Thursday, October 5, 2017

Planes, Trains, and Autombiles

I am Arthur, king of the Britons. Whose castle is that?
King of The Who?
The Britons
Who're the "Britons"?
Well, we all are. We're all Britons, and I am your king.
Didn't know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.
You're fooling yourself. We're living in a dictatorship! A self-perpetuating autocracy ...
- Monty Python and The Holy Grail

Happy kids after getting stuffed at Geno's. Photo RGH

Leaving NYC turned out to be easier than we had imagined. We were staying in Midtown, 1.5 blocks from Times Square, and I was a little concerned about the next part of our journey. So far, our trip had involved several long-haul flights, and a bunch of train rides. We used Uber to get to and from the train station, but had not spent any significant time in a car. After New York City, the rest of our trip to South Carolina would be all by car. Kari had gone online and found a car rental only two blocks from our NYC apartment. My first thought on hearing this was fear and trepidation. Here we were in midtown Manhattan, picking up a car after not driving at all in a month and not driving on the Right side of the road in a year. Getting out of the middle of the city was likely to be a bit of an adventure. Surprisingly, it actually went fairly well.

We had a 10 o'clock appointment to pick up the car, and true to from, we were a few minutes late. At the car rental agency, there was a line. Several people had been waiting 30-40 minutes when we arrived. As the line got longer, so too did the wait. Imagine being in a small rental agency office with poor air conditioning on a hot New York morning. Now pack that office with a bunch of New Yorkers who have been waiting over an hour to pick up a car. The tension in the air and the comments flying around continued to ramp up. When I finally got to the counter, the poor clerks were more than a little harried. They were running low on cars and offered me a Mustang, Camaro, or Challenger. Not exactly large family cars suitable for long distance travel, but I wasn't going to turn down the chance to drive a muscle car through the streets of Manhattan. Alas, when they brought the car out, it was a Ford Fusion. Probably a better option for our trip, but I can't say I wasn't disappointed.

Getting out of Manhattan proved all too easy. We drove down half a block, made one turn, then had a short drive to the Lincoln Tunnel and New Jersey. Once we were under the river and into New Jersey, we set the cruise control and made our way to Collegeville, PA. Our destination was the home of two of our oldest and dearest friends. Jim and Amanda have been a part of my life for over 20 years, and good friends to Kari from the moment she met them. We have travelled together and made multiple pilgrimages to each other's homes. We couldn't wait to spend a few days enveloped in comfortable friendship, and Little H couldn't wait to spend a few days playing with their kids instead of hanging out with us. Of course, as long as we were near Philly, we needed to play tourist. Kari had never eaten an original Philly Cheesesteak, so we included that in our plans.

Only one kid was keen for a photo shoot. Photo RGH

Carpenter's Hall. Meeting site of the First Continental Congress 5 Sept - 26 Oct 1774. Photo RGH

Independence Hall. Site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4 1776. Photo RGH

Pat's claims to be the originator of the Philly Cheesesteak sandwich, while Geno's claims to be the best. Photos RGH

Legend has it that Pat and Harry Olivieri created the Philly cheesesteak sandwich at their hotdog stand in the 1930s. Today, the restaurant is located at the site of their original hotdog stand. Geno's was established in 1966, directly across the street from Pat's. They didn't invent the Philly cheesesteak sandwich, but they claim to have perfected it. I had tried the Pat's sandwich many years ago, so this time we ate at Geno's.

From Philly, we were off to Washington, DC to meet up with other friends. Scott and Anita split their time between DC and Denver. We were fortunate that they were in town. They both work in theatre and are putting in some long days, so we were only able to catch up with them in the evenings. During the day, we played tourist. We lived just outside of the beltway when Little H was first born but haven't been back since. After having been to Philly, we had a chance to connect the origins of the US government to its current iteration. We also spent time in the National Gallery of Art and the Natural History Museum. The great weather continued to follow us from New York and PA.

Little H was excited to hear that we were going to the mall, until ...

And she was less than thrilled to be spending more time looking at "boring" paintings ...

We finished our friendship tour by heading to the beach and the home of another good friend. Once again, the thought of leaving DC and tackling the beltway caused me great anxiety. Fortunately, we left late enough in the day and were only on the beltway for a short piece, so the drive was much easier than I anticipated. As we headed further south, the skies continued to warm, and by the time we made it to Bethany, it was shorts and t-shirt weather. We spent just a little time at Kelley's, then headed for the beach. Thanks for the wine, lobster, and hospitality, Kelley!

Girls' day at the beach. Photos RGH

Kari and Little H stayed behind to spend another couple of days with Kelley while I made a beeline south. I have to work in a few days and needed to get back to get our US life back in order. There was one more surprise waiting for me, though. On my arrival back home, I walked into a house with a stocked refrigerator. Our friends think of everything. It is the friends who we have visited along the way, and those awaiting our arrival, that truly made this a homecoming. Thanks to each and every one of you.

Welcome home ...

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Green Acres

Start spreading the news
You're leaving today (tell him, friend)
I want to be a part of it, New York, New York
Your vagabond shoes
They are longing to stray
And steps around the heart of it, New York, New York
- Green/Camden/Bernstein, New York, New York

Times Square is hopping, day and night. Photos RGH

New York City, USA and we are staying in the heart of the Big Apple. We had a relatively uneventful flight across the Atlantic Ocean, landing at JFK airport and sailing through customs and immigration. After being gone for a year and travelling for a month, I anticipated a long and drawn out process, but we made it through long before our bags made it to the carousel. We arrived in the evening and all we wanted to do was get into the city in time to eat at John's Pizza in Times Square. Signs all over the airport tell people not to accept rides from solicitors, but the taxi stand was a hike and the line was long, so we made a rookie mistake and took the offered ride. We got to the car, only to discover that it was an Uber Black. We could have changed our minds and trekked back to the airport terminal; instead we swallowed our pride and took the hi, so our ride into the city cost us more than double what a taxi would have. We did this once before and vowed never to do it again. Fool me once ...

Whenever we come to NYC, we rent the same apartment if it's available. It's on Broadway between 48th and 49th ... a block and a half from Times Square. We stay in the centre of it all, with easy access to the subway, and walking distance to everything we want in midtown and Central Park. Of course, it means that the lights and noise of the city are a constant backdrop ... even from the 16th floor. The lights from Times Square shining through the windows keep the room lit well into the night despite having the curtains drawn. Still, it's right where we want to be.

Broadway from our rooftop. Photo RGH

Subway tales. Photo KAH

New York City is a big place, and can seem like a massive concrete jungle. If you look closely, though, there are pockets where you can find quiet solitude. There are several small green spaces, some less than half an acre, tucked away. They offer a chance to escape from the lights, noise, and crowds. Of course, there are much larger green spaces as well. Looking for some quiet reflection and leisurely walks, we spent time in Central Park, the Bronx Zoo, and the New York Botanical Gardens. This trip, Central Park was just a convenient route to get where we wanted to go rather than a destination in and of itself.

The storms ravaging much of the rest of the eastern seaboard have caused a late Indian summer here in New York. Temperatures are in the 70s and the skies are clear. We took advantage of the unusually warm days to dine al fresco when we could. In Central Park, we had lunch at Tavern On the Green. The food was good, though not amazing, the portions were large, and we had our first Bloody Mary in over a year. Yum!

Tavern lunch. Photos KAH

I have mixed emotions when it comes to zoos and aquaria. While I hate to see animals "living" in captivity, I recognize that many zoos have historically played an important role in recovery and re-introduction of threatened and endangered species. When I was living in Hawaii, I volunteered at Sea Life Park, a small marine mammal park and aquarium. My job was to feed the sharks and rays in the aquarium, and to feed the green sea turtles in their habitat. When I was living in Boston, I did research on African cichlids at the New England Aquarium. I certainly see the research and conservation benefits that zoos provide, and the Bronx Zoo is no exception.

Bronx Zoo. Photos RGH

We have been to New York City several times and have done most of the touristy things. Now we enjoy searching out unique experiences. For this trip, we had a few things on our "To Do" list. At the top of the list was eating at the secret/not-so-secret Burger Joint. As it was billed online, it was difficult to find but the burgers were absolutely amazing.  We also wanted to check out Gulliver's Gate, one of the newer attractions in Times Square. This is a work in progress miniature world and we were able to "recreate" some of the photos from our recent train tour of Europe. Lastly, Kari wanted to see the Chihuly exhibit at the New York Botancial Gardens.

Burger Joint. Photos RGH

Gulliver's Gate models and the real deal ...

Big Ben. Photos RGH

l'Arc de Triomphe. Photos RGH

Brandenburg Gate. Photos RGH

Edinburgh Castle. Photos RGH

New York Botanical Gardens ...

Chihuly glass. Photos RGH/Little H

We came to New York thinking that our trip was essentially over. We spent a full three days exploring the city in new ways than we had before. We were especially lucky that the weather cooperated. Once again, we had the luxury of three nights in the same place, and since we had stayed there before, it almost felt like home. So far, our trip has involved long-haul plane flights, multiple train rides, and few car rides. We have used Uber to get to and from the train station, but haven't spent much time on the road itself. From New York, we are renting a car for the last legs of our journey; a true Planes, Trains, and Automobiles adventure.

I wanna' be a Toys R Us kid ...