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Epic East Coast Vacation for Family of 5


Aug 16th, 2012, 10:51 AM
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Epic East Coast Vacation for Family of 5

This dream for this trip began years ago when we went to Rome. My husband and I would tell each other, “We need to take one more big trip with the kids before it’s too late.” Mostly, our budget allows for camping or more regional trips on the West Coast. Our oldest will be a junior in high school this fall, so time was running out.

I had always wanted to go to New York again, and my brother wanted to join us on a family vacation. His dream was to go to DC. A few college visits also seemed in order to round out our Epic East Coast Vacation.

So our travel group was comprised of my husband and me, DS1 (age 16), DD (age 14) and DS2 (age 11). Due to work, my brother joined us only for the DC portion. This is a nearly 3-week trip....and we will hit Pennsylvania briefly, New York, DC and a bit of Maryland in that order. I will try to break out the hotels so that people looking for that information only can skip the rest.

DAY 1: Pittsburgh

After a red-eye flight, we weren’t expecting this: We loved our view of Pittsburgh with all the bridges as we drove into the city. Lots of cool buildings. DS1 loved his time Carnegie Mellon. It was close to 100 degrees. During one of my son’s interviews I took the other two around the neighborhood, enjoying fro-yo and a great used book store called Caliban. We really enjoyed our dinner at the Oakland outpost of the Primanti Brothers. Fries on a sandwich? Who knew?

Our hotel: Springhill Suites by Marriott. Since it is above retail still under construction, that may be why we were able to get a reasonable rate. But this is a new, stylish property. Extras: The toilet and a pedestal sink were in a separate room than the large shower-tub and counter with a second sink. Also loved the cool glass divider between the sitting area and the beds. This hotel had a better breakfast bar than most. The hotel’s only weakness was the rather small size of the pool. (There is an exercise pool for adults in the nearby athletic club.)
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Aug 17th, 2012, 06:21 AM
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Aug 17th, 2012, 10:04 AM
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DAY 2: Travel and Ithaca, NY

We left quite early for Ithaca NY and Cornell. Our main snafu of the trip came with our trip route planning. I had done a preliminary map weeks before the trip and decided north on I-79 and east on I-86. We had reprinted our maps the day before leaving home, adding the actual hotel address. I did not compare the new route to what I had previously chosen. Mistake! Since the Springhill Suites is east of Pittsburgh’s city center, Google decided to completely change my route. (I have since played with Google Maps…Google thinks its new route saved me 24 minutes. I doubt it!) Suddenly we were on highways 66, 28 and 219 all the way to I-86.

Famous sayings from the trip: “Uhh, it looks like our freeway is coming to an end in about five miles.” Honorable mentions: “Can we get past that oil truck before we lose the passing lane?” and “Kids, you’ll probably never drive on this highway again in your entire life.”

We toughed it out, but lesson learned. From then, I second-guessed Google (and our Navigator we nicknamed “Jill”) against our AAA maps more closely. As another example, I noticed that Google would have had us leave I-86 far sooner and go around the southern end of Seneca Lake. We opted to stay on I-86 and exit in the Elmira area, taking Hwy 13 for a more direct route.

Cornell was hot, hot, hot. Hard to appreciate when it was shimmering, but yes this campus is a beautiful place. The school had some interesting details. There is a PE requirement for all undergraduates, and a sense of humor regarding the various items placed at the top of their central tower. Their chapel was beautiful (although the campus has always been secular) and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke there. The new freshman village north of campus was also impressive. Afterward, we really liked Aladdin’s Natural Eatery. The tzataki dip with veggies and pita and the great pita sandwiches not to mention the gorgeous desserts. My kids had never seen a cake plated that beautifully; they didn’t want to eat it!

Our hotel: Country Inn and Suites had a large, warm pool and hot tub adjacent to the pool. Another perk of this property was a decent breakfast spread. It was clean but not surprisingly, as part of the country inn chain, had a more old-fashioned décor. I liked the open wood stairway to the second floor and the wide hallways. Less claustrophobic than a lot of hotel halls. If you are coming to see the waterfalls, one of them is right nearby. The main negative of this hotel was that our suite was somewhat long and narrow. Thus, the window was also narrow for the two rooms, and there wasn’t a lot of room to get around the pull-out couch when it was extended. However, I would definitely stay there again.
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Aug 17th, 2012, 01:53 PM
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Keep it coming!

Always take Google and GPS with a grain of salt.

So far, excellent.
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Aug 17th, 2012, 04:56 PM
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Long ago memories of our camping trip "out east" from Illinois with 3 kids. Those were the days. We took in the major sites such as Gettysburg. Philadephia (on July 4), Washington, Manhattan, New England. Campgrounds outside the cities and then touring.
Bill in Boston
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Aug 18th, 2012, 07:22 AM
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More, please!
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Aug 18th, 2012, 04:05 PM
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Thank you all for your encouragement...Ackislander, it's funny but I never used any of those electronic helps for years of travel. My husband is a big fan for local trips, for example, to take our child to a new friend's house. The difference is, we know the structure of our area's roads enough that we would just laugh if we were sent a silly way.

DAY 3: Travel and New York City
After an early morning swim, we headed out. Since there is always a lot of conversation about what it’s like to drive into New York City, I will give you our outsiders’ impression in detail. (Note to readers bored by driving details: Skip 3 graphs.)

This time it was much clearer going to New York City. Besides a little construction around Scranton, Pa., the drive was non-descript. There was a big change as we went through New Jersey in the other drivers’ behavior. Busy and a little pushy with more lanes to watch for. Reminded us of Los Angeles Freeway style experience.

I had studied both my google maps, the Google direction list and AAA. The only snafu was that Google told me to turn right on Dyer. We did not see signs anywhere before/during/in the tunnel for Dyer. But, we got in the right lane, confident we would see Dyer. We then realized that the right lane would be sending us uptown (not where we wanted to go). Since we were just crawling along, it normally would have been easy to change into the left lane. Unfortunately, two cars were blocking the small triangle of land between the lanes. They had suffered a fenderbender and stopped to exchange information.

We took the uptown ramp, but I had studied the city enough to know we could do three sides of a rectangle to get back to 34th Street. The driving was not very difficult for my husband. Paying attention to the amount of pedestrians crossing mid-street was the challenge.

We were staying at the Affinia Dumont, and their staff came out immediately to help us pull the bags onto a cart. My teenager rode off with Dad down to 22nd Street to drop the car off at Dollar. They found it fine. They actually got a little turned around walking back. Ah well, can’t have everything.

Our hotel: The Affinia Dumont If I didn’t know better, I’d say that the New York crew on Fodors’ was confused. New York has small rooms? Really? Our room in the Affinia Dumont might be among the most spacious I’ve ever had. I did call a few days before our trip to confirm we would be getting two queens and not a king bed because we were a party of 5. When I came in, the guy at the front desk said “Oh, I remember talking to you. I noted it so we would save you a good room.” The view from the 21st floor included a straight shot of the Chrysler Building and interesting rooftop gardens across the street. On their website, a full view of the Chrysler Building is an upgrade. We were grateful to get it! David, the concierge was extremely helpful our first day as well. I was able to go over some questions about the Metro and our destinations.

Affinia Dumont (more): The main room included a sleeper sofa, and even when it was later folded out, there was still plenty of space to move about the room. Also, I tried lying down on the foldout bed and the mattress was actually comfortable! I didn’t feel like I was sinking to the metal frame (as is so often the case with foldout beds). There was a large flat-screen TV in both bedroom and living room. Finally, our kitchen was a full kitchen—ie a stove with oven, full-sized refrigerator, microwave and even a dishwasher. As to quality, the finishes and furniture in the bedroom, living room and bath were all updated and very current. The kitchen was all-white, and a little less trendy. But it was immaculate and everything worked properly, so we were happy with it.

We headed out to Food Emporium, thanks to Fodorites for the rec. We bought food to make two dinners, plus breakfast items and snacks. While yes, prices were higher than back home, it tends to cost us about $60-80 at even the cheapest restaurants, so we were pleased to be so close to a good-sized grocery store. I tried to pick up some things we don’t have back at home—everyone loved the challah bread. With five breakfasts and four dinners eaten in our room, the additional cost of a room with a full kitchen more than paid for itself.

We finished the day with an evening trip to the Empire State Building. It was such an adventure being just five blocks away from a world- renown landmark. Thank you all for telling me repeatedly, “Buy tickets in advance.” I figure it saved us waiting behind about 100-200 people. Just a guess as we walked past the mob. My kids thought that was awesome too.

The main deck was very crowded. I had bought tickets to the upper observatory as well. It turned out to be a great move because very few people were in the upper observatory, and my youngest child could see out the windows without people getting in front of him. It was also easier to find someone on staff to identify different buildings or bridges. It had been dusk when we arrived on the main bridge and were able to see buildings and identify them. By now, it was completely dark and we enjoyed finding the lights of Time Square and the beautiful bridges.
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Aug 18th, 2012, 04:35 PM
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Sounds like a great trip so far. My daughter loves DC and always says she would like to go back sometime, so anxious to hear what your group thinks.
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Aug 18th, 2012, 04:35 PM
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PS to respond to Bill...I think it's awesome you were able to camp and see such famous sites as your day events. Someone was trying to work out a campsite for an RV outside of New York a couple of months ago. I haven't seen them report back but it would be interesting to hear how it comes out.
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Aug 18th, 2012, 06:21 PM
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The reason the Affinia "rooms" are so large is that it's a converted apartment house. (No so large when you think about living in it full time, is it?)

Many of the Affinias are the same - as long as you don;t want full hotel services (room service etc).
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Aug 19th, 2012, 04:43 PM
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DAY 4: New York, the new and the old

After an easy bus ride uptown, we were at the Sony Wonder Lab. It was enjoyable, but if your kids are pretty high-tech savvy, they will find portions of this activity great and portions behind the times. The collection of phones and gaming machinery over the ages was fun. The quirky music lab and the animation stations were worth the stop. OTOH, the heart surgery stations had a responsiveness level on the controllers that was at least 10 years out of date compared to modern gaming. Very poor. Best part was the newscast, which had my younger son bobbing around reporting on a hurricane. We laughed hard when we saw it played afterward.

We then had lunch at Mimi’s Pizza about four blocks from the entrance to the Metropolitan Museum. DS1 decided we needed to break away from the pepperoni the younger ones want. I think we had a prosciutto combination. Having been to Italy, we can say that while it wasn’t the same as in Italy, it was really good pizza. (We won't pretend to be experts on New York style pizza and whether this meets the criteria!)

The Met was such a different experience than when I went years ago. My whole interest had been the paintings. The kids wanted Egypt, the armor and Middle Ages, some Greek antiquities. My oldest son actually enjoyed the Schiaffarelli/Prada exhibit. His comment: “They are explaining their clothes and their relevance to the world. It was interesting to hear.”

Then, the gift shop. The first thing my daughter notices is, a gorgeous puzzle of a unicorn. “We didn’t see that” she says authoritatively. Yup, we had seen the entire medieval collection sans unicorns. I knew with a sinking feeling that we were Cloister-bound. At least it was a Friday and I knew the Met was open late. We split forces, and my husband and oldest took off for the hotel. I went to the information desk to find out details. Although I had read the website, it turned out that The Cloisters still closed at 5 pm.

So, disappointed, we also headed back in pouring rain. After grilled cheese and tomato soup, we were re-energized and walked up to the Morgan Library for a Friday night free visit. We loved it. My oldest focused on the Winston Churchill exhibit. We meandered over to the library. The letter from Madison to the Marquis de Lafayette, Webster’s Dictionary and an excerpt of Poe’s were highlights. Also an early version of Washington’s inauguration speech. Because this site was far less busy than many tourist sites, we were able to read the words that Churchill, Washington and the rest wrote without being mobbed.
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Aug 21st, 2012, 11:03 AM
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You're lagging, 5alive........... Hurry up on day 5!

Great report, BTW! I, too, LOVED the Met.
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Aug 21st, 2012, 02:55 PM
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Grilled cheese and mater soup: perfect. GREAT report. Can't wait to read more.
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Aug 21st, 2012, 04:06 PM
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Yeah, under pressure to get my son's room painted before school starts!
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Aug 21st, 2012, 04:11 PM
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DAY 5: Statue cruises and a night on Broadway

I wake up early, so I actually woke them before I headed down to Guy and Gallard to pick up my coffee, which was my stop every morning in New York. We headed to the subway for our trip to Battery Park. We had 9 am tickets to board the ship to Liberty and Ellis islands. We got there much earlier than needed. I had hoped to see a bit of Battery Park while it was still cool but before we knew it, they hustled us on to the 8:30 ship. My husband is quite sure there were far less people at the 9 am, but really I don’t know that.

We did go up on the top deck, and per the comments here, as well as from our concierge, the views are gorgeous as you approach the Statue of Liberty. It was pretty crowded on our boat so we did need to get off to get family pics in front of the statue. Ranger tour was the right amount of information and well said too, mixing the construction of the statue, the history and how people feel about it.

Ellis Island was a very personal stop since I have family who came through here. I highly recommend this landmark as you do get a sense of place if you take the time to wander around and nose in different rooms. The exhibit hall is excellent but don’t get overwhelmed reading. Absorb the place. The cafeteria here was uncommonly good, if you get the specials of the day (for us, the Panini). We headed back early afternoon for some downtime and dinner.

We took the subway to Times Square to see Nice Work if You Can Get It. Gotta say, Times Square was not my family’s cup of tea. We were trying to get to our show and of course it’s so crowded. And the Elmo impersonator was acting oddly, and my husband heard him first and kept us moving. So we didn’t enjoy just looking around. We later saw Elmo on the news when we were in DC. He’d been arrested. My husband said “yup, that was him!”

Nice Work if You Can Get It was a great, classic show. All of us loved it, and that includes my sons (ages 16 and 11). My daughter put her money down for a disk to be sent to our house; that’s how much she loved it. This is a classic musical with all the pieces that traditionally made musicals beloved: great music sung well, large dance numbers, great humor and comedic timing, improbable plot twists. If you want something avante garde, or with a stripped down modern set, or delving into psychological drama or deep feeling…umm, you will hate this show.

Details: I loved Kelli O’Hara, her voice was great and she had the right amount of aplomb to carry off her character. After loving all Matthew Broderick’s movies it was great to see him in person. He is a master at comedic timing and his dancing was solid. His singing, while pleasant, was not equal to O’Hara’s. The other thing we all just really loved were the supporting actors—and waiting at the back door in the crowd, we were pleased to meet Michael McGrath (Cookie), Chris Sullivan (Duke) and Judy Kaye (Broderick’s mother). We had dessert at Europa Café—cupcakes or cheesecake. Quite good, but I completely forgot about Junior’s…I guess a future trip.
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Aug 22nd, 2012, 04:39 PM
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DAY 6-New York, Moments of Beauty and a Wild Ride

We started off the morning at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We decided on the earlier Mass so we could fit in Central Park before it got too hot. Mass was good but frankly the cantor and the organ appeared not to be very together. Both were individually excellent so it is probably a question of acoustics and sound system. We did take some pictures in front of Rockefeller Center but didn’t stay.

We took the bus up to Central Park and walked over to the Boathouse to rent the bikes. A fundraising event had just ended and there were no cars on the street. It was a great time to bike the road all the way around the park. The kids really love to bike and enjoyed the length of the trip. My 11-year-old was a little tired afterward. He is an athlete and quite strong, so I would not recommend a younger child to attempt the road. I believe a very young child could bike slowly on the paths while you walk alongside, but please check with the park before renting a bike.

We ate lunch at the casual back half of the boathouse. The hamburgers were small and so-so, but the daily special sandwiches were quite good. From here we walked through parts of Central Park and saw the fountain and some meandering paths before making our way past Strawberry Fields. My younger two kids took off with my husband to explore the American Museum of Natural History.

My teen and I headed off to shop for electronics. He really loved B&H. He found a laptop that was quite a steal but not quite what my husband wanted. But he had great fun going through them all with the salesclerk who clearly enjoys his technology too. We also hit the speaker and audio area, the electric keyboards and more. Then it was off to the East Village to a smaller shop I found. But it turned out to be mainly Japanese high-tech gadgets (think cute USB drives), so that was a bust. But we were quite near one of Adu’s list of ice cream shops, Sundaes and Cones so we walked a few blocks over. Really enjoyed the ginger ice cream! Never had anything quite like it.

We also stopped in the Best Buy for me to find a screensaver for my phone (no luck) and him to surreptitiously get a few minutes of charge on his phone. And I should mention that the subway stops along this line had some especially lovely tilework.

From there we headed downtown to J&R, a quirky place literally across the street from St. Paul’s Chapel. J&R was about 5 floors housed in what looked like an old Woolworth’s or Newberry’s Department store with skinny little escalators. (By the way, the second floor is all kids’ toys, and not just electronic ones.)

I went to St. Paul’s Chapel while he shopped and explored. It was a fascinating mix of old, old New York history and modern reflection and the story of 9/11. It was a great opportunity to put together many of the images and articles I had read into a more cohesive picture. When I came back to J&R, my son was asking a sales clerk questions about routers.

We headed back to our hotel, after one of my favorite days of the trip. We loved seeing the neighborhoods and the wonderful tile artwork in the subway stations.

Meanwhile, my husband and the younger two kids were out enjoying Dum Dum and Rexie and all the rest at ANMH. I got a text, “Where should we eat? They’re starved.” I text “Grab hot dogs at Gray’s Papaya.” But autocorrect sent it as “Graize Papaya.” My husband tried to search that name and thought I was nuts. Fortunately he went back and asked at the AMNH desk and they gave him directions. For their trip back, my husband realized that DS1 and I had been doing the navigating. The 11-year-old took over and helped him find the subway lines back to Grand Central to transfer back to the Local. You never know what the kids are capable of until you vacation outside your comfort zone.

My oldest and I went to the Second Avenue Deli. He had pastrami and I had a favorite from my college era, blintzes--blueberry and cheese. A great meal.

When everyone was back at home the kids wanted to hang out in the hotel and watch sports or text. So my husband and I headed out to Cask for wine and dessert. A cute restaurant/bar near the Dumont. Would not say it is destination-worthy if you aren’t nearby, but worth a visit if this is your neighborhood.
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Aug 31st, 2012, 04:05 PM
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DAY 7: Downtown, the 9/11 Memorial and a lot of Retro Candy

We had been on the go for almost a week now, and everyone wanted to sleep in a little later. I got up early and instead of just getting coffee at Guy and Gallard, I headed up to New York Bagels & Café on First Avenue and got a good mix of bagels with cream cheese and lox.

We voted, and no one wanted to trek over the Brooklyn Bridge. I ordered tickets that morning to the World Trade Center online. We took the subway downtown and stopped in just briefly at St. Paul’s Chapel for the family to see it. Then we went to the World Trade Center Memorial Unfortunately, my order wasn’t a valid one as I had never received a confirmation number. Same-day tickets were available but required a trek back to their ticketing office. With a little time to kill, my daughter and I went into Century 21 for some shopping and the guys hunted for souvenirs, finding a baseball shop with a Mantle shirt for Grandpa.

We really appreciated what was done with the World Trade Center site. The size of the fountains is really impressive. Also the sound of the fountains dampened out the chatter and street noise and gave a sense of peace. The museum was not open yet but from our perspective the combination of St. Paul’s and the fountains was the right amount of exposure for a child visiting.

We headed to Wall Street—although people here said it would be boring. It wasn’t. Seeing the front of the stock exchange was cool if you read that news regularly. While sitting on the steps across the street, we discovered we were at another historic site. We poked our heads inside and it was the building that once held the US Treasury and that the site was where the first US Congress met in 1789. We saw the large stone step where Washington had stood for the first oath of office and the Bible that he had sworn upon. Honestly, it was a really great find that didn’t take all day to see or require standing in a line. Paired with the Morgan Library earlier it was a nice amount of history in smaller bites.

We had eaten breakfast late, but it was moving toward mid-afternoon. I had no great ideas for lunch nearby. And, we wanted to stop at Economy Candy next, so we plowed on. The kids loved me for stopping and loved Grandma for the spending money in their pockets. What an odd little store. I saw more retro candy than I could remember, although I remember my mom always had Dentyne gum in her purse and picked some up for her. I also loved the chance to Cross Delancey, myself. Didn’t go find the pickle guy, though.

We then took another subway to the Village for Joe’s Pizza. Good thing it was close to our subway stop because the rain was really coming down. There was no one in the shop and the staff told us that with our size family to order a whole pizza. We also bought an extra couple of slices. Great meal. I had hoped to explore Greenwich Village and Washington Square Park but the rain started in again, and that killed my plan.

We took the subway back and although it was rush hour, it wasn’t too crazy. We weren’t hungry since we ate lunch so late. After some time to recharge, we asked who wanted to visit Grand Central Terminal. Since it was so prominently featured in Madagascar, my youngest was game to go. He got a special treat when we visited the huge Apple Store up on the large balcony area. Thanks to the Fodor’s posters who advised this Apple branch over the 5th Avenue one. I popped by Magnolia Bakery in the food court before it closed to pick up a few things. For those who want a moderate—not expensive meal out—I think you could eat well your entire trip in this food court. It all looked really good, and no national chains.
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Sep 6th, 2012, 05:14 PM
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Great trip report. Your room sounds wonderful and Economy candy is such a trip! A Fodorite took me there and I was entranced. Please come back and finish your report.
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Sep 6th, 2012, 05:21 PM
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>The 11-year-old took over and helped him find the subway lines<

Humbling experience, it is, to rely on a child for navigation. My then 12-year old DD navigated the subway in NYC, and most recently, at 17, navigated the alleyways of Venice for her geographically-challenged mother.

Reading your report makes me want to go back to New York!!

Carry on......
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Sep 6th, 2012, 05:50 PM
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Great report. Minor correction, Second Avenue Deli does not serve any dairy products like cheese blintzes so what you had was probably tofu or other faux cheese. Interesting that it was good enough to fool you !
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