Places Near & Far

We like to travel – we’d go to various places all over the world if we could.  Until money and time allow, however, we take day trips, short (2 – 4 day) trips, and “long” (a week or more) trips.

Here is where we talk about them all.

Now Playing the role of tourist in NYC

June 2013

We met up with friends for a day of the ultimate touristy thing to do in NYC – take a bus tour through Manhattan.  We used Gray Line Tours (http://www.grayline.com/things-to-do/united-states/new-york/ ) but there are other companies to choose from.

We did the Downtown Loop Tour as we had a collection of adults and kids (aged 4 – 15).  We knew we would end up at Toys R Us in mid-town at the end.  Including a stop in SoHo for lunch as well as some shopping, the tour took about 4 hours.  If we hadn’t gotten off, it would have been around 1 1/2.

This particular tour began on Broadway between 47th & 48th streets.  We bought our tickets, online, in advance but we still needed to get the specific paperwork from their office at the starting point.

The tour went all the way south to Battery Park and back up to Central Park before returning to Times Square – we got off and on in SoHo but there were many other stops of interest.  Best seats are on top, of course – but the accessibility to the top varies from bus to bus.  The top also fills up quickly.  The views from the bottom of the bus are not nearly as interesting unless you simply want to people-watch.

The quality of the tour guides wasn’t great, though they all got points for enthusiasm.  Our guides were all college kids (or recent graduates) who seemed to know a little about most areas and each clearly had their favorite stories to tell.  The tour guides sit on the top and you can hear them clearly if you use the earphones they provide.  You can keep the earphones – which my son seemed to like.

All in all, the price (starting $49) was fair considering the distance traveled, the on-off easy access, and the highlighted stops.

Freedom Tower

View of the Freedom Tower

Flatiron Building

Flatiron Building

the Empire State Building

the Empire State Building

Times Square

Times Square

Wolves, bobcats & foxes, oh my!

March 2012 – Lakota Wolf Preserve, NJ

For a Cub Scout field trip, we went to the Lakota Wolf Preserve in Northwestern New Jersey.  Reservations were required, whether we had been in a group or not.  We went to the 4PM “show,” so we arrived at 3:30 to get organized.  We paid cash on the spot and then began the 20 minute walk, mostly uphill, to where the wolves and other animals are kept.

The day could not have been nicer – considering it was “Anything Can Happen” March, we lucked out on a sunny and warm day.  Midway through the gentle hike up, most of us had taken off our jackets.  The walk was a bit rough in parts because the road/path was rocky.  There is a small bus that can take people to the top if necessary.

Once at the top, we saw very high chain link fencing all around.  We noticed a few wolves in pens, with names on the fence to identify them.  One wolf’s sign assured everyone that he was fine, just old and not very active, so not to worry about him.  Not soon after we’d started looking around, the bus showed up and the official tour began.

The tour guide walked with us to a section between two very large chained off areas.  More signs on the fences identified the wolves within, by the types of wolves they were, their names and where they came from.  They were separated into area by pack (families).  We also learned that there is a hierarchy within each pack, with Alpha Males and females at the top.

The wolves were beautiful to watch.  I must admit that I spent more time looking at them and taking photos that I missed most of what the guide was talking about.

Wolves         Wolves      Wolves    Wolves

The wolf-tour portion ended and we then learned about foxes and bob cats.  The tour guide was very informative and funny.  The kids were interested in everything, which helped get past the musk stench from the animals.  And I thought musk was supposed to be ‘seductive’ – not so at all, unless you are a skunk.

The fees to go to the Wolf Preserve are a bit high at first, but once you’ve gone through the tour, it seems worth every penny.  The cost was roughly $16 per adult and $7 for children.  The tour, including the hike up AND down, takes about 2 hours total.  Bug spray is recommended and reservations are required.

Dinosaurs, flying whales and a deli

February 2012 – NYC

In February, we met up with friends at the American Museum of Natural History (www.amnh.org), near Central Park West.  It was a pretty sunny and warm-ish kind of winter day (no snow!) so our post-museum plans would be able to include a trip to Zabar’s and a picnic of sorts in Central Park.

First, though, we met in the main rotunda at the museum.  For us, traveling from NJ, a trip to the museum is fairly straight forward.  As it was President’s Day, children rode free, so that was a nice bit of savings.  We’re members of the Museum (Family Membership) so we showed our membership passes so that we could get our daily entrance tickets.  Our friends got their tickets and away we went!

In a word, the museum that day was CROWDED.  In fact, it was very crowded and all special exhibits that required separate tickets (Butterfly, Space shows) were filled up until the late afternoon showings.  So we stuck to main and accessible exhibits.  This suited all of us very well.  We started out on the main floor (off the Rotunda) and saw the North American exhibit as well as various Asian ones.  We are fine with seeing stuff animals and wax figures in traditional dress; some people may not be.  These tend to be the dimly lit and older-looking exhibits.  They are also not as crowded on days like this!

We worked our way up the stairs to see the dinosaurs – for one of our friends, who hadn’t been to the museum in about 20 years, it was an eye opening experience.  All of the dinosaur exhibits are brightly lit, clean and easy to flow through.  Even the crowds cannot dim one’s interest or enjoyment.  N got to see his favorite prehistoric exhibit, the giant tortoise-like creature that is suspended from the ceiling by an almost invisible wire.

Ancient Giant Tortoise-creature

N’s favorite creature among the many awesome dinosaurs

We headed downstairs to the first floor where the stuffed animals and plastic models are home, the Hall of Ocean Life.  First you go through the diversity exhibit (sea life) with the big squid suspended from the ceiling and a massive scallop shell to climb into.   In the Hall of Ocean Life, the lifesize model of a Blue Whale hangs (precariously, it seems) from the ceiling while other ocean life exhibits line the entire, large hall.

Blue Whale

The Blue Whale model at the museum, photo courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History

By now we were hungry and ready to leave the crowds behind, so we walked to Zabar’s (www.zabars.com) on Broadway and 80th.  We stocked up on a variety of salads, snacks and drinks (and cookies for dessert!) that we then carried to Central Park.  This isn’t a very long walk but enough to work up a good appetite.  We found a few empty park benches in a row to settle down to eat.  By now, the sun was starting to dip low and we were getting chilly.  Time to move again!  So we walked south through the western edge of the park to a playground, ideal for wrapping up our day.

Our friends had parked in a lot not far from the playground, so N and I walked with them until it was time to separate.  We caught a subway ride to Penn Station to start the final leg home.

If we hadn’t used our family membership for the museum, it would have cost us $19 for me and $10.50 for N.  The train fare totaled nearly $29 (round trip) for me and, on a non-holiday, $13 for N (also round trip).  Add in our picnic dinner for about $25 for the 2 of us and that’s approximately $70 for the 2 of us for the day.

Potions & Herbology – Edison’s Lab & Home

February 2012 – West Orange, NJ

On a recent Saturday, with unseasonably warm weather, we ventured to West Orange where we went to see Thomas Edison’s Lab and found, to our delight, a nifty place with Harry Potter-esque qualities.  We call that a win-win!

The lab is the starting point for the tours of both the lab AND Edison’s home, Glenmont, which is about a mile away.  Both sites are part of the National Park System.  We love National Parks – in our experience, they are in good condition, staffed with knowledgeable and helpful rangers, and easy to research ahead of time because of straight forward websites.

The lab complex is comprised of many buildings, the most impressive of which houses the library and various offices.

We checked out “The Black Maria” replica – the original was the first movie studio.  The building was completely black, had a roof section that opened to let in as much natural light as possible, and moved on wheels that allowed the building to rotate to capture the light.

The library was used, of course, for research but also for hosting dignitaries, showing the early films Edison created, and conducting some experiments.  When we walked into the library, we thought it looked  a lot like the Hogwart’s library in the Harry Potter movies.

There was a massive clock on one wall, 3 stories of bookshelves stuffed with books, and a cot tucked into a corner.  There were art pieces, scientific gadgets and photos all over the place  – lots to look at.

Edison's Library

Edison’s Library

In the entrance hallway, there is a time clock that Edison and his employees used.  After he died, his body was laid in the library for viewing.  When his body was carried out for the final time, the time was noted and then painted onto the clock face for his final ‘clocked out.’

We had an appointment to visit the Chemistry Lab, so we weren’t able continue our tour of the main lab/library building.  Put that on the list of what to check out next time!

The Chemistry Lab is a low building with many windows, tables loaded with test tubes, glass bottles of all sizes, and bunsen burners.  For us Potterheads, it looked a lot like a bright, white Potions classroom!  We found out from the ranger that the original condition of the lab was a dangerous one, complete with walls darkened with layers and layers of chemical residue.   It was also a bit disconcerting to note the gutted condition of the floor – also a result of many chemicals over the years

Potions Class! aka Edison’s Chem Lab

From there, we went to Glenmont, a short drive from the lab complex.  The house is a bright brick mansion, with impressive architectural details.  Turns out the Edisons were wise in their real estate dealings, as they bought the house from its original owner, fully furnished, for a fraction of the market value.  The inside of the house was very grand but not very comfortable.  Perhaps that was due to the dark wood throughout or the tiger and bear rugs on the floors, complete with heads.  And teeth.  And eyeballs.  *shudder*

Glenmont – Edison’s home

Also at Glenmont was the potting shed and greenhouse.  Or, what we called “Herbology.”  There were many gorgeous orchids to gaze at and a few humongous aloe plants that looked like an octopus!

Giant aloes at Edison’s greenhouse

The cost is $7 for each adult and kids under 16 are free.  It was a science, botany, architecture, and design filled trip that was close to home and affordable.

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