Thursday, January 14, 2016

Point Pleasant Beach

A very pleasant day at Point Pleasant on the New Jersey shore. We really didn’t know what to expect as we piled into the car to explore the beach but all kids were asking for some ocean time. After the South China Sea in Hong Kong and all those lakes in Munich, the kids are happiest in the water. Some woman at the grocery store suggested Point Pleasant. I remembered the name. We plugged into the navi and one hour later we were there.
Point Pleasant is a boardwalk town with that strip full of arcades and food and all that. But over the Christmas holidays, it was all shut down for the season of course, despite the temperature being in the low 70’s. Big signs declared the boardwalk off limits for dogs and we all sort of sighed and tried to regroup. Phil looked the other way, away from the boardwalk, and pointed out endless empty beach. We took off in that direction, the kids running fast and our puppy on their heels.
The beach was utterly empty. The kids picked up big shells, not found in German lakes. The weather warm enough for kids to get their feet wet. Our puppy chased the waves, both scared and happy. We took more pictures of the puppy playing on the beach than the kids and realized times are a changing. But not so much. Adam still had a football and he was constantly throwing it, to us, to the dog, to himself.
Open food joints were scarce and we had to move off beach. We found an open sandwich shop and ordered. Everything in there was great, albeit slow. The kids were amazed at the slow pace after most of their lives in big cities. While this sandwich shop was fine, we might need a few more things open to make a return trip. Lots of seasonal restaurants, bait and tackle shops, water sport rentals. It’s all there and we will probably do it but the closed for winter feeling definitely added to the place’s charm, at least for me.
Everything is going so fast these days. It seems hard to carve out an afternoon free of activity to go walk on the beach. But we all needed it. The kids, who seem so grown up these days, regressed to their natural states. Adam throwing the ball, Royce drawing in the sand, Tori doing cartwheels. All collecting shells and driftwood. When Tori was falling asleep, she groggily asked me if I saved everything she collected that day. We try to hold on to it all and don’t. But I definitely have the driftwood that looks like a “T” and the rock that looks like a heart.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Appalachian Trail

We recently ventured out onto the Appalachian Trail! For the adults, it was super exciting to be on the famous footpath. The kids were excited that it was not as straight up as our hikes in the German Alps so all in all a great day. Many thanks to friends in Hong Kong for setting us up with the hiking itinerary and the post hike eating plan!
We drove up the Interstate 80, pulled off into a parking lot and immediately were at a spot to get on the Appalachian Trail. Accessibility to the trail head was a bit of a shock but there it was. We were also surprised that dogs on leashes were allowed. The path is not a National Park. In fact, the whole idea was conceived by private citizens in 1921 and completed by them in 1937. And is now maintained by a number of different agencies as the path passes through different states. We will definitely bring our puppy along next time, making this an even better day trip.
Spanning 2,185 miles, the public footpath goes from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Our point of entry was the Delaware Water Gap, where the Delaware River divides New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The area formed by a glacier roughly 500 million years ago and is 300 meters across at the river and 1,400 meters across at the top of the ridge. When we were coming back to our car, we came across some college boys getting a late start on the hike. It was almost dark when they asked how far up. I said a couple of hours to the top. They said they would run up to catch the view. Ah youth.
While we were hiking, another family was near us. We were all hiking to the illusive Sunfish Pond. Signage was sparse and eventually the other family turned back. Our kids were also thinking of turning around but somehow Phil convinced them to go another ten seconds, and just around the bend there was Sunfish Pond. One of those rare moments when ten more seconds actually makes the difference.  We ran up to the pond and read the sign that the pond was slightly acidic and one of New Jersey’s seven natural wonders. We immediately committed to seeking out the other six wonders but have yet to make progress on that.
In Germany, there is always food at the top of the mountain. There was nothing at Sunfish Pond but we urged the kids onward to hot dogs on the drive home. At Johnny’s in Butzville, an institution serving hot dogs and birch beer for decades. We walked in and asked for the menu. They said there wasn’t one. We could order hot dogs with or without mustard and ketchup. We did and Adam ate five.  An American ending to an American day.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The High Line

We have been trying to get into New York City more but have been a little unsure of where to start. Rather than construct a complicated day trip, we recently kept it simple. Very simple. We took the train from out little suburban town into Penn Station. We walked out onto the city streets, past Madison Square Garden. We were shocked how quick and easy it was from our house to the Garden. But we kept walking. To the first pizza place we saw and then onto the High Line, an urban open space right in the middle of the city.
The High Line, a so called rails to trails park, modeled after a similar one in Paris, was opened in 2009 to a happy crowd of urban walkers. On the elevated steel structure of the former railroad line, visitors stroll along the repurposed train line along a walking path that meanders through the West  Side. We gazed up at buildings in the foreground, including IAC Building and the Empire State Building. We rounded a corner and spied the Statue of Liberty out in the water. Some buildings were much closer and we peered in a one hundred year old church and into apartments right up against the High Line.
In some parts of the path, the railroad lines are still visible, mostly with grasses and some trees growing amongst the railroad ties. We read that 210 plant species are now growing along the path. In some places there are actually lawns. We came across one section with lounge chairs. The whole experience was relaxing and somehow intimate. Something about the winding path, the diving through buildings and emerging into a new cityscape. Something about the level, above the street but now so very high.
The High Line took us past the Chelsea Food Market, which looked great but was a bit too crowded for us and into the meat packing district. There we found another open food market, where adults got excellent coffees and kids took multiple free samples of gourmet hot chocolate. Royce spotted her namesake Royce Chocolate, an upscale brand we knew from Hong Kong. On the street in front, she also spotted a Rolls Royce and it was clear that the meatpacking district is no longer that much about meat.
With good fruit and chocolate in hand, we started the walk back. The whole line is only a bit more than a mile, so it is not a long walk. The High Line ends at the Whitney Museum of American Art and we considered stopping in but ultimately decided to keep that for our next New York dive. We wandered back, navigated our way back to the New Jersey train line home. It all felt a little easier than last time. Amazing how a good place to walk and a good coffee to drink can make a city start to feel familiar even to homesick quasi Europeans.