Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The new back deck

Ever since Hurricane Sandy back in October last year we have not had a back deck. We kept the door locked so that if we tried to go out there by mistake, the locked door would stop us falling.

Finally it was warm enough for the new back deck to be built. By warm enough I mean just above freezing.

A bloke turned up with a big truck and this nifty fork lift and brought the wood, nails and concrete down to the back of the house.

There are quite a few photos in this blog since this is an easy way to document the process. Now I know what brand of nails and post anchors were used.

The crew of three turned up at 7 am and after a brief discussion to determine what was to be done, work commenced with the digging of the holes for the footers.

They dug the holes for the 6 x 6 posts.

Knowing that they did not need an audience supervising, I kept out of the way and just listened to the banging, hammering and sawing.

By late afternoon they called it quits for the day and I went out to see what had been accomplished in just one day.

The main deck was installed.

Even one of the risers for the steps had been installed.

No, the 6 x 6 posts are not crooked, that is the camera's fault.

This would have taken me weeks to accomplish by myself. The next day while I was away doing the trip to New York, they were back again. It was dark by the time I got home but I was able to walk out on the deck with the composite boards.

The next morning work the Amish guy was back building the steps.

Yes, the deck has a point to it like the Titanic. I doubt it will sink since the deck feels very solid and strong.

Steps more of less finished  except for the railings.

After a good deal of discussion, Marianne decided on wooden lattice for the railings. I thought she didn't like lattice but it turned out she did.

So the new deck is narrower at the end closest tt the road and the steps now go down parallel to the house. The other end is much wider. We were not sure how it would turn out but we like the new shape.

Details of the railings.

The railing almost done. The posts are cedar and the lattice is pine. Eventually there will be a cedar railing on top.

The new back door downstairs.

The finished product. We are really pleased how the wide area turned out. There should be plenty of room for a new barbecue. 

It is supposed to get up to about 40 degrees on Wednesday so we can start staining the railing.

So the gang tidied everything up, loaded their caravan and headed off. 

So here it is. It took them four days but for two of the days, there was only the Amish bloke working on it. The 6 x 6 posts need to dry out for a few months before they can be stained so I will do them just before going off to Europe in May.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Newark, DE to New York using commuter trains

By now most of you probably realize that I like to go on train journeys. A couple of years ago, Robin found out that you could take a Septa commuter train from Newark, Delaware to Philadelphia. I had presumed that the commuter train only started at Wilmington which is about ten miles north. I dropped her off at the station and noticed that it was free to use the parking lot and that there appeared to be plenty of room.

I was feeling a bit of train travel withdrawal so after a bit of research I found that I could use the Septa and NJ Transit commuter trains to go to New York and back in a day. Instead of the $100 each way fare using Amtrak, my 50% off Senior ticket would cost $23.50 round trip. Looking at the weather forecast a warmish day was coming up so one Friday I headed out bright and early and drove about 45 minutes to Newark Station.

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The parking lot at 7:30. It was not full so I had no trouble finding a park.

This was probably the old station, but it is no longer used.

The carriage was well lit and quite comfortable.

I wouldn't call it spectacular scenery. Perhaps it would look better in summer when the trees have leaves. 

I was intrigued by the smoke coming from an industrial  chimney.

While there are a few places with natural beauty, most of the journey is spent looking at industry.

There is a ticket booth at Newark Station where you can buy your tickets. For some reason or other, they could not sell me the Senior's return ticket to Trenton, NJ and I had to buy it on the train from the conductor. In exchange for $9.50 I was presented with this ticket which the conductor had a great time clicking with his hole puncher. It all seemed very antiquated compared to the electronic cards that are used in London, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

We usually drive up this road if we are going to Philadelphia. We raced past the traffic since we were doing 85 mph at this stage. I know we were doing that speed since I had my GPS on to record the journey.

Alfred Hitchcock was sitting opposite. 

An interesting station at Claymont.

It is not too inspiring. Looking out the other window is better since you get a view of the Delaware River. However, it would have been impossible for my camera to deal with the glare from the sun.

Fuel storage tanks at Marcus Hook. There were dozens of them.

The train was now in lower Pennsylvania in an area that I understood was not particularly safe. Actually it looked relatively nice.

Industry at its finest.

Nice looking houses in a nice looking suburb.

I wondered how a demolished Police car ended up here. It's probably an interesting story.

I was really surprised how prosperous this area was. I was expecting slums.

Near Philly the graffiti appeared.

We were near the Penn University and Hospital area near 30th Street Station. Here is a giant car parking garage.

Since health care and education are two of the major growth industries in the USA, there was construction everywhere.

The platform at 30th Street Station. It was necessary to go down some steps to the concourse and then up an escalator to the next platform. The Septa carriages are not really set up for big luggage though there appears to be room for carry-on size in the luggage racks above the seats.

A Septa train.

My next train arriving.

I don't know why they had attached spikes to the tops of some of the beams. Robin let me know it is to stop birds landing there and dropping poo on the people standing underneath.

A variation on the 'Mind the Gap' message of the London Tube.

The seats all have clips where people put their tickets so that conductor can see that you have been checked.

Crossing the Schuylkill River as we leave Philly. On the left you can see the highway that feeds from the western suburbs into downtown Philly. It is a somewhat dangerous road to drive and is known as the "Sure Kill Expressway".

An interesting looking station.

I liked the red.

I often wonder why stations can look so different. You would think that within a given area they were all built about the same time, so why they they usually all look different. Perhaps so that passengers would not get confused and get out at the wrong station.

This was a much more modern carriage. The TV screen showed advertisements. Believe it or not, the next part of the advertisement read 'and Drexel makes them go out the other'. 

A very basic looking station.

Crossing the Delaware River as we entered Trenton, NJ. Just a few miles upstream was the site of where Washington crossed the Delaware in the Revolution.

It was very simple to transfer to the next train. The Septa train arrived on one side of the platform and the NJ Transit train was waiting on the other side. I bought a ticket at the machine in the middle. Oddly enough, the conductor came along and took my ticket and then placed another ticket in the clip in front of me. I am sure that there is some logical reason for this but it escapes me.

It appeared to be quite an old carriage but it was quite comfortable. There were not too many passengers at the beginning but by the time we got to New York the carriage was full. Quite a few passengers got off at Newark Airport. From what I could gather, these passengers received a special ticket that enabled them to use the monorail that connects from the station to the airport.

On all three trains, they will only let passengers use some of the carriages. The others are closed off and only opened if passengers are forced to stand. Again, you have to wonder why.

The New Jersey scenery is not too inspiring.

The view towards Manhattan across the New Jersey flats. The smog obscured the view of the tall buildings.

Finally we went through a tunnel under the Hudson River and arrived at Penn Station. This has to one of the most dismal and ugly big city stations in the world.

Manhattan. I have to admit that I am not a fan.

Back in the late 70's I was in a group of IT employees from the bank in Reading PA that came up to New York for the day for some training. It turned out that I was the only one in the group who had been to New York before and so I, the Aussie, had to show them around. I took them up the Empire State Building.

I never had any desire to go up the Trade Center Towers. This was the building that meant more to me. It's been some time since I took Robin up to the top, but it really is a piece of Americana that is curiously old fashioned and worth doing. On a clear day the view is fabulous.

I am thinking of possibly getting a new camera to use on my upcoming walk across England so I went to the B & H camera shop which is an amazing place. It's huge, extending from 33rd to 34th street on 9th Avenue. They sell more than cameras of course but it's like going into two camera and electronics supermarkets, one on top of the other.

No, I did not buy a camera but I found a few possibilities. I've been using a Canon A1200 for the past couple of years. It has a viewfinder, a 4 times zoom and is quite small and light. It has performed valiant service but it has its faults. Better cameras exist and so I thought I would check them out. Unfortunately most modern cameras don't have a viewfinder and since I am an old fuddy-duddy who requires glasses to read a book I prefer to look through a viewfinder rather than to try to focus on the screen on the back of the camera. A longer zoom would be helpful as well but I don't want a camera that is too bulky and heavy.

Reflections in the windows of the round building above Penn Station.

Seeing I am still a good looking hunk, I was approached by this young lady who asked me to have lunch with her. In my dreams of course. Actually this is my youngest niece, Sophie who lives in New York. We had arranged to have lunch together and she had picked a deli style restaurant across from Penn Station called the Stage Door which you can see on the corner in the photo above this one.

Here is my Pastrami on Rye sandwich. It was excellent and I managed to eat it all.

Sophie had a BLT and we shared a dish of dill pickles, a New York tradition. Along with a couple of Heineken beers, it was a great lunch. I tried to talk her into coming to Amsterdam for a week while we will be there doing a house exchange.

My Septa ticket at the end of the trip. There were 14 holes punched in it. To be honest, I was quite tired by the time I got home. It was a long day and I doubt I would attempt the round trip in a day again. The Amtrak train from Wilmington to New York takes almost two hours and the commuter trains take approximately double that time.

However, I do plan to use these trains when I journey up to Newark Airport when I fly to England in May.