Will post as a reply...
Will post as a reply...
I love this town!
Back from another trip, this is going to be long, and might take me several days to finish. I tend to ramble.
Uneventful flights, we live in a small city so we have to connect to get anywhere, for this trip that meant using our FF miles on Alaska to go from Eugene to Seattle, then non-stop from there to EWR (the only NY airport they fly into). Had our first "small world" moment on the plane.
We're in the middle and aisle, guy gets on to sit in the window and lo and behold his old neighbors from 10 years ago are in the row in back, so they're chatting away. I'm listening to all this and come to find out that they all live in Seattle now, but the guy next to me grew up in Washington Township, New Jersey, which is right down the road from where we lived in Woodcliff Lake for 5 years back in the 80s. And his 10 year ago neighbors (who he hasn't seen since then) were on their way to...Woodcliff Lake. How funny is that.
We had a bunch of Starwood points, so I wanted to maximize use of them. Boy did I do a great job. If you love the thrill of the chase of getting free rooms and great deals, you will love this story. If not, just skip ahead, it gets complicated...
I am a planner ahead, so almost a year ago (11 months to be exact) I booked not only our free air tickets, but a room at the Westin New York at Times Square. At that time, you only needed 12,000 pts per night, AND they gave you the 5th night free. So 48,000 pts for 5 nights. The redemption rate since then has gone up to 20,000 per night! But that's not all. I realized that for just 10,000 more points, total, we could stay in their Atrium Club level, which had (to me) nicer rooms, free gym access, free bottled water and coffee maker, but most importantly, access to the Club Lounge which at the time offered THREE food opportunities per day (breakfast, afternoon snack and evening hors d'oeuvres - not that we were going to partake of all of that, but we are not big breakfast eaters so the thought of grabbing something quick and free every morning without having to make a big fuss or "go" anywhere was very appealing.
Well, just a couple of months after booking, they e-mailed me to say they were closing the lounge at mid-day and evening, and just be serving breakfast, and for our inconvenience they were refunding 3,000 points/day back into our Starwood account. So 3,000 x 5 = 15,000 - keep in mind, we only expended 10,000, so we're getting 5,000 points MORE, plus still having free breakfast!
Then just a couple of months ago, they e-mailed again to say they were closing the lounge COMPLETELY, and for our inconvenience, they were giving us $30/day food & beverage credit! So we are getting a completely free room, have more points back in our account than we spent, and are getting a $150 credit to do with as we pleased (you'll see later in my report that it didn't have to be used just for breakfast, and it wasn't a use-it-or-lose-it $30...it was $150 cumulative total against all charges, even including cocktails in the bar. Now granted, $30/day does not get you far in a big New York City Hotel, but are we complaining? Also, keep in mind when you use points for free nights, that INCLUDES all taxes, so we had to pay nothing out of pocket!
We loved the hotel. It was so convenient, just off the madness of Times Square, but still pretty mad. We loved our room. I chose the Atrium Club not just for the amenities but for the room itself. I did not care for the looks of the regular rooms, the AC rooms had much nicer bathrooms with tons of storage space, huge counter, lots of room and huge horizontal surfaces in the bedroom (two huge nightstands - I mean huge - big desk, lots of space to spread out all your "stuff" when you are on vacation, I don't do well in cramped quarters. Was the room noisy? Of course, it's New York, sirens day and night, but I like that vibrancy, and believe it or not did not sleep any better or worse than in my super quiet room at home. We were on the 16th floor overlooking 8th Avenue, I'm really not sure how high up that is, since the lobby is a very tall 2nd story up from the street. I also wasn't sure how the Atrium rooms fit in with the rest of the hotel, but there is only one set of elevators, and you get off in the "regular", tower part of the hotel, and the AL is one way, the regular rooms the other, a seamless transition. There was never any activity in the atrium below (it's built like an Embassy Suites or old Hyatt, where the hall circles the open area below. No meetings or anything were ever going on down there, so no noise from that side of the door, but as I said non-stop (and I mean all day and all night) sirens, which believe it or not you sort of don't notice after a while.
The room was very spacious, easily the biggest NYC hotel room I've ever been in. It was so convenient with the ACE line right outside the door and many, many more subway lines a block away on 7th.
It was sort of a rocky beginning when we checked in...we gave our bags to the bellman, got our room, and when they were brought up our coats were missing! We sent the bellman away to find them, and it seems they had fallen off the luggage cart, they didn't know which luggage cart they belonged to (it's a very busy hotel), so they were just hanging there in the lobby. He brought them up and all was well.
Housekeeping was also a little floopy. When we got to the room, there were hangers for robes but no robes, and the free bottled water that was to be included daily in our room was not there, so we called and both were brought up within 5 minutes. Unfortunately, we had not checked to notice that we had NO shampoo, but rather a copious amount of body wash, so the first morning had to wash our hair with body wash. We survived. I then left a note for housekeeping (with our daily tip) asking for shampoo since we had none...and we then had 4 bottles of shampoo, but they left no new conditioner! I quickly figured out that you had to be VERY VERY specific in your instructions, no omissions, to get what you needed, and after that all was well.
It's now about 7 pm so we headed out for my first of my New York tastes...things I dream about for months on end until I can get back "home". Pizza.
Besides the usual chains (Pizza Hut, etc.), our local pizza is uniformly awful. They put CHEDDAR cheese on it in addition to the mozzarella. So I do dream about NY Pizza a lot. We were a block away from John's, so that's where we headed. We hadn't had a vegetable all day, so started with the antipasto plate that was bed of greens with cheese and meat roll, peppers, squash, sun-dried tomatoes (which were edible in their own right, I usually only use them as an ingredient because their flavor is so intense, but these were really good). And then one John's traditional. My husband and I have totally different ideas on pizza. He is from Chicago. Need I say more? He likes deep-dish pan with lots of "things", the more meats and veggies on it the better, I'm from Boston so my taste is typical new york thin crust, Boston and NY pizza are very similar. And I don't want anything on mine. If I want a salad I'll order a salad, if I want a sandwich I'll order a sandwich, but I don't want piles of things on my perfect plain pizza. But he said please can I have garlic on my half? Sure. Well, don't you know, they put garlic on the whole thing. Now I like garlic, but it does change the taste. So my long awaited taste of plain old pizza was taken away :( I was also looking forward to John's because I'd heard about it being in an old church, and while that aspect was cool, it was so darned dark in there it was hard to see a lot of the detail. We thought it might be better in the daylight. Shared a pitcher of Sierra Nevada and it really was a great first meal in New York.
Are you all still with me? I told you I rambled...
nice and detailed so far - just how we like it! :-)
Thank you, I love the long detailed reports, we are going next Thursday and it is helping with the excitement levels :-)
Very nice detailed report! We also fell in love with New York City. I want to go back soon to see Mary Poppins on Broadway. :)
Yup.....................still with you, and waiting for more!.................
Day Two: soho
I completely missed the shopping gene, so I'd been avoiding soho. We had a great day.
Our first stop was the NY Fire Museum. This is small and interesting, the second floor is all historical equipment, pictures, artifacts, which we both enjoyed.
The first floor is more contemporary exhibits, as well as a 9/11 memorial room.
What made the day really fun was that we shared the space with a pile of young German firefighters...they all had on t-shirts that said "German firefighters 2012 New york Tour" and on the back had the name of their town and what I can only assume to say "German firefighter". They were snapping pictures all over the place, they helped my husband put on the coats and hats (the coat is REALLY heavy), and while they were enthusiastic in the main part of the museum, they, like us, were very quiet and respectful in the 9/11 room. We have all seen those images before, but it never hurts to see them again. The collage of photos they had, most taken from the firefighters point of view, were very moving, as was the display of names and pictures of those who gave their lives that day.
We then continued down Spring Street until we got to Evolution. This is a fun, neat store. Many things they said were "authentic" but I don't know...squirrel penis bones? Really? It's a place budding scientists and anyone interested in nature and the unusual would love.
Continuing on we stopped for a quick snack at another of my "tastes" places that I had on the agenda - Ed's Lobster Bar, not for the lobster but for the Ipswich fried clams, again something that is very difficult for me to find (plenty of fried oysters where I live, but no clams). These are the clams with the big soft liver-y bellies, mmm. And for a drink, they had a creme soda that gave ME my "Ratatouille" moment. Back when I was a kid, soda fountains would make a drink that was simply vanilla syrup and soda water....that's it...and it was my favorite thing in the world. I've had many creme sodas, and I like those, too, but this is slightly different - just pure, plain, vanilla syrup and soda water. I almost wept at the memories that that taste evoked.
We were now right on the edge of Little Italy, and the San Gennaro festival was in full swing. Since this was meant to be a grazing day, I let my husband pick the next food. You can get meatballs and sausages anywhere, but he hadn't had braciole in years (since his mother stopped cooking). So we shared a braciole and pepper sandwich. It was huge. How do you pick from all the trucks, all selling the same things? Simple. We chose the busiest one on the shady side of the street. I'm a little squeamish about food sitting out in the beating sun. We then topped that off with a cannoli.
We're now down at Grand, so we walked back west, stopping at the Pearl River Mart - this was fun, it was just what I was expecting, they have EVERYTHING in there. I got my 2 yo. granddaughter a beautiful fan ($1.50, what a deal). It was 25 cents more than an ugly fan. Hers has the base of carved gilded plastic, a beautiful colorful picture of flowers, and lace trim. For $1.50.
So from the sublime to the ridiculous...our next stop, based on a recommendation here, was the Hasten's bed store. We felt a little weird since we obviously were not going to buy a bed, but the woman was wonderful and had us laying on bed after bed. I don't think we layed on the $90,000 bed (and oh, the whole lay/lie thing is one aspect of English that I have NEVER been able to get straight, so feel free to correct any errors.
The experience reminded me of when we went to the Steinway piano showroom several years ago (it's up in the 50s, near Carnegie Hall, if it is still there). Of course we aren't going to walk in the door and buy a piano, but the salesperson would not let us wander, he said "I know you're not here to buy a piano, my job is to make sure you leave her with a better knowledge and appreciation of pianos", and he took us under his wing and we got the grand tour. I'll never forget that. Same with the mattress lady. She took time with us (of course there was no one else in the store) and really showed off her company's mattresses. It's funny, we ARE in the market for a new one, and what a coincidence we saw an ad in the WSJ of an offer, through Sept. 30, of a $3,600 credit if you trade in your old mattress. Hmmm. food for thought.
While we were walking down Grand, we heard shouting as we approached a corner, and saw a small crowd gathering. Apparently there was a fender bender involving 3 taxis, and they were all out shouting at each other as to who caused it, blah, blah, all ready to punch each other out. The police arrived and took charge right away, separated everyone, who said what to whom, who hit whom...we just went on our merry way.
While we didn't make many stops in Soho, it was enough to fill our day and give us a taste of the area (I was more interested in the iron bound architecture than I am in the actual shopping). We hopped on the subway at Canal, and zipped back to our hotel for a rest before the evening. This was the pattern of our days, and it's why we love staying in Manhattan in a convenient location - we love the afternoon regrouping, and our hotel could not have been more convenient.
Enjoying your report...
Oh, I meant to say on our Soho day we missed the Earth Exhibit - someone had mentioned it, and we wanted to fit it in, but since it didn't open until noon we were already past that area at that time. It's ok, I've seen dirt before. My next door neighbor is digging a trench in his backyard to put in a new garden and he's had a pile of dirt sitting on his driveway for a while :)
Tonight we went to dinner at Havana Central, a Cuban restaurant near Times Square. I've had Cuban food twice, both times in Miami, and this was not nearly as good, but it was pretty good. We got an appetizer sampler of 2 types of plantains - soft sweet sauteed ones (which were great), and crisp double fried ones (one was maduros and one was tostones, can't remember which was which). Some chorizo, some lime-marinated grilled chicken drumettes (which were delicious), 2 small pieces of Cuban corn (corn on the cob with cheese and spices), and some wonderful chimichurra sauce which I liked a lot. We also got an appetizer of 3 small pork tacos with mango coleslaw. Drinks were great - I first had a mojito and my husband had sangria, I liked his sangria so much I then got a glass of that, and he got a daiquiri. The one disappointment was the main course...we wanted seafood, and the seafood paella seemed like a good choice. There was plenty of seafood, all fresh and good - huge shrimp, mussels and clams, a ton of calamari, small scallops, but I didn't like the rice...it was tomato based, and I'm more used to saffron based paella, so I didn't really care for it. But we had plenty of food and the drinks and appetizers were really good. This is a very attractive restaurant, very colorful, evocative of old Havana (I guess, I've never been) with the indoor palm trees and slowly circling fans. If you're looking for something different in the theater district, this is a good choice - just don't order the paella.
After dinner was the first of our 3 plays - Spider-Man. yeah, yeah, I know...but actually, I didn't think it was as awful as I thought I would. I liked it. I had read that the plot was awful, the music was awful, only the special effects redeemed it, but I guess when they made the plot rewrite they made it adhere very, very closely to the first movie, which I also liked. We thought the Peter character was just ok, but really liked Mary Jane - I thought she had a beautiful voice. But my favorite was the Green Goblin - he was delectably evil. And very green. The play had me hooked from the opening scene where they cleverly wove the web of ribbons, I enjoyed the school scenes, I thought that many of the songs were toe-tappingly good. We had great seats - first row of the flying circle, right on the aisle. So we were in the landing zone, so got the "talk" from the usher about don't talk to him, don't touch him, don't do anything. It was like getting the Exit Row talk on the plane - you have to know your responsibilities. The usher apparently liked us because she came back down at intermission and talked to us for about 5 minutes about the show - about all the stuntmen used (there are 8 spidermen plus the star), how if even one wire (and there are tons of wires) is a quarter of an inch off it shuts down the whole system, how yes, she is sick of seeing it over and over...but she said it's a one of a kind theater (Foxwoods), but if you're an usher for, say, the Shubert group or the Nederlander group you do get to rotate and see different plays.
Was it a big deal to be in the fly zone? I would say it was cool for a second, but he didn't stay long before flying off again, but it was really a great view of the whole thing so I'm happy we were there.
And this theater was a short half a block back to our hotel. So, so convenient. I truly grew to love the Westin.
Thanks everyone, I'm doing this in dribs and drabs in between laundry and errands - you all know how that goes when you first get back from a trip.
Anyway, next day: Chelsea!
This was another under-explored section of town for us - been there many years ago but not recently.
I didn't want to go to Chelsea market - just more shopping. But on the other hand, what if I missed something great? Well, guess what - LOVED Chelsea Market! It was not as commercial as I thought it would be (yes, some chains, but New York chains, and boy did I find some hard to find items I've been looking for!
Wait, back up...I have to tell you about the funny thing that happened to us that morning in the Westin elevator.
I have to tell you my husband is not a celebrity groupie. He wouldn't know half of them if he tripped over them, but put either a sports figure or finance person in his path and he loves it. If any of you recall, our last trip when we stayed in the financial district he waved to (and got waved back by) Maria Bartiromo and he talked about it for days. What a nerd :) Anyway, we're coming down the elevator to go to breakfast and a guy gets on at the 10th floor - tall, nice looking, guy. My husband starts talking to him like he knows him. I have no idea who it is. Husband asks a question about his brother - I'm thinking, he knows his brother, too? I'm wondering if it's one of the Harbaugh's (football coach brothers) then I see the pony tail and it dawns on me - that guy who has the show with his brother on CNBC. Jon Najarian. Now, to some of you it's maybe not as exciting as Tom Cruise but to my husband was very exciting. We had a nice conversation all the way down to the lobby, and he stood and talked with us for a while. I guess those financial people don't get recognized all the time so maybe it's nice for them, who knows, but he was very personable.
So we go to breakfast in the hotel restaurant, go back up to the room and get ready to leave. My husband says "I need to get some change, I'll meet you down in the lobby". I go down 2 minutes later and AGAIN Jon Najarian gets on the elevator! So now we're like old friends, lol. We say our goodbyes and he heads for the escalator (the Westin Lobby is one escalator ride above street level). He TIPS the guy standing at the top of the escalator (do you DO that? just a random Westin employee, not even sure why they are there, in case you need help? I don't know). My husband comes running over to me and said "did you see him? he just went down the escalator!" and I said "yes, I saw him, we were in the elevator together again!". The escalator guy says "who is that? Is he a movie star? He comes and stays here every week and he's always so nice" - so we told him who he was (I don't think this person ever watched CNBC in his life because we had to explain what it was to him) but it sure made my husband's day.
Anyway, so now we're at Chelsea Market! I love to eat, I love to cook, and I loved this place! Our daughter used to work for a specialty food wholesaler, and she used to get us some ingredients that I have not been able to find in any of our local stores. One is white polenta. Don't laugh, we have plenty of yellow but no white. Not only did they carry the exact brand we used to use, they had other flavors as well. This stuff is imported from Italy, so their translation skills are a little lacking, so not only did I buy 2 bags of the white (one for me and one for my daughter), but also a bag of "Bluckwheat" - this became our joke of the day, how we can't wait to try our bluckwheat polenta. Of course they meant "buckwheat", and I love savory crepes made of buckwheat flour, so I can't wait to try it. It's actually a blend of yellow corn and buckwheat but whatever.
The other interesting thing we saw in Chelsea Market was the lobster place...so many people were sitting on stools by the window, eating their whole lobsters. But I saw one guy who really knows how to live. He had taken his lobster, and moved a few doors down to the wine shop. There he had ordered himself a bottle of wine and sat at the comfy table enjoying his lobster and wine!
We went in and out of just about every shop there, picked up some more gifts, then headed for the High Line. We went up and there was a place there to get a hot dog or hamburger, but I was hoping for something more exciting. We walked the High Line for a while, enjoying the views, the vegetation, dodging all the people (it was pretty crowded already). We got down around 21st street because there were a lot of things I wanted to see at street level, and really, the few blocks we walked gave us a good idea of what the HL was like.
We still had not eaten, and like a miracle, right there across the street was a restaurant that had been on my "list", someplace I thought I might like to try if we got to Chelsea. Cookshop. We went in, got seated, and we really didn't want a big lunch since we had a big dinner coming up, so my husband got cauliflower soup with kale and chilis, and I got a griddled (sic) cheese sandwich. the menu described it as cheddar cheese with arugula, peaches, and pecans. Well, naturally I though the arugula would be a salad on the side, but it was not - all those ingredients were INSIDE the sandwich! It was fabulous! The grilled good quality bread, melted cheese, sweetness of fresh sliced peach, crunch of pecans - honestly, I think Adam Richman missed this one on his quest for the best sandwich in America.
Now to explore Chelsea on foot! I had researched some quirky places to go in Chelsea, and boy were they ever. We are very easy to please. Not everything has to be a world class sight to make us happy. If we can see something odd and say "huh, how about that" and then move on we're happy. So we sort of backtracked back and forth around (I think) between 21st and 23rd, between 10th and 8th. The first "huh" moment was the Muffin House. This just looked like a regular brownstone, but it used to be the site of the first English Muffin factory in America.
The whole area was a lovely place to stroll, and we noticed a flurry of activity with people sprucing up their homes - painting, repairing, planting, it seemed every other house was doing some sort of rejuvenation. Very nice. Now, this whole area was originally owned by Clement Moore, who wrote "The Night Before Christmas" (another "huh" moment), but I was not able to find his house. I was at the intersection where it was supposed to be but I couldn't find it. Anyway, another stop was at the garden of the General Theological Seminary. This was a little disappointing. It was not really a garden, just a grassy area surrounded by the seminary buildings, which looked very Ivy League but on a much smaller scale. It was nice but not what I was expecting. And you had to give them your license as collateral before they would even let you in! I was surprised at that security, but we were ok with it. Lots of gates to be buzzed in and out of, I guess we looked ok because they let us in.
Speaking of the Ivy League, I was now leading us to the Fashion Institute, where that day was opening an exhibit on Ivy League fashions through the years. But we were tired, we had just passed an ACE stop on our way to get donuts at Doughnut Plant, so I said to my husband "we can either get our donuts and go to this fashion museum, or get our donuts and bring them back to the hotel and eat them and take a nap". Well, guess what he chose.
And I hate saying it, but I was a little disappointed in the donuts. I got the peanut butter and jelly one, but I just didn't think it was sweet enough to be called a donut. To me donuts are a sweet treat. And I didn't care for the coarse, yeasty texture, either. It was more like a bread product than a donut. Oh well. His hazelnut on hazelnut was not much better.
Will take a break now and then continue with our evening later...