Phil and I flew inexpensively on Southwest Airlines into La Guardia airport... apparently not the smartest thing to do but, hey, it was cheap. We picked up our red Mustang rental car and got to drive through the heart of NYC at about 5:00 in the afternoon. Luckily it was the day before a holiday or the already terrible traffic might have been unbearable. On the bright side, at least we got to see the city! We drove into Red Bank, NJ to the home we'd be staying at, owned by Faye, the girlfriend of my mom's cousin Dick. My parents, Aunt Carol, and Aunt Pris were already there waiting for us and we all had a lovely dinner that evening. It must be mentioned that Faye is a fantastic hostess. In each of the guest bedrooms she provided a welcome basket consisting of snacks, an eye cover mask for better sleep, water bottle, etc. Plus she had stocked the rooms with current magazines for our reading pleasure. And, when Faye says that this is the way she always keeps her home, I believe her, because she is so good at it! Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the home has been featured in decorating magazines-- Faye remodeled and redecorated after moving in and did a wonderful job. She actually has the home for sale now since it's such a large home for just one person to live in.
The next day, July 4th, was the family reunion. We all went over to Dick's home and spent the afternoon in his back yard catching up (or meeting everyone, in Phil's case). These are people that we don't see very often since we all live so far apart, so it was nice to get re-acquianted. One of the best parts of the reunion was visiting with my Aunt Jeannette. For my entire life she was special to me because although we rarely saw each other, we always kept in touch. The basis of our communication stemmed from her sending me $2 in a greeting card for each holiday of the year (sometimes two one-dollar bills, and sometimes a $2 bill, always crisp from the bank). It was so fun to get mail at every single holiday (Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, etc) and I would always promptly write her a thank-you note at which time I would also update her on my life as I grew up. We got to visit in person only a few times over my life when we traveled to New Jersey but we kept in touch much more frequently via mail. I am glad that Phil finally got to meet her, because a few weeks after the reunion, Aunt Jeannette passed away. I am glad to have such great memories of her and she will always hold a special place in my heart.
The morning after the reunion, a bunch of us took a walk on the boardwalk of Asbury Park and got to see "tent city". We didn't know what else to do the rest of the day so we decided to drive up the coast to Sandy Hook. All 6 of us piled into my parents rented Ford Focus (that's my Dad & Phil in the front and my mom, 2 aunts, and me in the back... it was cozy!). We didn't want to go to the beach since it was drizzling out, but we thought we'd go see the lighthouse and walk around on the island. We had a really fun time at one of the stops where there was an old canon, where I proceeded to hop on in what apparently was similar to a Playboy pose. My mom and aunts proceeded to yell things like "give me Sexy" and "give me pouty"... it was then that we realized I don't know how to do pouty. Guess I will need to to hone those skills before I can become one of "The Girls Next Door".
The following day, my parents, Aunt Pris, and the two of us decided to spend the day in NYC. We took the train in early that morning and when we got to the city we decided to find a tour bus to show us around. We did a tour of lower Manhattan with stops like the Empire State Building, Chinatown, Little Italy (which is much smaller than Chinatown), the Financial district, SoHo, Macy's, etc. It was a good overview and we were able to hop on/hop off which was nice as well. We ate lunch in Little Italy at an authentic little Italian spot. In the afternoon we decided to walk over to Central Park as well. That evening, my parents and aunt headed back to NJ and we stayed in town to meet one of Phil's college friends for dinner. She is working in the city and was able to take us to a great Vietnamese restaurant nearby her job. It was great food (we both had noodle bowls) and actually pretty inexpensive, for NYC! We took the subway back to our train stop and got back to Jersey around 10:30 that evening. It was a full day of sight-seeing!
For the next half of our vacation, we drove our rental car to Washington DC to sight-see for a few days. We checked into our hotel in Silver Spring, MD which turned out to be in a really good location. Downtown Silver Spring is filled with all sorts of restaurants so after a long day in DC we were able to stick close to our hotel and still get good food for dinner, all within about 2 blocks. Plus, the Metro stop was about 2 blocks away as well. We would buy all-day unlimited Metro passes each morning so that we could visit whatever attractions we wanted to, which was great. Their public transportation system is so well organized that it just makes us wish we had something similar in Texas. Hopefully some day we get there...
Anyhow, the first day after driving into town from NJ, we decided to go into the heart of DC and walk around. And boy did we walk! I think we probably walked at least 5 miles that day-- our whole bodies were sore from all the walking, especially our feet! We saw all of the monuments (Lincoln, Vietnam War, WWII, Korean War, Jefferson, FDR.....) and we hadn't even made a dent in all that DC has to offer! Our favorite memorial by far was the FDR memorial. He seems to be a perfect example of the type of president we need right now in our country, one who realizes the values of equality and most importantly PEACE. (haha I first typed peach, which is also important, but more of a flavor than a value)
The next day we took the Metro out to Arlington National Cemetery which was a very moving sight, with the gravesites of JFK and Jackie O, plus the guarded Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Very respectful and humbling place...
The following day we went to the Spy Museum which was very cool, but almost too thorough! We got hungry so we probably didn't get to see everything we could/would have! It was really well done. My favorite exhibit (which Phil thinks is fake, of course) is of how they used to have pidgeons strap cameras to their stomachs and fly over enemy territory where otherwise planes or cameras could not go. They had a cool photo of an aerial shot and you could see the bird's wings on either side of the frame! After the spy museum (and lunch), we walked through Chinatown, to the Capitol, the Library of Congress, and past the Supreme Court building.
That afternoon we decided to take our family members who lived in the DC area up on their offer to stay with them, so we checked out of our hotel (after a big fight about it being pre-paid, which we eventually won after talking to the manager) and moved over to Patty & Bob's house. They were so welcoming and fun to hang out with, along with their two kids Haileigh and Tyler. They had visited us last year in SA so the kids knew us and since two of them had stayed with us while they were in town, they were more than happy to reciprocate and let us crash there.
That evening, Patty & Bob took us to Annapolis which is a beautiful town (home of the Naval Academy). We walked along the boardwalk at sunset and got ice cream cones while we walked through the heart of town. Very charming place.
On our last day in DC, we went to the Holocaust Museum in the morning and then met a friend of mine from college for lunch. It started pouring down rain while we were in the museum and of course there were not any restaurants anywhere near the museum, so we had to trek across the city in the pouring rain to find food. Erin was such a great sport; she had just moved to DC after graduation a few weeks earlier, so she was not very familiar with the city either. But she led us to food, which was the most important thing. That afternoon we took the Metro to Old Town Arlington, as many people had recommended it as a romantic, charming little town. We walked up and down the streets and were not all that impressed, although the dreary drizzling weather might have contributed to our feelings...
There is still so much to see that we did not have an opportunity to visit in DC. We didn't make it to the National Archives, the Federal Reserves, or take a tour of the capitol. That just means we'll have to visit again!