Monday, April 28, 2008

Day eight!

It was now Monday and time to bid the Big Apple farewell - well, for a few days anyhow. We loaded up our rental car with our many pieces of luggage, and headed for Philadelphia. On the way was a scheduled breakfast stop at The Brownstone Diner in Jersey City, New Jersey. This is a restaurant that we saw featured on Guy Fieri’s show, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. It was fun to drive through New York city and into New Jersey. We even passed my dad's birthplace of Elizabeth, NJ. For some reason, I get a kick out of driving across state lines. But for Rich the thrill was knowing he was on his way to one of Guy's diners.

Well, the restaurant was the bomb! Thirty or so different pancakes were on the menu, but my husband has to invent his own (he wanted chocolate chips and coconut – and they were happy to oblige.) It was tough, but I settled on the pecan-chocolate chip pancakes, while Emma indulged in the Black Forest pancakes (chocolate chips, cherry pie filling, whipped cream). Drew ordered plain old bacon and eggs (Why? Here was his big chance to get "white flour" pancakes, something not often served at home. Oh well.). We just loved this place and the food, but the only regret was that Emma, Rich and I just didn’t share ONE order of pancakes! Each person had three giant pancakes –just too much food!

We rolled into Philly in the early afternoon. It is about a 2-3 hour drive from NYC. We dropped off our luggage (our room wasn’t ready yet) and embarked on foot to the historical part of town. There we saw the Liberty Bell and gathered some information for some more time in town Wednesday. Seeing the Liberty Bell in person was way cool!

The Liberty Bell - not the prettiest thing!

We also meandered wide-eyed through Reading Terminal Market. Inside an old train terminal is this public market, which was established in Philly in 1892. When William Penn designed Philadelphia in the 17th century, one of the first actions he took was to herd farmers, fishers, hunters, etc. together into an outdoor market. In the 1800’s these markets grew quite large and later thought to be “health hazards and nuisances,” and were moved indoors. When created, Reading Terminal Market was 78,000 square feet in size, with 800 merchant spaces of 6 feet each. After many years of reconstruction, the market today is home to about 80 merchants, most of them various culinary delights. 100,000 people pass through the market each week! It is such a fascinating place with jewelry/crafts, a produce market, fresh flowers, lots of amazing baked goods, candy galore, super quality fresh meat and fish for sale, gift-y items, every ethnic food you can imagine, Philadelphia cheese steaks, ice cream, crepes, beeswax products, and much more. And on certain days of the week, the Mennonite people come from Lancaster county and sell their amazing food and goods. Today we stopped in for a late afternoon snack and I had a fresh squeezed strawberry-pineapple juice, (another time, we came for breakfast I enjoyed a Mennonite Apple Dumpling which was pretty much one of the best things I have ever tasted.) Rich and the kids tasted their first cheesesteaks, but since I’m not much of a “cheez-whiz” fan, they weren’t of much interest to me! “Wit-Wiz” was Rich’s little catchphrase while we were in Philly. That is how you order your cheesesteak, wit wiz! Enjoy some of the photos of the market below, it was pure eye candy for me and I just kept snapping away!

Emma getting one of her favorites: strawberry and Nutella crepes!

Beautiful fresh flowers!

Mennonite merchants

Cute gift shop

Famous Philly soft pretzels - but we prefer Auntie Anne's!

This picture cracks me up! I personally don't think the word "fly" should be in any food item, but I'm not about to suggest that to this woman.

Got some potholders, pear butter, and amazing "burnt" hard pretzels here.

Drew cruising the market.

Emma and Drew enjoying breakfast (yes, Drew is having a cheesesteak!)

Mass Apple Dumplings for sale. I wish I could have packed them in my suitcase.

Mennonite man at juice stand

After walking around town we returned to our room for a little down time before heading out to yet another one of Guy’s finds (#2 of three we visited). We hopped in the car and drove to another part of town for a late dinner at Silk City Diner. It was a real diner car –very cool. Inside, it felt more like a swanky, hip lounge. The lights were very dim and there was a building attached which was a bar, so it didn’t feel so much like a typical diner. Their menu is very different than what you would expect from a diner (click above link to see it). The salad I had was not on the menu – it was mixed weeds (you know, mixed baby greens) with seared sushi grade tuna that had been encrusted with black sesame seeds. It had an Asian dressing and was really tasty. Rich had the fried chicken, Emma had the macaroni and cheese, and Drew had a burger. The food was pretty good, but the appetizers there really shine. It was fun to go and check it out.

By the way, the hotel we stayed in was a historical landmark and was really beautiful and elegant, though it was just a Marriott Courtyard. We had a wonderful view from our hotel window of the city and stunning City Hall, which is a grand, elegant building. It took over 20 years to build it and the detail is just amazing. Well, that pretty much completed our first day in Philly!

Front of hotel

Front lobby

Room off of lobby - shoe shine in back.

Hallway off lobby

This shot was taken from our hotel room window!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Day Seven!

Well, finally to day seven, our last day in NY but we aren’t winding down yet! We started the day attending church at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Both Rich and Rick had recommendations from acquaintances so we decided to try it. We grabbed a cab to Hunter College Auditorium, where the service was held at 10:30 am. Their pastor, Tim Keller, apparently travels to various locations around Manhattan preaching four times on Sundays.

Well, you could say it was different than what we are used to. The music/worship portion was quite good, but then they moved on to baptism… I was really caught off guard when they brought a little baby up to be baptized! As the pastor described the reason they baptize infants, I listened intently as I know that the bible does not command babies to be baptized (on the contrary, it makes the distinction that when you have made a profession of faith in Christ, it is then that you get baptized as an outward symbol of your faith). Never did the pastor say that the baptism “saved” the baby, so that was good, but he did say that faith was “not individual” but was encompassed in the family, therefore trying to justify infant baptism, I suppose. This is the complete opposite of what we believe -the bible is very clear that each person must have a personal relationship with Christ; being a member of a Christian family does not grant you automatic salvation. Each of us being born a sinner has a personal need for salvation. So, thus, faith is completely personal.

So that aside, we got onto the preaching. The topic of the “sermon” was music. Among mostly unmemorable things that the pastor said that morning, we will all never forget him saying that you can “evangelize about God” through music, and you “don’t even have to be a believer to do so.” Huh? Not sure exactly what he meant by that one. His message seemed more like a lecture in a college class - perhaps one at a really liberal Christian college. It was basically just really shallow. There wasn’t much tie in to Scripture (maybe a couple references to the Bible or God); I’m not sure if the pastor even had a bible with him- if he did I didn’t see it. I do know that no one in the congregation had a bible with them – apparently they don’t seem to need one there. That is a problem if you don’t need your bible in church! One thing we all talked about later was the fact that we are indeed so blessed to be taught from the Word every Sunday at Grace. The Word is our life! How can you even think to have a church without it? Very sad.

Anyways, when that service was over, we headed back to The Burger Joint to try again. This time, there wasn’t so much of a line – yeah! The place is hilarious. You enter the beautiful and elegant Le Parker Meridien hotel (rooms begin at $400+). You go through the lobby, and go behind a curtain. There you see a little neon burger sign with an arrow on the wall. Not a restaurant name or anything, just a little neon burger. You follow the arrow until you find yourself in a tiny dark room, which is the Burger Joint. You instantly feel like you are indeed in a joint (hence the name)! Their sign instructs you to order in the following manner: 1) what kind of burger (hamburger or cheeseburger), 2) how you want it cooked, and 3) what you want on it (and there is a list of toppings). And they want it in that order. Then there are two little sentences that come off as a strict warning at the bottom of the sign:

If you do not see it, we do not have it.

If you do not know your order,
go to the back of the line.

So, under fear and trepidation, we managed to order promptly and correctly and found a couple tables. The burgers were ready really quickly and boy were they yummy! Really good meat and a nice toasty/greasy bun. One of the best burgers I think I've ever had. The fries, which are thrown into a brown paper bag, are also amazing. Also, a real treat for me was washing it all down with a coke. Not diet coke, mind you, but a real coke. I never drink any soda (diet or regular), but I do allow myself the treat of a real coke about once a year when it is fitting. And this seemed the perfect time to have one.

After lunch we headed over to the Nokia Theater in Times Square, where Steven Curtis Chapman would be having his concert that evening. We got a chance to meet Steven and his wife, Mary Beth, and their two sons Caleb and Will Franklin. Then, we went off to Chinatown to shop! The girls loved all the knock off items. Emma picked up a few “designer” purses, while Kari found a cute hat!

A shot of Steven's name on the marquis of the theatre. It was so cute- he was so excited that his name was up there that he told his wife to be sure and get a picture of it!

Shopping in Chinatown - Emma on left.

Emma excited about her "genuine" Designer purse!

After a brief rest at the hotel after shopping, we headed to Times Square for dinner at John's pizza. The restaurant is housed in the coolest old church - lots of beautiful stained glass and huge ceilings! John’s is good, but have I mentioned that Lombardi's is the best?? (ha ha) After getting our last fill of NY pizza, we crossed the street to the Nokia theater for the concert.

Dinner at John's, both above photos

Steven generously comp'ed the Dempseys and us tickets – and nice seats they were too! This is the second time we’ve seen him in concert, as we saw him at the Greek theater a couple years ago. I guess he doesn’t make it to NYC too much, maybe once before, I think he said. It’s hard to imagine a group of Christians living in Manhattan, but maybe they came from neighboring areas because it was a full house. Steven is really good in concert. He talks a lot between each song, making it very personal by telling funny stories, and sharing his own spiritual journeys, so it's really cool to go to one of his concerts. Also, I really just love his music. It is so worshipful, and really encourages me in my Christian walk. And I would have to say there was more good theology spoken by Steven than by the pastor that morning at church. So it was a great evening. His two high school-aged sons have recently replaced former band members and our touring with him - one on drums and one on guitar. So that is really neat. They don’t seem to have a lot of confidence yet (not used to the limelight) but they seem to be having fun out there with their dad. Steven said it’s a blast performing with his boys, and Mary Beth said it has really energized Steven.

The music was really great...

Steven and his boys: left - Will Franklin, right- Caleb.

Steven and the kids backstage

Anyways, after getting to go hang out backstage for awhile (Dempsey perks again), we capped off the wonderful evening with dessert at Planet Hollywood. We were pretty worn out by now, but also disappointed that our adventure was coming to a close. We said our regretful goodbyes in our hotel lobby late that evening, and parted ways. In the morning, the Dempseys would be on an early flight home, and we would be on our way to Philly!

The girls sporting our "Pashmina" scarves ($5 on any NY corner)

Drew being K.O.'ed by Sly at Planet Hollywood

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Day Six!

Moving right along... this post is a long one!

As I mentioned earlier, we had to pack up and check out of the Waldorf Saturday morning. When we extended our trip, the Waldorf could not continue to keep us. That was OK, because we moved over to the Dempsey’s hotel, which was convenient and though not as charming or historic, was more roomy and had free internet! (happy Drew!)

Food Network Building (American flag on top)

Food Network store

View of Chelsea market - coolest building and shops!

After our move, we headed over to Chelsea Market, which occupies the building that was formerly the National Biscuit Company (Oreos and saltines were once baked there). It is now currently home to my beloved Food Network and many cool shops and eateries. Unfortunately, you can’t just pop into the Food Network offices and ask for Bobby Flay or Rachael Ray. Oh well, at least Rich and I scored a Food Network coffee mug and baseball cap in one of their shops. We also had a snack there before we headed over to our 1:00 pm tour of the Ground Zero Museum Workshop.

It is hard to accurately convey the impact this little museum had on all of us. It is just a tiny room, which looks like it might have been a studio apartment at one time, located in what is known as the Meat Packing District. The museum was created by Gary Marlon Suson, (if you have a moment, please click his name and read his interesting story) who was the only photographer permitted to shoot the wreckage of 9/11. Gary was appointed under the conditions that he could not photograph human remains, would not receive any salary for his work, and could only sell his work if profits were shared with victims’families. Gary also collected artifacts from the site that were just going to be thrown away. Along with these artifacts, and his photography, he has put together this first class, intimate museum. Your tour begins with a movie which relives some of 9/11 and features Mr. Suson describing his experience taking these photos and being among the wreckage with the FDNY. I was very surprised to be immediately overcome with emotion as the movie played. The tears just began to flow, because in this environment you are able to relive this horrific event and feel for the victims and their families. There was a real connection to that horrific day.

You are then free to roam around the museum with a headset and a remote for a good amount of time. The walls are covered with the framed photos and artifacts are displayed in cases, and each has a number. You just punch in the number on your remote for any item and listen to the story of what you see. This takes well over an hour, as you don’t want to miss anything. I was very struck by the actual clock that he had retrieved from the PATH subway station below the World Trade Center. It had stopped at a little after 10:00 a.m., which was the time the second tower fell. It was a wall clock with a plug, and that is precisely when the electricity was cut off. He was able to retrieve it and have it in the museum.

There were also some other truly fascinating artifacts. One was a large piece of glass, which we learned was very unusual to find. In fact, all the glass that was found wouldn’t even fill the trunk of an ordinary car. They just simply did not find much glass – it all melted or turned to powder. But the most interesting artifact to me was an actual piece of one of the planes that was found. It is propped up against the wall in the museum, but for various reasons we were not allowed to take photographs of it.

Crosses and Star of David made by an artist from steel wreckage.

Actual clock found; photo of it on left. This is very eerie.

Calendar page found in the rubble.

I am so glad we visited this museum. I think it was very valuable for all of us, but especially for my children, to really allow them to experience this amazing event close up and personal. They were very little when it happened, and while we did watch it on TV, I think this opportunity gave them more of a sense of what a significant event this was. I still remember John MacArthur preaching the Sunday after 9/11. He pointed out that while this was a tremendous tragedy and large loss of life, it is important to remember that all of us will come to the same fate as the victims of that terrible September day. We will all die somehow, someday, and we don’t know when that will be. Are you ready to die? Is your future in heaven secure? That was his challenge to us that Sunday morning. We all must make that important decision to repent of our sins and trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation, while we have the opportunity.

After we left the museum, it was appropriate to go visit Ground Zero. There isn’t much to see as the perimeter is all fenced. There is construction going on, but Emma was able to shove her lens in between a hole in the fencing and get the above shot.
Kids with Gary Marlon Suson in St. Paul's

Across the street from Ground Zero is St. Paul's Chapel, where the rescue workers sought rest and refreshment during the rescue efforts. It is now somewhat of a small little tribute to 9/11. There is artwork from children and one of the beds the firemen used is still there. We were walking around when we saw Gary Marlon Suson sitting at a small table, signing his book, Requiem, which contains the photographs he took after 9/11, along with the story of it all. We approached him and told him that we had just visited his museum, and that we appreciated it very much. We got to talking with him and quickly observed the utter despair of his life. He was like a war veteran who had been forever changed by the experience of war. He truly seemed unable to smile (see photo above) and was completely discouraged by the evil of this world as demonstrated on 9/11. His experience at Ground Zero totally changed his life. He had to rummage through destruction and death for weeks, literally smelling death, seeing unfathomable things (like human remains) and eventually getting physically sick for months with respiratory illness after being on the site. He has only recently regained his health from that time. Rich shared with him a little about our loss of Brady and the fact that while evil and death does exist in the world, there is hope. He explained a little about our hope in Jesus Christ, and asked if he could send him some (gospel) material. He said we could do that. Rich immediately thought of John’s sermon, “Why does evil dominate the world?” with the story of Brady on it as the perfect DVD to send him. So we hope to do that really soon. It was really neat to end our 9/11 experience with meeting Mr. Suson and getting to share with him about having hope beyond this wicked and painful world – a world that he obviously finds no hope in. Before we parted, upon spotting Emma’s camera, he asked if he could take a photograph of our family in the chapel. After taking the photo he calmly stated, “Wow, that was the first time I’ve taken a picture since my work during 9/11.” Apparently, he was just so discouraged from his experience that he basically lost all interest in photography. This picture turned out to be the only picture of the four of us together from the entire trip.

Well, after that emotional experience, it was good to meet up with the Dempseys again for dinner at Tony's di Napoli. Tony’s is an Italian restaurant that has been around for awhile, where large servings of pasta and other Italian specialties are served family style. It is perfect for a group because you get to try more dishes. After filling up on delicious penne with broccoli, cheese ravioli, spaghetti and meatballs, and Chicken Marsala, we walked around the city again, and by popular demand and general consensus, found ourselves at Serendipity for the second night in a row! It was just too good not to go back and we knew it would be a long time until we could ever have a frrrozen hot chocolate again. Some of us tried new things, and some of us were unable to deviate from the same item as the night before but everything was amazing.

We planned with the Dempseys to go to church the next morning at a church that both Rich and Rick had heard of from various people. Rich thought it would be "an interesting Christian cultural experience" and that it was....

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Day Five!

Friday began with a most enjoyable bike ride in Central Park. Biking is the perfect way to see the park. There is a 6-mile loop inside that lets you see scenery you just couldn’t cover on foot (its perimeter is 58 miles). There is a bike rental place that you can get yourself a cruiser and take in the majesty and splendor of what is nicknamed “New York’s backyard.”

To give you an idea of how huge this place is, here are some interesting facts: the land it covers is over 800 acres (it actually covers about 6% of the city of Manhattan), which includes 250 acres of lawns and 136 acres of woodlands. It contains 26,000 trees and 9,000 park benches. There is a zoo, a carousel, and 7 bodies of water, including a large reservoir. 275 different types of birds call Central Park home. It is so lush and beautiful, and quite a bit was in bloom during our visit. I think Emma captured it well with her camera. The picture in the header of my blog is of Rich and I on our bikes in the park.

Well, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, our friends, the Dempseys, providentially ended up being in New York at the same time as us! They came in late Thursday. We got in touch while in Central Park, and agreed to meet for lunch. We tried to get into the Burger Joint, a place Rick knew of and that we had read about and had on our “must eat” list. However, it was too busy, so we headed over for some pizza, which was pretty good eats. (we did get into the Burger Joint later in our trip – stay tuned.)

We parted our separate ways after lunch, because we had a tour scheduled at the lower east side tenement museum. This was found to be a very fitting activity after visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Tenements were the buildings in which immigrants would usually make their homes upon initial arrival in New York. They were very low class accommodations and hopefully only a stepping stone to better living conditions. Each tenement had three rooms (no bathroom) in about 300 square feet and this space was usually shared with 6-9 people. In recent years, a vacant tenement building was purchased and restored to its original condition and tours are now provided. We joined a dozen or so people for an intimate tour of the tenement and were told the stories of the actual people that lived in that building. It was very interesting and I highly recommend it.

Tenement that we toured

We met back up with the Dempseys for dinner at Virgil's BBQ. Even though we had reservations, they were having trouble seating our party of 8, so we split up into two groups of four, letting the kids have their own table (way fun). The food was really good! They had the smokiest meats, and pretty much everything was absolutely delicious that we tried. We all shared the most amazing nachos, with four meats atop, yummy barbecue sauce and oozy cheese. We had to eat quickly because we had tickets to the Little Mermaid !

Rick had gotten us the “house seats” which are the seats that the key performers and director are entitled to. I think they were in the 8th row – center! Wow! Now this is a show I can recommend! It was truly amazing, from the cast, to the music, to the dancing- everything was spectacular. It was an absolutely amazing production! I have to say that Ursula was my favorite! Afterwards, Rick pulled out his Disney trump card and obtained us a backstage tour which was really exciting. We got to learn more about the way they pulled off such an amazing show and it was really fun to stand on the stage! After we were done, we exited the stage door, which created a frenzy by all the fans waiting for the stars to emerge for autographs (they thought we were the stars). It was quite funny. If we had pulled out sharpies I’m sure we could have gotten away with signing playbills!

Ky with Prince Eric

Backstage tour

Taylor pretending to be King Triton

Ursula was a hoot! Boy that woman can sing!

It was starting to rain when we came out of the show, but who cares? It’s New York and it’s the city that never sleeps. We walked for hours all around Times Square and other parts of town, and finally made our way to Serendipity, a restaurant I had read about and also had received recommendations for. We arrived around 12:30 a.m., and they were busy! Serendipity is famous for their “Frrrozen Hot Chocolate” which is like a very upscale Frappuccino. It comes in a giant bowl, with 4 straws, and is thick, decadent, and absolutely amazing! They also have other frozen drinks, such as the Frrrozen Coconut Orange (which Emma and Kylie enjoyed very much) as well as a Frrrozen Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate! Rick and Kari ordered the apple pie, which came in the same giant bowl and was topped with cinnamon ice cream and lots of whipped cream! The place is kind of like an eclectic Farrells and a real gem. If you want to try the Frrrozen hot chocolate at home, I found the recipe online!

Drew: Can we go to Serendipity again??

We finally made it back to our hotel sometime around 1:30 a.m. and crashed in bed. Even the sugar rush we got at Serendipity had no effect on our exhaustion!