New York City…no place like it

I just got home a couple of hours ago from a rain-soaked walk through Manhattan. It was fun…always is. I went to a few shiesty, shady electronics stores looking for a good deal…that was a failure. I checked out Times Square and Broadway as usual. Snapped a few photos. Nothing you guys haven’t seen before so I won’t bother posting them. But I do have a picture of something that I bet many of you haven’t seen before.

Hey...at least he's honest

Hey...at least he's honest

After taking the photo, I did feel kind of bad for some reason. But I did give him money to fund his cause at the very least. What’s crazy is that he’s probably making more money with this sign than the guys holding up signs saying “will work for food.”

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A Day in the Capitol

For all my New Jersey readers (and the tri-state area in general), when I say ‘Trenton,’ what comes to mind? Poverty? Crime? Ghetto? Slum? Well, unfortunately, this is true to some extent. But many don’t know that Trenton has alot to offer to New Jersey residents and visitors alike.

Downtown Trenton (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Downtown Trenton (courtesy of Wikipedia)

A few days ago, I made my weekly trip down to the state capitol to visit my girlfriend who now lives in the historic Mill Hill section of the city which is in the downtown district. This part of Trenton offers everything from museums, concert halls, cultural restaurants, art galleries, sporting venues and many other arts and culture activities. I know I use this term alot but it is truely one of New Jersey’s hidden gems and… it gets no respect, in the words of the great Rodney Dangerfield. Everything important that goes down in this state, probably happens in Trenton.

I took the day to sort of wander around the downtown district and explore. And that I did…I put about 4 miles on my Odometer. But I saw alot and it made me appreciate this great state even more and adds to my hunch that I’m going to live here forever.

As I like to do in my posts, I’m going to give a little brief history of Trenton for your enrichment.  In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Trenton was a major manufacturing center. One relic of that era is the slogan “Trenton Makes, The World Takes”, which is displayed on the Lower Free Bridge (just north of the Trenton-Morrisville Toll Bridge). The city adopted the slogan in 1917 to represent Trenton’s then-leading role as a major manufacturing center for rubber, wire rope, ceramics and cigars. Along with many other United States cities in the 1960s and 1970s, Trenton fell on hard times when manufacturing and industrial jobs declined. Concurrently, state government agencies began leasing office space in the surrounding suburbs. Since Trenton is New Jersey’s capital, state government leaders (particularly governors William Cahill and Brendan Byrne) attempted to revitalize Trenton by making it the center of state government. Between 1982 and 1992, more than a dozen office buildings were constructed primarily by the state to house state offices. Today, Trenton’s biggest employer is still the state of New Jersey. Each weekday, 20,000 state workers flood into the city from the surrounding suburbs. (Thanks to Wikipedia for this history lesson)

The rest of this post will show the photos I took on my daylong excursion through the city.

Traditional River home in Mill Hill section

Traditional River home in Mill Hill sectionBrook running through Mill Hill Park

Georgetown-esque brownstones in historic Mill Hill

Georgetown-esque brownstones in historic Mill Hill

NJ State Capitol building

NJ State Capitol building

Dome as seen from inside Capitol Building

Dome as seen from inside Capitol Building

Note on photo above: This was a free private tour that I received by the way… Tours are given daily free of charge.

Where it all 'goes down'

Where it all 'goes down'

Chandelier made with replicas of the original Edison bulb

Chandelier made with replicas of the original Edison bulb

Majority party meeting room

Majority party meeting room

Planetarium at the State Museum

Planetarium at the State Museum

Painter working hard at the State Museum

Painter working hard at the State Museum

Old Revolutionary War barracks in downtown Trenton

Old Revolutionary War barracks in downtown Trenton

So, these are the highlights of my little local on-foot excursion. I encourage all of my New Jersey area readers to take a day trip to the state capitol and experience the buzzing state center. I say the same for any of my readers, no matter where you live. Get familiar with your surroundings. Experience everything your state has to offer. Taste it. Hear it. Smell it. Touch it. Appreciate it. These are the joys of life…stop and smell the flowers. If you do, you will gain a greater appreciation for the place you call home. I know I have…

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AJ Meerwald: The NJ State Boat…Who Knew?

In reference to the title of this post, who the heck knew that the great state of New Jersey had its own state boat?? You see, as corny as it sounds, you do learn something new every day. Cliches are cliches for a reason folks…

I had the opportunity recently to take a 3 hour cruise on the AJ Meerwald which is, in technical terms, a Delaware Bay oyster schooner. In layman’s terms, it’s a fishing boat. She was a very majestic, classic boat…one similar to the ones you probably saw in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Before the sails went up

Before the sails went up

We (my girlfriend and I) went on a nice 3 hour evening cruise up the Delaware River, leaving out of the  Trenton Waterfront. The evening was full of enriching educational talks, live music on the boat, and all the wine, cheese, grapes and crackers one could ever hope for (if that’s something that people hope for anyway). The waters were calm, the breeze was gentle, the temperature was balmy and comfortable. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Sails flying high

Sails flying high

On to the boring history stuff…I know, I know…bare with me. As stated before, The A.J. Meerwald is the state ship of New Jersey. She is a restored oyster dredging schooner, whose home port is in Bivalve, Commercial Township, New Jersey. Launched in 1928, A.J. Meerwald was one of hundreds of schooners built along South Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore before the decline of the shipbuilding industry which coincided with the Great Depression. Today, A.J. Meerwald is used by the Bayshore Discovery Project for onboard educational programs in the Delaware Bay near Bivalve, and at other ports in the New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware region. (Thank you Wikipedia for this beautifully succinct and detailed history)

Heavy duty rigging

Heavy duty rigging

Okay, done. No more history. Now, on to a little free plug (and I mean free…I get nothing for doing this) for the Bay Shore Discovery Project which runs the AJ Meerwald cruises. They have cruises going on throughout the fall season leaving from all different ports throughout New Jersey. Tickets are decently priced anywhere from $15-$30 for different types of cruises. Support these people! Without stuff like this, life is boring! Go check them out and support New Jersey culture…see their website below.

http://www.ajmeerwald.org/index.htm

Incredible sunset to cap off the night

Incredible sunset to cap off the night

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Isla Del Encanto

Close your eyes (or keep one eye slightly opened so you can actually read on) and visualize this…

Bright blue skies. Coconut-filled palm trees. Pristine white sand beaches. Jade and blue ocean so clear that you can see your feet at the bottom. Lush, green mountains. Beautiful orchids so colorful that they put ROYGBV to shame…

 

Open your eyes…you’ve just been temporarily transported to the beautiful island of Puerto Rico…La Isla Del Encanto…the Island of Enchantment.

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Waterfall in tropical rainforest

Waterfall in tropical rainforest

Puerto Rico is in an interesting, semi-confusing stage. For those of you who don’t know, Puerto Rico is indeed part of the great USA. However, it is not a state. It is a commonwealth. As defined by Webster’s Dictionary, a commonwealth is “a political unit having local autonomy but voluntarily united with the United States.” With that said, the island displays a very intriguing juxtaposition of new, old, modern and rustic. As you drive, you see a giant Mall on the side of the road (one that can easily rival if not surpass the malls we know here in the contiguous US) and when you look across the street, you see a cluster of rickety seaside shacks selling traditional Puerto Rican dishes. But the latter is disappearing, so it seems. As the days go by, more and more of the old and rustic is disappearing and the new and modern is taking over. No doubt, Puerto Rico will be a force to reckon within the tourism industry (more-so than it is now)…for better or for worse. What’s the cost? What’s at stake? Tradition? Natural beauty? Old world charm? Who knows…but that’s a discussion for another day. Onward…

El Morro (Original Spanish Fort)

El Morro (Original Spanish Fort)

Okay, enough philosophical, technical mumbo jumbo. The point of this post is to give you all a little look into this island and a recap of my recent vacation there. We packed ALOT into seven days and put over 750 miles on our poor little Ford Focus rental car. That thing was huffing and puffing and weezing when we returned it. From here on, I’m going to give you a daily recap of what we did along with some cool photos. Buckle your imaginary seatbelts now!

Day 1

We took a 6:00am flight out of JFK International Airport (Yes, 6…am) which meant we had to be out of the house at 2:30am (Yes, 2:30…am). We got into Luis Munoz Marin Aiport in San Juan at just about noontime. We got our bags, got our rental car, headed to the hotel, threw down our bags and went out on our first excursion which was the jaw-dropping El Conquistador Resort Hotel in Fajardo, PR.

View from the plane window

View from the plane window

Hilltop view of El Conquistador Resort

Hilltop view of El Conquistador Resort

The resort has a casino and a bunch of areas where outsiders can visit. So we roamed around, took in the sights, hit the casino for a bit and absorbed the balmy, island breeze. A nice warm-up for the week ahead.

One of the best smelling flowers

One of the best smelling flowers

After this little venture, it was safe to say that we were all exhausted so we got some dinner and headed back to the hotel for some pool/jacuzzi action. Then…bedtime.

Day 2:

On this day, we visited a National U.S. Rainforest by the name of El Yunque (pronounced ‘el-joon-kay’). It wasn’t my first time visiting there but every time feels like the first. The landscapes are absolutely breathtaking (at points while climbing 1,000 feet on foot, I mean breathtaking quite literally). The trees and foliage are pristine and untouched. The waters are so clean and refreshing and DRINKABLE, which was a true God-send after the excursions we went on.

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While hiking throughout this forest (or anywhere on the island for that matter), one can’t miss the iconic, clearly audible sound of the Puerto Rican Coqui frog (pronounced ‘ko-kee’). This frog makes the absolute cutest noise that can possibly come out of an animal. The Puerto Rican natives, along with tourists, love and adore this native tree frog, so much so that local gift shops sell tons of items emblazoned with images of the Puerto Rican Coqui. Even more awesome than that, these shops also sell CD’s where tracks are composed of the Coqui’s famous chirp! That’s it!

Puerto Rican Orchids

Puerto Rican Orchids

Day 3:

Palmas Resort. One of the finest resorts, if not the finest, resort in Puerto Rico. Not much needs to be said to justify the beauty of this place. Hopefully my outstanding :wink wink: photographs will speak to that.

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So, after surveying my photos, I realized that I didn’t seem to have any other photos from this resort. Whoops…sorry.

Day 4:

Day 4 was a history lesson brought to life. We visited the historic Spanish Forts of El Morro and San Cristobal. When you step inside these man-made (which is an amazing thought in itself) forts, you can’t help but feel as though you’re stepping back into the days of the Spanish-American War. There is a certain ‘energy’ here that you can feel as you walk through the maze of halls and barracks and the thought that real men lived, worked, fought, and died here makes for a powerful experience. This is a ‘must see’ on a Puerto Rico vacation.

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To top it off, these forts are part of the very famous Old San Juan which is exactly what it sounds like…a very old part of town that is steeped in history, architectural beauty, and Puerto Rican culture. As you walk through the tight streets of Old San Juan, you can’t help but feel truely connected to the Puerto Rican culture, its people, its food and its music. Visiting this old part of town provides a true, authentic cultural experience and will create memories that will last forever.

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OSJ as seen from El Morro

OSJ as seen from El Morro

Historic 'Inglesia' or 'church'

Historic 'Inglesia' or 'church'

By far, this is my favorite part of every trip we take to Puerto Rico.

Day 5:

Vieques. One of the most secluded, pristine, untampered islands you may every step foot on (if you get your butt up and go!). This island is the type of place you read about in Travel + Leisure Magazine. Picture-perfect, postcard-worthy landscapes…the bluest, greenest water that you can’t help but just stare at it in awe…the whitest, purest, softest sand that your feet may ever touch. Pure beauty…period.

One of Vieques' secluded, local beaches

One of Vieques' secluded, local beaches

My girlfriend and I joked (in reference to the photo above) that this is where the clever, witty Corona commercials are filmed. For all we knew, they might be.

Vieques is just one of many outer-lying islands that belong to Puerto Rico. Vieques is the largest one (if you consider 20 mi x 4 mi large anyway) and the other major outer island is Culebra which is only a few miles square. To get to these islands, you need to take a government-run ferry which takes about 90 minutes to Vieques and 2 hours to Culebra. But believe me, the trip is absolutely worth it. And for only $4 round trip, you can’t find a better bargain while on vacation.

Driving along one of the main roads in Vieques

Driving along one of the main roads in Vieques

Local man playing a game of Dominos

Local man playing a game of Dominos

Yes..people ride horses on the streets

Yes..people ride horses on the streets

The most beautiful beach I think I'd ever been on

The most beautiful beach I think I'd ever been on

If you decide to take a trip to Puerto Rico some day, trust me and set aside just one day (2-3 days would be even better) to take the ferry out there and experience one of Puerto Rico’s hidden gems. Locals are many. Tourists are few. But beauty is everlasting and there for your viewing pleasure. Go get it.

Day 6:

Day 6 was absolutely full of driving. We decided that we wanted to take a driving tour of the island and try to make it to other side which normally takes about 3 to 4 hours. We didn’t accomplish that, but we still drove a ton and saw two tons. Basically we were staying in the northeast part of the island and we began by driving down to the southeast region of the island, then straight west and then back to the hotel. In total we were in the car for about 9 hours, but it was worth it. When you look up ‘scenic route’ in the dictionary, this is what you would see.

View from the side of a road that literally 'hugs' the mountain

View from the side of a road that literally 'hugs' the mountain

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The main thing on the itinerary was to visit Ponce, which is very similar to Old San Juan. It’s a very historic town with Spanish roots and influences. Again, gorgeous streets, Spanish-influenced ‘Squares’, locals out and about, and…Piragua Men!!! These men are iconic and can be found pushing their piragua carts through the streets peddling Piraguas for about $1.25. For those who don’t know, Piraguas are basically slushies. They have blocks of ice in their carts which they shave into the shape of a cone, put the ice into a cup, and then they doust the ice with yummy, tropical syrups that come in all sorts of flavors including lemon-lime, pina colada, and guava. On a hot day, Piraguas hit the spot (see photo below for said Piragua man).

Piragua guy!! One of the highlights of going to PR

Piragua guy!! One of the highlights of going to PR

Un Inglesia Catholica en Ponce

Un Inglesia Catholica en Ponce

One of the many bustling streets in Ponce

One of the many bustling streets in Ponce

Let me tell you, Puerto Ricans love to party! As we walked through the streets of Ponce, locals were out in numbers, businesses played Salsa music from their storefronts, people sat outside eating at local restaurants, and there was just a genuine energy in the air. And, to top it off, it was a weekday afternoon! Imagine the weekends…

Don Quijote is an iconic figure throughout the island

Don Quijote is an iconic figure throughout the island

We finished off our visit to Ponce by visiting this really neat, authentic, hidden restaurant/art gallery to grab some lunch. This was right up my alley. I love food. I love art galleries. And this place meshed the two so beautifully…I absolutely loved this restaurant and could eat in it every day if possible. See below.

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Awesome soup, lightly-fried plantains, and green iced-tea

Awesome soup, lightly-fried plantains, and green iced-tea

Last stop on our scenic drive was a town by the name of Guanica. Despite most people’s notions of what Puerto Rico is like, many have no clue that the whole southwestern portion of the island is a DESERT! It was unbelievable to me because I had never been there, but there really are cacti everywhere and desert shrubs, wild lizards and iguanas and all kinds of other ‘desert stuff.’

Guanica deserts

Guanica deserts

 The drive home was long and tiring. But we saw and absorbed alot of beautiful sights. Can’t complain about that.

Day 7:

Day 7 was a last ditch effort to do everything that we wanted to do, that we didn’t get to do, before we left the next morning. In short, we ventured through El Yunque again on a 45 minute hike to La Mina Falls which is one of the forests’ famed waterfalls. It’s hard work to get there but the payoff is phenomenal. See below.

Rapids leading up to La Mina Falls

Rapids leading up to La Mina Falls

La Mina Waterfall in all of it's glory

La Mina Waterfall in all of it's glory

After we left the forest, we headed out for one last thing on our itinerary. And that was to visit a very unique nature preserve in Fajardo, Puerto Rico that goes by the name of Las Cabezas de San Juan. This preserve is unique due to the fact that it contains seven unique ecosystems which is normally unheard of for one park. We got a guided driving/walking tour that was so informative and thought-provoking and truely provides for a greater appreciation of nature and it’s inhabitants.

Lighthouse at Las Cabezas

Lighthouse at Las Cabezas

 

'Morivivir' plant

'Morivivir' plant

In regards to the photo above, I needed to make a special side note about it because this plant is so darn amazing. It’s called ‘Morivivir’ which means ‘Die and Live’ literally in English. What’s so fascinating about this tiny plant (they do get quite large in the tropical forests) is that when you touch them, they physically close up, almost like a venus fly trap except that it responds to the human touch. In about five minutes or so, it opens back up hence the name ‘Morivivir.’ Definitely something you don’t see everyday…

 

Rocky Shore; one of the seven ecosystems in the park

Rocky Shore; one of the seven ecosystems in the park

Mangrove swamp (one of the seven ecosystems)

Mangrove swamp (one of the seven ecosystems)

Dozens of Millipedes hang onto the Mangrove trees

Dozens of Millipedes hang onto the Mangrove trees

Day 8:

Sad day indeed. Time to go back home. We all had a fantastic time indulging in all of Puerto Rico’s offerings. The island and its people provide great food, awesome hip-moving music, gorgeous beaches, lush mountains, amazing local people, and an overall fun-loving, relaxed lifestyle. Puerto Rico does have its problems just like any other place on the globe but it’s working hard to fix these problems and provide an even more awe-inspiring island-experience for tourists, and an even better quality of life for its people.

Before you die (I hate saying that), you must make a trip out to Puerto Rico. You don’t need a passport and airfare is pretty affordable most times of the year. So just go. Do it. You’ll love it. I promise.

Signing out. Peace.

gorgeous beach

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I Heart Sunsets

Cool clouds as seen from the front of my house

Cool clouds as seen from the front of my house

Please excuse the powerlines. Thanks.

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Waterfront in Weehawken

I went with my buddy Bandit yesterday to Hamilton Park on the waterfront in Weehawken, NJ. It was so disgustingly, ungodly, sweltering hot outside that in hindsight, it was a terrible idea going. Bandit was weezing and thirsty (I did bring water and a bowl for him so don’t go calling doggy-DYFS on me) and unenthusiastic to be there. So, I spent a whole 20 minutes over there, shot a couple of photos and then split. Here are some photos I shot for your enjoyment…

Fish-eye shot with Bandito sniffin' around

Fish-eye shot with Bandito sniffin' around

NYC...in case you didn't know
NYC…in case you didn’t know
NYC again...just in case you've never seen it (yes, sarcasm)

NYC again...just in case you've never seen it (yes, sarcasm)

This park is nice.

This park is nice.

War monument

War monument

Weehawken is pretty

Weehawken is pretty

Random shot of bumblebee on flower in park

Random shot of bumblebee on flower in park

If you’re ever in the area, check this place out for a nice, leisurely stroll and some good photo-ops. Peace.

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Gettin’ High in Jersey…Sort of…

This past Saturday I went with my folks to a park that sits at the tippy tippy top of the great state of New Jersey. It also happens to be the tallest point as well…a whole 2,000 feet. Citizens of Montana, Washington or Alaska may let out a hearty chuckle at the thought of 2,000 feet being high but for us, that’s pretty awesome!

At the entrance

At the entrance

Highest point in NJ

Highest point in NJ

So anyway, there wasn’t too much to this place. There was a lot of trees, grass, rodents, birds…ya know, the usual. There was a pretty large lake too but park officials had only a small section roped off where humans could swim and it didn’t look to appealing. There were a bunch of little rascals running around in 2 foot deep water and God only knows how much urine and baby poop were let loose in there. So needless to say, I took a pass.

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We decided to bring Bandit with us which in hindsight, wasn’t too smart of an idea considering we walked about four miles. I will say though that this 18 lb. ball of fur and cuteness was quite the trooper. Aside from a few times where the heat got a little intense and we had to carry him, he trucked it the whole way with us. This dog’s got spunk. Body of a Shih-Tzu, heart of a Lion.

He's a champ

He's a champ

So, after a three or so mile slightly uphill trek, we reached the point where we could actually see the famous (or not so famous) Washington-look-alike monument. After another mile, we finally reach the top of this hill to realize that we had to climb about 300 steps, give or take, up the most humid, wet, stuffy and uncomfortable man-made monument known to human-kind. My Dad and I went up first and the higher up we got, the worse my anxiety became. I could feel the air getting thinner and more humid and along with the claustrophobia, it made for an unenjoyable climb. We get to the top of this damned concrete monument only to find a pretty disappointing dungeon with a few foggy windows to look out of it. It was certainly not worth the effort in my opinion.

If this doesn't make you queazy, nothing will.

If this doesn't make you queazy, nothing will.

The view from the top

The view from the top

Overall though, not a bad time. I had fun with the parents and my dog and it provided some good, old quality time. Yeah, yeah call me corny if you want.

Here are some random shots for your enjoyment, including some cool fish-eye shots.

I saved this little guy from sure death

I saved this little guy from sure death

 

Stairs to nowhere?

Stairs to nowhere?

Lone flowers

Lone flowers

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