Posts Tagged ‘NJ’

Northeastern Family Trip, 24 July – 02 August 2013

5 August 2013

We took a 10-day vacation trip that combined a bit of work for me with a lot of travel for all of us, a loop that started and ended at New York LaGuardia airport, and looped from New Jersey back to Connecticut.

Photos from the trip on on my Google site here.

Trip summary: Just under 1400 miles, and seven states: New Jersey, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

We started out by flying from OKC to LGA on 24 July. I bought my ticket through my work travel site (saving over $100 by flying to a NYC airport instead of Boston, where I would be working), and got the family tickets by cashing in some American AAdvantage miles. We had good flights in, arriving at LGA around 2130. Here is where it got fun. The signage out of LGA is for crap. We had no less than three oops moments trying to get from there to our hotel in New Jersey, every one of them within five miles of the airport. It wasn’t any better on the way back in (see that later). We broke a couple laws regarding turn lanes and such, but eventually got moving, and crossed the RFK bridge to get our first sight of Manhattan!

As we approached the Washington Bridge, it turns out that the RFK-westbound bridge ramp was… closed! No signs telling us that. We did watch as a couple enterprising New Yorkers drove around the barrels and cones and a curb to get on the bridge anyway. We drove down the Hudson for a couple miles, broke another couple laws turning around, and got up on the bridge that way. We then continued the drive to Parsippany, NJ, our base camp for several nights. The only remaining adventure was being passed by at least 15 motorcycles, weaving in and out of traffic. We were doing 80, they had to be going 120; those guys were moving.

The next morning, Thursday, we got up and had breakfast. Our plan for the day was to take the Staten Island Ferry to New York. That plan survived until we passed a National Park Service sign that pointed to the Thomas Edison Factory National Historic Park in West Orange, NJ. It was a GREAT detour! I was utterly fascinated by the place. Edisons work was so wide ranging as to be incomprehensible. The mostly self-guided tour led through the main building where stuff was machined. After lunch, we headed north to the town of Paterson, NJ, and the Great Falls there. We next just drove out into the countryside to look at the pretty hills and trees. We ended up back in the hotel around 2100.

Friday we made good on the Thursday plan. We drove through the Newark area and made our way to Staten Island. Since we were inbound to NYC, it was a $13 bridge toll. We mad a heck of a time trying to park at the Ferry lot, but ended up using on-street parking a couple blocks away. We missed a ferry by one minute, and so had a half hour wait. The half hour ride across the Hudson was amazing! Tours out to Liberty Island were booked up through September, but the ferry ride past Liberty Island was awe-inspiring. I always enjoy ships and ports, and that was a huge bonus on the ferry crossing.

We got to NYC with the expected crush of people; it was amazing! We had lunch at a streetside shop, and headed for the Subway. We had a little glitch here. Each ride is $2.50. I went to a subway pass station, and bought two $15 passes. The third one, it complained about my credit card. We used Raegans card (same company and account, different number), but same result. WTH? We used Ians card to get the last two, no sweat. We figured that USAA was being prudent since us using the card out of state was tripping a flag. We called, and that was NOT the case. USAA showed the two passes being bought, but no declines on the other attempts. And the card worked two minutes later at a restaurant. My theory is that the subway machine/network was unhappy about buy three cards of the same denomination in a row. Regardless, we had our passes.

We headed uptown to the area south of Central Park. We walked the famous 42nd Street, Times Square, the Rockerfeller Center area, visited the flagship American Girl store there, and just generally drank in the sights, the people, the smells, the food carts. It was ALIVE there. Eventually we were quite walked out, and so we headed for the nearest subway stop, which happened to be Grand Central Terminal. That was one amazing building! The architecture was stunning. Although the high ceiling was intended to collect and vent steam and smoke, now it is just gorgeous and HUGE.

We rode the subway back to the ferry port, had a short wait for the next one, and then an amazing ride back to Staten Island with the lit up NYC skyline and the Statue of Liberty lit as well. After some car stuff on Staten Island, we found a restaurant, and got back to the hotel around 2300.

Saturday we visited the Intrepid Air and Space Museum. This is the WWII/Korean War carrier USS Intrepid along with a lot of other exhibits. We headed out from the hotel and drove to NYC via the Lincoln Tunnel (another $13 toll), then parked on a former dock ($35). We spent basically the entire day at the Intrepid; there is a LOT to see. A number of the decks are open. I wish the engine spaces were open, I think that would be fascinating! We were able to attend a lecture by four senior NASA folks on the future of manned spaceflight (and both Raegan and I got to ask questions, very cool). The Intrepid has the shuttle Enterprise on her after deck, which was a nice treat. Again, I wish the shuttle was actually open; I don’t see why it wouldn’t be able to be. It would be the coolest thing to walk the middeck and into the payload bay. The only thing we didn’t get to do was walk through the submarine Growler; they close it early for some reason.

At the New Jersey Meadowlands, there was an interesting structure that reminded me of enclosed ski areas I’ve seen pictures of in Asia. A little research here showed that’s exactly what it was, as part of a large entertainment and amusement park development for the Meadowlands. Not open, unfortunately. Maybe this fall according to Wikipedia.

We headed back to NJ through the tunnel again (no toll since we were outbound), had dinner, and got back to the hotel around 2100.

A note on meals here. We ate in a number of diners. I’ve seen NJ referred to as the diner capital of the world. The meals we ate in diners were at worst pretty good; none were bad. They were by and large, huge amounts of food. The menus were varied. It’s hard to get fried chicken in the OKC area, but I think every diner we ate at had fried chicken, and it was good stuff. The only downer, we had one place with decent iced tea during the trip; it was at a diner. I actually looked in a WalMart for a jug of Red Diamond; they had some other brand, but it was lemoned, so I passed.

On Sunday we got up and packed, and headed north. Our objective was Burlington, VT. We got a late start. We drove through Parsippany and one other small town. We then stopped for a full gas tank, and found that NJ requires gas stations to be full service. You can’t do anything in the process except hand your credit card to the attendant. We continued north through stunning rolling, tree-covered hills, eventually getting off the interstate to find Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskills.

This was a great little hike, about 1.3 miles roundtrip and 600 ft of elevation gain.

The only problem is that the parking area is a bit away from the trailhead, and you have to walk along the road with only about two feet of space. It’s dangerous. I would be very surprised if people have not been hit and injured or killed along this.

The Catskills were beautiful. There are lots of trails in the area that I would like to go back and walk. Evetually we got into Albany, accompanied by heavy rain with a couple vivid bolts of lightning. We got dinner at a very good family style place, and continued north. Darkness was falling as we got to Lake George, and eventually we crossed a very pretty bridge over the southern end of Lake Champlain. We got into Burlington around 2200. I would far rather make that drive in daylight next time.

On Monday morning, we were in the Hilton right on the waterfront in Burlington. We toured the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center (ECHO is Ecology, Culture, History and Opportunities). This is a bit of a natural history center, partly an aquarium, partly a childrens museum, and partly a research center). It’s pretty cool. We also walked along waterfront for Lake Champlain. From Burlington, we headed out through the Green Mountains of Vermont through Montpelier. We drove on into New Hampshire and towards the White Mountains. There were a bunch of very slow drivers along this route, like 20 miles an hour under the speed limit. It is, however, a beautiful drive.

One word about wildlife. From the moment we left Burlington, we saw sign after sign after sign warning us about moose crossing, moose activity, moose this, moose that. We saw exactly zero moose. I think that the VT and NH tourism departments need to get on the ball and get those moose out for us tourists to gawk at.

We drove up Mount Washington in NH. The views were magnificent. We saw a stunning, bright full-arc rainbow on the way up. It was cold (50F) and pretty windy up there higher than 6,000 ft. I enjoyed looking at the views, and the exhibits of the “worst weather in the world”. Afterward, we headed south into the Boston area, getting in around 2245.

On Tuesday, I went to work for the day. Raegan and the kids went to Concord and explored the area.

Wednesday, I worked again. Afterward, we went back to Concord, visiting the Minuteman National Historic Park where the American Revolution started. We also went to the Concord Museum, which was a very neat facility. Afterward, we drove down the battlefield trail to Lexington. The day ended with us tooling around outer Boston for a while, then driving downtown to look at Old North Church (which is wedged very tightly between many newer buildings), the Boston Commons, Beacon Hill, and the State Capitol.

Thursday, we took it easy heading back towards New York. We had lunch in Rhode Island, visited Misquamicut Beach, stopped in Mystic, CT to visit the Seaport and have tea, then drove through New London, into NY and our last hotel for the trip.

We got up Friday morning for our last day, had a leisurely breakfast, and headed out the 24 mile trip three hours before departure time. It took and hour and a half to get there!

Random Notes

We had a Hyundai Tuscon rental car. It was a good size for the four of us. We traveled with three biggish rolling suitcases, and one checkable rolling suitcase. Those and our four backpacks were our entire gear set. We did pretty well, I think. We bought some stuff on the road (including some shirts on sale for Ian), and managed to get it all back with no problem.

This was a connected trip. We didn’t use a single paper map (although we had one for Vermont). We relied on Google Maps for navigation. There were a couple places we didn’t have connectivity; mainly along the eastern shore of Lake George, NY. The car had dual 12VDC plugs and one 5VDC USB up front. I bought a 200W inverter/power supply at Target that took a 12VDC input and put out 120VAC, 5VDC USB, and another 12VDC (it was only $25, a good deal). We ran that inverter into the back seat for the kids, and Raegan and I shared the USB up front. It worked out pretty good.

Some of the roads we traveled on were terrible. We were constantly driving on a minefield, it felt like. NYC roads were especially bad, to include the expressways, the arteries, and the side roads. Signage was lacking in many instances. We totally missed (for example) the turnoff for the RFK bridge. Once we figured that out, we hit the toll booth for the bridge, and were looking for I-278S; we only saw a sign for I-278 and followed it… north. The turn the other way had no sign for I-278 at all; it should have had one for I-278S.

If you are reading this and you are in charge of road signage around LGA, you should be fired. Every other airport I have been to has large signs on approach for rental car returns. The only ones around LGA are ON THE GROUNDS. And since the rental car returns are on the far west side, they should have signs before that exit to get people there who are coming to LGA eastbound. After getting turned around, I saw a sign (it was probably only 8×14″) for Avis as I came west. Dumb.

Summary

We left a LOT undone up there. Raegan and I were constantly amazed at how green and beautiful it was. I’m already thinking that the next time, we will spend less time in NJ/NY and more time in upstate NY, maybe Canada, and drive over into Maine.

This 10-day trip cost us about $3,000, which isn’t too bad, I think. We saved a huge amount of money by staying 20 miles out of NYC. Of course, that is partially offset by the tolls, but the hotel costs in NYC were $250+ per night; our Embassy Suites was $120, and the HGI we stayed in the last night was only $105.

There is a lot of cool stuff that we didn’t realize was doable, for example, visiting the Coast Guard Academy in New London, and the USS Nautilus museum in Groton. We saw the Edison exhibits via a National Park Service (NPS) sign on the Interstate; we otherwise would have had no clue that it was there. And it was very cool. We also passed on many shorter stops that could have added up to hours of extra time; an example is the overlook of the Hudson from the parkway we drove down from our last night hotel on the way to the airport. More research next time.

Food… we ate very well on this trip, all local. Diners have huge amounts of food. I think the prices are 20% higher than prices back home.

We need to get moving more quickly in the morning… OK, the heck with it, we haven’t learned how to do that in 10+ years, so never mind.

Navigation in the NYC area is tough! It’s best to have a navigator that is able to look ahead a turn or so so help the driver out.

I wish the NYC area would accept credit cards.

I would like to walk around more of NYC, including every borough, the islands, and the like.

And there is a heck of a lot of hiking in the northeast…

Park West Diner, Little Falls, NJ

28 July 2013

Park West Diner on Urbanspoon

We continued our Eat Across New Jersey Diners tour this evening. We had breakfast at the hotel and headed out to New York, and didn’t have lunch, so we were very hungry come dinnertime.

We had seen Park West on the way in, so we hit it on the way out. Great place!

The meal started with complementary pasta salad – a HUGE bowl, more than the four of us could have eaten (but very good!). There was also a HUGE basket of bread, three different kinds. We particularly liked a couple pieces that had a cinnamon layer.

Raegan and Ian had a fried chicken basket, it came with soup. Raegan got cream of mushroom, it was excellent, really good. Ian got chicken and rice, it was excellent as well. They both had fried zucchini and onion rings that were excellent. Erin got a chicken caesar wrap, and liked it a lot. I got roast top sirloin beef; it was about half a blasted cow, with natural gravy (thickened drippings). That roast beef was tender, just a touch medium rare+, and tasty. Great stuff. It came with whipped potatoes that were just as yummy as potatoes can be, and gravy that was some of the best I have had in a restaurant. My meal also came with a HUGE salad, and very good ranch dressing. The only downer was my second side, which was sauteed mushrooms, which had been sauteed with bell peppers, and so were not edible. The side, BTW, was HUGE (notice a trend here?).

Erin had a very good chocolate shake with the meal. Ian and I had iced tea, a treat, it was great!

Service was perfect. The food was great. I am very impressed with Park West, the food quality was outstanding and the service was as well. Our check was $65.32. Recommended.

Empire Diner, Parsippany, NJ

26 July 2013

Empire Diner on Urbanspoon

We went two-for-two with diners yesterday. Empire Diner was a mile from our hotel.

I got beef tips in gravy over rice. Classic diner food, and simply outstanding. The mushrooms and mushroom gravy was perfect, as was the rice, and the beef tips were large, tender, and tasty. Great stuff. I started the meal with chicken noodle soup (the noodles were tubes, kind of different). Ian got chicken fingers and scarfed all of them. Raegan got chicken piccata; I ended up eating about half the chicken; it was perfectly seasoned and very tender. Erin got a roast beef panini; I sampled the roast, and it was very good. We piled on some appetizers and desserts again, all yummy

A bonus: excellent iced tea. Service was extremely friendly and fast. Our check was $86.70. Empire is a winner, very, very good food.

Harris Diner, East Orange, NJ

26 July 2013

Harris Diner on Urbanspoon

I like diners. I heard somewhere that New Jersey has more diners than anywhere else on the planet, and as we drove around yesterday, there is ample evidence of that. We were at the Edison museum yesterday, and I did a Google Maps search for “diner”, and Harris Diner was pretty much the closest place, so off we went.

I had honey fried chicken, it was great! Chicken noodle soup to start (the noodles were spaghetti noodles). My meal came with some onion rolls and mashers and gravy (the gravy was tomato-based, unusual, and very good). This was simply too much food for me to eat, which is too bad, since it was all great. Raegan and Erin both got a fish sandwich (again, huge) that they really liked. Ian got a double cheeseburger, and pronounced it excellent. Various chocolate milkshakes were consumed, and Raegan and I both got a (huge) scoop of ice cream, hers with butterscotch syrup, mine with chocolate.

The only thing I can count down on was the tea, it was concentrate (Brisk, I think), so I switched to Pepsi. Service was prompt and super friendly. Our check was $57.72. Higher than we normally get, but four full meals, and extras like dessert drove the cost up. It was worth it.

This place is a classic diner. The customers were all known to the staff; people don’t keep coming back for years if a place serves crappy food, so that tells you something. I would gladly eat here again.