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Trip Report "And the Award Goes to": NEW YORK-Manhattan and Hudson Valley

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Part One Manhattan

Day 1 Wednesday April 30, 2014

Spring reportedly had sprung in New York City and surrounding areas, so we made plans for a beautiful trip to the Big Apple followed by a few days in the Hudson Valley.
Our departure day dawned with blue skies and comfortable temps. However, a normally nondescript two-hour+ flight from our Midwest home had an immediate impact on our NY plans. After rushing to complete all that is entailed in trip prep (you all know the drill), we left our home arriving at the airport in due time, only to learn that our flight was delayed by 1 hour; then 2 hours, and finally almost three hours. After a rough ride, we had a hard landing at LaGuardia, greeted with a heavy, driving rain and strong wind. Fortunately, a comfortable taxi ride with a friendly driver had us at our Hyatt Times Square Hotel shortly, where a doorman graciously welcomed us with over-sized umbrellas. Two complimentary nights motivated our choice of this hotel. Even though the name includes “Times Square”, its set back a good long block from the hoopla of the square.
As yet, New York City did not appear beautiful. We needed a late lunch, and not wanting to stroll too far in the driving rain, we took the suggestion of a receptionist and trudged two doors up 45th to the “Perfect Pint”, a perfect place for great sliders, fresh cut fries (2 for $20.; a deal in NYC !) and two perfect pints of Guinness! That late lunch prompted us to change our dinner reservation from 5PM until after the play planned for this evening. We chilled in our rooms for a while, freshened up a bit, and mustered up the energy to make our way in the continuing driving rain to the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on 43rd. Available taxis were in short supply, so we began the three-block walk, with the driving rain and strong wind challenging us to keep our umbrella right-side out. The Broadway play for the evening was “Beautiful”. Although we like Carole King’s music, we didn’t know how the story of her life would be woven with her musical career to produce a dynamic performance, but some good ticket prices for a weekday evening seemed worth giving it a try. The theme of the play was well-timed! All of the uncomfortable weather factors quickly disappeared from our thoughts as the play, filled with dynamic music, unfolded. Our spirits were lifted; the music suddenly had us feeling that New York was beautiful. The staging was super. The actress Jessica Mueller played such a great role that it felt as though Carole herself was on stage. Little did we know at the time that she would win a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical! Beautiful” set the tone for the remainder of our visit. Although the rain persisted as we left the theatre and headed to “Saju Bistro” on 44th for a late dinner, it somehow seemed less bothersome. Although the menu was mostly in French, we enjoyed a great meal of “homemade” Pappardelle with Braised Beef with a great vino rouge to accompany. We learned that the name “Saju” did not reflect any culture or cuisine, but was a combination of the names of the owner’s two children: Samantha and Justin. We really enjoyed the comfortable atmosphere of the restaurant, and will definitely return. The only negative of the evening was that someone walked off with our cherished Eddie Bauer umbrella! In its place, they left a small, torn semblance of one. But we survived our walk back to our hotel, in good spirits and glad to be in NYC.

Day 2 Thursday, May 1st

Our fave place to have breakfast in NYC is “The Red Flame”, a diner on 44th. But we discovered that our Hyatt Hotel had a nice bistro, the “T 45”, which proved to be a convenient and pleasant place to start the morning. Our waiter that first morning was an engaging guy who loved travel as much as we do. He was a Filipino whose father served in our military, and, consequently, moved around a lot. They finally settled in Detroit where his father was an engineer with Ford. Chatting with him made our first breakfast quite pleasant. As we looked out the bistro windows, we were delighted to see the sun appearing, so we decided to follow our plan of visiting the 9-11 Memorial. We caught the Red Line 1 Metro and within minutes were at the Rector Street exit, within a short walking distance of the Memorial. As we approached the long lines, literally hundreds of visitors, we were glad that we had purchased tickets on-line, and we would suggest that others planning to visit do the same. With pre-purchased tickets, we had only a short wait to go through security, and begin the fenced-in walkway to the sprawling Memorial. Although the Museum was not yet open, the experience of the Memorial was very beautiful . . . yet sad and impactful. We were impressed with the two uniquely-designed waterfalls, on the sites of the North and South Towers. The flowing waters seemed to drop into an abyss. One “survivor tree” had been nursed back to health and was still staked until it is firmly rooted. There were quite a few benches strategically placed around the Memorial. As we walked around the, we could hear different languages and sensed that there were people from all over the world. We had an interesting and enjoyable encounter with a couple from Norway. We easily engaged in conversation as we began describing our memories of the gorgeous Norwegian fiords. The woman was very outgoing, but the guy appeared very reserved, possibly because he was not comfortable speaking English. She mentioned that he liked music, and from his demeanor, we thought he would be into heavy classical. When we talked about seeing Broadway plays, and that the evening before we had seen the musical “Beautiful”, we were surprised that not only did they know of Carole King, but that he had the CD “Tapestry”. They said that they had intended to get to bed very early, trying to stay on European time. We were trying to convince them to gradually acclimate to NY time . . . that NYC is a nighttime place! We also talked about how to purchase play tickets. They did seem interested. We’re still wondering how they enjoyed their visit.

Following a couple-hour visit to the Memorial, we were hungry for lunch. Where to eat? We decided to wander around and find a place with some local flavor. As we strolled around, we saw “George’s” in Battery Park. The policeman on the corner said that the food was good, so that seemed a perfect choice. George’s was an interesting mix of business people with a few visitors, and very friendly wait staff with whom seemed to enjoy kidding around. We ordered soup and a hot dog to share. The hot dog was an open-faced sandwich, two sausages covered with beans and cheese on each. Not your typical hot dog, and we were glad that we chose to share it, as it was more than enough to eat.

After that ample lunch, we walked around the area, and thought we’d head toward Wall Street and take another look at that famous bull! As we approached the area, the space around the bull was a sea of humanity, with the bull barely visible. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to be photographed. Many were young kids, and we commented that at their ages, we had no idea of Wall Street or what that bull signified. The little park in the area was filled with gorgeous red tulips, a vivid reminder of the spring which could be appreciated with the sunshine.

As we were leaving the area, we spotted another subway line and decided to take it up to 49th to check out Rockefeller Center, a ritual on every trip to NYC. As one might imagine, the glorious weather drew out many people, visitors and business people. Having an ice cream on 5th & 50th, we observed a large group of very well-behaved, friendly kids who appeared to be 7th or 8th graders. After a few minutes we saw a lady we assumed to be their teacher, and complimented her and the kids. She explained that they were from a Catholic school near Austin, using their spring break for a history trip, having visited West Point and now taking in some key sights in NYC. Great school field trip!

That ice cream break provided more walking energy, and we went over to pay our normal visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. However, since they have a major repair project going on, both inside and out, the abundance of scaffolding made for a less than optimum appreciation of its beauty. Our plans for the evening included a play: “The Book of Mormon” which was at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on 49th, though a few long blocks west from where we were. But we decided that, rather than trudging back to our hotel, we’d stroll along 5th Avenue, do some window shopping, freshen up in a respectable restroom, and have a snack before heading to the theatre. It seemed like a great idea except for our complaining feet which which had logged a few miles today. A stop at Bouchon Bakery for a couple of chocolate croissants, cappuchinos, and people watching near Rockefeller Center whiled away the time until we headed westward on 49th to the theatre for an evening of pure laughter. We missed “Mormon” on our last trip to NYC, and even in our hometown as part of the Broadway on Tour series. Tickets sold out early. After seeing it, we understood what the popularity was all about. A convenient place for a late dinner was the E&E Grill directly across the street from the Theatre. The restaurant has an upbeat, contemporary interior. Although the food was good, and the menu quite varied, the prices were a bit high. But the vino was terrific, and a perfect ending to an enjoyable night. Except for, oh yes, a walk back to our hotel. Our day was fun, but, we had to admit, tiring. We looked forward to a restful night to re-charge!

Day 3 Friday May 2nd

Another warm, nice day. Grateful for that! We felt that we kind of overdid it yesterday with all the walking, so we decided to have a relaxing day today. Our goal was Central Park. As we were in the subway station, a well-intentioned guy who, it turned out, wasn’t too facile with the language overheard us and apparently picked up on “Central” and pointed in the direction of a track and said “Express”. So we thanked him for his assistance and hopped on the car. We looked up at the signs in the car, looked at each other, and suddenly had this feeling of being on the wrong train. It did indeed say “Central”, but not as in Central Park, or even a close approximation like “Lincoln Center” but Grand CENTRAL Station. So we quickly exited just as the doors were closing. A good decision, and a quick scurry through the station, had us on the metro heading toward Central Park.
Arriving at our stop, we arose from the station to a bustling Central Park. Trees in bloom. Food vendors lining the walks. People walking to and fro enjoying the statues. Carriages, bike rentals, rickshaws. The aromas coming from the food carts tempted us to have a picnic lunch of crepes, a healthy ham/veggie one for DH, a strawberry & cream for DW. A perfect start to a leisurely enjoyment of the park. We spent some time enjoying “the pond” as they call it, with the beautiful setting of the bridge flanked with foliage and budding flowers. But, then, realities set in. Where to find a restroom? We walked a few blocks to the Starbucks between 57th & 58th, which offered us the chance to have a cappuccino. After that brief respite, we headed back to the park for a little more path-walking and picture-taking of the colorful azaleas and tulips. An ending to our Central Park visits usually includes a stop in the square by the Plaza Hotel. And true to the never-ending excitement of NYC, a band was entertaining and drawing quite a crowd.
We were aware of the late afternoon time, and wanting to avoid the subway crowds of work traffic, we found a Q Yellow Line as an alternative to the Red Line to get back to the general area of our hotel. We had a longer walk back to our hotel, but were happy to return with enough time to have a quick rest and dress up a bit for a 5:30 dinner at “Bond 45”, a recommendation of the hotel concierge. This was an anticipatory anniversary dinner, and we wanted someplace both nice and relatively close to our theatre on 45th. The name “Bond” certainly didn’t sound like anything Italian to us, and we wondered why the concierge suggested that we have such an early reservation, when the 8:00 performance was just down the street. As we entered, the maitre’d presented us with a glass of champagne, and a host escorted us to quite a nice corner both on the balcony-like level. As we phased from our champagne to wonderful vino rouge, we couldn’t help but notice that numbers of well-dressed people filing in. We were so curious about the name “Bond” for an Italian Restaurant, and learned that in former years it was a popular large men’s’ clothing store. So when the restauranteurs chose the site, they kept the name. The concierge steered us in the right direction! A great meal and a wonderful ambience; oh yes, and accompanied by a somewhat hefty price. We had two vinos, a salad, a large steak which we shared, with a delicious pasta side, a shared cheesecake, and cappuchios, for a total bill of $122.00 incl tip. More than we usually spend, but quite worth it! The early dinner reservation allowed us time to return to our hotel, just diagonally up the street, for a short refresher before heading down to the Gerald Shoenfeld Theatre for “The Bridges of Madison County.” Our motive for seeing this play was the lead, Kelli O’Hara. While she and the male lead, Steve Pasquale, were fantastic, the play, as a whole, was not one of our faves. However, we were in good musical company as Liza Minnelli was seated across the aisle from us. As a few women approached her to snap a picture, she was gracious. But the attendees, as her whole, did not bother her. And at the curtain call, she and the two that were with her, quietly slipped out. Our excitement for the evening! As we walked back to our hotel, experiencing the electricity that is usually New York City, that “Perfect Pint” tempted us to drop in for a late night drink and a few wings.

A slight diversion here to say that when we visit NYC, we usually like to stay on 44th, closer to 6th Ave., (although 45th is fairly close) where we can walk east to Rockefeller Center, 5th Ave., Bryant Park etc. or walk west to where most of the theaters are located. We usually choose a hotel where we can find a deal. On 44th, we’ve stayed at the Millenium Broadway, the Algonquin, the Iroquois, and the Royalton, although in the past year or so deals in that area are more difficult to come by. When we attend a performance we try to book a restaurant nearby. So far, we’ve felt pretty successful. We normally don’t attend three plays, but include a jazz show or a performance at Carnegie Hall.

Day 4 Saturday May 2nd

We awoke to another sunny day. . .our last day in the city. Tonight our hotel is booked near the LaGuardia Airport, where we not only obtained a lower rate than in the city, but would be ready to pick up our rental car for a trip up the Hudson River Valley. We were happy to have such a nice day to “play it by ear” and re-visit a few of some fave tourist spots.

We had heard that “Little Italy” was less and less Italian. So we decided to have lunch there. As we walked up Canal St. we were inundated with Chinese, Vietnamese street haulkers peddling everything from food to jewelry to womens’ purses. After walking the four long several long blocks from Broadway up Canal, we finally were greeted by the large sign “Little Italy” spanning Mulberry Street. Our intent was to have lunch there. Not far up the street we came upon “Luna Restaurante” and enjoyed a tasty Three Cheese Manicotti. The staff appeared to be Italian, but a nearly store owner said that very few Italians are still in the area. We visited a few other spots in Lower Manhattan, and then hopped on a bus to enjoy the upper parts of Central Park, with Museum Mile. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit any of the museums. Those, along with many other NYC sites and experiences, will motivate us to a future visit. The “Tavern on the Green” has re-opened, and next visit we may visit for lunch. We leave the Big Apple with plans for our next visit, unsure of when that might be.

We returned to the Hyatt Times Square to get a final bite to eat in the hotel bistro, pick up our luggage, and get a taxi to the LaGuardia Marriott, where we’ll be ready in the morning to begin our enjoyment of the Hudson River Valley. That will be Part 2 of our report.

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