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Virginia and Surroundings
August 2018 -
Virginia Travelogue 2
August 10th - 12th (Friday - Saturday): Otakon 2018

This was Otakon's second year in Washington DC after moving from its long time home in Baltimore. While they handled the move pretty well last year, they smoothed out a few kinks this time around (faster bag check, for instance) for an all around solid experience. As usual, there were lots of panels and videos. Though Connie and I didn't get go to much in that regard. Last year, Zack wasn't doing much besides eating and sleeping. This year, he's down to one nap a day and doesn't like to sit still for too long, which limited our options a bit (that should change in a year or two). He did like looking at the cosplayers and playing with the escalators. Of course, we also spent some time in the dealers' hall and artist alley. So we were able to have some fun with him.
The video game hall was pretty great this year, with a lot of cool Japanese import arcade games. I went by myself Saturday night, so I had time to play around a bit and watch some AMVs.
The big highlight of this year though, was the concerts. I've been wanting to see an official Final Fantasy concert ever since I knew they existed (probably around 10 years or so), but I never managed to be in the right place at the right time. So I was thrilled to hear that Distant Worlds was coming to Otakon this year. And not just with one concert, but two. I would have been willing to spend half the day waiting in line, but fortunately they offered a limited number of VIP tickets a while back which, for a reasonable price, guaranteed a seat. They sold out in less than a day, but I grabbed mine the moment they went on sale so I was good. Connie isn't as into Final Fantasy as I am, and we weren't too sure Zack would sit through a concert, so she graciously offered to do other stuff with him when I went.
Friday's concert was the normal Distant Worlds show, which featured a full orchestra playing a diverse collection of music from Final Fantasy I - XV, along with full video accompaniment. It was amazing with a great set list. It didn't have all my favorites, of course, but I really don't have any complaints about the music selection or arrangements. It helps that Nobuo Uematsu is fairly heavily involved. In fact, here was there! He mainly just popped onto the stage a couple times to say hi, rather than playing any instruments himself, though he did join the orchestra at the end for One Winded Angel. Really, my only complaint about the concert was that, at one hour and fifteen minutes, I wish it were longer. It was awesome and very much worth it for any Final Fantasy fan, or anyone who enjoys good music for that matter.
Sunday's concert was titled A New World. Billed as a more intimate experience, it had only a handful of musicians, no video, and a smaller audience. It also had a mostly different set list (including a Tactics song). As such, it was a much different experience, but still excellent. The string quartet arrangements, for example, really stood out. While not quite as epic as Distant Worlds, I enjoyed it just as much and highly recommend it as well.
The VIP tickets actually offered more perks than a good seat and avoiding hours in line. After each concert, VIP ticket holders got a meet and great with Uematsu and the conductor (Arnie Roth for Distant Worlds and his son Eric for A New World). Basically, we got to say hi, get a photo, and an autograph. So that was pretty awesome as well. Now I've got my copy of Final Fantasy VII signed by both him and Sakaguchi, and I've got an art book signed by Amano. If I could just get Nomura's signature...
Anyway, while Zack kept Connie and I from getting quite as much out of Otakon as before, it was still fun and the concerts were fantastic. As always, I'm looking forward to next year.

August 23rd (Thursday): Cherry Crest Farm's Amazing Maize Maze
Connie and I continued our annual tradition of going to Cherry Crest Farm's Amazing Maize Maze. This year, however, we needed to keep Zack entertained. Fortunately, the farm has a lot of activities besides the maze, many of which are well suited for kids of all ages. I never took a really close look at them before, but there was everything from playground equipment, to giant slides, to a play town, just to name a few. There was even a giant sandbox type thing filled with dried corn. Zack's favorite part though, was the goats. He hadn't really interacted with animals much in the past, aside from chasing pigeons in Italy, but he was moderately interested in watching the goats in the petting zoo area. We thought that would be it, but he saw some other kids feeding them and, unprompted, actually went and picked up some food and started feeding the goats himself. He loved it and we spent a while there. He tried to feed a pig too, but it was a little too eager and ended up licking him in the face.
After letting Zack play around for a couple of hours, we finally headed into the maze. This year's theme was board games and, to better fit, they swapped the usual crossword puzzle with some mini-games (dice, spinners, etc.), which made for an interesting twist. As usual, I made a point of fully clearing the maze and finding all the hidden map pieces. It was a pretty good design and a lot of fun to navigate. It took us around 1 hour and 45 minutes to finish, though we had a pretty good run in terms of choosing the correct paths and such so I probably could have knocked 20 - 30 minutes off that time on my own.
We finished a little before the park was slated to close for the day so we drove over to Hershey Farm to let Zack play around a little more and then hit up the buffet, like we've done the past couple of years.
Cherry Crest Farm is always a fun outting and I'm looking forward to next year's maze.

September 3rd (Monday): The Maryland Renaissance Festival
I heard about the Maryland Renaissance Festival last year, but Connie and I never made it over. This year though, she reminded me about it and we decided to make a point of visiting. Why Maryland? Well, there's a Pennsylvania one, but it's around three hours away. And Virginia? I would assume there's at least one in Virginia, but I don't know when or where (I should probably Google that sometime). Maryland, on the other hand, is only an hour away so it's not a bad drive.
Anyway, we ended up going on Labor Day, pretty early on (the Festival started late August and goes through mid October). The most impressive Renaissance Festival I've been to in the past is the one in Phoenix. A big advantage the Phoenix Festival has over many others is that is has a large dedicated space, meaning that there's not only plenty of room, but that they can build permanent buildings, rather than having to put up tents and booths every year. Turns out that Maryland has a similar setup. It's also in a forest, which not only offers some shade, but also enhances the whole medieval fantasy feel a bit. It's probably not quite as big as Phoenix, but it's still the size of a small theme park and certainly has enough stuff to keep you busy for a few hours to a full day.
Since Connie and I had Zack with us, we didn't spend a lot of time watching shows (though it looked like they had a good variety, including a joust), but we did really appreciate that they had a playground in the back. There was also the usual selection of neat handmade crafts and medieval stuff, along with turkey legs, steaks on a stake, soup in a bread bowl, and a few more "exotic" foods as well (like Japanese). While I wish we could have stayed a bit longer, and watched a few more shows, we still had a fun several hours and Zack really enjoyed the playground and the bubble wand booth. I wasn't expecting to find a Renaissance Festival that could give Phoenix a run for its money, but I'm pretty happy to have one nearby and we'll certainly be going back next year.

Virginia Travelogue 2

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