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Trip Report Three Generations of Germans in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania

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Women always surprise men. It was DW herself who suggested a trip to the U.S. as a present for her MIL’s 75th birthday. Although well-travelled in Europe, my parents had never made it to America. And since the exchange rate was favourable (for us Europeans), airfare and hotel rates low (due to the financial crisis), we decided to invite my parents (aged 75 and 78) to their once-in-a-lifetime trip. Of course, our 20-year-old sons would travel with us, and also my parents-in-law (77 and 84) joined us.

So, we had a multi-generation travelling party of eight people. Unfortunately, we had only 11 days to travel, and I decided to show them different aspects of America: New York City, but also some rural America in the Hudson Valley and in Pennsylvania, and, of course, the Capital City. I planned the trip with much help from the fellow Fodorites and the complimentary copies of Fodor’s New York City, Fodor’s New York State, Fodor’s Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Dutch Country and Fodor’s Washington D.C., which were sent to me because my forum posts (under a former screen name) had been quoted in several guidebooks.

In turn, I promised Fodor’s editors to write a trip report. Here it is. As ever, have mercy with me and my Pidgin English which I have learnt in school several decades ago.

April 1st – Flight and Arrival in New York City

We had a non-stop Lufthansa flight from Düsseldorf to Newark which was very convenient. We started with complimentary cocktails, then switched to white wine, had red wine with lunch (BTW, the best food I ever had in economy class) and scotch and Baileys after lunch. The seniors selected some old movie with Doris Day and Rock Hudson from the personal entertainment system, DW thought “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” would be a proper introduction to NYC, and the boys and me watched “Avatar” and spent the remainder of the flight with criticizing the film for its naïve story and uninspired animations. The American couple in front of us spent full nine hours with watching films and TV shows until their eyes had grown rectangular. Is this American lifestyle?

The very last section of the flight was better than any TV show. We sat on the left side of the plane and were approaching EWR from western direction. The Hudson Valley was below us and we enjoyed the full panorama of Manhattan before touch-down.
We landed in Newark 30 minutes before schedule and lost the time with waiting in a long line before immigration. We had bad luck because we landed in a lane with a young couple from Sweden in front of us. Firstly, they were rudely separated by the immigration officers because they were not married. Secondly, the immigration officer could not take the girl’s fingerprints because she had smeared her fingers with ink when filling out the I-94 form. After a lengthy conversation between half a dozen immigration officers what to do with the ink-stained girl, they finally managed to take the fingerprints from her left hand and she was through. Then, her boyfriend came with the same problem. Again, another meeting of the security council, and finally they put him through too. Next in line were three sisters and brothers from Russia. The oldest Russian girl – looking like a hooker and smiling at the immigration officer like a hooker – did it better than the cool Swedish girl and all three Russian were through like a breeze.

Then we came. Months ago, I had spent several hours at my computer in order to fill out the ESTA forms (ESTA = the U.S. Government’sElectronic System for Travel Authorization) and get admissions for all eight members of our travelling party – only to find that the ESTA permissions were totally ignored by the immigration officers. I have watched a U.S. Government video about ESTA, where the U.S. Secretary of State said that filling out the green I-94 would be redundant with ESTA – but what is a mere Secretary of State compared to an immigration officer? What does psychology tell us: give small people power – and if they have it, they use it to bully good ordinary people.
Okay, we finally were through without much fuss, and outside it was warm and sunny. I called the prebooked limousine (Dial 7 = Tel Aviv Limo www.dial7.com), and after a few minutes it was at the curb and we were excited to drive to New York City. The excitement faded a bit when we were stuck in a traffic jam in front of Lincoln tunnel. The limo driver left the highway and after many stops at red lights reached the next traffic jam before we finally entered the tunnel. I doubt if the detour was a good idea.

After arriving In Manhattan, we got a fine sightseeing tour of Midtown, because
(1) 8th Avenue was closed because of a fire and
(2) the driver spiralled several times around the blocks, because he was not able to turn left when he was supposed to do so (it his hard to make left turns when you are driving on the right or middle lane and police is present). Well, it was nice to be driven up and down 42nd Street several times.

After two hours or so, we arrived at our hotel. I had booked four double rooms via Hotwire, and with the help of www.betterbidding.com we ended at $163 per room in the Empire Hotel. The Empire Hotel is located directly at Lincoln Center – in easy walking distance to the Central Park, most museums, Midtown and two subway stations. The Empire has boutique hotel character, with nice art deco interior design.

The rooms are tiny (even for European standards, but I think that is not untypical for NYC), but beautifully furnished. The bathrooms have the size of those on cruiseships, but have large and good showers. The service is welcoming, the lobby bar cool and the rooftop lounge hot. www.empirehotelnyc.com

The Empire is a sexy hotel – in the literal meaning of the word. Together with the usual array of beverages, snacks and toiletries you find an “intimacy pack” on your room which is, as the label reads, suitable for man+woman, for man+man and for woman+woman. Since this is a family-friendly forum, I cannot go into detail about the content of the package. It costs $38 and it is probably worth it, at least if you are in a hurry.

We unpacked, got a first taste of New York City by strolling around the neighbourhood and sat down in the lobby bar. On Thursdays, they have a live Jazz band playing, and with drinks in our hands, we got our first New York City feeling.

Regarding drinks: I had started a thread about drinking age in NYC (http://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/drinking-age-in-nyc.cfm) and I must say, this was the first time that I got completely wrong advice on a Fodor’s forum. For most posters said that our 20-year-olds would be denied alcohol in New York. Here is what happened: DW and DS I and I went down into the bar, a very shiny bar, I think the TV show “Gossip Girl” is filmed here.

The waitress (dressed all in black and stylish like a model) approached us and asked us for drinks. DW ordered a Cosmopolitan (she is a “Sex and the City”-fan and much like Carrie Bradshaw except that she has more shoes than Carrie) and I (what else?) a Manhattan. And then she asked the boy: “And what for you – Cosmo or Manhattan?” So much about I.D.ing.

BTW, during our trip, we were in about two dozen bars and restaurants in NYC, Hudson Valley, New Jersey and even Pennsylvania and never ever were our boys denied a drink. In one restaurant, the waiter asked for their age and when we said “20” he replied “That’s almost 21” and served them alcohol.

We and the kids had our cocktails, the seniors enjoyed a bottle of crisp sauvignon blanc from Long Island and since we got hungry, I reserved a table for eight in the hotel’s restaurant “Ed’s Chowder House”. We enjoyed 20 more minutes of live Jazz and the bar before the table was ready.

In the meantime, I told my parents about THE typical American dish. After reading a couple of books about New York history, I have learnt that the Native Americans, the early pioneers, the colonists, the burgeoning New York bourgeoisie and the contemporary hipsters shared one diet: the oyster. So we started with a plate of oysters for the table and proceeded with beautifully charred lobsters and ended with apple crumble. We washed down everything with a pretty good pinot gris from New York state.
So, this was our first evening in New York City. We have just spent a few hours in the city which were, however, loaded with visual, acoustic, aromatic and sensual experiences.

To be continued.

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    Excellent report, so far. I'm really looking forward to reading the rest, particularly your impressions of the US (from a European's perspective). I did not realize that you had to give your fingerprints at immigration. Is that required of all non-nationals who enter the US?

    Robyn :)>-

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    >>>I did not realize that you had to give your fingerprints at immigration. Is that required of all non-nationals who enter the US?<<<

    Yes. Usually the prints of all ten fingers.

    BTW, Robyn, I enjoyed very much the report of your trip to Germany some time ago.

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    Friday, April 2nd – Exploring the Cityscape of South Manhattan

    Still somewhat jet-lagged, we got up early in the morning. Next to the hotel, we found a tiny place called “Breadsoul” which served really good coffee, in fact, the best coffee we ever experienced in the USA. Strangely, the neighbouring Starbucks was much more popular among the New Yorkers, although they served the typical coloured hot water that the Americans call “coffee”, and this at double prices than Breadsoul.

    For breakfast, we waited until everybody was ready around eight o’clock and selected ‘wichcraft in the nearby David Rubinstein Forum. There was a cool ambiance with flamboyant lighting, classical music playing and green plants hanging from the wall. For the first time in their life, my parents got coffee and tea served in papercups and sandwiches for breakfast. Afterwards, they said, they had the strangest breakfast of all their life. Anyway, it was quick and comparatively inexpensive.

    This was the day to explore South Manhattan. Again, a bright and sunny day which should warm up to 27°C (~84 F). We decided to take the subway to South Manhattan.

    The New York subway sytem is one of civilization’s last great riddles. In other cities of this world, you simply buy a three-day-pass, ride as often as you want and save a lot of money. Not in New York City. They do not offer passes for tourists, but the MTA website writes there are reduced fares for seniors (65 and older). However, I simply could not understand how the reduced fare works. Therefore, I had started a thread (http://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/nyc-subway-tickets.cfm) with a very simple question. This question generated no less than 58 responses, proving that the New Yorkers do not understand the system either. Being in New York, I discovered that even the MTA agents did not understand the reduced fare rules.

    But let us begin from start. I walked to the ticket booth and asked for tickets for four adults and reduced fare tickets for four seniors. This was obviously a request that was both unusual and complicated, because it took 15 minutes until I was handed a magnetic Metrocard and four sloppy paper slips.

    The agent manually opened a door, but no one in our party understood that this door was for the seniors only. Hence, everybody walked through that door and thus the four adults cheated MTA. I should feel guilty about that, but later MTA would cheat us several times, so we are still the betrayed ones. (Two days later, I wanted to buy reduced fare tickets again. The MTA agent demanded the seniors’ Medicare card, because he would not see that my 84-year-old FIL was over 65. When I told him the seniors were not U.S. citizens but would be happy to show their passports as proofs of age, he very rudely bellowed: “MEDICARE OR FORGET IT”.

    He obviously did not know his own company’s rules. http://www.mta.info/nyct/fare/rfcenter.htm says that you must be 65 or older to qualify for reduced fare tickets, and there are several ways to prove your age, not just Medicare. Another case of sadistic small men which were given power to bully innocent seniors.

    Such experiences made us avoid the subway and prefer taxi rides. But this morning, we rode the subway to Chambers Street, walked over to Ground Zero, where the first building was rapidly rising, got good views of the construction site from the World Financial Center and walked further southwards. We peeped into Wall Street, looked at Number One Broadway, the Old Customs House and finally boarded Staten Island Ferry. The ride forth and back provided us with excellent views of Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. One of New York’s best (and free) sights.

    Back in Manhattan, we walked up South Street to look at the old seaport with historic ships, then proceeded towards the City Hall, walked through Chinatown into Little Italy. It is amazing how quickly fried ducks were replaced by tomatoes and basil. Ethnic neighbourhoods in New York City have sharp lines of demarcation. Architecture in both neighbourhoods was run-down, with the morbid charm that had become hip among Yuppies and other childless contemporary brain workers.

    Tired and hungry, we found an Italian restaurant, Grotto Azzurro, which offered a two-course menu @ $9.95. The restaurant had a cozy, historic ambiance (they boast that it once was Frank Sinatra’s favourite Italian restaurant). We asked the waiter for draught beers and he recommended Peroni (which is nearly as bad as Budweiser or Heineken). Finally, we found out that they also had an American Pilsner-style beer from the tab which turned out surprisingly good, especially on a hot day. The food was just mediocre (the pasta with vodka did not taste for vodka at all), but it was filling and cheap and we recovered.

    After lunch, we continued walking northwards into SoHo. All of a sudden, we stood in front of a MoMa store. This store was like heaven. I could have bought half of the store. But given our limited baggage capacities on our return transatlantic flight, we restricted ourselves to buying a dozen Tim Burton creatures which made wonderful souvenirs for our friends at home and ourselves.

    We reached an area on Broadway, where our kids found all those fancy stores (Converse shoes etc.). We decided to take the nearest subway and rode back northwards. From the subway station, we walked back to the hotel through Central Park. Since the weather was so good, humans and squirrels were enjoying themselves.

    In the afternoon, we checked out the Empire Hotel’s workout room. For DS I, the weighs were too light and he concluded, New Yorkers are wimps. Maybe just Gossip Girls are wimps.

    At 7 p.m. we left the hotel and boarded two taxis to Rockefeller Center. My plan was to go up to Top of the Rocks around Sunset. Unfortunately, I spent half an hour waiting in line to get tickets which were timed for 9:05 p.m. In the meantime, the rest of our group enjoyed watching the ice-skaters and the Easter flower decoration at Rockefeller Center. After buying the ticket, we used the time to walk to Times Square where we immersed into a world of light and sound and people and colours. Really fascinating. On the way back, we stopped at a nondistinct Mexican fast food place for a quick burrito.

    Top of the Rocks started poorly but ended fabulously. The poor start was that we were herded like cattle through security, a photo spot and a boring film about how great the Rockefellers are. A pretty bad treatment for someone who had just paid 22 bucks. However, once you are up, you are rewarded for your patience. Top of the Rocks turned out to be MUCH better than the Empire State Building (thank you, New York Fodorites!). Especially, when you go up to the highest level, you are completely free – no panes, nothing but the illuminated city around you. A paradise for photographers. Sunset would have been even better, but night was certainly better than daylight for the Top of the Rocks.

    After spending almost an hour on top of the building, we hailed two taxis which brought us back to the hotel.

    We took our nightcap on our hotel room. In the afternoon, I had walked around the corner to buy some bottles of water, beer and wine in a neighbourhood grocery store. The American-brewed Pilsner beer was pretty good.

    Not so good was the wine. We had it properly cooled in an ice bucket, but it was sweet and tasting strange. On closer inspection of the label, we read, it was not wine at all. It was an artificial mix of wine, juice and artificial flavours with 6% alcohol. Obviously, in New York, grocery stores are not licensed to sell real wine and so we ended up with a mock product. So far, I have travelled more than 20 states in the U.S. and everywhere, grocery stores sold wines and spirits, even in Utah. And of all things, here in New York, where everybody seems to swallow cocktails, we were not able to buy proper wine in a grocery store!

    We emptied the syrupy liquid into the toilet and drew back to our precious bottle of Otard X.O. Cognac that we had brought from the duty free store at Düsseldorf airport. It is always wise to make calculations with all imponderabilities.

    To be continued. The museum day and gourmet night will come next.

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    Great report so far. Re your sons being served. They may (or may not) have had more trouble if they weren't with their parents and grand parents. Did they get to go out partying on their own?

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    Thanx so much for your encouraging comments. If you really want to read it - here is day three:

    Saturday, April 3rd – Museums, Harlem and a Splurge Dinner

    Another sunny day which we devoted to some of the great museums. We decided to have breakfast at the museum and just had a coffee and quick bite at Breadsoul. http://www.yelp.com/biz/breadsoul-cafe-new-york-2

    Then we walked diagonally across Central Park around the Fountain to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here, our group split up, since the ones who had been there before visited the Guggenheim while the first-timers went to see the Metropolitan. We arrived at 9:30 and walked through the side entrance left of the main stairs (which was recommended by Aduchamp1 in a former thread) and got our tickets with no waiting at all.

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art is certainly one of the world’s great museums and plays in one league with the Louvre, the British Museum and the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. The highlights include a display of Oceanian Art (very special for us Europeans), the collection of pre-Columbian American art, a room from a Pompeii villa and the Temple of Dendur (ancient Egypt). The medieval European collection is not special for us Europeans but it is presented very nicely (especially the armoured riders, albeit historically incorrect). We also liked the light and airy American wing with the Tiffany glassworks. We had breakfast in the American café where I got the worst chocolate cake of my life. Next time we will have breakfast in another tiny dinky eatery or greasy spoon.

    After visiting the Museum, we walked to the Guggenheim where we met the rest of our party who had visited this architectural gem. They were somewhat disappointed by the permanent exhibition but had enjoyed a temporary display of contemporary art which was characterized as “dark, eerie, frightening but good”.

    Together again, we further walked up to the Museum of the City of New York. This museum is a rather mixed bag of collections and resembles more a small town museum than that of a metropolis, but they have an outstanding 25-minute movie about urban development of New York City. Even for our non-English speaking members of our travelling party, the movie was extremely instructive because of its impressive visual qualities. You get an excellent impression of the different layers of architecture which can still be found in the City and about the forces that drove urban development. We learnt that ethnical (I would prefer to say cultural) differences caused residential segregation, suburbanization and decay of the older neighbourhoods, but that cultural diversity also contributes to the Phoenix-like ability of New York neighbourhoods to rise from their ashes and invent themselves again. A wonderful theoretical addition to our stroll through South Manhattan on the day before.

    In the museum, there was a temporary display of Charles Addams caricatures. This was an unexpected hightlight. Firstly, I and DS II love the Addams Family, and secondly, this show should turn out as an excellent preparation for the Tim Burton exhibition at MoMa which was scheduled for the next day.

    After the Museum of the City of New York, we took two taxis which brought us into Harlem. We just walked back and forth 125st Street, looked at the murals, peeped into Apollo Theater, let us being insulted by strangely dressed Black Muslims and soaked up the atmosphere. Then four of us hailed a taxi back to the hotel, while I and three others took a Town Car. The Town Car driver asked us if we would ride with him. I asked him how much he would charge for a ride to Lincoln Center. He answered “How much do you pay?” I quickly calculated and answered “12 dollars”. He replied “15” and I said okay. Of course, I should have offered 10 and we would finally have agreed at 13, but $15 was after all not too bad for a ride with a Town Car. The others paid $14 for their metered taxi with the tip included.

    The Town Car dropped us off a grocery store near the Empire Hotel. We bought a few supplies for a picnic lunch on our hotel room.

    Miraculously, we managed to squeeze eight people in our tiny bedroom who found even places for sitting. We had fresh guacamole and nachos, chicken salad, potato salad, tuna dip, sobrassada, fabulous medium-rare roast beef, cheeses, bread, fruit and an excellent New York cheesecake.

    After retiring a bit, DW and I had cocktails in the hotel bar. The bar stuff was even cooler than on our first night, obviously they had prepared for a busy Saturday evening. All waiters and waitresses looked like models and were entirely dressed in black. Again, our choices were Cosmopolitan and Manhattan.

    Now, we got ready for a really good meal. Exactly, a month ago, I had made an open-table reservation at the Aldea restaurant. http://aldearestaurant.com

    For our gourmet but not-too-expensive meal, I had considered either Daniel’s or Aldea. But since the Fodorites had unanimously voted for Aldea, we ended up there. We took taxis (which needed quite a bit of time to go there, due to heavily congested traffic on a Saturday evening) and arrived at a restaurant that was smaller than it appeared on the its website. The ambiance was lively, with mostly young people, dressed in smart casual style.

    At this point, I have to point out that we Europeans always stand out when we travel to other parts of the U.S. I particularly recall one night in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where we were dancing at the “Cheyenne Club” and everybody was staring at us until our host explained to us: “They think you are a couple from New York”. Here in New York, we blended perfectly among the New Yorkers with our European ways to dress, to move and to behave. Here not we Europeans stood out, but the tourists from other states of USA. In fact, like Europeans, the New Yorkers prefer to be dressed in dark colours, preferably in black. And we hardly noticed any obese person in New York, except the tourists from Oklahoma. And here at Aldea’s you could take a photo of patrons and ambiance and nobody would recognize that it had not been taken in Europe.

    On reservation, I had requested the chef’s tasting menu for the whole table. We also chose the wine pairings. The menu was good and absolutely European-style. The menu consisted of seven courses. As amuse bouche, they served a clam chowder with a coconut milk base. Then came a very good terrine of Hudson Valley foie gras with caramelized pear and maple syrup (which we considered an excellent regional touch). Monkfish cheeks followed and, quite unusual, a poached egg with crisp chicken skin, chicken broth and trout caviar. The main course was a puzzle to us. The menu read “farm-raised squab”. I asked the waitress “what is squab?” She said, something like a smallish wild bird. I asked “a quail?”, and when she noticed that I insisted in getting a proper answer she finally said “it is a pigeon, but, since New Yorkers do not like pigeons, we say ‘squab’”.

    Well, we are natives of a coal mining region in Germany where everybody used to raise pigeons and pigeons made a great part of our childhood’s diet. And Aldea’s pigeon was excellent: rare breast, confit of leg, with spring peas, morels and ramp as sides. The dessert was banana-tarte with chickory (!) ice cream.

    In a few words: the menu was outstanding. And the wine pairings were outstanding, too. Aldea served us only European wines, among them rare varieties from France, Spain and Portugal. The Pedro Ximenez that was served with dessert was strong and bitter but matched perfectly with the chickory ice cream. We startled the sommelier when she poured us a Spanish albarino together with the monkfish cheeks, because we told her that albarino is a Spanish riesling (in fact, “alba rino” means “the white from the Rhine”, and it is probable that the grape was brought by monks from the Rhine to Santiago de Compostela some centuries ago). The Spanish albarino was even served in a sleek Rhine wine bottle.

    Finally, with taxes and gratuity the check was $150 per person. Was it worth it? – Yes, every penny.

    We rode back to the Empire Hotel where we encountered a long line of people who waited for admission to the fancy Rooftop Bar. After the kids and the seniors had retired to their beds, DW and I checked out the place. Conveniently, as hotel guests, we bypassed the waiting line and rode up to the famous lounge where Rihanna had given her birthday party some months ago.

    What waited there for us? Firstly, we felt WAY too old, since the crowd was in their twenties and early thirties, not older. Secondly, we felt underdressed, although we wore jackets, because the girls were dressed in fancy cocktail dresses, while the men wore black t-shirts and loose jackets. In fact, there was no other colour seen as black, like an architects’ party in any European city.

    The place was heavily overcrowded and the lounge music was so loud that you could hardly communicate. No one was dancing. We thought that you could stand this place only under the influence of designer drugs and left the bar after a few minutes.

    To be continued: MoMa, Easter Parade, Brooklyn Bridge and the Rooftop Bar Revisited

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    ". . . Rooftop Bar . . . No one was dancing."
    This may not be surprising since the bar may not have the special license that allows dancing in connection with the sale of food and/or beverages--a cabaret license.

    Interesting report--looking forward to more.

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    Sunday, April 4th – MoMa, Easter Parade and Brooklyn Bridge

    I was Easter – Christianity’s highest holiday! The day before, I had invited my travel companions to join me for Easter service at Riverside Church at 7:30 a.m. And what happened? Everybody declined, even DS II, who wants to study theology and DW, who has got a degree in theology. And I, agnostic and not member of any church at all, stood alone. Instead, they wanted a late breakfast at ‘wichcraft, and so we went.

    Earlier that morning, DW had asked the hotel concierge something about the Museum of Modern Art. He answered that question and hurried to add that he usually could do wonders but that he would not be able to buy tickets for the Tim Burton exhibition at MoMA. When he learnt that I had booked timed tickets long ago, he told his colleagues that theses guys from Germany had already tickets!

    Our tickets to the Tim Burton exhibit were timed for 11:30, so that we had one hour to visit the permanent exhibition. We took two taxis to the MoMA. There was a little delay, because the second taxi’s driver had never heard of MoMA or Museum of Modern Art and dropped his passengers somewhere on 5th Avenue from where they had to walk to the museum. Our party got out of the cab on MoMA’s back door, we walked to the gate, showed our tickets were in like a breeze. On the other side of the street, the ticket line was snaking around two blocks.

    MoMa was a paradise. A huge Tim Burton sculpture (the Girl with Many Eyes) greeted us and the sun-lit sculpture garden was shining through the glass windows. Inside the museum, there was a kind of performance in the central hall. An artist in an impressive robe sat on a stool, motionless like the Queen of the Damned of an Ann Rice novel. Visitors had the opportunity to sit opposite to her on a chair and play a kind of staring chicken game with her, usually they failed (don’t mess with a vampire!).

    Of European modern art, they had a small but fine selection on display. E.g. they showed only one Dali, but one of his very best: the Persistence of Memory (the soft clocks – Dali got the idea when he was eating a very ripe Camembert cheese). The main reason to go to MoMA is the collection of American modern art. DS II was excited to see all the pictures and sculptures he had analysed in his art lessons! We also enjoyed the design collection, which is very unique for an art museum

    After an hour browsing through the museum, our time window for the Tim Burton exhibition opened. Most of us know Tim Burton as a film director who made masterpieces like “Mars Attacks”. This was the very first time that the work of the artist Tim Burton was on display. And he proved to be a worthy heir of Charles Addams. See here what kind of art he makes: http://www.timburton.com/

    Warning: You need a kind of grisly humor to enjoy Tim Burton’s works – but if you have, the exhibition will be heaven (or, if you prefer, hell) for you! His inventiveness when its comes to create aliens and other forms of life is just unbelievable. No wonder that “Avatator” is boring compared to Tim Burton.

    We spent almost three hours at MoMA and could have stayed longer. Instead, we walked over to 5th Avenue to see the Easter Parade. We arrived just at the time when the churches’ services were over and we saw many New Yorkers pouring out of the churches in historical costumes. Others resembled more Tim Burton creatures, except they were more colourful. In sum, we had much fun.

    We walked down to Central Station (an attraction in itself) where we planned to munch a few dozen oysters at the Oyster Bar. To our surprise, Oyster Bar is closed on Sundays. How dumb we were! For days, we had been using free city maps which included an Oyster Bar ad, clearly stating the opening hours. Our punishment was that we went into a New Mexican restaurant in Oyster Bar and poured downs several dozens of Margaritas, made with Patron tequila, together with some New Mexican dishes which were quite authentic, except they did not contain chile.

    After the meal, our group split up. DF had expressed only one wish for New York: he wanted to walk Brooklyn Bridge. So we took the subway down to Fulton Street with the intention to change to A, C lines. This was the incident where the misinformed agent declined the reduced fare for seniors. At the Fulton Street Station we learnt that the station was closed for A, C lines due to repairs. We had to leave the station, walk on the surface to Chambers Street Station, pay again and board the A line there. As a result, we paid $4.50 for each senior instead of $1.125.

    We rode to High Street Station, and from there it was a very short and well-signed walk to the staircase which leads to the Brooklyn Bridge walkway. I must admit, I had never expected how grand the experience of walking across Brooklyn Bridge would be! When you walk in the proper direction (from Brooklyn TO Manhattan, as we did), you have the wonderful view of Manhattan and the view of the Bridge’s artistic steel & cable construction. A delight for any photographer.

    We were not the only ones who enjoyed the walk. In fact, the walkway was crowded (did I mention it was a beautiful sunny day?). Half of the crowd were German tourists, the other half were orthodox jews with side curls.

    At the Manhattan end of the Bridge, we walked to Chambers Street station and rode the subway back to the hotel.

    For dinner, we had a picnic on our hotel room again. This time, we had proper (yet expensive) wine, since the other group of our party had managed to find a liquor store in the neighbourhood.

    After dinner, DW and I tried again the Rooftop Bar. The night was balmy and they had opened the glass domes so that we were sitting under the New York sky and enjoying the lights of the City around us. The lounge was pretty empty, and dressed more normal than on Saturday night. Really romantic. I made some good photos with my Martini glass in the foreground and the lights of New York in the background. Think about publishing pictures in the web.

    To be continued. Next: Driving up the Hudson Valley.

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    Yes, me too, still enjoying the report, and looking forward to the Hudson Valley part, as that's where I reside.

    FYI, just a little comment, Central Station is commonly referred to as "Grand Central Station", or GCT.

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    April 5th: Driving up the Hudson Valley

    We had everything cleverly planned: for our group of 8, we had reserved a 12-seater-minibus which should be delivered to the Empire Hotel as early as 9 a.m. In order to be ready early, we had eaten breakfast at Ed’s Chowder House in the hotel (passable eggs Benedict and not too expensive). Then we had wanted to drive up the Hudson with stops in Sleepy Hollow, Cold Spring, Beacon (visiting DIA Beacon) and Hyde Park (Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kil).

    However, reality intervened. It had been hard enough to find a rental car for 8 people + luggage. In Europe, every rental car company offers 9-seaters which would have been perfect for us. Strangely, in USA, none of the major rental car companies has cars which can accommodate 8 people + luggage. The biggest what you can get is either a 7-seater minivan (which is already tight for 6 persons + luggage) or a full-size 8-seater SUV (which is too small when 8 people have luggage). Even our TA could not find a rental car for us. The alternative of renting two cars was not too appealing for us with 4 seniors and 2 underage drivers. Finally, after extensive web research, I found Image Rent a Car – a company that offers limo service and that has minibuses for rent. They even deliver the rental cars in New York City. So, we ordered a 12-seater minibus (a Ford E-350). Got a signed contract and a reservation number. Should have been perfect for us. www.imagerentacar.com

    The problem is that Image Rent a Car is a semiprofessional company with a, err, slightly chaotic organization. You can hardly reach them. We could not reach them by email (we only got a personal email-address of an agent which became invalid when this person left the company), we could not reach them by phone (the office is closed on weekends, and also on weekdays, because they are permanently on holiday), and they did not react or faxes.

    The result was that we all were ready in the Hotel’s lounge with luggage and the car did not arrive. And we could not reach them on the phone. At least, there was an emergency line. The emergency people told us they would try to inform Image Rent a Car and they would call us back. We waited and nobody called us back. We called again, told our story again (we had a contract and a reservation number) and they tried to connect us. Connection failed. Several times. Toto’s song “Hold the line” popped into my mind. After one hour and two dozen calls, they promised us to deliver the car by 11:30.

    The bell captain stored our luggage and we walked through Central Park to the Plaza Hotel (where we once stayed when it still was affordable), to FAO Schwarz (with life-size stuffed grizzlies) and to Trump Tower (my parents were excited about the Trump Tower because Donald and Ivana Trump are well-known persons in the German yellow press). Bought some souvenirs from street vendors.

    At 11:30 back in the hotel lobby. No minibus. Again, about two dozen calls. Got finally the driver’s cell phone number. Told us, he would deliver the car by 1:30 p.m. I offered a visit to the Museum of Natural History in the meantime. Everybody declined. Luckily, the lobby bar opened and fellow family members soaked up with margaritas. Calmed them down a bit. Hotel staff wondered about the strange party of 8 people spending half of the day in the hotel lobby.

    1:30 p.m. no car in sight. Hotel staff worried. Again, several cell phone calls. Finally, driver needed directions to Lincoln Center. 2:30 minibus in sight, had to round the block in order to park at hotel entrance. 2:45 p.m. paperwork done, luggage and people loaded, hotel staff relieved. Also given big tips and a metrocard with $10.

    Finally, we were on the road. The drive to Sleepy Hollow was quick & easy. We would have liked to visit Kykuit (a Rockefeller mansion), but it did not open before May. So, we drove to Philipsburg Manor. http://www.hudsonvalley.org/content/view/14/44/

    On arrival, they told us we were scheduled for the 4 p.m. tour. This gave us half an hour for a wonderful picnic at a nice, shady picnic table with great views over the lake of the historic buildings.

    Philipsburg Manor is a site of historic buildings where you can learn a lot about agriculture and slavery. The guides are in period costumes. Our guided tour had added fun because – according to our sons’ unanimous expert judgement – the guide was clearly on dope, mushrooms, as our kids supposed. The downside was that guided tours in English are not too fascinating for our non-English speaking seniors, a problem that would occur many times during our trip. Americans seem not being aware that there are visitors from non-English speaking countries. Also, Americans seem to like guided tours, while Europeans prefer self-guided visits. Anyway, we enjoyed the sights and the historic costumes and were busy interpreting the guide’s explanations.

    When we were ready with Philipsburg Manor it was 5 p.m. And while the Mexicans have their siesta, the Americans have closing time. In New York, practically everything which is interesting for tourists, closes at 5 p.m. I assume this is by law in order to protect cocktail time.

    So we had to shorten all our plans. We glanced at Sleepy Hollow’s cemetery and drove straight to Poughkeepsie. The famous town of Poughkeepsie was a happy recall for FIL, because he had often been there for business. I had chosen this town because the CIA had recommended the Holiday Inn Express.

    After the Empire Hotel, I wanted to show my parents a typical next-generation motel, and indeed, everybody enjoyed the huge rooms which were equipped with two queen beds each. In fact, via Hotwire, we had paid $69 for a double room at the Holiday Inn Express and got a room which was thrice the size of a room at the Empire Hotel where we had paid $163. Another good thing was that the rooms of the Holiday Inn Express were equipped with large refrigerators and microwave ovens.

    Quickly I drove to a nearby shopping center and bought some supplies for supper at a place called “Pricechopper”. The differences in quality of products between NYC and Poughkeepsie were remarkable. In the supermarket, a local lady, when she noticed that we were from Germany, asked us if we were visiting family. “Why else should anyone go to Poughkeepsie?” she said. I bought plenty of beer at Pricechopper and a bottle of margarita mix. However, they did not have wine. Seems to be a common failure in New York State. No problem, I thought, since I had seen a liquor store nearby. However, it was already closed. Small town in the countryside or state law?

    Whatever, we still had wines bought in NYC and Cognac. We warmed some stuff in the microwave oven and had an in-room picnic supper consisting of Boston’s Legal Seafood Clam Chowder (we once had eaten at this restaurant), pepperoni pizza, barbecued pork, steamed carrots and a few other things. For dessert, we had bought a key lime pie which was, however, so bad that it landed in the dustbin.

    DS I used the exercise room. Satisfied, he came back. The weighs had been heavy enough. No more NYC wimps in Poughkeepsie.

    To be continued. Next: FDR’s home, Vanderbilt Mansion, small towns, food&drink of Hudson Valley

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    Yes, it is amazing in NYC how small some of the hotel rooms are and how much furniture they can cram in. Kind of reminds me of some of the rooms we've stayed in Paris.

    Hope you had time for a meal at the CIA, it's one of our favorite places, and Rhinebeck has some nice restaurants too.

    Yes Howard, Terminal, not station, mea culpa.

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    Love the report so far!

    In NY State supermarkets are not allowed to sell wine and wine stores cannot sell beer.

    There is a proposal to change this but who knows if it will be passed.

    There's also something called the Blue law, most states don't allow the sale of alchohol before noon on Sundays.

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    Tuesday, April 6th: Hudson Valley

    After the big city, I wanted to show my family a bit of small-town America, therefore the drive to Hudson Valley. In order so save some $$$, we chose not to stay in one of those charming B&Bs, but stayed at Poughkeepsie’s Holiday Inn Express. The night was restful and the free breakfast (a gift horse anyway) surprisingly good, in fact the best we ever had in such motel-type places.

    But before breakfast, the first thing what I did in the morning was driving to the liquor store, before it would close again. I bought a bottle of Korbel sparkling wine (in fact the only American sparkling they had), a bottle of New York white, a bottle of New York red (I found the label with a red newt very appealing although the wine was, as we later detected, just average), a bottle of Patron Silver and a bottle of Long Island Ice Tea (we always try the regional specialties when we are travelling).

    We boarded our minibus and drove a few miles to Hyde Park. When we arrived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Home, we were told that we should hurry to join the tour which had just begun. Otherwise, we would have to wait full three hours for the next tour. Sorry, out of season, we do not have that many tours. “Out of season”, I had read that before.

    FDR’s home was very interesting. His widow had turned the home into a foundation after FDR’s death. Clearly, she was not interested in living in a place that he had also shared with his mistress. Hence, everything was in original condition. FDR’s self-made wheelchairs were especially interesting, since my brother is bound to a wheelchair due from MS. The house was interesting, and the grounds, too. We saw the grave and his dogs’ gravemarkers, too. A very rewarding experience. http://www.nps.gov/hofr/index.htm

    Our next stop, just a few minutes further north, was the Vanderbilt Mansion. The home is a fine example of a tycoon’s home (albeit it is the smallest of 35 or so Vanderbilt homes) and the National Park Service tour guide told extremely funny stories. From the grounds, we had lovely views of the Hudson River. http://www.nps.gov/vama/index.htm

    Following a recommendation from a fellow Fodorite, we drove through the tiny hamlet of Staatsburg, that, despite of its German name, is a typical example of an American village with large spaces between houses. The historic architecture was beautiful and, I think, the only ugly building was the post office. We also drove to Staatsburg Manor and some miles on small backroads through Rhinecliff and eventually to Rhinebeck.

    Rhinebeck is small-town America at its best. You have just a handful brick building with nice boutiques and otherwise historic wooden residential homes. We strolled a bit through town and peeped into Beekman Arms which claims to be America’s oldest inn and which is, oldest or not, very picturesque. http://beekmandelamaterinn.com/ Rhinebeck also has a historic aerodrome, but it was, you already guess it, closed due to season.

    From Rhinebeck, or Garmin GPS led us over most beautiful, winding backroads to our next destination. Guess what was waiting for us? What would attract us, now, right after noon?

    You have guessed right: A winery, in fact, Milbrook Winery. http://millbrookwine.com/index.php
    Since it was out of season and they were short of staff, the manger herself gave us a tour. And I must say, after dozens of winery tours all over Europe and those commercial wine-tastings in California, this was the very best tour of a winery that we ever had. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgable, charming and entertaining. We toured the vineyards, the barn, the caves and ended with a tasting. In addition to the standard tasting of whites and reds, we were offered several more reserve wines which were “just open” as our guide said. We had a really nice conversation with our tour guide, and it was hard to pull away our ladies from the charming lady.

    While New York (white) wines are usually very dry, light-bodied and crisp (what we like), the Milbrook wines are different: medium-bodied, not so dry and very fruity. We finally bought a couple of whites, four bottles of their best pinot noir (at $29, but worth it), a glass of onion jam and a refrigerated bottle for immediate consumption.

    At the winery, they have nice picnic tables at the ponds and we enjoyed another good picnic with a chilled New York wine.

    We drove back to Poughkeepsie, and our Garmin decided that we should learn that even small-town America has seedy neighbourhoods. We rested a bit and became ready for our evening programme: the CIA.

    The main reason why we choose Poughkeepsie as a base and the Holiday Inn Express was because they offered a complimentary shuttle to the Culinary Institute of America. Exactly three months in advance I had called the CIA and reserved a table for eight in the American Bounty restaurant (arriving there we found out that it had not been necessary, since the restaurant was half-empty, before season).

    The CIA campus is impressive enough. Beautiful buildings, beautiful grounds, all populated with students wearing chef's toques, and grand views of the Hudson. The American Bounty restaurant has a cozy atmosphere, with vaulted brick ceilings.

    It was a very nice surprise that our dinner started with Gruet sparkling wine. Since we are often in New Mexico, we have learnt to praise Gruet winery (near Albuquerque). Their sparkling is one of the best sparkling wines of North America. The wine list contained many interesting wines, including some of the Milbrook wines which were offered at exactly twice the retail price (I had been to restaurants which charged up to eight times the retail price).

    How was dinner at the CIA? Firstly, the service is done by students. Of course, the service is not perfect, but they are still learners. And if they forget to bring you the bread, you just say it and it comes.

    Secondly, the food is very, very good. It is not top-notch and spectacular as at Aldea in New York City, but spectacular in a different way. While in European restaurants and also at Aldea you have tasting menus with many small courses, American Bounty serves appetizer, main course (I hesitate to write entrée, since this means appetizer in French) and dessert. Three courses, big portions. What was the best? Of course the Hudson Valley foie gras was good and the sea bass and the lobster dumplings. But they were best with the pork belly appetizer and the beef ribs. After eating those dishes, you will forget every Texas barbecue (sorry, Texans). The check ended with $130 per person and I consider this excellent value for money.

    To be continued. Next: Amish people and an American home in Washington metro area

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    Echnaton, that's too bad. IMHO Val-Kil was more interesting than the main house....well, maybe next time!
    Can't wait for your "take" on the Pennyslvanis Dutch. I am first generation German on my Dad's side and on my mother's 4th generation Pennyslvania Dutch.

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    Wednesday, April 7th: Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish Country and a Fabulous Home near Washington

    It was time to leave New York and to drive to Washington D.C. On the way, we made a break in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. We wanted to see the best museum and followed the recommendation of Fodor’s guidebook and stopped at Landis Valley Museum. The museum’s mission is “Preserving Pennsylvania German Culture”. http://www.landisvalleymuseum.org/

    Unfortunately, there were no activities going on on the museum grounds since it was, you guess it, pre-season. Instead, they offered a kind of abbreviated tour. We learnt how to make linen and how to make a rifle. I am sure, I will need this skill sometime. What worries me is that DW now also knows how to make a rifle. Our elders recognized many household tools they still know from their childhood.

    Otherwise, there was not many “German” to recognize. We toured the Landis House, where we found a “Haussegen” (blessing of the home) in German. Otherwise, it was a typical American house. In fact, we found many German settlements both in New York and in Pennsylvania with many German names, but the architecture and town planning was 100% American. European villages (including English villages) are totally different from American villages. Obviously, the immigrations not only quickly abandoned their traditions and assimilated, they also developed a way of life of their own, the American way of life with broad roads, rectangular street patterns and scattered settlements.

    We noticed this pattern again when we drove through Bird-in-Hand. Fodor’s guidebook describes it as a beautiful village – from a European point of view it is no village at all. Anyway, at the end of Bird-in-Hand, we turned on Ronks Road which lead us to Herr’s Mill and a covered bridge where we took some photos. Then, our Garmin led us over small backcountry roads towards Washington. For almost an hour, we drove through Amish country. Everywhere, we saw bearded men on horse-drawn ploughs in the fields, Amish buggies and scooters and barefooted children in traditional dress. Especially cute was a lawnmower which was drawn by ponies. On a particularly narrow road, I slowed down our vehicle when I approached Amish children who were standing roadside. They raised their hands and, excitedly, DM exclaimed “how nice, they are waving to us!” “They just do not want to get photographed”, I replied.

    For our last leg of the trip, I had planned to stay in a rental home. In Bethesda, we had found a beautiful 5-bedroom house that seemed perfect for us. http://www.vrbo.com/156323
    Please, look here at the pictures of the house: http://www.viettrandesign.com/

    If you have looked at the pictures, no further comments are required. We love to cook and since the Fodorites had recommended a nearby Wholefoods market, where be bought some fresh supplies for dinner. The supermarket was quite nice, although I must say that the grocery stores at the West Coast are generally better stocked than those on the East Coast (a climate thing?). However, there was an unpleasant surprise at the cashier. Our cart was pretty loaded, and the check was $386. Surprisingly, my MasterCard which had been accepted a thousand times in the U.S., was declined. Also a MasterCard issued by another bank and a VISA card issued by another bank. My FIL’s MasterCard was also declined. Very strange. Happened never before and never after. A smartass lady who claimed to work for a bank said it was because a certain sign on the backside of the card was missing, but this seemed to be a Wholefoods thing, because every other store accepted our credit cards, missing sign or not. We were almost ready to leave all the stuff at the cashier when it popped into my mind that I had some American Express Traveller’s Cheques in my wallet which I had bought in the last century. Luckily, the Wholefoods people accepted these dinosaurs of payment methods.

    At home, we served seared scallops for starters and seared mahi-mahi fillets as a main course. Since I always try local food, I also cooked cayugas, tomatillos and jalepenos as a side dish. Not bad.

    However, vacation homes are always adventurous. In our case, the process of cooking was accompanied by the ear-deafening siren of the smoke detector. Obviously, the five-flame oven was not intended for use, because we did nothing but searing the fish in a pan (there were no covers for the pan). On the next day, we would be some adhesive tape and cover the smoke detector (a tip from our sons who knew the trick from smoking weed in English college kitchens).

    To be continued: Washington D.C.

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    Always enjoy reading Europeans view of USA. Thanks 4 sharing. Glad the house in Bethesda worked out. I remember u asking about it. And yes, I agree, West Coasst grocery stores tend to have bettr selections esp fruits and vegs than East Coast store.

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    Love your report. One note, as a teenager in NYC, when I dined with my parents, I was always served wine. Guess it was because I was with them.

    Glad you enjoyed CIA. I loved being served by the students and listening to their explanations of the food and wine. We even got a tour of the kitchen.

    And yes, Vall-Kill is a wonderful spot. Maybe next time?

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    Thursday, April 8th: Washington D.C. – Overview, Capitol Hill and Dumbarton Oaks

    Staying at Viet Tran’s vacation home is a bit like living in a Museum of Modern Art. We enjoyed the house and the beautiful morning and had a lazy breakfast in the sun on the terrace under a burst of pink cherry blossoms.

    We then did NOT follow Fodor’s advice and DROVE into Washington D.C. The drive from Bethesda to downtown was quick, easy and pleasant. We drove right through Georgetown and saw historic brick houses, National Cathedral and many embassies. My intention was to drive around the Tidal Pool in order to see all the monuments. However, I underestimated traffic congestions in D.C. In fact, traffic was not bad at all. But most streets in D.C. have just three lanes in one direction and the right lane is blocked by parking cars, the middle lane is blocked by delivery vans and the left lane is blocked by cars turning left. This means, you have to change lanes constantly which is quite difficult since the Washingtonians are aggressive drivers. I wished myself back to New York City where driving had been so pleasant!

    The result was that we were slower than expected but got great views of the city. Unfortunately, at Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials there was absolutely no chance to find a place for parking, even if you were ready to walk a mile.

    Anyway, we kind of circled around and finally drove to Union Station parking garage. Union Station is another beautiful railway station and a sight in itself. From the station, we walked to Capitol Hill, rounded the Capitol and visited Library of Congress which was most rewarding, especially since they displayed of copy of the Declaration of Independence (one of the period copies).

    When we were near the Capitol, a guy driving a cart came and offered our seniors a complimentary ride. They declined, since it was pleasure to walk under the lushly blooming white, yellow and pink dogwoods. Back at Union Station, we had a lunch in the food court (big selection of nondistinct fastfood eateries), put our parking ticket in a “validating” machine within the station and paid nothing for parking at all. Really convenient.

    We drove through beautiful neighbourhoods (many more embassies) to Dumbarton Oaks. This is an unusual place. They open at 2 p.m. and close at 4 p.m. Since we were arriving at 3:55, we had no chance to see the museum. We could stroll a bit through the gardens, but, frankly said, we have seen better gardens. Anyway, the neighbourhood is nice. And, I must add, Bethesda has neighbourhoods (Kenwood) which are equally pretty – it is a pleasure to drive through its residential streets.

    Back in our vacation home, we prepared dinner. We started with a buffet, consisting of guacamole, smoked salmon mousse and spinach salad. As a main course, I grilled buffalo steaks which I had bought at Wholefoods on the gas grill on the terrace (no trouble with the smoke detector) and let them rest for half an hour at low temperature in the oven, where we had roasted Idaho potatoes. In the meanwhile, I cooked golden beets with scallions and jalapenos. For dessert, we had Mississippi mud pie (one piece, shared with eight), chocolate fudge brownie (again one shared piece), New York cheesecake (you notice what we like) and strawberries.

    The buffalo steaks had an interesting taste. Kind of mixture between beef, venison and lamb. We were glad that we had tried it. The chocolate fudge brownie (90% chocolate) was a revelation for DM. In Germany, she sometimes bakes “brownies” following a recipe she found in the newspaper. “This is a real brownie”, I told her, of course not mentioning calories.

    To be continued: Next: More Washington D.C.

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    Friday, April 9th: Washington D.C.

    We thought about taking the bus+metro into Washington but decided to drive again and park at Union Station. However, on the way, we found the 11th/H street parking which was very convenient ($10 parking fee for half a day). We walked over to the White House, took photographs through the fence and watched how a press conference in a corner of the front garden was prepared. We walked round the block and found a lot of activity on the rose garden side of the White House. Sharpshooters, dressed in black, walked on the roof and black SUVs kept coming and going. The international Nuclear Security Summit, which should start the following Monday, was prepared.

    After taking photographs of our family with the White House as a background, we walked across the Mall, watching fathers practicing baseball with their sons, loitering teenagers and frolicking families. We admired the buildings and L’Enfant’s design of the city which is still a symphony of white, green and blue, as L’Enfant had intended.

    Our group was unanimous to visit just one more museum (after so many museums during our trip) and the choice fell on the museum which is most special for Washington D.C., the Air and Space Museum. Everyone was very impressed by the aircraft, rockets and capsules inside the museum. I also found small items, like the Mercury Flight Operations Manual, with the handwriting of Shepard, very interesting. DS I went into the flight simulator (20 min waiting time, $8) where he acted as the gunner while a teenage boy from Michigan acted as the pilot. Obviously, they were brothers in spirit and had a lot of fun doing mischief (thank god, it was just a simulator). Somewhat greenish in his face, he came back from the simulator with a broad grin. In the gift show, we bought some final souvenirs (astronaut food is a great gift to bring home).

    We walked back through the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden with masterpieces of contemporary American artists.

    On our way home, we stopped at Wholefoods to buy fresh food. Since I had one traveller’s cheque left, we were able to pay. Back in our house, we cooked artichokes for appetizers, grilled ready-made crab cakes and salmon burgers and served seared fennel and pasta as sides. Wholefoods offered to kinds of crabcakes and I took the more expensive “jumbo lump” variety which contained no vegetables or other dilution, so were really great.

    To be continued: Next: Philadelphia

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    Very enjoyable trip report thus far, with good detail.

    A couple things to note:

    --different states have different rules when it comes to what kind of stores can sell alcohol, what kind they can sell if they're allowed to, and when they can sell it. Some states prohibit alcohol sales on Sundays, for example, while others restrict sales of hard liquor to state-run stores.

    --it's surprising that you encountered no resistance from restaurants regarding selling alcoholic beverages to your under-21 youngsters, especially when their ages were revealed. You clearly got lucky there, as establishments that do so can lose their liquor licenses and most places won't take the chance.

    --as another poster mentioned, it's not uncommon to encounter small hotel rooms in New York, even in relatively upscale establishments. Your experience here seems to be typical.

    --no idea about the guy with the cart near the Capitol who offered you folks a ride, and it's likely a good idea you declined his offer. The offer may have been perfectly safe and genuine, but one never knows.

    --although there are some exceptions, my experience suggests that attractions located outside of urban areas rarely have evening hours. And some attractions that used to offer them, both in urban and non-urban areas, have stopped doing so because of budget concerns. In addition, it's common for non-urban attractions in the northeastern US (especially New England and upstate New York) to have fairly restrictive seasonal hours -- and that's especially true of historic houses and the like (open only from May to October, for example).

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    Saturday, April 10th: Philadelphia: U.S. History and Large Steaks

    Our transatlantic return flight was scheduled for Sunday, and, to be on the safe side, we had originally planned to spend the last night in Newark. However, after some research, I found Newark not at all appealing, so we chose Philadelphia as our last base before the return flight.

    We left our beautiful vacation home at 10 a.m. and drove to Philadelphia. Arriving at noon, we started with a bus tour through the city. We especially liked the historic architecture of Society Hill and Washington Square. Fodor’s guidebook writes that Rittenhouse Square is Philadelphia’s most beautiful square but from a European point of view we found Washington Square most appealing, especially because of the surrounding buildings.

    Then we drove to our hotel. At Loew’s we had got another great Hotwire deal ($110). We liked the hotel very much: great rooms, good location, good fitness center, even a lap pool. The valet parking people told me that they would charge over $50 and advised self-parking in a garage across the street.

    They rooms were ready and after a picnic lunch, we hired to taxis to drive us to Independence Hall (there is a station for a shuttle bus directly in front of the hotel, but the shuttle bus was nut running before season). We stood in line and passed the security to checks in order to see Liberty Bell and DF, who has an artificial hip and uses a walking stick, was treated rather badly by security staff (it happened several times during our trip, a 78-year-old with an artificial hip seems to be the prototype of a terrorist).

    Then we strolled a bit through the historic district, seeing Independence Hall, the First Bank and the Second Bank (Old Philadelphia’s most impressive buildings) and a statue of the most important person of the American revolution, the financier Robert Morris. We saw the building of the Philosophical Society and the revolution’s most important building, the historic tavern, where the revolutionists drank their beers and made the plans to get rid of the British. DS II was fascinated to be the places where history was made.

    We then walked over to Penn’s Landing (a somewhat barren place), but enjoyed looking the historic ships which are docked there. On the way back, we paid homage to the Korean War Memorial, which is very impressive, and walked northwards through Old Town. Cocktail hour was approaching and the bars got crowded with young people. Obviously, the area around Market Street / 2nd Street is a hot spot for nightlife in Philadelphia.

    We walked towards Elfreth’s Alley which is a very picturesque street of historic rowhouses. It is still populated by “ordinary” people, although tourists are crowding the pavement. I was amazed that mass-tourism had done no further damage: there were no souvenir shops and restaurants in the historic homes. Obviously, the authorities of historic preservation had done a pretty good job here.

    We hired a taxi and rode to Reading Terminal Market. There is a nice market inside, with vendors selling and displaying all kinds of groceries including seafood, meats, chocolates etc. We felt like in a market hall in Europe, except for the bright neon signs inside the hall. Then we walked over to Macy’s department store in the Wannamaker Building. The building has a beautiful façade, but the real show is inside. There is a great court in art nouveau design with a large organ like in a church. Out again, we glanced at the imposing City Hall (unfortunately closed, since it was Saturday).

    After a nice swim in the hotel pool (why can Americans not swim? Do they not learn swimming in school?), we got ready for our last dinner in the U.S. We wanted to splurge a bit and we wanted to eat steaks. The only steakhouse, where I had been able to get a reservation for eight at a convenient time, had been Morton’s and so we dressed up a bit (the website suggested “business casual”). The walk from Loew’s Hotel to Morton’s was very pleasant, since downtown Philadelphia is nicely illuminated at night and Walnut Street is buzzing with nightlife (at least on a Saturday night).

    Morton’s is a conservative, dark place, looking a bit like an old-fashioned gentlemen’s club. We were seated right in front the open kitchen where, from time to time, flames were bursting like in hell. We ordered Manhattans and Cosmos and wines and a good-humoured waitress came with a huge tray with a display of meat cuts. She also hat a large live lobster and DW had a lot of fun petting the creature. We ordered several servings of fresh and baked oysters and different steaks.

    The oysters came and they were good. Especially the oysters Rockefeller were the best we ever had. Then the steaks came. DS I was lucky to get the last center piece of prime rib and it was huge and it was divine. Others had ribeye, porterhouse or filet mignon (“because I want a small steak”) and the portions were huge. Also the side dishes (I ordered just a few servings of potatoes, pasta and vegetables for the table) were big enough to fill a sumo wrestler after a week starving. Definitely not a place for vegetarians. Believe it or not, we ordered desserts and, after a look on the bar menu, Woodford Reserve. On the way home, Walnut Street had become even livelier and we enjoyed our last evening in the U.S.

    Next morning we had a non-distinct breakfast buffet at the hotel’s restaurant Solefood. We were lucky that we had been out for dinner. We drove to EWR and the rental car return was like takeover. The driver was not at the terminal (as confirmed by a telephone call two hours prior to arrival) and I called him and he told me to park the vehicle on a parking lot and leave the key inside the car.

    Inside the airport, DF was bullied by security for the last time, we boarded our plane and flew back home. Did I mention that on the flight to the U.S. we were served the best food we ever had in economy class? Now, we were served the worst food we ever had in economy class (and that means something). Thank god, there was no ash in the air and we arrived again half an hour ahead of schedule in Düsseldorf.

    This is the ending of our trip report. I will be happy to answer any further questions.

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    Just loved reading all of this. I think that all of us Americans find it interesting and amusing to read a Europeans "take" on our country. Comments like Americans not knowing how to swim and Pennsylvania Dutch villages not like European Villages are quite funny. By the way, the reason the Germans didn't settle villages, but instead spread out is because for most of them, the main reason for immigrating WAS to be able to own large pieces of land.

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    SusieQ: This was my revenge for the American Fodorites' trip reports on Europe (you know, the thing with no ice in the drinks)!

    Regarding Germans in the U.S.: According to census data, the largest group of immigrants came from Germany (far more than from England!), but even in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, few traditions remained. Of course, the immigrants wanted to create a new style of living (except the Amish), and they succeeded.

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    Echnaton, the germans, as did other nationalities, blended into one culture known as American, but there are many subtlities still there. I am Pennsylvania Dutch and consistently use grammar more associated with the German language,and my speech is a mixture: for example my grandmother was Grossmummy, etc. Mass media did a lot to integrate everyone. My family who immigrated in the 1840's functioned entirely in German (schools, newspapres, etc.) until the early 1900's. By the way, I think you will find more German traditions if you get away from the tourist areas of PA. We are from the Appalachian Mts. and far away from the Eastern, touristy area.

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    Thanx for your insights. I even found some German-speaking people on our last trip to Texas.

    What really puzzles me is that you don't find German-style bread in the U.S. (the only exception was a grocery store in San Antonio, Tx.). In the meantime, you find French-style bread and Italian-style ciabatta in America, but absolutely no German-style bread - although American visitors to Germany seem to like our crusty, dark, non-sweetened rye bread.

    Another interesting case is beer. The American beers, which come closest to German beer are Shiner (again from Texas), Anchor Steam (from San Francisco, founded by a German brewer) and Yuengling (same pronunciation as in German, but funny spelling) while Budweiser is closer to Heineken than to German beers. O'Doul's non-alcoholic beer is pretty much German-style and probably the best product of the whole Anheuser-Busch (can't a name be more German?) corporation.

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    As far as breads, IMHO it is only within the past 10 years or so that "good" Italian and French breads have become available in grocery stores largely because of the popularity of Italian restaurants.
    Beer, is another story...have no idea on that one.

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    I've enjoyed your trip report very much. We spent 2 weeks in Germany last summer and it is interesting seeing a German's take on the USA. After being in Europe for a month I do find myself making drinks without ice.
    I don't understand the beer either. Our house has no American beers in it, only German and Italian.
    Do people on the East Coast not swim? I'm from Kansas and everybody I know swims. We did not learn it in school, no pool in my schools, but I learned it when I was younger from my parents.
    As for the drinking age, in Kansas they pretty much card everywhere and it doesn't matter who you are with. I spent 6 months in Illinois/Missouri when I was 20 and was never turned down for a drink, so I guess it depends on the state.

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    Thanks again for the last part of the report.

    Re this: "DF, who has an artificial hip and uses a walking stick, was treated rather badly by security staff (it happened several times during our trip, a 78-year-old with an artificial hip seems to be the prototype of a terrorist)."

    My guess is that the artificial hip's metal components are setting off an alarm, and the fact that they're hidden inside your relative is what's causing concern with the security folks -- the fact that they can't find anything is the issue. Alerts may also be higher than usual given the recent failed attempts at sabotage on the Detroit-bound Nigerian plane and in the New York subway system. It's unfortunate, but it's increasingly becoming a standard situation to deal with.

    No idea if telling the security people ahead of time about your relative's artificial hip will help or not here -- just a thought for the future.

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    He has a medical certificate about the artificial hip, but the security people ignore it. Understandably, because a terrorist could easily fake it. However, so far there has not been any 78-year-old terrorist.

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    <<<so far there has not been any 78-year-old terrorist.>>>

    Well, you never know :-) I'm just kidding. My daughter has plates and screws in her leg and hasn't set off a single alarm yet, which is good, because she'd faint if she knew how much hardware was in her leg! We have one of those medical cards describing the location of the hardware, and have been thrilled not to need it to date.

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    Thanks for finishing your trip report, Echnaton. I really enjoyed reading your observations of travelling in the US. It sounds like you had a good time and decent weather. How did the rest of the family like their journey?

    Your observation on villages reminded me of one of our trips through the Netherlands, which we affectionately named the "A Kerk, a Plein, a Huis, a Waag Tour". We found that most villages we visited had a central square (pedestrian only), which usually included a church, the city hall and the weigh/toll house; and the homes were built around the center of town. This was so different from our villages and towns here in the US. I suppose one of the reasons we keep returning to Europe is to enjoy the quaintness and functionality of the villages.

    Here in the US, most cities, towns and villages are laid out in the grid pattern, thanks to William Penn. You can drive your car up and down the Main Street, where you will find most of the merchants and businesses. Unfortunately, urban sprawl and shopping malls have really had a negative impact on many small town Main Streets.

    HEY SusieQQ - I'm Pennsylvania Dutch, too. Well, at least half of me. My mom was PA Dutch - several of my GGrandparents imigrated from Germany to PA, including my 5th GGF in 1752. They settled in Schuylkill County, some on land deeded to them by William Penn. I can remember my mom and her 3 sisters and 4 brothers talking in PA Dutch, particularly when us kids were around. Unfortunately, my generation was never taught the language. I can only remember one pow-wow hex that my mom would use on me. Other than that, the language has pretty much died in our family. It's kind of sad.

    Oh well... Happy Earth Day!
    Robyn :)>-

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    Thank you for your comment, Robyn.

    Everybody in our family loved the trip. For my parents, it was a "once-in-a-lifetime-experience". We have tried to put things for everybody together. For two or three in our family maybe an hour too much in art museums, for others one art museum short. From time to time, we split up, so that everyone could follow his/her special interests. Or the walking-impaired chose a shortcut (you might have noticed that we did a lot of walking).

    We are well-experienced with multi-generation trips. But they are very rewarding. Finally, we were lucky that we were able to rent a van which was big enough for everybody. It is much fun with a large party in a minibus. DW is still disturbed by the thought of driving two separate cars in Washington, D.C. (Washington badly needs a good city planner in order to get rid of their crazy traffic problems!).

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    Thanks for the very entertaining report, and I'm glad you all had a fantastic trip. I know what you mean about DC driving, having passed the same place three times before finding the proper lane to be in to get out of town.

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    Loved your trip report. Just curious about the DC driving comments. How did u find it so different than NYC of LA or Boston? or in Europe in Paris, Rome etc? what made it so crazy 4 u?

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    Thanx for all your comments.

    yestravel: I do not want to overstate the driving issue in DC. After all, it was not really bad. But the differences between driving in DC and every other U.S. city were startling.

    DC's main problem is that every few hundred yards, a lane is blocked, mostly by cars intending to turn left. Here in Europe, we have either designated lanes for left turns and special traffic lights for left turns or we prohibit left turns. In most other U.S. cities, you find one-way streets with four or five lanes in one direction, so that cars turning left do not cause a problem.

    But since D.C. has the blocked lane problem, you have to switch lanes constantly. And here, mentality comes in. When you are in, say Los Angeles, on the very right lane of a five-lane street, and you find out that you have to switch to the very left lane, everybody will politely let you in. In Europe, we have the socalled zipper system (even enforced by law). In D.C., nobody lets you in. Instead, they push forward pretty aggressively. Is it because many Washingtonians work for the government?

    Maybe I am exaggerating. Maybe it is just a minority of Washingtonian drivers who are aggressive and impatient. Probably just those who are working for the Department of the Treasury.

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    Thanks, interesting observations -- I agree DC drivers often don't let other drivers in which is extremely rude & annoying. While many Washingtonians work for the govt, we also have a huge number of non-govt workers, visitors (foreign and domestic), & lobbyists and association workers. We do have turning lanes for left turns, but obviously as u observed not everywhere. Lanes get blocked with construction and delivery trucks frequently. We also do have one way streets, maybe we need more.

    I just find traffic in NYC for example far more frustrating then DC, but maybe cause I'm used to DC drivers and know short cuts aroudn the city. The frenetic honking in NYC drives me crazy and find far more traffic tie ups 24 x 7.

    Thanks for responding and glad u enjoyed your visit to the East Coast.

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    I enjoyed your reports also, as much for your choice of language as content.

    I am not altogther sure what it means but I found "Yuppies and other childless contemporary brain workers" delightful.

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    Wonderful report. As others mentioned, it is so interesting to read what someone from another country reports about ours.

    When we return from overseas trips, I think how awful the paperwork that visitors must complete sounds. You confirmed it. And isn't it ironic that big, spread out, "howdy neighbor" Americans can have such funny rules about alcohol? Also, the underpaid "small people bullies" you mentioned are everywhere in the world. We encounter them with enough regularity in other countries that I think they must be tired of saying the same thing everyday (even if it isn't always correct.) Given the changes in security over the last 10 years, it must be even more confusing and annoying.

    "Since I always try local food, I also cooked cayugas, tomatillos and jalepenos as a side dish. Not bad."---had to laugh about that. Tongue in cheek on your part? By the way, your English is SOOOO good. As for driving, we always say (exaggerating) that the streets change names almost every block in Europe. In DC, the road just becomes Massachusetts Avenue no matter where you started out.

    If you return to DC area, try to visit Annapolis. Again, great report!

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