Tuesday, November 30, 2010

U.S. Naval Academy - Annapolis, MD

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry… Last month we decided to get away for a few days and took a trip down to Maryland.  The plan was to spend Tuesday and Wednesday nights in Ocean City, then make a stop in St. Michaels on Thursday afternoon on the way up to Annapolis where we would spend Thursday night.  Everything went according to plan except it was pouring down rain all day Thursday.  So our stop in St. Michaels turned out to be very short, since walking around town in the rain was not a good option.  It also curtailed some of our planned sightseeing around Annapolis on Thursday afternoon.

We decided to spend Friday touring the U.S. Naval Academy, and it turned out to be a beautiful day.  We didn’t realize it, but this happened to be the weekend of a major powerboat show in Annapolis.  On the downside, the town was packed with people and cars and the harbor was literally packed with powerboats of all kinds and sizes.  On the upside, because of the show our hotel was running a regular shuttle service to the harbor, which was only two blocks from the USNA entrance - so we didn’t have to worry about driving down and finding parking.

The Naval Academy grounds are open to the public – you just have to show your driver’s license to security at the visitor’s entrance.  The Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center is the place to start.  It houses a very extensive USNA gift shop as well as many exhibits depicting life at the Academy over the years and honoring many of the famous midshipmen who attended.   The centerpiece of the museum is the “Graduates in Space” exhibit honoring the 51 astronauts who graduated from the USNA, the most from any institution.  To me the most impressive exhibit in the entire center is the actual Mercury Freedom 7 space capsule flown into space by Alan Shepard in 1961 - a real part of history when I was growing up.

Visitors are free to walk around the grounds and enter the buildings on their own, but we decided to take one of the escorted walking tours.  The $9.50 per person fee is worth it, just for the narration and background information provided by the guide.  The walking tour lasts about 1.25 hours.  The campus is totally isolated from the town and is very beautiful.  The sense of history is everywhere.  The architecture of the halls, classroom buildings, and officers’ quarters is very impressive.

Homes for Ranking Officers & Professors

Our tour started in the Lejeune Physical Education Center, which houses an Olympic-class swimming pool, a mat room for wrestling and hand-to-hand martial arts, and the Athletic Hall of Fame.  There are many trophies in the hall of fame but those that stand out are the two Heisman trophies won by Joe Bellino in 1960 and Roger Staubach in 1963, plus the game balls from every Navy win in the Army-Navy football game dating back to 1890.

Tecumseh Statue
If you have a chance to visit the USNA, make a point to be there at noon.  Every day at noon the entire Brigade of Midshipmen forms for uniform inspection and a march into the mess hall for lunch, complete with marching band.  There was quite a crowd gathered by the time we got there from our tour, so it was difficult taking pictures.  The formation takes place in Tecumseh Court at the entrance to Bancroft Hall.  Bancroft Hall is actually a complex of halls that comprises the largest college dormitory in the world and houses all of the 4,500+ midshipmen.  At the entrance to Tecumseh Court is the statue of Tecumseh, which is decorated and painted by the midshipmen for special occasions.  There are also two bells in the court which are rung for each win of Navy over Army in all sports.

                             Japanese Bell
U.S.S. Enterprise Bell

Another highlight of the tour was the Naval Academy Chapel.  The architecture of the chapel is stunning – from the distinctive green copper dome on the outside to the beautiful stained glass windows and high domed ceiling on the inside.  The chapel is used for both Protestant and Catholic weekly services and, as you can imagine, is very popular for weddings.  The lower level of the chapel also houses the remains of John Paul Jones in a beautiful marble sarcophagus.  The interesting story of John Paul Jones’ life and death is told around the perimeter of the display.

John Paul Jones Sarcophagus

As I said earlier, we didn’t get to see much of the town of Annapolis due to the rain and the crowds, so I’d really like to go back for a visit in quieter times so we can walk around and photograph the town.

If you have a chance, please check out my ImageKind Galleries and Flickr Collections.  I also have two new shops - Zazzle Gifts and Zazzle Prints & Posters.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ocean City, Maryland

Last week we decided to get away for a few days and took a trip down to Maryland.  The plan was to spend Tuesday and Wednesday night in Ocean City, then make a stop in St. Michaels on Thursday afternoon on the way up to Annapolis where we would spend Thursday night.

We’ve never been to Ocean City, Maryland so we didn’t know exactly what to expect.  Our first impression driving down the Coastal Highway was how long Ocean City is – from 146th Street all the way down to 1st Street.  We were also surprised by the large number of very tall high-rise condo buildings through the middle of town.

Since we’ve been going to the New Jersey shore all of our lives – mostly Ocean City and Wildwood – it’s natural for us to compare Ocean City with those resorts.  To be fair, it’s difficult since this is the off-season and most of the restaurants and shops were closed, but I’d say Ocean City, MD is a cross between Wildwood and Ocean City, NJ.  Judging from the number of bars, clubs, and liquor stores in Ocean City, MD, I’m guessing that during the summer it’s a real party town – much like Wildwood.  To me, Ocean City, NJ has the advantage of being a completely dry town, so it’s much more appealing to people who desire a more family-oriented experience.  On the plus side, there appeared to be many more restaurants in Ocean City, MD and the town itself – hotels, motels, condos, and apartment buildings – seemed to be a notch above either of the Jersey shore resorts.  Although in terms of class, they all pale in comparison to a resort like Hilton Head Island where we’ve spent many vacations.

In the off-season, the boardwalk is open to dogs, so it was a little strange seeing all of the dogs and their owners walking up and down the boards.  The boardwalk in Ocean City, MD is not as extensive as the boardwalk in Wildwood and is more like the one in Ocean City, NJ.  If I were to compare the boardwalks for things to do, I’d say Wildwood, NJ > Ocean City, NJ > Ocean City, MD. 

While in Ocean City, we stayed at the Hilton Suites Ocean City Oceanfront, an all-suites hotel located on the beach at 33rd Street.  We had a good-sized king suite looking directly out over the beach and ocean with a complete kitchen, living room, two large flat panel TVs, and large bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub.  It was a typical resort hotel on the beach with three pools – a large adult pool and a children’s activity pool outside, plus a very nice heated indoor pool.  I would highly recommend the hotel for a weekday, off-season stay, since our rate was only $127.00 per night.  I’m not sure if the $499.00 per night rate for the room during July and August would be worth it.

One downside about staying in Ocean City on weekdays in October is that most of the eating establishments are only open on the weekends or are closed for the season.  On the first night we stopped at a Dough Roller on the boardwalk for hoagies, but we wanted something a little nicer the second night.  After checking out a couple of places that turned out to be closed, we noticed some cars parked outside the Ristorante Antipasti at 31st and Coastal Highway not too far from the hotel, so we decided to give it a try.  It turned out to be our lucky night since they have an off-season, Wednesday night special - all pasta entrees were only $8.50 instead of the normal $22.00 to $26.00.  At that price the food was great and the atmosphere of the restaurant was very nice, although the very Italian owner who greeted us, Fausto DiCarlo, was a little overbearing.

My next blog entry will cover our visit to Annapolis and tour of the U.S. Naval Academy.

If you have a chance, please check out my ImageKind Galleries and Flickr Collections.  I also have two new shops - Zazzle Gifts and Zazzle Prints & Posters.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Last Friday we took one of our regular drives down to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA.  We wanted to check out what was in bloom in the gardens but we also heard about a secondary project they had going this summer.  Apparently, Longwood owns about 120 acres of farmland around the gardens that they lease out to local farmers to maintain.  This year they decided to use 22 acres of that land to plant a crop of sunflowers.

The sunflower field is outside the boundaries of Longwood Gardens, so there’s no admission to worry about.  If you go west on Longwood Road a mile or two from the gardens it’s just past Schoolhouse Road on the right.  Last Friday we were told the crop was slightly past its peak, so there may not be much time left to see it in full bloom.

If you like sunflowers, the display is spectacular… even if you don’t like sunflowers, it’s still spectacular.  Sunflowers almost as far as the eye can see – an estimated 463,300 based on the number of seeds planted and a normal viability rate of 90%.  The pictures don’t do it justice.

If you have a chance, please check out my ImageKind Galleries and Flickr Collections.  I also have two new shops - Zazzle Gifts and Zazzle Prints & Posters.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wildwood Memories

We recently took a drive down to Wildwood, New Jersey.  We spent the day walking up and down the boardwalk and did some of the things you have to do when you visit Wildwood – like having pizza and birch beer for lunch at Mack’s Pizza and a Kohr Bros. swirl ice cream cone for dessert. We also had to make a stop at Douglass Fudge to pick up a box of wrapped mints to take home.  We haven’t been to Wildwood for a number of years but it hasn’t changed too much – although there do seem to be many more cheap t-shirt shops on the boardwalk than there used to be, and the ocean has gotten a lot farther away from the boardwalk than the old days.  Even so, just hearing "Watch the Tram Car Please" again brought back many memories.

The biggest memory it brought back was of our honeymoon.  My wife and I were married in June of 1971. It was after my first year of grad school, we didn’t have a lot of money and we had to move all of our stuff out to Indiana, so we decided to take a short honeymoon in Wildwood and save the “real” honeymoon for later.  We stayed at the Caribbean motel in Wildwood Crest and had a wonderful time.  The weather at the shore can be very iffy in June, but that week was perfect.  I included two pictures of the Caribbean – one taken last month and one taken in 1971 on our honeymoon.  The motel looks like it’s in very good shape since it was recently renovated - after it was declared an historic Doo Wop landmark in 2004.  Whenever someone asks me where we went on our honeymoon I just say we went to the Caribbean.  Maybe for our 40th anniversary next year we’ll go to the Caribbean – I’m not sure which one yet.  By the way… we did go on a “real” honeymoon two years later to Disneyworld and Miami Beach.

When I was growing up in the 1950’s in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, there was one thing I always looked forward to in the summer and that was going down the shore for a week with my grandparents or my Aunt Elsie.  Two of my great aunts and uncles owned places in Wildwood.  My Aunt Anna Belle and Uncle Fred owned The Frederick Hotel on Oak Avenue near New Jersey Avenue, and my Aunt Ruth and Uncle George owned the Maple Court Motel on Maple Avenue near Atlantic Avenue.  We usually stayed on Oak Avenue.  Both places are long gone.

Spending the week down the shore with my cousins was a lot of fun.  There were three things I wanted to do every day… play golf in the morning with my grandfather at our favorite miniature golf course on the boardwalk, go to the beach in the afternoon to play in the sand and water, and walk the boardwalk and go on as many rides as possible at night.  We didn’t do it very often, but my favorite thing of all was getting up early in the morning, renting bikes, and riding up and down the boardwalk.  To me that was the ultimate.  When I got a little older I also loved hitting balls with my father at the “Automatic Base Ball” pitching machine on the boardwalk to see how many homers I could hit.

One of my favorite places on the boardwalk was the Casino Arcade at Oak Avenue.  Like everyone else, my favorite boardwalk game was skee-ball.  I would play every day to see how many coupons I could accumulate by the end of the week.  I usually had enough to maybe get a little plastic dinosaur.  I have many memories of the arcade, some a little fuzzier than others.  I remember the carousel, the Glass House Mirror Maze, and the Mars ride, which tragically burned in 1964, killing three children.  I also remember a ball toss game where if you hit the target, a cage door would open and a little pig would run out, slide down a sliding board into the hay, and then run back up a ramp and go back into the cage.  I’m not sure if that was real or just a recurring dream I was having at the time.  I also remember the indoor pavilion along the ramp we walked up from Oak Avenue that housed a boat ride in the early days with boats you piloted yourself.  The boats were eventually replaced by an indoor miniature golf course.

Going back to Wildwood also brought back some not so good memories.  In the late 1960’s I used to go to Wildwood with my best friend Art Green.  We both enjoyed going on all the wild rides.  He’s shown in the picture with me when I finally managed to hit the bull’s eye at the Photo Shoot booth in the arcade. Sadly, Artie passed away not too many years later.  He was the best pal a guy could ever hope to have.  By the way… I’m not really a left-handed shot, for some reason they always seemed to print the photos backwards.

Being in Wildwood again also brought back memories of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when we used to go down the shore with our kids, Kim and Bryan.  We always stayed in Wildwood Crest at various motels or rented apartments.  Like most people we spent most of the day on the beach building sand castles and burying each other in the sand.  The late 1980’s was when boogie boarding started to get big, so we did a lot of boogie boarding and body surfing in the waves.  We managed to be in Wildwood Crest a few times during the Hobie Cat Regatta, which is a very colorful experience. 

One day on each visit we would get up early and ride rented bikes up and down the boardwalk in the morning – I wonder why?  The kids had their favorite rides on the boardwalk. Kim’s favorite was the Giant Slide on Hunt’s Pier, and Bryan loved riding the Dune Buggy.  Anyone who went to Wildwood in the 1980’s has to have memories of the Super-Cade on the boardwalk with the horse race game and the strains of “Bip Bop Bippity Boo, We’re Pumping Out the Prizes!” over the loudspeaker all night.  

I hope you weren’t bored with all of my family Wildwood memories, but I think any family who spent time in Wildwood over the years would have very similar memories.  My only regret is that I didn’t take more pictures.

If you have a chance, please check out my ImageKind Galleries and Flickr Collections.  I also have two new shops - Zazzle Gifts and Zazzle Prints & Posters.