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Sunday 29 July 2007

West End Appreciation Festival

This weekend saw the annual West End Appreciation Festival that the city holds in one of our Olmstead-designed parks. As you might guess, it's intended for the residents of the West End, a primarily black community. I was there helping man a booth for the Kentucky Humane Society's SNIP clinic, a spay-neuter clinic for low income pet owners. You might have even heard about this new clinic earlier in the year; the controversial initial ad campaign got national attention (you can watch people's reaction on this video).

There were a number of non-profit, civic, and government agencies with booths there, but the big activities seemed to all be at the tents that various churches had set up for their barbecues. A bank was giving kids rides in their hot air balloon, and the police brought a small helicopter that they could climb in.

Edited on: Tuesday 27 November 2007 21:03
Categories: News from Louisville

Saturday 21 July 2007


We got up this morning intending to take advantage of the beautiful fall-like weather by going to the Wilson nursery near Frankfort, and then visiting the Kentucky Historical Society's Museum at the capital.

Regular readers of this blog may remember that we tried to visit the museum earlier this year, but it was closed on Sunday, and that I'd met the folks from the Wilson nursery at the Herb and Garden Festival last month. The Wilson folks invited me to visit the nursery and gave me a five dollar gift certificate. My cilantro plant got sick while we were on vacation in New York, and I wanted to get another one.

We hit the road about 9:30 in the morning and we were making excellent time until I saw a sign that said "Kentucky Bourbon Trail - Wild Turkey Distillery". "Let's take a slight detour," I told CVH, "And visit the distillery. It'll only take about an hour." Turned out to be more like Gilligan's Island's "Three hour tour".

We drove around, following the signs to the distillery for about half and hour until we reached a dead end. At that point, we turned around and headed towards the small town of Versailles (pronounced here as "vur-SAY-uhls"). Just outside of town CVH looked up on a hill and said "Look at the old trains," so I had to wheel in and check it out. Turns out that we had run across the Bluegrass Scenic Railroad. They have old (1920's) train cars that you ride every weekend during the summer. Unfortunately, we were too early in the day for the ride, so we could only look at them before continuing on down the road.

We entered the town of Versailles about the time CVH found the Kentucky visitor's guide in the car and determined that the Wild Turkey distillery was closed on Saturdays anyway. While we tried to figure out how to best get back toward Frankfort, she noted that the Woodford Reserve distillery was nearby, and it was open. I had heard of Woodford Reserve in connexion with the one thousand-dollar mint juleps that they serve at the Kentucky Derby. So after a quick lunch at the cute railroad-styled Railheads restaurant, we once again followed the signs pointing to the distillery. After about another half an hour, we thought that we had missed our turn, as we were driving past only very wealthy-looking horse farms, not anyplace where you'd expect to find a industrial enterprise. One of the farms we passed had its own racing track, complete with starting gates. Now that's money.

We turned around a couple of times, but eventually found the Woodford Reserve distillery tucked in amongst these wonderful horse farms. It was apparently there first; it started up in 1812. And the tour was definitely the best distillery tour we've been on yet; it lasted almost two hours, and you got to see the actual process areas up close, unlike any other tour we've taken. They told us this was because Woodford Reserve is the smallest (legal) distillery in Kentucky; most of the staff is part-time, they bottle so little.

Fermenting vats

On this tour you get to see the fermenting vats right up close in front of you. So close that the guide has to warn you not to lean over them (there is no oxygen directly above the fermenting mash; you could pass out and fall in). And you get to see the three copper distillers.

Our guide was very good; he explained just about everything that one could explain about bourbon. Like all the tour guides there, he was a retiree working there part time. As he showed us how the barrels are loaded with whiskey, he told us that he retired from the Kentucky State Police. He was head of the Drug and Alcohol Awareness program there. And he sure still likes talking about alcohol. If you do only one distillery tour in Kentucky, this is the one to do. It takes longer to get to, and lasts longer, but it's worth it.

By this time we realized that we were not going to be able to get to the Museum in time to make a worthwhile visit. So we headed out on what I thought would be a shortcut to the main road back to Frankfort. For about fifteen minutes the road kept getting narrower and twistier and going down and down. We ended up driving along a wide river. When we eventually saw the Interstate crossing the river about a hundred feet over our heads, we knew I had taken a wrong turn. Still, there was the occasional car coming the other way, which suggested that this road really did go somewhere.

And it did, finally dropping us out onto a highway very near the nursery after all. A very nice nursery, but they didn't have any cilantro. I bought a delicious Thai Basil plant, and when I presented my gift certificate, the clerk asked if I had gotten it at the Herb Festival in Indiana. Yes, I did, I replied. Is that where you're from? he asked. No, I said, we're from Louisville; we left the house at nine-thirty this morning to come here and we just arrived. His eyes got big. We took a couple of wrong turns, I explained.

Categories: News from Louisville

Friday 20 July 2007

Friday Fry

A cool front blew through last night and pushed out the hot humid air, at least for a couple of days.

The Frying
So because the weather was so nice this evening, we decided to fry up some shrimp for dinner. Out came the propane fryer, and in went the shrimp. We also had some battered pickles, and in they went, too. Yum.

The Product

Categories: News from Louisville

Saturday 14 July 2007

Roadkill Buffet

We headed out this morning on our usual produce run to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables. Even with the poor weather conditions this spring, some good stuff is coming into the farmer's markets, although the prices are not as attractive as they were last year (as attractive to us, anyway; I suppose they look just fine to the farmers).

We stopped off to pick up some fresh tortillas at the local Mexican market, and lo and behold, there was a charity festival being held in the strip center parking lot: a wild game cooking contest. A couple dozen clubs and groups were competing to see who could make the best smoked venison, fried fish, wild turkey stew, etc. As soon as we walked into the lot, CVH thought it smelled wonderful, and wanted to buy a ticket which would allow her to get samples from each of the teams. The proceeds went to some sort of hunting promotion program for local schools. I thought it smelled like you ran over a squirrel on the highway and it stuck to your exhaust manifold.

But I bought CVH a ticket and she enjoyed sampling all the dishes and voted for her favorite, a turtle stew. I bought the tortillas and went down the strip center to the Indian food store where I discussed the goings on with the proprietor there, a southern Indian. I bought some vegetarian snacks, and he asked about what was going on outside (the festival was sponsored by another tenant in the strip center, a bow-hunting store, and I expect that they hadn't bothered to tell him anything about this). Although he didn't approve of the hunting of animals, he did allow that if you are going to kill them, perhaps you ought to eat them.

There was an interesting demo of the atlatl, an ancient hunting weapon that some of the guys there used to hunt wild boar. I'll admit that's real hunting - you and a stick against a wild boar. That ain't picking up a family pack of pork chops at the Kroger.

Categories: News from Louisville

Monday 09 July 2007

It's hard to leave New York City

Note: If you're reading these entries about our New York City trip as part of the regular blog, you might want to read them in chronological order instead. I've arranged them as such here.

We got up, went to the breakfast buffet for the last time, and then started packing. We got the Super Shuttle to La Guardia (fortunately, we were the last people on the shuttle, so it only took us about an hour to get to the airport). It was a hot, sunny summer day.

You hear these stories about people sitting in their airplane on the runway for three and a half hours, only to have their flight cancelled? Well, it really happens. Ninety-five degrees. No food. No water. No booze. No toilet paper. Our pilot said the instruments overheated, but fortunately they did not attempt to claim that this was a weather-related cancellation, as airlines don’t provide any compensation in the event of weather-related cancellations. US Air gave us a voucher for a Delta flight to Lexington that was supposed to leave four hours later, and a taxi voucher for a ride from there to the Louisville airport, from where we'd be on our own (we'd taken a cab to the airport). Assuming all went well, this would get us home around two a.m. Almost everyone else on the plane opted for standby the next morning. There was at least one guy who was going to Louisville for only the evening, and since he couldn't get there, wanted his ticket changed to where he was going anyway the next day. Seemed perfectly reasonable to me, but since he'd bought a non-refundable ticket, they wanted to charge him $100 to change it, which of course he didn't think he should have to do under the circumstances.

We had another delicious airport meal while waiting for our next flight; since we'd already eaten lunch there too, salt crystals were beginning to form on the palms of our hands (the airline wouldn't spring for the meal, although they did give each of us a voucher good for $200 against a future flight).

We finally got on the second plane, which left half an hour late. We arrived in Lexington after midnight, and I when I saw that the taxi voucher was good for only $90, I was very concerned, as it's a good hour and a half drive to Louisville and what driver is going to take $90 for a three hour round trip in the middle of the night? When we landed, CVH went to the ticket counter to see if anyone knew anything about us while I approached the rental car people. Turns out that you can rent a car one way from Lexington to Louisville for about $90, but the rental car companies won't take airline vouchers. Jerks.

If you agree to accept a ground transportation voucher in a case like this, be sure you understand what they're giving you.

But I have to give US Air credit, as they had called ahead and arranged for minivans to accept our vouchers and drive us to Louisville. And our driver, although overly chatty, did agree to drop us off at our house instead of the airport, so all ended well around two-twenty in the morning.

Then the air conditioner compressor went out in the middle of the night, but that's another story.

Categories: New York City trip

Sunday 08 July 2007

Skyscrapers, parks, and bookstores

We decided to wander around on another sunny, but hot day. I didn’t feel that there was anything left that I felt I had to see, because the Queen Mary had sailed, and the Post Office would have been closed on Sunday. But while we were waiting on the slow service for breakfast, I read CVH’s tourist guide that she had been referring to all week, and found that the Central Post Office, the giant Farley Post Office building that takes an entire New York City block across from Madison Square Garden, is open 24/7. So we walked over there to admire the architecture. Unfortunately, its entire facade is covered with tarps and scaffolding while they do some sort of modifications, and very little of the interior is open on Sunday. Still, what we could see was impressive.

From there, we walked down 33rd street, enjoying the view of the Empire State Building, and then visiting the Empire State Building Walgreens for some sunscreen and a CD of pictures of New York (I told you that anything you wanted to take a picture of had already been done better by someone else). It was worth visiting just for the well-preserved Art Deco staircase leading to the lower floor. Then we caught the subway to Madison Square Park. We had Chicago Dogs at the famous Shake Shack in the park. We heard that the wait is terrible during the week, but we got there right after opening (11:00 am), and there was hardly any line at all.

This park is a nice shady spot to sit and enjoy your hot dog while admiring the Empire State Building and watching the dog walkers go by. CVH also got to see her favorite skyscraper, the Flatiron. That's her standing in the shadows.

Then we rode the subway down to the South Ferry station, where we saw the very end of the NYC Diabetes bicycle ride (I guess all the riders had set their DVRs to record the Tour de France that morning), and walked through Castle Clinton, a fortification originally built offshore to protect downtown Manhattan from an naval attack during the war of 1812. The attack never came, and landfill eventually made the Castle (named after DeWitt Clinton) part of Manhattan island. It was turned into the immigration processing center for all immigrants coming into New York until Ellis Island was built. Then the Castle was turned into a very popular aquarium (reportedly thirty thousand people attended the grand opening) until the forties. A conservation group is now restoring the Castle to its original version as a cannon fort. Not with real cannon, of course. Just for historical purposes.

Manhattan no longer docks ships, and we were able to walk along a lovely promenade that is being built all up the west side along the Hudson. Herds of people were there enjoying the sunny day, riding bikes, rollerskating, and walking dogs. I have been surprised at having only seen one or two skateboarders during the entire week. I can’t believe they don’t run rampant in this place of concrete; perhaps they only come out at night.

All this walking burned off our Chicago Dogs (or at least we thought it did), so we stopped at one of several eateries along the promenade, the Liberty View Chinese Restaurant. Fresh steamed vegetable dumplings and shredded pork and preserved mustard green soup are six dollars apiece, and you really can see the Statue of Liberty from your chair. Note from the photo that the Statue might be smaller than you had been led to believe.

We walked on up the promenade, past this sculpture. It used to sit at the World Trade Center. Its battered remains rest here as a reminder. We continued to Wintergarden, where you can see live palm trees (so they told us) growing in New York. I saw something similar on the riverfront in Detroit, but they couldn’t keep the trees alive and they preserved them by artificial means. Perhaps the same fate awaits these trees. We also discovered that Wintergarden provides the best view for a silent contemplation of the former World Trade Center towers site.

After making use of the public restrooms at Wintergarden (the availability of public restrooms may be the most changed aspect of NYC in the last fifteen years), we crossed the street to the Skyscraper Museum. The current exhibition focussed on the Burj Dubai, currently the tallest planned skyscraper in the world, about twice the height of the Empire State Building. There were also smaller exhibits focussing on the history of the skyscraper (particularly in Manhattan), the Empire State Building, and the World Trade Center towers. And, in the gift shop, I found a cardboard kit for building your own Empire State Building! Not the same one I bought in 1981, but close enough to what I was looking for! I’ll post pictures when I get it built - after the Tour de France is over.

CVH wanted to walk through TriBeCa, but either we were in the wrong part of TriBeCa, or it’s just really dead on Sundays, so we came back to the hotel for a much needed nap.

Then it was up and in search of food again (when you stay in a “full-service” hotel, that is, one without a microwave or refrigerator in your room, you find you spend a lot of your time in hunter-gatherer mode). CVH had been studying the inexpensive (she says “cheap”, I say “affordable”) restaurant reviews as soon as we had bought our tickets for this trip. She wanted Italian and gave me the names of two places to check. One, supposedly on the upper east side, wasn’t in the phone book, but the other was a hit: Casa Bella, on the frontier of beleagured Little Italy. Beleagured, that is, by Chinatown, and its guantlet of cheesy souvenir and shady counterfeit DVD hawkers which you must ford in order to reach your restaurant. Still, we had a well-served meal of baby artichokes, meatballs, eggplant parmigiana, and chianti for $55. You could spend less by avoiding the slightly overpriced chianti, and sticking with the regular menu items instead of specials.

Then we took the N train up to the Strand Book Store. They famously advertise eighteen miles of books, and I can believe it. New, remaindered, and used books, I could have spent the entire week there. The only thing I didn’t understand was that if you lived in Manhattan, you wouldn’t have room to own books, so who do they sell all these books to? CVH found a couple of New York books, and I got their eightieth anniversary T-shirt, designed by illustrator and graphic artist Art Spiegelman.

Next door to the Strand is Forbidden Planet, an off-beat book store that specializes in comic books, “graphic novels”, Batman figurines, and the like. They did have a Thomas Pynchon novel prominently displayed, I guess to indicate that they do recognize serious literature or something. Nonetheless, I enjoyed leafing through their selection of R. Crumb books, even though I didn’t find any Spiegelman.

Categories: New York City trip

Saturday 07 July 2007

Art-full Saturday in NYC

Down to the breakfast buffet again (I'm gaining about ten pounds on this trip). One interesting sight from our hotel window is all the wooden water towers on top of the buildings around New York. Apparently there's a code that requires a gravity-driven water fire extinguishing system in all high-rises. These days they tuck the water in the top few floors of each building, but the older ones have these wooden towers. Warm water is pumped in during the winter to keep them from freezing.

Up and at it to the Museum of Modern Art. A lot of iconic items there, and you need to see them in person; there’s no substitute for seeing the real Starry Night or Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. You might find that Les Demoiselles is bigger than you thought; amazingly, there was no one in the gallery where I took this picture of CVH in front of it. We had a snack at the Café there. It’s the (relatively) affordable food option at MoMA, and it’s not a steam-table operation; your selection is prepared fresh.

And I know you’re going to cringe, but you really should step next door to the American Museum of Folk Art. Yes, some of the collection was acquired at junk shops and garage sales, but it turned out to be a rewarding experience, and not like any other art museum I’d ever been to. It was the only museum where we looked at every object that they had; it’s very well laid out to allow this. You'll also learn who the real Henry Darger was, the one Natalie Merchant sang about on her album Motherland.

We needed a snack, so we ducked into the famous Carnegie Deli on Seventh Avenue at 55th street. Tourist trap. The sandwiches look disgusting; I suppose they may taste OK, if you’re interested in a twenty-five dollar sandwich. You can get a good bowl of matzo ball soup for about seven dollars. The latkes are inedible.

Next we then catch the bus to the Frick Collection. This is a personal (some would say idiosyncratic) art collection that was put together by the guy who ran Carnegie steel (at least until he and Carnegie had a falling out). He had this mansion (an incredible edifice by itself) built to display his collection, with the intention that it be available to the public after his death. You’ll see Bellini’s painting of St Francis, Holbein’s famous portrait of Sir Thomas More, El Greco’s St Jerome, and that's just in the living room. You can get a good preview of all the works on their web site.

By this time, I was very tired and we took the subway back to the hotel, and then went out looking for a quick and cheap meal that was a short walk from from the hotel. Here you run into another one of the cons of staying in Times Square; outside of the pricy theatre district restaurants, you’re not going to find much around the bus station. We had a lucky break with the Cuban restaurant the first day, and lucked out again tonight with the Siam Grill, a nicely appointed place with about a dozen tables around the corner from where the church people where handing out food to the homeless. Pad thai and a yellow pork ginger curry, less than ten dollars each. I can only figure that the owner got a really cheap lease and decided to take a chance on some Times Square foot traffic accidently walking in, which is of course what happened, and we weren’t the only ones, either. Still, don’t be mad at me if this place is gone by the time you get there.

Categories: New York City trip

Friday 06 July 2007

How laundromats work in Manhattan

By now I was out of clean socks, so I crammed all my dirties into a Duane Reade bag, and we caught the subway to the Union Square. We first went to the outdoor greengrocer’s market on the Square. I was rather surprised at the quality and variety of the produce that we saw there; it looked almost as good as what we get in Louisville. But Louisville is surrounded by fertile farmland; you would expect to get plenty of good, fresh produce there. But where does this Manhattan produce come from? They had pictures of the happy goats that supposedly produced the cheese; but where do these goats live? Staten Island?

We then walked down to a washeteria that I had found listed as a self-serve laundromat in the yellow pages. The washeteria experience here is a little different. You walk in, and it looks like a regular washeteria (albeit quite small), with coin washers and dryers lining the walls. But most of the machines are already in use and have slips of paper taped to the handle, even though there is only one other customer there. And when I went up to the proprietor, held out a twenty dollar bill and asked for four dollars in quarters, he asked “What for?” Figuring he was just distracted by something, I pointed to the washing machines. He gave me my change. While I waited on my wash, I figured out that the owner was doing his regular drop-off laundry service in the self-service machines, so you were in effect competing against the washeteria for resources. Later in the day we passed two other laundromats, and they were working the same way. Either most everyone just drops off their laundry to be done, or there’s some other self-serve facilities that I still don’t know about.

if you’re not going to have enough clothes to last your entire trip, inquire if your hotel has a self-serve laundry. Alternatively, you can let the hotel send your laundry out, but I’ve been burned way almost every time I’ve done that, and I don’t trust hotel laundry services anymore.

Eventually we took out our damp laundry (you know how those coin driers are), stuffed them back in the bag, came back to the hotel and hung them up to dry. We then decided to meander around town, since the weather was again just perfect for summer. We walked through Bryant Park, watching people eat all manner of takeout foods for lunch, from gazpacho through sushi and pizza. There was a free reading library there as well as free wi-fi “powered by Google” (and I thought with a least half a dozen hackers sitting there just waiting for you to connect in). The famous Humanities and Social Sciences branch of the New York Public Library is adjacent to the park, and we saw the inside this time. It is the most impressive library building I’ve been in. They have a very nice gift shop, if you can believe. We strolled on down 42nd street, enjoying the view of the Chrysler building shining in the morning sun, to Grand Central Station where we ate at the world famous Oyster Bar. Eating there is a true New York experience, and if you sit at the bar and order chowder, you can get out of there for about $10. You also get a good show watching the guy responsible for filleting the fish, the stew cooker very seriously making bowls of fish stew, and the oyster shuckers doing their thing. CVH then went downstairs to use the restrooms again, standing in a long line rather than going in the men’s side, which, I suggested from experience, seemed to be an acceptable alternative.

We then wandered around the facility (Grand Central Station is appropriately named) looking for the New York Transit Museum’s Annex Office for a special exhibit on the early architecture of their subway stations. They also have a nice gift shop, with all sort of items emblazened with subway maps and artifacts, as well as a DVD which explains how to ride the subway and bus system. I don't think you'll need the DVD, unless perhaps you've never ridden a bus or subway in your life.

Next we walked over to Rockefeller Center, and admired yet another graceful Manhattan skyscraper. Inside there is an NBC tourist trap that you should avoid, unless you really want to try and get into the Tonight Show. From there we walked over to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, which is definitely worth a visit, even if you’re not Catholic, and I expect all the more so if you are. It’s another feast for the eyes you shouldn’t miss.

After that, I called the United Nations, and after what seemed like several minutes of voice mail, we figured we could catch one of their last tours of the day. So we hopped on the M50 bus outside Rockefeller Center and took it over to the UN. The place looks just like it does on TV and the movies: pretty much an design artifact of the fifties. (I'll let you decide if it's a politcal artifact of the fifties, too.) All the main assembly halls were donated by scandanavian countries, so everything looks well-worn Danish Modern. Still, it was interesting to see, and learn about the UN's current agenda, such as land mine removal, destruction of old nuclear weapons, and preventing global warming. At the end of the tour, you exit through the extensive gift shop. I had hoped to mail some postcards from there, because, as the UN campus is not part of the United States, you use the United Nations Postal Service which issues its own stamps. However, the postal clerks there were apparently well trained, as they slammed the doors shut just as I arrived, ten minutes before the end of the shift.

Once we left the UN, we grabbed a bus headed uptown, intending to visit the Guggenheim, which is open late on Fridays. But the bus got caught in so much rush hour traffic that by the time we got to eighty-seventh street, we were hungry for dinner. We ducked into Bella Cucina, a tiny Italian restaurant on the upper east side. We can definitely recommend this place for an early dinner, as they have a $15 special before 6:30. Plan to split the dinner. There’s a five dollar charge to splitting the dinner, but they waive that if you buy another appetizer. So get a six dollar appetizer and you’ll have more food than two people can eat for less than $25 in a nice setting. We had the eggplant parmigiano; the eggplant was fresh, the cheese topping delicious, the sauce nice and light for the summer, and the linguine tasty and perfectly cooked. Also note that the house sangioviese goes for $6.75 a glass, but tastes like it would cost twice as much.

By the time we were finished, the Guggenheim was about to close, but we walked over there anyway. I was quite pleasantly surprised at the fact that Mr Guggenheim endowed this museum for the purpose of displaying (and extending) his collection of modern art, as I’m a fan of early twentieth century art. The building is currenly undergoing exterior renovation, so you can’t see much of the famous outside, but the inside is definitely worth a visit (and if you purchased a city pass, you’ve already paid for it). If you can’t stand twentieth century art, I’d advise that you spend your time elsewhere.

On the subway ride back, we got an acrobatic performance by a man who said that you’d get this only in New York and I admit I’d never seen it in subways in Chicago, Boston, or D.C. He did some manuevers around the support poles which suggested that he was intimately familiar with exactly where the train was likely to lurch. And when we got to the station there was a surprisingly entertaining drum quartet with had one drummer using five gallon plastic buckets as his instruments. Yes, the Metropolitan Opera is expensive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get cheap entertainment in New York.

Categories: New York City trip

Thursday 05 July 2007

How to tackle the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Up (even later today), and breakfast at the hotel again. It was interesting that they had labeled all of the selections, indicating which of five classes of foods each fell into. There was “Low Fat & Low Calorie” (e.g., fresh fruit), “Hi-Energy” (Orange juice, cheese danish, eggs), “High Fiber” (oatmeal), “Low Cholesterol” (fruit, juice, oatmeal, etc.), and “Indulgence”. What I found strange was that all the foods, from skim milk and spinach to blueberry muffins and croissants, were labeled “Indulgence”.

I wanted to go back out into Times Square one more time to get a photo of the creepy giant animated M&M. This photo doesn’t really do it justice. After watching it for a few minutes, you’ll never want to eat an M&M again.

We then headed over to the subway station to take a train down to Chelsea Market. We had seen Chelsea Market on Rachael Ray’s show on the best food bargains in NYC. Unfortunately, I took us through the uptown turnstile instead of the downtown turnstile, and at this particular station there was no way to walk from one to the other. And when we went back up to the street and crossed over to the downtown turnstile, it wouldn’t let us in because we had just used our ticket for a ride in the other direction.

This is a drawback to the multi-day passes; you have to wait about twenty minutes between train uses. This is not a problem unless you make a mistake. So we had to walk over and take a bus. You see more from the bus anyway.

Chelsea Market was a fun-looking place, with lots of artwork and several tasty shops where Rachael claims she gets food when she’s in town filming for the Food Network. Indeed, the Food Network films in this very building (note that they do not have public tours). We got a potato roll, a sesame seed roll, and prosciutio pepper twist at Amy’s Bread for $2.30. Buonitalia provided an slice of fig cake for four dollars.

Then we walked down Bleecker Street to see what Greenwich Village has become. It’s certainly no longer the hippie hangout, if it ever really was one, but looks like a very nice neighborhood indeed. We ate at the famous Joe’s Pizza. I must admit I’d never had pizza quite like it – very thin crust, perfectly baked, with a simple sauce and cheese topping. Nothing fancy at all, but just right.

By this time, people are coming up to me on the street and in the train stations, asking me for directions. I can’t imagine that I looked liked a native: I’m carrying a camera bag, and bearded men in Manhattan are very rare, unless they're also in traditional Jewish dress. Even more curious is that I was able to tell them what they needed to know.

We visited Washington Square to see the chess players, people on lunch break, and the arch I remember most clearly from the Harold Lloyd film, Speedy, where he drives the last horse-drawn trolley in Manhattan through the arch. Then it was time for a subway ride back to the hotel for a short rest. Here’s CVH posing for me in the station while our train comes rushing in and she’s really wondering if we’re going to miss it while I’m screwing around with the camera.

A brief respite and we were ready to hit the streets again. Back down into the ground, and off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art we headed. I’ve had a fascination with ancient Greek and Roman culture since I was a teenager, and I’d been reading about the new Greek and Roman gallery that had just opened, so I was particularly eager to see this. If you have any interest in ancient Greek, Roman, or Etruscan art, you will be absolutely blown away by what you see here. The pieces are of such outstanding quality, and there are so many of them, that you couldn’t begin to give them a decent glance in an eight-hour day. I spent about an hour and a half there, and saw maybe five percent of the collection in any detail. And I mean just the Greek and Roman collection.

When you visit this museum, and you must decide ahead of time what one part of the collection you want to concentrate on, as you won’t be able to do justice to any more. The museum includes much more “non-canvas” art (sculpture, metalwork, decoration, etc) than any art museum that I’ve been to, and that’s what really enables it to keep your interest. This museum is as huge as the Natural History Museum, and more fascinating for adults. Yes, this one is more than worth the $20 admission fee.

We left the museum all too soon to head down to Gordon Ramsay’s London Bar in midtown. Gordon is that famously foul-mouthed British chef who crops up on TV from time to time in certain credulity-straining “reality shows”. However, CVH is a big fan, and I must admit that, for a self-taught chef, he is quite talented at cooking. He wasn’t there, of course, and we certainly couldn’t afford dinner, but we did have a drink (Pimms and Pomegranate juice, $15, bottled beer, $11) and appetizer (charcuterie slices, $18) at the bar. The service was good, and the prices were high. The bathrooms are very nice; cloth hand towels.

CVH then wanted to go into Brooklyn. The Queen Mary 2 was in town, and I had looked forward to seeing it on this trip until I discovered that ships don’t dock in Manhattan anymore. They’re turning all the docks on the Hudson into parks, and the QM2 docks somewhere in Brooklyn now.

There was an ill omen at the start when CVH swiped her Metro Card twice at the turnstile without going through. As mentioned before, once you swipe your multi-day card, you have to wait twenty minutes before using it again. So it wouldn’t let her through. I came back out, bought us both single passes, and we tried again.

if you go into Brooklyn, be sure you have a precise destination, and have a map on how to get there. We didn’t have either, and the trip wasn’t particularly pleasant. We never made it to the Queen Mary 2, but I could see the top of its funnel way off in the distance.

However, we got back to the subway and made it to midtown before dark, thank goodness, and came out of the ground on the upper east side, famished. We picked a place on Lexington Avenue somewhat randomly, but it was well attended, seemed to be in a decent neighborhood, and the prices on the menu outside were reasonable. Boy, did we make an educated guess! This place, Agra, was a wonderful restaurant, and we’d recommend it to anyone in that part of town. You can take the F train to within a block. We had the vegetable dinner and the vegetarian vindaloo, a vegetarian feast of vindaloo, chutneys, raita, nam, samosa, and other delights. The service was attentive but not obtrusive. There are also a number of meat dishes on the menu. The portions are American-sized, that is, two dinners will easily serve five people; so if you have a group, you can get a great meal for about ten dollars a person. In Manhattan! Note that the place is one of those small Manhattan restaurants, though; it only seats maybe fifty people, so if you have a group, you’ll have to call ahead.

Categories: New York City trip

Wednesday 04 July 2007

Fourth of July in the Big Apple

Up (a little later this morning; my age starting to show) and off to the breakfast buffet. We headed out for Brooklyn, to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge back into Manhattan. Since we were going to have to change trains at Herald Square anyway, I suggested that we get out and look at the Empire State Building, in case it was raining later that afternoon. It’s still as beautiful and imposing as ever, in my mind the most beautiful skyscraper ever built. We walked around and admired it and then decided to go inside and see if the lines were too long to wait for a visit to the top. During my previous visit, I had only gone up a couple of times; both late at night, when the crowds weren’t terrible, and I had heard that these days you can wait an hour to get up. Fortunately, the lines were short, but the day was cloudy so the view wasn’t as good as it could have been. It’s a lot more involved in getting to the top than it used to be. Personally, I prefer looking at the Empire State Building more than looking from the Empire State Building (which is why I preferred the view from the Twin Towers), but CVH was very happy to get to the observation deck.

This is the view of the Empire State Building from our hotel room, all lit up red, white and blue for the holiday. While on the observation deck, I was able to take a picture of that pier where the Titanic would have docked, and is now a fenced in driving range.

On my visit in 1981, I purchased a book which contained card stock panels of the Empire State Building that you could cut out with an X-acto knife and glue together to make a model that stood about four feet high. Everybody who visited my apartment after I had built it remarked upon it (but God only knows what they were really thinking). Somewhere along the way of moving from one place to another, I lost this model, and I had hoped to get another book here to build it again. But, alas, it is no longer for sale.

We left the observation deck, came down, and walked around the interior areas that are still open to the public, admiring the quality of the wonderful art deco design. “Why don’t they make buildings this pretty anymore?” CVH asked.

Back to Herald Square and on the train to Brooklyn. The walk over the bridge to Manhattan is something that you must do when you visit, and I hope you have clearer weather than we did, because if the city had been lit up by the morning sun, it would have been spectacular, as in this picture which I did not take (I don’t think I’d recommend it in the afternoon, when the sun would be in your eyes). But even with the mist and fog, we enjoyed the view.

You get a nice view of the Manhattan bridge with the Empire State Building in the background.

When you get to the bottom of the bridge, you’ll find yourself dropped off in Chinatown, a fascinatingly crowded place selling just about everything you can imagine (and some things you probably haven’t imagined before). We went up Mott Street, which was crammed with food and trinkets and some very nice dim sum for lunch. Great food, cheap prices. We had beef dumplings, fried taro root, shrimp stuffed eggplant and shrimp stuffed peppers. Thus fortified, we walked around Chinatown some more; it is a large neighborhood in the process of swallowing up the smaller Little Italy. It’s amazing how specialized so much of Manhattan is. Things you find in Times Square you will not find in the Upper East Side. Stores on one avenue share nothing in common with stores on the next block; for example, just a single walk you can tell whether you’re on Seventh Avenue or Eighth. And in this part of downtown, one block has cannoli and fettuccine, the next block pressed duck and fresh fish on the sidewalk. Really nice looking fish, too.

By this time, the pace of the last two days is starting to show on us, so back down into the ground for a quick train ride to Times Square. It started to rain that evening, so dinner was take out sandwiches from a deli around the corner. Not a lot of options on Fourth of July night. But we were able to see four different fireworks displays (along with the Empire State Building) from our hotel window.

Categories: New York City trip

Tuesday 03 July 2007

Our First Day in New York

In lieu of a room upgrade to the Executive floor of the hotel, the Hilton gave us vouchers good for the breakfast buffet each morning. This was a pretty darn good buffet, and would have cost us forty dollars a day otherwise, so I was happy with the consolation prize. The restaurant had this nice twenty-first floor overlook of the Times Square skyline.

After we ate, we went around the corner to the New York Public Library, which wasn’t open, but we did stand in front of the lions. Here is CVH in front of “Fortitude”. The other lion is named “Patience”; they were named by Fiorello LaGuardia.

I wanted to see the statue of Balto in Central Park, so we hopped the bus up Sixth Avenue, and wandered around until we found the entrance to the park. This park was designed by the same firm (Olmsted) that did the older parks in Louisville, and it shares the same beauty with the Louisville parks, as well as the same bewildering layouts that make them near impossible for the inexperienced to navigate. CVH was the first to spot Balto on top of a hill. He had just undergone his annual restoration treatment; he was looking very regal, indeed.

After paying our respects to this great dog, we hiked around most of the south half of the park trying to hit all the main sites. We walked the mall, watched the restoration efforts of the frescoed ceiling near the Bethesda fountain, sat at the fountain, visited the boathouse where they were filming a movie, and saw a man dressed as a wizard.

We found our way to Strawberry Fields, the John Lennon memorial, where we had this view of The Dakota. There are always many people there; some paying their respects, some disturbing the solemnity; we witnessed an itinerant who calls himself the “Mayor of Strawberry Fields” delivering his version of the history of the place. His script, while not exactly scholarly, did capture the attention of a number of guided tour members.

Continuing through The Ramble (the nearly overgrown portion of the park where I couldn’t even begin to imagine what goes on there after dark) and the Shakespeare Garden, we finally emerged at the Castle where we had a nice view of the Great Lawn to the north. The Weather Service operates the Castle now, which explained why every time I turned on the Weather Channel, it told me what the temperature in Central Park was.

By this time, we were starving, so we caught the M42 bus outside the American Museum of Natural History and took it across town to the Upper East Side. We ate at Vivo, an inexpensive Italian restaurant that allowed us to carbo load. CVH had penne pasta with pesto cream sauce and a salad; I had rigatoni with bolognese sauce and corn chowder. After this lunch with we caught the M42 back across town to the American Museum of Natural History .

If you’re going to be visiting New York City for a week, and want to save a few hundred bucks by using public transportation instead of cabs, you can buy a week long unlimited ride pass for $24. So far, we have been quite pleased with the public transportation service here, although I realize that it’s probably a lot more crowded on non-holiday weeks. We didn't have to wait more than five minutes for a bus or train. Then again, it didn't rain, either.

The American Museum of Natural History shows up on the “must see” lists of every NYC guidebook, and it certainly would have been the highlight of my visit had I come here when I was in the fourth grade. The place is absolutely gigantic and filled with herds of people. CVH liked the exhibits of dead birds, and I’ll allow that if you were a bird watcher that this would be a good place to come and study the birds when they weren’t moving around so that you’d be able to better identify them while they are still alive. The planetarium show was better than I expected, providing a popular explanation of a number of theories that have come out just in the last ten to fifteen years, including the current thinking on the origin of the Moon. There’s a nice display on marine life, attended by herds of people, and a lot of dinosaurs, if you haven’t seen Jurassic Park enough times already. If you do decide to go, I must tell you that (at least on the day we were there) the ticketing procedure is not very smooth at all (even if you have a prepaid ticket, as we did) so expect a long wait in line to get in. Also, don’t count on getting to see a special exhibit unless you’re willing to come back hours later, as they sell out well in advance. It’s probably a lot easier if you don’t try to go during the summer.

Next stop was downtown Manhattan, via Brooklyn, as the subway stations sometimes go by more than one name and if you don’t know them all, you just might miss getting off at your stop. But it was easy enough to turn around and come back in. We walked down to the World Trade Center site and I was surprised at the size of the hole. And although a true “ground zero” would have flattened the entire downtown area, I now understand why people have been moved to use the term in this instance.

After stopping for a pint at the Pound and Pence, an English-themed bar across from the Federal Reserve building, we headed towards Wall Street. (Side note: so far we haven’t seen any Wall Street celebrities, even though bunches of them must live on this island. I guess Ben and Alan left work early today and they probably live in Connecticut or something anyway.) When we got to the NYSE, it looked a lot different than it did the last time I was there. The security measures were intense. There were two bomb squad units on either end of Wall Street (remember that, being a holiday, the market had already been closed for hours at this point), numerous traffic barriers, dozens of police officers and marshals, and several bomb-sniffing dogs that were checking every vehicle attempting to enter the area. It looked like something you’d expect in Israel. They have even bricked up (in a nice way) the front of the stock exchange building. Glad I was able to take the tour of the stock market last time I was here; doesn’t look like they’ll be doing that again for a long time.

We found the statue of the big bull; you have to be rather careful getting to it, as it sits out in the middle of the street, but this doesn’t seem to stop herds of families from getting their picture taken in front of it (and in the back for the more scatologically inclined). I took this picture during a rare instant when no one was sitting on it.

Before leaving downtown, we passed by the Museum of the American Indian, housed in the old Customs Building. There are four curious statues in front of the building, which you simply must see if you visit. They are supposed to represent America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. I took this picture of Europe, because I couldn't figure out what the deal was with all the animals peeking around her shoulder.

During our boat tour the day before, we noticed a number of people walking along the waterfront from downtown up to the South Street Seaport, so this evening we joined them. It was another evening of perfect weather, and we enjoyed our stroll while we worked up an appetite. When we neared the Seaport, however, we saw a great sign emblazed with the phrase “Pizzeria Uno”. Now, when there was only one such portent, in the Chicago firmament, it meant, “here there be absolutely excellent pizza”. Alas, these days, those who can read such runes know that it means, “Here there be a tourist trap”. So we quickly left the area and headed down a side street until we came to Jeremy’s Ale House. This turned out to be a popular un-air-conditioned dump that sold fresh fried food and beer in foam cups. CVH says they’re rather famous for their 32oz foam cups of beer, and they were selling a lot of them. The local Brooklyn beer and the fresh fried fish were delicious, but the brassieres stapled to the ceiling suggested the we weren’t really in their target demographic, so after we finished eating we got on a local bus that took us through Chinatown up to the U.N.

We walked to Grand Central Station, which is still a lovely building, looked at the trains about to head off to New Haven with their weary commuters, and went to utilise their restrooms. Because half the restrooms were closed for renovation, there were women using the men’s room (along with the men, that is); I suppose this is something that you get used to if you live in the big city.

Categories: New York City trip

Monday 02 July 2007

Our Honeymoon Begins

For our seventeenth wedding anniversary, CVH and I finally went on the honeymoon that she wanted when we got married – a trip to New York City.

Because I had waited until the last minute to book cheap fares, I was having trouble getting a decent air/hotel package. I used the Hilton site to book our trip (I have a bunch of Hilton points). When I bought the package, the computer told me that we would be on a United flight from Louisville to NYC. However, when it came time to check in on the internet (the day before the flight), the United web site said it couldn’t find my reservation. This made CVH very nervous. I called United, and found that, through the miracle of code sharing, we’d actually bought a ticket on Chautauqua Airlines. “Chautauqua”, I believe, is an Algonquian Indian word for a type of torture that they used to inflict on white people.

When booking a package, try to nail down who is really going to be your carrier. Your e-ticket number may be the key.

We left early for the airport, planning to get a bite to eat there. Unfortunately, the only restaurant that wasn’t closed for the holiday week was Quiznos, so everyone was queued up there, where only one of four workers showed up. The sandwich was tasty, but it took a very long time to get to the head of the line.

But the flight wasn’t all that bad, and the weather was beautiful. We had a great view of the city as we came into La Guardia. Now the drive from the airport into the city was something else. CVH thought that the driver was quite highly skilled; I thought he was nuts, as he left the freeway for the feeder and constantly swerved from one lane to another in an attempt to beat traffic. It was all ultimately futile, as it always is by getting on the feeder, as when we rejoined the freeway at the tunnel entrance, we were behind the same truck we were behind before we left the freeway.

We checked into the Hilton Times Square, which sits right in the middle of the commercial hustle on 42nd street. Times Square sure doesn’t look anything like it did when I was last here, twenty-seven years ago. Back then, there were hundreds of tourists wandering around aimlessly wondering what all the hoopla about Times Square was, as it looked pretty unappealing, what with all the dirty book stores and XXX-rated movie houses. Now all the dirty book and movie places are gone; it’s full of chain restaurants and retail stores, which scare fewer people away, but are just as unappealing, so these days you have thousands of tourists wandering around aimlessly wondering what all the hoopla is about. This hotel does put you close to the Times Square subway station; use the 41st street entrance to avoid the crowds.

We stepped out to get a bite to eat at a restaurant just outside the Times Square-area that CVH had read many good reviews of, but it had closed for the holiday week. So we took a chance with the restaurant across the street, fearing that it might be a Times Square tourist trap. However, this place, Havana Central, was absolutely delicious and reasonably priced. Try the Cuban appetizer sampler ($14): you’ll get seasoned battered corn on the cob, mango-pineapple slaw, chorizo, tostones, moduros, empanadas. It feeds two.

After this tasty dinner we walked down to Pier 83 and caught the Circle Line boat tour. Perfect weather, great sunset, saw mid- and lower Manhattan, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and sailed under the Brooklyn and two other bridges. I don’t have my own pictures of these sights; one of the things about visiting New York is that pretty much everything that you see will have already been photographed better by somebody else. So you're going to see a few photos of particular personal interest to me, and some that I purchased. For more pictures, you can always follow my hyperlinks. Our boat went by the pier where the Carpathia docked after picking up the Titanic survivors, as well as the pier that Titanic would have docked at.

As the sun goes down during the tour around the south end of Manhattan, you see the skyscrapers light up.

As you'll find in all the other entries for this trip, I have absolutely nothing to say about New York nightlife, as by the time the sun set, we were way too tired to go out on the town; we just fell asleep in the hotel.

Categories: New York City trip