We are Back East now!

To see a full photo album of this section of our trip, click on the link below:

http://picasaweb.google.com/henderbalz/USRoadTrip3#

We drove into Baltimore late Sunday afternoon; the city desolate except for the thousands of people leaving some sporting event driving back to their homes in the burbs.As we drove on it went from a desolate downtown, to down beaten and then to down right bad.We could not find our hotel and the hoods were not getting any better. I spotted a BBQ joint and asked Jim if he wanted to eat.  Jim said he wasn’t up for eating at a dive BBQ joint next door to a gangster dive strip club.  Jim says in hindsight we probably missed out on some of the best BBQ of the trip. With the massive amount of stuff in our car, we did not want to leave it unattended in a bad neighborhood outside our hotel overnight, so we made the last minute decision to drive straight on through to Philadelphia, PA.As I drove, Jim used his handy dandy phone with internet access and google maps to find a hotel in the Old Town part of Philly.A bit outside our budget, but it was getting late and was in a great location.We treated ourselves.We got some of the money back with the awesome free “continental” breakfast.Does hand made waffles fall under continental?We did a lot of walking to work off those waffles, to Betsy Ross’ house, to a wonderfully gorgeous Masonic Temple built in 1873, to city hall, to Independence Hall and of course, to the current home of the liberty bell.If you can believe this, we did not, I repeat, did not run up the Museum of Art steps Rocky style.How lame of us, eh?

After going to the Alamo, then the Vicksburg Battlefield, the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’ House and where the Declaration of Independence was authored, debated and signed, not to mention the beautiful natural sights and scenes we have seen along the way… I have a new found love for America.Outside politics, this country is as good as all those people wanting to move here think.There was no one battling to rule the free world at the now ghost laden battlefields of the Civil War.There were no billboards bad mouthing running mates on the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway.And the silence of Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, spoke mountains especially when we saw he even had the bust of his nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, in his home because he admired him.Would McCain or Obama do that?I think not.The politics in this country is what makes me sick and select idiot politicians that makes people of other nations laugh at us.If we could all remember our country is NOT just its politics or politicians…we are a country of wonderful people, amazing achievements, freedom and outstanding natural scenery and resources.Queue the American anthem!

Philly not only has plenty of history, it has it’s fill of great restaurants and really cool watering holes. We just loved Old Town, not that we would move into that hood, but it was cool to have old building after old building around us.We did check out a couple of livable hoods…and like them just as much.It is now on our list of places to move to after we get back from Honduras.Of course, the warm breezy days and nights made it that much more likable, would we feel the same at 10 degrees on a snowy day drudging to work?

Besides the historical sights we saw, we were lucky enough to have our own Philly Cheese Steak taste test, Geno’s or Pat’s?They have been at war forever and this is just another war we would like to end.So Jim went to South Philly, I got one and Jim got the other.Sorry Pat’s…Geno’s wins!The meat melted in our mouths.The difference between the real thing and what I have been having all my adult life is that Philly style does not include any sauce, like the BBQ style.I like my sandwiches with some moisture…grilled onions are not enough!But, the war is over, if only we can end the “other” one!

With that task done, off we drove to the Sound Beach/Port Jefferson area of Long Island, NY for a visit to my father and grand parents resting spot. I also took Jim on a run through of all my old childhood haunts, the corner store where we got Italian Ices, the tiny hill in the parking lot of what was then a sewing factory where we went sledding in the winter, my old house, my Uncle George’s old house, the stairs, that were unfortunately locked, to the beach, and then Grandpa Hoffmann’s house up on the hill across the street from the Sound Beach Club House.It brought back a lot of memories.And Jim got to see a bit of my past, exciting as it was.Some of the area has changed, some has not and it was a nice walk down memory lane.Now, it is one thing to see sights, but meeting up with family members you have not seen in 20 years really sparks your memory!It was an Italian family fest, Aunts, Uncles, and cousins, cousins, and more cousins.It really warmed my heart to joke around with Uncle Tony like it was yesterday that I had seen him last or seeing Ricky’s kids who look just like my nephews, their cousins, who live in Oregon.It was a great time and thanks to Julia and Cookie for organizing it all!

After the family fanfare, we took off for the big city for time with old SF friends, Patty, Rich and Cooper, and Nicole, Chad and Aiden.Good times…lots of good times. After a good walk around the Bayridge hood in Brooklyn with Patty, we had a nice dinner with everyone that evening.It was a feast of roasted and marinated beets on greens, salmon bar-b-que’d on cedar, steak and sausage, good wine and tiramisu.After so many nights of eating out, it was nice to stay in for a night, not that we took it easy! Jim opened another bottle of old wine, this time it was the desert wine he brought back from France in the early 1990s that we enjoyed with the tiramisu. Yumm!

The next day, after a late start, Patty took us to the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn.Nice place with good food, stores and a huge park….where we ate our bagel sandwiches for lunch that day.Yep, New York bagels, baby!That evening we headed with Patty into Manhattan for a Friday night happy hour crawl after Nicole and Rich got off work.We started off at a place called Souths for a beer.Then we found this cool place down in a basement, I do not recall the name, but it was Asian with cool jazz, great drinks and yummy appetizers.When we finished, we were on our way to another place, a place Patty and Rich knew about, but it was closed…The new owner, Patrick, told us to go to Red Circle, on the way there we stopped in a placed called Another Room…a round of beer and champagne for everyone!Then we hit Red Circle.It was more of a restaurant than a lounge, but we checked it out anyway.We looked for someone who knew Patrick, but the stiff lipped French employees knew nothing of what we asked, until a round cherub of a man dressed as a chef came out.Said in a French accent “Oh, Patrick, I love him! You know Patrick?He told you to come here?Oh how nice…I give you chicken wings.” And that he did…wonderful French style of some sort chicken wings with the meat formed into a ball at the end of the bone!What a jocular man he was, much more fun than the uptight waiter or unfriendly bartender!It ended up to be a fun last bar for the evening.Patty and Rich dreading the subway ride home decided we needed to keep the momentum going.So, Patty and I scampered off to a corner store where we got a surprise for the rest of the group!Naughty naughty girls!Nip here and there on the train never hurt anyone!We went back to relieve Chad of his babysitting duties and brought back a great take out dinner of Middle Eastern food.Apparently, I fell asleep on the couch and made tiny cute sleep sounds which some of the crowd enjoyed calling snores.Yeah, right.

Little Italy gone crazy!We went to the Festival of San Gennaro which is more of a debauchery than a religious event.Basically, an Italian Fest with frozen drinks, fried food and more than a lot of people.Whatever some people may say about the throngs of bridge and tunnel people in Manhattan, I say it was fun and in a great hood!After no luck finding a place to sit and wet our whistles in all the very crowded bars around the festival we decided to head back home (home is where our packs are).We relaxed and got ready to go out for dinner and big night out in Manhattan.We shared a bottle of J Sparkling wine (thanks Nancy and Lisa!) and out we went.We had dinner at Aero, a balmy night on the front sidewalk patio eating some damn good Italian food.Nice way to start the night.Our next adventure included a subway ride to Manhattan where we ended up at Love for good disco-esque DJ dance music. This bar/club proved to be interesting right off the bat as we walked into a cave-like room.Things got better when we saw the drink special for the night was called “Black Cock.”Funny enough, the boys went for the drink, while the girls stayed away.As we checked out the bar, we entered into the “Catacomb” room. We entered the room checking out the red plastic circular seating area and cave like little cubby holes up the wall.I mean 2-3 person size cubby holes.  Chad and Rich climbed in right away.The rest just watched.The room was separated from the adjacent bar by a waterfall. After the catacomb room experience we checked out the main room where we met up Jason, a SF friend.We had fun all catching up, drinking, dancing and finding out more about Evette, Jason’s new “friend.”It was a fun and late night; made it to bed around 3am.We felt like we experienced a full-on night out in New York City.

Sunday morning Jim and I went for a walk around the hood.When we got back Rich made a delicious and most interesting breakfast of pierogis and sausage.After some conversation and lolly gagging, we went to the Pickle Fest in the Lower East Side…Pickles galore!All fresh, basically homemade, pickles and better yet, pickled olives, cauliflower, green beans and carrots.To make things even crazier, we had pickle chocolate truffles that were unbelievably good and I heard about pickle flavored ice cream.No thank you.We also checked out the hood, a mix between hip clothing shops and cheap leather coat shops.After dipping in and out of a few shops, we needed to rest and replenish nourishment.We stopped at Spitzers and had a nice meal.After that we headed back home where we relaxed, talked and got on the computer…again.Jim and Rich took off to shop for dinner at Fairway, what I guess is an outrageously great grocery store. Jim said you can see the Statue of Liberty from the parking lot. We made another great meal and had a wonderful evening talking, cooking, eating and drinking.On the menu for the evening was roasted acorn squash, a salad of mixed greens and arugula, pickled green beans from the pickle festival and bar-b-que’d steak with cannoli and éclairs for desserts.Yum Yum!After that we had to say our goodbyes to Nicole, Chad and my favorite new little man, Aiden.After they left, Patty and I sat in the living room talking while Jim and Rich sat next to each other at their computers coming up with new business ideas giggling like school girls.Then we all watched Entourage together, yes an odd way to end out time together, but a good show none the less.

The next day we tried to get up early to say good bye to Rich and Cooper (my other favorite not as little man), we missed them.We had to pack up the huge mess we made of Cooper’s room.Showered and got ready to leave, but in the midst of packing up the car Jim had to take a break to find us a hotel in Atlantic City, NJ.We were gone from packing the car for an hour, and all of a sudden Jim realized he left the bag with all of our shoes on the side walk.You see, Brooklyn (and most big cities) have this unwritten rule, if you want to get rid of something without having to do much, you just put in on the sidewalk and Wa La…it is gone. You may remember a Seinfeld episode on this topic. Well, I hope that person who got our bag of 15 shoes needed them…and gee…fits into them! They did not steal them, they thought they were getting something for free…and they did.Patty is on look-out for anyone wearing our shoes though.

Off to check out the East Coast gambling scene!

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~ by HenderBalz on September 26, 2008.

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