NEW ENGLAND, BOSTON, NEW YORK, WASHINGTON DC Oct. 22 – Nov. 8, 2008
The whole trip has become overshadowed with the economic crisis. Having moved all my money in the US market into gold, it was scary to see the “safe” Canadian market do worse than the US, gold prices collapse, and the Canadian dollar plummet to less than 78 cents. I felt my retirement threatened and am wondering about my ability to afford to continue traveling.
Back in the US and the return of fall colour! My first stop was Acadia National Park on the north Maine coast. The park is centered on Mount Desert Island and the very trendy town of Bar Harbor. Because of some very low overpasses, I was unable to drive past Bar Harbor and go around the Island. Almost too cold to hike, I drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the bare granite top the reason for Samuel de Champlain to call the island Mt Desert (pronounced dasert), for panoramic views of a big section of coast. I had originally wanted to kayak but it was far too cold and windy. All the towns are very attractive with beautiful town centers and Cape Cod architecture. New Hampshire has a very small footprint on the coast. Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth is a living history museum recreating the colonial era.
Boston is a wonderful city and the centerpiece of Massachusetts. I found the perfect parking site right on the Charles River in front of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with all its grey columned buildings and the inscribed names of the important names in science. Joggers were everywhere and the Charles River was full of sailboats and rowing teams. It was a great walk along the Freedom Trail that starts in the Boston Common and ends at Bunker Hill visiting many of the important places where the American Revolution had its roots. It showed the huge contrast between Canada and the US where they went to war for their freedom and we chose to wait a hundred years to escape our colonial past peaceably. Fenway Park, the home of the Red Sox, is the oldest MLB park and it was neat to be on top of the green monster (tickets in this section are $160 and sold by lottery) and to feel the ambiance of the park. I cycled over to Harvard with its vibrant student population and night scene. After parking in a ½ hour zone for two days, I received a warning ticket not for parking, but for driving a motor home within city limits. With many low overpasses, it was a dangerous place for the camper.
100kms south is the town of Plymouth and the home of Plymouth Rock (a 10×5 foot boulder in the sand enclosed by a huge Greek columned building and probably never used by the Pilgrims). I spent the entire day at Plymouth Plantation, a recreated 1627 Pilgrim village. Everything including the vocabulary and accents of the costumed interpreters was meticulously true to the period. It included a Wampanoag Indian village and a replica of the Mayflower. I enjoyed the day immensely and found the docents very informative. In reality the original Pilgrims came for the promise of land and religious freedom was much less significant (they were in the Netherlands for 12 years after leaving England, had complete religious freedom, but were economically poor and could not own land plus half of the original group were not Pilgrims but ordinary Brits. Skipping Cape Cod, I continued on to Provincetown, Rhode Island to look after my truck with new tires and an oil change. Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, is very attractive with its many brown stone Gothic buildings. I was very excited about arriving in New York City, one of the prime destinations of the whole trip, and spent hours trying to figure out how to avoid driving into the city and manage the train and subway system.
After deciding to use the town of Mamaroneck, 20 miles north, as my home base, I went to the police station to find a safe neighborhood. Ensconced on the street one block from the train station, I took the commuter train that runs from New Haven, 45 minutes into Grand Central Station for a round trip price of $16 every day. Daunted by the stories of the subway system, I easily got down to the tip of Manhatten to start an intensive 4 or 5 days of sightseeing. The Statue of Liberty is the most popular sight in NY. Now able only to go to a viewing platform at the base of the statue, the displays showed the fascinating story of the construction and maintenance of this impressive place. Ellis Island, the main immigration entry point in the US from 1890 to the 1950’s, was included on the tour and ferry ride. These sites were free and the only cost is the ferry. That day I walked all the way to 54th street exploring on the way Ground Zero at the World Trade Center Site (now enclosed by a 16 foot opaque fence and filled with construction cranes), Trinity and St Paul’s churches (both close to the blast), Wall Street (televising an evangelical prayer vigil beside the big brass bull), the Brooklyn Bridge and walked through the neighborhoods of Chinatown, Tribeca, Soho (south of Houston St.), Flatiron, and Greenwich Village. The Empire State Building is now the tallest building in NY with magnificent views from the 86th floor viewing platform. Macy’s is the largest department store in the world. It is a shopping mecca with 9 floors and its original wood escalators. I continued up Broadway to Times Square and the gaudy lighted billboards covering most buildings. New York is a great place to walk with zillions of tourists (mostly Brits and French as far as I can tell), a multitude of languages, many street performers and the streets packed with people. Everybody was nice and at no time did I feel threatened.
One of my main goals the next day was to see the David Letterman show. First in line for standby tickets, I discovered that there would be a lottery. If you get picked they phone you before 1, you pick up your tickets at 2 and you have to be at the Ed Sullivan Theatre for taping at 4 (in other words your whole day is devoted to the show). I didn’t get picked. I cruised Midtown seeing Rockefeller Centre, the lobbies of the Chrysler Building and the Daily News Building, the Museum of Modern Art (huge collection of Picassos, my favorite is Salvador Dali), the New York Public Library with a wonderful reading room, and the United Nations (our tour guide was the most beautiful black woman from Gambia). That night I went out for dinner with my cousin whom I hadn’t seen for probably 40 years. She is an opera singer but now primarily teaches singing and voice ( HYPERLINK “http://www.morethansinging.com”). We had a lot of catching up to do.
The American Museum of Natural History is the most incredible museum I have ever seen with every stuffed animal imaginable displayed in spectacular dioramas. It also included a tremendous show in a planetarium inside an 87 foot diameter sphere. I had arranged to spend the rest of my third and the fourth day with a woman Rita and I had met at a bridge tournament in Calgary in 1990 (we played together in the flight A Swiss teams and won the event making her a life master). Linda was born and raised in New York and after lunch we went to one of the greatest museums in the world, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They have all the artists we have all heard of with many Van Goghs. I walked through part of Central Park where the museum is located. It is huge (3 long blocks wide and 51 short blocks long) and one could spend the entire day there. After dinner we went to the Broadway play, Boeing Boeing, a comedy that was a lot of fun. On my fourth day I went to the Guggenheim Museum, known for its architecture more than its art (round ascending spiral). A large exhibit was devoted to a photographer, Catherine Opie from LA who shoots street scenes and the bizarre people who live there. Full of sadomasochism, it was quite unusual. The photography was not that impressive and I have come to believe that the best way to get your photographs seen is to make them large and use exotic printing methods especially gelatin silver. After lunch Linda and I took the three hour Circle Line Cruise that goes completely around the island of Manhatten. It was well worth it and in retrospect should have been the first thing I did in New York. That night we attended an off Broadway play called Mind Game (very unusual plot). Linda was a wonderful host.
New York is one the neatest city I have ever been to (right up there with San Francisco) and I only saw one of its five boroughs, Manhattan. I could have seen 30 more museums and mainly regret not seeing the Bronx Zoo and missing the Halloween Parade which apparently is second only to the Christmas parade in popularity. The City Pass was a great deal allowing 7 sites at about half price. Despite being somewhat dirty and unattractive, the subway was easy to navigate, safe, very efficient and cheap costing $20 for the 4 days I was there. However NY is a very expensive place to live and bachelor suites usually cost about $2400/month. People watching was always interesting and I have to describe one fellow on the subway. About 50 and black, his head was shaved except for a yarmulke size patch on top which rose in a foot long single spike. He wore a red tartan short jacket, kilt, and leggings with none of the tartans matching and bright red boots with 3 inch elevated soles. There was an array of jewelry. The only saving grace was that it was the day after Halloween but I think he dressed like this every day.
Up early the next day I drove south through NY, Delaware, western New Jersey, and into Maryland missing Philadelphia and Baltimore on my way to Washington DC. After two weeks of freezing temperatures, it has now been quite warm. Washington is very humid and I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it would be in the middle of summer. The NW section is quite swank and it deteriorates to the SE section where there are many poor black neighborhoods. The Washington DC license plate says “Taxation without Representation”. I luckily found a great parking spot on what must be the only street in the city with no marked parking restrictions about ½ block from the metro. The subway here is new, clean and very attractive. I was right on the boundary between DC and Bethesda, Maryland and had no need to take the train. The Smithsonian is one of the great museum systems in the world with multiple sites around the Mall and all free. Day 1: The National Museum of Natural History was somewhat dated and not nearly as good as the corresponding museum in NY. The National Gallery of Art (West) emphasizes European art. The National Archives has one of the four copies of the Magna Carta plus all of the American documents. It was election day and it was a coincidence that I was in the capital (I was also in Ottawa on Oct 14). The Capitol Building is the seat of both the Senate and House of Representatives and the tour was worthwhile. You can’t see either chamber without prearranging thickets through the Canadian Consulate. I also went to the Supreme Court and Library of Congress (stunning Baroque interior), all very impressive buildings. I spent the afternoon at the Reynolds Museum of American Art holding the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum. Day 3: White House (tours available only through your home consulate), Albert Einstein Monument (great statue and quotes), Vietnam War Memorial (58,000 names on a black marble wall), Lincoln Memorial (spectacular building at the end of the reflecting pool with the Washington Memorial at the other end), Korean War Memorial, WWI Memorial, WWII Memorial around the Reflecting Pool (506,000 deaths), and I finished the day spending four hours at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (incredibly powerful, superbly done, read every word and a must see – we must never forget this tragedy). Day 4: Bureau of Engraving and Printing (where they produce 37 million bills every day – they are finally making coloured money), Freer and Sackler Museums (Asian Art and a photographic display about black civil rights – I didn’t realize that blacks did not get the vote until 1964), Washington Monument (555 feet tall with a viewing platform at 500 ft), National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of the American Indian (new spectacular building but kind of scattered displays) and I finished the day with the east wing of the National Gallery of Art. If you can believe it, there were a few other sites in the Smithsonian that I missed and I did cruise through a few of them quickly. Museums can be very fatiguing and a lot of the art was not that interesting. In the over four days that I spent in Washington, because everything I saw was free, my expenses were less than $35 total. For austerity reasons, I have decided to stop eating out (I like my own cooking better anyway).
I wonder about this new generation. Descriptions include Millenium, “spoiled” or “entitled”. The majority have ear buds listening to their iPod or they are constantly on their cell phones talking or text messaging somebody. They seem to be in their own little world. New Denver’s vote to keep cell phones out of the community is laudable. The peer pressure for children as young as primary school to have their own cell phones is high.
Having had my fill of cities and museums, I have decided to leave the coast. The Appalachians are only 100kms away and I’m looking forward to some hiking. Keep in touch.