The Big Apple!

We took off bright and early to catch Statue Cruises' boat ride over to Ellis Island.
 We wondered through the museum learning what immigrants use to have to go through before being accepted into the United States.
 Over 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island.  Nearly 1/3 of Americans can trace their ancestry to immigrants that first arrived through Ellis Island!
We learned immigrants had to have around the equivalent of $600 in their possession.  The government wanted to be sure they could support themselves and get off to a good start.  Many people had to provide relatives or friends that they would be staying with to demonstrate they had a plan for being successful.  They also had a health inspection and those who were ill would have to remain at the hospital on the island.  Thousands died in the hospital and many were sent back to their country if they had chronic contagious diseases, mental illness, or criminal backgrounds.  It was crazy to imagine thousands of people going through this process everyday lugging along their worldly possessions.  Oh what those walls have seen.  It made me think that maybe the TSA screening isn't quite as awful as it often feels.
Next we hopped back on the boat to head to Liberty Island!
I have so longed to see her in person!
 She did not disappoint.  I could not help but be filled with pride as I stared at her.  Tears welled up as we approached her.  She really is magnificent.
 If you go be sure to plan in advance.  I guess three months in advance is not early enough to buy tickets to go to the crown.  They were sold out so we had to settle for going to the pedestal.
 It was fascinating to learn how she was inspired, designed and ultimately shipped in parts to be assembled on the island.  The joint effort to bring this symbol of freedom had meaning for both France and the U.S.
The artist Bartholdi used the Roman goddess Libertas, who was worshiped by Roman slaves as one of his main inspirations.  Columbia and an Indian Princess were frequent symbols for America and were also incorporated by Bartholdi to design Lady Liberty.  He specifically did not want her to convey a violent force of liberty through revolution but to be peaceful, stepping forward with enlightenment and progress.  She leads the way with light holding a book that symbolizes law of the people with the date of the Declaration of Independence inscribed on it.  Broken chains are around her ankles.
Here she stands a pillar lighting up the world with freedom.
We took the elevator up but walked down the 215 steps.  At the bottom we basked in her aura and tired to see who could capture her the best.  She was my favorite monument.  The symbolism, the meaning, the history and the beauty was perfectly combined to create a powerful symbol for our nation.
 We then took the boat across the bay to the New York side to visit the 9/11 Memorial.
 The kids were really interested in watching documentaries on 9/11.  Hank seemed especially enthralled and shocked by it.  Hailey was only 4 months old when it happened, so of course they have no memory of it.
Like most Americans we can vividly recall where we were the moment we heard.  It was hard to imagine two giant buildings in the place where the memorials stand and water appears to endlessly flow into a dark hole.  It is a very somber reminder of the great losses our country suffered.  Like a hole in our heart that will never fully heal.
The new World Trade tower is huge and futuristic looking.  As the tallest building in New York I  suppose it stands as a symbol of our unity, determination, resolve, and strength.  You can try to knock us down but together we are going to grow even bigger, brighter and stronger.  That is the American way.
After spending some time sitting at the memorial trying to imagine the horror of that day and the lasting effects in so many people's lives we walked to the financial district.
The iconic bull.  One day they will understand why I made them wait in line to get a picture with this this bull. :)  A true symbol of capitalism.
It is difficult to try and explain the stock market and that so much world financial power is concentrated within the New York Stock Exchange.  I am sure I don't really grasp it all, so I know we fell short trying to explain all that goes on there.
After catching the ferry back to the New Jersey side to get the car, it was time to drive up to Times Square.  We only had 7.7 miles to go but it was going to take us over an hour!
Driving a gigantic SUV through New York, even worse Times Square, was almost enough to put Max over the edge.  At one point we missed our hotel and Max had us get out with our bags so we could walk a block and check in while he spent a half an hour going 0.4 miles to the garage!  Needless to say I don't think Max would ever move to the Big Apple, at least with an SUV.
After recharging for a few minutes and getting everyone pumped up with Taylor Swift's Welcome to New York and Frank Sinatra's New York, New York, and maybe a stiff drink for Max, we were off to see Times Square!
It was insane!  Sensory overload combined with mild panic trying to keep your eyes on each kid.  What a wild place.  Flashing lights, people smoking everything you can imagine, naked women with only paint covering important parts, Elvis, Mickey Mouse, Transformers, street performers, tourists, panhandlers, and rushed locals merge in one location leaving the place feeling like a somewhat frightening dream.  Everything is so crowded you begin to feel claustrophobic.  I was more then ready to go have a taste of New York pizza!
We had to visit the largest pizzeria in the United Sates, Johns of Times Square.  In 1995 a single mother converted an abandoned church into a thriving pizzeria.  It was absolutely lovely atmosphere to dine in.  Surprisingly we got right in and had one of our most memorable dinners of a States Trip.  Hank could have the pizza, our waiter was wonderful, the prices were reasonable, and the food delicious!  We got to taste New York Cheesecake as well.  Such fun time.
In the city that never sleeps the night was young!  With our bellies full we took a mile walk to Midtown Manhattan to see the Empire Sate Building.
The Empire Sate Building is the 5th tallest skyscraper in America and was the tallest building in the world for almost 40 years.
As we waited in a short line we learned some interesting facts about the building before we took the elevator up to the 86th floor's observations deck.  It was chilly but peaceful at the the top.  We had recently watched Ghostbusters since it had so much of New York City in it.  Being at the top looking down on the city it had in strange feeling like we were in the movie with light mist and warm wind.  I was just waiting for the Stay Puft Marshmallow man.  It must have been too much time down in Time's square or the height getting to me. :)
We walked all round the deck seeing the Big Apple from every viewpoint.  That is a lot of lights!
After the Empire State Building we headed to Grand Central Station.
What a beautiful building.  We were there quite late so it was not a bustling center as it often is seen during the day.
We took the grand staircase up and people watched for a little bit.  We saw people say goodbye and others arrive.  The kids all really want to take a long train trip so it was exciting for them to see the most famous train depot in America.  Someday we will get in that train ride.
The building was so elegant and stately.  It really felt refined compared to much of NYC outside the building.  We had fun imagining all the sweet and sad moments that had taken place within that beautiful setting.
After walking all over New York City, it was time to kiss the day goodbye so we could tackle the rest in the morning!

New Jersey

 We headed to Princeton, New Jersey to see the most beautiful college any of us have ever seen, Princeton.  
We could have been transported to Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series.  Some of the beautiful colleges we visited we have one or two gorgeous buildings while every single building at Princeton is an sight for the eyes.
 This is the quad of one of the dorms!
They just don't make buildings like this.  They are works of art.
We loved walking around Princeton.  Truly a treat for the eyes and the energy on a college campus fills you with hope for the future.
After exploring Princeton we headed to Jersey City for the night where we had a beautiful view of the New York harbor.  
We spent the evening taking in the sights and resting up for our big day tomorrow in the Big Apple!

Pennsylvania

We continued on our journey through American history as we visited the Liberty Bell at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. 
The Independence Hall is where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were ratified.  We couldn't get into tour until late afternoon so much to the kids' dismay we had to just walk around the outside.  :)
We did however get a chance to walk through Liberty Bell Center and learn about the Liberty Bell.  "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof" Leviticus 25:10 is inscribed along the top of the bell.  Initially the bell hung at the top of Independence Hall, which was originally the Pennsylvania State House.  The bell was made in London and cracked on it's very first test ring!  The metalworkers Pass and Stow melted down the bell and recast a new one in Philadelphia.  It is believed it cracked again sometime in the 1840's.  They attempted to repair it, but it was unsuccessful as another fissure spread up through the word Liberty.  It has never been rung since.
The inscription referred to the instruction to the Israelites to free slaves every 50 years.  This took on a special meaning during the abolitionist movement.  The Bell traveled the nation after the Civil War. It was a symbol of freedom from our beginnings in the Revolutionary War to the freedom of slaves in the Civil War.  Women's voting rights also took to the bell for symbolism of liberty and equality.  The Bell still stands as a symbol of liberty for all.
While not quite as important as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, visiting the famous steps of Rocky was quite important from a Pop culture perspective!  I ran out of time to show the kids all the movies of the states but we did manage to find the clip of Rocky running to the top of the Art Museum steps.
   I can't wait to show them Rocky now that have they have each raced up those same steps.
After a busy morning we were starving.  There could be no other choice but a Philly cheesesteak for lunch.

Oh boy was it delicious!
We did order one that is the traditional preparation with  Cheez Whiz as the cheese.  We maybe West Coasters because we definitely liked the provolone one better.
Having lunch was so fun.  Max found a local beer and they had Hank's Rootbeer for the rest of us. 

 It was a wonderful morning walking through our nation's history of bringing liberty to all it's people and we made some really fun memories pretending to be Rocky and I think we would all go back to Philly just so we could visit Cleavers for another sandwich!