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VariousMega Mansions

On 17 August 2009 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

Saturday morning we left Cape Cod at a decent time to drive to Mystic, Connecticut. Since it would only be a short drive, we decided to do some sightseeing in Newport, Rhode Island. This town became the place to summer for rich New Yorkers, and they tried to outdo each other in building the grandest mansion. Obviously, we visited that one that dwarfed them all: the Breakers, an Italian Renaissance megapalace built for Cornelius Vanderbilt II. 70 Rooms would indeed do for a summer residence. After a late lunch at the Elms, another large mansion, we continued on to Mystic. We had dinner and ice-cream in this centuries-old seaport town.

Initially the plan for the last day was to catch a ferry from New London to Long Island, catch two more ferries to get to the Hamptons, have a look around, and drive back to JFK. Since we had already seen the most sumptuous mansion imaginable in Newport, and the waiting time for the ferries as well as the traffic jams on Long Island in the weekend could be long and unpredictable, we decided to forego on the Hamptons, and drive straight to JFK. But even with taking things slowly in the morning, it left plenty of time to make a stop in New Haven, where Yale University is located. Unfortunately the tour times did not match our itinerary, so we wandered around the campus by ourselves. It was very interesting to note the quite distinct architectural styles between Harvard and Yale.

During this entire trip TomTom was a very good companion, aside from not finding the hotel in Cape Cod and sending us to some fields when we wanted to go to the center of Bird-in-Hand (or perhaps that was the center). But other than that, we drove everywhere in one go. The exception being our final destination. According to our companion, the car rental drop-off was in the middle of a not-so-well-to-do residential neighbourhood. Oh well, with about 5 hours to spare before departure, we had plenty of time to get back to the highway and find the real drop-off place. And thus ended a 2-week, 11-state/district (NY,NJ,DE,MD,DC,VA,PA,VT,MA,RI,CT) fly-rail-drive in North-East USA.

VariousBoston & Cape Cod

On 15 August 2009 from Hyannis, MA, USA | comments closed

After our last Miller Inn gourmet breakfast on Wednesday we hit the road for Boston. First decent stop was in Bennington, whose battle monument is the highest structure in Vermont. But the detour here was really made to check another state off the list, and to drive the New England country roads. We got to Boston late afternoon and after dinner Wilbert, Laura and I visited the highly overrated Cheers bar. When you are not from the generation that watched the series, it really is not that interesting.

Thursday morning we walked the famous Freedom Trail, which passes by Boston’s highlights. That went pretty well, I only pissed off a navy officer by making some photos of the USS Constitution from behind the car fence. Of course I had to climb the Bunker Hill Monument for the views, to compensate for not climbing the Washington Monument in D.C. As the climb was at the end of the Freedom Trail, we walked back to downtown Boston to retrieve our minivan from the parking garage and head to Cambridge for some home-made ice-cream and a tour of Harvard. The latter was given for free by a junior student and it was a great way to make some sense of the campus buildings and get some insights into Harvard university life. After the tour we crawled to Cape Cod, as it seemed to be one long traffic jam between Boston and the Cape. We had dinner in Hyannis and went for some grocery shopping in the supermarket, when we heard the message on the intercom that it suddenly started to pour down rain, and the owners of the open convertible should close the top to prevent becoming the owners of a swimming pool on wheels 🙂

Friday morning we drove along the Cape to Provincetown, from where the whale watching cruise departed. Sightings guaranteed, and we were not let down. Afterwards we strolled around gay and touristy Provincetown. I climbed the 76m-high Pilgrim Monument, which was a great excuse to enjoy some ice-cream with hot fudge, marshmallow & M&M’s afterwards. In the late afternoon we drove to the beach for a swim and some relaxing in the sun.

VariousNiagara Falls & Gorges Ithaca

On 12 August 2009 from Ithaca, NY, USA | comments closed

Sunday morning we left early for the long drive (600km) to Niagara Falls. After checking in at the hotel, we crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Canada. It felt good to be back after 8 years. First we got a superior view of the falls from the Skyline Tower and then we walked to the top of the Horseshoe Falls, where the sheer volume of water was even more impressive because of the closeness. We finished the little Canadian detour in an Italian restaurant, before walking back through the hideous downtown area (imagine Las Vegas, but less class, really) and driving back to the USA.

Monday morning our Lady of the Mist boat brought us as close under Horseshoe Falls as possible. I wonder why I took a shower before, because we got effectively showered under Niagara Falls. Then it was time for shopping. We drove to a factory outlet near Waterloo, and spend a few hours buying new shoes and clothes. Late afternoon we arrived in Ithaca during a torrential downpour. It rained so hard we stayed in the minivan on the parking place of the Miller Inn, 10m from the door. The lady from the Inn spotted us, and she came to the car with a huge umbrella to provide safe passage to the entrance. That was already an indication that the level of service (which is generally much better in the USA than in Europe) was in a class of its own. Coffee, tea and cold drinks were always available to enjoy in the dining room, map room or music room. And in the evening freshly baked cake and cookies were provided. But the two exquisite courses of the gourmet breakfast topped it all, one simply could not have a better start of the day.

Tuesday we spent the day around Ithaca: hiking around the gorge of Taughannock Falls, swimming in Cayuga Lake, relaxing and getting sunburned next to Cayuga Lake, eating the best hamburger (a.k.a. Pineburger) in the county and hiking through the gorge of Buttermilk Falls. The weather forecast was terrible, but the actual weather could not have been better. During the research for this trip, I found no itinerary from a tour operator that included Ithaca, but I am really glad I included this relaxed little city in great natural surroundings in our itinerary.

VariousD.C.: No Beer with Obama

On 9 August 2009 from Lancaster, PA, USA | comments closed

Thursday morning we had the usual New York breakfast of a bagel with cream cheese before boarding the Amtrak to Washington D.C. The plan was to have a beer with Mr President in the garden of the White House, but as we lacked an official invitation from Barack and security could not be more tough, we made some photos of the White House instead.

Friday was Mall-day, and I am not referring to shopping. The National Mall is the large green space in Washington D.C. where all the 3 M’s (monuments, museums and memorials) are clustered around. We started at the East end with a tour of the Capitol, where the values of democracy are strongly conveyed. Using the underground tunnel, we walked to the Library of Congress for a brief visit (no time to read). After lunch we spend a few hours in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, where (among others) the first Wright brothers’ flyer and Bell X-1 are exhibited. We continued along the Mall to the Washington Monument and the National World War II Memorial. At that spot I just needed to play “Brothers in War” by Dire Straits: back shivers guaranteed even with 30 degree Celcius outside temperatures. The Mall ended at the Lincoln Memorial and so did our sightseeing for the day. After dinner Laura, Wilbert and I went to Improv Comedy Club to see Ian Bagg and hear him make a lot of fun of the audience (good thing we did not get front row seats).

Saturday morning we picked up our rental minivan, a golden Toyota Sienna LE. It fits 8, so 5 adults and luggage was no problem at all. Before driving out of the city, we first visited the Jefferson Memorial and FDR Memorial, and made another stop at the Arlington Cemetery to pay our respects at the grave of the Kennedy’s. We checked into our hotel in Lancaster and went for a drive around Dutch Pennsylvania a.k.a. Amish Country. It is interesting to see how some people can maintain their old-fashioned lifestyle with horse-drawn carriages and plowing the land using horses. The homemade dinner we enjoyed there in the evening was one of the best though.

VariousSummer in New York City

On 6 August 2009 from New York City, NY, USA | comments closed

After having travelled to a decent amount of places, people kind of expect that you have been to certain cities (note: this only applies to cities, not towns, villages, national parks). New York City is one of those cities. And when the plan came up for another family vacation (the last one having been over 5 years ago), only a little persuasion was needed to put the Big Apple on the list. Unfortunately the folks back home decided that the weekend before departure was better spent at home, so I took a flight 2 days earlier to prepare the city for their arrival, and visit some places they did not show interest in.

After the usual pleasant flight with Air Berlin (“we recommend wine with dinner and cognac after dinner, no charge of course”) JFK was the starting point of my North-East USA trip. The Airtrain and metro brought me to my hotel on 47th Street (a block from the Waldorf Astoria), where a pleasant surprise awaited: I got the penthouse suite with private rooftop terrace. Quite a posh start of the trip. First thing I did was taking advantage of the beautiful evening by crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to (surprise, surprise) Brooklyn. Taking photos was obviously the goal, because there are plenty of Starbucks in Manhattan too. After some great shots of the downtown skyline I checked out Times Square for some Las Vegas-style New York. I could not think of a better start in NYC.

Sunday morning the plan was to go to Central Park, but the rain messed that up. When it cleared, I walked across the Queensborough Bridge to (surprise, surprise) Queens, but that was a total waste of time. No decent views and no decent neighbourhood on the other side of the bridge, so I took the metro to B&H – the largest camera store in NYC – to buy a wide-angle lens. Since it was pouring down rain now, I figured it would be a good thing to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was not the only one with this line of thought. Once inside, the crowds were not that bad because of the sheer size of the museum. It would have been easy to spend more than 3 hours, if it were not for closing hours. Luckily the weather had cleared up by then, and Central Park offered some nice walks and great sunset views. In the evening I wandered throught Little Italy and Chinatown, to have some Vietnamese dinner.

After having breakfast on my rooftop terrace Monday morning, unfortunately the time came to switch to another hotel. Having done that, I went to United Nations, but decided to forego the tour, as the next available one was in 2 hours. Instead, I took the free ferry to Staten Island with great views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. I returned back to Manhattan on the same ferry. There I explored Wall Street and the surrounding downtown area, before checking out the shops on 5th Avenue. When the family arrived, I met them at the hotel and we had dinner on Times Square.

For Wednesday morning we had booked a helicopter ride, but as the weather forecast for Wednesday was not too good, we rescheduled it to Tuesday morning. Seeing the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan, the Hudson River and New Jersey from the air was amazing. Too bad the ride only lasted for 15 minutes. (Update 08-08-2009: only 5 days later a similar helicopter crashed above the Hudson :() The boat tour was a little longer with 75 minutes, and offered the closest views of Lady Liberty and the New York harbour. Then we got on the bus to drive from Midtown to Downtown Manhattan, where we checked out Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge, before getting back on at South Street Seaport. In the evening we did a night tour through the city.

Wednesday we walked through the Empire State Building, but got the lift to Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Center. After a Starbucks coffee at the Trump Tower, we walked through Central Park, and joined a bus tour through Harlem. In the evening Laura, Wilbert and I went for some dinner at Union Square and watched the show Fuerza Bruta. It was easily the most unique show I have ever seen, with (amongst other things) female performers moving around in a transparent swimming pool, 20 cm above the audience! After the show we went for some drinks and live music at Cafe Wha in Greenwhich Village.