Didja ever have a vacation that you knew – as it was happening – that it will be a much better memory when viewed in the rear view mirror.
Folks, it was hot, hot, and hotter on our trip to New York City that began last Sunday. At least 100 degrees on all three days of our trip, including 103 degrees for a record high on Tuesday, July 6th. And unfortunately for us, everything that we did was all about “let’s just get there” and once there, trying to cool off and recover. Photo ops were missed, because it would have meant stopping our walk for 20 seconds while I dug the camera out, lined up the shot, and clicked. I bet we spent $40 in buying bottled water on the streets over the course of three days (Side note; and it was warm water most of the time, too, because so many people were buying it that the vendors couldn’t keep it cold. Bottles that we bought out of coolers weren’t much cooler because all of the ice had been melted).
Now mind you, we had a great time (he says, peering into the mirror). We arrived at LaGuardia, M60 bussed (Side note; a one-day unlimited ride transit pass was $8.25, and we easily got our money’s worth each day) and N trained it (and walked six blocks from the subway dragging the luggage) to the Hotel ThirtyThirty and had checked in by 12:30 PM. Along the way, as we got slightly turned around after exiting the subway trying to head the right direction, we came across a lady walking a dog that looked amazingly like Vier Pogo Squad 51. We spent two blocks discussing how similar they looked, and My-Sugar-Na hypothesized (since VPS51 was a rescue dog) that his brother ended up in Mahnattan. I don't think so, but it did focus our attention away from how hot it was.
We were hungry so we went to the first place on our list which was Petite Abeille in Stuyvesant Town. Petite Abeille was featured on the Travel Channel’s Breakfast Paradise and on that show a waitress made a comment about the banana split waffle. That was good enough for My-Sugar-Na, so she barely looked at the menu before ordering. I had the fresh strawberry waffle, and though the waffles were very good, it could be argued that they weren’t “Milwaukee-sized portions”. I was very happy with the taste, not as happy with the value.
After brunch, we headed directly to stop number two, which was Belvedere Castle in Central Park. I don’t want to overdo the point, but the point is that the heat was the central figure of the entire trip. We got off the subway at 81st St and walked into Central Park. Google maps says that the walk was 0.4 miles, but we were completely gassed by the time we got there. When I hear of “castle”, I think of a huge residence with hundreds of rooms. The castle is more of a lookout station and now serves as a weather reporting station. It made for some nice photos, as well as photos of Turtle Pond and Central Park with the city in the background. On one hand, we were glad it was an attraction that was short in duration, but on the other hand it was mostly in the sun and we had to find a park bench in the shade for awhile. I could feel the distinct sensation of dehydration setting in, and was kicking myself for not getting a bottle of water prior to that walk. We made the very easy decision to take the M79 bus for the half-mile ride from the castle to the subway entrance and the easier decision to buy a couple bottles of water from the hot dog vendor.
Third on the agenda was one of the highlights of the trip… we were going to take a Fireworks cruise on the Hudson River to watch the Macy’s Fireworks. We had purchased our tickets on-line, and the confirmation said that boarding was at 5:30, however it also stated that boarding was not guaranteed and that tickets had to be picked-up an hour in advance. So we arrive at Pier 83 at 4:00 and could choose to stand in the sun for 90 minutes or… LOOK! A BOWLING ALLEY! Lucky Strike Lanes was lucky enough (get it) to be on the corner of 42nd St and 12th Ave, so we ducked inside for about an hour. We bought a soda and planted ourselves behind Lane 24 and watched Sara and young Atticus (no really, that was his name) place the ball on a ramp (Side note; Seriously, people. If a child cannot even swing the lightest of bowling balls, save the $9.95/game and take him or her to the zoo).
Fast forward a smidge and we are now on the boat. Only four hours to fireworks. Four hours on a boat that will go north on the Hudson River about five miles, turn around and come back, then sit in the same spot for three hours while we either sit in the shade behind a wall with no shot at a breeze, or stand in the sun trying to catch what little breeze there was. Sure, there was overpriced food ($7 for nachos? And how – in 100 degree heat – was the cheese sauce cold?) and bottled water (only $4 per) to kill time until the fireworks started. At least we got a lot of cool pictures, like this and this and this.
And what fireworks they were! There were on par with Milwaukee’s US Bank fireworks, although you can’t tell that to a New Yorker. Was it worth the cost of the cruise ticket? Absolutely. Was it worth the five hours in that weather? Not quite sure. Ask me when it’s further back in the mirror.
Most nutritionists would tell you that nachos and water does not a balanced meal make, so after the fireworks My-Sugar-Na and I decided we need to eat, but by the time we got off the M42 bus at Grand Central Station (where, by the way, we spotted Sarah and Atticus. 14 billion people in New York, and we see these two people twice in one day) at was almost midnight so we decided to just get back to the hotel and find something on the walk after the subway. There were plenty of restaurants around the hotel, but the only one open was a gem of a deli on 30th St and Madison Av (about a block from the hotel) called Miss K’s Italian Eatery. They had an Italian buffet 24 hours (which, to be honest, looked like it had been sitting there for 24 hours) but they made deli sandwiches and salads to order. My Cuban Panini and My-Sugar-Na’s Breaded Chicken Cutlet sandwich absolutely hit the spot for a quick meal before bedtime.
We were so hot, sweaty and generally wilted by the time that we got back on Sunday that we each showered before hitting the sack (for the record, the shower stall was too small for, well, never mind). It was after 1:00 AM when we got to sleep, and we had to be out by 7:00 AM to start Monday’s adventure. Unfortunately, My-Sugar-Na really struggled to get her motor started on Monday.
First on the agenda Monday was a trip to 30 Rock for an NBC Studios for a tour. A coupon code here allowed us a discount on our tickets, and it seemed that the actual tour had less than the trusted internet had led us to believe. While we did see a 15-minute propaganda film about how wonderful NBC had been for the past 90 years, as well as seeing the Dr. Oz set (which is in the same studio that David Letterman and Conan O’Brien did the Late Night shows), the studio of Jimmy Fallon’s show (which is in the same studio that Johnny Carson had used prior to moving to Burbank in 1972) and the Saturday Night Live studio (which is way, way smaller than it looks on TV). But that was about it. No tour of the NBC Nightly News set or the Football Night in America sets that had been listed on the website. Granted, it also says that all tours are subject to change, but I would way rather look at a news operation than an empty Dr. Oz studio.
The funny part, though, is that My-Sugar-Na could barely stay awake! (Well, it was funny to me). The temp in Jimmy Fallon’s studio (even though he was in the middle of a three-week hiatus) was about 60 degrees and she was still nodding off. So after the tour instead of buying a second tour, this time of the art at Rockefeller Center, we decided to go back to the hotel for her to take a nap. With her nighty-night, I went down to the Starbucks on the corner to have a cool drink and to use the iPhone to find the best pizza in New York.
And I did just that. Once I went up and awoke Sleeping Beauty, we were on to Greenwich Village and lunch at Keste Pizza and Vino. New Yorker magazine liked them, and they used a bunch of words I’ve never heard of (Side note; I am such a Midwestern rube… I don’t know the difference between Neapolitan and Sicilian style pizzas) so it was good enough for me.
The coolest part is that Greenwich Village is not a tourist area, so the street and restaurant really sang “New York” to me. The interior of the restaurant was long and narrow, and everyone sat on top of each other. The pizza was very good (the Salsiccia, with tomatoes, sausage, fresh basil and topped with buffalo mozzarella) and that crust was spectacular.
From there (and the Weather Bug app on the iPhone said the temp at 1:00 PM on Monday was a cool 101 degrees) we got to the Trinity Church on Wall Street for the start of the Financial District walking tour. When we got there, we had considered not taking the tour due to the temperature. But I suggested that we begin the tour, and once it becomes too much we can beg off and find a cool building to spend some time. It was way too hot to walk for two hours, but to the credit of the tour guide, we never walked for more than a block at a time, almost always in the shade, and we stopped many times near park benches or at buildings with stairs. The tour itself wasn’t what we had thought it would be which actually was a pleasant surprise. Back home when My-Sugar-Na had suggested we take the tour, I focused on “financial”… Carnegie, Rockefeller, JP Morgan, etc. In reality, the word “district” was the star of the tour. The tour traced the origins of the settling of New Amsterdam by the Dutch before ceding control to the British who christened it New York. We also discussed how about 50% of Manhattan wasn’t actually there 400 years ago, but was created out of landfill. For the most part, the two hours seemed to pass by quickly and before we knew it, it was 4:00 PM.
“Oh, no… 4:00? Shoot, our dinner reservation at Peter Luger Steak House is at 4:45 and we have to take two subways to get there“. Even though I had expected to not complete the Financial District tour (giving us time to get back to the hotel to shower and change) I had contacted the restaurant to assure that shorts would be acceptable. I didn’t, however, mention that we would be smelly, wilted, drenched, exhausted shells of humans wearing shorts. Luckily they let us in anyway and we took some time in the restroom to freshen up.
After dinner we... (What, I’ve only mentioned Peter Luger in, like, 17 other blogs and you want me to expand that thought? I gave you a photo yesterday. I am almost 2000 words into this. I see. Really? OK you talked me into it, what’s another 100 words?)
Peter Luger Steak House has been in Brooklyn, right under the Williamsburg Bridge, for over 120 years. It has won the Zagat award for best steakouse in New York for 26 years in a row. It was a great hunk of meat (and for $85 for “Steak for Two”, it should have been). But it wasn’t the best steak I’ve ever had. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I like Mo’s better, and the Five O’Clock Steakhouse, too. And I didn’t have to fly a thousand miles to eat there. But back to Peter Luger’s for a moment. For the hype and the prices, I had expected white linen. I got plain wooden tables. I had expected three servers to care for us. We had one. I had expected more “experience” than I really got, and that was disappointing. The steak was approximately a 30 oz. porterhouse. I could have handled that myself, but my wife made me share it. We also – at some anonymous poster’s suggestion – tried the German fried potatoes. We didn’t like those at all. They were served all congealed together on the plate, and when we scooped them, they crumbled all over the place. They were not hot throughout, yet the potatoes were quite rubbery.
They did redeem themselves, however, with the German Apple Strudel with homemade whipped cream. The dessert was heavenly, and we had way more whipped cream than we needed, but managed to finish it anyway! We were in for a sticker shock, though, when the bill arrived. We knew about the $85 steak, but the $12 potatoes kind of surprised me, as did the $16 “Dessert for Two” (suddenly, the dessert wasn’t that good). I had one beer, My-Sugar-Na had two soft drinks and with tax and tip the bill was about $160. Please note that it actually cost more than we paid for one round trip plane ticket. If money is no object and you want to partake in the history of Peter Luger Steak House, then it gets a recommendation. But to me, it was overpriced for what we got (a equally sized porterhouse in Milwaukee is about $40) and I don’t know if I will go too far out of my way to get there again.
We made it back to the hotel so I could take a nap and change clothes, as we wanted to get to Times Square after dark… in part to see the lights but also because we thought that it might be a little cooler once the sun went down.
I had taken a few photos while in Times Square, but decided to use the video function of our digital camera a whirl. I think the videos turned out OK for a hundred dollar camera. But I was struck with how busy it was. Not just the fact that it was Times Square, but it was Times Square and 95 degrees out after dark. Apparently everybody else decided to wait until after dark to wonder around aimlessly in Advertising Land. While walking aimlessly, I smelled the heavenly aroma of barbeque, then filed that smell in the memory bank.
We spent a couple of hours walking around and did some souvenir shopping for our likely ungrateful miracles of creation and I had an inspiration. Two years prior when in New York, I raved about the Gray Line Night Loop tour. I thought it would be neat to do again, and especially nice to sit on top of the double decker bus and let the breeze cool us down. The tour was as wonderful as I had remembered (if largely unchanged) except for one thing. Remember while describing the walking tour and I had mentioned how the tour guide did a great job of not letting us dwell on how hot and miserable we were? Well this dingus on the Gray Line tour did all he could to ruin it. He was some sunglass-wearing, long-haired, ADHD-addled post-teen who I think was trying to get us to have a good time, but he was way too over the top for 11:00 PM and how uncomfortable we were. For example, an Australian couple was near the front of the bus, and when he hit a lull in talking, he would shout into the microphone “Aussie, Aussie!” To which everyone was supposed to chant back. He also said that the answer to any question he asks would be “Woooo!”, and then he would try to get everyone to “Woooo!” in return… as we passed by one important sight or another. But he did manage to point out where his apartment was. I really like the tour, and I may do it a third time if we ever get back to New York, but it was just the wrong day for this guy’s shtick.
Tuesday morning was another day in which is was difficult to get the motor started, but we did manage to get packed, checked out of the hotel room and to 51st St and Broadway by 10:30 AM (for a coach bus tour of NY TV and Movie Sites). We hadn't eaten yet, so I ran across the street to the McDonalds. Did you ever read the small print in the TV ads, where they say that prices may be higher in some areas? Well, two Sausage McMuffins and two large drinks (all of which are $1 in most of the country) cost a total with tax of $9.75. Oy.
The company that runs this tour is the same one that ran the Sopranos Sites tour that we had taken two years earlier, and they did nothing to disappoint this time around. On another 100 degree day we spent most of the 3+ hours on the air conditioned coach bus, though we did get out to take some photos at the Washington Square Arch, the house which served as the exterior of the Cosby show and the apartment building used for Friends. A lunch stop was made a Ben's Pizza in SoHo, which was used in the opening to Men in Black II. They have a special at Ben's which they call the Men in Black (natch)... a cheese slice of pie and fountain soda for $4.25. Although Keste's pizza was very nice and better tasting overall, the slice at Ben's screamed "New York Pizza" . It was big and cheesy and meant to be eaten folded in half - which is what I did.
Looking at the ol' watch, however, told me that as soon as we would get off this tour bus at 1:30, we would have to book over to Tonic to see the Netherlands play Uruguay in the World Cup Semifinal. Imagine my disappointment when we get to Tonic and there is a line 20 people deep, standing in the sun waiting to get into the place to watch the game. The bouncer mentioned a couple of other bars in Times Square that will be showing the game, and while My-Sugar-Na said that we should go to Hurley's, of course I knew better so we instead walked over (with a couple dozen other Dutch fans in tow) to Playwright Tavern. They let a few of us in, but then they sent us towards Hurley's anyway (sorry, Dear. I should have listened to you.) Unfortunately, we got there in the 20th minute of the game, which wouldn't have been so bad, except that the Netherlands scored in the 18th minute. In the end, the Netherlands won, and many of us orange clad Dutch fans streamed back onto the streets - some with vuvuzela in hand - to celebrate the victory.
By this time, we basically had enough time to eat dinner, get back to the hotel and get our bags from the bell desk, then head to the airport. Remembering that aroma from the night before... I had to find that restaurant. God Bless his invention, the iPhone, as we learned that we smelled Virgil's Real Barbeque. I didn't need directions, my nose knew the way. Man was that good (if not a little expensive - $29.50 for a sampler platter of ribs, 1/4 chicken, brisket, pulled pork and a hot link, served with baked beans and pecan rice). Finally I had found a dinner with Milwaukee-sized portions! That last rib took a little cajoling, but it made it down and this look of sereneity overtook my face.
The best part is by the time we did get to LaGuardia to check in for our flight (by way of smackdab in the middle of rush hour in Manhattan on a 103 degree day) I probably had sweated off that entire meal.
I can see the reflection in that mirror getting smaller and smaller with each passing day. And my enjoyment of that vacation is growing proportionally.
Now unfortunately, I will not be able to offer any more trip reports until mid-September. But your carrot, dear readers, is that State Fair is less than a month away!