Friday, July 29, 2011

Cruising In The Corvair

One of the benefits of staying with my dad when I'm in Philadelphia is that I get to go out cruising with him in his 1964 Chevrolet Corvair Monza convertible. The car is his baby and he's had it for 14 years now. I have to admit that it's a lot of fun to drive around in as it gets a ton of attention and it makes me feel like we're riding in some old-fashioned carriage or something. This photo of my dad and Diana pulling out of the driveway is from Thanksgiving weekend last year:

In case you're not familiar with them, Corvairs were originally developed by Chevy to compete in the new (to the U.S.) small-car category that was characterized by the VW Beetle and several other mostly European cars. Corvairs, like the old Beetles, have air-cooled motor that are in the back of the car. It's interesting that me and my dad have both had rear-engine, air-cooled, white convertibles with black tops from the mid-1960s. In my case, it was a 1965 convertible VW Bug.

Being that the car isn't the newest, even though it is in great shape, my dad doesn't take it on the freeway very often so I was really surprised when he wanted to take the Corvair on our trip to Trader Joes last week. This video is from while we were on Interstate 295 in New Jersey:

If you ever get invited to go with my dad in "the Vair", definitely take advantage of the chance to take a cruise. Oh, and consider it an honor as he doesn't take just anyone!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Birthdays, Tailgate, and Baseball Game

Imagine this: It's going to be the hottest day of the year. What do you want to do? How about to go stand in a parking lot for a few hours and then go watch a baseball game for another few hours? Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Well, it's what I did this past Saturday and it ended up being super fun!

Tailgating folks crowded under the tents trying to avoid getting heat stroke:

The temperature officially got up to 102F (~39C) degrees that day but I'd imagine that it was hotter in the parking lot because of the heat radiating up from the asphalt. No matter though! It was my sister's birthday after all and I wanted to go to another of my cousin Bobby's tailgate parties. You might remember last year when I went to one of his famous Eagles' tailgates. This is basically the same setup but it's hot out instead of cold.

The bar-trailer with Andy serving up beer on tap and about 700 bottles of ice-cold water:

I spent the whole time sweating all over the place. It was better when I was in the shade but just when I thought that I'd pass out, my sister's friend Denise brought five plastic tubs and some ice so that people could cool off by putting their feet in them. It was surprisingly refreshing and very nice of her. After a while, I guess that dipping her feet wasn't enough for Tracy who decided to turn one of the tubs into her own kiddie pool:

We hung out in the parking lot for about three hours eating my cousin's prime-rib sandwiches and other treats. The Phillies game started around 4pm and they just happened to be playing against my other "hometown" team, the San Diego Padres. It was the first time that I had been to the "new" baseball stadium, Citizen's Bank Park. This is my sister, brother-in-law, and me headed up to the nose-bleed seats on the escalator:

The stadium is one of the newer style ballparks that looks old-fashioned but is super modern where all the seats have a good view and there are plenty of luxury boxes. Our seats were up pretty high on the third-base side but the view was very good and they were in the shade! Woo-hoo! It was nice to watch the game out of the sun.

My cousin got seats together for everyone who went to the tailgate so that everyone could sit together. From (top) left to (bottom) right, my dad, Ginny, Ginny's friends who I met that day, Tom, and Denise (who brought the plastic tubs and ice I mentioned above):

We managed to hang out until the top of the eighth inning when we just couldn't take the heat anymore. My sister decided that she wanted to eat some french fries for her birthday so we took off and headed to a restaurant over near her house that serves really great fries and adult beverages and has COLD air conditioning:

These next two photos are sort of random but since July is birthday month for both my brother and sister I thought I'd throw them in here. This one is a photo of Jackie and her birthday cake (we actually celebrated the day after the game above)...

...and a picture of my brother on his birthday earlier in the month:

Even though the day was hotter than what is reasonable, I had a great time spending the day at the tailgate and game with family and friends. I think that I prefer the heat of the summer-time tailgates to the cold of the winter ones. Regardless, happy belated birthday to Kevin and Jackie! Cheers!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Down The Shore: Fudge And Salt Water Taffy

If you haven't figured it out yet, when I'm "back home" in Philadelphia, I like to eat. A lot. It's partly because it reminds me of different times growing up, partly because the food's really good, and mostly just because I can. Sweet. Savory. It doesn't matter. It seems like I go out of my way to eat pretzels, water ice, cheese steaks, and lots of other stuff. Lucky for you, I like to write about it too!

While I was in Wildwood checking out the Googie/Doo-Wop hotels, I happened to pass by one of the classics of going to "the shore"--Laura's Fudge shop:

I couldn't resist stopping at the pink-and-white-striped store and getting some fudge and salt water taffy. Laura's has been around since the 1920s and probably has some of the best fudge in town. There are other shops and their's is good too but nothing says "down the shore" and "fudge" to me like Laura's. Going into the shop is like a trip back in time. For example, the menu board that lists all the flavors looks like it hasn't changed in the 90 years that they've been open. Also, in what seems like an ode to less hygienic times, they leave all the fudge out on a table. After all, who'd want to actually have to open a case to pack fudge?

Their fudge is made in the back of the shop, which they wouldn't let me in to check out (I asked but they said something about safety and insurance and some other crap - oh well) but "you can" go around and look in from the side windows of the shop. Hmph... In the photo below you can see the copper bowls that they mix the fudge in and the racks that they let the fudge cool on. Nope, nothing's changed here in 90 years either:

In case you're not familiar with fudge, it's a sweet treat that's made from everything that's good in life including sugar, butter, milk, and pretty much nothing else. The ingredients get cooked and flavors like chocolate, mint, peanut butter, and so on are added. It has a texture that's harder than a brownie but softer than a chocolate bar...maybe almost like a super-dense icing on a cake. What I like most about it is that it has a slightly grainy texture to it. It's very decadent and sweet so you really can't eat too much of it at one time. It reminds me of butter cake in that you take a small piece then come back 18 more times for ever increasingly small pieces until you just can't eat any more.

Most of the shops like Laura's that sell fudge also sell what's called salt water taffy. Salt water taffy is probably THE shore candy as it's also been around since the 1920s and is believed to have been invented in nearby Atlantic City, New Jersey. Basically, it's a chewy, sweet candy that has the texture of a chewy toffee or a thick caramel but without any of the dairy products. Actually, I think that it's just sugar held together by more sugar. Who knows...

Like fudge, salt water taffy's cooked up in copper kettles and flavors are added during the process. It comes in a ton of different flavors including chocolate, vanilla, lemon, mint, and so on. Actually, it comes in almost any flavor you can imagine. This is a photo of the loose taffy bin at Laura's:

Stopping by the shop was definitely a trip down memory lane for me. I picked up some treats and, much to the horror of my dieting sister-in-law, brought them back to my dad's condo to share. The pink boxes are each one pound of mixed-flavor salt water taffy and the white box holds a pound of fudge:

Okay, just to tease you, here's a photo of the fudge I'm about to enjoy. There's chocolate (my favorite), chocolate peanut butter (yum), maple (yum yum), vanilla, cookies-n-cream, and rocky road in this box:

Don't hate me because I have fudge! You too can head "down the shore" and get some for yourself. Just make sure to bring me back some chocolate fudge and salt water taffy.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wildwood's Doo-Wop And Googie Motel Architecture

I've written about the beach-town of Wildwood, New Jersey, before but while there this last weekend I took some photos of the local motel architecture that I wanted to share. But first, a little history lesson...

"Wildwood" as it's known generally, is a barrier island almost at the southern end of the New Jersey "shore" that is made up of three smaller towns (from north to south): North Wildwood, (The City of) Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest. It was first developed in the 1880s but things really got going after World War II when returning soldiers had some cash in their pockets and wanted somewhere to take the family to relax. During the 1950s boom, around 200 small motels were built in the space-age/fantasy architectural style that would later be named Googie (not Google). Later, the term Doo-Wop was adopted by the local preservation committee to define the specific style that was prevalent in Wildwood.

Googie architecture is probably most well known for the drive-ins and road-side restaurants that became popular during the 1950s. It was also widely used in Las Vegas during their 1950s boom. The idea was that folks passing by in their cars needed to see something highly unusual for them to stop the car and visit. Some well-recognized examples include the Theme Restaurant at Los Angeles International airport (LAX), the Seattle Space Needle, the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, and lots of buildings built around Los Angeles like Bob's Big Boy and Norm's Coffee Shop.

As the people who were building up Wildwood wanted to attract travelers to their motels, they used the Googie style to draw attention to their buildings. When driving south through the Wildwoods, as if you were coming from Philadelphia or New York, the motels often had their signs and "best features" pointed north to get attention.

This is the Lollipop Motel in North Wildwood with its cutesy, fantasy sign and colorful style:

The motel design that would come to be called the Doo-Wop style is characterized by L-shaped two-and-three-story concrete buildings that frequently had a swimming pool and sun deck along with a bunch of parking spaces under and/or around the building. In many cases, bright colors and plastic palm trees were used to add to their style. All of these elements can be seen in this photo of the Blue Palms Motel, which is located in Wildwood:

Like I mentioned, approximately 200 or so motels were built during the 1950s boom but over time many have been torn down. The latest construction boom to hit Wildwood took place during the 1990s and early 2000s when many of the old motels were replaced with high-rise condos. This photo of the Beach Colony Motel in Wildwood Crest shows how the newer construction "towers" over the old:

It's not all doom and gloom though. Some motels are fighting the trend and have gone on a renovation spree where they've returned to or even exceeded their earlier grandeur. One of the best examples that I found is the Caribbean Motel in Wildwood Crest. It's a great example of the Googie style with it's curved ramp, angled windows, and fantasy plastic palms and other decorations:

Other former motels have maintained their original shape but have been converted into condo buildings. This condo complex that I found in North Wildwood was nicely redone but you can clearly see its motel roots:

Once I really started to pay attention to the architectural style, I noticed all sorts of details that I hadn't seen in all my years visiting Wildwood. My dad told me that I should check out some of the motels at night if I really wanted to appreciate them. I headed back to some of the coolest motels that I saw during the day to see what they looked like with the lights on. It didn't disappoint as you can see with this photo of the Starlux Motel in Wildwood. Note the cylinder-shaped metal structure that houses the stairs and the Starlux sign as well as the unusual-shaped office building and the fantasy-styled fence surrounding the property:

The Starlux Motel is very cool but I wanted to go back to the Caribbean Motel, which I was very impressed with during the day. It too didn't disappoint. They've lit up the whole building with bright lights and colors adding to its interesting and exciting-look.

There are a TON of things like the Doo-Wop architecture that I see now that I just didn't notice or appreciate growing up. For example, it wasn't until I went to Paris for the first time that I began to appreciate the architectural styles found in Center City Philadelphia. In some ways, it took me traveling all the way around the world to understand where I came from...but I guess that's part of the point of traveling.

There's no place like home... There's no place like home...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Driveway Happy Hour

Being that today's Friday, I wanted to share a new-ish Friday family tradition that my brother-in-law Larry came up with. Every so often during the summer my sister and he hold a Driveway Happy Hour (or "DWHH" if you're hip) on Friday afternoon. The idea is that it's an opportunity for folks to come by, hang out, and have some snacks and drinks.

They invite everyone and their grandmother...literally! They've got grandparents, kids, adults, kids that act like adults, and adults who act like kids. It's fun to hang out; shoot the shit; eat pretzels, nachos, and pizza all while having some nice cool drinks.

I'm still not 100% sure why it takes place in the driveway but I'm guessing it's because they have a huge dog named Baxter that uses the back yard for his own purposes, which limits their ability to hang out there. Either way, I like it because the DWHH is more casual than a barbecue or other "house" party. It's more like people just stopping by to say hello as opposed to something that's a big deal.

I'm looking forward to more of this new family tradition. We can add this one to Thanksgiving dinner, Eagles Tailgates, and taking four hours to open Christmas presents on the family-traditions list!

Oh, one other BIL (bro-in-law) said don't even think about trying to use the name Driveway Happy Hour or DWHH without giving credit where credit's due. I think that he's already working on trademarking the idea but I'm sure he'd be flexible if you'd invite him to your DWHH and buy him a beer.

Monday, July 11, 2011

My 7 Links

This post is a little different than what I normally write about here. I was recently nominated by one of my favorite bloggers, Lee from LoneLeePlanet, to participate in Tripbase's My 7 Links project. The idea is that nominated bloggers pick stories from their own blog that best represent lessons learned in seven different categories. They then nominate other blogs they like to join in on the fun. Here are mine...

Most Beautiful Post

My post about the Mozu-Hachiman Futon-Daiko Festival that I wrote while living in Japan has some of my favorite visuals including a video. I've had other posts like those in Tibet that probably had some better photos but this is my favorite overall.

Most Popular Post

My post about Philadelphia's Italian Market to this day still gets the most hits of any story. From what I can tell, it's all related to people searching for images of the scene from the movie Rocky where the main character runs down the middle of the street in Philadelphia as part of his training program, which also included him beating up some meat.

Most Controversial Post

In Spain, there are a hand full of autonomous regions that have some level of self rule and independence from the central government. Catalunya, where Barcelona is located, is one such region. There are quite a few people in Catalunya that would like to see it be independent of Spain once again and quite a few on the other side who believe just the opposite, which makes my post on Catalan Nationalism somewhat controversial.

Most Helpful Post

The local Barcelona government ran a series of ads last year where they were attempting to teach people what is not acceptable social behavior. I really think there are some great lessons to be learned from what they put together so I wrote about it in a post called Learning Socially Acceptable Behavior.

Most Surprisingly Successful Post

I wrote a post about Wildwood, New Jersey last year. It's basically an ode to a little beach town that we went to every summer as I was growing up and continue to go to this day. Honestly, I'd say it's an average post for me but it gets lots of hits and my friends and family just love it and talk about it to this day.

Post That Didn't Get The Attention It Deserved

While in Osaka last year, I had the chance to visit the Nissin Foods Cup Noodle Factory where I got to make my own packages of Cup Noodles. The day was so much fun and the photos are so good that I've always wished that the post was more popular. It does get some hits but nothing like it deserves.

Proudest Post

Occasionally I actually manage to write something that's worthwhile. My post named simply Done, which answers the age-old question of "why did you get rid of everything and take off to explore the world?", is one that I'm particularly proud of. (Note: yes, that's me below back when I was waaaay smarter than I am now and, no, it has nothing to do with my proudest post.)

I'll add an eighth post, which is not one of the categories but should be. I'd call it my Most Fun:

While in Tibet last year, my guide asked me if I would mind doing him a favor by going to a local language school where a friend of his teaches English. There was no way that I'd miss the opportunity and Teaching English In Tibet ended up being incredibly fun and memorable.


I very much enjoyed going through all of my old stories. I've nominated these bloggers for the My 7 Links project and I hope that they have as much fun as I did:

To see all the participants in the My 7 Links project, visit this page. Thanks again to loneleeplanet!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fourth Of July Barbecues

I got back to the United States just in time for the summer to really kick into gear. This past Monday was the Fourth of July when the U.S. celebrates the country's declaration of independence from England way back in 1776. For me and lots of others in the U.S., it's when people start taking vacations and having pool parties and barbecues! What fun!

My weekend started out with my dad, Ginny, and my sister's family at my dad's condo in Wildwood. I came back up to the city on Sunday morning to go to a combo pool party and BBQ at my friend Brian's house, which isn't too far from where my dad lives. Brian and I hadn't seen or spoken to each other in years--since we were in high school together. We "met up" again through facebook recently and he invited me over for the party.

While at his house, I took this photo as I thought it's a perfect "All American" BBQ spread. You've got an ice-filled bucket with beer and soda, a tray of hot dogs and hamburgers, bottles of ketchup and mustard, potato and macaroni salads, an American flag motif, and the family dog. I'm not sure that you can get more American than this:

I had a great time getting to know Brian again and meeting his family and friends. Brian told me that he loves my writing and never misses one of my blog posts. I have to say that it's nice to have fans! Thanks for the great time Brian and lets not wait another 25 years to do it again!

The following day I went to another Fourth pool party and barbecue (do you see the pattern yet?). This one was thrown by my brother-in-law Larry's (Jr.) parents, Diane and (big) Larry. Their back yard was packed with at least 50 people. It was a very hot and humid day so lots of folks took advantage of the pool and, in this photo, were playing volleyball.

I snapped this photo right around dinner time when the "dads" took over the pool. I love how everyone has their own flotation device. My bro-in-law Larry is in the middle on the right:

Not only were the food, drinks, and desserts plentiful and good, they did a great job entertaining the kids. In addition to the pool, they had a piƱata filled with candy and they held some sack races. I never thought much about (potato) sack races before but now that I've traveled to so many places around the world and now really notice cultural things like this, I spent some time trying to find out what the history of it is. I couldn't find anything very detailed (anyone want to write a book?) but what I did see suggested that it originated around the time of the (U.S.) Revolutionary War, which makes it seem even more appropriate for a Fourth of July BBQ. In this photo you can see two of my nieces (Brynn and Cori) on the left side along with two other girls:

Probably the best part of being back in Philadelphia (or at least the Philadelphia area) is getting to spend extended time with family. It seems that every time I'm here my breeder brother and sister have another kid. I love hanging out with all 29 of them (just kidding-only 6-but it seems like more). I was holding my nephew Danny when my arms got tired so I put him in a small plastic wagon and pulled him around the yard. He really seemed to enjoy it but probably not nearly as much as I did.

What can I say? Long-time friends, lots of family, pool parties, and barbecued meat. As the saying goes, it's about as American as apple pie. Happy birthday U.S.A. What time are the fireworks?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bad Teeth Good Shoes

I remember someone once telling me that the British are famous for having bad teeth and good shoes. It was pretty funny at the time although I really didn't have enough first-hand experience to know if it was true. Now that I've been to London, I can definitely say that I saw some great shoes and some bad teeth. I don't know if either were better or worse than anywhere else but it got me thinking about other British/English cliches like the one that says British food is not very good.

My experiences with British food prior to this trip was at English and Irish pubs in the U.S. where they serve a mish-mash of food from the region including fish-n-chips, curried this-and-that, and so on. Other than that, I only had trips to Ireland and Scotland years before where I figured the food would be similar. The food in both of those countries turned out to be really good so I was looking forward to sampling the local food and drink in England.

My first meal was about an hour after arriving to town and it was at a fairly dirty-looking Indian take-out place near the B and B. I ate a super-greasy curried chicken and rice dish that was both cheap and surprisingly good. For dinner that night at a local pub filled with about 50% tourists, I ordered the "Pub Food Combo" and this is what I got:

It was a combo of mostly fried foods like chips (french fries), fish (as in fish-n...), bangers (sausage), mashed potatoes, a meat pie, gravy, and a couple of other items. It was sooooo typical and touristy that it made me happy. They must make a mint on serving up food like this to tourists. My guess is that it costs about $9 U.S. for this combo but they charge something like $23 U.S. for it. It turned out to be pretty good but nothing to write home about (oh, wait...).

The next day I ordered a meat pie with veggies. Growing up my parents used to make what we called "pot pie", which was similar. It's a pastry shell with a meat, veggie, and gravy filling that gets baked. I loved them as a kid and this meal made me reminisce about those days.

You might notice that I ordered an Aspall's cider for my drink. One thing that's great about being somewhere in the U.K. is that they serve draft ciders for folks like me that don't like beer. As with the apfelwein in Germany, I had more than a couple of them while there.

On my last day in town, I went to another local pub and ordered a beef-and-veggie dish along with another Aspall's. It was just okay to be honest and a bit pricey at something like $19 U.S. not including the drinks.

The food in London turned out to be good but not great. I didn't have any one meal that stands out in my memory like I did while in Ireland and Scotland. I'm sure with a local I could get much better since they'd know where to look. So let's review:

Good Shoes? Definitely.
Bad teeth? There were some.
Bad food? Not really. Overall pretty good but it left me wanting to dive deeper...maybe with a local guide next time.
Cliches debunked? Maybe.

Cheers for the fun quick visit London. See you next time.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

London Part 2

My last post about the trip to London was mostly about the places that I visited while there. This one's more about some of the interesting things that I saw.

I mentioned in the last story about the kid's nursery rhyme London Bridge. I figured that I'd show a photo of the real London Bridge, which seems to be structurally sound much to the relief of children all over the world. It's basically just a multi-lane concrete span with the words London Bridge on each of the support columns:

It's not nearly as nice looking as the nearby Tower Bridge, which I think is a more iconic image of London. On the other side of London Bridge from the Tower Bridge, just in front of the Tate Modern Museum, is the Millennium pedestrian bridge. I liked this view of the bridge across the Thames where you can see Saint Paul's cathedral to the left, the pickle-shaped Gherkin building to the right, and a bunch of other interesting-shaped buildings between them:

I've written in the past about how there are certain things that I'd like to see one day but that aren't something I'd plan a whole trip around. They're places like the Taj Mahal or Teotihuacan that I'd like to see but only if I was already going to be in the area. One example is when I got to see Picasso's Guernica painting while in Madrid last year.

While in London, I got to see another of the items on that list: the Rosetta Stone. This 2,000-year-old chunk of rock was originally carved in Egypt. It has the same text written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Egyptian Demotic, and ancient Greek, which has allowed modern-day people the ability to translate the Egyptian hieroglyphs. I've especially wanted to see the Rosetta stone since I went to Egypt last year and got to see lots of hieroglyphs first hand. The picture isn't too great since the stone is kept in a glass case but it was very cool to get to see such an important artifact up close and personal:

This next item is not even in the same league as the Rosetta Stone but I wanted to take a photo for my sister-in-law Zahra who loves Freddy Mercury and Queen. It's a giant statue of Mercury advertising a Queen musical taking place at the Dominion theater in London. I figured she'd like it:

As you probably know, they drive on the "wrong" side of the street in the UK. You may not know it but about one-third of the world's population drives on the left side including Japan where I lived for a time last year. A couple of google search results suggest that people have been traveling "on the left" for a very long time so that they could use their right, dominant hand to defend themselves from people passing to their right. I'm not sure of the validity of that story but it is easy to visualize.

When I'm in left-hand driving countries, every time I cross the street, it's a bit nerve racking because I conscientiously have to think about it: look left-right-left instead of right-left-right, which I'm used to. I'm sure that many people end up getting hit by cars while they're on vacation in London since you have to actively think about it every time you cross the street. I definitely appreciate that they've taken the time to paint "Look Left" or "Look Right" at almost every corner.

Something that was a little surprising to me was the happy hour traditions that I saw. In Spain, people generally go hang out in an outdoor cafe or inside somewhere if they go out after work. It's part of the tradition to have lots of outdoor cafes in Barcelona and California but, probably due to the typical weather in London, bars and restaurants just aren't designed with outdoor seating all that often. I saw many scenes like this one below where people would go into the pub, get their drinks, and then go back outside to hang out on the sidewalk in front of the place. It's a fairly informal and fun practice in a city that seems on the surface to be relatively formal.

Finally, one of the other things that I've heard about all my life is the term Greenwich Mean Time. I had never spent much time or effort thinking about it except when I'm crossing the international date line 12 hours away. While we were over near the O2 arena, I saw a plaque showing the location of the mean and couldn't resist getting my picture with it. Also, it turns out, that my watch has been off by three minutes for who knows how long.

Even though it's super pricey, London's a fun town to visit at least once. I got to see and experience a bunch of fun and interesting things while there, including gorging myself on Cadbury chocolates and pub food, which I'll write about next time.