I still am way behind on a bunch of posts but I figured I'd get these photos up from our recent trip to St Petersburg, Florida for a family wedding and a little R and R. First time taking the girls on a plane...so it was a pretty big deal!
Van ride over from the parking place was a big hit...no seat-belts! Shhhh.
Next up...unloading, checking bags, and getting through security...no easy task with 2 little ones. Thankfully Kel and I both signed up for TSA PreCheck. Worth every single penny, especially when you've got kiddos! Kelly's super crazy good packing skills also helped. Check out that contraption she rigged up on the stroller to carry the car-seats through the airport. [it only tipped over once!]
The good folks at American let us get on first...made it much easier with the car seats!
Wheels down in Tampa...time to ride the little train and pick up a rental.
The girls hung in the trunk while we got their car seats strapped in. We made it over to the hotel downtown and got the girls settled...Kel headed out to meet up with some of the fam who was still up.
First morning view from the Hilton in downtown St. Pete. First night was "interesting" to say the least. Not a whole lot of sleep going on!
We got ready to head across the street to the weekly Saturday Morning Market, which we had last hit up 5 years earlier when we were in town for Kels grandmothers 80th birthday. Excellent spot to grab a local breakfast!
Time to hang out by the pool before the wedding started later that afternoon. Girls were super excited to hit the water!
Soon enough it was time to get everyone cleaned up and over to the church from Breann and Austin's big day!
The Brando's cleaned up pretty well too!
The Cry Room...best seat in the house!
After the ceremony we got the girls settled with a few baby sitters back at the hotel so we could head over to the reception at the St. Pete Museum of Fine Arts! Only in Florida would our Uber be a pick up truck! Ended up in the back with Renie...
We had the entire place to ourselves...
Unfortunately for me Ri didn't do so well with the sitter...so i wolfed down my dinner to get back to the hotel while Kel stayed and partied with the fam. Oh well.
Apparently I missed a good story of Renie falling off a chair while dancing and being forced to sign a waiver! She may or may not have given the guy her phone number!
I was able to get a good run around St. Pete Bay in the morning since I had gone to bed with the girls so early. We got breakfast at a great cafe called Cassis American Brasserie before heading out to St. Pete Beach for 3 nights.
TradeWinds Resort is only a short 30 minute drive from downtown St. Pete...super easy to get over to.
Of course the girls wanted to get in the water as soon as humanly possible!!!
Later that afternoon we headed over to Aunt Eileen's for a big post-wedding party with everyone else who hadn't bolted for Disney.
The girls also got to meet their great grandmother!
The next few days were spent between the various pools and the beach...and of course that awesome water slide!
Found this great playground right down the street that we had all to ourselves!
Time to head for home! Both girls did outstanding on the flights.
You may have already seen the video I posted a few months back [which is very well done I might add!], but here's the complete recap with all the photos, information, and links to places we checked out during our time in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest!
We thought long and hard about where we wanted to go on this trip. There were 2 criteria that had to be met: #1. It had to be someplace new that we both hadn't been to before. #2. We had to be able to get a direct flight there. We didn't want to waste our precious time getting too and fro [Thanks to the US Airways/American Airlines we actually had to make a connection on the way home, but this happened after we started to book everything]. We batted around a number of locations but in the end Seattle won out. So glad it did!
Wednesday night flight out of PHL...
After the long flight and a cab ride going 100mph for no reason whatsoever, we arrived at our downtown hotel, the Hilton Seattle.
This is the view we had when we threw open the curtains in the morning. Not too shabby..even got a glimpse of the Puget Sound!
I did some internet research before the trip and found the name and email of the general manager of the hotel and sent him a note saying we'd be out for our 10 year anniversary. Guy gave us the hook-up...great room, free breakfasts, access to the executive lounge, bottle of wine, fruits and chocolates waiting for us in our room. Very well done and got the trip off to a great start!
First stop on Thursday morning was Seatown for breakfast. I had seen this place on Anthony Bourdain's old show, The Layover, about a year prior and once we know we'd be visiting Seattle I made sure we dined at this place.
We walked from the hotel and got our first look at the famous Pike Place Market...
We'd stop back here to explore later, but for now, Seatown was just around the corner and we were hungry.
Bourdain called this "Seattle on a Breakfast Sandwich". At $19 bucks its a bit pricey...but let me tell you, worth every single penny! Egg, cheese, avocado, and dungeness crab.
Great view of the Seattle Wheel and the port from this vantage point...
Bellies full...it was time to head out and explore the city. No better way to get a good overview than by hopping on a duckboat, Ride the Ducks of Seattle.
Very cool to be out on the water in a car...and like the driver told us...every car can drive into the water, but not too many can drive back out!
After the duck we made our way back across town on foot, getting to see more and more of the city. Even though its hilly, you can get around pretty easily.
After the Duck ride we thought we'd see how things look from up above. Best way to do that you ask? The Sky View Observatory on the 73rd floor of the Columbia Center Building. [Don't worry, we'll get to the Space Needle soon]
We would be getting on one of those little ferries down there in a few days.
After the view from high above we stumbled into a great pho spot for lunch called Jules Garden. I think we grabbed a nap and chilled at the hotel for a bit at this point...
Dinner tonight was at a cool spot down near the stadiums called Taylor Oyster and Shellfish Bar.
The food just kept coming and we kept eating. Very tasty! [but not the tastiest oysters we'd have on this trip...those will come later!]
After dinner we walked through town a bit and found The Bookstore, a great cafe for dessert!
We'll pause here if you need to go and get a snack or just take a break. Plenty more photos below. Just click to keep going...
This past weekend I had the opportunity of a lifetime to do something that very few people in the world have ever thought about, never mind done. I spent 4 days submerged aboard the Navy's nuclear powered submarine, Virginia SSN 774. Virginia is the most technologically advanced submarine in the world and will be the cornerstone of the future US submarine fleet for the twenty-first century. This all came about a few weeks ago when my good buddy from high school, Thomas, called and asked me if I'd be interested in coming along. Interested? are you kidding me! Of course I was interested..."Where do I sign up?" I asked!
Let me back up a bit. Periodically ships in the Navy go out on what they call Tiger Cruises where they invite VIPs or members of the public on board to see what the Navy is all about and to show off it's capabilities. This cruise was mostly made up of family members of the sailors so it's also a way to boost morale and give the families an inside look at what their sons do every day on board a nuclear powered submarine. A Tiger Cruise is a rare opportunity on a surface ship, and nearly unheard of on a submarine...so this really was a once in a lifetime opportunity. When they do happen, typically these cruises go out for a night and then return back to the same port, but we'd be leaving from Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, FL and transiting back up to Groton, CT...Virginia's home port. 4 days and 3 nights aboard a $2.5 billion dollar piece of deadly stealth weaponry. This was going to be awesome and I couldn't have been more excited to go.
Below I'll provide a quick recap of what we did on board for all that time and hopefully give you some good insight into what life aboard a submarine is like. Obviously there are some things that I did and things I saw on board that I can't talk about and certainly wasn't allowed to take photographs of, but other than that I pretty much had the run of the boat, save for the engine room. Basically the rear 40% of the ship was off limits. The Navy holds it's nuclear secrets very close to the vest....so no visitors are allowed back there, ever! The Captain made it very clear to us that Tiger Cruises like this are allowed with the understanding that we'll leave with a rare look into how a submarine like this functions and operates and that we must not talk about certain operational things that we experience on board. For instance you won't see any photos inside the control room except for a few that I made blurry and several of Thomas and I that were somewhat staged. We changed out the displays on some of the computers to make sure no classified information like depth gages or speed was shown. That wasn't easy either because nearly every display in the control room from charts to sonar to firing displays are marked "SECRET", "CONFIDENTIAL", or "CLASSIFIED".
So, without further adieu, enjoy the recap.
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I caught a flight down to JAX on Thursday evening and was met by a Navy driver who took me to my hotel not far from the Navy base in Mayport. The boat had come into port earlier in the week to drop off some personnel who would coordinate getting us "tigers" on board Friday morning. There were going to be 20 of us coming on so the guys were constantly ferrying people back from the airport.
Thursday night I hit a local pizza joint for a bite to eat and then retired to my hotel room knowing it would be an early start in the morning.
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A few vans left from the hotel at 730am on Friday to get us over to the Mayport Naval Station base. This base is mostly used for destroyers and larger ships like that, so it doesn't really have any docking facilities for submarines. That meant they'd be doing a BSP [Brief Stop for Personnel] to bring us on board. It was a bit of "hurry up and wait" with a planned boarding at 10am sharp so we just hung out there at the base for a bit. We'd head out on a tug boat, pull up along side the moving submarine, and walk along a gangway to get across. Once we got on they turned the sub around and we made our way back out to sea. Felt just like getting on a city bus!
Here are some photos of Virginia as she enters the channel and comes into the restricted Navy harbor. Video as well! It's hard to make out, but Thomas is up on the bridge driving along with the Captain and the local harbor master.
Once down below we were all taken into the crews mess [where the crew eats meals] and sat down to go over a quick introduction to the boat and review safety procedures. I've been down on the boat before a few times in Groton for tours, but for most of the guys this was their first time ever setting foot on a submarine. We went through some of the rules and regulations about being on board and then covered what to do in the event of a fire or some other casualty that would require us to don breathing masks.
And yes, Thomas is 3rd in command on this bad boy...pretty crazy the amount of responsibility he has! He's the lead engineer [they just call him ENG] so everything from the reactor to driving the boat falls under him...lots of work for sure.
Once the safety briefing was out of the way we were all assigned to our berths. I was going to be bunking in Thomas' stateroom on the top rack. Some of the best accommodations on board! Here's a look around:
As I was getting settled Thomas came down from the bridge to find me and say hello. We caught up for a bit and then he suggested we grab some lunch. I'll cover food and dining on the sub later on, but we'll just say that we ate good all trip long. With some ribs, green beans, and a sliver of apple pie in our bellies we had to hurry along so that Thomas could get back onto his regular watch schedule. He had the 1130 to 1730 shift on the bridge so I'd be joining him. I threw on a harness and climbed the 40 feet up through the sail and onto the bridge! It's slippery and the surface is actually curved up there, so being harnessed in in a must, just incase you slip. By the time we got up there we had already lost sight of land, but we did pick up a few dolphins along the way and they rode our bow wake for a good while.
There are a bevy of computer screens and communications equipment up there on the bridge, but the operation of the sub actually gets done in the control room down below, so Thomas was constantly sending orders down to change course and speed. The Captain and his dad joined us for a few hours and we had his dad in charge for a while. He was having us come to a complete stop and then crank the prop to full speed. It's amazing how much power a nuclear reactor can put out! 0 to 14 knots in no-time flat.
It's customary to have a cigar when up on the bridge like that so the Captain broke out a few Dominican's and the 4 of us enjoyed them, chatted and took in the view. There's nothing like it in the world, that's for sure. Cranking away in the middle of the ocean on top of a nuclear powered submarine. Pretty special stuff. You've got to see this video I shot while up there. You'll see some dolphins at the beginning and then the rear of the boat towards the end. Very impressive stuff.
One thing I didn't really know until this trip was that the Eastern Seaboard is actually very shallow. In fact, you need to head out about 100-120 miles before you can dive below the surface. So coming and going from port the first 12 or so hours are spent on the surface. When the weather is nice and the seas are calm like this it's great...but wait til you see what we dealt with coming into Groton on Monday!
[when on the surface like that the radar is deployed to help navigate, which is a good thing, but it can reek havoc with other electronics. that being said, I didn't dare bring my nikon up there...just the point and shoot canon]
At one point we had a P3 Orion submarine hunter aircraft fly overhead a few times. Not too hard to find a sub when it's up on the surface like that. Most likely they were doing some exercises somewhere out there with another sub.
Once we reached a depth of around 1300' feet, at about 80-85 miles off shore, Thomas gave the order for "all stop" and we slowly came to a complete rest in the middle of the ocean. It was time for the crews "swim call". 80 miles out and we were going to jump off a perfectly good submarine and go swimming...talk about nuts! They made sure the water was very deep because a few weeks ago when they did a swim call in about 700 feet of water they had 4 sharks there in about 10 minutes. "Everybody out of the water!". At this depth we they were pretty confident we wouldn't' have any visitors except some jelly fish. They did bring the gunner up on deck with his machine gun, just in case! Thomas was still on watch for the first hour of the swim, so we stayed up on the bridge and played lifeguard while the crew all took turns diving off the side and enjoying a refreshing dip in the 85 degree waters of the gulf stream. Meanwhile, the kitchen staff was setting up for a "Steel Beach". Get this...they brought a few bbq grills up onto the deck and had burgers and dogs cooking away for all us to enjoy! Just unreal...it felt more like a Carnival Cruise than a deadly Navy submarine.
Once Thomas was relieved of his watch we raced down below to get our trunks on to enjoy the last 45 minutes of the swim call. Boy did it feel great to get in there. Once we stopped the boat we lost the nice breeze we had up there, so we had been baking for a good hour in the direct sun. The guy in the water wearing the blue trunks is the Captain..he was the first one in the water...even before the diver got in there!
What an awesome feeling it is to dive off the edge of the boat like that. One of the cool things to do when you're out there is to try and swim up the bow of the boat. It's not easy...you have to time it correctly with a swell and sort of ride the swell up onto the bow and hold on for dear life as the water goes back down. Once it's down then you can crawl the rest of the way up. The risk is that if you don't make it up and slide back down you can get cut up pretty good by all the barnacles below the water line. Apparently the only way to clean them out of your skin is with a dousing of vinegar...and it's very painful. So the first time I made it up okay...but the second attempt I had to abort and push off so I didn't get cut. Close call! Once we toweled off we grabbed some burgers and sat down on the deck to enjoy a little bbq food on the back of a nuclear submarine in the middle of nowhere!
Pretty soon everyone made their way back down below to shower up and get back to the actual business of running a submarine. Playtime was over! The boat fired back up and continued east for another hour or so. Around 830pm I made my way up to control with Thomas to watch the diving procedure. It's pretty intense as they go over a checklist of things to prepare the boat and then at around 9pm the OOD [Officer of the Deck] came over the PA to announce "Dive, Dive". The ballast tanks were flooded with water and within a few minutes the deck was awash and shortly after that the periscope slipped beneath the surface as well. We were officially submerged and wouldn't resurface again until late Sunday night!
The biggest questions I've been asked since being back is "what's it like to be underwater?", and "did you feel anything down there?". So let me explain. Once you lose sight of the surface in the periscope you have no idea how deep you are. There's no telling the difference between 100' deep or 500' deep. The only way to tell is by looking at the read-outs in control or the display in the Ward Room. Once underwater everything is smooth as glass...the boat slides along very gently through the water at some very significant speeds and you really can't even tell if you're moving or standing still. As far as feeling claustrophobic, not the case. You have to remember...this thing is 377' long and 34' wide with 4 decks inside. There's plenty of room in there. Sure you have to turn sideways to get by someone in a passageway, but other than that it's just fine.
The rest of Friday night was spent with Thomas and a few other officers in the Ward Room playing cards and watching a movie. Just a typical Friday night underneath the ocean.
More after the jump...click below to continue.
Imagine this: There's this great new job your looking to get, a real once in a lifetime opportunity, that would just be an amazing experience and really solidify your resume. The application and interview process is going to take a lot of time though, probably 2 or more years. The job you already have is a pretty decent one but you figure why not, and decide to go for it. The catch here is that you've got to tell your current boss that you're going to start looking for this new job and that you'll probably have to be out of the office most of the time you're doing this interviewing and applying, so much of your work just isn't going to get done. How many bosses do you think would be kosher with this type of arrangement? Right, not many! But this is exactly what happens when someone runs for president. Think about it, each of the 3 major candidates that are left in the running (sorry Huckabee and Ron Paul) are all current senators and they've all pretty much taken a break from their real jobs to pound the pavement out on the campaign trail. Yet we the public, essentially their boss, are left with no say in the matter...and no representation if we live in one of those states. They really get a free pass and there's no accountability. Even our former governor here in MA did it when he was in office, and that was a full year before he even formally announced he was running. He spent something like 200+ days out of the state. Now how can someone who is supposed to be running a state claim to be doing their job if they're off trying to get a better one?
The second topic here is something that I can't take any credit for but think is a phenomenal idea. I owe it all to AC Delco. It's something he mentioned a few years back but now that we're faced with increased stamp prices seemingly every 6 months I think it bears mentioning here at kn.com. I know I have a loyal following of current and former postal employees who read this site (bizarre, I know) so hopefully they won't take too much offense to this. There's no real easy way to say this so I'm going to just go ahead and throw it out there: Mail only gets delivered on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Yep. Let that marinate for second or two and think about it. You could essentially cut in half much of the costs associated with distributing the mail...gas, vehicle maintenance, worker time, etc. Sure you could still have the premium services that you could pay extra for, but regular ole mail would only come 3 days per week. I really don't think this would be much of an inconvenience for any of us and it could potentially save a boat load of money. I think AC is really onto something here....maybe he should run for president. Discuss [the mail part, not the merits AC running for president]
Isn't that the New Hampshire motto? ...oh, Live Free or Die. Close enough. Well, along with many, many others this weekend, Kel and I ventured up into the great outdoors of northern New Hampshire to take part in the October ritual that is "leaf peeping".
On Saturday morning we made our way up rt 93 with crossing the Kancamangus Highway and getting into North Conway as our goal of the day. Our first stop was at the Lost River, which is just before you start on the "Kank" (that's what I call it now...much easier). The Lost River is a huge gorge that stretches for about a half mile at the base of the Presidential mountain range. Over thousands of years the water dug a huge trench that is left today with caves and boulders all over the place. The folks who run the place have built thousands of feet of boardwalks through the entire gorge making it very easy to get down and move around. (Certainly not a deck project they would have let Chaos and Papple work on). We went a few times as kids with Margy and Bob-dog, but I totally forgot just how many caves they had. Each one is rated an A, B, or C based on the difficulty required to get through, A being the hardest. I'm proud to say that Kel and I made it through all of them, even the 18" wide clearance of the Lemon Squeezer! As you crawl through the various caves sometimes you see the river, other times you just hear it and some of them are so dark that they even have gas fed lanterns inside. At the top of the gorge the temperature was about 75 and sunny, but since it's so deep and such little sunlight gets down inside the temps drop pretty fast and in a few of the caves you could even see your breath. The pictures I have in the album really don't do this place justice so you really need to go check it out for yourselves.
After a few hours at the Lost River it was time to head out on the Highway and check out all that it had to offer (not really sure why the call it a highway; only has 1 lane in each direction!). We really hit the area at peak time for the foliage. The colors were just so vibrant. Reds and yellows so bright that you almost needed sunglasses. At a few places along the way we got out to explore the Swift River that runs alongside. It's been so dry in the northeast the past 4 months that the river has been reduced to a small trickle at this point, a huge contrast from what it must be like once the spring thaw starts. With the water so low we were able to walk out onto many of the rocks that would normally be much to slippery and got some great photos. The ride though is very scenic going through the different valleys and over the Kancamangus Pass at an elevation of about 3,000ft. Well worth it even with all the increased traffic that Columbus Day weekend brings.
We didn't book this trip until the last minute and as a result I think we may have gotten the very last room at a bed and breakfast in North Conway. We knew it was going to have a shared bath. Okay, it's only two nights. And then we also found out that it had two twin beds. Again, it's only two nights, not a huge deal. Just like back in college! The place we stayed was called the Nereledge Inn, a popular spot in the winter for ice climbers since it's so close to Cathedral Ledge. This place is old. Very old. Built back in 1787, and you can tell. The main stairs were so crooked they were actually hard to climb. With the old came a certain New England charm that you just can't get with a brand new building. Thinking back to how many people this place has given shelter to over the years is pretty cool. The innkeepers, Steve and Linda, were beyond nice and went out of their way at every chance they got. Heck...after the first night another room opened up with a queen bed so Steve moved our stuff in there while we were out on a hike. How about that! The breakfast they cooked in the morning was great and filled us up to start the day. I know a lot of folks out there don't care too much for the bed and breakfast way of traveling, but I think it's a great way to go and you get to meet some pretty nice people along the way.
On Sunday morning we woke up to some rain and drizzle so we decided to check out a few of the many outlet stores that call North Conway home. After several hours of that we decided to call it a day and head up to the top of Cathedral Ledge to check out the view. Some very smart person decided to make a road that goes all the way up to the top of the 400' tall rock. It means you can be enjoying the views in only 5 minutes instead of taking hours having to actually climb up using a rope. And the views are spectactular, especially on the clear day that we had. The rest of the day we explored the area and even made it over to the base of Mt. Washington, home to perhaps the worlds worst weather. We didn't feel like heading up to the summit because it was only about 20-30 degrees and 40mph winds up there. Not too enjoyable.
Monday morning we had our breakfast and then checked out from the Inn on our way to the other side of the White Mountains. We drove through Crawford Notch on our way around to Franconia Notch, once home to The Old Man of the Mountains and the Cannon Tram. The day was overcast with a low cloud ceiling meaning there was no way for us to see up to where the Old Man once called home. It was probably for the best as it would have been too hard not to see him there. So sad. We did take the tram up to the summit of Cannon Mtn and what a view. We couldn't even see our hands in front of our faces it was that clouldy/foggy up there. I'm not to good with heights so the fact that I coudn't see over the 4,800 foot edge was probably for the better. We did walk along the rim trail which was cool. The climate up there is damp and cold, perfect for balsam firs to grow. After that we took the ride back down the mountain and made our way back down south, stopping for lunch with Kristin and Ryan though before we got home.
Overall a great trip, a good celebration, and just enough time away to recharge the proverbial batteries. Like I said before...it's hard to believe we've been hitched now for 2 years. The time really does fly by. As per any trip we go on I've taken the liberty to post a small album of about 40 photos for your veiwing pleasure. You can view it by clicking here and then tell me what you think.