A Travellerspoint blog

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NYC

22/05/12

overcast 21 °C

Today started with a bloody battle against a tough bagel. I cut my finger with a knife. Paul had to go and get some antibiotic ointment and heavy duty plasters. When it stopped bleeding we were able to get on with the day.

Got the bus to Battery Park to get the ferry to see the Liberty and Ellis Islands. The City Pass once again minimized queuing but not by much. There was airport level security and long lines (lots and lots of people). I was rugged up, thinking it would be chilly on the water, especially after yesterday's temperature, but in fact it was rather humid and warm. We got a nice view of the Lady and really should have stayed on the boat to go straight to Ellis Island, but silly me thought it would be good to have a closer look. It really made no difference and we had to line up a long time to get back on the boat. Ellis Island was much better. Here we learnt about the immigrants arriving in the early part of last century. I can imagine that this would be more interesting if your ancestors were among these people. As it was, it was very well laid out and fewer people in the part we looked at, which was the registry area. This is where the immigrants'd arrived, were screened, detained, sent off into the other parts of the country. There were real life anecdotes which is always good to get an idea of how it really was. I thought it was very well presented.

We took the ferry back to Battery Park where there were some street performers doing a bit of breakdancing. They talked too much. After that we took the subway to Brooklyn in search of a different Macy's department store. We popped up street level in an area that was most certainly not a tourist zone! Everybody was black American or Hispanic with the whole shebang: bling, hairdos, nails, too tight (ladies) or too baggy (men) trousers, big heels, broad accents, bootleg CDs on sale on shifty tables on the sidewalk. I reckon I might have not looked too conspicuous on my own, but with Paul and his red beard we looked really out of place there. Anyway at Macy's I found a couple of bargains and then we took the subway back to our neck of the woods. On the way back to the apartment we stopped to eat dinner at Katz deli. It was very surprisingly without hordes of people. In fact it was not even half full. Paul had to have his pastrami sandwich with mustard and I had bagel with lox and cream cheese. Also we tried a couple of different knishes. Not convinced about these, they are way too stodgy. So in case anyone doesn't know why we had to go to this deli - it's because it is famous and old and had that famous scene from the movie "When Harry Met Sally".

Tomorrow is the last full day here. In hindsight, I think we should have explored smaller mueseums and galleries, and the local area instead of chasing a big ticket item like MoMA. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Anyone for whipped cream flavored vodka? Apparently that is available, it is advertised on TV. Adverts are interesting in foreign countries. Every little thing is interesting actually, like the little 3 wheeled cars the police use here and there. There are Park police, Harvard police, MIT police and police in unmarked cars that are so bombed out and old, that you get the fright of your life when they put on the blues and twos and gun it through the intersection you are about to cross.

Talking of gunning it, sometimes the Subway goes so fast you really understand the word "hurtle" in the purest sense. I saw a rat on the line yesterday. I wonder if they are deaf?

I heard "Englishman in New York" (by Sting) today.

Posted by fay_bee 17:47 Comments (2)

NYC

23/05/12

semi-overcast 25 °C

Last full day in NYC. We managed to fit in the last of the Big Ticket items: the American Natural History Museum and the Met. Also we had a quick look at the Guggenheim but didn't pay to go in.

So the ANHM. Our early arival lulled us into a false sense of tranquility and space until squadrons of school children descended in almighty cacophony. The walls and corridors reverberated with these excitable people. Luckily some areas were more busy than others so there were pockets to escape to. The entry ticket included an IMAX film. We waited about 30 mins then I overheard a guide tell somebody in the queue that they were having technical difficulties. Very annoying Becuase we'd been told to line up early and then they didn't tell us what was happening. My head was exploding from the noise and irritation knowing there was a whole museum waiting to be explored but we were stuck in a line seemingly going nowhere. There was a French bonhomme in the line and so I passed some time talking to him, in French. We gave up the queue to see the bioluminescene special exhibit for which we paid a lot extra. It was a bit of a rip off. Nothing natural in there, all plastic shapes lit up with UV. Not happy so far.... But then we had a look at the gems and minerals which was an absolutely fabulously put together exhibition. Could have spent all day in there. The geology and chemistry was explained by well.
By now, it was time to move along, though in eating to the exit we saw even more beautiful exhibits. I think we chose the wrong order to look at things, but having said that 2 of those things were at set times so we had no choice.

We took a cross town bus through Central Park to the Museum Mile where the big and wonderful Metropolitan Museum of Art is. What an impressive building, inside and out! Just fabulous. Before going inside we had a look at the Guggenheim exterior and foyer. It was certainly a lovely building and seems to exude calm in its roundness amongst all the angles and skyscrapers.

We had less than 2 hours to look in the Met so we just walked into the European Masters to see the really old stuff. Like you see in Europe! No crowds, no kids, no camera toting hordes. Bliss in art at last. The Met is too big. It breaks my heart to walk passed so many masterpieces but time did not permit. Better than nothing. Got to see more Tiffany glass which is always a highlight.

Paul ate a hotdog from a street vendor. Mission accomplished.

Another lightening stop on 5th Ave before getting back to the East Village, collect laundry, change into new shoes and then wander down to the worlds tiniest Venezuelan cafe. It's called Caracas and makes homemade arepas. OMG delicious. We were squished into a tiny eating space (all part of the experience). On the way home we stopped at an artisan ice cream parlor serving homemade biodynamic organic extra scummy ice creams. I ask myself why we find these places the day before we leave? These and so many more made themselves visible to me during these last couple of days. My answer is that perhaps when it is all new and overhelming you can't see the wood for the trees.

Time to pack and ready for morning departure to Philadelphia by train tomorrow. Have just started to settle into a pattern here, but a new adventure lies ahead.

Posted by fay_bee 17:34 Comments (0)

Philly

sunny

Philadelphia
24/05/12 and 25/05/12

There is no wifi in the Sofitel hotel so these entries will be late.

The train ride from NYC was a quick 1h 25m, I almost fell asleep.  Manhattan has really  worn me out, along with the insomnia, so it was with huge relief that we arrived at the wonderful and magnificent 30th St station. The golden era of train travel is still tangible here with the massive columns, enormous waiting areas, wooden benches and large windows. The station from the outside is larger than Buckingham Palace, or a least that how it looked to me.  It was raining when we got here but it was not cold.

As usual when arriving in a new place, we had a look around the local vicinity to see what there is.  I loved this city immediately. The roads are narrower, many are one way which makes it easier to cross.  The corners are a bit tight though, so sometimes trucks mount the curb!  Again, like Chicago there is superb architecture and the history simply oozes from the walls of old buildings.

We found ourselves in the Rittenhouse Square park.  For some reason there was an abundance of toddlers all about the same age being held by parents to splash in the puddles.  Pretty cute!  The public spaces in the cities we've visited have so far and for the most part, been well kept, beautiful and charming oases to sit and relax.  Big trees, statues, benches and people strolling make them really pleasant.  I have also noticed that everywhere on this holiday, some people's gardens and public/commercial properties look artificial. This is due to the careful arrangement of pretty plants that look fake.

It was getting on into the evening, but I wanted to see the Rosenbach Museum and Library.  It was fortunately still open and empty! We took a guided tour with another couple to through the house and library.  This house was the home of 2 exceedingly rich Jewish bachelor brothers in the early 1900s.  One was a business man, the other was an avid collector and sell of antique books.  These guys were like the Bill Gates of today because the figures mentioned were absolutely astounding in today's money.  Here is a handful of first or second editions in this library, some of which we were able to view: first edition Don Quixote in the 2 parts, Alice in wonderland, the first book printed in America, pages from James Joyce's manuscript for Ulysses, Jonathan Swift, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Bunyon, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens and many many more notable authors and their lovely leather bound ancient books.  It was mind bending.  I am a book nerd.

Had to dash back to the hotel to meet my friend Merry and her husband Craig.  We enjoyed a cocktail in the Lou be, the set off to find the restaurant called Friday, Saturday Sunday, which apparently has inherited the chef or owners (not sure) of the now closed Le Bec Fin which was THE top restaurant in Philly in its day.  Needless to say, the food was tops and the company was fun, so a really good finish to the first day in the city of brotherly love.

Today, a late start because the bed was magnetic and I couldn't release myself from its marshmallowy grip.  We needed to find a place to eat breakfast.  This is not a problem, there are a trillion options for eating.

Paul's itinerary for today was for me to go on some retail therapy alone.  This is a good idea.  It is not pleasant or relaxing to shop when you know someone is waiting.  I have seen so many enticing shops on this holiday and not been able for many reasons, to indulge.  But fortunately, on what would be the best shopping area so far on this holiday (Walnut St) I needed no further encouragement.  For one thing, I have found it very easy to navigate Philadelphia and the shop windows are much easier to look into (you don't have a human tsunami to deal with).
Now I can't say I saw the inside of many shops because I was absorbed by an amazing shop full of fashionable exercise wear, so this is where I stayed.

Today, in contrast to yesterday, was really warm and eventually sunny.  It has been variable and unpredictable but not cold. Nice walking weather so we had a very long walk of discovery down to the Benjamin Franklin bridge, passing through historical alleyways with cobblestones and narrow tall houses where many Irish families lived in the 1700s.  You could almost detect residual odors of bacon and cabbage.

The so called Old City is rather nice, if somewhat touristified, but when wandering around on foot you can always find things that guide books don't mention.  Surely not amongst these things was the grave of Ben Franklin and the sensory stimulant known as the Reading Terminal Market.  This place is a veritable den of fresh and handmade food. Let me mention some of what I saw: chocolate moulded into the shape of brains, lungs, kidneys and colons. Chocolate covered whole brown onions on sticks.  Amish pastries, hot pretzels, Philly cheesesteaks, Amish home preserves and pickles including fabulous chili jelly which I wanted to buy.... But I did buy some whole, dehydrated crunchy okra.  I rationalize that this is a way to get some vegetables into a holiday diet which invariable ends up being too starchy as an unfortunate consequence of sheer convenience.
Becoming tired by now, we hopped onto a nearby tourist trolley bus and blobbed  in the air conditioning west being driven about, seeing the landmarks and gorgeous buildings.

Now it is evening, I have no appetite, but will suss out the creperie around the corner.  An unexpected featured of the area where we are staying, is that it is called the Latin Quarter and there is a French tinge to things around here!

A side note.  When I was about 8 or 9, I would eat entire blocks of Philly cheese. When I learnt that Philadelphia was a place, a city no less, I made a promise to myself that one day I would go to place that was named after the cheese (not the other way round)!  So here I am and how happy am I?  Philadelphia is a beautiful city. And I'm feeling the lerve.
 

Posted by fay_bee 16:42 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Philadelphia

26/05/12

semi-overcast 25 °C

This will have to be a quick entry. Opportunistic use of wifi at the 30th St station, about to leave for DC.
Yesterday, the weather became even more sultry. Did not expect such weather here, but really enjoying it. It was destined to be a busy day, packing in 2 big must-dos: Eastern State Penitentiary and the Frankilin Institute. ESP is a short bus ride away. It looks like an old fortress or castle in the middle of American inner city. I guess it is so. This was the first true penitentiary and had a unique design for its day, a radial shape so that prisoners could be viewed from the centre. Without going into too much detail, it was derelict, unkept and brilliant. Unlike other historical prisons, this one was left as it was and has a forceful impact that way. The only cell prettied up was that of Al Capone. It was lavish with a radio, rugs, lampshades and wooden writing desk. The hospital and dental area was enlightening. Al Capone had his tonsils taken out in there.
Next, a visit to the Franklin Institute which was a magnificent building with a specks light and sound show in the foyer. We went here specifically to see the exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls. There was a lot of ancient and biblical time artifacts like household items, preserved food, sandals, pottery, endless pottery, and of course fragments of the scrolls. There was only one piece big enough to be called a scroll. Apart form this the writing is teeny tiny and hard to see. It's amazing they have been translated at all. The rest of the museum was like a large Scitech in Perth, with many hand-on exhibits which were fun at any age. We walked through a giant heart model and tried to fly a model plane in a wind tunnel.
We had an early evening meal and cocktail outside the Comcast Centre. From there you can see into the lobby where the famous LED wall display shows crispy clear videos of scenery and people who look like they a climbing the wall or dancing above the doorways. The panels will intermittently change like a chameleon to look just like the surrounding walls and if you didn't know it was a wall of LED you would wonder where that clock went, or why are there people falling from the ceiling? Very very clever stuff.

Next stop is Washington DC for some Memorial Day holiday fun.

Posted by fay_bee 08:43 Comments (0)

Washington DC

27/05/12

storm 26 °C

Yesterday we left Philadelphia by train, the last train ride for this holiday. Sad about that. The trains are such a nice mode of transport, particularly when the stations are so big and grand and the trains are modern, clean, on time and very comfy. I wish there was more of it.

The train was full because it is the Memorial Day holiday long weekend here so people are travelling. Arriving at Union Station, another grand building fit to be a museum really, you'd be forgiven to think you'd just crossed several latitudes south. It was hot here! The traffic was pretty bad but temporary because I think we'd just missed the Rolling Thunder parade which is a traditional motorcycle parade through the streets for memorial day. For the rest of the day, there were residual bikers around on their Harleys.

Either from lack of imagination, laziness or because of too many choices, the hotel we reserved during the planning stages 6 months ago is the same one I stayed in during my May 2001 business trip. Hotel Lombardy is a tall Victorian heritage listed hotel with much quirk. None of the rooms are the same. It creaks. It's furnished in 1920 Chinese style here and there. Anyway it also boasts the same street address as the president - Pennsylvania avenue so needless to say, we are on a good street (just a way further from the action centre).

Bit of an eerie atmosphere outside. There was a storm brewing and the air was thick. Most shops and cafes were closed for the holiday and there was only a few people milling around. I think DC has changed since I've been here. It feels even bigger and there are many construction sites and road works going on. So we walked about to look at the area and work out where to go for the memorial day concert on the west lawn on Capitol hill.
Not too hard to find a landmark of this fame surrounded by a huge crowd of patriotic people! There was a long queue to get through the security screen. Getting used to this process by now. We arrived a few mins before the concert started and found a patch of lawn to sit on. The grass is different here and it doesn't seem to see the blades of a mower too often so it was rather like sitting in a meadow with a thousand people.
Now as I need not explain, Americans are masters in matters of ceremony and organization, therefore this concert was unlike any I've been to. And certainly unlike any war memorial service we have in Australia or England. Interspersed between songs sung by famous singers (none known to me, but an American Idol finalist sang the national anthem), were tributes to the wounded and killed. It was quite melodramatic and obviously moving to those who have been affected. The emphasis was on the Afghanistan war, but there was also mention of Iraq and the wars of the 60s and 70s. Colin Powell spoke. We couldn't see him despite 3 big video screens, one of which was suspended by a crane about 60 feet in the air. The storm was making this sultry night intensify and some people started to leave. We left too because we had to walk back to the hotel. Just as well because as we got back the rain started. The sky was purple and there was lightning. It didn't seem to stop couples from dancing argentine tango on freedom plaza though. Most odd.

Night time is great for looking at the massive buildings. They are lit up so wonderfully, it maximizes their appearance. There is no shortage of statement in DC. There is a lot of power here and that is what these buildings speak of.

After a grapple with the antiquated air conditioner, I managed a good sleep in another marshmallow super king sized bed.

Stay tuned for today's entry. This hotel has wifi!

Posted by fay_bee 05:39 Comments (0)

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