It’s time to start planning for the next couple of trips now that the house has settled back to just the three of us. We had a great visit with a lifelong friend that included jaunts to the Tampa and Sarasota airports, Kennedy Space Center, Braves Cool Today Stadium, Cocoa Beach Pier, Titusville, Venice Rookery, Lemon Bay pontoon cruise, and a birthday dinner sunset. After several delays yesterday on our friends’ trip back, he finally made it back to Portland with a first-class ticket upgrade. After a night there, he’ll return to his dogs for a welcome reunion. With no house guest, I have a free day today with few obligations except football and soccer.
We went to see Broadway Diva Grace Fields last night at the neighborhood Islandwalk Entertainment Complex. She had an overpowering operettic voice more suitable for the Phantom numbers she preformed when compared to Judy Garland tunes she also sang. There was a meet and greet for neighbors at intermission so we snuck out the back door. It was not as bad as the Styx/Journey cover bands we saw here a few months ago. The next performance we’ll go to is The Land of the Greedy Mouse musical comedy that’s being put on by our talented neighbor down the street. Our fifth edition of the “Meet The Borrego Neighbors” get-together is this Friday as we continue to develop friendships.
My wife and I will sit down this afternoon and plan a two-week family trip to Kauai for a year from now and a summer-time three-week drive into Northern Michigan that will eventually include a relaxing week in Hilton Head. We plan to drive through Central Illinois and my Indiana home town to visit friends, stay at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, see the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, and make stops in South Carolina and Atlanta to visit relatives. We’ll fit this into our aggressive 2022 travel schedule that also involves a Portland visit in conjunction with an Alaska/Russia/Japan Viking Ocean Cruise and two weeks on Florida’s Singer Island for our 22nd anniversary. We’ve already paid for a Viking Egyptian River Cruise and extended stays in Cairo and Petra for 2023. It’s time to make the most of our retirement after Covid put some dents in our plans these past two years.
Traffic was a mess coming and going from Cape Canaveral. My expectations of what we might see were somewhat spoiled by the fact we had already been to the Houston Space Center for a tour. However, excitement started to build when we found out that an actual launch was planned for the next morning. We drove to the Space X launch sight just down the beach from the Cocoa boardwalk after having lunch and watching the surfers tackle the waves. Their headquarters was not impressive, at least when compared to the Blue Origin compound, however it was their rocket holding 50 Starlink satellites that was scheduled for blast-off at 7:01 a.m.
We got up early to see the sunrise and launch, choosing a location across the water from Launch Pad 40, leased by Space X. In the far distance we could see the white cone of the Falcon 9. A number of photographers were set-up near us. I took the time to get in a quick mile while we waited. Neither my wife or I had a decent night’s sleep due to a flag-football team that was staying in the room directly above us. Mother Marriott refunded our points but that did not make up for the frustration of all the noise. There was a mist in the air when we found out about the 40-minute delay, having missed any signs of the sunset behind a bank of heavy clouds. Eventually, the flight was scrubbed so we headed back to the hotel to get ready to tour The Kennedy Space Center.
We did at least see the draw bridge over the water operate – not quite as exciting as a launch. It was overall a much better experience than Houston. Most rockets are launched from the Cape because the spin of the earth will boost a trajectory traveling in an Eastern direction while there is also less risk of hitting a populated area in the event of a malfunction. Houston typically takes control after the launch and helps to retrieve the returning capsule in the calmer Gulf waters. Both sights played a major role in the moon landing. We rode on a launch simulator, took the bus out to the famous Launch Pad 39, and saw many different presentations on the history of space travel. The displays were much more elaborate than Houston, with more of a Disney-esque appeal. We saw Space Shuttle Atlantis, various Mars rovers, and the massive Saturn V rocket. It was all indeed worthy of the quote, “one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”
Over the past year-and-a-half, despite the travel limitations of Covid, we have moved two cars across country from Portland, Oregon to Venice, Florida. We traveled through California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama on one leg, along with Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida on the second journey with our dog. We did a side trip to Glacier National Park but couldn’t get into Canada. We’ve also thoroughly covered our new home state of Florida with Marriott Vacation Club locations on South Beach, Marco Island, Singer Island, and Amelia Island. However, there have been too many travel plans crushed by the virus and fires. We had plans to go to St. Kitts, Bali, Tahoe, and Kauai. There were also cruises scheduled to Egypt, Spain-Finland, Russia-Norway. Egypt has been rescheduled for 2023, while some cruise funds were diverted to next year’s tour of Alaska, Russia, and Japan. In total, we lost nearly 60 days of travel in that timeframe, but saved nearly $50,000 of our retirement funds. Most of that money probably will end up in our new Florida home.
Where do we go from here? The Kennedy Space Center is our next little road trip, adding to our Florida experiences. For Christmas, we’ll be at Disney World for their 50th Anniversary celebration. We also plan to book the fairy from Ft. Myers to Key West, so I can stand on the southernmost point of the United States and feel the Jimmy Buffet vibe of the tropics. Maybe a Caribbean Cruise is in our future with so many affordable options out of Miami? We would like to try again organizing holiday family get togethers in Kauai or Tahoe to make up for last year’s misfortunes. The Hawaii option would involve flying into Portland or San Francisco to break up the trip. We will already be in Portland in September to visit family and friends before we catch our Alaskan ocean cruise out of Vancouver, with thoughts of taking the scenic train ride into Canada. A drive up the East Coast into Maine is another goal, plus a stay at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Northern Michigan.
My wife wants to see China if international politics once again allow us to be safely welcome. London, Scotland, and Ireland are also on her bucket list. Plans have changed considerably in the last year with the onset of Covid and limited financial resources, so our once aggressive retirement dreams have been trimmed down to a more realistic level. After all, we now live in a popular vacation spot with resort amenities. Why deal with all the hassles and expense of travel?
It’s been so busy since we got back from Pittsburgh two weeks ago that I haven’t had time to write the traditional commemorative poem. These poetic recaps will help us recall some of the Bridge City memories years from now, along with the daily diary entries I make. Since our return, we’ve enjoyed back-to-back visits from my wife’s sister and a best friend from Indianapolis. The Pittsburgh trip included my son and his family of five, who stopped in Savannah for a ghost tour on the long 16-hour drive, while my wife and I flew Spirit from Tampa. Our cramped quarters for four days was the downtown Pittsburgh Fairfield Inn. You can go back to Post #1818 thru Post #1820 for additional details on our family adventure.
Of all the places,
We planned to see.
Came to be.
Forget Bali, Egypt, or Kauai,
The virus cancelled all.
No St. Kitts to start the year,
With Tahoe fires this Fall.
But nothing stopped,
Our Cubbie appeal.
In seeing Bridge city,
Made from glass and steel.
Hardly a Mecca,
As travel goes.
But nonetheless doable,
Despite Covid woes.
Not “The Pitts,”
That I expected.
That should be respected..
And Warhol Museum.
Carnegie Science Center,
Hopping off to see them.
From Primanti Brothers,
To The Cheesecake Factory.
We found the pickles,
To be satisfactory.
The kids by car.
While we flew.
Got dollar dogs,
And the “W” too.
A stop in Tampa,
Just us two, at last.
But company’s coming,
Got to get home fast.
Copyright 2021 johnstonwrites.com
It’s our last day in Pittsburgh with a visit to the Cheesecake Factory. Yesterday, was a long, boring tour of the city including the Duquesne Incline, Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop, and The Carnegie Science Center. I feel like I’ve seen it all, after hopping on and hopping off all day long. We were also responsible for entertaining the grands last night while mom and dad had a well deserved date night. We went to Noodles and Company so the little one could have mac & cheese.
Pittsburgh is a great sports town, host of the very first World Series back in 1903. I saw the remnants of Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium, watched the Cubs play in PNC Park that is right next door to Heinz Stadium, home of the Steelers and Panthers. This morning I ran through Highmark Stadium where the Riverhounds play and the tour bus took us by PPG Paints Arena that the Penguins call home. Professional basketball never really caught on here after the Pipers and Condors dissolved in 1972. The Pipers were actually the very first ABA Champions in 1967-68 with star center Connie Hawkins but moved to Minnesota shortly after. With a history of Super Bowl, World Series, and Stanley Cup victories, they still call Pittsburgh the “city of champions” because no other city of comparable size has matched the success – but it’s been awhile. 2017 was the last for the Penguins, 2009 for the Steelers, and 1979 for the Pirates.
Our flight back to Tampa, the new city of champions, is later this afternoon and we’ll be staying there tonight before going home to entertain my wife’s sister and her husband for a few days. They are in the area for a funeral that sadly disrupted their plans to see us later in October. Covid, fires, funerals, and cancellations have kept us away from family and friends this past year. Only Pittsburgh seems to have escaped from messed up travel plans. It’s certainly not the most glamourous vacation haven we’ve been to but I’ve been impressed with how the city has bounced back from the downfall of the steel industry. I doubt that we’ll ever be back, but I’ve enjoyed our stay in the once “City of Champions.”
We’re bringing in October this year in the great city of Pittsburgh. I’m impressed with what they’ve done here with all the development along the riverfronts. The ballpark is beautiful with the statues of Willie Stargell, Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, and Bill Mazeroski and the corners of the greenspace that surrounds it on the well-bridged Allegany. For a little bit of art culture, we spent some time yesterday at the Andy Warhol Museum. Dinner was $1 hot dogs but lunch was a sandwich feast at Primanti Brothers where the fries are served between the buns and the meat and cheese are piled high. The spicy pickles were a big hit with the kids. The New Cubs beat the Pirates 9-0 in a poorly attended game, handing the Bucs their 100th loss of the season.
My granddaughter, Nora Grace, has yet to see the Cubs lose in three attempts. Her namesake Mark Grace would be happy that this three-year old has become a lucky charm. She rarely but her new bright yellow, foam Pirates bat down all evening, waiting for her turn at the plate. I think she especially liked the Parrott mascot and the Pierogi race that you can only see at PNC Park. The other two grandkids were unimpressed, except when it came to the cotton candy and ice cream.
I ran the bridge this morning over the Monongahela this morning on what felt like a Fall day with blue skies, cool temperatures, and a touch of color in the leaves. My legs were especially stiff and sore after all the walking we did yesterday, but I once again managed to get in all 3.1 miles on day 4,660 of “The Streak.” It woke me up now that September has ended. (See Post #1268)
I barely broke a sweat this morning on my first Pittsburgh run, reminding me of those days in Portland not so long ago. It was cool with busy traffic and signs of homelessness. I lost my music in the midst of tall buildings, temporarily blocking my phone signal. We had a chance to walk around a bit last night before dinner through PPG Place, a testament to 80s architecture in the six glass buildings that border the square. Steel, Glass, and Ketchup are still the cornerstones of Pittsburgh Industry. It was not easy running on the uneven sidewalks and small hills that are characteristic of this area. In the distance, I could see the bridges that span the three rivers – Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio.
Tonight the Cubs play the Pirates, one of the reasons for our visit. We’ll plan a Hop-On-Hop-Off excursion with the grandkids on Friday so we can see all the sights and learn more about the history of this city. These open-air bus tours have become traditional for seeing some of the larger cities without having to deal with the traffic. We’ve done Amsterdam, Paris, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York in this manner, as I recall. We’ll then explore on foot the areas of interest and catch the next bus. They also provide a guided tour with interesting insights as they wind through the streets. It’s especially helpful in the foreign cities where you can dial in your own language.
We’re thinking about lunch today at Primanti Brothers, famous for their sandwiches that are topped with slaw and fries. The ribeye from Ruth’s Chris has yet to digest, so this is not a matter of hunger but rather the thing to do in Pittsburgh. The other must-do is to ride the inclines. We’re just across the bridge from the Duquesne and within walking distance of the Mono and “Coal Hill” that it served. The Big Mac was introduced in this area and native Heinz Ketchup is probably one of the ingredients in the secret sauce. Pierogies were first made here and we wouldn’t want to leave without a taste of a Klondike Bar, chipped ham, and a skyscraper cone, also “Burgh” originals. I’ll keep you posted on our progress – Good Morning, Pittsburgh!
All the glamorous trips have been cancelled these past few years, but it looks like we’ll get to Pittsburgh. I’m sitting in the terminal digesting some black & blue hamburger sliders, a rare breakfast treat, while constructing this post. We got up at the same time as normal, but I had to shorten my run and skip the swim to be out the door by 8:30a. Three hours later we’re about to board our economical Spirit flight. The hour-and-a-half drive into Tampa and parking at the Marriott went smoothly. We’ll leave the car until Sunday when we check-out of the room reserved for Saturday night. It’s a very big benefit of Mother Marriott, considering that our entire vacation will be paid with points and we don’t have to deal with airport parking.
With the grands joining us in Pittsburgh, we are all staying at the downtown Fairfield, not exactly the epitome of luxury when it comes to Marriott choices, but affordable for a family of seven between two suites. We’ll check-out the “City of Bridges” over the three rivers before the Cubs vs. Pirates game tomorrow night. The railway inclines, pizza/sandwich shops, and perhaps the Andy Warhol Museum are on our radar. A Ruth’s Chris restaurant near our hotel may be our dinner destination tonight before the entire gang arrives by car.
It’s hardly the resort lifestyle that we’re now accustomed to and more like our apartment stint in downtown Portland. Hopefully, the city hasn’t deteriorated like our former home town, ravaged by unrest and riots. We want to do some walking if it’s safe and the weather is pleasant, with everything within a mile of the hotel. There should also be a number of parks and paths along the waterfront. Pittsburgh is our last chance this year for a vacation getaway -please don’t let us down! I’m also looking forward to wearing jeans again after four months of shorts.