Posts Tagged ‘Washington’

It’s nearly four weeks since we got back from the USA. In that time I’ve been monitoring my credit card account and had watched all the money we’d spent hit the statement. In fact, the transactions were all there within a few days of getting home so I’d relaxed.

This morning I was contacted by my credit card supplier to the effect that there was some fraudulent activity on my account. I quickly got onto my on-line banking account for the card, and checked things – and there were a couple of pending transactions for just over £200, for Federal Express. Well, I haven’t FedEx’d anything recently! – or ever, come to that. So I was straight on the phone to my card supplier.

There’s a happy-enough ending to this. These transactions are going to be reversed, and apparently there were others, for larger amounts, that were rejected – they were identified as being potentially fraudulent. Of course, it’s also the case that my card has been cancelled so I’ve got to have that re-issued, and I shall have to update all the payments that get made automatically from it. But it’s worth it; and thanks to Halifax for a) spotting at least some transactions as being fraudulent and b) accepting the cost of the two that had got through.

The fraudulent transactions were all made, or attempted, in the USA so obviously my card was cloned while we were there in October. After the transactions had been identified and I’d gone through the formal fraud process, I had a conversation with the telephone advisor about the most likely cause of the problem. He suggested that it could have happened anywhere I’d used the card, but suggested this hierarchy of likelihood, from least likely to most likely:-

  1. least likely – in a reputable hotel. You never lose sight of the card, and it’s either a national chain (we paid for a couple of nights in a Holiday Inn with the card) or it’s a personal business, e.g. the two bed & breakfasts we stayed at;
  2. reduced likelihood – in a restaurant. In these case the waiter/waitress takes you card off you, and returns with a slip to sign. However, the great majority of restaurants are reputable, honest businesses (although individual employees may not be). But restaurant managers are aware of the potential for criminal activity, and if an employee is caught using a skimming device the police are called;
  3. most likely – non-attended card readers. One example that was mentioned specifically was pre-pay fuel pumps, and I think we may have used one such. There could be a very small skimmer inserted into the card reader which the perpetrator (who may have nothing to do with the gas station) can insert and remove secretly.

One general piece of advice was to use the card in places for large items such as hotels, car hire, etc, where it will never leave your sight, and use cash for everything else. In my case I suspect I’d got a bit blasé about the risks – this was my third visit to the US in about 18 months and the first two did not produce problems, so I’d relaxed my awareness.

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greatfalls_4223On the way home back to Dulles airport we visited the Great Falls National Park which just a few miles away. This is a set of waterfall or rapids on the Potomac – it marks the point above which navigation definitely isn’t possible. (There is another set of falls, Little Falls, about five miles further downstream.)

There are three ‘Overlook’ points – numbered 1, 2 & 3, with #1 being the furthest upstream, and the closest to the falls – almost along side, in fact – and #3 being the furthest away (but only a hundred yards or so) and giving the best overall picture. There’s also a visitor centre near to the Overlook points with lots of information about the falls and the river. In fact, the National Park itself extends along the river for several miles, and includes some good walks.

We only had half-an-hour or just over before we had to head off to the airport, so we cherry-picked and just visited the three Overlooks in turn. A pity; we would have liked to explore more.

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On a previous trip I took a different phone from my usual one and bought a sim from 3 with a view to using their ‘FeelAtHome’ package.  It worked very badly. So this time I decided on a different course.

I made sure my iPhone 6 was unlocked and bought an AT&T ‘GoPhone’ sim from an AT&T outlet in Washington. This cost $50 and gave me unlimited phone calls and texts for a month, and crucially 3 Gb of mobile data. This “just worked”, as they say; I had good 4G coverage pretty much everywhere I went. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw it drop into non-4G functionality; there were a couple of places out in Virginia (e.g. on the Skyline Drive) where there was no coverage at all, but that was only to be expected. (more…)

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On the way home

So here we are at Dulles airport, waiting for our flight to board. Our last day in the USA has been a bit confusing, but ultimately alright. For example, it cost me $12 to buy $6 of gas. Don’t ask….. We had a Taco Bell experience (interesting). We failed to visit Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, but we did succeed in navigating our way from Short Pump near Richmond to Great Falls National Park on the Potomac, and from there to Dulles airport, all via the intricacies of the US Interstate system. The bits around the northbound I95/I495 junction were especially fun.

We’ve just enjoyed our last bit of Americana – a juicy, sloppy cheeseburger + fries in the terminal – and now we’re waiting to board our flight home. Then it will be 7 hours in the air, overnight, before landing at a no-doubt cold and possibly wet Manchester at around 7am. We’ll really enjoy that; it will cool our sunburn nicely.

(Update: in the event there were some problems with the flight home. We boarded the plane on time and then it turned out that it wouldn’t start! So we all de-planed back into the terminal. Eventually they found a different aircraft which worked, and we eventually took  off at 9:45, so about 3 hours late. We got home just after 12 noon on Friday.)

That’s it from the trip. I’ll do the usual review in a few days.

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Historic Jamestown


Jamestown musketeer

We left Virginia Beach and headed up I64 towards Richmond, where we are staying tonight. On the way we decided to visit ‘Historic Jamestown’, one of the sites in the historic triangle of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown. We expected we would be in and out quickly, but in the end we spent nearly five hours there.

There’s an ‘interpretive display’ gallery which traces the history of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement on the North American mainland from its foundation in 1607 to the beginning of its decline when the colonial capital (of Virginia) was moved to Williamsburg in 1699. These displays were interesting and involving. I was pleased to see that they didn’t just tell the story of the English at Jamestown but also cover the history of the native Americans, the Powhatan, and of the africans – the very first africans in British North America arrived in Jamestown in about 1617. One of them, a woman called Angelo or Angela, is the very first african in North America whose personal history can be traced back to Africa, i.e. who she was, where she originated, and how she came to North America.

Then there’s also an outdoors area. This includes a recreation of the Jamestown Fort at a fairly early stage of its history; a dock, with replicas of several of the ships, including the Susan Constant, the largest of the ships that did the original voyage; an a recreated Powhatan village. The fort and the village are based on solid archaeological evidence.

This was an excellent visit, and was one of the highlights of the whole holiday.

Now we’re in our hotel on the edge of Richmond. We fly home tomorrow evening, so tomorrow morning and early afternoon will be our last hours in Virginia.

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We were going to do the Skyline Drive today, but as a result of Hurricane Matthew it rained all day and there was very low cloud over the mountains. So we spent the day in Front Royal.

It was actually the day of their ‘Falling Leaves’ festival, a day-long event they hold in the town to welcome the fall. Main Street is closed to traffic, there are stalls, all the shops and restaurants are especially welcoming, and all the museums are open. The bad weather meant that attendance was about less than half what they were expecting, and all sorts of outdoor events were cancelled – a parade, and various bands. But the museums in the historic houses were open, and we spent the day, from 10:30 until 4pm doing a 1 hour guided walk around them. Ok, we stopped for tea, lunch and more tea, but even so we spent a lot of time exploring the various houses and having conversations with the various re-enactors. We especially enjoyed talking with the two women in the (separate) kitchen of the oldest house in town who were cooking food using late 18th century ingredients and late 18th century cooking techniques. We also enjoyed talking to the guys in the just-opened Virginia Beer Museum – both of these on Chester Street. So a day that initially we didn’t think would offer much ended up full of interest and conversation.

This evening we had a steak at Joe’s Steak House. Val said it was possibly the best fillet steak she’d ever had, and we washed it down with a very nice bottle of Cabernet Franc from the Rappahannock Cellars winery; i.e., a Virginia winery. Not far from Front Royal, in fact.

Tomorrow we’ll do the Skyline Drive….

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We’ve had another couple of days in DC, before leaving and heading off into Virginia.

Yesterday we visited first the National Archive and later the Postal Museum! Both were actually very interesting. At the National Archive we first joined the queue and looked at the key documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constition, and the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution, all of which major on individual liberties). The Declaration especially is very faded and pretty much illegible, but that’s not only because it’s nearly 250 years old but also because it’s spent a lot of that time not being very well looked after. Today of course it’s kept in a sealed case in a darkened room. Fortunately not only was the text copied but additionally an engraving was made of it in the 1820’s which is generally regarded as being very accurate.

The other documents on display in the National Archive were also interesting, and were presented in their historical context with lots of historical information, so in fact it’s a history museum and not just a document archive.

The Postal Museum was fun – very tightly focused on the history of the US Postal Service but very interesting. Did you know that the Pony Express lasted less than two years?  Early 1860 to late 1861, in fact. In that time it lost huge amounts of money, several times the revenue it earned. It was created because the existing overland route was very much in the south, and even in 1860 the US Postmaster General was concerned about the security of the route in the event of secession (which happened, of course). It was replaced by a stage coach service first and later (after the civil war) by the trans-continental railway.

This morning we met the Daughters of the American Revolution (the DAR)! Actually we visited their museum in central Washington, very close to the White House. The highlight is a set of 31 period rooms, furnished as they might have been in the first 50 years or so after the Revolution. At the moment (until April 2017) there’s a special exhibition of (mainly) original fashions, placed on mannequins in the rooms. We didn’t have time to visit everywhere, but what we saw was interesting, The DAR Museum itself is a fine building, so the exhibits have a good setting.

This afternoon we collected our hire car from Dulles and drove over the Front Royal. We’re already having a good time here at Woodward House.

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A day in Washington


Looking up the National Mall from the Lincoln Memorial

So yesterday we pounded the streets. Well, actually, we walked up the National Mall taking in the various monuments and memorials and also visited the mnational museum of American History. We spent about two hours there, and that was just going round two galleries on one wing of one floor!




Crowds at the White House

We also tried to get a look at the White House, but not very successfully – we were kept well away from it. I gather that this may have been something specific to yesterday, as we saw a Presidential motorcade. We were walking up 15th St to the east of the White House when loads of cops started yelling at people and telling everyone to get up the street away from the entrance they were guarding. Various other cops – on bicycles! – had all the traffic stopped and eventually the motorcade appeared. There were at least 8 police motorcycles at the front; then a police car, followed by several big black SUVs. Then came two big, long, black limos, both of which had a couple of small flags flying on the front wings. Then there were more SUVs followed by an emergency truck. Next were a couple of vans, each with a man poking out of the top. The first had a big film or video camera – was he filming the crowd? – and the second was a rifleman….. and then there were another gaggle of police motorcycles. So that’s how you travel if you’re the President of the United States.

Then it was back to the B&B for a cup of tea on the porch followed by a glass of wine; and after that we went out and ate Lebanese. Very tasty, but also very filling.

No pictures today, unfortunately – when I came to review them I found there was a dust spec on the sensor and it’s obvious in all the images. The ‘Crowds at the White House image is from the iPhone. (Update – I was able to rescue a few.)

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We’re here…..

It’s a long slog, getting to America. First we had a night (Monday night) in a Premier Inn at Manchester Airport. Then early this morning (Tuesday) we checked in and dropped off our bags, about two and a half hours before take-off. Getting through security was quick which meant that we did some waiting and sitting by the gate. After boarding (nearly an hour in advance of take-off – this flight was with a full-featured airline) we did more sitting in the plane waiting to start the flight. Which eventually happened, of course; so then we waited for it to be over, for nearly eight hours, and passed the time doing even more sitting.

Getting through US immigration was very quick this time – there were no queues so we were through within five minutes, and we found our bags just emerging onto the carousel in the baggage hall. The Super Shuttle bus ride to our B&B was slow and extremely hot but we eventually arrived and were being checked in by our friendly host, Courtney Lodico, just over 15 hours after waking up in Manchester, and rather more than 24 hours after leaving home on Monday evening.

We drank cups of tea; we explored the neighbourhood; we drank some wine; we ate pizza in a local restaurant; and we eventually hit our bed in the middle of the evening – which was into the early hours, UK time.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) we’ll be off to see the sights.

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America here we come!

Washington Mall-8

We’re off to Washington DC. We’ll be having a few days in DC followed by a road-trip around Virginia, and we’ll be away for 10 days in total.

I visited DC and Virginia about 18 months ago, and enjoyed it hugely, Now I’m going back, and this time Val is able to come with me. We’ll be staying at a couple of places where I stayed on my own in 2015. They both said “next time you visit you must bring your wife”, so I am. I even think she’s looking forward to it!

I’ll be posting more in a day or so. First, we have to get there…..

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