July 28, 2014

Delmarva; Day 4: "Orioles"

Wednesday, July 9, 2014: When it comes to summer road trips, I like to think of them more as "traveling" than "vacationing." I hear the word "vacation" and I immediately think of the Beach Boys' lyrics: There's a place called Kokomo. That's where you wanna go to get away from it all... That sort of thing is fine for some, but, for me, traveling is all about seeing new places, meeting new people, and experiencing new things. It's active. Nothing makes me happier than to venture outside of my comfort zone, perhaps scaling a mountain or sampling some different cuisine. Or, at the very least, learning something about a place that I would never have known otherwise. As a result, I'm always more exhausted at the end of the journey, but, hopefully, my horizons have become a little bit broader because of it.

On the fourth morning of this trip, I was hoping to get an early start and go to Assateague Beach to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, the skies were completely overcast and drizzly and it was impossible. So, instead, we had our continental breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and headed out on the road for another 3-hour drive. I felt a little sadness at seeing Chincoteague Island disappearing in the rear view mirror, but this was quickly overtaken by the excited anticipation of the two days in Baltimore that were directly ahead of us. That's why I always plan trips with multiple destinations. This wasn't the end of our Virginia trip, it was the beginning of our Maryland adventure.

Upon reaching Baltimore, our first stop was at Fort McHenry, where we arrived just in time to see a fife and drums demonstration. This was the place where Francis Scott Key penned the "Star-Spangled Banner" after witnessing a British bombardment on the fort during the War of 1812 and seeing the American flag waving victoriously o'er the ramparts by the light of the rockets' red glare. The base of the original flagpole is still on display in one of the fort's rooms and the famous flag now resides in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian. Standing in this historic place listening to the drums playing, I couldn't help but feel patriotic. Oh, by the way, there's one other curious factoid that I learned about the "Star Spangled Banner" -- while the words of the National Anthem were written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, the melody is borrowed from an earlier English drinking song. It's kinda strange to think about it -- every time we rise during the 7th-inning stretch at a baseball game and hold our caps over our hearts to honor the flag, the musical notes that we hear are the very same ones that groups of Gloucestershire gentlemen sang in social clubs while imbibing wine centuries before. Who would have ever thought it?

Our hotel was a 15-minute walk from all of the must-see sights. As parking in Baltimore can be difficult, we were happy to leave the car in the underground garage and explore the city on foot. The Inner Harbor is an amazing area. There are four Historic Ships docked at the pier that guests may climb aboard. We decided to check out two of them, starting off with the 1854 sloop-of-war "USS Constellation." It was fascinating to step below deck and see the rows of cannons and the hammocks on which the men slept. In its early history, this ship disrupted the slave trade by capturing three ships. It was also used as a training ship during WWI.

The second ship that we boarded was the "USS Torsk." Constructed in 1944 and named after a Cod-like fish, this trench class submarine conducted two war patrols off the coast of Japan during WWII. It always amazes me to see the tight quarters on a submarine. It takes a bit of effort not to bang one's knees or forehead on the frame when going from room to room through the hatches.

Located right next to these two ships is Baltimore's World Trade Center. Here, we took an elevator to the Top of the World Observation deck on the 27th floor. From this vantage, I snapped a lot of great pictures of the city, which I think look amazing in black and white.

Also located on the pier is the National Aquarium. The tanks on these four floors offer glimpses of one beautiful habitat after the another -- Amazon River, Atlantic Coral Reef, Shark Alley, Jellies Invasion. An escalator carries visitors to the top floor and into the moist climes of a Tropical Rainforest. Another area transports its guests into an Australian River Gorge. I've been to many aquariums in many places, but this one is perhaps the nicest.

After having dinner at a noodle place, we decided it would be a great evening to watch the Baltimore Orioles take on the Washington Nationals. As we weren't sure exactly where the ballpark was, we simply followed the orange shirts through the city and soon converged upon the gates of Camden Yards. It's funny, I've seen this stadium countless times on TV, but it's so different to be standing in front of it. I enjoyed placing my hand on the familiar brick facade of the B&O Warehouse and walking the sidewalk among the plaques where home run balls have landed on Eutaw Street. It was a fun evening in a beautiful ballpark. Sitting in the upper deck, I took a few snapshots of the clouds above the scoreboard that came out looking terrific. It was also a giveaway night and we ended up getting our own orange shirts at the gate...

"And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love."

~1 Corinthians 13:13


July 22, 2014

Delmarva; Day 3: "Greenhead Horseflies"

Tuesday, July 8, 2014: We began our third day on Assateague Island with a hike on the Marsh Trail. This path brings its visitors by an area called the Snow Goose Pool. On the map, it looks like a gigantic pond, however, we found the place to be arid and looking more like the Serengeti. There were many patches of dry, cracked ground that looked exactly like the land that I've seen in many documentaries about Africa. All that the place needed was a few giraffes loitering in the distance and I would have been convinced that I had somehow traveled 7,200 miles due east. There was also an observation platform with built-in telescopes that I found to be particularly neato. I'd like to say it was all good, but there was one tiny drawback. It was here in the marsh that I encountered a swarm of what would become my very least favorite creatures in all of Chincoteague -- Greenhead Horseflies. These are nasty little buggers whose bites feel like tiny laser beams piercing into the skin. They are also relentless in their attacks. Luckily, I always bring along a bottle of insect repellent on hikes and I quickly dowsed everyone in the relieving spray. It did the trick and saved us from what could have been an otherwise agonizing walk.

After leaving the marsh, I stopped the car near a stream where I had seen many people hanging around the day before, very curious about what the site had to offer. As we walked by the water's edge, we found the earth riddled with tiny holes. At first, I thought that these were man-made, but I then saw a thumb-sized crab emerge from one and I knew better. A little more exploring of the area uncovered an entire legion of the little crustaceans, so many that the ground appeared to move. It was an incredible sight.

The road ended up once again at Tom's Cove Visitor Center. On a rear porch, the place has a row of rocking chairs set up that overlook the ocean. I was happy to just sit back and enjoy the scenery and the beautiful Virginia breeze for a while.

As we headed back to our hotel to spend a little more time in the swimming pool, we stopped off at Funland Amusement Park for a quick game of minigolf and then at the Island Creamery for some of their homemade ice cream (another suggestion from Captain Charlie).

In the early evening, we went back to Assateague to take a drive around the Wildlife Loop (which is only open to cars after 3:00). We parked the car at the head of the Swan Cove Trail and took a lovely hike to a secluded beach. I couldn't help but take off my shoes and step into the cool waters. The surf was intense and the rushing waves tugged at my feet nearly stealing my balance a few times. It was a marvelous setting. This was to be our last day in Chincoteague and I made sure to savor every moment of it. For I knew that the next morning we would be crossing back over the causeway bound for someplace in Maryland...

"I pray that out of his glorious riches
he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit
in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts
through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,
may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp
how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,
and to know this love that surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled to the measure of all
the fullness of God."

~Ephesians 3:16-19


July 17, 2014

Delmarva; Day 2: "Dolphins"

Monday, July 7, 2014: For the second morning of this trip, I had booked ahead of time a private boat cruise that would take us around the islands. The boat was schedule to depart the docks at 10:00 AM, so, with a little bit of time to spare after our continental breakfast, my family and I hopped into the car and took a drive down to Assateague Beach to explore. I was very excited to see this beach and my anticipation was well rewarded. The Atlantic Ocean currents and crashing waves were very powerful. The sky was slightly overcast and a few sun rays breaking through the cloud cover over the water added to the ominousness of the setting. It was an awesome moment. I was a little bit concerned about the chances of rain on the cruise, but the clouds would soon give way to blue skies. Just across from the clam shell-covered parking lot of Assateague Beach is the Tom's Cove Visitor Center. This building houses an aquarium and a touch tank. Here, we got up close and personal with a few horseshoe crabs, clams, and knobbed whelks. When turned over, horseshoe crabs appear frightening, though they are actually quite harmless.

At 9:45, we headed to the pier where we met up with our excellent ecotour guide, Captain Charlie, a longtime resident of Chincoteague. He made the cruise fun and informative for both parents and kids, including the suggestion of a few great restaurants on the island. My favorite part of the cruise came when we landed on a huge sand bar and got out of the boat and walk around. We picked up a lot of shells and spotted several hermit crabs among the rippled patterns in the sand. Back on the boat, we encountered pelicans, dolphins, bald eagles, and some of the famous Chincoteague ponies. Captain Charlie told us that finding ponies on the beach is a rare sight and that fewer than 20% of his groups ever get to see dolphins. We were lucky to see everything. Of course, dolphins breach the water so quickly that it was impossible for me to get a good snapshot. The captain ended the tour by giving each of the kids a souvenir whelk shell. It was a very special cruise.

After we were back on land and in our car, we headed over to Wallops Island to pay a visit to the NASA Flight Center. As we got near to our destination, we noticed some very unusual aircraft circling overhead. Each plane would drop down between the giant radar dishes as if coming in for a landing and then quickly ascend back to the skies, perhaps to give visitors a good view of the machines in action. The NASA Visitor Center has many fun activities for the kids, such as launching bottles on a string using air pressure and measuring one's place in the room using radar. Another cool feature is called "Science On the Sphere." Here, we watched films about the environment on a glowing globe in the center of the room. Very interesting.

Next, we took the car across the border into Maryland to visit the Delmarva Discovery Center. This was all about the Delmarva Peninsula. The Native Americans. The wildlife. The shipping industry. Right beside the center runs the black water of the Pocomoke River, which we had learned gets its color from the Cypress Swamp where it originates.

After returning to the island, we had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant called Saigon Village which had been recommended to us by Captain Charlie. Incredible food! I went away saying that it would be well worth returning to Chincoteague Island someday for this restaurant alone. It is some of the best Asian cuisine that I've ever had.

"Therefore, get rid of all moral filth
and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept
the word planted in you, which can save you."

~James 1:21