In the depths of winter, it is easy to hunker down and stay home. When it is cold and blustery, it is difficult to resist the allure of the sofa, a great TV show, or a good book.
After all, one can rationalize, there’s always next weekend. But what if there is a dear family member’s birthday to celebrate? And then what if that meetup takes place in a historic seaside town in another state? And what if seeing the ocean inspires you to plan a further journey to the beaches of New Jersey? And what if those adventures lead you to pass a milestone in your car? If all of those things happen, I would say you have had a fantastic weekend!
For the past two days, my wife and I have been on the road, traveling on Saturday to celebrate a relative’s birthday in Norwalk, Connecticut, where we explored a cool aquarium and enjoyed a delicious meal. We also took a road trip to Asbury Park, New Jersey for an early Sunday breakfast, before spending the morning in Gateway National Park on the beaches of Sandy Hook, before ending our day in the small village of Keyport, New Jersey. Along the way, we also crossed the 150,000 mile mark in my 2012 Honda Accord, and “test drove” a new lens on my camera.
As I sometimes like to do, I’ll spare the introductory narrative, and simply dive right into my newest post:
Departing our home early Saturday morning, we headed northward to the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. Located on the northern shores of the Long Island Sound, Norwalk has long been an important shipping and fishing town, first for Native American inhabitants, and later for Dutch and then English colonists.
Leaving a little after eight o’clock in the morning, we experienced only light traffic as we crossed from New Jersey to New York on the George Washington Bridge. As I was driving, I asked my wife to take a “creative” shot for the blog… and she didn’t disappoint.
A little past New York City on I-95, my car crossed yet another milestone! I will have more to say about my vehicle, and this milestone, in a special section at the end of this post.
The only traffic we encountered was as we crossed the New York-Connecticut state line around 9:30 am. As I have noted before, only in the compact northeast can you travel between three states in less than two hours!
Founded in 1988, the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk educates visitors about the wildlife that inhabit the Long Island Sound. It also made an ideal meeting point for my wife and I to spend quality time with a family member who lives in New England.
The aquarium was filled with families spending their day learning about the life aquatic! The white wall on the right side of the lobby is the Newman’s Own Wall. In 2019, the Maritime Aquarium received a grant from the Newman’s Own Foundation. The late actor (and resident of nearby Westport, CT), Paul Newman, founded a charity in 1982 that was funded by profits from his “Newman’s Own” products. “Newman’s Own” has given over $550 million to charity.
You begin your tour of the aquarium with a chance to get up close and personal with some sea life in this “please touch” tank.
The Long Island Sound has a wide array of jellyfish species in its waters, and so numerous jellyfish were on display. These jellyfish are non-toxic to humans, and were in a tank so visitors could touch them.
Watching these fish swim through their tanks was mesmerizing… and relaxing.
The lionfish is quite striking in person, but it’s also an invasive pest off the US coast. Lacking the predators found in their native Pacific waters, the lionfish population has increased by nearly 700%. These aggressive predators threaten the survival of coral reefs in the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans (via Wikipedia).
This anemone is displaying bioluminescence. So cool!
In a darkened room was a tank filled with Chrysaora hyssoscella – compass jellyfish. Rising ocean temperatures have increased the population of these jellyfish, which deplete fish stocks and also are a nuisance to humans. That said, however, they were mesmerizing to watch.
I found myself snapping photo after photo…
…and some even looked like something from a science fiction movie.
Looking close at these jellyfish was like viewing something from another dimension.
“Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo…” Despite their fearsome appearance, the aquarium’s sand tiger sharks are gentle giants. Between their docile demeanor and their small mouths, these predators have never recorded a single human fatality.
Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.
The aquarium also has a special display of non-aquatic creatures, such as these meerkats. Related to the mongoose, meerkats feed on spiders, scorpions, and lizards.
This macaw posed for me while I snapped photo after photo!
And this turtle was kind enough to emerge from his shell for a few photos.
I had so much fun photographing all the wildlife, I thought I’d share a few moments of underwater relaxation for you to enjoy at home:
I usually try to photograph my car in front of the site I’m visiting, but there was no way to legally stop in front of the aquarium… I guess this shot of the rear of the building will have to do (at least there’s an octopus on the wall!).
Afterward, we went for a delicious lunch at the nearby Sedona Taproom.
My wife enjoyed the gluten-free crab cakes with mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts. The verdict? Delicious!
My BBQ short ribs, with jicama slaw and fries, was divine. Unhealthy… but divine. You know, I should probably mention at this point that when we’re home, my wife and I eat super-healthy. Only when we’re out on our road trip adventures do we tend to indulge our palates. I wouldn’t want my audience to get the wrong idea about me!
As we headed home, we saw a sign by the side of the highway and detoured to the Greenwich Historical Society in Cos Cob, Connecticut.
Cos Cob was home to an artists colony in the late 19th and early 20th century. The museum has a small gallery dedicated to their works.
The museum is also housing a special exhibit on women’s suffrage in the 20th century. The museum also has several historic structures, including the 18th century Bush-Holley House. On another trip, we will definitely return to take a more thorough tour of the grounds!
On the drive back to New Jersey, inspired by our sights of the ocean, we made plans to spend our Sunday exploring more of the coastline. We arrived home during late afternoon, rested up, and the next morning set off bright and early… The Camera Lens Test Drive – Sandy Hook, NJ
Our Sunday morning road trip would take us to breakfast in Asbury Park, then a morning spent photographing wildlife in Gateway National Park in Sandy Hook, followed by lunch in Keyport, New Jersey. Not a bad way to spend a day!
“‘Cause tramps like us, baby, we were born to run…” I love starting my Sunday morning with breakfast in Asbury Park. Although I’m a Cape May boy at heart, I’ve come to appreciate Asbury as a really cool beach town.
One of our favorite spots in Asbury Park is Toast City Diner, which I’ve included in this blog several times. It’s always fun to return for a delicious meal!
I ordered the Firebird (gluten-free) waffle, and my wife had the Firebird (gluten-free) pancakes. It hit the spot! Fueled up, we began our next adventure.
After breakfast, we picked up some coffee at the Asbury Park Convention Hall and wandered the boardwalk. I always enjoy seeing the new murals around town, and the new mermaid cat (mercat?) did not disappoint.
We departed Asbury Park and a half hour later arrived at Gateway National Recreation Area in Sandy Hook. The purpose for our trip was twofold. First, we had read reports of seals along the beaches of Sandy Hook. Second, I recently upgraded my camera system. After using the same zoom lens since high school, a Canon 100-300mm USM lens that I bought in 1992, I finally upgraded. My old lens was starting to wear out, and so I took the plunge and purchased the Canon 100-400mm zoom lens. After shooting with it all morning, I can report back that it is a significant upgrade. I guess technology advances in 28 years!
With temperatures in the low 30s and a constant wind, my wife and I shivered our way along the beaches of the park. While we did not see any seals, I did get to test out my lens on numerous birds. I was amazed at how quickly the lens would focus on a scene.
To give you a sense of the optical power of the lens, this is a photograph taken with my wife’s iPhone. On the distant shore, if you look closely, you can see two little towers at the top of the hill – Navesink Twins lighthouse, which my wife and I climbed during the lighthouse challenge in 2018.
The same scene, this time with my camera and the new lens at 100 mm, it smallest zoom setting. You can see Navesink Twins at the top of the hill.
The same scene, now zoomed to the lens’ maximum setting at 400mm.
We stopped at a small boardwalk overlooking the bay, and I handed the camera over to my wife. She instantly took a liking to the new lens as well.
The next several photos were taken by my wife!
If you look closely, you can see that my wife photographed a duck shelling an oyster. Pretty cool!
My wife handed the camera back to me, and moments later I managed to grab a shot of a seagull and a duck fighting over food. I felt like I was part of a nature documentary – the only thing missing was the narration of David Attenborough.
We got back in the car and headed to the northern tip of the park for further photographic opportunities.
We stopped by the U.S. Live Saving Station Visitor Center, which is closed for the winter.
We also stopped by to visit an old friend: Sandy Hook Lighthouse.
We stopped at Fort Hancock, a derelict military base that existed to protect the New York harbor. I detailed this retired fort in a previous post. Today, we were stopping by to use the viewing platform at the northern tip of the park.
From the viewing platform, you can see the Manhattan skyline in the distance. This was shot with my wife’s iPhone.
Same scene, now with the new lens (100 mm).
Maximum zoom at 400 mm.
Departing Sandy Hook, our next destination was the town of Keyport, located on the banks of the Raritan Bay. We stopped for lunch at Old Glory Kitchen & Spirits, a restaurant and bar that is located in a former Christian Science church.
For lunch, we split the Old Glory Classic: fresh mozzarella, roasted garlic, cherry tomatoes, tomato sauce, basil, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, on a gluten-free crust. Absolutely delicious!
Keyport has a large collection of antique shops, and after lunch we spent some time window shopping. I also went down to the harbor to test out my lens again.
I feel like I’m just starting to scratch the surface of this lens’ capabilities. Needless to say, I was thrilled with the initial results! The 150,000 Mile Mark.
In May of 2015, I bought my Honda Accord coupe, figuring I would keep it for a few years, hoping it would be a reliable vehicle. In the almost five years since I made the purchase, it has far exceeded my expectations. Quite simply, it’s the best car I have ever owned. I have put over 108,000 miles on the car, and hardly a day goes by when I am not behind the wheel. It has been to fourteen states, it has climbed a mountain, sailed across a bay, has visited countless roadside attractions, and remains a willing road companion. Before closing this post, I thought I’d offer a few updates on the car:
Despite this car being my daily driver, the exterior has held up relatively well. It has its fair share of dings, chips, and scratches, but cars are meant to be driven. Fortunately, a healthy dose of Meguiar’s auto care products keeps it looking as good as possible. The headlights have gotten a bit foggy, which is not an uncommon issue with older Hondas. Fortunately, my father-in-law gifted me a headlight restoration kit from Meguiars, so I’ll be tackling that project in the months ahead. I do have a small rust spot that continues to recur on the inner lip of the passenger-side rear wheel well, so at the end of next week, the Accord will be spending a few days at the local body shop to get that treated. One thing is sure when you live in the snow belt: when you spot rust, take care of it immediately!
Aside from needing a good cleaning and detail under the hood, all is well in the engine bay. This is the heart of DH – the 3.5-liter iVTEC V6 engine. Despite producing 271 horsepower, the motor is surprisingly fuel efficient. Some of it is attributed to VCM – Variable Cylinder Management. When the engine is at light load (for instance, at continuous highway speed), the engine deactivates 2 or 3 cylinders. If you need to accelerate, simply press the gas pedal and the engine roars back to life, ready to respond. Despite the engine having over 150,000 miles on it, the car still drives like the day I bought it… quite a testimony to good engineering!
Sure, there’s some wear on the steering wheel, some of the plastic trim is chipped, and the leather has gotten a bit older, but overall, the interior is in pretty good shape. I treat the leather every few months, and use Meguiar’s Interior Detailer to protect the dashboard and trim. All of the electronics still work (including, most importantly, the seat heaters!), and the driver’s seat is still a comfortable place to pass the miles.
150,000 miles is now a distant memory. The next goal? 175,000. Stay tuned for more road adventures right here! Wrapping Up
It was a fantastic weekend traveling along the east coast. The
Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk is open daily from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm. Admission is a bit pricey, but I would highly recommend the aquarium: adults are $26.95, children ages 3-12 are $19.95, and senior citizens (ages 65+) are $24.95. The Greenwich Historical Society is open Wednesday through Sunday from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm. Admission to tour the Bush-Holley House is $10 per person, although with our AAA membership, my wife and I qualified for a 50% discount. Finally, Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook is open from 5:00 am – 8:00 pm. During the summer months, there is a parking fee of $15 per vehicle, although during the off-season that fee is waived.
Thank you for coming along on this fun, ocean-themed journey down the open road ahead.
‘Til next time.