Norfolk: Day 4 – Portsmouth and other disappointments

It’s just after 10am, and I am standing on the dock outside the newly renovated Waterside Marketplace waiting for the ferry to cross the Elizabeth River to Portsmouth. The weather app on my phone says its 65 degrees and cloudy, but the chilly ocean wind makes it feel colder than that.

The small paddleboat arrived around 10 past the hour, it dropped off about a half dozen people and let the three of us who were waiting on dock onboard. The inside had a rusted floor with benches along the sides. Apparently, there were more benches in the center of the boat at one point, but they were removed, possibly to make room for the three beaten up fare boxes. The bench wasn’t all that comfortable, but it didn’t matter since it was only a 10 minute ride across the river to High Street landing.

Portsmouth is a charming, quiet town that kind of reminded me of a cross between Federal Hill and Fells Point. Unfortunately for me, I was visiting on a Thursday morning so nearly everything was closed: The Naval Shipbuilding Museum (for refurbishment until “early 2017”), The Lightship Portsmouth (open weekends only), Virginia Sports Museum (permanently closed) and a half dozen “historic homes” (also open weekends only).

That left the Arts & Culture Center (which was “between exhibitions”), the Virginia Children’s Museum, the TCC (Tidewater Community College) Gallery and the exteriors of various buildings. Oh, and I could purchase cheap looking, neon colored t-shirts at the visitor’s center which is coincidentally where I had to go anyway to get the ferry back to Norfolk – and it was only 12:30 (it would have been noon if I hadn’t stopped for lunch at Jimmy Johns on High Street).

I arrived back at downtown Norfolk around 1:25 where it was a balmy 69 degrees with partly cloudy skies, and I was nowhere near ready to pack it in for the day so I walked over to Nauticus (though most of the parks were closed off due to construction of the various tents for next week’s Harborfest). I walked up the ticket counter and the somewhat disinterested cashier sold me a normal base ticket for $15 (included a movie and a limited tour of the attached battleship). I couldn’t decide if I wanted a snack or to just upstairs to see the exhibits on the 3rd floor first so I chose the latter.

The museum itself is hard to quantify. It has some exhibits that are geared towards kids (like the entry on port Norfolk, the touch a shark tank or the small “aquarium” area – which makes the former National Aquarium in DC look HUGE by comparison), but the majority of the labyrinthine museum space is ship life, Naval history, Naval recruiting and the nearby Naval base – not many of which would be of interest to the 3-12 set.

The exhibits are small, superficial and dated with broken or worn out “interactives” and little to no flow between the tightly packed exhibits – which you can’t really skip as there is only ONE path through the exhibit area (as I found out when one of the barely crowded rooms was too noisy for my tastes). The only place in the gallery that wasn’t claustrophobically small was the end where the theater, the NOAA exhibit and the stairway to the actual Hampton Roads Naval Museum\walkway to the USS Wisconsin (which were both on the second level). Though I didn’t partake in either this time as I fell asleep in the 3d movie and took that as a cue to head back to the hotel… at 3pm in the afternoon.

Not yet, first I stopped into their gift shop (my favorite part of their museum), and then I went into their café next door… but they were closed so I looked around thinking I might be able to take some snacks back to the room with me. Then a black man in black shirt hauling a large trash can behind him comes up behind me:

“Ya know,” he said. “We got a full menu.”

“Yeah, thanks, but it’s closed. There’s no-one back there.”

“What was that? I said look up there. We got a full menu up there,” he said pointing up to the large black and white sign hanging from the ceiling that I’d have to be blind to miss (I couldn’t read it with my crappy vision, but I couldn’t miss it when I came in).

“And it doesn’t do me any good if it’s CLOSED because there is NO-ONE back there.”

“’No-one back there?’ I work the café. I’D be the one ringing you up. Now, if you want to order something. Order it.”

With that said, I immediately turned around and decided to get dinner in the hotel and then get a start on my packing. It’s going to be another long day of traveling tomorrow – and my toes aren’t even remotely healed yet…

Categories: adventures, Advocacy\volunteer, Autism, entertainment, ferry, museums, Norfolk, sensory processing disorder, transportation, Virginia | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving adventures

10:21am – Woke up “late,” but decided since my reservation wasn’t until 6:50pm that I had a little time to spare before heading out. I logged onto FB (where most of the following items were originally posted) and shared the first “Happy Thanksgiving” photo I saw on my “News Feed.”

-1:59pm – Had lunch here and am now going around looking for fun holiday stuff to photograph. Sadly, I may have to go elsewhere, as decor has been decidedly underwhelming so far. – At Disney’s Boardwalk Resort

-2:23pm – Arrive at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and immediately begin snapping pictures of the giant tree in front of the entrance. It doesn’t fit in my viewfinder, but the presents\train and oversized film reels at the base do. I spend the next hour trying to snap as many holiday decorations as I can (somewhat complicated by all the other people around doing the same thing)

-4:09pm – left the “Sneak preview” of The Good Dinosaur at One Man’s Dream when I left a comment on Orlando Weekly’s post about Thanksgiving in Central Florida: “I’m thankful the cast members are here and spending their holiday with me instead of their families.”

Two minutes later I get a message about a reply to my comment: a picture of a cat with the caption “Why don’t you donate blood – ALL OF IT!”

Congratulations, I’m in the middle of Disney World on a holiday and I’m completely 100% PISSED OFF! Thank you, guy who literally thinks I fucking kill myself, my Thanksgiving is now completely RUINED! Trust me, that is NOT an exaggeration.

-6:51pm – Dinner at Hollywood & Vine. I got a photo with Santa Goofy at the entrance. The food was excellent, but I was extremely annoyed when I specifically asked Mickey for a picture and be blew me off – just like Stitch did at PCH Grill three years ago.

-7:56pm – finished eating about 20 minutes ago, but can’t leave because I have photos of all the characters… except ONE and he’s on the other side of the restaurant.

-9:13pm – Left the restaurant and got onto the 2nd boat out of the park – which happened to pick up as the climactic fireworks for Fantasmic were going off. We got out towards Boardwalk as the fireworks for “Wishes” (EPCOT) were starting – perfect view of both shows!

-9:42pm – Damnit, I just posted about what a wonderful night I was having and then I got to Epcot just to be turned away because the park was “closed to all non-guests.”

“I’m not here for the attractions or the restaurants. I need to get to the Transportation & Ticket Center and the ONLY way to get to the Transportation & Ticket Center is by monorail and the only monorail line that stops there is the EPCOT line.”

“Sorry, I can’t let you into the park unless you are staying on-property. You’ll need to go to one of the resorts and then catch a bus from there to another park where you can get a bus which you can take you to your bus stop.”

10:02pm – the closest resort to Epcot is the Beach Club. I love the decorations throughout the lobby area with the train display and looking for a restroom lead me halfway to the Yacht Club with its festive gingerbread houses. It’s also where I (eventually) found the bus stop at the far end of the sidewalk outside the convention center.

10:35pm – Get to the Lynx bus stop at the far side of Disney Springs exactly as the bus is pulling into the station. Things are finally starting to look up. 😀

11:02pm – return to the unit. I am sweaty and exhausted, but I am far too aggravated to sleep.

Categories: adventures, disney world, ferry, holidays, LYNX bus, Orlando, photography | 1 Comment

The slow “fast ferry”

PROVINCETOWN, Ma – The brochure for Boston Harbor Cruise’s Provincetown Fast Ferry claims that they can get you from Boston to Provincetown in “less than 90 minutes.”

Unfortunately, 90 minutes into my voyage on the “Fast Ship Salencia” the on-board “concierge” came on and said “as you have noticed, we are not in Provincetown yet. We are having engine trouble and we will be arriving at Provincetown at 11:10am.”

Around the two hour mark, I went inside to get out of the wind. When I did, I saw a man in his mid-thirties who looked just like the hero of Pilgrim Song with his scraggly bright red hair and mountain man beard. He was excitable and innately curious about everything around him. His speech was lilting and slightly effeminate with a lisp almost as strong as his New England accent (with a noticeable drawl) making for a bizarre combination with his smooth radio quality voice.

I could here and make all sorts of judgments about his appearance, intelligence, maturity or even sexuality. That’s when I realized that’s what I do when I’m not on vacation, besides I’m still under orders to “drop the fucking attitude” with the presumed penalty of death looming above me for any infractions.

So 11:10 comes along and our concierge comes back on the PA to announce a new, improved final and most importantly “confirmed” arrival time of 11:45am as well as a “free return trip” for one-way passengers.

I had round trip tickets. L

I asked the concierge and he said they would offer a partial refund for this end of the trip. That’s good, I guess*, but I still only had 3 ½ hours to explore the city before having to board the ferry back.

My first stop (after waiting in line for the “partial refund”) was the trolley stop so I could get a decent overview of the city. The tour lasted about 45 minutes and dropped me off back in front of city hall. Then I walked to the Pilgrim Tower & Museum just across from the city high school.

When I entered the museum, I was told it was “FREE Friday” meaning that I could enter both the tower and the accompanying museum free of charge. It also made both more crowded, but the view from the top of the tower was awesome (even if I was too exhausted to enjoy it without thinking about having to go back down it again).

I left the museum’s parking lot with just under an hour before the return ferry to Boston arrived. I wandered through downtown, occasionally I’d hear someone barking about a show that didn’t start until a half hour after the last ferry left (8:30pm on Friday\Saturday). This left only shopping and quick service restaurants, neither of which appealed to me.

Finally, I simply made my way back to McMillan Wharf, and found a long line of passengers waiting for the same 4pm ferry. Also making their way through the pier was a pair of “hot” muscle guys in short shorts, tight t-shirts and exaggerated lisps giving away “free” “goodie bags” to anyone willing to sign up for some worthless credit card. I was somewhat embarrassed for them, but outraged at the kind of insulting pandering their employers called “marketing” – especially since I studied marketing in college.

I boarded the new ferry (“Gloria Vastera”) just a few minutes after 4pm. We pulled out of the harbor just a few seconds after I sat down, and just under 90 minutes later we landed in Long Wharf across from the Aquarium. The brochure was right…or at least on the return trip.


* Though as of 7/26/12, I have yet to receive the promised e-mail confirmation of said “refund” from either Boston Harbor Cruises or my credit card company.

Categories: Boston, ferry, Provincetown | 1 Comment

Adventures in Salem

SALEM, Ma – The Nathaniel Bowditch pulled into Blaney Street Wharf just after noon. I make the approximately 10 minute walk into town. At least I think it was ten minutes, the band on my replacement watch broke and the battery on the cell phone was freshly drained so I can’t write my usual lazy time stamp story.

One rather helpful feature of this town is that they have a thick red line painted down the center of the sidewalks leading from the ferry landing to various places around the center city (I assumed it simply lead to the visitors’ center so I passed much the south\west sides of downtown before realizing my mistake (…and making my next stop almost irrelevant).

I bought my ticket for the Salem Trolley at 1:30pm, boarded approximately ten minutes later. The trip lasted approximately 40 minutes, and passengers could “hop on, hop off” at any of various spots around downtown. Even better, the narrator for this trip barely mentioned a certain set of sensationalized trials from 1692 (ending circa 1712) that have since become the city’s ubiquitous mascot.

According to the receipt, I bought my ticket for the New England Pirate Museum at 2:26pm. Said museum was a guided tour through various scenes of involving famous pirates with some connection to the Bay State (with particular emphasis on Salem based buccaneers) and ended in what our guide called the “pirate cave” (whose “treasure cove” was conveniently enough also their gift shop).

I left the museum and spent the next half hour browsing through various stores on Liberty Street (pedestrian only). I was amazed at how low the prices on merchandise was…until I realized their busy season doesn’t start until September.

I managed to make it back to the Nathaniel Bowditch by 3:56pm, just a few minutes before it pulled out of the wharf. Two hours later, I was back in my hotel room with my phone safely in its charger.

Categories: Boston, ferry, Salem | Leave a comment

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