New York City -- July 2008
We're in our hotel room now, a little bit later than expected but we arrived without any significant problems.
The flight from the island was just as easy and awesome as expected. We walked the ten minutes from our apartment and arrived just half an hour early and checked in without any hassles. That airport is awesome! Plus the terminal renovations are all done so it's bigger and prettier than the time I flew to Montreal. The flight even had a small meal on it. It was just airplane food but it was pretty unexpected on a flight that lasts just over an hour.
Of course the peace and quiet ended when we got to Newark Airport in New Jersey. It was pretty busy and took forever to clear customs. Pearson Airport has US customs officials right there that you go through before your flight but the Porter airport is much too small for that. This may be the only benefit of Pearson over Porter for flying to New York. Anyway, we grabbed the airport train to the NJ Transit train station and then caught the same $15 commuter train I took with Rob on my Germany trip to Penn Station in New York.
Penn Station is pretty close to Times Square, so it was even busier than the airport. But we fought through the crowds and walked to our hotel. It ended up being a bit farther than I thought it would be, but nothing too unmanageable.
The hotel is really nice, I'm quite impressed given that it's only costing us $237 per night. New York has some of the highest hotel prices in North America and $237 is a really good deal for the hotel we got. When I first started looking for hotels the best I had found was $200 per night for a one star hotel without air conditioning and pretty out of the way. Our hotel was a four star hotel and was located less than a 10 minute walk from Times Square and even closer to several subway stations. Not bad! The hotel room is pretty standard, but it's clean and the bed is a King and super comfortable. There is a network drop for Internet but it seems to require payment for anything other than Gmail. Works for me! I only wanted email access anyway.
Anyway, we're going to sleep now as it's been a long day for Kim (she worked all day) and we have lots to do tomorrow.
Today is Canada day, and Kim wore white and red, but other than that we didn't do anything to celebrate Canada's birthday.
We started out this morning with a quick breakfast and then grabbed the subway to the World Trade Centre site. I was caught off guard by how intense and moving it was. The WTC site covers a HUGE area and the sky is just empty there. That's a really big deal in New York where there are skyscrapers everywhere and the roads can feel like canyons formed out of buildings.
The site is mostly cleaned out but it's all blocked off and you can only catch glimpses inside. They're in the process of building a new WTC building and also a monument to the originals. They are clearing out the original foundations of the two buildings and are going to make huge fountains in the pits. It looks like it will be pretty neat once it's done.
From the WTC site we walked out to the water and followed it around the south tip of Manhattan to the Staten Island ferry. The Staten Island ferry is just a free ferry to Staten Island mostly used by commuters to get to and from work in Manhattan. However it's also a super cheap and super fast way to get a good view of the Statue of Liberty. Ever since 9/11 you can't go up to the top of it anymore, so it's not really worth while to wait in line forever to pay lots of money to get a boat out to the island it stands on. So, we took the big orange Staten Island ferry past it and then got on another and went right back to Manhattan.
For lunch we went to Katz's Deli, a really yummy/famous Jewish deli on the lower east side. I got a Reuben that was way too much for me to eat, but since it was delicious I ate most of it anyway. I got to watch the "cutter" slice the meat for my sandwich off a huge chunk of cow and then later I saw a cart of equal sized hunks come out of the kitchen for more sandwiches. The place was big and busy so I imagine they go through several large herds of cattle every day there.
After lunch we headed over to TKTS in Times Square to try to get cheap theatre tickets for the evening. It's a pretty good deal, you just can't be too picky about what you want to see as not everything is always available. Fortunately there are lots of good shows so it's easy to pick out a few. Tonight we have tickets to "Avenue Q" which is a musical with Sesame Street style puppets that's supposed to be hilarious. I can't wait!
Right now we're resting at the hotel for a bit before heading out for supper. Not sure where we'll go yet, so I have to go figure that out.
We are back in the hotel now after supper and seeing "Avenue Q" and I must say that it was a great evening! We went to Chelsea Market for supper and to look around and it was pretty cool. It's a bit like St. Lawrence market in Toronto but smaller and more fancy/expensive. For supper we had a really big salad and a bunch of yummy fruit that we bought at a little produce stall in the market. We finished up with ice cream from Ronnybrook Dairy, which is a local dairy that produces organic milk which is pasteurized at low temperatures to preserve all of the goodness inherent in milk. The ice cream made from such milk is of course delicious! The shop had lots of cool old fashioned milk bottles and crates in it too which was pretty cool.
Avenue Q was hilarious! The cast was a mix of people playing roles and puppets (that were controlled by other people). There was no attempt at ventriloquism, if anything the people controlling the puppets matched the puppets facial/mouth expressions exactly. It was almost like they were doubles of each other. Anyway, it was really well done and very much worth seeing. It's coming to Toronto in August, and if I see cheap tickets I'll be very tempted to go again.
It didn't seem like we did too much today, but when I stop to write it all down I realize that we actually did quite a bit!
We started out the morning by heading to the West Village to hit up the Patisserie Claude for croissants for breakfast. I looked some stuff up on Chowhound before leaving and this place is supposed to have the best in New York! It turned out to be just a little hole in the wall shop, not really clean or shiny or anything and the French dudes running the place were super gruff and unresponsive. But damn those were good croissants!! I don't know if they are the best in New York, but if they aren't I can't even begin to imagine what the best must taste like. We got two butter croissants that were super flaky on the outside and chewy tender and buttery on the inside. They weren't too buttery though, just enough to leave a fine shean of grease on the fingertips. We also got a brioche that was pretty good and a Pain au Chocolat that was just as good as the croissants. To top of the breakfast we picked up some watermelon and orange juice in a local grocery store and we ate it all in the interesting but sketchy Christopher Park.
After breakfast we wandered up to Union Square to check out the giant Whole Foods store and the Union Square greenmarket. I've never been to a Whole Foods before and although we have one in Toronto too it was still neat to see it. The greenmarket was also pretty cool, although a bit underwhelming. We probably got there a bit too late in the day.
Next we dropped off some stuff at the hotel and then got in line again for tickets to a show for the evening. We met a nice lady from Florida who has family in Canada while waiting in line. She complained a bit about the housing market in Orlando which recently crashed making it impossible to sell anything. Is this ever going to happen in Toronto? As a potential first time home buyer it would be awesome if it did. Anyway, talking with the lady passed the time nicely. We ended up getting tickets to Rent today which I'll speak more of later.
We messed up our meal timings today so at about 4:00pm we went for lunch at atraditional New York style pizza place near our hotel. It was good, but nothing too special. After eating we took the subway up to Central Park and enjoyed a nice walk around the southern section. The park is just gigantic, but we covered a decent amount of ground and exited just north of the Museum of Natural History on the west side.
At this point we had to get going to catch our show so we hopped on the subway, made a quick stop at the hotel and headed out. Rent was pretty good, although I think I enjoyed Avenue Q more. Kim sang a lot of the songs in choir in high school so she enjoyed it quite a bit. It was not exactly a happy uplifting show, but it was still good.
I was hungry again after the show so I grabbed some street meat before as we walked through the lights of Times Square. It's just so unbelievably bright there at night and there are a million things to look at. We stopped in at the cheesy, multi-story M&M's store on our way through and it was pretty amusing. Apparently M&M's has branded everything in the world.
This morning we went for a fancier sit down breakfast at "Sarabeth's" which is a restaurant just south of the Central Park. It was pretty standard breakfast food but it was well done and not too expensive. The highlight for me was their special breakfast juice which was a mix of orange, pineapple, banana and pomegranate.
After breakfast we wandered around FAO Schwartz looking at all the crazy toys and awesome giant stuffed animals. Kim picked up some presents for her younger cousins. We also stopped at the awesome underground Apple store with its crazy glass top (see pictures below). Then we dropped off our stuff at the hotel and got on a subway to the far end of Brooklyn to visit Coney Island and Brighton Beach.
Coney Island is pretty touristy and ghetto, but it was also a lot of fun. It was a beautiful sunny day today and there were a lot of people out having fun. We got some hotdogs for lunch from "Nathan's" which is the sponsor of the famous annual Independence Day hotdog eating contest. The hotdogs were yummy and an excellent meal for a day on the beach.
The beach was packed with New Yorkers cooling off. The water was cold, but not too cold and we spend a bunch of time wading around and taking pictures and walking in the sand. It was really nice and relaxing after the craziness of Manhattan. At one point a dead jellyfish washed up on shore, but other than that it was a pretty normal excursion to the beach.
Before leaving we got some ice cream to tide us over on the hour long subway ride back to our hotel. Ice cream is important.
For supper tonight we went to a yummy Italian place called Malatesta in the West Village. This was another find from Chowhound that was listed as the best casual Italian in the city. Once again I must agree that it was very good. We sat on the patio as the sun set and a cool breeze came up off the ocean. It's in a quieter part of the city too so it was very peaceful and relaxed. We started with bruschetti that appeared just two minutes after ordering it. For mains we had cheese ravioli in pink sauce (super delicious!!) and gnocci in tomato sauce (regular delicious!!). Then we finished it off with a slice of Tiramisu for dessert (super duper delicious!!!). The staff at the place were very attentive as well. I don't think I would have ever found this place just by wandering around so I'm glad I took the time to research online before leaving.
After supper we walked around the area, along Christopher Street Pier and then back through the fancy neighbourhoods in the area. A bunch of famous people apparently live there and I can believe it. The houses and apartments looked really nice and really big, which all means really expensive. The area was also very clean and well maintained. It was definitely a fun place to wander around aimlessly.
Once it was dark we returned to Times Square to take photos and visit the awesomely large Toys 'R Us. Finally we finished up the evening with a trip to the top of the Rockefeller Centre (30 Rock), for an awesome view of the city at night. I've been up the Empire State Building three times before and I didn't want to do that again, but I always like going up tall things when I'm visiting cities so I figured going up the Rockefeller Centre would be something fun and new. I wasn't expecting it to be a better though! It was cheaper and faster because fewer people do it. And the views of the city include the Empire State Building (something that is missing when you are on top of it). Plus the viewing area is larger and has fewer obstructions. Sure it's not quite as tall, but at 70 stories it's tall enough. I don't think I'll ever do the Empire State Building again, and I don't think I'll recommend it to people going there either.
Today we slept in because it was the end of our trip and we didn't really have much time to do anything large today. Plus since it is Independence Day many things aren't even open. Anyway, we checked out and stored our bags with the hotel's desk and then went out for breakfast at a corner diner place.
We then walked to the main branch of the New York Central Library and looked around a bit. The library part was closed but we were able to see a cool display of original documents related to the Declaration of Independence. Plus we were able to wander the main entrance area of the library which is an impressive bit of architecture.
Our next and last stop for the day was the United Nations on the east side. So we started walking and eventually made it out the East River. Unfortunately the UN was completely closed for the day. We couldn't even get close enough to see anything at all! It was a bit disappointing but we were out of time so we headed back to the hotel and caught a cab back to the train station. Then after a quick train ride we were at Newark Airport and 15 minutes later we were checked in and ready to go. I was worried about Independence Day traffic and extra security but the airport was almost completely dead. So we were there way too early and had quite a long wait but it was quiet and relaxing so I didn't mind too much.
The flight back was uneventful, but the arrival in Toronto had two bits of excitement. First, we got frisked pretty good by the customs folks at the border. They took us aside and rummaged through our bags looking for illegal contraband or something. I think the problem was that we didn't really claim a lot of stuff on our customs form despite spending four days in New York. We just didn't do a lot of shopping. Is that crazy? Anyway, they didn't find anything incriminating so we were eventually waved on.
The second event occurred when we got off the ferry at the foot of Bathurst street. We were accosted by people from the island protesting the airport and Porter Airlines. They claimed we were killing their children by flying with Porter. Now I understand that air travel is a heavy polluter and I admit that we didn't need to fly to New York. However, we both have limited vacation time and the next best option is a twelve hour train ride. To me, the problem here is a lack of better options and the protesters time would be better spent promoting high speed rail links that would make Porter irrelevant. Furthermore, by choosing Porter over Air Canada we avoided having to travel to Pearson Airport along the always crowded Gardiner and we also traveled on a plane that is far more efficient than those that Air Canada flies (The Q400s in the Porter fleet are some of the most efficient planes of their size in the world). It seems weird to me to be protesting a company that is making an effort to meet demand for a service in the most environmentally friendly way possible.
Anyway, it was a good trip and as a result of the protesters I spent some time researching the issues around the island airport and now feel slightly more informed about it.