Touring NYC on foot – The Big Apple pt. 1

I-95 S at the BronxNew York City was not on our planned route heading south, because we had both been there before.  But in this lifestyle we realize that we need to see everything we can while we’re here, and plans can change quickly.  So we decided to tackle the challenging trip to the Big Apple, and yes, it was an unpleasant drive on I-95 S from Connecticut, passing through the Bronx in New York to the New Jersey turnpike. But we made it with the only damage being to our nerves.

Liberty Harbor RV Park
Not an RV park, just a big parking lot!

The only RV park with easy access to NYC is Liberty Harbor RV Park (Steve’s review is here), across the Hudson River in Jersey City.  For $80 a night you get a space in a parking lot with just water and electrical hookups. They are the only game in town, as they are within easy access of Manhattan by ferry or train.  And they know it!

Rosana and I
The two girls back together after 37 years!

Reconnecting with my long lost friend, Rosana – whom I had not seen for 37 years – was a great reason to stop by NYC.  She and her hubby Angelo gave us a wonderful personalized tour around town, and that’s always the best way to experience  a big city.

The highlight of our wanderings was visiting the 9/11 Memorial.  Access is free, but a donation is requested when you get your timestamped pass, which is recommended because of how busy it gets.  The Memorial is surrounded by ongoing construction on several World Trade Center structures, which is amazing to see in itself.  We went on a Saturday, and a large crowd was already forming as the gate opened at 10AM. A security screening was required prior to entry, and we noticed lots of cameras and a large police presence.

Names on the 9/11 memorial
May their souls rest in peace.
The memorial consists of two huge pools set in the footprints of where the original Twin Towers once stood.  The names of the victims are inscribed in bronze parapets around the pools, at the approximate location of each victim when the building collapsed.  Thirty foot waterfalls cascade into the reflecting pool at the bottom.
Thirty-foot waterfalls,9/11 memorial
Thirty foot waterfalls at the reflecting pools
Water in the reflecting pools then falls into a center void intended to convey a spirit of quiet reflection of loss.  The simplistic design of the north and south pools at the Memorial will provide a focal point for the thoughts of people for generations to come.
South Pool, 9/11 memorial
The South Pool

The new One World Trade Center is scheduled to be completed in early 2014, and it dominates the nearby skyline.  It is almost complete at 104 floors, and is topped by a spire that reaches the symbolic height of 1,776 feet – a number commemorating the year of America’s independence.

One World Trade Center
One World Trade Center

The rebuilding continues, and we observed solemnity and respect among the hundreds of visitors.

9/11 memorial
Pausing to pay homage and respect.

Our friends took us all around town, and for those of you who have visited or lived there, you know that getting around means taking the subway and walking on the streets and avenues.  We learned that In New York City, an avenue block is 1/4 mile long and runs from east to west, while a street block is 1/16 of a mile long and runs from north to south.  Believe me, we did LOTS of walking on this day!

Walking down Wall Street, I caught a glimpse of Trinity Church.  It was positioned very nicely between other tall buildings.

Trinity Church, Manhattan
Trinity Church

In its yard is a two-ton bronze sculpture installed as a reminder of a large sycamore tree. The tree was uprooted on September 11, 2001 from St Paul’s Chapel several blocks away and found lying in the yard of Trinity Church. It had fallen in such a way that none of the historic tombstones around it were disturbed and none of the wreckage reached the Chapel.

Trinity Root Sculpture, Trinity Church
Trinity Root Sculpture

When we arrived at the American Museum of Natural History, I recognized immediately that these were the actual exhibits behind the characters featured in the movie “Night at the Museum”!  The David H. Koch Dinosaur collection alone occupied a large area on the fourth floor. This museum is huge and amazing, and it requires at least a full day (and maybe more) to explore.  A must-see if you’re in NYC.

As you may have guessed, the Rockefeller Center is a tourist destination and we were there milling around with hundreds of other folks.

A visit to NYC wouldn’t be complete without being in Times Square at night!  Our friends made sure we saw it during the day and then again all lit up.

Lastly, they took us across to Brooklyn where we were able to see the amazing Manhattan skyline from yet another vantage point.  Awesome!

Manhattan skyline at night
Manhattan Skyline and Brooklyn bridge at night, viewed from Brooklyn.

It was truly great seeing and reconnecting with Rosana again after so many years. Many thanks to her and Angelo, our gracious and patient hosts for giving us a fantastic tour of NYC – and for the wonderful lunch in Chinatown.   You are the best!

Angelo and Rosana
Angelo and Rosana

 



 

Hugging Maine’s Coastline

We’ve been lingering in Maine a little longer than planned, and the primary reason – Lobstah!  Of course it is Maine’s main crustacean, scientifically known as Homarus Americanus, or American Lobster.  They come in several colors, but not red – except when they are cooked – then they are all red like the one pictured below.  It takes an American lobster 6-7 years to get to an edible size.  They are long-lived animals, thought to be capable of living over 100 years.

Lobster
Lobstah!

Lobstermen with their traps and lobsters seem to be the unique and distinctive tradition here in Maine.

Lobsterman at work
Just one of the thousands of lobsterman seen at work along the coast.
Prospect Harbor
Lobsterman

In addition to the lobstermen, there are picturesque harbors, wharves and small coastal towns dotted with lobster boats, traps and buoys.

Lobster boats and traps
Lobster boats and traps at Prospect Harbor

Lobsters are caught using baited, one-way traps with color-coded marker buoys that uniquely mark each one.  These buoys decorate the surface of the ocean along many miles of the coastline.

Buying live lobsters direct from a lobsterman is the best option and you get to see their yard littered with traps, ropes and buoys – tools of the trade.

Lobsterman's Yard
A lobsterman’s Yard

Being seafood lovers, we had a lobster feast almost every day while in Maine.  And here is a fun fact – long before they became such a delicacy, lobsters were fed to prisoners and servants.  It was considered “poor man’s food” during the colonial times.  Well, we were able to buy it for as little as $3.99 per pound while staying near Bar Harbor – we didn’t want to leave!

Here’s the best part – lobster is highly nutritious.  Despite its rich, buttery taste, it is a low-calorie, low-fat source of protein: 3.5 ounces of meat has only about 96 calories and less than 2 grams of fat.  Succulent and a healthy food to boot!  We ate them with gusto every day and not worry about gaining extra pounds.

Lobster wit
Steve’s new favorite refrigerator magnet

Enough said about the favorite crustacean, how about Maine’s coastline?   Get this, Maine’s convoluted coastline is 51 miles longer than California’s, at 3,478 miles – that’s if you count all the bays and tidal inlets.  So, off we went to journey along the mid-coast area, driving to Penobscot Bay.  It was being billed as the most scenic body of water on the eastern seaboard, with the “must see” towns of Rockland, Rockport and Camden.  This area also includes many historic lighthouses and museums, plus lots of shopping and excellent restaurants.

Penobscot Bay
View of Penobscot Bay with Camden Harbor just to the right of center.

Our first stop was in Rockland, where we walked across the mile-long granite Rockland Breakwater which was built in 1880.  The breakwater is now on the National Register of Historic Places and at the end of the granite pier sits The Rockland Breakwater Light.

At Marine Park in Rockport we enjoyed the small but busy sheltered harbor.  Here too are historic lime kilns used more than a century ago.

Marine Park, Rockport
Marine Park, Rockport, just half of the so picture perfect view

After paying an entrance fee to get into Camden Hills State Park, we hiked the overlapping Tablelands, Megunticook and Mt. Battie trails.  It was a fairly strenuous 4-mile round trip with steep pitches, as it climbed steadily to the ocean lookout.  At the top we were rewarded with a bird’s eye view of Camden Harbor, and the panorama of Penobscot Bay and its islands.

Camden Harbor
A closer look at a living postcard, Camden Harbor viewed from Tablelands Trail
Penobscot Bay
Penobscot Bay and its many islands, with Mount Desert Island  in the background

The southern coast of Maine is known for its beaches, dozens of lighthouses and endless boutiques, antique stores and museums.  We stopped at Wells, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Ogunquit.

Walkers Point
At Walker’s Point, the George HW Bush summer home in Kennebunkport.

At Perkins Cove, we followed a scenic cliff walk named Marginal Way for over a mile.  It meanders along the ocean and connects Perkins Cove to the town of Qgunquit.  It is a very popular trail and was crowded, even on a weekday.

Marginal Way
The Marginal Way Trail – very pretty walk but too crowded for us.
Ogunquit Beach
Ogunquit Beach

For the lighthouse lovers out there, Maine has 68 lighthouses.  We walked to and viewed a few of them.   Each is unique with its own heroic rescues and romantic stories, and it seems we never get tired of checking them out.  Most are automated now and some have been preserved as museums.

And with that, our Maine sojourn comes to an end.  This was our first time staying in Maine, but it won’t be the last – we really enjoyed the atmosphere and already know we must come back.  During our latest excursions here, our base camps were at Saltwater Farm Campground in Cushing, and at Moody Beach RV park in Wells.  If interested in Steve’s campground reviews, click here.

 



 

Lighthouses, lobsters and a desert? – Freeport, ME

When you think of Maine, lobsters probably come to mind along with ocean breezes – maybe even the sight of lobster boats trawling on the ocean.  It may be difficult to imagine that among the rolling hills and just a few miles from the coast is a desert.  We were not looking for this desert, but it just happened to be next door to our RV Park – Desert of Maine RV Park (reviewed here).  We were so intrigued that as soon as we settled in we immediately caught a tour to see for ourselves what they are bragging about.  And sure enough, there it was!

Desert of Maine
This post shows how the moving sand dune has covered a water spring and drinking station that lie below.
Desert of Maine
A pose at the desert of Maine

It is not really a true desert by weather standards, but is otherwise considered a desert.  This tract of land is now covered with a sandy substance known as glacial silt (called “mica”), which has developed into dunes 80 ft deep.  Centuries before, topsoil formed a cap concealing the desert, enabling a forest to grow.  In 1797 Mr. Tuttle farmed this land, but poor crop rotation techniques and over-grazing resulted in soil erosion, and one day a patch of sand became exposed.

It continued growing until the sand claimed the farm, swallowing buildings and pastures.  Because he could not contain it, Mr. Tuttle sold the 300 acres of land for $300.  Mr Goldrup bought the farm and saw a potential, and in 1925 opened the area as a tourist attraction.  So that is how the Tuttle Farm of 1783 to 1919 became a Desert of Maine since 1925.

Lobster Roll, Derosier's
Our first lobster roll, the best in Freeport!

After that excitement we ventured out and began the search for a good lobster roll, live fresh lobsters, lighthouses, boats and ships and oh, maybe some shopping too.  A trip to Freeport would be incomplete without a stop at the mothership of shopaholics, L.L. Bean, which has had its headquarters here since 1917.  We indulged in some needed clothing, and since lunchtime was approaching we searched for Derosier’s Cafe, recommended by the cashier at LLBean.  We were told they serve the best lobster roll in the area for only $9.95, and it certainly was delicious!  A great hole-in-the-wall restaurant among many fancy places.

We drove to Cape Elizabeth Light – also known as Two Lights – where two light towers, about 300 yards apart, are located.  Built in 1828 and rebuilt in 1874, were sold several times and now sit on private property.  Only the eastern tower of the two that made up the light station until 1924 is active.  The western tower is deactivated, but it is still standing and is privately owned.  We were disappointed that we couldn’t get all the way up to the structures and would not recommend driving too far our of your way to see them.

This area along the ocean coast is also known for its rocky outcroppings that jut out to the ocean.

Two Lights
Cape Elizabeth Two Lights

One of the most popular landmarks along the shores of Maine is the Portland Head Light.  It is the state’s oldest lighthouse built in 1791 and sits in Fort Williams Park, on a head of land at the entrance to the primary shipping channel into Portland Harbor.  It is located within Casco Bay in the Gulf of Maine.  An active lighthouse, it is now automated and the tower, beacon, and foghorn are maintained by the United States Coast Guard.

Portland Head Light
Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park

We followed a trail which gave us various views of the lighthouse as we explored the rocky shores.

Portland Head Light
Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park viewed from the west

Bath, Maine is known as the “City of Ships” for its shipbuilding history dating back 400 years.  It is home to Bath Iron Works (BIW) where we joined a one-hour trolley tour that took us behind the gates of “The Works” to see how modern U.S. Navy destroyers are built.  We learned why the phrase “Bath Built is Best Built” rings true at this ultra-modern facility.  Photography is prohibited on the tour, so we sat in rapt attention as the guide narrated the various stages of shipbuilding which he likened to assembling lego blocks.  The size and scope of work performed at this facility is staggering.  They are just now building two of the Navy’s newest destroyers – the DDG 1000 Zumwalt, and the next Arleigh Burke class ships.  Pulling alongside an 800+ ft. long destroyer in drydock is enough to take anyone’s breath away.  Don’t miss this one!

Dry Dock
The Big Blue dry dock, 750 ft long, 144 ft wide between walls, 52 ft high and can lift 28,000 long tons – made in China!

The huge blue box in the picture is a floating dry dock, used for launching the ships after their hulls are complete. When ready for launch, a completed ship is moved into the dry dock by means of a hydraulic trolley system. There the vessel rests on temporary cradles and blocking until it can float away. The dry dock sinks by pumping river water into its tanks, and floats again by pumping water out.

Since admission to the Maine Maritime Museum next door is included in the ticket price ($35 per person), plan to spend several hours here if you can.  The area’s nautical history is chronicled in detail, and there are several impressive displays.  On the center of the  grounds is the largest sculpture in New England, a life-size representation of the Wyoming.  It was the largest wooden sailing ship ever built, at 426 feet from tip of bowsprit to stern rail.  It had six masts, each 177 feet tall!  My photo below can not convey the size of this sculpture, but believe me it is impressive.

Wyoming sculpture
Life size sculpture of “Wyoming”, the flagpoles represent the mast locations

The sculpture stands on the same spot where the schooner was built in 1909 and is of the same size as shown on the picture below.
Wyoming 1904

Although we aren’t boat fanatics, we found the displays about boat building on this 20-acre campus to be quite interesting.  The self-guided tour includes the history of the lobster industry and how it became a staple and symbol of Maine.

Maine Marine Museum
Campus waterfront viewed from the Paint and Treenail House

Carving house

After touring and sightseeing, its time to go to the market and get some seafood…lobsters, that is!

Desert of Maine Campground
Our nice, spacious site at the Desert of Maine RV Park

After admiring lighthouses and the coastline (not to mention satisfying our lobster cravings), we moved to Bangor, Maine and stayed at Pumpkin Patch RV resort.  We spent a couple of days trip planning and preparing Betsy for our border crossing into Canada.

We are now dependent on the internet offered at RV parks in Canada, which is really spotty.  Hence my story telling may be somewhat delayed during the next few weeks.  Oh the tribulations of international travel!

 



 

Road signs, chocolate and beer – PA

On this exciting leg of our trip, we so much enjoyed the vast green vistas as we chugged along into Pennsylvania.  We were amazed as we appreciated the cornfields, the gorgeous farms with huge grain silos, the rolling hills and all of the blooming wildflowers. Just beautiful!

Pennsylvania Road

Cornfields
Cornfields on rolling hills

Then we came across these signs along the road.  They were spaced at fairly close intervals along PA147N  highway:

And how about this one:

Keep min 2 dots
A strange way to show vehicle spacing – tailgating is apparently a bit issue here!

Finally, on I-80W another reminder:

DUI arrests
DUI arrests

We met Steve’s friends from his old days at Lawrence Livermore National Lab (Mike and Sue) for dinner in Wilkes-Barre and had a great time with them.  Since they are long-time Pennsylvanians, we asked about all of those strange signs.  What’s up with that?

Ronnan
With Mike and Sue

They told us that Pennsylvania drivers are really bad!  That bad?  Maybe, so I asked our blogger friends from Oh the Places they go, who are also from PA, to comment about that.  We’ll see if we hear back from them.

If you’re a chocoholic traveling through Pennsylvania, then a stop at Hershey is in order.  Growing up in the Philippines, a bar of Hershey’s chocolate was like a manna from heaven.  This was another one of those “I’ve got to see it” places.  Well, we were not disappointed.  Hershey is not just a chocolate factory, it is a town, a school, a botanical garden, an arena, a theme park, a hotel, a spa, a theater and much more.  These and other accomplishments were all things Milton Hershey brought to the dairy region of Pennsylvania when he created Hershey, the chocolate center of America.

Milton Hershey School
Milton Hershey School
Hershey Theme Park
Hershey Theme Park

At the heart of the town was the chocolate factory, a huge brick building nestled in the shadows of two smokestacks, where cocoa goodness wafted out into streets and homes for many years.  However, we learned during our tour that the factory has been moved to a modern facility down the road which has doubled their output.

Hershey chocolate Factory
Hershey chocolate Factory

When Milton Hershey died in 1945 at the age of 88, a chocolate bar had carried his name around the world and made him a legend.  What struck us most is that he failed financially several times before he managed to build his empire.

Steve and I were jumpy and hyper from all the chocolate we had consumed during the various tours, and we were starving.  Searching for food, we stumbled upon a brewery along Hersheypark Drive and decided to check it out.  We were very glad we did, because the independent craft brewery called Troeg’s turned out to be a neat place with good food and a nice self-guided brewery tour.

On this stop we stayed at Western Village RV Campground at Carlisle, PA, and at Yogi Bear’s at Shangri-la in Milton, PA.  Check Steve’s camp reviews here if you are interested.