BY BRAM BESSOFF / AJT //
Niagara Falls is literally pouring down on us. It’s 96 degrees outside, but the water is a refreshing 59.
We’re on a road trip to visit the wife’s roots up in Rochester, N.Y., and I promised the kids a mind-blowing experience or two. To see their faces light up at such a wonder hit me with a flood of childhood memories and experiences all at once.
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Now, what else do I need to show them? I used to travel all the time; my folks were huge travelers, and I had been to Israel three times before I went to college. There is so much stuff my kids need to see.
We’re living at the Homewood suites for the week, and it is eerily like the time I lived on a kibbutz in Israel picking almonds and manufacturing pneumatic pieces during a teen mission. Most of the guests here are in New York for an extended stay, so the vibe is one of a small community where everyone congregated during breakfast and dinner hours – the hotel has full food service twice a day, including Shock Top on tap every evening.
But how can we top Niagara? To my surprise, one way is to visit the Strong National Museum of Play.
You might think there is nothing to do in Rochester, but this museum makes the trip a worthy destination in itself. The museum is huge – more than you can take in one day – and it’s all about play.
They have the standard children’s museum stuff, like a pretend grocery store and science exhibits (done better than most). But when you go upstairs to the “Time Lab,” they have every toy imaginable, from the first handmade dollhouses and furniture to full-size GI Joes.
The museum also features the original Star Wars collection, Apple Lisa and Macintosh computers, first runs on all classic board games like Clue, Monopoly and the coveted Rock ‘em Sock ’em Robots along with the most complete collection of working vintage video games ever assembled.
I played Asteroids, Lunar Lander, Space Invaders, Missile Command, Frogger, Tron, Marble Madness and a slew of others to my heart’s content.
The theme had become “expose-my-kids-to-as-many-awesome-things-from-my-childhood-as-I-can” trip, so we decide to make a slight detour on the way home to NYC. That should really blow the kids’ minds.
Visiting the Big Apple
We are to meet my brother at the North Cove Marina; he is an avid sailor and most likely already out on the water. This is a tiny port that features the same sort of wealth as much of the property around Battery Park.
Boats at North Cove have boats inside them. They’re floating palaces. Turns out, the biggest sailboat in the cove is the club house for the Yacht Club, and we’re having drinks on the bow of the ship overlooking the Freedom Tower.
This is the first time I’ve seen the building in person. Upon entering the city and driving up West Street, the full 9/11 experience rushed back vividly.
We returned the next morning to take the kids sailing on the Hudson. This was a first for me, and the kids got a super-close-up view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, as well as my full explanation of our ancestry.
I’m a New York kid by birthright. My parents’ parents emigrated from Poland and Russia and my mother is a “Brooklynite.” My fondest childhood memories are rolling in from Connecticut and getting that first view of the city all lit up – it was the most exciting thing to me (next to the drive over the Brooklyn Bridge).
I still have a love affair with this majestic bridge. It’s the oldest bridge in New York and the first of its kind ever built in the U.S.
We are right next to Ground Zero, so I book reservations while on the boat to see the 9/11 Memorial. I never thought two holes in the ground surrounded by trees would be so impactful, but it was awesomely powerful.
The memorial pools are incredible and the best way to commemorate this tragedy. My oldest knew all about it, but I had to explain it to my five-year-old. When I was finished, she replied:
“That is very sad. Why would anyone do that?”
This was great training for when we do the trip to Europe and visit concentration camps – these things cannot be forgotten.
We then moved on to happier things after lunching on noodles and pizza in the East Village (a suggestion: go eat at Xian Famous Foods). We subway-ed it to Central Park with a quick stop off at FAO Schwartz – my kids were getting the best of my childhood experiences, and they were loving life.
After rock climbing in the park, a quick stop at the concrete playground and an overpriced ice cream snack, we started walking towards Times Square. The kids just got to see enough before we got poured on and headed to the subway for cover and to head back downtown.
Food is such an important part of the New York experience. A must on my list every trip is a slice, schwarma, noodles and a sandwich – plus full sours from Katz’s, our last and final stop before leaving the Garden of Eden.
Katz’s is a big part of my childhood. I remember dining on a full-stack pastrami-and-corned beef combo before walking the streets of the Lower East Side in search of my bar mitzvah tallis (which, by the way, I still have). It’s an experience I won’t be able to repeat with my kids because the Jewish quarter is long gone, moved out of town and even out of Brooklyn.
Still, I’m happy with five pounds of pickles, fresh bagels and a massive case of nostalgia. We take the Holland Tunnel out of town and start the 10-hour exodus to Charlotte, N.C. There’s one last childhood moment – one that would have to wait till our next visit, but when we hit Virginia, we found the last Friendly’s on I-95 so the kids could experience black raspberry ice cream, Fribbles, patty melts and the best darn frozen treats before Ben & Jerry’s hit the market.
The moments we experienced this last week have ignited the travel bug in me. My kids have been started on the path to seeing (and remembering) the rest of the world.
Now, Israel is on the top of my “to-visit” list. I can’t wait to see their expressions when we mount the top of Masada from the Snake Trail, leave a prayer at the Wailing Wall or hike around the caves where the Dead Sea scrolls were found.
I’ve got to start saving my shekels.
Follow Bram’s experiences on, off and backstage @bram_rocks. Interact with him at #InItForTheMoment and share thoughts, comments and ideas about this column.