Monday, November 18, 2019

My Latest Down to Earth Adventures in NYC part 1!

As we all know, I like to go and spend a weekend in the city once in a while.  NYC is that spot that always has something new and interesting to do.  Every time I go, I feel like an explorer, finding a new form of transportation, a new neighborhood, a new event, or a new place that has been recently placed in the city.  This time was no different, because I found all of those things and had a great couple of days.

Let's start with the New York City Ferry Service.  We wanted to go to Williamsburg for some unique experiences, so the best way to get from our home base in South Manhattan to Williamsburg was to catch the ferry from Pier 11 and take it to North Williamsburg where our desired activities were located.  A ferry ride costs the same as a subway trip, so it's really inexpensive.  You can stay inside the boat or go to the roof outside, depending on the weather. 

It was my first time on this ferry, not to be confused with the NYC Water Taxis which I've taken and enjoyed, but this is a different company, therefore different pricing. 

We went to NYC on a unique day, so we had some unique experiences, starting with the ferry.  The New York City Marathon was in full swing when we arrived at the docks.  Because of the security necessary during the race, we ended up waiting a long time for the ferry.  As the largest group of runners were crossing the East River at that time, the police stopped all boats in the East River until they crossed.  So, if you go during an event such as the marathon, you may find yourself detained.  If that is the case, do what we did, and give yourself plenty of time to get where you are going.  We had no timely plans that day, because we were aware of the race, and it was just fine with us to wait until the police had deemed that the river was safe.

The ferry makes three stops on this trip.  The first is under the Brooklyn Bridge in DUMBO at the amazing Riverside Grille restaurant.  The second is under the Williamsburg Bridge in South Williamsburg close to Domino Park.  The third stop was ours at Kent Street.  I would put the address up there, because it is the name of the development, but I was censored on another site, because they thought I was referring to a date that has a notorious innuendo. 

Williamsburg has been many things over the years.  Once an industrial center and home of the Domino Sugar Company, most of that has gone by the wayside.  The neighborhood from south to north is home to many groups, including Hassidic Jews, Puerto Rican folks, artists, and gentrifiers.  The gentrifiers are turning North Williamsburg into the place to be, and the prices to live there have skyrocketed.  They are a group of people who live life their own way and are doing it well.

Our first stop was Smorgasburg and Brooklyn Flea.  These two markets operate in the parks all summer long, and have become so popular that they found a great indoor space for the winter at 25 Kent Street.  There's great gourmet food and drink, and the flea market is full of unique items both old and newly artistic.  The space also comes with random piano music in the eating area and 8th floor high 360 views of the city.  Beat that.  Admission is free.  All you pay for is what you buy.  They are there every weekend Saturday and Sunday 10 - 6.  I found this wonderful project by watching Samantha Brown's "Places to Love" on PBS.  Samantha Brown lives in Brooklyn, so when she says you need to go; I go.

Williamsburg is famous for its street art.  We weren't even in the world famous Bushwick Avenue art scene, and we saw all kinds of great stuff.  Even the ads are art here, and we even met some of the muralists at work.  Everything we did in North Williamsburg was within walking distance of the ferry, and we were never bored.

The architecture in Williamsburg is well worth a look too.  The William Vale is an upscale hotel with a public second story park that comes complete with a food stand.  It's directly across the street from the building that currently houses Smorgasburg and it's an amazing structure.  Boutique hotels are all over the area and they are each very unique.  Just watch out for the prices.  We loved the idea, but I'll stay at my hotel in Manhattan and take the ferry.

As we looked at the art and met the muralists, we made our way around the corner from Brooklyn Flea and to the Brooklyn Brewery.  This is a great place that helped kickstart the micro brewery trend in the country that we all love.  This brewery was founded in 1989, and is now known around the world.  They have a great list of micro brews on tap in the tap room, and they give free tours of the brewery during tour hours every half hour.  It's an informative and entertaining tour and I learned a lot about how beer is made.  I then tried some great beer before we headed on our way.

Oh the architecture, the parks and the views.  We walked around and absorbed more of the art and architecture, and then stopped by a couple of great parks.  Williamsburg is home to a New York State Park.  The East River State Park is a great riverside park with some amazing views of the Manhattan Skyline.  Right next to it sits the local Bushwick Inlet Park with ball fields, picnic tables and equally amazing views along the river.  Well worth the stop and once again; free.

After a great afternoon of beer, food, architecture, art, shopping, parks and amazing views, we caught the ferry back to Manhattan.  The November afternoon was already ending in sunset and we had a great view of the Statue of Liberty and the harbor on our way back to Pier 11.  I will take the great discoveries from that point next time.  Enjoy!

Friday, October 25, 2019

They Say You Can't Go Home...

They say you can't go home.  That saying has appeared everywhere over the years, even in a Bon Jovi tune.  Well, here's what's going on.  My son has decided to go to the University of Northern Ohio, and I grew up not far from there around Fort Wayne, IN.  So, in order to tour the campus, I made the trip back home.  What happened?  We loved the college, I got to see some amazing old friends that I hadn't seen in decades, and I learned a lot.

When I lived the first half of my life in Indiana, I didn't like the view.  It was all about corn, soybeans, wheat, and flat.  I moved to the east coast where we have hills, mountains, waterfalls, and ocean.  It's vastly different.  But, is vastly different entirely a good thing?  I began to wonder when my son and I headed down Route 30 to go to Fort Wayne.  That was the first gigantic wind farm that we encountered.  The wind turbines stretched across the massive farm land for miles.  You won't find that in Connecticut.  As far as I know, my state has three of these turbines, and there was at one point a law that there couldn't be wind turbines in our area, because they make too much noise.  I was blown away at how progressive Ohio is, since New Englanders pride themselves on being progressive.

There are things that haven't changed in my lifetime.  There are still tires being made in Findlay, there are still drive through liquor stores.  But, unlike many other states, Ohio is extremely progressive.  Did you know that a parent can actually take their adult child that is not quite 21 to a bar?  It's an interesting way to make drinking less of a forbidden fruit.  I like it.  While the state wrestles with the same issues as many others like health care costs and insurance and taxes; they also find solutions to issues.  Cities are cleaning up, and bringing in business.  There are lots of places looking for help.  It's a productive view that you see when you drive by.  There is a sense of hope in Ohio.  I liked it.

Not only did we enjoy a visit to The Waffle House and Bob Evans, but the staff in the restaurants were happy.  Haven't seen a whole lot of that in a while.  Most wait staff that I encounter around my home, are miserable and think that they deserve better.  The folks I met on that trip were happy to do their jobs.  They were a pleasure to be around.  I tipped extra well too.  And they said "Thank you very much."  I enjoyed that.  I had a feeling that I had gone to another country while I was there. 

There were many other things that I loved about Ohio.  They have a lot of race tracks for all kinds of racing.  They have amazing amusement parks.  They have great sports teams.  They have air museums, Amish communities, and Cleveland.  They have wind power and solar power and Menards for everything else.  I guess you really can't just go home.  My home town was not in good shape, and nothing much in the Midwest was the way I left it.

When I left the Midwest, everything was a bit dumpy, and it was called the rust belt.  What I saw when I went back, was a rejuvenated productive and progressive Midwest with a future and hope.  What I saw was an entire population of people doing great things and making their lives better.  The sunsets are still beautiful in the giant sky, but the people are really doing well.  It was a pleasure to go home.

I didn't really want to leave and go back to my current home, but I had to get back.  On the way home, I discovered the one thing that I never knew about Ohio.  They have the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  I had no idea that there was a national park outside of Cleveland.  They have a lot of hiking trails, and we stopped off at Brandywine Falls.  It's a beautiful waterfall right off the toll road.  We walked around a bit and found some great views. 

And last, but not least, I got to drive across the old route 8 bridge over the Ohio Turnpike.  Why is that special?  well, I've made this drive a hundred times, and I always knew when I was officially leaving or entering the Midwest when I drove under that bridge.  This was the first time I've driven over it.

Cedar Point, King's Island, the Browns, the Indians,the Reds, the Cavaliers, the Bengals, astronauts, Tony Stewart Racing, Cooper Tires, Cuyahoga National Park, and so much more are waiting in Ohio.  It's not like it was when it was my home.  It's so much better.  Find it here.  Ohio.  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

And Then There's the Southern Coast of Maine...

Ah, the southern coast of Maine in the summer.  Wall to wall tourists, ridiculous resorts, crowded beaches, amusement parks that make no sense, traffic, hokey attractions, and people wearing things that they just should not wear.  That's what I've always known as the southern coast of Maine in the summer.  I've avoided it for years, decades really.  I'm a traveler, not a tourist, and I don't like crowds of people who just want to spend money.  I like to see the places that I travel to, not just the attractions that were made for my entertainment.

By the way,  I loved Lenny the moose.  Who doesn't love a life size chocolate moose?

Then, there's Biddeford and the area.  The area is right in between Old Orchard and the Kennebunks but it's different.  It's the way life should be and is a true representative of Maine.

Biddeford Pools is a great seaside park.  The rocky shore, the lighthouse views, the Atlantic Ocean.  It is serene and amazing and everything that you should be looking at when on the Atlantic Coast of Maine.  Maine is a unique coastline full of seals, puffins, rocky shores, and lighthouses.  This is what I crave when I'm on that coast and Biddeford was a great place to get a peaceful natural look at it.  We spent hours walking the pebble beaches and the rocky shores and the grassy meadows.  I enjoyed every minute of it.  And best of all, the tourists were shopping in Old Orchard.  It was quiet and we only ran into locals out to get some air.  It was great.

Biddeford is a town in the process of reinventing itself.  The old days of the massive industry that used to sustain the area are over.  The mill complex is turning into the epicenter of the town with restaurants, condos, offices, and small business.  The town has made sure that the property is beautiful as they continue to refurbish it.  The downtown is full of small businesses that are flourishing.  It's a quiet, beautiful community that doesn't give you a headache.  It makes you want to move to Maine.

The art scene is growing in the area, as this boy talks to his female friend who reportedly is on another wall in Afghanistan.  Creative is the word for Biddeford.  And refreshing.

Biddeford also has a blooming micro brewery and food scene.  Good eats are available all over and the suds are great.  There are some wineries too, but it's Maine, so it's north.  It's not like Long Island up there.  You can find the chain restaurants and Walmart if you need to shop there, but they have some great small places that you can't beat and a lot of outdoor seating so you can watch the world go by.

Some other things that you will find in the area are the East Coast Greenway.  This is a project that is still ongoing that will make it so that you can walk or ride your bike from Maine to Florida on this path.  It's a cooperative effort between all the states and it runs from Port Kent, ME to Key West, FL.  This is the second part that I've discovered and I'm intrigued at the project.  It's a modern day Appalachian Trail.

Scarborough, a neighboring area has a Marsh.  The Scarborough Marsh is amazing.  It's more of a bog, with well defined water areas and peat like ground.  This place is amazing because, not only can you bike and walk the paths, you can rent a canoe or kayak to paddle around on the waterways.  It's a great place to get out, and only the locals seem to know about this one, because there were no crowds there either.

So, after an amazing visit with my dear friend in the Biddeford area, it was time to head home.  What did I do?  I took Route 1 south to see what the rest of the southern shore was like.  This is what I found out.  Most places are tourist traps, where no one is appreciating the beauty of Maine.  Kennebunk Port is the worst of them all.  I will never go back there.  Then, I found York.

York is a strange combination of everything I hate that goes on in Maine in the summer, and everything that I love.  They have a beautiful beach and a stupid amusement park.  They have a beautiful seaside park and a bunch of dumb shops and resorts crowded with fat people in summer clothes spending all their money on junk food and souvenirs.  What they have most is a great little lobster shack and a park with the Nubble Lighthouse.  What a beautiful place.

It's quiet, even though it's crowded.  It's beautiful in a perfectly natural way.  I climbed on the rocks, took my photos, and met some locals who were painting in the area.  It was a great place amongst the ridiculousness that can be the southern shore of Maine.

My best advice is to be like Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade and choose wisely.  I loved the southern coast of certain spots.  Biddeford, Saco, Scarborough, York; yes.  Most other spots; no.  Most of Southern Maine is for the tourist.  Be a traveler and be more discerning.  Enjoy!