The ending of a long vacation, maybe the most memorable part. For the ending of my two week Blount Small Ship Adventure Cruise, I chose to remain in the final destination port of New York City. Having been to NYC many times since 1972, I never before approached the imposing skyline of one of the world’s most dynamic cities from the water. My Blount cruise came down the Hudson and then glided by midtown on down to the harbor. With a long pause at the Statue of Liberty and with a kitsch playing of the Sinatra version of “New York, New York,” it was a fitting close to the end of a cruise and the start of a post cruise stay in little ole New York.
5672031_orig
The view of the dynamically changed skyline is impressive to see from the water, with the Freedom Tower punctuating the sky. I visited the serene memorial pools and the cavernous museum, which was not as saddening as imagined. The plaza is impressive surrounded by its towering glass skyscrapers contrasting with the pools of water effortlessly falling hypnotically down, down, down.

A highlight of my Blount cruise was my stay at the Waldorf Astoria New York Hotel for a weekend. Hilton is encouraging everyone to Be A Weekender with their www.HiltonWeekends.com site. I was greeted with spacious accommodations, an imperial set of Art Deco grand lobbies with impeccable service and fine dining and beverage options. As I was several hours earlier than their standard 3 pm check in, I was welcomed into the private lounge on an upper floor to await my Tower room. There is also a private check in and departure desk for Tower guests. While there is an attentive door man to assist with your taxi needs, I found a modest eight block walk to the Theatre district an efficient choice, particularly when taxis are hard to come by due to rain or rush hour, which seemed to me was all the time.
291327_orig
My room on the 26th floor had a spectacular view of the Art Deco Chrysler Building, and was next door to the Lyndon B. Johnson Suite. The New York Waldorf Astoria hotel has a long history of United States Presidents staying there, along with a myriad of celebrities and entertainers. The 20th floor has the Marilyn Monroe room, where she once had an extended stay.

I took in the elegant Sunday Brunch at the Peacock Alley restaurant with an extensive buffet that spills over into the lobby, with a dining choice of piano or harp accompaniment. It’s not every Sunday you can have such an extravagant brunch. I had two of the signature Peacock Alley cocktails served in a martini glass ~ elegant with just the right touch of sweetness. It is a tradition at the Peacock Alley, to see and be seen, and observing the other dining patrons was intriguing. The next day. after a schedule tour of the hotel of ballrooms, kitchens and the 20th floor terrace with beehives and herbs, I also had an efficient acceptable lunch at Oscars, with their surprisingly different than expected famous Waldorf Salad.
2944538_orig
The history of the hotel is fascinating. On March 24, 1893, millionaire William Waldorf Astoria opened the 13-story Waldorf Hotel on the site of his former mansion at Fifth Avenue and 33rd street, and was joined in 1897, with the adjacent 17-story Astoria Hotel. The original Waldorf Astoria New York closed in 1929 and was reincarnated in 1931 where the current hotel reigns at Park Avenue and 50th, making it at that time the world’s largest and tallest hotel at 625 feet with 47 floors, and is today one of the world’s largest Art Deco buildings. The hotel is synonymous with the grandeur of the best of New York City and in 1993 was deemed an official New York City landmark. In this Internet age it is easy to explore a destination or hotel. The Waldorf Astoria New York has a myriad of internet links that illuminate its history and current amenities. There are way too many historical tangents to list here, but you can explore many at: www.waldorfarchive.com. I used their concierge and theater ticket desk for last minute reservations and found them courteous and efficient. Of course if you can make your own theatre ticket choices in advance you can save the added expense of last minute theatre decisions. I don’t regret my last minute choice as the theatre seats book through the Ticket Desk and the dinner reservations were excellent. Buying your theater tickets far in advance is always recommended. The Broadway Collection can help.
2449708_orig
While In New York I took in the comedy, It’s only a Play, with its star studded cast; Cabaret, a tired show and performance; Pippin, a ghost of a show I first saw on Broadway on my first 1972 visit; Disney’s Aladdin, an exuberant and true extravaganza of what a Broadway show should be; Kinky Boots, with outstanding performances and more fun than expected; and in its twenty sixth year, Phantom, with my home town connection of its co lead, Jeremy Hays. Hays is a product of Oklahoma City University’s performing arts school where other notable Broadway and theatre alumni were nurture including: Lara Teeter, Kelli O’Hara and Barbara Fox DeMaio Caprilli, among others. I was told Hays will be in the show through January. His voice is smooth and clear, his acting appropriately dramatic, his diction impeccable, and with his good looks and personality make him a perfect romantic lead.
7469564_orig

New York’s Metropolitan Museum always impresses with its prime collections inviting a pace of leisurely observation, as there is never enough energy or foot power to see it all. I enjoyed using my CityPass coupon book for entrance, which offers discounts to many New York City attractions, and offers you a road map for your own itinerary choice. And while the rooftop cafe closed a day early, I enjoyed my first time visit there with views of Central Park. New York City can be intimidating but with a little planning and a comfortable oasis like the Waldorf Astoria New York Hotel, it can be a perfect weekend getaway or the perfect end to a Blount Small Ship Adventures Cruise.

Here are some sites to aid in your planning: www.hiltonweekends.com; www.waldorfastoria.com;

www.citypass.com; www.blountsmallshipadventures.com; www.broadwaycollection.com

In 2008 I spent two days in Westchester County and referred to the county as New York City’s 6th borough. The tourism folks liked the name and used it on many of their advertising campaigns. This September I spent the better part of a Sunday in Scarsdale at the Southern Westchester Food & Wine Festival which was located 10 steps from the Metro North station. I thought it was time to spend a day looking at some new areas of the county. I was lucky that Lydia Ruth of the Westchester County Tourism & Film office once again served as my guide.
3909289_orig
Who needs a car in the county when they have lots of public transportation options? My senior fare on Metro North from Grand Central to Yonkers was just $5 one way. I could have opted for any of the NYC subway lines and caught a Bee Line bus from the end of the lines as well. I was in Yonkers in less than 30 minutes and only had a 2 block walk to the Hudson River for my first (but not last) WOW! moment. Yonkers is the 4th largest city in New York and downtown Yonkers is experiencing a renaissance of culture, community, development and art: a parking lot replaced by a babbling brook filled with fish; new and converted apartment buildings facing the Hudson; many restaurants, a post office, hotels, the public library, sculptures galore, the Motor Vehicle Bureau and clean streets and sidewalks. Robert M. Walters, the Science Barge director, was my guide. The Science Barge is a prototype sustainable urban farm developed by NY Sun Works and acquired by Groundwork Hudson Valley in October 2008 to be operated as an environmental education center. The Science Barge is a sustainable urban farm powered by solar, wind and biofuel and irrigated by rainwater and purified river water. They grow fresh fruit and vegetables using recirculating hydroponics and aquaponics. It is designed for school kids in grades 3-12, youth groups as well as teacher training. I was then led next door to the Sarah Lawrence College Center for the Urban River at Beczak (CURB). A long name for a comprehensive river education experience, learning about the Hudson River ecosystem and water quality. But the best was still to come. Lunch was at X20 Xaviars on the Hudson.
907616_orig
X2O is Peter X Kelly’s latest addition to the Xaviars Restaurant Group which includes Restaurant X & Bully Boy Bar in Congers and Xaviars at Piermont as well as Freelance Café & Wine bar, also in Piermont. X2O sits in the Hudson on the only turn-of-the-century Victorian pier still existing in the river. The main dining salon’s 25-foot vaulted ceiling and 3 walls of glass frames offers views of the George Washington and Tappan Zee Bridges, as well as sunsets over the Palisades. Dishes incorporate classic French technique with Italian and Spanish influences and Asian embellishments. In 2007 self-taught Chef-owner Peter Kelly appeared on the Food Networks Iron Chef America and beat Bobby Flay in Battle “Cowboy Rib Eye”. He also played host to Anthony Bourdain on his “No Reservations” program, introducing Tony to the beauty of the Hudson Valley. Since the early 90’s Peter has also been a vintner. His wines at Xaviar’s Cellars in Napa Valley are known as “Silenus” (the Teacher of Bacchus in Greek Mythology). Peter has also consulted on several bottlings from the emerging Hudson Valley region. My salmon was so fresh I did not need a fork; it melted directly into my mouth. The real bargain was the 3-course lunch for just $25. I had such a great experience that I plan on taking Metro North to Yonkers once the weather turns warm for another lunch, along with the nearby farmers market and concert pavilion.
908684_orig
Another WOW! moment was my visit to Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway. It is a half-mile harness-racing track & a casino with slot machines, electronic games & multiple eateries. You can play the roulette wheel or blackjack using electronics with no human interaction. I am not a gambler but what really impressed me was pinch (not Pinch) which is run by Alain Ducasse’s consulting company, Ducasse Studio. There are 245 seats and both the beverage and dessert menus come on an iPad. The restaurant has a growler filling station (to go), where you can choose from one of 100 New York State beers. It also has six “draft booths,” which are tables outfitted with self-service beer taps (I am not kidding). The interior design inspiration is a classic 1950’s vintage diner with automotive interiors, tailored banquettes, a raw bar and an open kitchen. Since I grew up in the 1950’s this is my kind of restaurant. I can’t wait to go back for a meal. I asked my host if we could stop at Untermyer Gardens Conservancy in Yonkers. I didn’t realize that nothing was growing during the late fall and winter months & vowed to return next spring. Samuel Untermyer was passionately interested in horticulture. He said that if he could do it over again, he would want to be the Parks Commissioner in New York City! Unlike most wealthy garden-owners, Untermyer was expertly knowledgeable about horticulture. The level of horticulture at the Untermyer Gardens was nationally famous and some great gardeners got their training there. The only place I revisited from my 2008 trip to Westchester was Lyndhurst. It was built in 1838 and purchased in 1880 by railroad magnate Jay Gould as a summer home. Mr. Gould used Lyndhurst as an escape from the pressures of his business life and when his health was impaired by tuberculosis; Lyndhurst served as a country retreat until his death in 1892. After passing to various family members the 67-acre estate became a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The grounds at Lyndhurst are an example of 19th century landscape design including sweeping lawns accented with shrubs and specimen trees, the curving entrance drive, the angular repetition of the Gothic roofline in the evergreens and the nation’s first steel-framed conservatory. The rose garden and fernery were later additions. The building was temporarily closed as they decorated for the holiday season. They kindly allowed me to get a sneak peek of A Very Dutchess Holiday. I want to return for the full effect.
2497775_orig
As I was still full from lunch I only tried a lobster main course (yummy) at The Stone Manor in Hawthorne. The restaurant is the latest project by Michael Casarella and Tommy Stratis, the owners of Goldfish in Ossining and Casa Rina in Thornwood. It opened in July 2013 after an 18-month renovation of its old stone building. The 14,000-square-foot Mediterranean steakhouse and catering hall creates a modern ambiance that embraces nods to the space’s 180-year history.

It was a short drive into White Plains where I caught my Metro North train back to Grand Central. I am already planning my return trip. So should you.

For More Information – www.mta.info/mnr, www.yonkersdowntown.com, www.beelinebus.com, www.westchestergov.com, www.visitwestchesterny.com, www.xaviars.com, www.centerfortheurbanriver.org, www.thestonemanor101.com, www.untermyergardens.org, www.empirecitycasino.com, www.lyndhurst.org.

Since the 1920s, Harlem has been known as a major African American residential, cultural and business center. Originally a Dutch village and formally organized in 1658, it is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands. African-American residents began to arrive en masse in 1905, with numbers fed by the Great Migration. In the 1920s and 1930s, Central and West Harlem were the focus of the “Harlem Renaissance”, an outpouring of artistic work without precedent in the American black community. However, with job losses in the time of the Great Depression and the deindustrialization of New York City after World War II, rates of crime and poverty increased significantly.
6308785_orig
Since New York City’s revival in the late 20th century, Harlem has been experiencing social and economic gentrification. Harlem’s black population peaked in the 1950s. In 2008, the Census found that for the first time Harlem’s population was no longer only a black majority, with a mixture of white and Latinos. Harlem as a neighborhood has no fixed boundaries; it may generally be said to lie between 155th Street on the north, and Harlem rivers on the east, 96th Street (east of Central Park) and 110th Street Cathedral Parkway (north and west of Central Park) on the south, and the Hudson River on the west.

As of 2000, Central Harlem had a black community comprising 77% of the population, the largest indigenous African American community by percentage in New York City. The majority of African Americans moved out as more and more foreigners began to move in. Central Harlem is the most famous section of Harlem and thus is commonly referred to simply as Harlem. West Harlem, consisting of Morningside Heights, Manhattanville, and Hamilton Heights is predominately Hispanic. African Americans make up about a quarter of the West Harlem population. Morningside Heights has a large number of White Americans and is home to Columbia University (my alma mater), Barnard College, and New York Theological Seminary. East Harlem was originally formed as a predominately Italian American neighborhood, but it is now predominately Hispanic. Italian Harlem was formed when Southern Italian immigration began in the late 19th century. The area began its transition from Italian Harlem to Spanish Harlem when Puerto Rican migration began after World War II. In recent decades, many Mexican and Salvadoran immigrants have also settled in East Harlem, which is also known as El Barrio. The area is also home to over 400 churches.
8938521_orig
At a recent Harlem Week seminar I was intrigued with the discussion about the gourmet renaissance in Harlem. In the past two years at least twenty new restaurants opened there. I have eaten at Melba’s, Billie’s Black, Harlem Tavern, Hudson River Café, Miss Maude’s Spoonbread Too, Café Lucienne, Red Rooster and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. It was at that Harlem Week seminar that I was told about Taste Harlem and Jacqueline Orange.

Since 2007, Jacqueline Orange has been the founder, owner and operator of Taste Harlem, introducing visitors and New Yorkers alike to the culinary delights, lively art scene and rich history and architecture of Harlem. A major bank merger in 2005 took Orange away from corporate life and inspired her to step away from a desk job and pursue a dream of owning and operating her own tour company. On an early visit to New York, this Chicago native had discovered Harlem and fell in love with the diversity and vibrant energy of the neighborhood. “With the creation of Taste Harlem, I felt as if I’ve been able to incorporate all my past business experience into researching the latest happenings in Harlem. I am spending time with people, sharing something I love- great food, inspiring music art, and a living history.”
9157708_orig
On a beautifully sunny Saturday morning (10AM) our group of 6 met at Sylvia’s Restaurant on 126th Street & Lenox Ave. Sylvia Woods, the “Queen of Soul Food,” founded the restaurant in 1962. Her 4 children now operate the family-owned businesses after her passing in 2012. Besides the restaurant and catering hall there is a nationwide line of Sylvia’s food products and two cookbooks. www.sylviasrestaurant.com.
8648638_orig
This was a walking tour. Private tours have the option to tour by bus or trolley with artists, historians, architects and actors as tour guides at Taste Harlem Tours. In addition to the food stops we stopped by The Sol Studio, a local art gallery, where they were setting up a new art exhibit and a privately owned brownstone with a beautiful garden and art collection. We were lucky and found Samuel Hargress at his jazz, blues and R&B club- Paris Blues (founded in 1969). Other stops were at Make My Cake Bakery and Serengeti Teas, Coffees & Spices where we were able to sample several of their exotic concoctions. www.thesolstudio.com, www.parisbluesharlem.com, www.makemycake.com, www.serengetiteaandspices.com
7523620_orig
Back to the food visits- www.patisseriedesambassades.com- Les Ambassades is a Senegalese café and bakery. Tropical Grill Restaurant (no web site) features Caribbean/Spanish food and was jammed when we arrived. The great part about this tour is there is a table waiting for us at every stop. Each restaurant has samples of their specialties and no on leaves the tour hungry. After the first stop I realized I should not have had breakfast. The walking helped me regain my appetite.

There was a short stop at the tiny Le Lee’s Baked Goods “home of the world’s most outrageously delicious rugelach.” Prior to entering the bakery they mentioned the ingredients that included nuts (I am allergic to all nuts). There was a moment of panic when I mindlessly grabbed it and had eaten part of the rugelach, Luckily I only had a slight allergic reaction. www.leeleesrugelach.com.

On the way to our last stop we stopped at the world famous Apollo Theater (Opened on 125th Street in 1934) and were allowed into the lobby to view a montage of celebrities that had performed in this theater. We walked along 125th Street past the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. NY State Office Building. www.apollotheater.org

Our last stop was at Jacob Restaurant- soul food & salad bar. He is a great businessman who closes the restaurant on Thanksgiving so he can give away food all day without any restrictions. After his first 6 months he was able to open open two additional restaurants in Harlem. His thought behind this was “if you give it will come back to you.” www.jacobrestaurant.com.

This was a great tour. Prices range from $65 to $95 per person. Groups of 4 or more are $75 and 12 or more-$65. One could not duplicate the food for this price. Having Jacqueline lead the tour- priceless. For a listing of her other tours go to www.tasteharlem.com.

When planing for a trip it is completely normal to research everything you can about your destination. You want to know the ins and outs of the entire city. You come up with a plan to see everything and experience the “greatest” of what other people have told you the city has to offer. This is exactly what I was doing before I traveled to The Big Apple. Until one day a good friend of mine said to me, “Nate, do it yourself.” What he meant by that was that no matter what anyone else tells you, or what any website says, New York is a place with so much adventure that you have to do what you want. You have to create your own adventure. There are restaurants galore with different tastes. There are plays, sights, people, hotels and entertainment with so much variety that it is impossible, and frankly somewhat stupid to mimic someone else’s vacation or ideas of fun. Make your own adventure, or as my friend put it, “Do it yourself.” That being said, let me tell you about the adventure that we had while visiting this incredible city. Keep in mind this is our adventure. Not the adventure that you should have. We caught a red eye flight with none other than Delta Airlines, who we love using because of their flexibility and great customer service. We arrived at JFK early in the morning. We had the entire day to get our first feel for the big city. We traveled to our hotel The Wellington, which was perfect for us. It has a good location with subway stops literally right outside the hotel doors, and a short distance between Times Square and Central Park. We were right in the middle of everything. We couldn’t turn a corner without finding something that we wanted to do, or somewhere we wanted to eat. Our room was clean and our bed was comfortable, nice to come back to after a full day of walking. Again, it was the perfect hotel.
1400613505
After getting into your hotel, what is the next thing that comes to mind on a vacation? Food, of course. Breakfast food was nothing short of memorable. We started off the trip with a six egg and bacon breakfast sandwich from 810 Cafe. Another day we went to one of my wife’s favorite pastry shops from Paris called “Laduree.” They had the most incredible raspberry topped pastry for a breakfast snack. There are hundreds of bakeries and cafes where you can find anything that you need for your breakfast. Like I said, go find it yourself.
6969441_orig
As far as other food, there are literally thousands of places that will fit your fancy for a great meal. If you want pizza, there are hundreds of pizza shops that you can go to, each with their own special touch that gives them a different flare to separate them from the rest. One of those many is called John’s Pizza located on 8th Avenue and 44th street. John’s Pizza prides itself on not selling by the slice, they only sell full pizzas. If you are a fan of fire cooked pizza that you can fold up and eat piece after piece, John’s is one I would highly recommend. But go hungry, because you aren’t getting a slice or two, you’re getting a whole pizza. There are other places like Stardust Diner and Hardrock Café that each have such a unique energetic ambiance and experience that are a must. Another good find on our trip was Black Burger located on Canal Street. Their burgers are so good and fries freshly cooked. If you’re a burger fan I highly recommend it. Keeping yourself entertained throughout the trip is not hard when visiting New York. Everywhere you look there is something to see or do. But some of it might actually take a little bit of planning. We planned ahead of time to see some television talk shows like “The Late Show” with David Letterman, “Live with Kelly & Michael”, and “The Today Show.” Each of which is so much fun, and has a unique feel. As a member of the studio audience you feel needed in order to make the show successful. We were able to see in person stars like Johnny Depp, Samuel L. Jackson, Daniel Radcliffe and Connie Britton. We were even able to snag a picture with Daniel Radcliffe as he greeted some of his fans on the set of The Today Show.
3870255_orig
If you’re not a fan of any of that, there is some things that you have to see if you are going to The Big Apple. The Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, the Metropolitan and Top of The Rock are all things that come to mind when you think of New York. A site that would be helpful to visit in preparation for these events is www.nycgo.com. Along with many helpful tools for your vacation, on this website you can get admission into many attractions. Instead of paying 20-30 dollars to get into each of these, you should definitely consider getting The New York City pass which you can find on the website. This pass gives you admission to several popular attractions and also lets you bypass most lines so you don’t have to wait. When we visited the Statue of Liberty having this pass was great. We were there on a slow day, but on a busy day that line can take hours and hours of waiting. With the city pass you bypass it all and get right up front. They treat you like royalty. No matter your plans the people at nycgo.com can help you with a great trip.

Being a thespian at heart, I must tell you that going to New York without seeing at least one Broadway play would be sinning . The people in these plays have such a passion for what they do that you can feel the emotion right from your seat. We were able to see two plays. We bought tickets to “Les Miserables” for about 35 dollars a ticket which wasn’t bad at all. The performance of “Bring Him Home” (a song in the play) has never hit me harder than when I was sitting in that theatre. If you aren’t in the mood to pay 200 dollars for a ticket to some of the more popular plays, many of them have lottery drawings 2-3 hours before the play starts. We, along with a couple hundred others entered the drawing for the stunning play “Wicked.” We were some of about 12 people who were chosen to win tickets. If you are chosen you pay 30 dollars a ticket and they are located on the front row. You could literally see the spit coming out of the performers’ mouths. Such a lucky experience. You may not win, but entering is free, and if you do win, it will be an unforgettable experience.
9294748_orig
Having never been to New York before I can now say that it is a must see. It isn’t your typical relaxing vacation. In order to fully enjoy the city you must be ready to walk and lose sleep, because there is so much to do. It would be sad to go there and waste time asleep in your bed. Just go out and have an adventure. You will not regret going and creating memories of taste, sight, sound and feel. There’s nothing like The Big Apple. Go have an adventure!

Last fall when I visited Albany, New York, I just had to explore a little farther north to the Lake George area. There I found a small town “Festival of the Lake” in progress next to the southern end of the expansive lake itself.

5911778_orig
1566258_orig
My home base was the Fort William Henry Hotel with an upper story lake view. It’s so nice to wake up and go to bed with the ever changing view of water and distant mountains. The hotel offers several styles of accommodations, but staying in the main historic building was optimal, and the prime location for viewing the weekend fireworks over the lake from the room.
I had an unpleasant lunch at the little snack bar café on the waterfront where the manager was almost rude and not accommodating to this paying customer. But with that unpleasantness aside, the rest of my tourist visit to Lake George was very pleasant.
2529564_orig
One of the most congenial , informative and entertaining outings was the Sunday Champagne Brunch Cruise aboard the Lake George Steamboat Cruise which toured up the Lake all the way to the Hotel Sagamore. Viewing Sagamore ever so briefly from the water gave a new perspective to the historic white facade hotel. I was to have a luxurious lunch and hotel tour later in the weekend. While the hotel might be booked when you are in the area, a regular hotel tour is scheduled and at the very least a stop for a beverage or food is a must. Free parking is available after you go over a short quaint bridge and winding road to the resort. The lake views and hotel infuse you with the lux life of a gone by era – but an ever so enjoyment today.
6147425_orig
Another dining treat was the Algonquin Restaurant at Bolton Landing, near the Sagamore Hotel, where locals take their boats, docked them by the water front restaurant , enjoy a meal or cocktail, and then retreat to their lake homes via the water, before the sun completely sets. Boating to them is as casual as taking the family car out to dinner ~ so quaint and a hint at the local lake culture.
A staff member of the Sagamore, suggested I travel, if time allowed to go a bit farther north, to the northern most part of Lake George and visit the Fort Ticonderoga area. I had always heard about this revolutionary war locale and it was enlightening to tour the reconstructed fort and see its importance for guarding the waterfront. Approaching the Park area I came across a fox hunt, complete with riders and hounds in progress, temporarily halting car traffic. It was as if I was transported back in time.
3140124_orig
I enjoyed dining at the very popular Lake George’s Marios Italian Restaurant, and at the Lake George Dinner Theater, where the play was well done and my congenial extemporaneous senior citizen ladies table mates, was more entertainment. The Lake Gorge man street plays host to a number of assorted shops and eateries, including the wine tastings at the Adirondack Winery.
While I was there in late September, I found I was at the end of their season, so you may want to arrive earlier in the year, and plan now for your spring/summer upstate New York getaway.
Before you go check out:
www.fortwilliamhenry.com
www.adirondackwinery.com
www.thesagamore.com
www.lakegeorgedinnertheatre.com
www.lakegeorgesteamboat.com
www.thealgonquin.com

I think it was in the fifth grade when I first heard about Albany, New York, as we were studying all the capitols of all of the US cities. It was a bit of a mystery this state capitol so far north of New York City, yet so important to the state’s history and in current affairs. I recently discovered Albany in a personal way with a weekend excursion.
55b080710
Most striking about Albany is the site, inside and out, of this historic capitol building itself with took thirty years to complete. It stands on a hill and overlooks the city, and the nearby Empire State Plaza with its monolithic office buildings and the unusual egg shaped theater complex. The plaza complete with reflecting pool and with ice skating in the winter, is popular for public events. On one end is the State capitol building and on the opposite side the New York State History Museum (www.nysm.nysed.gov). . The extensive museum houses several sections, including homage to the Civil War ( with a life mask of Abraham Lincoln), and more recently artifacts from the World Trade Center disaster. Be sure and visit the observation deck of the 42 storied Corning Tower.
55af80f90
State Street which could be called Albany’s’ main street, runs down from the capitol, pointing toward the Hudson River. Near the base of the street stands, 74State Street Hotel (www.74State.com), which was my pleasant home base and my oasis for my discoveries. 74 State offers several breakfast menu items, and my guests and I enjoyed their Eggs Benedict more than once. This Ascent Hotel Collection provides wireless internet, room service in the morning and evenings and supplies free coffee in the lobby from 6 am to 10 am. The fitness center is open 24 hours. The property also has the Bistro/Bar venue on the second floor, with an expansive picture window overlooking busy STATE street. While the hotel is upscale iT features recycled New York State wood and granite.
55b180c90
Just down the hill a bit is the upscale Jacks Oyster House (www.jacksoysterhouse.com) where without a doubt I had the best meal of my visit. As a steak person I tested their expertise and they passed with high marks, as they did for the Martini. My other companions had a variety of entrées including oysters on the half shell and a Lobster tale prepared with gourmet expertise. The service was as exceptional as you would have expected at a fine old world restaurant, and it was a near shame we had to leave to catch a theatrical presentation in Schenectady, NY at the Proctor Theater, which was a treat.

Be sure your discovery of Albany includes a visit to Speak Easy 518 (www.Speakeasy518.com) where you will have unique cocktail tastes accentuated by a variety of herbs and vintage concoctions. You are admonished: “The bar is open to anyone, but not for everyone. In order to maintain our peaceful, secretive existence beneath the city we require the respect of the following house rules….(which included) Please dress sharply and speak easy. Mind your manners.” Live jazz may be there on your night, and while they offer a variety of wines and beers the experience is in tasting the Prohibition Era Cocktails or the New World Concoctions. You might try the Midnight in the Italian Alps, of Braulio Amaro, Cardamaro Amaro, JFB Sorrel Liqueur, with Flamed Orange Zest, or the Papa Doble made with ADC Quackenbush House Rum, Maraschino Liqueur, and Fresh Grapefruit Juice. Many of the flavors are earthy and perhaps so usual you may have to develop a taste over several visits. To keep the ambiance low, no photography is permitted.
55b380c90
Other recommend dining venues include: Albany Pump Station (www.evansale.com), A Better Bite Deli (www.abetterbitealbany.com), Jake Moon Café (www.jakemoon.net) and the popular New World Bistro Bar (www.newworldbistrobar.com). Albany has more to offer than space allows- but be sure to include the Albany Heritage Center (www.albany.org/visitors-center), the Albany Institute of History and Art (www.albanyinstitute.org), and weather permitting a visit to John Boyd Thacher State Park (www.nysparks.com/parks.com) , and Goolds Orchards and Brookview Station Winery (www.goold.com). If you are lucky you might get to view a replica of Henry Hudson’s “Half Moon” Ship, which is the symbol of Albany.
55b2c9800

Let’s be honest . . . not one person reading this article has ever gone to New York and had the same experience as the next person who will read it. And, though I’m a huge fan of a Hansel and Gretel method of travel writing (leaving plenty of crumbs for readers to follow) I think I’ve finally come to terms with the reality that this could be my first pure travelogue I’ve ever written for RealTravelAdventures.com.

I’m throwing down the challenge. Indeed, I “double-dog-dare” you NOT to follow my footsteps nor recommendations on your own trip to NYC. Go. But go it alone. DIY – Do It Yourself. You, and whoever you might take with you, owe it to yourself to make NYC your own.

If you take my challenge, be prepared to fumble through it like the rest of us, but also be prepared to be hooked by the time you leave; your conquest of New York will endear you to it for a lifetime.

In what would be the first jaunt to NYC for three of the four of our party, we went with no plans, only a few possibliities for our itinerary and all of us in full doscovery mode. Four dear friends, one electric location and a lifetime of dreams ahead of us. Though time was limited, NYC provided any energy boost needed to make the most of every tick of that time.

JFK is a JetBlue (www.jetblue.com) hub – and who wouldn’t pick the most comfortable airline in the business to cross the country? TV at each seat, all the snacks you’d like, affable staff on all legs of the trip and plenty of seating space. However, after that tip . . . I’m sticking with my original statement – once you’re in NY . . . “go it alone!”

Find your own MTA (NYC Metro/Subway) route. The J Train line was under construction so we had a “run-around” route through Queens (coming from JFK en route to Whitehall Terminal). Queens was an experience in itself! We were on a Saturday (Jewish Sabbath) in Queens and had the joy of seeing many Jewish Orthodox men in their Sabbath best. Take your own path to the Statue of Liberty (harbor cruise?, Staten Island Ferry?, Liberty Island Tour? Etc.) We took the Staten Island Ferry (always free and always running every half hour).
55797ba00
555380e00
Mill around the south end of the island, but don’t take the Wall Street “Charging Bull” by the horns just because I did. Find your own icon to prove you were in the epicenter of the Empire State.
555e2aa00
Make your own way to pop Americana sites and attractions such as Times Square, Central Park, The MMA (Metropoltan Museum of Art), The Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Grand Cental Terminal (Station), Yankee Stadium etc.
554e00570
5558c2ea0
5576bd510
5578b84b0
555ddf670
Go without a travel agent’s recommendations. Use New York’s official travel website www.nycgo.com for anything you think you might want to do; perhaps dare to spring upon Broadway without pre-paid show tickets.
554f795a0
While you’re on Broadway . . . eat where you want; though Junior’s (Deli and Cheesecake) www.juniorscheesecake.com will still be packed to the gills with or without you. Forget that the Reuben we had there – the one that still has me salivating and longing for their homemade Thousand Island Dressing. Forget that the 10 oz. Steak Burger and homemade pickles and beets were addicting enough for me to still adorn my office wall with a “take out menu”. You chose.
5561690f0
555f680e0
Do or don’t make time for the 9/11 Memorial www.911memorial.org. Who am I kidding on this one – don’t miss it! Look close for the Survivor Tree. This tree, among the last living items removed from the site, is nothing short of awe inspiring. Stare into the black abyss of the two memorial fountains. Ponder the freedom that allows you to be in that very spot at that very minute. Breathtaking. Awesome.
55626a2f0
Do New York on your “own”.

Take the love of your life.

She’s dug for crabs on the beaches of the west coast (north and south), she stood wide-eyed as the locals strode and drove up and down Daytona Beach, she’s now positive the Alamo does NOT have a basement, and she was the only one on the high-school Philadelphia trip to actually eat a Philly Cheese Steak from a vendor. A dad couldn’t be more certain she’s had at least some of the travel bug rub off nor could he be more proud! So what do you get, in those fleeting last few years while still under your roof, the girl who seems to have had at least a snippet of everything from north to south and east to west? Ask Aleah and, in the United States at least, New York City is THE answer.

The JetBlue red-eye from SLC to its hub of JFK might be the best kept secret in Salt Lake. After a late-night sampling of the spicy chicken thigh from Popeye’s (Utah’s one and only Popeye’s before another finally made its way to Lehi in the spring of 2013), we boarded the plane with full intentions of catching a little shut eye before our whirlwind tour the next day; yet, sleep would elude us for the most part (largely from excitement). Our original plans would have had us going from Salt Lake to Vegas and then on to NYC, but the direct flight was the fastest and clearest route.

We’d planned ahead with some of the great tips from another RTA writer Karl Childs as found here: http://www.realtraveladventures.com/mar2013/visiting_times_square_for_under__50.htm including hints on transportation, on storing a bag at the JFK airport and on making the most with limited funds.

Upon arrival at JFK, even the heavy nor’easter (macro-scale snow storm) couldn’t dampen our spirits. We stored our excess bags in the luggage storage in Terminal 4 for a few dollars and we were on the subway in minutes. The J train from JFK runs both above and below ground en route to White Hall Station (the stop for the Staten Island Ferry) Aleah’s first chance at seeing the State of Liberty. Should you attempt, in any way, to duplicate this one-day adventure, we’d recommend you take the Express J Train (if running) to minimize stops. We’d also highly recommend you know where you’d like to see well in advance. While no single trip to NYC could ever expose you to it all, one sure way to get to many of the best spots (and do so with a 40% discount and even side-step some of the potentially long lines) is to use the official New York City tourism site of NYCgo.com and their CityPASS Ticket Booklet. We’d also planned to stay in NY, should the storm hold us back, and have found that the Hampton Inn hamptoninn.hilton.com/NYC at JFK Airport is both conveniently located near JFK, clean, and perfect for the cost conscious, yet comfort-concerned traveler.

Our plans (and even back up plans) in order, we hoped the J Train and our quest was on. I couldn’t have planned a better trip on the train for introducing my little Utah girl to all things NYC. The views of Queens were interspersed with interesting and beautiful people getting on and of the train. One such character treated us to his soliloquy for most of the ride to White Hall Station. He was only one of many subway treats we would have that day. We heard and saw A Cappella acts and dance routines, guitar minstrels and pan-flautists and most seen well before noon.

I will never forget the indelible mental imprint I now carry of Aleah’s face as the subway finally went “sub” for the last few blocks of the ride and we surfaced onto in the sky-scraper filled, winter sky filled streets of Lower-Manhattan.
55b9e0800
Again, we were now only a stone’s throw from the Staten Island Ferry (with a clear peek at the Statue of Liberty), from Wall Street, from Battery Park, and the World Trade Center. While the storm held us to only seeing the silhouette of Lady Liberty, the free ride on the ferry was worth every minute spent (about an hour round-trip).

From the ferry we made our way over to the 9/11 Memorial (www.911memorial.org) site for a few minutes of patriotic solemnity and reflection. Aleah was the tender age of 7 in 2001. I still have a picture she drew for me September 11, 2001 that carries an American flag and the phrase, “God Bless America”. We stood silent for most of our time at what has been called WTC, “Ground Zero” but now carries the apropos title of “Memorial”. We both left certain to “never forget” the sacrifices and senselessness that have occurred on that now revered ground.
55b880e00

WTC Memorial Fountain

From Lower-Manhattan, various trains will take you north. Most run on either side of our next destination – Times Square. While certainly wanting to take in some of the Americana of this location, we were hungry! It was a toss-up on whether we would lunch on NYC Pizza or try our luck at a legendary New York deli. On a tip from a local, John’s Pizzeria http://www.johnspizzerianyc.com/ was the winner. Strike that . . . we were the winners that day. My, oh my . . . the NYC pie!
55b7e0800
The whole pie (John’s proudly touts “No Slices”) was huge, hand-made, delectable, made even more irresistible by the aged parmesan cheese we added, and proved to be no match for the appetites of these two foodies-gone-east. Not one bite remained at the end of our short stay. The sneak-up-on-you big ambiance of John’s equals the big taste. From outside it merely looks like much of New York City – a door nestled next to another door. However, once inside, the vaulted ceilings, artwork, and stained-glass windows of this former church holds wonder to be had from both the casual traveler and the architecture aficionado alike.

John’s is amid the bustle of Times Square. In Times Square we took in the views of many a movie and TV program. We shopped (to my delight) in what mostly amounted to a big sister/daughter concerned with bringing something back for her brothers and mother, we gawked, and we wandered about in what could even have been accused of reaching tourist instead of traveler status in this hustle and bustle. The difefreence, for me at least, is that of a taker rather than a giver and taker.

We ended our short jaunt to New York with an accidental stroll through Harlem. We thought we were en route to 125 Street to view the Mormon Temple in Manhattan which is actually on 125 Columbia (nearer to 66th Street). The mix up gave us a chance to debunk the myth that Harlem is a no man’s land for any outsider. We later found that we were only seconds from former US President Bill Clinton’s Harlem office. While we weren’t glad to have made the mistake in trains, our concern was more of time lost instead of where we found ourselves as we walked the 8 blocks to the train that would return us to where we wanted to go.

The half hour subway ride back to JFK from Times Square was nearly effortless and efficient. Again we were treated to the reserved beauty of native New Yorkers. We were so impressed at the willingness of perfect strangers to offer assistance when we looked lost or confused. Well, I was impressed – Aleah chose to “fit in” by exhaustedly collapsing on to nearby passengers.
55bad1e00
With neither of us were longing for the trip to be over, we chose to return to Salt Lake through a night’s stay in Long Beach, California. A screaming lodging deal lured us through that layover as we stayed at Hotel Current http://www.hotelcurrent.com/ in Long Beach. This has become a family favorite for us on the front or back end of trips. The staff is both affable and capable. The rooms are clean and modern. The breakfast (comes with your stay) continues to impress time after time. The outdoor pool is tropical and relaxing. They even shuttle to and from the airport and other local landmarks. We decided that our evening, snow-covered shoes should be traded for next morning’s bare feet on the sands of Seal Beach before we flew home to SLC. Hotel Current obliged and even left us for an hour with a kept promise to return and take us to the airport when we were finished.
55bb80e00
New York – Long Beach – Salt Lake City in under 36 hours! A vendor’s bagel, NYC pizza, some trinkets, a subway ride or two with a few stops along the way, and an emblazoned slate of memories to show for those 36 hours will long make this daddy/daughter excursion a trip for the ages!

Do you have a bucket list? Ever since we first heard the term, my wife and I started building ours. We have the typical goals, like skydiving, taking a cruise with the kids, and paragliding. But right at the top of the list was visiting New York City.

We dreamed of Broadway plays, ascending the long elevator ride to the top of the Empire State Building, or just chilling in Central Park. But throughout our many trips and adventures, we never found the opportunity to get there, except for a quick meal and short layover stuck in the JFK airport.

Until this year. On a summer vacation trip in July, we found ourselves back in JFK airport, but this time with a long overnight layover. So being the spontaneous travelers we are, we jumped at the chance to get into the city. And we discovered it is possible to see New York and experience a bit of its culture, even in a few hours. And do it for less than the cost of a single hotel night. Here’s how we did it:

4f7941e30
We knew we didn’t want to schlep (New York-ian for carry) our bags while we were sightseeing, so we checked our bags into the luggage storage in the Arrivals area of terminal 4 (storage is also available in terminals 1 and 8.) Depending on the size of the bag, it costs anywhere from $4-$16 a bag – we checked four for a total of $20. The attendant was pleasant, and took our picture to go along with the bags. It’s a security precaution, to ensure your bags are given back only to you upon your return. I was a little nervous, since we left some electronics in our bags, but everything was completely secure and fine when we retrieved them later.
We jumped on the JFK AirTrain, which can either shuttle you around the airport to different terminals, or take you out of the airport where you can transfer to other trains or subways on route to the city. The AirTrain is free around the airport, and costs just $5 to exit. We took a short 10 minute ride to the Jamaica Station, which is one of the stations where you can buy a transfer ticket to either the New York subway or railroad system.

(Picture: Jamaica Station, heading to Penn Station on the Long Island Railroad)
With a few options of different routes and no knowledge of New York geography, we were a bit confused. Fortunately, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has very eager and willing attendants there to help. We were asked where we wanted to go, and with a blur of her hands, an attendant named Mary had the right ticket brought up on the ticket vending machine, and was telling us to “just pay here”. With blind trust, and an encouraging smile from Mary, we inserted our money and got our tickets.

We opted to take the Long Island Railroad, which is a faster and much more comfortable ride than the subway. It costs a bit more at $8.25 (in addition to the $5 MetroCard), but we shelled out the money and were repaid with two very comfortable seats on a smooth ride to Manhattan. We relaxed for the twenty minute ride, and got off at Penn Station, right at Madison Square Garden and about eight blocks shy of Times Square. We decided this was all part of our adventure, not having seen any of New York before, so instead of transferring to a subway or bus to get to Times Square, we exited the station and starting walking north on 7th Avenue (also known as Fashion Avenue).
As we walked each block, we got more and more excited as we saw street names we had only read or heard of in the movies – 36th Street, 42nd Street, Broadway. The Empire State building loomed in the background, and after a few shots with our camera and 15 minutes, we arrived at Times Square.
Even though it was getting close to 10pm, the energy and excitement on the street made it seem so much earlier. Times Square, I imagine, is always alive and bustling. Street vendors, living statues, the appeal of downtown shopping, taking turns with other travelers to take our picture – it all added to the energy and vitality you feel in Times Square. Times Square is the only neighborhood where the zoning ordinances require building owners to display illuminated signs – and the business owners meet that code with exuberance. The competing Coca-Cola, Chevrolet clock, and Dunk Tank signs, among so many others, only helped in making us feel wide awake and a part of the action.

The Dunk Tank was especially fun. It displayed a live video feed of the crowd, and allowed you to tweet your choice of whether to dunk the man or the woman. After a few minutes, the live feed changes to a video of the crowd’s choice being dunked and then swimming around for a bit, interacting with the crowd, before switching back to the live feed.
Even the policemen on horseback felt more like part of the attraction than like official peacekeepers, although they can spring into action if needed, their numbers having been increased in the mid-90’s by Mayor Giuliani for the safety of the pedestrians.
4c05558d0
We even caught a glimpse of the Naked Cowboy, a Times Square regular who poses for pictures with the tourists and can often be seen on the Today Show in the crowd (don’t worry, he’s not quite completely naked.)
I’ve always loved street vendor food, and midtown Manhattan didn’t disappoint. I wanted to try it all, but settled for three different items from three different vendors. All totaled, the teriyaki chicken strips, chicken and lamb gyro, and bottle of water only cost $15! For two of us! I would have spent $5 more, but the sample taste of the chicken curry was a bit too spicy for my tastebuds.
We enjoyed Times Square for a while, marveling at the signs, being entertained by the street performers, and dropping into stores such as Toys-R-Us, Disney, and Aeropostale. On weekdays, most large stores close by 11pm, so if you want to do any shopping, be sure to get there early enough. We eventually wandered off the main square, and after meandering a couple blocks east, we stumbled upon Bryant Park.

I’ve never been to Central Park, but I began to get a sense of how important the Big Apple considers its parks. Bryant Park covered an entire city block and is made up of a large grass area, sidewalks and walkways, chairs and tables, and permanent ping-pong tables along its perimeter. The night we were there, several hundred people had gathered for a movie in the park, projected on a huge 40 foot high screen. The park was filled with easy-going, relaxing locals, taking the time to enjoy the cool evening weather and watch Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront”. Others were playing table tennis, or sitting at tables eating, or slowly walking hand-in-hand. We tried it out – we sat at a table close to where we could see the jumbo screen, finished our gyros, and then walked slowly, leisurely, out of the park holding hands, completely satisfied with our quick trip into the city.
http://www.bryantpark.org/

I began to get a sense of why so many people say they love living in New York. It’s instantly comfortable, yet exciting. It’s alive, and yet relaxing. And despite some perceptions, the people we met were all very friendly and helpful.
Eventually, regretfully, we had to head back to the airport. The security lines close around midnight, so we wanted to at least get back into the terminal before they shut down for the night.

Since we rode the train to Times Square, we thought we would try the subway on the return trip, getting on at the station at the intersection of 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. It’s a little cheaper, at only $2.25 per person, and then the $5 MetroCard again to transfer back to the AirTrain. The subway gives you a bit more insight into the New York experience, riding and interacting with more locals than were on the train, including students, young workers, families heading home from an evening with friends or shopping, and even a sleeping homeless man who looked tired but harmless. But I have to admit, I would splurge on the train ride – the subway is louder, slower with more stops (it’s about a 40 minute ride to the airport), and has harder seats. But we still enjoyed it – even when we realized we got on a train going the wrong direction!
4c04588f0
One note of caution – if you have to change directions, make sure you get off at a station that has access to both sides of the platform. We got off after one stop, and realized we couldn’t get to the train going in the opposite direction without leaving the station (which would cost another $2.25 to enter.) So we got back on, rode two more stops until we could get to a station large enough to get to the right train. All part of the experience, right?

All told, for a fun evening of sight-seeing, dinner, and a bit of New York culture, we spent $77 for the two of us, including luggage storage. That is easily under $50 for one person! If you’re ever on a long enough layover at a New York airport, and want to get a bit more travel for your buck, visiting Times Square is a great way to do it. And if you have the time and are there early enough, you could even squeeze in a visit to the Empire State Building or Central Park.
Next on our bucket list…sky diving! (Oh boy…)