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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cross Country By Train Pt. 3

Good Morning San Antonio!!!
We arrived early in the morning, and I mean early! It didn't seem to faze the kids though. They were ready to go after 16 hours on the train. I have been up now for around twenty hours and still have a full day to look forward to, but I am pumped. This is the first time for Hillary and the children to experience Texas, and San Antonio is one of the best places to experience this great state!
The Tower Of The Americas is a 750 ft observation tower/restaurant seen in the background of the photo above. From 1968-1996 it was the tallest observation tower in the United states.
There is a Denny's restaurant conveniently located about a quarter of a mile from the train station so we gathered our luggage and made our way down the street to get an early breakfast. Our motel was not far from Denny's, so we worked our way there hoping to drop off our luggage. Our luggage consisted of 2 rolling suitcases, 5 backpacks, laptop bag, camera bag and binoculars. We were able to leave most of it behind the counter at the motel which was a blessing since check in time was 11 hours away!
As we left the motel and ventured out into the unknown world of a pre-dawn Downtown area, we did so in a tactical mindset. Keep close and keep your eyes open. Surprisingly, we encountered no one. We ended up with a very peaceful, safe, and unique self-guided tour of the Heart of the city enjoying the Riverwalk with a Ghost town feel.

Having three members of my family from The Volunteer State, two of which at 7 and 8 years of age think they can repel Santa Anna's army by themselves, I keep a watchful eye for the invading forces. You can almost feel the Spirit Of Alamo Past. As we stand here wrapped in an eerie quiet calm in front of this rugged old Mission (around 5 o'clock in the morning), I wonder what it must have been like on that morning of March the 6th before daybreak around 5:30. Silence breaks with the sound of small arms and cannon fire. Around a couple of hundred brave men fighting for Texas, fighting for freedom, knowing their fate yet standing against an army of around 2,000 were awakened to battle by shouts from Santa Anna's men, "!Viva Santa Anna!" It is a very sobering landmark, and definitely one to experience in the predawn hours without the hustle and bustle of tourists.
Before we head on to explore some more a Park Ranger came out to say hello and the children were able to chat with him for a little while.
We are ready for a break from walking... So what else is a family to do when everything is closed? Well, why not go to the two story McDonald's!? And go we did!
You may be asking, "Are they eating ice cream and sundaes before daybreak?"  Why, yes. Yes, they are. This is one of the perks of being on vacation. Live a little, loosen up your collar. It won't kill them. Children are very resilient. They seem fairly happy to me. We have to remember we were children at one point in our lives as well, and, to me, this is important. They will remember these moments.
As the sun rose on this fine city, traffic began to increase with cars, cyclists, and buses as folks started their day. We decided to take a stroll down the Riverwalk with a little fog accompanying us on our way.

There are plenty of photo opportunities here. Plenty of plants, flowers and birds to incorporate into your shots as well as the diversity of structures. For example, this bridge.

Here is a shot of my princess posing for the camera of which she seems to have quite the knack.

 La Villita. San Antonio's first neighborhood. This is an Historic arts village area. There is an amphitheater which looks across the narrow river where plays and other events are held.

Here is a picture of the Bexar (pron.: bear) County Courthouse taken from the Riverwalk. Notice the Green light located on the bridge. The river makes a turn here and the light changes from red to green depending on river traffic.
 Here are a couple of shots of the Emily Morgan Hotel. It is a beautiful piece of architecture, as are many of the downtown buildings. If architecture is your thing, then you will definitly be pleased what this city has to offer.

As the day progressed we worked our way back to the Alamo. If you are expecting to see tumbleweeds roll past this old mission, roadrunners scurrying  around and miles of nothingness between you and the horizon, you are in for a shock. It is located right in the middle of the city which for me is extremely convienient for exploring the city on foot.
Tourist traffic has grown, and we no longer are the only ones here as we were at 5:00 am. It is bustling, and we are excited to relive the battle through the tour guides. Taking pictures inside the Alamo is not permitted; however, you are welcome to photograph while on the grounds.


There is a Mission Trail available that allows you to see the other four Missions that are part of the city. We look forward to exploring those on our next visit.
There is so much to do and so little time it seems, so my next installment will be of our time spent at the San Antonio Zoo, Japanese Tea Gardens, and our dinner on the Riverwalk at night. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Cross Country By Train Pt. 2

  Up and at em! Taking advantage of a continental breakfast at a Super 8 in New Orleans. We had a good night sleep and are ready for the next leg of our trip. We arrived in The Big Easy around 11 pm Sunday night on the Crescent.  We were set to depart for San Antonio around 11 am Monday on the Sunset Limited. Pre Katrina Amtrak ran from Orlando Florida to Los Angeles California; however, due to major damage of the tracks between Orlando and New Orleans that route was closed. So now the southern route cross country is from NOL to LAX.
I look at hotel/motel stays as a place to get some shut eye while traveling. Obviously, I want a nice clean place but I'm not looking for a 5 star complex. This motel had some cool character with it's lobby, balcony and courtyard. It's never a guarantee of the quality of accomodations when you book online and when you are on a tight budget.  Even so, you make the wisest choice possible and hope for the best. We weren't dissapointed in any of our choices. We were, however, pleasantly surprised in a couple of places. I'll share those locations as we get there.
The childrens first taxi experience took place the previous night from the the New Orleans Union Passenger terminal going to the motel. It was in a Suburban, yet the following morning, all 5 of us and our luggage returned to the train station in an old Lincoln Town Car. As I said before the kids were exposed to a lot of interesting scenarios in a short period of time.
All Aboard!!!! The Sunset Limited

We are excited to see that this train is larger than the Crescent. It is a double decker. Most of the seating is located on the upper deck along with the Observation Room and Dining Area. There are sleeper cars as well. On the lower level are the lounge/cafe area and restrooms. I was impressed with the open feel of the seating area and observation car.

The Mercedes Benz Superdome is located right behind the train station and is a pretty cool structure to see while waiting to depart. The boys were excited to hear about the significance it holds with the sporting world. You also get a nice view of the Big Easy skyline.


Since we homeschool, travel by train works out wonderfully. The kids can have one awesome field trip while continuing their studies! I wish that my classroom desk and window view could have rivaled this one!
or that my breakroom could have been this cool
or my cafeteria this exciting!
All in all I think this was a "home run." And apparently, I'm not the only one that thinks so. Oh yeah, by the way, the principal and the teacher got to hang out together as well.

Views along the way were obviously very rural and sparsly populated with towns of New Iberia and  Lafayette and others along the line. We had a little rain here and there with sunshine for most of the day as we rocked back and forth through forgotten towns, passing by patches of above ground graveyards and rolling through fog laden bayous.

As we roll on down the tracks, through swamps and gator country, we are heading towards Lake Charles, LA. This was a great time to just sit back and relax. This was much needed for myself, to just sit and have no obligations or worries of the normal daily life. I'd traveled through the gulf states before, however the children had not. I knew this wouldn't be the scenic highlight of the trip, however, one of the missions of this adventure was to expose them to many different states, landscapes, landmarks, architecture and cultures. I believe that they were able to enjoy the not so exciting parts of this trip as well. While not watching the world go by, they were either playing games at the tables in the observation car or lost deep in the adventures written in the several books that they brought with them.
 I chose to stay awake while the others were sleeping. Being in a new environment, as safe as I felt, I felt a little vulnerable if we were all sleeping at the same time.  I sat there watching Hillary and the kids enjoying the peaceful, rocking motion that the train provides. We would rotate our seating order through the trip.  Caleb happened to be with me between Lake Charles, LA and Houston. He surprisingly stayed awake as well. I was able to just sit there in a dimly lit train car watching the lights off in the distance and chat with my little buddy. I enjoyed the one on one time spent with the children along the way. Caleb was up with me as we passed by oil refineries which were lit up like New York City. We could see the fires burning as well. He was up as we pulled into Houston, TX. He was in awe of the big city lights of the Houston skyline. We would arrive at our first main destination, San Antonio, TX, around around 3 am on Tuesday morning.
San Antonio, TX
This is where the main part of our vacation begins.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cross Country By Train Pt. 1

This will be a multi installment post of our March 2012 cross country (Myrtle Beach to California) Amtrak trip. I'll break it into notable and favorite legs of the journey. As you may be aware we live in Myrtle Beach, SC.  Since Amtrak doesn't have a station located here, our closest location of departure was Atlanta, GA so we left home around 11 pm via automobile and arrived early around 5 or 6 am. We parked our car at a nice, new, secure parking facility called Peachy Parking. We had found a promotional deal online where we could park for free. With minimal parking at the train station in an unsecured location, we decided to leave our truck where there was 24 hour gated security.  This worked out really well considering the cost associated with parking for two weeks. From there, we rode the complimentary shuttle to the airport where we caught the MARTA to the Amtrak station. I add this additional info to help with ideas when you plan on an adventure such as this. I was the only person that had traveled via public transportation/subway, so my wife and three young children were in for an experience! But isn't that what makes life interesting?! 
We grabbed a bite to eat at the airport. Interesting thing about being on a trip and eating habits, location and time of day become irrelevant. Kids can see food, and it almost turns into a National Geographic special on animals of prey. Their radar can zero in on a fast food joint in the strangest of places. Just remember though these are new and exciting times for youngsters so make the most of it!  Something off of the dollar menu in an odd location is better than a five star restaurant to them. They'll thank you, and your wallet will thank you.
My suggestion when placing yourself in unfamiliar waters, so to speak (ie. you are out of your element) is to exude confidence and carry yourself in a manner that looks like you belong. Act like this isn't your first time in this situation.  Riding on public transportation in a big city well before the rooster crows can be unsettling. By following these tips, you might just not look so out of place. Okay, so this picture isn't the best example of blending in...but you get the idea.
We hadn't told the children where we were going or for that matter how we were travelling. We decided to tell them of our first leg of the trip at the train station.  Since there wasn't much signage, and the train hadn't arrived, they had no idea even while standing in front of the station. So we told them and of course they were excited. I'm blessed to have children that are excited by little things such as eating a breakfast from Wendys inside the airport...but when you, as a parent, are planning something big, it puts a smile on your face as well. Another helpful traveling tip, since children have backs, let them carry their own backpacks!
WOO HOO!! Let the Adventure Begin!! We were all in uncharted waters here as none of us had been on a train trip before.  The man behind the camera, that would be me, was pretty excited as well! As was my wife, Hillary. Caleb, next to the window, made sure he figured out which buttons and levers worked the seat and footrest. They were veterans of rail travel within minutes.
A couple of the great things about traveling on Amtrak is, 1) you are able to bring on plenty of carry on luggage per person to go in the overhead and 2) the best part is being able to bring your own food! It allows you to bring the food that the children like as well as keeping the eating expense down. As you can see there is a generous amount of space in the reclining seats. Also a tray folds down from the back of the seat in front of you allowing for a place to eat from or to place your laptop. Two power outlets are located under the window as well. It didn't take Mark and Caleb long to make themselves at home!
Since I wasn't that crazy about the idea of spending most of the vacation behind the wheel driving around 6,000 miles round trip, I was looking forward to the childhood dream of us all -- riding on a train. The best part of riding on the train to me were moments like this where you can just sit back and focus on your children, as I did with Sarah, taking in God's beautiful creation and viewing this diverse landscape of these United States. Not from the pages of a magazine or the screen of a television but from their own personal live feed of the best motion picture out there. These are precious simple moments that I'll cherish forever.
As we rode through the southland of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi on our way to Louisiana, we passed rolling hills, creeks, rivers, lakes and rock walls. Old train cars, many miles from their former glory, sat in quaint rail stations with facades that take you back to a simpler, slower time. You can almost see the loading platform filled with men in suits and ladies in dresses donning fancy hats void of cell phones and headphones, laptops and ringtones, waiting patiently in the summer heat for the train to arrive. A different time, a different place, but for a moment I was there and it was actually pretty nice.
As the sun set on the Cresent and our journey from Atlanta to New Orleans, the outside world becomes invisible. We were now getting closer to our first destination where we would spend the night and get much needed rest from a long but enjoyable day. New Orleans is the end of the line for us on this day. So far this adventure was what I was hoping for...and I knew the best was yet to come. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Go There Adventure

Welcome to Go There Adventure! My name is Mark, and I am looking forward to sharing my adventures with you.  I also hope to share some helpful tips along the way. I'll begin with a little about myself. I am married and have three children…two adventurous boys and a beautiful girl.  They love exploring and making the most of life.  They are all under 10 years old. We live in Myrtle Beach, SC.

Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand offer a plethera of activities from enjoying a consistently calm ocean for swimming/relaxing, a nice Boardwalk that streches for 1.2 miles with restaurants, gamerooms, giftshops and host to a variety of summertime concerts. It is also home to the Skywheel, a 187 foot tall ferris wheel.  When it was built in 2011, it was tallest wheel in the United States east of the Mississippi River. The Skywheel has 42 glass-enclosed, temperature controlled gondolas that seat six.

There are also jet ski rentals, pier and offshore fishing adventures to fill your day.   Something that I really enjoy doing with family and friends is kayaking in Murrells Inlet. 

By kayak or boat you can explore the beautiful inlet side beaches of Huntington Beach State Park.  You can observe birds, crabs, and baitfish...or just sit back and watch the other boaters on a busy summer afternoon...  If you happen to be here in the off season, you could claim the beach as your own!

You might also catch a glimpse of dolphins and sea turtles swimming in the inlet and protected waters of the estuaries.  So, pack a cooler with some drinks and sandwiches, grab your camera, put on a swimsuit, and find out what is so Grand about the Grand Strand!

The picture on the right is an area where we like to anchor the boat or land the kayaks. It's a great place to let the kids dive off the boat or float the coastline with their lifejackets on...natures version of the Lazy River.


Living here also allows us to enjoy a wide range of adventures within a close proximity to home such as Charleston including her beautiful Harbor, Fort Sumter, Patriots Point and picturesque homes of Rainbow Row.
One of our favorite weekend trips to Charleston was to watch the Blue Angels performing an Air Show over the harbor at Patriots Point.  At Patriots Point, you can tour the USS Yorktown, a WW2 Essex-class Aircraft Carrier which served in the Pacific Theater. She also served as a recovery ship for the Apollo 8 space mission and used in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!
You can also tour the USS Laffey, a destroyer and the USS Clamagore, a submarine at Patriots Point. There is a nice gift shop here as well.


I'm originally from the Crystal Coast of North Carolina, born in Elizabeth City.  My Mom and Dad were living at Cape Hatteras where my Dad pastored a church on the island.

The view from atop the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is spectacular. As you look out into the Graveyard of the Atlantic, you try to imagine what it was like for the many ships that were lost on these treacherous waters.  Then imagine the vessels and lives that were saved by the lighthouse! You are also in Blackbeard country!  If you close your eyes and listen closely you can almost hear the explosions and smell the smoke from the cannon fire.

While on the Outer Banks, or OBX as its called, be sure to go to Kitty Hawk and visit the Wright Brothers museum. Also make the time to go to Jockey's Ridge and watch the hangliders or roll down the dunes. The OBX is a great family Go There Adv'nture destination whether you desire to land some fish while surf fishing, taking in The Lost Colony Play in Manteo, or if you just want to go lighthouse hopping. So what are you waiting for?

I've also lived in Texas and Tennessee along the way and have experienced much of those states as well.

So, From the Coast of the Carolinas

to the wide open skies of west Texas and the Big Bend area,                                                        

to San Antonio home of the Alamo (which happens to be one of my favorite cities),
to the Golden Gate of San Francisco,
I will share my thoughts, likes, and places of interest along the way. My hope is to bring to life cities that you may never visit or to assist in your own personal journey.
What will be your next "Go There" Adventure?