Saturday, January 28, 2006

Nina and Rolex 24

I am so tired right now that I can't even feel my feet. My poor toes are hurting very badly and my head is still spinning. It's been a heck of a day so far and it's only 5pm.

First thing in the morning (actually, it was around 10 am) we went to Halifax Harbor Marina to see an exact replica of Christopher Columbus' favorite ship, "Nina". It is, I must note, "the most historically correct Columbus replica ever built", according to the "Archaeology" magazine. And you have to trust those folks - they know more about the subject that I ever will. The original Nina was one of the three ships (the other two were "Pinta" and "Santa Maria") that sailed to America in 1492. "Nina" made the entire First Voyage, unlike less fortunate "Santa Clara" that sank of the coast of Hispaniola on Christmas Eve 1492. She also sailed on the Second Voage to Cuba and the only one that survived the hurricane of 1495. After being captured by a corsair, she was freed by its Captain and made it back to Hispaniola, this time as advance guard ship, on Columbus' Third Voyage. So it's a pretty venerable ship with a long and romantic history.
It was rebuild in Valencia, Brazil, in 1988 by an American John Sarsfield and a team of local shipbuilders, using only period tools. After its maiden voyage it was filmed in guess which movie? (No, not the "Starship Troopers") Yes, "1492"! Since then, the ship sailed to over 600 ports in the US. Its 93.6 feet of length feel surprisingly tiny. We have private yachts in the Marina that are bigger than "Nina". It was pretty amazing to walk the deck and imagine this tiny shell of a Caravel crossing thousands of miles of open seas and battling 20-foot waves.

We then drove just down the Beach Street to a new News-Journal Performing Arts Center. It was officially opened yesterday with a performance of "Beauty and the Beast" and a shampaign reception. But the tickets were too expensive. So instead we went on a free tour of the place today. It is not the most architecturally remarkable building and some of it is painted canary-yellow. Plus there's still some landscaping that needs to be done. But inside it's a whole different story. It has one of the most beautiful lobbies I've seen with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall with a panoramic view of Halifax River and the beach side. The main stage has fantastic acoustic and a lot of top-notch technology. It appears there isn't a single bad sit in the house! The place also serves as a gallery of art work for Florida artists.

Out in the sun again we proceeded through the arts and crafts fair to an portable rock-climbing wall. Now, I didn't care much to climb it. What I was after were the little trampolines with bungees. The whole thing works like this: You're strapped into a harness that's hooked on both sides to bungy cords. These are pulled tight enough so they almost lift you in the air. Then you jump, up to 20-25 feet in the air and slowly come down as the cords soften your descend. Most people think that this is for kids only, but it's perfect for adults as well, as long as they weight under 240 pounds. I went first and immediately started doing backward and forward flips. I even managed to do a double! It seems like an easy thing, but actually after about 30 seconds or so you get really tired and out of breath. And after a 3-minute ride is over, your feet feel like Jell-O. Chris also decided to join in on the fun and soon he was jumping and flipping.

After catching our collective breath and making sure that our stomachs returned to their proper places we went to our favorite place in the mall, Mr. Dunderbacks. It's a German-style deli that serves really great sandwiches and tiny potato cakes. They also sell whole bunch of gourmet cheeses, sausages, mustards, dressings, and different wines and beers, but these are all expensive. The place is tiny and always very busy. Inside it's made to look like an Octoberfest tent. All its decor is on sale, from deli items lining up every single inch of the walls to woven baskets hanging from the ceiling to plaques with smart-ass sayings all over the place. You might think that the best place to sit is at a little bistro-style table with tiled tops showing coats of arms of different German towns. But the best place is actually along a bar that runs the length of the establishment. I don't know why, it just is. Mr. Dunderbacks is a chain (we've seen it in Raleigh, NC as well). So if there's one near you, give it a try. Order "Der Red Baron" on rye or a ruben on pampernickel bread - they are really good. And don't forget the potato cakes!

Then it was time for Rolex 24. Actually, we were late since the race started at noon just as we were starting on our potato cakes (I'm telling you, they are that good). But it's a 24-hour race, so it's not like we were going to miss it anyway. We are not race fans and can't tell much about the cars or the drivers. Why go to a race then? Well, living in Daytona we worked the races before and I would always get curious about what it would feel like to be a spectator and on the inside of the track, not outside handing out T-shirts and credit card applications. Rolex 24 opens the Speed Weeks here and is the most affordable major race. The tickets normally cost $30-$50. That's for 24 hours and you can re-enter as many times as you wish. Now, Daytona 500 tickets are at least $150 each. Plus you can never find any parking for Daytona 500 and have to either walk 3-4 miles or pay up to $35 for a day and walk 1 mile. Only race fans do it. And we aren't them. But get this - we ended up paying only $10 each because we had military IDs (a student ID produces the same effect, so there's no need to run after your friendly Army recruiter). We walked to the infield and to the Fan Zone where there was a wine and cheese tasting in process. It's a new thing ISC is trying this year to appeal to a more refined crowd. There's still plenty of beer and a chilly cook-off right next door. Our cheap-o tickets didn't include entries to the garages, but those stay empty during the race anyway. Instead, we went past Lake Lloyd and past all the RVs and trucks and cars and people drinking beer and listening to the race on their scanners to where the Ferris Wheel was. There we bought tickets for a ride and got a bird's eye view of the entire Speedway. It was almost as great as flying in a helicopter, but much cheaper. Then we slowly made our way back to the car and drove home. We might still drive back for the fireworks a bit later.