Egret, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
Yesterday Romy and I returned home from a short trip to the East Coast.
Specifically, we hit the bucolic – the eastern coast of the Chesapeake Bay – and the crazy urban: Washington, D.C.
Quite a difference.
Before I begin with some overall impressions of the trip, I want to begin with how our trip began, especially the can of crazy contributed by Boy Genius (BG, i.e. me).
We booked an early flight Monday – out at 6:30am Chicago time – so we could maximize the day, especially considering the travel time and the lost hour going into the Eastern time zone.
OK, so we’re at the airport at 4:30am and BG finally realizes that, of all things he could have forgotten to bring – of all things – he has forgotten his camera.
For those who don’t know, my first career was as a photographer. Couple of careers later, I’ve been getting into digital photography as a (hardcore) hobby. A big part of any trips we take is – for me – photography. How the frick could I forget my camera? I had all the batteries, charger, backup charger, memory chips blah blah.
But no camera.
Short story: Quick (nerve-wracking) round trip via taxi to my house; made the baggage check with all of five minutes to spare. (Shout out to 303 Taxi; they made it happen.)
Disaster averted, but not a good start to things…
OK, the rest of the trip went well (because Romy planned it; no thanks to me!), and here are some reflections on the trip out East. (NOTE: I’m slowly getting pics into a gallery; it’s going to take some time to get if fully populated.)
The most important is that I don’t ever see going back to either area in a general tourist manner. If some big event happened in DC, sure, might go for a night/weekend. If we were to get access to some house on the bay for a week just to chill out or whatever – that might be nice.
But to go to either area as tourist attractions: Not going to happen. Well, not for some time, at least.
But that’s today – maybe the memories will be fonder as time goes by…
We traveled to the east coast of the Chesapeake Bay, ultimately staying in Cambridge, MD. From there, we took trips: Everything is close to everything else; there’s not much to Maryland.
Here’s my thoughts on what we saw in Maryland:
- There really wasn’t much there. I expected – viewing the maps and all – to be able to hit the bay just about everywhere – the necks (peninsulas) that stick out into the bay are very narrow. But – even though the bay was a couple of hundred yards on each side of the road as we drove, there was no access to the bay. All private land. I guess that makes sense (in a way) – the Chesapeake area is a very old region of the US; by the time people thought it might be nice to preserve parts of the land, it was all private and farmed. Weird. With the exception of the water visible on both sides, driving down the necks felt like a drive through Indiana or Illionis farm country. Corn, soybeans and sorghum growing with pine/deciduous tree windbreaks on flat, flat land.
- The fishing industry – to my completely untrained eye – seems to be dying. Much less activity than I saw in Seattle or the Maine coast (Portland and smaller towns). That’s a shame, because the seafood was – to me – outstanding. Catfish, cobia (a whitefish), clams, oysters. Yum! But I didn’t see the activity, and the activity I did see was usually ships piloted by older men. The young just don’t seem to be following in their father’s footsteps. Caveat – again, an untrained eye reporting.
- The area of the Chesapeake we visited is still structured with an agrarian-type workplace/workforce. By that I mean that there seem to be roles for the men (fishing, farming, very physical work) and the women (retail, restaurants). With the exception of our hotel – a very-much-a-resort hotel – all the waitpersons at the restaurants we ate at were women. Cooks, bartenders, waiters. In the local places we ate, all the workers eating were men – the women I saw eating were not blue-collar workers; they might not have been workers at all (a fair amount of apparent mother/daughters – so not in the workforce per se) . When we visited Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, the two workers in the gift shop were women; the clutch of Rangers that poured out of a meeting were all men. Just an observation.
- What do people do for fun in this area? We’ve been in rural/remote areas, but there always seemed to be posters for this or that festival, a VFW or Elk Lodge. Here, not so much. The couple of times we spoke with people about things, they seemed to think Cambridge was the Big Town: Cambridge is a pit (they are trying, but it looks like years of neglect are going to make a comeback slow, if at all). There’s about three blocks downtown that are the downtown, and – while you can see efforts to restore – it’s not there yet, and the areas all around this small renaissance are brutally decrepit. House after house with “No Trespassing” signs in the windows. Not encouraging.
- Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge was what I expected a lot of the Chesapeake to be: Lots of wildlife; you can get to the rivers/bay shore. We saw (via an eagle cam and spotting scopes) an osprey eating in an (empty) eagle’s nest, turkey vultures, turtles, egrets, herons and so on. And lots of marsh grass, a view of the bay and so on. Very nice. Not spectacular, but recommended.
- The resort we stayed in – the Hyatt – seems to have been built on the Disney World model: Buy a huge chunk of land near – but not too near – a town (Cambridge/Orlando) for pennies on a dollar; build a big resort and watch the area around it spring up and help support this huge, largely undeveloped resort. Very nice hotel/resort, great view (we splurged, but it was nice on the balcony evening/morning to just watch the ships in the water; see the stars at night). But the Disney World effect hasn’t kicked in yet: Cambridge is trying but not there, and there’s nothing else near. I can see this resort in trouble if the economy doesn’t bounce back shortly.
The Associated Press says to never abbreviate our nation’s capitol; it’s either Washington, D.C. or District of Columbia.
Whatever. DC it is.
And what a change of gears it was to go from the “there’s no there here” Chesapeake to the urban jungle that is DC. I grew up in suburban Chicago, so big cities don’t faze me, but there were elements of DC that were, let’s say, disquieting.
- I’ve been to DC before, but that was years ago. Today, the city is a virtual Police State. Seriously. Yesterday, I was walking by the Holocaust Museum. I took a picture from across the street of the entire facade, and then crossed the street to take a closer pic of the facade. Now, there were two uniformed officers in front of the building (which is set back a hundred feet or so from the sidewalk). One on the sidewalk, one right in front of the building. When I started to take the picture, the officer on the sidewalk said I couldn’t take a picture that included the officer near the building. What?? The officer near the building wouldn’t budge (I tried waving him to one side), so I took what I could, showed the pic to the sidewalk officer and was on my way. Crazy. I have dozens of pictures of monuments and so on in DC with security in the picture. It’s virtually impossible to take a wide-angle picture of any high-profile building in DC (from the White House down to the Department of Agriculture) without including one or more security personal. Everywhere you go in DC there are the white-shirted security personnel posted, well, everywhere. And that’s not counting the FBI and Secret Service agents I saw (and those I didn’t…).
- Where do people eat in this town? Both doing the Mall crawl and back near our hotel, there was a dearth of restaurants. The latter is due to a lack of research on my part, but the former? Do all tourists eat at the museums and all government workers eat at cafeterias in their department? Seems that way. Very bizarre, and I’ve been in many big cities.
- The DC monuments – almost trite yet iconic – are breathtaking. The Capitol, the Supreme Court, the White House, Jefferson Memorial and – especially – the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument are all sites one should see at least once.
- We were only in DC for about two days total. Obviously, there was stuff we missed. I would have liked to go to both the National Gallery and the U.S. Botanic Garden, but one of the things I decided before the trip was to maximize stuff we can’t see in Chicago: We have a great art institute and botanic gardens here. Can only see so much… Also, the National Air and Space Museum – I could have spent a half day there instead of the hour or so we were there. I think Romy would agree. But we did a lot with the limited time we had; my biggest regrets are those that I have no control over: Can’t get close to the White House’s southern exposure; can’t get into the Supreme Court build at all (not even the foyer); can’t take any pictures (even sans flash) in the National Archives. Things like that.
All in all, a great trip.
As I’ve mentioned, while these are two places I’ve no compelling desire to go back to (unlike Maine or Montana), I’m glad I went. Saw some fun stuff; ate some awesome food (fodder for another entry). Relaxing. A much-needed change of pace.
Do I really have to go back to work on Monday?
I’ve now been back home for about a day (arrived Friday evening; now Saturday evening).
Yet it seems like a week ago that I was in DC just wandering around – but that was only about 36 hours ago. Wild.