Craig Box's journeys, stories and notes...

Archive for May, 2008

New York - Day 4

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

We needed some groceries, so we wandered around our adopted neighbourhood a little in the morning. On the way to the Korean Supermarket on 32nd St we found Jim Hanley's Universe, a Mark-1-on-steroids where Fern could relive her childhood through Tintin Asterix. Every other shop in the neighbourhood is a souvenir store, but this one wins for most statue-ettes.

Some things at the grocers were a little reminder of home, and others were just a little strange!.

I thought the British liked queueing, but this beat it hands down.  We never found out why. At least they all had Bubble Guy to entertain them.

Greenwich Village, home of the rich and famous, location of Friends, although I never saw Monica or Ross picking up a copy of the PKWARE user manual from a street vendor!  We walked around the outside of the NYU campus, around Bleecker St, the home of music and culture immortalized in song by Paul Simon. I particularly respect their order of national prioritisation!


The Village is the home of the narrowest building in Manhattan, at 2.9m wide (number 75½), and next door at 77, the oldest building in the borough. Even regular width houses are hard to send mail to here. Parking is difficult also.

It's also home to a loud and proud gay district, which, as always, has its finger on the pulse of culture - only one week after the event.

We thought we'd check out the TKTS booth down in Times Square, and got half price tickets for the Monty Python music "Spamalot" literally 2 minutes before it started. Last minute tickets are invariably in the nosebleed section, but we enjoyed the show nonetheless. When Spamalot first premiered it was full of talented actors Tim Curry, Hank Azaria and Niles from Frazier.  All we got was Clay Aiken from American Idol. Afterwards, he attracted a large stage door audience (and was probably the owner of the limo), but we left before he did.

The counterfeit bag crew were out in Times Square also, but we managed to make it past the throngs of crazed bargain-hunting women and back to the subway toward home.

New York - Day 3

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Breakfast, then off to the subway to head down to Chinatown.

The back streets of Chinatown are full of childish laughs, arguments, odd looking food and things to buy.

I was on a mission to find a plate of kwai teow, the fantastic food described as "cholesterol on a platter". Possibly my favourite food ever. Not a lot of hope, before finding a Singaporean restaurant which served me up this piping hot platter of awesome.

Canal St, the main street of Chinatown, is full of counterfeit everything. While one store was noticeably shut down, there were dozens more where that came from. Guys on the street offered to sell you Rolexes and iPods, and every store was full of sunglasses, perfumes and handbags. Dolce and Gabbana seemed the brand of choice - all manner of brandless bags were labelled with the same little triangular logo, and no-one hid those. If you knew what to ask for, they'd let you go out the back and look at the Chanel bags, but asking for Louis Vuitton got you looked at suspiciously. We had to take two attempts, with a little Chinese lady telling us "no pictures! $10 for picture!", to sneak this Kanye West inspired photo.

From here, we headed down to Battery Park, grabbed sweet refreshment, and stared out at the lady of the harbour. From the free ferry out to Staten Island, one of the five boroughs that makes up New York City, you get a great view of the Statue of Liberty and boats on the harbour. (And birthday girls.) The return trip gives ample opportunities for photographs of the Manhattan skyline.

Day 3's gallery has many more harbour shots.

New York - Day 2

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Day 2 started late, and we went to the famous Dining Concourse in Grand Central Station for lunch - or, seeing as I'd managed to pick up a nasty and painful sore throat a few days before leaving, a soothing smoothie.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is on east side of Central Park, near the famous reservoir. The outlook of the day was a little bleak, but still impressive.

Entry to the museum is by donation, and you can pay as much or as little as you like. However, we didn't know you actually did have to pay something, because we pretty much just walked right in! Apart from the standard wing of paintings, the museum has a lot of interior design, sculpture, armoury, musical instruments, and other forms of art. I spent a lot of time looking for the unicorn tapestries, having seen copies being traditionally made at Stirling Castle last year. I eventually found out that these were at the Cloisters, a gallery of medieval art we would have to see another day.

Personal highlights of the Met:

(As you can tell, I have wicket good descriptive arty lingo.)

I love the description plate that comes with this piece of art. Puts "oil on canvas" to shame.

Day 2's gallery is full of art.

New York - Day 1

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Fern's birthday was in early April, and she had always wanted to go to New York City. What better birthday present than ten days in the big apple?

First, the logistics: driving to Buffalo, NY takes about 2½ hours, and shaves several hundred dollars off the cost of flying. A couple of JetBlue tickets (a low-cost US carrier) ran about $200 each, including tax, compared to the ~$600 each Air Canada would have charged out of Toronto.

Accommodation was an interesting dilemma, also neatly solved by the Internet. We found a listing on Craigslist put up by a woman named Lamia, who wanted to rent out her apartment while she was away for 10 days - almost exactly the 10 days I had wanted to take off - and made quick arrangements by e-mail, followed by slow arrangements by money order and post.

Crossing station at LewistonWe had a little problem driving across the border. You know when you pass through the US, and get given one of those little green cards, part of which you're expected to keep? No-one ever explains why, or what it actually does. It's a visa waiver, which lets you enter the country without explicitly being issued a visa, and it's valid for 90 days. If you re-enter the country less than 90 days after leaving it, and don't have the green card, you're in trouble. They actually make you pay $6 for its re-issue after they're convinced you're not going to be bad. Hint: don't say "we've rented an apartment", because even though you mean "for 10 days", they hear "forever".

Fern at JFKBuffalo Airport was pleasantly simple - you still get the checks on US domestic flights, but they'll let you on even with just a strange looking drivers' license, The flight was peaceful (the seat-back TV, instead of being on-demand, was live satellite TV, so I watched a little Battlestar Galactica and followed the US election on Faux News) and after just over an hour, we arrived at JFK.

In a complete contrast to Toronto's useless transit, JFK has a simple link with the NYC subway. Strangely, you pay $5 for the 10 minute AirTrain ride from the terminal to the subway station, and then $2 for the 45 minute subway ride into Manhattan.

The subway was stereotypical - by the time we got to the line we needed, both carrying suitcases and carry-on bags, we were abused by New Yorkers for taking up too much space. After a couple of changes it was a two-block walk to the apartment.

Lamia's room-mate is a painter named Russell, who met us at the apartment and told us a little bit about things to do. Unfortunately that was the last time we saw him, as he only came down to NY for the weekends.

Craig and stromboli.We went for a walk to get our bearings, and see how far away things were. The apartment was in the shadow of the Empire State Building, and Macy's on 5th Avenue was all of 5 minutes walk away. We walked up to Times Square (about 20 minutes uptown) and back, before grabbing some dinner - stromboli from Empire State Pizza. (Verdict: as with most North American pizza, too much meat and not enough onion/peppers/extra fillings.)

Check out the gallery for day 1 (including lots of great photos Fern took from the plane).