Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation, Part entry

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City is the site of the movie "Night At The Museum" with Ben Stiller. So, most people were seeking the talking head from Easter Island (see first picture below). However, we were getting a behind-the-scene tour of the primate fossils from a wonderful intern named Michelle. She and Walt connected through an internet group (they are both "goons") and she generously gave us three hours of her time to see and touch the fossils that take up 10 floors of the museum. Much of what is on display for the public is reproduced...we were actually touching the real stuff. Walt was a bit speechless, which is shocking for those of you who know him well.

We had an amazing opportunity when we met Dr. Andres Giallombardo, who just completed his dissertation on the link between placental mammals and the earlier marsupial and monotremes from the Jurassic period. He had a one-of-a-kind skull of the tiniest mammal you've ever imagined, found in the Gobi Desert. The skull was over 100 million years old. He showed the mandible and surviving tooth and let us view it through the microscope. Amazing. We are so thankful to him and to Michelle for their time...we saw stuff that visitors don't see, and you know how interesting that was for us. Walt will have some interesting power point presentations for his middle school students. By the way, Michelle turns out to be from Moreno Valley, and got interested in science in middle school, so who knows where Walt's presentation will lead...he is teaching the future scientists.

Finally, you will notice shelves and boxes. There are fossils that were recovered over 100 years ago that haven't even been open because there just are not enough researchers to work on them. Can you imagine? One of the people who brought those fossils to the museum is Edward Cope, famed paleontologist. You will see Walt standing at his actual desk. And, you will see Walt reading 1st and 2nd editions of Cope's and Darwin's books from the stacks of the research library. Speaking of books, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson who heads the Hayden Planetarium was unable to meet with us due to a teaching commitment, but sent his regrets in the form of a signed copy of his book The Pluto Files. Read it, when you get the chance. Dr. Tyson is the main reason Pluto is no longer considered a planet in our solar system, and his writings are an enjoyable reading experience.

This is the end of our photolog from the trip. We enjoyed putting our feet on foreign soil again as we toured two provinces of Eastern Canada. We enjoyed the daunting task of learning Manhattan - a place we cannot wait to return to. We enjoyed beautiful views of the Atlantic sea and the NYC skyline that will hopefully stay with us throughout the next school year when days are stressful, and we learned a lot about primate fossil research (did you know there was an animal that lived in North America that is really half cat and half dog with a long, prehensile tail that allowed it to swing between trees in the forests that used to cover our country?).

What a great getaway. Thanks for reading, looking, and sharing it with us.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation, Part 4

First, I have to say that we left our hearts in New York (yes, I know, that is a San Francisco song...but we really loved NYC). We had a WONDERFUL hotel...the Excelsior on W. 81st Street between Columbus and Central Park. We had a room on the top floor facing lower Manhattan, so you can see the pictures taken from our window (in the first picture below, our room is top, to the right, directly under the decorative part of the roof). The Excelsior was located across the street from the American Museum on Natural History, which was Walt's destination, so it was most convenient. The ball you see is the Hayden Planetarium. We spent a lot of time at the museum (that will be featured in the final set of pictures tomorrow), and took taxis downtown to see some sites and to find our favorite British restaurant - Pret A Manger. In the evenings, we walked Central Park to view the robins, the fireflies, and the Native New Yorkers. We also discovered a pizza place that was amazing - just picture a typical New Yorker saying "how ya doin'...watcha want ta eat" in that typical accent. We might never eat pizza in California again. The taste and texture of the Pizza Margherita spoiled us!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation, Part 3

Some of these photos might look redundant, but we got up at 4:30 a.m. so we wouldn't miss the trip back into the harbor before docking at 7:00 a.m., showing some of the same shots we took when leaving the harbor 5 days before. The sunrise over the Manhattan skyline was amazing, and we caught the Statue of Liberty in the morning sun...different than the evening pictures we got on the way out. The deck of the ship was virtually empty - why sleep when you can see a view like this? I'm glad we got up early. The fourth photo shows the area where the World Trade Center towers were located. From the ship I could see how vast an area it was, left empty except for the cranes that are still working to clear debris and rebuild. Towards the bottom of the photos you will see the top of the Empire State Building, originally intended to dock Zeppelins when they thought those would be the travel mode of choice in the 1930s. Strong winds put an end to that idea. Finally, you will see a pair of deck chairs. We started our voyage on those chairs, and then returned to the same chairs to view the docking procedures. Most people stayed away from that deck and we enjoyed the relaxing privacy.

These photos are probably more meaningful to us that you, so thanks for letting me share them anyway. The next blog posting will feature photos of NYC.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation, Part 2

On June 21st, the summer solstice, we spent the day in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Halifax is a beautiful town (perhaps the size of Redlands) where no resident is more than 20 miles from the sea. They are a fishing and lobster-trapping town. The people cook their lobster in sea water and then dip the meat in vinegar rather than butter. They grow a lot of blueberries, as well. Our tour guide gave us a blueberry dessert recipe that is wonderful - email me if you want a copy!

First, we headed to Peggy's Cove, which is a lot like Cape Cod and is now a national heritage site. The view was amazing. Walt and I laugh every time we see a lighthouse (an inside joke), but this one was amazing! About a year ago, a rogue wave covered the houses before washing back out to sea. The damage was minimal and no lives were lost. Also, Peggy's Cove was the home of an artist named DeGarthe, who carved a mural of fishermen into the ubiquitous rock.

Our afternoon was spent at the Fairview Cemetery which has 330 bodies of people who died on Titanic and were buried in Halifax, either because they were unidentified or because their families couldn't afford to ship their bodies home. The grave markers are laid out in the shape of a ship's bow. Walt made several grave rubbings, with the permission of our tour guide.

The next day, June 22, we went into St. John, New Brunswick in search of seafood. First, we enjoyed their huge town market and then went to Billy's Seafood Company for a long lunch of fish and chips and Atlantic salmon with maple glaze. Billy's food put any local SoCal restaurants to shame (including Market Broiler and Fisherman's Grill).

New Brunswick neighbors Quebec, so everything is bilingual. We found the people of Eastern Canada to be kind and helpful and the views to be astoundingly beautiful.