Orlando, Part III: Magic Kingdom

When most people think of Disney, the first thing that comes to mind is the Magic Kingdom, the nighttime parade down Main Street USA, pictures in front of Cinderella’s Castle, and everything that comes along with that. So it was fitting that the next morning we were up early and on our way to the Magic Kingdom first. Swirling through my head were all the memories (both real and embellished in the intervening years) of my own trips there, the most recent being 25 years prior to our adventure.

As we drove through the expansive gates of the Disney complex it was like entering a whole new world (pardon the double entendre). I had Heidi take a few pictures as I drove a little slower to capture it all. The kids in the back with my mother were oohing and aahing over the huge likenesses of Mickey, and Goofy, and Donald painted onto the gates. I knew it was going to be an amazing day, although it had been hot as blazes when we’d left our resort, and I knew it would just get hotter as the day went on.

But we had a plan. If there’s anything you should know about Heidi, it’s that she’s the queen of planning things out. Our honeymoon was coordinated to perfection, and other trips we’ve taken have received the same treatment. Following the signs, we ended up in the parking lot marked for Simba (Alexa was upset we weren’t in the villains parking), but we were early enough that it wasn’t far from where we needed to catch the monorail. Continue reading “Orlando, Part III: Magic Kingdom”

Orlando, Part I: The Plan

“Do you believe in magic?”

I asked Alexa this about six months ago, while she sat at the dining room table, after ostensibly doing all of her homework. She looked up at me with this inscrutable expression on her face, the one that reminds me so much of her mother. After a few beats, however, a smile danced across her lips, and a laugh came out.

“I believe that we do what makes us happy, and if that’s magic, then that’s magic.”

Out of the mouth of children. Though, if I’m honest, she’s an “old thirteen,” a girl who understands the world even when she doesn’t. She was right, of course, that magic is what we make of it. For many that magic takes the form of the unexplained. For others it means fortuitous circumstances that drop down like rain. For yet others, magic is a living, breathing thing, coiled and ready to spring at any moment.

It’s in the eye of the beholder, like a beautiful puzzle that sometimes shimmers when it’s all put together.

“There’s a kind of magic that lives in all of us, a sense of adventure that doesn’t go away just because life gets harder.”

“Yeah, Dad, that’s too much to think about.”

And that was that, as it usually is. So, why did I bring up magic in the first place? Well, for an eternity Heidi and I decided this would be the year we went to Disney. We wanted to make sure both girls were old enough that they would remember it. We wanted to make sure the magic was as real as it could be for them. Perhaps we waited a fraction too long for Alexa, the girl who tried to trip Santa Claus last year, but perhaps not. Continue reading “Orlando, Part I: The Plan”

Empire State of Mind: A Photographic Retrospective

For the past year my oldest child had asked over and over again when she could go to New York City, and over and over again we’ve answered, “We’ll get there at some point.” Of course the mythical “some point” just seemed to get pushed further into the future each time she asked, and finally we figured it was either now or never. So we put the wheels in motion, figured out a day when we could go, got the logistics in order, and today was that “some point.” It was incredible.

Now, I’ve been to New York City many times before, but each time is something special, and the last time was nearly 10 years ago, so this time was even more incredible, especially since I was finally seeing it through the eyes of my children.

Track 1. We came in on the NJ Transit Train, and it was difficult to figure out which train we needed. In the end we chose the right one.

The first decision we had to make was how we were going to get to the city that never sleeps. The options were:

(1) Driving in

(2) Taking the train in

(3) Some kind of mixture

Now, if you’ve ever driven in NYC then you know no one wants to drive in NYC, and we were no exception. We would have spent half of our time either driving the streets aimlessly looking for a parking spot (and getting honked at), or parking in a ridiculously expensive parking garage and still having to brave the traffic in and out.

So my wife came up with #3, which required renting a vehicle here in Philadelphia, driving it to Newark, and taking the Transit Train into the city, then doing the reverse to get back to the city of brotherly love. Not only was this option by far the cheapest, but it kept us out of the traffic of the city and kept us flexible if we had to stop along the way for restroom usage and the like.

Then there we were, in New York City, in that Empire State of Mind. Now, we live in New York State, but The City is a whole other animal indeed. It’s like living in Florida but never going to Disney, and when you finally get there it’s better than you’ve ever dreamed.

This is a statue we saw on 32nd Street as we headed into the city proper, and it spoke to me in some odd way.
The Hotel Wolcott had green railings on its balconies that gave it a nice rustic look without seeming out date. I could imagine living there.

Our destination was the Empire State Building because Alexa would make a darn good engineer. A while ago what first sparked her interest in world buildings was a book given to her by my wife’s boss that pictured and detailed several prominent architecturally famous world structures, among them the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, and of course the Empire State Building. She was fascinated by every single one, and memorized their details, so desperate she was to keep them in her mind.

Because we live in New York State it seemed only natural that we would make it our first stop on the world tour, but because we live far upstate it wasn’t practical to try and make a day trip out of the ride that is a little over 4 hours from where we live. It made a lot more sense to come visit my mother in Philadelphia, and have her come with us. And that’s just what we did, turning it into a wider family trip that included not only my mother but also my nephew, who is home from college for the summer.

So we left New York to go to New York. Go figure.

But then came the mind-numbing wait. If you’ve ever been to the Empire State Building before then you know what sort of long lines await you if you’re not willing to pay the exorbitant prices to go to the head of the line and straight to the heavenly elevators. At first the two young children were just fine, even though we had to cut into a never-ending line of middle schoolers on a field trip to the great edifice. But as the hands on the clock kept moving and we seemed no closer to actually getting to the famed 86th Floor Observation Deck, the natives became restless. So I took some pictures along the way, in what my wife described as “the neverending line.”

One of the famous 10 elevators at the Empire State Building.
Such an iconic lobby, with an authentic desk attendant and everything (he’s hidden here).

Then, after about an hour and 20 minutes of waiting we were finally herded into one of the illustrious elevators like sheep, slammed up against other tourists from all over the world, and whisked up to the 86th floor, and to the observation deck that also awaited. Alexa was just worn out by then, but when she saw the open-air deck she was in her element, floating on cloud 9. We went out and the wind was brisk high up there. Luckily for us it wasn’t raining at that point, so we were able to look far out, and far down (which freaked my wife out), and there were a series of “Oohs” and “Ahhs” that seemed to go on forever as she pointed out one building after another. “That’s the Chrysler building, isn’t it?” she asked me at one point, and I was again amazed at how much she files away in that brain of hers.

86th Floor Observation Deck, looking through metal eyes.
The View to the Top. Empire State indeed.

And around we went. Alexa just couldn’t get enough of all of the myriad views afforded to us from up so high. The heights didn’t affect her one whit, although my wife had to retire inside after just a few minutes with Madeline. I was on duty, though, pointing out each building and trying to help her see the islands far out to sea.

We took a ton of pictures, not many of which actually came out great, but what I noticed most were the sheer numbers of people up on the observation deck, not the buildings down below. They were speaking a plethora of different languages, some of which were familiar to my ear and some of which weren’t. I guess I realized for the first time how big these famous landmarks truly are. I should have gotten it while in the long lines waiting to get up there, but somehow what was transpiring on the deck was more symbolic.

But we were one big organism up there, moving around each other like dancing amoebas in a petri dish, pausing for photographs, then moving seamlessly past while nodding acknowledgement at each other. It was a special bonding moment, even though we said few words to each other. I took a lot more pictures down below to commemorate the moment.

Lady Liberty presiding over the ships that pass.
The Freedom Tower, rising high into the sky. I only wish we could have seen the Ground Zero Memorial. Next time.
I am always mesmerized by the Flatiron Building, and it caught my eye straightaway.

It was such a wonderful feeling to know that we were able to give that to Alexa, that we finally made one of her dreams come true, and she was ecstatic as we rode the elevator back down to the lobby, with a small stop at the gift shop to get some commemorative t-shirts for her and her sister. We were exhausted from the wait, but it had been well worth it, just to say that we were there, that we did it as a family. There were walls of photographs on our way out of celebrities posing at the railing or elsewhere in the famous building, but while it was great to see those familiar faces, the best ones were the smiling ones of my real family after a brilliant day in the big city.

Miles of smiles from the inner sanctum on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.


Photographs of Philadelphia

My recent trip to Philadelphia gave me a greater appreciation for its architecture and ambiance. I took a lot of photographs of the experience, of the moments strung together and separate that to me made up the City of Brotherly Love on this journey, the ones that also spark up nostalgia. Here they are, in no discernible order…

Frank Rizzo, Philly legend. And a girl.
Tourists taking video of the festival at Dilworth Park.
Subway entrance. We were heading North.
The neverending line at Jim’s Steaks on South Street.
There’s always a bride at City Hall.
Sidewalk art gets a new definition.
Acrobatics at the Pumpkin Festival on 2nd Street.
The outdoor living room.
Library fountains.
City Hall fountains.
That social message at the Love Park.
That iconic Clothespin.
Pumpkins on a stoop on Christian Street.
The Julian Abele mural on 22nd Street.


Irish Pride

irish-flagThe first time I saw Ireland was through the tiny window of a giant airplane as we descended upon Dublin on a May day in 2003. It was our honeymoon, and we were aglow in the newness of the condition, then bombarded with the shock of the culture change that was about to hit us upon landing. I gripped my new bride’s hand in equal parts fear and anticipation, fear of the unknown and anticipation of the journey regardless. After all, it was Ireland.

I’ve always identified with all things Irish, since I was a wee lad. Honestly, my mother got awfully tired of me speaking in a poor excuse for an Irish accent (I’ve since gotten better at it) and wanting everything to be painted green. In fact, I had picked out the brightest green I could find and gotten my dad to paint my room that color. I was that committed to it, and I couldn’t have told you why it was Ireland and not somewhere else.

So, it was no wonder when I heard U2 for the first time on the radio and fell in love. Like with anything else I get interested in, I went overboard from the start. I quickly began doing research on the band, which was harder to do back then because the internet wasn’t as prevalent, so I went to the library. It was complicated work, but I was assured at the end of the inquiry that I knew all there was to know about the band, and by extension, about Ireland itself.

And I knew I had to get there someday. Somehow.

When I met my future wife, it was one of the first things we talked about, my obsession with all things Irish. I even joked about having been Irish in a previous life, and about the significance of my Irish last name. I knew she was humoring me, and I was grateful for it. At least she didn’t tell me to shut up. I also knew she was just as obsessed with all things British, so we would go back and forth on which culture was better. I still say it’s Irish, and perhaps our trip helped her to see things my way.

We touched down on Dublin soil after a seemingly endless plane ride, but I was finally there. In Ireland. I breathed in the air as we stepped off the plane, even though it was just recirculated airport air. It somehow felt different as I inhaled it, as if I were taking in the very essence of the Irish way of life. I would have knelt and kissed the floor had my wife not been with me. I didn’t want to embarrass her. That would come later. Continue reading “Irish Pride”

You Call This a Shower?: Part 13

The view from London Bridge.

So, I finally gave up on finding a memory card for my camera by the time we got to London. The first chance I got I went to a little convenience store and bought two disposable cameras because that was about all I felt I could spend of the euros I had left. By that time in the trip we had two days left and I figured I would just take as many pictures as the cameras would afford me and hope they came out alright. It’s funny to think back on it now, but those photos I took were probably the most authentic of the whole trip, which in some small way makes London the most authentic place we traveled to and through. Perhaps it was because I couldn’t see and analyze them, deleting the ones I didn’t like. Once I took them they were there to stay, for better or for worse, and I never saw them until I got back to the States and had them developed. It turned out to be a good choice.

Loved this statue.

We went on a bus tour of the city early that next morning and I took pictures through the bus windows, photos of Big Ben and the Tower Bridge. In fact, I recall us driving over London Bridge, and I was thinking, “This is London Bridge?” The bridge itself was pretty ordinary, and it made me question why anyone would write a children’s song about it. Then our tour guide explained to us why London Bridge was so ordinary, how it was a far iteration from the original bridge that was as wide as a city street, the one that did indeed burn down a long, long time ago. He told us that the bridge that’s there now is just functional because it costs too much to keep replacing the bridge, and the latest one was shipped to a town in Iowa, or some other midwestern place (I wasn’t really listening, so fascinated was I by Tower Bridge, that I could see on the left as we drove across).

Then we were dropped off the bus outside of Buckingham Palace right around the time for the changing of the guard, which is one of those things you can’t really describe unless you see it. Continue reading “You Call This a Shower?: Part 13”

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