Much to my surprise the blog is back. After much procrastination and periodic glancing at my laptop like an apprehensive puppy looking at its very first squeaker toy I'm back at it. Not sure how long it will last but I will do at least two posts - our weekend in New York City and my weekend touring Revolutionary War sites the weekend before NYC. I hope I'm not to rusty - enjoy.
I was in New Jersey for work so NYC was more of a vacation of convenience than a vacation planned to my normal level of minutiae. I was on the fence for NYC for a few reason - a few of the cons being cost and the high level of touristy attractions. But the pros of me already being in the area during a holiday weekend (to save my precious vacation days - it's tough going from 52 weeks to two weeks of vacation a year), the incredibly high number of travel sites that list NYC in the top five or ten cities to visit in the world, and the quietly nagging guilt of seeing so many European great cities and so few great American cities finally pushed me over the edge. Think of how iconic New York is - how many TV shows and movies are set in the area? How important was NYC to the development of our country? Why is it that every country we have visited the inhabitants always mention NYC when we said we were American? There must be something about the city that we need to see. Our country is just a punky youngster compared to what we have seen the last couple of years but its our punky youngster so we need to see more of what she has to offer.
My training was over on Thursday so Friday was a day off for me. Nothing special happened to me - I slept in and then toured NJ, NY and a little of Connecticut before meeting the family at LaGuardia Airport (LGA) at 6:30 PM. Or so I thought... but I'll get there in a minute.
Tammy Foster Pic - The George Washington Bridge from The Cloisters, where I paid the $13 privilege of driving over the bridge. Looking at local maps showed parks on both sides of the Hudson River for me to pull over at to enjoy the view of the entire bridge but my rental car SatNav wasn't smart enough to find either one. Stupid SatNav. I also didn't visit the art collection inside the museum - been there, done that. I've turned into such a museum snob. This is also the bridge connecting Fort Lee, NJ to Hudson Heights, NY which was in the news for its "traffic issues" thanks to Gov. Christie's staffers. It was bumper to bumper, drunken baby crawling speed on a Friday mid-morning day. I can't imagine the back up this caused when it was lane restricted during rush hours - those staffers responsible certainly deserved to be booted from public office.
Speaking of bridge tolls, ARE YOU KIDDING ME NEW YORK? For the geography deficient people in the audience the Hudson River (now famous for the 2009 US Airways plane crash) separates New York from New Jersey which means you need to cross a bridge to move from state to state. The East River is on the other side of Manhattan and separates Manhattan and the Bronx from Brooklyn and Queens. NY's fifth borough is aptly named Staten Island which is also only reached by bridges. Every bridge has a toll which ranged from $7.50 to $15 <cough, cough>. I even drove over a baby bride between upper Manhattan and the Bronx that literally took me 10-12 seconds to drive over which cost $5. But that bridge authority was nice enough to only take a picture of the license plates in order to send each car the $5 toll bill as opposed to stopping each car. But enough of my grumpy old man moaning.
As I said my Friday was spent uneventfully driving around the Fort Lee, NJ area and in Connecticut where I checked out Greenwich and a few other smaller towns. My excitement started when I dropped off my rental car at LGA around 3:00 PM to wait for the family to fly in. Off and on rain was forecast for the day so I had my fingers crossed as the family had an afternoon flight out of Indy thanks to the kids still being in school. I won't get into the details but after seven hours of me waiting for them in the baggage claim area to land, them landing to Harrisburg, PA once to refuel after LGA was shutdown for a few hours thanks to a huge rainstorm (which included lightning strikes I could see in the skies outside), and then landing four hours late we were finally reunited. Only to be stiffed by the car service I had booked to take us from LGA to our hotel and back. Welcome to NYC family! We recovered by taking a taxi into the city which only cost an extra five bucks but was probably more exciting as our nervous driver almost hit a woman and a few cars. He was also temporarily confused when his route was detoured due to a bunch of cop cars blocking a cross street. But we finally made it to our hotel (by Broadway and W 54th Street - a great central location for our sightseeing weekend) and checked into our room. Unfortunately we were into Saturday by this point and much to Karl's disappointment we were not going to eat supper that night. But don't fret grandparents - we filled our bellies enough that weekend to make up for a missed meal (or three).
Saturday - The best part of Saturday may have been Kalle's face in the hotel as we were leaving for breakfast and she asked what we were seeing that day. Her lower jaw bungee jumped off her face when I said we were seeing a cathedral first thing. She instantly spun around and accusatorily (not sure if this is a word or not Aunt Joanie but it looks like one to me) asked Lori if she knew we were going to a cathedral. Karl and I couldn't help but laugh out loud. Ahhh, the joys of punishing your children with educational vacations. I really do miss that part of the travelling.
Memorial Day Weekend was also Fleet Week in New York so that probably didn't help the crowds which ranged from bumper car walking in Times Square to just plain crowded everywhere else we touristed. We didn't have time to tour any of the docked ships but did see some military aircraft buzzing around including the V22 Osprey with its rotating engines for vertical landing and takeoff. We also saw some sailors in uniform. Probably more men and women in uniform than a typical weekend in NY but less than I expected.
Our first stop on Saturday was the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (Wiki link), the world's largest Gothic style cathedral in the world which is up by West 110th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Yeah America! Although the title "world's largest whatever" is always debated depending upon how a building is measured, when construction started, when this section was added, etc. etc. Either way you measure it this place was huge. And what I expected. The most famous Gothic cathedral is Paris' Notre Dame which was just okay in my opinion. Gothic to me means big, plain and dark inside. Yup, this cathedral fits the bill.
The front steps. It's so big I can't back up enough to get a picture of the whole front without getting an obstructed picture of the buildings across the street in my shot. Flashback of York Minster.
The fam "Where's Waldoing" on the front steps. Tammy probably can't Karl as he didn't bring his red sweatshirt this trip.
Building exterior artwork.
Nothing says holy place of worship like some dumb dragon artwork hanging in the entryway.
Jay Seppanen Pic - My buddies are back!!
The altar. Probably would have been a better shot with more lighting but that's hard to get good lighting with a 30' ceiling.
Number 16 was one of a few statues in one of the hand railings.
George Washington - quite appropriate to see him after my previous weekend. George will be prominent in my next blog post.
Old Will the bard - another of our friends from across the pond. "Romeo is banish-ed, Romeo is banish-ed" still rings in my ears after listening to the audio book this summer.
From the altar looking towards the entrance. My already amateur photography skills are severely lacking this morning - sorry about the light spots.
The altar area.
We wus there! Remember? Lori didn't.
After the cathedral we moseyed back to the subway station (subway is easy to use in NYC and very convenient using one MetroCard for our family of four). I originally planned on checking out Central Park next as we were right next to it but the weather forecast caused me to move Central Park to Sunday.
For the curious - do you wonder where dogs go to the bathroom in NYC? In the middle of the sidewalk of course. Always make sure you are looking up and down while walking in NY. We didn't soil our shoes but did witness a dog doing it's business in the middle of a sidewalk outside an apartment complex. Niiiiice.
Our next stop was the 9/11 Memorial Site (link) down in the Financial District. It's hard to describe seeing it in person. Of course I remember where I was when this happened so I (and the rest of the family) wanted to see it. I didn't know what to expect so its hard to gauge my feelings. It was packed of course so it had a bit of a touristy feel to it but also had the reverence feel once you stood there and thought back to that day and its horrible aftermath. We did not see the museum as it opened that weekend so the tickets were all sold out. I was conflicted in seeing it anyway with all of the controversial publicity and pricey entrance fee ($24 per adult, $15 per child which means an $87 price tag for us) so that decision was taken out of my hands.
The family in front of one of the memorial reflecting pools. I asked them not to smile and Karl did a great job listening to me.
One the 9/11 Memorial reflecting pools showing the waterfall sides and middle pool. Very humbling and solemn but also more than my mind could process when I tried to imagine the chaos of that day. I'm glad we went but I'm still a little torn on my thoughts about it. Obviously a sight to see while in NYC but certainly a heavier feel to it than your usual tourist stop.
One World Trade Center (link) by the 9/11 Memorial. It was built to be the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere.
Next up was the Statue of Liberty (link), another site on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. There aren't many WH Sites in the US so if I'm close than we are there although this site was a no-brainer for us. I mentioned iconic NY sites above - what is more symbolic of NY (and America) than the Statue of Liberty? That list is pretty short.
Ellis Island in front of Newark from Liberty Island. We chose not to see Ellis Island this trip.
Lower Manhattan from Liberty Island. One World Trade Center dominates the skyline.
Tammy Foster Pic - No you can not buy the Brooklyn Bridge Tammy. It is listed as one of America's oldest suspension bridges which was completed in 1883 but that just doesn't seem that old to me anymore.
Tammy Foster Pic - The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (Wiki link), or $15 toll bridge as I will always remember it. No it was not worth $15 in case you were wondering. My sharp minded readers and/or Face Book friends will remember this as the bridge named after Giovanni, whose homestead/winery we toured in Tuscany.
An artsy view of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn to the right.
We had a slight delay getting into the pedestal thanks to a power outage so we wandered the small island for a bit, took a few pictures, and just relaxed while enjoying the views. After a bit it opened so in we go. I only purchased the pedestal tickets instead of the crown tickets as the crown tickets required walking up a confined space winding staircase which I knew was not an option for the family.
Eiffel designed the support structure. We visited his other famous structure in Paris.
Lady Liberty in construction. The pedestal had a small museum that was well set up and extremely informative. Even the kids were stopping to read the info boards and then tracking me down to tell me this or that which I thought was great. Karl had asked me how they transported it from France and was able to understand it better when we read that the copper shell is 3/32 inch thick!
An un-zoomed view of the Upper Bay and Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the distance. Staten Island is on the right, Brooklyn is on the left of the bridge.
Me being cheeky with my Lady Liberty upskirt shot. Sorry I couldn't resist.
Different perspective of my artsy shot above. Ellis Island and Newark to the left, Manhattan straight ahead, and Brooklyn on the right. The day was forecast with a chance of rain all day so it was cloudy as you can see. We were rained on later which fine as we were ending the day anyway.
Possibly the largest nut and bolt I've seen as we descended the stairs after looking around the museum and pedestal. That is my hand for reference.
The Statue of Liberty overlooking Manhattan from the ferry. Definitely worth the price of admission to see it in person and one of the trip highlights for me.
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddles masses...
After a late lunch it was back to the streets. We were in the Financial District now which meant the family said "huh?" every time I mentioned what we could see down here. Okay, not quite that bad but we aren't exactly in their tourist wheelhouse now. But I wasn't leaving NYC without checking out some of these sights so off we wander.
First stop - Federal Hall (link) in Manhattan, the site of the famous painting (picture link) of George Washington taking the oath as our first president in 1789. At least the family has heard of George Washington.
Very appropriate to see George after last weekends battlefield tour. It was closed by the time we made it here however as we are past 5 o'clock by now. And there was a few groups here so taking a good picture was out of the question. Congress also used to meet in this building as New York was our nation's first capital before Philadelphia.
New York Stock Exchange front.
I just liked the Wall Street sign with the New York Stock Exchange sign. Interesting tidbit from a Lower Manhattan pamphlet - Wall Street marked the northern limit of the city Nieuwe Amsterdam. The Dutch settled here is 1625 and were the first Europeans to settle in modern day New York.
Trinity Church (Wiki link) which we did not tour. The existing church is from 1846 while the original church was built there in 1709 according to the Wiki link. Alexander Hamilton is buried in its cemetery but since we already toured one church on the trip we didn't stop here.
The Bull of Wall Street. I know my brother will recognize it but not sure how many other readers will recognize the Bull. Jeff and I share the same financial markets interest so I was thinking of him as we stopped here.
You always know where the popular tourist spots are by the amount of people. There was so many people here I quickly became annoyed by the shoving crowd and people walking in front of me as I tried to take a picture so we left after a few shots. Most annoying was the people standing directly in front of the bull's face when their friend took their picture. Really people? That's what I want for a memento - a picture of my smiling, oblivious self as I'm about to be trampled by a huge, angry bull surrounded by a crushing crowd of strangers.
We ended the day by making our way back to the hotel and eating at a close Italian place, Angelo's (it was very good - thanks for the suggestion Heather). The rain started as it was getting dark so we decided to pack it in for the day. Plus we were starting to fade thanks to the stress of yesterday's flight and late night.
Sunday - The forecast was sunny and delightful so we were prepared with the Top of the Rock Observation Deck and Central Park. 30 Rockefeller Center was a short mile away so we started the day by stretching our legs.
Across from 30 Rock was Radio City Music Hall by 50th Street and 6th Avenue.
For a view of NYC you can either go to the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock. I asked some of the locals in my NJ training class which was better and they said Top of the Rock (link) was better which I was glad to hear as this was one of the two attractions I pre-purchased entrance tickets to (Statue of Liberty Cruise/Pedestal entrance was the other). I decided to hit this first thing Sunday because I bought unscheduled tickets for the day which meant I was guaranteed entrance but only on the next available opening slot. As it turned out we went right in so I was feeling a little relieved and a little justified as we beat the crowds. The crowds were still thick but it wasn't rib crushing thick like at the Bull yesterday. I'm glad we did this right away.
The kids in front of Central Park.
And Central Park. We'll be there later.
The Empire State Building straight ahead; the Statue of Liberty is to the right by the water if you lookreallyreallyclose.
No Sleep Till Brooklyn! for the old school crowd. Brooklyn is in the distance.
Another shot of Central Park, NYC is as tall as everyone says it is. The pictures don't quite capture the views as this was one of the my favorite attractions and also one I would recommend to anyone visiting NYC.
The only thing better than the main observation deck was the upper level deck. Similar picture to above only higher up. The New Year's Eve Times Square ball drop is in the bottom right.
Close up of the ball drop.
After some more pushy and borderline rude tourist run ins (literally) we are done on the decks so we descend to the bottom of the tower to see some more attractions.
The Rockefeller Center ice rink location. You may have to close your eyes to see (imagine) it though.
I think this is the area outside whatever morning show NBC broadcasts. In case you hadn't guessed I'm not big into morning shows or similar junk. Not sure if we were to late or if it wasn't being broadcast because of the holiday weekend, either way it was empty.
Next up was a walk up Fifth Avenue past some nice stores/buildings (and Trump Tower number three or whatever) to FAO Schwartz. This wasn't originally on my list but thanks to Lori's friend Melissa we squeezed it into the day and I'm glad we did as it was awesome for kids of all ages. Similar to Hamleys in London; this store was filled with stuffed animal epicness, sugar packed gut goodness, programmable hours of adventure, stackable shapes of every possibility, and oh so much more. I probably could have spent a few hours here - thanks Melissa! The kids enjoyed it also.
Rice Krispies Treats bigger than my big head? This store ROCKS!!
The Big Piano from the movie Big. I strong armed Kalle into dancing on the keys with me as the Lame-o Twins were not up to the challenge.
Everything is awesome!
Kalle wanted to bring this guy home with her but didn't understand why we couldn't bring it home on the plane with us. Plus I'm way to cheap to buy it but we just used the plane excuse.
Now we know who the big dog is - Kal could barely lift her.
After a $50 lunch at a scary looking deli/lunch counter and an extended breather we were off again. NY is as expensive as advertised, our lunch yesterday was $86 at a decent place. Our dinners were $120ish and higher but some of that was trying local specialties and a dessert or two. I'm glad we only spent a weekend here, I don't think we could afford spending a week here.
Next up was Central Park (link). Lori had been to NY before on business but it was the first time for the rest of us. When she went the first time she was talked out of seeing it because if you've seen one tree then you've seen them all she was told. Well, not quite. We didn't see all of the park, just a quarter of it actually, but it surprised us. We thought it would be like most other parks we have been to but after spending a day in NY we figured out why it is so popular. Once you walked a few minutes into the paths you forget that you are actually in NY... and believe me, that is not easy. Lori and I couldn't believe the feel of it. Granted it was crowded but it didn't feel like you were in Skyscrapersville, USA anymore. A very unique experience and I'm glad we checked it out.
There was a zoo inside it but much to Lori disappointment we didn't visit it. You see one animal you've seen them all you know.
Climbing Kalle found a rock mound to monkey her way up. There were a lot of these rock mounds in the southern section of the park.
Typical view where we walked around the park. We probably could have spent a whole day here we liked it so much.
Easy to escape the city in here.
Looking down one of the trails.
What I expected Central Park to look like. This is Sheep Meadow and was packed on this glorious day.
We continued the walking theme back to our hotel to drop off our loot on our way to Times Square. Here's the CNN building as we enjoyed strolling NY on a sunny day.
Our first view of Times Square (Wiki link). But we had one more stop until we were there.
The scrolling stock ticker in Times Square.
M&M World (link) was not on my list but Kalle saw a person carrying a M&M World bag earlier in the day and I remember Heather's posts about how cool this place on her trip to NYC was so I stretched it onto our itinerary. You were right Heather - this place was great. It was three floors of anything M&M related - clothing, kitchenware, stuffed toys, M&M's of various flavors, you name it. Kalle was on a chocolate contact high as she was almost running around inside the store she was so excited. We had to "Whooaa" her back a few times. I never would have imagined a store about M&M's would be so much fun. You gotta love NY.
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, stayin' alive, stayin' alive... Yes that is a full size adult in the background - this guy was huge and awesome.
Yes that is a two story wall of M&M's. Actually that is only a third of the two story M&M wall. This store is hardcore.
After calming Kalle down enough to breathe without hyperventilating we finished looking around the store and moved onto Hard Rock for Karl to add to his Hard Rock Cafe shirt collection.
And finally onto the heart of Times Square.
Times Square was pretty much what I expected only packed tighter than you would think possible. We've been to some crowded places but the heart of Times Square may have been the most uncomfortable people crushing area I've ever been in. Lori agreed. It was one of the places that you were just swept away by the human mob then dived out of the flow whenever possible to stop and locate the rest of the family. Then you all jumped back into the human riptide. Not only was it packed there some interesting sights in the square. We didn't see the Naked Cowboy but we saw his grandmother. <shiver> I only glanced but she looked like she was naked with body painted USA symbols strategically covering the important parts. I'm guessing the stripes were on the bottom as the stars were on top. A couple of lonnnngggg stars if you know what I mean.
Two reasons for this picture. One - it is a three story TV screen. I am so jealous. Two - this was taken with my camera.
And this was taken with my iPhone. Obviously not as good as my camera but not to bad I thought. Phones have come a long way baby!
Another fun place I learned about thanks to the locals in my training class was this, the Jekyll & Hyde Club (link). It was a macabre Victorian England themed restaurant with staff dressed in costume and always in character. It was a fun experience even though the smokey drinks aren't being served anymore.
The decor was quite unique.
What's creepier than an elephant head on the wall? A story narrating talking elephant head on the wall.
The previous picture overlooks the stage where the "performance" took place. Dr. Jekyll tried resurrecting Frankenstein's monster using Karl's blood (taken with a fake syringe) but it ultimately wasn't successful. Overall the dinner was very entertaining and expensive as a entertainment surcharge was added to each person's meal.
With the day about over on a Sunday our options were limited. We considered going to a Broadway show using a TKTS booth (discount theater ticket store/shop) but we weren't really dressed for it so we walked around some more checking out the city. Maybe we'll catch a show on our next trip. We looked into tickets before we left Indy to see if we should plan a show into our itinerary but the $1000 cost for a show we could all agree on seemed a bit steep to us.
Our final destination of the day was Grand Central Terminal (link). This side corridor was huge and led down to the food court and restaurants.
It is famous but I still wasn't prepared for the unimaginable size of this Grand Central. Three stories, corridors longer than the eye can see, a spiders web of side corridors leading off of side corridors connected to the main corridors... it was incredibly impressive in size but a bit bland in decor.
The shop level although everything was closed at this hour.
Karl and I also saw one of the stranger sights of the weekend although I wasn't fast enough to get a picture. The girls were using the facilities while he and I waited for them when we saw bad Michael Jackson. Not a good Bad Michael Jackson, a bad bad Michael Jackson. Think of a slightly bent over Michael after a few more years of hard living (really hard living), and wearing a poor man's red leather Thriller jacket and matching pants. Throw on a pair of dark sunglasses, add in the bright pink sequined ladies heels, and the look is almost complete. The finishing touch was the hair formed into a unicorn horn/spike protruding off his pate. And not a small spike either, this weapon of gelled destruction was at least a foot and a half tall. Not getting a picture of this shuffling hunk of New York City's finest may have been my one regret of the trip. The things you see when your camera is in your pocket.
I'm not sure if this is the main hall or not but it sure is massive.
And a landscape view of the hall.
A final view of Times Square in the daylight. The ball drop is right above the mouse's head. We finished the day with more strolling and some window browsing.
Times Square at night. I was going to get a closer picture but that would have required us walking a mile there and then a mile back for the picture and we had walked ALL DAY LONG already- not that anyone reminded me of that fact or anything. We actually did walk almost all day long so it was time to rest the barking dogs.
Our hotel was right next to the Ed Sullivan Theater - how cool is that?
Monday - We had to leave the hotel late morning for our flight so we slept in and went back to Carnegie Deli (link) for breakfast. This was another recommended place from the locals, this time for their cheesecake. The locals were three for three for me in NYC - Top of the Rock, Jekyll & Hyde Club, and Carnegie Deli.
Thanks Carnegie - you've ruined cheesecake for me. Similar to eating tiramisu in Italy, I've reached the cheesecake summit so now I will be comparing all cheesecake to this place.
Dana Johnson Pic - Our Sunday night delight. Chocolate on the left, plain with strawberries on the right. We stopped for a late dessert and were not disappointed. The chocolate was very good while the plain was the best I've ever tasted.
Being funny out loud, I wondered why they didn't have "New York Style cheesecake" on the menu; they only had "cheesecake". My pondering prompted a family member (name withheld to protect the guilty) to admit they were expecting the menu to read New York Style cheesecake. <sigh> Nope, its just called cheesecake in New York.
Dana Johnson Pic - Carnegie is known for two dishes - cheesecake and corned beef. And this is how they serve their corned beef - a gargantuan pile of corned beef with bread. This sandwich has swagger.
Dana Johnson Pic - Ah, if only Uncle Fran and Holly were here to enjoy this morning masterpiece with me. Take notice world - this is how you serve corned beef hash.
Dana Johnson Pic - Of course we had to have one more piece on our way out of town although we couldn't agree on a fruit topping so we had it plain (for the curious - I voted blueberry, Karl voted strawberry, Kal voted plain, Lori abstained). Lori even joined in the foodie fun this time. And yes, she said it was worth it.
The view of eastern New Jersey as we head home. That's a lot of houses down there Captain Obvious.
And our final view as we descended into Indy. Off the wing you can see the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with its mile long straightaways making up the massive 2.5 mile long oval track. This trip marks four years in a row I have missed the 500 so maybe next year I can get back to the track.
We had a great time. I'm not sure I would go back but I think this is one city that everyone should see once in their lifetime. There is a lot more to do there but we hit the highlights and enjoyed everything. I wouldn't say we fell in love with it but I'm glad we finally checked it out.
New York was very expensive - our hotel was ~$1200 for two nights and it definitively did not make our top 20, 40, (50 maybe?) of hotels we've stayed in during our travels although we were in a decent location. Food was pretty pricey when we added beer or dessert to the meal so we didn't do that every meal. $25+ for adult tickets to most popular attractions was a little steep for a cheapskate like me.
The driving was better than I expected as I drove to/from LGA. I did hit parts of all five boroughs and the traffic was constant although most people were courteous. Kind of like driving in the big cities in England. I expected the chaos of Rome but it wasn't that bad other than the time to get somewhere thanks to the number of cars on the road. The I-95 parking lot was ridiculous from NY into NJ however.
Now to work on my Revolutionary War weekend post. See y'all soon.
Thanks for listening,