Sunday, September 28, 2008

Heading to Cooperstown

We made our way back to the car at the Newark Aiport at about 5 pm on Wednesday and headed for Cooperstown. Apparently there was no master plan when greater Newark's roadways were constructed - when viewed on a map, the "system" (and I use that term loosely) looks like a web spun by a very disorganized spider. Not wanting to decipher a route on our own, we put our faith in our trusty GPS, good 'ol TomTom.

The trip north through Newark and into New York state to Cooperstown would take us (or so we thought) about 4 hours, so we expected to arrive at our bed and breakfast at about 9:30 pm. We settled into the drive on the sparsely inhabited New York State Thruway (a well-kept toll road), lamenting the fact that we couldn't enjoy the mountainous scenery. Dusk was settling in rapidly, and there is no such thing as Daylight Savings Time on the east coast, so the extent of our sightseeing on this leg of the trip consisted of marvelling at the ghostly shapes of the Catskills silhouetted against the setting sun.

Cooperstown, despite its fame, is located in the remote countryside of northeastern New York. After exiting the interstate just south of Cooperstown and topping off the gas tank, I consulted the map, and noticed that TomTom wanted to take us on a road that I did not see on the atlas. That should have been a red flag right there. But being tired and impatient to settle into our room after a long drive, we decided to trust TomTom in all his infinite wisdom (computers are always right, yes?).

As we drove deeper into the sparsely populated and mountainous countryside, TomTom continued to confidently announce our turn by turn instructions. As we turned onto a one-lane road that seemed to lead straight up a mountain (TomTom identified this road as a state highway, but we sure weren't seeing any signs), Cory and I began to become concerned. The images of the road on the LED screen matched the twists and turns that we were making, so we still felt that TomTom was not leading us astray. It wasn't until the road narrowed further and became gravel with weeds growing through that we started to panic. Cory swore he saw a Dead End sign some ways back, but I hadn't. Finally, the road abruptly ended at the crest of a hill (the type of remote place where someone might dump a body). TomTom was oblivious to the fact that there was no road there, and continued to tell us to proceed forward. My ears at this point were popping from the elevation. Panicking, I ordered Cory to turn around, which he had to do in the middle of the "road", and we both prayed that our little G6 would not get hung up. The only creatures out there were probably bears and crazed ax-murderers, but I sure didn't want to find out who (or what) might descend upon us should we become stranded. We hurried back to the main road and the safety of civilization, wondering if we had stumbled into the Twilight Zone.

Our surreal detour cost us about a half-hour of travel time, so we didn't arrive in Cooperstown until about 10 pm. Needless to say, we had turned off TomTom and used the atlas the good old-fashioned way. We easily found the Landmark Inn on the outskirts of town, and picked up the key to our room from the foyer of this lovely Victorian bed and breakfast. We settled into our comfortable room, and rested up for the next day.

After a delicious breakfast served on fine china at Landmark, we walked into town toward the Hall of Fame. Cooperstown is very much like Zionsville, quaint with many little shops and restaurants. Apparently we were visiting during the Hall's off-season because it wasn't crowded at all, and we actually had some of the areas all to ourselves. We spent almost the entire day there, reading the displays and absorbing the incredible history housed within those walls. We were both very impressed. Some of my favorites were Lou Gehrig's locker, the special area devoted to the Babe, and the Baseball Cards display. Cory loved anything related to the Cubs, the Plaque Gallery, and just about everything else. There was so much to see and read that it would have been almost impossible to digest it all in one visit. What an incredible place.

Inside the Hall of Fame, the Plaque Gallery displaying all of the inductees, from the first class of 1936 to the present.

Cory and the plaque of his childhood hero, Ryne Sandberg.

Besides all of the plaques, uniforms, bats and balls, the Hall also had a section devoted to ballparks and fans, called Sacred Ground. The cornerstone of Ebbets Field also rested there.

Cory pointing out the Cubs on the Standings Board in front of the Hall of Fame, #1 in the Central Division on the day of our visit.

Cory checking out the bat that Babe Ruth hit his "called shot" with in the 1932 World Series. Pretty amazing to be in the same room with so many famous objects and pieces of memorabilia.

Here I am in front of the Chicago Cubs locker. There was one with mementoes from each team in the majors.

Below is part of the baseball card exhibit. Look closely and you'll see Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, among others.

Here's our room at the Landmark Inn, Room #2. It had a private entrance and porch off the parking lot. The house itself was originally built in 1856, and they had some incredible photos displayed there of the house in its early days.

Our day in Cooperstown was extremely relaxing and renewing, especially after just experiencing the mad pace of NYC. We rested up that evening for our journey the next day to Niagara.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

More NYC sights

For our second day in the city, I had planned a cruise around Manhattan on the well-known Circle Line Cruise. In the morning, after sleeping in just a tad, we hoofed it across 45th Street to Pier 83. Despite the long lines, we boarded the next available boat for a 2-hour cruise at 11 am. We were blessed with a bright, sunny day complete with a light breeze. We hoped the cruise would give us a different persceptive of the city, and it did. When you are in the middle of NYC, it is hard to imagine your exact locale. Being on the water allowed us to take a step back and absorb the enormity of the place, as well as to see some of the sights we otherwise might have missed.

First, we cruised down the Hudson River, noting the presence of the gigantic Empire State Building, the burg of Battery Park, and the giant void in the skyline where the Twin Towers once stood. Soon we came upon Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, just off the southern tip of the island of Manhattan. The captain lingered a bit near the Statue, and we marveled at its beauty and significance, and snapped lots of pictures.

As the boat sailed away from the statue and up the East River, we saw the Staten Island Ferry (free to the public, as noted by the narrator of the tour), Govenor's Island, and Wall Street to the west. We sailed underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, and two other famed bridges as well (can't think of which ones they were right at this moment). We continued to motor north and got close-up views of the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. Finally, we sailed back south, retracing our steps back to Pier 83. It was a relaxing and fun trip, nice to see so much of the city without actually hoofing it around. Although it was cold and windy on the boat, and we had difficulty hearing the tour guide because of the engine noise from the boat (we were late boarding and missed out on one of the premium seats on the top deck), it was money well-spent.

After disembarking, we walked back toward 5th Avenue to do a little shopping. We ate lunch at a little cafe, among what looked like throngs of New Yorkers (the tourists didn't seem to frequent this particular dining spot). After peeking in a few shops and noting the price tags, we decided that we were a little out of our league. We headed into Rockefeller Center, and decided to see to the Top of the Rock. I'm so glad we made this last-second decision. The view was amazing! The three-level observation deck gave us a direct view of the city skyline, unobstructed in many places by glass or gates. Absolutely breathtaking. Making it even more special was the clear sky and warm sun. We could have stayed up there for hours taking it all in if we hadn't needed to depart the city for Cooperstown at a reasonable hour.

I was a little nervous about finding our way back to our car from Manhattan, but we pulled it off without a hitch, asking many questions of helpful people along the way. We found our car at the airport, and pulled away for the four-hour drive to Cooperstown.

More on that adventure coming soon...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

NYC Day #1 - continued

We reluctantly wrapped up our visit to Central Park in the mid-afternoon of our first full day in NYC. We decided to brave the subway to head back to the hotel, both to prepare for our journey to the Bronx later that day and also to rest our already-weary feet. The famous (or infamous?) NYC subway was surprisingly easy to navigate, and not nearly as smelly or scary as one is led to believe. We walked through Times Square just in time to see the renowned "Naked Cowboy" doing his thing, whatever that is, exactly. I couldn't help it, I had to take a picture.

After freshening up at the hotel, we walked to the Rockefeller Station subway stop and boarded the "D" train toward Yankee Stadium. It was about a 30 minute trip straight up Manhattan, and pretty non-eventful. Finally, we emerged from the station at 161st St and set out for the Stadium. Immediately, we were impressed (or depressed, I guess), by the rough and worn appearance of the area surrounding the park. Prior to our trip, I had read on the internet about Yankee Stadium's lack of family-friendly urban warmth that's easily found at Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, and those writers were not kidding. Many would describe Yankee Stadium as "a dump", and we could almost instantly see why. Still, the history surrounding this institution is undeniable and no true baseball fan would allow physical appearance to entirely dissuade their opinion of the place as a whole.

We wanted to visit Monument Park, a small area nestled behind the outfield wall dedicated to honoring former Yankee greats. We weren't the only ones with this idea, especially in the waning days of the stadium's existence. At about 4 pm, we joined an enormous line, and waited for over an hour for the gates to open. Once in the stadium, admission to Monument Park was first-come-first-serve, and our patience was tested by the pushy-shovey nature of our fellow fans. Somehow we made it in, and viewed this famous little area in its waning days. We saw monuments to the Babe, Lou Gehrig (my favorite), Mickey Mantle, and more. As foul balls rained down around us (we couldn't believe how exposed we all were), we scooted out of there and into our seats, a pair of aisle seats in the upper deck set at a dizzying and vertigo-inspiring angle. We had a great view and enjoyed taking in the game. It was hard to believe we were in this place of such great legend, "the House that Ruth Built". Even more hard to believe that soon it will no longer exist; we made it just in time.

Toward the end of the game, we exited our seats and hit the subway for the return trip, hoping to beat the rush. We did, and were back safely in Times Square (the Naked Cowboy was gone by then, in case you were wondering) in no time. We had dinner at The Perfect Pint across from our hotel, then fell into bed, exhausted. What a great day!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Breakfast at Tiffany's & Central Park

We rolled out of bed on our first morning, exhausted but ready to see the sights of NYC. With only one full day in the city, we knew we had to move fast in order to see the most. Our first stop was Sarabeth's for breakfast, near the intersection of 5th Avenue and Central Park South, the street bordering the south section of the famed park. This location was carefully chosen in advance by me, convenient to two of the sites in the city that I was dying to see. The menu was delicious - I had the most scrumptous French toast with a pile of bacon, and Cory had a fluffy omelet. We dined outside, taking in the views of the NY street and the southern border of the park.

After reading Truman Capote's novella Breakfast at Tiffany's just recently (and then seeing the movie with Audrey Hepburn), I knew I HAD to see this famed and classic jewelry store. So after breakfast, we walked south on 5th Avenue and headed in, fully prepared to be snubbed. Instead, we (along with the throngs of other tourists) were given the red carpet treatment by all of the staff. We received warm welcomes all around, no judgment passed on our obviously midwestern attire, and had eager attention paid to us on the 3rd floor - the home of their silver collection and undoubtedly the "budget" stop for the store's less affluent customers. I am pleased to say I am now the proud owner of a pair of Tiffany Beads silver earrings - and am probably just as proud of that little blue box itself. By the way the saleslady acted you would think that I had purchased a Fabrege egg - she was so proud of her merchandise, even though I think it might have been the cheapest thing in the store. This company has been in operation since 1837 and I can see why.

We left Tiffany's and strolled up Fifth Avenue toward Central Park - the next place I just had to see (if you are feeling sorry for Cory, just remember that this whole trip revolved around our visit to Yankee Stadium, but more on that in a later post..). We descended the steps into the area around the Pond, and were immediately plunged into a different world. Almost instantly, the sights and sounds of this bustling city were obscured by the sounds and vistas of nature. We were both amazed at how beautiful and serene the park was. We spent the next few hours wandering about, admiring the Park's many statues and historic architectural elements. Many of the bridges and features were built in the 1860s, under the direction of Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, the Park's master architects. Neither of us was prepared for the immensity and beauty of this public treasure. We could have spent an entire day taking in this masterpiece.

Here I am in front of Bethesda Fountain.

Here's Cory, posing for me on Bow Bridge, with the NYC skyline in the background.

And another great pic of Cory on Bow Bridge...

Coming soon.... our journey to Yankee Stadium.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Back to Reality

Just got back from our New York road trip late Saturday night, and thought I'd share a few details of our trip. There's no way I'm going to pack all six days into this one post, so today I'll just tackle Day 1 here. It hasn't gone unnoticed, I am sure, that this is my first post since August 6th, so be sure to harrass me if this post isn't followed by more in the next few days.... the blogging bug hasn't been biting me as much lately.

Seized by temporary insanity back in January, we planned our trip to commence the morning after a weekend that I worked two 12-hour shifts. The week prior to leaving, I tried my best to shore up our travel plans and pack our bags. While I was at work over the weekend, Cory stepped up to the plate and took care of all of the last-minute details, especially picking up the rental car and dropping the dogs off at the "babysitter". I was exhausted but ready for our escape come Monday morning.

We pulled onto I-465 at 7:50 am, and began our trek east. It was an incredibly easy drive; Cory and I made a point to take turns driving to stay fresh. We rented a Pontiac G6 to escape the unreliability of my PT Cruiser, counting on Avis to rescue us should some unforeseen mechanical malfunction occur. Our GPS (the trusty TomTom, or so we thought.... more on that in a later post) estimated the drive to take 13 hours and we didn't want to wear ourselves out too early. We sailed through Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia (briefly, of course), stopping at a Quizno's for lunch just east of Wheeling. Once well into Pennsylvania, we noticed the terrain begin to change, and began admiring the rolling hills and mountains in the distance. I couldn't believe it when we finally made it into New Jersey - the time had literally flown by. We pulled into Newark Airport at about 7 pm. I was nervous, hoping my master plan to ride the train into Manhattan would be as simple as it looked on paper.

We parked in long-term parking, took an intra-airport AirTrain (that place is HUGE) to the Newark International Airport Train Station, and boarded a New Jersey transit train to NYC's Penn Station. It was pretty amazing to emerge out of the station, bleary-eyed from the road, and be overcome by the sights, smells, and sounds of New York City. Not having approached the city by car or plane, we were never treated to a vista of the city itself in preparation for arrival, but rather were thrust immediately into the heart of the city. It was a little surreal.

We staggered through the city streets toward Times Square and our hotel. Poor Cory was lugging a VERY HEAVY shoulder bag, while I had the little rolling suitcase (poor planning on my part). After a few wrong turns and some frustration for both of us, we found our hotel: the Night Hotel. It was an amazing boutique hotel with a gothic black-and-white theme. The room was tiny and cozy; the picture below is literallly of the whole room as taken from the door. What a respite from our crazy day!

After dining at Connolly's Pub across the street (I had the most delicious panini with curried turkey, apples, raisins, and cheddar cheese) and gawking for a bit at the gawdy neon of Times Square, we headed to bed to rest up for the big day ahead....

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