Journey: Amtrak’s Silver Star

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Orlando, Florida to Alexandria, Virginia – 934 miles

Coach class on the Silver Service trains uses single-level Amfleet cars, so the view isn’t quite as good as on the double-decker Superliner cars on some of the long-distance routes but it was still a lot of fun and I spent pretty much the whole 18-hour trip just staring out the window.  The Silver Star and Silver Meteor use the same tracks for the most part except that the Star swings west to hit Columbia and Raleigh, while the meteor takes a more direct route through Charleston and Fayetteville.  Neither has any ocean view at all.

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The historic Orlando station.

I didn’t have anyone next to me until the station before my destination.  There was supposed to be someone but…I guess they lost them.  The car attendent kept wandering around going “where is my Philadelphia?”  Pretty sure they got off in Florida and never got back on.  Great for me, probably not so much for them.

I got on in Orlando in the evening, fell asleep as we were crossing into Georgia, and woke up two states later just inside North Carolina.  We passed through several major cities and all sorts of tiny adorable towns.  The only sad part was that it was dark out for such a big chunk of the trip, on my way back I’m going to try & book it so that I go through those places during the day, and the ones I already saw at night.

The Silver Star isn’t exactly the epitome of comfort but I arrived in Alexandria on time (!) the next afternoon having spent $117 and basically no effort in the process.

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Field School: Week 1

I survived my trip to Maryland!  It was about 18 hours from Orlando to Alexandria, Virginia, where the head archaeologist picked me up for the drive down to St. Mary’s City.  St. Mary’s College of Maryland is a small, rural school with pretty much nothing anywhere near it except the museum site where I’ll be working.  I like it though, the campus is beautiful and very wooded, it reminds me of Michigan.

We had three days of lectures on field methods, history, and some of the artifacts we’ll encounter, then two days in the field.  Yesterday my group learned to use the surveying equipment, plotted a new square & started taking off the topsoil, today we finished the topsoil & dug through a layer of pea gravel that nobody expected to be there.  We haven’t found anything really big but in sifting all of that dirt we came across lots of little bits of brick & coal, some nails, & a few pieces of ceramic & clay pipe stems.  Digging holes and picking through dirt really is the best thing ever.

So here I am for the next couple of months.  Should be interesting!

This Week in Awkwardness

Do you want to show off your obsession with Stranger Things AND help the National Endowment for the Arts?  David Harbour’s t-shirt does both!

I started working on my trip to Maryland.  I’m planning on taking Amtrak’s Silver Star from Tampa to Washington, D.C., so I FINALLY get to go on another train adventure.  Or the Silver Meteor, but that would require taking a bus from Tampa to Orlando – bleh.  It’ll be some silver celestial body anyway.  Then I was contemplating possibly getting to D.C. a day or two before I’m supposed to move into the dorm and seeing some things.  Hopefully they’ll send me a schedule of any field trips we’ll be taking over the summer, maybe the stuff I want to see is stuff they’ll be taking us to see anyway.  Probably not the International Spy Museum though.  That I’ll probably have to do on my own time.

Maryland will be the fifth state that I’ve lived in over as many years – that seems kind of insane, it feels like forever since I left Tennessee but that really was just in 2013.

Train trip, new state, digging stuff up – should be a good summer!

This is my 100th blog post!

Also I’ve been thinking about a graduation gift to get myself in December.  Maybe a GoPro.  They shoot time lapses and they’re waterproof, two things my Canon M isn’t capable of without modification.  Could be fun.

I’ve got my class schedule all planned out for MY LAST SEMESTER O_O.  Finally I’ll get to take some in-depth archaeology courses, up to now the offerings have just not worked out for me.


Added to the Travel Map:

Tangalooma Wrecks, Moreton Island, Australia – shipwrecks just off the beach.

Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, Madagascar – wild rock formations.

Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands National Park, Utah – tons of rock art.

Longyearbyen, Norway – northernmost city in the world.

International Spy Museum, Washington, D.C. – pretty much exactly what it sounds like.

Barron, Washington – ghost town.

Canyon Falls, Alberta, Michigan – waterfall in a canyon.

Bears Ears National Monument, Utah – 100,000 archaeological sites.

Bagan Archaeological Zone, Myanmar – the “Plain of Pagodas,” 2,000+ temples.

Ōkunoshima, Japan – this is the island with the zillion rabbits, but I’m more interested in the ruins of the poison gas factory.

Museums of St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg is one of a handful of pretty little cities out on the peninsula between Tampa Bay & the Gulf of Mexico.  With beautiful beaches & palm-lined streets it’s been a tourist destination since the beginning of tourism.

The Museum of History is on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier, which juts out into Tampa Bay & is currently closed for construction.  It’s a small but interesting museum, $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, $9 for children, military, & students (this was the first place I got a discount with my student ID!).  Their permanent exhibits include an Egyptian mummy, general area history, aviation, a few signs about pirates, and for some reason two rooms filled with nothing but autographed baseballs.  When I went in April they had a shipwreck exhibit on that showed models & artifacts as well as the technology involved in finding the wrecks & retrieving small bits from them.

Just around the corner is the Museum of Fine Arts ($17/adults, $15/seniors/military, $10/children/students), which holds many works from some of history’s greatest artists in its permanent collection.  After viewing ancient pieces from all over the world, I found myself in the presence of three genuine Monets.  Unlike most art museums, they welcome photography in their permanent collections.

Event: Live Oak International

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Every year in January horse drivers & jumpers come to Ocala from all over the world to compete at Live Oak Farms.  It’s become quite a festival, they have food trucks, vendors, even the Budweiser Clydesdale were there, all hooked up doing laps around the show ring.  It was a lot of fun except for the woman sitting next to me during the jumping saying “You can do it horsie! Oh that’s OK you’ll do better on the next one!”  It was the horse show equivalent of those people who talk to the characters during movies.

Gallery: Hearst Castle

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I visited the Hearst Castle in the summer of 2006.  Right on the coast of San Simeon, California, it’s a spectacular building built by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.  Finished in 1947, the house became a hangout spot for some of the biggest celebrities of the day.  As ever, I was fascinated by the architectural details.  Having been built at a time when one could order antiquities out of catalogs, the gardens are filled with genuine ancient Egyptian statuary and other relics.  The zoo that once graced the grounds is mostly gone, but there’s still a handful of animals roaming the property, if you’re lucky you might see a small zebra herd wandering around loose.  Most tours are $25 and last about an hour, although there are some different options on the website.  If you’re not sure, visit the free museum down the hill and decide then if you want to take the bus up to the house itself.

Destination: Round Island Lighthouse

Round Island is part of Hiawatha National Forest, is entirely uninhabited, and really doesn’t have any tourism to speak of.  Occasionally someone will take a kayak across the channel, or we’ll see a bonfire on the beach, but for the most part it’s pretty forlorn, the lighthouse locked up tight, nobody around.  One day a year the Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, together with Boy Scout Troop 323 of Freeland, Michigan, open it up for tours.  The tour itself is free, but if you don’t have your own way across transportation from Mackinac costs $15.  First they put seven people into a smallish fishing boat, then they transferred us into two inflatable Zodiac rafts.  I wish I’d been wearing lighter pants, I was siting right in the bow and my jeans didn’t get dry the whole time I was there.

Nobody really took care of it from the time it was decommissioned in 1958 until a storm swept away a whole corner of the building in 1972, and people started to realize they might lose it forever.  They kept it from collapsing then but the interior is still in desperate need of reconstruction.  Holes in the walls, holes in the floors, but it’s a beautiful building.  Boy Scouts throughout the building talked about the history all the way up.  The first floor housed the two massive compressors that created steam to run the foghorn, the second and third floors were living quarters for the keeper, his assistant, and their families.  Some of the bedrooms had the foghorn right outside the windows – I’m sure that was fun to sleep through.  On the fourth floor there’s just a ladder up into the lantern room, and from there a tiny hatch opening out onto the deck.

While I was there a woman named Gertie came to the island.  She’s 90 years old, and her father was once the lighthouse keeper.  She spent a handful of summers living here as a girl, and sat for a long time telling us about carrying water up from the lake, the things her sisters found walking the beach, and making whatever fun you could in such a lonely place.  We moved into what had once been her bedroom, and while she spoke a floorboard broke out from under her daughter’s foot.

Going inside Round Island Light is a rare opportunity, and one that I passed up too many times.  I probably spend three hours wandering through it and listening to Gertie’s stories.  It would be nice to see it restored someday, but the money and effort involved with such an undertaking may be too much.  In the meantime we’ll just have to love it as a beautiful ruin.