A Travellerspoint blog

Conspiracy? Or Plenty of Bull? I found both in Texas.


sunny 65 °F

Was there a conspiracy behind the assassination of JFK? Can Texas BBQ even compare to North Carolina BBQ? Who shot J.R.? Time to cowboy up and head to the second largest state in the US (in both population and size), I'm headed to Dallas, Texas.


Being halfway across the country from me, most of what I know about Texas comes from movies, tv shows, and country songs. I know you can shoot someone for just stepping on your property. I know that there is oil in Texas. I know that if you are going to play in Texas, you better have a fiddle in your band. Thankfully I have friends and family that live in Texas and were able to show me a lot of what north central Texas had to offer.

I arrived in the early evening on Thursday where my good friend Jason picked me up from the airport. We drove towards downtown Dallas to check into our hotel. After dropping off the bags, we hopped in a cab, and headed to the closest bar district, McKinney Ave. We found a pub that looked about our style, went in, and had a couple Texas-brewed Shiner Bocks. After the second round, we noticed a peculiar looking pool game stuck in the corner of the bar. The bartender told us it was free to play if we could figure out how to get the balls to come out. Being engineers, and also encouraged by a couple beers, we took that as a challenge. If necessary, we would take the whole table apart. The table looked to be at least 50 years old and somewhat rickety. Thankfully, a simple lever hidden inside the machine released the balls. Figuring out how to play the game, was an entirely different matter.



The rules for the game were posted next to the table, but there were printed in English english (as in from England), and were totally incomprehensible. Here's an example, "Each turn consists of a number of strikes and comes to an end when a player makes a non-scoring strike or a foul stroke, or knocks over a skittle, or hits a ball out of the trough". Now try understanding that after a few beers. We ended up playing a couple games of our interpretation of the rules, and then proceeded to teach the next guys how to play the game using terms like "skittle" and "strikes".

The next morning, Jason headed off to work and I pulled out my laptop to work as well. Things were going well until around noon, when I needed to get some lunch. Being in Texas, I was determined to get some BBQ. Let me explain something real quick, Texans mistakenly refer to BBQ as seasoned meat prepared slowly over low heat, which could be beef or pork, and sometimes even use barbeque as a verb (those of us in North Carolina know that true barbeque only refers to that delicious pulled pork drenched in vinegar and hot spices). So anyways, I decided I was going to get some Texas BBQ for lunch. I found a restaurant online that was only 2 miles away, and since I didn't have a car, I started hiking toward the heart of downtown. I walked past the American Airlines Center where the Mavs and the Stars play, walked past the skyscrapers, and all the way down to Main Street. I wasn't the only one enjoying the beautiful weather outside, all the restaurants were packed, so I decided to kill a little time and walk down Main Street until the lunch crowd thinned out.

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I walked along Main Street passing more skyscrapers until I came to a little park with an interesting looking monument in the center. Walking up to the sign, I found out that it was the JFK Memorial in Dallas. I knew that JFK had been assassinated in Dallas, I just wasn't sure where. The memorial had four walls raised off the ground, and a low raised table in the center. Kids were running around the park and eating lunch on the memorial. I had reached the end of Main Street, and I figured that the Texas School Book Depository (where Lee Harvey Oswald hid to shoot JFK) was somewhere close, but I didn't know which building it was. My stomach was also growling incessantly, so I made my way back up Main Street to find some place to eat. About three blocks up, I delicious aroma reached me. BBQ was close.

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The restaurant was appropriately decorated with cow heads mounted on the wall (since I like to stare my dinner in the eye as I eat it) and rolls of paper towels instead of napkins. I ordered beef brisket with a tangy sauce, red beans and rice, and a slice of texas toast. It was heavenly. After lunch, I walked back to the hotel and worked until Jason got back.

Before heading out to dinner, Jason and I decided to get an eagle's eye view of downtown by going to the top of Reunion Tower. You can see it in the background of one of the JFK Memorial pictures. It reminded me of the Sunsphere in Knoxville. Reunion Tower has a bar that slowly rotates to give you a 360 degree view of the city. They charge $6 a beer, and since it takes about an hour to make a whole circuit, you end up spending $20 for the best view of downtown. We also strained to see the X on the street 500 feet below marking exactly where JFK was when he got shot (we couldn't see it).

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The Dallas Skyline is unique. I don't know how it started, but the skyscrapers are in some weird competition to see who can outline the most of their building in neon strips. The picture doesn't do the skyline justice, the neon colors give off a definite 1980s vibe.


Jason and I headed to the Greenville Blvd bar area based on the recommendation of my coworker, an ex-Dallas resident. We ate some delicious tex-mex at the Blue Gloose, and then headed down to the artsy Deep Ellum to go out on Friday night. We got a picture at dinner, but the rest of the bars we ventured to went undocumented.


Once we arrived back at the hotel, fueled by a discussion started at the bar, we began researching the conspiracy surrounding JFK's assassination. I admit, some things didn't seem to line up surrounding the investigation. Here's an overview:

  • Oswald fired at least 3 shots in a very short period of time. The first missed, the second hit both JFK and the governor of Texas, and the third was a fatal head shot to JFK. Oswald was a notoriously bad shot, it seems improbable that he would become more accurate after quickly firing and reloading on three sequential shots.
  • The car was traveling and accelerating away from Oswald during all 3 shots. Why would Oswald wait to fire until the car was moving away from him, instead of firing when the car was directly beneath him at almost a standstill.
  • The route was changed just before the motorcade left, which could have been a security tactic. However, the secret service men that usually run next to the car and ride on the rear fenders were also called off, leaving the president entirely vulnerable for a rifle shot.
  • There was a photograph taken of the window on the sixth floor of the TSBD where the shots came from. The man in the picture supposedly is not Oswald, but the picture was damaged while in possession of the committee. The picture was torn exactly where the man appeared in the photo.
  • The rifle originally found in the TSBD was not the gun that matched the bullets recovered from the scene. The gun was later switched out after it had already been saved as evidence.
  • The president's head seems to snap backwards, instead of forwards as one would expect being shot from behind. JFK's brain was never available for autopsy as it went "missing". An agent running behind the president was struck with brain matter, also inconsistent from a shot hitting from behind.
  • Lee Harvey Oswald was only in custody for a very short period of time before he was also assassinated by a man, Jack Ruby, with known mob ties. Lee Harvey Oswald's interrogation wasn't recorded, and Jack Ruby died of a heart attack once in prison. The mob was hired by JFK to attempt to overthrow Castro in Cuba (they were obviously unsuccessful).
  • The FBI and CIA withheld information from the Warren Commission, the committee formed to investigate the assassination, and the Warren Commission concluded there was no conspiracy. However, a second commission, the House Select Commission, completed their own investigation, and concluded that there absolutely had been a conspiracy.

These are only a few of the weird things surrounding JFK's death. You could go on and on, people are obsessed with it. The government was supposed to release the records a few years ago, but instead postponed the release of the documents for another 20 years. Jason and I got sucked into watching countless YouTube videos about the assassination. The first thing tomorrow morning, we were going to research the details first hand at the scene of the crime.

We arrived at the TSBD after breakfast the next morning and began looking around. There were actually 2 X's on the ground marking where both bullets struck the president. The first photo is of the window where Oswald was stationed during the assassination (second from the top, all the way to the right). The second is a recreation of how Oswald had arranged the boxes to make a "sniper's nest". The third is a look down from the "sniper's nest" in the Texas School Book Depository on the 6th floor.




Here is a picture showing both X's. The fatal head shot is the larger X to the right, the first shot to hit the president is up the hill past the lamppost and is a little hard to see. I'm standing on the grassy knoll.


We decided to investigate the angles of the shots, which required us playing frogger across the 3 lane road. There first picture is of the view from the top of the grassy knoll down to the fatal shot, and the last one is me posing as an assassin on the grassy knoll.


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It was very intriguing, and I can definitely see what people get sucked into the conspiracy theories. The Sixth Floor Museum was excellent, and I think we could have spent a lot longer there, but we had to leave the conspiracies behind us and head north to Southlake to hang out my family. We did family stuff and hung out all afternoon, and although one of the best parts of the trip, family talk doesn't make the best blog material. My Aunt Peg and Uncle Bernie did take us to an awesome BBQ place that was located in an old feed store. BBQ twice in two days, sounds good to me!


One thing I noticed as we left Southlake, Texas goes a little crazy with the highway interchanges. Dallas is flat, really flat. It looked like there were no natural hills to use for building overpasses, so concrete bridges go off in nearly every direction. Every three miles there was an intersection to a major highway or beltway seemingly leading to nowhere. I think there may have been a conspiracy between the concrete salesman and the government highway designer.


Our next destination was the Stock Yards in Forth Worth, and a rodeo!


Twice a day longhorn cattle are driven through the roads of the Stock Yards. We arrived too late in the evening to see them, but I would get to see plenty of bulls yet.


The first event was the bull riding. 4 different corrals were being loaded with bull riders and their massive bulls. The goal was to ride the bull for a full 8 seconds while kicking the bull to jump higher and higher. However, not a single rider made the full 8 seconds on the first round. The second event was the lassoing/hog-tieing calf event. After lassoing a calf sprinting across the arena, the rider stopped his horse to viciously close-line the calf to the ground, and then tied his feet together. The riders were a lot more successful at this event.


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I especially liked how all the event participants strutted away from the calf after completing the hog-tie. The calf has to remain tied for a period of time for the score to count, but each participant coolly ignored the calf straining against the rope (but I know they were nervously waiting for the official to raise the flag signaling enough time had passed).

The craziest part of the night is where they invited all the kids into the arena to try and pick a ribbon off a calf. Some of the kids going out there hardly came up to the belly of the calf, and from my experience castrating calves, those little buggers can pack a wallop. Sure enough, as soon as the calf was released, it sprinted right through the kids to get to the other side of the arena and back to safety. No one was injured. We sat through the rest of the events, including the bronco riding, and loved every second. In the second round of bull riders, 1 single rider successfully stayed on for 8 seconds.


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We left the stock yards at the end of the rodeo and hit up the bars of downtown Forth Worth. The hotel we were staying in was the same one JFK stayed in the night before he was shot. Just like JFK, it was my last night in Texas.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 13:45 Archived in USA Tagged animals museum local_food professional_sports Comments (2)

Getting Back to Our Colonial Roots in Virginia


sunny 40 °F

Time to visit the state where more than half the battles of the Civil War were fought, where 8 presidents have been born, and where 25% of all residents are employed by the federal government. It's time to visit my neighbor to the north, Virginia.


Virginia has been involved in a number of significant historical events for our country. The first successful British settlement in America and the first Thanksgiving occurred here. The Revolutionary and Civil Wars ended here. And my favorite Virginian contribution, the first peanuts in America were grown here.

To experience Virginia, Megan and I embarked on a 500 mile trip through the "Old Dominion". Our trip has a distinct colonial flavor, as our first stop was Monticello, the home of the 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson (A). We then planned on heading east to Colonial Williamsburg, a town dedicated to presenting a picture of Virginia in the early 1700s (B). Our final stop was to grab some seafood fresh from the Chesapeake Bay (C). Our trip does not include going anywhere near northern Virginia, 500 miles is long enough without having to sit in the atrocious DC traffic.


Leaving at sunrise, we traveled the back country roads northward towards Charlottesville. As we crossed from North Carolina into Virginia, we constantly had to stop for hunters pulling off the county highway to claim spots for deer hunting. One particular yahoo found it necessary to stop on the highway to hold conversations with the men getting out of their trucks. After the third such occurrence, I passed him, and he promptly came up quickly with his emergency flashers on. Now I know what an official vehicle looks like, and this was no police officer or park ranger. This was some backwoods volunteer fire fighter trying to flex his local authority. Just as my heart skipped a beat when I saw the flashers, he turned them off and stopped his pursuit. I had almost had my fill of Virginians only 60 minutes into the trip.

Arriving at Monticello, it felt more like a place fit for a king instead of a home for a president. Monticello is located on the top of one of the hills marking the beginning of the Appalachians. The view was phenomenal, and it extended in every direction. We had 30 minutes before our tour started, so we walked to the side of the property to see the some of the fields below.




Megan and I walked back towards to house and up the front path. We waited for a tour group to pass, and then waited to get our picture taken in front of the house. Just then, we saw a guy propose to his girlfriend while posing in front of Monticello. There was a lot of hugging and kissing and squeals of happiness from the family. Meanwhile, I'm standing here holding my camera, awkwardly trying to get someone to take our picture, and silently praying that Megan won't be too upset when I don't drop to one knee in front of the house as well. Thankfully our tour group was called, and we made our way into Thomas Jefferson's house.

Thomas Jefferson was an inventor, and his inventions always served some practical purpose. For instance, Thomas Jefferson recorded the weather conditions to track trends from year to year to know when to plant certain crops. He took wind measurements, and not wanting to have to walk far enough away from the house in the rain and snow to see the top of the wind vane, he drilled a hole through the roof so he could view the direction from his front porch (the picture that looks like a compass is the wind vane mounted on the ceiling of the porch). He also built a clock that shows the time as well as the day. He miscalculated the distance needed for each day, so he had to drill holes in the floor and put the markers for Saturday/Sunday in the cellar (you can see the clock above the door and the date markers on the wall to right). He put his bed in the middle of his dressing room and office, so he could roll out of bed and immediately begin working. He had a device that would copy every letter he wrote, so he could always save a copy of everything he mailed. Monticello is full of Jefferson's innovations, every room had several new devices he had created.



After the tour was over, we were free to roam the grounds. Since it was the middle of winter, none of the flowers in the garden were blooming. We walked by the frozen fish pond and around the back of the house. Walking around the house, it hard to not be impressed by its beauty, and the fact that everything was designed for a purpose made it even more impressive. The walkways extending both directions from the house actually contained an intricate water catching system that is still in use today. The cellars, kitchens, smoke houses, and servants quarters were all next to the house, but underground and therefore out of sight. This impressive house didn't come without a cost. The mortgage, along with Jefferson's love for books, bankrupted his family after his death. In the picture below, you may recognize this angle of the house, it is on every nickel.


Monticello even had a place for captured British soldiers!


Not really, it was the smokehouse. Megan took a picture inside the kitchen, while I took a picture on the throne which Jefferson spent many hours thinking.

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We walked down to the family cemetery, looked at the giant obelisk on Jefferson's tomb (which was placed there by the government well after his death if I remember correctly), and made our way back down the hill to the visitors center. Megan took one last picture with Jefferson before we left Monticello.

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Our next stop was Colonial Williamsburg. I had been to Williamsburg back in 5th grade, and I remember really enjoying seeing how people lived 300 years ago. I remember watching my friend play on an old harp piano and listen to a man talk about being ready to fight against the British. Megan and I left the visitor center and anxiously walked over to the town to take a step back in time.

What we walked into was a shopping mall. The streets may have been cobbled, and the buildings looked old, but only tacky souvenirs were contained inside. It was a tourist trap, and I was really disappointed. The cultural experience I remembered had been replaced by coffee mugs and cheap plastic toys for kids. We went in several buildings, but each one was a shop. Not one person talking about the past, not one demonstration of how life used to be. Megan and I left and continued walking past all the shops onto the campus of the second oldest college in the U.S., William & Mary.

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Finally something truly old! At least we found a cannon, and a statue of someone dressed in the garb of the 18th century, but I was still disappointed in the Williamsburg experience. We decided to head out and get an early start towards the coast.

We walked past the shops, and then I heard a man speaking in a British accent asking people to stop and chat for a minute. Looking further up the street, I saw several other people dressed in red hoods and old-timey jackets. We had found the real Colonial Williamsburg!

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We walked past the old church and the barracks. We walked past the Governor's mansion and the courthouse. It really did feel like we had been transported back several centuries, it was amazing at how realistic the Williamsburg people were. We stopped to have our picture taken in the stocks, and I tried to go inside the Raleigh Tavern, but Megan reminded me that we still had a fair bit of driving left to do.

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After completing a circuit around Williamsburg, it was time to move on. I was glad that I was able to re-experience the Williamsburg I remembered. And those shops I complained about earlier, Megan and I had a little tacky touristy fun in there too.

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As the sun started to set, we drove across the Chesapeake Bay towards Virginia Beach. At one point, the entire highway dips under the water halfway across the bay (at night, it looked like the highway just disappeared!). We found a seafood restaurant, and promptly ordered the sampler of all their specialties. It was delicious.


With our bellies full and legs tired, we began the drive home back towards the 21st century.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 10:30 Archived in USA Tagged historical local_food world_heritage_site Comments (0)

Beer, Cheese, and the Green Bay Packers!


sunny 20 °F

Eager to take a trip before the winter holidays, Megan and I decided to spend a weekend away. Where did we decide to go to escape the North Carolina cold? To a place WAY colder, Wisconsin!


When I think of Wisconsin, I think of 3 things: beer, cheese, and the Green Bay Packers. Milwaukee was once the home to four of the world's largest breweries (Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst, and Miller), and was the number one beer producing city in the world for many years. Wisconsin produces more cheese than any other state. When it comes to football, Wisconsin has one of the most popular and successful teams, the Green Bay Packers. The chance to have a fresh brewed PBR or High Life, eat some tasty cheese, and talk about football was enough for me to brave the frigid temperatures.

We didn't waste much time to cross the first item off the list. As soon as the rental car had been acquired, we headed off to the Miller Brewing Company for our first beer tour!


Arriving in Miller Valley, I drove straight into the heart of the brewing complex. My eyes were eagerly scanning the buildings we passed (which included the original Plank Road Brewery) when I almost got smashed between 2 tractor trailers leaving a distribution center. Megan suggested that we find the visitor center before our tiny rental car played chicken with a truck again. We checked in at the front desk of the visitor center to sign up for the next available tour. The tour was free, and the next one started immediately!

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After a short video (which was similar to the Coke entrance video, a 10 minute advertisement on why their product was the greatest on the planet) we left the visitor center and walked to one of the bottling and packaging warehouses. Unlike the tour of the coke factory, we got to see the actual equipment and workers preparing the beer. The tour guide was very informative on everything that was happening in front of us, including what each piece of equipment was doing. The line foreman even took the time to come over and answer any questions we had. All the sugar coating and advertising seemed to have remained in the visitor center, as our guide and the foreman gave us honest and straight forward answers about the beer process here at Miller (which was refreshing and said a lot about the culture at Miller).

Next we walked over to the brewing complex, where we had to walk up 5 flights of stairs to see the tops of the kettles where the beer process was started. Giant copper tanks stood in rows (we could only see the tops). Chatting with the tour guide when walking back down the steps, I found out that Miller employees are given free beer and have beer in their break room. What a great place to work!


From there we walked into the distribution warehouse. It was enormous. In fact, it covered the area of 5 football fields, and it was completely filled with beer (over 500,000 cases). Every case in this building would be shipped out in the next 24 hours. I was surprised to find out that the majority of this beer would be going to Chicago alone. That's a thirsty city!


The coolest part of the tour was next. We were led down into the caves beneath the Miller Brewery. It was here that the beer was originally stored. It had an old, authentic feel. Original tools from 100 years ago lined the wall and Fredrick Miller's personal beer collection was displayed in a case towards the back of the cave.


We left the cave and walked into the tasting room, which was set up like an old pub. A waitress brought us 3 different beers (Miller Lite, Miller High Life, and Leinenkugel's Seasonal). Megan and I made friends with two Milwaukee natives currently living in California who were back in town visiting relatives. After explaining why we would choose to come to Wisconsin in late November, we got the low down on how to make the most of our Wisconsin trip. After finishing our beers, we headed back to the visitor center to pick up the car and leave Miller Valley.

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After checking into the hotel, Megan and I headed down to the Milwaukee River to walk along the river walk. Our next destination was Lakefront Brewery for another beer tour. Lakefront Brewery supposedly had the best brewery tour in Milwaukee, and it was conveniently located right off the Milwaukee River (not the lake like the name suggested).


While we waited for the tour to start, we hung out in a heated outdoor seating area sampling some of Lakefront's beers. Our tour guide was certainly more animated than the Miller tour guide had been, and the tour was definitely geared more towards entertainment (the Miller tour guide also hadn't been drinking). We shuffled around the brewery as the tour guides joked with one another. We didn't learn as much about the beer making process or see any of the equipment in action, but our sample glasses were filled up at several points throughout the tour (a nice bonus). They also had some souvenirs from the old Brewers ballpark. It was obvious that the brewery had a passion for Milwaukee and for beer. The tour concluded with a French woman from our tour group singing along to the Laverne and Shirley theme song.

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We walked upstairs above the brewery to take part in another Milwaukee tradition, the Friday Fish Fry. Stemming from the city's strong Catholic heritage (an older Catholic tradition was to abstain from meat on Fridays, especially during Lent), most restaurants offer a fish special on Friday night. We chose a fish fry that had live polka music and encouraged dancing. We sat at a table with some locals, ate some delicious fish, drank some more Lakefront beer, and then began to walk back to the hotel. Our walk back to the hotel presented a good view of downtown lit up at night.

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We woke up early the next morning to get a good start on our road trip. We were headed north along Lake Michigan to visit Green Bay, home of the Green Bay Packers! Farms spread out on both sides of the road once we left Milwaukee. It started to feel like we were actually in "America's Dairyland" just like all the license plates advertised.


After about two hours, we arrived in Green Bay. I exited the little highway and started to make my way through town, blindly following the directions I had printed off Google Maps. When the directions told me to turn into a neighborhood, I figured that I used the wrong address. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a gigantic stadium loomed over the houses. We had arrived at Lambeau Field.


One side of Lambeau Field is enclosed in an area called The Atrium. The gift shop, Packers Hall of Fame, and various restaurants were located here. It was also the starting point for our tour.

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Our guide was a Green Bay native who had been a season ticket holder for forty years, and he had a strong passion for the Packers. He knew everything there was to know about the team, and he proceeded to pass all the knowledge to us. We walked around the Atrium, took in the view from the luxury box, and then headed down to the field level. We walked around the corner of the locker room to the tunnel that lead to the field. The guide lined us up, and then told us to run down the tunnel and out towards the field. As you made your way through the tunnel, speakers hidden in the wall simulated crowd noise and the PA announcer. "WELCOME TO THE FIELD....YOUR....GREEN BAY....PACKERS!!!" Just as you exited the tunnel, the stadium burst in thundering cheers. It felt like you were running out of the tunnel to a full stadium and everyone was cheering for you. It was awesome.

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After walking around the edge of the field, we made our way back into the warmth of The Atrium. From here Megan and I headed down the steps to check out the Packers Hall of Fame. There was a ton of Packers stuff down here, but it was definitely geared towards diehard Packer fans. We watched a film about the history of the Packers (much of it was a repeat from the tour), and then walked through room after room of Packer memorabilia.

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One part of the Hall of Fame was especially entertaining. They had a portion of the wall surrounding the field set up to simulate the famous Lambeau Leap. We each did several leaps pretending we had just scored the winning touchdown, and some attempts were better than others. Here is one of Megan's leaps:

After walking through the Hall of Fame, we started to make our way back to the car. We stopped for one last photo opp to mimic two of the greatest coaches in Green Bay History, Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi. I also added a picture of how close the stadium is to the neighborhoods. Just across the street are family homes, many with encouraging messages painted on their fences (such as "In McCarthy We Trust" and "Go Packers").

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After a quick lunch at Chili John's (supposedly the place where John Madden frequents when he is in Green Bay), we were on the road again to Sheboygan. My coworker with family in Wisconsin told me that Sheboygan was the place to get the best brat in Wisconsin. Having roots in Cincinnati, I can certainly appreciate a good brat. An hour's drive south brought us to the "Brat Capital of the World".

When I mentioned it was cold in Wisconsin, I wasn't kidding. It was a cool 30° F in Milwaukee the first day, and even chillier that night. However, when we arrived in Green Bay, the bank thermometers displayed 12° F, in the middle of the day! When we got out of the car in Sheboygan, the frigid temperature was emphasized by the strong wind coming off Lake Michigan. Megan covered up as much as possible before she agreed to take a walk along the water. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, we were the ONLY people walking around the city. I guess most people had the sense to stay indoors.

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We walked along the Sheboygan river, then cut through town to get to a park on Lake Michigan. Several signs were spread along the trail to tell the story of Sheboygan's shipping past. At one point, Sheboygan was expected to be the next Chicago or New York since so many immigrants arrived through its port. That never came to fruition as people started traveling by train. Eventually the ship building industry and fishing industries died down as well. A ship recovered from Sheboygan's heyday was displayed along the walk, and the empty marina reinforced the fact that no one in their right mind was out in this weather.

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After completing a circuit on the trail, we headed back towards the car. Conveniently located across the street from where we parked was a local bar. Deciding to rest our legs and get something to drink, we moseyed on in and took a seat at the bar. I realized why no one was outside, Wisconsin football was on TV. Megan and I had hoped to catch a glimpse of the NC State vs. UNC football game on back home, but there was no way I was going to ask the TV to be turned away from the Wisconsin game (despite Wisconsin being up by 4 touchdowns). We each tried a couple of the local beers, and then we decided it was time to head to dinner.

We had picked a German restaurant in Sheboygan, Al & Al's Stein Haus, to get some authentic food for dinner. The place got great reviews, but was not very crowded when we sat down. We ordered an appetizer of fried cheese curds (a recommendation from our friends at the Miller tour). When the chef brought them out, he recognized us as being from out-of-town (I have no clue how). He chit-chatted about his knowledge of Raleigh, and then recommended we get the Bavarian platter. I opted for a brat sandwich, but Megan couldn't resist the temptation of a sample of nearly everything the restaurant offered.


It was delicious. After taking our time through dinner, we begrudgingly left the warmth of the restaurant and headed to the car to begin the drive back into Milwaukee. A dash light I had never seen before blared for the entire drive back. I think it was the indicator for "it is too cold outside to be doing anything."


The next morning we had a couple of hours to kill before our flight left town. We drove through downtown to take in some of the sights (it was drizzling, and we had enough walking the day before). We saw where the Bucks play, and we saw the tall buildings at the heart of downtown. We still had time to kill, so we decided to drive out past Miller Field (where the Brewers play) to see The Domes.

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Arriving at The Domes, I definitely had a flashback of the Pauly Shore movie BioDome.


The Domes are three large structures that support different biomes. One of the domes had a Christmas theme, and several people were inside taking Christmas card pictures. Another dome had a desert climate and was filled a variety of cacti and other desert plant life. Megan said that the Latin names made little sense (and she took Latin for 4 years) and decided to start giving more logical names, such as "Curly, Spiky Cactus" and "Long, Hairy Cactus". Thankfully that little game ended quickly when she ran out of adjectives to describe cacti. The last biome was the rain forest.

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The Domes were a good way to kill an hour, but I secretly wished that the Miller Tours operated on Sundays. We left The Domes and headed back to the airport to catch our flight home. Our trip through Wisconsin was over, but it had been a great time.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 08:53 Archived in USA Tagged beer tour brewery local_food professional_sports Comments (0)



sunny 80 °F

Birthdays are typically a good time, especially when it is your own birthday. All your friends come together, you eat some cake, but most importantly, you get gifts! Megan decided to go all out for my birthday and give me an ENTIRE STATE. Not literally of course, but she did plan an awesome trip to one of the largest metropolitan areas in the south, Atlanta!


The British originally established the colony of Georgia as a place of resettlement for those serving prison time for owing debts (the British were experiencing problems with overcrowding in the prisons and too many poor people in the streets, so they just shipped them off to new colonies). Not many prisoners made their way to Georgia, as a much more convenient form of indentured labor was borrowed from their neighboring colony to the north—slavery. The second reason Georgia was established as a colony was to provide a buffer to South Carolina from the Spanish colony of Florida to the south and to the French controlled territory to the west. The early Georgian colony had a strong religious influence, primarily populated with Protestants looking for a little freedom from the Anglican church of England. The early Georgians were not very friendly to other religious backgrounds, resisting the Catholic influence from the Spanish and French (they did not allow Catholics to own land), and pushing out Moravians and Jews. Eventually the more wealthy South Carolinians began taking over Georgia to set up plantations.

As I mentioned, Georgia was one of the original 13 colonies, but it was arguably the least significant of the colonies. Georgia had only been established a few decades before the Revolution, and most of its citizens were still pretty loyal to the crown. Georgia did not have a formal militia, so it could not contribute soldiers to the American armies. However, 1/3 of the slaves joined the ranks of the British in exchange for freedom. Savannah (the main city in Georgia) was captured early in the war, and remained in British control throughout most of the war. Georgia didn't fare much better in the Civil War. Sherman burned Georgia to the ground as he marched westward to the sea (as was seen in the movie Gone With the Wind).

One more paragraph of history and that's it, I promise. After the Civil War, Atlanta was rebuilt. Atlanta has easy access to fresh water from the Chattahoochee River, a refreshingly cooler climate due to its higher elevation (compared to the lowlands along the coast), and was a major hub for the railroads extending to the south and to the west. The capital was moved to Atlanta, and in the 1960s Atlanta served as the organizing center for the civil rights movement. And truly showing how much the city the flourished since being burned to the ground, it hosted the Olympic Games in 1996 and is the home of the busiest airport in the world.

After sharing much of this same information with Megan on the drive to Atlanta, she got really excited at our first glimpse of the city (she could finally get out of the car and not have to listen to me anymore).


It was a beautiful day, so we parked the car and walked to our first stop, the Coke Factory!


After listening to a short spiel from our tour guide about the greatness of coke (it was just a way to keep us occupied while they let the previous group disperse from the entrance), we were let loose in the World of Coca-Cola. The first exhibit we entered showed the history of coke, starting with getting served by the inventor of coke himself at the local pharmacy when coke was mixed by hand.


In the glass case of the pharmacy, some of the original ads for coke were displayed. Reading those ads you would think coke was the magical drug that cured everything. "Lose Weight With Coke!", "Got Headaches? Drink a Coke!", "Exhaustion? Try Coca-Cola!", "Got Cancer? Coke Cures It!"; these were along the themes of the original ads. Check out this ad that describes Coca-Cola as "The Brain Tonic":


They didn't just have ads from the 1880s. They had ads from the last 130 years and from all over the world. Some of them were just plain weird. Apparently a child with white hair and a giant bottle cap stuck to his head appeals to some part of the world, where in others (apparently Afghanistan) coke appeals to those who are constipated.

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They also had loads of coke memorabilia and cool artifacts from around the world. Since Coca-Cola sponsors the Olympics (it is a well known fact that coke is a key component to every successful Olympic athlete), they had the torches from all the recent Summer and Winter Olympic Games.


They also had a 4-D experience movie (the 3-D movie where they spray you with water and poke you in the back). The premise was that you went around the world looking for what makes coke great. It was incredibly corny, but still entertaining. You can watch the whole 10 minute movie on YouTube, but I don't know if it would be that same without the 4-D mosquito attack or the cool glasses.


Right next to the 4-D movie, they had a room where you could watch all the old Coke TV commercials. It was cool seeing how coke was advertised in other countries. It was a little bit of nostalgia every time an ad from the US was played, apparently coke was able to successfully reach me through their TV advertising. Go ahead and try to not sing along with this ad from 15 years ago:

I'm sure there is some type of subliminal advertising in that commercial (do they flash pictures of fruits and veggies in that flurry at the end?).

We saved the best room for last, the tasting room! After looking at coke advertisement for the past 2 hours, I really want to drink one. I visited the Coke Factory around 15 years ago, and I remember it being a blast (give any 12 year-old access to as much coke as he can drink and there is no way he won't have a blast). I remember jets of water being shot over our heads as we walked into the sampling room where you could taste the different cokes from around the world. I was looking forward to comparing the taste of coke in China versus the coke from Mexico again, but the entire theme of the World of Coca-Cola was "Unforgettable Taste, Uniform Quality, Universal Availability" which steered away from the idea that coke in China was different from coke in Mexico. I did get to drink Inca-Cola from Peru again, as well as try the minty coke from Africa. After a couple of other exotic tastings, I realized that I prefer the original coke.

We left the Coke Factory and took the long 100 yard stroll over to the largest aquarium in the world, the Georgia Aquarium (after Megan posed for a picture in front of the Coke Factory).


Needless to say, the aquarium was humongous. Every fish tank was larger than my house. They even had tanks large enough for whales! They had giant jelly fish that you couldn't help but watch float in the tank (the tank is about 25 feet wide and 12 feet tall so you can get an idea of how big the jelly fish were), whale sharks that would swim directly above you, a coral reef tank exhibiting brightly colored coral, and another tank that had to be at least 40 feet tall with exotic fish constantly swimming past.




The children's section of the aquarium was also very cool. The had a tank where you could pet stingrays and sharks as they swim by (and these were decent size sharks and stingrays). Personally, I was a little weary about having my hand bitten or stung, but I convinced myself that if the 10 year-old next to me was brave enough to do it, I could muster up enough courage to do the same (plus the shark would probably go after his little hand before my hand). They also had another tank where you could pet anemones and other lethargic sea creatures. I thought anemones stung, but once again following the lead of the 10 year-old, I ran my hand over the various creatures.


We got to see the penguins get fed, and then stared eye to eye with some very cool looking creatures of the deep.




The final tank we saw was the one that held the whales. We climbed the steps to the second level to fully appreciate how big these guys really were.


Having our fill of looking at fish, we decided it was time to grab a late lunch. We left the aquarium and took a detour through the Olympic Park. I quickly pointed out to Megan when I saw the Olympic Torch.


We walked through the park to get closer, and that when I realized that it wasn't actually the Olympic Torch (unless Atlanta had made 20 different torches). Instead I had spotted one of the park lights creatively designed to look olympic-ish.

We walked down to Grindhouse Burgers, a burger joint squeezed in along a wall in a market (right behind where they were cutting up whole pigs using a band saw). Apparently this place was labeled the best burger in town, despite its location. While we waited, we watched a Kung-Fu movie being silently projected on a wall and sipped ice cold cokes (drinking anything else seemed wrong). When our burgers finally arrived, they were absolutely fantastic.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around downtown Atlanta. Later that evening we headed out to an area of town called Little Five Points to check out the Porter Beer Bar. This bar sounded appealing because they recommend a beer to go along with every food item on their menu, and it all sounded delicious. The beer list was 12 pages long, and Megan and I had a great time making our way through some new (and typically local) beers.


We left the bar and walked around Little Five Point to soak in the atmosphere (it's a bar district with lots of outdoor seating). Walking past one of the windows, we saw a display that made the foreign coke ads almost look normal. What appeared to be a demon baby was pulling down the blouse on a mannequin. Definitely weird.


The next morning we headed out early to Sweetwater Creek State Park to do some hiking. The first several miles followed the Sweetwater Creek and offered a pretty backdrop to the hike.

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The path eventually took us down close to an abandoned, 5-story textile mill. This mill existed before the civil war and was burned as part of Sherman's march to the sea. It is not often you can see buildings destroyed by war here at home in the US, so it really hit home that our country was split in war 150 years ago.


We took a trail that curved away from the water and through the hills leading into the woods. The woods felt familiar to the trails in North Carolina, although I'm sure my forestry friends are shaking their heads that I couldn't distinguish the Georgian Southern Pine from the Carolina Southern Pine.


At the furthest point on the trail we encountered a sign that made Megan want to immediately turn around.


I was a little confused as to why this sign was posted in the middle of the woods so far from the trail access points. It seems that you would warn of snakes at the beginning of the trail, not at the point furthest away from civilization. Instead of a warning sign, it felt more like a map you find in the mall that says YOU ARE HERE [IN DEADLY SNAKE COUNTRY]. We continued along the trail, but we had hardly gone 100 feet before we ran into our first snake.


The snake posed no harm, but Megan tore off down the trail anyways. She absolutely refused to crouch down near the snake for a picture, so I had her take the picture instead. The rest of our hike was snake-free, and we eventually made our way back to the car to start the long drive back home. As we passed back through Atlanta on the way home, we finally did catch a glimpse of the real Olympic Torch near Turner Field.


Posted by Mike.Flynn 07:57 Archived in USA Tagged animals beer hiking museum tour state_park local_food Comments (0)



sunny 80 °F

Bachelor Party Time! A group of guys are looking for some warm weather, nice beaches, and plenty of night life. We also wanted to leave our home state, so we headed south to our more unruly southern brother, South Carolina.


North Carolinians view South Carolina in a special light. Although South Carolina is like a kid brother, it is the spunky, back-woods, stand-up-to-anyone kid brother that your mom makes you take everywhere. South Carolina is where you go to buy illegal fireworks, ride your motorcycle without a helmet, and rip the mufflers off your cars because there are no emission laws. South Carolina just stopped flying the confederate flag in 2000. South Carolina is home to the touristy and tacky Myrtle Beach, but the first of impression of South Carolina when entering from North Carolina trumps everything else. This incredibly tacky, yet irresistible, road side stop is called South of the Border.


I have only given into temptation once and stopped at the eyesore that is South of the Border, but goodness knows that I have wanted to stop every time I drive past. It's all in the marketing. You are forced to read over 100 billboards for the last 60 miles before entering South Carolina, all with punny catch phrases like "Pedro's Weather Report: Chili Today - Hot Tamale!" and "Time for a PAWS?". South of the Border is filled with cheaply painted statues, a sombrero tower, more gift stores than you can count, a gas station, and a roller coaster. Eager to make my way to Charleston, we skipped the redneck Disney World and continued south.


Charleston is situated between two rivers that flow into the Atlantic Ocean. The harbor is protected by a narrow entrance and multiple islands, making it prime real estate in colonial times. Charleston was the 5th largest city in North America at the turn of the 18th century and largest port in the southern colonies. Charleston has also been in the forefront of the early American wars. The British tried to seize Charleston early in the Revolutionary War and the first shots of the Civil War were fired in Charleston.

My first of impression of Charleston as we entered the city was that it felt like a small town. No buildings were over 3 stories tall. Most of the streets were two lanes. Most of the people were traveling by foot and there was light traffic. By the end of my stay this impression would extend to picture this city as a get-away town for couples (as most people were couples walking hand-in-hand) filled with restaurants, large historic homes, beautiful parks, and a strong southern charm. However, by night the city was even more alive with its vibrant night life making it a great destination for a bachelor party.

Upon arriving in Charleston, I called my old house-mate from Australia, Jeff, who was currently managing a bar in Charleston. We met up with him on Market Street (the central nightlife spot) and hopped through some of the bars. The rest of the bachelor party arrived in from Charlotte, and the whole crew ended the night drinking Charleston's finest on top of Big John's Tavern.

The next day we wanted to take advantage of the beautiful weather and hit the beach. We met up with another one of my friends from Australia, Rob, and headed out to Folly Beach.


We spent the day on the beach drinking beer, tossing the football, and flying $2 kites we had purchased from the gas station. The kites were of especially poor quality and required a lot of effort to keep in the air. At one point, one of the strings broke and sent the kite out to sea. The weight of the string dragging in the water kept the kite from flying too high and the wind blowing offshore kept the kite aloft. We strained to keep sight of the kite as it reached the horizon, but eventually we could no longer see it. It should be flying somewhere over Portugal about now.

We made our way back into the city, cleaned up, and decided to go out from some seafood. A place named A.W. Shucks was too good to pass up. We had a contest to see who could say "aw, shucks!" the most during dinner. We started off with a load of oysters (which were fantastic) and then moved on to almost every form of seafood known to man. Pete and I split shrimp stuffed with crab and wrapped in bacon, and it was as delicious as it sounds.


After dinner, we went to Southend Brewery to start our bar crawl. The beer was good, but the music was even better. We got to hear Country Grammar on bongo drums. When made our way from bar to bar, eventually ending up at the pizza joint on Market Street.


The next morning while the rest of the guys were sleeping in, Pete and I walked down to the water front park near the end of Market Street. From here you could see the harbor stretching out in both directions (and Fort Sumter off in the distance). Sailboats filled the harbor as people took advantage of the sunny day. A pathway wandered along the water front all the way to the east end of town and battery park.




Battery Park had cannon monuments marking the positions where the original cannons had defended the Charleston shoreline. Gigantic trees lined the park. Large, historic homes were visible heading back into the city. It was very scenic, proving that Charleston had as much to offer during the day as it did at night.

We walked back to the hotel, drug the rest of the guys out of bed, and made our way out of town. I started the trek back home to Raleigh, once again barely resisting the temptation to stop at South of the Border.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 12:41 Archived in USA Tagged beach local_food bachelor_party Comments (0)

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