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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Friday, 11 Jul 2014

Location: USA

MapAfter exploring several options, we decided that the best mode of transport to get us to Washington was by rental car. With four of us on board (wife Anne, daughter Dayna, sister Allison and me), it was the cheapest option, and enticed us with a different perspective for which to see the countryside. Little did we know …

Armed with a GPS on her phone, Dayna took the driver’s seat, being the only experienced left-hand driver amongst us. We trained to Newark airport to fetch the car, which also gave us a head start out of a busy New York City. The aim was to have a break and a meal in Philadelphia en-route to Washington. We accomplished that mission without any drama, with a bonus visit to the Liberty Bell five minutes before its 7pm closing time. In front of us was a two hour drive to Washington. Dayna telephoned our hotel to advise them of our late arrival.
Thirty minutes down the multi-lane freeway, we noticed a heavy black cloud approaching to our right. “We might be in for some rain,” I boldly declared. Dayna passed me her phone, suggesting I check the weather forecast.
I then said “Over the next thirty minutes, a severe storm front will pass over Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore“, as the lights of Wilmington passed by our right-hand-side.

“Yeah, sure Dad”, said Dayna disbelievingly, as the rain started to pound the car. We had to shout to be heard.
I continued to read the forecast. “Warning – damage force winds are associated with this storm front. Residents are advised to tie down loose items, and motorists are advised to take extreme caution.”
“Dad?” queried Dayna, now looking at me with wide eyes. “You’re joking, right?” For once, I wasn’t.

We all peered to the road ahead, just in time to see a mini-cyclone cross the road just metres in front of us. En route it had picked up dust, leaves and debris to accentuate its cyclonic shape, and we only avoided driving into it by Dayna’s careful slowing down. There was a very quick democratic vote to pull off highway and find a safe place to ride out the storm. There was no opposition from anyone in the car. We parked in an empty carpark behind a hotel, away from trees and power poles, found a local radio station to get updates, and waited.
It was a nervous twenty minutes as the storm passed. The weather radar on Dayna’s phone showed a long band of heavy cloud running north/south, moving from west to east, directly over us. I think we all visions of the tornadoes that the American mid-west is renown for, where cars, cows and houses are sucked up into the vortex. Dayna even mentioned that she felt like Helen Hunt from the movie “Twister”. The storm passed with no damage done except for a few nerves, and we continued on into the night.

Arriving in downtown Washington, our hotel, the Marriott Mayflower Renaissance, appeared and it was obvious that Dayna had chosen well, as this hotel was most salubrious. We entered a huge foyer that continued down a long passageway. We later learned that several staterooms and ballrooms lead off this chandeliered hall, and every U.S. President had walked down this hallway to attend a special gala dinner. One of the rooms had a plaque telling the story of how Winston Churchill had whispered a dirty joke to someone next to him, concerning the Chinese Premier’s wife. The special domed ceiling of the room carried his words to the other side of the room, where the Chinese Premier was sitting. That domed ceiling is still there today. Another plaque in the hotel told of the interrogation of a suspected Russian spy who had been detained by the U.S., and actually named the room number where the interrogation took place. It wasn’t our room, but our room was very comfortable, and our room was palatial compared to some other rooms we had stayed in over the previous month.