"Not all who wander are lost"

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Being Happy @ Happy Valley - Being our guest at State College, PA!

On an US Airways flight from Buffalo to Philadelphia last year, I was very surprised to come across an article on State College, Pennsylvania or Happy Valley as we know it. Known to many and unknown to yet more, this little town is in the middle of nowhere and as we like to point out, still at the center of everything (including the Centre County). But I will not get into the geography or weather discussions in here, nor about the where-to-stay details. You can find enough of that information online (or US Air magazines!).And if you look well enough, you might be able to grab a copy of Ken Hulls Going Local www.goinglocalpa.com/ it is the most comprehensive information that you will get about the area. And I will by no means even try to encroach on his expertise! (Look out for his new book!)

I will also not reiterate that Happy Valley ranked 19th in the '50 best places to live' or that it received honorable mention in best music scenes throughout the country by the Rolling Stones magazine. Chances are youre not moving here and if you dont live there, you wont be coming to State College to listen to the bands performing, no matter how many names, big and small have their roots in the Centre County soil... my 2 cents on this topic: if you hear some much-heard-of musician from Broadway or Tennessee or Guatemala or India playing here, dont act surprised. (that is a picture of Penn State President Graham Spanier singing on College Ave withe the Blue Band....again dont act surprised!)

Another disclaimer I would furnish here is that often times you might feel I am talking more about Penn State than State College. The line of difference is very narrow and insignificant in most places, if present at all State College, the name, the establishment (both demographically and economically) have all either are born or evolved from the presence of the flagship campus of the Pennsylvania State University. And as they say you can take out Happy Valley from Penn State (other commonwealth campuses) but you cant take out Penn State from Happy Valley.
If God is not a Penn State fan, why is the sky blue and white? and many others like this, stampede shirts and cars of the local Penn Staters. Too blunt? Well thats how it is. Nowhere else have I seen such blatant pride. Pride of everything, for everything. Yes, we were in the Big Ten but we were not the top one historically, yes we are a school with a decent ranking, top research, good funding, new buildings.yes we are good, old, big, great, premier, pioneer but we know that there are people, teams, universities, institutions, associations, ahead of us in most of these
areas. And in good numbers. But not enough to demean our pride. And we instill this same feeling in every new soul that enters the system. We teach them to be proud of who they are and to strive. And with this pride comes a sense of oneness or belonging. Even for people like me, who are tied in a gazillion ways to another culture and heritage as far removed from Pennsylvania as it could be even we are proud of this kinship.
The 38,000-something population of State College probably does not take into account the hundreds of Penn State aspirants and goers that come from all corners of the globe. If you stand for a couple minutes in front of the Pattee-Paterno library any given school day, you can hear at least 6 different languages whiz past you often time each representing a country a culture youve been completely unaware of :) so if I can use one word here, I would use eclectic. For more information on internationality of the town, visit http://www.international.psu.edu/about_office/mosaic.html
What I plan on doing here today is throw in some of my own anecdotes, favorites and lessons of what-to-and-not-to-s and display some of my own reasons of loving what I call home in the
United States the following is a short list for a short stay at State College as our guest:

1. Creamery on a Sunday (or game day) and check out the line. When you eventually get to the front of it, order Keeney Beany or Peachy Paterno, read up on the creamery and history for more! Remember NOT to be blasphemous enough to ask for mixed flavors. even those who ask twice if State College is the name of a town, have heard of the creamery and the rule that the Penn State Creamery does not mix flavors. (Picture: Graduate students taking a break from scooping Creamery fun...who's to say its blowing 40 degrees we're all warm for our FIG Tailgate Fall '07)
2. State Theatre, Downtown State College. Catch off-beat movies, shows and fun stuff for tickets and schedules go to www.StateTickets.org
3. Herwigs, Austrian Bistro (this should be the #1) have you ever been intimidated by the cook, teased by the owner and hit with a stick by the staff and force-fed sauerkraut because its heart-healthy? Bet not, unless youve been here. The first time I went to this family-owned/ cooked/ operated/ staffed place, the son came to me and said (in the most evil way) smile, so people outside think youre liking it here what took me back the second time? ---well the food to start with and the best customer service! Force-feeding I tell youfeels like being at home. as scary as it is, when you cant pronounce half the menu, they add to it but not taking your order unless you do it the right way. So I start reisen and then move to that rice and pork thing and the eyes start rolling
They have this rule that if you dont finish your food
i) you will be beaten with a red stick (big one), or
ii) you can be given a take out box for $32, or
iii) Charged double if you ask for a half portion.
    For someone like me who eats dessert first,
    I have fallen in trouble more than once and my experiences have included being fed (literally by the spoonfuls) by the owner he said I could forego the beating for not finishing sauerkraut if I took the spoonful from him. If that doesnt feel like family, tell me what does? ...Well, sitting at their big family table might! If you come with a big group of family or friends or are a regular, visiting alone (for me alone means 2 in this town), you are entitled to that. To top it all, the food is so super good, you want to try everythingthe dense chocolate cake, the sausages, the potato salad, the veal, the ranch dressing and the pork. Just writing gets me drooling.
    (now back to the list)
4. Walk on Allen to see the pig, with her babiescrouch down to take a picture with them and
hug them on my behalf.

5. Sit at the College-Allen bus stop, Wednesday and Friday afternoons, read the Daily Collegian and listen to the drummers play.Any other day? Sit there, feed the squirrels

6. Drive on blue course drive in fall

7. Also drive from Bellefonte to the tiny State College airport (SCE) and see the planes take off right off the road
8. Appreciate the wall murals on College Avenue near Pugh Street.

9. explore the alleys and small roads parallel to Atherton and Burrows from Easterly Parkway to downtown and marvel at the gardens you pass
10. sip coffee on the IST bridge and enjoy the sway when a big vehicle on 322 B zooms under you
11. Visit the artists co-op shop called the Gallery Shop in Lemont, its right beside the Art Alliance of Central PA and has been exhibiting the best of its class since 1968.
12. go to Penns cave

13. Buy Penn state gear from family clothesline.

14. Drink a mocha at Websters with double shot espresso and munch a chocolate cookie, you can also try a variety of tea therewhile enjoying old books, live music, local art and great conversation.

15. doze off on the hub lawn on a warm sunny morning and startle up with we are.penn state shout from group of people running around the huge lawn (probably with no shirts on, unlike the one in the picture)

16. buy fresh goodies and flowers from the farmers market on Friday afternoons

17. Do the downtown fall festival and a hay ride around town.

18. Do the Art Crawl on your own: the Palmer Museum of Art, the HUB-Robeson galleries and the Artisan Connection.
19. Walk around campus and read the blue and white signs of the first-s, biggest-s and best-s of Penn State and imbibe the history of the first calorimetry to animal husbandry.
20. Squat in front of the Pattee library and people-watch
21. ride the blue-loop (the white-loop, the red link and the green link are good toobut the blue beats em all)
21. scream your lungs out at the homecoming parade, collect as many goodies as you can
22. dance your @$$ off at the next Thon
24. drive to Raystown lake to see the sun rise at 7 point

25. Have ice cream at Meyers on S. Atherton. (its okay to ditch the creamery once in a while)

26. walk around town during arts fest

27. Check out the stone tower near Sackett and Hammond (not that towering) made of stone from different times and places (?)

28. Walk from Willard to the Hub and sit on the benches hiding under the trees.
29. click a picture at the alumni center with the metal statues

30. munch a warm walnut brownie at the Deli

31. Sit outside @ café 210 on St. Paddys

32. try your hands at painting your own pottery at 2000 degrees (on college)

33. Go for a free movie at the CAFÉ series in the Music buildingthey show what you wont find anywhere else from rare documentaries to independent movies from Taiwanese to Czechoslovakian, CAFÉ is about Critically Acclaimed Film Experience.
34. Spend one whole hour watching the fish in the HUB aquariums

35. catch an off beat lunch (stir fry buffet....)at the Green Bowl on Beaver.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Out and about Cape May (also Wildwood and Old Barnie)

Ill start with lodging. We were crunched for time before leaving for Newark and everything looked super expensive online. so we booked the 1st available cheap sty but thats what it was--- a total sty: Rodeway Inn (at 200 E White Horse Pike, Galloway, NJ was a horror show waiting to happen) Id rate it at 1 out of 5.
. The owners abysmally rude and the service if available, pathetic. No hair dryers (that blows me off). The first room given to us was slept in, wet towels all over the place obviously we requested to be changed to another room as soon as we entered the first but the lady at the desk was reluctant. The choice hotels gift card wasnt accepted. Their free continental breakfast included stale coffee and juice. Choice Hotels should do something about this!
As for us, lesson learnt: we could have easily driven there and found something as cheap, or cheaper, but a much better place and a better location the neighborhood of this Absecon/Galloway area wasnt to die for either.
The first place we hit the next morning was Wildwood Beach. A neat little haven for shell collectors, especially if you can make do with broken shells. The sand was fine and dense; the waves, tame and low. Some pockets of the beach had collected water; and large shells (or fractions thereof) were abundant. We got remnants of several soft shells toothat look like micro-stingrays. Just as were leaving a group of young kids actually caught a sting ray I had never seen one being caught on the beach using fishing equipment before and as much as I savor fish at lunch, I consider fishing gross (get that!) So much to my fiancé’s dismay we ended up walking away as fast as possible
We drove further south to the beautiful Victorian township of Cape May. I loved the architecture. All the houses were very old but none of them rundown. Some were palatial, some much smaller in size. But all of them boasted intricate Victorian designs and striking, if not unusual, assortment of colors. Most of them had matching flower beds and the neatest curb appeal. The manicured little gardens and patios basked in the pride of ownership this looked like the kind of town, my color coded brain would love to live in.
As I said before the B&Bs were expensive when we checked onlinebut once again, probably we could find something cheaper locally.the motor inns and lodges on the shore looked way better than the in-land lodging we were putting up at (/ with).
We reached Cape May at a rather odd time when almost all the restaurants were closed (most open at 5 pm for dinner) and we were starving! We went to an obscure place that we found open, called the Secret Spot. Indeed one of the better kept secrets because there was no flashy crying-out-loud of how delicious the food was (fried calamari was awesome!). Resaonably priced, clean, pleasant staff and strikingly simple décor including large shells as napkin holders. Something that the staff-girls uncle had caught! All these tiny personal touches bring out of the uniqueness of a place and it really makes a difference to the made-in-china mass-marketed times we are living in. Each of these has a story to tell and if youre visiting Cape May (or anywhere else with even a little pride of belonging) without enough time on hand to listen to the stories youre probably missing it all.
I always make it a point to visit local festivals if I can.brings out the best in people, when theyre foot tapping to some country music and jostling deep fried junk food with lemonade, visiting one stall to another. Reminds me of a Boi-mela Id never get to enjoy again Innovations, novelty, unique flavors, if you can have your eyes open wide enough, you can see it all (with a pinch of dust, if youre ready to take it). Michael Demuszs paintings were such a treat at Cape Mays 2009 Strawberry Festival that (luckily for us) was being held that Saturday. I wish I could afford some of his work, on second thought, I wish I could create them (after Googling for his website, I came across some EZ publishing interview which talks of a fine artist Mike Demusz who looks like Orlando Bloom I dont remember whether he did, was busy looking at his than him!)
My fiancé and I always love coming across Penn Staters especially if its away from State College and theyre really old and we can help them reminisce some of their Happy Valley daysand we met this very interesting person at the strawberry festival class of 72 (makes him even older than my parents) and whose name I dont remember not very helpful info to be blogging about but hey! I enjoyed talking to him and its a take-home from the trip, so why not?
A literal treat at the strawberry festival was at the Cape May Crab Cake Factory stall. The freshest and lumpiest crab cakes I have ever had and you should know that if there is one vice I have, its gluttony and that for seafood beats all others! Order yours frozen online www.capemaycrabcakes.com or pick them up at the Ugly Mug they were worth every buck they cost. Trust the foodie! (scroll down for more local food info)
Soon after the Strawberry king and queen were announced (Mike D. was probably the king) and the drumbeat died down we went to the Cape May beach. If there was one word for the strawberry festival for 2009 it was fun and if allowed 3, Id say loads of fun”…take your pick.
After hours of strolling on the coarse set sand beach at high tide, marveling at the huge foamy waves and collecting shells we trudged our tired gritty feet towards land. You have to understand one thing here if I am traveling in a group and anyone of us is hungry or craving something I always keep them company, so I am always going munch-sip-crack-much-munch-sip-crack and now was time for a coffee break. We head out to have funnel cake and fries at the beach side café, Oasis. The cooks humorous and the food great! (Although this one had a killer location right on the board walk, I would still prefer Secret Spot to this joint at least for the calamari fries chocolate drizzled funnel cakes are another story, of course)
Soon it was time for the Sunset Beach to spring to action crowds swarmed the sands of this serene beach for a flag ceremony right before the sunset. Unlike those of Cape May or Wildwood, this one was all pebbly and a galore of excitement for me. The waves were much calmer than Cape May; up until 5 feet of the water the beach was all-pebbles, of every conceivable sizes and color We found some perfect whites to translucent-s and some even transparent-s, shiny blacks, jaded gold-s and bright oranges that matched the sunset.
We found several of Cape Mays famous diamond like pebbles’… but a small note for the beach combing enthusiasts, before you fill your sacks of these natural souvenirs think of preserving the natural wonderfulness of the place and maybe leave some for your kids to come back and enjoy some day I totally hear the fun of finding to buying, but there are always stores like the sunset beach gift store which claim to remain open as long as there are cars in the parking lot ---very customer friendly indeed?!?
One good touch, I learnt, to every Jersey Shore trip is to visit Barnegat on Long Beach Island at least once, no matter how briefly and we did just that (click for previous trip account). Although this time we neither dined at Antoniettes nor stopped at Wildflowers by Cricket, we did climb Old Barney 217 steps up and back on a rickety old yellow iron spiral staircase and had achy calf muscles for 20 hrs the next day to prove that! Thank God we had comfy shoes on, or it could be a literal pain in the butt but the spectacular view from the top was every bit worth it. Theyre open 9:30 am - 4:30pm summer months and until 3:30 rest of the year (free) and charges a buck per head from April to October. I say, money very well spent.

Right out of there we lunched at Kellys.
Except for the deep fried goods (lousy) all was good, especially salmon steak sandwich and Moms Manhattan chowder (the New England one was blah! For lack of a better word). Medium priced, good hangout for a seafood craving soul.
All in all, Old Barneys always a good bet! More pictures up soon spinning my glass wheels for the new computer to arrive!

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