Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Mystic Pizza

Since 2010 when we first started our summer road trip adventures, Mark has had one major fear: somehow accidentally ending up driving through Manhattan.

On the eve of our journey from Washington DC to Connecticut , a visibly terrified Mark stayed up until 3am carefully planning out the route to make sure we avoided: Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, Manhattan, and the "No Mark Zone" just north of Manhattan that is a web of super busy interstate roads leading into Connecticut.

He had us running a nice sweeping curve through the Pennsylvania countryside and over through New York, eventually curving down into Connecticut. The sight seeing would be amazing, the blood pressure low. We may even be able to squeeze in some bird watching!

The morning of the big adventure came and April, handy dandy GPS into tow, realized that Mark's "scenic" route had added 220 miles to the trip.  She was not a happy camper. After all, April sits in the backseat with the kids. She manages movies, snacks, spills, audio books, real books, potty breaks, puke, constant fighting and constant talking and the constant interruption of everything that she is doing by our two little munchkins.

We were at odds, to say the least... but we agreed on a passive-aggressive attitude toward one another and forged at the astonishing speed of 40 mph in search of back roads and local color. America. Frick yeah.

In Leesburg, VA, we stumbled on to Melt Gourmet Cheeseburgers, a local institution that has a huge fan following and a wonderful assortment of burger combinations. Also, they put Pecorino Romano on their fries. And we all know that Pecorino Romano is the best cheese ever. Applause. 



Also on the "road less traveled by," we spotted a Cabela's.  April didn't know what Cabela's was, but Mark assured her that he had one of their catalogs and it was awesome. Why are these sportsman stores always so amazing? We don't know - but everyone in the family was so thrilled stop that we decided make camp for the night at a quaint little family campground right down the road.


The Blue Rocks Family Campground offered much more than expected - and the kids had a blast playing on the extensive playground for hours. Mark fired up the BBQ and we settled in for the night. April couldn't stop raving about how wonderful the off the beaten path trip had become. 



Morning came and Mark was nervous. Today was the day he would drive within 100 miles of Manhattan.

April was now once again not having it with the circuitous route.  Mark didn't have the fight in him this time, so he agreed to let her navigate. He handed her a scribbled legal pad with turn by turn instructions that would only make sense to a long haul trucker and said, "This is what I had planned, maybe it will help."

April fell asleep. 

We ended up smack dab in the middle of Manhattan at rush hour. 



Just in case anyone is wondering how much the toll is to cross the George Washington Bridge with 4 axles... It's $84.

Just in case anyone is wondering how much marriage counseling costs... We'll have to let you know :) 



It was terrifying.  Twice Mark was heard muttering: "I can do this. This is my finest hour." He also called a lot of people "pal" when they cut him off: "Come on pal!" and "Really, pal?" In the end, Mark was a rock star and drove this massive beast like a boss all the way to Mystic, Connecticut. 

April and Mark embraced with joyous relief. April admitted that she is a terrible navigator. Mark admitted that it's hard for him to always be right :)

Mystic, Connecticut is adorable, coastal and quite possibly the perfect summer temperature.  Our first stop was Mystic Pizza, inspiration for the movie of the same name and a total geek out moment for April.  


The pizza was, according to Andrew, the best pizza he has or will ever have. The waitresses were awesome and the walls are dotted with movie memorabilia. A fantastic road trip find!

It's important to note here that some people who work with Mark and April have never watched the movie Mystic Pizza. They also have not seen The Princess Bride.  Their names are Andy, Sarah and Crystal.  As you read this, they've been captured and taken back to 1988 for a lesson in what makes a perfect 80s movie.  Shameful.  

Anywho.... our next stop was the Mystic Aquarium. Home of the moment that April fell in love with Beluga Whales. 


That's not April. That's some German girl that was a total whale hog. Auf Wiedersehen, chick... Other people want to smile at the cute whale. 



The aquarium was awesome and the kids were sufficiently exhausted by all of the aquatic excitement. 


Back at the campground, evening was spent hosting a polar bear picnic with foam swords for all attendees. Children were reminded multiple times that neither stuffed animals nor foam weapons (nor children, for that matter) should be placed anywhere near the bonfire.  Fear of stuffed animal damage kept these two hyperactive rascals within the invisible confines of this 5x7 for two whole hours... Score one for Mom and Dad! 


The next morning, we headed to the Dog Watch Cafe for some seaside gaming and the best "Codwich" ever. 



Andrew insisted that he wanted to try oysters, until he saw them and was utterly horrified. Oh well, more for Mark and April!



Bellies full, we headed over to the Submarine Force Museum. Mark realized a decades-old dream he had harbored ever since reading "The Hunt for Red October," and walked aboard a decommissioned nuclear sub.

He explained to Andrew the ins and outs of the nuclear deterrent philosophy and how it kept the cold war from turning into Armageddon. Andrew asked everybody in the museum how the submariners would repel an attack of invaders that were trying to take over the sub.  When they said "by diving deep in to the sea," he thought that there should be more to the story than just pushing the "down" button.



Day three was the best, as we got to meet up with long time Steinhour family friends Shane Eisenbeis and his daughter, Lauren. They were so kind to give us a fabulous tour of their town - complete with a carousel ride of the oldest and one of the few remaining flying horse carousels in the country.

Fun fact, in the picture below we're standing in two States at once: Connecticut and Rhode Island! 







Oh AND they showed us Taylor Swift's house. We couldn't imagine living there in our "Wildest Dreams" so we had to "Shake It Off" and get back to our "Love Story."

Ohhhhhhh Taylor.  Love her.  


In a nutshell, we loved our time in Connecticut with family and friends! 


On to Maine!! 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

3 Days in the District

Remember during the 1st episode of the 2nd season of House of Cards... Frank and Zoe are just having yet another annoying argument in the Metro and then all of the sudden he.... well... you know.

Our DC experience was nothing like that.

But there was travel drama!

Let's go back to the June afternoon that we drove from Williamsburg to Washington DC....

(Insert flashback mystery music)

We were driving from Williamsburg to Pohick Bay Regional Park in the Washington DC area. As the journey came to an end, we got off the interstate and took the ramp around a blind corner that would take us under a bridge.

It signaled, very clearly, that this bridge had a maximum clearance height of 13 feet, 4 inches.

Mark saw the sign right away and immediately uttered, "Oh shit...."

Mark started braking.. and at the same time trying to do the math -- how many inches is 13 feet 4 inches?

April said, "What?!? What's the problem"

Mark stammered out, "Bridge...I think its too short"

Mark frantically searched for someplace to bail out, and avoid the obstacle...there were no options.

"What are you talking about", April was annoyed.

"I think we are going to hit that bridge with the top of the camper...we are going to rip off the air conditioner." Mark blurted out.

To brace for impact, April decided to offer no help whatsoever except to grab the "oh shit" handle and to pull on it so hard that she lifted her body up and out of her seat.

Mark didn't have the heart to tell her that this act would in no way lower the height of the fifth wheel dragging behind them.

As we came under the bridge we waited, and listened, and braced ourselves for crash and shudder that would indicate massive roof damage to the camper and loss of an air conditioner. A moment.....that did not happen.

We cleared the 160" bridge without a problem.

We have since measured and our camper is 159."

April snapped a picture of Mark's elated disbelief.


With a renewed zest for life following their near catastrophic bridge encounter, we left the fifth wheel at the campground and decided to bravely venture into the Washington DC metro area with the F350. Parking a dual wheel heavy truck on the streets of DC is no joke. But Mark totally rocked it and found a space just a stones throw from the Smithsonian museums.

First stop - the Smithsonian National Air and Space museum. We'd like to say it was really cool. We should say it was really cool - since it had tons of rockets and missiles and planes. But what we really want to say is that it was super crowded. Ew.

Mark hates crowds, but loves gatherings... LOL... so we walked across the National Mall to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Dinosaurs, mummies, and bugs! Oh, my! Happy children! 

After all that free museum hoping, were were hungry! We hoped in a super fun Pedicab ride and got a mini tour of DC on our way to the fantastic Ella's Pizza! 


After dinner, Max got a super cool Sponge Bob ice cream from a street vendor that was most certainly made from entirely artificial ingredients.  He was intrigued and perplexed. Later, he started to glow.


Monday morning came around and we decided that we would definitely not be braving the DC traffic on a week day. We had rolled the dice quite enough on Sunday, thank you. So, into the city we would train!!

We had no idea what the sign pictured above meant. So, we proceeded to the ticket booth to ask directions (and get a ticket). After purchasing our VRE and Metro tickets from the least helpful ticket booth attendant in the history of mass transit, we caught the final commuter train (VRE) into the city.

Unbeknownst to us, we boarded the train in the "Quiet Car". Yes...that's a thing. Fortunately, 3 out of 4 family members are capable of being fairly quiet.

The one working the camera below does not do well with "Quiet".


Once Mark finally convinced April that she HAD to stop talking, a request she continued to question at an unreasonably high volume, she settled for taking pictures. Here's an example of what happens on the train when your children are clones of their father... 


Off the train and in to the city, our first stop was the International Spy Museum in Washington DC. A secret identity is required, and Andrew happily became Colin Walker, 18, from England. Upon assuming this identity, he wanted us to make a bee line for the nearest pub. He's just like his mother. Just kidding, that didn't happen. 


Max tried his hand at intercepting enemy chatter. From the look on his face, I'm pretty sure it's Russian. He doesn't think much of commies, mostly because he realizes that the ideology is entirely unsustainable economically and fosters egregious corruption while stifling individual rights. 


Trip Advisor pointed us straight toward Jaleo for lunch - a super hip tapas restaurant that has tables with Foosball under the glass.  


I don't know what children usually eat at a tapas restaurant but ours were pretty pumped about chicken croquettes in a Chuck Taylor bowl. "I'm eating out of a SHOE!!!", exclaimed Andrew. See that other yummy food? They wouldn't touch any of that.  


Trip Advisor also highly recommended the Red Velvet Cupcakery across the street... so we had some cupcakes as well to ensure that we never ever make Trip Advisor mad :)



After lunch, we quickly visited the National archives to take a peek at the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution. This was all done with a 4 year old in tow that said "Dis is boring" at least fifty times. He's just upset because he can't read yet.

We told him to "Hush up and be grateful for your forefathers, son! Respect their foresight and your country! Your life is a cakewalk and wait until you have to really DO something in this world and effect change! Then you'll see the power of hard work!"

Kidding. We didn't say that... we just ignored him like the hundreds of other children licking the floor in boredom. 

Much more exciting to the eyes of said 4 year old was the National Museum of American History. This place is sweet and super fun and it even has a very early camper on display! Yay! Campers! We love them! We're so American!  


Note here... "But Mrs. Kate (insert Mrs. Royan) still had to perform most of the house chores that she did at home."

We hear you, Mrs. Cate... we hear you! 


Other things to be giddy about at this museum include the real bottles from the blind Paris wine tasting of 1976, the "Judgement of Paris." See also: Bottle Shock.  



Having had enough of the big city, we braved the Metro at rush hour and (eventually) found our way back to our car. It was obvious where we parked - since Mark's truck sticks wayyyyy out of every parking space.  


On the way home, we spotted and visited our first ever Wegmans.  It lived up to the hype, Wes and Amber Thompson!  We went in for zucchini and came out with enough groceries for five meals and the biggest pizza we had ever seen. 


Our our third and final day in the DC area, we headed out to George Washington's Mount Vernon, 

We were late for our tour of the famous house when these two elderly ladies traveling in this massive RV together were stuck in the middle of the campground roadway. Driver lady simply did not know how to back up her rig.  Passenger lady, in her house dress, was adorable but was zero help. Even less helpful than April.

Sensing yet another opportunity to rescue damsels in distress Mark hopped out of the truck and gave the 81 year old woman a lesson on angles, steering wheel hand placement, and the proper use of rear view mirrors.

Another group of ladies saved from distress by Mark's manliness. 


The very grateful ladies invited us to stay for boxed wine (it was 11:30am), but we had to pass because we had a date with Presidente Numero Uno at the historic Mount Vernon. 







Having had our fill of history, we braved DC traffic one last time to meet up with the sweetest newly married couple you ever have seen, Caitlin and James.  Our kids were tired, hungry and grumpy... so we failed to get a group pic of the cutie pie couple. Oh, shucks... we'll just steal this one off their Facebook.  


Aren't they swell? We love them.

Anywho, Chadwick's in Alexandria has delicious burgers, including an option to make your own burger creation.  Andrew made his own burger, The Meatinator, which included ham, swiss, ketchup, and bacon. Burger success. 


As we told our tales of DC adventures and mastering the Metro, James, a lifetime resident of the area, informed us that the DC metro is a death trap and a complete and total mess that should be avoided at all costs.  He cited instances of random fires, random beatings, random crashes... and random flooding leading to electrocution.

Turns out the Metro is just as dangerous as Zoe Barns would lead us to believe it is. House of Cards.

Done with city life, we're heading to the home of Mystic Pizza ... Mystic, Connecticut. 

Snarfs and Snoozes

While driving the 1772 miles home from Bar Harbor, April looked and Mark and said... "What should we call our last blog of the summer?&...