The historic Beaux-Arts Union Station in Washington DC has been completely renovated. Somehow it was disappointing. Maybe because of Covid-19 it was virtually empty, an unnatural state for a big transportation hub. Even the Christmas decorations that were still up, didn’t fill the void.

The huge tree was festooned with miniature American flags and oversized wreaths hung along the outside arches helped set off the beautiful views of the nearby Capitol. We made this visit just days before the assault on the Capitol before the city was barricaded, fencing now obscuring many views and access points. We took another ride around the District last week and it is unsettling to see razor wire and soldiers with guns.

Completed in 1908, the station’s heyday was in the 40s when it served 42,000 people daily. After World War II things didn’t go so well for the once elegant station. Cheaply done repairs, a changing transportation landscape with more cars on the road, a rainstorm causing part of the iconic glass ceiling to collapse, an earthquake, and poor design changes all contributed to its demise. In spite of its decline, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, and eventually, the National Trust stepped in and led the way for restoration.

As a Federally-owned structure with private developers, it has been quite a process. Massive fund-raising efforts and years of dedication, followed by painstakingly detailed restoration work were combined with newly repurposed areas and digital features. The ceilings are beautiful. I look forward to post-Covid days when we can venture into the city and Union Station by metro train.

View from the station.
Service areas on one level and a massive food court below.

Great Falls Park, just outside Washington DC in Virginia, reminds us how beautiful our country is and that we need to take more time to explore. I never knew the Potomac River had such magnificent rapids. Because of its location near such populated areas, this park can be crowded. Run by the National Park Service, it’s best to visit during the week if you have the luxury of time. We’ve tried it both ways and the crowds can be daunting during the weekends.

Experiencing the area when it’s quiet can allow a better appreciation of what this portion of the riverfront was like historically. Between 1785 and 1802 George Washington promoted the use of a system of bypasses so river barges could navigate around the Falls. Remnants of The Great Falls portion of the Patowmack Canal can be seen paralleling the river in what appear to be just shallow ditches. If you don’t look around the area you might miss this historically significant tidbit.

Rapids range between Class 2 – 6 in various portions, with a 76′ drop through the cascades. Expert kayakers can be seen during warmer days. Even though it is prohibited to enter the water from the Virginia side there are numerous drownings every year. So stay within the boundaries!

The Potomac River has flooded numerous times through the years and some events have been significant. It is incredible to see the flood marker showing the water levels for each flood cycle.

It’s particularly nice the Park is accessible and wheelchairs and strollers can easily visit several overlooks. and pathways. Just off the George Washington Memorial Parkway, Great Falls Park is only open during daylight hours and there is an entrance fee unless you have an annual pass to the Park or the senior lifetime pass for National Parks.

Part of the historic canal bed used when riverboats circumvented the Falls.

We just scratched the surface during our recent visit to Shenandoah National Park and the beautiful Skyline Drive. Paralleling the Appalachian Trail, the 105-mile drive traverses the length of the park. Winter vistas allowed us to see pastoral settings far and wide. Dedicated in 1936, the Park is a testament to land management and conservation, returning to forest land previously farmed and logged. We entered the northernmost point at Front Royal and traveled south to the Thornton Gap entrance. It was a treat to see the beautiful ice formations still intact along a shady curve. Eventually, the route ends and connects to the better known Blue Ridge Parkway which, with 350 miles, is a separate National Park. Unlike the Blue Ridge, there is a $30 per vehicle fee (good for a week), but if you are over 62, the Lifetime National Park Pass is the ticket.

I’m linking the post to Nancy Merrill’s Photo a Week Challenge: Something Pretty and Cee’s CFFC: Patterns in Nature.

Washington DC: In Repose

“A healthy democracy requires a decent society; it requires that we are honorable, generous, tolerant, and respectful.” – Charles Pickering

I took this picture early last week, before the tragic insurgency that changed the way so many view our country. I wish we could turn back the clock.

In the beginning . . . .

Hands down my favorite images of this past year belong to our precious granddaughter – Baby J. We hit the ground running the first quarter of the year with our usual, busy, crazy schedule. We were with Baby J for her first birthday; I was off to a fun annual girlfriends trip on Sea Island; we met-up with my brother and his family in Naples for a special family dinner to celebrate my Mother’s 89th birthday (combined with a trip to the Shy Wolf Sanctuary); took my husband for an overnight at the Hard Rock’s new landmark hotel for a Jerry Seinfeld show, and flew back north to take care of Baby J while her parents took a short break. Before you knew it – it was March.

During our visit to Baby J in the DC area, the news was alarming. I was wary, sitting in the very crowded American Airlines waiting area at Reagan National Airport, nervously looking around, hearing people reflect on the big conference many fellow travelers had just attended. Seems impossible now, but no one wore masks back then. Very shortly after we returned, I began to hear about people from that DC conference who were exposed to the virus. That first March weekend a historic preservation group I volunteer with, held an extremely successful garden tour on a perfect spring day. About a week later and Miami-Dade (unlike the rest of Florida) shut down.

The new reality was staying at home, cooking a lot (started ordering Hello Fresh for variety), sharing the property grounds with peacocks (and crocs) for long walks around our community. Even the golf course was closed, so we, thankfully, had lots of room to roam. We were blessed. Horrified at the daily statistics, both relieved and feeling guilty that we no longer had to report to work like so many essential workers or needed to work like so many others who had lost jobs. We tried hard to support local businesses and give support where we could.

We reconnected with ourselves, reached out and caught-up with absent friends, and spent more time on our terrace than in all the prior years combined. We live in paradise and the warm weather was just another blessing as we watched what was happening in Europe and New York.

Keeping busy was no challenge. I finally found time to work on this blog (what to write in a travel blog when you are not traveling?) and enjoyed the virtual education trend that allowed me to participate in many interesting experiences, courses, and seminars. Oddly, I found it difficult to even read about travel and impossible to do any trip planning, better just to focus elsewhere. I do miss the adventure of experiencing new places and cultures but am just grateful to have been able to spend any day possible with Baby J.

Wishing You a Beautiful New Year!

Merry Xmas & to All a Good Night!

This is another treasure I found helping my Mom sort through papers and cards. If you are of Spanish descent (we are) and/or live somewhere like Miami (we do) then you at least will get a kick out of this cute Spanglish twist on an old favorite tradition. It makes me laugh and I hope it will you too.

It was the night before Christmas

   And all thru the casa

Not a creature is stirring

   Caramba! Qué pasa!

The Stockings are hanging

   Con mucho cuidado

In hopes that St. Nicholas

   Will feel obligado

To leave a few cosas

   Aquí and allí

For Chico and Chica

   (Y something para me).

Los niños are snuggled

   All safe in their camas

(Some in vestidos, and

   some in pajamas)

Their little cabezas

   Are full of good things

Qué esperan: qué cosas

   St. Nick will bring?

Santa is down

   At the corner saloon

Muy borracho

   Since mid-afternoon.

Mama is sitting beside the ventana

   When Santa en manera extraña

Lit up like fuego;

   Qué goma* mañana!

El va to bed

   As morning approaches

Feliz Pascuas to all

   And to all Buenos Noches.

(*in this colloquial use from Central America means hangover)

One More Day: Santa!

Good friends in Southern California! Mrs. Claus gets equal time.
In Strasbourg, looks like Santa as a youngster.
A stern look in Munich.
Cologne-Santa wishes everyone a Merry Christmas!

Ornaments made from empty tins of fish, a passed out Santa, and the iconic prune people of Nuremberg, are just a few of the unexpected sights that made this list.

Christmas Flora

The smell of Christmas greens is so comforting – I’d love to have it year-round. And who doesn’t love poinsettias, mistletoe, winter berries, and pinecones?

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