Day 33: Coming to America

Even though summer is over, there are still plenty of tourists here, from what we are seeing, mostly English, Australian and European. We decided to do the most touristy thing on Friday hoping it might not be as crowded as the weekend. It was still pretty busy.

We headed to Battery Park and hopped on the ferry to the Statues of Liberty. We walked around and enjoyed the view of the statue and the city but we were not able to go into the statue. For future reference you need to book those tickets a few months in advance. But we did take a tour with National Park Ranger which is always very informative.


From there we took the ferry to Ellis Island. We were there for at least 3 hours and still did not see everything. Another fascinating day. The exhibits provide a comprehensive review of Ellis Island history, who came here and how they got here, how they were processed, what happened to immigrants while they were on the Island and what happened after they left. It was REALLY interesting.


The Island was basically shut down in the 50s and was totally abandoned until some journalist came over to document what was at the Island, which then led to the renovation process. But they did save and have on display some of the original beds, kitchen equipment, medical equipment, etc., which was pretty cool to see. There are tons of first hand stories about experiences at the Island which are incorporated into all of the displays. (We were so engrossed in it all, I forgot to take pictures which would have been great to share – sorry!)


We caught one of the last ferries back to Battery Park and found a pretty good Mexican restaurant for dinner before heading back to Brooklyn.

Day 32: The Big Apple

Thursday was a travel day. We arrived in New York just around 4:00 so got to experience some NY traffic. After a week in NY I will never again complain about LA traffic!

We found our rental unit in Brooklyn. We are in an area called Bedford-Stuyvesant which is a traditionally  Jewish Orthodox area, but it is quite a mix of cultures. It is also known for its African American population, the owners of our unit are Puerto Rican while the area is becoming gentrified with Millennials.

We texted my nephew Diego who also lives in Brooklyn about dinner and he suggested a trendy Moroccan restaurant in a very trendy part of Brooklyn called Williamsburg. So, we bought our subway passes and took our first subway trip over to Williamsburg. We had great dinner and a lovely walk around the area. So much fun to be with Diego.


Day 31: Goodbye to Boston

It was difficult to decide what to do for our last day in Boston. So many options. We contemplated a whale watching tour, hop/on off trolley tour, or following one of he American Women’s Heritage Trail. We opted for the AWHT which started at the Capital. While in the Capital we saw that you could take a tour, so we decided to join a tour. We ended up with a group from Ireland so the tour guide focused on the many statues, murals and portraits of historical figures and events and provided a thorough discussion of the historical significance so it fit very well with our history focus.

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Afterward we were a little too tired and hungry to continue with our AWHT walk (we will resume it the next time we in Boston!) so decided to go over to Quincy Market for lunch. Afterward we walked down to the water and walked around the boardwalk. We then went home to make a special dinner for Marilyn and Peter and watched the Red Sox game.

Day 29/30: Revolutionary Time

Monday was a huge step back in time. We started the day at Faneuil Hall with a Freedom Trail tour with the Freedom Trail Foundation. The guide is dressed in time period costume – our guide was Jeremiah Poope, which sounds very colonial.

freedom trail

He was very knowledgeable, working on his Master’s in history, and a great sense of humor so kept us all entertained and educated. We toured about 1/3 of the Freedom trail, receiving some great background information on all of the sites and the historical events that took place. The tour ended at Boston Commons, so we grabbed some sandwiches from the world famous Sam LaGrassa’s (although no one we told about it had heard of it) and we ate with the locals out on the Commons while someone played piano.

Afterward we walked over to the Old South Meeting Hall for a short visit to the museum there. It is the meeting hall where the town meeting that led to the Boston Tea Party took place. The museum provides a thorough overview of its history as a meeting hall from revolutionary time, through civil war, to today (it is still used as a meeting hall). It presents some interesting perspectives on the issue of free speech.

Then we walked the streets the Boston Tea Partiers took from the South Meeting Hall to the warf where the Boston Tea Party Museum is. This museum provides a really creative re-enactment of the tea party. The guides are dressed in time period clothes and actually take on the character of someone from that time and stay in that character throughout the guided tour through the museum. It starts with the town meeting and each visitor receives a card of the person they represent from the tea party (and some people even had speaking parts in the meeting), then we were led out to the boat where we don our disguise (a feather) (the colonials has disguised themselves as Natives) and throw the tea overboard.


You think that is all, but then the tour continues with a discussion of how life on the boat was, then more discussion of what was happening on that day, with a list of all the people who participated in the Tea Party, which have been collected over time from families.

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The museum tour continues with 3- 4 more rooms, one room has a  re-enactment by holograms, another room has a display of the only surviving tea box and then another room which shows a film on the initial fight of the Revolutionary war.

Tuesday we started at the Science Museum which the kids really enjoyed. It is huge! three large floors with displays on about every issue you can imagine. And since Boston schools just started this past week, no one was there – too early for field trips.

From there we walked across the bridge toward Bunker Hill but stopped for lunch at Warren Tavern, where Paul Revere used to hang out (built in 1780).

warren tavern

Pretty cool – and good food.

After lunch we walked up to Bunker Hill and had a chance to climb up to the top of the monument for a beautiful view of Boston.

bunker hill

Unfortunately that was the end of our day since Eli and Michael had to catch their plane. We fed our sadness of having to say goodbye with fresh Maine lobster. Marilyn and Peter treated us like royalty with great food every morning and night and every day ended with us watching the Red Sox game, which they usually won. (We are temporarily identifying with the Red Sox, until the Dodgers get it together!)


This is a 1780s water pipe dug up from the renovation of the Warren Tavern.

water pipe

Day 28: Brandeis

Today was more about Michael’s history. We spent a couple hours walking around his alma mater Brandeis University.


It is a beautiful campus and quite different from the UC experience; the student population is only about 3,000. We walked all over campus but only saw a few students in any area, the library, the gym, the cafeteria, the chapels. Either the students were off campus, still sleeping, or it is just not that crowded with such a small population. The biggest crowd was in the student center. They were in the middle of putting together their annual 24 hour musical. The students find out at 8pm on Saturday the musical they are going to do (this year is it Seussical the Musical) and then have 24 hours to learn the music, design the costumes and scenery and have it ready to perform at 8pm on Sunday. They were so nice to take a few minutes to talk to us about the musical, the campus, their studies, etc. I was particularly impressed with their maturity, energy, and inter-personal skills (compared to some of my own experiences with college-aged students). I’d be happy to see my kids attend Brandeis, but by the time they are college age 4 years of tuition will cost as much as a small house in LA!

Later in the day we took advantage of the beautiful weather and did a little kayaking/paddling on the Charles River. Beautiful! Definitely something very different from LA life. I guess our equivalent is kayaking or paddling on the ocean, which is a bit rougher than being on a river or lake. P1010275.JPGP1010261.JPG


Day 27: Boston

We’ve hit the East Coast and completed the first third of the trip. We will spend the next third of the trip traveling through the Colony States focusing on Colonial history. (We are not going to hit all 13 states!)

We’ve started in Boston with a family reunion! Michael and Eli arrived Thursday night. We are staying with my Aunt Marilyn and her boyfriend Peter, or more like we have completely invaded and taken over their house.

While we were driving in from Albany on Friday, Michael and Eli had a chance to check out the USS Constitution.


We arrived mid-day and awaited their return. So great to be all together!

On Saturday we hit some Boston highlights. We started with Paul Revere’s house, the oldest structure in Boston, built around 1680.


Our time was limited so we walked through it fairly quickly so we would have time to run around the corner to Mike’s Pastry which has world renowned cannolis (this was not the first visit this trip by Eli and Michael) to grab a quick snack before our tour of Fenway Park.


Yes, Fenway does fit in with our travel theme, being the oldest baseball park in the country. We all greatly enjoyed the tour and knowing some of the history and details about the park made our game attendance that evening that much more meaningful.


Seeing a game in Fenway Park is definitely a different experience from Dodger Stadium. Fenway is much smaller (by about 20,000 seats), and the seats are all much closer to the field so you feel much more involved in the game. I could not help smiling every time the vendors yelled out “get your hot dogs here” in their Boston accents. There is a much more relaxed, laid back vibe than what you get with an LA crowd.


I am starting to really appreciate the different “cultures” in the various cities we’ve been to compared to LA. I can now see how non-LA-natives might view LA lifestyle and personality. The pros and cons of LA life are becoming clearer.

Day 25: Niagara Falls

Yesterday we drove from Canton, Oh to Niagara Falls. It was not a long ride, so we arrived with plenty of time to tour the area. In fact, we arrived just around lunch time, so stopped in Buffalo at one of the original Buffalo wing restaurants called Duffs to try original recipe wings. Unfortunately, I also looked up the history of Buffalo wings and found out how they are made. Not on a nutrititionist’s list of top foods. But it was worth the try!


Upon arriving at Niagara Falls we started in the visitor’s center to read the background information and pick up a map. We then went to the closest overlook, near the American Falls, but we were much too anxious to get up close, so we purchased our tickets for the Maid of the Mist boat ride to the bottom of the falls. Since it was not crowded (summer crowds are gone – yeah!) we walked right on to the boat. They hand you a blue rain poncho (The Canadian equivalent has red ponchos)  and within a few minutes we were floating by the falls.


First you go by the American and Bridal Veil Falls


and then move as close as possible to the Horseshoe falls (the Canadian side) and hang out there in the mist of the falls for a few minutes. (You do get pretty wet!) It was awesome.


We did not bring our passports so that was as close as we were going to get to the Canadian side of the falls. At the boat launch area there is also a set of stairs that climbs along the side of the American falls, so we checked that out as well.

We then wandered around the Niagara Falls park finding all of the viewpoints to the falls. There is a site for the Horseshoe Falls from the American side. You cannot see the full horseshoe but you do get a pretty good view of it, so not much missed if you can’t make it to the Canadian side, although I am sure seeing the full view of the Horseshoe Falls is amazing.

This is a picture of the crowd in that area. If you look closely you can see women in hijabs and Menonites in traditional dress. It has been cool to see so much diversity in the more well known sites. P1010248.JPG

We found another nice RV Park and had another rainy night. Our typical routine at the  RV parks is find a level place to park in our site, then prep. dinner, I mean I prep dinner while Shayna checks out the grounds. We are always excited if there is a sink to wash the dishes in. Our van has a sink and water, but it is difficult to get the dishes really clean. We have 2 stoves, one that is removable and one that stays in the kitchen, one pot and one pan, but we have eaten pretty well. Then, we get the van ready for the night, get out the bedding from storage, pop the penthouse. We are tucked in by dark but usually spend some time reading and working/homework. In the morning we repack the bedding, drop the penthouse, prep. breakfast (usually yogurt or oatmeal) and hit the road. For lunch we usually stop at a rest area or try to find a park and make sandwiches.

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Today has been strictly a driving day. We drove from Niagara Falls to Albany, NY with a stop in Schenectady for an oil change – we hit 5,000 miles. After a few nights of rain, we opted for a motel room in Albany. We are staying right across the street from Albany State University and had a nice walk around the campus.

Day 23/24: On the Road

Said goodbye to Mom and Dad (sniff, sniff) and hit the road. We were now just working our way across the rest of the country toward Boston.

It was a relatively uneventful day. The highlight of the day was a stop in a town called Casey. Cousin Sara had told us about it. I had not planned on the stop, but when I saw the road sign for Casey, I figured it was a good time to take a driving break. First we drove to the far end of town for the advertised “Popcorn Festival”. We had visions of multiple stands of different flavors of popcorn to taste – a Novak heaven. Turns out you get a free bag of popcorn as you walk around the Labor Day crafts fair. We were there before noon, so not much was going on. It looked like they had lots of food vendors and some carnival rides, but they were not open yet.

Then we went back into the heart of town to check out the biggest X. We could not find everything, but did see the biggest rocking chair, mailbox, pencil, ruler, wooden shoes, knitting needles, bird cage and wind chimes.


What was really interesting was comparing Salem, Il. to Casey, Il. Both are small towns that developed through agriculture and oil. Casey is only 3,000 people while Salem is 8,000. But Casey is a much stronger community. Casey has capitalized on the idea of “if you build it, they will come”. There is a steady stream of visitors to the town to see all of these Guinness World Record size objects, and they are strategically placed in or near businesses to drive people in to buy stuff. The town had character, energy and a strong sense of community. While you could see that many businesses in the downtown area have shut down, there are others that are thriving. In comparison, it did not seem like Salem had much community investment in developing an identity or effort to revive it’s dying downtown.

Thought we would borrow this for homework on the road, but it won’t fit in the van!


That evening we spent at Grandpa’s Farm RV Park in Richmond, Indiana. It was a small park, but had a really warm pool, pool tables, ping pong tables and even a few arcade games. We made dinner, went for a swim and prepped the van for bedtime. Shayna climbed into her penthouse and after about 10-15 minutes of thunder and lightening, she climbed into bed with me. I may have been a bit neurotic but I was afraid that our penthouse tent might be a bit exposed to the lightening, so I put the ladder in the grass and pulled down the tent about halfway. Then at about midnight, afraid rain would be getting inside, I popped it back up to close the flaps completely. Needless to say, the next morning the penthouse tent was quite wet – inside – ugh!

We dried what we could and hit the road again. Our destination was Canton, OH. My sister has a good friend who lives there who offered to host us. We had a great afternoon with Shelley. She showed us all over Canton. We were excited to stop by the President McKinley monument and museum, since Shayna attends a school named for President McKinley. We thought we would gather some information that might help us identify why her school was named for him. I think we figured out that is was probably more about timing than for any specific accomplishment. He was assassinated in 1901 and the school was built around 1912. There were not any major accomplishments during his administration.

Shelley has lived in Canton most of her life so she shared a lot about its history and the history of her family there. We had a really yummy dinner at an Asian restaurant and had dessert at the town’s most popular and oldest ice cream store, Taggerts, opened in 1926.

Day 22: Frank Lloyd Wright & Salem, Il

Our last morning in Springfield we decided to do a tour of the Dana-Thomas house, a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home.

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Beautiful! It was commissioned by Ms. Dana in 1902 and includes both architecture, art glass and furniture all designed by Wright. Another must see if you are in the area.

Afterward we drove to Salem, Il. where my father grew up.


It is a small town of 8,000 people in Southern Illinois. We got the grand tour of the town, seeing each house my father lived in, and the community pool I remember swimming in, all day long, when I was a kid. We had dinner with a few of Dad’s friends. It was fun to listen to them banter. They have all lived together in this small town for years, and know everything about each other.

We stayed in a not so nice motel, actually missed the van!

Days 20/21: Lincoln

After leaving Hannibal we drove toward Springfield, Illinois with what was supposed to be a short detour to New Salem which is where Lincoln lived for about 6 years as a young adult.  We ended up spending almost 3 hours there. New Salem was a town of 127 people that started around 1830 and lasted about 10 years.

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The current New Salem is a re-creation of the village, with one original building . The historians were able to gather information about each person/family that lived in the village so each building is identified with a history of the occupants and what the building was used for (store, mill, tavern, etc.). Volunteers dress up in time period costumes, hang out in the buildings and share stories. For example, one volunteer is a doctor in real life; he sits in the doctor’s office and tells great stories about Lincoln (who turns out to be a relative of his) and stories about the doctor from the village. We learned a bit about Lincoln and a lot about life during that time period.

From there we headed to Springfield, Il and quickly stopped at the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln, his wife and 3 of his 4 sons are buried in the tomb. If you take your time going through it is very moving.

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In Springfield we stayed in a nice hotel downtown walking distance to most of the key tourists spots. (Loving the luxury living for a few days! Thanks Mom and Dad!) But because it was a holiday weekend the downtown felt pretty deserted. I am guessing not much happens there on the weekends. The downtown is not yet built up like other downtowns. We had a nice dinner at a farm to table restaurant.

We started our Saturday at the farmer’s market a couple blocks from the hotel to gather some fresh food for cooking in the van. Food was super fresh but options were limited, definitely not Santa Monica farmer’s market. The choices were apples, green beans, squash, tomatoes and corn. (Basically the same foods that were available back in the 1840s – we learned that from Shayna’s junior ranger badge workbook for Lincoln’s home.) We got a bit of each. Tomatoes have been great but the corn was not very sweet.

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After the farmer’s market we went over to the Lincoln museum and library. The museum opened in 2005. Being a modern museum it is unlike any history museum you have probably ever been to. It was GREAT! It is so well designed and entertaining. I want to say it is Disneyland meets museum, but in a good way, through the use of creative  design and technology (was the guy in the theatre real or a hologram?)

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You enter an exhibit and walk through room to room,  each one presenting information in a different fashion. However, you cannot see the rooms from outside the exhibit, you can only see the entrance and the exit. Another must see if you are ever even close to Springfield. We were there for about 3 hours, could have stayed longer if we were not starving. Finding lunch was a challenge, since only a couple cafes were open in the area and they all closed by 2:00.

After finding a quick bite to eat. we walked over to the Lincoln Home, which is a national park. There is a small visitor center with a couple short videos about Lincoln and a little bit of information/displays to review. Then you get to tour the house he lived in from the time after his first son was born until he moved to Washington.

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However, the house remained in the family until his oldest son (the only one that survived to adulthood) donated it to city for preservation. Because it was donated so soon after his life, there is a lot of original furniture and belongings of the Lincoln’s. Again, very interesting to be in the house and learn about the lifestyle during those times. The national park also includes most of the houses in the neighborhood which have been preserved, but you can only view them from the outside. They are being used as national park and government offices. One of the houses is Senator Durbin’s Springfield office.

We have been immersed in Lincoln history, again learning so much about his life, personal and political, and life during that time period. Of course, now we have a much greater understanding of why he truly is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, presidents.