Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Postcards from the Journey - Day Nine

We didn't park at the Marriott last night until 6 PM and we have to pay for 24 hours of parking, so being practically perfect in every way, we check our bags and leave the car until we need to pick it up?

One problem - it starts to rain as we walk, not hard, but enough to require an umbrella, and ours, of course, are in the car!  The clerk at the front desk tells us not to worry about having the car brought around - they will lend us two umbrellas.  But we're already checked out?  No problem.  No way!  This has got to be the anti-Gotham from another dimension.

Last night we saw a cute little diner on the corner that serves breakfast all day.  It seems that to be a waitress at this diner you must be a blond born in the former Soviet Union, and to eat there you must speak only Spanish.  The food and the service are both very good.  Here is Pam with our waitress.

We decide to walk the neighborhood again because we saw some great architecture that we couldn't get good pictures of at night.  In particular there is this church that is absolutely gorgeous.  We have no idea what it is, but its Gothic spires juxtaposed against the modern highrises is an astonishing sight.  It's only a couple of blocks from our hotel. 

When we get to the church we start looking for signs and can't find one.  At one of the doors Pam asks a lady the name of the church - St. Patrick's Cathedral.  All this time we've been drooling!  No wonder!

We go inside and there is a mass being said.  There are hundreds of visitors taking pictures anyway.  The guard says, "Just don't interfere with mass."

I guess if it happens every day it ceases to be strange.

The outside is beautiful, but the inside of the cathedral is exquisite.  Every nook and cranny is filled with majestic statues and soaring arches.  It is enough to make me weep just thinking about it.  Absolutely breathtaking!

From the sublime to the limelight - our next destination is Time Square to see if we can get tickets to a show.  Eileen was the first to tell us about TKTS and the half price tickets sold the day of the show.  But like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz no one seemed to know in which direction we would find the booth. 

Finally a clerk at Starbucks gave us good directions.  Yeah Starbucks clerks!

We made it to the booth at about 1:30 PM and there was no sign of life whatsoever.  Drat!  I thought they must not have any tickets today.  WRONG.  They open at 3.  How did we find out?  A reporter for FOX News was doing interviews and in exchange Pam demanded information.

At 2 a line started to form and we jumped in.  We both wanted to see Mary Poppins, but being Monday not all theaters are open and there's no guarantee that show will have tickets available.  What should we do if we couldn't get into that show?  We discussed several options, but none of them made us happy, because every day's a holiday with Mary.  At 2:30 they put the shows that had tickets available on the screen about a block away from us.  Pam went to see.

MARY's on the list!!!!  Hee hee!  Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious!

We decided to grab lunch at a restaurant suggested by John and Mary Jo and  Eileen, Ollie's Chinese.  We sat next to a table of eclectic theater types discussing their upcoming project. One of them kept starring at Pamela.  He said he thought he knew her from somewhere.  WELL HIRE HER AND YOU WILL!!

On the other side of our table a lady of about our age was sitting by herself.  As Pam and I talked about what we still needed to see in the city she joined our conversation and we all began chatting like old chums.  She had some great suggestions, and I can't help but feel we made her day a little brighter.

After lunch we did a little bit of shopping and grabbed our things from the Marriott.  We drove to the New Amsterdam theater and parked the car in a lot that was close by.  I was amazed that so many of the people filing into the theater weren't English speaking.  Our seats were in the orchestra section about 10 rows back and 2 seats from the outside aisle - perfect.  The couple next to us was a gay couple from DC that had come in on an weekend AMTRAK special.  The couple on the other side was European - Scandinavian I think - and spoke almost no English.  In front of us was a group from South America speaking Spanish and broken English.  One of them was constantly looking at a screen that we thought was her phone - texting?!  But it turned out they tried to film the first half of the show.  The house manager came by at intermission and made them erase it all.

This is a view of the stage pre-show with the curtains drawn.

The play was FAB!  Great dancing, singing, acting, and stage craft.  I knew what to expect from the reviews, but when she took off over the audience at the end of Act 1 my jaw hit the floor.  Pam said it instantly reminded her of reaching for Tinkerbell at Disneyland.  The play is a lot darker than the movie, which we understand pleased the author.  We enjoyed it so much we didn't want to leave.

Pam Flying with Mary!

Stealing a kiss!

We finished the day off with a drive back to the B&B in Brooklyn.  The GPS - affectionately named Shirley - wanted us to take the Brooklyn Bridge, but it was closed and we could not find a way across the @#$$% river.  This made for a very late night, and although I was more than a little mad at the time, looking back I only remember Mary!

Tomorrow Delmonico's and Central Park!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Postcards from the Journey - Day Eight

30 YEARS!!!
EVERYONE MUST DO THE HAPPY DANCE!!!!  Stop what you are doing, get up right where you are and dance!!!  Swing your hips and throw your arms up in the air!

You are some CRAZY people!!  

On day eight we moved for a night from Brooklyn to the Time Square Marriott.  Why?  Because that was where we were going to stay 5 years ago.

We started the day by catching something to eat a Jewish deli we found around the corner from the B&B.

 Then jumped across to Battery Park again.  There's more there than the Statue of Liberty??  Who knew?

 A memorial commemorating the immigrants from every part of the world welcomed to our shores by Lady Liberty.

 A memorial for the Merchant Marines.

 And a close up.

 A memorial to those who served in the Korean War .

And the remnants of a sculpture that once stood before the World Trade Center, that perhaps most eloquently spoke of the pointlessness of war.

 Kind of sober for an anniversary celebration?  Perhaps, but I'm so glad we didn't miss it.  Our time there on day seven had felt rushed, and we left this time feeling as if we had given this site the time it deserved.

We went to the hotel at Lexington and 48th and checked in.  I had hoped to go to Delmonico's for our anniversary, but found that they close on Sunday.  We couldn't decide where we wanted to go.  There are soooo many choices.  We finally decided to do Delmonico's the next day and something simpler tonight.

We decided to take a stroll and see where we wound up.  It was overcast, but otherwise beautiful evening.  We walked for several blocks waiting for something to jump out at us.  Then I remembered a place Pamela had mentioned wanting to go - Serendipity 3.  It was close to us but about as far from the usual anniversary restaurant place as possible.  Pam thought it was a great idea.  I love that about her!  She's just in it to have fun, and boy did we.

Burgers and fries and a butterscotch sundae - Shepherd's pie and a cappuccino - a celebration to remember!

Here's to 30 more!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Postcards from the Journey - Day Seven

Last night we arrived in Brooklyn - late.  Eve's Place is not a B&B in the classical sense.  Eve doesn't live there.  She rents out the three levels separately.  We had the third floor.  Pam called and spoke with Eve when we left Philly telling her we would be in late.  She gave us instructions for getting into the apartment - a code for the front door and another for the one to our space.

We got lost on the way and arrived even later than we thought.  The street was dark and packed with cars, but we found a space just across the street.  Pam said that Brooklyn reminded her of Buffalo and the homes of her aunts and uncles there.

Carrying our bags up to the third floor almost killed us.  But the place was great.  Two bedrooms, a big bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room.  Funky furniture everywhere - big mirrors and overly fancy overhead lights.  But it was clean and cozy and home for several days.

Day seven was a full one.  We knew that in advance, but didn't realize how long the rides by subway would take - an hour from Brooklyn to Manhattan - thirty minutes across Manhattan.  Luckily Pam's sister, Eileen,  told us about, a site that allows you to feed in from and to locations and get walking directions and which train to catch.  Best of all it ran on my phone!!  Brilliant!!  Life saver!!

We had tickets to a show that evening so we agreed to just try as get as much in as possible and stay in Manhattan for the show - returning to Brooklyn by train late at night.

Our first stop was the Chelsea Market, an old fish market that had been repurposed as a shopping center with cute shops and restaurants.  Our friend Susan Blair had told us to check it out.  It is very cute, but not magnificent.  Frankly, I was a little disappointed.  I mean it was cute and all, but we're in New York - I expect fantastic!  We walked through the length of the shopping area and as we were leaving a gentleman asked if we had been to the park one level up.  No, we didn't know anything about a park.  What the heck we go up to have a look.

A little aside - New Yorkers, like the guy that suggested we check out the park, get a seriously bad rap.  I can't tell you how many people we asked for help, or directions, or advise.  And 99% of them were not just nice but fabulously nice, engaging, personable, and fun.  They drive like demons from hell, but up close they're good people.  Back to our story -

The park the guy casually mentioned is the Highline, a miles long park that creates a totally unexpected green space amidst the buildings of West Manhattan, and yes, those are rails you see amidst the plants.  This wonderful area was built along an abandoned section of the elevated train.  It is so cool. 

Now I see what Susan meant.  There were a lot of people walking the trail, but it is so beautiful - with views of the fantastic skyline in all directions - we couldn't pull ourselves away.  The more we walked the more park there seemed to be.  At one point we caught our first view of Lady Liberty.  Eager to see more we walked all the way to the end of the park without a better view.  No worries, the walk, the park was incredible.  Loved it.

But a glimpse of the Lady from a long way off was not going to do it.  We caught a train to Battery Park for more.  The day was overcast so we didn't get great pictures, but just being there was profoundly and unexpectedly moving.  I've seen pictures of the statue all my life.  I love what she represents - "Give me your poor, your huddled masses."  But being this close to her touched me in a very deep way.

We discussed taking the ferry so we could get closer, but I get seasick in a bathtub, so that was not going to happen.  We did get to visit her a couple more times during our stay, but more on that later.

After spending a few hours in the light rain at Battery Park we decided we had time before our show to go see the World Trade Center memorial.  I couldn't get signal on my cell phone so we weren't able to hopstop it.  $#!@!@  We were told that it was just a few blocks down the road so we started walking.

Lesson - never trust a New Yorker concerning distance or direction.  They know everything by subway or taxi so what they think of as a few blocks winds up being an hour long walk and nowhere near just down the block.  We were out of cash for a cab, and all the ATMs were behind locked doors - only accessible by swiping your card.  Find a Bank of America in the financial district of NY.  Needle in a haystack!

Although we finally found one, by that time we really were nearly there so we just walked the whole way.  Ouch!  my dogs hurt just thinking about it.

When we finally got there we couldn't find anyone that knew where the memorial was - or anything that visitors could see other than the construction fence.  We finally found an information booth, but the attendant was so busy with one couple that no one else could get a simple question answered.

After all of that, we had just enough time to catch a subway up to the theater district and catch our show - That Championship Season at the Jacobs Theater.

If you can make out the sign in the picture above you will see that the shows stars were Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, Chris Noth, Brian Cox, and Jim Gaffigan.  What a cast!  We had great seats.  The shows energy was a bit off, but still very good.  The acting was terrific.   Neither Pam nor I cared much for the play itself.  There was no one that you liked - every character was so unpleasant, and in the end there was no redemption of any kind.  A sad picture of broken miserable men.

After the show we caught a late supper at a cute little deli - very Jewish, very crowded, very good.  Then caught the train back to Brooklyn.  A LONG, BUSY DAY, filled with great views, great food, great fun!

Tomorrow THIRTY YEARS!!!!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Postcards from the Journey - Day Six

First, let me say that it has been impossible to blog every day with all that we've been doing, so I'm writing day six almost a week late!!!

I fully intend to catch up, but it will take me awhile. 

Day six we travel to Philadelphia to spend a few awesome hours.  What a beautiful city!  I don't know what I was expecting, but OMG!  Parks, statues, beautiful architecture, TONS of history, and friendly people.  I wish I had a few weeks to spend there.

Our stop in Philly was primarily to see the Liberty Bell and to see if we could find the library that housed the documents and journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition (hereafter I will simply refer to them as L & C).

Much like Gettysburg there were teachers herding classes of children of all sizes and shapes everywhere.  Unlike Gettysburg there were also tours from China, Japan, Zimbabwe, and Southern Uzbekistan,and each tourist stopped in front of every sign, placard, and crack in the side walk to have his or her picture taken with the wondrous object.  And then of course there were the group photos of each tour in front of each wondrous object.

In the past this would have ended all hope of my enjoying this city.  I HATE CROWDS.  But something amazing happened - None of that bothered me this time.  My inner child was dancing and shouting and having a great time!  Don't worry, my outer adult was somewhat more sensible, but there was a smile there that would have surprised anyone that knew me well.

We found the Liberty Bell with no problem.  It is a free exhibit open to all, first come first serve.  The line was longer than the ones I remember in Disneyland.  No problem.  Worth the wait.  The park ranger giving the history of the bell was fascinating, insightful, and thorough.  He lost most of the school children after the first minute or two, and most of the foreign viewers after "hello,"  but Pam and I listened to the whole thing.

There is also a tour of Liberty Hall where the Continental Congress sat and the Declaration of Independence was signed, but you have to get tickets to go on the tour and with the crowds we were only able to get tickets for late afternoon - so we skipped that and went searching for L & C. 

We didn't have to go far.  On the same block was an exhibit of the American Philosophical Society called "Of Elephants and Roses."  We were advised that they were the keepers of all things L & C.  So we scurried over to the exhibit to see if they could help us.  As we entered the exhibit Pam asked if it would be possible to see any of the L & C journals.  The face of the young man at the top of the stairs lit up.  He almost bounded down the stairs to inform us that he would be glad to take us across to the street to the main APS Library to show us a display of L & C's.  He and the other curator - an older woman - were so enamored at finding another history buff in my wife that they fairly drooled all over themselves, sharing little tidbits about the wondrous doings of former great men.

There were two small exhibits in the main library - most of which is private.  One contained two journals of L & C.  The curator told us that all of the journals are displayed on a rotation that allows them to avoid over exporsure to the elements.  It would have been nice to see more, but a little taste is better than none at all.

The other exhibit was on the writing of the Declaration of Independence.  There was a draft that Thomas Jefferson had sent to Benjamin Franklin with annotated amendments asking for his approval.

Fascinating.  How did the American Philosophical Society end up with these documents?  Their past president happened to be Thomas Jefferson and their membership includes a long list of names of the men that have formed the history of this nation.

From there we went to a display of art of the important men and women in early Philadelphia history.  The work was mostly that of Charles Wilson Peale.

This is the building that held the art collection.

From there we decided to lunch at the City Tavern a place that was frequented by many of the members of the Continental Congress back in their day and has been recently restored.  The chef uses recipes that were common in the colonial period.  Pam had a salmon dish and the Martha Washington Chocolate Mousse Cake.

 I had the George Washington Porter Ale and the beef pie.

From there we visited the site of Benjamin Franklins home and offices.  The home was long ago removed.  The site has been preserved with a metal frame that gives the bare outline of what once stood.  On the floor are quotes form letters and documents of the Franklin family.

Across a square are both the first American Post Office and Franklins printing house.

Very cool stuff but NY beckons.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Postcards from the Journey - Day Five

From the beginning Gettysburg was a destination on this trip.  When we discussed and planned it five years ago - Gettysburg was a part of the plan.

So I absolutely hate to say that I'm a little disappointed.

Disappointed?  How can anyone be disappointed with what has been done to preserve the memory of this battle and the men who fought there?  It is all magnificent.  The monuments and statues alone - which are indescribably beautiful - are worth a fortune.  The work that has gone into developing the route which outlines the battle almost moment by moment over the three days it was fought has been painstaking.  The collected stories would fill a complete volume.

I think I was disappointed because it was all a little too slick.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Arriving at Gettysburg requires about a half hour trip off the main roads.  I like that.  You have to want to go.  And the morning we went there were a lot of people wanting to go.  The place was packed.  Busloads of senior citizens and other busloads of high school and junior high schoolers were everywhere. 

At the visitors center we discovered that there are a number of ways to tour Gettysburg.  You can just drive through following a car route and stop to read every marker and monument - there are several thousand of them.  You can buy an audio CD that will guide you through the tour - we were offered a choice of three: the bare bones version that is a simplified version for someone that doesn't have a lot of time, a good version that uses the script taught to the official tourguides, and one with a hollywood actor giving a dramatic spin to the story of the battle with sound effects and music.  You can take a bus tour that will stop at all the important stops.  Or, you can hire a tour guide to take your group through the tour.

Being enamored with all things hollywood, hating bus fumes, and cheap as they come I chose the dramatic CD.  Big mistake.  The production quality and storytelling was superb - I heard about brave dogs and cowardly generals, stories of tragedy and stories of bravery, and no less than three key moments that could have turned the outcome of the battle.  The three CDs are well worth the money. 

But this place does not need them.  It deserves a quiet respectful viewing.

Pamela wanted to start with the graveyard, but that's not the way the tour starts so we followed the tour route.  Big mistake.

If I had it to do over again I'd take Pam's advise and start with the graveyard.  Get in touch with the solemnity of the place, then I'd visit the observation towers to get a lay of the land to see how the terrain managed the battle, and I'd close with a prayer that this type of destruction will not visit us again.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Postcards fromthe Journey- Day Four

Travel Day.  Travel Day.
Haven't got much that we need to say.

So here's the progression so far:
Houston to Winona, MS
Winona to Franklin, TN
Franklin to Knoxville, TN
Knoxville to Winchester, VA

Tomorrow Gettysburg.

Postcards from the Trip - Day Three - Pam

An explanation to everyone that has been following this.  Blogspot went down for about a day and lost Pam's entire Day 3.  Pam was devastated, as she had worked for several painstaking hours the night before in a medium that is new to her in order to share what, for her, has been the most profound experience of the trip so far.  What she had written was beautiful and heartlfelt.  Here is the best we could do to pick up the pieces and move on:


I'm feeling a bit confused this morning.  It might be the time change - we entered the Eastern Time Zone just before Knoxville, TN - but even as we're about to turn up the Blue Ridge Parkway, heading in a different direction, I feel the direction of the trip changing.  Not in a bad way, maybe it's even South to North - a different "feel" - just as good, but better.

So why the confusion?!  Mike qualified it yesterday, in the car on the way to Knoxville he said, "I'm exhausted, but not physically. I feel emotionally exhausted." And well we should.  We'd just heard about one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War - in Franklin, TN.

The Franklin Battle was considered to be the worst one of the Civil War, and pretty much the determining factor in the war's end, as well as one of it's greatest military blunders. Long story short. The Union and Confederate troops were trying to beat each other up to the state capital of Nashville, the Union to join forces with the rest of their troops who'd already taken the capital, the Confederacy to overtake and reclaim it as their own.  But, spring flooding had washed out one of the two bridges and the Union army could not get their equipment across the remaining one, the narrow railroad bridge. Basically, there was a huge traffic jam, and an unplanned, disastrous battle was the result.

One of the worst battles was fought on the front lawn of the Carter House (pictured below).  You can still see the trench dug by the Union army to the left of where Derek, our tour guide, stands.

As the Carter family emerged from their hiding place in the cellar below, their eyes met with the brutal devastation and loss of life - 57 bodies strewn across their front lawn, as well as a massacre across the entire area as far as the eye could see.

On the other side of town lived John and Carrie McGavock, owners of the Carnton Plantation.  Shortly, before the battle, Carrie was asked by a chaplain friend if they could use the house as a hospital.  She readily agreed and the house quickly filled to the brim.  The family was relegated to the only room left in the house, assumed to have been the kitchen. 

John and Carrie were not perfect, but what a sacrifice they made in turning their home into a hospital to nurse the barely living back to life. Carrie used everything from linens to tablecloths, even the bottom of her own dress, to bandage the wounds of the nearly 300 soldiers under her care.  Consequently, she became known as, "The Good Samaritan of the South."

Pam under the tree in Carrie's garden
 where overflow surgery was performed.


Mike standing on the porch where 4 dead generals
 were laid in honor before burial.

The McGavocks also portioned out a large part of their own family cemetary to bury the approximately 1,500 soldiers who died there, and Carrie kept pristine records on those interred from that time until the time of her death at the age of 80

No one really knows what spirited Carrie on. Perhaps it was the death of 3 of her 5 children early on, perhaps simply the heart of compassion and kindness in an area of great need. Perhaps it was her own call from the Divine.   Whatever the reason, the entire area bears a peace that transcends all human understanding for what happened there.

I'd often just thought of the Confederacy as stubborn, rebellious, and wrong, but as I walked through the house and grounds of the Carnton Plantation, and especially after reading the book which inspired this journey, the "Widow of the South" - I've gained a new appreciation for these farmers and landowners who were simply protecting their own.  As our tour guide, Derek, so eloquently stated, "who was right or wrong in this did not matter. These were brave men who were willing to lay down their lives for what they believed in and for the survival of their families."

After the Civil War ended, Union soldiers received pensions and aid from the Federal government, but they also dealt with the usual war traumas, coupled with the weight of having fought their own, including sometimes their own families.

Confederate soldiers, on the other hand, had to depend on their own States for pension and aid.  Their own post-war trauma included rebuilding their lives, the agony of defeat, and the difficulty of rejoining The Union.

With the need to talk about and heal their experiences, the first Veteran groups were formed, one for the blue and one for the gray.  Eventually, the two sides merged, and this famous quote was born::

"Whether blue or gray it makes no difference to us; we are friends and brothers now."

Let us not soon forget...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Postcards from the Journey - Day Two

Our second day of this amazing trip might be called lost in history.

We awoke in Winona, MS and headed north to Memphis, TN.  We joked about stopping at Graceland, but will leave that pilgrimage for another time.  We began to see signs that I-40 was closed due to the flooding.  We stopped at the visitor center at the Tennessee border and were told that it was the road west to Little Rock that was closed.  We were headed east to Nashville and the road was open - thank you Lord!  And please protect the people around the river.  Let the flood waters recede and the damage be minimal or nonexistent.

The visitor center had a very poignant commemorative plaque and sculpture honoring veterans.

As we drove through the beautiful corridor I-40 creates enjoying the lush green, Pam suddenly remembered that we were getting close to the burial site of Meriwether Lewis - of Lewis and Clark fame.  She had read a great book about their mission and the life of Lewis and really wanted to visit the place he is buried.

Pam called her sister Eileen who looked the site up on the internet and was able to give us the global position points which we fed into the GPS.  Up came the "Meriwether Lewis National Monument!"  The place was only about an hour out of the way so we decided to go for it.

One of the things that seemed a little odd is that we didn't find any road signs for the place along the way.  There were signs for Loretta Lynn's Dude Ranch, and not just billboards, official looking directional markers, but nothing that would lead a visitor to the monument of this American hero.

If that doesn't say something about America today I'm not sure what will.

The monument is located in a state park along the old Natchez Trace Highway that includes the restored structure of the inn in which he died and a memorial monument a few hundred feet away.  History records that Lewis committed suicide, but many have long doubted the accuracy of that assessment.

The grounds of the inn are under repair, but the place was still beautiful.  The only sound was the wind using the leaves like a million tiny tongues, and the calls of the birds.

Meriwether, the deeds of even great men fade into memory and shadow.  Thank you for the sacrifices you and your men endured to open the great expanse that is America.