Days 1-11 12-19 20-30 31-40 41-51 52-60 61-109
Day 52 - October 10, 2008
New York, NY
After a yummy breakfast with Jeanne, Matt and the girls, we headed to Manhattan. We stopped for lunch at the town of Armonk. It turned out to be a tony little town with a high Porsche and Ferrari count (kind of reminded me of Los Gatos). We crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge and drove through New Jersey to Jersey City. The tunnels, traffic, potholes and tight driving conditions were a little nerve racking in the RV. We didn't drive the RV into Manhattan proper, but we had the same drivers on the Jersey side. Our RV park, Liberty Harbor, is right across the Hudson from lower Manhattan. It didn't have many amenities - only water and electric - no sewer, cable or wi-fi. The park holds only 40 RVs, but is packed the whole time we are there. It was basically a gravel parking lot - but location, location, location. We could see the Statue of Liberty from the RV.
There were a ton of Quebec license plates on the RVs in the park. I heard more French than English there.
The big benefit of this location was the Liberty Harbor Ferry that was adjacent to the RV Park. It took us right into Pier 11 at the foot of Wall Street. The ferry only ran on weekdays; since we arrived on a Friday we took the 10 minute ride into the city. The weather was warm and the skies were clear. We had the ferry all to ourselves. The artist Eliasson's fountains were running. The sun was getting low in the sky and the Manhattan skyline was a spectacular sight.
This week had culminated the worst financial meltdown since the great depression. The Dow had dropped 2000 points and the energy walking up Wall Street was tense. Yet I'm sure the traders who were leaving work today felt relieved to have just survived until Friday. The national and local news media are out in force and satellite vans are everywhere getting ready to broadcast live for the evening news. It would have been entertaining to stay until broadcast time, but we had other things to do.
New York Stock Exchange
Wall Street Bike Rack designed by Talking Heads front man David Byrne
We walked up Wall Street to the intersection of Wall and Broadway where Trinity Church stands. Even though the church was prominently featured in the movie National Treasure, we were just here last summer and Colin doesn't want to look at it again. We take the subway up to midtown. It's about 5pm and the subways are crowded. Colin hears some choice words from two jerks having a verbal altercation right in front of us. I'm starting to give these guys incredulous dirty looks and then I realize we are in the NY subway and I probably should keep the eye contact to the minimum. Colin is a little shook up - reality is very different from the movies.
Once we reach midtown, we head to Fifth Avenue and go to the Apple store (to get Martin a new phone) and FAO Schwartz (to get Colin a new animal). The Fifth Avenue Apple store is tres cool. It is located below ground and to enter the store you choose the glass spiral staircase or the round glass elevator ensconced in the stairs. The store is huge and open 24/365. FAO Schwartz is equally cool. It is right next door to the Apple Store. A real-sized toy soldiers greets you as the doorman. It's a three story toy extravaganza with tons of high quality stuffed-animals, a Harry Potter store and life sized Lego Chewbacca. As we are walking in, some wealthy customers were loading up the trunk of their chauffeur driven Rolls Royce with FAO Schwartz bags.
Then we walk over to Carnegie Deli for huge portions of food. We were entertained by all the signed celebrity photos on the wall. The waiter actually tells us to tip him 15%. I guess they get a lot of clueless (or gullible) tourists here.
Giant Pickle at Carnegie Deli
I bought my obligatory fake purse; I love the NY street vendors. For $30, I got an authentic Dooney & Bourke reproduction. (Apparently if you go into Chinatown, the vendors will take you in to the back rooms where you can get a real fake bag - one that includes the designer logo.) Then we take a taxi back to the pier (not anxious for the subway again) and take the ferry back to our RV.
We are lulled to sleep by the sounds of police sirens and helicopters. At least we don't hear the train.
Day 53 - October 11, 2008
OK, I do hear the train this morning. It's the local rail transit into the city. But mainly I was woken up by the squawks of Canadian Geese -- not what I expected in New York City.
I chilled out at the RV today and Martin and Colin went into the city and hung out at Central Park. They went to the massive playground, played frisbee and went to the zoo (didn't resemble Madagascar much).
Massive play structure in Central Park
Looking like a local
It was now official - we were "living in a van down by the river"!
Day 54 - October 12, 2008
Since it's the weekend, we can't take the ferry into the city. The subway doesn't run to Jersey, so we have to take the Path train (like Bart), then once in Manhattan transfer to the subway. The ferry is MUCH quicker!
We brave the lines and go to the top of the Empire State Building. We had a clear day, so great views.
View from Empire State Building
NYC library on Fifth Avenue - think Ghostbusters.
Sign of the times - the $ and the first 1 are sharing a spot, so a new sign will be made to accommodate the ten trillions.
Then we shopped a little on Fifth Avenue and also at the street market on Avenue of the Americas. Then we went into the International Center of Photography. Unfortunately most of the exhibits were about war. The subject matter and photos were very powerful but totally inappropriate for my nine year old. That made for a quick visit.
Then we had dinner at a little French bistro and took the Path back to Jersey City. I was a little trepidatious about the 1/2 mile walk in the dark from the Path station to the RV, but all was well.
Day 55 - October 13, 2008
As the crow flies, Liberty State Park is only 100 yards away from the RV, but we have to walk on land all the way around the canal to get there. Liberty State Park is the starting point for our trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It's 8:30 in the morning and this walk is taking longer than I thought. First we have to go through an area where they must have filmed the ending to the French Connection (actually it was Wards Island). I'm waiting to find some bullet-ridden body from the drug deal of the night before. I'm not normally this paranoid, but the area looked pretty seedy by California standards. Once we cross the canal a friendly bus driver stops to take us the rest of the way to Liberty State Park (there would be no other reason to walk on this road except to get to the park). Liberty State Park still has the railroad station that newly processed immigrants from Ellis Island took to start their new lives.
We make it to the park on time and manage to get one of the limited daily number of monument passes which allow us to go part way up the Statue of Liberty. We take the ferry to Liberty Island. With the monument pass comes the added burden of going through security to get into the statue. This is some of the most stringent security we have been through - tougher than airports. Everyone must take off their shoes and watches and no food of any kind is allowed into the statue. They are thoroughly inspecting everyone's bags and using the new air puffer screening systems. The irony of the intrusive inspection as we are about to enter the world's ultimate symbol of liberty does not escape us! The monument pass allows us to see the museum inside the statue and go up to the top of the pedestal. No one is allowed to go any higher since the 911 attacks. (I was able to go up to the crown in 1982.)
As most know, the tower was a gift from France in 1886 and was constructed by Louis Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame. It is covered in 62,000 lbs. of 3/32" thick copper (thickness of two pennies). Colin decides to do the Junior Ranger program again, so we are reading the signage on all the displays to answer the questions.
After spending a few hours on Liberty Island (most in the security line), we head over to Ellis Island. We watched a movie with an introduction by the most hard-boiled ranger I have ever scene. Even I was afraid to answer her questions wrong for fear she bust a ruler across my knuckles. Twelve million immigrants came through the doors at Ellis Island. Possibly some of Martin's escaping the potato famine in Ireland. I'm not sure about mine. I need to do some more genealogy to figure it all out. In an interesting twist, many of the people getting off the ferry looked like they could be heading to the immigrant screening of 100 years ago. There was a huge diversity of people speaking lots of foreign languages checking out both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
Ellis Island - Central Processing Room
Our peaceful tourist day was interupted by the phone call of an insurance adjuster who insisted that my Mini had 65,000 miles on it instead of the 15,000 I reported. They had photos of the odometer and everything. This number severely affected the car's value. (The next day they apologetically called me and admitted their error and upped the car's value. Apparently the photos were of someone else's car - duh!)
We took the ferry to Battery Park and had dinner at the Battery Gardens Restaurant. I thought for sure it was a tourist trap, but we had excellent food and free samples of Leinenkugel's beer (souvenir glasses too).
Staten Island Ferry
Battery Gardens Restaurant at sunset
Day 56 - October 14, 2008
This sign showed up today in the ladies restroom - must be all those crazy French Canadians!
We left our well-located parking lot and headed into the center of New Jersey. We headed to Edison National Historical Site, but it was closed! Who thinks to check if a National Park is open - apparently not me. They were refurbing the site and all we could do was peer through the fence. We wanted to show Colin the lab of the creator of the electric light bulb, phonograph and motion pictures. We drove into Pennsylvania and stayed at the West Chester KOA. It was out in the country and conveniently located right next to the train tracks! (You thought I was kidding about that My Cousin Vinnie stuff!)
Notice the train tracks
Day 57 - October 15, 2008
Philadelphia was a 40 minute drive from the campground. The weather was beautiful again today. We saw the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross House, US Mint, Christ Church Cemetery and the "Rocky" steps at the Museum of Art. We had to try some authentic Philly Cheese Steaks, so we went to Geno's Steaks in South Philly for dinner. I don't know how authentic they were but the restaurant was quite a destination. Geno's was not in the best part of town, but tons of celebrities had ventured there before us - lots of autographed photos on the wall.
Liberty Bell and Independence Hall
Sarah Palin and Sylvester Stallone have been here
Day 58 - October 16, 2008
Today we drove about three hours west to Gettysburg. The visitors' center at this national park had just been redone. It had great architecture and a wealth of information in the museum. In fact we were having information overload. Gettysburg was only one battle of the Civil War, yet there is so much documentation of the three-day event. The battle at Gettysurg occurred on July 1-3, 1863. Besides the death of 7500 soldiers, the battle was significant because it was as far North as the Confederate troops progressed.
The National Park encompasses the visitors center, cemetery and much of the battlefield. The battlefield was not some designated war spot. The Union and Confederates faced off in farmers' orchards and local rose gardens forever bloodying these innocuous locations. After the battle the unfortunate Gettysburg residents were left with cleaning up all the bodies and destruction of their property. Soldiers didn't have dog tags then and family members would have to come to the battle site to identify their dead. A massive cemetary was dedicated 6 months later with Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
Today the battlefield is covered with memorials to the soldiers. Each state, North and South, has some type of statue to commemorate their soldiers who fought in the war. Back at the visitors' center they have recreated the 1884 Cyclorama. The cyclorama is a cylindrical painting that illustrated Pickett's Charge. It is 337 feet across and the audience stands in the middle while the operator plays a recording of the Gettysburg story with lights highlighting each battle scene as it is discussed. See this link and this one for a better discussion. When the cyclorama was originally created, soldiers who fought in the war said it was a realistic depiction. Back then, dioramas were big-time entertainment. I had never seen this type of display before, it was an interesting novelty.
We had dinner in old downtown Gettysburg in a building that was built before the battle took place. It definitely had a "if these wall could talk" feeling.
The boys reenacting the war in the gift shop
Day 59 - October 17, 2008
Today we drove through Lancaster County -- Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Where do you go to see the Amish? Do you stare through their windows to see how they live? I never really thought of the logistics until we got here. We saw a few around town. One was riding his horse drawn buggy as expected, but we saw another pushing his gas-powered lawn mower and another talking on his cell phone. I'm not sure how anti-technology they really are!
We stopped at Cherry Crest, an old fashioned farm and 5-acre corn maize. The maze is huge; it even has a snack bar and bathroom inside. At the farm, we held baby chicks, fed the goats, sling-shotted mini pumpkins at targets and Martin and Colin jumped on the giant "jumpy pillow". The jumpy pillow is a combination trampoline and jumpy house. Martin was a big hit with the kids because every time he would jump on the pillow they would all fly up in the air.
Tall flags so you want get lost in the corn maze
Stations to pick up game pieces in maze
People from all over the world have been to the corn maze
Martin in action
We start to notice a lot of Waffle Houses in Pennsylvania. We saw them everywhere and they are popular all the way through Texas. I haven't noticed them in California though.
Hershey is about an hour from Lancaster and it's all about the chocolate there. We enjoyed the free samples at the chocolate factory tour. The store had every imaginable Hershey product. The best part was the Hershey amusement park and zoo. The park was open in the evening for Halloween (Hershey Park in the Dark). They even had trick or treating for the kids. The park had some excellent thrill rides including an inverted steel coaster (my favorite), a wood coaster and a "mousetrap" style coaster (Colin's new favorite). It was a great family atmosphere (no gangs like Great America) and we even had warm weather - a very pleasant evening for us!
Day 60 - October 18, 2008
The weather turned cold overnight. I headed off to Longwood Gardens this morning for some photography and it was chilly out there. Longwood Gardens is a 1000 acre horticultural extravaganza once owned by the DuPont family. The gardens are beautiful and include fountains, tree houses, topiaries, meadows and a conservatory.
After my little outing, we packed up and headed to Maryland and Washington DC. We stopped for lunch in Maryland and were offered sweet tea -- we must be approaching the south!
We are staying at Cherry Hill Park in College Park, Maryland for the week. It is the closest RV park to Washington DC. The park has lots of amenities and no trains to be heard.