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August Vacation

Our summer vacation had been pushed to August, rather than the usual July, because of scheduling conflicts. But it was a great two weeks of frolicking with both families.

The first portion of the trip was to the Adirondacks in upstate New York, for the annual Sillickfest. I've been there twice before, in 2003 (see blog entries here, here, here, and here) and, most notably, last year, where Elizabeth and I were engaged. The second part was in Boston, hosted by our friend Marcy. The third part was in the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee, with my family. (Pictures and story below.)

We started out on Friday morning, August 4, traveling on Delta from LAX to New York City (JFK). The flight was comfortable. But the flight from JFK to Syracuse (the closest airport to the Adirondacks) was a disaster. It was a little commuter plane, of course, leaving from a gate that served several aircraft at once. The Syracuse flight was not listed on the board at the gate, but one of the (harried) attendants said that it was expected. After grabbing some lunch, we noticed that the airport board said that it would be about an hour late. An hour came and went, and other flights came and went, until the dozen Syracuse passengers were left milling around the gate. Eventually, they claimed that the aircraft had mechanical problems, and cancelled the flight (as well as a later flight). Delta offered to put people in a hotel and on standby for a flight the next day, or to pay for a car rental. (Syracuse is 209 miles as the crow flies, but 306 miles by car.) One of the (extremely disgruntled) Syracuse passengers said that she had taken the hotel the night before, and it was a poor quality in a bad neighborhood. No thanks: We choose to drive. (Fortunately, I am in the Emerald Club with National. They didn't have cars available to non-members. I was able to change the reservation from SYR to JFK.) The Delta gate attendant said that they would drop all of the bags to the baggage claim. Several hours later, after haranguing the bag claim morons, the bags began to come. I was happy to find Elizabeth's bag, but mine never came. It was already past 9pm (we had thought that we would be at the cabin by 7pm or so), I knew that we had many hours of driving ahead of us, and I wanted to leave. The head baggage claim moron gave me a pamphlet with Delta's 800 number on it, and told me to call them to arrange for the bag to be delivered to the destination. Then, when we got to the National car rental booth, I was told that my rental had already been claimed… in Syracuse. I was clearly not there, and visions of identity theft were circling in my tired mind. The rental agent had never heard of such a situation, and said that we should talk to the central office via phone. They had a car available, however, so we took it, and started our drive. After fighting with NYC traffic (much more aggressive than LA, I must say, but pleasant in a masochistic way), and managing to get out of the City with only one mildly wrong turn, Elizabeth began the phone queries while I navigated I-87 north. The first call was a disaster: The central Delta baggage phone refused to help us, because an incident report had not been filed at the airport. We had luggage numbers and such, but the evil morons at the Delta luggage office in JFK had jilted us. Worse: We had to file the claim within 24 hours, or the luggage numbers would be "recycled", meaning the bags would be untraceable. This meant that we had to go to the Syracuse airport, rather than straight to Sixth Lake. (It would be about six hours to either Sixth Lake or Syracuse, from NYC, but if we went to Syracuse, we would have about two more hours of driving to backtrack to Sixth Lake.) So, on Friday night / Saturday morning, we drove until about 3am, and stopped for sleep in Little Falls, past Albany. (The Best Western that we stayed was almost sold out, and the only remaining room was a smoking room on the second floor. I asked the hotel rep if I could get half price for half of night, but he just laughed.) In the morning, we got to the Syracuse airport, filed the luggage claim (they didn't need to our identification), and straightened out the car issue (they had just reserved the car in my name because of the Emerald Club thing). The Delta luggage claim reps gave us a courtesy bag of toiletries, which I certainly made use of. The bag arrived at Sixth Lake the next day, but Delta left me with one final gift: The deodorant in the courtesy bag left me a chemical burn (rash?) under my arms. Thanks, Delta. There are few things more degrading than commercial air travel.

Well, once the vacation started, it was a very fun and relaxing. We went swimming in the lake, did several great hikes, and enjoyed the company of Elizabeth's family. Several hikes of note included Moss Lake (which we had done last year), a hike to a pond near Moss Lake (the name of which I cannot recall), and a trip to the top of Bald Mountain. We had many lovely dinners at the cabin, as well as a fine meal at the Seventh Lake House. A friend of the family brought a bottle of single-malt scotch, so I should officially note that I was introduced to another potential hobby.

We left the Adirondacks on Friday, August 11, and flew from Syracuse airport to Boston. (This was the day after the British foiled an aircraft bombing plot by a group of Islamic terrorists. New air travel restrictions included no liquids in carry-ons. But we had no problems, and the airports were less crowded than I expected.) We stayed with Marcy, who has a lovely apartment in the Back Bay area, across from the Christian Science cathedral. Marcy showed us the town: We went to the Body Worlds 2 exhibit, at the Boston Museum of Scienceand met up with several other of Elizabeth's college roommates to watch a performance of Taming of the Shrew in the Boston Common. We also took a bus tour of Boston, which included a cruise of the harbor.

On Monday, we flew to Knoxville, Tennessee, and drove to Pigeon Forge. There, we met up with my parents, sister, and grandfather at a beautiful luxury four-bedroom cabin (called Big Jake). This, too, was a relaxing and pleasant segment of the trip. The Great Smokey Mountains lived up to their name, as valleys were shrouded in humidity. Emily and did two interesting hikes, to Rainbow Falls, and a loop trail around Cades Cove (I believe that it was made of three trails: Indian Graveyard Trail, Rich Mountain Trail, and Crooked Elbow Trail [?]). I highly recommend the Rainbow Falls trail, if one only has the chance to do one. Travels in the east are sometimes surprising to me, because everything is so green and wet. Water is a scarcer thing in the west, and I suppose that it is not surprising that it is also a political issue, too.

We returned to Los Angeles late on August 18. Two weeks is a good amount of time for a vacation: It is enough time to just start relaxing. And it was pleasant to see different sets of family and friends.

Cake at the cottage that the Mandile's rented
Chris, Tom, and I hiked to a nearby pond. The beavers had built a sizable dam along the way.
Another hike that Chris, Tom, and I did was to the top of Bald Mountain. This has a nice view of Fourth Lake.
The Bald Mountain hikers at the peak. Such work required a beer afterward.
Preparing dinner, inside Standing Pines.
Steam rising from Sixth Lake, after a rainfall.
One particularly delicious meal was on our last night at Standing Pines. This included this tricolor salad.
Three sisters: Janice, Theresa, and Mary Frances.
In Boston, we took a bus tour with Marcy. We stopped at Faneuil Hall for lunch. While there are historic sites, I like the fact that it has remained a marketplace.
The bus tour in Boston also included a harbor cruise.
Marcy, Elizabeth, and I, in front of Boston. This was taken at the dock of the U.S.S. Constitution.
In Pigeon Forge, our cottage included beautiful views of the valleys around the Smokey Mountains.
My sister (Emily), and I took several interesting hikes within the Smokey Mountain National Park. The hike to Rainbow Falls was a fairly steep hike up along a creek. It was almost like a rainforest.
At Rainbow Falls.
Also at Rainbow Falls. This picture captures the scale a bit better. (Note the other photographer in the bottom left.)
My grandfather (and mother and wife in the background) at the Cades Cove picnic grounds.



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