Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Clampitts Take New York

For Christmas this year, Rachel and I gave my parents a guided (by us) trip to New York City, including a show on Broadway.

(Dad, Rachel and Mom at Rockefeller Plaza)

One of the great things about living in Philadelphia is that we are only a couple of hours from NYC. We drove to Hamilton, NJ, about 45 minutes from our house and took the train 1 hour and 15 minutes into Penn Station in Manhattan. It is the only way to go because you don't have to fight traffic or worry about parking in The City.

(Mom and Dad in NYC)

We went up on Thursday in order to make it a little easier to get Broadway tickets. Unfortunately, the weather was not great. Luckily, it wasn't hot. However, it rained quite a bit on Thursday, which hampered some of our activities.

(Mom and Dad on a double-decker bus)

We tried to take a bus tour of Uptown Manhattan. Unfortunately, the rain started as we prepared to reboard after making our first stop. For the roughly 1/2 mile we rode on the tour, we had possibly the worst tour guide I have ever heard (this says a lot, as our guide the last time we were in NYC with Sarah and Greg Cornell was terrible). She had lousy jokes, and she was very difficult to understand.

(Dad and Mom in Central Park)

We got off the bus tour at Central Park and walked around for a little while. It always amazes me that architects planned for the MASSIVE space that is now Central Park so long ago. It is really impressive how big it is. When you are inside it, it is pretty neat to see the skyscrapers sticking up over the tree line. It is also nice because you are insulated from much of the noise normally associated with New York City.

(Rachel, Dad and Mom in Central Park)

The hotels surrounding Central Park

(Mom, Dad and Rachel in front of the Waldorf Astoria) As part of the treat, we stayed at the famous Waldorf Astoria (thank you for being a Hilton property, so points could make this possible). It is a very cool historic hotel. I would recommend staying there if you ever have the chance.

The lobby at the Waldorf is very ornate. If you click to enlarge this picture, you can see the replica clock that stands in the center of the lobby. It was beautiful. The hotel has kept to its formal roots (which is totally not me). They ask that guests wear collared shirts when in the lobby area. Luckily, I read this before I went to stay there, or I am sure that I would have offended them.

After checking into our room and cleaning up, we went to an early dinner in Little Italy before the show. Little Italy is in Downtown Manhattan and has many wonderful Italian restaurants.

We picked Cafe Lunesta based on Heather's (Rachel's sister) recommendation. She did not lead us astray. The food was excellent and prices were reasonable, especially for New York. I saw some mixed reviews on the web with regard to their service, but they treated us very well. This is a photo of Dad and Mom in the restaurant.

After dinner, we hopped on the subway and headed up to Broadway. We decided to see Jersey Boys over the Lion King (Rachel's parents had seen it and liked it). It won a Tony Award a few years ago. It is the story of Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons and their rise to fame. The music and acting are FANTASTIC!!! I would go see it again in a heartbeat. It has some rough language in parts to be true to its Jersey roots, but you can easily overlook that given the quality of the music and acting.

After the play, we walked back towards our hotel. We wanted to take Mom and Dad through Time Square at night. It is amazing how much light the advertising signs put off. It is like Las Vegas on steroids with respect to light. We also walked Mom and Dad by Radio Center Music Hall - home of The Rockettes.

The picture of all four of us in front of Radio City Music Hall above is a funny story. I asked a young lady to take a picture of all 4 of us. I then realized that she was drunk (it would have been helpful to know this before I asked her to take our picture). If you enlarge the picture, you can actually see the raindrops that accumulated on the lens as she tried to figure out how to snap the picture. This would not seem so strange if every camera around the world didn't have the "snap" button in exactly the same place as every other camera in the world. Mankind may have not been able to standardize on a system of measurement (Imperial vs. metric), but we have definitely standardized on where to place the "Shoot Photo" button on cameras. This fact did not help this poor girl. She was entertaining though.

The next morning, we ate breakfast at the hotel, left our bags with the bellhop and caught a taxi to Battery Park to catch our boat to the Statue of Liberty. The taxi ride was not adventurous by New York standards. Luckily, this cabbie knew the traffic patterns well, so he kept us from missing our boat, despite the fact that it was morning rush hour.

Unfortunately, the weather Friday morning was also crappy. It was really foggy, as you can see by the pictures. Still, the Statue of Liberty is a site that is worth seeing in any weather. You can really get emotional putting yourselves in the shoes of people, who left all that they knew for a chance for a better life in the new world. They often had no possessions, other than the clothes on their backs and the entry fee required to be processed into the United States. After spending months on the boat, the first site they would see as a sign that they were arriving was the Statue of Liberty - the symbol of freedom.

The Statue of Liberty

After taking the self-guided audio tour at the Statue of Liberty, we got back onto the ferry and visited Ellis Island. This is where the immigrants were given physicals, tested for mental illness and processed before being allowed to enter New York City. Some could be stuck here for days if they encountered problems during the entry process.

Dad and Rachel in the great hall at Ellis Island - This is the hall where immigrants waited to be called to pass through to the next phase of their processing - they physical. It was amazing to learn about how the officials would observe the immigrants throughout the process trying to spot anyone with a highly contageous or other dangerous disease or with mental illness.

Dad and I in the great hall of Ellis Island

After touring Ellis Island, we got back onto the Ferry and headed back to Manhattan. Here is a picture of the city from Ellis Island.

After eating lunch, we walked to Ground Zero and toured the church where some of the volunteers stayed during the clean-up effort. It is a beautiful little chapel. You can't see much at Ground Zero now because they have it fenced in. Still, you can see how big of an area still has nothing standing on it. It is really hard to take in still.

We then caught the subway up to Park Avenue, retrieved our bags from the hotel and went back to Penn Station to catch the New Jersey Railway to Hamilton.

Saturday, we relaxed around the house. It was Dad's birthday, so we took him to dinner at Fogo de Chao in Center City Philadelphia. Fogo de Chao is a Brazilian Steakhouse. Ladies - you can stop reading and skip down to the next picture/paragraph. Gentleman - Fogo de Chao is the mecca for carnivorous eaters world-wide. Meat-eaters world-wide should make a once a year pilgrimmage to FdC. When you enter, you are issued a circle, which my dad is holding here. As long as it is turned to "red", you are safe. Once you turn the cirlce to "green" however, hold onto your hat. 16 different cuts of meat (steak, pork, chicken, lamb) are brought by your table and served to you, until you turn the circle back to "red". Once you work your plate back down to a workable level, flip it to "green", and more meat arrives at your table. Unlimited sides of mashed potatoes, carmelized bananas, warm cheese bread and palenta accompany the meal.

Ladies, Fogo de Chao has an awesome salad bar, so you should take your husband there for a healthy meal.

I love this picture. Notice that my dad can barely sit up after consuming 14 lbs of meat. The funniest part of the evening was when he commented on just how enjoyable that meal could have been if it had just been me and him; he felt that the consistent reprimands from Mom and Rachel regarding how much and how fast Dad and I were eating, were a bit distracting from the meal.

Sunday, we relaxed some more at the house. Sunday evening, we grilled at the house. We grilled burgers, asparagus and corn on the cob. We also had Rachel's bean salad (awesome dish) and roasted potatoes.

Rachel enjoying corn on the cob.

For desert, we had one of our favorite Bobby Flay deserts - grilled pineapple on top of grilled pound cake, covered with a caramel rum sauce and ice cream.

REFLECTIONS - Rachel's First Phillies Game

This past Tuesday, Tim and Nicole Callahan (along with Tim's dad, Big Tim, and sister, Aileen) went to see the Phillies play the Cubs. Nicole and Tim are pictured here flanking Rachel. I went to a game in September 2007 before Rachel moved to Philadelphia, but this was Rachel's first game at Citizen's Bank Park.

During the game, Tim asked me what I thought was the nicest ballpark in baseball. After thinking for a while, I came to the conclusion that I probably haven't been in any parks nicer than Citizen's Bank Park. It compares favorably to Citi Field (Mets), The Ted in Atlanta, the new Comiskey in Chicago, PNC Park (Pittsburgh) and Comerica Park (Detroit). While I have not been to Camden Yards, I can say that I have not been in a nicer baseball stadium than the Phillies park.

The Phillies won the game in the bottom of the 13th inning on a 3 run walk-off home run by Jayson Werth. Unfortunately, we all had to work on Wednesday, so we headed for the cars in the top of the 13th and missed it.

The park has excellent seating, great food and lots of attractions. It also has a couple of peculiar items, which I thought were worthy of a Reflection. First, ushers do not allow anyone to walk down the aisles to the outfield seats from the concourse during an at-bat as "a courtesy". They make you wait until an out is made or until the half inning is completed before taking your seat. If this arrangement occurred in a southern city or in a city where the fans are known for their sportsmanship, this nuance would not have caught me by surprise. However, I have never seen this in any other, and the whole idea seems out of place in the city where the sports fans are most famous for "Booing" Santa Claus. The City of Brotherly Love is not exactly world renown for its hospitality to opposing fans and teams, so this "courtesy" caught me fully by surprise.

The other activity that was deemed Reflection-worthy was the Philly Phanatic (mascot), using the well-known T-shirt cannon to launch hot dogs to fans between innings. This was no ordinary T-shirt cannon, however, as it must have been using an extra high pressure cylinder pump, as the Phanatic was able to practically put these hot dogs into orbit (they were frequently reaching the 3rd deck). As I gazed upon this spectacle, I could not help but wonder, "What does a hot dog that has just been exposed to several hundred pounds per square inch of compressed gas look like when it is opened?" I have to imagine that it is likely about 1/3 of its original size due to the compression, and I can't imagine that it would be very palatable.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Annapolis, MD and the DC Zoo

The first weekend in June, Rachel and I went with our friends Keith and Meg Edwards (and daughters Kate, Abby and Olivia) to Annapolis, MD for the "One Fit Mama" 10K race. While not meeting the criteria of "Mama", Rachel was able to enter the race and run with Meg's team.

We left Saturday morning and drove to the National Zoo in Washington DC. We spent the afternoon walking the girls around to look at the animals in the zoo. After a while, Kate and Abby got tired of walking. Since Keith only has one set of shoulders, I got to take Abby for a ride on mine. At 3 1/2, the girls' memories amaze me, as they were able to tell me all about all of the animals we saw. If I read one of the signs to Abby, she was able to recite all of the facts back to me 20 minutes later.

The D.C. zoo has a really nice panda exhibit. It beats the great panda exhibits in any zoos I have been to previously (including the San Diego Zoo). It was a clean, spacious and natural habitat, and the panda moved around quite a bit while we were there, which is good because they are typically fairly lethargic.

As I mentioned, Keith took Kate on his shoulders. One of the highlights of the trip for me was shortly after arriving at the zoo, Kate pointed out the zebras to Keith. When Keith walked over to the railing with her, she enthusiastically asks, "Daddy, is he pooping?" I got a good chuckle out of that one.

Exhausted, we left the zoo about 3:00 PM and drove back up to Annapolis to check into our hotel. After cleaning up, we headed into downtown Annapolis. If you have not been, I strongly encourage you go. It is a beautiful small town, perfect for a romantic getaway, or to go to watch your wife run a 10K.

We met the "One Fit Mama" team for dinner at a seafood house (the food was very good), and then Rachel and I walked around the town afterwards. Annapolis is home to the Naval Academy, and backs up to the Chesapeke Bay. Yachts dock all along the restaurant area, and the scene is quite vibrant. The town itself is historic and has some beautiful older buildings and churches.

Sunday morning, Rachel and Meg got up early and headed over to the race. After he got the girls dressed and ready, Keith and I drove over to the Navy football field, parked, and caught a bus to the finish line. It downpoured at the beginning of the race, so Keith and I managed to get the three girls, stroller and umbrellas onto the bus. This is a picture of Rachel (back left) coming towards the finish line. I am happy to report that she passed both of the girls pictured in front of her here.

After the race, we caught the bus back to the Navy football field for the awards ceremony and refreshments. Meg's college roommate, Mel, actually won the Half Marathon (she was FLYING - she beat the top male finisher by 2 minutes). This is a picture of Meg and Rachel after finishing the 10K (5.2 miles)

Being an avid college football fan, it was fun for me to walk around Navy's stadium.

This is a picture taken outside of the stadium before the race. It also shows the poor running conditions for the race start.

I got a good shot of the retired Blue Angel F-18 Hornet parked outside of the stadium. Every school in the SEC (except for maybe Kentucky, Vandy and Mississippi St.) should have some sort of war machine on display to strike fear in opposing fans. I think an M1 Abrams tank or an F-22 Raptor strike jet would look great outside of Gate 21 at Neyland Stadium.

After the Awards Ceremony, us and the Edwards showered and checked out of the hotel. We headed up to Mike and Sarah Viscardi's for lunch (Mike is a childhood friend of Keith who lives in the area). We met Mike and Sarah last year, when they were in Philadelphia for a visit. On our way, we stopped at the World War II Memorial, which overlooks the bay toward the Naval Academy. If you enlarge the picture, you will see the Academy in the background.

Rachel and I at the World War II Memorial.

This is a shot I took of the Naval Academy from the bridge near the race finish.

Kate, Olivia and Abby at the World War II Memorial.

A great shot of the entire Edwards clan (Kate, Olivia, Keith, Meg and Abby).

A special thanks to the Edwards for allowing us to tag along with their family on a great trip!!! We look forward to our next trip together - The Outer Banks during the last week of August.