1450 miles and 30.9 mpg…w00t!

So, Brooke and I went on vacation this past week…if you wanna check out some pictures, by all means do so… In summary, we went to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park for 3 nights of camping, and then checked out Memphis, TN to visit Beale Street and then the Dave Matthews Band concert for Saturday night.

A few highlights:

1). Pigeon Forge is an interesting place. Imagine Branson, MO…but 4x longer and with a pancake shop in every other building on that stretch. It’s rather ridiculous. The worst part is that nearly every one had a full parking lot at most times of the day (especially breakfast, of course). Gatlinburg wasn’t much better, but it at least had that “Alpine Village” vibe going for it…

2). The camping was pretty nice. The first night was a bit warm, but the next two were much cooler. It only rained up on Clingman’s Dome (very foggy up there…you can see in the pictures!), and then it stormed the last night we were there. So yeah, the weather was pretty reasonable for late-July!

3). Brooke didn’t get attacked by any bears. She was rather disappointed.

4). Memphis was pretty fun, for the most part. We spent the first night out on Beale Street, which is about as close to Bourbon Street as you’re gonna get north of New Orleans (i.e. no open container law, smelled terrible, open late, etc.). We saw some excellent music and had excellent food at Rum Boogie, had some good BBQ ribs at Blues City Cafe, and walked around downtown quite a bit.

5). Graceland charges $27 to visit the mansion. Per person. And they charge for parking. It goes up from there to $32 for the “platinum tour,” and something in the $60 range to see everything. We were content with just driving by… 😛

6). We saw Dave Matthews Band at Autozone Park, which is where the Memphis Redbirds (Cardinal’s farm team) play. We got to stand right in front of the stage on the field, so it was the absolute closest we’ve ever been to a concert for Dave (I’ve been to 5 now, I think?). The set list was arguably the best I’ve seen, including many old classics as well as a few new ones – they started at 8:15 and we didn’t make it out of there until 11:00 (long set!). Willie Nelson also opened, which was rather neat! The best part was when Dave and Willie sang “Gravedigger” together, which worked beautifully with Willie’s style of singing. The band also did covers of “Burning Down The House” and “Sledgehammer” (a ‘love song,’ Dave said beforehand). So, overall, the concert was pretty awesome!

7). …except for all the people that were there with us… Since we were on the field, that counted as “general admission,” which meant that we were down there with a lot of crazies. Crazies as in frat boys with their girlfriends (with 2 carat diamonds on their fingers…). Crazies as in “I’m going to spend $65 on a ticket, not pay attention to the band, and instead fling my $8 beer around in the air while I dance poorly, spilling it on my neighbor’s feet.” I mean, I’ve been in general admission sections at amphitheaters many a time where the worst thing around was the distinct smell of marijuana…but at least everyone was a). watching the show, and b). respecting the space of those around them. It was nearly unbearable…but at least the music made up for it (to an extent).

That’s about it! It was a great trip, overall!

Time to get back to work though, I guess…

A good weekender…

Brooke and I took the day off Friday to go to Kansas City for the night, then drive into Hermann for the next night. This was prompted by a deal that the Captain Wohlt B&B was running – as January is a generally slow month for the sleepy town of Hermann, MO, they ran a 50% off deal for the weekend, and as we didn’t make it out there last Summer, we decided to make the trip this time.

Before we get to that, however, we Pricelined a hotel at Crown Center in Kansas City, MO for Friday night, mostly because we hadn’t really been to KC before together, and certainly not to see some of the touristy things in our own backyard. Thus, we hit a few nearby attractions…

First up was the Steamboat Arabia Museum. Now, one may think, looking at billboards on I-70, that this would be a somewhat cheesy endeavor, but it was really, really interesting. Essentially, back in the 1850s, the steamboat Arabia, traveling from St. Louis, MO to Sioux City, NE, hit a snag and sank with all her cargo – the only life lost was a mule (and yes, the mule is at the museum). Some local guys decided to look for a steamboat (as there are over 100 that went down in the Missouri River in that general time…) and see what treasure was in store for them. They selected this one because the Army CoE had reined in the river into a channel away from where the ship sank, thus leaving the steamboat in a field. These guys obtained rights to dig in the field and, in the late-1980s, found the ship and dug it up. It’s crazy the stuff they found on this boat, destined for general stores up and down the river. We’re talking leather goods, fine china, woodworking tools, wool coats, pickled goods, gin, etc. Nearly all of it was still there and in surprisingly good condition. If you look at all the stuff in there, you quickly realize that these local treasure hunters found millions of dollars worth of goods in perfect condition, essentially buried in a field.

The next stop was the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Not a whole lot to write about this one, but we feel we got a little more culture after going 😛 Essentially, it was just an art museum, yet free. Contemporary art, portraits, furniture, photography…in all, it was interesting and full of good stuff…just not much to report here!

We went to BB’s Lawnside BBQ for dinner on Friday night. After finding the place (the road was closed, like, 100 ft from the entrance, and we had to drive around for 20 min to find a way to get there…), we were treated to some excellent KC BBQ and live blues music, both of which were well-received. I don’t get out to hear live music as often as I’d like, and getting it paired with BBQ is always a plus.

The next day, we went to the Harry S. Truman Museum and Library in Independence, MO. I’ve been there before, but it’s been a good 10-15 years; this was Brooke’s first trip. While I’d learned about Truman in the past, I didn’t realize (at the time) how important the man was. Besides the obvious dropping of the Atomic Bomb and the Truman Doctrine of communist containment, I found that he was also responsible for recognizing the State of Israel, pushing forward civil rights legislation for servicemen, first trying to pass a national health care initiative, and getting us involved with NATO. He was a good Democrat 🙂 A fine way to spend a morning…

We then drove to Hermann, MO to taste wine at the Bommarito Estate, which we’d been told to go to in the past yet had never made it there. The wine was pretty good, and certainly different as it was nearly all “dry.” Apparently, the vintner doesn’t add any sugar to his wines, so while I’m used to having a vignoles that is sweet, this one wasn’t really sweet at all. We bought three bottles while we were there…and I think Brooke has discovered Port as a drink of choice 😛

Anyway, we stayed at the B&B that night in a nice suite and went to dinner at Trapper’s Grill: I had a very, very excellent Caribbean chicken breast and Brooke had pasta. We were quite satisfied!

So yeah, it was good trip with no real hiccups. Now, sadly, we’ll have to replenish our checking account, as we spent a pretty penny doing this!

Vacation Suggestions?

***EDIT***

Mom, what do you think about the Grand Canyon this summer?  We could go down on mules and leave Dad and Andy up above…Andy says he’s afraid of heights, but I think he’s really just a wuss….

Just in case anyone still reads this, I’m trying to decide where we should go for vacation this year. I’d really like to go southwest at some point, but I’d like to rent a jeep and go down into Canyonlands for a few days and I’m not sure we can afford that this summer. So, Andy’s never been to Mesa Verde so we could just go down and do that kind of stuff (plus I’ve been reading a lot of Tony Hillerman lately, so Chaco Canyon could be a fun adventure) and maybe head up north for a day or so, too. Or, we could go to the Dakotas, because I haven’t been there in awhile and Wall is always fun. Or, we could head the other direction to the east coast. Maybe to Niagra Falls, since neither of us has been there. Any other suggestions or votes? Keep in mind we’ll camp at least part of the time, and try to be as cheap as possible the rest.

Mmmmm…Missouri Backcountry…

Well, Brooke got to go backpacking for the first time this weekend. We hit the Ozark Trail’s Current River section Friday afternoon, which is located kinda between Bonne Terre, MO and Eminence, MO…but by “between,” I mean “there’s nothing but forest there, so it’s kinda far from both.”

Anyway, we got started Friday night but really only had time to pitch a tent and collect firewood. We even got to chop down a tree with our nifty new hatchet (picture coming…) in the dark, which was rather sweet… The night proved mostly uneventful, but it was still good… The real problem was the heat. I mean, it cooled off a bit, but being in the trees with little or no breeze meant that the humidity just kinda hung around. As a result, Brooke didn’t sleep all that well…

We got up the next morning and hit the trail. The hiking itself was pretty straight-forward, but we weren’t as close to water as I’d hoped. I mean, yes, the trail generally follows the Current River, but as many of you know, there are lots of bluffs along the water, which means that while we were usually “close” to it, we still couldn’t actually get to it except at a few points… We did get to eat lunch by the river, which was lovely, and get our feet wet once or twice.

But, the heat was still pretty annoying and we did 10 miles of hiking (give or take…) in a relatively short span of time… By the time we had done the hiking we had planned to do, and hiked back, we realized we were only an hour from the car… So yeah, dripping with sweat and with blisters on our feet (well, mine at least…), we headed back to the car and just decided to come home rather than stick it out another night… We got back last night and picked up the dog from Jo and Lisa’s (thanks!).

Anyway, it was a good, albeit brief and warm, trip. While the weather wasn’t what we would have preferred, we did get some good scenery and some good exercise…

Back to the “real world” now, I guess……

Of vacations and weddings…

So, we went up to Wisconsin/Minnesota for a little vacation last week, largely because we needed to be in St. Paul, MN on Saturday for Adam Waudby’s wedding. Brooke and I left last Tuesday for Hannibal so we could leave Edie with Brooke’s parents (thanks!) and then continued up to Madeline Island, on Lake Superior, off the shore of Bayfield, WI…and it was a 12 hour drive…a lovely way to spend my 25th birthday, but whatever… We got up there and took a ferry to reach the island, arriving in the 7:00 pm hour or so… We camped at Big Bay State Park, about 7 mi from the ferry landing (big island!), which is nice and far from anything resembling a tourist trap. We made some awesome steaks that night (there’s a picture included at my Google Photos site) and were well-rested for the next day…

Thursday was spent largely exploring the island, walking on the “boardwalk” (as in, a walkway made of boards…clever name, eh?), and then kayaking out in the lake…where I got a lovely sunburn, despite the 70 F weather and partial cloudiness… It got rather cold that night (45 F or so), even though the high was supposed to be ~90 F with a low around 60 F. Moral of the story: never trust the forecast, ’cause if you’re going to northern Wisconsin, it’ll be cold anyway.

Friday we went to Minneapolis-St. Paul for the wedding rehearsal (another 5 hr drive) and a brief stop at the Mall of America. Saturday was spent at the wedding, of course (congrats, kids!), and then we went to Ikea and the Mall (again…) with Mom and Dad. We got a coffee table, a TV stand (of sorts), a wine rack, and a few other small items at Ikea (thankfully, all of which fit in the car with everything else we had…) and didn’t get too much at the Mall.

Now, briefly…the idea of this Mall… For those that haven’t been there, it’s huge. It’s kinda like St. Louis Mills mall, but has four stories (only 3 with stores) and an amusement park (which was pretty impressive). The real downside is the store selection though, I think. As in, I saw at least 3 Starbucks’, 3 Caribou Coffee shops, 2 Claire’s, a two-story Old Navy, and 3 Lids’ hat shops. Now. If you’re going to the mall, do you really need that much coffee? What can you find at one Claire’s that isn’t at the other one (in the same building)? I guess that I was a bit underwhelmed, ’cause while they had plenty of shopping opportunities, it was either the same store multiple times, or all clothing stores… I saw one Radio Shack, no Best Buy/Circuit City, nothing that really interested me (personally). Then again, Mom and Brooke had a good time… 😛

Anyway, we got back Sunday night around 7:00 pm, after picking up Edie in Hannibal. It was a good trip, overall, and we came back pretty well rested and ready to go for work Monday morning…for the most part…

I’ve got pictures of the vacation up, as well as general wedding pictures from the weddings we’ve attended thus far this summer. Check ’em out if you’re curious…

A month of weddings…

This month is getting pretty busy, lemme tell ya… Last weekend, Brooke and I went up to Lincoln, IL for Alex Pham’s wedding. I was “drafted” to play my djembe for a song (“You and Me,” by Lifehouse), so we had to go up on Friday for the rehearsal and then, of course, stay for the wedding and reception. All in all, a good trip, and we certainly got to see lots of people, many of which I figured I’d never see again after undergrad. On the way back, we dropped by the new Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, IL, which was pretty neat. It was just opened last year (I think?) and features a few different theaters and plenty of documents, including original copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and the marriage license between him and Mary Todd. Anyway, it was an interesting trip and you all should drop by if you happen to be in mid-Illinois…

Otherwise, we’ve got Mirnela’s wedding next weekend (co-worker here at the lab…) in Mountain Home, AR and Adam Waudby’s wedding on June 23rd in St. Paul, MN. For Mirnela’s, we’ll just drive down for that day and stay a night, but for Adam’s, we’re going to head up that Wednesday and camp in Wisconsin for a few days before heading into Minnesota…a sort of “vacation,” if you will… While I look forward to the trip, the 12 hr drive there (and 12 hrs back…) aren’t all that appealing…

So yeah, July will be a welcome change from all the driving we’re doing this month… Although, I think we’ve got a few more weddings popping up in August, both of which will be here in St. Louis… Too many people getting married, I tell ya…

Oh, and I turn 25 on June 20th. Send cash. 😉

A spring break for the books…

So, spring break was last week…and likely the last one I’ll ever go on (in that this semester is my last one that involves an actual “class” with real “exams”).  With the time off, I flew down to Texas to visit Andy S. and Brett for the week in San Antonio and Houston, respectively.

I flew out on Tuesday at 3:50…but weather in Dallas (where my flight was heading first…) postponed the trip by a few hours.  After we finally got to Dallas, I ran to the terminal, found that there was one flight left to San Antonio (’cause I’d already missed the one I was supposed to be on…) and that it was already boarding…  So I got my ticket transferred and got on at the last minute…and somehow, my baggage followed me, despite switching flights entirely.

So, Andy S. went to work on Wednesday while I played 9+ hrs of “Twilight Princess“…poorly…  I had to get his help on some parts, but I still did most of it myself (although he may argue with this…).  There’s a good 50+ hrs left in the game, so there’s plenty more to do…  Brett came down to San Antonio Wednesday night and we went out to dinner, hung out a bit, etc.  The next day (Thursday), Andy S. worked a half-day so “we” (read: “he”) could watch the NCAA tournament and, honestly, some of those games were pretty good…  Anyway, we had a good time hanging out in San Antonio…

Friday, we all drove to Houston, a few hours away from San Antonio, to stay at Brett’s place.  While there, we played board games, Wii (…I suck at “Smash Bros.,” by the way…), and went out…  Saturday, for St. Patrick’s Day, we went by a brewery for a few hours and then by one of Brett’s friend’s houses to try some home brew that he had made…

The brewery we went to was Saint Arnold’s Brewery, which I’d never heard of…  They’re a regional brewery out of Houston, much like Schlafly is, here.  Saint Arnold’s, however, runs their operation out of a warehouse and doesn’t operate a restaurant.  Apparently, every Saturday, they open the place up from 1:00 – 3:00 pm, you pay $5, get an 8 oz. “tasting glass,” and four tokens for four drinks of anything they’ve got…which included around 5-6 varieties.  If you go often, then it behooves you to buy a larger glass from them that they’ll also fill, making that $5 stretch quite nicely over the two hours…  Regardless, the beer was excellent and a good time was had by all…

But yeah, came back on Sunday and the flight back was rather uneventful…  I had lots of reading to do last night, so I didn’t get a chance to post this sooner…and things are getting busy again already!

Anyway, overall, it was a good trip…  We didn’t do much sight-seeing, but that was fine by me…just wanted to hang out and play video games for a week, and that’s what I got!

Thanks, guys…

Where did all the time go?!

Well, you can tell when classes start up again, you have less and less time with which to waste on television and video games…grrrr…  We had our first exam on Monday (right after Mardi Gras, no less…) and I was in there for a little over 3 hrs; everyone was out by the 4 hr mark…  We probably won’t get the grades back until next week, but I’m told that, so far, I’ve only missed “a few points”, so that’s promising.  Regardless, I’ve got another exam next Thursday already and will have one more just prior to Spring Break.

Speaking of which, I got tickets yesterday to fly down to Texas over the Break, between March 13th and 18th.  Andy S. and Brett have been complaining for, well, years that I never visit, so I’m finally gonna do it…  The sad thing is: this will only be the second time I’ve flown anywhere in a plane…  😛

Anyway, class/lab work is keeping me rather busy…  The weather is improving, at least, so I can take the dog on a decent walk when I get home every day.  Edie and Sam are getting along a lot better now, by the way…  I don’t think they realize that they’re supposed to be enemies…but whatever…

So yeah, just figured I’d update this for once…  I’m hoping to get caught up with the hours upon hours of television saved on the DVR this weekend, ’cause we may plan a trip to Hannibal or Columbia the following weekend(s)…  No time!

(all i wanna do is play my wii…grrrrrr… :-()

Ouch…

So, Brooke and I drove up to St. Charles, MO today to go biking on the Katy Trail, in preparation for our trip this summer.? For those who don’t know (or don’t remember…), we’re planning on making a “vacation” out of biking the entirety of the Katy Trail, ~265 mi from end-to-end, starting near Sedalia, MO and ending in St. Charles.? So yeah, we went biking today ’cause a). the weather was gorgeous, and b). we hadn’t gotten to use Brooke’s new bike for an extended period yet, so it was about time to take ‘er out for a spin.

Anyway, we started at 1:20ish…got done around 4:20ish, so we spent about 3 hours…and biked for 30+ miles…and damn, does it hurt.? We weren’t really planning to go that far on our first outing this year (and I haven’t done a 30 mile-er since 2002…), but it was one of those “oh, we aren’t tired yet, so we’ll just keep going” situations…of course, just after we turned around, we were tired…and our butts hurt…

Regardless, it was a good trip and well-worth the pain to enjoy some good weather.? Needless to say, however, we’ve got some work to do before biking 265 miles…? 😛

Backpacking=schweeeeeeeet…

So, Nathan and I made it back alive from the backcountry in North Carolina…here are some pictures

Overall, the trip was really fun.? We made it in on Saturday night and camped at the park…took about 10 hrs to get there…? We got started on Sunday morning and made the ascent of Mt. Sterling…6.2 miles and 4100 feet up…and it sucked…? Believe you me, I almost didn’t make it…and once I sat down at the top, I couldn’t walk for a good 10 minutes…? The descent was split between the next two days, so I got some blisters on the way down…but the scenery was unbelievable, from scenic overlooks to waterfalls…everything was gorgeous…? The weather was generally 75 F for the first few days, but a T-storm came through on Monday night and cooled things down, yet it was still in the mid- to upper-40s for the remainder of the hike, so it was still quite comfortable.

Regardless, it was a great trip…thanks for going, Nathan…