New York City - June 2003 Megamail

Before this gets too far out of memory, I thought I would fill ya'll in on Sam and I's trip to the Big Apple last month. Actually, when I originally wrote this, it was last month, now it is more like... June. Hey, greatness takes time! It wasn't a big trip by any means... Just a weekend escape if you will. So, the 'Mega' in this Megamail is somewhat overrated. I know, I know, everyone will be happy to hear that. But don't get too full of yourselves because you are soon to be bombed with another Spain Megamail followed by a short and breezy Hurricane Megamail. If you are wondering, we just got our power back Sunday night after 10 days without!!!!

So, to begin, which is a Thursday after work. Sam and I decided to take the *train*, yes, that is no misprint, we indeed took the *train* from Richmond up to New York City. After carefully considering our options, the train seemed the obvious choice. 1) Flying was more expensive, and not necessarily less time, given the time it takes to get to the airport, fly, deplane, get a taxi, yada yada yada. 2) Driving took the same or less time (in theory), and certainly cost less, but would involve driving through several major metropolises and thus would definitely add to the stress level. Actually, costing less is not all that obvious either, as once you get to NYC, there is the small issue of parking and several hotels charge $20/day for that, so there is that stress/cost to consider as well. Thus, the train it was and it was a pretty pleasurable experience and I would recommend the train to anybody who lives in the Northeast corridor. It is just easier and less stressful.

So, the train drops you off at Penn Station, which is pretty much in the middle of Manhattan and just a few blocks walk away from Times Square. The hotel, which we scouted out ahead of time, was just across the street from the train station so that couldn't have worked out any better. The hotel, Hotel Pennsylvania, was OK, but not great. It had a superb lobby, but the rooms were starting to fall apart. Still, for under $100/night, I don't think you are going to find much better deal in NYC, so for simplicity and location, I would recommend it. After all, Sam and I only used it to sleep anyway.

After the six hour train ride, we arrived in the "city that never sleeps" at around 11pm and promptly checked in. We then took a stroll down to Times Square and other notable locales such as Rockefeller Center and Saint Patrick's Cathedral before turning in for the night. During this walk, we noticed a distinct lack of pubs to stop in and wet our whistle. This unfortunate circumstance happened repeatedly during our trip. One would think that for a city the size of New York, there would be a lively club or pub or *something* every other block. Perhaps we didn't know where to look, that is true, but I find the revelation disturbing nonetheless!

Anyway, during our walk, Sam (who has been to NYC several times before) was pointing out this and that and it was all basically lost on me. 'That is famous? I've never heard of it. Huh. Doesn't look so special to me.' I would say. Sam would respond with some statement of incredulity. Apparently I am not as cultured as she thought I was. Hmmm.

We awoke Friday morning to rain. In fact, we awoke every morning to rain. It rained pretty much the entire time we were there. That certainly put a damper (pun intended) on the trip and limited the things we could do. But we did the best we could with what we had.

Another good thing about our hotel being where it was, is that there was a subway station right out the door. The subway was, well, not as nice as other subways I have been on... But by no means something you should avoid. We had no problems using it. They offer a daily metro card for $7, but unless you are going to be traveling a lot, I would recommend skipping it and getting the 6 trips for $10 instead.

Another weird thing about the subway in New York was that on some lines, instead of the traditional two tracks (one each direction), they had four tracks (two each direction), however one could not get on or off the interior tracks. Thus, a train would come and zip on through the station. This made me think of Pink Floyd's The Wall with the train full of people on their way to the meat grinder. I thought it would be a pretty good practical joke to hand out a bunch of masks and see the expressions on peoples faces at the station as they see the Pink Floyd train go by. Oh the ways I amuse myself!

So, our first order of business of the day was to do the typical thing of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The subway stop by the ferry that takes you to these places is under construction right now and it makes the getting lost very easy, but we managed. One can see the effects of 9/11 immediately after getting their ticket to ferry. Everybody passes through a security gate, much like those at airports. And then, of course, the biggest impact is that no one is allowed to actually go up the statue anymore. You can just go to the island and walk around and then pretty much catch the next ferry over to Ellis Island. That was a major bummer! We were aware of the closure ahead of time, but still, it sucked.

Although we only spent a couple of hours at Ellis Island, I could easily see spending all day. It is just that interesting. To think that 40% of the population in the US today has ancestors that passed through there is simply mind boggling. I wonder in 100 years what percentage of the population will have ancestors that illegally crossed from Mexico into the US? That's something to think about, huh?

Anyway, I found the history very fascinating. It wasn't always presented in the best way, in my opinion, but the whole concept of packing up everything and floating across the Atlantic and the whole industry that sprung up around it was really interesting. Anyway, I don't want to spoil it all for you, so we'll just leave it at: don't miss Ellis Island. By the way, you can check if your ancestors passed by Ellis Island by going to their website

After our return trip to the mainland, we did a lot of walking. First we visited Ground Zero, which is still a buzz of activity... Primarily from tourists visiting Ground Zero. It is staggering just how big a chunk of the city that was wiped out. Very discouraging. Very sad.

We journeyed over to Wall St. I'm not sure what I was expecting... but I just didn't feel the billions of dollars being exchanged in the air while we were there. It doesn't *seem* like the financial center of the world... I must have missed something.

We then moseyed over to Chinatown. Along the way began another quest for a pub, that went unfulfilled until we hit Little Italy. I cannot lament enough how disappointing it is to walk through a city the size of New York and not hit a place to quench one's thirst every 30 feet! But in Little Italy, you will certainly not have that problem! There are multitudes of fine looking Italian restaurants, most with outdoor seating, to choose from. We just stopped for a drink this trip, but our next trip I'm sure will involve a journey to this bustling part of town for dinner.

We had tickets to a Broadway show that night so we decided to head back to the hotel for a quick change. Along the way we walked through SoHo. Ehhh, big deal!

Sam was enticed by an ad in one of the many restaurants in the Theater District and so that was our destination for a pre-show meal. I think it was on 43rd street or something. You can't possibly miss this street because it seems everything on it is a restaurant and they generally cater to the pre-theater crowd.

Our destination for the evening was a place called The Hourglass. We made reservations, but we didn't need any. This place, from the outside looks like a hole in the wall. But don't let that discourage you. The place was excellent! I opted for the filet and Sam got some variety of ravioli. Both were excellent and came with a salad. We threw in a bottle of wine and were expecting the worst... However the price was extremely reasonable, given what we expected to pay in New York. In fact, all our dining experiences were very reasonably priced (except for an outrageously priced breakfast!). I don't know, maybe we just knew how to pick the spots.

Our dinner finished in perfect time to walk a couple more blocks to our show. We were pumped up to see Antonio Banderas and cadre of sixteen babes in "Nine". The theater was pretty nice. We were up there in the balcony, but still had a pretty good view of everything. The show was pretty good too. In addition to a bevy of hotties, there were two scenes that really stood out. One was the number that Jane Krakowski (of Ally McBeal fame) did. She got a Tony this past year and that number was I'm sure what got it for her. Lots of energy, really sexy, and the whole coming down from the ceiling bit was very cool.

The other cool sequence was when they flooded the stage for a scene in some canal in Venice. I've never seen anything done like that before and I really commend the props guys for coming up with something that allowed them to do that with out causing a mess.

After the show we headed to a brewpub off of Times Square called the Heartland Chophouse. We sampled a couple of their beers before they closed at midnight. That is another thing I didn't understand about New York. Why were these places closing at midnight!??! What happened to the city that never sleeps?!!? We definitely need to research this further before our next trip there. By the way, before I forget, pass on the Apricot Ale. It might be good on a hot summer day, but things were closer to a wet and cold spring while we were there.

The next day, after waking up once more to rain, decided that it was a museum day. Fortunately, most of the museums are located on the east side of Central Park and so this makes seeing them all pretty convenient. So we took the subway up to Central Park and then walked the rest of the way.

Our first destination was the Frick Collection. It was pretty good and I would recommend it. I don't know what more to say about it than that. There isn't anything really modern there. Lots of 19th century and earlier. I guess what is really interesting about it is the diversity of artists and how rare it is to have them all together in one place... from El Greco to Renoir. I don't know, I'm not the art connoisseur, Sam is. So ask her.

Our next destination was The Met. Again, this is a place where one could easily spend all day, if not more. It is quite large. We looked over a lot of modern stuff and impressionist stuff... European stuff. A lot of stuff I guess. But we soon started to get numb to all the art we saw that day, and anyway we wanted to try and scoop up some last minute tickets to a show for that night.

Let me tell you about that... It didn't work out. First, the lines are huge. Get there early, or get there late if you want to avoid them. Second, if it is raining, as it was, waiting is no fun. So, we decided not to wait and instead went looking for a bar to think about life, the universe and everything and see if the line went down any after a bit. We found this one Irish bar called the Pig and Whistle. It was pretty good and I would recommend it... If only I could remember where it was!

We went back to Times Square to check out the line situation and it was not improved. So, we decided to get some dinner and then check back afterwards to see if the line improved. We again went to the street with all the preshow restaurants and just walked until we found something we liked.

I have no idea what the place was and I have no idea what I ordered, but it was pretty good. I got the price fixed menu, which seems to be a popular thing in New York. For fixed price, you get to pick your soup or salad, your main course and a dessert. I think I had some sort of fish, but I couldn't confirm that. My lack of memory has nothing to do with the wine we drank that evening, I am positive of that! :) The only thing I remember is that our waiter reminded me of the guy from Unfaithful... And I'm not talking Richard Gere either. Very suave. Needless to say, I got Sam out of there as soon as possible before she got tempted! No trust! :)

Well, at 7:50pm, the line for tickets did still exist, however it was only a couple of people deep. At that time, there were only a couple of shows that still had seats and none of them really called our attention. Besides, it was a little late to get tickets and then get to the theater. But I'm guessing if you get there at 7:30, most of the crowds would be gone and you still might end up with something good.

We had another beer and scoped out the possibility of seeing an independent or foreign movie to close the night, but our energy quickly dissipated and so we just want back to the hotel, to get rid of our very wet clothes, and went to sleep.

Our final day in New York would be a full one because our train back did not leave until 7pm or so. And once again, we awoke to rain. But as we grabbed something to eat at Sbarros (hey, I couldn't resist, I used to work at one and as they started in New York, I couldn't pass up the opportunity). Anyway, as we were getting something to eat, the sun made a miraculous appearance and so we decided to go up the Empire State Building while the weather was nice.

The line is longer than it appears. They do a good job distracting you and sending you from one area to another, so that even though you are waiting 30-40 minutes, it seems like you are always moving and thus it doesn't seem so bad. Of course, by the time we got to the top, the sun went away. :(

Afterwards, we decided to go to more museums. The first was the Guggenheim. We were pretty disappointed. First, although Frank Lloyd Wright's designs are very artistic and novel... They generally don't stand up well against the test of time. I imagine that within 10 years, the Guggenheim will be closed for major renovations. Of course, none of this stopped us from taking pictures of the exterior.

But, that isn't what was really disappointing about our visit. Upon entrance, we found out that half of the museum was closed as they were changing exhibits. That in it itself wasn't as annoying. What *was* annoying was that they put all this crap in the rest of the museum so that one is pretty much always having to walk around garbage. It did not make for a very appealing visit and I think the museum should be closed than let people see it in the state it was and go away with a negative impression as Sam and certainly did. The art that we did see, however, was very interesting and the corkscrew layout of the main atrium, we could imagine, is an extremely enjoyable way to view art.

The second museum was called the Neue Gallery and took a little bit of work to find. This is a definite 'not worth it' It was very small and focused on more modern German artists. Some of the material looked like it came out of Hustler but they had a couple good Klimts. But what really ticked us off was that one of the floors was closed off. So, out of the day, two museums, two partial viewings. A rather subdued end of our trip.

By this point we had to get back to our hotel and pick up our bags and head to the train station. We had a beer to close out our trip in New York. The trip back wasn't all that exciting other than a) I started to get sick... All those germs in NYC I guess. And b) as we did not eat a full meal before we left, we had to settle for White Castle cheeseburgers courtesy of Amtrak's microwave. They were better than I expected! Don't pass them up!

So there you have it... A Mini Megamail about New York. I'm sure we'll be heading there again someday soon. There is just too much to do not too.

Actually, one final note. After visiting the 'big three' cities of the world: first Paris, then London and now New York, I think that London was my favorite. New York got big negative points for lack of watering holes and well, just being too familiar. Paris, was well, filled with French people :). And so London wins out. It was the most lively and cosmopolitan. So, if you are ever indecisive on where to visit in the future, consider London!

Oh, and one final note. A first for a megamail. I've attached a few photos from the trip. They say a picture is worth a thousand words so that should bring my word count up to normal MegaMail standards!

Eric, Sam and Jake


Sam waits for the ferry to leave for Liberty Island.


Sam wows Lady Liberty with her good looks.


Eric points out Manhattan from Liberty Island.


Sam atop the Empire State Building looking over Central Park.


Eric is doing something here... we just don't know what.


The Guggenheim in NYC on a rainy day.