Monday, October 12, 2009

Our Stay in Princeton

As I mentioned, it was a nightmare getting to Princeton. Of course we got lost. It's hard enough driving late at night and being tired, but somehow the roads and signs in New Jersey add an extra element of difficulty. Call me crazy, but it almost seems like they've designed it so that only locals can figure it out. The signs are terrible, and unless you're completely on the lookout for them, you will miss them, or whatever it is you're looking for.

Best of all, throughout our stay, the nightmare continued. Something being in urban areas and around college campuses that are just not designed for being in a car. It doesn't take a genius to realize that you're simply better off not being in a car.

Either way, with R's meeting, we had some time to kill, and it would entail a trip into the urban jungle, without our trusty navigator mom. Before we headed out, however, we went for a swim. Now one of the things that R always factors into her planning is finding a hotel with a pool so the kids can swim, something they love to do. In fact, they might even enjoy that more than most things we do when we travel, and in the modern era of travel, at least in this country, finding a hotel with a pool is not that difficult. They are much more prevalent than I remember, at least in terms of finding an indoor pool. We swam for about two hours, and at one point, some other kids even showed up and A&N played a game with one of them. It's great watching them play on their own, though at some point I have to jump in and play the big "pool monster," or something along those lines. It's fun, but there are times, I must confess, that I don't always feel like swimming, though I always end up in the pool. The things we do for our kids.

We had several hours before mom would be back from her meeting, so I figured we could swim for a few hours and then hit the town for some lunch and catch some local flavor. Of course, we forgot that we were in New Jersey, and this was a college campus, which meant that driving would be awful, and parking would be even worse.

The town of Princeton is bigger than you think, bigger than Hanover, I think, and there's much more going on. And much in the line of a lot of New Jersey, it's developed to the point of no return. There are strip malls everywhere, selling everything under the sun, much like West Lebanon, only on a much larger scale. Nobody walks, and the traffic is terrible. Add in some construction, and it's horribly discouraging. The minute we left the hotel, I felt my blood pressure rise. The construction along the roads was endless, and it struck me that the college was in danger of being overrun by malls. I'd heard that the University had bought up land in order to prevent overdevelopment from taking over their campus, but I think it might be too little, too late. You can't stop progress.

By the time we finally got to the campus, we'd had enough of driving, or at least I'd had enough. To add to the drama (there's always something), parking was a challenge. I felt like I was in Hanover. We drove around the block a few times before A pointed out to me that there was a public parking lot just a block away. Why don't I listen to my kids more often? They always steer me in the right direction.

Now I'm not sure how big the place actually is, but there is a main street right off campus that reminded me a lot of Cambridge. Lots of cool and funky stores and restaurants, and loads of hip, collegiate types. We found a diner that was the doppelganger of Lou's in Hanover to have lunch. It was called PJ's Pancake House, and the idea of having pancakes for lunch appealed to A&N. The place we Ivy League and very academic-like, with old tables covered with words etched in by previous Nobel laureates, I'm sure. The atmosphere was fun, much like the entire town. After a short battle of wills, A got her way and had banana pancakes, while N had the standard fare of a hot dog. I opted for a veggie burger in light of the fact that healthy food is in short supply when you're on the road.

The food was good, if not a little pricey, just like Lou's, and I couldn't help but notice that the people eating there had healthy appetites - they devoured stacks of pancakes for lunch. It made me think twice about desert. Of course, there was no getting around sweets after lunch, so we stopped at a candy store called Ricky's and had ice cream. You see a lot of these places wherever you go, and I can't help but wonder how they survive. They sell all sorts of cheap candy at exorbitant prices, and the ice cream was all melted and soft. The guy behind the counter tried to give me some half-baked excuse that the marshmallows made the ice cream soft, but that only irritated me even more. It's no wonder places like that don't last.

We walked down the block and then headed back to the hotel. I figured mom would be late since meetings like this always do, but when we got back, there she was, waiting for us. I felt bad because it turns out her meeting ended early! But I think it went okay, because she was in good spirits, and we brought her back chocolate covered raisins from the cheesy candy store, so all was good.

We checked out of the hotel (they gave us a late checkout), got in the car, and headed for New York. I won't go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that getting to the NJ Turnpike was a challenge. At least I had R there to navigate, which makes all the difference.

We were employing a new tactic in visiting the Big Apple, and that was staying in Jersey City. This provided several benefits, first and foremost being availability. With it being a long weekend, Columbus Day, the city hotels were all booked up. We couldn't find a hotel for under a million dollars anywhere, so we thought, why not NJ? We could take the PATH train in, the rates were better, there were rooms, and the views were fabulous. Sounds good, don't you think?

Well, sort of. More on this later. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

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