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When we had first begun our road trip across the United States we decided that we would explore the east-coast spontaneously, leaving it all a little open ended. The idea was, wherever we felt like going we would just pack up the car and head off- no itineraries and no restrictions. So one night, in the Adirondacks, whilst we were re-watching the first season of the Sopranos on Ila's laptop, we decided to head to New Jersey on a spontaneous Soprano adventure. 

Along with the Wire and Game of Thrones, the Sopranos has been an absolute favorite series of ours, so this adventure was inspired by a long history of Soprano fandom. Our Italian friend Ilaria, who was traveling the states with us, was also a lover of the Sopranos and we were excited to have our very own Italian to make the mission more authentic!

The overall object of our Soprano mission was to find places that really encapsulated the feeling of the show, sometimes filled with moments of peace, other times filled with suspense and discomfort.

We said goodbye to the ducks in the Adirondacks and migrated south to find the ducks in New Jersey instead - Soprano metaphors...

In this edition of Fandom travels, I am going to show you how we explored New Jersey and how we kept it as a tribute to the Sopranos. I would recommend doing this kind road-trip for anyone who has an open-ended itinerary or just plain loves the Sopranos. 

ELIZABETH, NEW JERSEY
As we drove into New Jersey we were greeted with the famous New Jersey turnpike sign, you know the one featured in The Sopranos opening scene. Seeing it was pretty amazing and for a moment we felt like flies on a wall inside Tony Soprano’s car, as he headed home from-

‘Working in waste management…’

We decided to make our first stop in NJ Elizabeth. Elizabeth extends deep into Mafia history and has a story that ventures beyond the show. The Soprano’s, was based on the DeCavalcante crime family and some of the FBI recordings made in Elizabeth during the 1960s. Most of DeCavalcante’s crime activities operated out of Elizabeth and his family was extremely revered and he himself very successful. DeCavalcante was a Mafia mastermind, but despite this, his successes as a crime boss did not get his family included in the New York 5 Mafia families, even though it was a great wish.

“It’s good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that and I know. But lately, I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.”
[Tony Soprano]

As we headed down to the port in Elizabeth we had shivers run down our spines as we saw shipping containers loaded on to the docks. Who knows what was inside them and who would pick them up. Watching the show, it was easy to let our imaginations run wild and we would often begin sentences with 'what if?’ To be fair, the fact that the port in Elizabeth is still used for Mafia operations today is good reason enough to get your imagination running. 

NEW JERSEY SUBURBS – ARLINGTON, CLIFTON, AND THE CALDWELLS
As we left Elizabeth we drove into the suburbs of Jersey. We were in a completely unfamiliar area and we weren’t really sure where we would be able to park up for the night and sleep. We decided to take an exit off the highway into a place called Arlington and drove around in the dark. We passed incredible mansions with beautifully landscaped gardens all lit up with flood lights and bright windows, much like Tony's house in the series. It was getting late, though, and we knew we would have to stop somewhere soon, which probably meant camping illegally-

But that's all within the theme right?

We found an empty car-park outside of an Italian-American restaurant in a quiet area and we figured nobody would bother us. The restaurant was ironically called Nuevo Vesuvio.

‘It’s bad enough that these mobsters still come in and patronize this place. Okay?’
[Charmaine Bucco]

The main street where the restaurant was located, was a beautifully lit up parade, with fairly lights here dangling on trees here and there, quite a contrast to our dark car-park, where we would be sleeping. The air smelled rich with the scent of garlic, tomatoes and oregano. The smell of proper Italian-American cuisine and it made our mouths water.

We pulled down the bed in the back of our car and Ilaria satisfied our hunger by lighting up the gas stove and cooking us an amazing pasta feast. We watched the soprano’s again that night and we decided that tomorrow we should head to a nearby park to begin our quest to find a family of ducks.

New Jersey is home to the very rich and the very poor and the suburbs around the area we were in New Jersey were filled with beautifully manicured mansions. This suburban area is where Tony Soprano lives. I can only imagine that these wealthy suburbs were a visible sign of success and wealth to Tony and that living here, meant that he was ‘in.’ Despite Tony’s promiscuities, like all Italians he values family and despite the tenuous relationship with his mother, and in a way his father, he wanted to be able to provide for his family, with all the normality he would have wanted as a child. Anyone who has watched the series will understand the connection between Tony's family and the ducks. 

‘A couple of months before, these two wild ducks landed in my pool.
It was amazing.
They're from canada or someplace, and it was matin' season.
They had some ducklings.’

[Tony Soprano]  
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Caldwell, New Jersey


Finding Tony Soprano’s house
Yes, yes we assigned ourselves the task of finding the house featured in the Sopranos. Problem was, there were two streets with the same name, one in the suburb of Clifton and the other in North Caldwell. We knew it was in North Caldwell but we thought Clifton was North Caldwell. This was a strangely nice detour, though, as the trees were glimmering and there were even deer wandering around. Seriously, deer literally roaming around houses in New Jersey, a place just outside one of the biggest metropolitan cities in the world, NYC.
 
We finally arrived on the street we were looking for and we spotted the house, totally unmistakable. We were totally alone out the front of Tony Soprano’s house, in a car, staring out the window, from a distance-
 
cause that’s not weird at all?
 
I sneaked in a quick photograph and recollected that somehow I had made my way here. I was in Australia when I first watched the series, half a world away, and yet being here felt so familiar and recognizable and real.

14 Aspen drive, North Caldwell, New Jersey. 

ATLANTIC CITY
To get to AC you take the Garden State Parkway – it is however, important to note, that there are no more and no less, than a trillion toll booths on this expressway. Seriously, I have never seen anything like it. You barely build up enough speed before you reach another toll booth. They only cost about a quarter, so they are really cheap, just more annoying than expensive. Just remember to keep plenty of small change on you if you plan on driving down. I have no idea why they don’t just have one toll both for a certain price, but who am I to judge?

We finally came to the exit we needed to get to Atlantic City and it was pouring with rain. That morning in the suburbs it was bright, clear and cheerful as we drove passed freshly mown grasses in the wealthy suburbs of Jersey. But when we arrived in AC, well things were a little different down here. It was dark and dreary and we were driving through the ghetto which littered the main casino strip. I was kind of taken aback at how people could come here and gamble with high rollers and lots of money and just ignore the horrific state of the actual city. Outside of the casino strip, AC was not a safe city,  it was a poor and I felt sad for its residents, It was such a stark contrast to our meanderings earlier on that day and deeply showed the disparity of wealth in NJ.

It was pretty difficult to find on-street parking in AC. So you have to pay for parking in one of the casinos. The car-parks are generally pretty full, but at least, they are secure. We arrived at Caesar’s Casino and it was everything outside wasn’t. Clean, bright and fun. Restaurants by Gordon Ramsay and incredible interior designs that made you feel like you were in another country. There was also a hell of a lot of bright colors and fun sounds to distract you from the ghettos outside.

Atlantic City, NJ

In the episode: Two Tony’s – I felt the director really simulated the feeling of this city. The scenes at the casino were full of fun and fine wine and then the scenes outside were of gang violence on wet dirty streets. You really do feel that difference in Atlantic City.

None of us would consider ourselves gamblers; so we only played for a while and then headed off to find our ducks.

EDWIN B FORSYTHE NATIONAL WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
It was a cold and wet afternoon when we arrived at the sanctuary, but there was a beautiful loop you could drive around (Wildlife drive) to see the coastal wetland, salt marsh, and birds. The Edwin B Forsythe wildlife sanctuary was developed as a refuge for the thousands of migratory birds making their way to their nesting and feeding grounds. The sanctuary has definitely become a favorite stop off for the birds, and we were fortunate enough to see predatory birds like ospreys and smaller birds like sand pipers, plovers, geese and even song birds. 
But for some bizarre reason, we didn’t see any ducks. How is it that ducks were all of the sudden so difficult to find?

*If you are interested in visiting this incredible sanctuary, you can visit their website at www.fws.gov for information about the park, activities and location.

So there was nothing else to do but to look for another spot to camp for the night. Once again it was incredibly difficult to find a place to park up and sleep and we didn’t want to park anywhere near Atlantic City. We figured that sleeping in a car, in AC, might just end uo being a psychotic death wish.

Happily, though, we did manage to find a narrow side road located right next to a golf course, not too far from the bird sanctuary. At least here we could avoid potentially getting robbed, jacked, murdered etc.

But, that whole evening felt strange and eerie. The smell of the earth and wet grass was intense. The whole place was strangely silent except for the pattering of the rain on the roof of our car. The sounds and the smells gave me the feeling that we were in a place that had many, many undiscovered secrets.

I told Ilaria how I was feeling at the time, and she replied with something along the lines of this–

“You mean the feeling like there could be a dead body buried nearby.”

Yup, that was it.

With murder being the scary topic of conversation for the evening, we spoke at length about the Mafia in the darkness of our car. Ilaria was from Bologna in Italy and she spoke of how the Mafia destroyed her country and how there was very little anyone could do to stop it. That politicians had been murdered over it. Crazy stuff. I slept poorly that night.

The next morning we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise, and best of all, we could see something paddling in one of the golf courses lakes –

A family of ducks.