Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Friday, September 30, 2022

09-09-2022 The Icons of New York City and Our Country

This was a day we looked forward to very much.  At first, understanding the plans made by our fearless leaders regarding how the day was to work was a bit difficult.  It was what they called a "ride-share" day.  What that meant was that folks who had a "toad" were to share rides with those who didn't in order to get to the location of the ferry building where one could embark to both Ellis Island and Liberty Island. 

Our park was on the east side of the canal, with the ferry building on the west side of the canal, but it required a bit of a drive of a couple of miles to get from one side to the other.  Another option was to walk to the little Liberty Marina ferry to get across the canal, but that fare wasn't included in the AVC trip.  However, parking at Liberty State Park for the ferry was included, as was the fare for both ferries to the islands and back home.  Owen distributed ferry tickets for all three ferry rides to each member of the group. Although, we had to present a parking ticket for reimbursement to Owen if we drove there in our own car.  Clear as mud?  Now, looking back, it makes perfect sense, but until we actually completed the day, it seemed very confusing.

We had no room in the back of the Tracker to take anyone anywhere, so embarked on our day on our own.  It was a bit of a relief after so many days of riding the bus and doing things with a big bunch of people.  With Mattie settled in after her mid-morning walk, and pleasant temperatures to look forward to, we began our private adventure.

One thing that surprised us a bit was the information Owen gave us about visiting Ellis Island.  He said there wasn't much to see there unless you cared to do some research about relatives that may have been processed through that entry to the United States for immigrants.  In reality, we found so much more that was worth seeing.

The parking lot for the ferry was huge, with much walking required even from the handicapped zone.  There was another huge lot much closer, but it was for 2-hour parking only.  We definitely intended to stay more than two hours on the islands. In the photo above, you can see the main terminal for the Liberty Park ferries with the skyscrapers of Jersey City in the background.

Liberty State Park is the official jump-off point for both islands, which are all actually in the state of New Jersey.  No matter, there is no doubt nothing more iconic of New York City than views of the Statue of Liberty. There is considerable security required for boarding the ferries, including valid identification and passing through the airport-style security gates.

Once on the small ferry, with a short climb to the top deck, the 15-minute ride offers gorgeous views of the Manhattan skyline. The approach to Ellis Island can bring a few goosebumps as you imagine immigrants seeing this view for the first time, apprehensive and possibly terrified of what lies ahead for them.

The main building on Ellis Island that housed the great hall where immigrants were processed is an impressive building from any angle.  We entered the great hall, marveled at the vast ceilings and began to explore. 

Funny side note:  Mo and I searched our DNA and Ancestry records for possible immigrants in our family history that may have passed through Ellis Island, not understanding that the Island only operated for a short period of time.  We learned that only one possible cousin of Mo's may have come through this room, a Mary Oukrop in 1913.  For both of us, as far back as we can go in our heritage, most everyone was born in the US long before Ellis Island was even a thought.  Many of my ancestors were born in Virginia in the mid-1600s.  That puts us on a par with those folks who came over on the Mayflower.

The first inspection station opened in 1892 and was destroyed by fire in 1897.  The second station opened in 1900 and housed facilities for medical quarantines and processing immigrants.  After 1924, however, Ellis Island was used primarily as a detention center for migrants. After the immigration station's closure, the buildings languished for several years until they were partially reopened in 1976.  The main building and adjacent structures were completely renovated in 1990.

We wandered through the many side galleries that flanked the main Registry room, reading the story of the thousands of immigrants who passed through these doors.

Without getting political here, I can only say that what impressed me more than anything else was how incredibly similar the issues we face as a country and the difficulties faced by immigrants were then as they are now.

The photo above made me laugh out loud.  Is that woman checking her cell phone in 1901?

We walked room after room with magnificent wall-sized enlargements of life in the early 1900s in the various nooks and crannies of the big cities, especially New York City, where penniless immigrants attempted to create a life and a home.

We saw newspaper cartoons from that same era that could have easily come from a current newspaper in the United States.

We saw huge ads, where the United States Government begged immigrants to come here to fill the huge gap in workers for the rapidly developing industrial revolution.  

We saw more ads where the government touted the wonders of the Promised Lands of North Dakota and California for migrants in need of high-paying jobs.

We entered the theater to watch a wonderful movie about the creation of Ellis Island and the history of its evolution over the decades to what it has come to represent.  The entire experience made me even more anxious to have the time to read my new book, Exodus, about the migration of humanity throughout the world and throughout history.  What we are experiencing now is certainly nothing new.

To say both Mo and I were strongly impacted by the images and history at Ellis Island would be an understatement.  It was a small delight to meet a young woman sitting on the bench waiting for the ferry with us.  Her family was from Senegal, and she now lived in Paris and was traveling the US on her own for a few days.  I wish I had taken her photo, but we both shook hands as we parted and wished each other well.

Once back on the ferry, it was only another short 15-minute ride to Liberty Island, where the Statue of Liberty resides.  I was so thrilled to have such a gorgeous day with brilliant blue skies as a backdrop to the green copper plates that are the skin of Lady Liberty.

It isn't possible to enter the stairways to the pedestal without an extra paid ticket, which was not part of our package and required registration in advance. Instead, we walked around the base of the statue, which we learned was once Fort Wood.  I will not even begin to attempt to recreate so much that has been written about the history of how this great statue came to our country, but for an excellent (and long) detailed article with a ton of information, click here

The main thing I learned was that the statue was placed on a pedestal that stands on the star-shaped foundation of Fort Wood.  Somehow I never knew a thing about that before this visit.  We also learned that the skin of the statue is composed of hammered plates of copper that are the approximate thickness of two pennies overlapping to cover the wooden foundation.  I also learned that she was not always green.  

When first erected she was a brilliant copper, but over time the copper has oxidized to the beautiful green color that we associate with the statue today.  It would be harmful to remove the oxidation to "clean" the statue as that would expose it to the harsh elements of wind and pollution that would cause it to deteriorate more quickly.

Much of the walking on this day wore me to a nubbin, and I asked Mo if we could forego visiting the interior of the museum.  I decided that we could find out anything we needed to know by searching around on the internet without compromising my wobbly legs that were threatening to dump me unceremoniously into a bush somewhere.

We boarded the return ferry toward the ferry terminal at Liberty Park and made the long walk back to the parking spot.  We just happened to run into Val, a fellow traveler with our group, from Florida, who had also come over to the island on her own.  Owen had told her, "Just find a ride with someone to get back, or you can go to the Canal Ferry and I will reimburse you".  Val asked us for a ride, but when we explained how full our car was, I am sure she thought we were waffling.  We had an idea, I would take Val back to the park and then come back for Mo.  When Val saw how full our Tracker was, she laughed out loud.  "I thought you were making excuses", she said.  It was a simple solution, with only a few minutes for each trip.  Val invited us for margaritas, her favorite drink but Mo declined.  I am a margarita lover, and of course, I wandered over to her rig after we got home for some fun conversation and a very tasty cocktail!

I think Lady Liberty was as tired of walking and standing as I was after this day.

09-08-2022 Another Great Day in New York City

I have so many full and rich memories from these two days that we spent visiting iconic sites in New York City.  On Thursday, we were blessed with another late start, meeting the bus at 12:45 for our drive into the city and our scheduled tour of the United Nations.

Owen had warned each of us before leaving home that security at the UN was over the top, and this was the one venue where we would be required to have our vaccination cards, and legal ID, and he suggested bringing our passports because there was a spot in the building where they would stamp your passport with the official UN stamp, similar to visiting another country.  

Surprisingly, this wasn't the case, with the security check consisting of simply passing through a security gate where we were required to put our phones and other metal items on a belt.  For the first time in many years, the pins in Mo's ankle set off the alarm and she had to get the wanding treatment.

There was also no passport stamp, and no post office where you could send mail with a UN canceled stamp.  Ah well, there was much to see in this historic place.

As we awaited entry Mo and I were greeted with a very familiar site.  The Sphere Within a Sphere sculpture is familiar because we had seen a similar piece at the entry courtyard of the Trinity Library in Dublin. If you look closely in the photo below, you can see a tiny reflection of Mo and me in the sphere in front of the Library.

"This gift of a bronze sculpture depicts two interlocked spheres. Entitled Sphere within Sphere, this piece is one in a series of similar works displayed across the world. The sculpture was designed for the Vatican and is also displayed in Dublin, Tel Aviv, and the Italian Parliament. The form depicts the globe of Earth itself. This complex work of art, composed of a sphere growing inside another sphere, can be read as a symbol of the emergence of a new world from the old.

This sculpture was designed by Arnaldo Pomodoro (1926 – ), a well-known Italian artist. Pomodoro’s works are notable for their use of geometric shapes that often relate to themes of self-destruction and recreation. Pomodoro has held exhibitions worldwide, including the 1988 Venice Biennale, and museums in Paris, Cairo, Cleveland, Copenhagen, and more."

As we entered the building, we were greeted by another statue, a bronze depiction of Nelson Mandela.  There are many works of art throughout the UN, gifted by various countries and showing support for the goals and aspirations of the organization throughout the world.

We have seen this main room filled with people from throughout the world so many times on TV news.  

Our tour of the UN was fascinating, and a bit overwhelming.  It is here that 193 countries come together in an attempt to solve the problems of the world, especially in regard to Human Rights.  No discussion here, please, of pros or cons or opinions of the UN.  I was deeply moved by the art, the work they attempt to do, and the mission.

As the tour ended, Mo and I wandered a bit through the gift shops and the bookstore on the basement level of the building.  The bookstore was fascinating, and I was drawn to a book called "Exodus-How Migration is Changing our World", written by economist Paul Collier.  So looking forward to long winter days when I can read and absorb this book slowly.

Below is a photo of a scale model of the UN building complex located outside the bookstore.

Standing outside the building once again, waiting for the group to gather, I was entranced by the shapes of the clouds against the angular shapes of the buildings, and the various combinations of rock and glass that made such a beautiful contrast.

Meandering through the city on the bus once again, traveling toward the Chelsea Pier was interesting.  Mo and I noticed that several sites and locations were becoming familiar to us.  However, it all began to look a bit different with a little more familiarity.

Below is a wrong side of the bus view of the High Line Trail and Little Island that I managed to catch as we passed through on our way to the next part of the day.

Another highlight of the trip awaited us.  Our group had a reservation for a dinner cruise on the Spirit of New York.  This cruise is another example of some of the expensive extras that were included for us by Adventure Caravans.

 We were so lucky to have such a perfect evening for our cruise. The skies were clear and the temperatures were cool in the breeze but very comfortable in the dining room of the boat. As we cruised out of the pier into the Hudson River, I finally got a decent photo of the infamous Little Island, and the angle from the water showed the music venue that is so popular there in addition to simply walking through the artificial landscape created from what was once a sad eyesore.

Accompanied by a full moon, we watched the lights of New York City brighten with the evening.  The dinner was a buffet, which I thought was quite tasty.  The braised short ribs were extremely flavorful and tender, there were salads, and kale offerings, garlic mashed potatoes, and really good gravy.  Down home food that was done well in my opinion.

As we rounded the tip of Manhattan Island toward Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge came into view.  How lucky for us that the full moon was in just the right place as we passed under the bridge.

When the boat turned around and passed back under the bridge, we were greeted with a truly amazing sight.  Every year, during the week of the anniversary of 9/11, there are two blue beams of light cast into the sky to commemorate the loss and the bravery of the New York first responders who gave so much during that awful time.  

The food was delicious, the views were superb, and it was only an afterthought that the extremely youthful music curated by the DJ was ridiculously loud and made conversation completely impossible.  Still, some of the group managed to get up and dance to the crazy beat as we watched and loved how much they enjoyed themselves. 

We were spared the YMCA, but the Macarena made a big appearance.  I got no photos of some of the beautiful people out on the dance floor before I took this photo of our fearless assistant leaders, Tina and Claudia, and a tiny lady whose name I have already forgotten who was a delight the entire trip.

Our quick pass view of the illuminated Statue of Liberty was beautiful, but almost an afterthought to the moving view of the blue lights of the memorial.  Still, it was fun to see the statue up close, knowing that on the next day we would have an entire day to ourselves to explore Ellis Island and Liberty Island.



Tuesday, September 27, 2022

09-06 and 09-07-2022 Two More Great Days in the City

Tuesday morning we woke to rain and wind blowing, branches behind the MoHo whipping around but nothing falling on the rig.  I took Mattie for her early morning walk, energized by the shifting weather, unconcerned about the rain.  We were ready with ponchos and raincoats for whatever the day might bring.

Mattie and I walked along the canal in the light mist.  The huge parking lot west of the park hasn’t been used in quite some time.  There is grass growing between the cracks of the old pavement and the geese like to hang out there in small groups.  The canal between the Liberty Park Marina and Liberty State Park isn’t very wide but is filled with boats of all kinds, including very large yachts.

Our plans for the day were reasonable.  The bus would pick us up at 8:30 and after a lovely day of fun stuff, we would return to Mattie and our rig by 7PM.  Not a bad schedule.  I was amazed at how wonderful I felt after being so worn out the previous night.

We left the park a bit early, which was good since we barely made it to our scheduled entry to the Rockefeller Center at 9:45 AM.  On the way, Claudia surprised us with a treat from the Crispy Creme Donut shop that was located not far from the park in New Jersey.

The Rockefeller Center building is huge, and much of it is inaccessible to the public, but we had a scheduled visit to the Top of the Rock "observatory" at 10:30.  It seems that the thing to do in the City is to visit the many observatories that have cropped up on the tallest buildings over the years.  We enjoyed two, with our visit to the Empire State Building observatory saved for our final day in NYC.

The elevator ride was nearly instantaneous, exiting one floor below the outdoor viewing area on the 68th floor, with another elevator leading to the observatory.  With terraces facing east, west, north, and south, the panoramic sights make it an ultimate observation deck in NYC.  Soaring 70 floors above Rockefeller Center, it is one of the top things to do in New York City.

Braving the rain for a few blocks to the bus wasn't a problem.  As you can see, our rain gear kept us in good shape.  We were ready for our highly anticipated meal at Carmine's Italian Restaurant.

Carmine's is a classic Southern Italian restaurant that serves family-style meals.  Our tour leaders had reserved enough space to seat all 31 of us at the long tables.  The service was stellar and the food was fantastic.  The homemade caesar dressing was so delicious I couldn't resist having seconds.  It was the best Caesar salad I can remember tasting.  

Then came the antipasto, fresh Italian bread, and finally the main courses.  We had a superb chicken marsala, a complex rigatoni dish, and giant tender Italian meatballs, that just melted in your mouth.  Such a meal!  

Mo and I wanted to enjoy some red wine with our Italian meal, and we knew that would be an extra charge.  Our sweet waiter said they didn't have anything by the glass, but he had small carafes of red that were about a glass and a half.  We didn't find out until it was time to pay for our wine that those little carafes were 30 bucks each.  No matter.  It was so delicious and the meal was free, and we definitely enjoyed having the wine as a compliment to our dinner.  

Dessert was a luscious tiramisu, too chocolatey and rich for words.  I could only manage a few bites, but the strong Italian coffee was a perfect finish.

After lunch, the group was scheduled for a backstage tour of Radio City Music Hall.  I decided that I just wasn't up for more walking, talking, and standing, and decided to simply wait in the bus for an hour of delightful rest while the group did the tour.  Mo decided that staying with me in the bus was more fun than wandering backstage at Radio City Music Hall.  It was a good choice.  Funny thing is, I never heard anyone in the group discussing the visit, pro or con, so I really have no idea what we missed. 

By the time the group returned and we continued to St Patrick's Cathedral, Mo and I were somewhat refreshed and ready to climb steps and walk around the interior of the magnificent cathedral.  The most amazing thing about St. Patrick's is the magnificent organ.  I would have loved to hear those sounds.  

There was much detail about how many pipes, and how many registers are in the two main organs in the cathedral, but it didn't mean much to me.  My only experience with organs was the church organs I played as a kid and the home organ my mom had for us to practice.  A few pedals and a couple of registers.  The organs of St Patrick consist of more than 9,000 pipes, 206 stops, 150 ranks, and 10 divisions.

I am not Catholic, but I do have a special relationship with St. Anthony, who has helped me find many things over the years since a Catholic friend taught me the prayer to St Anthony to help find lost things.  Of course, I had to get a photo of this sweet saint.

Surrounded and somewhat dwarfed by modern skyscrapers, St Patrick's is a gorgeous cathedral.  We saw almost as much magnificent architecture, gothic arches, sculptures, and stained glass as we have seen in many cathedrals throughout the world.  I was glad that I had saved my energy for this part of the day and could enjoy it completely.

We ended the day with more meandering through Times Square on our way back to the rig.  Dinner was absolutely unnecessary after such a huge lunch and we settled in happy to feel a bit rested and ready for our next big day in the city.

It rained most of the night, and that helped cool the air a bit for us to get a good night's sleep.  

Wednesday the 7th was an especially restful day, with our departure from the park delayed until 3:30 in the afternoon.  That gave us some needed time to catch up on business, do some laundry, process photos, and even take a great shower in preparation for the evening festivities to come.

Riding once again to Manhattan, we began the afternoon with the traditional carriage ride through Central Park.  Our rides were limited to just 20 minutes, but the drivers were expected to tell us stories of the park with some history, in addition to being a little bit entertaining.  Our driver wasn't the least bit conversational.  

This photo is of our carriage mates, Terry, one of the pair of trip leaders, and Meredith, a solo traveler with us.

Only after considerable prodding did he finally tell us that there were about 170 horses used to pull the carriages and about 300 rotating licensed union drivers, many from Ukraine.  He told us the stables for all the horses weren't far from Central Park.  They return from the park every night to family-owned stables, located on the west side of Manhattan in a historic neighborhood known as Hell's Kitchen.  Until our trip to New York City, I thought that was just a TV show.

After our short carriage ride, we were turned loose to wander on our own between Central Park and 52nd street where we were to meet for our first big show of the trip.  We would see Funny Girl, revived from the original play first on Broadway in the 60s and starring Barbra Streisand.  Funny Girl was an old favorite of mine so I was excited to see the musical in person.

We were especially lucky to be seeing only the second performance after Lea Michelle took over the starring role.  Lea played Rachel in the TV series Glee, and it was always her dream to play Fanny Brice.  Her performance was incredible, and on her opening night, she received six standing ovations and just as many on the night we attended the show.  I think part of that excited crowd were many of her cohorts from the series who were cheering her on.  

But before the show, we were told to find somewhere to eat dinner on our own.  It was a bit daunting, without much to go on as we wandered the streets toward 52nd street.  Mo and I were both hoping for some New York Pizza, but what we found seemed a lot more like the delicious wood-fired pizza that we enjoy in our west coast wineries. 

We were happy to get an outside table, happy to get a delicious pizza, and happy to not get lost on the streets.  We were accompanied at dinner by several nearby tables of people speaking languages we didn't recognize.  

The theater we attended was the gorgeous August Wilson Theater on 52nd Street.  As I have said before, a show "On Broadway" isn't necessarily on Broadway, but is in a theater in NYC that seats more than 500 people.  "Off-Broadway" could even be on Broadway, but in a theater that seats less than 500 people.  It's the little things.

The show was more than anything I ever expected, with Lea Michelle doing more than justice to every Streisand song I ever listened to.  This show for me was one of the highlights of our NYC trip and I will treasure the memory of it for a long time.