23 July 2008

At long last, the last day...

30 June 2008 Monday

Okay, so it was three weeks ago that Kim and I finished our trip, and I'm finally getting around to writing about it. Your patience is being rewarded! I guess I thought if I didn't put the last day in writing, I could still pretend I was traveling! At any rate, here's how we spent our last day of 'Ye Olde Curiosity Tour'...

We left Leesburg, VA, about 8:30 after just grabbing some breakfast at the Hampton. Since we were headed away from DC, the traffic was not bad and the ride was pretty uneventful. Our first stop of the day was to be Charlottesville, VA, and the home of "Mr. Jefferson's University," the University of Virginia. I have always heard that it is a beautiful campus so I was anxious to see it and compare it to Duke, UNC, and some of the other pretty campuses we've visited. In case you didn't know, UVa was founded, designed, and originally funded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819. The American Institute of America allegedly named the main quadrangle 'the most perfect place in the country.' I'm not sure I'd go quite that far, although it is lovely. As we drove into Charlottesville, we had no trouble finding the university. Our first stop was their new athletic facility, the John Paul Jones Arena. From there we attempted to find a place to park, which turned out to be easier than we thought it might be. It was noontime and we were hungrier than we were curious, so we slipped into one of several little cafes/sandwich shops lining the street across from the main quad. I don't remember the name of the place we chose, but I do remember that Kim had a gyro and I had a meatball sandwich and that it was freezing inside and it took WAY too long for us to get our food. The people behind us had to wait a long time, too, and then they had brought the woman the wrong thing, and she ended up having to take her meal to go because it took them so long to fix it. And they didn't even comp her and they barely apologized!! And the restaurant had fewer than ten tables occupied... At least our food was good and it warmed us up a little bit!

We walked across the street to see the main quad, and it is exactly what you think a good Southern university should look like. It reminded us a lot of Washington and Lee, especially with the little chapel just across the way from the main buildings. Did you know that Edgar Allan Poe attended (but did not graduate from) Virginia? He lived in Room 13 (!) in the West Range. Evidently, his room is decorated to look like it did back in 1826, but we didn't see it.

From Charlottesville, we went to Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, which he also designed and built over a forty year period, from 1769 to 1809. I think that two of the people I would most like to meet and have dinner with are Jefferson and Thomas Edison - wouldn't it be fascinating to be able to see what made them tick? Anyway, the drive up to Monticello was scenic and peaceful, but that all changed once we got there. I'm not sure how they got there (we didn't see all that many cars on the road) but the parking lots at Monticello were full of cars from all over America! But they were smarter than we were, because they had gotten there early and had time to enjoy the tour. Alas, we had just missed the bus for the next tour and it would be another hour before we could even get up to the house and then the tour took over an hour. We inquired about just walking ourselves up there instead of riding the shuttle bus, and just being satisfied with seeing the outside of the home, but it would have cost us the same $15 each to do that, so we decided that we would see Monticello on another day. Before we do, though, we'll be sure to visit http://www.monticello.org/ so we won't be surprised when we get there!

On the way up to Monticello, we had passed Michie (pronounced Mickey) Tavern, so we stopped there on the way back down the road. We shopped around in the General Store, which was also a working mill, and just took a little time to relax. As we were getting in the car to leave, we heard a BANG and saw that there had been a parking lot accident - what a vacation bummer! A big van had backed out of his space right into the side of a sedan that had just backed out and started going. We counted ourselves so lucky that we had not had any issues with the car beyond our fuses!

Our next stop, and probably our last one, was to be the Walton Mountain Museum somewhere near Schuyler, VA. Bet you didn't even know there was a Walton Mountain Museum!! We didn't either, until we read about it in one of our favorite road books, Road Trip USA, by Jamie Jensen. If you're as old as we are, you'll remember the 70's TV show "The Waltons" (good night, John Boy) which was set in the Appalachains during the Depression. The show's writer, Earl Hamner, Jr., is from Schuyler. He's a very prolific writer (http://www.the-waltons.com/earl.html) - we had no idea! We found the drive from Monticello to Schuyler to be one of the prettiest (if not THE prettiest) drive of our whole trip. The Blue Ridge mountains were visible, the trees were green, the sunlight was filtering through the trees, the road curved gently, a nice breeze blew through our open windows, there were no other cars on the road, what more could you ask for? I wished we could just keep driving for weeks and weeks!

As we neared Schuyler, we passed a Walton General Store, the New World Stone Company, (which is the only source of Virginia Soapstone) and then we arrived at the Schuyler Community Center, which used to be the Elementary School and is now also home to Walton Mountain Museum. The sign on the door told us that the museum was open until 4 PM and that visitors were not allowed in after 3:40. What time was it? 3:35!!! We paid our money to the nice little old lady at the ticket desk (an old school desk) just inside the door, essentially in the school gym. She gave us our directions and off we went. We saw John Boy's bedroom, which is exactly as it was on the show except for the window AC unit, which we were glad was there. We went in Ike Godsey's store, the Walton's living room (complete with radio), the Walton's kitchen, the room where all the scripts are stored and where the writers met to discuss them, and a room that had a real working "Recipe Machine" that had been confiscated from the nearby hills. Shine on!
While we were in the general store, which is also really the post office for Schuyler, we spoke to the proprietor, who was ready for it to be 4 PM. He was a cynical guy, but he did get interested in hearing about our trip. He was from upstate New York (what a surprise!) and there were people in there from Pennsylvania, so we regaled them with tales of Roadside America (never heard of it), Pollywogg Holler (of course they'd never heard of it!), and other fun places we had been. I'm sure they went to their cars and asked there Garmins how to get there! Maybe someday they will appreciate some of the things in their own backyards. After all, they were at the Walton Mountain Museum!

Once we left Schuyler, we made our way to Highway 29 and just enjoyed the drive down to Danville. From there, we went to Reidsville, NC, where we ate barbeque at Short Sugar's (http://www.ibiblio.org/lineback/bbq/jnt3.htm) Mighty fine! We reluctantly got in the car, knowing that our next stop in Salisbury meant the end of the road for this year's trip. We spent our last hour thinking about next year - we've got the Pacific Northwest on our minds, maybe starting with a train trip... We got to Lynn and Robert's and found Kim's car well taken care of, so we spent the evening downloading and copying pictures and sharing favorite tales of our trip. Thanks, Lynn, Robert, and Sarah, for letting us invade your home and for letting us leave Kim's car there with you for three weeks! It was great to see you as always!

Thanks for riding along with us, and stay tuned! I've got in mind another blog about places I've been and loved, and just a week after we returned from this trip, my daughter (also Kim) and I drove from Durham to Austin, Texas, and back, so you may hear a little about that trip. Rex and I will be going on a cruise of the Greek Isles (and surrounding areas) in September, so there will surely be more to come! If you have suggestions for us about places we won't want to miss, please share them.
Happy Trails, and goodnight, John Boy!

07 July 2008

A BIG Day!

Sunday, 29 June 2008
We were in no rush to stick around the Atlantic City area, so we grabbed a quick bite of breakfast and were on our way by about 8:30. Did we mention that our hotel had a riverboat docked behind the dumpsters? We're not sure why, and we did not go investigate, but it looked pretty funny to us. Atlantic City seemed to be a bit seedy to us, and in all fairness, we did not go all the way into the city to check it our for ourselves. Margate City seemed okay enough, and the beach (or shore) was pretty, but we'll take our North and South Carolina beaches any day!

We did not have a whole lot on our agenda today - a drive-by of Storybook Land, Longwood Gardens, the Charcoal Pit, and a detour to the Haines Shoe House, which we missed in Pennsylvania at the beginning of our trip. Storybook Land was just down the road from our hotel, and it did not open until about 11, so we had to be satisfied with a few photos from the parking lot. Given that it's an amusement park with a $20 ticket price, that's probably all we would have done even it if were open! You can read about it at http://www.storybookland.com/ (turn your volume down - it's loud!) and if you're in the area with small children (somehow Atlantic City and small children don't seem to go together...) you may want to visit. It looked really clean and well-maintained, and it's been family owned since 1955.

On our drive across New Jersey towards Delaware, we saw a few curiosities worth stopping for - we just had to stop and turn around to get a picture of the American flag made out of colored milk jugs in someone's front yard, and we were a little surprised by a Muffler Man sighting. Before long, we saw the twin spires of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, but not before we stopped for gas (again!) to take advantage of the lower prices and great service in New Jersey.

Our original plan was to have lunch at the Charcoal Pit in Wilmington, DE, on our way to Longwood Gardens, but since it was 10:30, we decided to visit the gardens first and then go back to the Pit. We passed the turnoff for Winterthur, which we had considered visiting, and we drove right through Chadd's Ford, which is home to another Wyeth museum. So much to do and so little time!! We had voted on Longwood Gardens to honor our mom and grandmother, who both had gorgeous gardens and are/were excellent flower arrangers. We were not disappointed! Longwood was the estate of Pierre du Pont, and it encompasses over a thousand acres of gardens, woodlands, and meadows as well as a summer home, a conservatory, and lots of fountains. Visit it at http://www.longwoodgardens.org/ but really plan to see it in person! We strolled through the flower garden, which I loved because of the way the flowers were planted in groups of similar colors - it was like walking through a rainbow! From the flower garden, we went to the Italian Water Garden, where my favorites were the waterfall tumbling down a staircase and the frog fountains. A special display going on this summer was a series of treehouses created especially for the Gardens. The first one that we came to was the Canopy Cathedral, which reminded us a bit of the Gillette Castle because of the way the logs were carved. I've posted pictures of the treehouses over on the sidebar, beneath the Peppy pictures.

From the fountains in the Italian Water Garden, we walked up a long hill past the meadow, and soon we had come to the next treehouse, the Lookout Loft, which was in the shady Forest Walk section. It was a sort of Adirondack-style treehouse. We walked past the duPont house, not sure if we could go in it or not, and then we found ourselves at the final treehouse, the Birdhouse. It was nice to go up in the trees and enjoy a few moments out of the heat of the sun, and Kim and I were reminded of the fantastic treehouse our dad had made us when we were kids. All the neighborhood kids hung out at our house, since in addition to the treehouse (which also had a fireman's pole) we had a bagswing and a roller coaster that Daddy had made. We had a nice little walk down Memory Lane as we walked through Longwood Gardens!

When we realized you could go in the house, we took that tour, too. It was so interesting! I have loved being in these totally well thought out and well designed homes of people who clearly knew what they wanted and could afford to have it built the way they wanted it! Some favorite things in the house were the built in map case, the hidden library, Mr. du Pont's office, the towel warming rack in the kitchen, the silver safe, and the fly fan. Even though the air conditioner was allegedly on, it was very hot and humid in the house, so we didn't linger as long as we might have. From here, we went to the Conservatory, which was built in 1919 and houses almost 200,000 square feet of plants!! Outside the Conservatory was another fantastic fountain display, the Main Fountain Garden, which covers five acres and has 380 fountains spraying 10,000 gallons of recirculated water. Wow! Next to it was the topiary garden, and from there we went to the Chime Tower and Waterfall. We could have stayed here for a few more hours - there was a lot we didn't see - but we were wilting and hungry, and we had miles to go...We stopped in at the gift shop and we have to tell you that even the bathrooms were beautiful, complete with flower arrangements and mosaics. What a spectacular place this is!

Like I said, we were hungry and couldn't wait to eat at the Charcoal Pit,
(http://www.charcoalpit.net/) which we had read about in Road Food but we'd also heard from Melanie that we would not be disappointed. We had no problem finding it, and since it was getting close to 2 o'clock, it wasn't too crowded. On the way in, we noticed some of the awesome ice cream creations and we saw some mighty juicy burgers, so we knew we were in for a treat! Kim had a chocolate soda with her burger and fries, and I opted for the big burger (no fries or onion rings!) and a hot fudge sundae. Heavenly!! Sure wish we lived closer to the Pit!!

Backtracking again, we were soon back in Pennsylvania and before we knew it, we were back in Amish country. We had loved the rolling terrain and green farmland of this part of Pennsylvania when we first started our trip, so it was a treat to get to see it again. We drove through Intercourse and Bird-in-Hand again, and we loved hearing the clip-clop of the horses on the Amish buggies. Why, you may ask, were we not heading south since we were on our way home? Well, one of the things we had really wanted to see on this trip was the Haines Shoe House, which is near York, PA. (http://www.jarrettsville.org/family/shoehouse.htm) You may remember that we had to bypass it on our first pass through PA, or else we would not have gotten to Lititz and Wilbur's Chocolates before it closed, so we had figured out a way we could get here on the flip side of the trip. It was just a bonus that we got to enjoy Lancaster County again!

We arrived at the Shoe House a little after 4:00 and were there in time for the last tour of the day. Sadly, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the house, so you'll have to be satisfied with seeing the outside and going for yourself to see the inside. I will say it was cool - people could (and have) really live there, and the current owners have decorated it really nicely - lots of shoes of all varieties add to the fun theme. We had no problem turning down the ice cream (there's a shop there) since we were still on a sugar high from the Charcoal Pit, and now it was time to turn south and head for home.

It's always hard to realize a trip like this is almost over, but that time was fast approaching! We weren't sure where we would be spending the night, so we started looking at the map and perusing our Hampton Inn book. Kim made a few phone calls and we decided we could get as far as Leesburg, VA, before it got too late. We traveled down Highway 15 (which goes to Durham, too) and soon our Hampton was there to greet us. Since I'd been craving Chinese food for days, and we were pretty pooped, we took the easy way out and ordered some to be delivered. A couple of cold beers from the car, Chinese on paper plates - it was just what we needed! We got a little blogging done, downloaded pictures, planned our next day's drive, and watched a little TV. Only one more day...

Taking time to smell the flowers,


06 July 2008


This just in - check out this link to get a great overview of Pollywogg Holler. You must have audio to fully appreciate it! I'm pretty sure the man singing is Bill. Enjoy! http://youtube.com/watch?v=H4DOORDbms8


05 July 2008

From the banks of the Hudson to the Jersey shore

Saturday, 28 June 2008

We slept in a bit in an attempt to recover from our long hot days in the city, and then we still had laundry to fold, bags to pack, and a car to load, so we did not get an early start this morning. Melanie showed us around the yard so that we could see the results of their landscaping projects. I especially love their beautiful pool and the way it is surrounded by grass instead of a typical deck. The view of the Hudson is spectacular, and she and David recently re-roofed and re-windowed their solarium. They will surely enjoy it this summer! David had suggested that we check out the Croton Mini Deli for an egg, bacon, and cheese sandwich (with ketchup and pepper), so we found our way there (no problems, Mel - good directions!) and got our food and some ice for the road. We drove north up Route 9 to Bear Bridge, where we crossed the Hudson River. Just before we crossed the bridge, we stopped at a scenic overlook (complete with a street vendor!) and saw the place where the American colonists had stretched a chain across the Hudson in an attempt to stop the British during the Revolutionary War. Didn't work, but it was an interesting thought!

We drove a bit farther north to West Point, which is where I wanted to go to school when I was young (and before they accepted women!) Wonder what I was thinking then!! We were hoping to take a tour of the US Military Academy, but we couldn't get on the next one and it was too long to wait for the one after that and do the tour, so we settled for checking out the visitors' center and wandering through the museum. They were very well done and we learned a lot about the history of West Point and a good bit about the life of a cadet. New plebes would be arriving on Monday, so it was pretty quiet today. Kim and I could not imagine how it must feel to drop one's child off with only the clothes on his/her back and some toiletries as a freshman in college! Sure would make packing easy, but the goodbyes must be really tough!

From West Point, we drove along the west side of the Hudson and into New Jersey. We were so disappointed not to find a 'Welcome to New Jersey' sign, but we were excited about being in a state where it's against the law to pump your own gas! Between that and the low gas prices (lowest ones we saw all trip!) we could see many fill-ups in the not too distant future. We were looking for a place called the Gingerbread Castle in Hamburg, NJ. The ride to Hamburg was excruciating - lots of traffic on a four lane highway going through little towns - and we were hoping we wouldn't have to go back the same way. Jill was having trouble getting us where we wanted to go (but at least we had her, since Melanie charged her up for us!) but we spotted a street sign for a street called 'Gingerbread House Road' and decided to take it. We were warned about a one-lane bridge and we went past an old mill and factory, but we did not find the castle/house that we were looking for. Soon, we were back to a highway, so we stopped at a service station and got filled up. We asked the attendant about the castle, and he told us where it was (we had driven right past it) and said that it was in bad repair and under new ownership and that he thought it was closed. We turned around and went back anyway. Lo and behold, there it was, right where we had been distracted by the one lane bridge. It was looking a good bit worse for the wear and indeed, had lots of no trespassing signs posted. So we parked on the side of the road and took pictures from a distance. It looked like it would have been pretty neat back in its heyday. We still saw Humpty Dumpty, the well that I assume Jack and Jill used, the pie that may have contained four and twenty blackbirds, and a few other recognizable nursery rhyme icons.

We were getting pretty hungry, and the gas station guy had told us about a place down the road with a big horse in front of it that had good food, so we went in search of. Before long we came to the horse and the Homestead Rest Restaurant. It was about two o'clock, but thankfully, we could still get lunch. It was an interesting place - the walls were COVERED with photos of prize winning horses and it had a rustic western theme going on. We ordered our iced teas and our server, Kim, brought out these gigantic Ball jars full of ice and tea - my kind of place!! We each got a spinach salad and shared some onion rings. The onion rings were really good, but the salad was missing some ingredients (pine nuts), heavy on others (red onions and goat cheese - yum!) but the dressing was pretty overpowering and we had not thought to ask for it on the side. It was spicy, and even though I love spicy, it was not the complement that it could have been. We ate what we could and then hit the road.

Somewhere along the way, we came to a Toyota dealership and decided to pull in and just see if the service department was still open and we could get our new fuses. Well, we were sort of in luck. It was just after three and the service guys had just left, but the salesmen were extra helpful. We spoke to one man who was in the middle of a sale in the lot, and he made some calls and directed us inside. There, the receptionist called a salesman to help us, and boy, did Tony do the job! He crawled up in the small space under the steering wheel and located the bad fuses (see Mr. Clifton Park Toyota man, I knew it was just bad fuses!!) and then salesman number one came to check on us and he went in to get new fuses. Tony replaced them for us (it was pretty hot out by now, and he worked up a sweat there in the lot - we really appreciated his goodwill!!) and then would not charge us for his work. We checked to make sure everything was working and we all cheered when the XM came on - even Tony! He even gave us a couple of extra fuses in case we blew them out again. We told him all about our trip and gave him our blog address, so Tony, if you haven't given up on us yet, here's a shout out to you!! We thank you so much for helping us, so if any of you are ever in New Jersey and need a new Toyota, go see Tony at Condit Toyota on Routes 206 and 94 in Newton, NJ.

With tunes blaring, we had renewed energy as we continued south towards Princeton and Trenton. We had heard they were both pretty towns, and of course, Trenton is the capital of New Jersey, so we wanted to at least see the capitol building. And then it rained. HARD! Just as we were getting to Princeton, and all the way to Trenton, it just poured. We finally stopped in Trenton to readjust our route, because we would never make it to Lucy the Elephant if we stayed on the back roads in this downpour. We reluctantly decided to take the interstate, so for me at least, the rest of New Jersey on this day is pretty much a blur. It did stop raining, and we drove down and across the state without incident. Lucy, who is a national landmark, lives in Margate City, just south of Atlantic City. We needed to get to her before the last tour began at 7:30 (thank goodness it was officially summer somewhere up here!) and so we cheered as we pulled into her parking lot at 6:50.

Lucy is a magnificent pachyderm with a storied history. Read all about her at http://www.lucytheelephant.org/ and you'll understand (well, maybe you won't understand, but you'll get the picture, anyway) why we wanted to see her. We had time to take some photos and make a pit stop before our tour began, and then Connor, our tour guide led us up through Lucy's left rear leg. Just inside the door was the original ticket booth, and then we made our way up to the main floor. There were lots of photographic displays of Lucy and her history, and we watched a video about her. At one time, a family had actually lived in Lucy, and we could still see their bathtub. We all got a chance to walk up and look out of Lucy's eyes, and then we all trooped up another set of stairs and outside to the very tip-top of Lucy! From there we had a grand view of the Atlantic and Atlantic City to the north (in the hazy distance). We came back down through Lucy's back right leg, and even saw the peanuts she'd had for lunch that day. We spent some time in the gift shop, where we talked to Joan and Sue (who were working there) and a man from California who was talking about the Wigwams. We of course shared our story about staying at the Wigwam Motel while on Route 66, and then we told them about this year's trip and some of the unusual buildings we'd seen so far. We were all the more determined to make a detour to the Shoe House (that we'd missed in Pennsylvania on the way up) on our way home the next day.

Leaving Lucy, we made our way through some of the Monopoly streets (Ventnor Avenue being the main one) and located our Hampton for the night. It was not our favorite one - in a bit of a seedy area between Pleasantville and Bayside, just outside Atlantic City. We were not at all tempted to venture into Atlantic City, and we felt like we were being pretty daring to go out for dinner. We had only passed a couple of possibilities, and one of them was recommended to us by the people at the front desk, so we decided to try JoJo's Italian Grille just down the street. Turned out to be a wonderful choice - lots of locals were there and they had brick oven pizza and yummy looking desserts. I had a pizza with roasted red peppers, basil, cheese, grilled asparagus, and prosciutto, and Kim had one with prosciutto, cheese, and basil. Both were delicious and we could not eat all of them, especially since we saved room for dessert. We split a piece of homemade cheesecake with cherries - most excellent! Once again, our server's name was Kim, which we thought was kind of funny. We went back to the hotel, worked on the computer and watched TV, and called it a night pretty early. It was hard to believe that we only had a couple of days left on our trip!

Betting that elephants never forget,


04 July 2008

A Ride with a View: Taxi, Pedicab, Feet, Car, Boat, and Train

Friday, 27 June 2008

We had one more day in the big city and we wanted to make the most of it, so we hit the ground running. On the news the night before, we had seen a big story about the unveiling of an interesting art project - four waterfalls on the East River. They were installed by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, and they range from 90 to 120 feet tall. Yesterday was opening day, and they'll be up through October 13, 2008. How could we leave New York without seeing them in person? We went to the website, http://www.nycwaterfalls.org/, and ordered tickets on a water taxi for later in the afternoon, and then we checked out of our Hampton and hailed a cab heading for the Hearst Building. We had had the bright idea to ask our cousin Melanie's husband, David, to take our bags home with him so that we could spend the day unencumbered, and he had agreed. Thanks, David!!! You saved us many headaches. After we had told the cabbie where to take us, it occurred to me that David might not want to have to lug our bags from his office to wherever his car was, so we gave him a quick call. When we gave the cabbie our new destination, maybe two or three blocks away from the original one, you would have thought we had asked him to take us to China the long way! At any rate, we met David at the Applejack Diner, got our bags safely stowed in his car, bid him thanks and a good day, and went back to the Diner for breakfast. I had eggs Benedict (you know I'd been craving them since Kitchen Little - they would have been better there, I suspect) and Kim had her usual. Just as we were leaving, a huge school group came in for breakfast, almost filling the whole restaurant. It was a good time to go!

We walked around Columbus Circle and crossed over to Central Park. Several buggy drivers attempted to solicit our business, but we were just planning to stroll around for a while. Then this cute young man - blond hair, blue eyes, foreign accent - accosted us and he was so earnest and sweet that we agreed to ride with him. Then he told us to wait right there while he got his bike! We had no clue that we had just hired a pedicab, but we had, and it was such fun! Nick (Nikolai, from Russia, small town of half a million people on the Volga River near Moscow) was a great tour guide. We loved his accent (he told us some people told him it made him sound sexy, so we just called him our Sexy Mon) and his charm. As you can imagine, he had to work pretty hard pulling us around by bike, and it was becoming very hot and very humid very fast. He was full of information and we helped him out with a few pronounciations and facts that he didn't know about. Turns out he has been in America all of four WEEKS, and he's been doing this job for only two. Prior to that he had worked for an air conditioner company, a butcher shop, and had been a flyer boy - we think he has found his niche for now!

Anyway, he rode us all through Central Park (http://www.centralpark.com/), past the carousel, the dairy, the statue of Balto (the Alaskan sled dog of the diphtheria vaccine fame), statues of Mother Goose and a pilgrim, to the Bethesda Terrace, Cherry Hill, Strawberry Fields, the Great Lawn, the Tavern on the Green, and much, much, more. He narrated the whole time, never missing a beat, even talking about many of the buildings surrounding the park. We stopped several times and were able to take pictures and he even took one of us (it was not flattering so I'm not sharing it - you'll just have to imagine how pampered we looked in our pedicab). We had a great time and I recommend pedicabs over buggies (I've done them, too) in Central Park any day! I'm so glad we didn't end up trying to walk our way around, because we walked enough the rest of the day...

After we said our goodbyes to Nick, we walked across the park to the newly renovated Plaza Hotel. It was still closed when Rex and I had been to New York in December, so I was glad to get a chance to see it. We admired the Baccarat crystal chandelier (commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia) and the Palm Court, then we found Eloise's portrait and wandered around part of the renovated area where shops are being installed. Then we crossed Fifth Avenue to go to FAO Schwartz, where we were greeted by the doorman who must have been HOT inside all that regalia. It was not as cool as it had been in December, but it's still my favorite store to shop in. I guess I'll always be a kid at heart...

We left the toy store and strolled down 5th Avenue, just taking in all of the window displays (which were pretty inventive, but not as much fun as they are at Christmas time), storefronts, churches, tall buildings, and people. As usual, people watching won out! It was pretty crowded, especially for a hot summer weekday. We chose not to go to the Top of the Rock, opting instead for the Empire State Building. We were pretty tuckered out by the time we got there at 12:30, and were so disappointed to see that it was under construction. Kim didn't even get to see the gorgeous Art Deco work in the lobby. It was going to take longer than we had to go to the top (we had 2:00 reservations on the water taxi) so we took a load off and sat at the bar of the nearby Heartland Brewery for a bite of lunch. We split a shrimp appetizer and some onion rings, but mostly I drank my iced tea! I think I had three or four glasses and was very thankful that they didn't charge me for refills (for a change!) As a matter of fact, we acknowledged the bartender for being one of the only servers we’ve had on the entire trip who offered us refills (without us having to ask) and he was the ONLY one who gave us a fresh slice of lemon. Good tip for him!

Feeling almost rehydrated, we tried to hail a cab and ended up getting a car instead. Costs more, but it was worth it to have the AC on and the windows up and to be in a Lincoln instead of a yellow cab. We had a bit of a drive down to the Southside Seaport, and we were really just glad to be riding instead of walking. We passed the Fulton Street Fish Market – I wish we had had time to check it out. I had not ever been to this part of the city before – it was a bustling place. But we needed to get our tickets from will call so we could see the waterfalls and the city from a different perspective. As it turned out, our boat was running about thirty minutes behind, so we just watched more people. Sharing our boat was a busload of Asian tourists, so we were ready for a lot of picture taking and excitement. We were not disappointed – I took lots of group photos, and then they would take a picture of me – it was pretty funny, and it was fun to be with a group that didn’t just sit back and watch. Our tour guide was the greatest – his name was Lee, and he did a rhyming version (would have been a rap with a little background sound) of the tour spiel – we loved it! We passed the Staten Island Ferry, Battery Park, the Colgate clock, the NJ train station, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, Governor’s Island, several bridges, including the Brooklyn Bridge, and of course, the waterfalls. I would love to see the falls at night, and if you’re planning a trip to the city, you don’t have to take a boat ride to see the falls; however, if you’ve never experienced the NYC skyline from New York Harbor, I highly recommend a tour by boat. As we were stopped at the Statue of Liberty, Lee offered to take pictures of anyone who wanted them, holding an American flag that he provided and with Lady Liberty in the background. He was awesome! All too soon, the tour was over…

Time to head back to Grand Central and catch our train back to Croton – we had no trouble getting a cab this time, and we drove right along the riverside past NYU Medical Center and getting great views of both the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.

We got to the terminal just before 4:00, found our ticket counter, but were a little unsure which train to take. The cashier cut right to the chase, sold us two tickets, and then said, “You have one minute to get to track 26, behind you and to the left. Run!” We made it, but barely! At least we didn’t waste much time waiting around, and we were able to get an off-peak express train to boot.

Melanie met us at the station and we went back to the house and regrouped – we had practically unloaded the whole car and repacked for our trip to the city, so we got organized again. David got home soon after we did, and once we had our luggage from him, we started in on laundry. I don’t know what we would have done on this trip without a little help and a lot of hospitality from family and friends! It sure made it a lot of fun to see people we knew and be in their homes instead of always a hotel room (or tree house!) Thanks again to all of you who opened your doors to us, fed us, and made us feel welcome!! Sure hope we can return the favor someday!
We sat out on the patio, enjoying the view and a chilly one, and then Melanie and David fixed dinner for us. David grilled some giant steaks and Melanie had prepared a delicious tomato, cheese, and spinach salad and some great potatoes. Add a good bottle or two of wine and some lively conversation with them and their twin daughters – what an enjoyable evening! The girls were going into the city for a party, so we stayed up and caught up on family news, heard about their family’s recent trip to Spain and Portugal, shared some of our experiences, and pontificated on life in general. What a fine way to spend a Friday night!

Loving looking at life from lots of different perspectives,