Thursday, May 26, 2016

Roosevelt home and Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park

Travel days are not always easy!

We had a couple of disturbing problems with the Alfa as we were getting ready to leave our space on Long Island. First the large slide didn't want to go all the way in. We put it back out and gave it another try and it was OK. Hopefully it won't be a problem in the future. 

Then one of the leveling jacks didn't want to come up. Craig thought it might have been because of the muddy conditions we had in Virginia.  He get it to work after he crawled under the rig and cleaned it. 

When we arrived at our new location, both the leg and the slide seemed to be OK. We will know in the morning when we pull out from here. 

I got my chance to face highway traffic through Manhattan and the Bronx because after we started out, Craig needed a bathroom break at the first rest stop. I took over driving, feeling confident in myself. I figured the GPS would take us along the same route we came in on. 

Not so.

Since we were coming from the East, and leaving toward the North, the GPS programed route was not the same. We were on "highways," but some of the route was along very congested surface streets.  Yikes! But we survived without any problems and shortly after leaving the city we stopped at another rest stop where I gave the wheel back to Craig.

We stopped at Mills-Norrie State Park, which is about 100 miles from NYC. We came here to see three places: Springwood, the lifelong home of Franklin D. Roosevelt, his Presidential Library and Museum, and a Vanderbilt Mansion. 

The campground has no hook-ups, but we can dry camp for two nights. The cost was $22 per night, plus a reservation fee on Reserve America. It was recommended by someone on the Living the RV Dream Facebook page. See, your comments are useful to others! 

Our first stop,was at the Vanderbilt Mansion. This opulent, fifty+ room mansion is one of about forty built by the family. It was used as a Spring and Fall "cottage", for one of the third generationVanderbilt sons and his wife. They had no children. 

Since it now belongs to the National Park Service, our 90 minute tour was free with our senior pass. $10 for general public. 

Three rooms and the servants staircase
After seeing the mansion we took a walk through some of the gardens.

We were a bit early in the season for the roses, but the number of buds promised a spectacular show in not too long a time.

Then we were on our way down the road to Springbrook. 

I love this statue of FDR and Eleanor. It seemed like you could just sit down on the bench next to them and have a chat.

The Roosevelt family was also quite wealthy, but unlike the Vanderbilt mansion, the Roosevelt home was built and decorated for their own pleasure and not as a showcase of their wealth.

Another nice day. More peeks back into the history of our nation.

I wonder what houses the tourists a hundred years from now will be walking through. 

This is a wonderful quote from FDR:

I wonder what quote will be left by our next president for the future generations to ponder.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Last trip into NYC and more about Long Island Camping

I could have done without our fourth trip to New York City because I really didn't feel well.  We spaced out our tourist days, never going into the city two days in a row, and I had had a good nights sleep, but I just didn't feel good on Monday.

We wanted to go to the Guggenheim Art Museum, but when we got there discovered the main vestibule, which is the long curving down gallery was closed. 

So, we left and walked a few blocks over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art instead. 

There was so much to see:

My favorite was a large gallery of avant-garde fashion designs. Craig teased me with "It's like Thursday night come to life!" I am an avid fan of the TV program "Project Runway", which challenges young designers to create forward-looking fashion. They do an avant-garde challenge and an unconventional materials challenge.

Mid-afternoon, we left the Met and walked across Central Park (the narrow way) towards the Natural History Museum.  Considering how I was feeling, we decided that it was one too many museums, and headed back to Penn Station instead. 

The train ride home was uneventful and we had a pleasant pasta dinner at a little Italian restaurant in Port Jefferson. 

I don't see how anyone could survive commuting like that everyday, but they do. Craig often had a fairly long drive to work, and for many years, my personal commute was down one flight of stairs to my studio. I sure was lucky!

All in all, our sightseeing time in Manhattan was just about what I expected. The city was a little bit cleaner (except for the subway stations) than I thought it would be. I was surprised to see trees along many of the streets. Of course since we were in our tourist bubble, I felt safe at all times and any people we spoke with were nice. I will have good memories of this trip, but no great desire to return. 

Now, just to round out our experiences of the last two weeks, here are a few things about our campground and what we did on "non-city" days.

When looking for a place to call home while seeing New York City, I was quite frustrated trying to find a place that was a reasonable distance from the city, had hook ups, a nice surrounding, and a reasonable rate. There is one RV Park called Liberty Harbor, that is very close to the city, but the reviews were not good, and the $90 per night rate, for only water and electric, was a bit hard to swallow. It would have been OK for an intense two or three day tour of NYC, but we wanted to stay more than a week. 

I looked at state parks in New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York. All would require use of the train system, so I settled on Wildwood State Park which was about 15 miles from the train station at Port Jefferson.

I booked our full hook-up site thru Reserve America. The cost came to $37.83 per night, which included a reservation fee and "out of state camper fee." Round trip train fare to Penn Station, was $18.00 each (senior off peak). 

The only down side was that it took almost two hours to get to Manhattan. The first few trips were an adventure, but commuting got "old" rather quickly.

On our non-tourist days we enjoyed a very peaceful, uncrowded setting.

If you look at the map above you will see that Long Island has two Eastern "legs." We drove out to each. 

Montauk Point Light

Montauk Point is to the south.

We decided not to climb the spiral staircase to the top of the lighthouse, but we did enjoy the view and the small museum.

The Saturday we were there, a couple was getting married on the lawn below. It was very windy, the bride was late, so we didn't stay to see the ceremony. 

It reminded us of when our daughter had a sea-side wedding in San Diego and she arrived at the hotel dock on a sailboat. She was  dressed in her beautiful white gown, with her father giving her away.

We also drove out to the northern Orient Point.

We were able to see where the Sound meets the Atlantic Ocean.

We stopped for a nice walk on a secluded stretch of beach. What a contrast to the busy city streets!

As we walked along the water's edge, I couldn't help but to think of how diverse and beautiful the stones were, more so than on other beaches we've walked. Each an individual. Each shaped by the force of its time on earth, and at the same time maintaining its base color and identity.
So much like our nation. 
Full of diverse beauty.  


Saturday, May 21, 2016

NYC - Day Three

Friday morning we got up early enough to catch the 7:35 train. We were proud until the conductor came to collect an extra $9.50 from each of us because it was "peak travel time" and our senior discount did not apply!

But we put the extra hour to good use. The night before, I purchased tickets for the noon time slot at the 9/11 Museum. Arriving early allowed us to go up to the top observation deck of the rebuilt One World Trade Center before visiting the Museum. 

I have been to observation decks in Seattle, Auckland, Paris, and Chicago. This view surpassed them all, perhaps because the things on the ground were more interesting. 

Next we went to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. I wouldn't say it was "fun", and "interesting" is not the right word either. There have been events that have shocked me, frightened me, and changed my outlook on life. September 11, 2001 was one of them. 

Walking through the exhibits was different from any other museum. Everyone was very quiet. Sad, respectful, and quiet. It's a place to remember the thousands of civilians who died that day, and to honor the 343 firemen who lost their lives trying to save the lives of others.

The ladder on this fire engine was completely melted when the buildings came down. We know there had to be firemen working it at that moment.

Coming out of the museum, back up to the chattering crowds and bright sunshine was a return to the world of today.

Looking up at the new One World Trade building, reminded me we were not beaten. Wounded, yes, but not beaten.

This inscription, that survived on a section of wall from one of the Twin Towers, touched me: 

In the current volatile election cycle, I hope our people are not hoodwinked by anyone who clamors for isolationism and calls for dismantling negotiated trade agreements.

Enough said ...

Because we had grabbed a bite to eat at the train station, we did not stop for lunch. We had to walk a few blocks to get to one of our bus stops, but were soon back aboard and on our way to see the UN building.

When the General Assembly is in session, the flags are all up.

We hoped to be able to take a tour, but unfortunately all the day's tickets were sold out by the time we got there at 3 .

We noticed there were a lot of people wearing their native dress. We assumed they were mostly delegates or members of their staff.

Onward!  Back on a bus and taking in more features of this huge city.

In big cities all over the world, old buildings are being torn down and replaced by tall glass skyscrapers. For some this is an improvement.

For others, such as the ornate facade of this one, it would be a great loss. Many of the old buildings have decorative elements, but this one was amazing in its level of detail.

Seeing Central Park was on our mutual bucket list. We got off the bus on Park Avenue, which of course is one edge of the park. A traditional way of seeing the park is by taking a horse-drawn carriage ride.

To see the whole park in this way would take several hours and be a bit pricey. True to my penny pinching ways, we choose to take a $50 twenty minute ride around just one small loop. It is truly a beautiful place, and thousands of people were making use of it on a nice spring afternoon. Walkers, bikers, mothers and nannies pushing strollers filled the walkways. Numerous people were having picnics, or just lying about on the grass catching a bit of sun. I don't know the story behind the designation of this large park area, but it surely was a brilliant measure. All people need to walk on the grass from time to time. Even New Yorkers. 

Onward. We were going to walk the mile or so to the Penn Station area, but decided to catch another bus.

As the afternoon grew later, the crowds and traffic once again increased. I was really tired and very glad we were not walking.

Afternoon street scene on 7th Avenue approaching Times Square

We wrapped up our day with a nice dinner at Seven Bistro, a quiet, peaceful place just a short way from Penn Station. To quote a Google comment, it was "Comfortable, Chic, Upscale Cozy"A perfect addition to our Manhattan experience. 

Home Again, Home Again 

Commuter train ride,
Then back to the rig.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

We saw a Class A RV Driving Down 5th Avenue in Manhattan

Note: this was not our motorhome!

Class A RV on 5th Ave, NYC 

On our second day trip to NYC we saw this motorhome driving down 5th Ave in Manhattan. There was no one in the passenger seat, and the driver, a 40ish man, looked fairly relaxed. Actually, when he came to a stop even with us, I noticed he was talking on a cell phone. Getting directions? I wondered: how he got there, where was he going, and if he intended to park it somewhere. On that street, size was not really a problem. He was no taller than the refrigerated truck, nor longer than the MTA bus. Nonetheless I was happy our rig was safe back at the State Park.

Speaking of parking, I looked at a few of the rate signs at some of the parking buildings we passed, and noted that day parking for a car seems to be $40 - 70. Ouch!

Our tour choice for NYC was to buy three day tickets for the Gray Line CitySights , hop-on-hop-off, double decker bus system. We got an off-season discount, so the cost was only $59 each. There was a guide onboard each bus that told us about the buildings we were seeing and other tidbits about the city. My only dissatisfaction was that there weren't as many on-off stops as we would have liked, and we did end up walking quite a bit.

We arrived at Penn Station by 11 AM, and walked a few blocks to the Empire State building where we redeemed our ticket voucher and got our map for the bus. 

Craig tracks Yelp's top 100 restaurants in the country. Los Tacos #1, in Chelsea Market, is in the top 40, and was our planned lunch stop. 

The bus took us within a ten minute walk of the Market. Our tacos were wonderful. Not the usual ground beef, lettuce and cheese. We generally choose to drink just water with our meals out, so our lunch tab was less than $20. There were only a few places to sit and we ended up eating standing up next to the back door, but the tasty meal was well worth it. 

Chelsea Market is an old warehouse building that now houses an array of small shops and eateries. Everything from beautiful looking fresh produce, cute clothes and accessories, to bulk tea and spices.

As we walked down the busy hallway we passed the busking cellist above. When he started to play the opening music to "Game of Thrones" we doubled back to listen. Haunting!

As we walked back to the bus stop we came upon an entrance stair up to the High Line Park. It is an elevated park/walkway that was created on a section of old railroad trestle. If we didn't have bus tickets we might have taken a walk along it, but instead just took a quick look.

Looking down to the street below we noted how light the traffic was on this "side street" not far from Chelsea Market.

Once back to our bus stop we quickly boarded the next to come along and went to the upper, open deck. 

One advantage of such a seat is that you can safely look up. If you did this while walking along you would be run over by the crowd of other pedestrians. I noticed many buildings that had trees on what I assumed were roof or deck gardens. We also saw this crew washing windows without hanging from scaffolds, as well as lightly watering the street and pedestrians below.

We got a good view of the exposed guts of the street from our high vantage point as well.

Views of old churches and brick office and factory buildings are mixed with the flashy reflections of new, tall skyscrapers.

A ferry ride was included in our bus fare, so we hopped off when we got to the East River.

Our ride took us quite near the Statue of Liberty and gave us a chance to see the Manhattan skyline. We decided not to take the separate trip out to the statue because tickets to go up to the crown are sold in advance. At this time, they are sold out for the next five months.

The boat ride was a bit over two hours, and the guide gave a pretty good talk about what we were seeing.             The tallest building shown in the first skyline picture to the right, is the New World Trade Center. We hope to visit it before we leave.
After the ferry trip we caught another On-Off bus and continued the tour. As late afternoon approached, it got a bit cold on the upper deck of the bus. Our tour guide offered us plastic ponchos which provided some protection from the wind. By this time the light traffic I had noted in the morning had been replaced by almost stand-still gridlock, and we were doubly glad we were not driving ourselves!

After we got off at the last stop we still had to walk a bit to get to the train. The crowds on the street was what I had expected in NYC. But I was surprised by the way everyone managed to move without bumping or jostling each other. 

Knowing we had a long train ride ahead of us, we decided to get something to eat before we left the city. Ever prepared with knowledge of places to eat, Craig knew exactly where he wanted to stop. There was a Shake Shack was not far from Penn Station. It was very busy, but oh so good! Some might describe their hamburgers as a bit greasy, but I would describe them as very juicy. Again a great bargain, dinner in Manhattan for about $20. More if you have beer or wine, which may be an important part of Shake Shack's popularity.

By the time we got back to the park we were both very tired. I think I was in bed and asleep within a half hour! 

One of the reasons I choose the three day bus pass was so we could go one day, rest on the second, and return on the third. That is exactly what we are doing. I will tell you about the third day of our Manhattan experience in the next post.

[From Craig]  Helping prepare this post, I feel like I've reached maturity as an image editor. We took 160 pictures on Wednesday, and while processing them before turning them over to Merikay, I cut the set down to 54. 34% is the greatest selectivity I've ever managed! Of course it was made easier by umpteen images of the Statue of Liberty, and umpteen more of the NYC skylines.(So you don't have to count, Merikay has used 17 of 54.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Getting From the RV Park to New York City - Day 1, MoMA

We knew the train ride up to NYC would take about two hours, so we got up early enough to catch the 8:35 AM train. 

Unlike many of our RV friends, we are not early morning people. For me one of the worst things that can happen is to get lost or to be late, especially in the morning when our moods are not at their best. So, to forestall problems, I try to plan ahead as much as possible. Thank goodness for the internet!

When choosing our RV park, I found a map of the train stations on Long Island. Wildwood State Park is about 15 miles from the station at Port Jefferson.  I checked the station layout to see the free parking lot locations. They looked generous. Our first trip destination in New York City was MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art. I used the Trip Planner on the MTA web site to create an itinerary that gave us several options for departure times, each with a different transfer station. Even with this in hand we still need a bit of help from others once we got to Penn Station, because in addition to our first trip on the train, we took our first trip on the New York Subway.  We got help both from other passengers and from the ticket master. Once up on the street from the subway stop, we also were pointed in the right direction by a uniformed tour bus driver who was waiting for his passengers. 

We arrived at the Museum around 11 AM, and since we had skipped breakfast we were ready for a bite to eat. We choose the little 5th floor Terrace cafe.

I don't remember what this was called, but it consisted of a creamy, warm, savory custard surrounded by delicate spring greens, topped with saved parmesan cheesy and crunchy Pancetta  dressed with the most wonderful golden dressing.  Super Yum!
Craig had a wonderful classic Pate´ plate

What a fantastic way to start our afternoon at the MoMA!

I could fill this post with pictures of paintings and sculptures. Better to just share this one and tell you we enjoyed so many classics as we walked thru the Galleries. 

Van Gogh has always been a personal favorite of mine and to see this original was stirring. 

Art is good for the soul, and although the museum seemed full of people, it was still possible to lose oneself in some of the masterpieces and become somewhat unaware of those around us.

After several hours, even the view out the window became eye-candy with  the delicate free forms of the trees contrasted against the geometric hodgepodge of the city buildings.

At the end of the day, we had no problem taking the subway back to Penn Station, but finding the right train to take home proved to be a bit of a challenge. Luckily, once again another rider showed us the sign to watch for departure track information. We did make one mistake on our ride back. We missed our transfer station, which resulted in our having to get off the train, board a train going the other way, return to our transfer station and then catch the right train. 

No big deal, but the experience will make the next trip easier!

I know New York commuters do this every day, but we are just country bumpkins from the West! With all our new knowledge, maybe on our next ride we will help someone else.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Driving through New York City in a Class A Motor Home

My trepidation about our Friday drive from New Jersey to Long Island increased on Thursday when Craig read the weather forecast for the following day: heavy rain and thunderstorms. We have driven in rain and the Alfa handles well, but it is still not fun.

Added to that was the realization that it was Friday the Thirteenth. Normally I am neither superstitious nor religious, but the coincidence was bothersome!

Then I found a third disturbing factor by carefully looking at the page of "low clearance" warnings in our Rand McNally Trucker's Atlas. According to it, there were three low clearance underpasses on our route. We carefully compared their locations on the book map and on the New York City truck route map, and then used Google Earth to try to find them. As far as we could see there were no low bridges in the locations listed in the Trucker's Atlas. What to believe? I was actually most reassured by the images on Google Earth because we could see large semis on our chosen route.  So I guessed, as they say, "We were good to go."

For the two nights before the drive I had booked us into a small county park, Mahlon Dickerson, in Morris County New Jersey. At around 30 miles away, it was the closest I could get to the George Washington Bridge. I didn't want a long drive to start the trip. (We did a day trip to Morristown while there, and I will post about it another day.)

We left the park by 9:10 am on Friday. Quite early for us! Although the skies were threatening, we were happy to see only a few tiny drops on the windshield. 

Stay to the left!
Traffic was light on I-80 East all the way to the bridge. 

Our Rand McNally RV navigation system did give us one misdirection, which we recognized and ignored. It would have sent us onto the lower level. Large vehicles are supposed to use the upper level.

Toll Booth for George Washington Bridge Upper Level
But a quick lane change kept us heading toward the upper level.  With our recently-acquired E-Zpass module, we had no difficulties going through the toll booths. 

Driving across the George Washington Bridge in the RV

Traffic on the bridge moved smoothly. I found the trucks a comfort. If they could do it, so could we!

The first of the "low clearance" bridges did exist.

Yellow 12' 10" Clearance sign on left side of bridge

We saw the sign saying 12'10" Clearance, but we knew from Google Earth it is arched and that is the height at the outside edges of the road. We followed a semi through in the center lane. As far as we could tell, the other two low clearance locations did not exist. We knew where to look, and just kept following the big trucks.

We saw many exit signs for Parkways, cars only, 7'10" max-height. We knew we should not go on them, but our final exit was onto William Floyd Parkway. This had concerned me the night before, but once again the internet set my mind at ease. Googling William Floyd as a truck or RV route, there were several posts that said there were no bridges to be concerned about and RVs were OK.

The traffic level was quite reasonable all the way. Not true for the lanes going in the opposite direction, but we will leave that concern for the opposite trip. All in all, I think driving through Los Angeles is much worse. 

For anyone who needs to get from New Jersey to Long Island, I recommend I-80 East to I-95, George Washington Bridge Upper Level,  I-95 to I-295 Cross Bronx X-way,  I-295 to I-495 Long Island X-way. We continued on I-495 to exit 68, Floyd Parkway. From there we went to Wildwood State Park. The NYC part of this route is the official city route for oversized vehicles.

Follow that truck!
We arrived at the park just after noon. Our spot is nice, with full hook-up. The only negative is that trees block satellite TV reception. But we have a strong Verizon signal for internet, and with our unlimited data, Craig can stream the Warriors' basketball games. We also have pretty good reception on the TV antenna.

We will be here for twelve nights, giving us plenty of time to go to New York City several times. We plan to take the commuter train and use public transportation in the city. 

If anyone has any good suggestions for things to do on Long Island, we would love to hear them. 

For now, all I have to say is "Wow, we made it!"  Craig thinks I'm silly to have worried at all.

[From Craig] With Merikay so concerned about NY roads, I think I felt more attentive to driving today than any other time that I can remember.  Nothing happened that justified such alertness, but that's a better result than having a problem because one needed to be more alert!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


[From Craig]  While staying at Old Cedar Campground near Monroeville NJ, we have gone into Philadelphia two days, mostly to see the Independence National Historic Park and related attractions around it.  

Merikay and the Liberty Bell
Note: Merikay wanted to be cropped out!

The Eastern States Penitentiary was an experiment to see if prison design could inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of criminals.  Its grand architecture, vaulted sky-lit cells, running water and central heat made it the most famous prison in the world.

Philadelphia has many gray granite or limestone buildings that reminded us of Paris

This, of course, is Independence Hall where the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed

And this is the room in which both documents were discussed and signed.  There were 13 tables, one for each colony, plus one for the presiding officer at the front.
This is part of Seattle glass sculptor Dale Chihuly's Flame of Liberty at the Liberty Museum

View of the same piece, from the second floor where it was lighted with more yellow, less blue 

Merikay has regained control of the computer.

On our first day in the city we arrived just past noon. We drove around for a while before finding 3 hour parking within walking distance of Independence National Historical Park for only $7.50. (We had passed a couple of lots that charged $14 - $18 flat rates.)

We walked down to the Independence Hall and learned you needed "timed" tickets that were available at the Visitor Center. We went there, and found the next available time was past our parking time. So we decided to see he short park film, read the VC posters, walk through the Liberty Bell building, and take the free (for seniors) bus around the downtown loop to get an overview of what we wanted to come back for. That is when we stopped in at the Penitentiary. We got off the bus quite near where we had parked,  with time enough to look around the area where William Penn first landed.

On our second day in town we got there early enough to join a 10:30 guided walking tour. Very interesting as usual. It wrapped up just in time for us to get to our 1:30 Independence Hall tour.

By the time we were done with that we were both pretty tired and ready for a sit down lunch.

 On one of the maps there was a blurb about the City Tavern that served fairly authentic meals from recipes from the Colonial days.  I chose the Turkey Pot Pie. It came with a side of Egg Noodles with a very tasty sauce. Authentic? Except for being a bit creamier and having a hint of Sherry, it was quite a bit like what I make at home. But it was very good.

Craig had a Crab Cake that was served with French Fries. I wondered how "Colonial" they were, but later learned Thomas Jefferson referred to fried potato strips as “frying potatoes in the French manner”.

The stop for the late lunch gave us enough rest to be up for one more stop on our way back to the car, and that was at the National Liberty Museum. It houses a wonderful glass collection that illustrates the point that freedom is as fragile as glass. It celebrates the pictures and stories of thousands of heroes both known and unknown. I was almost overwhelmed by the heroic things ordinary people have done.

We leave this park on Wednesday for another short stop in New Jersey before we brave the drive across the George Washington Bridge and through New York City on Friday. 

Please keep us in your thoughts!  I will write again if we make it to Wildwood State Park on Long Island!