My wonderful family gifted me a weekend at a cabin in the White Mountains near Jackson, New Hampshire to celebrate my 45th birthday. In addition to some cozy time in a cabin by a stream in a wintry wonderland, we went to Jackson Cross Country to do some snowshoeing (with our lovely guide, Rob) and rode the Santaland Express on the Conway Scenic Railroad. It was absolutely sunny and gorgeous on Saturday for snowshoeing and rainy and miserable for our rail trip, which is ideal compared to the opposite.
This Thanksgiving weekend, my family & I visited the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island. I’ve been to Ellis Island twice before as an adult, but my last visit to Liberty Island was when I was a small child in the 1970s. Every child should get the chance to visit the Statue of Liberty at least once, so I purchased tickets well ahead for the full experience.
The ferries are efficient at getting visitors to the island although the experience of slowly disembarking with the “huddled masses,” hearing dozens of languages spoken around you, and being barked at to keep moving along is perhaps an unintentional living history experience of our immigrant forebears. Once on Liberty Island, we were able to move more freely from the crowds. We had tickets to go all the way to the crown, but first we circled the island listening to the excellent audio tour which told us about the history of the island, the statue, and the many things the Statue of Liberty has come to represent. My favorite new thing I learned is that since women were prohibited from attending the dedication ceremonies in 1886, a group of women activists hired a boat to circle around the island and shout protests to disrupt the event.
It was an overcast day and rather blustery, but the warmest day of the weekend, so it was a good day to take in the views of the harbor. The wall of skyscrapers spanning the Hudson River is particularly spectacular from this angle, and made me realize how much it has changed since my childhood (especially Lower Manhattan and the spectacular growth of Jersey City). Finally we got out of the wind and headed inside to scale the Statue (having to fuss with some unfriendly lockers and crowds before entering).
The walk up the pedestal was not bad and then there was a nice view from the balcony, albeit exposed to stronger winds. Then we continued up the spiral staircase to the crown. This is something that was changed significantly during the renovations in the 1980s and a glimpse of the remnant of the old staircase actually brought back a memory of climbing them as a child. The stairs were long and steep but didn’t feel all too taxing to climb. The greater challenge was keeping my head down to avoid getting clocked.
And then suddenly we were at the top! The crown is much smaller than I imagined (or remembered), basically a small platform no bigger than a landing between the upstairs and the downstairs. We briefly took in the view, took a few pictures, and I banged my head a couple of times, and headed back down. After a visit to the museum at the base, we took a crowded ferry to Ellis Island.
We had lunch in the cafe which had tables and chairs modeled on those used at the immigration processing center, thus once again giving a living history experience. The audio guides lead us through the Great Hall and surrounding rooms following the experience of newly arrived immigrants processed through the buildings. Even my 7-year-old was able to maintain interest through the whole thing. There were several other exhibits we did not make it to that focused on the history of immigration before and after Ellis Island, as well as hard hat tours of buildings not yet renovated. But it had already been a long, and tiring day.
Before departing we visited the Wall of Honor, the only wall we should have for immigrants in this country. The kids were able to find the name of their great-great grandmother Bridget King Sullivan who arrived at Ellis Island from Ireland in 1908. We sailed back to Manhattan followed by a flock of seagulls, hopefully to return another day.
Once again, the Red Sox paraded through Boston aboard Duck Boats, carrying their four trophies and receiving cheers from fans (and returning the favor). My kids and I watched from the same spot on Tremont Street opposite Boston Common that we watched the 2013 parade.
The photographic highlights are below, with my full photo album also available at http://www.othemts.com/redsoxparade18/.
We spent the last full week of summer traveling to Chicago where we visited with cousins, watched baseball games, and enjoyed the art, architecture, and culture this great city has to offer. Mind you, we didn’t get to far out of the Loop and the adjacent areas, so we basically scratched the surface of what Chicago has to offer, but it was a good introduction for the kids first visit. Aside from some sibling bickering, everyone had a great time.
We arrived early in the morning at O’Hare International Airport where I was delighted to see Michael Hayden’s Sky’s the Limit neon light display that I first saw back in 1991 is still gracing the pedestrian walkway with the accompaniment of “Rhapsody in Blue.”
We rode the Blue Line into the city and checked into the vintage hotel Inn of Chicago, that stands among the fancy stores, gleaming hotels, and massive hospitals of the Near North.
The bell staff recommended eating lunch at Giordano’s, so we settled in for some Chicago-style stuffed pizza. It was yummy.
Despite being tired and cranky, we went to the Field Museum to see the dinosaurs and mummies. I felt the museum was slightly overwhelming, looking a little rough around the edges. But the Evolving Planet exhibition is very well done, and although Sue the T Rex was officially supposed to be off exhibit, I was delighted we got to peak through a window to see her in her new exhibit space under construction.
Peter and I picked up breakfast at Stan’s Doughnuts whose super healthy baked goods were sold in the lobby of a hospital.
In the evening, we rode a free trolley bus (much to Kay’s delight) to Navy Pier. Kay and Susan rode the swings, and Kay and I soared above Lake Michigan in the Centennial Wheel. We finished the day with the weekly firework display.
We walked up the Magnificent Mile and passed by the Gothic Revival structure of the Chicago Water Tower, one of the prominent survivors of the Great Fire of 1871.
We ate delicious pancakes and omelets for breakfast at Wildberry Cafe.
We met up with Susan and Peter for dinner at Miller’s Pub in The Loop. The restaurant had kind of an old-school feel to it in the fact that the tables and booths were arranged in a way I haven’t seen since I was a kid. The food was good, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.
We once again started the day with doughnuts for breakfast at Do-Rite Doughnuts. They were delicious.
We sailed on the Chicago River on Wendella Boats to explore the architecture and history of the city. Chicago is known for it’s intensive architectural tours, but this 45-minute cruise was just right to satisfy a geeky Dad without testing the kids’ patience.
While the rest of the family rested at the hotel, I took myself on a self-guide art and architecture walk of The Loop, where I could admire the works of Jean Dubuffet, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Marc Chagall, Alexander Calder, and Daniel Burnham.
In the evening we ventured out on the Brown Line to visit with Susan’s cousins. The kids got play, the adults got to talk, and we all enjoyed authentic Mexican takeaway food!
Our final meal was brunch at West Egg Cafe, once again recommended by the bell staff at the hotel. It was both tasty and filling.
Riding a double-decker Big Bus Tour around any city would not make my top 100 list of things to do, but Peter’s always wanted to take one of these tours, and since he was still not feeling well it was a good way to see the city without too much exertion. Peter and I did the full loop, while Susan and Kay hopped off so Kay could play some more at Maggie Daley Park.
Maximo shares a smile.
Spinning cogs on the Navy Pier.
The Hancock Center needs some crenelations.
Chicago skyline bent by the “Bean”
Glowing Cloud Gate
Swing out sister.
Jeanne Gang’s Aqua Tower peaks out around another building.
A play city within a city.
Rainbow over Buckingham.
Marina City with seagulls.
Aqua Tower again makes everything around it look better.
A Picasso so-and-so.
A city of towers and bridges.
Chicago is a great city! I must make sure to not wait over a decade before I return there again. I’d even consider living in Chicago, especially now that Rahm Emanuel is stepping down as Mayor.
Our family visited our second Chicago ballpark in as many days with a visit to see our Boston Red Sox play their Chicago White Sox. The game took place at Guaranteed Rate Field, possibly the saddest corporate naming rights ever awarded to a sports venue. This was my second visit having previously seen the White Sox play the Rays in 2004 at what was then called U.S. Cellular Field. For that game I sat in the bleachers and remember having a generally favorable impression of the ballpark.
For this game, I made the mistake of buying cheap seats in the 500 level thinking we would enjoy having seats near the front of the upper rather than the back of a lower section. Turns out the 500 level was eerily empty for a close-to-elimination White Sox game on a Thursday night. The section also has a vertiginously steep rake. I grew up going to games at Shea Stadium so I had no problem with this, but my son has gone to most of his games at Fenway Park, so being close to the edge made him uneasy.
The game started well for the White Sox as Rick Porcello once again struggled while pitching in the early innings and Lucas Giolito shutdown the Red Sox potent offense. Avisail Garcia lit up the exploding scoreboard with a homer in the first inning and the Pale Hose were up 4-0 after two innings. Pitching dominated for the next 4 innings until the Red Sox were able to tie up the game with a 4-run rally in the 7th capped by Mookie Betts 2-run home run.
The Red Sox scored another five runs in a 9th inning rally, including a J.D. Martinez blast, but that time I was heading home with my punchy little girl. We cheered from the Red Line platform as we saw the Red Sox take the lead on the scoreboard alongside the highway. Meanwhile, Susan and Peter had snuck down to the field level seats for the final inning where Peter secured another baseball from Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel by way of a security guard. All because Peter said “please.”
Guaranteed Rate Field is a tough ballpark to judge, especially compared with Wrigley Field across town which has all the advantages. The White Sox ballpark was built right at the end of the “Modern” era when jewel boxes like Comiskey Park were still considered “old and outdated” rather than a classic ballpark that should be preserved, but just too early for the Retro ballpark boom of the 1990s which may have recreated Comiskey’s charms with modern ammenities. The baseball-only facility fortunately avoided the problems of the multi-purpose stadiums and domes of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but didn’t quite achieve the elegance of Dodger Stadium or Kauffman Stadium. While Wrigley Field feels part and parcel of its Chicago neighborhood, Guaranteed Rate Field is set apart by a massive 16-lane freeway and acres of parking (where Comiskey Park used to stand), with the South Side neighborhood basically invisible and the Chicago skyline an attractive – but distant – vista on the horizon. Ultimately it’s a tale of levels with the field level and bleachers being and enjoyable place to watch a ballgame while the distant upper levels are much less so.
Last week I returned to the best ballpark in Major League Baseball (sorry Fenway Park, you’re a close second) for a game between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets. I previously attended a full Cubs-Mets series at Wrigley Field in 2004. This was the first time my wife, Susan, and kids, Peter and Kay, would visit this baseball cathedral. We only intended to attend one game, but the previous night’s game was suspended due to thunderstorms in the 10th inning, so we ended up seeing the last two innings of that game as well.
We got tickets for the bleachers with hopes of catching some home runs. Renovations have significantly changed Wrigley Field since my previous visit when the area under the bleachers was a no-frills area with chain link fences, bare bone concessions, and an ambiance unchanged from 1914. Now everything is beautiful red brick with Cubs memorabilia exhibits and fancy concession stands. Even the restrooms have been modernized, albeit they’ve kept the notorious urinal trenches. The bullpens – once in foul territory right along the baselines – are now hidden under the bleachers (something that will become significant to us later).
Our early arrival meant that we could snag seats in the front row right behind the ivy-covered wall. A light rain fell before the resumption of Tuesday night’s game, but stopped as Michael Conforto came to bat with a count of 2 balls and no strike. Two innings later, the Cubs walked-off the first game on an error by Mets reliever Paul Sewald. Another light rain fell between games.
The kids didn’t catch any homeruns but Peter did get 2 balls from the outfielders and Kay also got one. The most exciting encounter, though, happened deep under the bleachers when we were getting french fries from the concessions stand. A security guard approached us and said “C.J. Edwards has a ball for the girl.” We approached the back door of the hidden bullpen and saw the Cubs reliever peeking out the crack of the door. His arm shot out and tossed a ball to Kay, and he quickly disappeared behind the closed door. “He likes to do that for the kids sometimes,” said the security guard.
It was a wonderful afternoon at a brilliant ballpark, and the Cubs organization made it a fun experience for the family.
Last week, I posted photos from my business trip to Washington, D.C. with the intention of posting more. But as the remainder of my trip was largely in conference rooms, the bulk of my remaining photographs are from Nationals Park, so I’m going to focus this post there.
I took in the Washington Nationals’ game against the Miami Marlins on Friday, August 16th. This was my first visit to Nationals Park, having seen the Nats play in their previous home at RFK Stadium in 2005, and the Montreal Expos at Stade Olympique in 1999. This is the 12th current Major League ballpark I’ve been to, in addition to 6 former ballparks (see my updated rankings at the end of this post).
The ballpark is well-located within the city. I was able to ride to the game on a bikeshare bike and dock near the entrance, and the Navy Yard Metro station was a short walk away after the game. There’s not much to do in the immediate area of Nationals Park but with at least a dozen cranes in the sky, I expect that will be different in the near future. The design of the ballpark is pleasant if generic Retro-Classic with good sightlines of the field from every part of the ballpark I visited. There are also nice views of the Anacostia River from the ramps, and glimpses of the U.S. Capitol dome from the upper deck. Oddly, the stone wall design behind home plate that is so prominent when watching a game on tv is not repeated anywhere else in the stadium.
The atmosphere was good with the Nationals’ fans engaged in the game, and almost all of them wearing the Hawaiian shirts given out at the gate. I particularly enjoyed the “N-A-T-S, Nats! Nats! Nats!” cheer after each Nationals’ run scored. Talented organist Matthew Van Hoose played a number of Aretha Franklin tunes since the legendary soul singer had died a day earlier. The famous Presidents Race was fun, but brief. Most puzzling is that the Nationals have a bullpen cart (a gimmick from the 70s that should’ve stayed dead), but none of the Nationals’ relievers actually used it. So the cart would just circle the field as the relievers walked to the mound. Oh, and the Nats’ fans really, really hate their relief pitchers, like Boston-level nastiness.
It was a fun night, and I’ll be happy to go back to Nationals Park.
Last week we celebrated the end of the school year with our somewhat annual stay at Wolfe’s Neck Oceanfront Camping in Freeport, Maine. We tented in the woods by Casco Bay, roasted marshmallows, biked nearly everywhere, shopped in Freeport, visited the Wolfe’s Neck Center farm, and most significantly, we went hiking with goats!
On Father’s Day, my kids celebrated a whale of a dad by taking me on a New England Aquarium Whale Watch. We were lucky enough to see majestic humpback whales, a mama and a baby, trying to catch a snooze on a clear and calm day. When we returned to Boston, the kids hadn’t reached their fill of nautical adventures, so we took the MBTA Ferry from Long Wharf to the Charlestown Navy Yard. There we saw lots of Big Dogs, steel sculptures by Dale Rogers, and played on the playground.