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(a) "A stranger on our Shores," or
(b) "A Visit to the Colonies (plus Texas)," or
(c) "Coming to America" (apologies to Eddie Murphy)

Tuesday March 8, through Thursday March 24, 2016


Jenny's has had an English friend for about 60 years. At first they were pen-pals, that led to a promise that the other would attend the wedding of whoever married first. Jenny spent the Summer of 1966 exploring England with her, and being a bridesmaid in her wedding.

The friendship has continued, with numerous visits to her in England over the last 50 years, but for various reasons she could not return the visit... until now. America is a little larger than England, and we only had a couple weeks rather than a whole summer, so we could not do as good a job exploring America as the two young ladies did exploring England in 1966, but we picked New York City, Washington DC, and Texas (never a British Colony) as the sample.

Arrival - Tuesday March 8

Travel Our friend flew from London Heathrow to JFK airport in New York. Her flight left at 10:15 am but that was 5:15 am New York time, and she lives a couple hours from the airport, so despite the 1:25 pm scheduled arrival, we knew she would be tired!

Jenny and Charlie flew to JFK airport, landing about the same time (well, her plane was early). She had cleared Immigration and Customs by the time we were claiming our bag in the same terminal. Using the Airport Train and New York Subway, we were at the hotel in the Theater district by mid-afternoon.

Times Square Tuesday Evening

After a brief rest we ventured to Times Square, a couple blocks from our Hotel.

The Leggo store was one of several brief stops in the Times Square area. Then a gourmet dinner at Applebee's at West 50th and 7th Avenue. Two excuses for Applebee's, we were too tired for a fancy dinner, and it is "American Food."

Wednesday March 9

On Wednesday morning we went to the 9/11 museum in lower Manhattan. There were lots of chilling sights from the attack, such as this melted fire truck.

Or the antenna that had been on the top of the south tower (the tiny circle on the sign/picture, if you can see it)

Or this piece of the outside of the south tower, from where the airplane struck the bulding.

There are two reflecting pools with waterfall in the position where each of the two towers stood ... and the water symbolically disappears in a hole in the center. The border of the pools include the names of the thousands of people killed in that building.

The new "World Trade Center Tower 1" is complete and occupied. It stands a symbolic 1776 feet tall.

The shorter WTC 4 (merely 978 feet tall) is complete, to the right of WTC 1 in the picture. (WTC Buildings 2 and 3 are under construction.)

The Transportation Hub is still being completed. Some trains are under the tower, as before, but other trains and subways will be in this separate building.

From the World Trade Center we walked to Battery Park, around the southern tip of Manhattan.

We took the Staten Island Ferry for a view of the New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.

It also gave us a good view of the New York Skyline

And Ellis Island, where many (or most) immigrants to the United States were processed for years.

As we walked back through the financial district, we stopped at Trinity "Wall Street" Church (Anglican, founded 1697). It is a lovely church, but more to the point of the visit, it was the focal point of people seeking lost friends and relatives after the 9/11 attack, and was a place of peace and rest for the rescuers working on "the pile" as the ruins of the two World Trade Center towers were called.

Working our way up 5th Avenue and other landmark streets, we walked all the way from Wall Street to Central Park, and found a gazebo atop a hill in the park. Then back to the Barrymore Theater on 47th Street to pick up Tickets for tomorrow night's show.

After dinner at Scarlatto's (Italian) restaurant, across from the theater, we wandered Rockefeller Center a bit.

Including some gardens in the middle of the city. In the summer this becomes a stream flowing down hill towards the ice skating rink, that in the summer is an outdoor restaurant.

Thursday March 10 - Second full day

Goal for the morning was the new Whitney Museum. Perhaps it will be more interesting when a larger portion of their collection is on display.

We had a good view of the Hudson River (west side of Manhattan), approximately where the US Airways flight 1549 landed on January 15, 2009 after losing both engines.

Although it was not yet in bloom, we could see the High Line Park, built on historic elevated railroad freight line on Manhattan's West Side.

I don't know if things have changed, or it was just the wrong moment, but we only saw one rack of clothing being pushed down the street in the Garment district. There was a sculpture to prove we were there.

As we walked further uptown, ... well you never know what you will find in New York City.

Not much farther along we came to Times Square again, even though the goal today was to explore 5th Avenue.

Tonight was a Broadway play, courtesy of our guest and her friends. We really enjoyed "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" at the Barrymore Theater, after dinner at Pigalle French Bistro.

Friday March 11 - Third full day

The Hurst Magazine Building (West 57th St and 8th Avenue) was built to 6 stories, then construction was suspended in 1928 due to the depression. 80 years later the 46 story glass upper structure was completed; the lower facade was retained, but the interior was rebuilt.

We took a guided tour of Carnegie Hall (West 57th at 7th Avenue). It was an outstanding event - highly recommended. Beware... tours are limited to when the auditorium is not in use for rehearsals or performances - plan in advance.

The "dandelion" fountains were at the Alliance Capital building, 6th Avenue and West 54-55 street. This was followed by a quick side trip to Jewelers Row - West 47th Street (Earrings for Jenny and a token gift from the Shop for our guest)

The Frick Museum is in the private residence of Henry Clay Frick, 1 East 70th Street, facing central park. The only photography allowed is in the atrium that was added over the driveway. Yuck on the photo restriction.

Jenny and Charlie had visited the Frick in January, and were very disappointed. Apparently a lot was closed in January preparing for the exhibits now open. This time it was a very worthwhile visit, despite our earlier concerns. As we were leaving the Atrium was closed to prepare for an evening event.

We took the long way to catch our bus to DC, so that we could see Grand Central Station. Having been in larger stations, this one is not that large, but is special historically and since it appears in countless movies and chase scenes.

The architecture is rather classical...

and the ceiling is painted with the star constellations. Techie note - the drawing is backwards... as it would be seen from above, rather than from below.

We saw the Empire State Building, lit at night, as we were going to pick up our Vamoose bus to DC, but forgot to stop and take a picture. We had a pub-type dinner at Matt's Grill before catching the bus near Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. Rita picked us up in Bethesda about midnight.

Saturday was a day of rest (or collapse) at Charlie's sister Rita Isenberg's home in Cabin John Maryland (Suburban DC). She had a dinner party for us Saturday night!

Sunday March 13, start of the Washington Marathon

First on the agenda was a visit to Hillwood Estate and Museum, home of Marjorie Merriweather Post. The second of her four husbands was E.F. Hutton, the financier and chairman of Postum Cereal. She is considered the founder and owner of General Foods. Her other home was Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach Florida, purchased in 1985 by Donald Trump.

Her third husband was the ambassador to the Soviet Union, under Stalin, during which time they greatly expanded their collection of Russian art.

The Hillwood grounds and gardens were magnificent. I am not including the countless orchid pictures taken in their greenhouse, open to visitors.

As we left Hillwood Estate it started to rain so we took a drive through Washington to get an overview of the "lay of the land."

Monday March 14

We took the Washington Metro into the city, focusing on monuments and memorials, starting with the Lincoln Memorial.

From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, you can see the Washington Monument just past the reflecting pool.

We stopped by the World War II memorial - too spread-out to be photogenic - then on to the Vietnam war memorial.

The primary Vietnam War memorial is the wall that lists all the soldiers killed in the war. It is massive. I had to borrow this photo...

The Korean war memorial is relatively new, showing a combat group on patrol.

Beyond the patrol is a wall with a ghost image of all the different types of people involved in the war. You can see a reflection of our guest in the wall, not a permanent shadow.

There is a recent monument to the Women who served in Vietnam. A separate monument to women in all wars has lots of columns and no visitors.

Apparently the robins on this side of the ocean are quite different, and much larger, than those in the UK.

This Moai from Easter Island is just a sample of the Museum of Natural History. We had a guide that gave us the history of the universe in a very fast yet superb hour-plus tour.

The iconic 14 foot tall "Rotunda Elephant" in the Museum of Natural History was hardly noteworthy with all the other info.

Tuesday March 15

Back to Washington for a second day of trying to absorb everything in the 19 Smithsonian museums. We started at the Smithsonian Castle which functions as the orientation point

Then it was on to the National Gallery of Art

Quickly exploring several of the galleries of the art that may not be as common on the east side of the pond.

... such as this relief honoring a civil war leader and his men.

Unfortunately we were a week or two early for the Cherry blossoms, but there were some pretty trees anyway.

Then on to the Air-Space Museum (Charlie's favorite). Another museum guide explained flight from the Wright brothers through today's airliners, supersonic war planes, and rockets in about an hour.

This is the actual plane Lindberg flew non-stop to Paris - not a copy or recreation.

And the spare Lunar Lander (in case of launch problems). The original was abandoned on the moon in 1969.

Wednesday March 16 - on to Texas

We must be getting old... our guest has run us down, so we had a couple days of recovery at home in Austin

By Friday we had recovered enough that visiting two exceptional grocery stores was considered ambitious for the two ladies. They went to the headquarters and flagship store of the Whole Foods grocery chain (jokingly called Whole Paycheck), and to a huge oriental supermarket. It is not just how many different types of rice do they offer, but how many types in 50 pound bags (answer, about 40). She did not want to choose her fish swimming in a tank and have it butchered for her, so she knew it was fresh, as do many of their customers.

Saturday March 19 - Texas Hill Country

We stopped at Hye, a town so small that we joke it says "Welcome to Hye" on both sides of the sign. The old general store is still there, complete with a post office secured in one corner. One of the store employees is the postmaster, and is the only one allowed inside the secured area.

Next Stop was at Becker Vineyards - Wine and Lavendar.

We took a driving tour of the President Lyndon Johnson ranch and "Texas White House." Being impatient, we did not wait for a house tour, but saw the ranch - even the 6000 foot airport runway and his retired airplane.

The German settlers liked fancy European churches, so started the tradition of "Painted Churches," relatively plain on the outside and every surface decorated on the inside. This is the "old" St. Mary's in Fredericksburg dates from 1846

New St. Mary's church was built next door - completed in 1908 - both buildings are still in use. (I "borrowed" this picture).

Notice how every surface is decorated - one of the characteristics of the "painted churches." They also have elegant stained glass windows.

The wildflower seed farm, that has been a favorite stop for beautiful flowers, was a failure. As an avid gardener our guest was disappointed that the gardens were in such poor condition - none of the gardens appeared to be planted or even prepared for planting.

Finally to an old traditional Texas music venue and restaurant, Hilltop Cafe. Started in 1980, in a 1930s gas station, this legendary place is, as they say, "inconveniently located in the middle of nowhere."

Sunday March 20 - Austin

Mount Bonnell and Covert Park are on a high point overlooking Austin and the Colorado River below. It has been a favorite spot for visitors and picnics for over 150 years. The modest houses below are definitely not modest, but they sure don't have a lot of land. Since the height of the river/lake is controlled by a dam, there is little chance of flooding.

In the distance you can see the "Pennybacker" bridge that has become the symbol of Austin. We also drove through downtown Austin (including infamous 6th street and emerging Rainey Street) and by the state capitol - Congress street.

Monday March 21 - Austin Botanical Garden

It is not a famous garden, but it is ours... and oriented to the hot summer and mild winters.

Jenny finally caught the butterfly (the camera showed many tries)

Jenny thinks these are date blossoms

Our water reservoir has been about 60 feet low for the last year, and not full for years. It finally was full just as our guest left. The islands in the lake are finally gone. She apparently brought us luck!

Tuesday March 22 - San Antonio

First stop was the McNay Art Museum, in Mrs. McNay's home. Nothing like Mrs. Post's Hillwood Estate, but our favorite when we lived in San Antonio.

It is a museum of Modern Art. Some of which is more modern than we might choose. Like this recreation of a cocktail party using orange junk food (their term). Another was an artist's apartment made entirely of corrugated cardboard. But they also have painting, furniture, theater arts, and sculpture, more to our liking.

Anyone visiting San Antonio must stop at the Alamo. It is much smaller than many people expect.

The Alamo is at street level. The well known riverwalk is below street level. We ate at Casa Rio (Mexican Food), the place with the umbrellas just next to the water.

To reach the riverwalk, there are various stairs or elevators, or we like this water feature next to the Hyatt, across the street from the Alamo.

Not far from Casa Rio is the Arneson River Theater. The stage is on one side of the river, the audience sits on terraced grass seats on the other side, and riverboats carrying tourists occasionally pass through.

We also explored La Villita, the historic "arts" district, with lots of shops and artists, at the street level behind the Arneson Theater. And stopped in at the Fairmont Hotel, a 3 story brick building moved several blocks in 1985. It holds the record as the heaviest building ever to have been moved on wheels. Later we had cocktails at the home of David Straus, one of the people who created the riverwalk decades ago.

Wednesday March 23 - Austin

Some friends joined us for dinner in our home.

Thursday March 24 - Escape from the captors

We got our guest to the airport well before her 3:30 departure through Dallas. Her flight had been cancelled. American rebooked her on a British Airways flight direct from Austin to London Heathrow, at no extra cost (originally it had been much more expensive). She had to wait several hours, but ultimately landed in London at about the same time, without having to make a connection.

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