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

Norfolk: Day 1 – Travel and tribulation

It’s 10am as I’m sitting here, fighting sleep in the middle of a crowded terminal and writing this intro while waiting for my flight to begin boarding. I had less then 3 hours of sleep as my shoulder and gut bothered my for most of the night and I had to leave the condo no later than 8am to get to the airport in time to get through both the chaos at AA’s self-check-in area and the notoriously difficult TSA screening area. This is going to be a great day.

So, we arrived at PHL approximately 20 minutes early. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, except that my layover has now gone from 2 hours and 40 minutes to just under 3 hours. Three hours at an airport is a long time so I stopped to get lunch in the food court between terminals B and C before heading over to the shuttle at gate C10.

I got off the half-full shuttle, walked up to the giant monitor above the “Information” desk and saw there was a flight to Norfolk leaving in less than 30 minutes from gate F29 so after some careful consideration, I decided to go for it. I get to the counter, speak with the middle-ages agent who looks at with a plastic airline smile and says:

“I’m sorry, the last passenger has already boarded, and the plane door is already shut.”

“So,” the gravity of the situation sinking in. “You’re not saying I’m too late?”

“Yes, but don’t worry. There’s another flight in only two hours. I’m sorry. Have a nice day.”

That’s the thing about people being “sorry” for me, it’s always bad news and their semi-sincere apologies never actually change the situation. However, I likes how she said “only two hours” as if pissing away time in an airport was easy and fun. It wasn’t.

I go back to the dining area near the entrance, put my bags on a chair and sit down at the table next to them. Less than a minute later, I’m approached by a blonde-haired young man in a bright yellow vest, probably going to tell me to “move along” or something.

“My name is Alex, and I work for the airport. And I have a, um, question for you. Are you coming in or out – arriving or departing today?”

“Both,” I replied cautiously.

“You mean like a layover, um, okay, thank you. Sorry for bothering you.”

What the hell just happened? I know he was fishing for a reason to toss me out of the airport, but his body language and anxious tone said otherwise. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was…. *facepalm*

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s TWO “missed connections” in less than ten minutes. Yeah, overthinking an awkward two-minute encounter with a super-hot airport employee I’ll never see again is definitely going to make the next hour and…ugh, forty-five minutes just fly by. It didn’t.

An hour later, I was sitting in the crowded terminal area when the gate opened and people stream out of the small plane parked outside said gate, down a set of narrow stairs and down a cattle shoot to the gate that I’m supposed to be traveling out of. That is not a good sign, and it was exactly what I was afraid would happen. Guess what, it did, and as a special bonus, I was too large for my seatbelt to fit correctly and my toes were scrunched up in the same under-the-seat-in-front-of-me area as my bag. I had friction blisters on my toes, and my vacation hadn’t even started yet. The good news was it was only an hour long flight. Yep, wait three to fly one.

I leave the plane, relieved that I’m exiting into the gate rather than down those narrow stairs, and pass through the windowed bridge linking the terminal to the main lobby (which resembles the pre-security seating area at MCO) – where I could see that it was pouring rain outside. It was almost 6pm so I stopped into the only restaurant in the building that was still open – a sports bar with more TVs than patrons despite the nearly full airplane I just got off of.

I finish my food and head downstairs to the Baggage Claim area where I eventually find an information counter. When I asked the clueless young woman in the beige Navy uniform where the ground transportation counter, she just looked at me blankly. Apparently, ORF doesn’t offer “shared ride services” so if I wanted to do anything besides pick up my luggage and take it to my rental car (duh, this is America – EVERYONE drives), I was like the Navy says “SOL.”

I take my hat out of my bag, flip the hood of my raincoat up and walked around on the median until someone asked if I “needed a cab.” It wasn’t my first choice of transit, but it beat walking around on an uncovered median for another 10-15 minutes as my vacation officially opened….

Categories: adventures, florida, flying, Norfolk, Orlando, Pennsylvania, Philadephia, transportation, Virginia | Leave a comment

Norfolk day 4: Sick as a dog

I woke up on Saturday morning feeling like someone kicked me repeatedly in the stomach. Oh well, I figured, maybe I can go downstairs and get breakfast and it’ll go away. Nope, I couldn’t eat a darn thing…for two whole days.

It’s not like I didn’t try to enjoy the majority of my trip, it’s just kind of hard to do so when you’re constantly nauseous with diarrhea, sore throat and running on a maximum of 2-3 hours of sleep per night because the pain in my stomach was SOO bad. Not only could I not sleep due to the pain, I could barely move as well.

Well, today I felt ever so slightly better so I decided I was going to out and try to do something – even if it killed me. Unfortunately, like Baltimore, nearly every art\tourist attraction in Norfolk is closed on Mondays.

According to the guide book in the hotel room, the Norfolk Southern Museum was open on Mondays. I figured with a Frappuccino from the lobby (I found drinking something cold soothed my burning throat and made the nausea go away temporarily), I could walk the 2-3 blocks without much difficulty.

Yes, I made it to the NSF museum with a minute or two before it was scheduled to open. I leaned against the building to catch my breath and as I slid down I could hear a door opening about 20 feet away from me. I initially figured it was the curator or someone coming out to open the galleries for the day.

Then I saw her face, the short, black security guard probably in her late 50s with black pants and a white shirt stormed over to me pointing at me angrily and shouting (eventually wagging her finger in my face):


It’s one of those catch-22s, I can’t leave until she stops yelling and she’ll continue yelling until I go away with what’s left of my tail tucked into what’s left of my legs. I limp over to the park and take a seat next to a passed out homeless person (which is what she probably thought I was) for a few minutes until my watch said it was after 10am.

Anyway, I summoned up enough courage to go back, knowing full well this would be difficult regardless of when it was – particularly since it still stings me writing this. I walk into the building and a young black lady in the same stark white shirt is sitting at the security desk.

“My colleague said to not let you in this building.”

“I’m here for the museum,” I said in a calm, normal voice.

“That’s…um, not open today.” she said clearly stalling.

This is another awkward position, I know I’m supposed to say something but I have no idea what. I also know the gallery is supposedly open on Mondays, and that’s she’s clearly stalling for time, but I can’t argue with her about it either (printing error in the guidebook?).

“Great,” I ended up saying. “Now, I just have to find something else to do, but even the river cruises are closed today.”

That’s when I could hear a self-satisfied “humph” from behind me. I didn’t need to look. I already knew who it was from and as much as it irritated me I wasn’t about to make a scene.

I was just going back to the hotel and reading the annual report I hastily shoved in my backpack before the trip. I figured it would probably cover most of the same ground…with a lot less aggravation.

“How do things like that always seem to happen to you?” my mom said somewhat skeptically when I called from the room phone.

I don’t know, believe me, I don’t know….

Categories: entertainment, museums, Norfolk, writing | Leave a comment

Norfolk: Day 1 – Nauticus and Fort Norfolk

For the first time in months, I can legitimately say I had a really good night’s sleep. However, this meant I was up ridiculously early. I can’t have everything, but I could get breakfast…from the rudest server on the planet. Fortunately, I was bound and determined not to let her snarky attitude ruin my day.

My first stop was Fort Norfolk, the epitome of over-hyped “nothing to see here” tourist attractions. Yes, there was a historic fort there, consisting of five small buildings with two interpretive signs enclosed within a white stone wall, but the rest of the fort is a modern collection of buildings. It was nice to see we’re still using one of Washington’s original naval fortifications, but this made it harder to find as it is not listed as part of an active military base.

I walk back to The Tide and take the bright, clean train back towards downtown. My next destination was conveniently located halfway between two stations so I flipped a coin and took the second. Why not? It was a lovely day, besides I was already sweaty what a few blocks going to do to me?

I arrived at Nauticus within a few minutes of disembarking from the light rail. It was a hot walk, but the air-conditioning inside the museum was a welcome change after wandering around in the sun all morning. That being said, I still wasn’t impressed with the city’s most hyped a tourist attraction.

You see Nauticus is more than a mere “marine museum” – it’s an aquarium, a naval history museum and a science center with a 4-d theater rolled into one building. It’s a lot to ask from one institution PLUS they have the battleship tours and a separate museum celebrating the various accomplishments of the U.S Navy.

The third floor was the slightly disorganized life at sea exhibit called “Guns, Sweat & Gears: Anatomy of a Warship” which was basically a collection of bunk beds, cookware, armaments and archival photos that just seemed kind of thrown together. It had no logical flow for me to follow through the exhibit almost as if they told their construction crew to simply “put that stuff anywhere.”

I leave Nauticus around 3pm and make my way back to the hotel to shower and change clothes for dinner. I didn’t have specific reservations; I was just tired of wearing wet clothes. Besides, it gave me an excuse to sit down and check my e-mail and start on my Amtrak summary (as WP lets me use any timestamp I want on my stories).

At 5pm, I grabbed my room key off the dresser and headed downstairs to the lobby. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I figured that there had to be something good at MacArthur Center. I make my way around to the food court on the third floor and find a sit down restaurant with a friendly if inattentive waitress who clearly just wanted the solo guest out of her section without being overly rude. At least, the food was good. Actually, it wasn’t but I don’t feel like letting two lousy meals ruin my vacation.

In order to pick my spirits up, I crossed the corridor and bought a ticket to see Despicable Me 2 over in the cinema. Like Nauticus above, I am not planning on writing a full review, but I will say it was one of the best movies – animated or not – that I’ve seen in a long time.

It was only 9pm when I came out of the movies… but I wasn’t sure where else to go so I walked a few blocks back to the hotel. No-one said I had to go to bed so I turned on the television and continued writing my posts.

Categories: entertainment, movies, Norfolk, writing | Leave a comment

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