Christmas Eve in Kansas City

Finished up at SAP on Friday, so now heading back to Maryville, MO to spend christmas as well as a little more time on site.
Denver airport (one of the main hubs for domestic flights in the US) had a pretty big snow storm a few days back – about 3 feet of snow that basically shut the place down complete for 48 hours. As a result flights within the US have been totally stuffed up, and they’ve been doing the "get to the airport as early as you can" sort of thing.
Well… it seems that they’re not quite setup for it – I got to Philly airport 4 hrs 20 min ahead of my flight, and I couldn’t check my bag in more than 4 hrs ahead of the flight. So, first christmas travelling hiccup is having to hang around and just wait the 20 minutes. Then the flight out of Philly to Nashville (gets used as a hub when Denver is stuffed up) was about 15 minutes late – no big deal since the Nashville – Kansas City flight is already 15 minutes late.
Second hiccup is the flight from Nashville to Kansas-City ends up being more like an hour late leaving – they were actually updating those of us waiting when the plane left Birmingham on it’s way to Nashville – so don’t get into Kansas City till 10:15 instead of 9:20.
Third hiccup is just the number of people in Kansas City airport – I’ve never seen the place so packed – not with people travelling, just that there was like 4 or more people meeting almost everyone that came off the plane. And of course they all had to wait for baggage with whover had just arrived – total mayhem !!! 25 minutes to get my bags…
Hiccup number 4 is that it’s now 10:40 pm when I start waiting for the Budget Rent-a-car shuttle, and I KNOW they close at 11:00pm. The shuttle is meant to come past every 10 minutes, but after about 30 minutes of waiting with a few other Budget customers – and having watched every other rental company’s shuttle go past about 4 times – I get sick of waiting and switch to National/Alamo since their bus-driver assures they have cars left still.
Man – I can see why people say not to fly near Christmas !!!
Now – just for something different – getting the car from National/Alamo went smooth as – they matched budget’s price AND gave me a better car. End result is I have a near new Pontiac Grand-Prix GT to drive round in, complete with heated leather seats, sports suspension and a 190kW Supercharged 3.8 V6 !!! Definitely more like my sort of car – not quite a HSV of course, but it’ll do at a pinch…

Udvar-Hazy Center

After a bit of a sleep-in, Sunday I headed out about 30 miles from DC to Chantilly, Virginia where the Udvar-Hazy Center of the NASM is (pronounced Oood-far Harr-zeee). This is where the Smithsonian displays some of their really big planes and things – there’s hundreds of planes there, but apparently it’s still only a small amount compared to what the Smithsonian actually owns. Something that really surprised me is that they own every NASA space module except 1. The one they don’t own is the Liberty Bell which sank just after splash down, almost taking Gus Grissom with it – apparently the salvage company that raised it was granted rights.
Highlights of the Udvar-Hazy Center:
 – an original condition P-38J lightning – my absolute favorite plane
 – the Enola-Gay in completely restored condition – both the most advanced prop driven bomber ever built and the plan that dropped the first atomic bomb.
 – an Air-France concorde
 – The Boeing Dash-80 – the prototype for the 707 that was put through a barrel roll during a demo to ariline execs (there’s videos of it around on the web)
 – the very first Space Shuttle, ‘Enterprise’ whose name was changed from the planned one of Constitution purely by public demand (NASA freely admits it was following petition from all the Trekkies)
 – the mother-ship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind – all the model makers in-jokes of a Tie-Fighter, Float Plane, R2D2 and a VW Bus clearly visible
 – THE only surviving ‘Seiran’ Japanese submarine launched fighter-bomber
Then after spending the whole day staring at planes and orbiter modules there was the 3.5 hr drive back home to Exton and an early nite before Week 2 at SAP.

DC at Night

Around 8:30 I went out to do a bit more sight seeing. Two main challenges – first TomTom had the locations of some thing such as The White House and Lincoln Memorial all stuffed up, and second I didn’t have a tripod with me to steady the camera. The photo’s are a bit grainy as a result of having to run at a higher ISO setting, but should clean up OK.
Was midnight by the time I got back, and although it isn’t really even winter weather yet (low 40’s) man was it cold !!!

National Air and Space Museum

First stop in DC is the National Air and Space Museum. Everyone knows I love anything with an engine, but even more so things with really big engines, or that fly, or that go into orbit.
The NASM is probably the best known Smithsonian Museum, and has some pretty cool stuff – the original Wrigth Brothers’ Kittyhawk (tho not on display at the moment), the Bell X-1 that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in, the actual Apollo-11 Command Module and the very recent Spaceship One just in the entrance lobby !!!
 – the Air and Sea Operations exhibit that is decked out to feel like an aircraft carrier, complete with an F6 Hellcat and an SBD-6 Dauntless from WWII, and a Vietnam era A4 Skyraider jet.
 – IMAX move theater with 3D footage from the moonwalks
 – The Evolution of Space Suits exhibit with actual Gemini and Apollo flight suits, Apollo 15 lunar suit (with moon-dust still on it !!!)
 – A real Apollo lander on display (tho not one that’s been to the moon)
 – The backup Engineering Workshop from skylab that you get to walk through, and includes the exercise section with the famous running track ring.
That tied up all of the day – and used up most of the camera batteries – so then went and checked into the hotel, blogged and charged batteries before going out to see The Hill, Lincoln Memorial and The White House.

Washington DC – Day 1

Spent the week working at SAP – nothing much exciting to blog about, but I did find out that Exton is only about 130 miles from Washington DC, so decided I’d take a drive down there over the weekend.
So I got up bright and early this morning and headed off – thinking it would be a pretty simple drive and expecting it to take me about 2.5 hrs.
Hurdle #1 – TomTom decides to have problems calculating the route from Exton to DC – but would calculate from DC to Exton – so end result I’m reading directions rather than listening to them, as well as having to do it in reverse.
Hurdle #2 – somewhere near Baltimore on US 1 the prime-mover on a fuel tanker catches fire just before I get there, so am stuck in a traffic jam watching big clouds of smoke pour off the cab thinking "Great, what if it explodes".
Hurdle #3 – 30 seconds later there’s fire trucks everywhere and police hastily getting all the traffic out of there just in case (sorry – didn’t get any photos, and it didn’t explode).
Hurdle #4 – TomTom still not wanting to work, so do some dead-reckoning with the tripmeter and compass in the car to get myself back to just past the police line.
Then, just when I don’t really need it anymore TomTom starts working to guide me the last 30 miles or so into Washington DC to start the sight-seeing.
Simple drive – no. Time elapsed – just under 4 hrs. Being somewhere interesting for the weekend – priceless.

BB62 New Jersey

Saturday turned out I didn’t really do much – took at trip out to King of Prussia which is apparently the second biggest Mall in the world and bought a few things – primarily a big heavy jacket to keep me warm !!!
I remembered seeing a battleship in the river last time I was here, so after a bit of research spent a large chunk of the day doing the "Firepower Tour" of BB62 the USS New Jersey. ‘Big J’ is an Iowa class battleship built during WWII, and only finally de-commissioned for the final time in 1991. It’s the older sister of BB63 Missouri, and even though not as famous is actually the longest serving, longest travelled, most trigger happy (shots fired) and the most decorated battleship ever.
‘Big J’ is now a combination memorial and museum, staffed and maintained by volunteers, and she’s a pretty impressive piece of machinery. Parts of the ship are fully restored to WWII condition, while other parts are exactly as it was when decommissioned in 1991. Kind of an unusual mix of technologies – 16 inch guns firing projectiles heavier than a VW bug through to Phalanx missile defence cannons and Tomahawk cruise missiles.
The most overwhelming thing though is that ‘Big J’ is not surprisingly… BIG.

Philly take 2….

Yesterday (Friday) was my last day in the Atlanta office, so then it was on a plane again and back to Philadelphia for some more time with SAP.
The flight was no big deal, but getting from the airport to the rental car place took FOREVER since they were down to only 1 shuttle bus. And man, Philly this time of year is COLD – no snow yet, but temperatures definitely down below freezing. So when the rental car place were faced with a heap of frustrated, cold customers who’d been waiting around for 20 minutes plus, free upgrades were being handed out on the type of car you get.
End result is I have a Buick Lucerne which is pretty much a luxury car – big, roomy and with very comfy seats (still with a damn column shift), reasonable amount of power but as you’d expect it handles like a boat. Most importantly to me though is that first it’s a General Motors, and second the heater temperature comes up really quickly.
So now to figure out what to do for the weekend….