Wednesday, November 21, 2007

New York, New York

After a 9hour pleasant Amtrak ride, we arrive at about 10pm at the Penn Station (Madison Square) in the heart of Manhattan. Oh what a glorious feeling to finally be in the city I have always wanted to visit! Needless to say, we got out of the station into the street with me grinning from ear to ear.

New York is what I expected and more. We spent 6 days in the city, yet felt like we just did a quarter of what we wanted to do and see, and I just cant wait for the next trip. As a first time tourist, our days were full with activities which unfortunately we had to line up for (so many tourists!) and that ate up most of our time leaving little to explore the city on our own. I wanted so much to see and savor everything - but I guess that's just New York for you - it will leave you hanging, wanting more. One visit is never enough.

Here are our highlights:
  • The Empire State Building was both mesmerizing and romantic. The whole city right before your very eyes, it was a feast to the senses. Go very early or late, otherwise you end up like us who had to spend an aweful lot of time in the line.

  • The Statue of Liberty. The boat ride was more memorable to me than the island itself. One cannot go on top of the statue anymore as the stairs are brittle (and here I was thinking it was because of Sept11).

  • Wall Street. This little street is a huge part of our itinerary, as my work is very much fixated on what happens everyday in the very important building on that very street.

  • Times Square. Indeed a sight especially at night. All the mesmerizing lights looking down at you. And the people, the people! So.many.of.them..
  • Broadway Show. We only had one chance yo watch so we chose a classic, The Phantom of the Opera. Omg I could weep - that's how good it was.

  • Central Park. A pity we didnt get to go around much, but then again it covers 51 blocks! But I had a great time observing all the kids playing in the playground, people walking their dogs, nannies with kids in tow.

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art. Huge imposing stairs and facade. We're not museum people though, so hardly anything to say here unfortunately.

  • Rockefeller Center/St. Patrick's Cathedral. Very grand indeed.

  • Madison Ave., 5th Ave. Oh the sights in these streets! Residences with doormans, shops and more shops!

  • Ground Zero. Just looking at the site is not good enough, you have to enter the memorial museum across. It brought tears to our eyes, this is not to be missed.

  • And after Ground Zero, console yourself with a HUGE shopping spree at Century21 just across. I believe now what the brochure says that it's New York's best kept secret! Oh wow, the bargains in the store are unbelievable. Hello, how come nobody warned me about this place? Never to be missed.

  • One of the most awesome highlights is walking around in the Lower East Side and discovering a shoe discount store! 2 branded shoes for $30! I went crazy here. Em was kind enough to wait an hour for me, bless him.. (corner of Orchard and Rivington St.)

The food highlights:

  • Payard Patisserie. My mission was to buy Francois Payard's Simply Sensational Desserts. I got that at $25 when its retailing out at $35. Bargain huh? What's more, I was so thrilled when I found out later at home it was authographed by the man himself! And I got to try the canelles :)

  • Il laboratorio de Gelato. Superb gelato in a nondescript small hole-in-wall of a place at the Lower East that looks on the inside like, well a laboratory. Stony faced server notwithstanding, this is the best gelato Ive ever had. Try the hazelnut and the strawberry :)

  • Sugar Sweet Sunshine. Had a good chocolate cupcake in this place, my consolation for not having had a chance to go to Magnolia or Billy's.

  • Roasting Plant. Now this is a very good discovery indeed. Walking around we discovered this little shop that sells probably the best cup of coffee we've ever had. They have a system and a huge contraption where your coffee beans fall from a huge storage (tubes and all) to the roasting station. It's roasted on the spot - the owner was there explaining to us that the idea is to roast the beans at the specific time and serve at certain temperature to create a perfect cup of coffee. Or something like that.. Argg, just go and find out for yourself!

  • Economy Candy. Sugarland, candy in every nook and cranny of the store. I can imagine myself buying in bulk nuts and candies for a huge baking spree!

  • Caffe Napoli in Little Italy. A nice Italian lunch after a spin around Chinatown.

  • Di Palo Fine Foods. All the cheese you's like to take home with you. (206 Grand St.)

  • Katz deli. We just had to pay homage to the famous place of When Harry Met Sally. The pastrami on rye is super good! And if you are nice to your carver, meaning you intend to leave a nice tip - he will give you a huge slab just to taste :)
Because we were on a budget, wed almost always end up eating pizza. The best ones for us - Steve's Pizza near Ground Zero (110 Trinity Place) Wohoo, it certainly hit the right notes! Later on, on our very last day after visiting the UN, we chanced upon another good pizza find called the Ultimate In Pizza (401 E 57th cor. First Ave). Generous amounts of white cheese with spinach. Drooling now..
  • Shake Shack in Madison Square Park (not to be confused with Madison Square Garden, take it from me). Everything they say about how good the burger is - so true! We went towards closing time at 11pm which was just as well since I dont think I could have endured another line! Anyways, other than the burger - the most memorable perhaps is Abita rootbeer! So good! We're very happy we chanced upon this. Em has this habit of ordering drinks we do not have back home, and this is his most amazing find.
  • Eat by Eli Zabar. This place in the Upper East Side is just so amazingly filled with breads, cookies, cupcakes. Im pretty sure I'll go fat if I have this in my neighborhood.
  • Grand Central Terminal. Lots of goodies in one strip of a food mecca. It reminded me of SF's Ferry Building Marketplace, but this is more packed. A stroll here is not to be missed too.
  • Finally, where our host took us to dinner of Baby Back ribs! Dallas Bbq! Awesome! :)
Oh New York, when do I see you again?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Buffalo/Niagara, NY

Heading East this time, we made a quick layover in Atlanta Georgia, before heading on to our next destination - Niagara Falls! Landing in Buffalo, we took a 30 minute bus ride to the town of Niagara passing thru the city of Buffalo. Perhaps because it was a Sunday, I found Buffallo to be such a quiet city - I just cant beleive this is just a few hours away from NYC!

Anyway, it was off to one of the natural wonders of the world - the Falls! It was indeed a wonder, I didnt get disappointed at all despite all the great expectations. We got the Passport to the Falls - and did everything in one whole day - The Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, and the night lightshow. It was an awesome time that we will so cherish, such a romantic place, its no wonder they are self-proclaimed the honeymoon capital of the world :)

We could see the Canada side just a few meters across, but we didnt have a visa and couldnt cross. The nightlife looks more vibrant in that side though, as the US side was kind of sleepy - but it was ok - we needed a respite before we head on New York City. Roaming around looking for a decent dinner, we came upon two quite identical stand-alone food stalls right across the street from the main entrance to the Niagara Falls Park called the Misty Dog Grill and its ice-cream serving sister Twist of the Mist.

We were taken aback by the huge gigantic menu, but as were were after all in Buffallo, why not try the Buffallo wings? It was the best choice as we would find out, hands-down the best buffalo wings Ive had! It has just the right hint of sweetness and spiciness, and was finger-licking good. I ate and licked every single piece, you couldnt see any hint of sauce when I was done with it :) Em's buffallo chicken sandwich was not bad too! Too bad we were leaving early the next day, and couldn't try the homemade ice cream just next door. Next time :) The next day, it was off to a 9-hour Amtrak ride to NYC!