Friday, August 28, 2009

NYC - Part 8

I took SO many random photos this day that you may want to check them out at Picasa. I'll try to limit myself and just post a few select ones here.

Due to a very fortunate coincidence my penpal Jennet and her husband were visiting NYC the same time as we were, so of course we had to meet! :) Jennet and I had arranged to meet up at the hotel lobby at noon (we were even staying at the same hotel!) so I decided to go for a quick visit to the M&M shop at Times Square and browse without Lars laughing at me ;) I fully see how utterly tacky all the merchandise is, but I still loved looking around to see all they had. The shop smelled much too sweet for me to feel like buying any of the chocolate though, so I didn't make use of any of the big dispensers... probably rather counter-productive for them. But if I had $250 I didn't know what to do with, I would have gotten this chess set!

Jennet and I recognised each other straight off, and after 6 years as email friends it was great to actually meet her in person! I love how with some people it doesn't matter that you've never met - you've known each other for years, and it feels that way when meeting up :) We fell into talking straight away and had a great time together. Well.. I did, anyway ;)

We walked over to 5th Ave to find the Rockefeller Center. I hadn't realised it was practically a mall - and a lot of it underground. Guess the name, "The Rockefeller Plaza" should have given it away, but I didn't think that far. Once there we had no problems finding the Swarovski store, and I was very grateful to discover that Jennet had no problems spending as much time there as I did :) They have gorgeous jewellery, but I absolutely adore their figurines, and ended up getting these penguins... figuring that even Lars could get behind choosing penguins as a suitable souvenir from NYC ;) Jennet found an absolutely GORGEOUS jewellery set, so at least I wasn't the only one to use money there ;)

Irina had told me about a Scholastic store in lower Manhattan, and as Jennet wanted to go there too, we decided to jump on a train and head down there. Oh wow! Now THAT is a dangerous store for me to go into!! They had a HUGE YA section (obviously) with so many books I'd love. I limited myself and only bought one book though, but it probably helped that the only BabySitter's Club books they had were the new graphic novels. Had they had all the originals I think I would have been very hard pressed not to supplement my collection ;)

It was about lunch time by now, so Jennet asked the cashier for recommendations of lunch places nearby and we were sent just around the corner to a very nice Italian café. It seemed like one of those places that is mostly frequented by natives, so we enjoyed being somewhere that hasn't quite been discovered by tourists yet. The food was really excellent too :)

After lunch we went back uptown (yeah, back and forth we go, but we made up the plans as we went along and didn't have any reason to rush anyway ;) ) to visit F.A.O. Swartz. I'd been told that it's NYC's version of "Hamleys", and that sounds about right. This (and the M&M store earlier that day) is where I went crazy taking photos. They had giant figures made out of Lego (Chewbacca, Batman, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Hagrid), giant soldiers made out of jelly beans, a muppet factory, and gorgeous miniature instruments. I was especially enamoured by the two latter, so have to post photos of those here :) The rest can all be found at the Picasa link above.

Jennet took even more photos than I did though ;) Can't wait to see hers!

NYC saw fit to have its first heat wave while we were there (go figure!), so both Jennet and I wanted to head back to the hotel to freshen up before meeting our husbands. I had no idea what Justin would be like, but it turned out that he was a really cool guy with a great sense of humour, so having dinner together was a blast. We ended up at the same Mexican place as the first night, and while Lars and I still found the food delicious, Justin told us that it couldn't live up to Mexican food in Texas... we'll have to test that sometime! ;)

NYC - Part 7

One of the things Lars and I had both declared a MUST was a visit to Central Park Zoo. We were well aware that as zoos go it was pretty small, but that didn't matter - our love for the movie "Madagascar" meant we had to go there :)

As expected the zoo was nothing special, but we did have fun finding the lemurs, penguins and polar bears, and it was nice doing stuff together :)

Once we were done with the zoo (which didn't take all that long) we grabbed lunch and then headed off for more train-spotting/shopping. Mine ended up mostly being browsing though. I found a Swarovski boutique, but their selection wasn't all that big and Jennet and I had planned on going to the one on Rockefeller Plaza the next day anyway, so I ended up not buying anything. I wandered around town for awhile and found both the Argosy (2nd hand bookstore but neither as big nor as well stocked as the Strand, didn't tempt me for long), Pomes Frites (a restaurant with yummy french fries and probably around 20 different sauces for them - I really wanted to bring Lars there, but unfortunately that didn't happen. A shame, he'd have loved it), "Books of Wonder" (a childrens/YA bookstore - very cool! Didn't buy anything though :-/ ) and another B&N (I was looking for a specific book which - unfortunately - they didn't have, so I'll have to order it off amazon instead). I do have addresses for all of these places, but I figured that might just be superfluous information. Let me know if you'd like any of them.

I've discovered that I really miss whenever I'm abroad. I see all these cool books that sound fascinating, but know I can't buy all of them, so I need somebody/something to help me decide. GoodReads does have a mobile app, but unfortunately it's too expensive to access when abroad.

This walk basically took me all over town, so my legs were screaming at me rather loudly that I should go back to the hotel and relax for awhile before dinner, which I'd decided was to be at the Brazil Grill right by the hotel.

That was probably one of the best dinners we had while in NYC :) We'd been told they had a Brazilian buffet, and asked for that, but were very confused when we discovered the buffet only sported rice, black beans (which smelled FOUL - I didn't dare taste it) and a salad bar. The restaurant had advertised 10 different kinds of meat, so we didn't know what to make of it.

While discussing it, I was playing with this weird stop-light thingie (see photo) that was standing on my table.

After a few minutes (long enough that we'd wondered if we were supposed to just go up to the buffet and start) the waiter came over, introduced himself, and asked if we'd ever tried a Brazilian buffet before? No? Well, we should just help ourselves at the salad bar, and then they would come down to the table with the meat. The stop-light thingie was to indicate whether or not we wanted more meat - as long as we left it at green, they'd keep coming, once we turned it to red, they'd know we were done.

A smart way of doing it, and the food was delicious. Well, the salad-bar was fairly standard, but the meat was well-cooked and with lots of variety. We had turkey, 2 different kinds of chicken, 3 different kinds of pork and 4 different kinds of beef. Very, very yummy and definitely a place I'd recommend to other people visiting NYC.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

NYC - Part 6

It's the day after visiting museums I most notice how much good the crutch did me. Usually I'd hardly be able to limp around the hotel room after using 4'ish hours in a museum, but today I woke up just fine! Why didn't I discover this years ago? I'll definitely have to look into how much it would cost to buy one for myself.

Today Lars and I went our separate ways again. He to go off train-spotting, me to meet up with my very first e-mail penpal! Jen and I have been corresponding on and off since 1993 or 1994, but had never met. She lives in CT, so when she heard I was coming to NYC, she offered to come down, if I had time to meet up. That's the beauty of Lars wanting to go off on his own on vacations - I generally do have time, so finally, after more than 15 years, we got to meet :)

Jen and I met at the hotel lobby and headed out to have lunch at a rather nice deli. I had a roastbeef sandwich which turned out to have more roastbeef than bread! I like roastbeef just fine, but everything in moderation please! It was really delicious after I'd taken out 75% of the meat though ;)

We had no plans other than general sightseeing, so we decided to cross over to 5th Avenue and then walk as far down that as we felt like... which ended up being around 40 blocks in total! We walked past the Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building (the lobby is beautiful, but a trip to the top cost $35 so we decided to skip that, Flatiron Building and - most importantly ;) - a bookstore! :-D Jen is almost as big a bookworm as I am, so we had a great time suggesting books for each other. I ended up only buying one of them, but wrote the others down to look up on GoodReads, and managed to convince her that she should sign up there as well! I love talking books with friends, and GoodReads is a great place for it :)

By the time we reached 14th Street and Union Square my feet were killing me, so we found a Starbucks and brought our drinks over to Union Square Park to sit in the shade and talk for awhile. It was really brilliant to have this time to catch up on each other's lives, and get all the details that you don't think of to write about in e-mails. I had such a good time together with her! The picture blow was taken by a police man who sat next to us in the park. Jen wasn't sure about asking him, but I figured I could play the "clueless tourist" card and not get in trouble ;) Guess the crutch worked as a sympathy card as well ;) (an aside - people were SO kind to me, standing up for me in the subway, picking up stuff I'd dropped and apologising for bumping into me even if I had been the one to bump into them. I almost felt like a fraud for walking around with a crutch when I didn't really need it... on the other hand, the general good state of my leg proved that I DID need it - to remain functional I mean).

At 5:30pm we went back to Central Station, so Jen could get her train home, and I could find my way back to the hotel to shower and rest for awhile before Lars came back. Dinner tonight was at Subway which we do have in Denmark (something very close to it anyway), but Lars had had a craving for it all day, and promised that I would get first picks of where to go for dinner tomorrow so I'll live ;)

NYC - Part 5

This is going to be another picture-heavy post. Both Lars and I adore the "Night at the Museum" movies, so of course we had to go to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH).

We took the subway to AMNH and decided to work our way from the top down. The museum was a lot bigger than I had expected, but a lot more interesting too. I especially liked the exhibits of American and African Mammals. I had NO idea Alaska brown bears were so huge!! Unfortunately I forgot to get Lars to take a photo of them. Ah well, next time ;)

My favourite part would have to be the Polynesian exhibit though. Immediately as we entered the room, I noticed something at the other end of the room. "Look, Dum-Dum!" - cue Lars cracking up! :) They also had a small section on Maori art, which of course I appreciated :)

Oh, and we found Nemo! ;)

We'd contemplated going through Central Park once we were done with the museum, but ended up spending far too much time there, so we would only have had 15 minutes before the zoo closed and deemed it not worth it. Instead we took the train downtown to City Hall as Lars wanted to see that. Unfortunately that too (like the public library) was covered in scaffolding and closed off to the public, so there wasn't much to see. Instead we walked over to Ground Zero as Lars had told me it was just around the corner.

That was a very thrilling experience. There was nothing to see, but like I told Lars, it's the first time "nothing" has given me goosebumps. Seeing a construction site and knowing that 8 years ago it had been the site of 2 sky scrapers. Chilling! Definitely the most poignant experience of our trip. I'm glad we went past.

Both my legs, my wrist (from leaning on the crutch all day) and my head were killing me at this time, so after having walked all the way around Ground Zero (and seen the memorial by the fire station), we decided to head off home. I would have liked to visit St. Paul's Chapel, but again, that'll have to be some other time.

For dinner we ended up at Sbarro on Broadway. I'd wanted to try Olive Garden (we don't have that chain in Denmark), but their wait time was 45 minutes and we were too hungry for that. It was actually okay - better than what I'd expected from a fast food place, and because of the heat I wasn't all that hungry anyway.

And tomorrow I get to meet Jen Smiga!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

NYC - Part 4

Saturday morning we left the hotel at around 11am and caught the train downtown to Battery Park. Battery Park has a number of war memorials, which I found quite interesting, but for Lars the real reason for going was that he wanted a photo of the entrance to the Battery Park tunnel! AKA the entrance to the MIB headquarters ;)

Katie had mentioned there being a 9/11 memorial in Battery Park which I really wanted to see, but unfortunately we couldn't find it - it may have been on the other side of the ridiculously long line for the Ellis/Statue of Liberty Ferry (standing in line for 1-2 hours in the sweltering sun? Not gonna happen! It was 33C in the shade!). Anyway, we did manage to find quite a number of other interesting-looking memorials. The ones shown below are for marines who died in WW2 (only some of them though... Lars thinks the Atlantic, I think the Pacific) and for the Korean War.

Lars and I had long ago decided not to spend the time and money on going to Ellis Island / the Statue of Liberty, so instead we found our way back through Battery Park to the Staten Island ferry (or "Staten Island" - said in Danish - as Lars kept doing ;) ). The ferry to Staten Island took us fairly close to the Statue of Liberty - not as close as I would have liked (the photo below was taken with digital zoom), but what can you expect from a free ferry ;) I did very much enjoy seeing the Manhattan skyline from the sea side though, and both Lars and I went nuts with the camera ;)

There wasn't much on Staten Island itself we wanted to see, but it did have a train line. I'd come prepared and brought a book, so I told Lars, "Let's go nuts and take the train to the end station and back again." He looked at me. "You sure? I have the best wife!" Hehe :)

Once back on Manhattan we decided to make our way back up North via Wall street, as we figured that was a tourist must. We couldn't have been to NYC and NOT walk down Wall Street. And of course we had another movie-moment when we saw Trinity church at the very top of Wall Street ;) (National Treasure).

We were both done sight-seeing for the day, but neither of us felt ready to return to the hotel yet, so we decided to part ways, Lars went off train-spotting, and I went shopping! :) A friend had asked me to buy some Starbucks coffee for her, which for some reason resulted in me getting a drink on the house! I hadn't expected that, but certainly am not complaining ;) I realised I'm not a big fan of unsweetened green ice tea though, so just as well I didn't pay for it ;). I made my way back to the large B&N on 5th/46th and ended up spending 2 hours there!!! By then I'd found about a million books I wanted, limited myself to just 6 I actually bought, and gotten hold of gifts for all my nieces and nephews. A very productive day indeed :) Now I want to go back and get the other 999.994 books though! ;)

We were in the mood for steak for dinner, and I thought I'd found a steak house by Times Square, but ended up at what turned out to be a place that served steak-ala-fast-food! Very bizarre! Not that the food was bad, it just isn't something you'd ever encounter in Denmark. It's been the oddest things that have struck me as unusual cultural differences! (Another point in case - TV news reporters! They seemed almost like entertainers - even the ones in the studios.)

On our way back to the hotel we decided to visit the M&M store to see what that was like. O_O :-O WOW! The amount of M&M merchandise was just UNBELIEVABLE! Lars felt it was too tacky for words and very quickly had had enough, but I promised myself to return another day without him and just browse to my heart's content :)

NYC - Part 3b

Once done with the Met (and I've probably forgotten about a million details, but figured it was long enough as it was ;) ) we went outside and caught a cab to The Strand - a large 2nd hand/bargain book store by Union Square. I have to say, I love having friends who'll go book browsing with me (all three friends I met in NYC were happy to oblige) and who enjoys it as much as I do, so I don't end up feeling rushed.

The Strand was pretty amazing - SO many excellent books, and at great prices too. I could have used a fortune in there, but managed to limit myself to just 3 books. I think it's a very, very good thing that books aren't as cheap in Denmark - I'd have run out of space in my apartment ages ago!!!

From The Strand we took another cab (to spare my legs) up to Times Square for a cocktail hour at the Marriott Hotel. Irina knew of a bar on the 8th floor which sported a gorgeous view of Times Square, so we decided to go there for a glass of champagne to celebrate some really awesome news Irina had gotten earlier that day :) This is the first time I've ever seen designated elevators though! Well, that's not entirely sure, I've seen elevator bays with signs of "For floors A-K take this elevator, for floors L-Z take that elevator", but here you went to a number pad, typed in the floor you were going to, and a small computer screen told you which elevator to go to! Rather fancy, that ;)

For dinner, Irina had recommended the restaurant, Queen of Sheba (10th between 45th and 46th) as having great atmosphere, excellent food and being the perfect ice breaker when dining with "strangers", and she was right on all three accounts! Queen of Sheba is an Ethiopian restaurant where the food is served in a communal (or table-al) basket, and then you use bread to eat it with your fingers. Irina suggested we get a sampler so we could try a lot of different things, (a good idea as it would have been absolutely impossible to choose otherwise!) and recommended their honey-wine to drink. Absolutely delicious and very different from just about anything I've ever tried before. The closest I've ever come was the Syrian Mesa we tried in Cyprus.

One really weird thing about the restaurant though... we entered, and it had AC like every other place I'd been to in NYC... but Irina and I sat down right in front of a heater!!! It was still cooler than outside, but how utterly weird! ...not to mention counter-productive. Gave us something to laugh at though ;)

And just like the rest of the day, we never stopped talking ;) I really didn't want the day to end as I was having such a great time together with Irina - I think it's pretty safe to say we got on like a house on fire :)

On the way back to the hotel Lars told me that he'd spent most of the day in Brooklyn where - among other things - he'd found the Wendys that served as "McDowells" in "Coming to America" (one of Lars' favourite movies). I thought it was rather cool that he'd found it :) Back at the hotel room, Lars turned on the TV to wind down a bit before going to bed... and discovered that "Coming to America" was on!!! Now what are the odds of THAT?!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

NYC - Part 3a

Friday the 14th of August was the day I'd been looking the most forward to on the entire trip. Because Friday the 14th would be the day I finally got to meet Irina in person! We've been e-mail friends since 2003 but never met, so when she heard I was coming to NYC (actually before it was even settled for sure), she immediately e-mailed me to come down and spend a day with me. Naturally I JUMPED at the chance :)

And it did NOT disappoint :) Not many photos taken today. I was too wrapped up in talking to remember to take more than a couple.

Anyway, I woke up that morning to discover that the crutch definitely did help - as sore as my feet had been yesterday, they were absolutely fine now. That is NOT par for course on sight-seeing trips. Usually I'd be limping everywhere after a day with so much walking. Instead only my shoulder hurt a bit, but I'd already arranged for a massage when returning to Denmark, so I decided not to worry about that.

At 11:15am I left the hotel and headed off on my own to find the nearest subway station and the train that'd take me up to 86th Street as I was meeting Irina at the Popover Café at 11:45 for brunch. I'd completely overestimated the time it'd take me to get there though, so I was about 20 minutes early! Good thing I've learned never to go anywhere without a book ;)

Irina arrived shortly after 11:45 and we recognised each other straight off :) We went in, found a place to sit and immediately proceeded to talk each others' ears off ;) I'm thrilled to finally have gotten to meet her in person :)

The food at the Popover Cafe was absolutely delicious, but SOOOO rich. We ordered a basket of popovers and strawberry butter, and popover "egg popeye" - eggs with spinach and salmon. So yummy, but I could only eat about half of it. Definitely a spot I'd recommend for others. It's mostly a brunch/lunch place though.

After brunch the plan was to walk through Central Park to get to the Met which was directly on the other side of the park. Well... we found the park without any problems, but it turns out that both of us are firmly devoid of any form of homing pigeon instinct, so instead of walking straight and reaching the East side, we instead came out 14 blocks further South - still on the West side. Lars is never going to let me live that down.

Undaunted we set out again, and thanks to the GPS function on Irina's iPhone we managed to make our way through Central Park and find the Met! This is where I got my big surprise of the day. Now, I like art museums as much as the next person (probably a tad more so actually, depending on who 'the next person' is), but this is the most fun I have ever had at an art museum. Irina has a masters degree in art, and thus was able to teach me SO much about the different pieces - not just American art either, but African and European as well. It was incredibly interesting, and I hope she'll forgive me for saying so, but she was extremely cute in her enthusiasm for teaching me.

The Met was a very confusing museum though - layout-wise I mean - and we had some difficulties finding our way through. It's hard to explain, but it was as if the levels didn't "match" and therefore we kept having to go up and down stairs and elevators in order to get around. We couldn't stop laughing about it - especially as we kept ending up at the very same elevator! It must have had a magnetic pull on us.

What I most wanted to see, and Irina most wanted to show me (I think) were the American paintings, as we really don't have many of those here. Unfortunately the American Ward was closed for reconstruction, and many of the pieces loaned out to other museums. Thankfully we discovered that some had been put in storage and could still be viewed (they just weren't "presented" nicely). I'm glad, because this is where I found my favourite pieces in the entire museum! One was "Madame X" - not the least because I was fascinated by the story behind it. The other was "Camp fire" by an American painter who mostly took photographs and therefore ended up using a lot of the same visual 'techniques' (for want of better word) in his paintings. I just LOVED the colours and the way he showed the fire and the sparks.

Since this post is insanely long already, I think I'm going to separate day 3 into two posts, and sign off here. Still to come - book-lovers going crazy at The Strand, celebratory Champagne and an interesting dinner at Queen of Sheba :-)

NYC - Part 2

Despite a rather fitful sleep I still managed to sleep until almost 6am! Considering that my body thought it was 1pm at this time and I very seldom sleep past 9-10'ish, I think I did well :) Lars, being used to swing shifts as he is, slept until 9:30am!

I'd asked Lars to please spend the first day together with me rather than going off trainspotting on his own, as I didn't feel completely comfortable heading out by myself into a large city I didn't know at all, so at around 11am we headed down to 42nd street to see NY Public Library (my choice ;) ) and Grand Central Terminal. Unfortunately the library was completely covered in scaffolding for renovation (I think), so I couldn't get to enjoy the apparently very gorgeous building, and I completely forgot to return at a later time to see it from the inside - go figure.

Lars obviously wanted to see Grand Central for train spotting purposes, but mostly I was just interested in the main concourse because of the movie "Madagascar" ;-) And I must say it was well worth the visit. Definitely both grand and central.

I have to admit to being a bit surprised at how un-busy it was though. According to the statistics in our guide book, GCT has 550 daily trains - Copenhagen central station has 950 daily LOCAL trains alone - and that's not counting all the regional ones. I must say that GCT looks a LOT nicer than Copenhagen Central though. Everything was nice and clean, and I loved the decorations everywhere.

We had brunch at their dining concourse - they had a crepe house serving both sweet and savoury pancakes. Very yummy and the perfect way to start off a vacation.

From GCT we continued our walk down 42nd street and soon reached the UN Building. Neither Lars nor I felt like going in for one of their tours, but we did have fun trying to identify as many flags as possible! (Both the Danish and the New Zealand flag should be visible in these photos, but as there was no wind, it's kinda hard to tell.)

It had started raining at this time, so we figured it was time to find something indoor to do. Lars had read about a Transit Museum located in an old closed station (Court Street Station to be exact) out in Brooklyn, so we found the nearest subway station, bought our Metrocards* and headed out there. I thought it a brilliant idea to use the old subway station as a museum - it definitely lent a different atmosphere to the place. As transit museums go, it was interesting enough (obviously I've been to a few ;) ), and Lars just about went nuts when he discovered it had a LIVE station panel in the control tower (no, it's not a tower, but that's just what it's called - sorry). He was very, very cute in his excitement ♥ And no, he will not approve of me calling him 'cute' ;)

I'd been using my crutch all day, but wasn't yet too sure whether or not it did any good, because at this point my feet HURT, so once we felt 'done' with the museum, I sent Lars off to do some trainspotting on his own, and found my way back to the hotel (via a Starbucks - had to try out some of all the recommendations you guys gave me! ;) ) to relax with a book for awhile. I'd hoped to find a bookstore along the way, but unlike London, they don't seem to be located on just about every second corner, so to my huge disappointment I hadn't seen a single one yet! Probably just as well actually... my feet really could use the rest.

"Our" fire station - located just on the other side of 8th and 48th - turned out to be the most busy of all of Manhattan. I'll believe that! We heard sirens SO many times each day - even more so since they appeared to use the siren both when going out and returning home. Going out goes without saying, but why when coming home again??? Just like any other fire station in NYC, they too had lost people at 9/11, and a small memorial had been constructed on the other side of 48th.

Lars came back to the hotel at around 7pm and we got ready to go out for dinner shortly after. The previous evening we'd seen a TGIFridays on Times Square, and as both of us love the place, we decided to go there... only to discover that TGIFs in London are a LOT better than that particular one... at least on that evening. We got the worst service experienced on the entire trip (the waitress forgot to give us cutlery, never checked up on us for refills, and took forever to give us out check), and the food wasn't nearly as delicious as we've been used to from our visits to the chain in London. Ah well, can't win them all.

I'd asked about bookstores at the hotel and had been told there was a rather large B&N at 5th and 46th, so knowing that stores stay open later in NYC than what we're used to (=closing at 7pm at the latest), we decided it was worth a shot to see if it was still open at 9:30pm. Unfortunately not - they closed at 9pm, so I'd have to save that for another day - but at least we got to see a bit more of the city :)

* Turns out that buying Metrocards is apparently not intended for tourists - not at the machines anyway. We attempted to pay using our visa cards, and were asked to enter our 5-digit zip code!!! Ehh... Danish zip-codes are only 4 digits, and it didn't say what to do if you didn't have one, so we just ended up entering a fictitious one. Rather odd service to expect tourists either to be exclusively from the US or to use the manned booths rather than the machines. *Shrugs*. Instead we just messed up their statistics for the day ;)