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Witnessing American History at the Supreme Court

Here at No Kids, Will Travel we typically focus on far-flung places, but this week we can’t help but celebrate an historic moment right here at home. Back to far-flung next week!

I have seen a lot of history during my career as a photojournalist. Some of it on the national stage, like inaugurations of U.S. presidents, and some of it so local that the only ones it’s history for are members the small communities where it happened. I have seen a lot of exciting, happy and fun things along with far too many sad stories. I’ve taken to burying my feelings and empathy as a defense mechanism, which can lead to awkwardness sometimes. So, this Friday when I arrived at the steps of the United States Supreme Court at 3:30 in the morning to see people lined up in hopes of getting tickets to sit in as they handed down rulings, my inner pessimist couldn’t help but think nothing is worth sleeping on a sidewalk for.

Having Faith in Justice For All #scotus #equalmarriage #equality #scotusmarriage

A photo posted by Zeke Changuris (@zekechanguris) on

As the morning rolled on and we did live shot after live shot explaining how the court may or may not hand down a ruling affecting the lives of millions of Americans, including many who I count as family and friends.

I’ll admit I found myself wishing that justice be delayed until Monday for my own convenience. You see, if the court didn’t hand down a decision Friday at 10 a.m. I’d get to go home and get on the road for my four-hour drive to Pittsburgh on time at 11 a.m. If the court handed down the decision it would mean my day would last well past noon. I know it was selfish.

The crowd outside the court began to swell as the hour neared, and what a colorful crowd it was. People waved rainbow flags and carried signs supporting marriage equality. I never asked myself, looking out at the crowd, who’s gay and who’s not (I really don’t think it’s any of my business). Nearly everyone there was united by a sense of common justice, that everyone deserves equal rights, including the right to marry the spouse of your choice, regardless of sex.

Media gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in anticipation of a ruling on gay marriage, June 26, 2015.

Media gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in anticipation of a ruling on gay marriage, June 26, 2015.

The media, numbering in the hundreds with all their crews and cameras and lights making the court’s front sidewalk look like an act from the Las Vegas strip, has a strange and fascinating tradition on days when they think history is going to be made. It’s called the running of the interns. The reporters who need to be on camera almost never go inside the highest court in the land. Instead, they send in interns, some paid and some not, to sit in and take notes as they wait for the verdict to be handed down. Outside, we all watch the door below the steps of the courthouse as the minutes tick by, first 5 then 10. Some start to think the decision will not be made.

All of the sudden from behind the stairs one figure is seen sprinting across the plaza, than a second, followed by a third, each in a tight-lipped race to give the verdict to his or her reporter first. Their goal is to give their reporter and network the right to say they brought the news to the public before anyone else.

We watch the reporters from the various networks confer with their interns for what seems like forever, as still more people came running out of the courthouse until — on the far end of the plaza where the crowd of supporters had gathered — a cheer of celebration went up. That’s when we knew the United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, had just confirmed marriage is a civil right granted to all citizens regardless of sexual preference.

I was given the assignment of wading into the crowd and getting as much of the reaction as I could. I had to hold my 15-pound camera high over my head to get the mass reaction and try to avoid getting crushed in the celebration. I could hear the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington singing “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha and singing the “Star Spangled Banner” with pride.

The feeling, or “vibe” as Amanda put it, was one of elation and pride at the recognition of equality. I met couples that had been together 40 years, in tears knowing the state would now officially endorse the legal rights of their partnership, their vows and most importantly their love.

The police had to block off an entire lane of traffic as the celebration overflowed into the street.  I think even the control-happy Capitol Police realized they could bend a little for the celebration of equality deferred too long.

I too, with all my cynicism, couldn’t help but feel good leaving the Supreme Court. It was a long, hard day, but in perspective the delay in me seeing my wife was insignificant compared to the delay in affirming the LGBT community’s right to have their love recognized by all of America.

Congratulations!

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Outback on Horseback

When you think of the great stretches of open sky over the savanna you think of the Serengeti. But, on the opposite side of the world, is one of the greatest wildernesses — the Australian outback. I’ve often thought one of the best ways to experience the great open spaces of Oz is on horseback.  So, to indulge this fantasy of riding the open plains like Hugh Jackman in the film Australia, we did a little research to get your imagination going.

The cattle culture and life in the saddle is a big part of the Australian identity, so much like in the American west many stations (ranches) have added a tourism element to their businesses.  You don’t have to have to spend a lot if (or any) time in the saddle, since many offer bed and breakfast options. Your inner drover (cowboy) can be satisfied in a multitude of ways by taking part in cattle drives and trail rides that last for an hour, a day, or 14 days.

Digger’s Station Holiday is located in the Northern Territory, where the landscape resembles the southwestern United States. They offer several options, such as a 2-hour tour for $100 per person to more extensive rides. The longer rides run anywhere between $3,750 to $4,550 and includes round trip transportation from Kununurra, a bed roll with linens and mosquito tent, and meals. The tour features the opportunity to  see the amazing landscapes of the Kimberly Bush. You’d better like riding, too, for one of the extended trips; you’ll be spending 6-7 hours a day in the saddle. The overnight stays are designed for riders with a little experience, so my suggestion would be to get a few lessons from your local stable before you go.

Equathon is what you’re looking for if you want to add some beach time to your trek. They offer a beach and bush 7-day horse riding adventure as you travel the trails in Queensland. The tour guides will take you along the beaches of the sunshine cost and into the hinterland.  The tour guide is a former equestrian Olympian, Alex Watson. The name of this tour is luxury, spending each night in a well-appointed room with drinks and gourmet meals. I took a look at the schedule and you’ll have to book well in advance for this one. Book a trip for next year for about $2,950 per person.

For your own trip, I’d start by figuring out which region you’d like to visit and then narrow down the choices from there. I’d take a good look at experience level too, some require a lot of experience and others are designed for novice riders.  You also might want to take a good look at where the stations actually located, some are pretty remote and it could take you a day of travel to just get to the start of your adventure. I’m sure that with a little more research you can find the riding experience that fits your experience and comfort level.

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An Historic Hideaway: Hillwood Estate Museum & Gardens

Ingénue to Icon

I have gotten to know the city of Washington, DC intimately over the last decade as a photojournalist, and yet I was absolutely stunned coming across a 25-acre estate covered in trees and streams right in the middle of the northwest quadrant of the city. Hillwood Estate, the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post (a businesswoman, diplomat, philanthropist, fashion icon and grande dame of DC society) is home to a Georgian-style mansion, the largest collection of imperial Russian art outside of Russia as well as gardens and greenhouses. You can spend a whole day or a few hours wandering around the grounds for free or after gifting the suggested donation of $18 for adults.

The mansion tours are offered at 11:30 and 1:30 each day and offer a history lesson and context of the art inside the mansion and the mansion itself.  The docent will regale you with of tales of cocktail parties involving the rich, famous and powerful hosted by Marjorie Post.

Ingénue to Icon

A wonderful exhibit happening right now is Ingénue to Icon: 70 years of fashion form the collection of Marjorie Merriweather Post.  The key pieces are from her personal collection, spanning 1887 to the 1970s. She was considered the most well-dressed woman in Washington, her clothes made by the greatest designers and each considered a work of art.  You can follow the history of American fashion for 70 years through her carefully preserved wardrobe.

The formal gardens have come alive after the cold winter filling the estate with boundless color. The 13 acres of gardens were designed to be a progression of “outdoor rooms” for entertaining.  The gardens are connected, yet each has a very unique feel such as the French-inspired or Japanese-style gardens.

The greenhouses are filled with exotic flowers, especially orchids. The beauty of these fragile flowers is truly breathtaking. I love spending a cool, rainy morning in the warm beauty of the greenhouse.  A café is also on site, giving you a chance to have a light lunch while overlooking the gardens.

 

The Hillwood Estate is located right off of Linnean Ave bordering Rock Creek Park.  You can even park onsite.

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I Don’t Dream of Africa

“I can still smell Africa,” my father said one day, and that led me to consider which memory I have that stands out in the everyday. I asked myself and my parents that exact question.

My mother is a very kind and empathetic person, always worried about the plight of others.  I wasn’t surprised by her response:

“My (Holly, my mother) most outstanding memory isn’t probably one to talk about. It was the poverty. I have never experienced a place that was so poor. The irony of a luxury hotel in the midst of a population without real housing and no plumbing just overshadows most of the memories of a great, fantastic trip. I know the hotel employed many people, but still, it didn’t sit right with me. I will never regret sharing the time with you, Amanda, Andrea and Dad.”

Randy, my father, the one who gave me this idea, said:

“it is the smell of the air in the bright sunshine. The dry, dusty smell of the breeze as your Land Rover travels over the plains of Africa in search of the animals that are the reason for your visit. It is the smell of the canvass of your tent and the darkness of nightfall as you rest your head on a cot to awaken to a new dawn of adventure.”

Amanda writes in her safari journal outside our tent at the Katikati camp.

Amanda writes in her safari journal outside our tent at the Katikati camp.

My wife, Amanda, is an enthusiastic animal lover, so her clearest and most treasured memories are of watching lionesses great each other by bumping heads, the surprising beauty of hyenas (and the thrill of hearing them sniff around our tents at night) — the list goes on and on. But if you ask her for a single, striking memory, she’ll start talking about size:

“I wish I could explain the vastness of the Serengeti in a way people who haven’t been there could understand. I remember feeling slightly unmoored and wondering why, and then it hit me. It’s so massive and so flat, and I had never been anywhere I could stand and look around and see the clouds touch the horizon no matter where I turned.”

Serengeti Landscape

I have found that when I can see the individual limbs of the tree on a distant mountaintop I think of Africa. I remember how clear the air was. How as you sat in the Ngorongoro Crater surrounded by wildlife you could look to the crater’s rim high above and still see the limbs of the trees. Whenever I’m driving along the valley floor here at home, look up and can see the trees clearly it takes me back in an instant.

I think we were seldom more than 50 feet from each other and yet our impressions varied. We can also have a common shared experience yet the impact it makes on each of us is vastly different.

I do not dream of Africa, I simply remember it. I have to say it’s nice to have all those memories of such an amazing trip.

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Keeping it Classy in Key West: Three Mid-range Hotels with Style

I’m sure when you think of Key West, Florida images of Margaritaville stroll through your head as you picture sandals, tequila and sun. You think a place known for sunshine and slacking must be a cheap place to visit; well, not really. I have found that the southern-most part of the sunshine state isn’t a place to find bargain lodging. So in researching this post, I decided to find the middle ground between the $500+ per night Sunset Key Cottages and very basic Spindrift Motel (or staying off-island).

My first pick is the Banana Bay Resort Key West, starting at $150 a night. I have to say the first line on their website description made me smile, “Just two miles from where the U.S.A. ends, ideally situated where ‘Old Town’ Key West begins…” giving you a touch of the independent attitude of the islands. The 46-room hotel has a pool, is located on a private beach so you are never very far away from the water (a key selling point for water-lover Amanda). The Banana Bay is also only 1.7 miles from the home of one of the most famous former residents of the keys, Ernest Hemingway. You can walk, bike, or take a shuttle to Duval Street, the heart of downtown Key West, and hit up all the galleries, boutiques and bars while you’re there.

Southernmost Hotel is a 124-room hotel, most of which have views of the ocean, all starting at around $200 per night. You’ll find three pools, two bars and one restaurant on the property — giving you plenty of time to relax and soak up the warmth of the tropical sun on their private beach. And you don’t even have to take up precious packing space in your luggage with a bulky beach towel, since one will be provided. But if you feel inclined to head off-property you’re right in the heart of Key West with all its amazing shopping and dining options.

The Orchid Key Inn is the third and most expensive we’re going to mention at $235 per night. The location of this 24-room hotel is right in the heart of downtown, sitting on Duval Street and Truman Avenue.  The price does come with a few perks besides location; a continental breakfast and free wifi are included and even a complimentary happy hour at the Orchid Bar. You also have access to a heated outdoor pool and spa all surrounded by a tropical garden to make you feel miles away from the bustle of downtown.

Its like I was saying, Key West isn’t what you’d call a budget destination. But each of these hotels has a classy stylish look and plenty to justify its price tag.

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A Pedal-Powered Bar Crawl

I know it’s spring in Pittsburgh when I can go to my 5:30 p.m. gym class and it’s light enough to people-watch through the second story floor-to-ceiling windows. I know summer is on its way when I see the Pittsburgh Party Pedaler roll by. This year I got so excited seeing it for the first time (much pointing and exclaiming “pedal pub!”), our Body Pump instructor was inspired to organize a class field trip.

So last week we all got together for our Friday night Body Pump class, hit the showers, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then met up in Pittsburgh’s Strip District to climb aboard our very own 2-hour pedal pub tour.

My pictures aren’t the most fantastic images, but there was a lot of motion… and drinking… so I hope you’ll forgive me.

The 16-seat bike contraption is 100% powered by the people on board. We didn’t have many avid spinners on this ride, but together we made easy work of the streets in the Strip and Cultural Districts of Pittsburgh. Our first stop was a bar in the Strip District, where the bartender served up 16 shots for our enthusiastic group.

Shots for 16!

Then it was back to the bike to make our way down Penn Avenue straight into the Cultural District. John, our driver for the evening, deftly maneuvered the Dutch-built bike through traffic, ringing a bell quickly when he needed us to pedal and giving us two quick rings when we needed to coast.

With a top speed of 5 miles-per-hour, the Party Pedaler experience leaves plenty of time for dancing along to your choice of music and waving at everyone on the sidewalk (one guy even sang and danced along to some old school N’Sync with us — gotta love a guy who can get into boy band music with 16 crazy ladies on a four-wheeled pub).

After our second stop at a very crowded bar in the Cultural District, it was time to head back to the Strip. Since I live just across one of Pittsburgh’s famous bridges from where we stopped, I hopped off and made my way home (rather than having to call an Uber to get home). I heard the music and revelry continuing for at least two blocks down the street.

If you’re looking for a fun way to enjoy bar hopping in Pittsburgh (and get a little fresh air and exercise to boot!), the Pittsburgh Party Pedaler is a unique way to go. The cost averages out to $25/pedaler and it was well worth the price for a fun evening with the girls from Gold’s Gym. Just be sure to book well in advance; John told us business is booming this year!

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Bahamian Escape: The Planning Stage

Amanda's favorite part about sailing, the swimming.

A few days ago we decided to have a fun-in-the-sun trip in September since we didn’t head south in February.  We wanted to keep the budget small and go somewhere we could get to fast, even from Pittsburgh.  I tried my best to find something around our old haunts of the USVI and BVI, but getting there was costing us valuable time. And since our favorite hotel, Villa Olga, closed on St. Thomas we were a little less motivated. We could have made our way back to Playa del Carmen, Mexico but we’ve been there a few times and really wanted to try something different.

I opened up the aggregators like Orbitz and Kayak and even a few airline pages and finally found what we we’re looking for: a place that fits our budget and we can get there fast. We found a great deal on flight and hotel combo through JetBlue for Nassau, Bahamas. I’ve never been to the Bahamas and Amanda has only been to Atlantis on Paradise Island, so it even checked the “not been there box.”

We’re booking the British Colonial Hilton for 4 nights for $1,646 — including airfare for two. We had looked at one or two other places suggested but the location of the Hilton is what sold us. The hotel is near downtown and only 20 minutes from the airport, making it perfect for a day of exploring the sights of Nassau like the Straw Market (an open-air flea market), the water tower that gives you great vistas of the island from its highest point, as well as the many bars and restaurants catering to western, eastern and Bahamian palates.

I’d have to say one of the key selling points for Amanda is that the Hilton is right on the water, and we know how she loves the water.

We’ll keep you up to date with our Bahamian escape, and the planning for our other upcoming adventures to Italy and China.

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