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Published: March 27th 2010
The gothic university chapel.
American road signage sucks.
"What road do we want again? It's the I-95 right?", I ask my sister.
"No, we want the New Jersey Turnpike", she replies.
"Hang on, is the I-95 and the New Jersey Turnpike the same thing? That's what that sign is implying..."
We don't find out however, as you only see the sign literally two seconds after turning a tight corner and we miss the turnoff.
As a result, we end up taking a tour of the industrial wasteland that is the backroads of Newark.
"Hey look, there's a sign pointing us back to the Turnpike", spots my sister.
We stop in traffic, as shifty characters in puffa-jackets cross the road.
"Errrr...where do we go now", I ask as the signs run out and we end up at a car scrap yard that looks like one of those places where things are exchanged in a Mafia movie, only with Vampire Weekend's rather boppy and preppy new album as the soundtrack in our car.
We drive back and spot the spaghetti junction that is Newark Liberty International Airport's maze of roads and turnoffs and drive towards it, only to miss the Turnpike again as it is about four
Along the Jersey Shore.
lanes over to our right.
After about 30 minutes driving round in circles we finally make it on to the Turnpike and are on our way to see our Aunt Elizabeth, who is staying in Little Egg Harbour, about two hours south of New York.
It's great to be driving again, the first time I have driven in almost a year. Driving on the wrong side of the road is surprisingly easy to adapt to, although habitually leaning my right elbow on a non-existent right-window-ledge was quite amusing and shifting gears with my right hand felt alien. Instinctively looking over the wrong shoulder when reversing made things interesting but thankfully there were no inadvertent games of chicken played with oncoming traffic.
We stop at one of those huge "rest centers" that they have on the side of American highways and I grab a chilli-cheese dog and yet another pair of aviators having previously lost pairs of aviators in Venice
My sister and I had a running joke about how they call toilets "restrooms" over here, euphemising taking a piss or having a shit, as having "a rest". So after we had "rested", we got back on
The Princeton University library has 20 underground levels and 750 miles of bookshelves.
our way to Little Egg Harbour.
One thing good about American highway signage is how all the turnoffs are numbered and in numerical order so you have an idea of how long you have to go before getting to your turnoff. Paying tolls on the road sucked though and trying to get into the cash-only lanes was a bitch.
As we turned into the gated community of Sea Oaks, where Aunty Elizabeth lived, we were horrified at what confronted us.
Every house almost looked exactly the same and every house had identical letterboxes, all evenly spaced apart. It was a frightening Stepford Wives example of American suburbia.
I hadn't seen Elizabeth for about 20 years - the last and only time was when she visited my family in New Zealand, when I was little. Still, I didn't expect that she had turned into a old, white American lady. Ah, wrong house.
Elizabeth's house was very homely and cosy and I really appreciated being able to stay with someone and Elizabeth's hospitality was first class. With towels, soaps and sweets on my bed, along with a range of soaps and creams in the bathroom, it felt like I was staying
Quaint town up the coast from Spring Lake.
in a hotel. I also loved having carpet under my feet again.
Staying with Elizabeth was her male companion Marty. I think that at their age, they're a bit old to be calling each other boyfriend and girlfriend but Fern and I both thought it was sweet how they hung out together. Marty was a very interesting character and had loads of stories to tell and opinions to share. It was quite funny actually, as Marty would start telling a story and like a lot of old people, would go on and on and on, going off on tangents and eventually forgetting what he started talking about in the first place. Elizabeth would often interrupt Marty's stories or simply leave in the middle of them which I initially thought was quite rude. It was actually however, completely necessary, as although Marty had some very interesting stories, not all of them were interesting and not leaving or interrupting him would mean you might get stuck listening to him for hours. Towards the end, I started to just leave him alone in the middle of his stories which felt a bit bad at first, especially when he continued to tell the
Key Lime Pie
Delicious lime meringue pie.
stories even after everyone had left him!
Elizabeth had prepared a home-cooked meal for us, something that I haven't had in ages
and was very much looking forward to. A whole duck and pineapple stir-fried vegetables definitely went down well, as did the key-lime pie we had for dessert (basically a lime meringue pie) - yum.
We were meant to check out Atlantic City tonight, as it was just 40 minutes down the road, but I was still jet-lagged as hell and really just wanted to sleep.
My flight over from London was surprisingly empty and I managed to have two seats to myself - but unfortunately, two seats weren't really enough to fully stretch out and sleep. Also, with Atlantic City being the Vegas of the east coast, it sounds like the kind of place you would rather visit with a few mates for some gambling, buffets and some wild nights on the tiles. I didn't really know what Elizabeth and Marty had in mind.
I don't remember the last time it happened, but I was in bed by 9pm on a Saturday night - wild times.
14 hours of sleep later and we are at Scojo's,
Breakfast at Scojo's
Marty, Elizabeth, Fern and myself.
a Jersey diner by the water, for breakfast.
American portions, as you know, are huge and this was reflected by some of the people sitting in the diner including the epitome of your obese American family sitting right opposite us.
I had the wheat banana pancakes as well as some eggs and Canadian bacon (funny-looking round bacon). Despite a dousing of maple syrup, the pancakes were dry and even I couldn't finish them. Elizabeth is a regular here and was on personal terms with the owner who was a really friendly ring-in for Tony Danza. He even spoke like him. He certainly was the boss.
We took a drive to the Sea Oaks Golf Club, where Elizabeth regularly attends community functions at the grand clubhouse before stopping by at some model homes in the next community over from Sea Oaks, the Four Seasons.
There's something about these "communities" created from scratch by building corporations that irks me, but I suppose they have their advantages in terms of providing options for retirees in particular and offering opportunities for people to socialise within these communities.
These homes were pretty minted - there's something about imagining yourself living these fully-furnished homes that always
Another huge house by the beach in Spring Lake, with a cool design.
make viewing model homes more fun than perhaps they should be.
It was then time to drive back to Newark Airport via some picturesque Dawson's Creek/Gilmore Girls-like cute little towns on the Jersey Shore.
The first was Spring Lake, a beach town with some huge
wooden mansions - certainly a rich town. The boardwalk by the beach was peaceful and deserted and with low mist rolling onto the shore, there was a eerie calm to the place which was strangely charming.
The next town up, which didn't really feel like another town at all, was Ocean Grove. There were lots of cute wooden villas in this quaint little town.
We concluded our tour of the Garden State in Princeton, of the famous Ivy League university.
Arguably the most exclusive of the Ivy League universities, I was surprised to find out that Princeton only has 8,000 students despite the campus taking up most of the town. The town itself only has about 15,000 people. Unsurprisingly, given the exclusiveness of the university, you could feel that the town was rich.
By the time we had arrived in Princeton, it was dark and we didn't have a lot of time to before
Stone plaque on the wall at Princeton University.
needing to get the hire car back so our tour of the university was somewhat limited. My sister had a "rest" in the Firestone Library and we had a look inside the gothic University Chapel, before walking past the Chancellor Green Hall, all old, stone buildings.
The Chinese restaurant that Elizabeth had in mind was closed so we settled for some relatively fine dining at the Ferry House. By all accounts a well-rated restaurant, the decor and service was very nice and was matched by the food - my grilled sea bass with pesto and steamed mussels was delicious.
It was then time to say goodbye to Elizabeth and Marty - their hospitality was much-appreciated and it is always nice to see family.
Route 1 back to Newark was one weird highway. It was pretty much a main road and had about 52,735 car dealerships along it and 101,287 McDonald's. There were hardly any stretches without buildings on the side of it despite the fact that it is supposed to be a highway that goes between towns. A result of urban sprawl I guess and reminded me of the main highway coming out of Los Angeles on the way
Nice restaurant we ate at in Princeton.
to Las Vegas.
It was great to hang out with my sister Fern again after about year and getting the in-jokes going again. That, as well as doing a lot of driving all contributed to a relaxing weekend in New Jersey before sinking my teeth into New York City for week.
There will be no blog on New York - as I have been there before
- so I don't actually know what the next blog will come from.
This is my 50th blog entry - I never would have thought almost 3 years ago, that it would have got this far. And who knows, will there be 50 more? If there is to be another 50, then that's 50 more destinations that I will have to go to - bring it.
Until next time...
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