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The rarely updated blog of Joel Dixon
< Pittsburgh Return - Fleury, Fleury, Fleury!, 2017 | Miami, Naples and Tampa - Beaches, Babe and a Baby Sloth, 2017 >

Monday, December 18, 2017

New York - Third time's a charmed lamp, 2017

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 18/12/2017 07:17:14

Part of my North American trip with my little sister back in 2011 included a few days in New York sharing the smallest hotel room I've ever experienced. I felt that I had to show Taylor what New York had to offer, as well as my partner Pao as she had never been to the US before (even though she grew up much closer to New York than I did). We were going to need a bigger room.

We had to get up very early to catch a flight to La Guardia airport, as soon as we got into the shuttle towards to the airport I was reminded by how crappy traffic in New York was. I never really used the subway system the first two times I was there (I'll admit TV and movies scared me off), but this time I figured we would pretty much have to get around in something other than taxis. Our hotel was decidedly average, but directly in the center of town (right next to Times Square) and still not as expensive as the tiny place my sister and I shared in Greenwich village.

Bright lights, construction and people - plus a giant ad for a crossword puzzle (why not?)

It was early in the afternoon, so we headed out into the streets and took a walk around. We started in Central Park (picking up a hotdog from a street vendor - delicious) before heading down to Times Square. At this point Pao was a little underwhelmed by the sights and sounds of Times Square, which surprised me. I guess it doesn't seem as incredible during the day - but I would still deem it impressive enough. We did immediately benefit from the advantage of staying in somewhere like New York however, as we walked down the street passing a poster ad for a Broadway show. Pao was drawn by the picture of Mark Ruffalo (as far as celebrity crushes go, at least Mark is a fan of Bernie Sanders) while I was taken by the appearance of Danny DeVito (being a huge fan of Always Sunny myself). With Tony Shalhoub and Jessica Hecht joining them in a performance of an Arthur Miller play The Price (I had at least heard of his name), we thought it would be too good an opportunity to pass up. Tickets were expensive, but we had some free time for one of the performances and decided to buy the tickets.

Six and Four Eights
We also visited one of the only "half" avenues in the US, how could I miss such a thing?

The Price Indeed
"The Price" was an appropriate title considering the cost of matinee tickets

Another great thing about being in New York was that we could then go over the road to McDonald's and buy something I had heard about on podcasts for many years - a Shamrock Shake. Unfortunately they no longer make them with lemon and lime sherbet - but the mint variety was delicious enough for me to buy a few more during the rest of our trip.

When walking back from the McDonald's towards our hotel, I waited outside a store while Pao and Tay went inside to shop for something (women be shopping, amirite!?!). I leaned up against a wall and absent-mindedly watched the people. I stumbled upon something that would keep the three of us entertained each time we were in Times Square - the Mascot Mafia. I was enthralled by intricate dance of the 20 or so panhandlers in popular cartoon / mascot costumes mugging tourists for money. They would approach the children, offer to be in a photo with them, and then badger the parents for money. It was particularly amusing when one of the tourists actually wanted to be in a photo with a particular character - because instantly every mascot in the vicinity would rush over to and stand in the frame (clearly those in the photo would get a cut of the "tips" paid by the harangued parents). It's interesting that the article I linked above indicates that the person in the Minnie costume seemed to be in a leadership position, following a "bad" tourist and let the others know that there was no money to be had from them. When I was watching there was also a Minnie that clearly ran the show (disconcertingly only putting the Minnie head on when a child particularly wanted her photo). I wonder if it is the same Minnie - or if the leader is always in a designated "Minnie Manager" suit. Either way is hilarious as far as I'm concerned.

Who Is That
I don't have any photos of the mascot mafia, to be honest I didn't want them to think I owed them a tip. Instead here's one of the rare photos of Pao and myself while travelling (or at all for that matter)

After a bit of rest, we decided on a change of pace and went out to Shake Shack for some burgers and milkshakes for dinner. Although we waited around an hour to be served while the massive crowd removed any option to sit down when we did eat, it was so very worth the trip! Amazingly delicious burger, and the shake tasted great as well (unfortunately it was almost frozen, and took ages to get through).

Best Shaq
It certainly doesn't look like much in this photo - but damn this was good eating!

An afternoon of eating put us in a sleepy mood, so we had a semi-early night to be ready for day 2. Our first full day in New York ended up having a bit of a Jewish / Larry David theme (at least as far as food was concerned), which I was more than on-board for.

I think a trip to New York wouldn't be complete without trying a bagel, so my research suggested we checked out Absolute Bagels uptown - supposedly an excellent example of the delicious ringed bread product. Turns out I wasn't that much of a fan of bagels as I was expecting - even though our vendor was pretty busy, I wasn't as impressed by his fare as I thought I would be. In retrospect I enjoyed Pao's pronunciation attempt of "baggle" must more!

The strawberry cream looks similar to my favourite Krispy Kreme filling but was nowhere near as delicious

After breakfast we walked to the "Graffiti Hall of Fame", mainly for Tay as I'm not necessarily a big-time purveyor of street art. We quickly discovered that the aforementioned "Hall" was actually a few small walls - more specifically a few small walls in an operational high school. There were signs reminding us that trespassing on school grounds is a bad idea, so we took some photos through the chain-link fence and moved onwards.

I'm pretty sure the hopscotch is not included in the hall

The first two times I made it to New York, I felt that the Museum of Modern Art was not worthy enough to make the itinerary (too many candy stores and sporting venues to visit). Maybe I'm growing more cultured, as this time we made it out there - and I really enjoyed it. There were some cool Warhol pieces (which I had a better appreciation for after our Pittsburgh visit), but I was most taken by seeing The Starry Night and an actual Jackson Pollock up-close and in person. The gyro from The Halal Guys that we brought home afterwards was also pretty great to see up-close and in person.

My knowledge of the arts is woefully limited...

... but at least I knew of these two paintings

Lazy Tay stayed in the room (he's not used to my frenetic travel pace I guess) while Pao and I took a stroll down the Chelsea High Line - a disused elevated train line that has been converted to a nature walk. It was fun to do, and a brilliant use of space, but the time of year certainly limited the colours and odours that would have otherwise impressed us. We then headed to one of my favourite lesser-known (or cared about) landmarks in New York City - that you'd certainly miss if you didn't know it was there. The Hess triangle.

Hi Chels
Certainly not the right time of year to enjoy this

Hessy Fit
Take that!

Hess owned a five-story apartment building in the area, that was taken and demolished by the city in the 1910s to make Seventh Avenue bigger (which they can do under eminent domain). In 1928, the heirs of Hess discovered that when the city took the land, their survey missed a tiny triangle with sides of around 70 cm. The city asked if the Hess Estate could donate the tiny portion of land to the city, but of course, the only reasonable response was to refuse and install the plaque you can still see today - making it clear that the land was never donated to the city. The land was sold to the nearby cigar shop in 1938, but thankfully Hess' plaque still remains. I love nail houses, or any example of someone sticking it to the man in an extremely petty fashion, so I'm glad I got a chance to visit Hess' triangle of disgruntlement.

After passing the "Friend's Corner" (the external of a building that is prominently displayed in the Friend's opening and transition shots) and grabbing some amazing chocolate from Kee's Chocolates, we wanted to head to a proper cafe and try to some regular american coffee. The majority of the coffee we'd had at this point was pretty foul (mostly cheap filter coffee), so we wanted to pick a good-looking cafe and give them a proper shot (so to speak). We settled on something nondescript nearby and ordered lattes. It was a better quality that we had experienced to that point, but still certainly below the bar of quality that anyone should expect (the touch of cinnamon was a welcomed surprise for me - but a final kick in the gut for Pao as she finds the spice abhorrent).

The discarded napkins were the result of Pao trying to remove cinnamon from her beverage

We moved on to some more of the Jewish stereotypical places I've seen in TV and movies - first with a (pretty gross for me, Pao liked it) chocolate knish from a bakery and then onto Katz's Delicatessen. Katz's is famous from When Harry Met Sally... due to the line "I'll have what she's having" which thankfully is no longer quoted extensively. The whole experience was great, including the person making our sandwiches entertaining us with a few funny stories while we were waiting. The sandwich itself (we shared a Reuben) was as delicious as it was monstrous in size, and my first attempt at matzah ball soup was equally enjoyable. I'm very glad we made it out there, even though I imagine it is a bit of a tourist trap - I would recommend it to anyone.

I Had What She Had
I presume this is what Meg Ryan's character was having

During the initial planning I felt that a trip to New York couldn't be complete without catching a Broadway show - we all agreed that Disney's Aladdin would be a great choice. Being one of my favourite Disney movies (with a perfect Mega Drive tie-in game) I was slightly worried that a Broadway-reimagining may completely ruin my childhood memories, and this fear seemed to be realised at the very start of the show. Apparently in the Broadway-universe Aladdin has two buddies (one constantly making low-effort fat jokes) and Abu the monkey is nowhere to be seen. The latter violation was turned criminal during the Prince Ali number when they extol the prince's "ninety-five white Persian monkeys" by showing a painted sign of a white Abu. Firstly, showing us a picture of Abu just reminds us that one of the best characters is missing. Secondly, Abu was brown - not white! Boy I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder!

Watching this is almost as good (except that the guy recording was pretty crap at the game)

Thankfully the rest of the show was pretty great, and I ended up enjoying almost all of it. The songs from the show were excellent, the Genie character was played brilliantly (even though it was completely different to the original) and although he was kind of panned in reviews, I loved the funny Iago character. The best part was probably that Jafar was played by the actual voice actor from the movie - he did an amazing job as you would expect. The actor playing Jasmine was pretty average (her singing was more similar to talking to music) but you can't have everything. We finished the night by wasting some money at the nearby Dave and Busters (something on the list that I've ticked off so don't need to do again) and headed off to bed.

For day 3 I had booked the earliest crown tickets possible for the Statue of Liberty hoping to beat the crowds. Of course, that was stupid as there was still quite a crowd when we got there, and we still waited in line an hour before being able to board the ferry. Ascending to Lady Liberty's crown is one of the highlights from my second trip to New York, so I wanted to make sure Pao and Tay had the same opportunity. I possibly oversold the number of steps - and the repeated warnings on the ticket didn't help - as both Tay and Pao were worried that they wouldn't be able to handle the climb. We discovered in Macchu Picchu that going up stairs is certainly not Pao's favourite activity, and Tay was worried that his fitness level would result in a slow climb and annoyed people stuck behind him. Thankfully I convinced Pao to give it a go anyway, but we had to leave Tay waiting for us at the bottom.

Two Faced
It's pretty amazing how small this looks when you are inside it

While it certainly wasn't an easy climb (even moreso for me with my foot injury), we made it up without annoying anyone, and Pao was extremely happy that I talked her into it. While the crown tickets generally sell out months in advance, they are considerably cheap and 100% worthwhile looking into when you visit New York City.

I would pay many dozen of dollars to be allowed up into the torch via the old rickety ladder

We quickly took the ferry back to Manhattan (skipping Ellis Island for a third time - I wonder if I'll ever make it there) and rushed to the 9/11 monument. Much like Auschwitz and Hiroshima, the 9/11 monument was confronting and not very enjoyable - but certainly a worthwhile activity. The memorial was visually stunning, I loved the re-use of Twin Tower wreckage as well as two massive fountains taking the place of the original building's footprints.

Fountain Zero
The exhibits inside were pretty cool - but I liked these fountains the most

After a quick lunch (guess what - Maccas again, I guess you could say I had the Shamrock Shakes) we just arrived in time to watch The Price (the play we booked on our first day).
I can't say that I had any awareness of Arthur Miller's work, nor could I say I particularly understood the play that we watched - but I can still say that I enjoyed it thoroughly. Mark Ruffalo and Tony Shalhoub were pretty great, I managed to pick up on some of the basic themes and from the moment Danny DeVito's character appeared he completely stole the show (at least as far as Pao and I were concerned). Given the chance, I would love to attend similar productions in the future - perhaps casting a quick eye over the Cliff Notes beforehand so I had a little more understanding of what was going on.

Turns out I didn't take any photos of The Price, but we did get a shot of the Mascot Mafia afterall, Pao is clearly displeased by their behavior

We did walk through the Rockefeller Center but opted to not do the "Top of the Rock" due to a growing exhaustion from trying to fit too much into each day. Instead we found a local bowling alley for some cocktails, snack food (which, of course, was enough for dinner due to the serving size) and healthy competition. While Tay beat me in both games we played (with Pao beating me as well in the second game) I am fairly sure this was due to my recent foot injury and not an indication of the relative bowling skill of myself or my brother.

Terrible Ice
The ice quality looks pretty average, we were far too exhausted to give it a shot

Please Stay
Pao and Tay were far more keen to "please stay" than I!

Our final day in New York was mostly spent in Brooklyn, and from what we saw I suspect spending our whole time investigating the rest of Brooklyn would have been just as enjoyable. I wanted to give bagels another shot, so we stopped at Bagel Hole for breakfast, this time I ordered a more traditional filling of lox with cheese (apparently lox is a type of fish). We ate our breakfast in the nearby Prospect Park, and while the park was nothing special (then again, I'm generally not much of a park person) the breakfast was pretty delicious. Pretty delicious would then be blown out of the water by our choice for lunch.

Lox Of Flavour
The fact that I didn't think to take a photo of this bagel until it was almost finished shows how much I enjoyed

When I took my first overseas solo trip, I started in Portugal and posted about my progress on Facebook. A few of my friends from home asked if I would be enjoying a custard tart while I was in the area, which initially stumped me. After a quick google I discovered that I was very close to Belem, an area credited with the first sale of a custard tart. I took a quick detour, devoured one of the highlights of my three-month trip and decided that I should listen to my friends more often. Since then I've always made a point of checking with my more-cultured pals while making my plans for each adventure I take. Later on that same trip while in Barcelona I met Lisa, a lovely New York school teacher, and added her on Facebook. While soliciting suggestions for my latest US holiday, she was adamant that I would have to try pizza from El Farolito if I made my way to Brooklyn. So when we did arrive at the small pizzeria that was short on tables but packed with people, we decided to brave the wait and order lunch anyway.

While standing around we saw the reason for the hour-plus wait, there was only one wood oven manned by two cooks, with one person taking orders. One of the guys making the pizza was quite old and not very nimble - but he clearly knew what he was doing especially during the hand-kneading of the dough. Pao absolutely loved the atmosphere, only occasionally interrupted by customers angered by the wait or lack of tables - plus one guy who started a heated discussion with the order taker regarding his hygiene when taking money. Once we did finally get our meal, we all agreed it was probably the best we had enjoyed so far - and even in retrospect it is certainly up there in the top five meals of our whole trip.

Pizza Pizza
Turns out this is the only picture we got at the pizza store, I'll have to go back to rectify that!

Satisfied with our taste of Brooklyn, we took the subway home and walked towards the hotel. We walked past a pop-up Pop-Tarts cafe - another advantage of a city like New York - so Pao and I enjoyed a delicious (albeit intensely sweet) afternoon snack while Tay went back to rest.

These were exactly as delicious as they looked (very much so)

Our final night was spent at Carolines on Broadway to enjoy a comedy show from Gilbert Gottfried, who famously (for me at least) voiced Iago in Disney's Aladdin. After also catching the voice of Jafar a few days earlier, all we needed was to bump into Frank Welker, voice of Abu and many, many others. When we sat down we realised we were in the front row and directly in the center next to the mike (I could touch the stand from my seat). Thankfully we did not become fodder for burns from the performers, and enjoyed a hilarious set from Gilbert (and the lead up comedians).

Up Close
Our table was pretty much touching the microphone stand

As we are clearly gluts, we walked to Doughnut Plant and a nearly gelato store for a snack (both pretty good, but not great) before heading back to the hotel for a final night's sleep. This marked the end of the trip for my brother Tay and much like I found during my Canadian trip with my sister - I loved being able to spend time with him while enjoying the attractions of incredible cities (and watching hockey games). I also hope that this means he'll remember me if he becomes rich from his artistic pursuits in future.

Quality Time
Tay and I spending quality time together

This is the 8th in the Joel Goes To Camp series
Game 1 - Pittsburgh Arrival - Border Security Magic, 2017Game 2 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 1 (Registration and Penguins Stadium Series)Game 3 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 2 (Contract Signing, Training and Game)Game 4 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 3 (Outdoor Game, Injury, Dinner and Drinks)Game 5 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 4 and 5 (Final Games)Game 6 - Chicago - Blackhawks, Bulls and a bean, 2017Game 7 - Pittsburgh Return - Fleury, Fleury, Fleury!, 2017Game 8 - New York - Third time's a charmed lamp, 2017Game 9 - Miami, Naples and Tampa - Beaches, Babe and a Baby Sloth, 2017Game 10 - Philadelphia - Not that sunny, 2017Game 11 - Pittsburgh - For some hockey (why not?), 2017 Back to Top

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