Wednesday, September 23, 2009

9/23/09 Today I am feeling the effects of a bad cold, so while Elaine is out on a long walk with our friend Gerry, I will compose this update.
Our visit in Lancaster with Elaine's nephew, niece and her family was fun and informative. Fun because we shared meals and excursions with them and thus got to know them so much better than ever before. In the past we have only been around each other at big family gatherings and then it seemed that the priority was spending time with Elaine's sisters. This time we got to spend time with nephew Chris Daly, and niece Denise Petersen, her husband Steve, and their kids, Zack & Kayla. I suspect that some of Elaine's family members read this blog so I am going to put in a few pictures. Here is Elaine with Chris & Denise.

Our first night with them all, we had a pizza party in Denise's kitchen. Here is the whole gang:

Chris' roommate, Brook, is the one sitting between Denise and Steve.
Saturday we all went together to the downtown part of Lancaster and walked around. Here is the whole gang in a square down there where there was a waterfall:

The extra guy in the picture is Tony, a friend of Chris'. Chris' 2 roommates, Lisa & Brook, also joined us after the picture. The main attraction on Saturday morning was the market, which is the oldest continuously operating market in the USA - started in 1730! It was clean, diverse and had a lot of great produce, food stalls, craft stalls, etc. Because the Lancaster area was the first place that a lot of Amish and Mennonite people settled in the early 1700's, there are a lot of them still living there, and they were selling some of their wares there too. One of the things we had read about was whoopie pies. Didn't know what they were so I bought one there and tried it.

Wow, was that SWEET! It was basically 2 thin squashed pieces of cake with a bunch of very sugary frosting in between. I took a bite and gave the rest to Zack. Another item we had read about was shoofly pie, but we didn't see any of that there, and Denise and Steve assured us that it would be even more sweet than the whoopie pie.
In the afternoon, they drove us down some of the country roads and between Lancaster and Amish towns with names such as Bird In Hand, and Intercourse, to look at the Amish farms. This was an excellent time to be there because they were harvesting. It was also good to be with Steve because he works for New Holland, a company which makes farm equipment, so he explained a lot of things to us. The Amish don't use cars, trucks or mechanized farm equipment- they still use horses and buggies. Here is a picture of them harvesting corn:

They also grow a lot of tobacco, as a cash crop, and here is a picture of it after it has been cut and is on a cart in bundles, ready to be hung in the barn to dry.

We think it is somewhat hypocritical of them to grow tobacco because they are totally against smoking. But apparently if there is a way to make some money, they don't care what the ethics are. While we were driving through Intercourse, there was a huge demonstration going on against the practice of puppy mills, which the Amish also profit from. Just outside town we passed an Amish man who was baling hay. We had never seen a baler that produced the big round bales, but this one did:

Because they don't use cars, they depend on other ways to get around, such as bikes, scooters, and buggies. Here is a picture of an Amish woman on her scooter:

And here is a picture of 2 Amish boys who were driving by with their wagon. This area seems to have a lot of miniature horses, and they had one hooked up to their pint-sized wagon.

Besides gawking at all the Amish people, we visited 2 covered bridges. Here is Zack and one of the bridges:

Because there were so many Amish people and farms around, we learned a lot about them, and the Mennonites, from Steve and Denise and also on the internet. Steve is on the board for the nearby Landis County Museum, which was basically started by the Landis brothers who lived there in the early 1800's and who collected LOTS of stuff, including historical buildings. So there are quite a few old buildings on the site, all full of memorabilia. There was also information here about the Amish and some of their implements. There are a few costumed interpreters in some of the buildings who gave us lots of information about the era and the way of life then. Here is a picture of Jim, who was the tavern keeper and who also showed us the munitions room and told us about the guns.

There was good information about textiles, making cloth from flax, spinning, and weaving, and here is the lady who was making lace:

This is a museum that we would recommend to you blog readers if you are ever in this area.
Then it was time to head west again - to the Gettysburg area where we are staying on the property of our friends Gerry & Karen Deighton. We met them on our cruise around South America in Jan/Feb and we are so glad that they offered their driveway to us. Their property is actually about 10 miles from Gettysburg and is on such a rural road that there have only been about 5 cars that have driven past here in the last 24 hours. The property is heavily wooded and their house is on an "island" because there are 2 creeks that run past it and you have to cross a heavy wooden bridge to get to the house.

We are parked out by the barn/garage and we feel like we are parked right in the woods.

Gerry and Karen are wonderful hosts and have been stuffing us full of good food ever since we arrived. Here is a picture of Karen, Gerry, and Elaine at dinner last night.

Gerry does all the cooking and the meals have been delicious, topped off by a luscious carrot cake. Cruise food is plentiful and good but the food here is even better! So is all the travel talk, because they have been world travelers for years and we are enjoying discussions about many of the places we all have visited. They have a young man from Laos living with them for 6 months and going to school, and we have enjoyed meeting him as well. It just makes us eager to plan some more trips to that region of the world!
Tomorrow, if I am feeling better, we will go to the National Historic Park at Gettysburg, and also the Eisenhower Farm.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sept. 18
Hello from Lancaster, Pennsylvania where we are getting ready to have dinner at Elaine’s niece’s home this evening. Denise is married to Steve and has Zack and Kayla still at home. The oldest, Megan, has gone off to college. We are also hoping that Denise’s brother, Chris, who lives nearby, can attend the gathering. They are two of the children of Georgeanne, Elaine’s sister who lives on the family farm in Illinois.
Prior to coming here, we have been having lots of adventures involving sightseeing, which is the purpose of our wanderings on the East Coast. After leaving Foxwoods, which we mentioned in our last blog report, we drove to Fairfield, Connecticut, near Bridgeport and set up at the Elks Lodge there. This Elks Lodge had very friendly people and we enjoyed schmoozing with them on several occasions. Our intention was to explore New York from here, which we did starting the next day. Saturday we took the Bridgeport to Port Jefferson ferry in order to meet Ann & Bill Gomez. They are the parents of Marielle, the very lovely and charming young lady who lives with Elaine’s son Darran in San Diego. Port Jefferson is on Long Island and is a really nice little town with lots of great restaurants and shops, which we had hoped to explore with Ann & Bill. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day so we merely went to a nearby Spanish restaurant and had a delicious meal together and got to know each other better. Ann had brought some pictures of Marielle as a youngster, which we enjoyed seeing, and we heard a few stories of her early years. The food was several types of tapas (appetizers), and two varieties of paella, which is a delicious rice dish with lots of seafood and/or chicken and sausage in it. Bill and Ann were gracious enough to pick up the check, so of course, they made a good impression on us! Actually, they already had done that before the bill even arrived. Afterwards, they walked us to the return ferry, where we got someone to take a picture of us together:

Sunday we took the train in to New York City. It was about an hour’s ride and for senior citizens, a bargain, at $14 round trip. Arriving at Grand Central Station was thrilling, after hearing about it for all of our lives. It is quite a beautiful train station, and there is a food court that serves inexpensive and delicious-looking food on the lower level. We got a map at tourist info and walked down to Times Square. Wow, what a huge event we happened upon there! Police had the streets cordoned off and there was an immense crowd watching all the huge monitors. It was the yearly performance of “Broadway on Broadway”, which is when at least one musical number from each of the currently running Broadway shows is performed on a stage set up in Times Square.

Luckily, there were big monitors high up in the air so everyone could see pretty clearly.

Of course, all of the singers and dancers were really quality performers. It made us want to go and see every show! Realizing that our time in NY was limited, we promised each other that at some time in the future, we will fly into NY, stay in the city, and not only really explore all the interesting places but also attend a few of the Broadway shows.
After several hours of enjoyment, the show was over and we proceeded to Rockefeller Center. We have seen it on TV with an ice rink in the center of the square but this day there was just a beautiful fountain and a bunch of tables with umbrellas set up as an outdoor café. There are lots of flags, nice sculptures, resting benches, etc.

It was recommended to us to go to the Top of the Rock, which is the top of the 70-story building, but it was $18 per person and there was a long line, so we skipped it. On the way to the subway, we passed Radio City Music Hall where there was already activity despite the fact that the MTV awards that evening weren’t even going to start until 9PM.
The subway system is huge and we negotiated it without too much trouble because we have been in so many systems in all the large cities of the world. At the site of the World Trade Center, we viewed the construction area (see below),

and took a picture of the proposed new building that is going up:

It was an interesting walk to the Wall Street area, where we were able to see Federal Hall, which is where George Washington was inaugurated in 1789. Right nearby is the Stock Exchange building, which has wonderful friezes on the top over the huge American flag.

About a block away is the bronze sculpture of the Wall Street bull, which was on a small island in the middle of several streets. There were a lot of people crowded around it which made it difficult to get a good picture. Here is the view that we thought was the most interesting:

Just behind the nearby Bowling Green Park is the old US Customs House. Right in front of it there was a festival going on which was put on by the New Amsterdam association, celebrating their Dutch heritage. This is one of the big charms of New York City – just walking around you stumble on all types of interesting events and/or festivals. When we first arrived this morning we passed a bunch of the participants of the Race for the Cure. Here is a picture of some guys that had just come from some event and who wanted their picture taken in front of a police car:

There are food carts located on a lot of the streets, some of which were quite colorful, like these two.

If we had been hungry we would have eaten from some of them because we have enjoyed some very good food from similar carts in other parts of the world, and the food is usually a very good value and perfectly safe to eat. If it wasn’t, the vendors would rapidly go out of business because they would lose local support. Another type of cart we saw were very mobile ones where the vendors spread their wares out on the sidewalk on a big sheet and when they saw the police approaching, they quickly wrapped up all their merchandise by grabbing the corners of the sheet, and escaping as fast as they could. Perhaps they were selling without a license?!!
We proceeded to the South Seaport area, where we got a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge, and had someone take our picture with it behind us.

There are lots of historic ships located there, as well as water taxis, etc. and lots of bars and restaurants. We were ready for some sit down time so we went to Uno Pizzeria and had a Blue Moon Belgian beer, which was delicious.

When we were in Belgium, we learned that they make over 400 kinds of beer there, so we tried them all (almost) and all were very good. Now we try to have a Belgian beer whenever it is available. Friends have told us that if we like Blue Moon, we should try Shock Top. That will be next.
After a bit more wandering around the streets, we took the subway back to Grand Central and the train back to Fairfield. It was a wonderful day and we had been blessed with just about perfect weather for our adventures.
Moving down the road, we stopped in our transit across part of New York state to see Hyde Park. Here there are at least 4 national historic sites, which means we can get into them FREE with our oldie but goodie Golden Access Pass. Of course, the most visited is the FDR home and presidential library. Ever since I read the book, “No Ordinary Time” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, I have been impressed with both Eleanor and FDR.

Thanks goodness they were at the helm during this important time in our history. There is an excellent film about the role of the Roosevelts during the Great Depression and WWII at the visitor center, and then a tour through the family home called Springwood. The grounds are quite beautiful as well, with a really nice rose garden, which is where the Roosevelt name came from. The next stop we made was about 2 miles away at Val-Kill, which was Eleanor Roosevelt’s home. It is the only national historic site dedicated to preserving artifacts and information about a First Lady.

The Roosevelt’s property was located along the Hudson River, which was a popular area for wealthy families to have a second home usually for use during the time when they didn’t want to be in New York City because of the heat. So there are lots of mansions along this stretch of the river.

Right down the road is the Vanderbilt historic site. In Newport, RI we had visited the homes of 2 of the Vanderbilt grandsons, and this one was the home of Frederick. He was the only grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the founder of the family dynasty and fortune, who actually made more money during his lifetime. The rest of them just spent it. This is a picture taken from the front:

It was quite as spectacular as the two Vanderbilt mansions we toured in Newport.
From there we relocated to Cabelas Outfitters Store in Hamburg, PA. It is a huge store, with an immense parking lot that has been very well laid out because on one side there are parking spaces for RVs, near potable water and a dump station, and even a kennel area for pets and an exercise area for horses. On the opposite side is the parking area for big trucks. Hooray. Trucks always let their engines idle overnight, which is very annoying to the RVers. So we stayed there overnight and spent several hours in the store the next day. Wow, what a store! In front of the entryway is an excellent sculpture of a trapper and an Indian in a canoe.

There is a huge aquarium area full of fish, mostly species that fishermen want to catch. The walls are covered with the heads of animals that have been shot and preserved, including a lot of the animals we saw last year when we were in Africa.

There are also areas where they have stuffed animals arranged in very natural looking settings which resemble the environments where they live when alive.

Of course, because this is after all, a retail store, there are also lots of displays of sporting goods, clothing, guns, camping equipment, etc. There is also a restaurant, shooting gallery, and I’m sure other goodies, which we missed. No one could leave this place without buying something!!
From Cabela’s, we drove to Lancaster. We have now had some experiences while here but this report is already way too long, so I will post that information in a day or two.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

9/10/09 Hello Blog Readers. It has taken me 2 days to get this update together because we kept leaving to go off and explore! Today is the 10th and we will be driving south along the Connecticut coast towards Bridgeport, where we will stay until the weekend.

9/8/09 Today we are writing from Connecticut, although in this blog entry our adventures have occurred in 3 states: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. This is possible because here in the Northeast the states are fairly small and close together. When we consult the maps, it looks like places are far apart; then we check the distances and are very surprised. I suppose it is because we are so accustomed to the large states in the West.
When we last wrote, we were visiting Bob & Nancy in Plympton, Massachusetts. Their friends, Ann & Jimmy Thompson, have a large piece of land and allowed us to park our RV there, not too far away from Bob & Nancy’s. Here is a picture of the impromptu RV campground:

As I mentioned before, Bob was helping us replace our front TV and we were waiting for the mounting bracket we ordered on-line to arrive. No thanks for UPS; it was delivered 2 days later than promised. So nearly every day we went out somewhere for a long walk with Nancy and explored new places. One of the most scenic walks we took was along the banks of the Cape Cod Canal. Because the Cape Cod peninsula is fairly long and has such an odd shape, it added quite a few miles to the trip that ships had to take to go around it hauling cargo between Boston and New York. In fact, the idea of a canal was first proposed by Miles Standish of the Plimouth Colony. Finally, in 1914 the 7 mile long canal was completed, and the charge to use it was $16 per schooner, a hefty fee for that time period. In 1928 the US government purchased the canal and made it wider and deeper, so by 1940 it was the widest sea-level canal in the world. Today about 20 thousand vessels go through each year and there is no charge.

One of the stops we made was to look closely at some of the cranberry bogs, of which there are many. This cleared land is now protected by law and cannot be sold for development. Unlike the commercials you see on TV, the bogs are not immersed in water, and the cranberries are not harvested that way either. They use special wooden rakes to lift up the berries gently and strip them off the plants. Only after they get most of the really good berries in this fashion, do they flood the bogs and let the others float to the top.
On one of our last days in Plympton, we had a very nice dinner at Ann & Jimmy’s house and a friend of Nancy’s named Debbie, also joined us. Here is a picture of the jovial group: from left to right: Nancy, Bob, Jimmy, Ann, Elaine, Debbie

The day that we left, Ann and Jimmy gave us a LOT of fresh veggies that their friend who runs the nearby produce stand had delivered that morning: corn, tomatoes, squash, melons. Yummy! Thanks for everything Jimmy, Ann, Bob & Nancy!!!!
Our next stop was the Elks Club at Coventry-West Greenwich, which is south of Providence, Rhode Island. The weather was just beautiful on Labor Day weekend, so the first day we drove to Newport. On the way we crossed several waterways on bridges and had wonderful views of bays that were filled with sailboats full of people out enjoying the free time and nice weather. Newport is well known as the place where the wealthy people all built their summer “cottages” to escape from the heat of New York and Washington DC during the so called “Gilded Age”: 1880-1920. There are hundreds of large homes here and about a dozen of the largest and most lavish have been acquired by the Preservation Society and are available for tours by the public. On our first trip there that Saturday, we arrived late so we just did the scenic drive and also about 5 miles of hiking on the Cliff Walk, which is a nationally recognized hiking trail that runs along the coast and behind some of the mansions. As you look at this plaque which was on the Cliff Walk, take note of the name of the chairman.

Here is a picture of the Cliff Walk itself:

After that exploration, we hurried home to eat and dress a little more warmly so we could drive into Providence for an event called Water Fire. They have these evenings several times during the summer and Bob & Nancy encouraged us to go since they had enjoyed it so much when they attended. The committee that plans these events has a lot of metal dishes set up all along a section of the river, right in the water, and they are filled with carefully stacked wood. Here is a picture of the river and the wood dishes all set up before the event began:

There were stands set up in some of the park areas to sell food and drinks. Once it got dark, music started playing from speakers that had been installed all along the riverbanks and people in boats came along and set the wood on fire in the dishes.

There were about 30 opera singers who were scattered all along the banks and periodically they would sing along with the music that was reverberating from the speakers. Volunteers stood by them to hold torches so they could be seen and also to keep people from crowding too close to them. Here is a picture of a wonderful singer who sang “Un Bel Di Vedremo” from Madame Butterfly by Puccini. It was awesome!

There was also a stage set up on a closed off street where they had a jazz performer, and another stage set up in Market Square where they had a professional band and a variety of singers. If we had been able to stay there late, we could have attended a 2 hour opera performance but it didn’t start until 10PM. There were lots of people who were just there with friends along the riverbank, eating and drinking and enjoying the fires in the river and the music. If you are ever in the area when this is going on (google “Water Fire” to find out dates and details), we highly recommend it. It was also a warm evening, which helped up the enjoyment factor.
Sunday we relocated to the Foxwoods Casino parking lot in Connecticut. My gosh, this place is HUMONGOUS!!!! Here is a picture of just the roof part which we can see from our parking lot.

Daily we walk over to the nearest casino (.4 miles), then walk through all the casinos and restaurants (which are hooked together) to the MGM Grand, on the end. The round trip walk is about 2.5 miles! There are 6 casinos, about 7,000 slots, 100 poker tables, a 5,000 seat bingo hall, 24 restaurants, theaters, hotels, etc. We have been to lots of casinos in Las Vegas, Reno, Indian casinos all over the US, and even some foreign ones in South America and Europe and this one definitely out does them all. The whole idea of being here was to park free while exploring Mystic, CT.
The day that we enjoyed the most was Labor Day, when we drove back to Newport, RI to explore some of the mansions that I mentioned earlier. They offer a variety of passes, but we got the one for $31 which allows you to visit 5 of the 12 mansions. Three of them had audio headphone tours which allows visitors to move through the rooms at their own pace and obtain a lot of information or just a little; they were excellent. The Breakers was a 90 room “cottage” built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, finished in 1895, which we especially wanted to see because we intend to see one of his other homes, Biltmore, when we visit Asheville, NC later on this trip. It was spectacular and really reminded us of some of the palaces we have seen in Europe, especially Versailles. It cost $13 million and was finished in only 2 years. Here is a picture of it:

Next we visited The Marbles, which was the estate of Vanderbilt’s brother and sister-in-law, Alva Vanderbilt. It had been built in 1892, before The Breakers and it was much smaller, although it cost $11 million because the main building material was marble, and it was heavily decorated with gold gilt. In fact, the time that all these places were built was called The Gilded Age, because of the expense and use of all the gold gilt. Alva Vanderbilt was one of the main organizers of the Women’s Suffrage movement. There was a Chinese tea house built in the back on the lawn, overlooking the cliffs, and I took the following picture of some of the mansions and their extensive grounds right on the sea from the tea house:

The front had a fountain with three heads spouting water and here we are near it:

The next three mansions we toured were The Elms, Rosecliff, and Chateau Ser Mer.

All 5 of the mansions were so different from each other, and all were opulent, interesting, and incredible. One of the amazing things is realizing that a lot of the furniture, especially in The Elms, has been brought over from Europe and is from the 1700’s. The Preservation Society has been able to purchase some of these places for a fraction of their value, some have been donated, and a lot of the furniture and artifacts have been donated. In a few cases, the Preservation Society stepped in right before the wrecking ball was scheduled to demolish the house so the property could be sold. The Gilded Age ended for a variety of reasons, but the main reason was income taxes, property taxes and inheritance taxes. Also, it took a huge staff of workers and servants to maintain them, and that was expensive. Another factor was that these were mostly second or third homes for these families, and they only used them for about 8-12 weeks in the summer. In my opinion, these houses are now being used in the best way possible: as a history and architecture lesson for anyone interested enough to purchase a ticket.
Mystic Seaport is a place I have looked forward to seeing ever since 1998 when we were last on the East coast and we left town without seeing it. Although we enjoyed the exhibits at Mystic Seaport, we did not think it was worth the hefty entry fee. It is a maritime museum laid out in the form of a seaside village right on the river in Mystic, CT. There are many buildings, some of them authentic stores and homes and some recreations. There is quite a variety of exhibits. One that we enjoyed was about figure heads from ships:

The best one was about Capt. Comer, who took his ship to Hudson’s Bay in far northern Canada and spent 2 winters there in the early 1900’s with his ship stuck in the ice so his men could catch whales in summer and trade for furs in the winter. He was great friends with the Inuit, and he documented many things about their culture which no one else had ever done. Another good exhibit was about all the things ships have brought to our land, including goods, immigrants, and especially fish. There is a model of a lighthouse with several good videos about lighthouses shown in it. The biggest display was on the total refurbishing of one of the last wooden whaling ships, named the Charles Morgan. There were several other ships we could go on and explore as well.

Next on our agenda, once the expected rain is over, will be to do some exploring in New York.