Back from vacation...

I had hoped to keep up with blogging about vacation while we were in Maine, but since the weather was so nice most of the time we were there, we didn't spend a whole lot of time on the computers. I'll write up more about the trip and post some pictures (from the whole three weeks) to my Flickr account over the next week or so.

I'm already missing the temperatures in Maine...

Saturday, August 5, 2006

In which we drive in seven states, go medieval and see a baby black bear.

Saturday was a long day, but actually quite fun. We left Philly at about 8 a.m. and started on our way to Maine. Since the drive up included going right by The Cloisters on the north end of Manhattan, we decided to stop off and see them on the way. It was something I had thought about doing when we were in New York, until Chris realized that the drive to Maine would include going over the George Washington bridge, which is right next to The Cloisters. After paying several hefty tolls, we got there right as they opened (which was perfect), so we almost had the place to ourselves for the first half hour or so. Part of the reason that I wanted to go there was a fairly famous corbel from 12th century France that has two figures once thought to be Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. It is the figure in the opening credits of The Lion in Winter (1960s version) and I love that movie. So I did indeed get to see it (see above) and many other neat pieces of medieval art and architectures. The whole building is fabulous. Now that I have experience in real medieval buildings, I can appreciate what a great job they’ve done there are capturing some of the atmosphere.

After The Cloisters we continued up through New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and finally arrived in Maine (after having started out in Pennsylvania and driving through New Jersey). We stopped at the Brunswick Dunkin Donuts for the third time in as many years, so now I feel it qualifies as a tradition.

As we were about to cross the bridge onto the island, the cars ahead of us were all slowing down and breaking and we saw what looked like a big dog lumbering down the middle of the road. When we got a little closer, we soon realized that it was a baby black bear, the first we’ve seen in the area. No sign of Momma Bear, who was probably ahead of baby in the woods on the other side of the road.

We reached Deer Isle at about 8:30 and crashed fairly early. It’s great to be back!

Friday, August 4, 2006

Friday was a slow start after the traveling and heat of the previous days. We got a late start out of the house, so we ended up not getting to go into Independence Hall or to see the Liberty Bell. Yes, I managed to get to Philadelphia for several days and not see the Liberty Bell. Something to save for a future trip. We did walk around society hill, which has some wonderful colonial/revolution era buildings. We saw a very interesting group of re-enactors, including a lady spinning wool. Going to have to try that myself someday.

Part of the reason we didn’t hang around for the open time at Independence Hall was that we were going to dinner and music at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Dinner was nice and the music was great – a group called Scythian, who have a fusion of Celtic, Klezmer, Gypsy, and rock. Good stuff. We also wandered around the museum for a few hours. They have a very nice collection, and of course a Thomas Eakins gallery. One of the things I loved about Philly is it is the one city in the nation where almost everyone knows how to pronounce my last name.

After the music we went out to the east entrance (overlooking Eakins oval!) and watched several people run up the steps and re-enact the famous scene from Rocky. From there we went up to Chestnut Hill for desert, which was yummy and a great way to round off the day.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Since Thursday was our last day in NY and we were only three blocks from the Empire State Building, we decided to start the morning off there. It turned out to be a good thing to do it early in the morning since it hadn’t gotten too hot yet and there wasn’t much in the way of crowds. It was $16 to go to the 82nd floor observatory. It would have been $30 total to go all the way to the 102nd floor so we passed on that. It was actually rather amazing how shameless they were in trying to get money out of you there. They tried to get you to get the upgrades and the audio guides and had everyone stop in front of a green screen to have a photo made (and then handed you a ticket to claim the photo if you wished to purchase it as you were leaving). It was also an interesting way to get a photo of everyone going up to the deck…

The view was amazing, although very hazy. It was hard to see the Statue of Liberty, which wasn’t all that far away. I did get a neat shot of the hotel though (which turns out to have an interesting history of its own).

From there we went to the Natural History Museum. It was quite crowded with summer camp groups of kids, plus lots of families. One interesting thing about taking the subway up there was that it really drops you off AT the museum. That was actually quit nice, since it meant little exposure to the heat.

We opted for the extra admission to see the Darwin exhibit, bringing it to $21. A little steep, but we did end up spending several hours there. The Darwin exhibit was pretty neat and included some of his original diaries and specimens collected on the Beagle. Near the end they had an interesting display of a high school biology textbook and the short-lived Cobb County Georgia “warning” stickers. Basically the whole exhibit was a testament to evolution and how it is the underpinning of our knowledge of life on earth. In a way, almost the whole museum reinforces that through the fossils and phylogenic trees on the info cards on many animal specimens throughout the museum. Good on them! One small disappointment is that they are redoing the 77th street entrance, so we didn’t get to see that, or the human evolution wing which is also being re-done. If we had had more time and money, it would have been fun to do the IMAX and Planetarium, but perhaps another time.

We finished up at the museum, retrieved our stuff from the hotel and started the train rides back to Philly. Dinner was a nice local pizza up in the area where we were staying with family.

An Evening With Harry, Carrie and Garp

Whoopi Goldberg introduced the evening. Tim Robbins introduced Stephen King who read the Pie Eating Contest scene from “The Body”, which is the basis for “Stand By Me” (one of my favorite movies of the 80s!). Stanley Tucci introduced John Irving, who read from “A Prayer for Owen Meany”. And Kathy Bates introduced J.K. Rowling, who read the scene in book six when Dumbledore shows Harry his first meeting with Tom Riddle at the orphanage.

There were some great questions, but JKR was being evasive as usual. She did hint that there is more to Aunt Petunia than we’ve seen so far and had to let everyone know for sure that Dumbledore is in fact dead. Even did the throat slash at one point. When asked if she could bring one character to life to have in real life (besides Harry), she chose Hagrid, which would especially be nice when being confronted by fundamentalist Christians (presumably just the ones that just have a problem with Harry Potter!). There were some trickier questions, including one from Salman Rushdie and son! She had some trouble answering some of the questions and apologized profusely for it, but said it would have basically given away the ending of the series. Oh well, we’ll know the answers soon enough. Solidad O’Brien moderated the Q&A session and finished out asking the authors which 5 of their characters would they like to have dinner with and why. JKR’s answer was interesting… she listed Harry, Hermione and Ron and then paused before saying Dumbledore and talking about knowing who would die and then the others said she could use dead characters, so she then mentioned Dumbledore. And Hagrid was the fifth. So, does that mean that the trio will live for sure? Also, the subject of the title of the 7th book was sort of brought up, but she said she had a possibly better idea for it while in the shower that night, but either way, we weren’t getting it out of her yet.

We took the subway back to the hotel, because at that point it didn’t matter if we got any hotter or sweatier!

Wednesday, August 2, 2006 - New York City Day 2

Our second day in New York was an interesting mix. We decided to get up and have breakfast at the Tick-Tock diner at the hotel (which was tasty, although they could learn a little about making bacon from our Texas greasy spoons) and then take the subway down to the World Trade Center site. Our hotel was at a great location across the street from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station, which made traveling by subway easy.

The WTC site was a hub of activity, prepping the site for the future buildings and memorials. WTC 7 was recently finished and the PATH station at the site was open. It was interesting to see the very obvious change from construction that was pre-9/11 and post 9/11 at the station. Up at the street level was a series of panels with all the names of those who died at the site (I think just those on the planes and in the buildings, since I didn’t see one or two of the names I knew from the Pentagon and Flight 93 in Shanksville). They also had a nice timeline series of signs. We walked around the site and went into the World Financial Center across the street. They have a gallery on the second floor that looks over the site and gives a pretty nice view. They also have a timeline on the clean up and the plans for the future at the site. It’s still hard to imagine those very tall buildings on such a small footprint.

We walked over to St. Paul’s Cathedral, across the street from the WTC. I mostly knew about it from 9/11, but it turned out to be a neat historic church in its own right. George Washington heard a sermon there after his inauguration as the first president. But, most of the displays are related to 9/11, even almost 5 years after the fact. One neat thing was a collection of patches from all the different rescue services from around the nation who worked at the site. I saw one from Cedar Park, Texas of all places!

From the church we walked up past City Hall (and the end of the Brooklyn Bridge) and caught the subway up to Union Station to drop on in the Leaky Mug podcast. It was cool to finally be able to see one of those fan events in person. We were getting pretty hungry, so we left early (since I knew I would be able to download it later) and went up to Grand Central Station. Wonderful architecture. We snagged some pretty tasty pizza in their food court.

Since we wanted to allow time to get back to the hotel and clean up before the show at Radio City Music Hall, we just stopped in on the New York Public Library and walked through Times Square. We saw the lions at the library and went up to the main reading room, which was lovely. Lots and lots of wood. Although I’m pretty sure that most of the shots I’ve seen in movies didn’t include all the laptop connections that it has now!

Times Square was still lit up some, even though the city was asking people to conserve power due to high demand from air conditioners in the high heat. Walking through the Square was the one and only time I felt a little faint, although I recovered pretty quickly.

We got back to the hotel and Chris went over to a near by shoe store to find some better shoes to wear to the show while I took a shower. After I got out, I heard lots of sirens (which wasn’t that unusual, considering that it was New York), but after a point, I decided to look out the window and noticed a building down the street with black smoke billowing out of it. We never did find out exactly what happened. They got it under control fairly quickly and presumably no one was hurt since we didn’t see anything about it on the news that night after the show.

We stopped down at the Italian restaurant at the hotel for an early dinner (I had a nice chicken picatta) and then decided to go ahead and take the subway to Radio City. It was very hot and we waited a while for our train, so I quickly started sweating in my nice clothes. Should have splurged on a taxi. Oh well! As it turned out, it didn’t matter if we had managed to stay cool on the way over, since we got stuck in a security line for about 20 minutes. The one cool thing about that was that I briefly got a chance to see and talk with Melissa Anelli and John Noe from The Leaky Cauldron/Potter Cast. I was a total fan geek and asked Melissa if I could see the ring that JKR gave her when she and Emerson Spartz from MuggleNet went over to interview her last year. It was really neat! I’d love to find something similar, perhaps with a dragon shape. Melissa, if you ever read this, I apologize for being a babbling geek…I think the heat was getting to me!

(More about Harry, Carrie and Garp in a separate post)

Tuesday, August 1, 2006 - Off to New York City

First off, why did we have to pick the three hottest days of the year to visit New York? And why isn’t the subway air-conditioned? Okay, I understand the reasons behind the second, but I think the first one is just my own bad luck. I’m pretty sure that entering into the subways was akin to walking into the mouth of Hades itself.

Other than constantly being hot and sticky, I did have a great time in New York.

We arrived from Philly at about noon, after taking the train up through New Jersey. We went to the hotel (The New Yorker) to see if we could dump our bags before check-in but were delighted to find that our room was ready and we could go ahead and go up. We dumped the stuff and headed up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met recently increased their “suggested” admission to $20, although we only paid $5 each. If I had more money to spend, I would have because I think it’s a good cause.

The Met was incredible, even though I don’t think we managed to see even half of what they have on display. When we first went in and started into the galleries, the first thing that caught my eye were Cycladic figures, which I learned about courtesy of my Art History class last fall. They are very “modern” looking and therefore popular, sometimes faked and collected as the result of tomb robbing. Several of the pieces at the Met were objects that we had studied in class, and it was amazing to be looking at them in person (even behind glass). Since the Met allows non-flash photography, I took some photos, some of which came out decently. (see above)

We went further into the Greek galleries and then wandered into some late and modern European art, including Picasso and Dali. Then we saw some Degas ballerinas, Seurat Pointillism, Monet water lillies and Van Gogh.

We briefly went into the Ancient Near East galleries and I attempted to get some photos of the Assyrian Lamassu, which didn’t come out too well. Too bad, since those are some of my favorite figures from the era. Then we walked through the Musical Instruments, which of course included some Stradivarius violins and a cello. I was hoping they had some shawms, a medieval forerunner of an oboe, and they did. They also have some really neat clarinets.

We also went through the Renaissance art and I found a few Holbeins. Next we went over to the American art to find Washington Crossing the Delaware. I had no idea the painting was so huge! We also found a couple of Thomas Eakins paintings in that area.

Unfortunately we hit the Egyptian galleries late in the day and only saw a fraction. Although we did see perhaps their biggest piece, a reconstructed temple. At that point we had hoped to try to get back for a few hours on one of our other days, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. Well, something to look forward to seeing next time.

The one big complaint about the Met is that there isn’t a very close subway stop. No matter where you get off, you end up having to walk a fair amount. I’m sure in the spring and autumn, that’s fine, but in 100+ degrees (F), it was a chore. We walked across Central Park to catch the subway on the other side, which went right back to the hotel. On the way across the Park, we saw Cleopatra’s Needle, which is suffering greatly from being in the city and exposed to acid rain. We also went up to Belvedere and I got a nice view of the Park.

We ended up at T.G.I. Friday’s for dinner, where we had a thoroughly disinterested waiter and sticker shock from the prices. After dinner we went back and crashed at the hotel after a long, hot day in the city.