New York in the sunshine and New York in the rain

The arch in Washington Square, New York City

The arch in Washington Square, New York City

We’ve seen both sides of the weather this week. We arrived in NYC on Tuesday morning on an earlier flight than planned, as if 7:30 departure wasn’t bad enough! We arrived at the airport to discover that flight was delayed until noon but they got us on one leaving at 6:30 a.m. Thank you Travel Gods!

Naturally it was too early to get into the hotel room so we parked the bags and went out to find breakfast. We could have had it for free at the hotel but it was a madhouse so we skipped that and had it at a nearby pub that was open. We headed to Gray Line and hopped on the Hop On Hop Off tour bus heading downtown. The sun was beaming and our guide Dominic was ace! We got off at Chinatown and walked around there and headed downtown, thinking we would eventually get to the Staten Island Ferry. Things never go as planned. By the time we got there, after a nearly futile search in a department store for a toilet and a stop for lunch at one of the hundreds of Irish pubs in New York, we were just too sore and tired. We had been up since 4 a.m. and it was catching up with us.

We found the tour bus again and took it around the rest of the loop and then trudged our way to the hotel for a rest, nipping out later for a meal.

Yesterday the rain started. Hell. We did brave breakfast in the hotel but between the stress of the crowds and the meh-ness of the food, we decided not to do that again. By that time, the rain had stopped for awhile so we trudged over to where we had to book the Tv and Movie tour for Thursday. Finally found that and since the weather seemed to be holding off, decided to do the uptown loop of the HOHO tour and get off at the Guggenheim.

Cold. damp. windy. crap guide (well, he knew his stuff but the wind was interfering with the microphone and when people continued to complain he got cranky). Then the heavens opened and we skipped down into the inside of the bus to the exclaims of the guide “It’s only water!” Stuff that.

We were unimpressed with the Guggenheim which turned out to be far more heavily balanced in favour of modern art than is our taste. The building was cool though. Stopped for a cold drink and decided we needed to eat. Tried to get a cab down to Rockefeller Center in case we decided to do the NBC tour, but food first. We ended up in one of the restaurants around the Rock. Centre plaza where you skate in winter. If you think that was probably expensive, you’d be right. We decided it would be our splurge meal and it really was good, that’s for sure.

By the time we were done, we thought it was a bit late for the tour but browsed in the NBC shop for a bit and then went in to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a look. Most of it us under scaffolding unfortunately but the back part around the altar and some side chapels and behind the altar was viewable as was a few of the windows. Very nice!

Sore and tired and sweaty by now and we really were done in. We got a cab back to the hotel, picked up some sandwiches for later and chilled the rest of the evening.

Today the rain continued and we got quite wet even though we tried to share the umbrella. Thought getting a quick breakfast at a nearby takeout cafe would do. I enjoyed it but Graham didn’t much. Another cab, this time over to Times Square where we are going to meet the bus for the On Location tour later. Turns out the cafe where we were meeting the bus would have been perfect for breakfast if a bit over the top. It’s a singing restaurant with all the wait staff taking turns singing various songs. Only on Times Square!!! We did have a hot drink and a bagel while we waited.

The tour was good though it was difficult to take pics out the rainy windows. They show clips of various movies and tv shows as you go by many of the locations and buildings. It’s quite good. The guide we had, Deo, is an actor and comedian and kept us entertained as well. We stopped in Soho for a half hour to stretch our legs. The rains seems to have stopped. Will it last? Well, yes it did for the most part. The sun even came out for the rest of the tour.

We ended the tour near a pub used as inspiration for a sitcom, How I Met Your Mother and we ate lunch in there as we got a 15% discount with the tour ticket. We walked back, picking up a few souvenirs and some sandwiches for later after the theatre.

I guess that’s enough for now. Our adventures will continue! I’ll do more of a “what we thought of New York” after i finish all the travelogue bits!

A New York Minute

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City (where we probably won't be going this time!)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City (where we probably won’t be going this time!)

New York stuff is all booked and there’s 30 sleeps until Graham gets here!

We have:

Rock of Ages tickets booked for Thursday May 9. Got a discount from, Saved about $40 per ticket I think. Decent seats, in the main floor section about half way back. But they gave us seat 1 and 3. Huh? I would hope that if there is a body between us, they will be kind enough to switch so we can sit together. We weren’t going to a show because at first we couldn’t agree on one but this one made the cut and I think it’s going to be good.

Instead of the ubiquitous city type passes, we booked a 5-attraction pass each through SmartDestinations. Many cities have an attraction pass that is good for 3 or 5 days and it’s “all you can do/see” off their list but I can never fit enough in to break even let alone save anything. This Explorer Pass is a bit different. You choose 3, 5, 7 or 10 things from their list of 55 attractions and tours and the pass is good for 30 days. You don’t have to say which things you will be doing, it just counts them off as you scan your chipped card which I received today! FedEx sent it and I didn’t realize it would come courier so i wasn’t home. They delivered it to my office today instead.

We know 4 of the 5 things we’ll be doing, The Empire State Building, the Guggenheim musem (changed our minds from the Frick, and this one is on the Explorer Pass’s list where the Frick isn’t), the Intrepid Sea and Space museum and a TV and Movie location tour,  and we can pick from one of the other things though we are leaning towards the NBC Studio tour.  This pass seems much more doable and is cheaper ($116 for 5 attractions, and by including the TV tour, we’ll end up saving 4o or 50 dollars over the 5 things we do, I think)  and you can spread it out more rather than squash everything into 3 days and be exhausted and burned out trying to fit it all in. They do a number of tours via the CitySights company which do hop on hop off,  but you can only do one of them with the pass and each one is only one of the various routes that would be included if you’d bought a 48 hour pass from a tour company separately.  We’ve heard the tv location tour is quite good and let’s face it, they film loads of things in NYC!

Booked the hop on hop off tour through Grayline that’s good for 72 hours so we can spread it out. Take a downtown loop one day, so we can get on and off and explore, then the uptown tour the next day and we thought we’d do a night tour as well. They also do a Brooklyn tour and a Bronx tour but we may not do those. The night tour goes over to Brooklyn so you get a look at the night skyline. We can also use the tour bus as transportation if we want, even after having done the tours, if there’s still time left on the ticket.

Thought about pre-booking an airport shuttle to the hotel but the standard airport bus goes to Port Authority, the big bus terminal which is only 3 blocks from the hotel so that’s good enough. There’s a lot of things that are within easy walking distance of the hotel, less than 10 or 12 blocks which is convenient. We plan on wandering around some of the neighbourhoods like Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Chinatown, Little Italy (which, i understand, (those last two) are really small) and Soho and probably the posh areas like Fifth and Park Avenue. Would like to check out Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Centre, see the John Lennon memorial in Central Park, maybe see the 911 site though it’s not a free museum like they said it would be but I think you can observe the park area from outside.

Also got the rental car booked for when we get back. I think we’re sorted! Now we just have to get there!

New York, Here We Come

When last we spoke of our trip to New York, I had nothing booked and was searching for hotel possibilities and making lists of things to do. Last week, I booked the flights using Aeroplan points. They still charge us taxes and fees but two tickets to New York cost us a total of $280 CAD, far better than nearly $1000 it would have cost. The fees really kill you! We’re flying in and out of Newark, though the return flight includes a change in Boston Logan.

After much searching and angst, I thought I had a short list of 2 or 3 Holiday Inns when I found another couple hotels that looked good too, one called Hotel Grand Union and one called King and Grove.

An aside. I’ve belonged to a travel email list for years called Travelzine. It’s a great resource. You can ask anything and get some really useful replies from lots of travelers.

So anyway. I had just sent an email to the Travelzine to see what people had to say about my shortlist of hotels. I went to to re-check the addresses and guess what? There was a sale on  a few of the Holiday Inns! Well now… that makes a big difference. I decided to book the one near Times Square. It’s got free WiFi and a buffet breakfast, also a good savings. Their non refundable rate was about $220 CAD per night but they had a refundable rate of $240 and I decided it could be worth it to get that. Free cancellation is always good if you can get it. An extra $80 for the week is about what it would cost for Cancellation insurance anyway. I think it’s still a prepaid amount but that’s fine. My credit card gives me Aeroplan points and the credit card gives you additional peace of mind. I’m not sure but I think the gold card may even have trip interruption/cancellation included. I must look that up.

There now. Flight and hotel booked. Now we can *really* start planning. I’ll get the Empire State Building tickets online to save one of the queues. I’ll probably get the Hop On Hop Off bus tickets online too. We still haven’t decided on a show but there’s time for that. I’ve been perusing the Timeout New York site.

Great website, by the way, if you’re visiting any city they cover. They had a good theatre section and lots of ideas on museums, popular and lesser known, and a list of free or cheap ones. I discovered one that’s on an aircraft carrier, the Intrepid and is a sea, space and aviation museum and I think my fella would really like that. I would as well. I really enjoyed the War Museum in Manchester last year  and how often do you get to walk on the flight deck of a carrier! There’s a Skyscraper Museum that might be cool.  There’s also the Society of Illustrators, with an exhibit that’s on the week we’re there about the artist behind MAD Magazine. We have talked about taking the Staten Island Ferry if it’s a nice day, very good for views of the Statue of Liberty and the city skyline.

If I make a list, we’ll probably manage to get to see some of this though probably not all. We’re also going up the ESB and I want to visit the Frick Collection and the New York Public Library. We’ll be there the best part of four days. I’ll be paying closer attention to that NYC blog post  I mentioned the other week, too.  I’ve looked into the New York Pass that gets you into most of what I’ve already mentioned for free, but the problem I’ve always had with these types of passes is that you really need to pack in lots of things each day to realize the savings. I never can keep up that pace so we would end up losing money. Buying tickets online to the things you definitely are going to do can at least get you past the ticket purchasing lineup and that’s good enough for me.

I’m excited now!

It feels good to have the hotel decision made and booked. The rest is gravy. We always pick a few Must Do items and then see where the wind takes us. I know there will be a lot of walking, there always is. I’ll look into transport passes or tickets.

I Heart Her City

New York Public Library

New York Public Library (Photograph by Wally Gobetz, Flickr)

I’ve been browsing a blog on the National Geographic Traveler magazine’s website by Annie Fitzsimmons, the Urban Insider. I thought she might have some interesting articles on New  York, with the view to our visit there in May.  I am really happy I did! This post in particular of all the ones she’s got tagged with New York City has probably added 4 or 5 things to the list of places to see and things to do. She loves her city and after reading that post, I just might as well!

At least one item she listed was already on my Radar, the Frick Collection.

She describes her neighbourhood, Greenwich Village so well that I think a wander around there is definitely called for.

And what about this? The Transit Museum where the store has unique souvenirs except that seems to be an online shop not a real one. Will have to investigate further.

We probably won’t get as far north on Manhattan as The Cloisters but you never know. I have seen the Unicorn tapestries. On my one visit to NYC I was lucky enough to see them at the main Metropolitan Musuem.

I really would like to see the New York Public Library interior and the Rose Reading Room. It looks amazing.

G. wants to go up in the Empire State Building and we decided we are probably going to take a bus tour around the city. Those usually include several routes, a night tour and one to see Brooklyn which is apparently not that interesting though you get to stop and take a photo across at the skyline.  One advantage of these tours is using them as transportation. You can get off at various locations and explore the areas and neighbourhoods.  There are also television/movie locations tours that might be interesting too.

Now that G. has his ticket to Canada, I will sort out the NYC tickets. I’m going to use Aeroplan points for those and I’m still trying to decide on a hotel. So many to choose from! Saving money on the flights will help with the hotel budget.

National Geographic magazine is one of, if not my favourite travel magazine. I get a few but this one has the best photography of all. Some years ago I flew to Toronto for a photography seminar they gave. I must blog about that sometime!

Planning: A Bite out of the Big Apple

St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City

Right. So. The next trip up on the planning board is New York City for May.

I was in New York once for a brief visit during a training course in New Jersey. A few of us students took the bus into the city and walked over to see the Empire State Building. We went up and watched as the lights started to come on as dusk settled over the skyline. Walking back to Port Authority bus terminal, we could see the lights of Times Square as we crossed over 7th Ave. I stopped in the middle of the cross walk in the middle of the street to gawp and take pictures!

I spent Saturday in the city, as well, since I wasn’t flying home until Sunday. I spent the morning in the Metropolitan Museum and met up with an aquaintance for lunch, walking around the general area and into Times Square in the afternoon with him. My impressions of New York then were twofold.

Colour. There was colour everywhere! It was high summer and there were bright banners on buildings, magazine stands with lots of colours on display, people were wearing cheery clothing, yellow taxis were rivers on the streets. Then there was Times Square. Talk about an explosion of colour! Even the garbage bags were pink and blue and there was a neon sign over the police station!

Smell. There was a wide variety of smells, both good and bad as I walked along. Food drifting out of restaurants. Chemical smells from hair salons. Masses of human beings. Diesel and gasoline engines of the vehicles. Perfumes on people. New York was an assault on the senses, to be sure, and now after nearly 15 years, I’ll be back. We’ll still only scratch the surface in just a few days but it’s a start!

Already, I’ve been looking at hotel prices and wow, what a shock I’ve had!

When I was looking for hotels in Rome, I expected the hotel prices to be very expensive and they weren’t. They were no worse than London where I can always find reasonable hotels in London within my budget, generally paying between $125 and $160 Canadian per night. On the whole, we were quite happy with the Bailey’s Hotel in Rome and I’d recommend it.

New York City was an eye opener. Even cheap chains like Days Inn and that sort of thing were a good bit over $200 a night! Anything under $200 includes shared bathrooms and facilities or is in New Jersey, or by the airport or in Brooklyn or Queens. I want to stay on Manhattan and I don’t want to be way down at the tip or up on the north of the island either. It’s better to be within relative walking distance of many of the sights so I guess I’ll have to resign myself to a higher budget this time.

I’ve already got my eye on a couple of likely candidates, several being suite hotels with a small kitchen which is good for stocking up for breakfasts and evening snacks. The drawback to one of them  is it’s only serviced by housekeeping once a week though they’ll bring more towels or pillows if you ask. That’s probably not a big deal, really. I *do* know how to make a bed! Haven’t looked too much further into the other similar ones but I will be doing so.

Looking on Expedia, I see they will combine flight and hotel for some good discounts in some cases. I think I’ll look into that further across a few sites that do packages and see what kind of a deal I can get that way. Anyone that has any recommendations, do feel free to comment. It’s much appreciated.

Things to do: Well, my partner wants to go up the Empire State Building so we’ll do that. I like going up high places, too! I would like to take the Staten Island Ferry over and back for a good view of the skyline and *that* statue, though otherwise not that interested in actually visiting it. I have been to the Metropolitan Museum and, looking around at the other big museums, I think the Frick Collection might be just the thing. We will probably take in the theatre, too, at least one night.  St. Patrick’s Cathedral is also on my list.

We’ll probably take the hop-on hop-off tour around to see the main sights and it will be useful for transportation, too. The companies that do it have 48 and 72 hour passes that cover a handful of different tours you can take including a night tour. There are several routes so you could break them up over a couple of days rather than packing it all into one day.

New York Minute

I randomly dive into my folders of travel photos and come up with one that might inspire a post. This one is tonight’s memory, the New York Metropolitan Museum, or The Met. I love museums, big and small. I especially love weird and wonderful ones like the Dog Collar Museum in Leeds Castle, England. That sort of thing.

But the Met is one of the big ones on the scale of the British Museum or the Victoria and Albert. You can’t dip in and do it in an hour. You could be there all day with a stop in the cafe to reenergize but I find that after a few hours, I burn out and it all becomes a blur.

Setting the Wayback Machine to the summer of 1998, I was taking a course for work in nearby Parsippany, NJ. There isn’t much there in the area where the hotel and training centre was but we were close to the main road and a bus into Manhattan. Several of us students took the bus into the Port Authority one evening and we walked across and down to the Empire State Building and went to the top just as dusk was settling over the skyscrapers on a hot and hazy evening.

After, we walked back to Port Authority, thinking it was probably a bit late to look for a restaurant and still make a late bus back to the hotel, a journey of an hour from the bus station. We didn’t know how late that particular commuter bus would run so we walked back to the terminal and, crossing 7th Ave. we could see the lights of Times Square blazing up into the night a few blocks distant. I actually stopped in the middle of the street (in a crosswalk, I’m not *that* kind of tourist!) to take photos!

On the weekend, I had a Saturday to spend on my own before my flight home on Sunday so I took the bus into the city again and went to the Met. I spent the whole morning there and it was bliss! Pre-Raphaelites, Tiffany, and even better, the medieval Unicorn tapestries were on display from the Cloisters which was undergoing renovations.  I got to see some Impressionist paintings, too, paintings I had only seen in books…Renoir, Monet, Manet, Sisley, Degas, the list goes on. Their collections are more extensive in the Impressionist schools than any I had seen up to then.

Leaving there, I soon found myself near St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center before meeting a penpal and his wife at Sak’s where she worked. We had lunch and we walked around in the oppressive heat and humidity for an  hour or two, crossing Times Square mid-afternoon.

Times Square, August 1998

When I am asked what I thought of New York, my first answer is “Colourful”!  I don’t just mean it’s inhabitants either.  I mean there is a lot more colour than you would expect for a city consisting of so much concrete, steel and flesh!  The streets are filled with endless streams of bright yellow cabs.  There are big, bright billboards on and between buildings.  There are brightly coloured advertisements in shop windows.  There are flags and banners hanging from stores, museums and public buildings.  Many people are dressed in bright colours and the sidewalks are dotted with news agents selling newspapers and magazines.  There is, of course, colour overload when you reach Times Square. Garbage bags are pink, the police station has a neon sign!  And let’s not forget the frequent food vendors and fruit and vegetable markets with their bright canopies and umbrellas.

My second impression is the constant smell.  Now, it’s not a bad smell.  Well, not all the time.  As you walk the streets, you are constantly walking in and out of one smell after another…perfume from people or stores, garbage, diesel fuel from busses and subway vents, food cooking, people, freshly cut grass, the scent of a flower bed and car exhaust.

The pace of the city is so much faster than I am used to, too and you find yourself speeding up to keep up!  Not too many cars use signal lights… the car horn seems to be the weapon of choice but traffic lights seem to be more than just a suggestion.  You will see a few cars run the red when it first turns but then, generally, the cars hold back and let the cross traffic take their turn.

I only had that day and a few hours in an evening in New York but my partner and I have decided that our next side trip when he next visits me is probably going to be New York. I haven’t really seen much of it and he’s never been at all. It’s not a long way from here, a couple of hours’ flight. We might see a Broadway show, maybe take a tour bus, go on the Staten Island Ferry for a good view of the skyline. We’re always planning one or two trips ahead of the one we’re about to go on.

Always dreaming of where we can go next.

And that’s how it should be!