New York State of Mind

I read somewhere that a travel story should have a ‘story’. Something that connects the whole thing. A comprehensive thing. A quest… things noted… things observed… things… well… that and a whole lot more.

The problem was, I went to NY with no goal in mind except to see the city. No clue how to do it. And the reasons for it was even not mine. Geo was having a milestone birthday and NYC was cheap at the time he had gone looking.

On the first night there, dinner needed to be secured. That was five long blocks from our hotel on 55th – the Carvi Hotel – to where these halal guys were (that’s what they were really called – The Halal Guys!). I was tired and hungry. I could have happily taken a bag of food back to our hotel from one of the eateries near the place. And then plopped down on the bed and slept. (The food was delicious! Worth the long line! And pretty cheap!!!!)

Then he asked what my list was in the things I wanted to see in NYC. The lady was out of the question as it requires reservations months and months ahead. However, I still wanted to see her. Even if it’s faraway. As long as a glimpse of the lady was seen.

So my list went like this: The lady, the bull, Wall street, Central Park (Alice, castle, Imagine), 30 Rock, Prometheus, ice skating in front of 30 Rock, Brooklyn Bridge, 911 memorial, Times Square, Grand Central Station. Jelle added that I ought to taste NYC pizza and hotdogs.

What did I know of any of them? Nothing. Not one darn thing. Did not read up on them except superficially. I had no time since I was too busy.

We walked to 30 Rock the night we landed, after the halal guys. And found Prometheus. In front of the skating rink we never set foot on. (Another day). We also went looking for Atlas on the other side of the Rockefeller building, in front of the church – St. Patrick’s. Since it was Sunday and I missed the service, I asked to go in to pray.

It was a bit difficult as Geo liked to talk and kept regaling me with the shallow history of the place as compared to even the churches in Italy. All I wanted was to be able to bow my head, feel the peace of the place, and let the prayer in my heart burst forth. I finally asked quietly if I could take a few seconds to pray. And finally left alone to my thoughts, I prayed. So, this was New York City.

Prayer done, we walked the length of 5th avenue, as he pointed out landmarks in case I got lost. It was a teeming city and probably very easy to get lost in. I suppose I could always turn on google maps and it would take me back to home base. But this author’s ears were like a channel. In one ear and out the other. Nothing was sticking to my tired brain.

The next day, he took me to see the lady. Our first stop was metro passes. He again wished we had gotten the unlimited option when we had gotten off the plane. I would so recommend it. Still, he filled our metro cards with $30 each.

We got off on Battery Park and walked up. So this was Battery Park. Huh. Not really much to look at. But there was a hotdog cart, Nathans. $7?!?! For a hotdog? Seriously? George laughed and said, “Should have just bought the $5.00 one from the airport. That one came with a drink.” I shook my head and sighed. No New York hotdog for me I guess if they cost that much!

We took the Staten Island ferry to see the lady, and took another ferry back right away. We weren’t the only ones rushing to the other ferry either! It seemed like we were part of a herd. Even one passenger had a self-deprecating laugh about it. “I thought I was the only one who knew about this,” he laughed as he kept pace with us. We got in just in the nick of time. The ferry employees were about to close the gates, much to their amusement, as they cut the herd in half.

Back on ground, we walked to the bull and touched its considerable masculinity. “This didn’t use to be such an attraction. Now, there are so many people here,” he reminisced.

“I thought he’d be in front of the NYSE,” I muttered. My tour guide laughed and told me that the artist dropped it off in the middle of Wall Street in the dead of night..

After some photos, we walked the length of Wall Street to see NYSE… as well as Federal Hall with Geo Washington guarding it. Apparently, New York City was the birthplace of the United States.

Dusk had fallen and the light show was starting. It’s usually when the city comes to life. Rivers of light spread before us, opening one section at a time. We took time to allow my feet some rest. And Geo to take pictures. Then we followed a well worn path towards the tavern where the Declaration was signed. And could not find it. And we walked towards another destination. The Stark white Oculus came into view (I told Geo it looked like a big female genitalia from my standpoint. He laughed.) and next to that, one Peace plaza. Then the two waterfalls…

And again I heard legends from my whispering tour guide. “You know, there’s a hole for each person that died,” he said. “So this memorial is supposed to represent their endless tears.”

Huh? Oh. Each hole where the water gushes out of represents one person that died in the 911 attack. I see.

It was the 2nd day that had me swearing to find more comfortable shoes to pack next time. Shoes to walk in 24 hours of the day because that’s what it seemed like we were doing. Early in the morning, we walked. We walked fast. Like the business people weaving their way around tourists and others too slow. We stopped to pick up a bagel and coffee from a cart vendor.

“They’re only here around this time. 5AM until maybe 10. After that, you’ll see the lunch carts,” he said. The bagels were still a buck fifty, like he remembered from years ago. And the coffee? $1. Cheap breakfast in a city that thrives on making things expensive. Except… I’m used to getting my bagel toasted.

We got in line for standby tickets at 30 Rock. For Seth Meyers. (Yes, we did get in to see the show. But that’s another tale entirely.) And once we secured our tickets for tickets, we went on our way. To Grand Central Station.

“There’s a place here where if you talk to the corner, the person in the other corner will hear you,” my guide said.

“Really?” I said. “And you know where this corner is?”

“It was during the prohibition,” he continued his story. “The wine harkers would have a lookout for the police and that was how they used that to warn the others when police was coming. I still haven’t found it though.”

In my mind, it would probably have to be somewhere near the food court then. But what do I know? I’m not the guide and more than once, I can attest that I know nothing and he can definitely prove it. So I let him lead me to where he thought it would be. Although it seemed a little strange to me since it was by ateliers and boutiques more than food. At just that moment, two guide workers came by and laughed.

“You can’t do that here,” the man said.

The woman came and said, “Oi, you don’t wanna do that here! People be thinking some crazy woman is talking to the corner!”

“You know what we’re trying to do?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah, but it’s not there,” the man said.

“Would you know where it is?” I asked.

“Down by the food court. You go straight this way and turn left,” the lady instructed.

I thanked them profusely for their care of my reputation and for the information.

I laughed at George and we walked down towards the direction they said. And lo and behold, there it was. A four cornered marble arched way before the food court. And we’re not the only one who knew of it. There were others there, testing this phenomenon. Of course, we too, tried it. We faced two opposite corners and spoke to each other, marveling how clear we both sounded and that the other opposite corners could not hear our conversation as well, nor could we hear theirs. Though for something so remarkable, I’m surprised not too many people were lined up trying this. A smattering at the most.

From there, we went to the NYC library. And didn’t stay. My guide knew nothing of the library and didn’t really want to know, I suppose. So we went looking for a subway.

“Look for a structure with green balls,” he instructed.

I saw it, the balls.

“Balls,” I said, pointing to a wall.

Plastered to what seemed like the wall of the NYC’s library’s right side. Either he didn’t hear me or he dismissed those balls. They were green and white. He continued looking all around the area of the four corner crossing. I saw people entering the wall. And getting out of it.

“Hey,” I finally said, louder. “Is it that one?”

“Where?”

“Behind us. People were going in and getting out of it,” I said.

He looked up and saw the green and white balls from the ornate fencing posts.

“That’s it! I told you, didn’t I? Green balls? Sometimes its green and white,” he said, marching off to the subway. “Sometimes, it’s red also.”

Uh-huh. So subway entrances are built into the buildings and they look like they’re part of the building. They’re signaled by balls. Hmmm… This is NYC.

We got off at the Brooklyn Bridge. What did I know of the bridge? Only that it is one of the most sold read “scammed” bridges in the US.

“It was completed by a woman,” my tour guide told me. “They got the name caisson’s disease from diving deep down and they didn’t understand the bends at that time. The architect died of the bends, then his son died for the same reasons, and I think the original architect’s wife was the one that completed the bridge. This was before they understood that a person needs to decompress slowly.” (He was wrong. It was the son’s wife that completed the bridge.)

I pointed out that a plaque by Tiffany had a grammatical error.

We walked across the bridge and at the end, turned around. We marveled at the webbing effect the wires made when we photograph the bridge at a certain angle.

I marveled at the people. I marveled at the fact that I was walking across wooden planks right on top of the car traffic below as they zoomed on by. He spoke of DUMBO. And that we could probably walk to there. (We left that for another day. It was lunch time, I was hungry and we still needed to get back to 30 rock before 3:30 – I thought.)

On our way out of the bridge, we met a couple (both male), dressed to the nines, holding hands, with boutonnieres on their black suit jackets. I smiled and called out, “Congratulations!” The groom closest to me answered with a smile, “Thanks!”

George sidled close to me and asked, “What did you say to them?”

“I said congratulations,” I replied.

“Why?”

“They just got married,” I said.

“How do you know that?” he asked.

Was it not obvious to him? Two men in suits with white dress shirts, holding hands, a red rose boutonniere on both of their lapels… obvious! They just got hitched. But I think it was just obvious to me.

We went to Times square and walked the length of it, just as the sun was about to go down. And it was a lively venue. We ate dirty water hotdogs and pretzels. We walked around Broadway and found the venues for the musicals. So that was Times Square.

“Why do you think they call it Times Square?” he asked.

“I’m thinking because once upon a time, one of the buildings was owned by the NY Times?”

“Good guess!” he said. “That was the New York Times headquarters.” He pointed to a building standing on the tip of a triangular strip of land.

He went on to tell me about the New Year’s ball dropping and just how big this ball happens to be from the ground. It wasn’t big at all. And glory of all glories! It was there! High up on the tower! Just not lit up.

Times Square was full of people. People in costumes. Pikachu, Iron Man, Mickey… etc. Characters anyone would know. There was also a man dressed like the Statue of Liberty. They expected payment for a picture with them. There were shoppers there as well, since up and down the street were shops of every kind. Up above the shops were adverts in neon and LED TVs. Marquees and street signs. And I didn’t even realize I was chomping down on a dirty water hotdog ($4 for a fingerling thin tube of meat wrapped in a regulation sized bun- no soda) right under the Hard Rock café’s guitar neon sign.

There were street cleaners complete with dustpan and broom. It was like a carnival.

“It wasn’t like this before,” he said. “There were lots of shops of the baser nature kind. Hookers on every turn. It’s like the red light district in San Francisco. And many vagrants. It smelled of urine and human waste.”

“Looks pretty nice now,” I said.

“Guiliani cleaned it up,” he said.

The New York Metropolitan Museum was another adventure. Feet aching, all day venturing edventure. We took advantage of the many free guided tours to learn about the many offerings that it has. The one that truly captured his attention was the European painters. Gaugin, Van Gogh to name the two I knew. There was a sculpture of a girl in a tutu on the cover of something and he pointed to it. “Who did that?” I answered ,”Degas.” And I was correct. Well, then. I guess I knew something about some art.

I treated him to lunch at the museum cafeteria. Salmon for him. Pasta for me. Not quite what I would have given the birthday boy, but my feet were hurting and I didn’t care. There should have been noodles for long life and a cake for a sweet life. Ah, perhaps another year.

Then we went to check out the last tour we could go on. The Egyptian tombs. I would rather wait until a Luxor Cruise came around or something. He and I followed behind the guide, him taking pictures and I listening with half an ear and I was watching for a place to sit. No matter where we were, I was looking to relieve my feet. They ached.

I had stupidly told him about Alice which was in Central Park. That and the Imagine mosaic in the strawberry fields. And a castle. So, we walked. To find Alice in twilight. At the very least, he had a good camera that will capture me and the Mad Hatter even in twilight.

He smoked until someone told him he is not allowed to smoke in the park. Huh. Apparently, you can be cited for it. Hmmm.

We walked on and found Alice. Yes, my feet hurt. We’re not the only one looking for Alice it seemed. There was another couple there. I took their pictures for them.

We walked on inside the Park. And found Hans Christian Andersen. I needed a photo op with him, of course. He was my hero once upon a time.

The boat house is where we stopped. And we shared a Snickers bar and water.

And we contemplated the evening. Then he consulted his phone and looked for the subway. In my infantile mind I asked, ‘Couldn’t we go back where we came from?’

“We can walk across Central Park and there’s one right there,” he said.

So we did. And we walked. And we walked. Did I not complain of aching feet?

The lights started to flicker on across the city.

When we had crossed to where the street was on Central Park West, we kept walking until we reached 72ndavenue.

“John Lennon lived here in one of these buildings,” he said.

We stopped at a park bench along the street.

“Your Imagine is down there, wanna go see it?”

I looked at him and said, “No. Another time. In fact, I’ll just imagine it. My feet hurts too much.”

We had pizza. Nothing to write home about.

We went to see a Broadway play. Chicago. He was disappointed. I enjoyed it. But I think Cats would have been better.

New York wasn’t really about the tourist things we did. It was of George reminiscing about how the city has changed.

“Central Park wasn’t lit up before. It was so dark there once upon a time. There were no path lights like you saw,” he said.

We decided to go and drink at the lounge at 30 Rock. And there we were, Top of the Rock, with that one of a kind view.

“You can’t see Central Park from the Chrysler or the Empire State Building,” he said. “30 Rock blocks it.”

We paid the price of the drink. Not the $35.00 per person it was going to be charging us if all we wanted was to see the view. A little alcohol in you some wind, and a place to kind of sit a bit, it helps.

Upon arriving at our hotel, the concierge was talking to a couple.

“Is it safe here, though?” the man was asking.

“Well, yes. Relatively,” the concierge prevaricated.

I wanted to laugh. New York is a safe city. It’s as safe as San Francisco, or Sacramento. Or Davis for that matter. It’s as safe as Beijing. The thing is, anywhere is pretty safe. It can also be dangerous. I’m sure there was a pickpocket eyeing me somewhere. I just was with George all the time.

“I still haven’t seen the flat iron building,” he said. “And I’ve been here a lot.”

We haven’t seen DUMBO either, nor did we get to Joe’s Pizza or Katz for their $20 sandwiches. Nor did we go to the top of the Chrysler building, the Met Life building, or One Peace Plaza (the tower). The Statue may have to wait a few more years. And Ellis Island as well. The Museum of Natural History, too. And MOMA, although George said he doesn’t really care for it. Even though his Starry Night is housed in MOMA. Van Gogh if anyone was interested. The library would have been nice to explore, I think. It has a treasure trove of art.

As in many things… we will leave it for another day. Another trip. One of these days, those will be the first priority on our list. This trip… we had other items on the agenda. I really needed to touch some bronze bull balls and walk my feet off. The last part was Geo’s agenda. I was hoping for more leisurely walks, not the marathon we seem to do during vacations. Perhaps next time.

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Paris in Winter

We spent hours on a plane to get here… and we spent days walking and walking and walking and walking. Not only that, but my luggage was already filled to the brim and heavy… We took the metro… I warn you now… Do not take the metro with luggage that is too heavy to carry with one hand!!! Seriously! Those rollers will not help you get up and down 4-8 flights of steps where there are no elevators! Be smart and take a taxi. Yes it will be costly, but who cares? You’re in Paris!

One iconic shot, that’s all I wanted. And here it is…

The Eiffel Tower lit up for the night.

But Paris offers such places to take more…

If I was already there anyway, why not pay homage to this place, no?

Go to Paris… yes, you…and find this place… it is as it says… point zero of all the roads in France…

Notre Dame… and I didn’t get to see the gargoyles close up and personal… No hunchback either…

Climbed up the steps to see this place.. then they told me climb up another 300 steps to the dome… eh????

But the view was worth it.. even saw gargoyles…

Sunset from Sacre Coeur… Perhaps some things are meant to be seen in twilight….

The last day… it snowed… well… then… Paris… you are truly magnificent…

Sounion

When my SO said we were going to Athens, I started looking for places to go and see. Which of the golden gods did I want to visit? Well, of course, Athena since she was right there… but I wanted someone different… A different kind of ruin. Then the screen of my computer showed me a different thing… and that led us to take a coastal bus one and a half hours to Sounion. We went to visit Poseidon.
Alas, the ruins were just that. The marbles and bronzes are now housed in the Archeological Museum in Athens. And because we went the cheap way (7 Euros each way) instead of the tour (running 60 or so Euros), we had to learn about Sounion alone.

That wasn’t all I wanted, however. It wasn’t the history. I understood it was an important port. And I understood that Poseidon was Athena’s rival for Attica. Still… beyond the myth and the facts was this pile of stones that has stood the test of time… Very tall and grandoise…

I wanted pictures.

It was a challenge, believe me. The ruins were atop a bluff. Using the limitations of my camera phone, how do I incorporate the Aegean sea below into the picture?

And I came looking for the presence of the old gods. And yet… I wasn’t sure if I saw them. If I could feel them… If the feelings of Stonehenge would also be the same here… I have come from so far away, after all.

The stones loomed in the distance… I must acquire that shot!

Would you believe me if I told you that this shot that I had taken was in a magazine? It is! Same angle. But they captured it with a wider angle lens. I should have played with the panorama on the phone.

I took pictures of the ruins to show the back side of the sea.

The composition isn’t what I wanted. I cut the ruins down to show more of the sea…

It’s okay… it just wasn’t… something.

Something was still missing.

This is a beautiful ruin. On a beautiful coast. And I could not get that shot with the water in the background. How oh how to do it? And with the sky so cloudy… I needed the sun to come out…

The sun cooperated and I was able to capture this.

The sea isn’t very prominent. The columns are. And against that blue sky… you wouldn’t know that it was rainy just a few hours past.

Many shots of the place, to take home one nice shot!

Then amidst the ruins at the foot of the temple… I had another new experience.

My first sighting of jack-in-the-pulpits!

Then all of a sudden, the temple came alive!

Birds suddenly flew into the temple!

Perhaps the old gods are still alive. We just have to look for them in unexpected places now.

Two Beaches

A cruise stop in Sint Maarten led me to googling where to go. A 15 minute walk to Phillipsburg, a 30 minute $3 bus ride later, we were in Mullet Bay. The water was crystal blue, the sand soft and white. It had sprinkled a little in the morning, but it was soon gone.

We spent hours lounging in the sea while the baggage spent time lounging on our $15 loungers (2 of them) under the umbrella. (Note: someone paid $10 for the same set up, but that was because they were only staying 1 hour 45 minutes. )

The tours started coming in after 30 minutes of almost no one there. Catamaran, sailboat, water taxi, yacht… buses… but nonetheless, the water was clear, beautiful and warm. And the people we encountered (since I had to ask where we can take the bus to Mullet Bay) were quite nice on the Dutch side. We never made it to the French side.

However, 15 minutes away…(yes! We walked it!) is the famous Maho Beach. Here is what I saw under a grass shack lunch place…

There were bodies on every inch of sand. It was crowded and noisy. But if you like that, hey! This is your place.

We ate at Driftwood, that’s that grass hut shanty bar.

The wings were delicious. The iced tea was a cold Arizona tea. Couldn’t believe I drank it all! Needed the sugar, I suppose. The wings were bbq wings. They had just a tad bit of heat. It was enough for me. Thank God I didn’t order the spicy. Whew! We were sweating already from the heat. The wings made us sweat more.

We took a $4 per person ride back to the cruise ship terminal. Some didn’t want to pay the extra $2 so they got off at Front Street in Phillipsburg. They were in for a hot 20 to 30 minute walk. My darling SO was too tired. Yes!

Monoliths and Majesty

Travelling for hours after much bickering between my travel mate and I, through English fog and winter’s breathe… we were finally minutes away from the ultimate destination of our English sojourn. My heart pounded slightly faster as if it has longed for this moment. And as we stepped off the site shuttle and stepped on sacred ground, my heart fluttered more.

The first view of Stonehenge was imbued with a sense of reverential magic. In the stillness of the morning, the air vibrated with a sense of meaning.

There were many crows in the fields.

The sky was somewhat overcast. And yet, for a slight second, the sun shone, allowing me to capture this one picture.

It was all worth it. 3000 or so miles away from home, across oceans and countries… I came and saw and felt… a sense of coming home…

Opportune Moment

It was hot, that day we stopped in the jungle. The air was fetid, burgeoning with some unvoiced expectation. The sun was overbearing and the clouds uncooperative. The air swarmed with mosquitoes and other flying insects. It was noisy with the calls of jaguars and clay. Still we trudged through this and for one fleeting second, I was able to stand in awe. One second to capture this moment… As if there was only me and the world followed in my wake. Jaguars can wait, this could not.

Chichen Itza, you are indeed magnificent! The temple of Kukulcan. Believe me, there were plenty of people teeming around its expanse. But this was taken quite quickly. It turned out quite nice.

I brought home with me the spirit of the jaguar. And every so often, I let it roar just like I have heard in this magnificently haunted place. It is quite fun to scare the dogs with it. Hahaha!

Skies of China

Took a trip out to China. No, it wasn’t too adventurous. It’s a guided tour so we were always on the go.

Beijing had no clouds, so the temple of heaven… Here you go.

Moat near the Forbidden city.

Skies around the Great Wall in Badaling.

I think I liked West Lake and the Tea plantations most.

But I was obsessed with the bridge in Huangshan. At night, the waters are so still and glassy, turning the bridge into something surreal.

I kept taking many pictures!

I have more to share.

China is a big country and we somehow visited 6 cities. All in a 15 day tour. In the middle of winter.

In truth, I would visit again during this time. One, we didn’t have to contend with smog. Two, no mosquitoes on the river allowing us to open the balcony door quite wide. Three, the crowds were few and far in between.
But I do warn that the pearl factory, jade factory, silk factory, and even the tea plantations…. Don’t get taken in by the hype of the infomercials. Our tour guides were pretty nice. They tried to warn us, we just didn’t have enough information to go by that the warnings were sort of like information that got lost in the translation.

We, Geo and I, bought tea for the story. But in reality we could have had the same tea for less. It is Long Jing Green Tea. The best green tea China has. However, we paid $100 for ours. It wasn’t what they said it was. This was supposedly the Imperial Dragon Well tea. The highly in demand spring tea. The ones picked by virgins only during March, April and May. Only around the area of Hangzhou (West Lake). In the particular village we were in… Mei Jia Wu village. Huh.

I liked the taste of the tea. It’s clean and bright. Rather like genmacha.

So I would have been okay with the $50 can.

But that would have still been too much for it. Because we were there in November. And from what I was reading AFTER the trip, the spring Dragon Well tea was probably all sold out BEFORE it was even harvested. And fetches prices well over the $100 for a small portion. And if you consider how small the region of tea plantations near West Lake, plus factor in the bus loads that go through these plantations… (I counted maybe 20 while we were there)… Then you will understand why we were …well… Scammed… That’s the only word I can say. Buyer beware in China. You should know what you are buying.

The trip was through Sinorama tours based out of Canada.

Get a visa for mainland China! Security there is no joke! Your passport becomes your local ID! And its important that you have a valid Visa.

And when going in winter, bring a mask for the face. Not only for the possible dust and pollution, but to keep you nose and cheeks warm. Brought mine for the pollution and smog… It ended up being a sensation among our group.

Bought this online fromChina. I thought I would see more of them being hawked. Nope.

Ah, well. Maybe in a different city.