Vacation Hindsight Observations

A few random thoughts on our vacation detailed in the previous post.

  • Pittsburgh, at least the North Shore, seems to close up shop on Friday nights. There was only one place open on the street where our B&B was.
  • Boston was the most pedestrian-friendly city we visited.
  • You could not pay me enough to live and/or work in New York City.
  • When I thought of Pittsburgh before this trip, I thought of steel mills and ash and suet. I was really impressed with the city.
  • Baltimore’s Inner Harbor was the best place to people-watch.
  • Orioles Park at Camden Yards was the nicest stadium we visited. All of them were nice, but Orioles Park was just a bit nicer.
  • Cleveland has a very nice fireworks display
  • The Parador Inn was the coolest and best place we stayed.
  • We had the best seats at PNC Park, just a few rows up from field level and a few seats over from the Pirate’s dugout.
  • The worst place we stayed was the Hampton Inn Cleveland Downtown. In it’s defense, one of their elevators was not working. But their breakfast area layout was bad and caused much waiting.
  • EVERY American should walk the Freedom Trail in Boston. We all need to be reminded of just how much our Founding Fathers risked. Too often today we talk about sacrifice but mean spending a couple of hours extra at work; each one of our Founding Fathers risked not only their lives but their family and property as well.
  • Why is it that every Expressway seems to have traffic patterns better suited to tortoises? The Cross-Bronx Expressway was probably too slow for tortoises.
  • PNC Park in Pittsburgh had the best pretzels.
  • Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore had the best selection of restaurants in and around the ball park.
  • The seating at Progressive Field in Cleveland had the most leg room.
  • No self service gas pumps in New Jersey = lower unempolyment.
  • I didn’t have to wear a hat at any of the ball parks; our seats were always in the shade, at least until the sun went down.
  • The tour of the Sam Adams Brewery was free, plus you could get two glasses: an 8 ounce etched glass and a 18 ounce beer snifter.
  • The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is one of the coolest places on the planet.
  • All the games we attended were night games.
  • The fans at all the ball parks were very friendly.
  • Even walking back to our hotel/B&B after the ball game, I didn’t feel threatened by crime at any of the cities we visited.
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Meeting Organizer:  BillH, Meeting Time: 4:29 pm | No attendees
Baseball Vacation Recap

First, a little background. We had thought about going to the Caribbean with friends for our spring vacation but decided we’d try something a bit different. Casey had shown me an article where a bus tour for retirees was going to start near our home town and take two weeks to see 10 baseball games. While we couldn’t take the two weeks vacation necessary and we aren’t retirees, the idea of going to baseball games at multiple parks was intriguing. So…. I planned the trip and we went on it. After planning and going on this trip, I have found three things that are undeniable:

  1. Google Maps is amazing! We took no paper maps and used our phones with Google Maps and were never lost.
  2. Google Maps is truly amazing! I found all the places to stay using the Google Maps “nearby” feature and the comments left by others who stayed at those places.
  3. Stubhub is a great way to get major league baseball tickets. You even get a preview of what view you get from the seats you choose.

With those out of the way, on to the descriptions!

June 27
We packed up Casey’s car and took off after work. We wanted to get a head start on our first destination, Pittsburgh. We drove to Danville, IL, about 4 hours from home in order to make the next day’s drive a bit easier. It was an uneventful drive, as was most of the trip.

June 28
Got up and headed for Pittsburgh, which is about a 7 hour drive. This day was my only error in the trip; I had neglected the fact that we would change time zones and “lose” an hour. This kind of pressed us when we actually got to Pittsburgh as it gave us less time. Instead of getting into Pittsburgh with 2-3 hours before game time, it was 1-2 hours before game time. We easily found the bed and breakfast I had selected, The Parador Inn. We were kind of down as it was raining when we came into town and checked in, but about 30 minutes before the game it stopped and the sun came out.

The Parador Inn was selected because of its proximity to PNC Park. The walking distance according to Google Maps was 1 mile – an easy walk. And we found it to be a nice walk after driving so much that day. PNC Park is one of the newer baseball parks that is designed to look like an older ball park; none of the “cookie-cutter” stuff that was so popular 20-30 years ago. The shape of the playing area is not symmetrical and has small idiosyncrasies. And it truly is a beautiful baseball park. The Pirates beat the Brewers that night and it was free t-shirt night! Our seats were great, probably the best seats of the entire trip and definitely the least expensive. They were called “Outfield Box Seats”, but we were in the first section past the Pirates dugout in row L. Awesome!

After the game we were surprised that there were very few places open, especially considering it was a Friday night. We wanted to get something to eat but there was only one place open. We went to Benjamin’s, just down the street from our B&B. The burgers were great.

June 29
This morning we got up knowing that we had a short drive of 4 hours or so. We had a later breakfast (excellent, I might add) and packed up and departed Pittsburgh headed for Baltimore. Once again, the drive was uneventful. Google Maps took us right to our destination, the Holiday Inn Express Baltimore at the Stadium. Again, this was selected due to its proximity to Orioles Park at Camden Yards, which Google Maps told us was just under 1 mile. Due to construction, the sidewalks were closed on this route so we found another walking path that was actually a bit shorter.

We went down to the Inner Harbor, which was very close to Orioles Park and had some dinner and just walked around. For some reason I was hitting the wall… just really tired. We went back to the hotel and made an early night of it.

June 30
Once again, we were worried about the ball game. When we got up, we went down to eat breakfast and saw it was raining outside. Oh no! We really didn’t go anywhere due to the rain. We walked across the street to a Royal Farms, a convenience store, and got our lunch there. Hey – it was raining! The good news is that the rain finally stopped about 2 hours before game time. Until then we pretty much lolled around the hotel room napping and reading.

Oriole Park at Camden Yard is another of the newer ball parks that is designed to look like an old ball park. One interesting feature is that when you walk in you are at gangway level. In other words, you walk in at the top of the lower level seating. And they have a “street” of shops and restaurants between the train station and the ball park. We found that if it’s your first time at the ball park you can get a “first timer’s” packet. We also got a free t-shirt as one of the local auto dealers was having a t-shirt giveaway. The Orioles beat the Yankees that night. Our seats were Terrace Box seats down the right field line, row 9. All in all an excellent night at the ball park!

July 1
Travel day, and the worst one of our trip. Nothing really bad happened, it was just the worst travel day for us. Google Maps took us up the New Jersey Turnpike. We have an I-Pass that we can use in Illinois in the Chicago area to cover tolls. It works easily and we don’t have to stop and pay. In New Jersey, and many states in the northeast, they use EZ-Pass. I was told by a friend and happily found that the I-Pass worked in all the EZ-Pass toll collection booths. We found out later just how much they charged us on the turnpikes and were kind of shocked; how can anyone drive these roads consistently and afford it? Another thing that was kind of shocking was that in New Jersey, there are no self-service gas stations. They don’t even want you to leave your car!

The real reason it was the worst day of travel is that once we got off the New Jersey Turnpike, we were on the New York Turnpike. Ugh. We went across the George Washington Bridge and then took the Cross Bronx Expressway… at about 4pm. (Why is it called “rush hour” when everyone drives so slow?) I don’t know why they call it an expressway – we averaged about 30 mph. The day was supposed to be 6 hours of travel but was closer to 7.5 hours. However we made it to Boston and to our bed and breakfast, the Adams Bed and Breakfast.

Again, this was selected for its proximity to Fenway Park; it was only .7 miles. It was also selected because the T-rail station was even closer and we wanted an easy way to get downtown. What I didn’t realize is that it was very close to the Boston Pops Symphony Hall and the Berklee School of Music. Kind of in a campus town area.

July 2
Since the game was in the evening, we decided to do some exploring. We took the T downtown and went to Durgin Park for lunch, recommended by a co-worker. We weren’t disappointed as the food was excellent. We then walked the Freedom Trail. It’s a very sombering experience, looking at the monuments and headstones and reading about the sacrifices our Founding Fathers made for us. All in all, the Freedom Trail was about 2.5 miles long, but we definitely walked farther than that. A short T ride back to the B&B, we rested for an hour or so before heading to Fenway Park. We decided to eat dinner before going in to Fenway and ate at the Lansdowne Pub, right across Lansdowne Street from Fenway. Great place, decent prices for the location and good food.

Fenway Park was the “goal” of this trip. Neither Casey nor I had ever been there, and with the age of the park who knows how long it will be open? Our seats were very good. We were near Pesky’s Pole in the “short porch” area of right field. The seats were the easiest seats to get to of any of the ball parks. We walked through an entrance chute and then down to row K. The Red Sox beat the Padres. All in all another great night at the ball park!

July 3
The “extra day” in Boston? What to do? Well, we hopped on the T and went to the Sam Adams Brewery and took the tour. It was an interesting tour, with the most interesting thing being that it was free. They ask for two donations, both go to local charities in Boston. At the end of the tour we got a nice etched glass to drink three samples and keep. We then went to Doyle’s Cafe for lunch, a recommended place at the brewery AND they offered a free trolley ride there. Doyle’s is a pub featured in such movies as Mystic River, 21, My Best Friend’s Girl and Celtic Pride. The place is a kind of throwback to neighborhood pubs; very cool and lots of history displayed on the walls there. We then took the trolley again fully expecting to go back to the brewery and then walk to the T, but the trolley took us directly to the T! Very nice!

Getting back to our B&B neighborhood, we did a little walking around and shopping. We were just a few blocks from the Prudential Center Plaza, which is a pretty good sized mall. We didn’t actually buy anything but we did walk around quite a bit there. On our way back we went through the First Church of Christ Scientist. No, it’s not scientology, it’s the church that publishes the Christian Science Monitor. Really a nice place with a HUGE reflection pool, a nice walk area, a fountain where the kids were playing in the water and plenty of trees with places to sit under them.

Later, we went to a small shop called Junk Yard Dogs for burgers and topped it off by going to JP Licks for some ice cream. Knowing we had a big travel day for the next day, we decided to turn in early.

July 4
This was the longest travel day of the whole trip. Boston to Cleveland. While the trip was uneventful, it was LONG! It took us about 10.5 hours to make the trip. With quick stops along the way for lunch and restroom, we made it about as quick as we could. Once again, Google Maps was a real champ. We were easily routed directly to our hotel, the Hampton Inn Cleveland – Downtown. Again, this hotel was selected for its proximity to Progressive Field which was only .5 miles away. The added bonus is that it is only .5 miles the opposite direction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!

Seeing how it was July 4 and we wanted to see some fireworks, we walked to the 9th Street Pier on Lake Erie, which was right next to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We got there about 9pm and the fireworks didn’t start until 10pm, but it was a great fireworks show. Plus, we could see other fireworks shows up and down Lake Erie.

July 5
Got up kind of early and we wanted to see how far it was to the ball park so we walked up 9th Street. We found it was very close! We were impressed with the local architecture of many of the buildings and saw that many had construction/restoration crews working. Nice to see that Cleveland is trying to keep it’s heritage. We then walked down and marveled at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. It’s a very cool monument for all the fallen Armed Forces people from Cleveland. We also went to The Arcade, which is a really cool looking old-style shopping mall. The detail and setting took us back in time.

In the afternoon, we went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One word: WOW! We got there between 12:30 and 1pm. It closes at 5:30pm and we were there until closing time. There is so much to see and do there. If you are a fan of rock and roll, ANY flavor of rock and roll, I’d highly recommend the Rock Hall. I can’t begin to describe all of the displays of instruments, sheet music, clothes, posters, etc that are there.

After a quick stop at the hotel, we then went to the ball game. Progressive Field is very nice. Our seats were the first row in right-center field. EXCELLENT seats! The game? Well, it was the only one of our games where the home team lost. Detroit beat Cleveland that game. And afterwards there was a fireworks display!

July 6
What can I say? We were up early, got breakfast drove home. It was an uneventful drive on I90 and I80. The only bad part was it took about 8 hours.

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Meeting Organizer:  BillH, Meeting Time: 8:21 pm | Only one attendee
Go Cubs Go!

Hey, Chicago, what do you say? The Cubs are gonna win today! — Well so much for the lyrics of THAT song! But I did go up to Chicago to watch a Cubs game yesterday. We met at Corey’s place at 7:30am and all piled in to his Honda Pilot (well, it’s really Andrea’s Pilot!) and took off for Chicago.

Hopped on to the CTA Blue Line, transferred to the CTA Red Line and then got off at Wrigleyville. I had to get 2 hats; one for me to wear right away and one to take home to Breezomatic. A quick stop to get the hats and we then went into Wrigley Field.

Got three pictures here. One of the field to show where we were sitting, one to show the final score on the scoreboard and one of the guys I work with (my brother Al went with us and took this photo):

Our view of Wrigley  The final score  The guys

After the game, we hopped off the CTA Red Line at Grand Station and went to Rock Bottom for dinner. Then got on the CTA Blue Line and headed back to where we parked. More than once we noted how slow the “rush hour” traffic was moving while we were speeding along on the Blue Line. Once we got to the parking lot, we piled back into the Pilot and headed back home.

All in all a VERY enjoyable day with a great group of guys.

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Meeting Organizer:  BillH, Meeting Time: 7:37 am | Comments Off
Surprise Weekend

So this weekend was a surprise… not to me, but to my brother Michael. My brother Al and I flew out to Colorado to see him and surprise him for a birthday present (well, a little late, but not too late!). We had set the whole thing up with the help of Carrie, Michael’s wife. The look on his face when he got home that night… it was PRICELESS!

Let me start at the beginning. Our flight left Moline at 7pm, and you’ll never guess who was on it with us… Miss Iowa 2008 and her traveling companion. Al sat by Abbey and I sat by Catie. WooHoo!! Catie was a very nice and engaging young lady, talking with this old man the entire trip – she could have been doing a number of other things but she talked with me. I’ve put her blog on my blogroll at the side “Adventures of Abby and Catie” (not the same Abbey).

Anyway, back to Michael. We had our “catch up” time that night. The next morning, Grant was up as well. Let me tell you, he is one cool little three (almost four) year old. And, just like all my other nephews I have become “Unky Bill”; we thought it was funny because it was Uncle Al and his friend Unky Bill. We had breakfast a Mimi’s Cafe – let me tell you, they serve a great omelet! The muffin that comes with all breakfast entres is a meal in itself, as big as a softball and delicious. I actually ate enough there for the entire day, but it didn’t stop me from eating the rest of the day!

When we got back to Michael’s place, we ordered our tickets (later) and then just sat around and talked some more – with Grant as a major part of the conversation. Al and I both said we’d like to tour one of the microbreweries, and I think Michael and Carrie interpreted that as “let’s eat” and took us to the Walnut Brewery for a late lunch. I just had an appetizer and their Buffalo Gold ale – and was it good. Al said the same for the St. James Irish Red Ale that he had. One nice thing about this is that it is in campus town in Boulder – there was plenty of scenery IF you know what I mean!

When we returned to Michael’s place later, we watched a little TV (I think I napped, but I can’t say for sure!) and soon Nancy, Carrie’s mom, came over to take Grant over to her place for the night. It was nice to visit with her. And then, off we went to Coors Field to watch the Rockies play the Cincinnati Reds. It was an exciting game that the Rockies eventually won 7-6 due to a bases-loaded double by Matt Holliday. At the end of that double was a play that I thought I’d never see except in the movie Major League. Willy Taveras, the runner on first, was so close to Clint Barmes, the runner on second, that when he ran to score he had to slide to a different side that Barmes – he was that close and the ball was thrown home. Wow! The other Wow was where we sat. We were on the Wells Fargo Club Level. From the Rockie’s web site: “Behind the Wells Fargo Club seats are spacious, glass-enclosed, climate-controlled concourses. There are two full-service bars near sections 221 and 236; an ice cream, Java City espresso and sweet shop at section 223; and specialty stations offering a rotating menu of selections such as fresh pasta, hand tossed salad and hand-carved sandwiches near sections 221 and 236.” The big thing for us is that they were going 2 seats for the price of 1! What a deal! What a game! Another good thing about going to the ball game is that we met up with my mom’s brother Don, who lives in Littleton. It was nice to visit with him.

Sunday we were up early and off to the airport. We left Michael’s at about 7:20am; our flight left about 10:15am. The return flight was uneventful (but packed) and we got back about 1:20pm. The only bad thing about the whole weekend was that I had to do laundry when I got back!

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Meeting Organizer:  BillH, Meeting Time: 10:09 pm | Only one attendee