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A Big Island adventure not to be missed is going to the 13,796 foot Mauna Kea Summit which at night offers the clearest and most awe-inspiring views of the night skies to rival any on Earth. I spent a lot of my time at the summit looking around and thinking “what a fantastic world we live in and I wish everyone could participate in this experience.”

Mauna Kea Summit View from the top of the summit

It’s not required to go with a tour group to the summit but because we didn’t rent a 4-wheel drive (required for the top part of the mountain), we decided to join a tour. We were very pleased with the knowledge and friendliness of our tour guide/driver from Hawaii Forest and Trail . The trip lasts anywhere from 7-8 hours ~ depending on weather conditions and travel time. Our trip was right around 7 hours.

Mauna Kea Sheep Station Logan III

Abandoned Humuula Sheep Station

A picnic dinner is served at the historic (abandoned) Humuula sheep station located at 7,000 feet (half way up the mountain) and allows people to acclimate to the higher elevation. Some people were affected and others not at all. Thankfully, we were in the not at all category.

Throughout the tour, our guide provided a lot of historic and cultural information. Because the temperatures and winds make it downright winter-like at the top, the tour company provides winter jackets.

Mauna Kea John Patti and Logan III

Thank goodness for the jackets provided by the tour company ~ definitely needed.

It was very interesting to be standing amongst the world’s largest collection of research telescopes.

The large dish-shaped structure is one of 10 very long Baseline Array radio telescopes that are spread out across the United States and used simultaneously. Astronomers use the telescope to make detailed studies of space objects. Each antenna is controlled remotely by the Array Operations Center in Socorro, New Mexico, but there are local site technicians at the Mauna Kea summit.

Mauna Kea Summit Sacred Hawaiian site at the top of Mauna Kea

Most sacred part of Mauna Kea and off limits to visitors

The Hawaiians consider the mountain to be one the most sacred places in the islands and it is not without controversy that it is used commercially. There is an area of the mountain which is off-limits and I’m glad most people respect it.

Mauna Kea Sun Setting

A highlight was the spectacular sunset which looked like other-wordly to me especially when the sun was low and in the clouds far below us.

Mauna Kea Summit sunset 25

On the way down the mountain, we stopped at 9,000 feet for delicious hot chocolate and star-gazing and then we stopped at the visitor’s center for a bathroom break and a little shopping in the gift shop. Photos of stargazing will follow in a future post.

Before you attempt traveling to the summit, here are a few precautions: guests should be able to hike on uneven, rocky, wet, and sometimes muddy terrain. Because of high altitude, I would caution anyone who has respiratory, circulatory and /or heart conditions, pregnancy or generally in poor health. Scuba divers shouldn’t make the ascent within 48 hours of diving. Children under 16 are not allowed on the tour. Be sure to wear closed-toe shoes, long pants and a sweatshirt/sweater. Dressing in layers is best.

Interesting Facts  about Mauna Kea:

  • It is estimated to be approximately one million years old
  • Last eruption was about 4,000 years ago
  • It is a dormant volcano but could still erupt
  • The area of Mauna Kea takes up about 28.8% of the island
  • Mauna Kea means White Mountain
  • Snow falls on both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa
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It’s a luxury to have a long lead time to plan our summer trip to France, but it also allows for me to get somewhat obsessive. When researching a country, I like to read about the history, read other blogs/travel sites, talk to people who have visited there and, for the first time, I’ve added Periscope to my information search tools. From now until the end of June, I will be a Francophile.

The essentials for my planning purposes are:
1) Map of France ~ I highly recommend getting a map of the location you’ll be visiting and a marker so you can circle all the interesting places you’ll want to see. My map already has my top “must visit” locations circled: Paris, Versailles (I’ve been but my husband and daughter have not), Mormant, Le Mont-St Michel, Rochefort, Les Cabannes and Beaune. I’ve also added Andorra. We’ll be so close when we’re in Les Cabannes, it would be a shame not to explore the sixth smallest country in Europe.

2) Skyscanner for the cheapest airfare
I check Skyscanner first for the lowest priced flights. Their site allows you to look at an entire month for the cheapest day to fly. Once I’ve narrowed it down to which carrier is the best price, I go to the airlines website to check on flight schedules and then book it.

3) Tripadvisor for hotel information
Tripadvisor is my first stop for hotels, Bed & Breakfasts and Vacation Apartments. I appreciate the personal reviews and read them within context. A few years ago, while researching places to stay in Inverness (Scotland), a B&B received a low score but it was due to the establishment not allowing children under age 5 to stay. The person giving the review never stayed there but gave it a “1.” I actually liked the policy since B&Bs are too small/thin walled for younger children. We ended up staying there and really enjoyed ourselves all thanks to a bad review.

4) Lonely Planet:France Guidebook (lots of useful info even if out of date)
We keep all our outdated Lonely Planet books because there is timeless information in them. Lots of background information, the history of the area, and safety tips which are always helpful. Our library carries the most current issues of most travel guidebooks but my old Lonely Planets can be highlighted and scribbled in.

5) Reading blogs is one of my favorite ways to get a locals perspective of a city or town. For France, I’ve been catching up with Les Photos de Suzanne & Pierre  ~ expats who wrote updates while living in Paris for two + years (it’s in French and English). If you have any suggestions on other ones, please let me know.

6) Periscope ~ I find Periscope to be fascinating but scary as well. It has the potential to get sketchy quickly. It’s a live streaming app that allows you to interact with the person scoping. So far, I’m only following a few “travel” periscopers and one friend. For my trip planning, I’ve found an amazing tour guide named Claire who uses Periscope. She’s been a wealth of information and makes me want to stay the whole time in Paris. Click here for more information about Claire and her tours. Once our dates are confirmed, I’m hoping to book an actual live tour with her. She’s lived in Paris for twenty years and speaks French and English fluently. Her love for Paris is very apparent and I really like her positive attitude.

Planning trips are a lot of fun and I’m thankful my fellow travelers (husband and daughter) trust me to make the right decisions for an intriguing adventure. I get very few complaints. Every once in awhile, they’ll go rogue and decide to do something completely and utterly touristy.

Please leave me a comment with any advice you might have for me ~ especially about a town or area we shouldn’t miss while on our explorations of France. We’ll be traveling the northwestern, west and southwest areas of France.

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In 1636, British settler Reverend William Blackstone (Blaxton) owned all of Beacon Hill including Boston Common. The Common got its name because the land was used as a common pasture for grazing livestock. Once the Puritans moved into the Boston area, the reclusive Blackstone moved to Rhode Island to get away from the crowds. Imagine how he’d feel today if he could see what’s become of his former land.

Boston Massachusetts State House
Massachusetts State House sits on top of a hill overlooking Boston Common. On a sunny day, the gold dome sparkles and is almost blinding. The State House can be toured free of charge on weekdays between 10:30 to 3:30. Click here for more information.

Boston Acorn Street
Acorn Street ~ one of the most photographed streets in Boston. Under the snow is a lovely cobblestone road.

There have been many interesting and famous people who live (used to live) here:

  • In 1625, William Blaxton (Blackstone) ~ was the first settler in Boston and owned all of Beacon Hill.
  • John Hancock, first signer of the Declaration of Independence and the one with the most wealth to lose by waging war against the British, lived here most of his life and was buried in Granary Burial Ground.
  • Robert Frost lived here for three years in the 1930s.
  • Before he became a famous author and film-maker, Michael Crichton went to Harvard Medical school and then worked at Massachusetts General Hospital. He brought us Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain and “ER”.
  • Teresa Heinz Kerry (one of the wealthiest women in the United States) and Secretary of State John Kerry are current residents.
  • Senator Ted Kennedy lived here.
  • Sylvia Plath lived in Beacon Hill for a few years and she visited poetry classes at Boston University.She’s the author of “The Bell Jar” , a classic novel about mental illness and feminism.
  • Charles Sumner, ardent abolitionist Senator during the Civil War lived here as did Jack Welch, the former CEO and Chairman of General Electric.

The North Slope side of Beacon Hill was a central meeting place for abolitionists when Massachusetts banned slavery in 1783. The African Meeting House, under the leadership of William Lloyd Garrison, became a lifeline for runaway slaves. Beacon Hill was an important destination on the Underground Railroad which is where runaway slaves were hidden, fed, and clothed as they fled to freedom. Many of the residents were supportive of the Underground Railroad even though there were laws enacted making it illegal to help a runaway slave. Only two slaves who made it to Beacon Hill were returned to their owners and thousands of others gained their freedom. During the Civil War, men were recruited at the African Meeting House and made up the first black military regiment in the United States, known as the 54th Massachusetts regiment.

Old City Hall and Ben Franklin Statue
Old City Hall and Ben Franklin Statue

Boston Burro
Donkey Statue in front of the Old City Hall

Blog Boston Church and glass building
The Old reflected in the New

Boston Buried snow
Couldn’t resist another snow photo. If I knew a blizzard was coming with an expected 2-3 feet of snow and I parked on the street, I would move my car to a public garage for the duration of the storm and pay the overnight parking fees just so I wouldn’t have a buried car.

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Yesterday, I cut through The National Gallery of Art and found myself face-to-face with the beautiful Rodin, Degas and Bartholdi sculptures. What a treat! I couldn’t resist lingering in the gallery just to gaze at the following:

Rodin's The Kiss
Rodin’s The Kiss

Rodin's The Thinker
Rodin’s The Thinker

Degas Dancer Fourth Position
Degas’s Dancer in Fourth Position

Little Dancer Degas
Looking through the glass of the Little Dancer 

Allegory of Africa Bartholdi
Bartholdi’s Allegory of Africa

The Degas Exhibition is at the Gallery until February 8, 2015. Click here for more information on the Exhibitions at the Gallery. I’m going back soon to see the El Greco paintings which are only here until 15 February, 2015. 

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The Money Factory is the official website name for the The Bureau of Engraving and Printing. And what a money factory it is.

It’s only open for tours during the weekdays which makes scheduling a visit a little harder for the working folks but for tourists, it’s another interesting and free place to explore during their stay in Washington DC. Especially on a cold & windy winter’s day.

Engraving and Printing Bureau

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing was established by President Lincoln in 1862. The original office was located in a single room in the basement of the Treasury Building. There were six employees who printed and sealed $1 & $2 notes. Today, there are over 2,500 employees working out of two sites in Washington DC and a building in Fort Worth Texas. Together, they print over a billion dollars a day. I found that an amazing amount and re-checked with the tour guide. Yes, a billion!

In the past, the Bureau has also printed currency for the following governments: Cuba (1934), the Philippines (1928), Siam (Thailand – 1945) and Korea (1947). Each government paid for all the work connected with printing their money.

The Secretary of the Treasury is responsible for all designs on paper currency including the portraits. In 1929, the size of the notes were reduced and are all the same size. This is a common complaint I’ve heard from my non-American friends. They find the same size notes to be confusing. And I won’t even get started on how they feel about our coins.

The $100 note is the highest denomination still in circulation. The portraits of well-known statesmen on the currency are as follows:
$1 = George Washington
$2 = Thomas Jefferson
$5 = Abraham Lincoln
$10 = Alexander Hamilton
$20 = Andrew Jackson
$50 = Ulysses Grant
$100 = Benjamin Franklin

The 40-minute tour begins with a short film and then takes you through the steps of the printing production. It was a lot more complicated process then I had previously thought. It’s the off-season and not a highly advertised tourist destination so I was expecting the tour to be sparsely attended but it was full. Be sure to get a ticket in advance during the summer months.

For security reasons, photography is not allowed on the tour but you can snap a few shots in the waiting area and at the gift shop (which sells uncut sheets of notes). Here are my photos:

Printing & Engraving One Million Dollars
“One MILLION dollars” (said in my best Doctor Evil voice)

Printing and Engraving display
Uncut monetary notes for sale

Jefferson Memorial
The Jefferson Memorial is within easy walking distance of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. I would recommend a visit there before or after the Bureau tour. Also, next door to the Bureau is the Holocaust Museum.

Click here for ticket/tour times.

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When you fly into National Airport (Reagan) and you’re sitting in a window seat, be sure to have your camera ready. Here are a few photos from my most recent flight (December 2014):

Lincoln MemorialView from the sky
Lincoln Memorial

Georgetown
Georgetown University Campus

Georgetown University
Georgetown University Campus and a little of the surrounding area

Georgetown II
Georgetown, Washington DC

Watergate Complex
Watergate Complex

Jefferson Memorial
Jefferson Memorial

Washington Monument
Washington Monument

Couple of photos with the wing of the plane.

Washington Monument
Washington Monument

Jefferson Memorial
Jefferson Memorial

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Driving over the bridge connecting Charleston with Mount Pleasant is a much more relaxing experience since the new Arthur Ravenel Jr bridge opened in 2005. Prior to that, I used to hold my breath while driving across either the Grace Bridge (1929) or Pearman Bridge (1966) ~ both were scary, shaky, narrow drives. Fearful is a good way to describe the old drive to Mount Pleasant.

Cooper River Bridge
Cooper River Bridge (1981) from the deck of the USS Yorktown. The bridges were removed in 2007.

The new bridge is named for a local Charleston legend, Arthur Ravenel Jr. He’s an 8th generation descendant of French Huguenots who arrived in 1686. He was involved in local politics for years, but it was at the urging of a friend, Ravenel ran and was elected to the South Carolina State Senate in 1996 and remained a State Senator until 2005. Within a year, he created legislation for the South Carolina Infrastructure Bank. With the help and support of former U.S. Rep. Henry Brown, they put together the financing for the new bridge and other transportation projects.

Charleston Ravenel Bridge fog
Ravenel Bridge on a foggy day

Ravenel Bridge
Sunny skies and the Ravenel Bridge

Every spring, there’s the Cooper River Bridge Run. It’s a 10K which starts at Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, goes across the bridge and ends at Marion Square in Charleston. I’ve added the run to my travel wish list

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