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Surprise! We’re in Baltimore

Day 7 of our American vacation, and a day which began in confusion and near panic has come to a pleasant conclusion.  Pretty much first thing in the morning, checking my e-mails, saw that our reservation at the Air B and B in D.C. had  been canceled.  Don’t know why.  Just was.  So, Helena and my cousin, our host, started investigating alternatives, each on  a separate computer, and Dean, who would probably make a pretty good travel agent if he didn’t already have a better job, came up with a hotel which, after the Senior discount (yes, I qualify for that, and am not embarrassed to take it) actually came out cheaper than the Air B and B place.  Only thing is, it’s in  Baltimore.

Oh, well, we figured.  Close enough.  And I suppose it is, though we’ll see how long it takes us to drive it early  tomorrow morning.

Helena was still worried about two things.  Driving in America, and driving an automatic.  On both counts, everybody has been reassuring her, but she worries.  It’s what she does.  The scariest part, actually, was getting out of the parking lot at the agency.  The brakes are definitely more sensitive than what she’s used to and we had a few short stops.

She relaxed a bit and did just fine on the freeway, and managed to handle the streets of Baltimore fairly well, and Sam did a good job as navigator, and here we are.  Got in about 5:30 and decided to go out for a walk and see some sights, as this is the first unexpected side trip on our trip and that makes it very interesting.

We went to the Inner Harbor, which is a lovely and lively development, sort of a cross between  Venice Beach and maybe Disneyland; there are lots of restaurants and food kiosks, street performers, cool shops, stuff like that.  However, to get there we walked through a bit of downtown, which instilled me with a deep certainty that I wanted to be back in our hotel room before dark, and not out wandering the streets.

Helena and the kids did not seem to share my anxiety, which led to a bit of tension, and they were angry with me, but that’s O.K.  Everything is just fine, and we’ll  be on our way tomorrow.

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In Memoriam

Today is day 6 of our American vacation, our last full day in New Jersey, and it was the focal point of our whole trip.  From now on it’s all just sightseeing and goofing around.  No pressure.

Today we had a memorial service, a ‘celebration of life’ to put a positive spin on it, which is what we all wanted, for my sister Rebecca who died in  April after a long struggle with cancer.  She was 69 and, as sad as her death was, it was not unexpected.  We had it at the old age home where our Aunt Bernice lives. (103, but she keeps saying 104, or ‘I’ll be 104 in a couple of weeks’ like a little kid who’s 7 and really, really looking  forward to being 8.)

It was a simple affair, we had a bit of lunch outdoors, then we all talked about our memories of Rebecca, then we watched a slide show, Bernice lasted for about 4 hours, I was fair impressed, then we all went back to the Marriott, where youngest brother Russ and family are staying and watched the slide show several times over, this time with alcohol, laughing at all the old clothes and funny haircuts we’ve all had over the years, and remembering Rebecca as a child, as a teenager, as an  adult.

It was sad, it was hilarious, it was family.

Tomorrow,  we’re picking up a rental  car and driving down to D.C.  Next blog will be from  there.

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My New Favorite Hamburger Place in the World

(Vacation, Day 5)

I did, in my young 30s, manage to give up smoking cigarettes as I realized they were bad for my health and giving them up was strictly a question of will power and there would be no harmful side effect, other than an unsatisfied craving.

A decade and a half later, I managed to give up alcohol, although I was seriously concerned about the social repercussions.  Indeed, there are some.  I  can still  go to  a bar, and sit there and nurse a non-alcoholic beer while the conversation flows around me, but I don’t really feel as if I’m participating.  So, I don’t generally go to bars as often, at least not unless I have a specific reason for being there, which is almost never.  So, it’s a lifestyle change, and it’s a trade-off.  I felt, almost immediately, health benefits to not drinking, and couldn’t really go back to it now if I wanted to, which I don’t.

Now, I need to make another change, but it’s going to be much harder, because you can’t give up food entirely or you will die, so cold turkey is not an option, but I do need to reduce my intake seriously, like by over 50% probably.  Yeah, that’s right, I weigh way too much.  As my stomach is bigger now than ever before, I can fit more food in it, and I do.

Part of the problem is I really do enjoy good food, probably as much as I used to enjoy  alcohol.  Part of the problem is habit.  I reach for a snack as automatically as I once reached for a cigarette.  Part of the problem is the social aspect.  People eat together.  It’s what we do.  I can stay out of bars, but not restaurants.

And tonight, I discovered the best burger place in the world.  Well, it was a discovery to me at any rate, I’ve been out of the U.S. for the last ten years.  Five Guys serves a great burger.  Mushrooms and jalapeno peppers are standards, not extras, the fries are good, the drinks are bottomless, and you get all the peanuts you can eat, even while you are waiting for your order.  My kind of place.

Afterward, we went for a lovely walk along the river, looking over the Hudson into New York, and saw a family of geese.  It was a great evening, it truly was.  But, I must start eating less.  It is time.

 

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Day 4

Day 4 of our vacation and it was a bit lighter on  the sightseeing, deliberately so, because we are sort of  burning out, well, at least I  am, I  think the kids are still  going strong.  We started off with a couple of errands in Ft. Lee, breakfast at McDonald’s which the kids were ecstatic with and then to rent a car but we saw the price and it was a serious WTF moment, like wait a minute, dude, that is more than twice, almost 3 times the price we saw on the internet and the guy behind the counter, without a touch of embarrassment, said “Well, you should book it on the internet, then.”  (which is what we’ve done, now.)

Then we went into the city and straight down to take the Staten Island ferry, because it’s a cool thing to do, does not involve a lot of walking or even much standing in line, and is free.  I love stuff that is free.  It heightens my enjoyment in a thing if I know I got it for free.  It’s part of what I tell others about the experience when I am recounting it afterward.  “And the best part is, it was free!”

Then we went for lunch and after headed back to Ft. Lee.  My brother Ben and his girlfriend had arrived and they  came over and we went to the hot dog place across the street for supper, a very American place, Chili Dogs, Cheese Dogs, Chili and Cheese Dogs, picnic seating outdoors, with bunting and American flags all around, but the waitress was not fazed at all when we asked for mayonnaise on our fries.

A couple of real New York moments today.  On the Metro, coming from downtown, everybody’s gone through and then I get “Insufficient funds on card” so I had to go back to the machine to add money but I knew I was going to get very confused with that because I’m a technophobe and Isabel was going to come back and help me but then she would have had to creep under the turnstiles to get back in, but we were saved by a lady who popped up out of nowhere and said “I’ve got an unlimited card, let me swipe you through.”  Then, we were on the train and a lady must have overheard us speaking Czech and asked where we were from and then said, “You know there’s a free boat ride, it starts from the pier on 81st St.”  I doubt we’ll get around to it, but that was very nice of her.

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Even Pulsars Can Be Made Boring

Day 3 of our American  vacation and we had a busy day of  sightseeing, with the emphasis on  the Museum of Natural History and Central Park, but more on that in a moment.

My cousin, who is more moderate than  I  am politically, gets the New York Times delivered daily so, whereas I would not normally even click through to get their take on anything, since I still remember their role in the Gulf War with great bitterness, today I read all  about John Ossoff’s loss there.  I got through the first page and was thinking “Well, they didn’t even hint at the real reason  for his loss on the front page, how very disingenuous of them” and then turned to page 16 and read the rest of it and they never got to it at all, in fact, they seemed to think the whole reason he lost was because he was just too darned liberal.  Democrats, and the New York Times, just don’t get it.  Republicans are not going to vote for a Democrat, because they vote for Republicans, so there’s no sense trying to appeal to  them  or appease them, which is what John Ossoff did, what with pledging not to raise taxes on the rich and refusing to support medicare-for-all.  What they need to do, in order to ever win any elections at all, is to get liberals to vote for them, and that means having some liberal (or I guess we have to say progressive now) policies, and John Ossoff didn’t have them.  So, he lost.

Anyway, we started off with a walk across the George Washington bridge into the  city and took the subway down to the museum, which has a big plaque right there in the lobby with a quote from Teddy Roosevelt which says “A great democracy must be progressive or it will remain neither great nor a democracy.”  We saw a lot of dinosaur bones, some American Indian stuff, and then  went to the science section for a concert which was based on  the sound of pulsars, which I thought would be fascinating.  But first, there was a lecture about pulsars, which was the opposite of fascinating, and seemed to take about an hour, then a lady came on to speak and introduced the music, and then they  had a taped voice droning on, which we thought would be a very  short intro to  the music but which went on and on, and was basically a repeat  of the lecture but in a low, sonorous, sleep inducing voice like you’d hear at a poetry reading, and then came the music which was interesting, but showed no  sign of ever ending and so, when we saw one of the musicians turn their page and  saw two pages chock full  of  more notes, we slid out.
Got lunch from the food carts out front, I had a Philly cheese steak  since we’d decided not to go  to Philadelphia, and then we headed over to the park.  Rented rowboats on the lake, and that was a lot of fun, it was like bump cars but with boats, almost, but everybody was cool about it, then heard an opera singer under a stone arch  which definitely added something, that’s why she chose  that spot, I’m sure.  Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, a bit of shopping (Sim card, we are now truly in America), Pizza, New York, greasy pepperoni pizza, which was totally rejuvenating, a walk around Broadway, Times Square, then Rockefeller Center, and then the Subway back up to the bridge, the bus to the  car, and here we are and done, quite done, done in in fact, for another day.
It’s great.  The kids are seeing so much and they are such good travelers.  I  am content.

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The Masses of Manhattan

Day 2 of our American vacation began with breakfast at Dunkin’ Donuts, and then a trip to the supermarket, where things were a bit more expensive than Prague, but not quite as much as I’d feared.  Then we went to visit my aunt in the old age  home.  Last time I  saw her she was 93, and that was ten years  ago.  So, she’s in a wheelchair now and missing a leg, but still completely lucid and entertaining and we had a great conversation and she loved seeing the kids.  We’ll see her a couple more times while we’re here, that’s one of the main objectives of the trip.

Then, we went into Manhattan, had a short walk in Riverside Park, then  took the subway to South Ferry, saw Battery Park and Castle Clinton (had not realized that Battery Park is all built on landfill, it changes my historical and geographical perception of the island, so it was a very educational day), then we walked up Broadway a bit, saw Zuccottti Park, the Statue of the Bull and the Defiant Girl, who  is really small, it’s like the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, kind of surprising when you see how small she really is and yet such an international sensation, there was a constant stream of people taking pictures and we were part of that stream.  That is one of my biggest impressions of the day, just the massive crowds everywhere.  Perhaps I am a bit spoiled by living in  Prague, but I don’t think I could ever live here again.  (When I lived here I was 21, and it was too much for me even then)  Then we went into Federal Hall, the building where Washington gave his inaugural address, and that was cool – literally, because it was cool and it was so hot outside, so it provided a nice change.  Then we went to the Westfield Mall, aka Oculus, which is an absolutely awesome piece of architecture, cavernous I guess you’d say, with a huge vaulted ceiling and a sky light.

By that time, though, the kids were getting stroppy, and hungry, so we just stopped quickly at the 9/11  memorial, and walked through City Hall park on our way up to Chinatown.  Had a huge meal, we’re at home now and didn’t even bother with supper (well, lunch was at 5 o’clock) and after Chinatown we walked through Little Italy, up to Washington Square Park, then took the subway back to the car and we’re done.

Tomorrow we’re doing the Natural History Museum and Central Park.

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The Vacation Begins

Day 1.  It feels good to be here, we had a big deli sandwich dinner and we are beat, because, while it may just be 7 p.m., it’s 1 a.m. by the body clock and we’ve been up since 3.  The flight was no problem, Prague to Amsterdam left right on time, KLM was great, just about a 90 minute flight but they served sandwiches and coffee and the crew was gracious and friendly, like in the old days of flying.  The flight was packed, though.

The flight from Schiphol to Prague was a bit more problematic.  It was delayed for  about an hour, first there was a problem with the air in the cabin, and the announcement that they were trying to cool the plane down by leaving a rear door open was not too reassuring.  Then they said they needed to get a radio from another plane – it sounded like something  you’d say when you’re 16 and starting off on a road trip, not a major airline before a transatlantic flight.  But the crew was fine, they can’t  be blamed for that or even, as the flight was, once again, 100% full, that the toilets got a bit grotty, ran out of paper and just had a box of tissues there.

People talk a lot about how air travel sucks  nowadays, but it’s largely a victim of its own success.  Also, maybe, the 100% capacity may have led to cutbacks in service, because the airlines know they can pull all sorts of shit and the flights will still be full.  People have to get where they’re going to go.

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