Largo/Clearwater/Tampa, FL

October 2016-Feb 2017

By: Kevin

This post now brings us up to real time. We have recounted our past travels over the past year and a half and have reached our current location and time. We are living in Largo, FL and I am working in Tampa, across the I-275 bridge from us. We are enjoying visiting with my sister and her family who live in Clearwater, about 10 minutes to the north from our current campground. We carved pumpkins with my sister and her family, however unlike when we lived in Ohio and our Halloween pumpkins sometimes lasted a month or more outside, the Florida heat zapped the life from them in a mere 3 days upon which they were retired to the dumpster.

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We enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast at my sister’s house and watched the OSU Buckeyes beat that team up north a few days later. img_3386

In return for inviting ourselves to my sister’s house all the time we were more than happy to host a birthday party for my nephew and a sleep-over at the RV including cookout, swimming in the campground pool, and a movie night for the kids.

We have been taking advantage of the warm sunny weather here in Florida, and have been bicycling sections of the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, a 44-mile long bike path that spans from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs before curling back south to East Lake, FL. I would like to cover the entire length of the trail from end-to-end before we leave the area, and we are about 2/3 completed at this time. Miss Kicky Feet even gets to come along in her car seat nestled in the bike trailer behind my bicycle.

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We are now rapidly approaching Christmas. Our RV is adorned with a 3-foot artificial tree and a few strings of LED outdoor lights on the canopy and exterior of the RV. The church that we have been attending, Harborside, had their Winter picnic a few weeks ago, and since we will not see any natural snow this far south this year they set up a tubing slide with shaved ice to allow members to enjoy winter activities….while wearing shades and shorts of course.img_3334

The nights are starting to get cool…meaning that it is dipping below 70 degrees at night, and we will soon be wishing each other a Happy New Year. What will 2017 have in store for us? I don’t know, but am excited to find out, and see what new places we get to explore along the way.

“Long” bridge

By: Kevin

We are currently in Largo, FL for the winter. There are 3 bridges that crisscross Tampa bay in the area. At the start of each one is a sign that warns “Long bridge, check gas”. We traveled all three today and used the trip odometer to determine the longest of these three bridges is under 9 miles long.

First of all, if you can’t make it another 10 miles you really need to already be looking for a fuel station. 

Secondly, this spring we traveled across the oil fields of Texas where we could go up to 100 miles between towns that offered fuel…without any warning signs at all. “Long” distance is apparently very relative depending on where you are located.

The Annex

By: Kevin

Over the past year and a half since we left our sticks-and-bricks home and started our RV adventure we have had to deal with laundromats. We have found some to be fairly nice, and some to be not so great. Some of the campgrounds we have stayed in have had laundry rooms, but like laundromats, some are nicer than others. One thing we have not liked is that we have no idea what was in the washer or dryer prior to us using it. We do not use fabric softener because it clogs the pores of fabric and makes towels less absorbent. However, if the last person to use the machine used it, we get a little in our wash anyways. One also must stay at the laundromat to tend to their clothes so they do not end up dumped on a table or floor or, even worse, someone decides they like your clothes better than you do. While we have never lost laundry to our knowledge, we have heard of people loosing nice shirts or expensive workout clothes from laundry rooms.

So, after a year and a half we decided we were done with the laundromat scene and wanted a washer/dryer for ourselves. Now, in an RV you have limited options. You can get a very expensive machine that will do both to save precious space, but you sacrifice the ability to wash and dry at the same time. The other option is to have regular household units, but sacrifice precious RV space…of which we have little to spare. Therefore, we did some searching online and came up with a third option. We could get a small box trailer and make a laundry room on wheels. This would also afford us some extra storage space and an optional place to haul the motorcycle if we do not want to have it in the back of the RV as we have over the past year and a half.

We researched trailers and visited a dealer, American Trailers, in Tampa FL. We decided on a V-nose 6×12-foot box trailer with an internal height of 6 1/2 feet so I can comfortably stand up while inside of it. The trailer has a single axle rated at 3,500 pounds which should be plenty for our use. We opted for two swinging rear doors instead of a ramp door that folds down to make entrance and egress easier on  a daily basis when the motorcycle is not involved.

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Now that we had the trailer we had to move the RV forward on our lot about 8 feet and placed the trailer behind the RV. We went to Lowe’s and picked up a washer and dryer matched set. We opted for a gas dryer so we would not require 220 volt electrical service at our site, and if we really wanted to, we could even do laundry via generator. We did have to adjust the dryer to use propane instead of natural gas which only required changing one orifice and turning a knob on the gas regulator…however some disassembly was required to get to the orifice and regulator.

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Once the washer and dryer locations were determined it came time to start drilling holes in our trailer that had been purchased just days prior. We would need power, water, and propane inlets, as well as sewer and dryer outlets. A trip to Camping World as well as Lowe’s made the installation possible, and with electric, water, sewer, and propane installed, we were ready for laundry to be washed. We are also appreciative to Heather’s grandparents who, whether they realized it or not, donated the two propane tanks, a water hose, and 2 sewer hoses to our project as we were cleaning out their RV and were preparing it for sale.

img_3305We also installed sheet vinyl flooring, electrical outlets, 12 volt lighting,  and shelving to complete the project. To finish off the trailer we placed some reflective striping and custom vinyl lettering on the outside to officially make it our own. Our trailer was now ready for use. To ensure a safe travel all shelving as well as the washer and dryer are secured to the wall/floor so they will not bounce or shift as we move to our next assignment. I am proud of my trailer conversion/installation, and Heather and I both LOVE having our own laundry room.

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Flagler Beach, revisited

Assessing the storm damage

By: Kevin

Around the beginning of October Hurricane Matthew came ripping up the coast of Florida. It decided to make landfall in the Daytona and Flagler Beach area. While I was still in Rhode Island at the time, I watched social media and the news very closely to see how my friends from Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center (FHMMC) were faring during the storm. All of my friends fared well and little to no damage was reported by any of them. However, the beaches along the coast took a beating. I still have fond memories of swimming at these beaches, so after arriving in Florida a few weeks later we decided to make a trip to see what damage had occurred and to see if the beaches we love were even recognizable. The worst damage that we found was along Flagler Beach where the dunes were basically gone, some of route A1A that runs along the beach had been washed away or was crumbling into the sea. Boardwalks and beach access stairs had been badly damaged if they remained at all. While it did not look as though, except for a few roofs that were missing some pieces, buildings had been greatly damaged there was plenty of clean-up and reconstruction needed along the coast over the next few months. While in town we also took the opportunity to stop by FHMMC and visit with some friends before leaving town and heading back to Largo.

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New York City

By: Heather

I have a better name for this post: New York City in August during a heat advisory from the perspective of a 37-week pregnant woman. img_2878

Thankfully the heat wasn’t as bad as it sounds, except for waiting for the subway. That was absolutely horrible. Below ground was like an oven because the subway stations just held the heat. The subway cars themselves were air conditioned but passing to and from them was like walking through an oven.

This day started early. Very very early. Before 6am is super early when you are accustomed to getting up around 10am. Our neighbors graciously agreed to let Dixie out a couple of times throughout the day, so we piled into the van and were on our way. After an hour and a half we arrived in New Haven, CT where we boarded a commuter train bound for NYC and after 2 hours on the train we arrived at Grand Central Station! Once there we waited in line to buy subway tickets and then hiked to the New York Public Library. It took us forever (and lots of stairs) to find the children’s section of the library but we finally found it. The kids loved the Lego lions near the children’s section. img_2948

Then we walked a few blocks to Times Square where the kids got pictures with a man in a Transformer costume and Kevin commented on the armed guards in front of the Nasdaq Stock Exchange. While force protection was most definitely in place around the city it was as subtle as armed guards could be and really did not inhibit our movements throughout the city, and we did not mind knowing someone was keeping an eye out for everyone.

 

Next we boarded the subway and headed out toward Battery Park where, once passing through a security check point, we got on a ferry to the Statue of Liberty. Of course shortly after we got off of the ferry it started pouring down rain. We all got soaked. Kevin does not really enjoy being wet but I didn’t mind the soaking rain and the kids had a blast! We did not go into the statue (tickets were already sold out when we got ours online) but we did stop and discuss its significance with the kids.

After the Statue of Liberty we went to Ellis Island.  We especially liked the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration and thought it was very informative. We listened in on a National Parks tour guide detailing the historical immigration process and conditions. The air conditioning was nice too and we were almost completely dry when we left there an hour and a half later.

Once back on solid ground we enjoyed some NY thin crust brick oven baked pizza and went to Ground Zero. The kids had us tell them an abbreviated story of Sept 11, 2001 several times while we were there. It was hard for them to wrap their brains around it and they had a lot of questions. Kevin had been to Ground Zero in March or April 2002, when rubble was still being removed from the site and the large hole in the ground was still surrounded by chain-link fence plastered with posters and missing person notices. It was a very different site on this visit.img_2616img_2912

After that we were all wanting a break, so we stopped at Magnolia Bakery to grab some desserts, and then went to a nearby playground where the parents got to rest by actually resting and the kids got to rest by running around and climbing and digging in the sand.

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Key Lime Pie Deliciousness!

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Next we did a whirlwind of walking which included the “Charging Bull”, Broadway, Gershwin Theatre, Radio City Music Hall, NBC studios, and the Rockefeller Center. By this point I was just following along (and trying to keep Bug from inadvertently running into the street.)

Before we left for the trip to NYC I had been admonished by my midwives to be careful, to rest, and get cooled down whenever I needed to so as not to go into labor in NYC. Most of the day even though I was tired and it was hot and we walked 11 miles, I felt invigorated with all of the walking and did not have too much trouble keeping up with Kevin’s long stride and never once felt like I might be ready to go into labor. The day actually went quite a bit better than I had expected and I went much further than I had expected to be able to do.

When we were planning the trip to NYC we decided very early on that we would take the train into the city to avoid even attempting to find parking in NYC. I knew it would be a problem. As we walked through the city I found some interesting solutions to the parking problem, including this interesting parking, uh, garage? I hope nobody has to leave early or stay late without advance notice!

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We finished the day with a visit to Central Park and the Balto statue, where I grabbed a picture of the kids with a Pokemon Go character. On the way out of Central Park Kevin was using his phone to figure out which train we needed to catch, but kept receiving tips from passing strangers as to the location of Pokemon Go characters around the park. Apparently Pokemon Go is a pretty big thing around the country.

We were then headed back to Grand Central Station where we grabbed dinner from the food court just prior to it closing and ate our dinner while sitting on the floor of the terminal. From Grand Central we boarded the train to head back to New Haven and eventually home.

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We were so tired on the train ride home that I did not even get any pictures of the kids totally conked out and sprawled across the train seats. This picture of Pie asleep on the floor of the RV when we arrived home at 1am pretty much sums up how we all felt.img_2964

Meet Miss Kicky Feet

My RV Home-birth story

By: Heather

Well, little Miss Kicky Feet had been toasting and roasting (and rolling and kicking) inside me for quite some time now. Around 40 weeks to be exact. I was surprised at how easy it was to find prenatal care while traveling. Granted, we only move every 3 months so it wasn’t as bad as some travelers. I saw a wonderful midwife in San Angelo, TX who was completely used to seeing women for a short period as they traveled through the area with the Air Force. I had an ultrasound in OH when we stopped through so that my mom could be there when we found out the gender. Then we came to Rhode Island.

I had always wanted a home birth. When we tried with Pie I ended up puking all through labor and could not stay hydrated and my midwives were not allowed to give IV fluids so it was to the hospital we went. With Bug I was living with my mom and a bunch of other people and it would not have been the best option, plus I did not know of any midwives in the area so we went to the hospital then too. I fully expected to go to the hospital for this baby as well. (I mean really, how on earth would I be able to have a baby in such a small home? and Kevin was especially against the idea of the mess) Despite being resigned to a hospital I really wanted to at least be attended by a midwife. I was kind of dragging my feet on finding a midwife in the area, so Kevin looked up a couple of groups that sounded promising while he was at work. The first one I went to see in their office, but I just did not like them for whatever reason. They seemed uncomfortable with my labor expectations and did not want to accept any of my previous care so I would have had to pay to have all of the same lab tests re-run and another ultrasound. We were paying out of pocket and this seemed ridiculous to us.

After spending several weeks dragging my feet again I finally went to see the other group that Kevin had looked up and they were wonderful! This group was not part of a hospital system but did have privileges at a nearby hospital.  When they heard about my previous aspirations toward a home birth they discussed it and said that they thought it would be totally possible to have a home birth in the RV and that it was bigger than many NYC apartments they had seen. They also told us that they would clean up the mess but it probably would not be as bad as Kevin was imagining.

At that point we were sold, and on the path to a home birth! I was so so super excited about this but I didn’t really want to explain it to any of my neighbors at the campground. Actually, I did not really want to explain it to anyone sooooooo I didn’t. Whenever someone asked where I was delivering I told them that my midwives had privileges at such and such hospital. Not technically a lie (she says sheepishly). At this point we were busy preparing. I had to find a place to keep Miss Kicky Feet’s diapers and clothing, and a place for her to sleep, and we had to assemble a birth kit which really wasn’t hard since we had most of the things on hand anyway. We also double made the bed with a layer of plastic in the middle and had bags packed for myself and the children in case we needed to transfer to the hospital.

When the big day came it started pretty much like any other but I felt just a little bit different. I was having some mild cramps but really I had no way to tell if it was just gas or very mild contractions so I went about my day as usual but started moving toward getting things cleaned up and ready just in case. I specifically remember laying on the couch playing legos with Bug with a small amount of cramping but then it went away. Later we went to the grocery store and I made dinner and Kevin went to work.

Around then I called the midwife just to give her a heads up. Really, nothing was happening but since my labor with Bug had been only 4 hours they had told me to call even if nothing was happening. She suggested rest and to keep her updated. After doing a quick clean up of the kitchen the kids and I all laid down in my bed and watched one of my absolute favorite movies: How to Train Your Dragon 2. Somewhere in the middle of the movie I downloaded a contraction timing app and by the end of the movie (when it was finally downloaded) I thought I might be feeling some mild contractions every once in a while so I timed them and this is what I got:img_2726

Hmmm…  At this point I thought it might be prudent to start calling some people. I texted Kevin saying he should come home from work and called the midwife who had an hour drive to get there. I also called my mom. I forgot to mention to you that my mom was driving, on her way from Ohio, to visit us. So far she had been there for all of her grandchildrens’ births but did not think that she was going to be able to be there for the birth of Miss Kicky Feet. She was very upset about this, and was hoping that her visit just might coincide with Miss Kicky Feet’s arrival. I called her too and asked her how long until she planned to arrive. This baby was not going to wait.

Well, everyone got there in pretty short order. Kevin arrived around 9:30pm, my mom at 10pm and the midwife at 10:15. By now I had gotten my children in bed in between leaning over the table or sink for contractions and I had turned our dinette into a bed and was cleaning a folding table to bring inside for the midwife’s supplies. When my mom arrived she asked when we would be going to the hospital. I hadn’t told her either. She was a little surprised when I told her we were not going to a hospital, but adjusted in short order. At that point I really did not have anything else that I wanted done so it was just riding the waves of the contractions which were starting to bite a bit more. I spent most of them leaning over my kitchen sink. Good thing I had cleaned that out. I didn’t need to be looking at dirty dishes during my contractions.

After that my memory is a bit of a blur. I remember keeping on top of the contractions by breathing and remembering to keep my muscles loose. Kevin and the midwife were relaxing and chatting on the dinette. I apparently had asked Kevin to play some music from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack to help me relax, but they found the music a little dramatic, so after a while when I commented that I really didn’t even hear it anymore, they were quick to change genres of music. At some point my water broke but it was not a lot, not like with Pie whose water filled my boots at work. Shortly after, I re-met my dinner (again, thankful for the sink) and at some point I moved in to my bed. I had promised Pie that she could be there so she was in my bed too. Bug was sound asleep. Here I remember just being so so tired and wishing I could just go to sleep, but I couldn’t because these contractions just kept coming. The midwife suggested I try to sit on the toilet, so I did. She checked me again, saying I was 8 centimeters dilated which is how dilated I had been on the contraction before Bug was born and within the next few contractions I was suddenly pushing and she was crowning! The midwife told me to stand up but one foot was braced against the wall and I could not even begin to fathom in that moment what muscles I would need to move to begin to try and stand up. Thankfully Kevin, who was in the bathtub next to me due to the tight quarters of an RV bathroom, pushed my leg down to the floor and stood me up on my feet while half lifting me to a standing position. The midwife coached when to push and when to breathe and in a few moments she told me to reach down and take my baby from her hands! It was 12:15 AM.

Soon afterward we moved back to my bed where my new baby latched right on and nursed for the next hour straight while the placenta was delivered and the cord was eventually clamped and cut and such and the like. Pie had fallen asleep in my bed and slept through the birth but was happy to be awoken to meet her new sister. We woke Bug who was also excited to meet his new sister before promptly crawling back in bed, but did not remember it the next morning. Pie spent the next hour or so quizzing the midwife and her assistant on the use of all of their equipment while they cleaned up and then I got a shower while Kevin held the baby and the midwives pulled the top set of sheets and plastic sheeting off of my bed. img_3056img_3039By 2:00am we were all tucked in and headed to sleep with a brand new 7lb 5oz baby girl whose little feet had kicked right out of my belly and into our hearts.

The next morning, or technically later that same morning, we drove down to the camp office and showed off Miss Kicky Feet to the office manager. She was thrilled to see our new addition and asked us all about the delivery. When we told her Miss Kicky Feet had been born right there at the campground she told us we were now the second family that had had a RV home-birth since she had started working at the campground.

 

W1AW & ARRL

By: Kevin

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For those of you who do not know, in addition to me being a nurse both Heater and I are FCC-licensed radio operators. We both have participated in special event communication and support a number of events in a medical/radio capacity.

While in Rhode Island I figured out that we were just a few hours drive from the radio mecca, better known as ARRL National Headquarters and W1AW radio station. So, we took a drive on one of my days off and made a visit. We toured the Headquarters building, saw rows of work benches and test projects in mid-completion. We walked inside an awesome Faraday cage, which blocks all outside radio interference for testing of very sensitive equipment. We saw a radio satellite, a rack of repeater equipment in operation, and a multi-band software-defined radio in operation. There was also an impressive collection of radio equipment from current all the way back to the spark-gap era. For a geek like me, it was very interesting.img_2836

img_2798I also had the opportunity to be a guest operator of W1AW including a contact with my good friend Dan, AB8VE, who was sitting in his house in southern Ohio. This was a highlight of the day for both of us.

 

For anyone who is a ham radio operator, this is where the code and bulletin transmissions come from. This is just some of the radio equipment inside W1AW. And you thought your radio room was impressive…img_2841

Naval War College Museum

By: Kevin

While working in Rhode Island we took a day trip down to Newport, RI to the US Navy base there. We explored the base a little and went to the Naval War College Museum. The museum had military weapons, uniforms, and displays about how the Navy has fought over the course of history. As a former Naval Midshipman I found the museum interesting, but it may not be on my kids’ top 10 list of places they have visited.

One important note for anyone wishing to visit the museum is that one must have clearance to enter the navy base in order to get to the museum. Those with military ID can contact the security office for clearance, or civilians can apply for clearance through the same office. For civilians it normally takes about 10 days to receive your clearance, so plan your visit accordingly.

 

Cape Code & The Pickle Jar Kitchen

By: Kevin

Another side trip that we made while I was working in Rhode Island was to explore Cape Cod, Massachusetts referred to by many as simply ‘the cape’.

We started off the day by walking around and exploring the shops of Falmouth, MA. The kids found a large playground that they enjoyed, and gave them some time to run off some energy. We had lunch at the Pickle Jar Kitchen, a great little restaurant along Main street in Falmouth. While you could drive by it without much thought, the food and atmosphere are worth the stop. It has been featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and for good reason. The food was well-made, delicious, and of sufficient quantity. The kids got chef hats and crayons so they could color their hats however they wished. You can watch the Food Network DDD video here

We visited one of the beaches along the southern coast of the cape, which was very nice, but once we had been spoiled by the wonderful Florida beaches nothing else quite measures up to them.We stumbled across the Highland Lighthouse, also known as the Cape Cod Light, along our journey and enjoyed the view of the sunset from the lighthouse grounds.

We explored the cape from end to end with no particular destination in mind over the course of the day, reaching the northern tip of the cape, Provincetown, around nightfall. I will have to say the sand dunes and beaches in Provincetown greatly resembled the beaches we were used to in Florida, and if night had not been closing in on us, we would have spent more time enjoying these beaches.

It was now time for us to make our way back to the campground in Rhode Island. It was past the time of the last ferry departure that runs between the mainland and the cape, so we drove back down around the cape to get to the mainland and across the border to Rhode Island.

Boston, Mass.

By: Kevin

While working in Rhode Island we took a day to explore Boston. Unlike our trip to New York City our day did not have to start before dawn. We made the 30 minute drive from our campground to one of the rail stations connecting to Boston and rode the commuter train into the city. The train ride took about an hour and the kids enjoyed looking out the windows and playing games on our phones.

Once we arrived in Boston at South Station we headed out on to the sidewalk and started to get our bearings. We apparently were looking very much like tourists with our day packs and city map. We were approached by a very nice lady in a tunic (like what a monk would wear) and she started putting bracelets made of wooden beads on Heather and the kids. I initially refused, but at the coaxing of Heather accepted the bracelet. As Heather started to turn to walk away the lady stopped her and insisted in very broken English that we make a “donation” to her convent in return for the bracelets. She pulled a small black book from her tunic and showed us each where other people had written down their donations to her. Heather offered $2 and the lady answered that Heather should give $20 not $2. Heather attempted to give her bracelet back to the lady, but the lady insisted that Heather keep her “gift”. As they haggled back and forth Heather finally agreed to $10, wrote in the black book and bid goodbye to the lady. The lady blessed us with “Peace” as we walked away. Heather commented to me that we had better have peace throughout the day since we paid $10 for it. We also instructed the kids not to accept any more “gifts” from strangers.

Our first point of interest as we toured the city was the Old State House in downtown Boston. It was the site of the Boston Massacre if you are not up on your colonial history.

img_2617Next was Quincy Market. The market is an active eatery with many different types and nationalities of food. The market itself is flanked by two other long buildings with shops and restaurants in them which created a nice outdoor marketplace to wonder though. There are also routinely outdoor performers around the market for the enjoyment of all. And yes, that is a performer on a 10-foot unicycle wearing a kilt and playing bagpipes. Not exactly something you see everyday.

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From Quincy Market we next visited the home of Paul Revere, which was the famous horse rider during the showdown between the American patriots and the British military. I found it interesting to see how this man and his large family lived in such a relatively small house, unlike most Americans today who require 2,000 sq ft for their family of four.

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Right outside Paul Revere’s house we found a Freedom Trail marker on the sidewalk. There was a sign on the brick wall near it that explained that the brick trial could be used as a self-guided tour of Boston’s historical places. We were very interested in this concept and followed it. If you can see it in the photo of the sidewalk which was also brick they used stone to separate the trail from the sidewalk so you would not lose the trail. As the trail wound through the city we found a statue of Paul Revere and the Old North Church to name a few. Heather was also having fun following the Freedom Trail because of the number of Pokemon Go creatures she was collecting along the way. Since I have never really been a gamer, I just rolled my eyes at her over this.img_2631img_2637

From the Old North Church we followed the Freedom Trail past the Copp’s Hill cemetery, across the bridge, and to the Boston Harbor and Boston Navy Yard where Old Iron Sides is docked. We toured the old wooden vessel even though she was under a bit of repair in dry dock at the time. Due to the repair work all the cannons had been removed from her gun deck, but we found them lined up along the pier close to the vessel.

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Also in the Navy yard is the USS Cassin Young, a Fletcher-class destroyer that we toured. As a nurse I found the sick bay on board interesting and could only imagine the nurse aboard trying to perform their duties within the small space. The Cassin Young is now a part of the National Parks program, while Old Iron Sides is still maintained and hosted by the US Navy.

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After leaving the Boston Navy Yard we found a nice stretch of green space at a city park to relax in for a while and even dipped our feet in the cool water that bordered the grass.img_2713

Finally we strolled through the many gardens, green spaces, and parks that were strung together through the city complete with walkways and fountains. The parks ended at a great arch with a picturesque view of the Boston Harbor. We then made our way back to South station and to the commuter train back to our vehicle.img_2727