Tag Archives: Museum

The Museum of Siam

After a few days immersed in the modern, moment-to-moment life of Bangkok, it became painfully apparent that we knew and understood almost nothing about the culture and history of this place. Everything beyond its immediate appearance — the visceral sensation of it all — was inaccessible, locked away by our ignorance, by the inscrutability of the Thai language, and by our walled-off, pampered position as tourists. We shared the same physical space as the locals, but we inhabited different worlds. Our primary interface was blunt and inarticulate commerce. I want. You give. I pay. Sawasdee khrap!

To rectify this, I made a couple of decisions. First, I wanted to learn and speak as much Thai as possible. It is a difficult thing to do, especially in such a short time, but language is a key that unlocks great riches. Instead of commerce, communication. Put enough effort into it and it can become communion.

Second, I wanted to learn more about Thailand's history. I had tasted the fruits and smelled the flowers; I wanted to explore the roots.

And so we went to The Museum of Siam.

As far back as the 6th Century BCE, documentary evidence refers to a Land of Gold, legendary Suvarnabhumi. Buddhists, Indian, Greek, and Chinese sources all refer to a place of great wealth located somewhere in Southeast Asia and physical evidence suggests that trade with Suvarnabhumi has been going on at least for the past 4,000 years.

Where was this Suvarnabhumi? Many cultures in Southeast Asia claim this fantastic land as their own. In all likelihood, it was not a specific country or city, but the entire resource rich area as a whole. Using linguistics, attempts have been made to narrow down and define the ethnicity of the Suvarnabhumi people. Five language groups have been identified within the region — Mon-Khmer, Malayo-Polynesian, Thai-Lao, Sino-Tibetan, and Hmong-Yao. This implies that Suvarnabhumi has been a great mixing pot in which culture, trade goods, and genetics have been shared and exchanged for thousands of years. Further proof of the reach of the trade routes passing through Suvarnabhumi is a Roman coin bearing the image of Emporer Antonius Pius (138-161 BC) that has been found in the southern province of Krabi.

Eventually, the city-states that coalesced out of Suvarnabhumi built a flourishing trade with China, Japan, India, Persia and Europe.

Even the development of Suvarnabhumi's Religious practices reveal a cross-cultural synthesis of native animistic traditions, Hinduism and Buddhism. According to the Musueum of Siam, this fusion “was almost seamless. While in retrospect, you can identify each stream, in practice, they formed a continuum.

Buddhism compromises with Animism when it gives the Earth Goddess a role in Buddha's enlightenment and when the monastic tradition forbids monks from cutting down trees lest they offend the spirits residing there.

Few Buddhists realize that when they worship the Buddha with flowers, lights, and incense, they are in fact performing a Hindu rite.

Buddhist temples, from ancient times until today, are decorated,with Hindu gods and Nagas, the old animistic symbols of water and fertility.

Thus, in Suvarnabhumi, Animism, Hinduism, and Buddhism fitted together so perfectly that now only scholars can distinguish them.


In other words, the threads of the Thai culture that we had been witnessing so viscerally — an unabashed embrace of trade and commerce, a people not only tolerant of other cultures but strengthened and enriched by them — have been part of the warp and weave of Thailand's tapestry for millennia. Modern day Thailand accepts and incorporates strangers with such ease and grace because they have been doing so for ages. This openness and kindheartedness is a true expression — not a dilution — of their culture.








Of course, this is just a rudimentary analysis based on a most superficial understanding. Four days in Bangkok does not an expert make. But as we moved through the museum's interactive and engaging displays, watching videos about ancient trade routes and cultural artifacts, all building upon the Buddhist notion of reincarnation, I felt the boundaries between Thai and tourist loosen and give. The ultra-modern indulgence of The Paragon Food Court did not seem to be the result of an ahistorical fracture, but a part of a compelling cultural flow. A window that was locked had been opened and a lovely, new vista appeared.

When we stepped out of the museum and into the humid copper haze of a Bangkok evening, I felt more at home — more welcomed and accepted — in this strange and inscrutable land. Not because I had earned it, but because the people of Thailand had granted it. This, despite my inability to say much more than Hello and Thank You; despite my fear of tap water and my tourist backpack. Thailand perceived me — and all of the other annoying farang — with compassion and jai dii. Namaste in action.

When you are given a gift like this, the only response is to place your palms together in front of your heart and bow with great humility. Khap kun khrap, Thailand; khap kun maa khrap!

 

museum of indian arts & culture ~ museum hill ~ santa fe, nm

on the eve of a supposed snowmageddon, tim and i took mazy for a walk on museum hill. this is the front facade of the museum of indian arts and culture.

legal tender ~ lamy, nm ~ june 22, 2011

santa fe’s closest amtrak station is in lamy, about a 20-minute drive into the galisteo basin. also in lamy, the legal tender bar and grill / railroad history museum. this chandelier is part of the beautiful and lovingly restored interior.

a visit to the durango and silverton narrow gauge railroad museum ~ durango, co ~ may 27, 2011

www.theendlessroadtrip.com ~ on a beautiful spring day, we visit the charming little town of durango, co. it was the first (more…)

allergy season ~ albuquerque and santa fe, new mexico

OF VINEGAR AND KARMA

back in the early 1990s, i spent about four years living, working and going to school in albuquerque, nm. i was in my early twenties, and to be perfectly honest, i was not at my most emotionally healthy. in the common parlance of the rom-com, i had a lot of growing up to do. there are memories of my time in new mexico that can still bring moments of sweaty, gut-cramping embarrassment. i wore a skirt? a miniskirt? i fooled around with an aspiring model named clint? i sent secret admirer notes? ergh. sure, there were wonderful times and unforgettable experiences as well, but even those were fraught with the self-absorbed angst that only a twenty-year-old, semi-closeted, recovering seventh day adventist could muster.

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what i’m trying to get at with all of these terrifying revelations is that new mexico and i have a very intense emotional history. under albuquerque’s chronically sunny skies, i experienced more than my share of awkwardness and inflicted more than my share of cruelty. i could go into more detail, but really, what would be the point? suffice it to say that whenever i go back, i can’t help but feel that there’s a shit ton of karmic payback waiting for exactly the right moment to serve notice.

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that moment was april 2010. it may seem overly dramatic to assert that the allergies i experienced during this visit to new mexico were a sort of cosmic retribution for my past sins, but i was there and i lived through it, so i know. this was some serious heironymus bosch shit. being eaten by a bird-headed creature while crows fly out of one’s ass could hardly be more terrible than the life-sapping combination of congestion, leakage, migraine, insomnia, dehydration, bloody nose, and puffy face that new mexico’s flora inflicted on me. apparently, other people suffered as well, this being the worst allergy season in years. new mexico had seen an unusually wet winter and pollen and mold counts, so i was told, were through the roof. such knowledge proved a cold comfort. misery may love company, but i would prefer to keep misery at a safe distance.

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luckily for me, i stumbled upon a remedy so powerful it not only does away with allergy symptoms, it also eradicates bad karma. my friend carla suggested it when my eyes, nose, mouth and throat first began to leak, but i foolishly chose to ignore her advice. it was only after i had hit my own rock bottom and realized i was helpless before this seasonal affliction that i finally surrendered to a higher power: the power of apple cider vinegar.

for those of you who are afflicted by allergies, bad karma, or both, i recommend the following brew:

2 C bragg’s apple cider vinegar
2 inches of ginger, sliced thinly
4-8 cloves of garlic, peeled
several dashes of cayenne pepper

bring the above ingredients to a boil, turn heat down and simmer for a while. turn off heat and add:

2-4 teabags (stinging nettle, breathe easy, gypsy cold care, etc.)
enough local honey and warm water to dilute and make the brew palatable.

drink this stuff all day long. drink it til the people around you begin asking if you smell something weird.

how do i know it works on allergies? well, in my case, about two days after getting serious with the vinegar, my symptoms had all but disappeared. it verged on the miraculous.

how do i know it zapped my bad karma? because even though i started my tenure in new mexico as an insecure, awkward, unnecessarily cruel, sometimes vicious, skirt-wearing, closet case, i somehow managed to end up with the coolest, kindest, smartest, funniest, most talented and generous friends in the entire state. so to m, a, w, c, z, h, and e: thanks for putting up with my endless bitching and moaning about my damned allergies. you guys made new mexico more magical – one might even say enchanted – than ever.

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Posted by Wordmobi

the unknowable vol. 2 ~ the mohave museum of history and arts

when we visited my auntie and cousin in hemet, ca, we discovered a largish book called the reader’s digest traveler’s guide to the united states. now, to be perfectly honest, i have very fond memories of RD from my childhood. my parents seemed to have an endless supply of the things lying about and what with the whole seventh-day-adventist-no-television-or-radio thing, many of my happiest hours were spent giggling at life in these united states and thrilling at dramae in real life . as i grew up and my tastes matured, however, my affection for RD waned. it became apparent that RD’s target demographic was more GOP and AARP than PFLAG and LGBT.

but when we discovered this inconveniently-sized traveler’s guide, curiosity got the best of me. traveling is, of course, not simply about living within your comfort zone, it’s about learning to expand that comfort zone. i was a bit nervous about camping in rural idaho, for example, but after almost a month spent meandering the potato state, i was much more relaxed about the whole thing. nominally. it’s still a pretty scary place , but there are definitely bright spots. here , here , and here are three of the brightest. and although, as we perused the pages of the RDTG, we saw some entries that held no interest for us, when my auntie offered us the guide we decided to take it. hey, you never know what kinds of things you might discover if you keep an open mind.

one of the first recommendations we took from the RDTG was a visit to kingman, az and the mohave museum of history and arts. we arrived on a bright, windy, cheery afternoon. the parking lot was empty but for a few motorcycles and a billboard touting a local hospital’s dialysis treatments. something about its countenance seemed vaguely depressed. my first thought was, yes, this is exactly the kind of place that people who enjoy reading abridged books readers would find interesting. i mumbled something to tim about continuing on and then, suddenly, found myself parking. tim looked at me, confused.

well we’re here, i stammered, and we might as well take a look and besides, isn’t this all about adventure anyway? tim cocked his head, but kept quiet. we put our reflective sunshades in the windshield and shambled towards the entrance. a perfectly friendly grandmotherly type welcomed us, took our money, and gave us a brief overview: the hall of the presidents and first ladies is over there, the mining museum is that way, the farm equipment display is outside, and the history section is through that doorway.

the hall of presidents and first ladies is a small, flourescently lit room. the walls are covered with portraits of, duh, all of the presidents and their wives. on one wall hangs the newest entries: president barack hussein obama and first lady michelle obama. this being arizona, land of john and cindy mccain and not exactly a hotbed of civil rights activism, i wondered how the employees and museumgoers felt about the obamas’ entry into the HOPAFL.

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i noticed that every other portrait hanging in the hall was painted by the same artist, one lawrence williams. the obamas, however were painted by a different hand. given the current political climate, i wondered if there was some sort of backstory to this change, but did not want to pursue this train of thought much further. if there was, i probably didn’t want to know about it. suffice it to say that it made me extremely happy to see two brown faces in the sea of pink presidents and first ladies. this being kingman, az, i kept my exuberence to myself.

later i learned that the change in artists was due to mr. williams’ death in 2003. preconception destroyed; comfort zone duly expanded.

the strangest part of the museum — and that is saying quite a bit — was slow to reveal itself. purported to be dioramae devoted to the history of mohave county, a series of brightly colored scenes lined the walls of a large, bland room. the other tourists and i shuffled from one glass cabinet to the next, peering at the tiny figures and ineffable scenarios. folks mumbled to each other somewhat distractedly, unsure what to make of the display. as i progressed, i couldn’t help but notice that each cabinet contained strange, cryptic text that seemed at best, non sequitor and at worst, nonsensical.

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eventually, lessons learned from harriet the spy and encyclopedia brown got the best of me and i returned to the first diorama to began transcribing. the poem that revealed itself — for that is what it was — seemed timely and prophetic; an anomaly in post-millenial mccain country. it read:

close to the mother waters we came
seeking security in an alien land
visions beyond ourselves have drawn us on
to explore understand and transcend the frontiers of our being
freedom is only for ourselves
and our selfish passions blind us to the cruelty of our advance
we see our golden powers
as young lovers and create a mystic union with the earth our mother
and the serpentine coils of our union
drive us on to probe and prepare the earth for our foundation
the child of our imagination
arises on wings of gold to swell our pride with visions of security
and we see ourselves mature
as we force the powers around under our control in a final burst of energy
our frontiers conquered
we look back to bask in the fading light of our creations
and die consumed by the works of our hands
as a new cycle arises from the union of a golden sun
and the fertile womb of our abundant mother

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i asked the woman at the front desk about the dioramae, but she claimed ignorance. months later, i discovered the name of the person who, in all likelihood, created this strange installation. perhaps one day, if i ever make it back to arizona after all this nonsense , i’ll look him up. until then, i’ll keep checking our progress against the reader’s digest traveler’s guide to the united states. next stop: a slightly famous suburb of phoenix, az !

Posted by Wordmobi

arizona ~ get off my lawn!

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our visit to arizona was punctuated by three unexpected and unnerving run-ins with the powers that be. the first was a security inspection conducted by the department of homeland security just before crossing the hoover dam. the other two happened at security checkpoints set up by the border patrol. the first of these took place just north of patagonia, az, about 20 miles north of the border. the second occurred on the day we left arizona, just north of truth or consequences, nm.

there is something truly frightening about being scrutinized by folks with military authority. the line between a fairly benign interaction and one gone horribly awry is just one miscommunication, one misunderstanding, one unallayed suspicion. the balance of power is tipped almost entirely in their favor and it is easy to feel as though you are entirely at their mercy. the whole thing requires an attitude of deference, something i have little practice in. fortunately for us, however, we have a good luck charm from tim’s childhood watching our back. macgallowitz, a large-ish, two-tone teddy bear, has done much to lighten the mood and reduce the stress of these surreal interactions. at hoover dam, for example, the constables who were inspecting the contents of our truck were greeted by macgallowitz’s impassive stare. “who does this belong to?” asked a crew-cut. “that’s his,” i said, nodding in tim’s direction. the crew-cut looked at tim with an expression saturated with bemusement. “you don’t have any guns or other weapons in there, do you?” he asked. i scoffed. “no way!”

the combination of the stuffed bear, my incredulity at the thought of owning a weapon, and our general squareness banished any suspicions the crew-cut might have held. he waved us through with a slightly mocking smile.

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some things which might interest you about our visit to arizona, the 49th state of the union:

that picture up there? that’s chamoy. it is the craziest thing i’ve eaten in a good long while. i can’t even begin to explain it and i have no idea why nobody ever told me about it before now! it’s sweet, salty, bitter, sour, crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth, ice-cold spiciness. yummy!

in arizona, gay marriage is extra super duper biggie-size illegal. until recently, the state extended domestic partner benefits to state employees, but out of what seems like sheer mean-spiritedness, az has repealed them, leaving a lot of people in the lurch.

springtime in the desert is surreal. imagine entire mountainsides painted the bright orange of mexican poppies. with every breeze, billions of tiny petals trembling, setting the earth on fire.

the ads for john mccain’s 2010 reelection campaign use the tagline john mccain: arizona’s last line of defense. no wonder they’re so nervous!

thanks to the generosity, kindness, and goodwill of our many hosts, we ate the tastiest fry bread, watched the most staggering sunsets, lounged in the most decadent hot tubs, practiced yoga in the most crowded classes, and hiked the most painful trails. if you get a chance, ask tim about the restorative yoga class…it’s hilarious.

due to severe budget cuts, all state run rest areas in arizona are now closed to the public. seriously. they’re surrounded by chain link fences and bright orange closed signs. it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if arizona ends up changing its travel and tourism slogan to arizona: we don’t really want you around.

waterfalls in the desert? who knew? we were there at just exactly the right time to witness this spectacle. two weeks later it would have been a dry gully.

by june 3, around two-thirds of arizona’s state parks will have closed their doors for the foreseeable future. our last night in az we camped at a sweet little park set on the edge of a lake within sight of snow covered peaks. it offered a hot-spring-fed hot tub and big, clean bathrooms with good showers. it was also full to capacity with campers. despite all of this, in a couple of months it’s getting shut down. sigh. ain’t no shortage of wal-marts, though, so if you feel like camping out under the stars is essentially the same as sleeping in a parking lot, you probably won’t be affected by this tragedy.

a saguaro forest is an otherworldly landscape. when they become very very old, their dolphin-like skin becomes as thick and gnarled as treebark. occasionally, one will mutate and become cristatic. it is crazy looking, like it’s trying to grow a brain.

the two tallest buildings in tempe, az are abandoned condominium skyscrapers; casualties of the housing collapse. they stand there, dark, silent and unfinished monuments to hubris and greed.

frank lloyd wright’s last building, the gammage center, is on the campus of arizona state university. it is, as they say, a confection, but you can get an all-access tour for free, and it’s history is pretty cool. if you go to the gammage, then you have no excuse for not visiting asu’s fine arts building, designed by antoine predoc. when the new york times did a review of all of the buildings on asu’s campus, it beat out the gammage center as having the most architectural importance. it’s a pretty special place.

outdoor shopping malls are now being marketed as lifestyle centers. shopping at pottery barn and eating at the cheesecake factory? now that’s what i call a lifestyle!

although it gets very hot here, our visit coincided with the most beautiful and temperate season to be in arizona. cool evenings, warm days, and high overhead, the distant eggshell sky. while we were riding our bikes around and sleeping under sheets, the rest of the country was pretty much socked in by rain, sleet, hail and snow.

if you look like you or your parents were immigrants and the authorities have a wild hair, you’d better watch out! you are exactly the people that john mccain is trying to defend arizona against.

031320102181.jpg our campsite in chloride, az.


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031320102188.jpg st. patrick’s day parade in chloride, az.

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031320102207.jpg the mohave museum of history and arts, kingman az.

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031420102249-001.jpg mission san xavier del bac

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031720102308-001.jpg near mt. lemmon, tucson az

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032020102345-001.jpg magically, we found ourselves in patagonia, celebrating dan’s 40th birthday.

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michelle, adrian and jmichael made tucson our home away from home.

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scottsdale.

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032620102593.jpg the heard museum.

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leaving arizona.

we spent almost 3 weeks being held by the vortex that is arizona. i had a marvelous time hanging with friends and exploring the desert in springtime, but still and all, i was happy to get the heck out of there. what with the whole gay as second-class-citizen thing, the looming threat of surprise security inspections and the potential that i might be required to produce documents to prove my legality just to walk down the sidewalk, arizona just doesn’t feel particularly welcoming.

Posted by Wordmobi

russ and pam's wonder emporium ~ angels camp, ca

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on our way from lake tahoe to fresno, we stopped in a tiny mining town called angels camp for a bathroom break and to give mazy a chance to stretch her hairy legs. on our first pass, not much caught my attention; a couple of curio shops, a thrift store, a christian bookstore.

but then we stumbled across this place. at first, i thought it was going to be another tourist-oriented jewelry and gemstone shop and was fairly nonplussed. when tim suggested that we go in, my first response was, meh. lucky for me, i squelched my negativity.

entering stories in stone was like walking into a store on diagon alley. it stretched on and on and on; crystal after fossil after geode after agate after gemstone. beyond that we encountered a complete fossilized skeleton of a cave bear. beyond that, a sprawling warehouse space overloaded with thousands upon thousands of precious stones. and beyond the warehouse was a huge, cluttered, fluorescently lit classroom that would have been completely at home at hogwart’s.

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we eventually met pam, one of the owners of this magical place, and when i asked her about its history, she casually mentioned that her husband russ began his career as a rock hound in the gravel pits around niles, michigan. yup. that’s right, the niles, michigan that sits about 8 miles from the town where i grew up. pam informed russ that a fellow michigander was wandering around the store and after dealing with a few customers in the warehouse, russ came and found me.

this audio clip is about 20 minutes long. the photos that follow — and so much more — are referenced and explained in the course of this conversation.

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honestly, this place is one of the coolest places i’ve ever been. if you ever ever find yourself near angels falls, ca, absolutely stop by and give witness. stories in stones is an amazing labor of love and a powerful testament to the idea of following your bliss. thank you pam and russ for creating this unique, surprising, and wondrous place.

Posted by Wordmobi

sacramentastic! ~ part 1

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the city of sacramento: state capitol, birthplace of ranch-style suburbia and home of the california state railroad museum. our visit to this much maligned and often overlooked berg was a good example of the make-it-up-as-you-go-along philosophy that has guided us on much of our journey. as we began planning what to do after leaving santa rosa, there was only one absolute certainty: tim was going to sacramento to visit the railroad museum. everything else — where we would stay and for how long, where we would go and what would we do next — was up in the air. there were hints that a visit to lake tahoe might be in the air, and one of tim’s good friends from high school had offered us a landing pad in fresno, but neither of us were sure how things would turn out.

there was a time when tim and i were relative novices to this kind of uncertainty. in the early days of this journey, it caused me no end of stress to pass the day without knowing how and where we were going to find a place to sleep that night. i would become shrill and accusatory. tim, my constant companion and copilot, often bore the brunt of my apprehension.

“what do you mean you’re not sure where we’re going to stay tonight?” i remember saying with unbridled and unquestioned righteousness. “i thought you said you found a campground on one of the maps!” as if tim had access to a completely different set of maps than i did.

nowadays, though, uncertainty has almost become old hat. don’t ask me how or when it happened, but somewhere between the atlantic and the pacific oceans, something in me loosened its grip and i was able to, if not relinquish, then at least temper my need to know the future.

perhaps it was simply repetition, like learning scales. after a while, i realized that things always worked out whether i stressed out or not, and even when things weren’t ideal (remind me to tell you the story of the rock lakes campground) tim and mazy and i were able to make the best of it.

because sacramento lies in california’s central valley, it is generally sunnier, warmer and dryer than, say, san francisco or even santa rosa. originally, tim had hoped that we could find a campground near sacramento and use that as a home base for our explorations. but given california’s budget crisis and the time of year, our options were somewhat limited. many of cali’s state parks have been shut down and the ones that have survived the budget crunch have increased their fees to a whopping $25/night, more than twice the amount charged by neighboring states.

with only a few days before our arrival in sacramento, i decided to give couchsurfing.org a try. we had utilized cs once before, in rochester ny, and it was a great experience. however, thanks to our generous and widely scattered network of friends and our love of camping, we had not needed cs’s services since then. i made three requests in sacramento, hopeful, but guarded. cs’s website recommends at least a week’s notice; our requested dates were just two days away. still and all, i figured it was worth a shot.

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because of the short notice, two folks respectfully declined our requests. however, one mellow soul, a gentleman named chris, agreed to host us for three whole nights. even more remarkably, mazy was welcome too! and so with little planning or foresight, the three of us managed to find a beautiful place to stay while we explored sacramento. thanks chris!

our first stop, of course, was historic sacramento (often referred to, evocativally, as old sac) and the california state railroad museum.

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one might think that after a 7-day long cross-country train journey, the last place i would want to visit would be a museum devoted to all things train. i will readily admit that i agreed to go only grudgingly, but the combination of tim’s enthusiasm and the museum’s informative, engaged, and unabashedly train-freaky staff won me over. this place is really really cool.

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i mean call me crazy, but i think this china pattern, inspired by the majesty of glacier national park and made exclusively for the great northern railroad, is unbelievably beautiful!

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when we serendipitously found ourselves in the roundhouse as they moved a beautifully preserved steam engine, i was hooked.

Posted by Wordmobi