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Category Archives: Oct – Nov 2016 The Big Apple

The Last Day

Yes….I missed posting yesterday, but really it was just another sea day. Very warm, humid, and not much beyond just sitting, reading, and relaxing. Until the art auction.

Attendance is greeted with Champagne that comes almost as often as the glass empties. The host of the auction, as always, is certainly well versed in his delivery as well as his overall knowledge of the featured painters.

The very first cruise we went on (over a decade ago) came with an introduction to an artist by the name of Michael Godard. Being one of the many people that ‘may not know much about art, but I know what I like’ his paintings had a whimsical appeal that immediately caught the eye. Looking back, one of my (many) great mistakes in life was not buying at least one (and more would have been even smarter) of his works. At the time, $500 seemed like a lot of money for a piece of art. Today, that same piece would be worth at least $4000 if not more. This time I settled for a collection of 3 hand-signed prints by another rather renowned artist by the name of David Najar. I should live so long for these to be worth something substantial.

Nothing even marginally exciting for the rest of the day but that evening was also the final formal night. One last time for dressing up to see and be seen. No Champagne Waterfall, but dinner consisted of all the wonderful seafood goodies that have been anticipated. Escargot, Tiger Prawn, Lobster Tail – the many other delightful items on the menu I’m sure were meant for others. Aside from the fact that food onboard is generally excellent, a fundamental problem is that one can also order any given item any number of times. It’s a good thing weight restrictions on the plane are only applicable to luggage.

More study is spent relating to the concepts of roulette and then it’s off to bed (after bidding the casino a FOND adieu 😉 )

Today is simply a repeat of yesterday sans the art auction and formal approach to dinner. Time will be spent packing, itemizing for customs and making sure we don’t forget anything. Tomorrow’s departure will be early (8 A.M. to be in the Platinum Lounge and off the ship by 10:30 A.M.). Grab a cab and head for the airport.

Sigh…I can barely wait for April 2017 🙂

Another Sea Day

Sea days are certainly not unique but can be valuable regardless of not being able to go ashore. Much like relaxing while on a beach-driven vacation, there are numerous water activities to be enjoyed. Given the number of pools and hot tubs aboard, there are always places to wade, swim, sit, or float. Lounge chairs are everywhere and today there is even some sun to help fry one’s skin to a lobster-like hue.

An art display/auction can be appreciated and can also be used to lighten the burden that may remain in one’s wallet. Many other crew-inspired commotions are on all of the several entertainment-based decks throughout the ship. Couple those with the vast quantity of alcohol and food establishments that are willing to replace the weight given up by your wallet, and there is really no end of things to do.

Once more the casino gave out its mermaid-like call, enticing the weak and the foolish. And once again I strove to rescue that damsel in distress. Having yet to learn how better to control my actions, I found myself again forced to leave with more than I entered with. C’est la vie.

The day all but spent by doing pretty much nothing (Mother would be proud) it’s now time to become a little more presentable for dinner in Sabatini’s, the ships rather renown Italian speciality restaurant. As often as we have sailed on Princess Ships, we have partaken of its offerings almost every time. Yes, it really has been that good and that consistent. (The first time they continued to shave the fresh black truffle as often as it was asked for.)

Tonight became a seafood night for yours truly and a veal night for my dear wife. We did our own wine pairings and the only complaint (as has been often the case) was there was more nums than room in the stomach. Pictures will follow and I take time now to apologize for their delay. Internet time is both costly and slow. Suffice it to say that the food was again exemplary.

Tomorrow is Bonaire which holds no tours but perhaps more sun and time to just wander about.




Arrived and docked by 8 in the morning and it’s already 26c with a probable high of 29c. Oh yeah…more rain as well.

Today is the 35th anniversary of Antigua’s independence. They, too, have tourism as their primary industry, exporting nothing and importing everything. Fuel, for instance, comes from Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago.

Onboard the Mystic II (at 9AM) beginning a catamaran beach and lobster lunch cruise. We’re now about an hour out heading to our first beach and learning more about the surrounding territory all along the way. On one side is Hawksbill hotel and Hawksbill rock, both named after the turtle of the same name. This area also has the largest breeding ground for these turtles in the world.

After we reach our first destination an hour is spent frolicking on the sand and back to our boat for lunch. Garlic potatoes, rice, salad with a variety of dressings and a half Caribbean spiny lobster await our consumption. It may have been slightly over done but still delicious and certainly bigger than I would have imagined (or needed).   More could have been enjoyed as there was no shortage of food however there was a shortage…of room in the stomach.   Oh yeah…forgot to mention one of the sauces was a Caribbean hot sauce. It lived up to its legendary status…much like Napalm, nothing subtle and certainly long lasting.   Nuff said.

All the while the rum drinks (plus red and white wine and Champagne) haven’t stopped.   That, plus the rocking of the boat, tends to make one walk funny.

Now it’s on to our second beach stop and again the water is bathtub warm with soft, exfoliating sand underfoot. And, if you’re not careful the rolling waves can take you for a tumble and you end up scrubbing more than your feet. Tough to take. 😉  A small rainfall hit and what was surprising was the reaction of so many people still onboard. These same people had been off in the water at the last beach and now muttering about how we should be heading back to the ship. If you were just in the water how much more wet are you going to get in an 80 degree plus shower? Some were worried about thunder … because…the lightening (that was nowhere around) was going to hurt someone when we’re also surrounded by tall foothills covered with tall trees?  You’re on vacation…relax.   The crew on the boat are much more familiar with weather conditions than you and they’re dancing to the music.

After an hour and a half of more lazy cruising around and we’re on our way back to the main island in time to get on board our bigger vessel once again.

Yes…somewhat of an uneventful day, but isn’t that what this is truly all about? 🙂

St. Maarten

Expected high today in St. Maarten is 28c which it probably met. What they didn’t elaborate on was the rain. Admittedly not a lot and it was only torrential for a brief period of time. But really…some people come here to sit on the beach or stay on the ship in and around the pools and hot tubs, so what’s the difference.

As there is simply not enough choice and variety of culinary delights on the ship we are going on a Flavors of St. Maarten food and beverage tour.  A walking and riding (in an air-conditioned van) tour all around the island avoiding the main shopping area. Breakfast, although minimal, was probably not the best idea. Such is life.

Philipsburg is the capital of the Dutch side of St. Maarten and is very small. On Nov. 11, 1493 Columbus discovered the island of St. Maarten (who is also the patron saint of beggars, farmers and winemakers).  He didn’t stop but claimed the land for Spain.  In 1624 the Dutch established a settlement and fought with Spain for 15 years. The Dutch lost but Spain lost interest and left.  The Dutch and the French saw the potential and moved in. Legend has it the Dutch lost a drinking battle (because their liquor was much stronger than France’s) and ended up with the smaller portion of the island. They also discovered they could mine the salt ponds. Essentially these are ponds that can be filled from the sea. The water comes in…dries out…the salt is pulled out and the process is repeated. Endlessly.

The French ended up with a bigger portion of the island but it is still part of France.  St. Maarten (Dutch side) is part of the kingdom of the Netherlands but is its own country and has its own government. Bonaire, Aruba, and Curacao the same way. There is almost no fresh-water so 95% of foods are imported.  This also includes the fresh fruits sold at fruit stands.

We begin our tour at the Amsterdam Cheese and Liquor store, in Sint (as spelt here) Maarten Dutch West Indies. Our tour guide Randy is from Haarlem, Netherlands which is where Harlem New York is named after (as the Dutch settled in New York as well). Our other guide, Anouk (polar bear in Dutch), is from Holland but now calls St. Maarten her permanent home (and Definitely does NOT look like a polar bear!)

This stop is all about the cheese with Gouda being the main staple. We start with a young (4 weeks aged and costs about $27 for 4.5 kilos) which is the most well known.  This is typically made from leftover cow’s milk.  Like other well-known foods and liquors, Gouda has some strict guidelines in order to be called Gouda. It must be from Netherlands and follows a very specific recipe.

The second is a black pepper Gouda.   It certainly has a more well-defined flavor than its predecessor. So far these have been paired with a sparkling wine from Spain.

Now the garlic and herb.  This becomes the crowd favorite with good reason.  Definitely flavored but not overpowering.

Number 4 is referred to as ‘mature’. Aging brings evaporation which brings a drier more intense flavor.  Mature = 4 months of aging.  This is paired with an Argentine Malbec.  A 4.5 kilo wheel is only $65. Really this is not outlandish given what we pay for a sliver in our local store.

#5 is aged around 2 years but tastes like 8 months in creaminess and about $450 / 25 lb wheel.  Best of the bunch but I wouldn’t throw any of them out of my fridge.

Last little snippet was a small slice of beer cheese.  Very nutty and full of cheesy goodness.  🙂   Cheese, apparently, is best served sliced for maximum bouquet and flavor.

Paradise View restaurant in French Quarter is our second stop. On a sunny day, the name says it all. Today is not sunny however the food makes up for the weather without any problem at all. Bacon, onion and cream sauce filled galette followed by salted caramel crepe.  (A galette is a crepe made from buckwheat flour.) All paired with a nice, light apple cider.

The third stop is for some Caribbean BBQ at a local Lolo, Sky’s The Limit.  Fresh from scratch every day is their philosophy.  Coleslaw, potato salad, chicken, spare rib, and Johnnycake was our meal here.  (That used to be called Journeycake as it was meant to take on the day’s journey.) Water here, and much appreciated.

Next is L’escapade By The Sea for a Caribbean infused rum tasting. O K!!!

1 is tropical fruit (red fruit abounds within)    1  is banana and vanilla (my personal favorite)   1 is coconut (a typical flavoring)

Marigot is the French side capital reminiscent of the French Riviera and home of our next stop Sarafina’s for French pastry (essentially the desert to finish our eclectic meal).

Éclair, 2 Macaroons, Strawberry tart, and Merengue.  A testament to the tender flakiness of the macaroons is when you can’t use them to scrape the soft chocolate or merengue off the plate.  Yeah….I really needed this. (HARDLY!!)

I don’t recommend many tour companies, but I will heartily do so this time. It is worth spending some time with Www.stmartinfoodtours.com. They also have one in San Juan, Puerto Rico and a new one starting in St. Thomas. Hopefully the company gets the same calibre of staff that they have with Randy and Anouk! Job well done.

Tomorrow is Antigua and hopefully somewhat more sunshine.

What Am I Doing Wrong?

This is our first time with extended days at sea…this cruise having 3 right off the bat. So please pardon the lack of reading material for yesterday (Saturday). Not much was accomplished.

Some time was spent in the theatre becomming acquainted with the shopping opportunities on the 3 islands that are coming our way. St Maarten and Antigua are both well known for tax and duty free methods of spending money. Jewelry, tobacco, spirits – they’re all here waiting to be exchanged for hard earned cash. Legitimate deals can be had if you know exactly what you’re looking for and how it compares with what you’re actually buying.

Looking beyond purchasing power, there are quite a few other activities that can be enjoyed depending on personal preferences. In St. Marrten there is a zoo, butterfly farm, an off-island trip to St. Barts (a very close neighboring French island), horseback riding, Rhino riding (which isn’t the horned variety, but rather a 2 person inflatable motorboat) and even helmet diving at Sea Trek Underwater Park. No shortage of experiences await almost any interests.

After the shopping lessons a trip down to the Wheelhouse Bar which (on Saturday) was hosting an English Pub-style lunch. Bangers and mash, fish and chips, beer – certainly food that one would expect on any local pub in merry old. And well done here in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle as well. (oh yeah…I may have neglected to mention that the possibility exists we may become just another mysterious statistic given the route we are travelling. If you see this post, so far, so good.)

While mental relaxation is definitely meant for some, for others the calming call of wheels spinning and bells ringing are too enticing to refuse. The casino has long been referred to as a money grabbing pit, designed to relieve the weight of money from one’s pocket. Many diatribe has been heard about losses incurred. However, so far I’m up a net total of $125 on an initial investment of $50. What am I doing wrong??

Saturday was also the first formal dining night on this journey, which we elected to pass on. There will be another that we will enjoy, but on this occasion a fine spot for viewing the Champagne Waterfall and antics around it seemed an acceptable choice.

Sunday has become a repeat of Saturday including no real change in the weather. Warm, to be sure, but rainy and a little bit of a wind kicking up a few whitecaps and making walking onboard more of an actual exercise than a stroll. It’s not a problem for us, but we are on the low side of the average age onboard. Other people are having more excitement than they have been used to for a while.

The casino continues to provide a reduction in cost to the trip so I will have to study the manual a little more to better determine where my error lies. 😉

The Best Plan Can Be No Plan

Today held the promise of being the first of doing little, if anything. The ship has plenty to do if you actually want to exercise more than the muscles required to sit. However, having spent a lot of time wearing out shoe leather of late, the choice of sedentary relaxation held the most appeal. With that in mind a quick breakfast (which had nary a tough omelet in sight) was enjoyed and comfortable chairs were located – indoors, as today also provides both more warmth (YIPPEE!) and a lot more rain (bummer).

One set of chairs leads to others throughout the ship, accompanyed by obligatory glasses of wine from time to time. Various spots abound affording differing levels of auditory sensations, be it just passengers wandering around or music wafting up from the central piazza.

Princess now offers a section in their ship called Princess Live. This is their in-house television studio hosting different types of shows from time to time. Today was a show delving into the culinary skills that prevail in the galley. Hosted by the Head Chef and the Maitre’d, thier light-hearted banter and brief overview of 3 dishes made for passenger enjoyment, gave the studio audience many laughs and a quick blink into how menu items come to be.

Between breakfast, the tv show, lunch, dinner, and just meandering, the day moved ahead. A well-deserved break in the casino managed to turn into a 100% increase in a $50 roulette investment. Taking leave with real cash in pocket seemed prudent.

After dinner, taking in a live performance in the Princess Theatre seemed a good idea. A pianist that does stand-up comedy…or a comic that also plays the piano…not sure what the real definition of John Bressler is. However he is honestly quite talented at both. One hour of solid entertainment, laughs and excellent music.

Tomorrow will be similar to today insofar as general activities go and that doesn’t bother me at all.

The Ship!

Another day starts and once again we manage to make our way down to breakfast.  It’s difficult to imagine how an OMELET can be chewy!  It is, almost by definition, several eggs beaten and quickly fried to fluffy goodness.  Apparently that is not true everywhere.  Bacon should be crisp, yet faintly moist, not wet with rendered fat.  Yet expectations can be unrealized.  Once again we live to tell the tale, but this really has turned out to be the least appetizing free breakfast yet to be encountered.  Oh well…no prep, presentation or cleanup to be done by yours truly so accept and move on.

Another quick shopping trip but split…one to find Tylenol and the other to find a stylus to make digital writing much easier.  Both successful but admittedly the stylus was an eye-opener.  Another story for another time, but certainly a worthy accessory.

Now our ride as arrived and off we go to the Brooklyn Terminal.  Given the weather (cold AND rainy!), taking a bus/subway, as some have done, is not a wise choice.  Cheaper, perhaps, but having to walk several blocks after getting off the bus, dragging luggage in the rain and through puddles along the way, does not lend itself to an enjoyable start to a cruise.  Fine for some perhaps, but to each his own.

The time of day has, seemingly, made our embarkation very easy.  A short line to get through security, short line again to actually board the ship (because of our Platinum status…yeah…we cruise too much.  So what?? 🙂 ) and we make our way up to our cabin.  We arrive ahead of our luggage and see that some have had their luggage delivered as it is waiting outside their cabin door.  We won’t have that inconvenience either.  Into the cabin, drop off our carry-on bags and out to explore the ship.

Princess ships are laid out very similar to each other, so finding our way around is quite easy.  We grab the ‘treasure hunt’ cards and wander about getting the requisite stamps, go to the Lotus Spa and enter their draw and fill out forms for a couple of others.  Time spent up and down and all around and now dinner time approaches.  Back to our cabin to become a little more presentable (and our luggage is now waiting for us INside our cabin – yes, a small touch but certainly appreciated) and back down for a meal we know will be very good.

Ceviche and a trifecta of melons with a ‘vintage port’ sauce is my appetizer of choice (hmmm….wonder why…).  Both very good, to be sure, but I have to question the validity of ‘vintage port’.  Not tawny, certainly, but IF vintage, I think the amount may have been measured with something smaller than is normally kept in a kitchen.  Regardless, it disappeared and I really had no complaints. The main course (again, my own choice) was Basa with a light salsa and snow peas, while desert was a hazelnut/chocolate soufflé  topped with a almond sabayon.  Had to have a 20 year old tawny with that…too nice a pairing to pass up.

Now it’s off to the Piazza for a variety of drawings from the entries we had made…and we won our usual.  Nothing.  But again, it just doesn’t matter.  Where are we??  On a cruise ship heading for the Caribbean!  There is no time to fret over things that just don’t matter.

Back to our room, unpack (once, for the next 10 days) and relax with another glass of wine (Merlot this time).  Tomorrow is a fun-filled day of…not really sure, but it won’t involve anything difficult.

Followed by Our Last Full Day

There is simply not nearly enough time in 3 days (ish) to see New York, never mind the surrounding territory. This morning we managed to fall out of bed early enough to partake of our included-in-the-hotel-price breakfast. Admittedly not Gordon Ramsey rated, but it was free and didn’t do us harm.

Just down the street from us was a store that ~one~ of us just had to go visit. B & H, which is to photo, video and pro audio what HMV was like to vinyl albums and later CDs/DVDs. MASSIVE. Although only 2 floors (both of which are Costco-like in size), they have a variety of electronic and non-electronic paraphernalia that is second to none I have ever seen. We (and I admit it was WE that did the shopping although it was not ME that had wanted to go there) bought a couple of items that we really did need for the trip (wink wink). A short walk back to the hotel made it possible to refrain from carrying those items for the rest of our day outside.

Having learned how to dress more appropriately for the weather, the plan was to make our way (by train) to Sleepy Hollow to take in some sights there. Grand Central Terminal was where we needed to get to so we thought we would walk part way and take a bus for the balance. The subway actually had no direct connections from near our hotel to GCT. We would have had to walk some, grab the subway then walk more so we thought staying above ground this time would be better, giving us a closer look at New York. Another plan that just didn’t work the way we had envisioned.

Although we had a street map, we didn’t really have a bus route map. Determining which bus to take from which stop proved more of a challenge than had been prepared for. Long story short we ended up walking the entire way to GCT. On the plus side, New York has presented more of itself because of the journey. Remember the other comment about $11 per half hour in a parkade? I guess that was on the cheap. A sidewalk sandwich board presented itself today (on Park Ave) proudly proclaiming $16.70 for a half hour. Gasoline, however, is only $2.25 per gallon. It actually costs more to park than to drive.

Now it’s noon in GCT and crowded is hardly the best term. Ground level has 1 ladies restroom…more (plus mens) are located downstairs. There, too, you will find an enormous dining concourse replete with the requisite (for New York) sandwich, salad and soup selections. Cops and army members are plainly visible which is understandable given the sheer numbers of people. Bags are randomly searched upon entry to GCT.

After buying our tickets to Tarrytown (right next door to Sleepy Hollow), sandwiches and a drink were enjoyed after which we made our way to our track. Having just missed one by about a minute (we watched it leave), another was due to leave in about 20 minutes (on another track, of course). We made our way over and boarded the train. The 35 minute ride was uneventful but did give a little view of the countryside. The leaf colors are changing, but not as quickly as at home. And…there is no snow anywhere. Yet.

Finally a little bit of fortune that wasn’t planned for. A taxi happened to show up just as we got off the train platform. We asked him to take us to Sleepy Hollow. He asked, where in Sleepy Hollow? Sure…stump us with the trick question. One of the things we wanted to do while here was visit the Rockefeller Estate, so we asked about that. No problem and off we went. He dropped us off at a small gift shop attached to a parking lot. Tickets were available inside. Ok…in we went.

By now it’s 3 in the afternoon. The next guided tour leaves at 3:15 and is 2 hours and 15 minutes in length. Sounds good, hopefully it won’t be too crowded on our tour bus. As it turns out, there were 6 visitors (including us) the driver and our guide. Almost a private tour. And, as it turns out, our guide had actually worked for the Rockefellers in the 1960s as a maid’s maid. (Really?? The servants have servants??)

This is not the place for an in depth story of what the history of the estate and the Rockefellers have to offer as it is simply too long and complex. A Reader’s Digest version is that John D Rockefeller (Sr.) bought 400 acres originally in 1893 and over time it grew to be about 4,000 acres. Earlier, in 1870, he founded the Standard Oil Company and by 1913 that brought his fortune up to about $900 million. Fast forward several generations and almost 150 years and now the Rockefeller Foundation is divesting itself of fossil fuels and becoming very pro-environmental. The mansion and the grounds it sits on are truly magnificent. If you ever visit New York, take the time to enjoy understated elegance of times gone by.  (Just a little teaser…in his garage, there is a 1939 Cadillac in pristine condition.  Apparently there were only 20 of this model ever made.)

Another day shoots by and still so much left unseen and experiences yet to happen. Tomorrow we wave goodbye to the city that never sleeps…and to the people that never stop.

Our First (Very!) Full Day

We had found a great little diner just down the street from our hotel last night and it met us head on and didn’t flinch.  Food was very good, service attentive without being nosy and the price reasonable for New York.  Dinner taken care of and being more than a little tired there was just barely enough time to post some words before slamming my face into the pillow.

Apparently we were more than ‘a little’ tired.  Slept right past breakfast.  Ok…SS & S, dressed and it’s out the door.  Our bus tour is still good for today and there is a LOT left to try to take in.

As we walked down to where we had to catch our bus I noticed that New Yorkers seem to use their cell phones for actual conversation.  What a concept for a phone!  Certainly the bigger percentage do what we seem to be used to…text, Facebook, Tweet, etc. but there are more, than I have been used to, walking and talking.  And most are using earbuds and a mic so it looks like they’re talking to themselves.  Another thing I’ve noticed is that it’s mostly women who apparently are Very displeased with their significant other.  Not quite sure if that means something…

The weather is not what we had been led to expect.  It is definitely colder (today about 9) and with a stiff enough wind to make it even more uncomfortable.  Sitting on the top part of the bus with less and less enthusiasm I kept a look-out for options.  At one stop I noticed an American Eagle clothing store, ran in and found a sweater.  This provided a much healthier way to spend the time. 🙂

Todays venues included more of what we have always heard/read about but have never really experienced.  Radio City Music Hall for instance.  The largest indoor theatre in the world given its 10,000 square foot stage.  Rockefeller Center is not just one building.  It consists of about 14 buildings.

Central Park…now here’s a gem.  First, it was never originally planned for New York City.  However, in 1857 citizens tired of having no real place to go for a Sunday afternoon picnic (other than the local cemetery – no joke!) and decided enough was enough.  City hall put together a contest, the winner of which would design and build a grand park for all to enjoy.  A writer and an architect won the contest and designed an 840 acre marvel.  Not enough trees for the plan?  No problem, bring them in from New Jersey.  Not enough workers?  No problem, they were able to employ about 7,000 Irish laborers that could find no other work elsewhere.  Interestingly enough when the park was finished, rather than recreate the unemployment problem, the city formed formal police and fire departments and re-employed all the same workers.

Going anywhere in New York is a challenge.  Driving borders on suicide, parking almost impossible and insanely expensive (we saw one lot that was charging $11 for a half hour…or PART thereof).  Pedestrians do NOT heed walk signs unless absolutely necessary (i.e. a vehicle is almost right there) and the same holds true for cyclists.  (In fairness, New York does have and use a very workable bike lane system.) The noise is somewhat unnerving with the honking, and yelling, and police whistling and the sirens.  That brought about a thought provoking question.  Given the traffic issues that seem so apparent, how do emergency vehicles manage to get to you before you die?  The New York STANDARD for an ambulance to get to you when necessary is 5 minutes or less.  That is impressive!

Driving down the road we passed by a film crew doing what they do.  That immediately garnered the attention of all the bus inhabitants…was there someone Famous in that crowd below us?  YES!!!  Sandra Bullock and Uma Thurman live and in color.  Will the pictures turn out?  Hope so.

One last pair of tidbits before the pillow once again hits me in the face.  One World Trade Center (also known as Freedom Tower) stands 1,776 feet tall.  This commemorates the year of the Declaration of Independence for the USA and makes it the fourth tallest building in the world.  When the attacks of 9-11 happened, lower Manhattan became akin to a war zone.  A call went out to any boats and ships in the immediate vicinity to please come help get people to safety.  The result was over 500,000 people were moved making it the largest evacuation by water in history.

Tomorrow…Sleepy Hollow!!!  Maybe a picture of the Headless Horseman?

Another Plan Doomed to Fail

New York, being New York, is not an inexpensive place to stay especially in Midtown Manhattan.  Spending the first night on the plane seemed like a prudent way to save a little money by not having the extra night in a hotel.  Ok…we  left late at night. As it turns out it was technically early morning as the flight was delayed 40 minutes.  With wheels up (finally) at 12:35 AM and a flight time of just over 3 hours to Toronto, we arrived at 5:30 AM Toronto time.  A layover of 2 hours and we were in New York by 9:30 AM.  But…both flights were also short haul flights so no food (i.e. breakfast).

So let’s see.  We have been up since 9 AM Sunday morning, worked a lot in the house, caught a very late flight, lost time due to time zones, actually were in the air 5 hours with an extra 2 in layovers and another 1.5 in customs, collecting baggage and making our way to our hotel.  By now it’s well past 24 hours with no sleep.  All this to save the money on an extra hotel night?  FAIL!

However, surprisingly we’re not really complaining.  Really…we’re on vacation.  NOT at work.  And we did save the money which now can go into….breakfast!!  (ok…not the price of a hotel room but you get the idea.)

After unloading the luggage, we set out on a journey of discovery.  Heading down the street with the Empire State Building firmly in sight we happened across an excellent little coffee house.  It also managed to serve up a superb pastrami sandwich and an equally good chicken and bacon sandwich.  Thank goodness there were no fries as there was also no room for same.  Over our meal we decided against doing the HOHO bus…walking around seemed like a perfectly good idea.  Why would we believe, that given the first plan had already failed, the second would work differently?

Very close to the ESB was a stop for the Big Bus (HOHO) and the requisite vendors of tickets for same.  The deals for various packages for the tours were…not bad, but not outstanding either which was the major deterrent for us.  After some haggling we ended up changing our mind AND getting a much better deal than advertised.  Maybe the day would turn around.

The sun did not threaten to burn fair skin and the wind was almost constant but the view from the top of the bus (double-decker) was certainly improved from ground level.  The tour guide, although a little difficult to understand at times, was Very well versed in landmarks that we drove past.

There’s Barnes and Noble that have been around since 1873.  Nearby is a pizzeria that has, amongst other things, a chocolate pizza on the menu.  Over there is a store that you can buy some special edition Kanye West sneakers for only $5,000. (yep…3 zeros for SNEAKERS).

A one bedroom in midtown Manhattan is not overpriced at $3,600 /month.  Especially when you consider Taylor Swift pays in the vicinity of $41,000 (per month) for her place in this same area.

(We also drove by, then returned by foot, to the New York Wine Exchange.  Great selection but their prices for vintage port…how can I be polite?  I’ll just say not a snowballs chance.)

Over there is the Philmore East.  Jimi Hendrix was the opening act for the Monkees there at one time.  Here’s a unique store…not a diabetic’s friend.  It’s called….It’s Sugar!  Home to the 5 pound gummy bear!

Now we’re entering Soho…which stands for South Of Houston (pronounced HOUSEton – and yes there is a Noho…same concept…North of Houston).  In this area you can find a $15 milkshake and Lombardi’s, the first pizzeria in the USA.

Chinatown, Little Italy, Tribeca (Triangle Below Canal).  I think every major city in the world has a version of Canal street.  You know…knock off road.  Here you’ll get amazing deals on a new jPhone, or a stylish Michael Dors purse.

Looking up you’ll see the magnificent 88 story 432 Park Avenue apartment block where the top floor will set you back just $60,000 per month.  But hey…you’ll be in the 3rd tallest building in the USA and the tallest residential building in the world.  Gotta be worth it, right?

There’s the Federal Reserve.  It contains a LOT of gold bullion for the US as well as other governments around the world.  The value is generally calculated at an ‘official US book value of $42 per troy ounce’.  That works out to about $8 billion…very round figures.  If you used current stock market value it would be closer to $250 billion.  If you go on a tour there, you come out with a bag full of money!  Well…sort of.  The Fed shreds about $100 million dollars per day so that’s really what you get.  A bag full of shredded money.

So much to see and we have just started.  Stay tuned…I’m pretty sure there’s more.