Monday, December 13, 2010

Pt. Reyes Lighthouse

Even trips close to home counts as an adventure and there are so many great options in the Bay Area.  Point Reyes National Seashore is a really great example of the Northern California coast.  Growing up my image of California came from the tv shows of the time (CHiPS anyone?!) so I thought that all of the coast was warm water and sandy beaches.  Wow, was my move to the Bay Area an eye-opener.  The norm is rocky edges at the base of cliffs where the ocean crashes spectacularly and if you get in you better be wearing a dry suit!

On the Friday after Thanksgiving E-- and I met up with a couple friends and her folks who were visiting from Michigan.  We met at the original Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station.  It is a tiny little town that lots of folks love because it is quaint.  That means that it has a a couple of restaurants, a few small stores selling whatnots and some artist studios.  Not actually the type of place I visit a lot because I get bored with that after an hour.  But Point Reyes Station has cheese and that is awesome.  We purchase bread and cheese and head on out.  If you plan ahead though you can get tours of the cheese making process.

To get out to the lighthouse you have to drive the tiny winding roads that pass by historical ranches-huh, who knew that ranches can be historical!  Once out there though it is worth it-the ocean view is amazing.  First we take some time to see it from the top from a couple of different vantage points.  Then we head down to the lighthouse.  They warn you that you will have to walk back up the 300 steps, but that is really no reason to stop you as put in some nice little benches along the way.

The lighthouse itself is interesting and there will be a ranger there to answer questions about the Fresnel lens, the foghorn, etc.  But the amazing thing to think about are the men who ran the lighthouses-what a harsh lifestyle.  They have some neat documentation about the rules and regulations they had to follow.  They were in charge of keeping the light going even in the stormiest weather.  But at least stormy would be interesting-consistency was the most important attribute in a lighthouse keeper.  You can't just take a 'mental health day'.  I'll keep that in mind the next time I feel like whining at work :)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

NYC cont.

Monday-we head home later today, but there is still time to get in a few visits.  First is a nostalgia tour of the Columbia University campus where we went to school.  Good spots to visit are St. Paul's chapel, the whispering bench across from the chapel, and the Steps.  On a nice day sitting on the Steps and people watching is one of the best ways to pass the time.  We visit the last nostalgia food stop, Famous Famiglia's pizza.  This was my introduction to pizza bianca-no red sauce and glops of garlic infused ricotta.  I LOVED this stuff as a student.  Plus the counter guys were actual italian guys which was novel to me. They are not as good as I remember, maybe because they became a chain or maybe it is my memory.  Still, it has a nice crisp crust and satisfies the craving for cheese.

Now it is time to do something we never did while we actually lived in the area-visit Grant's tomb!  It does not take much time, though the building is relatively large for NYC, inside are Grant AND his wife, and a few small exhibits.  I was surprised by how many people were visiting, but if you are in the area it is worth it.

Finally we get our gear and head out.  This time we take the LIRR, just because we can-pretty nice but not really much faster than the subway.  Coincidentally a good friend will be landing about 2 hours before we leave, so we meet up and chat for an hour.  That's it-a reasonable flight and our quick NYC weekend is over :(

Thursday, December 2, 2010

NYC Nov 2010 cont.

Sunday morning is clearly for sleeping in.  I generally pack a lot of activity into a small space, but never neglect sleep!  Lack of sleep makes everyone cranky and less fun.  After E-- and I finally get going, the first stop is another nostalgia food stop.  Amir’s falafel-they have a super decadent tahini on the schwarma that we’ve not found elsewhere.  Fortified we head to Brooklyn for the New York Transit museum  We’ve been meaning to go pretty much forever-the subway system is so cool and living in New York it’s a necessity so you come to know about your little piece of it that you take for granted while keeping in the back of your mind that the possibilities are endless.  Anyway, turns out we don’t think we ever really have been to Brooklyn.  I mean we’ve been across the bridge, we’ve been on the Long Island railroad to the beach and of course the airports….but never Brooklyn for its own sake.  Finally we are going there for the museum.  Which is just right-not too small, not too big, not empty, not packed.  There are exhibits on how the subway was built, the history of the ticket system (from paper, to tokens, back to paper), the improvements in turnstiles, the money (this was amazing-the amount of $$ in the system-wow), the trolleys and buses, and of course the subway cars themselves.  And all of it is in an old subway station that still has working controllers.  Probably not a must see on your first visit to New York, but if you ever lived in the city, like trains or transit in general it is worth a stop.

To get back to Manhattan, we walked back over the Brooklyn Bridge.  It is quite a popular attraction for tourists, plus some folks actually use it to get back and forth, so it is busy with people and thus good people watching.  The bridge ends near city hall and our plan is to wander up to China town to catch the subway.  On the way, we stumble across a National Monument that we didn’t even know existed.  It is the African Burial Ground National Monument and it’s quite moving.  It is a tiny little plot of land in Lower Manhattan where burial grounds were discovered during a construction project.  During the 1700’s this area was outside of the city and since Africans weren’t allowed in the cemeteries, they formed their own.  The symbolism is nicely explained in the brochure and you can get more information from the Park guide.

Once we wander through Chinatown, we get on the 6 train heading south.  Which is odd because there is only one stop left and it is City Hall, and we just walked up from there….hmmm.  I’d read online that there is an old stop at the end of the 6 line where the train turns around.  It was designed to be a highlight with beautiful mosaics etc. but because it is on a sharp curve it is not safe.  So at the last stop they ask everyone to get off, but they don’t enforce it, so you can stay in the car, ride past the stop, and be on the Uptown 6 when it stops again.  So we take the short ride, sit put when the canned announcement asks everyone to leave and look over at a father and son who are also sitting put.  We admit to each other that we heard about this online and wanted to check it out.  The doors close and off we go.  It is a short ride, and sure enough, midway through we can see out the right hand side that there is a subway stop.  It is dimly lit so hard to view all the great work that is there, but worth this quick detour to see something usually reserved for the conductor!

And we’re off to Times Square!  The whole reason we are here is to see Pee Wee’s Playhouse on Broadway.  We meet up with our friends and grab a quick dinner at Mars 2112, a space themed restaurant.  Is it good?  Well, it all depends on what you are looking for!  Entertaining?  Yes.  Food?  Decent, a tad pricey (remember that you are paying for atmosphere).  American style?  Most definitely!  I would call a novelty place, almost on par with Casa Bonita.  And finally we get to the show.  It was fantastic!  Now, obviously we are fans of the original.  Which is why we went and it was exactly what I wanted.  Enough of the original to do fan service (the set, the cast, the word of the day) but with current events (including suggestively naughty bits) as well so it is not just something you could have seen on tv.  

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NYC Nov 2010 cont.

Next we travel by subway to get to our housing and are changing trains at Penn Station.  Which is 34th street.  Which is Harald Square.  Which is Macy’s and the site of the parade in just a couple days.  We figure this is our opportunity to see the famous Christmas windows and the set up of parade route while all is quiet.  The window display is enchanting.  They took the classic story of “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” and depicted it through paper cutouts.  These are not your run of the mill snowflakes, but intricately designed, exactly cut and layered, full size dioramas of people and scenes.  One window shows mom sitting on a bed and the bedspread is incredibly detailed-three layers of different colored cutouts to make the flower details and each one just a little different.  The windows also incorporate movement in the scene and curtains that cover the entire scene briefly.  Lovely!  But a big part of the reason it was lovely is that we had the windows basically to ourselves.  This is one of my favorite methods of maximizing my travel-visit off season.  Why did we have it to ourselves?  8am Saturday before Thanksgiving.

Onto check into our lodgings!  This time I have tried something new for us-staying in an extra room of someone who is living there.  I looked at a couple of different websites for this type of stay and found this place on  We stayed with a family who had an extra room that is usually their office in the section of Manhattan where we wanted to be.  It was a fantastic experience-we met new cool people, felt homey and relaxed, and contributed a smaller environmental impact. 

Having dropped off our stuff we ventured out into the city.  The sky was clear so we headed to a new-to-us park, the Highline.  An elevated park on top of old railroad tracks, the Highline seems to be a big success as it was mobbed with strolling, chatting families.  It is relatively small but there are already two planned expansions.  A really neat aspect of the park is that they have incorporated old railroad rails, ties, and they abstractly reference rails in the seating and layout.  This is a great people watching spot and I would recommend anyone visiting the area to drop by.

At the north end of the Highline is the gallery district and I just happen to have a gallery that I want to visit-the ET Modern.  Edward Tufte is a genius of data presentation-if you are a scientist (or have an interest in design or presentation) and haven’t heard of him, check it out ASAP!  The gallery is the place for him to present his artistic work.  And he happens to be giving tours today (well, I planned it that way after looking at the schedule online).  This is the first time I’ve gotten the artists view of their own work in the person.  It was a little intimidating (wrack brain, try to ask something intelligent…nothing comes to mind, well, at least don’t knock over anything!).  But it was enlightening to look at the work in real time as he was explaining what to look for.  I really appreciated how light interacts with his works and the meta humor he injects into some of his works.

Onto one of my favorites-the Metropolitan Museum of Art!  In my mind it is one of the top attractions of NYC for visitors or residents.  The exhibits that present an entire room are the best: the temple of Dendur, the Japanese courtyard, the Zen garden, the Assyrian monument, and the new Jain entranceway.  New to me this time are the Christmas tree in the medieval section (which is still closed off), some new buddhas, and a new set of screens in the Japanese art section (the picture on the screen is of screens-nice!).  On Saturdays they stay open late and serve drinks and nice snacks so of course we have to try that.  Very nice-probably overpriced but you are clearly paying for atmosphere.  If you are thinking of checking it out the drinks the main gallery is busy and music filled while the cafe near the European sculpture garden is quiet, cozy and has an extended menu.  We have drinks and snack meal at the cafe-fancy ravioli, meatballs in sauce so thick it is stew and olives that have been spiced to taste like the holidays.  Phew!  Fantastic day-head home and sleep for 10 hours! 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

New York City

Ah-NYC.  I love visiting New York.  Visiting old favorites and finding new ones.  This visit is E---and I to see Pee Wee Herman on Broadway-but that is not until Sunday night and we arrive Saturday morning so there is plenty of time to do other things as well.  I hate to feel like I'm losing a whole day to air travel which means a few hours of really terrible sleep.  This is the first time I'm trying a neck pillow-everyone else uses them so they must be good for something-it turns out it doesn't do what I want it to!  Doesn't it look like it is supposed to hold your neck up?  Not so much.
Train into New York and our first nostalgia stop-Tom's Restaurant.  Most people will know this as the res RESTAUANT sign from Seinfeld, but we ate here as undergrads when it was famous for being in the Suzanne Vega song ("I am sitting in a diner on the corner....").  I remember mostly burgers and fries and milkshakes but go for breakfast-y French toast and sausage.  The thing is they have spruced up the place a little by replacing the cracked leatherette seats and the menus...but the atmosphere is actually still the same.  They have specific rules that are posted and don't even try to defy them.  Food is homey, unpretentious, and likely to put you into a food coma if you order too much.  Perfectly nostalgic.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Getting ready

I love getting ready for a trip-you get to check out all the places you might go to, the food you might eat, the places you visit.  But then there is the getting ready on the day of the trip-yikes!  All that work before you leave. What is the weather going to be?  Do I have clothes for that?  Print boarding passes.  Which books to bring, which maps?  Maybe just a photocopy?  Electrical adapters?  Cash?  Stuff to do on the plane?  (And now, when am I going to blog about it?  Before, during, after?)

And then I remember-I can buy anything I forget.  Passport, ticket, money and some basics?  It is all going to be okay.  And soon I will be in a new place, checking out all that stuff I planned-woo hoo!