Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Holiday To London-NYC-Niagara - Day Twenty Four

The missus decided to go to Chelsea Market this morning. The Boy and I walked past the USS Intrepid and USS Michael Murphy. Noticed the Falun Gong protesters again and finally realised why they were there - they were opposite the consulate of the PRC. We played a total of five games of pool in the sky lounge and The Boy beat me 3-2.

I decided to make a last ditch effort to photograph some of the crazier people in Times Square - topless female guitarist, red Indian and guitarist walking around in undies. Didn't see any of those particular performers. Picked up a free pizza slice from Sbarro which was doing a promotion. Stopped by the Majestic Theater again and then Papaya Dog for a hot dog, french fries and cheese fries.

By the time I arrived at the apartment the new people had arrived. We left at 2:30pm. The missus said that there was an escalator at 7th Ave, for our luggage, although the subway we needed was at 8th Ave. We were one of the first on the bus therefore didn't have much trouble stowing our luggage. Got off at 7th Ave - escalators not working. Heavy bags meant I had to carry both bags down. More stairs to negotiate also. Then we had to walk to 8th Ave anyway. And then negotiate more stairs.

Express train to the airport. Bit of an issue with the seating arrangements. Got in line for security check and realised that they hadn't provided the missus' boarding pass for LA to Sydney. I had to return to the desk to have them print another one. Pretty busy checking in so good thing that we arrived early.

The best part about arriving early is when your flight is delayed because you get to wait at the airport for longer. Strange shopping area as not many prices were marked and they were quite rude when serving you anyway. Left some 20~25 mins late.

Sat next to Mark, an interior designer from Sydney, for the flight to LA. Arrived late and left about 25 mins late. Same plane for the Sydney leg. Sat next to Nancy, a retired 5th grade teacher from Albany, NY, who had done a teacher exchange many years ago. She is a well-travelled lady and was great to talk to. Our family was seated in three different rows so the missus managed a swap so that she could sit next to The Boy. The guy who she swapped with seemed to enjoy chatting with the blonde next to him - both parties probably happy with the deal.

At least half an hour late into Sydney. Luckily I asked a Customs official about the bags because I had asked them to be checked through to Perth. He said that is what was supposed to happen in theory but doesn't actually work. The missus didn't have time to collect her luggage or she would miss her flight. Nearly got in trouble with another Customs or Immigration official for trying to talk with her as she had already passed through immigration and I hadn't. Good thing I grabbed her bag as it was, obviously, one of the last off. Had chocolates and wood to declare and the sniffer dog from Quarantine found the chocs. No probs - and then the missus was waiting for us outside the exit! She had missed her flight, or at least wouldn't have made it, so they changed the flight for her.

Took the luggage to the transfer area - the missus raced ahead without us even though I asked her to wait until I had gotten my boarding pass out. The Boy and I were ushered into a different check-in station, with a shorter processing time most likely due to our flight being earlier, and so I had to drop her baggage off for her. She seemed quite annoyed but said later it wasn't about that.

Waited in the transfer lounge for a bus to drive us to the other terminal. The missus took the next bus. Short wait in Sydney - not much to buy. Quick trip to Melb for The Boy and myself (missus took a direct flight to Perth) - reasonably uneventful. Whilst waiting for the next flight in Melbourne we grabbed a burger meal.

So endeth some 39 hours of slight hell returning from NYC.

Photo Album Vol I
Photo Album Vol II
Photo Album Vol III
Photo Album Vol IV (Final)

2012 Holiday To London-NYC-Niagara - Day Twenty Three

Columbus Day - public holiday. Really? With supposedly all of the shops closed we were prepared for a day when not much could be done. Even asked at the grocery store last night if they were going to be open. The checkout lady said yes but she didn't even know what time the shop opened. Found that a lot with staff in NY - just there doing their job and not caring about the job.

The Boy and I attended the Columbus Day Parade on Fifth Ave which commenced at 11:30. Pity we were situated between 46th and 47th streets as all of the floats entered from 47th St. The parade was meant to start on 44th St so I thought that we had a good spot.

Saw General Raymond T. Odierno who is current Chief of Staff for the US Army, Miss USA, Miss New York, Senator Schumer, few Italian sports cars and a number of marching bands. Some 35,000 people took par, mostly Italian descendants, and I think it was just an excuse for them not to attend work/school. I saw people texting, talking on phones, chewing gum, etc who obviously didn't seem to want to be there.

Strange thing about the parade - not all of the streets were closed down so the parade stopped quite frequently. Kids weren't allowed to stand on the fences surrounding the trees. There was one older lady next to me saying, "Yay" all the time and, "Yay Newark Police. You're the best coz I know what you go through," and "I met you 20 years ago" to a TV star (Diane of All The Children?) loud enough for us to hear but not the star herself. Just wanted to be heard, I guess.

And guess what? Life in the rest of the city was absolutely normal. Well, as normal as NYC gets anyway. Certainly not the public holiday that we were led to believe. Stopped at Papaya Dog for lunch - Philly Cheese steak, fries and drink, cheeseburger with fries and drink and a knishes. Great tasting food for $12 (including tax!)

Got back to the apartment at 1:30, we didn't stay until the conclusion of the parade, and had our lunch. Had a bit of a rest and decided to head to Roosevelt Island. The missus mentioned that the cable car was free with our NY City Pass but I forgot to bring it. Two bus stops into our ride it began to rain. We didn't have umbrellas either. I was to return for the tickets and umbrellas and meet at 3:30 which was 35 mins later. Walked back from Times Square to the apartment and returned - 30 mins round trip. Whilst I was gone the missus found the Hersheys store which had well priced chocolates.

Couple of buses later and we were on 60th St 3rd Ave which was only one avenue away from the cable car. Lo and behold our Metro card was sufficient and my trip wasn't require. Surprise, surprise. Pleasant little ride to the island. Walked around and saw the Blackwell House. Quite new apartments - must be a reasonably nice and quiet place to live.

Growing to like New York. Can't believe that we are leaving tomorrow. Feel like we're just getting used to everything. Caught another bus down 2nd Ave to 34th St. Then the validation process for the Metro card changed, ticket machine was at the bus stop, so we didn't bother validating the ticket. Walked down to 32nd St, start of Korea Town, to look for food. Ate at Woorijip, literally "Our house", and the food was not bad and quite cheap. Nice to have a familiar meal that wasn't dripping with grease.

Photo Album Vol I
Photo Album Vol II
Photo Album Vol III
Photo Album Vol IV (Final)

2012 Holiday To London-NYC-Niagara - Day Twenty Two

Beaut morning to attend the MET - Metropolitan Museum of Art. Made a start with Greek and Roman, then Egyptian, followed by Pacific and some African before making our way upstairs to Chinese, Japanese and Korean. The missus made the move to European artists - some wonderful paintings on display. Artists like Van Gogh ("Van Gogg" I heard him referred to), Monet, Pisarro, Renoir, Coubert, etc. Better than the works on display in London. The MET is a truly well laid out and displayed museum/gallery. Looks like we may have save the best until last.

It was around 3pm when we left. Bought a print from one of the street vendors. About to get on a bus and use our Metro cards when a lady nearby told me reassuringly that we could indeed us our Metro cards on this bus. I couldn't believe that she was talking to me - I hadn't asked her. Then she wasn't aware of where the bus went so I gout out my bus route map and told her. She was, after all, only being helpful. Did I have that much of a lost look on my face?

Some road closures meant that the bus was going to detour so we got off. Walked our way down to 51st St and found Ess-a Bagel - one of the missus' must do places. I had a Reuben Sandwich with pastrami, can't visit NYC without having pastrami can you, and the missus had a salmon with blueberry cream bagel. It was alright, nothing to skite about.

Tired by the time we arrived at the apartment. Even "Speak English" guy greeted us with a "Hi guys". I cooked dinner, missus washed up, and we headed out to the Empire State Building. Thought that umbrellas wouldn't be needed. It started to rain halfway through our bus ride. And it continued to get heavier. Should've taken the umbrellas. I joked that it was so high that maybe it wasn't raining up there. Decided to pop into any of the stores that were open in a bid for it to stop raining and to get some shopping done. Guys trying to upsell tickets to the 102nd floor observatory informed me that the waiting line was one and a half hours long.

We went to Tim Horton's for a coffee that was more water than anything and a honey and lemon tea which was OK. Very slow Internet access. Made a break for it even though it was still raining. No queue at the Empire State Building so we were straight up with our audio guide. The guide itself was very informative - we should've made ESB one of the first places to visit and not the last as it provided a much better understanding of NYC.

I braved the rain for a few pictures. Pretty cold on the 86th floor, 49F not including wind chill factor, but not raining heavily. Not long afterwards it stopped raining and we were all able to enjoy the view although it was still very cold.

Got home close to midnight - very tired.

Photo Album Vol I
Photo Album Vol II
Photo Album Vol III
Photo Album Vol IV (Final)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Holiday To London-NYC-Niagara - Day Twenty One

First stop - MoMA. The Museum of Modern Art. Started at the fifth floor - few paintings were recognisable. Man, there certainly was some crap in there but there were a couple of decent pieces. Wasn't a bad experience. Had to check our bags and then provide my drivers licence to borrow an audio set. Pretty good incentive to return it, I'd say. Finished at 1:30pm so that The Boy and I could catch a bus to NJ to meet Phil and his family. Discovered that I had run out of credit for my mobile.

Ended up walking all the way to 42nd Street, 8th Ave bus station. Grabbed the tickets, plus returns, then a sandwich for lunch. Didn't have time to finish the sandwich before catching the bus as it turned out.

Wasn't too sure where to get off the bus. Asked the driver and he just pointed forward. Then he said it was the next stop. At the next stop he said it was the next stop. Confusing!

Was looking for a tall, white guy. Made a lot of sense to utilise that description as there were only Negroes and Hispanics about. Somehow accessed the Facebook message with Phil's mobile number and had just enough coins to call him on a payphone. He had been waiting down at the train station which was about two blocks away. Phil located us pretty quickly - he just looked for a confused-looking white guy and a confused-looking white guy's kid - yep, that'd be us. Quick intro to the family and we handed out some Australian stuffed toys that we'd brought over especially. Rather than staying locally they planned to take us to Jenkinson's Boardwalk at Pleasant Point Beach - the Jersey Shore.

Quite a trek down there. Was rather glad to hear Phil say that he was having no difficulties understanding me face-to-face as he couldn't over the phone - that's exactly how I felt! No trouble keeping the conversation going for the next hour. Rather than talking with the kids The Boy was more interested in the conversation being had by the adults.

At Jenkinson's there was an amusement park that they've been to many times. We had a great time and won enough tickets to claim a half decent prize. One of Phil's boys won an Annoying Orange prize. Little bit of a walk around, spotted a wedding party about to have photos taken, then decided it was time to eat. Went to Tiki Bar - slow service but wonderful food with great portions. The younger boys had personal pizzas but they were very large. The Boy had chicken parmigiana and it was massive. Twenty bucks only. I ordered a $19 lobster ravioli which was delicious. Had to help The Boy eat his but he nearly got through the whole thing which was amazing.

Before the meal we were talking about poor service. Phil hates to complain and just after telling me how difficult it was to be a waiter with the memory required, our waiter came over and apologised, without making eye contact, that he had forgotten that no sushi, which Phil had placed an order for, was available. Perfect timing and a real crack-up.

After dinner a game of mini golf was suggested but they were just closing up. Had just under an hour to get back for the bus we had planned to catch. On the way we were so busy yakking that we missed the turnoff. Ended up being a few minutes later than we'd hoped. And there was no way that they were leaving us in that area at night by ourselves so we all waited for the next bus which was due in just under an hour. I couldn't see our bus number on the bus route marker but the driver had stopped opposite on the way there. Left us with more time for stories, and photos of our pets along with phrases from the Annoying Orange. Four cop cars charge away from the police department while we were waiting so there was some action elsewhere.

Time for the bus to arrive. Phil, The Boy and myself waved to the bus driver. He just kept going. Phil's wife spotted our bus stop two blocks away and picked us up. I'd showed her the bus route so she decided to drop us off at the next stop. We raced the bus, we three jumped out at the next stop and again waved to the driver. He stopped and we boarded.

After an uneventful ride I mentioned to the driver the reason behind us being at the stop before and he said, "That was you guys?" Hadn't even clicked that he'd seen us at the previous stop. I would've thought that that would have stood out as being out of the ordinary.

Photo Album Vol I
Photo Album Vol II
Photo Album Vol III
Photo Album Vol IV (Final)

2012 Holiday To London-NYC-Niagara - Day Twenty

The missus was up early for her trip to Woodbury Premium Outlet shopping for which there was a special bus. This gave me some time to plan our Jersey shore trip to meet up with fellow blogger Phil and his family. Spent a good 45 mins to an hour looking at train and bus timetables which wasn't ideal. One phone call to NJ Transit sorted it out - bus it was to be.

Plan for the day was for The Boy and I to visit Ripley's Believe It or Not (Ripley's Odditorium). Looked for some cheap tickets and spent another 40 mins signing up to a couple of sites before obtaining them.

Spent three hours at Ripley's - not bad, quite weird. Not quite sure that it was worth the money. Had lunch at McDonalds, my first this trip, and bummed around the souvenir shops until 5pm waiting for the missus. Her bus got stuck in traffic and she was another hour late. Coupled with the fact that she hadn't picked up many bargains and had spent the whole day shopping, mainly for others, and hadn't had a decent lunch, she wasn't in a good mood. I bought some food at Food Emporium to make dinner.

Photo Album Vol I
Photo Album Vol II
Photo Album Vol III
Photo Album Vol IV (Final)

2012 Holiday To London-NYC-Niagara - Day Nineteen

Another late start to the day. Decided to visit MoMA. Walked all the way down to Broadway until we reached Macy's then went shopping at Old Navy. Picked up a few bargains. Had lunch at Pizza Hut. Then shopped at Macy's and the missus was actually treated well regarding her purchase and received the Macy member's discount on an item. By the time we finished it was 2:30 and too late to visit MoMA.

Went home for a rest. Later caught the subway to Brooklyn to visit Grimaldi's for pizza. Large queue, all of 8~10 people, which wasn't what we had expected. It was raining though. Service was quick, pizza was huge and tasty, Brooklyn root beer and ginger ale were nice and the desserts were great. Had no trouble leaving a tip at this restaurant. The place wasn't busy when we arrived but was getting so, and very loud, by the time we finished. Great meal which everyone enjoyed - and not expensive.

Walked down to the nearby park by the pier to look at the setting sun, under the rain, and the Manhattan skyline.

Took about 30~35 mins to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge back to Manhattan and caught the subway up to Grand Central for a look around. Got our crosstown bus and did some shopping.

Not a hugely busy day but enjoyable just the same. Probably needed that.

Photo Album Vol I
Photo Album Vol II
Photo Album Vol III
Photo Album Vol IV (Final)

2012 Holiday To London-NYC-Niagara - Day Eighteen

Unsurprisingly we had a bit of a sleep in this morning. The missus suggested visiting the 911 Memorial at the WTC. Booked tickets online, which you were supposed to do, for the 12pm viewing. Got down there by subway and finally found the visitor centre where we could print off our tickets. Very few people, in fact, did this. Most just visited and applied for tickets at the door, so to speak.

Talk about a queue just to get to the screening point. Then some jerk, in front of me failed to remove his wallet, suspenders, coins, tobacco tin who knows what else despite the signs, in English, that clearly told you to do so. He was a local.

The 911 Memorial is quite a sombre place, but huge, and a fitting tribute to those who died. Interesting place to visit.

Went to Spring Street in Soho for something to eat after doing quite a bit of shopping at Forever 21. Made the age old mistake of looking for food in a place I was unfamiliar with with a woman who was hungry, tired, thirsty and otherwise annoyed. The I bought here a coffee which she didn't enjoy. FML.

The Boy and I went home whilst the missus continued to shop. We went via Grand Central Terminal and did some shopping at Food Emporium before having a short rest. Had to meet the missus back at Spring Street by 5:30 so that I could give her the apartment key as we only had one copy and The Boy and I were headed to the Yankees game.

Yankee Stadium is situated on 161st Street in the Bronx. Even an express train, which we caught, takes half an hour from central Manhattan.

Bought a couple of hot dogs for $2 ea outside the ground. Water was only $1 for a bottle. Some guy was yelling out that we shouldn't be paying $5 for water inside the stadium. Needed to get directions a couple of times to find where to collect our tickets then get searched prior to entry. Already opened drink containers had to be thrown away.

Our seats were up on the 4th level. Paid $4 for a packet of Doritos, $5.50 for a Hebrew National Hot Dog (same as outside the ground), $5 for a bottle of water then $9 for a Brooklyn Cheeseburger - meat patty with cheese and bun! Beer inside the ground from the vendors was $9.50 - glad I don't drink. Funny to pass somebody's money and ID over towards a vendor, pass the booze, ID and then the change back.

Sat next to Pete, late 50s, and his son who was 30. Pete has been to 10~12 Yankee home games and knows his ball. I peppered him with questions all night and couldn't stump him. He lives an hour away in Connecticut. There was an Aussie from Canberra sitting in the row behind me.

Great game - plenty of home runs and the Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox 14-2 and took out the American League East division championship also. Even the though the game started at 7:05 and finished at the top of the 9th we didn't leave until 11pm.

Upon leaving Grand Central we caught the last bus cross town at midnight. Boy, was The Boy tired when we got home. He slept all the way back on the subway.

Foggy all day in NYC.

Photo Album Vol I
Photo Album Vol II
Photo Album Vol III
Photo Album Vol IV (Final)


Few more memes I've created.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Holiday To London-NYC-Niagara - Day Seventeen

Up at 5:30am, left at 6:37. Got to the subway station on 8th Ave and caught a local train, i.e. stopped at every station. Bus came at about 7:10 on 125th St and we arrived at La Guardia airport around 8 o'clock. Checked in and was promptly told that we were at the wrong terminal. Hardly our fault. A free shuttle bus took us to Terminal C. Once we'd been through security we had only 11 mins until scheduled boarding time. Boarding was delayed a couple of times. Then we spent about 20 mins on the ground before takeoff. Still made it to Buffalo 10 mins ahead of schedule. Our flight was an "up and down", i.e. 40 mins and just enough time to serve refreshments and collect rubbish before landing. Maximum of 76 passengers and an itinerary allowing for 1 hr 34 mins of flight time with an allowance for air traffic control.

Karl, our driver from Over The Falls Tours, was waiting to pick us up at the airport. He had a nice Lincoln Town car. We dropped in at HQ, the Econolodge (Welcome Center) and got to meet Dawn who had completed the booking for me and arranged the pickup. One other gentleman there provided me with a plastic bag to protect my camera.

Had nearly 45 mins to kill before the tour commenced and we were getting a bit hungry so Karl dropped us off at Bob Evans - a diner. Interesting experience to be seated and served by a hostess. Couple of double Angus burgers and blueberry hotcakes was the order of the day. The missus ordered a coffee and it came in a large pot. Only just had time to finish before being collected by Tom, our driver, for the CanAm Tour.

First stop was the American Falls from the observation deck. It was raining and Tom provided umbrellas. The young couple in van with us from Pennsylvania lent us their umbrella as it was larger. Great view from the deck.

Tom waited until the right moment to get us down to the ship, Maid of the Mist VII, so that we could get the best viewing position. Don't tell anybody - it's at the front right of the ship. It's a quick ride, only 15 mins, and you feel the full force of the mist - can't see anything when you're out in the middle of it. The falls are beautiful. And cool. All over very quickly and you get quite wet even though a poncho is provided.

Another walk around the top to view the American Falls up close. Then we partook in the Cave of the Winds tour - they provide sandals and a poncho. Here you get to within some 15ft of the Bridal Veil Falls, and get pelted with water, and it is a beautiful feeling. Once again it was a bit rushed. The missus enjoyed it and The Boy loved to stand under the pelting water. There was an elevator that took you down some 175ft to the level of the boardwalk. I got my camera waterlogged at this point, despite the plastic bag, as I had the cord coming out of the bag so that it was wrapped around my neck. Water got in and ruined the LCD screen. Still worked though, thankfully.

We drove across to Canada - Tom timed it so that there weren't a lot of tour buses to wait for, only one as it turned out, otherwise you could be waiting for ages for the passengers' passports to be processed. Our travel group of seven, including a more senior couple from California, was processed in about three minutes. No smile from the immigration officer.

Drove to see the Whirlpool - natural bay with swirling waters from an incoming river before they change direction to go further down the river. Would've been nice to ride across the gorge on the gondola. Bit further down the road to view a couple of power stations and the Niagara Parks clock made with flowers. Then visited a souvenir shop - bit pricey.

Last stop was Skylon Tower. Of course it had the best views from some 560ft above the falls. Souvenir prices were lower too. Running out of time to get back to the airport by now.

At the border it was a bit busy to get back into the US of A. Tom was a little undecided about which lane to use and a woman tried to cut in front. He pushed in front and flashed his Parks employee pass and she backed off. Guard at the border certainly didn't crack a smile and made you feel like you had entered a war zone. There was one vehicle that they paid particular attention to and gave it a thorough checking out.

Karl was waiting for us and this sped up our departure greatly. Quick drive to the airport and we arrived in plenty of time for our 19:48 flight which had been delayed, unbeknown to us, until 20:39. This was due to poor weather in New York City. Managed to purchase something for dinner and the restaurants closed before we'd finished eating so the timing was just about perfect. Boarded the flight OK but we remained grounded until exactly 22:00 before taking off. I fell asleep but the 40 mins flight ended at 23:30 including an aborted landing due to air traffic control. Only 23 passengers on the flight.

Luckily the M60 bus runs 24 hrs but it was still another 30~40 mins before we reached the 125th St subway. Exited the subway on 42nd St about 1am and got back to the apartment at a quarter past one. What a day - Canada, or at least the region we saw, is a beautiful place. Very foggy and wet back in NYC.

Photo Album Vol I
Photo Album Vol II
Photo Album Vol III
Photo Album Vol IV (Final)

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Holiday To London-NYC-Niagara - Day Sixteen

Sleep in today. Decided to do the cruise from our City Pass. Discovered that it left at 11:30am about 100m from our apartment - cool. Next door was the USS Intrepid.

We arrived 30 mins before the departure time and only just manged to obtain an upper deck seat. Apparently there were 500 people on board. Great view of the skyline and expert commentary. Right at the commencement of the two hour cruise we were told not to stand anywhere except the bow and not sit on the silver boxes containing the life vests - so guess what the passengers did?

Difficult to get a photo for the first hour but once we turned around on the East River almost no-one took photos and it was so much easier. Great day for it too.

That afternoon we caught an M11 bus to Chelsea, 14th St 9th Ave, and visited the markets. Quite a few nice little shops set up in an old biscuit factory. Bought a brownie, a 2lb live lobster for US$36 that they cooked right there and then - very messy old probably not worth it. Lobsters were US$14.95/lb plus tax.

Bought some fruit and veg and they tried to rip me off by pretending not to be able to count. I even told them the change I was expecting and the girl tried to tell me that's what she was telling me! The missus has had a lot of trouble with people adding tax and not giving her correct change - now it was my turn. Not happy.

Walked around Chelsea for a bit - some interesting buildings in the area. The Boy was feeling quite sick and didn't finish his dinner. Had some medicine later.

After the run-in with the desk clerk/porter the other night an interesting thing happened today. We passed him to go through the service entrance but as we entered the lift area he popped his head in and dropped some groceries off for one of the residents - didn't say a word to us.

Checked the Net for how to get to La Guardia airport - no subway connection. Have to get to 125th St and catch an M60 bus. The Website said it took about 40 mins from midtown and a little longer from the western side of the city.

Photo Album Vol I
Photo Album Vol II
Photo Album Vol III
Photo Album Vol IV (Final)