Archive for the ‘Life’ Category.

New York: Wicked History

Friday, July 8

When I was trying to look up Statue of Liberty info before hand, I got distracted checking out bulk tourist deals. In the end I decided that it would probably be break-even at best, and tie me down to the embedded programs to boot. However, I did find out about The Cloisters, an extension of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that appeared to host various medieval artifacts in an actual cloister. The site sounded interesting, and I would have gone earlier if I hadn’t checked the weather and determined today was most likely to rain.

On the way to the train station, I also took a loop through Central park; I’d seen a few references to the Imagine tilework, but had missed it on my earlier expedition. After several bits of misdirection, I finally found back in some trees. It was somewhat predictably crowded. It was also somewhat smaller than I expected – given the scale of other items, I half expected a large tiled plaza on the mall.

The Cloisters are out near the upper end of Manhattan, in Fort Tryon Park. The park offers a piece of rolling hills with paths, gardens. Fortunately the weather was still clear. There is also stonework, e.g. Fort Tryon, although I don’t know if the structure was original or tribute. The current form includes a large gateway that encloses nothing, and then steps up to the top of the walls, where there is large patio area.

As I got into the Cloisters itself, it gradually became apparent that it wasn’t an original building, but one that had been purposefully built as a museum. However, it did included bits and pieces from actual structures, ‘in context’ and many rooms were set up to demonstrate the actual appearance of various churches, halls, and cloisters.

I spent the morning at the Cloisters, seeing a small shower falling into a courtyard. I stayed for lunch, thinking they have done something unique with it. The food was a bit classier than pizza, but still not all that special. The rain had let up by the time I was done, so I was able to depart in comfort.

Since The Cloisters is an extension of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one entry was good for either on the same day. The Met sits on a piece of land carved out of Central park, but not really in it, since the entrance is along the side.

There were a pretty wide range of exhibits, from transported Egyptian temples to modern art. Perhaps the most interesting things were the complete rooms from various periods which, like The Cloisters, put artifacts in context.

It’s a huge building. Going to the Cloisters first, I barely made it onto the second floor, and I was skimming the second half of the first, at best. Of course, this was because I had scheduled show at a certain time. This is probably why I didn’t do a lot of advance planning. Who’s to say how long something should take? With a deadline looming, not only might the experience get cut off, but one has to be constantly mindful of the impending time to avoid missing it, distracting from the immediate experience.

As I came out from deep halls to windowed rooms, I started seeing the rain had finally arrived. I had my umbrella, but it doesn’t really cover the feet. At least I was wearing shorts, but traveling light doesn’t justify sandals or water-resistant boots. At least I had the umbrella – Central park wasn’t so crowded but I still passed a number of bedraggled pedestrians.

I went back to my AirBNB room – thankfully the host had no hard checkout time. Then I moved my baggage down the conference hotel – which just so happened to be two blocks over from the Gershwin theater, where Wicked was playing.

I had to go up three flights of stairs to reach my seat, which was literally the “the last seat in the house” – mezzanine, back row, far right. I didn’t bring my camera to the show – I figured with a no photos policy it would just save any questions. I might, however, at least gotten a shot of the stage. It turns out the gears and dragon were part of the stage framing. Still don’t know why. I gather that the gears were supposed to represent Emerald City and it’s mechanical nature. They would have the mechanical dragon, up by the ceiling, swing and blow smoke at a few dramatic moments, but it still seemed like a pretty random element.

The show itself was an nice bit of spectacle. I couldn’t make out many of the songs, but than I rarely can make out songs, and often go looking for lyrics (but I wasn’t buying a $20 program) The plot had a number of interesting ideas, and a certain reflection on the modern world (or perhaps just the world) There were couple of really nice ideas, often emphasized by big songs, but the few hours probably didn’t leave enough time to really tie things together, and it seemed to kind of rush from event to event – they were trying to cover an awful lot of ground.

New York: Going in Circles

Thursday, July 7

After walking through central park, my feet were a little sore. After walking around Liberty island, Ellis island, and across Manhattan, it was a more constant pain. Some sitting activities seemed in order. I’d also checked the weather, and the next day had a chance of rain, so it looked like today would be better for out-door activities.

There is a Circle Line that circumnavigates Manhattan island in the course of about three hours. I figured it would be a good place to sit down for a while. After arriving too late yesterday, I aimed for the first cruise of the day.

I probably could have gotten better pictures standing on the deck. I also wasn’t too keen on sitting in the sun for three hours, so many of the pictures have glass or frames in the way. It was a pretty interesting overview of the area. It might have been a better first thing, to get an overview of the land (except for the sitting down part)

The cruise ship narrowly fit under a couple of bridges. One rail bridge at the upper tip of Manhattan island had to rotate open to allow us through. We had to wait a moment for an Amtrak train to pass over the bridge; Later on I’d pass over on my way home as well. I figured the only way to properly represent an active event was video. Unfortunately, after I was done I saw that it was about 200MB, or about 100 full size pictures out of 700-some on the camera.

At the end of the trip, the guide mentioned Hell’s Kitchen for lunch. I’d been a little leery of the name just seeing it on the map, but he said that while it had been a troubled neighborhood, things were pretty good now. I ended up walking into a mediterranean place with large jars of spices and dried fruit for bulk sale. I saw a pastry (of which I’m forgetting the name, Bakar? Daka?) filled with feta and spinach, so I gave that a try, with yogurt. It had a very tough crust.

After that, I was kind of without plan. I remembered Coney island had come up. This was a bit farther away, in Brooklyn I think. Probably the the only time I really got away from Manhattan; I didn’t see much of it of course, although there was an awful lot of graffiti along the subway line. As a longer ride, this is also where I started taking more advantage of my iPod to start working on the podcast backlog.

Coney island has a beach, amusement rides, and a boardwalk with shops in places. I may have missed a lot beyond the immediate area of the boardwalk near the subway station. I saw the New York Aquarium and a commercial looking street for starters. I walked the boardwalk a bit to see what was in the immediate vicinity, but I still wasn’t up to too much walking. Some dark clouds started coming, and the light/dark contrast made for a few interesting pictures. I’d also thought of something else that would make for a good sitting-down activity.

I’ve been particularly interested in broadway shows, or the high price tags I guessed went with them. Still, it was an opportunity I wouldn’t have very often, and as I said, a place to sit down for a while. Of course, as a field that doesn’t interest me much, there was also the challenge of find a subject that interested me. Most of the one’s I’d seen advertised were the same one’s I’d seen advertised in Chicago, reducing the novelty a bit. I suppose the ones-advertised wasn’t the best filter to use, but I had seen one that had an interesting premise – Wicked, “The true story of the wicked witch of the west”

I had to go back to my AirBNB room to pick up the iPad and work out the details. Wicked was playing that night, and not too far away. However, the online reservation was completely sold out for some time to come. I asked my host and she said there may be still be tickets, or there might be some available earlier in the day or by lottery.

Going into the theater I was greeted by an assemblage of gears and a mechanical dragon. I wondered what show that was for, but it didn’t say. After looking around a bit I found the wait-for-cancel line, but figured it ought to at least ask at the ticket counter. Guard towards the front said there was nothing but $140 tickets left; I had to think about that for a bit, but decided I was only here once. Getting up to the head of the line, the agent told me that I had the “last seat in the house” for tomorrow’s show, at $71 (which meant it was the back, but that section is what I would have chosen anyway)

New York: Grounded, Late, and High

Wednesday, July 6

One of the few things I’d been advised to look into was the Statue of Liberty, one that I had also thought of myself. By the time I went to look up a little advance information a day or two before leaving, I discovered that it requires some planning. If you want to get into the crown, you have to reserve months in advance. Just to get into the base/museum, you need to reserve weeks in advance. Since it was neither, I had to content myself with visiting the island and looking from a distance.

Taking the subway down to Battery Park, I found the ticket booth in the remains of Castle Clinton. I also discovered an ‘airport style security’ tent at the dock. Thankfully it wasn’t modern airport style, and the sign saying backpacks were prohibited was overstating things a bit.

The ferry went around the front of the statue, perhaps unsurprisingly, to the far dock. From there I picked up an audio tour, figuring I ought to make something of the trip. I later found that the audio tours were pervasive throughout New York attractions. I probably shouldn’t be surprised to see them at Chicago attractions, if ever went to any ;^) I learned a bit about the history of the island and it’s fortress-turned-base, as well as the construction of the statue.

Going back around to the dock, I found a line stretching across the island for the return trip, and it wasn’t even noon yet. Given the prospect of a wait, I went ahead and paid the connivence premium to have lunch at the cafeteria.

After waiting my turn in the line, I arrived at Ellis Island, which had been rolled into one package. I don’t know if it was route efficiency, or the association that the statue had picked up with immigration, or perhaps both. Many people didn’t get off, so the return lines here were much shorter.

Ellis Island was a major immigration center for many years. It was shut down some time ago, and in fact fell into ruin for many years before being renovated into an immigration museum. It was an interesting peak into a different era. I also got an explanation for the unnaturally rectangular shape of the island, courtesy a series of models. It did in fact begin as a much smaller island, and gradually got expanded over the years.

After walking my feet sore yesterday, and then walking around two islands, I thought that sitting down might be a good idea, so I set off to checkout the “Circle Line” that circumnavigated Manhattan. I arrived after their last departure however, so I picked up a time schedule for tomorrow. Another place where a little planning would have helped, but trying to plan out itineraries in the face of uncertain events drives me mad.

Another thing that came up often was the Empire State building, so I headed across town to see if they were still open – I knew that one of the high buildings advertised the night view, so it seemed likely. They were in fact open, and it was still pretty light, being just past the summer solstice.

I had to walk around a bit to figure out which side of the large building had then entrance. From there I wound my way through escalators and hallways, through another airport-style-security, passed on the audio tour, and finally ended up in a line proper. For whatever reason it actually takes two elevators to get to the top, and the upper ones appear to have much lower capacity. At the mid level (80th floor) it amused me that they frosted out the windows to keep people from getting a preview of the 86th. At this point you’d already paid, so why do they care?

Up top was a pretty nice view. A interesting find the waiting area is that they once planned to have airships docking at the spire (I guess they weren’t too familiar with the local winds, or the relative non-event of widespread zeppelin travel) Nowadays the spire mainly serves as a mount for antennas, although at 86 they were still glad to upsell you for a few more floors.

New York: Into Central Park

Tuesday, July 5

Tuesday my parents dropped me off at the Middleton train station, on their way home (with, I hear, a stop in Hersey, PA) The rail system is a bit of interesting case – the station is in New York, operated by the Metro North Railroad. It heads south where the bulk of the stops operate under the NJTransit lines. After a switchover at Secaucus Junction, I then headed underground to New York City, New York Penn Station (Not to be confused with Newark Penn Station)

One of my experiments for the week was trying out AirBNB – I was helped along a little by the fairly high hotel rates. Many AirBNB listings were following along, but I found an (relatively) inexpensive one with good reviews. The location was great – just off lincoln square, which has a subway that could get many places, and transfer to the rest. The room was small, but I really only slept there, so it was no issue. The hallway also had some really interesting star pattern wood floors.

I was also a block or two away from central park, so I went out there to wander around for a bit. My host recommended getting my own food instead of eating out, so I planned to stop at a fruit stand and Trader Joe’s on the way home. On the way out, however, I couldn’t resist the novelty of a falafel from a street cart. I’d later find these everywhere, competing with the hot dog carts, smoothy carts, produce carts, and others. I guess the high hotel rates reflected high real estate prices, which makes carts a lot more practical for many business.

A bit turned into several hours, and I still missed a lot of things. Central park really is something interesting – a huge, varied, green space in the middle of Manhattan. Chicago has Millennium park, but it’s kind of off to the side, mostly flat grass, and generally a lot more squared-off and planned-looking. Central park has rocky hills that I can’t imagine being man-made and wandering paths that one could believe were paved over from beaten paths.

It’s understandably popular – even on a weekday afternoon, I don’t know that you could find a moment alone anywhere in the park. Popularity has it’s price – lots of areas were fenced off to prevent getting trampled, and lawns were marked something like 9 to dusk, I suppose to prevent camping.

There is a little of everything – shady lawns and sunny lawns, rocky hills, forested areas, lakes, streams, and a swimming pool, sports fields, numerous small playgrounds, various kinds of trails, fountains and squares, monuments, and some of the grounds were given over to the zoo and Metropolitan Museum of Art.

And an oddity: a toilet paper holder that appears to be made from an old road sign.

New York: Wedding and a Drive

Monday, July 4

Monday was the wedding proper. In particular, an aunt was entering her second marriage. We haven’t been much involved with the relatives, and the main connection, my mother, was off helping with the preparations, so I felt a little out of place amidst a bunch of strangers.

The wedding itself was somewhat non-traditional. People gathered on a sidewalk Apparently the pastor has taken to holding services there – the church is wherever the faithful gather, after all. Thankfully the weather cooperated, the possibility of it not being why church buildings are so popular. Like the unpretentious setting, the ceremony was pretty much to the point. One interesting touch was mixing two vials of colored salt into one container.

The wedding, ending around mid-day, turned immediately into the reception, with a large, perhaps even excessive, spread of food laid out nearby. Beyond the abundant chips and salsa, bread and hummus, eggs, and cupcakes, I hear there were sandwiches we never saw, perhaps for lack of table space.

Not long afterwards, we went out to a buffet for the close family. I had initially heard this as dinner, but it was practically a second lunch. The buffet had some pretty good food; perhaps someone else’s schedule precluded a longer separation. Can’t complain too much about free food anyway.

We sat down at a table with three cousins and their boyfriends. The cousins were a real hoot, constantly talking and joking. It’s a shame our paths don’t cross more often.

Afterwards, we went over the Orange County Choppers store, and my parents did buy a few souvenirs. After that, we came to the conclusion that most things would be closed on a late holiday afternoon, and set off on a scenic drive down along the Hudson. It is quite beautiful country, and we stopped at several overlooks, including one with a view of West Point military academy.

New York: Driving to Newburgh

Sunday, July 3

It so happened that a family wedding coincided (within a week anyway) with a programming conference. After a small course correction for “New York State” vs. “New York City” anyway ;^)

I drove out with my parents; their brilliant plan to avoid an extra night in an expensive New York hotel was to start driving very early. I’d say it was the butt-crack of dawn, but it was earlier than that. I believe we started at two, so I had to be up even earlier to finalize and drive down to my parents house. Despite several reminders that we could take over at any time, my father drove the whole twelve-hour (fourteen with stops) trip himself.

On the upside, we got a front row seat for dawn, with a gradual reddening of the horizon revealing valleys filled with mist, which scattered with the rising sun. Once the sun was up, we could also see many of the exposed rock formations going through the hilly country of Pennsylvania

The hotel my parents picked was right next to the Orange County Choppers store/workshop. The TV show is often on when I’m at my parent’s house, but for some reason I’d always assumed Orange County was in Florida or California.

After checking in at the hotel, we headed into Newburgh. It has a very broad broadway, although the town looks a little distressed, with rolling shutters on most storefronts. There were rumors of a picnic, but the rain we passed through on the way in put a damper on that, so we got taken out for friend chicken at the store instead.

Iowa Trip: Amana Colonies

Wednesday, May 4

Early Wednesday morning, figuring Amana businesses probably wouldn’t be open yet, I headed for one of the walking trails identified on the map. It was organized as a set of successively longer loops, and I opted for the longest one. I must have misread something however, because whereas I thought it would be a complete loop, the furthest section was actually a dead end. I barged on anyway, getting quite thoroughly lost for a while. First I was in country thick with thornbushes, and after searching on for a bit I realized that this was quite out of character with the rest of the trails. Then I found my way back to some semi-maintained grassy trails, but these were also out of character with the dirt ones in the park. Somehow, after doubling back, I stumbled across a gateway that returned me to the trails proper.

In the afternoon I wandered around the main Amana village a little. There was a local artist’s cooperative chocolatiers, an Amana museum, and lunch at a restaurant in an old communal kitchen hall. Once again, it looks like good antiquing country, but it’s not quite my thing. I also think I might have liked it better at a busy time (It seems I just missed Maifest, which was going on while I was at the various weddings) when I could blend in a little. There were so few people that I draw lots of attention. A couple of the shopkeepers seemed kind of dour and unwelcoming. Some lingering resentment towards the capitalist lifestyle, or were they they just reflecting my own disinterested attitude?

Iowa Trip: Henry Doorly Zoo

Tuesday, May 3

Prior to the trip I had asked if there was anything I should definitely see while in town. The two things that came up were downtown (yesterday) and the Henry Doorly Zoo. The zoo was conveniently between me and Iowa, so I stopped there to look around for a day, where I was greeted by free-roaming peacocks.

One of the zoo’s big (although somewhat recent) attractions is a desert dome. It provides space for some free-roaming birds. It’s a wonder how often they were found near their signs – or maybe the keepers let the animals settle down before placing the signs.

The dome offers a large space a number of different desert species, including these adorable little goats (or relatives thereof), which I forgot to snap a name plate for.

Underneath the dome is a creatures of the night exhibit featuring nocturnal animals. It was an interesting look, although not great for photography.

Another set of small domes housed butterflies and other insects.

A large netted aviary gave a number of species a bit of free space. Though a few of the birds preferred the roofs of the walkway gazebos.

Though they got though most of the day, my camera batteries finally gave out. After a few more exhibits I started driving home. It was plenty dark by the time I got to eastern Iowa, and I started looking for some place to stop where I might be able to look around a bit more. Finally I saw signs for the Amana Colonies, which I’d heard of several times while attending college nearby, but never actually visited. The hotel I stopped at was an odd sort of duplex – a cheaper hotel on one side, and a fancier one at the other, with a single clerk manning both desks through an internal passage.

Iowa Trip: Just the Fax

Monday, May 2

Monday I stuck around to actually visit a bit, having missed the lead-up activities while I was at another wedding. There wasn’t a formal gift-opening party at this one, but a group of people went out breakfast at Petro’s, apparently a somewhat famous diner.

Much of the rest of the day was spent chasing fax machines. We got away for a little while to the rustic old downtown area, though I’ve become so unaccustomed to needless shopping that I wasn’t able to appreciate it very much.

Iowa Trip: Two Walks and a Wedding (the sequel)

Sunday, May 1

Iowa Falls, take three

I choose to stay around for the morning gathering, catching a little of it before heading out. I was up early enough that I had a little (but not a lot) of time to spare, so drove up into Iowa Falls again, heading towards a green patch on the map. It proved to be the Ira Nichols Refuge.

A large portion of the refuge truly was, fenced off from idle access, but there was still are large section of woods open for walking.

Way out back, I startled some deer.


Technically, Omaha is in Nebraska, but it’s just over the Iowa border, so Iowa is essentially where all the driving took place. I had left quite enough time for traffic and other eventualities, and arrived at the grotto with a bit of time to spare.

Apparently the grotto was once a spring and a functional water source. The grotto itself is an aside to a larger park (of the cut grass variety). It’s in something of a ravine which runs a bit more wild, albeit with well beaten paths. The area shows evidence of other tunnels and drains, many appearing of ancient construction, and several washed out from leaks and other erosion.

The area is also home to a university (the students no doubt beating many of the paths), and after checking out the short ravine, I took a quick walk around the university grounds.


I returned to the grotto to find people setting up a sound system and paper isle. They later tried to make it a petal-strewn path, but the wind wasn’t very cooperative.

There was some strange guy in a top hat; I guessed he was the groom, and was later proven right.

People ended up sitting on tiered rocks around the grotto. Since I was alone I crawled up to a small corner, and ended up with an interesting perspective on the walkway into the grotto, peering through some bushes.

The ceremony was once again to the point, if rather less traditional. On the same theme, the reception was held in a biker bar called Chrome elsewhere in Omaha. This wasn’t as surprising as it might have been, after seeing the groom and some of the ushers. Space was a little tight at times, but it was interesting to see how they adapted – wedding party on stage, food on covered pool tables, etc.