The Parks in NYC!

May 5-8, 2016

David and I were supposed to go to NYC for my birthday two weeks ago, but we got snowed into Denver with the cancellation of 800 flights 24 hours before the snow even started. Oh well, what was going to be beautiful 75 degree weekend in NYC a few weeks ago turned into a rainy, damp overcast weekend visit for the Derby Weekend.

We faced a few “I nevers” (both good and bad) in the first 12 hours of our trip. First, we grabbed a bite to eat a few tables away from Earth, Wind and Fire at Root Down in the Denver Airport. I’ve never seen them. Then, we boarded Southwest Airlines. Obviously, due to the weather in New York, we were in slight holding pattern and were told we’d have a delayed departure. Well, somehow the count of passengers didn’t match the manifest, so for the next hour, we sat on the ground as the crew came through and checked each passenger’s ID individually. Eventually, we took off without explanation. I’ve never seen this happen.

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Upon arrival at the hotel (Broadway at Times Square) at 1 o’clock in the morning, we were told our reservation didn’t start until May 8th (not May 5th). I provided my email confirmation with the 5th and they suggested that was our original reservation. I said, “No, that was our only reservation” as I didn’t reserve a room at the same hotel as planned in April. After a variety of phone calls, they gave us a room lesser than what we reserved. While have had a hotel oversell their rooms, I’ve never had a reservation randomly changed to another night. Right before we were turning in, I received a Chase Fraud alert. Someone at the hotel had tried charging my card four different times for four different amounts worth thousands of dollars…thankfully they were all declined!

Now that the nightmare of travel was behind us, we started the morning headed to the One World Observatory. The last time I visited New York, the Observatory wasn’t yet open, so this time I really wanted go. Of course, with the spitting rain and low clouds, the visibility was “zero” according to the ticket office. I asked David if he really wanted to go up the fastest elevators in the world since we wouldn’t see anything for the $32 admission. He was game, so up we went. At every check point before arriving at the elevator, we were greeted with “You know the visibility is zero?” Yes, we knew.

While we couldn’t see far and sometimes not at all, there were several pros. First, we got the elevator to ourselves. I don’t think going to the top of any tower, we’ve gotten this luxury. And of course, the elevator played the change in NYC’s skyline over time as the elevator rose, so we had an unobstructed view! Next, the observation deck was far from crowded. Sometimes all we saw was cloud while we held up an iPad that was showing us what we were missing. Then the clouds would blow out and we’d catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty or Coney Island or New Jersey across the river. While I’d like to go back when it is sunny, we enjoyed decent views.

From One World Observatory, we stopped by the 9/11 Memorial which is magnificent and then headed to the half-price TKTS booth at the South Seaport. In less than 30 minutes we had 8th row center orchestra seats to Kinky Boots for Friday night as well as Center Orchestra seats to A Curious Incident of a Dog at Night-time for the Saturday matinee. For a slight inconvenience, this is the way to get great theater seats for a bargain (and the Seaport location is far less crowded than the Times Square Location).

Next, we stopped for an early seafood lunch near the pier. It was great. From here, we followed the East River down to Battery Park. We strolled through the gardens, checked out the memorials and statues, and passed by the Castle Clinton National Monument before we stopped to check out an America’s Cup Event. Catamarans sailed around the harbor as other boats idled nearby.

It was already a quarter after 2, and we hadn’t even boarded the Staten Island Ferry for a cruise past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. We raced back to the ferry terminal and jumped on board for the free ride. It was a nice way to cruise around the harbor on a budget! We didn’t have time to wander around Staten Island at all (maybe next time), so we ran across the terminal to the return ferry at admired the NYC skyline as we arrived in Manhattan.

We hopped the Subway back to our hotel, who finally gave us the room reserved in time for us to shower and head to a 6pm dinner at 44 & X. This restaurant, located in the theater district, was excellent. David loved his lamb and I loved my fish! And it was conveniently close to Kinky Boots. I had already seen the movie Kinky Boots, so I had high expectations for the musical. I really liked it. I think I really enjoy the extravagant costumes and dancing in musicals. I thought the vocals could be slightly better for New York, but one of the leads from Canada was quite entertaining. Overall, it was a nice New York evening.

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Four positives about our hotel that otherwise I wouldn’t write home about are: 1. The price was right for the location, 2. The location was fantastic for the theater, 3. breakfast was free (just a continental) but it saves finding a bagel on the street, 4. free internet in the room which I think every cheap hotel offers, but none of the nice ones which I find humorous.

Anyway, after our bagel and cream cheese, we walked up Sixth Avenue to Central Park. We found the Citi Bikes right at the entrance on 59th. David has used the B Cycles in San Antonio, so he knew how it worked. We checked out bikes for 24 hours for $10 each, and then we rode around the park. We just had to find stations along the way to check the bikes in every 30 minutes and check them back out to avoid additional charges. What we found out later, there are not any stations on the north end of the park so we ended up keeping the bikes out for an extra 30 minutes for $4 more each.

The lakes and flora in the park were lovely on the damp spring day. The next we decided we’d rent a boat and paddle around. I’m not sure of the price for just renting a bike for the morning, but if that was a reasonable option, I think I would choose that in the future as we could have ridden from place to place that we wanted to see rather than station to station at park entrances. Regardless, we went farther north in the park than I normally get and then came back middle to stroll from the west side to the east side along wending paths past groups of birders and eventually the zoo.

At the end, we picked up some street food and tried going to the Oak Room for a drink, but forgot that it is no longer open to the public…bummer. After a quick stroll to Rockefeller Center, we turned to our hotel to get ready for the evening in store: a matinee, a bar to watch the Derby, dinner at Gotham Bar & Grill, and jazz music at Mezzrow.

A Curious Incident of a Dog at Night-time has to be one of the best plays I have seen in my life-time. It may have helped that I knew nothing about the story line and thus had no expectations. All I knew is that it won the Tony Award for the best play last year. Rightfully so in my opinion. It was quite amazing how creatively this book written through the first person of an autistic boy’s perspective was turned into a production on Broadway. It was extremely well done, and I wouldn’t want to spoil any of the surprises. Sometimes I wish I were that creative!

We chose a matinee instead of an evening performance so we wouldn’t be limited to eating an early dinner in Midtown. As such, we hopped a subway and headed south. We found a random place to watch the Derby around the corner from Gotham Bar & Grill where we had dinner reservations at 7. David’s childhood friend also named David and his girlfriend Carlysle met us for one heck of a dining experience couple with celebrity sightings! Sarah Jessica Parker, Martin Short, and Matthew Broderick dined a few tables away.

I thought it would be fun to go to a Jazz Club in NYC, so I picked Mezzrow as it was only a ten minute walk from the restaurant. Their website advertised three shows…$25 for reserved seats in advance or $20 at the door. We just showed up and asked if we could come in. The host seemed rather put off that we hadn’t reserved seats for the 9:30 show. Anyway, we paid the “cover” and stood at the bar until seats opened up. The performers suggested the listening room was by the stage in the front, and those who wanted to talk could stand in the back where we were. Evidently, we were only allowed to whisper as the host “shished us” countless times. Oh well! We had a nice time with David’s friends and his brother Rob who came in from D.C. and met us at the club. The bed called our names in wee hours the morning.

For Mother’s Day, we found a diner in Chelsea and then checked out the High Line. The High Line is a raised railway that was recently converted to a walking path in a Rails to Trails project. The walkway extends from Gansevoort St. to 34th St. The walkway is lined with flowers, aspen, a variety of art projects and some of the tracks. It offers lovely views of the river and passes by countless restaurants and a market. It was rather quiet on Sunday morning. Quite a peaceful way to enjoy the City.

Our final stop in NYC before heading home was Bryant Park. The sun finally came out so we enjoyed lunch by the lawn while soaking in some rays. I don’t know how I never knew this park was here. It was quite nice! It’s funny how many park oriented things we did in a city of sky scrapers, but I suppose I like the outdoors, nature as well as the fast pace of big cities…so it worked. ETB

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A Tribute to 9/11

Worth watching every minute of this video on 9/11. I never thought about evacuating off the island of Manhattan, especially when all roads were cut off and public transportation shutdown. This is the first time I’d seen this type of media coverage on the tragedy.

NYC…A Place to See!

A visit to NYC is always entertaining. It’s probably my favorite city in the world, and I like to go every year if I can. Well I suppose I can. I’m a strong believer in everybody has 24 hours in a day, and everyone can choose how they spend it. Some people choose to have families, some don’t. Some choose to work themselves to death for money, some don’t. Some choose to work out, some don’t. Some choose friends, some choose family. Some choose to save for retirement, some don’t. Some choose to lie, cheat and steal while others don’t. It’s all what is important to people in life, and that is what they make time for. Granted some people are afforded an easier path to the choices that they make (I don’t think J.K. Rowlings’ path was easy, but what a success), but in the end, it’s still their will and their choice, and they have the same amount of time in the day to make their dreams come true. Traveling is important to me as it makes me happy, so I make time for it, especially since we humans never know when life will end. Look at Joan Rivers. While she lived a long, fulfilling life, she went in for a routine procedure, and a week later unfortunately we are witnessing a red carpet funeral. VERY SAD!

My mom and I visited NYC for the US Open. I went last year and enjoyed it so much I wanted my mom to go since she is such a big tennis fan. We arrived on Tuesday, both of us with uneventful flights which was nice. She had a much better taxi driver than I did! I went out on a limb and tried a different hotel called Cassa Hotel New York. My favorite is the Palace, but that would require just a little too much walking for my mom these days and Cassa was a Viceroy property located on 45th between 5th and 6th, just a few blocks from Times Square without all the noise and maybe six blocks from Grand Central Station where we took the train to the US Open. The hotel staff may have been the nicest, most accommodating bunch I’ve run across anywhere in the world. The staff and location made up for the one shortfall which is there was only one bedside table for a queen bed. I believe most rooms were single bed options and one bedside table was inconvenient. Having said that, the room was far less important than the location which was perfect!

We began our visit to NYC with an Italian dinner at Crispo on 14th. Down near West Village, this was not exactly nearby, but the owner was a friend of a friend, and we knew with night tennis and the theater, tonight would be our only chance to try out his restaurant. I ordered the trofie pasta which was definitely a winner. Frank, the owner, came out in his white coat to greet us. He was going to send up some Limoncello, but the service was so fast, by the time he finished his evening business, we’d devoured our appetizers and main course. We enjoyed a pleasant, yet busy atmosphere for a Tuesday, and ate inside instead of in the garden to take advantage of the A/C on this humid evening.

Wednesday morning we made our way to the 42nd street subway and took it downtown to Chambers St. where we strolled a few blocks to the 9/11 Memorial. I finally got to see the twin pools set in the footprints in the original twin towers. I tried to visit last year, but a temporary wall towered around the area and without a pre-purchased ticket, the tremendous Labor Weekend line was not conducive to a visit. The pools are surrounded by bronze plates inscribed with the names of each victim. The victims include those from the 1993 bombing, each plane, the first responders, each crash site, and the towers. Instead of being placed in alphabetical order, they are placed by association (by company, family, friends). In addition to the pools, we got a good view of the Freedom Tower, now the tallest building in the United States standing 1,776 feet, representing the year of the United States Independence.

Though unnecessary for a September weekday entry into the museum, we pre-purchased tickets online for a 9:30am admission. Aside from the tennis, the museum may have been the highlight of our trip. What an incredible experience! The museum is absolutely enormous and to view it properly at least four hours of time is required, if not more. We would have stayed longer, but it was freezing cold! I really think the museum could have saved several hundred thousand dollars in utility bills just by adjusting the temperature. Perhaps it is a “natural” way for the museum to thin the crowd, as it steadily grew in the afternoon. I can’t even begin to cover everything on display.

The flight path of all four airplanes, including where each one was hijacked, was drawn on the wall. Voice recordings of first responders, witnesses, and survivors played as we entered into the main area. A demolished fire truck, remnants of the antenna, crushed steel, and an elevator motor were situated throughout the area that allowed no flash photography. Along with all the damaged items was one pane of glass (only one) that didn’t break. Two of the most poignant sights in this zone were The Last Column and the Survivors’ Stairs. The blue tiles, everyone a different shade, representing different artists’ rendering of the sky the day of the attacks was also a nice touch.

The Last Column and the Survivors’ Stairs
As the recovery of the World Trade Center site neared completion, one piece of steel was chosen to remain. This was the Last Column which became a memorial to the tragic attacks where notes were written and pictures were left. The column was removed in May of 2002 in now resides in the museum. An electronic panel allows visitors to select a picture on the column and learn more about that survivor or victim. The Vesey Street stair remnant became known as the Survivors’ Stairs as they offered an unobstructed passage for hundreds seeking to escape the attacks. It felt a little eerie to look at them.

While all of what I mentioned tugged at our heart-strings, we then passed through some glass doors where no photography was allowed out of respect for the victims. I have to say, many times I choked back tears. While I felt like I followed the news and obviously America was inundated with information and images about the attacks, I still laid eyes on things that shocked me. A handwritten note on copy paper, “12 people trapped on floor 78” that a survivor picked up and handed to a first responder was one piece that really took my breath away. Another was a bike rack with several bikes still locked up covered in the buildings’ dust. Only one was ever retrieved. Then, to hear voicemails from victims to their loved ones and friends calling to see if their friends in NYC were OK; I’m not sure how anyone extremely close to the situation could make it through without crying. Tissue was strategically placed near videos.

This enclosed area covered all four crash sites, the twin towers, the field, and the Pentagon, though most of the museum covered the World Trade Center Site. From here, we went on to see the hand-made quilt and a room with a picture of every victim. This room included electronic panels where visitors could select a picture of any victim, see additional pictures and read a short bio. I think if I had to do it over again, after descending the stairs, I would have followed the wall with the quilt all the way to the end, worked my way back, watched the film (which we missed by then due to being ice-cold and hungry), and then I would have gone to see the fire truck, the Last Column, and the enclosed area as the floor plan would have flowed better. Regardless, the museum is very well done and a MUST SEE!

After a hot dog on the street, we caught a cab to REI so my mom could some comfortable shoes for walking, and then we hopped the subway one more back to the hotel to prepare for a night at the US Open. Lucky for me, I vaguely remembered how to get to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Train 7 goes from Grand Central every few minutes toward Flushing Meadows. It’s practically unnecessary to know the exit is Willets Point except that is the platform to stand on as the tennis center can be seen from the subway tracks. We followed the masses to the gates that weren’t open for the night session yet. They open at 6, and I added in error time. Eventually, we made it to the main plaza that filled with people as we waited for the day session to end on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka got into a 5 set duel!

We anxiously awaited Serena Williams to play Flavia Pennetta. Serena faced a rough start with many unforced errors and a break in serve. In minutes, Pennetta was leading 3-0! But in typical Serena fashion, she came back with a vengeance, steam rolling to a 6-3, 6-2 victory. I’ve always wanted to see her play, as I think she may be the greatest women’s tennis player of all time, but it almost isn’t fun as her serve is so strong, rallies are few and far between. Regardless, I’m glad I saw her! And this might be rude to say, but I’m in awe of her size. She is enormous! Not in a bad way…tall and muscular…but wow. I’m writing this after she won the finals…18 Grand Slams…tied with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. I don’t think it will be long before she passes them.

The Wednesday night play also featured Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. I saw Djokovic last year. He destroyed his opponent. Murray gave him a bit more of a challenge taking him to four sets, but after back surgery, I don’t think Murray was back to his best tennis yet. Novak had more unforced errors than usual, but at least they got into some rallies and went to two tiebreaks! I was shocked to see Nishikori beat Djokovic in the semi-finals on Saturday. The finals should be interesting. I wonder if it will be as good as the entertaining dance one of the spectators put on for the stadium of 23,000 fans as he jiggled and spun and stripped layers of US Open T-shirts off and threw them into the stands?

With the night session beginning late and five hours of tennis, our sardine-like subway ride got us back to the hotel around 2:30am, but that didn’t keep us from being at the US Open by noon the next day. We started out at Arthur Ashe stadium watching the world number 1 Bryan Brothers play in the semi-finals against Lipsky and Ram on their way to their 100th win! We could have stayed at Arthur Ashe to watch Cilic vs. Berdych in the quarterfinals, but we chose more doubles. We caught the end of the other men’s doubles semi-finals (Granollers/Lopez vs Dodig/Melo) and then watched the first set of the Hingis/Pennetta vs Black/Mirza semi-finals match. I wanted to see Hingis play since she is no longer playing singles.

From the men’s and women’s semi-finals, we passed by some of the wheel chair play which was quite amazing and on to the champions league play at Court 17. Here we saw the McEnroe brothers beat Mats Wilander and Henri Leconte. We figured we’d go to Arthur Ashe if Berdych could put up a fight against Cilic, and at least take Cilic to a fourth set, but from what we heard on our AMEX radios, it wasn’t a competition. Berdych got trounced. Perhaps we should have gone to see Cilic since he is in the finals, but it’s more fun to watch rallies. We left the McEnroe match just as Arthur Ashe spilled out and beat the crowd to Court 7 where we watched Navratilova and Novotna take it to their opponents. It’s amazing how quick Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe are at the net.

We sat in the sun enough for one day, so we found a cement bench in the shade, stuffed our face with a lobster roll and waited until the night session as we had tickets to see Federer play Monfils. The tickets came with a bonus exhibition match between James Blake/John McEnroe and Mats Wilander/Jim Courier. The old boys and young buck had fun playing to the best of four, but Blake and McEnroe won four games so quickly, they had to improvise. Soon the linesman was playing, and he actually made a good shot and won the point!

Monfils and Federer finally entered the court. Monfils was running away with the match and won the first two sets handily. Federer just couldn’t get his game going and made countless errors. Suddenly, in the third set, Federer only made one unforced error in the whole set. This turned the match around. The fourth set was the best of the night with several rallies and Monfils even had to match points. But Federer fought them off, and that proved to be the demise of Monfils as Federer cruised to the five set win in front of a rowdy crowd filled with celebrities…Clive Davis, Anthony Edwards, Lindsey Vonn, Kevin Garnett, Hugh Jackman, and a variety of TV personalities.

After another late night, we got a delayed start to Friday morning. Our first stop was a visit to Art of the Brick, a LEGO Exhibit near Times Square. It is only open for another week. Nathan Sawaya, a corporate lawyer turned artist via LEGO. His pieces include copies of famous works of art like the Mona Lisa, Starry Night and David. He also creates his own pieces of work such as a 20 foot long dinosaur which includes 80,020 pieces and took Sawaya an entire summer to build. His swimmer, with 10,980 pieces, took 15 days. While staring at the pieces, I thought I would not have the patience to do this much less have the imagination to get all those square corners to look as rounded as possible with the limited connection points of the LEGOs. Sawaya is an example of someone who decided to exit the rat race and pursue what makes him happy…only one life, choose wisely. It’s amazing what someone can be successful with when there is a will. At the end, we got to write our names on a LEGO, which Sawaya will use to make a sculpture.

In the same building as the LEGO exhibit, Discovery Times Square, is Body Worlds: Pulse, the original exhibition. This exhibition of the science and anatomy of the human body traveled all over the world, and while I wanted to see it when it came to Dallas, I never made it. This is something I’ve pledged not to do anymore. If there is something happening in my area that I want to see, I am going to go, as I may not get another chance. My mom had not seen the exhibit either, so we walked through inspecting muscles, joints, ligaments, and organs. Photos were only allowed in one spot of a person riding a horse, so that is what I got! The exhibit also played a TED Talk about a survivor from the Hudson River flight. I’m not exactly sure what it had to do with a human body exhibit, but it was an interesting 4 minutes. He now has a sense of urgency and doesn’t delay his bucket list. http://www.ted.com/talks/ric_elias?language=en

After a late lunch at Sardi’s which was right next to the exhibits, we ventured to a few stores and then returned to the hotel for an early dinner and show for our final night in NYC. We dined at Vitae, just a few blocks east of our hotel. My tuna appetizer and duck entrée were fantastic. My mom’s heirloom tomatoes and beef were tasty too. What I loved most about the restaurant aside from the great service were all the extras from the chef. We started out with a spoonful of cucumbers and strawberries. We got a tiny bottle of lime orange soda before dessert. Finger desserts came out at the end of the meal and at the door we left with an oatmeal raisin cookie!

From Vitae, we walked to Pippin which was playing at the Music Box Theater about five blocks away. The first act was fantastic. The dancing and acrobatics, like usual in New York, were top-notch. In order to cast actors with such circus abilities, however, the vocals seemed slightly sacrificed. With all acrobatic shows, I found the first act to be better than the second. Singing and dancing at such a high level is difficult. The show talks up a grand finale which isn’t grand. It’s a lesson. Overall it was a great show and I’m glad I saw it. We even got a grand finale from two women in the audience who were furious with each other. One woman was snapping photos throughout the performance on her tablet which I can only imagine was distracting with the glowing light, not to mention forbidden.

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A shouting match began, “It’s none of your business.”
“It is my business. I paid for these tickets.”
“You took pictures with your phone!”
“No I didn’t!” as she turns to the usher and says, “Look at my phone. I don’t have any on it. She has tons of pictures on her tablet!”
The usher just stood there and said, “Ladies.”
I thought a fist fight might break out as the F word started flying and “Shut Up”, “No, You Shut Up” were bellowed out at the highest octave.
Another person in the audience chimed in and said, “We have children here.” She got told to shut up too!

The excitement didn’t end there. Somehow, someone thought it would be a good idea to start construction on Broadway at 11pm on Broadway when the theater let out. Cops and workers in orange vests were attempting to direct car traffic as a backhoe bounced down the street and tourists crossed through the intersection. An impatient driver began passing through the intersection, and the traffic director started smacking the stop sign into his windshield yelling, “Where do you think you’re going?” He kept going until the cop stepped in front of him, and he was stopped in the middle of the intersection. What an entertaining commotion to the end of the evening!

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened in the South! As I mentioned before, I love NYC, but this may be the first time I’ve visited the city, and thought I could never live here. I used to want to as I love the fast pace. All the service people couldn’t have been nicer, but the people on the street were as rude as I’ve ever seen them and the city was as dirty as I remember it. I was also jonesing for green space after three days as we never made it to Central Park. It’s still a great place to visit, and we had an awesome time! I’ll be going back to NYC soon…ETB

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A Wonderful Weekend in NYC!!

Labor Day Weekend 2013

Boy did we ever have an action packed weekend in NYC…the US Open, a nice dinner, the Book of Mormon, the Cloisters, the Moma, visiting friends, interesting subway rides and more!

Both Deb and I had uneventful trips into the City which is always nice when traveling from different parts of the country.  It was so fun to see each other again after a several year hiatus.  We opted for the Sofitel Hotel on 44th between 5th and 6th, mostly due to its location to the main events we had planned…the theatre and tennis.  It was perfect.  Only 3 blocks from Grand Central, it was an easy subway ride on the 7 train to Flushing Meadows.  It was also only three blocks from Times Square, thus an easy walk to dinner and the theatre, but also out of the noisy riff raff.

After freshening up, we started Friday night with a drink at the hotel bar before heading uptown to Debby’s cousin’s bar…Draught 55.  Here, we met Debby’s cousin Emelie and her friend Trish for a fun girl’s night out.  The bar offers a variety of beers and tasty food.  The night of laughs included a shock to see SMU playing on national TV in a NY bar on Friday night.  Somehow I think they made it on ESPN because they were playing Texas Tech, but it’s a step in the right direction since the death penalty in the 1980’s.

While we could have turned the night into something wild and crazy, we wrapped up at a reasonable time because our main reason to visit NYC over Labor Day was to see the tennis, and we had a full day of it ahead.  The gates opened at 10 and the tennis started at 11, so we left the hotel around 9 to plan for the 37 minute subway, walk and any challenges we may face with public transportation.  While I’ve visited NYC several times, and I’ve learned the neighborhoods, know the subways run one way and the buses run the other, I can honestly say I generally walk or cab it everywhere, so I didn’t know the public transportation system very well.  Grand Central Station wasn’t too conducive to learning it!  We walked into the train station and couldn’t find a kiosk to buy subway tickets.  Finally, we asked someone where to get subway tickets, and he replied, “In the subway station” and pointed around to the left.  Once we found the kiosk we slowly pecked through the screens to get a single ride instead of investing in a metro card, and wandered toward platform 7.  We just missed the train, but one comes every 5 minutes, and I was happy with waiting to give myself a second to get my bearings.  I knew we’d need the extra time to figure the subway out the first time!  We passed several stops on the way to Flushing Meadows, hopped off the train, crossed the bridge, stopped at the security check and then enjoyed the venue…first stopping for a few pictures and then grabbing a banana and nutella crepe!

We strolled beneath the winners alley marked by flags decorated with the players’ pictures and year they won.  We window shopped at the merchandise stores and purchased a $5 guide listing the players matches and times.  It’s not like golf, they don’t hand out a free pairings at the entrance, but later we did learn we could look everything up on our phone for future reference.    We held grounds passes for the day, so we could go to all outside courts and get into all the stadiums except Arthur Ashe.  We decided to start at an outside court to watch a few players practice and to be very close to the action.  When the tennis started at 11, we were seated about five rows up from the court (we could have gotten on the front row if we wanted), and we watched 27 seed Kuznetsova play Pennetta from Italy.  They ripped ground strokes back and forth so fast that sometimes it was dizzying to watch from so close.  I expected Kuznetsova to run away with the match, but Pennetta was the one who moved on to the next round after overcoming a wrist injury from early in the year.

From the outside court we paid for some over-priced lunch and enjoyed the shade before we filtered in to the Louis Armstrong Stadium to watch the number 2 seed Azarenka play Cornet.  We watched from a much higher level which kept us from having to move our head from side to side.  We ended up camping out in Louis Armstrong until we left at 4 because the next match Isner vs. Kohlschreiber, and I was curious to see if the crowd would cheer for Isner in this match since they cheered for the French Monfils in his previous round.  All the matches were competitive, with some extended rallies and a few exciting vollies.  For our first experience at the Open, we felt like we picked some good tennis and couldn’t wait for the night matches at Arthur Ashe tomorrow…our next round to see!

For our next adventure, we were hopping the subway back to midtown for dinner and show, and luckily only blessed with mariachi music for one stop http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7k8yM9FhHg .  On a side note, we weren’t sure as to when the day session ended for tennis and asked one of the Open volunteers who said, “If you stay in one of the stadiums and don’t move, they won’t check your tickets and you can stay all night.”  Funny, we were actually trying to leave early, and he was telling us how to cheat the system.  We know for the future!

Our dinner was at Becco, a Midtown Westside Italian restaurant.  Joe Bastianich, a judge on Masterchef was behind the bar, which thrilled Debby. The restaurant looked small at first, but after weaving through an obstacle course in a narrow hallway, we came to two more rooms, one lit by a large sky light.  Tables were fit into every nook like a jigsaw puzzle.  Debby ordered the veal parmesan and I had chicken limone.  Though we had a miscommunication on our order and trouble with our waiter, our food was delicious and the outcome was smoothed over on our bill!

We continued on to the Book of Mormon that was written by the creators of the TV comedy Southpark.  Anyone familiar with Southpark humor knew what was about to play on stage…a raunchy, sacri-religious, sometimes over-the-top, occasionally offensive, funny musical.  Through all the fun poking at fantasy land Orlando, liars, Mormons and their beliefs, the musical still offered a good overall message that anyone can make a difference in somebody else’s life, and everyone needs something to believe in.  My three favorite scenes had to be the opening with the doorbells, Hasa Diga Eebowai, and the ending play.  I definitely could have used the Hasa Diga Eebowai phrase recently when I got my money clip stolen and came a few hours away from putting Petey down before he had miraculous recovery.  What a great day!

Sunday, we headed toward Times Square to take the subway up to the Cloisters.  We stumbled across Brooklyn Diner.  The original is on 57th which I have been to several times.  Their food servings are enormous.  They are known for their pies.  Their booths include brass name plates etched with famous people’s names who have dined at the table.  We detoured in for breakfast.  Though the service was slow and the food was over-priced, breakfast was good and our waitress was super nice.  We finally made it to the subway, passing by a stage being set-up for Brazilian days and a quiet Times Square…hardly the amount of tourists, sesame street characters, or naked painted people as there were the previous night.  The subway dropped us at Fort Tyron Park in Washington Heights.  We strolled through the Heather Gardens in a light rain, stopped to admire some glass structures before finally weaving our way around to the Cloisters where we met my niece Connally who is studying engineering in her third year at Columbia.  The Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was built in the 1930s and resembles several European medieval abbeys.  Sitting in the lovely park and overlooking the Hudson, it was hard to believe we were still in Manhattan.  I personally enjoyed the architecture of the Cloisters more than the Medieval Art and the famous Unicorn Tapestries, but all of it was really neat, from the intricate columns and limestone carvings to the crucifix to the gardens where we enjoyed a tea before heading all the way downtown to see One World Trade Center, the new high rise…1,776 feet tall…signifying the year the United States declared its independence.  We had hoped to see the 911 Memorial, but despite looking for information online, we missed that reservations needed to be made in advance.  We also visited St. Paul’s Chapel, a small church located next to the World Trade Center that survived the 9/11 blasts.  It is Manhattan’s oldest public building in continuous use having been witness to the great fire of 1776 and host to George Washington on Inauguration Day.

The US Open night matches were calling our name, so we returned to midtown (now experts on the subway and having enjoyed another show…this time dancing to techno rap music  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpAhsfOcXic ), freshened up at the hotel, grabbed a delicious burger at Annie Moore’s, a pub next to Grand Central, and then headed out to Flushing Meadows.  After strolling around the grounds a bit, watching a few points of a doubles match, and browsing in the Wilson store, we found our loge seats in Arthur Ashe.  Given all the players and TV announcers talk about how electric the New York crowd is, we were surprised to see the stadium half empty at the start of the Djokovic vs. Sousa, especially since Djokovic is the world number 1.  The stadium slowly filled up, but anyone who was expecting to see a long match was sorely disappointed.  Djokovic absolutely took it to Sousa.  We cheered Sousa when he would win a point on his serve.  A part of me thought, that had to feel demoralizing to poor Sousa.  But at the same time, we tried our best to give him a burst of energy.  Sousa is a young, up and coming start from Portugal who was playing the biggest match of his life…it was apparent to the novice eye…though he never stopped trying and he was cute!

The next night match, while we thought would be more competitive between number 9 seed Jankovic vs  number 5 seed Li Na, was more of the same.  Li Na blew Jankovic off the court after taking six weeks off mid-season to improve her strength…something tennis players rarely do in the middle of the season.  It will be fun to see if any of these players make it to the finals.  Li Na is in the same draw as Williams, so she will face a strong force in the semis should they both make it that far.  In addition to seeing famous tennis players, we spotted a few stars in the crowd…Kelsey Grammer and Kevin Spacey got plastered on the big screen. When the match was over, we didn’t feel like following the mass exodus of people to the subway, so we spent some more time browsing some other shops and walking through the hall of fame before we finally hopped on the local train vs the express.  We found this to be acceptable because the express was packed like sardines and we got a seat.  Ten more minutes and a lot more comfort was fine for us vacationers.

Monday was our final day in NYC.  We meandered up Fifth Ave to St. Patrick’s Cathedral which while open was being repaired and covered by a significant amount of scaffolding taking away from its beauty.  It was still nice, and I lit a candle to help my dog-sitter find Petey who escaped from the backyard Sunday night and had been lost for over 12 hours…Hasa Diga Eebowai.

From the church was visited Rockefeller Center, a little too late to watch the Today Show, but soon enough to see the stage come down.  After a light breakfast, we admired the art in the Moma for a few hours.  The fifth floor was peppered with paintings by all the artists we both studied in school…Picasso, Dali, Miro, Monet, Manet and the list continues.  Andy Warhols and other “newer” artists lined the 4th floor hallways, while architecture exhibits and photography exhibits among other interesting art were displayed on other floors.  We stayed until 12:30 until we had to make our 1pm check out at the Sofitel.

After bidding farewell to Debby, I took a taxi to the Upper East Side where I got to visit my long-time high school friend Carroll and meet her 9 month old baby Amelia.  It was a fun way to cap off an action packed weekend in NYC!  And what made it even better is the rain held off until Monday, so we got to see the tennis, though we did get stuck in airport for a while.  Oh well, if that was the worst of it, then I’m on board to go see the Open again next year!

Day 40 – New York’s Hudson River Valley Part 2

Hudson River Valley, New York (yesterday)

Before I left the house today and enjoyed the headline and picture in the local paper, I walked down to the house where the float was being finished off.  The wheel turned, the scarecrow’s arms moved just as if it was full of straw, and the float was loaded onto the trailer ready to participate in the parade.  Being Saturday, I thought getting off the Island would be easier than getting on across all the bridges on Friday afternoon, but the traffic was horrific.  I think I shared the road with more cars in the last 12 hours than in the last 40 days of my trip.

I made two stops today.  First I went to Tarrytown which is home to several estates, Philipsburg Manor (portrayed in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow), Lyndhurst (“a baronial Gothic Revival home”), and Sunnyside (Washington Irving’s home).  In the spirit of Halloween events were being held at several of the homes.  Philipsburg Manor operates as a haunted house at night…that would have been fun to attend!

I chose to visit Washington Irving’s home.  Washington Irving was the first famous, American author who wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle.  The events of the day at Sunnyside included a magic show, a story-telling time, a spooky walk, scarecrow-making and more.  I toured Irving’s home which he purchased in 1835.  He spent the next several years remodeling the small stone cottage by adding a variety of romantic architecture features to the building including a Spanish tower, an Italian Piazza, and Dutch-stepped gables.

After my visit to Sunnyside, I took the dogs to Manitoga, the home and designed landscape of Russel Wright.  In 1930’s through the 1950’s, Wright was one of the best known designers of home furnishings in America.  He sounds like someone my mom would know.  Wright purchased an 80 acre parcel of land in 1942 that had been damaged by logging and quarrying.  Over the next 30 years, Wright restored the land making the area full of trails to look completely natural.

After our walk through the woods, we headed back to the Walmart where we stayed a few days ago after I stopped for a healthy dinner at Cracker Barrel. ETB

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Day 39 – New York’s Hudson River Valley

Hudson River Valley, New York (2 days ago)

I started the day out touring West Point.  My grandfather briefly attended here until it was determined he had cheated on the vision test by memorizing the eye chart, and he got kicked out.  The military requires excellent vision.  West Point is a self-contained community with its own post office, shopping, grocery and the like.  The tour was fantastic.  We first stopped at the chapel where we could get a glimpse of the back of the barracks where the cadets enjoy fun events in the courtyard as well as walking off their demerits.  Obviously, with very little free time, walking off demerits for five hours at a time is not the most enjoyable for them.  If the cadets rack up over 100 demerits, they join the century club of which two of our presidents were members, Grant and Eisenhower.

The chapel, technically a cathedral, but called a chapel in the military, is home to the largest pipe organ in a religious building in the world.  The pipes all range in size anywhere between a pencil and over 30 feet.  Inside the chapel, the hymnals are placed in measured alignment and flags from different times of the United States hang overhead.  In addition, a row, marked with a candle always sits empty no matter how many church goers are in attendance as it honors those missing in action.

After visiting the chapel, we stopped at the most photographed place at West Point, the point with the view of the Hudson River.  Next to this point, a statue inscribed with civil war leaders’ names stands in the middle of a ring of  granite balls sided by canons inscribed with the names of the significant civil war battles.  Another ring of cannons surrounding the monument are buried downward into the ground as a symbol to never fight among ourselves again as graduates of West Point were fighting each other in the war.

One item at West Point that I have never seen was solar power trash compacting trash cans…our government dollars at work?!?  I had to take a picture of it just because I was so surprised by it.  For anyone interested in weaponry, the museum at the visitor’s center is worth a visit…full of all sorts of spears, knifes, guns, all the way up to cases for atomic bombs and small tanks.

After my tour of West Point, the dogs and I took a walk at Bear Mountain State Park along with what seemed like a Japanese photography class.  We walked around a lake and up the Appalachian Trail about half way to the summit to which we had previously driven.  Fall foliage surrounded the sometimes steep, rocky trail, while geese floated peacefully in the lake.  Soon I headed toward Long Island.

My cousin Danny and his wife Allison hooked me up for an evening at their house in Long Island.  I met Liam here, an Irish Merchant Ship Captain who just got his European Flying License.  He is looking to meet the US FAA regulations as well.  He went into the City for the night while Danny, Allison, and I went to an Irish Pub in the neighborhood to watch the Rangers beat the Yankees! That was fun in a New York Bar.  After the Rangers win, we stopped to check on their daughter Claire’s Sophomore class float they were working on for homecoming tomorrow.  The theme was Wizard of Oz and the float was great.  I’m curious to know if they won. ETB

websites:  http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/13/details.aspx, www.usma.edu/visiting.asp

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maple leaf website copy

Day 20 – Lake Champlain Loop and the Adirondacks

Lake Champlain – Vermont/New York

So, I didn’t watch the sunset with Kord, as he was putting his kids down, but I did get a picture or two.  It wasn’t the best view for a sunset anyway.  We did end up sitting by the campfire until late.  He’s an ex tennis pro, who coached tennis at William and Mary.  The women’s tennis team was 8th in the country.  He has written an unpublished children’s book about Ollie the Camel and Goat the Sheep.   At one point he was planning on running for Congress on the Republican ticket, but I didn’t get the details on that.

Today I finished the southwestern part of the loop around Lake Champlain.  I drove through Port Henry, Westport, and Essex.  Not too much to report there.  I was planning on stopping in Essex at one of the “harbor’s charming cafes” for coffee, but I didn’t see one.  There were about 5 buildings and a ferry.  Perhaps I missed something.  I continued on to Willsboro Point.

Willsboro Point  is home to New York State’s first fish ladder that “affords migrating salmon a chance to overleap Willsboro Dam”.  I think I arrived after their travels for spawning season…I didn’t see any salmon.  None the less, I wanted to see a fish ladder as I don’t recall ever seeing one.

I had some extra time on my hands because none of the planned stops took very long, so I drove back to Lake Placid.  I spent part of the afternoon in the deli charging my computer and adding onto my maps.  I have succeeded in shorting out the 12 volt battery system in the back of the van, so I don’t have a charging mechanism unless I camp on electric.  Vermont’s state parks don’t seem to have electric.  After a chicken sandwich, Scout, Petey, and I went for a hike in the High Peaks Wilderness area near Lake Placid.

I chose a popular hike, judging by the cars.  I think it was called Cascade Falls Trail.  It was a 2.4 mile trail, so we just planned to walk for an hour.  I have finally figured out the trails in the Adirondacks are on waterfall beds that are active in the spring when the snow melts, but dry in the summer and fall unless of course it’s been raining.  I watched some people sink four inches into the mud.  Scout, Petey, and I maneuvered gingerly over the rocks, trying to avoid the mud at all costs.

I met Eric and Patty from Saratoga here.  Eric had an app that updated him on sports, so I got the run down…Rangers in first place…Cowboys didn’t play…the Jets are 3-1…Yankees and Tampa Bay were tied for the lead in their division…forgot to ask about the Giants.  Of course they didn’t like the Cowboys.  I asked what the media thought of Bill Parcells in New York, and they said he was loved.  I wish he were still the coach for the Cowboys…he built the team…I gave them 3 years to fall apart once he left.  I hope I’m wrong!  Patty took a handful of pictures…I’m looking forward to seeing them.

It was a nice little walk.  We turned around and crossed back over Lake Champlain via ferry.  It’s weird to see the picture of your car on the GPS in the middle of the lake!  I met up with Kord again.  He knew of a private campground on the river not far from the direction I was heading in the morning.  He cooked me chicken and mushroom ravioli!  I plan on meeting up with him tomorrow night too. ETB

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Mountain Goat Keychain thumbnail