Thursday, June 30, 2011

Off to the East

It’s been a long day, but I’m now on the east coast with Alex, Julia, and Mr. Miranda. Our month long trip officially began at 3:15 this morning when the four of us along with Don, Ms. Kronenberg , and our parents gathered in front of El Cerrito High School to wait for our shuttle. Don was kind enough to lend out any items he had that we had forgotten or didn’t own, so I borrowed several different cables to use with my laptop during my stay.

When the shuttle arrived at school, we were all surprised because it wasn’t a shuttle. Perhaps due to a shortage of shuttles, some sort of mix-up, or out of sympathy for us having to wake up so early in the morning, the shuttle company provided us with a limousine to ride to the airport. The trip to the airport was fast and I was very excited that we were finally on our way.
Julia in the airport looking very enthusiastic for how early it was
In the airport, everything went smoothly, and I soon fell asleep and woke to find myself in O’Hare airport 20 minutes ahead of schedule. We quickly transferred onto our flight for Washington, D.C., and after a short taxi ride with great views of the Washington Monument, the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial and more, we arrived at our hotel in Georgetown.
The Hotel's Lobby
After a bit of relaxing time, we took a stroll around Georgetown, and we walked by Vice President Joe Biden’s house. Because Vice President Biden was arriving home at that time, we were escorted back a ways down the sidewalk where we watched a large Secret Service escort and Vice President Biden’s car drive through the gates to his house. While I’ve been to Washington, D.C. before, I’ve always found it very exciting to actually see the people who are crafting, reviewing, and enforcing the laws that affect every U.S. citizen’s life.

After a quick stop back at our hotel, we took a taxi and visited the White House. I was particularly moved, although I don’t necessarily agree with their arguments, by the anti-nuclear power and weapons protesters who have continuously protested in front of the White House 24 hours a day since 1981. This form of protest is by far the most moving example of freedom of speech to me, that any citizen who has an issue with the government can openly protest in front of their highest government leaders without fear of any sort of retaliation.
A man protesting in front of the White House
After a few pictures in front of the White House, we walked a few hundred feet to a restaurant called The Lafayette. The service and the food were fantastic, and their steak was by far the best that I have ever had. I enjoyed talking with the others about the various topics that came up, which ranged from our favorite foods to green energy and politics. To top the evening off, I had a delicious piece of Nutella cake, which unfortunately disappeared long before I took a picture of it. After dinner, we took a cab back to our hotel where I’m blogging now, thankful for a smooth day of travelling, and looking forward to the fun and learning ahead.
An amazing meal to end a long day

We Embark

The spirit of adventure was in the air as I pulled up to the high school and piled my bags with my fellow ILCer's luggage. However, as it happened to be 3:00 AM, the spirit of adventure was not unaccompanied by the feeling of utter exhaustion. But when we were driven to the airport not in a shuttle or a van, but in a limousine decked out with flashing lights and a soda bar, the fact that we were all sleep deprived was temporarily forgotten and we sat back and enjoyed our luxurious ride. Of course, exhaustion did set in again in our comparatively less comfortable connecting flights to Washington, D.C.

After a short taxi to our hotel in Georgetown, and some freshening up, we took a stroll around town. I was very impressed with the natural beauty that is able to exist amongst the city life in Washington, D.C. There was an amazing amount of greenery and beautiful park trails between the streets.

After only a few minutes in our nations capital, we managed to catch Vice President Joe Biden driving home flanked by a squad of police officers on motorcycles. It was apparent that in addition to the everyday traffic, the streets of D.C. are often subject to roadblocks to make way for the numerous important officials in need of police escorts. It was fairly exciting to watch.
To end the first day of our long journey, we chose to eat at Lafayette, a restaurant only a block away from the White House that serves absolutely delicious food.

And finally, the weary travelers returned to their hotel rooms. Tomorrow we plan to tour Georgetown University and discover what else D.C. has to offer.

If today is any indication, is seems like this month will be filled to the brim with exiting experiences and great food.

And We're Off!

The long-awaited day has finally arrived – the day I left home for a month to spend a month at the University of Pennsylvania. I left my house at 2:40 AM this morning and departed for El Cerrito High School to meet with my cohort. Despite not getting any sleep that night, I was surprisingly awake, most likely because I could not wait to begin my journey.

My parents and I were the second party to arrive, the first being Don.

We actually arrived at the school earlier than we had anticipated, so our wait in the cold was much longer. My cohorts were not far behind me and soon we were enjoying each other’s company (and taking a few group photos) while we waited for the airport shuttle. The arrival of the shuttle was a pleasant surprise. Airport shuttles have drastically improved since I last saw one. I recall them being similar to vans or busses. This one was a stretch limo. I don’t know how or why this change was made, but I certainly do approve of it. Once we were all finished saying goodbye to our loved ones, we climbed into the oh-so-luxurious shuttle and began our drive to the San Francisco Airport.

Our time actually spent in the terminal was relatively short. We got some coffee from Peet’s and when we got to our gate it was just beginning to board. We actually spent longer in the line at Peet’s than we did in the TSA security line, but that’s a story for another day.

After the usual pre-flight procedures, I plugged my headphones into the armrest and began listening to the “Top Zune Hits” station. I can’t tell you much about what happened after that because I quickly fell asleep. I slept for the majority of the flight, only waking up for about the last hour and fifteen minutes of the flight. I could tell Julia had followed suit because when I glanced over in her direction, she was using her tray table as a pillow rest and sleeping on it. We were all pretty beat and slept for most of the first flight. Our transfer at O’Hare was quick and painless, which is a nice contrast to how I spent my time in O’Hare last year…twenty-three hours of time to be exact. This time, however, we found our gate, grabbed some lunch, and boarded fairly quickly. Our second flight was shorter and I didn’t sleep because I was well awake by that point. Once we landed in Washington DC, our day became much more interesting.

We took a cab to our hotel in Georgetown so we could check in and place our luggage in our rooms. I’m rooming with Brian, Julia is right across the hall from us, and Mr. Miranda is farther down the hall. Once we settled in, we walked up the street to a CVS for a few supplies and took a walk around the border of the US Naval Observatory. This is also the location of one of Vice President Joe Biden’s two houses. It turned out that he would be arriving at the gates about ten minutes after our arrival at the main gates. We decided to wait around and see if we could snap a quick photo of his car. Unfortunately, we were pushed back about thirty feet from the driveway. Needless to say, we were not able to get a photo. We did, however, see his motorcade and his car drive through the gates! It was quite a hectic scene when his car was approaching, so it was worth the wait.

After our walk, we returned to the hotel to rest for about an hour before leaving again for dinner. Brian and I watched some of Inception and got to know a little bit more about each other during that break. We met in the lobby about an hour later in our formal attire and took a cab to the Hay Adams Hotel, which housed the Lafayette Restaurant. We arrived about twenty minutes early so we decided to stroll over to the White House gates. The restaurant is only about a block away, so it was a pretty quick walk. We watched several groups take pictures in front of the gates, with the White House in the background, as well as listened to an anti-nuclear missile protestor who was spreading his beliefs to any passerby that would listen. After a few minutes waiting around that area, we headed back to the restaurant.

Tonight’s dinner was one of the most exquisite experiences I’ve ever had. The Lafayette is a very prestigious restaurant and has been known to serve government officials from time to time. Unfortunately there were no senators or congresspeople to be seen, but it didn’t take away from the experience in the slightest. We were seated in a dining room softly lit by candles with several beautiful pieces of art adorning the walls and soft piano being played in the center of the dining room. The atmosphere was excellent. The food was to die for. I enjoyed a bowl of creamy eggplant soup for an appetizer and lamb loin with mashed potatoes for my entrée. Both dishes were divine. The lamb was cooked to perfection and was flavorful as well as succulent. The dessert was equally amazing. I had a dark chocolate mousse with chocolate gelato. This was, by far, one of the best meals that I have ever eaten. I’m sorry, Don, but I was only able to remember to pull out my camera for my entrée. I will be sure to take photos of my remaining two fine meals though.

Today was a long day, but a great one. My journey is only just beginning and I am already having a terrific time with Brian, Julia, and Mr. Miranda. They are all excellent company and I can feel a sense of cohesion in our group. I look forward to touring Georgetown University tomorrow and with that in mind, I must be off to bed. We will be rising early tomorrow and I will need all my energy. Until then, I’m signing off.

Our luxurious airport shuttle...

O'Hare Airport...with clear skies!!!

Our room at the Holiday Inn
The White House...and huge groups of tourists...

Everybody is reviewing photos...

My dinner. Oh how I wish there was more of it...

And Then There Were Three

The weather was a not quite crisp 53 degrees but it was dark, dark, dark and according to Julia Martien, way too early.  Had we put it to a vote I’m betting the vote would have been unanimous on that one.  There’s just something about arriving at a pick up point at 3:00 AM that’s unnatural.

Nonetheless, our UPENN cohort—chaperone Mario Miranda, Julia Martien and Brian Seegers from El Cerrito HS and Alex Elms from Pinole Valley HS—all arrived before their assigned time to prepare for their trip to the University of Pennsylvania’s Physics Academy.

Detouring through Washington, DC so they could check out Georgetown University (and the sites of our nation’s capital) they will still arrive in the City of Brotherly Love in time to celebrate the 4th of July in Philadelphia.

Their time in the physics lectures and labs will, most likely, be grueling but they’ll also have Tie-Dye Tuesdays and Wii Wednesdays to help mellow them out.
After weighing their luggage and browsing the bazaar table of loaner items their shuttle to the airport arrived.  We were all a little incredulous when we saw that instead of the normal airport shuttle van we ended up with a long white stretch limo. There were hugs all around, the “children” were admonished to stay away from the limo’s bar and they were off.

Even money said that Julia had her take-along pillow under her head before they were even on the freeway and she was counting sheep before the driver got up to the speed limit.
It was still dark and way too early.