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“Take a leap, and the net will appear.” “When you first fall in love, you feel like a better version of yourself. That is what travel does to me. Travel is my lover. I do not know how long the money will hold out, or if I will make any money by documenting these adventures, but for now, I am very happy.” – Carole Rosenblat
This summer, my husband and I celebrated our 20th year of marriage with our first European vacation. In the cold clutches of the polar vortex, we asked ourselves, what is the one European city known to be one of the world’s most romantic destinations?
Why, Paris, of course!
Gleefully, we dreamt of a Paris vacation. In the evenings, we played a Paris Jazz Café station on Spotify. Without a single semester of French between the two of us, we spoke sweet nothings to each other in fake Parisian accents.
I dug out my college art history textbooks and plotted my visit to the Louvre.
Then we checked in with the news coming out of France, and our dreams crumbled like a stale baguette.
Anti-Semitism in France has been on a steady incline in recent years, even before Hamas’ most recent war with Israel. In 2012, a survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League revealed that 40 percent of approximately 1,200 French Jews said they avoided wearing Jewish identifiers such as kippot or Jewish stars. For me, all it took was one YouTube video filmed on Jan. 26 with throngs of protesters repeatedly shouting “Jews Out” through the streets of Paris, to rethink our plans.
So, forget Paris. We instead spent 10 memorable days in Italy touring Tuscany,
eating fresh pasta
Italy was far from a consolation prize to France.
However, all that wine did not cloud my awareness that war was still raging in Israel (my daughter spent the summer in Israel), and anti-Semitism was all around us in Europe. Still, I refused to be afraid to be outwardly Jewish. In the Jewish ghetto of Venice, I purchased a star of David made of Murano glass and wore it for the duration of my trip.
In Italy, an appreciation for Judaism’s contributions to humanity on the surface outweighed any animosity towards the Jews. An orchestra in Venice’s St. Mark’s square played Klezmer music.
Remember this song? Remember how in the 1960’s Petula Clark sang so optimistically about all the energy and promise that could be found “Downtown” in some unnamed city?
It is a promise I still believe in, even if my nearest downtown is the downtown of Detroit.
I’ve lived in New York City and in the Bay Area near Oakland and San Francisco. In my life I have walked the streets of Los Angeles, Toronto, Seattle, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
I’ve never shied away from exploring a city. You just have to know where to go and where not to go.
…can you guess?
“Have any of you ever been mugged?”
Back in the 1970’s and the early 1980’s, New York City carried a crime-ridden, grafitti and blight stricken reputation. Street crime, such as theft, murder, and yes, muggings, were at their height in the days when New York City had its own brush with near-bankruptcy.
But in those years of my childhood….none in my family was ever mugged, however many times we took the subway. I was taught from an early age the following streetwise tips:
- Always be wary my surroundings.
- On a subway platform, stand closest to the token collector booth and far away from the platform edge.
- On the street, walk like you KNOW where you’re going.
- Keep rings with stones turned in.
- Tuck necklaces in too.
- As far as purses, the most fashionable purse a woman can wear in NYC is the kind that can be worn postal style across one shoulder.
With this training in place, not much else impeded us from enjoying the city. My childhood was filled with urban memories like going to the Circus or the Ice Capades at Madison Square Garden, dining in Chinatown, the Lower East Side’s delis, or learning at the museums.
It was our city and NO we never got mugged.
Now, I live in Detroit.
Okay, I’ll ‘fess up. I guess you can’t say I live in Detroit. I’m a full-fledged suburbanite now. With the neatly cut front lawn and a fancy sign on the main road at the entrance of our “development” to prove it.
But in my heart, I’m an urbanite. I still long for the energy of the city.
One big problem here. I’m finding a hard time looking for some native Detroiters who are willing to show me around. There is too much history of bad times here. Too many suburbanites who have been victims of crime somewhere in their past.
The people here told me that I would love the suburbs. There is so much to do see, so much shopping in the suburbs. But downtown? No, they just don’t go downtown.
“I will not go downtown,” said one friend I’ve known for a while. The daughter of my neighbors back in Rochester, she is a woman who has lived in cities in China, Japan, who has ventured all over New York City. Now, she just takes her kid to the movies and the mall.
“I’m just boring here. And I’m telling you, don’t go downtown.”
I laughed into the phone. Nervously.
“No, I’m not joking. Don’t go looking to explore downtown Detroit. It is just not safe.”
Another source giving me advice about Detroit was my electrician. A life-long Detroiter, he told me the story of how his family all used to live in the city, but his grandparents’ home was broken into. His grandfather was beat up pretty bad. In his own home.
He then told me the story of how, as an older woman, Rosa Parks herself was mugged on the streets of Detroit.
“I mean, the mother of the civil rights movement! Can you imagine what thugs would mug Rosa Parks? I would not go downtown. No, Not even to the riverfront. I wouldn’t take my kids down there. Don’t go.”
Another stern warning came from the welcome wagon lady.
First, she reminisced about how once, Detroit could have been one of the richest, and one of the most beautiful cities in America. She spoke of the beautiful hotels and department stores like Hudson’s. Hudson’s where you could have your hair and nails done and your umbrella fixed while shopping for the finest fashions. And then you can dine at one of its fine restaurants.
We sat on my couch and I tried to envision what Detroit must have been like through her shared memories. As I admired the welcome basket filled with gifts like caramel chocolate popcorn and new dishtowels, she told me how her son last year was carjacked at gunpoint when he stopped to fill up at a downtown gas station.
Still, she encouraged me to at least go check out the Detroit Institute of Art. I certainly will, before the city potentially sells off its art collection to cover what they owe to their pensioners.
Some final advice from the welcome wagon lady:
“If you do go downtown, make sure you have plenty of gas. Don’t ever stop for gas below Eight Mile. And don’t stop for a red light at night. And If a cop does pull you over for running a light, be glad he did.”
I got a lot of great feedback from Monday’s post about the first five things on my list of what I’ll miss about Rochester.
Some of the things people added and commented to this list are not tangible things. For some, it’s more of the community mindedness of the place that you come to know once you’ve lived here for a while. There is a great sense of collaboration between government, businesses and grass roots organizations that create a wealth of cultural offerings here.
What are they, you ask? For one, there was last September’s Fringe Fest, the first time Rochester has hosted this festival celebrating all things creative.
Another development just in the last 12 months has been the collaboration between wo Rochester treasures: WXXI, our public radio and TV station, and The Little, a great indie movie theater. Over the last year, the two non-profit organizations have put together free and open to the public discussions on many thought-provoking films that don’t come to bigger commercial theatres. Don’t take my word for it, check out The Little while you are in town. From the great films to the REAL popcorn with REAL butter, find out more here.
But for those of you are purely visiting, or are planning a visit to Rochester and the area, here are some more must-sees:
- Water – Okay, I know there will be water where I’m going. Michigan is famous for its lakes big and small. But I will miss the variety of kinds of bodies of water within an hour’s drive from my home in Rochester. I’ll miss taking a stroll or a bicycle ride on the historical Erie Canal. Blogger Renee a. Schuls-Jacobson loves to have lunch along the canal on a summer afternoon at great restaurants like The Coal Tower in Pittsford (don’t miss their pumpkin soup in the fall) or Aladin’s Natural Eatery for great vegetarian and vegan cuisine as well as micro brewed and local beer. I’ll miss taking a short 15 minute drive and taking a walk along the shore of Lake Ontario, flying a kite with my kids at Durant Beach or taking our end-of-the-summer outing to Rochester’s great local amusement park Sea Breeze and cooling off with a chocolate almond cone from Abbot’s Custard, more of Renee’s favorite things. Hell, I’ll even miss the radio ad, “Come Get Your Summer!” that plays from Memorial Day until Labor Day.
- Artisan Works – It’s an art gallery. It’s a working artists colony. It’s a great place to have a wedding or a Bar mitzvah. But if you are an art lover, you must visit this funky gallery tucked into a huge warehouse on Blossom Road off Winton Road (right near the new Wegmans!). Eclecticism does not begin to describe this place, which boasts over a million pieces of art; a library with furniture from Frank Lloyd Wright to a fire house themed room with some naughty art (adults only in this section please). I can say this place is loaded with paintings and sculptures, photos and films, but it wouldn’t do it justice. Just GO.
- The National Museum of Play– What started out as a bunch of toys collected by philanthropist Dorothy Strong has turned into one of the country’s leading children’s museums and home to the Toy Hall of Fame for playthings like The Hula Hoop and The Stick (yes, the stick, like the kind that falls off a tree, is in the Toy Hall of Fame). You don’t need a kid to have fun here (but if you do have a kid and they’ve pooped in their last clean diaper, they’ve got you covered with their own supply!). Revisit your own childhood by taking a stroll down Sesame Street, “shop” for food at a kid sized Wegmans Market; twirl a hula hoop; make a craft with your kids and leave the scraps and glue sticks and other clean-up behind. Play in bins full of Leggos, play some retro video games like Pac Man and Space Invaders. Visit a Treasure Island, climb a beanstalk or explore a mysterious old house in Reading Adventure Land and then borrow a book from the museum’s library, which is connected to the Monroe County Library system.
- The Finger Lakes – Need more reasons to visit Rochester now that I’m gone? Well, the Finger Lake Region, about an hour away from Rochester, has been voted one of the 10 best travel destinations in the world, people! While you are in Canandaigua strolling along the lake and checking out the cute stores and art galleries, dine at a great Mexican restaurant called Rio Tomatlan. Get the flan for dessert, you won’t be sorry.
- Apples & Wine – okay, that’s two things. But a visit to this part of New York in the fall is not complete with either a trip to an apple picking farm, like The Apple Farm in Victor, NY or a Finger Lakes Winery like Fox Run. This year had a cold winter, no freak warm ups or frosts in the early spring, so the apple season this fall is supposed to yield a great crop.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – Okay, that’s five things. I can count! That’s all I’m going to add to this list, but what can YOU add to a list of must-sees in the Rochester area?
And Detroit – what have you got in store for me to see? In a few weeks, I’ll have nothing more to do than to explore, so tell me what I shouldn’t miss in the Motor City. I’m listening. I’m waiting.
Over my Christmas vacation, I spent hours on a cold floor in Staten Island rolling black plastic contractor bags into bundles of ten.
On my knees, I wrestled with the bags as a camper would a slippery sleeping bag and secured them together with a rubber band. Though this job seemed minor and menial in the scope of helping in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, to someone else who needed those bags to clean up whatever was left of their house, it might mean a lot.
As I worked, a steady stream of volunteers flitted in an out, stocking shelves as well as dropping off supplies. One woman who seemed somewhat in charge said she had volunteered at the Post every single day since the storm hit. Other shelters were closing on the Island and this leading volunteer feared that already, the rest of the world was forgetting what happened here.
She’s the one who needed those contractor bags bundled.
And she needed me to divide up other supplies like steel wool pads with those tiny pods of dish soap.
And she had socks that needed sorting and baby food inspected for expiration dates. My three kids got on that job.
At Guyon Rescue, there is no need for volunteers to make a reservation. There are no shifts. No training videos or marketing messages like other food pantries where my family has volunteered. You just show up and say you want to help. And they put you right to work.
Guyon Rescue is not a shelter, exactly. No one sleeps there. But to the many neighbors in this devastated area of Staten Island, Guyon Rescue has become a vital resource for short-term help since Hurricane Sandy.
Guyon Rescue is an all-volunteer grassroots network of workers and donors that have set up camp in a VFW Lodge around the corner from my childhood home, across the street from so many homes damaged and destroyed. Two months after the storm, you would not believe how people are still living unless you walk the streets here for yourself.
My husband and I also worked outside. With numbed fingers, we scrubbed out a donated refrigerator until the shelves were clean enough to eat from. We dried off equipment and supplies in a make-shift outdoor kitchen sheltered only by a tattered, tarp roof. Many of those preparing meals lived in the neighborhood and could tell stories of the storm surge. Of how many feet of water was in their basement. Or up to the ground floor. In the aisles of the food pantry, one woman collecting goods after she showed her FEMA card at the door told me how she swam out of her house.
It was Christmas Day, and soon, many who still had no power – or were camped out in cars near the remains of their property – would be coming to the post for a hot lunch.
At night, just a quarter mile from Guyon Rescue, my husband and I slept in my parent’s basement on an air mattress. It’s been two months since the storm and the basement looks back to normal. Except they lost most of their furniture when it became flooded with nearly four feet of water.
Now, don’t you go taking out any tiny violins for me or my family. We are the lucky ones.
Over my Christmas vacation to New York city, I also saw the Scream,
and Starry Night
We dined on the finest hot dogs and kinishes a New York City street vendor could offer.
And of course, we visited the tree in Rockefeller Center.
But if you ask me what was the best – the BEST part of my Christmas vacation back to New York City, it was volunteering with the good people at Guyon Rescue.
Want to make a difference in Staten Island with Guyon Rescue? Keep updated by following them on Facebook here. Because the recovery is not over.
In Staten Island, it’s only getting started.
For something completely different, the family took a weekend getaway to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, over Thanksgiving break. The second coldest capital in the world after Moscow, Ottawa is a great small city with a population under 900,000, very walkable and beautiful, if you can take the chill this time of year. Somehow when temperature is given in Celsius and not Fahrenheit, it always seems colder.
My boys loved its “Hogwarts“esque architecture complete with stone walls, huge doors:
a clock tower, and gargoyles galore:
I remember coming here as a kid and posing with a guard, but even the winter chill is too much for the guards in their tall fur hats. To experience the changing of the guard, I guess we’ll have to come back in the summer.
We walked to breakfast to get out of the cold:
After a great breakfast at eggspectations, we went to warm up in the city’s Museum of Civilization, which is actually in Quebec. Here, you can learn about Canadian History, size up to some totem poles and Native American Art and take in great views of the river:
After a day at the museum, we headed to Ottawa’s historic Byward Market, where we met up with friends who treated us to afternoon cupcakes at the Cupcake Lounge.
Along the streets, the air smelled of fresh pine from the trees and wreaths sold by local vendors:
Sometimes, one has to make a big move, say, relocation for a job.
Here is a guest post from a man who took a chance with his wife and son to live in a new place simply because it was the place they wanted to be.
I’m off this weekend to check out the next potential chapter of my family’s life in the Detroit, Michigan area. While I’m away, I’m letting an old friend hold down the fort here at transplantednorth.
I met Chris in college at the Daily Targum, the daily student-run newspaper at Rutgers University. I wrote copy while he was either shooting photos or developing them in a darkroom. Though our paths did not cross until college, we also both grew up on Staten Island.
I haven’t seen Chris since those college days, but we’ve kept in touch thanks to the miracle of Facebook. Since our college days, Chris worked for 12 years as a fundraiser and spokesperson for the American Red Cross, being the spokesperson for major disasters such as the TWA flight 800 and other air crashes, several dozen major hurricanes, tornados and floods, the Kosovo crisis, the 1999 Turkish earthquake and many others.
After leaving the Red Cross, Chris moved into private business in sales and business development and acquisition. In 2010 Chris led a group of investors in the acquisition and restructuring of Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company in Crofton, Maryland, where they produce a premium coffee that is also the most sustainable coffee you can buy. From the custom-built roaster that uses 78% less energy and packaging manufactured entirely from recyclable materials to the “H2O Initiative” which commits 2% of coffee sales (not profits) to organizations that help protect and restore the watershed, Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company coffees make a great cup while making local communities better places to live, work and play.
Now semi-retired and living with his wife and son in Panama, Chris keeps his hands in some charitable organizations with a mission for sustainability, including raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for EarthEcho International (EEI), an organizaiton founded by naturalists Philippe and Alexandra Cousteau.
He and his family relocated to Panama City, Panama in the summer of 2012 to give his son an international high school experience and explore life and business opportunities in a booming Latin American culture.
Here is his story of being a transplant. What is yours?
Three months ago my wife, 14 year son and I picked up and moved from Silver Spring, Maryland to Panama City, Panama – after just six whirlwind months from coming up with the idea to execution. We’ve always been a little impetuous, but this one was our biggest idea yet!
We actually made the move because we wanted to, not because of work or family. The idea of “slowing down” while giving my son the chance to go through high school in an international environment was one we all thought shouldn’t be missed.
We knew we were moving to a completely new environment that operates in a language we don’t speak, but it was still a major shock once we arrived.
No matter how much you prepare yourself, stepping off the plane without a return ticket and realizing you actually live here is something you really can’t understand until you do it.
I went from feeling like a confident and successful entrepreneur to someone who struggled to set up the basics for his family. I just wasn’t ready for how difficult it would be to get cell phones and internet service, satellite TV, and an account wit the electric company.
Even though I learned to drive in New York City, I was completely unprepared for the insanity of Panama City roads and the aggressiveness of the drivers. Traffic signals are truly suggestions, and a road is any place you can drive your vehicle – shoulders, medians, even grassy strips.
three months into the adventure I’m starting to see the challenges as opportunities. The Latin attitude of “mañana” is actually a great way to live if you can embrace it. Panamanians truly “work to live,” as opposed to the American attitude of “live to work.” I never really though that was how we were living our lives back in the States, but now that we’ve lived someplace else for a while we’ve realized just how much our American lives were defined by what we did for a living, and how much time and energy we devoted to it.
to trying to figure out what all those guys standing on the side of the road are doing (relieving themselves in the grass – why actually find a rest room?). And there have been plenty of humorous moments as we learn Spanish. (Text messaging is huge here; for weeks I kept asking my wife, “what the hell does ‘jajaja’ mean?” Must have read it 20 times before I pronounced it in Español – hahaha!)
We’ve also tried to find a way to make a difference in our new home country, and we’ve “adopted” a home for abused and abandoned girls. We’re leading a campaign to raise the funds to rebuild the roof, electric and plumbing. It’s been a moving experience (you can read more about the project at http://www.panamahogar.org).
Now that we’ve been here for three months, I’m realizing most of life here isn’t better or worse – it’s just different. Embrace the change – which was the whole reason we made the move in the first place – and life in another country can be a really fantastic experience.
Along the wine trail on Niagara-on-the-Lake is the Ice House.
We were biking along for about 11 miles along the Niagara River and we passed the Ice House. We vowed to go to the ice house on our way back after our furthest point, which involved going down, and then back up, a very big hill, just before we reached the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge.
That way, the Ice Wine Slushie would have been something well-earned on a hot July day.
First, the Ice House is set on a beautiful vineyard. Okay art history buffs, what artist do these photos remind you:
We locked up our bikes, hugged the Ice House Polar bear for luck:
and went inside to learn about how ice wine is produced. Actually, because we live in the Finger Lakes New York region, we have knowledge of ice wine, but it’s worth learning – and tasting – more than once.
Ice wine is growing in popularity and the Finger Lakes and the Ontario wine region produce the highest number of award-winning ice wines in the world. Wineries in colder regions take advantage of frigid temperatures by leaving grapes on the vine in the winter, and then quickly harvest and crush them while the grapes are completely frozen. This concentrates the flavor into a sweet but not syrupy wine that is not just for dessert but can be paired with food. I’m not going to botch up the facts of how it is produced, and why it is more expensive than other wines, you can read about that here.
Here is a photo of an Ice House employee bottling the micro batches of wine produced at the winery:
But now, to the Ice Slushie.
Now forgive me, but being the typical American girl that I am, this is what came to my mind when our inn proprietor first informed us of the Ice Wine Slushie:
I know, right? Unnatural colors. Big – at least 16 ounces. So how am I supposed to drink something made out of a concentrated wine THAT size and get back on my bike?
But no. In reality, the ice wine slushie, a 3-oz. drink was just enough to refresh and not intoxicate. For $10, my husband and I shared three different types of ice wine, paired with different snacks like chocolate, pretzels, and spicy wasabi peas to bring out their different flavors.
No, we did not plunk down the $50-75 for a bottle of ice wine. But the tasting, and the slushie, made this the most memorable stops on our day of biking and tasting. And in the future, if we have something special to celebrate, we’ll be sure to pick up a bottle.
When people ask me where I send my kids to camp, I tell them I send them to Camp Ramah.
Now, when you live in a town where traveling even 30 minutes to get somewhere seems like traveling to another planet (and I’m guilty of this as well), they then reply, Oh, the Camp Ramah in Toronto.
And then I say, “Nooo, it’s actually two and a half hours further. North of Toronto. In a region called Muskoka.”
The response I hear is: Isn’t that far?
And truthfully, Yes.
Yes. It’s very far.
Yes, I send my kids for a month, and now for my oldest two months, six hours away. Many see this as a sign of bad parenting. Many cannot fathom why we’d want to get rid of our kids for a month or even two. But, I have a friend who has five boys. Once, when we ran into each other grocery shopping, she spoke to me about the beauty of summer camp.
“Everyone for one time a year gets to live in their own space. It’s really very healthy.”
I’ll remember this produce aisle advice forever.
To get to camp, they travel across an international border and this requires they all need passports. But that means they are truly away from home, broadening their horizons and meeting kids from many countries and cities who are all bound together by a common heritage and a way of observing this heritage.
This is what I keep reminding myself in the hours my husband and I find ourselves in bumper-to-bumper traffic on our way to visitors day.
The first time I drove up to Muskoka, what surprised me most of all was the traffic. I mean, I can accept traffic in the New York Metro area, but traffic in Canada?
Yes, this is my American arrogance shining right through, because I never imagined such a huge population can exist North of the United States.
In reality, the Toronto-Muskoka corridor is packed. If you want to put it in terms of an SAT verbal analogy question, then Muskoka is to Toronto as the Jersey Shore is to the New York Tri State area.
So, picture yourself on the Garden State Parkway on a Friday or a Saturday and you now completely have an understanding of the traffic scene of “cottage country.”
Except, instead of terms like the GSP, you have roads that start with “the”.
And at last, The 11.
On the 11, suddenly the traffic opens up, and you find yourself on a road that ambles along sparkling lakes and pine forests. A road that’s dotted with honky tonk motels and camper parks, kayak rental places, and fruit stands. And you know you’re almost there.
So, getting back to the “why.” Why do we schlep all the way to Muskoka to send our kids to camp? Why do we send our kids so far away when there are closer camps from which to choose?
For many reasons.
Friendship and Kehilah Kedosha (holy community) It’s the smile on the kids faces that I see on nearly every photo that is posted on the camp website. The photos where nearly 600 children, freshly showered and dressed and arms linked, make their way down to the waterfront for another Shabbat service, that gets me every time. I know that we are doing right by our children for parting with them for a summer of this:
My children are developing deep friendships and in turn, we are also making friendships with the families of these children, all within the framework of an immersive Jewish education program that is nearly impossible to duplicate outside of camp (but I keep trying).
Inclusion: When we arrived at camp for visitor’s day, the very first child my 15-year-old daughter talked about and wanted us to meet was her new friend Julie:
Julie, who has Down’s Syndrome, is participating in Camp Ramah’s Tikvah program. Each day, Jolie meets with Julie to tutor her in Hebrew and through these lessons a friendship has blossomed. I am sure the girls will keep in touch long after camp is over.
Family – In truth, campers, and in turn their families, become one extended family. But I have actually reconnected with extended family members on my grandmother’s side that before our Camp Ramah years, I have not seen in decades. Now, the great-grandchildren of my grandmother and her eldest sister attend the same camp. We stay in touch during the year over Facebook and we’ve got plans to visit them in Pittsburgh at the end of the summer.
New Hobbies: Because of his summers canoeing and kayaking in Skeleton Lake, I got into a canoe with my son with confidence. I sat in the front of the wobbly canoe, knowing he would be the one to give me direction on how to stroke and where to steer the boat:
My daughter also took up a hobby, making her own boat in woodshop:
She also painted the sets for and was one of the angels in “Beauty School Dropout” in the Camp Ramah production of Grease.
And all plays at camp Ramah – the lines and the songs – are performed in Hebrew.
I don’t know how to sing “Beauty School Dropout” in Hebrew just now, but I bet my daughter will teach me when she gets home.
Finally, off camp, there is the town of Huntsville with the world’s most amazing candy store and ice creamery, great restaurants, art galleries inside and out,
and nearby Arrowhead Provincial Park where you can swim in a pristine lake, hike to a waterfall and climb in and see fish swimming around you in the current:
And, at night there is darkness. A rarity in our increasingly lit up world, the skies are dark enough to see THOUSANDS of stars, and even spot a fast-moving satellite:
Really, there are stars in this photo. If you don’t believe me, you’ll just have to go up there for yourself. I’ll even tell you which field to stargaze.
So, we’re back. I try not to think about how far away my kids are, kind of how an extreme rock climber just keeps looking up and doesn’t think how high off the ground they are. But we are happy in our space, and they are happy in theirs.
And the schlep is completely worth it.