We worked hard helping Aunt Maureen and Uncle Ted on Misty Lee Farm, but we sure had loads of fun when back in NJ!
It always amazes me that you can live in a state for decades, and still find new places to explore. For instance, take our visit to Lucy the Elephant in Margate, NJ. At 139 years old, this NJ treasure and National Historic Landmark is considered our nation’s oldest surviving roadside attraction. This 6-story tall elephant, originally named Elephant Bazaar, was built by James Lafferty to promote real estate sales in the area. He sold it to Anton Gertzen in 1887, in whose family it remained until 1970, when it was donated to a nonprofit organization devoted to its preservation. It was Anton’s daughter-in-law Sophia who renamed the elephant Lucy. Lucy the Elephant and I have lots in common. We are both extra-large for our species, both gray in color, and we both have large ears, long tails, and big butts! More interestingly, we are both misnamed. You see, I was named PoPo after the Italian mouse on the Ed Sullivan Show. It wasn’t until many years later that Mom learned that the Italian mouse was actually ToPo Gigio. Apparently Gertzen’s daughter-in-law didn’t realize that only male elephants have tusks when she gave Elephant Bazaar a female name.
|Lucy has a female name, but only male elephants actually have tusks.|
|I was named (incorrectly) after this Italian mouse.|
Through the years, Lucy housed a restaurant, a cottage, and a tavern. And in 2020, Lucy operated as an Airbnb! We were so lucky to get a full guided tour, ‘cause starting in September, Lucy will close for at least 10 months for an extensive overhaul.
|The view from Lucy's parapet.|
|Inside the main room of Lucy. How cool would it be to stay here overnight!|
We stopped for a late lunch at Caffé Luciano Lamberti. For a “fine dining” Italian and seafood restaurant, the food was very average with smaller portions than what this Rambling RV Rat likes to receive. But it offered a nice atmosphere and view overlooking the marina. Based on the overall experience, this Rambling RV Rat awarded Caffé Luciano 3 out of 5 cheeses.
Another wonderful find (which we learned about from a friend from our NJ hometown) was the Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. On our first visit, we arrived about 6 p.m. to hike some trails. But a huge rainstorm followed us in. It didn’t dampen our spirits, though. We spotted osprey, herons, swans, mallards, and of course, Canada geese. Most importantly, we were blessed with a gorgeous rainbow which evolved into a double rainbow. We went hiking on our second visit. Man, we got eaten alive by mosquitos and giant green-eyed flies! But we were compensated for our discomfort by seeing numerous turtles along our 5-mile route, many of whom were digging to lay eggs. Ain’t nature grand!
|Some very nasty storm clouds lifting away from Atlantic City and heading to the Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.|
|Can't resist the simple beauty of a daisy!|
|Ginormous green-head flies followed us on our hike.|
|A few of our fellow Lone Bugler Escort Team members from years gone by.|
|The family of beloved 1st Sgt. Richard Pinter, the original Lone Bugler.|
|Under Sgt. Josh Lathrop, the Lone Bugler Mission Continues.|
|Brigadier General William C. Doyle National Cemetery.|
After the ceremonies, we brought our longtime friend Les to our favorite local diner, Town and Country. Though we lived in the same town, we met Les through our mutual volunteerism with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. We soon became good friends as we all are very community-service minded. Les is a Veteran and one of God’s angels on earth. In addition to his other volunteer missions, he trains and certifies his canines as Therapy Dogs, bringing joy and laughter to patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers.
After Dad purchased a new trickle charger for his motorcycle, we were ready to hit the road. We took several rides during the summer through the rural areas of the Pinelands, like Chatsworth with its many cranberry bogs, and Hammonton, which bills itself the “Blueberry Capital of the World”. (When you see the thousands of acres of blueberry bushes, you know Hammonton is quite justified in its boastfulness. Blueberries in New Jersey are like corn in the Midwest). We spent one glorious Sunday riding to and hiking in Brendan Byrne State Forest, another place we had never visited before. We don’t participate in formal religious ceremonies. However, we always worship our Creator in his “natural cathedrals”, among majestic mountains, lush forests, refreshing lakes, and/or bountiful wildlife. There is no better way to honor the Master Architect than to be within nature and among his wonderous creations.
Anyone who knows the Jersey shore knows parking is scarce. And if lucky enough to find it, it comes with a premium. So, no way could we bring Big Boomer to most beach towns. Therefore, we got tremendous use of our ‘Lectric e-bicycles in Atlantic and Cape May Counties. In fact, our e-bicycles became our preferred mode of transportation when we wanted to visit Somers Point, Ocean City, and Atlantic City. We particularly enjoyed the Somers Point Bike Path, which we traversed when we visited Lucy the Elephant (that was our longest trip at 25 miles). We did portions of this bike path on several other occasions. It leads through a variety of neighborhoods, some reminiscent of yesteryear with historic train depots and antique clocks. We even found a small arboretum in Linwood during one of our treks. In Somers Point, we visited the grounds of the mansion (inside tours were still suspended because of COVID) built in1725 by the town’s namesake, John Somers, the first European settler to arrive in 1693.
|Mom always ordered the same thing, a reuben. But Dad tried all three of their vegan options. Here on the right is his garden pie, made with lentils.|
|Interior of Josie Kelly Public House.|
We also hiked and/or biked portions of the Atlantic County Trail in Egg Harbor Township, NJ several times. We would complete 5-mile round trips, then reward ourselves with another delectable meal at Nizam’s Restaurant that serves Northern Indian cuisine. Though Dad is plant-based, he had never tried Indian cuisine before. (Mom had it on many occasions when she worked at an environmental firm, where the vegan majority made it a rule that no meat/poultry/dairy be served at any of the organization's functions/meetings. So, the Indian food ordered was strictly vegetables in various sauces.) Nizam's cooking was well received by all of us and comes highly recommended by this Rambling RV Rat.
|Yummy Northern Indian cuisine at Nizam's in Egg Harbor Township.|
We visited Atlantic City on several occasions, which provided Mom a stroll down Memory Lane. You see, she visited here with my human grandparents and Aunt Laurie back in the pre-casino days. She saw the famous Diving Horse and the original Steel Pier where you got a whole day’s entertainment in one location for 1 low price—from movies, novelty shows (like watching a real chicken play a mini piano if you inserted a quarter), and arcades (you needed 750 Skeeball points to get a #2 pencil.) Things are quite different nowadays. The Mr. Peanut Shop is no longer a Boardwalk staple. And many of the streets that the original Monopoly Game included on its board are long gone. During the early days of the casinos, it was a tradition for my Mom to treat her parents and Aunt Laurie to a day in Atlantic City. She would purchase everyone a bus ticket (the ride was about 2 ½ hours and included a roll of quarters for each patron) and treat them all to a nice dinner. Grandpa would always insist they leave the casinos by 6 p.m., when men were required to wear jackets and ties (my Grandpa always preferred Dickie pants and Sears polo shirts to formal wear.) Funny, now folks can come into the casinos right off the beach wearing swimwear and flip flops!
|Atlantic City hosted the Miss America Pageant for more than 8 decades.|
|NJ Korean War Memorial.|
On July 3, we ventured out on a chilly, overcast day to view New Jersey’s largest Independence Day parade at Smithville, NJ. We enjoyed it immensely and were impressed with the magnitude of participation and number of spectators. After the parade concluded, we took a tour of the Historic Village.
Then we traveled to Brigatine, NJ, for a delicious brunch at Brigatine Bistro, a favorite of locals as well as tourists. This little café, with indoor and outdoor seating, has an impressive array of vegan options. Dad settled on a quinoa bowl with black beans, avocado, sweet potatoes, spinach, and cauliflower served with fresh tortillas. Mom and I had the primavera omelet (broccoli, mushroom, spinach, tomato topped with fresh mozzarella, served with toast and skillet potatoes). We were all highly satisfied with our selections. We walked around town a bit, then returned to our RV Park where we were subjected to torrential rain the rest of the day.
Our RV Park had activities every weekend, but we participated only on two occasions. One was in late June when they ran a fundraiser for Bella, a 7-year-old cancer patient whose family were seasonal guests at the Park. We bid during the silent auction, bought 50/50 tickets, purchased some beverages, and made a monetary donation. We also spent Independence Day at the RV Park. They had a terrific DJ playing a great mix of tunes from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and, our favorite, the 80s. The Park owners roasted a pig, which smelled SOOOOO good, but Mom and I refrained from partaking as an act of support for Dad. (We had homemade bean burgers and air-fried potatoes instead—BORING!). We left the Park to go to Atlantic City just as karaoke was starting (I find it painful to listen to karaoke participants unless I have indulged in several adult beverages). We walked the A.C. Boards again and later in the evening watched the fireworks display sponsored by the Borgata Casino. I thought it fitting that the spectators—with different ethnicities, socio-economic classes, religions, and languages spoken—were representative of what our Great Nation is all about. There were no riots, no folks shouting and arguing with one another, no demonizing of one another’s opinions. Instead, the crowd focused on the positive sentiments: commemorating our Country’s independence from a tyrannical government and celebrating the freedoms we share. The USA may not be perfect, but it sure beats ANY alternative. God bless the USA!
We visited Point Pleasant, NJ, as well. It is interesting that each of these shore towns have a different vibe. After strolling along the Boardwalk, we enjoyed dinner at Marlin’s Grill, and enjoyed hearing the band Soulution. Our friend Michael “The Rev” Rochelle is the lead singer, and he also performs with The Shadetree Mechanics, whose terrific show we attended during our last visit to NJ in 2019.
|Michael "The Rev" Rochelle Rocks!|
We got together with several friends throughout the State; it is always so wonderful to enjoy fellowship and new dining experiences!
Throughout the summer, we visited several u-pick farms. When strawberry season arrived, we took a road trip to DeWolf’s U-Pick Farm in New Egypt, NJ. The area was experiencing a heat wave. And with no rain in sight, it would be a short season for strawberry picking and our only opportunity to participate. No problem. Between my parents and me, we picked 30 pounds of strawberries (Mom likes to share with others). We visited DiMeo’s Farm in Hammonton, NJ, several times to get our fill of blueberries. The blueberries were very reasonably priced at $1.66/pound, with a minimum of 6 pounds, and the grounds are just lovely. Our stock of blueberries is now cohabitating with the strawberries in the chest freezer Mom insists must travel with us. I’ll be enjoying NJ berries long after I leave the State!
|An adorable resident of DeWolf's U-Pick Strawberry Farm.|
|DiMeo's Blueberry Farm.|
|DiMeo's Farm has a lovely event center, too.|
Catholicism in Atlantic County is well established, with various shrines throughout the area. We walked to one just a short distance from our RV Park and visited another dedicated to Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, also known as Padre Pio, who exhibited stigmata (his hands, wrists and feet had wounds and scars that replicated Jesus’s during the Crucifixion). More interesting still was attending The Italian Festival sponsored by the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society, a Catholic nonprofit organization in Hammonton, NJ. Running 146 years, it is the oldest Italian festival in all NJ. Italian immigrants who settled in Hammonton, NJ, formed the Society in 1875 to celebrate their safe journey to America and to give thanks and praise to the Virgin Mary for their successful harvests. While my family has attended several Italian Festivals through the years, including New York City’s Feast of San Janeiro, this is the first time we witnessed the procession. Statues of various Catholic saints are brought out of the local Catholic church and paraded through the neighborhood streets. Money is donated to get pinned on a statue with the hope that the saint will bestow blessings on the donor. My $1 donation got me a prayer card. If you donate higher denominations, you get better “prizes”. No wonder the procession takes 2 hours—it’s like Let’s Make a Deal”. While we didn’t go on any amusement rides, we had a terrific time eating Italian specialties, playing a few games of chance, listening to a variety of bands, even doing a little dancing. And we supported the local charities by buying an assortment of raffle tickets. It was heartwarming to see so many multi-generational families participate in the Festival traditions.
Speaking of traditions, we still visit family gravesites, and we trekked up to North Jersey several times to put flowers on the graves of the most loving human Grandma and the most devoted human Grandpa a stuffed rat could ever have.
I gotta tell ya, though, roads in NJ are the absolute pits! Route 30 underwent construction throughout the summer. Big Boomer was subjected to huge holes, dips, and bumps on a daily basis. It was so rough, I was starting to suffer from motion sickness, which made our commute to Misty Lee Farm quite uncomfortable. And driving the NJ Turnpike has become a real nightmare! Between people speeding excessively even in congested areas (25-30 miles above the speed limit), driving erratically (cutting off 3 lanes of traffic to get off the exit), and the roughness/quality of the actual road, I was getting anxious/nervous that a possible accident may land us WITHIN my human grandparents’ grave! And the cost of Turnpike tolls has increased incessantly. Now, my parents were both commuters on the Turnpike during their years of corporate life. They never complained about paying tolls because the Turnpike was always well maintained. Well, not anymore. And the condition of I-287, I-78, Route 17, Route 3, and Route 46 are nothing to brag about either. And yet, NJ has always had a DEDICATED transportation fund. Where has all the money gone? No one seems to say. But this stuffed rat has a sneaky suspicion it has been pilfered for use by other programs and/or to line some politicians’ pockets.
NJ does have some perks, though. One of NJ’s greatest assets is its diversity of food and abundance of restaurants (more so pre-COVID), from fine dining to dives. We enjoyed eating Chinese cuisine, something we eat infrequently during our travels. We were back in the land of diners, with their menus the size of novellas! So many options from which to choose, even for plant-based Dad! Mom/I were super excited to have Taylor Ham/Pork Roll again. (For those who don’t know, Taylor Ham/Pork roll is a processed meat developed in 1856 in Trenton, New Jersey. It is a Jersey staple and tradition.) We enjoyed eating at a half dozen different diners during our stay, many we had never visited before. And all of them were positive experiences: good-sized portions, flavorful food, personable service, and reasonable prices. Gotta love the Jersey diners!
And we couldn’t leave NJ without stopping once at our favorite Italian dive—Pizza Town USA. It has been family owned and operated for more than 6 decades. The patriarch of the family died in 2019. However, his children, who have worked at the joint since young teenagers, are well versed in running the business. And talk about Italian traditionalists, out of respect for their Dad, they do EVERYTHING exactly as he did. Same recipes, same vendors, same cheap paper products, same off-label cola, and same bare bones atmosphere. But what it lacks in ambiance, it makes up for in delectable food. While their pizza is good and we enjoy their zeppole, their specialty is calzones. They are deep fried, not baked like most places. Inserting the stuffed dough into a fryer at just the right temperature makes the mozzarella and ricotta melt and merge perfectly. Add a slice of ham and you have heavenly perfection! Even Dad, who RARELY deviates from his plant-based diet, had to partake.
|Even the local EMTs love these artery-clogging calzones!|
NJ has a reasonable state sales tax rate of 6.625%, and it is rare for a county/town to add on any local sales tax except for lodging/tourism. (For comparison, the state rate in TX is 6.25%, but with local and county add-ons, we pay 8.25% when home in Livingston. If we buy anything when wintering in Quartzsite, AZ, we pay sales tax in excess of 10%!) Furthermore, NJ does not tax clothing sales at all. So, we all added some new items to our wardrobes.
And NJ offers you beaches, lakes, waterfalls, mountains, and forests. It has a multitude of entertainment venues offering music and dance performances, sports events, cultural exhibits, and art galleries (at least pre-COVID it did). Not to mention the vast historical sites and landmarks that date back 3 centuries.
Though it was fun to be in our old stomping grounds, I am happy to get back on the road.
Talk to you again soon!