Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Big Apple - The Final Day...

The one thing I wanted to do in New York City was visit B&H Photo on 9th Avenue. They've gotten more than just a little bit of my money over the years, mainly through their website, but I always like to go into the store and make a purchase while I'm there. his trip I decided I would buy a brown leather case for the Fuji.

So, from our hotel on 44th and 7th we walked down to 34th and 9th to visit B&H. If you've never been there, and you're a photographer of any level, you need to visit once in your life. The way they do business is amazing, and the amount of stock they have on hand boggles the mind.

B&H Photo in New York City (photo courtesy of Mapquest)...

Anyway, I got the case I wanted in pretty short order, and it wasn't long before we were out the door, turning the corner and making our way to the subway at Penn Station:

Many people are intimidated by the New York City subway. This one, though, was a natural...

We probably could've taken the subway couple of more stops to get to where we wanted to go (New York City Harley Davidson), but got off not far from Washington Square Park.

Washington Square Park is one of those places you've seen in movies or on television and just didn't know what you were looking at. About ten acres in size, it's located in Greenwich Village and is accessible 24 hours a day. The iconic Washington Square Arch is located at the north entrance to the park, and is reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, albeit much smaller:


Washington Square Park...

Most of the building surrounding the park are now part of New York University, but once served as hotels, homes and businesses. The park itself is a favorite among street performers, artists, and just about anyone who just wants to kick their shoes off and relax for a bit.

We finally made our way to New York City Harley Davidson (hey, had to get the shirt!) and did some other shopping along the way. We finally decided it was time to take the subway back up to Times Square so we could drop off what we'd bought at the hotel before continuing on with our afternoon.

After getting done at the hotel, we started making our way up towards Central Park. It was a good walk (about 14 blocks) but the weather was great. The idea was to take a carriage ride through the park and get a guided tour of some of the more interesting sites throughout the park. Once we got to the park, though, we were approached by a young man who successfully wooed us away from a horse and carriage and into his pedicab.

Originally from Ghana, his name was Abadou, but he said everyone called him "Smiley". I could see why. The guy was one of the happiest people I'd ever seen in New York. I'd be willing to bet that he knew more about New York than most New Yorkers, and definitely more about Central Park than anyone I've ever met:


Abadou, aka "Smiley"...


Smiley considers this the most beautiful area of the park...

This is Abadou's friend Alvin. He comes right up to the pedicab when called and waits for a treat or an ear scratch...


Abadou and Ruthie. This guy was an absolute pleasure to be around...

Unfortunately, every tour through Central Park includes a stop here, at the Dakota. On December 8, 1980, former Beatle John Lennon was gunned down in the entrance of the building after he and Yoko Ono returned home from a recording session.

Interesting note: The flag on the right peak of the building is hoisted whenever Yoko Ono, who is rumored to own more than 30% of the Dakota, is in the building.


The Dakota...
 
Across from the Dakota, along Central Park West, is an area in Central Park known as Strawberry Fields, and it's dedicated to Lennon. You might think, as I did, that the name is derived from the Beatles song of the same name. Well, you would be, as I was, wrong.

Strawberry Field was actually a Salvation Army children's home in Liverpool, not far from where John grew up. He would often ditch school, climb the fence surrounding the grounds and play with the orphans. The song is based on Lennon's memories of that place.

This mosaic, the centerpiece of Strawberry Fields in Central Park, was donated by the city of Naples in Italy...
We got back in the pedicab and continued on our way. We finally came up to what's known as the Sheep Meadow, one of the main expansive grassy areas on Central Park (the Great Lawn being the other). Abadou obliged our request to get out here for a few minutes, and another "must do" got taken off the list:




Barefoot in the park...

As we started to make our way back to our drop-off point, we came across this character. A friend of Abadou's, Aldo apparently dresses up like this every day and walks around Central Park, kicking his soccer ball along.

Nice work if you can get it...


This is Aldo...

Abadou dropped us off and thanked us profusely for hiring him. Well, the pleasure was all ours and, if you ever find yourself looking to get a tour of Central Park, seek him out.

It was getting somewhat late in the day and, to be completely honest, we didn't feel like walking 14 blocks back to the hotel. So, we got an Uber and got back quickly. We weren't there long, though, before it dawned on us that we hadn't really eaten all day long. And, seeing as I was pretty disappointed with Ray's Pizza on Thursday night, we set off in search of better pizza.

And that's exactly what we found.

Lazzarra's Pizza is located on the second floor of a rather nondescript building on 38th Street. We were not prepared for what awaited us up these stairs:

Go on up...


While not cut like a traditional triangular slice of pizza, this was absolutely amazing. God knows I like a good piece of pizza, so I don't say this lightly: this may be the best pizza I've ever had; cheese, meatballs, Italian sausage and pepperoni on a very thin crust. Normally, I don't like a really thin crust, but this was utter perfection:



Ridiculously good pizza at Lazzarra's...


They don't sell slices at Lazzarra's but you can buy a whole pie or a half pie. We opted for the half pie for $12, and Ruthie also got a "small" salad:


This "small" was huge. The large salad was downright obscene (photo courtesy of Ruthie Soto)...


With dinner finished, we knew we had to get back to the hotel to start packing. We wouldn't be leaving that early, though, so we decided to make one last stop at our new favorite "out of town bar", O'Donoghue's. We stayed away from the Martinis and Mango Fusions this time around and, instead, went back to our tried and true:


Beers and shots; a great way to say goodbye to New York! (photo courtesy of Ruthie Soto)...

We had our final breakfast in New York, once again, at the Europa Cafe in Times Square. Bagels all around, and I knew I'd miss them (and I do!). But it's not like New York bagels are going anywhere, so I guess we'll just have to come back.

This trip was an absolute blast on so many levels. I know I spoke of how excited I was that it was my first time going to New York with someone who'd never been to New York, and that held true through the entire trip.

I can't wait to go back...

















Tuesday, November 5, 2019

New York - Ice Skating and Giant Pianos...

Now, Ruthie had a list of seven things she wanted to do in New York:

  • Visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum
  • Cruise around Liberty Island
  • Ride the subway
  • See the "Naked Cowboy"
  • Walk barefoot in Central Park
  • Play the "walking piano" from the Tom Hank's movie "Big"
  • Go ice skating at Rockefeller Center

As we woke up Saturday morning, we'd already knocked two of the items off the list, the cruise and the 9/11 Memorial. Before lunch on this day, we'd check off two more.

We visited the ice rink the day it opened. We expected it to be jam packed with people, so we woke up early and started the walk up to 49th Street and 5th Avenue. When we got there, I was surprised to see almost no one waiting to go skating. I figured, being a Saturday, it would be ridiculously crowded, but my fears were unfounded.


The golden statue of Prometheus at Rockefeller Center...

We got our skate rentals and headed out to the ice. Now, I could sit here and lament about how it's been decades since I've worn a pair of ice skates, but that tale of woe would pale in comparison to that of Ruthie who, in her late 40's, has never worn a pair of ice skates.

The ice skating didn't go as I'd planned, primarily because of the skates. I have a wide foot, but all they had were narrow skates and, while I was able to get into them in the locker room, it was physically painful to try to skate in them. I made it once around the ice and bailed. I'd be happy to watch Ruthie fall on her ass as she tried to get around the rink.


Waiting to hit the ice...

I even tried talking her into a Dorothy Hamill haircut. Oddly, she said no...

Much to my surprise, she didn't fall. Not once. Granted, she's probably not starting for the Bruins anytime soon, but for someone who'd never been on skates before she did well, managing to get around the rink numerous times without incident.

And I was so hoping there'd be an incident.

When we got done at the rink, we had breakfast at the Rock Center Cafe. It wasn't cheap by breakfast standards, but how often do you get to have breakfast right next to the ice rink at Rockefeller Center?

Following breakfast, we started to walk towards Macy's on 34th Street. Our friend Patty was coming in from Long Island and would be arriving around 11:00am, and we agreed to meet at Macy's. As we'd got there a bit before Patty did, it was time to check out the "walking piano" from the movie "Big":


Trying to Google the notes for "Heart & Soul" while not entirely succeeding at playing "Heart & Soul"...

This was yet another instance where I expected there to be some huge line of people waiting to try it out, but there wasn't one. There was just us and one little girl of about 5 who showed any interest in it whatsoever.

We made our way back outside and, before long, Patty came walking up to greet us. A visit to New York without seeing Patty is pretty much unheard of, so it's always good to see her.

For the next few hours, we pretty much just meandered around the city. We stopped at some of those iconic places you always have to visit in New York. including St. Patrick's Cathedral:


St. Patrick's Cathedral...

While it looks big from the outside, nothing really prepares you for how big it really is once you get inside. In short, it's probably the largest church you'll ever walk into. The only church larger than this that I've ever visited was St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. St. Patrick's is, indeed, massive, and is worth a visit regardless of your religious persuasion.

From St. Patrick's we made our way over to Grand Central Terminal. Grand Central Terminal, like Penn Station, is a major rail hub in the city, although Grand Central is far more picturesque. It opened in 1913 and has that very cool art deco vibe to it:


Grand Central Station...

Patty in Grand Central Terminal...

The visit to Grand Central was relatively short and, once again, we found ourselves meandering on to whatever struck our fancy next. In this case, our fancy was struck by The Plaza Hotel.

The Plaza Hotel, which opened in 1907, was actually once owned by Donald Trump, who bought it in 1988 from Westin International Hotels for $390 million. He remarked about the deal: 

"I haven't purchased a building, I have purchased a masterpiece – the Mona Lisa. For the first time in my life, I have knowingly made a deal that was not economic – for I can never justify the price I paid, no matter how successful the Plaza becomes."

In 1992, while still owner of the hotel, Trump even made a cameo in the movie "Home Alone 2: Lost In New York":


Kevin McCallister (aka: Macaulay Culkin) and Donald Trump at The Plaza Hotel...

We decided it was time for a cocktail so we ventured into the hotel, across the lobby and into The Palm Court, where we took a seat at the bar.

The Palm Court at The Plaza Hotel (photo courtesy of The Plaza Hotel)...

Now, something to keep in mind about New York City is that things are expensive. When you visit someplace like The Plaza, though, things get really expensive. Just for kicks, we looked up the daily rate. And, remember, we're not talking about anything special here, at least by Plaza standards.

Are you sitting down? Howsabout $1,150 a night? Of course, if you want to rent the Grand Penthouse and Royal Suite, that'll set you back a cool $30,000 a night.

So, it came as no real surprise that their drinks would be a bit spendy, too. A vodka Martini, with a "well brand", was $28. If I wanted Grey Goose it would've been $36. Look, I enjoy splurging every once in a while, but that was ridiculous. I ordered a $10 San Adams and left it at that:


Only $240 a case...

Patty graciously picked up the tab for drinks, which had to have been a small fortune. I literally ordered the least expensive item on the bar menu.


Our trifecta of adult beverages at The Palm Court...

We decided we'd have a late lunch/early dinner, and Patty and I had decided we'd go somewhere we'd both been before and loved: Black Tap.

Black Tap has some really good burgers. I opted for a bacon-Swiss job that was really good and, thankfully, was something I could actually hold in my hands. Ruthie decided to go another route and chose the chili-cheeseburger. Suffice it to say, she could not hold this in her hands.


There's a burger in there somewhere...

While Black Tap has some really good food, their claim to fame is their shakes. They're obscenely huge to the point of being comical. The server brings them to the table and all you can do is laugh:


Ruthie's Cookies & Cream Supreme Oreo shake...

This is the Sweet & Salty Peanut Butter Shake I ordered...

A shake at Black Tap, like everything else in new York, is a bit pricey. Their "basic" shakes are $9 a piece, but their "Crazy Shakes", as seen above, are $15. And the best part about it is that you just don't care!

Our next stop would be one I was looking forward to immensely. It wasn't on Ruthie's list, but it was definitely on mine:

Top of The Rock.

The "Top Of The Rock" is the observation deck atop 30 Rockefeller Plaza, better known as "30 Rock". In actuality, Top of The Rock is a 3-tiered observation deck on the 67th, 69th and 70th floors. It's not free; the cost was about $40, but the views are absolutely stunning.


Looking towards lower Manhattan from Top of The Rock. 1 World Trade Center is in the distance...

After spending about an hour at Top of The Rock, we managed to find our way back up to O'Donoghue's on 44th, where we sat for way too long enjoying way too many Mango Fusions. But it was great to hang out and catch up (as if we hadn't been doing that all day already!). After, I think, the fourth Mango Fusion we walked Patty back down to 34th Street so she could catch her train out of Penn Station back to Long Island.

We then meandered our way back through Times Square and, eventually, back to the hotel. It would be a restful night that we were looking forward to, because we weren't setting any alarms for Sunday morning...



New Yawk - Day 2

Over the last year, I've been to Dublin, Rome and Edinburgh. In each of these cities I've availed myself of the "hop on/hop off" tour buses that run throughout the city. Not only are the audio narrations ridiculously informative, they're also often less expensive option to taxis and Uber. This trip to New York would be no different.

Now, as I've mentioned, I've never been to New York with someone who's never been to New York. Consequently, a lot of the places we would be visiting are places I've been in the past. That was perfectly okay, though. Hey, after all, it's New York City.

Before getting on the bus we wanted to get some breakfast. We walked over to the Europa Cafe, on the corner of 43rd Street and 7th Avenue. 

There's just nothing like a New York deli...

Whenever I visit New York I have to get a "bacon, egg & cheese". If you're a New Yorker, no explanation is necessary and, if you're not, no explanation will suffice. A hot BE&C is the quintessential New York breakfast. I also had a bagel because, well, New York.


Culinary perfection: an "everything" bagel with butter...

Suffice it to say, you can only really get a New York bagel in New York and, as she's never been here before, this was Ruthie's first:


I think she liked it...

So, following breakfast, we found our way over to our embarkation stop, and got on the bus, which was actually over on 8th Avenue, and climbed aboard our bus.

The tour through the city was pretty cool, both literally and figuratively. I would've been hating life if I hadn't brought a jacket. We were on the upper deck of the bus which afforded some nice, unobstructed views:


Not sure how many pictures she took, but I think it was more than I took...
Our primary destination would be to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It's one of those places that's like some huge, unavoidable magnet to any visitor to the city. And that's exactly how it should be.

The 9/11 Memorial. This is where the north tower stood...

We visited the Museum, as well, although I didn't take any photos while inside. I've been here and done that and, quite honestly, once is enough.

After we finished at the Memorial and Museum, we walked over to what's known as The Oculus. The Oculus is a plaza, subway station and shopping mall adjacent to the 9/11 Museum. This was being built the last time I was here, but it wasn't open yet, so I definitely wanted to check it out.


Inside The Oculus...

Now, when you purchase a "hop on/hop off" ticket, you not only get transportation throughout the city, but you also get it around the city, as well. All of the tour companies offer ferry cruises around the tip of Manhattan and Battery Park, under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges and around Liberty Island.

You have to reserve your cruise time, so I opted for 4:30pm. That gave us some time to mill about and wander around. Before heading to the cruise terminal, we wandered into the Palm Restaurant for a cocktail.

Again, I went with my tried and true. Thankfully, our bartender knew what the words "a lot of olives" means and obliged me:


Okay, so maybe he gave me too many olives...


Ruthie, once again, started digging through the menu to find something which sounded intriguing. This happened when she found the Cobbler, a delightful combination of Zacapa 23 year old rum, Dry Sack sherry, fresh berries, hand-squeezed lemon juice, orange, Angostura bitters and served on the rocks:


The Cobbler...



As I ordered up a second Martini, Ruthie found yet another cocktail to investigate. This time, it was the Hemingway Daquiri. It has Bacardi Gran Reserve Maestro de Ron, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, hand-squeezed lime juice and fresh grapefruit juice.


The Hemingway Daquiri...

It was time to make our way over to the terminal and, once there, we waited. And waited. Things like this can sometimes take a while, but it always seems to be worth it.


Lower Manhattan...

The Statue of Liberty...

After our cruise, we decided to get some dinner. We'd already had pizza and hot dogs (Nathan's, if you must know), so now it was time to head into Chinatown. Nearly 800,000 ethnic Chinese live in the New York metropolitan area, making it the largest Chinese population outside of Asia. So, it goes to figure that you might get some pretty good Chinese food.

I always look for the restaurants that are busy. I don't want an hour wait time for a table, but I don't want to be seated right away, either. We found this at Yeah Shanghai Deluxe on Mott Street. The food was really good, and the service was spot-on.


This wonton soup was amazing...

I'd never had fried beef ribs before, but, here ya' go!

We finished dinner and walked around Chinatown for a bit. In hindsight, we probably should've bought some of our souvenirs there, simply because they sold stuff down there that we'd never find up in Times Square, such as the black t-shirt which said "NEW YORK F**KIN' CITY". I can think of a few friends who'd have loved that (and, no, the shirt didn't feature the asterisks).


Chinatown...

We grabbed an Uber back to our hotel and ventured over to O'Donogue's for a night cap. You guessed it: Mango Fusions. But, we had to make sure that this was going to be an early night because our day would be starting early on Saturday...

What Can I Say? It's New York!

Well, suffice it to say, we had an amazing time in New York City.

I planned our travel so that we wouldn't have to be leaving for the airport at five o'clock in the morning, so we didn't feel rushed, at all. We had a nice leisurely drive to Jacksonville Int'l and grabbed a bite before boarding our flight.

Ruthie, rested and ready...
 
We arrived Thursday afternoon and, after a grueling shuttle ride from JFK to our hotel, settled into our room at the Hotel Mela on 44th Street. It's between 6th and 7th Avenues and, right in Times Square. The room was small, but it wasn't like we'd be spending much time there. I'm not certain what the "per night" rate is, as I booked the trip through Travelocity, but checking their website it looks like $279 a night for a Thursday through Monday stay. Given the absolutely perfect location of the hotel, it's well worth it in my wildly humble opinion. Pretty much the only negative thing I can say about Hotel Mela is that it's got the smallest elevators in the western hemisphere.

But I would not hesitate to stay here again.


Our home away from home...

We decided to wander around Times Square and, since we hadn't eaten since Thursday morning at the airport in Jacksonville, we decided to stop into Ray's Pizza on 7th Avenue. I remember going to Ray's as a kid. It was amazing pizza, and I was sure to sing their praises as we walked through the door.

I gotta' be honest, I was a little disappointed. It was fine, but it wasn't nearly like I remembered. Now, it's been said that pizza is a lot like sex. Even when it's bad it's pretty good. But this just wasn't the same as it used to be. The sauce was bland and had no real character to speak of. Like I said, it was fine, but "fine" isn't what we were hoping for.


A slice of Sicilian at Ray's on 7th...

After our pizza excursion, we decided it was cocktail time. Now, a couple of years ago, I'd had lunch at the Marriott Marquis overlooking Times Square. It was a great view, and I thought Ruthie would dig it.

She did:

Time Square, as seen from the Broadway Lounge in the Marriott Marquis...

As I'll often do, I opted for my standard "go to", a Grey Goose Martini, dirty, straight up with olives. Just about anywhere else in the civilized world this would cost between $14 and $16. But here in Times Square it's $22. That's okay, it's all part of the experience.
 

This was a REALLY good Martini...

My Martini overlooking Broadway...

Ruthie's normally not one to wander too far afield from her Bud Light comfort zone but, hey, when in Rome, am I right? She opted for the appropriately named "Broadway Breeze", which was a delectable concoction of Malibu Run, Goslings Rum, DiSaronno Amaretto, fresh pineapple juice and fresh orange juice. 


The grin says it all...

As much as I'm not one to go for really sweet drinks, the Broadway Breeze was pretty damn good, as were some others we found along the way. They were the kind of drinks which, when you're drinking them, taste like fruit punch. 'Nuff said, I think.

And we could hardly know it at the time, but this trip would be, in part, a study in cocktails around New York City. For the most part, I stayed with my Martinis, but Ruthie got a bit adventurous, as you'll see in later entries,

After the Marriott Marquis, we decided to slowly head back towards our hotel, while stopping along the way to check the sites and any variety of street performer. There's nothing quite like walking through Times Square at night. Even on a random Thursday night, as this one was, the streets are packed with people:


Times Square, 6:43pm, Thursday, October 19, 2019...

We found our way back to 44th Street and started making our way back to our hotel. Just down the street from our hotel was what would end up being our favorite New York City haunt, O'Donoghue's.  

O'Donoghue's is staffed by folks straight out of Dublin, and it's a lot of fun, and they even had live music a couple of the nights we were there.

Once again, I opted for my Grey Goose Martini and, once again, Ruthie started digging into the menu. What she discovered was one of the most dangerous drinks we had the whole time we were in New York, the Mango Fusion:


The studious looking Ruthie and some Mango Fusions (one of which was mine...)


The Mango Fusion is Absolut Mango Vodka, Triple Sec, mango juice and a splash of sour mix.The result is a cocktail which redefines the phrase "it'll sneak up on ya'!" It's almost too good,

From O'Donoghue's, we stopped just before reaching the hotel at a bar called The Long Room. An Irish-inspired pub, it takes its name from The Library Of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland (you can read about my visit there right here).

I opted away from my usual Martini and, instead, decided to go with whatever Ruthie figured I needed to try. In this case, it was the Raspberry Lemontini. With Stoli, Chombard and lemonade it was pretty good, but I'm not sure that, for $14, I would order it again. That said, though, is certainly did make for a nice subject for the Fuji X100F:


The Raspberry Lemontini at The Long Room...

Before we knew it, the hour had gotten late. We'd been watching the Giants get crushed by the Patriots and lost track of the time. Given that we wanted an early start in the morning, we found our way back to the hotel and decided to call it a night.


As an aside...

Did I happen to mention that the only camera I brought on this was the Fuji X100F? I have to say, I was a little nervous. With rare exceptions, I've always traveled with a DSLR. But I wanted to travel light (well, lighter than normal), so I picked up the Fuji. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give it a solid 8. All in all, I like this camera a lot and wouldn't hesitate to use it as my "go to" camera on a trip...

The Big Apple - The Final Day...

The one thing I wanted to do in New York City was visit B&H Photo on 9th Avenue. They've gotten more than just a little bit of my ...