Saturday, December 27, 2008


On Saturday morning, December 13, we set out from Maine to begin the final cross-country journey of our long adventure, which would eventually land us in Seattle in January. The backroads driving through Maine and New Hampshire was beautiful and just a little sketchy, with some snow still piled on the roads. As we neared Canada, we drove through a couple miles of Vermont, which would have been unremarkable, except for the fact that Brian had been in all of the other 49 states at one time or another in his life, so now, after 30 years of occasional traveling and a bit over a year of constant traveling, he had completed his lifetime traversal of the U.S.! Sarah was close, with just two to go: Michigan and North Dakota.

The border crossing turned out to be a small-time affair, with only one lane. That’s one lane, total – not even one lane in each direction. We weren’t sure what would happen if someone tried to cross in the other direction while we were occupying the lane, but in the 10 minutes or so that we were there, we didn’t find out – no one else arrived to cross the border, in either direction. When we first arrived, we weren’t even sure what to do – there were no border guards in sight, just a little warming hut. Were we even supposed to stop? Should we pull in to the left of the stop sign or to the right? But as we slowly pulled up, a guard emerged from the hut to talk to us. He turned out to be very friendly and had a great French Canadian accent. We chatted for a bit, he scanned our passports, and we were on our way. It was actually a pleasant border crossing experience – a far cry from the major crossings where you wait in line for half an hour, only to be greeted by a gruff crossing guard who’s probably been trained to intimidate your deep dark secrets out of you. (“Oh, OK, you win – I really do have 26 cans of beer in the cooler, not my allotted 24. And fine, you can have the orange that I bought in Canada and was going to smuggle back to the States!”) The Canadian guards always seem friendlier than the American guards, but still, this small-time crossing may have been our nicest ever.

Covered in snow, Quebec was simply gorgeous, although its roads were even less well-plowed than those in the U.S. Eventually, we made it to a major highway and continued on our way, making faster time with lower-stress driving but without anywhere near the same scenery.

We were planning to meet Brian’s cousin in Ottawa at 5 PM, but we arrived a bit earlier than expected, so we decided to check out the Parliament buildings. As we drove through, we found that Canada’s government buildings look nothing like America’s – no white stone or neoclassical architecture.

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We found a parking place and walked through the bracing cold to check out the buildings up close. Unfortunately, the Parliament building was closed to visitors for the day, but we stood inside for a few minutes anyway to warm up before making the trek through the cold back to our car.

Brian hadn’t seen his cousin Nicole in years, and he’d never met her husband Marcel or their two-and-a-half-year-old son Niko. Even better, Nicole’s father Ulysses was visiting from Greece for the holidays, and Brian couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen his uncle – Brian was probably only a few years old. We arrived at their house just after five to a warm welcome from all, especially Niko, who was clearly not at all shy around new people. Soon, we headed out to Nicole and Marcel’s favorite Greek restaurant for a fantastic dinner of many shared plates of Greek appetizers. Cheese was set on fire, much to Niko’s delight, as we all shouted “Opa!” It was a lovely meal in a cozy restaurant with warm company – a perfect antidote to the day’s disagreeable weather and long drive.

Nicole and Marcel took us out for breakfast the next morning as well. They were on a first-name basis with the wait staff at the restaurant, and when Niko’s favorite waitress showed up for her shift, she was carrying a wrapped present – a Tonka truck for Niko! We ate another good meal with great conversation, and learned that when you’re the guests of a Greek family, you don’t pay for anything. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Ottawa and wished we could have stayed longer, but after thanking Nicole and Marcel profusely for their hospitality, we headed back out on the road, planning to stay somewhere in Michigan for the night before finishing our trip to the Chicago area for Christmas.

The drive was long, but we did manage to take a few breaks. At a bathroom break somewhere in Ontario, we happened upon a Wal-Mart and decided to do some shopping for Canadian Christmas presents – Christie cookies (maple cookies) for Brian’s sister Christie and Caramilk bars for all. Some may think that the American version, Caramello, is the same thing, but Caramilk always tastes better for some reason.

When we arrived at the border, we crossed the Blue Water Bridge, from Sarnia, Ontario, to Port Huron, Michigan, and atop the bridge, we got a great view of Lake Huron. On the American side of the bridge, we wandered through the duty-free store and acquired a bottle of Bailey’s, then waited the requisite half hour or more in line before finally making it to the front of the customs and immigration line. We were a bit fearful when the guard asked Brian to roll down the back window so he could peer inside, and Brian had to warn him that our cargo, piled floor to ceiling behind the front seats, might spill out. The guard asked why we were carrying so much stuff, and Brian explained. Satisfied, the guard let us through. Whew! If he had decided to search our car, we could have been stuck there for days!

It was getting dark, but we still felt pretty good, so we decided to try to charge through to Illinois tonight, rather than staying in a cheap motel and finishing our drive the next day. We recharged with value-menu items at a Wendy’s and called up Brian’s parents to ask if we could arrive around 10:30 PM. They were surprised but said it was no problem. This day was much warmer than the previous one, so the roads were good, and the only hazard to deal with was rain, which got harder as we entered Illinois. But after a long, exhausting drive, we finally made it to Brian’s parents’ house and snuggled up in bed, happy that we wouldn’t have to get up and drive again the next day.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


We stayed in Maine from just before Thanksgiving until December 13, hanging out with Sarah’s family. After Thanksgiving, it was a pretty quiet couple of weeks.

The day after Thanksgiving, Sarah, Mom, and Amy went to a Peacox Productions holiday show. The show was a charity fundraiser that consisted of a series of numbers with men dressed in drag, lip-synching to holiday or oldies songs. The first few numbers were entertaining, but after a while the numbers started to look awfully similar. We were glad that we left Dad and Brian at home – there were only a few men in the audience and without exception, they got harassed by the “ladies”.

On Sunday, Amy went back to school. She had a couple of weeks to go to finish up the semester.

During the week while Sarah’s parents were at work, Sarah caught up on some reading. She read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. It wasn’t as good as his more popular work The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but it did offer some interesting insights into how America got into its present food mess and some practical suggestions for how to avoid the worst of the American diet.

While Sarah was reading, Brian was alternating between doing sudokus and fighting with the internet. Sarah’s parents have dial-up, which is painfully to use because it is so slow. We also went running a few times when the weather was decent.

We spent a couple afternoons at the local library using their wireless internet because that was the only way to really get anything done online. The library is essentially one room, but the librarian, Penny, has worked hard over the years to get grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other groups. As a result, it’s amazingly technologically advanced for such a tiny library. The library always brings back good memories for Sarah, as she spent a lot of time there as a kid.

Sarah did lots of cooking since both her parents were working. Since we haven’t had a kitchen in over a year, she didn’t really mind. She tried out some new recipes, some of which were tasty and others of which were questionable. Oh well, that’s always the way with experimental recipes. On two nights, Sarah and her Mom had lobster while Brian tried out Avinash’s steak cooking process and cooked steak for him and Sarah’s Dad. The steak turned out perfect and Sarah was delighted to get lobster, which is one of her favorites and a rare treat.

On Saturday, Brian and Sarah went to the Norlands Christmas celebration. The Norlands is a living history center that’s comprised of an old farmhouse, church, library, one-room schoolhouse, and a few other farm buildings. Today, it’s preserved and run as an education center.

Earlier this year, the barn burnt to the ground. Fortunately, they were able to save the attached farmhouse. Here’s where the barn used to be.

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Here’s the farmhouse.

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Nearly all of the furnishings were moved out of the house during the fire in order to save them. Some of the furniture was damaged by smoke or water so much of it is still in storage or being restored. The only piece of furniture that didn’t get moved out of the house was a piano that was too heavy to move on short notice. Playing carols on the piano was our friend, Jerry, who was the minister at our wedding.

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We hadn’t seen him in years, and he wasn’t expecting to see us – he looked quite shocked when we walked in.

We listened to carols for a while then continued on to another room where they were playing old-fashioned games. The kitchen had cookies and cocoa, and another room displayed plans for rebuilding the barn. After our tour of the farmhouse, we drove down the road to the one-room schoolhouse where we learned about school in the 19th century. We were surprised to learn that children didn’t get Christmas off if it fell on a weekday.

That afternoon, we went to a ceremony celebrating Sarah’s cousin, Brandon, becoming an Eagle Scout. Sarah sat behind several Boy Scouts wearing ties that said “cook, camp, hike” on the back. Sarah couldn’t help but wonder if she was qualified to be a Boy Scout after her year of experience. Joking aside, becoming an Eagle Scout is an impressive accomplishment, and we were glad to have a chance to attend the ceremony.

During the week, we visited with some more friends and family. Sarah went to see her high-school friend, Terri, and got to see her impressive collection of Christmas lights. We had breakfast with Jerry. He’s an armchair traveler and peppered us with questions about all the places we’ve been. We also visited Sarah’s Aunt Norma. When we arrived, she was baking as usual. On this day there was a chocolate cake in the oven and a cheesecake and sheet of cookies sitting on the counter waiting for the oven to free up. You’d never know to look at her that she’s such a baking fanatic. Apparently she owes her slender figure to the fact that even at 74 she still runs six miles on the treadmill several times a week.

On Thursday, we began the process of repacking our car. In addition to all the stuff that we’d brought with us, we had multiple boxes of stuff that had collected at Sarah’s parents’ house, Brian’s skis (which Amy lugged back from Colorado last winter), a huge box of Sarah’s clothes that Amy had borrowed for the year, and Sarah’s toy box that somehow didn’t go with her when she moved out of the house. Sarah’s dad just shook his head and said that there was no way this stuff was ever going to fit. Sarah’s a master packer though, and with some creative shuffling, everything fit back in the car, though admittedly not with much room to spare.

At lunchtime on Thursday, we went to Grammy’s house and cut a Christmas tree that Dad had scoped out earlier in the year. We’d heard it was a little spindly, but it really didn’t look bad. We practically drove right up to it – it must have been the shortest Christmas-tree expedition ever. The entire excursion only lasted 35 minutes.

Overnight, it snowed then rained then rained some more, leaving a nasty slushy, icy mess on the ground. We were glad we weren’t leaving that morning. Sarah’s mom had taken the day off to hang out with us and was also glad she didn’t have to drive to work.

We put up the Christmas tree after lunch, stringing lights and an old string of popcorn that Sarah and her Mom made when she was little. After that came all the ornaments. It’s always fun to look at the ornaments that have been collected through the years. After we had the tree decorated, Brian did a little pruning here and there (a natural tree isn’t as symmetric as a farmed tree) and we called it done. Sarah’s Mom would probably spend a few days adjusting decorations to get it just perfect, but we all thought it looked nice.

That evening, we watched The Grinch, which is somewhat of a tradition for Sarah’s family, and then called it a night early since we had a long day of driving ahead of us in the morning. Next, we were heading to Ottawa to visit Brian’s cousin then on to Chicago for Christmas with his family.


We celebrated Thanksgiving with Sarah’s extended family on her aunt and uncle’s farm in Albion, Maine. The farmhouse kitchen was bustling when we arrived.

Sarah’s cousin, Ellen, had her Thanksgiving chef’s hat on.

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Ervin also tried out the hat.

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Squash, fruit, and potatoes got chopped and cooked by a number of helping hands.

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Emily stirred up the topping for a gooey sweet potato dish that was promptly dubbed sweet potato candy.

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Somehow, the guys managed to relax and avoid the cooking frenzy.

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Laurie and Amy took a break from chopping for a photo.

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Fresh out of the oven, the turkey looks delicious.

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And, of course, there were multiple muffin tins of the requisite yeast rolls that Sarah’s grandmother always made. Here they are before they went in the oven.

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And here they are about 30 seconds after coming out of the oven.

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Nobody can resist the hot yeast rolls.

We started piling the food on the table and wondering how many additional busloads of people were showing up for the meal. Nobody was going to go hungry.

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Everyone started gathering around the table.

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Meanwhile, last-minute preparations were being made in the kitchen.

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Finally, we all sat (cozily) down to eat.

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After dinner, the food coma kicked in.

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A little later, we went outside to decorate the tree. The late afternoon light on the farm was very pretty.

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A game of Frisbee quickly started.

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Here’s the tree that was about to be strung with lights.

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Amy holds a ladder while Uncle Gary climbs into the tree to hang the lights.

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The ground crew lends a hand under the direction/abuse of taskmaster, Uncle Gary…

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...while others watch from the sidelines.

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Here come the reinforcements.

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Yikes, this looks dicey.

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With the tree decorated, a rousing game of whiffleball ensued.

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Since this was the next-to-last day of deer hunting season, Sarah’s Dad snuck off to go hunting, but not before Sarah got his photo.

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It was a great holiday on the farm.

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The drive from Virginia to Boston was long but uneventful. Our mapping software claimed it was a seven-hour drive but it took us nearly nine hours. Unfortunately, we were back in the land of toll highways. Most of the trip was along I-95 and we managed to shell out $25 in tolls over the course of the day. By the time we got to Randolph, Massachusetts, where we were staying with friends for the night, we were both exhausted and very glad to be getting out of the car.

We got to meet Kristen and Matt’s little girl Rose. She’s about six months old and adorable. She was also very good-natured, though Kristen insisted that she had just started teething and was much grumpier than usual.

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Since it was nearly Rose’s bedtime, Matt stayed home with her while Brian and Kristen went out for dinner. Meanwhile, Sarah drove into Boston to meet a couple of college friends for dinner.

Despite growing up in New England, Sarah had never driven in Boston. She had detailed directions but nobody with her to navigate and read a map. Thankfully, the traffic was very light because navigating through Boston’s maze of poorly marked streets was a mess. It seemed that half the streets weren’t signed and the other half had signs so small that they were impossible to see until it was too late to turn. Eventually, Sarah started using the odometer and turning when the appropriate distance had passed even if she couldn’t see the street sign. Amazingly enough, this tactic worked, and Sarah found her way to her destination.

Sarah met up with Erin and Suzanne, whom she hadn’t seen since graduation, for dinner on Beacon Street and they had a great time catching up.

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Finding the way back to the highway turned out to be easier than getting to Suzanne’s place had been. However, when she was almost back to Kristen and Matt’s, a road was closed due to an apartment fire. Luckily, after a couple of tries she found a road that went around the closed area.

The next morning was cold and raining. Unpleasant! Sarah and Brian hung out with Kristen and Rose for a while and then drove to Wellesley where they had lunch at a Thai restaurant in the ville. Then they went to Wellesley College and spent a half hour or so rearranging the car so that Sarah’s sister Amy would have a place to sit. When Amy got out of work for the day, we picked her up at her dorm and shoehorned her into the tiny space that we’d cleared out in the back.

Next stop, Maine for Thanksgiving…

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Washington DC

On Thursday night, November 20, we arrived in the DC area where we planned to spend a few days hanging out with friends and seeing the sights.

Friday morning, we took the bus and then the Metro into DC. Along the way, we read in a newspaper that the National Museum of American History was reopening that day after being closed for two years of renovations. We’d decided the night before that that was one of the places we wanted to see, not realizing that it had been closed. We hoped the crowds wouldn’t be too bad.

When we got out of the Metro station, we realized it was absolutely freezing outside. A biting wind was howling across the Mall. We wanted to go up the Washington Monument, but just as we got in line to get tickets a guard came over and announced that they were shutting the monument down because the elevator was broken again. We had to settle for the view looking up at the monument instead of getting the view looking down from the top.

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We quickly took a few more photos, first looking back at the Capitol Building…

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…and then looking the other direction to the Lincoln Memorial.

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In this photo, you can see the World War II memorial in the foreground.

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We’d planned to spend more time walking around the mall and checking out the monuments, but the wind was so bad that it was hard to stand up straight and it was unpleasantly cold so we decided we’d seen enough for now. Our next stop was the National Archives.

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This is one of the statues adorning the building.

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Happy to be warmly inside, our first stop in the National Archives was to see the Magna Carta.

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This particular document was the 1297 version of the Magna Carta. After an assembly of barons in England demanded that the king recognize their rights, the Magna Carta was originally written in 1215, and then it was revised over time. This version is one of only four original copies remaining and represents the foundation of English law.

Next we stopped in the large rotunda that houses the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, as well as a series of displays on the history of the US fight for independence that explain the impact of these documents. As preservation of these precious national documents is taken very seriously, the only document that was lit enough to get a photo was the Constitution.

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We learned that the originally proposed Bill of Rights had 12 amendments, not 10. The first two amendments were not originally ratified. The first concerned the number of constituents per congressional representative. The other amendment that didn’t make the cut related to congressional pay. This amendment was finally ratified in 1992 as the 27th amendment.

The documents were the highlight of the National Archives, but we also spent some time wandering around their other exhibit galleries, the Public Vaults. These displays housed a wide variety of items, from video footage of the presidents to a letter from a seven-year old asking the president to declare his room a national disaster area and send funds for its cleanup, to a series of maps showing how the US expanded. There were also displays on family history research and patent applications. The dizzying array of documents represents only a very tiny fraction of all of the material housed at the archives.

By this point, it was past lunchtime and we were quite hungry. We asked at the gift shop and discovered there was a café in the basement of the National Archives. The café was small and appeared to be geared more towards people working there than towards tourists. They had run out of a bunch of things because it was past lunchtime, but the food was cheap and we didn’t have to go wandering around looking for a place to eat. The sitting area displayed a number of historic posters that provided an interesting glimpse into national nutritional policy over the years. Given how prevalent corn and corn products are in the national diet today, the goal of this poster was certainly achieved.

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Appallingly, this poster suggests that butter is one of the food groups that should be eaten at lunch and dinner.

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Refueled, we walked back down the street to the National Museum of American History. This huge and eclectic collection of items is often referred to as the nation’s attic. Our first stop was at Julia Child’s kitchen.

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When Julia died, the museum actually moved her entire kitchen and its contents from her house in New England. The kitchen was designed by her husband to fit her tall stature (she was 6’2”). Pots, pans, and utensils were neatly arranged on pegboard covering the walls, with the outline of objects sketched in their place so they would always be returned to the correct place on the wall. The kitchen contained a variety of everyday kitchen items as well as some for the professional chef (such as the magnetic knife board on the wall and the professional range and oven). The kitchen also included Julia’s collection of cookbooks.

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Moving along to the third floor, we browsed through the pop culture galleries. Dumbo came from a ride at Disneyland.

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The most famous article in the National Museum of American History is probably Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz. The slippers were originally silver but were changed to red during filming because the red showed up better on the Technicolor film.

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Kermit the Frog and Oscar the Grouch also found homes in the gallery.

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We learned that Oscar the Grouch wasn’t always green. In early episodes of Sesame Street, he was yellow and then orange.

Looking down from the center of the third floor, we could see the long line waiting to see the newly restored Star Spangled Banner.

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This was the original flag that inspired the national anthem during the War of 1812. Today the flag is in pretty bad shape and is displayed under low light conditions. The displays surrounding the flag told the story of the national anthem as well as the early history of the flag. The flag was owned privately for many years and at times sections of it were cut out and given away as souvenirs. How American, yet how unfortunate…

Outside the exhibit were a number of people dressed in period garb in honor of the reopening of the museum.

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The museum was too large to take the whole thing in during a single afternoon, but we spent awhile longer wandering through the exhibits, particularly those about presidential life. The hat the Lincoln was wearing when he was shot was among the historical artifacts on display.

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At this point, we’d had a pretty full day of sightseeing. We hopped on the train to Bethesda where we planned to meet our friends Avinash and Marketa for dinner. We were there a little early so we spent some time browsing in a Barnes and Noble before Avinash picked us up. Dinner was at a yummy Spanish tapas restaurant.

Saturday morning, Sarah got up and drove into DC to meet her friend Jen for brunch. Having never driven in DC before and not having a navigator, Sarah was quite proud of herself to make it to the restaurant without much hassle (only one wrong turn from a roundabout that was fairly easily corrected). The mostly grid arrangement of roads in DC is a big help when navigating in an unfamiliar area. Sarah and Jen had fun catching up and reminiscing about their days in France.

That afternoon, we went with Avinash and Marketa to a Czech movie called The Country Teacher. After the movie, we ate at a Lebanese restaurant.

Sunday, we drove out to Harpers Ferry. Sarah wanted to go to West Virginia, since it was one of the few states in the US that she hadn’t been to previously. As it happens, Harpers Ferry was about the closest point in West Virginia from where we were staying, and it is the site of a really interesting National Historical Park.

We parked at the visitors center and took the bus down to the historic townsite. The strategic location at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers made the area important through much of the early history of the US.

Looking up from the bus stop, we saw a well preserved church.

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Much of the town is now owned and preserved by the National Park Service, but there are still some private buildings and businesses. This is one of the main streets in the area owned by the park system. Some of these buildings have been turned into museums.

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It was a peaceful afternoon with only a few other people wandering around as we strolled through town taking in the sights.

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We crossed the Potomac on a walking bridge beside the railroad tracks.

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From there, we climbed a couple of miles on a pleasant hike through the woods, enjoying the fresh air and exercise. At the top, we were rewarded with views looking down on Harpers Ferry and the rivers.

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After our hike, we continued exploring the old buildings and streets. Here’s a glimpse inside the local tavern.

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Numerous old structures were beautifully preserved.

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We finally dragged ourselves away around late afternoon and started the drive back to Virginia. Even the drive was pretty.

The next morning, we took a picture with Avinash and Marketa before continuing on our way up to Boston.

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