A Parking Lot for RVs, Candied Nuts, and a Funny Pigeon

October 18th-19th

Jersey City & New York City

New York City buildings

Liberty Harbor RV Park

As we pull in to the Liberty Harbor RV Park, my heart sinks. The website had made it look so much nicer. What we have pulled in to is, in reality, a parking lot. There is no playground, no trees, and not a lot of room to move, but instead RVs parked within mere inches of one another, in a neighbourhood that doesn’t inspire much confidence.

We are overdue for clothes washing, so I head to the laundry room. There is a row of laundry machines and dryers stacked on top of one another, across from a long table and a single plastic chair.

In the corner stands a plastic wash tub, and on the wall, a coin machine flashes “out of order.” As I don’t have any coins with me, I head to the office to obtain some change. At 4:30 p.m., the office is dark and no one is inside, despite the advertised closing time of 5:00 p.m.

My last hope is the security guard, who is currently telling people it costs $9 to park their car in the adjacent parking lot to the RV location. He barely notices me when I try to get help from the office. After some confused talk about whether or not there would be coin rolls inside, I’m finally able to get the change needed for the laundry machines. So back to the laundry room I go.

 

empty Black laundry basket

 

The first attempt at clothes washing is met with a washer whose door won’t close. The second attempt is met with a washer that has about two cups of dirty standing water inside. The third attempt is met with an “out of order” sign. Of the six machines in the room, only two are working. Sort of.

I place the clothes into one of the machines, which shares a coin operating system with the dryer above it. After placing all my clothes and putting in my coins, I select the washer’s buttons, which refuse to operate. The digital display instead asks me to select dryer operating options. Frustrated, I try to recollect my coins by pressing the coin return lever. Nothing.

I take all my clothes out and place them into my last hope for getting them washed: the final washing machine in the room. I’m met with the same request for operating the dryer’s options rather than the washer to which it’s attached. The coin return on this machine doesn’t work either. Each washer costs $2.50, so I’m now out $5.00, and my clothes are still dirty.

Frustrated, I try to get Daniel’s attention. Dan is helping the kids to have a shower, in a washroom with shower heads that don’t take quickly to hot water requests. I finally give up and tell Dan I’m going back to the RV. There’s no family washroom, so I can’t help Dan with bathing the kids—he has taken them into the men’s room.

As I walk away from the laundry room and bathrooms, I wonder how the tent campers can sleep in the small fake grass area that has been set up for them—directly across from heavy bathroom and laundry room doors that bang with each opening and closing, and directly under a giant flood light. Peace and quiet won’t be easy to find either: their camp sites are also across from a gym that blasts loud music well into the evening.

 

Woman holding up hands in a "nope" gesture

 

One of the promises made on the website for this unfortunate RV parking lot is that a games room is available. I search everywhere for this games room, but all I find is an empty room adjacent to the washrooms. The room is dark and has no furniture, and no games, but it does have a glass door that isn’t locked. The door has been kicked and has cracks throughout.

Another promise made is 24-hour security. Sure enough, a security officer stands guard at the entrance to the RV parking lot. People pass by him unchecked and go into the “park,” while others use the unguarded gates at the back of the park to come in and out at all hours.

The “RV Park” in Liberty Harbor is disappointing, to say the least. At US$100, staying in a crowded, out-of-repair parking lot is extremely overpriced. I prefer to stay positive about our travels, but I can’t in good conscience recommend friends stay here.

 

Challenges & Joys in Jersey City & New York City, www.marianamcdougall.com, white and pink lettering in front of a black square, with the USS Maine monument in the background.

 

Having said that, if you have a big rig and want to visit New York City, you don’t really have another option. The Liberty Harbor RV Parking lot (I refuse to call it a “park,”) is a 1-minute walk from a ferry that will take you to Manhattan. So we bite the bullet, stay 2 nights, and take the ferry to NYC the next day. 

There is a redeeming quality to the unfortunate parking lot: we can see a fireworks display from the comfort of our RV, which delights the children. And the ferry ride, the fastest we’ve ever been on, is fun. Having gotten used to the 20-minute leisurely ferry rides from Kingston to Wolfe Island, Ontario, being on the Liberty Harbor ferry feels more like being on a speed boat.

October 19th 

New York City

Two young girls and a boy look out the window of the NY Waterway ferry at Jersey City.

 

After a somewhat disappointing evening at a parking lot for RVs, we make our way to Manhattan via the NY Waterway. After getting off the ferry, we start our walk through NYC. There is a helipad adjacent to the ferry terminal, and a Royal Navy helicopter has landed on it. Three other helicopters land and then take off, giving the impression that this is a day for an international training exercise. The children spend several minutes observing the helicopters, and we leave after a while, directing our attention to finding the NYC Public Library.

The streets are bustling with activity and bursting with art. Sculptures and fountains are found both in parks as well as in busy city streets and give you pause, even in “the city that never sleeps.” Larger-than-Life sculptures are set against the backdrop of skyscrapers, while birds pause their flight to listen to the sounds of the fountains.

 

2 Female body sculptures with no heads in front of a building in NYC

 

As we leave one of the sculptures, a couple, likely in their 70s, is walking down the street, arm in arm, and walking as close together as if they had just started dating. Perhaps they had? No, the way they walk together shows a comfort and closeness that takes decades to build.

They move at a determined pace, if slower than the business suits around them. They are both tall, and she wears a red beret that matches her lip colour perfecly. Her red lips contrast beautifully with her dark skin, and I look at the couple in admiration, thinking that when Dan and I are their age, I want to walk down the street just like them.

I smile as I pass them by, and she smiles back at me, as if she knows what I’m thinking. I tell her that I love her lip colour, and she thanks me politely and humbly, before I run off to catch up with the children.

Two young girls look at a sculpture and fountain in front of a building in NYC. They have their backs to the camera.

The National Museum of the American Indian

The rich culture and customs of indigenous people in the Americas, along with the painful history of colonization, is on display at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. From ancient traditional clothing to modern indigenous art, this museum is a welcome location to anyone wishing to learn more about different first nations people. The museum is located directly across from a subway stop, and admission is free.

Entering the museum is somewhat surreal. Although I lived for four years in Chicago prior to immigrating to Canada, I never experienced the ubiquitous metal detectors seen in movies that take place in the area. Despite going to school in a neighbourhood riddled with gang violence, my closest experience with security in a non-airport building was being sent to the principal’s office by a “para-pro,” or unarmed hall supervisor.  

Going into the museum feels like going through customs at a busy airport. We  place our bags in containers and step through metal detectors, and confusion ensues. Daniel has brought his backpack, where he keeps a multi-tool handy. It never crossed our minds that this might be a problem at a museum, and we didn’t intentionally bring the multi-tool. Dan simply grabbed the same backpack that he normally uses for camping gear. After some confused looks, we are told this cannot be brought into the building. Daniel hides it outside, and we finally make our way into the building. More confusion: the way to the actual exhibits isn’t clear. Once we have ourselves sorted out, we explore the displays.

I’m always interested to see if Brazilian indigenous peoples are represented whenever I hear the words “American Indian.” We have an unfortunate tendency to use the word “American” or “America” to represent the United States, and forget the other 34 countries in the continents. And let’s not mention the irony of calling indigenous peoples “Indians.” But I digress.

The museum does represent Indigenous peoples of both North and South America, and portrays the traditions of tribes going back several centuries. While the displays are fascinating, keeping young children from touching them is a challenge. Going to a traditional museum was difficult after going to one where they were encouraged to interact with the exhibits. Visiting a museum where it’s hard to keep young children off exhibits made me think that Kingston (where we normally live) needs a children’s museum. I’ll add that to my “things I’ll do when I have a tonne of money” list.


Father and three children in front of the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in NYC.

Grand Central Station

I found this awesome list of things to look for at Grand Central Station, which I thought would be a lot of fun for the kids. Alas, it never happened. the kids got hungry and there wasn’t really a place to sit down to feed them the sandwiches we brought, and we wanted to get going to the library anyway. It was still nice for them to be able to see the giant flag, the constellation-painted ceiling, and for K-girl to know that she was standing where all those people froze back in 2008.

 

Grand Central Station, NYC. Flag and crowd in the main area.

 

As it is, we don’t spend much time at the station. We make our way to the New York City Public Library by means of a subway ride. When we get there, we don’t go in right away, because we run into board game geek heaven: there are free games to play at the park right outside the library. So we sit down and play “Spot it!” after the kids finish their snack.

 

Bryant Park Board Games cart outside New York City Public Librrary

 

After relaxing, playing a game, and observing the sculptures outside of the library, we go in to find the children’s area. The New York City Public Library is certainly beautiful. The intricate ceilings beckon you to stay a while and observe, while the marble walls tell of the majesty, knowledge, and history the building contains.

 

NYC Public Library Hallway & Ceiling, RVing with kids, family travel

 

As beautiful as this building is, I must say I prefer the Boston Public Library. In Boston, I also felt that I was stepping into a piece of history, but at the same time, the library felt “used.” Don’t get me wrong—here at the New York City Public Library, there are plenty of people wondering about, and I’m sure many of them are regular patrons. But in a way, it feels more like a museum than a library. There are plenty of tourists taking photos, which was also the case in Boston. But somehow, this library seems more impersonal. Perhaps it’s because I see more security officers than librarians during our short time through the building.

For a place this size, the children’s area in the NYC Public Library is somewhat disappointing, especially compared to Boston. But the Lego lions sure are impressive. I recall seeing a segment on a TV show a long time ago about these unique pieces. As someone who is not friendly with puzzles (and who has arthritis in her fingers), the patience and skill of this artist truly amaze me.

 

Lego lion at the New York City Public Library

 

We read several books together, and meet a friendly family from Wales. They are amazed at our trip, saying that they’ve been away for 27 days and are more than ready to return home (and for the kids to return to school). I completely understand that this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. But I love travelling so much, and homeschooling the kids has brought me so much joy. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I want to pull out my hair, too. But every parent has those moments. I’d rather have those moments while doing something I love (travelling).

Mother and 3 children in front of the library steps outside the New York City Public Library. Several people are sitting on the steps. The mother is standing up and wearing a backpack.

 

A book about puberty has been left on the table, and K-girl is completely immersed in it. At 8 years old, her reading and comprehension level are well beyond that of most of her peers, and she’s getting interested in the topic of how bodies change through the lifespan. I look the book over, and it looks very good, so I commit to purchasing it later.

For anyone curious, the book is called Bunk 9’s Guide to Growing Up. It covers pretty much everything about puberty: body changes (mostly for girls, but a couple of pages addresses boys’ changes as well), menstruation, when friends drift apart, crushes, and more. It also talks about healthy eating, exercise, and is decidedly body-positive and anti-diet (yes!) The book is written in a friendly tone, as the girls of Bunk 9 at the fictional camp Silver Moon help their younger charges through the changes that are about to happen. 

After reading to our heart’s content, we leave the library and head to Central Park.

 

Central Park

 

A beautiful black horse, adorned with a red feather, pulls a family in a carriage. Children run in all directions, and the large tall rock to our right is irresistible to our climbing-obsessed kids. We spend quite a bit of time here, climbing to our heart’s content. I knew I would be on my feet for long periods in NYC, so I have my knee braces on, which allows me to join in on the fun.

 

2 girls and one boy climbing a large rock in Central Park, New York City

 

As we watch our children climb the rocks, two young men approach us. One of them is holding a box of mini-Oreo cookies. He approaches Dan and compliments him on his hat, which says “Canada” on it. In hindsight, advertising you’re a tourist is probably not the best idea in NYC.

He goes on a lengthy speech about keeping children off the streets and raising funds for a basketball team. I don’t doubt him (maybe I should?), as he’s not just asking for money—he’s asking for donations in exchange for the cookies. At the same time, my Brazilian background almost always has me on high alert for potential scams and rip-offs. Dan has no problem saying “no” to a donation, and the young man walks off, obviously angry that his speech didn’t pay off. I don’t know whether he’s angry that we didn’t donate to his cause, or angry that we potentially didn’t believe him. In any case, we don’t let it bother us. We continue exploring the park, which leads us to a super cool playground.

 

 Boy jumping off playground structure at New York City's Central Park. There is a railing beside him and a large rock behind him.

 

The children spend plenty of time here, exploring every bit of the playground, playing games, and generally having a good time. Something else that would have been fun was to see the Reservoire Bridge—the one that Prince Edward charmingly jumps off, only to fall on his royal — after being trampled by a group of cyclists (I’m a big Enchanted fan). Alas, the children are tired after a whole day of wandering through the big city, so we leave seeing the bridge for a visit in the distant future (maybe).

On our way out of the park, the children stop to look at the USS Maine National Monument, a beautiful piece of art and thoughtful memorial to a long-ago ship’s sinking, the cause for which is still disagreed upon. But as serious and solemn as this statue is meant to be, I am too childish to resist an internal chuckle as I notice the pigeon that has found the most comfortable place to rest.

 

USS Maine Monument at New York City's Central Park. The statue is covered in pigeons, one of whom has found an interesting place to rest: on the men's penis.

 

Before going back to Jersey City, we must partake in at least a small snack from New York’s famous street food. And I don’t mean the gourmet food trucks that have popped up everywhere. I mean traditional street food, the ones you can buy from shady-looking carts, sold by people whose accent I can’t understand. That’s the true street food experience I’m looking for.

 

Street Food Cart in New York City, Photo by Roman Arkhipov on Unsplash

 

As a Brazilian, I can’t bring myself to purchase a New York hot dog (I mean, have you ever seen a Brazilian hot dog?) Also, as a semi-vegetarian, I wouldn’t have eaten one anyhow. But I’ve been seeing these candied nuts everywhere, and I’m curious about them. So we get some of those and a pretzel from a vendor before leaving the park.

I’m not a big fan of pretzels (maybe if they were stuffed with mozzarella I’d love them), but the nuts don’t disappoint. Yes, it’s OK to chuckle. I did, too. These candied nuts (peanuts, I think) were sooooooooooo good. OK, I don’t have a fancy writerly way to put it. Sooooooooooo good is the only way to describe these tiny pieces of sugary heaven. I must learn how to make these.

The kids beg for a carriage ride, but we’ve spent enough money to get here, and it’s time to put breaks on the spending. After a tiring but great day in New York City, we head back to the parking lot for RVs in New Jersey.

 

skyline

 

The ferry ride back is just as fun as the ride to NYC. Although we had fun in Boston and New York, I think the whole family agrees that the big city just isn’t for us. And this coming from a Paulistana. Although there is a lot to see and do in a large center like New York, getting there and around is not cheap, and big crowds aren’t a favourite for Daniel or our oldest. I love crowds, but I prefer them in amusement parks or other “relax and enjoy”-type places. Which is why we’re headed to Six Flags Great Adventure next. Our oldest may not enjoy crowds, but she loves roller coasters, as does the rest of the family.

What is your choice—small town or large city? Why?

 

Canadian East Coast: Friendly & Beautiful

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

The water sparkles like a million jewels as the sun shines down on the Atlantic, and as I look on, I know that the beauty and wonder of the ocean will never cease to amaze me. I am Vó Zilah’s granddaughter, and at the risk of quoting a famous Disney movie, the ocean… “it calls me.”

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Exploring Canada’s National Parks & Historic Sites!

Our time in New Brunswick was short, but really memorable.

Back in Quebec, we decided to purchase a Discovery Pass, and I’m really glad we did. The Discovery Pass grants you entry to all of Canada’s National Parks and several historic sites, so it’s totally worth it if you plan on visiting more than 2 or 3 of these places in a year. The pass is for 12 months, so it’ll last us until next year, which is great.

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Quebec, NB, and learning history!

Wednesday, September 5th, 2018

I incorrectly said in a previous post that we had spent the evening of Tuesday, September 4th, 2018 in Percé. We actually spent that night in Riviére-au-Renard. After a lovely sleep with a gorgeous free view, we headed out to Forillon National Park.

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Beautiful Quebec: pine trees, mountains, and the majestic St. Lawrence

Visiting beautiful Quebec, and (sort of) learning a little French

Quebec is a truly beautiful province. But I’m being reminded of just how little French I know while travelling here. I do know enough to get by. I can say:

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