we could check into the Westin Georgetown early!  We were booked in a room on the top floor, but seeing as how the hotel was only eight stories high, we didn’t have an amazing view of anything.  Regardless, it was nice our room was ready and even nicer to be given a complimentary bottle of wine for our birthdays.  I had jokingly asked for an upgrade for our birthdays, and while they couldn’t accommodate us, Yarnell was quick to offer us wine to celebrate.

We spent the afternoon wandering around Georgetown.  As we passed by a variety of brick buildings featuring store fronts and restaurants, we stumbled upon the Old Stone House.  Dating from 1765, Old Stone House is the oldest structure on its original foundation in the Nation’s capital!  A myth saved the home from destruction like other structures of the era.  It was thought that George Washington and L’Enfant, who helped design the capital met here, but that is not the case.  We took a few minutes to check out the four rooms which housed a variety of antiques.

Afterwards, we strolled a few more blocks before we settled on a birthday drink and people watching before we went to Firefly for my birthday dinner.  It was so fun to catch up with my friends and cousin who I haven’t seen for several years.  The restaurant was crowded with a great atmosphere and the food was good.  It was a fun night out!

As part of our DreamTrip, on Saturday we boarded the Spirit of Washington and took a cruise along the Potomac River.  Lunch and two free drinks were included on the excursion.  The chef on the boat was really good.  I loved the mashed potatoes which generally aren’t my favorite.  The lower deck of the boat included a DJ and dance floor where some people boogied to the upbeat music.  We climbed the stairs to the top deck where we enjoyed the nice weather, and I would say beautiful views, but there was not too much to see except a few cherry blossom trees still in bloom!

After our lunch cruise, we walked to some of the newer memorials.  We started at the Korean War Memorial where there were 19 soldiers and a granite wall with photos of actual soldiers engraved into the wall.  The soldiers are dressed in rain gear, hold communicative devices, and are depicted hiking through scrub similar to the way they would have experienced the war.  The 19 soldiers reflect on the wall, making a total of 38 which represents the 38th parallel that runs between North and South Korea.

From the Korean War Memorial, we crossed the street to the Martin Luther King Memorial.  A tall standing MLK was carved out of a stone looking toward the Jefferson Memorial located across the man-made tidal basin.  A wall around the area included several of King’s famous quotes.

From the Martin Luther King Memorial, we walked back toward the greenway to the World War II Memorial complete with fountains.  The memorial included columns for all the states and the US territories as well as large columns for both the Pacific and Atlantic wars.

After a brief rest at the World War II Memorial, we continued to the White House.  Apparently, there was an incident early in the day, and the area was evacuated, but we missed that.  Instead, we snapped a quick photo of the green lawn that was prepped for the Easter Egg roll on Monday before we headed back to the hotel to get ready for Suman’s birthday.

Suman planned her shindig at Zatinya a large and popular middle eastern restaurant in D.C..  We ordered small plates for the table to share.  The best dishes were the spicy sausage pizza and seared cheese.  It was a nice night that Suman extended with two other friends at Flight Wine Bar.

Since Friday and Saturday were somewhat mellow, I packed in things to do in D.C. on Sunday.  I started by taking the Metro down to Captain White’s Seafood Market.  The Metro is slightly complicated for a large, well established city like D.C..  The fares are different based on mileage and peak/offpeak times.  I had to buy a card for $2 and then add the amount of money I needed for each ride.  IT just took a little reading.

To get to the docks where Captain White’s was located I rode the Metro to the L’Enfant Plaza stop and walked the rest of the way.  The docks were under construction and the parking lot was crowded, though the market wasn’t too busy yet.  I hoped for a quiet market, and it is why I went for crabs at 8:45 in the morning!  I had read that the folks at the dock weren’t too excited to help their customers and such reviews were correct.  I stood there without anyone acknowledging me until they asked another man if he needed help, and he replied, “She was first.”

The market had bins of oysters, shrimp, as well as male and female crabs of all sizes.  Live crabs pinched at each other as they were collected into bushels and half bushels for customers.  I believe I could have purchased a couple of live crabs and had them steamed on site, but the unhelpfulness of the staff led me to buy two pre-cooked crabs as I thought this would be easier.  Little did I know they weren’t freshly cooked!  Instead they were frozen and needed to be heated up.  This was a bit of a bummer as they didn’t taste great, but the experience of getting a whole crab, a mallet, a brown bag with seasoning, and the ability to crack the crab while looking out on the water made my Easter morning special!

I finished up breakfast just in time to stroll to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum.  This is one of the most popular museums in D.C. and the line out front to enter at opening confirmed it!  After about thirty minutes, I entered the free museum full of missiles and planes.  I enjoyed seeing the tomahawk missile, the Apollo exhibit, and The Explorer II a pressurized gondola that reached 72,395 feet and held the world record for 20 years.  There were also exhibits on World War I and II, as well as the Wright Brothers and Charles Lindbergh.  The most surprising exhibit, and likely my favorite was of artist renderings of WWI by soldier artists. The US Army commissioned eight artists who joined forces and depicted a variety of scenes from the war.  It was cool!

Lunch called my name, and my cousin Kari tipped me off to a great café called Sculpture Garden Pavillion Cafe tucked in a park with a fountain and sculptures at the National Gallery of Art.  I strolled through the sculpture garden of modern art, passed by the fountain, found a table in the shade and enjoyed a refreshing salad before I continued on to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

There were several exhibits at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History which I enjoyed including the ocean exhibit, a nature photography exhibit, and a mineral and gem exhibit.  The most interesting, however, was to see the Hope Diamond.  I had only heard of it and certainly didn’t know the whole story, so to learn more about it was fun.

No one knows exactly when and where the diamond was discovered, but it is thought to be discovered prior to 1668 in the Golconda area of India.  The diamond started out at 112 3/16 carats (more than twice the size of the current gem).  It was sold to King Louis XIV of France in 1668.  In 1673, the King has the gem recut to 67 1/8 carats to be set as a pendant.  In 1792, the diamond was stolen during the reign of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and remained lost for 20 years.  It resurfaced in London in 1812 after being reduced in size by twenty carats.  At some point over the next ten years or so, the diamond was sold to King George IV.  Upon the King’s death in the 1830’s, Henry Philip Hope, a gem collector, purchased the diamond.  It remained in the Hope family until 1901 when it was passed among diamond merchants.  In 1912, Evelyn Walsh McLean bought the Hope Diamond from Pierre Cartier in its current setting.  Harry Winston, a prominent New York jeweler, purchased the gem from McLean’s estate in 1949 and in 1958 donated it to the Smithsonian.  While there is no truth to it, the diamond was rumored to bring its owners bad luck, even death, thus increased fascination with the gem.

After a day on foot, I enjoyed a nice dinner with my cousin Kari at Founding Farmers, another very popular spot, especially on Easter.  We were able to snag two seats at the bar and enjoy some good southern shrimp and grits before we met up with Suman and Kelley for an evening tour of the memorials.  We used Big Bus Tours, though there were several operators to choose from with countless Groupon deals. We got more than half off the advertised rate.  The hop on/off bus of any sorts is worth every penny for a visitor not familiar with the D.C. area.

Our tour guide was energetic and funny and full of knowledge, most of which I assume was accurate, though some was not.  Regardless, we got the lay of the land, heard about almost every building on the route and saw several memorials while the sunset before we enjoyed the view at night as well.  There were a few museums and government buildings of which I was unaware.  First was the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing.  I wasn’t in the mood for sadness on this weekend, so I didn’t attend the Holocaust Museum, but I will add it to the list for my next long weekend visit to D.C.  The US Bureau of Engraving and Printing prints paper money and a same day tour may be arranged by waiting in line at 8:30am.  Next time, I will be organized enough to see this as well.

After making a few loops around the most popular sites of D.C., our bus stopped near the Lincoln Memorial where we took a tour of it, the Korean Memorial, and got a nice view of the Washington Monument which marks the center of the mall.  East of the Washington Monument is the Capitol Building, west is the Lincoln Memorial, south is the Jefferson Memorial, and north is the White House. It was nice night.

Currently, there is a very popular exhibit at the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden called Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors.  From the pictures I’ve seen, it looks simply amazing.  Getting tickets is simply impossible.  Memberships to the museum are sold out because of this event.  Timed spaces are given out every Monday at noon and otherwise people must wait in line on the same day for a limited amount allotted.  Our guide said the line begins at 9 and ends at 9:30.  I thought since the exhibit ends in less than a month I should give it a shot in the morning.

This 9 to 9:30 tidbit of information wasn’t correct!  I got there at 9:10 and the line was at leasat 300 people deep if not more.  I met a few folks in line who lived in D.C. and were more informed than me.  The lady in front of me waited in the line three times!  They cut the line off just before her yesterday.  She said, once visitors wait for hours for a timed space, they are allowed only 30 seconds in each of the five rooms resulting in an experience of 2.5 minutes!!  Had I known that at the beginning, perhaps I would have skipped the waiting, but by the time I heard this, I had invested an hour.  We made it into the cordoned off area before they closed the line, but we were about 50 people back when they announced the 600 tickets were gone.  Oh well, it wasn’t a total bust.  The people I met were fun and I ran into a high school classmate…crazy!!  My tip would be to go on a weekday no later than 8:30, but the earlier the better to get early tickets.  On the weekends, show up by 7 and there’s a chance.

Normally I wouldn’t have waited around, but the artist is 88 years old and I didn’t see that the exhibit was traveling so it was a last chance to see it eventhough I had never planned on it.  I went on to visit the National Archives Building which was far less crowded.  It displayed the Constitution, the Magna Carta, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Declaration of Independence among other old documents.  It was a neat place, but no pictures were allowed.

Finally, I visited the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.  I think I may have been “museumed out” by this time as I didn’t find it terribly interesting.  I did like seeing the original flag that flew during the battle that inspired the Star-Spangled Banner, but no pictures were allowed for it either.  None the less, it was a decent way to stay out of the rain, the only dreary day of our long weekend.  It was hard to believe that the day before was 89 degrees.  I should have walked by the Easter Egg Roll at the White House on my way back to the hotel, but my feet and back were ready for a rest after 30 miles of walking over the last few days.  Too bad I failed to synq my Fitbit before the end of the weekend.  I would have logged 100K steps for the week!  ETB

WANT TO VACATION SOONER?  IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!

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Want more details, click here:http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/featured

To browse experiences or to sign up, click here:http://www.bethbankhead.dreamtrips.com

For notecards, key chains, or photographs, visit Notable Notecards or Niche Notecards on Etsy. A portion of the sales are donated to charity and a travel story is associated with each one.

Two Posts on European Cities Now Available with FREE Map Guides on GPSMyCity!

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April 11, 2017

Are you traveling this summer?  Perhaps to Europe?  Want a map to the best places to visit in Tallinn or Copenhagen?  I’m pleased to announce for one week, beginning April 11, 2017, my app articles Loved Tallinn, Estonia!
and Cycling in Copenhagen, Denmark are available to upgrade to a GPS-guided article for FREE!

To get your FREE upgraded app, just click on the links below and follow the instructions to download the GPSMyCity app. You will then be taken to the page for the article app – click on Upgrade, and the app will be automatically linked to an offline map and the GPS navigator.

Loved Tallinn, Estonia!
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/loved-tallinn–estonia-313.html

Cycling in Copenhagen, Denmark
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/cycling-in-copenhagen-325.html

You may wonder, “What’s the big deal? I can read the travel post on your blog.” Well, yes, assuming you have access to the internet, you can read my article on my blog.

But what if you don’t have access to the internet? Do you really want to use your data? Better yet, what if you are in a different country, and you don’t have a cell service plan for the place you are visiting?

This is where the new travel app concept offered by GPSMyCity is quite useful. GPSMyCity produces city walk apps for nearly 750 cities worldwide. Want to see the sites in Paris? There’s an app for that. Want to try different restaurants in Malaga, Spain? There’s an app for that. You can download each travel article for FREE and read it whenever you like…in the airport, on the plane or street corner, or wherever!

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Should you wish to have a GPS-guided tour and map along with the article, all you have to do is upgrade for $1.99.

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Other articles available on GPSMyCity:

Cienfuegos and Trinidad, Cuba
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/cienfuegos-and-trinidad–cuba-3146.html

Treasures of Trinidad
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/treasures-of-trinidad-3145.html

Tinidad to Havana and What Falls in Between
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/from-trinidad-to-havana-and-what-falls-inbetween-3178.html

Cuban Farms…How to Roll a Habano!
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/cuban-farmshow-to-roll-ahabano-3122.html

An American in Cuba!
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/an-american-in-cuba-3114.html

Las Terrazas and Vinales… A Treat for Nature Lovers
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/las-terrazas-and-vinales-a-treat-for-naturelovers-3123.html

The Streets of Habana Vieja and Fusterlandia – Part I
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/the-streets-of-habana-vieja-and-fusterlandia—part-i-3113.html

The Streets of Habana Vieja and Fusterlandia – Part II –
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/the-streets-of-habana-vieja-and-fusterlandia—part-ii-3121.html

Oslo, Norway and the Outskirts
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/oslo–norway-and-the-outskirts-2317.html

Adventure in Albuquerque, New Mexico
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/adventure-in-albuquerque-341.html

A Day Tour of Bangkok, Thailand
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/a-day-tour-of-bangkok-340.html

Castles in Copenhagen, Denmark
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/castles-in-copenhagen-326.html

Cruising Around Gdansk, Poland
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/cruising-around-gdansk–poland-310.html

The Markets and Cathedrals of Granada, Nicaragua
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/the-markets-and-cathedrals-of-granada-337.html

Dubai, UAE and Its International Appeal
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/dubai-and-its-international-appeal-327.html

Adventures in Paris, France
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/adventures-in-paris-338.html

Adventures in Paris, France Part 2
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/adventures-in-paris-part-2-339.html

Sightseeing in Stockholm, Sweden
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/sightseeing-in-stockholm-311.html

Imperial St. Petersburg, Russia
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/imperial-st-petersburg-329.html

Tour of Tombstone, Arizona
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/tour-of-tombstone-342.html

Strolling Around Santiago, Chile
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/strolling-around-santiago–chile-426.html

A Walking Tour of Narita, Japan
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/a-walking-tour-of-narita–japan-459.html

Tips for Planning your Hiking Trip to Patagonia
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/tips-for-planning-your-hiking-trip-to-patagonia-2715.html

Denver Brewery Tour
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/denver-brewery-tour-2620.html

Exploring the San Antonio Missions
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/exploring-the-san-antonio-missions-2605.html

The Coastal Trail from Monterosso to Vernazza
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/the-coastal-trail-from-monterosso-tovernazza-2602.html

Rounding Out Cinque Terre…Riomaggiore and Corniglia
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/rounding-out-cinque-terreriomaggiore-andcorniglia-2601.html

18 Hour Layover in Buenos Aires
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/18-hour-layover-in-buenos-aires-2599.html

On and Off the Vegas Strip
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/on-and-off-the-vegasstrip-2597.html

WANT TO VACATION SOONER?  IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!

Get the gist here: http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/can-i-do-it

Want more details, click here:http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/featured

To browse experiences or to sign up, click here:http://www.bethbankhead.dreamtrips.com

For notecards, key chains, or photographs, visit Notable Notecards or Niche Notecards on Etsy. A portion of the sales are donated to charity and a travel story is associated with each one.

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More Cuba Posts Now Available on GPSMyCity!

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Going to Cuba soon?  There is limited internet service on the amazing island.  I’m pleased to announce the following posts are now available to take with you on GPSMyCity.  No internet needed!

Cienfuegos and Trinidad, Cuba
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/cienfuegos-and-trinidad–cuba-3146.html

Treasures of Trinidad
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/treasures-of-trinidad-3145.html

Tinidad to Havana and What Falls in Between
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/from-trinidad-to-havana-and-what-falls-inbetween-3178.html

Don’t forget the rest of my articles that are available on GPSMyCity:

Cuban Farms…How to Roll a Habano!
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/cuban-farmshow-to-roll-ahabano-3122.html

An American in Cuba!
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/an-american-in-cuba-3114.html

Las Terrazas and Vinales… A Treat for Nature Lovers
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/las-terrazas-and-vinales-a-treat-for-naturelovers-3123.html

The Streets of Habana Vieja and Fusterlandia – Part I
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/the-streets-of-habana-vieja-and-fusterlandia—part-i-3113.html

The Streets of Habana Vieja and Fusterlandia – Part II –
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/the-streets-of-habana-vieja-and-fusterlandia—part-ii-3121.html

Oslo, Norway and the Outskirts
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/oslo–norway-and-the-outskirts-2317.html

Adventure in Albuquerque, New Mexico
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/adventure-in-albuquerque-341.html

A Day Tour of Bangkok, Thailand
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/a-day-tour-of-bangkok-340.html

Castles in Copenhagen, Denmark
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/castles-in-copenhagen-326.html

Cycling in Copenhagen, Denmark
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/cycling-in-copenhagen-325.html

Cruising Around Gdansk, Poland
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/cruising-around-gdansk–poland-310.html

The Markets and Cathedrals of Granada, Nicaragua
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/the-markets-and-cathedrals-of-granada-337.html

Dubai, UAE and Its International Appeal
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/dubai-and-its-international-appeal-327.html

Adventures in Paris, France
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/adventures-in-paris-338.html

Adventures in Paris, France Part 2
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/adventures-in-paris-part-2-339.html

Sightseeing in Stockholm, Sweden
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/sightseeing-in-stockholm-311.html

Imperial St. Petersburg, Russia
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/imperial-st-petersburg-329.html

Loved Tallinn, Estonia!
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/loved-tallinn–estonia-313.html

Tour of Tombstone, Arizona
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/tour-of-tombstone-342.html

Strolling Around Santiago, Chile
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/strolling-around-santiago–chile-426.html

A Walking Tour of Narita, Japan
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/a-walking-tour-of-narita–japan-459.html

Tips for Planning your Hiking Trip to Patagonia
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/tips-for-planning-your-hiking-trip-to-patagonia-2715.html

Denver Brewery Tour
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/denver-brewery-tour-2620.html

Exploring the San Antonio Missions
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/exploring-the-san-antonio-missions-2605.html

The Coastal Trail from Monterosso to Vernazza
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/the-coastal-trail-from-monterosso-tovernazza-2602.html

Rounding Out Cinque Terre…Riomaggiore and Corniglia
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/rounding-out-cinque-terreriomaggiore-andcorniglia-2601.html

18 Hour Layover in Buenos Aires
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/18-hour-layover-in-buenos-aires-2599.html

On and Off the Vegas Strip
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/on-and-off-the-vegasstrip-2597.html

WANT TO VACATION SOONER?  IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!

Get the gist here: http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/can-i-do-it

Want more details, click here:http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/featured

To browse experiences or to sign up, click here:http://www.bethbankhead.dreamtrips.com

For notecards, key chains, or photographs, visit Notable Notecards or Niche Notecards on Etsy. A portion of the sales are donated to charity and a travel story is associated with each one.

Support Alzheimer’s

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Hi All –

I’m reposting this because the race link didn’t work.  They promise me it works now!  Thank you to anyone who tried donating previously.

I’m training for my first Olympic Triathlon, and I find endurance sports to be quite hard. I’ve decided during this peak training time, for extra motivation, I would compete to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. My grandmother, with whom I spent every Friday night and Saturday morning through my teenage years, passed from this disease. The disease is very difficult for both the person suffering as well as the family. Imagine what it feels like when your relative no longer recognizes you and doesn’t know your name. Or what it feels like to get lost and not know how to get home. Please consider making a donation to find a cure for this debilitating disease. Any amount helps and is most appreciated. Skip your morning Starbucks and give $5 to a good cause. All you have to do is click on the link below. It will take you less time than going to Starbucks too. Thank you!

https://www.flatironsevents.com/members/fundraising?id=24137#.WPC0oojyvZs

18 Hours in Madrid…Mostly Dining!

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March 13, 2017

Getting to and from Morocco from the USA wasn’t that easy.  We opted for an 18 hour layover in Madrid, and enjoyed an afternoon and evening of dining.  Suman found a great hotel called Petit Palace just off the Plaza Major.  This hotel was in a prime location and only $96.  The vibe was modern, and it included everything we needed including a view of the city from our top floor room.  We were not staying long enough to take advantage of the bikes or the free walking tour, but these are great amenities. We dropped our stuff and went in search of lunch as Iberia ran out of food for purchase for those in the last rows of the plane.  They had some items, but not what we wanted.  Anyway, we were hungry.

Suman had a place in mind from TripAdvisor called Casa Gonzales.  They served lots of cheese and meats as well with breads with spreads.  They were known for their breads with spreads.  I ordered an artichoke spread.  It was mostly bread with little spread.  I think Suman’s choice of a charcuterie plate was a much better option.  It was good, but I wished for more tapas varieties especially after our phones took us around in circles as we hunted for the quaint restaurant.

We took a much shorter and more direct walk back to the hotel as we passed through several plazas, including Plaza Mayor.  The Plaza Mayor was built in 1617 during the reign of Philip III, is the central plaza of Madrid, and is surrounded by three-story residential buildings.  The centerpiece of the plaza is a bronze of King Philip III.  I expected it to be more crowded, but judging by all the tables outside of the restaurants, I feel like at night it would be very busy.

Fernando, our guide in Morocco, suggested we check Mercado San Miguel, which was practically across the street from our hotel.  We wandered through to get an idea of what was available, and we found just about every food imaginable…meat, olives, seafood, paella, tarts, and nuts, just to name a few.  It was crowded with a nice vibe. All the tables in the center were taken.  It was standing room only.  Not hungry now, we just stopped at the Sangria stall.  We had a choice of sangria on tap or from the bottle. Then we got to choose white or red and traditional or not.  At the recommendation from the gentleman behind the counter we sipped a glass of non-traditional red and enjoyed the complimentary olive snack for a bargain price. Wine and olives are a steal in Spain!  Mercado San Miguel was so enjoyable, we decided to come back for dinner.

Back at the hotel, Suman checked Facebook and saw one of her friends suggested we go to Mesón de la Guitarra, also around the corner from the hotel.  The cave like atmosphere looked cool, so we decided to start there.  Wine for $2 in a cup was a nice start.  I got to order a potato omelet which was awesome.  We also got some peppers and fried calamari.  These tapas plates were quite large, so we didn’t leave any room for food from Mercado San Miguel, but we walked through once more because it was a cool, energetic place!  I sort of wish we stuck with our original plan to have dinner at Mercado San Miguel, but I don’t think I would have found a better potato omelet than the one we found at Mesón de la Guitarra.

We had to leave by 8:15 in the morning.  This is apparently early for Spanish standards as the coffee shops didn’t open until 8, but I got to get my café con leche.  The first time I ever had this was 25 years ago with my step-dad Bart in Madrid.  We thought we were getting coffee with a little milk, but it was more like a latte, and I loved it.  I felt nostalgic.  It was a great way to end our brief stay in Madrid.  I’m feeling like I need to go back to Spain!  ETB

WANT TO VACATION SOONER?  IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!

Get the gist here: http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/can-i-do-it

Want more details, click here:http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/featured

To browse experiences or to sign up, click here:http://www.bethbankhead.dreamtrips.com

For notecards, key chains, or photographs, visit Notable Notecards or Niche Notecards on Etsy. A portion of the sales are donated to charity and a travel story is associated with each one.

El Jadida, a Coastal Town in Morocco

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March 12, 2017

Today we took a trip to El Jadida, a coastal town 100km southwest of Casablanca. The town is an old Portuguese port with a medina that is a UNSECO World Heritage Site. The town, previously called Mazagan, was controlled by the Portuguese from 1514 to 1769 until it was taken over by Sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah.

We started our tour at the Portuguese Cistern which was constructed in 1514 as a warehouse that possibly held armory before it was converted to a cistern in the 16th Century. The cistern was rediscovered in 1916 by the Moroccans when a shop owner was expanding his store and water came pouring through the wall.  The cistern collected water from the terraces when it rained. The damp cavern felt a little eerie, but the Gothic arches were quite lovely. Due to the reflections from the thin layer of water on the floor, many movies have been filmed here, including Orson Welles’ Othello.

After visiting the Cistern, we walked down the street to the Fortress of Mazagan. The star form of the fortress included walls eight meters high, ten meters thick, and a patrolling walkway that was quite wide.   We followed the path past old canons toward the busy fishing port and stopped to admire lovely panoramic views of the area.

From the fortress, we drove to the Mazagan Beach Resort for lunch and for the afternoon at the beach. This resort was spectacular. We joked we would have liked to stay here, and take a day trip to Casablanca. The property included a casino, golf course, spa, and a variety of restaurants and activities. We were treated to a fantastic buffet at La Cabane. The main buffet lined offered a variety of cooked entrees including tajines.  The side buffet displayed countless salads.  There was quite a selection of cheese.  The dessert bar was so pretty.  I particularly liked the sculpture made of chocolate!  We didn’t realize until after we finished eating, that we could have gone outside to the grill to get kabobs.  Make sure not to miss that!

After lunch, we walked down to the beach which was very windy and cold! Of course, it was unseasonably hot for two weeks except for our final day at the beach when the temperature dropped 20 degrees with the cold front that arrived. I sat in my puffy on the beach chairs as I watched the waves crash on the sand. Others laid covered in beach towels.  The smart folks found some chairs behind some glass that served as a nice wind break for a much more pleasant beach day.  I particularly liked these beach chairs. Each one had its own sunshade!

Soon we headed back to Casablanca for dinner at Cabestan, a fancy restaurant. We were seated upstairs with a view of the Atlantic. The service was similar to all of our other experiences…the food generally came before we could order a drink. We were served a salad and fish and a pastry for dessert. Don’t go to this restaurant without going to the restroom….particularly men. Very unique…the water of the toilet cascaded down the window, I’m told!

It was a nice final day in Morocco. Now we just have an 18 hour layover in Madrid tomorrow, before arriving back in the USA. What a good trip! ETB

WANT TO VACATION SOONER?  IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!

Get the gist here: http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/can-i-do-it

Want more details, click here:http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/featured

To browse experiences or to sign up, click here:http://www.bethbankhead.dreamtrips.com

For notecards, key chains, or photographs, visit Notable Notecards or Niche Notecards on Etsy. A portion of the sales are donated to charity and a travel story is associated with each one.

Rambling Around Rabat

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March 11, 2017

Today we took a day trip from Casablanca to Rabat, the capital city.  While driving the 87 km, we learned a little about Morocco.  Its population is 35 million of which 40% are Berber.  The Arab Moroccan dialect includes French and Spanish thus Arabs from the Middle East can’t understand Moroccans unless classic Arabic is used.  Morocco is more progressive than other Muslim nations.  Women can drive cars, over 70% of those studying to be a doctor are women, and Morocco even employs a woman judge.

Four different cities have once served as the capital of Morcocco…Fez, Marrakesh, Meknes, and Rabat.  The current capital, Rabat, is home to 1.6 million people.  Being the political capital, Rabat didn’t seem like it would be that interesting to me, yet I was pleasantly surprised by the 12 Century city.

Our first stop of the day was at Dar al-Makhzen, the royal palace and home to the king of Morocco.  We saw it from a roped off distance, and this time we were allowed to snap photos of the Royal Guards in winter red.  Our visit was quick and we moved on to the Hassan Tower.

Hassan Tower is an unfinished minaret of a mosque whose construction was abandoned with the death of Yaqoub al Mansour in 1199. Mansour, the fourth monarch of the Almohad dynasty, planned on building the largest mosque in the world.  Instead, the minaret which only reached 44 m, half of the intended height, and partly built columns and walls are all that remains of the mosque that also suffered from strong tremors of the 1555 Lisbon earthquake.

I really enjoyed exploring the complex which also included the Mausoleum of Mohammed V located on the edge of the rectangular square opposite the Hassan Tower.  The mausoleum, completed in 1971, contains the tomb of Mohammed V in the middle and the tombs of Hassan II on the left and Prince Abdallah on the right.

After taking in the view from complex, I joined our group as we headed to the medina.  This market was bustling!  I don’t know how, we as a group, managed to stay together.  Every vendor imaginable filled the area.  Locals shopped for food and clothing items while tourists looked at the handicrafts.  We browsed over the merchandise as we passed by each stall before we eventually stopped for lunch at Dar Arbatya for traditional Moroccan cuisine.

From lunch we visited Kasbah des Oudayas for a fantastic view of the Bou Regreg river and the Atlantic.  The kasbah, or fortress, was originally constructed in the 12 Century for defensive purposes.  Inside the kasbah, narrow corridors weaved past blue and white buildings.  The area populated with homes and businesses was quite sedate as compared to other places we visited.

We strolled past decorative doors, murals, lush potted plants, and cats (the animal of choice in Muslim countries), to a place where we could order tea while overlooking the Atlantic.  Next door was a garden.  I wandered through the garden while others rested at the tea house or shopped.

In the late afternoon, we headed back toward Casablanca. We passed aged towns with crowded markets along the way.  Our tour had dinner plans at Basman where we could taste more Moroccan cuisine and watch a belly dance.  Given we had eaten a tajine for lunch and dinner for most of the last two weeks, we bowed out of the late-night dinner.  Instead, I enjoyed a quiet sushi dinner at the hotel with our Icelandic friends while some others attended a music show at the Institut Français de Casablanca which was a few blocks from our hotel.  It was a nice day!  ETB

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