Monday, July 25, 2011

Day 13 - New York, Part 3.1 (Central Park)

This post will be the first half of our third day in Manhattan. I just have too much pictures and stories to post and Central Park deserves a post of its own.

This is the third time in my trip that I'm returning to NYC. Living in Jersey City is so convenient. It's like Mandaluyong and Makati.

We had breakfast at this place in Hoboken whose name escapes me now. Leo and Carlo had their oatmeal while I had a breakfast burrito.

We parked at St. Christopher's in Jersey City where we caught the Path Train to take us to NYC. This time around, we emerged at the Columbus Circle station as we wanted to visit Central Park.

This is the view of Columbus Circle from the park entrance.

Once you leave the station, you'll be met by this wave of people hawking tours of Central park or NYC. There was even a guy who asked if we were Pinoys and started hawking bicycles in Filipino (yep, he's Pinoy too). I wish we took up the offer though as by mid-day, I was so tired of walking inside the park and we even got lost a bit. You really need a compass to find your way inside that place!

I've always wanted to visit Central Park after seeing it in several movies (Enchanted, You've Got Mail, Ransom, One Fine Day etc). There's this specific fountain/bridge that I wanted to see and I finally got my wish that day.

We entered the park at its southernmost tip. We immediately saw softball fields which according to Carlo, is abounding in the park.

After more walking, we came upon The Mall. I'm sure this looks very familiar as it was in the movie Enchanted.

If you notice, there are benches lining the Mall and actually the whole park. What makes these benches interesting is that each seat has its own unique silver plaque (like the bench in Notting Hill) which is a memorial for someone. It was just pure luck that the first bench that I approached is dedicated to someone famous.

And at the end of the Mall, we see another familiar site. Again, something from Enchanted.

This is the Bethesda Terrace. It's such a wonderful place. Even the underside of the bridge is beautifully tiled.

There were a couple of guys singing Amazing Grace underneath the bridge and their voices sounded wonderful with the acoustics. It sounded as if there were a dozen of them. I had to give some money on the box to show my appreciation for their talent.

And at the other side of the bridge, this is the view. I'm sure this is familiar as well. I clearly remember this fountain in "One Fine Day" and somehow in "Ransom" too.

While trying to find our way outside the park, we came upon a couple of interesting benches. These are placed beside each other which makes it really...sweet.

After the benches, we came upon this bridge. Again, another familiar place courtesy of "You've Got Mail". I could imagine Tom Hanks walking up the bridge to meet Meg Ryan.

And that was Central Park where we spent most of our morning. The second half of our day will be in another post.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day 12 - The City that is called New York!

We were scheduled to stay with Leo's relatives for the next couple of days at Jersey City. Leo's cousin, Carlo, a student at Rutgers and working part-time at Aldo's, picked us up late in the afternoon.

From my sister's house in Avenel, we drove to Newport and parked near the train station where we took the Path Train to NYC. We figured we can have an early start on our gastronomic tour of the city that enchanted me when I was there on our first week.

We emerged from one of the subway stations at Broadway (near 72nd street). We were hungry already so Carlo took us to the nearest Gray's Papaya.

I mentioned that I wanted to eat a hotdog at NYC. Although this wasn't technically a hotdog stand, it's known to have inexpensive but high-quality hotdogs. Not to mention they were featured in Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. The place is owned by a Filipino and run by Filipinos. That makes it a winner in my book. That's me above posing before the counter.

We walked towards Washington Square Park which is within the vicinity of New York State University. Here we are posing in front of its known landmark.

A few meters down, we saw this:

If you're a movie fan, you'll recognize this as Will Smith's front door in the movie "I Am Legend".

Moving on, we came upon a map of New York University:

I was amazed by the size of their campus. As you can see, it encompasses several blocks. You would really need longer lead time to get to your classes. That's Carlo showing us where we are.

As my husband and I are both MBA graduates, we could not resist having our picture taken in front of NYU Stern School of Business.

As I cried inside the Library of Congress, I knew I had to take a peek inside NYU's Library as well. We could enter the doors but we can go no further beyond that as one needs a library card. This is what you see when you enter and on the left side are the counters with the flags of different NYU Colleges hanging like Hogwarts! :)

After a few minutes of ogling the interior, we set out to find a place that will feed Carlo who's a vegetarian (or vegan...forgot which is which). We came upon Mahmoun's which serves the best falafel in the city.

Take note that they were featured in "1000 Places to see Before You Die" and other accolades.

Here's what my falafel looked like:

Just looking at it makes me crave for it. Wonder if I can get it here in Manila and would it taste as good?

After polishing off our really scrumptious falafels, we quickly stepped out to give other diners a chance to seat as the shop only has 2 booths inside. Carlo took us to another hole-in-the-wall restaurant a few doors down called Kati Roll where they sell Indian Rolls. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take pictures as I was busy observing Leo and Carlo chow down heir rolls.

We then ventured forth towards Greenwich Village where we came upon this nice shop called "Rice to Riches". The place looks nice so we stepped inside. They sell rice pudding or "champorado". In the Philippines, it's just one flavor--chocolate--but in this shop, they have dozens of different flavored rice puddings.

I tasted only the nutella flavored one and got a small bowl. This is what it looks like:

And here's Carlo goofing off in the store.

The three of us shared the rice pudding. Though the container was disposable, I still took it home with me as it was just too nice to throw away.

We then walked towards Little Italy where we saw the "First Pizzeria in the US".

We trudged down (or was that up?) Little Italy which was lined with Italian restaurants. According to Carlo, they don't really serve great Italian food, people just assume that since it's in Little Italy, food is good but it's not that great. We saw the edge of Chinatown and I finally got my picture taken beside an NYPD police car.

I initially wanted to have a picture taken with some firemen that we saw earlier but I was too shy to ask. That would've been nice though.

After more walking (and buying NYC souvenirs), we opted to head back to Newport as it was getting late already. We walked towards Ground Zero where we'll take the train back to NJ. But before we went down the subway, we took pictures of this historical site:

One of the towers is already up. I don't know if it will be as high as the previous one but it does look promising.

It was a tiring day and my feet hurt from all the walking that we did but my stomach was very happy. The trip back to Newport on the Path Train was shorter because we got on the World Trade Center station. I still haven't gotten the hang of their subway station but maybe when I'll live there long enough, I'll figure it out.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Day 11 - Barbecue at the CT Smith Residence

The day after the party, Sunday, everyone got together again at my mom's CT residence. After hearing mass at the nearby Catholic Church, the grill was lit and hotdogs and burgers were grilled. There were ribs too! Americans do really love their barbecue.

It was also a chance for everyone to use the pool that was recently installed. If you notice, their pool is installed above-ground which is more suitable in their area. Their explanation was that a below-ground pool can crack during the winter months and could be more expensive to repair. At least with the former, you just empty out the water and leave it as is when the snow comes.

The backyard was really nice as not only did they have a pool for the adults, but there was a kiddie pool too AND a sandbox. My niece, Madison, for some reason, threw sand into the kiddie pool.

Here's the pool and the gazebo:

I wasn't able to take a picture of the grill with the dozens of hotdogs and burgers that were cooked that day. Plus of course, the cans of soda and beer!

The last guest left at around 5PM. We're riding with my sister back to Avenel and we decided to leave late at night to hopefully avoid traffic. Unfortunately, traffic was still heavy even after leaving at 8PM. It took us 4 1/2 hours to get home--which was 2 hours more compared our travel time 2 days prior.

As my sister had work the next day, Leo drove the other car to give my sister the chance to rest.

Day 10 - Party Reception at the Mystic Hilton Hotel

When we got to my mom's house in Connecticut after a 2 1/2 hour drive and we got settled for the night, I found out to my horror that I was not able to pack certain clothes which I needed for the party. So when we woke up the next morning, which was the day of the party, I asked my mom if she could bring me to the nearest store where I could buy what I needed.

She took me to the Navy Exchange at the nearby Submarine Base where I bought my required clothing. She even bought two Ipad 2s which were the last 2 pieces available at $10 off the retail price and tax-free to boot. Too bad we already bought our Ipad at the Apple store in Menlo a couple of days before.

We went back home before lunch and everyone tried to get ready (our other relatives were checked in at the nearby hotels) for the party tonight.

The party was an Affirmation of Vows for my mom and her husband, Russell. It was a chance for Russell's family to get to know my mom's clan as they did not have the chance before. It was also a celebration of my mom's 60th birthday (of course, they didn't announce her age during the party).

Here's a group picture of our family:

From L-R (standing): Claudine (my twin sister), Jeff (my brother-in-law), yours truly, Leo, Eldica (Russell's daughter-in-law), Patrick (Russell's son), Christian (Russell's grandson)
From L-R (seating): Liam (Claudine's son), my mom, Russell and Madison (Claudine's daughter)

It was also the first time that I saw some of my relatives who I haven't seen for the longest time. It was also the first time that I attended an event at a Hilton Hotel. Unfortunately, the DJ/host that we got leaves much to be desired. She doesn't know what songs to play and did not even dress properly. The line dancing was better during my godson's christening party.

The party ended at around midnight. When we stepped outside the hotel, it was foggy and really cold! Apparently, I'm the only one who felt the cold. Everyone was used to the chilly weather already.

There will be another party the next day and a chance for everyone to get together again before everyone leaves for their respective homes across the East Coast.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Day 9 - Road Trip to Connecticut

My mom's party was on a Saturday (Day 10) at a Hilton hotel near their home in Connecticut. We left New Jersey, Friday so we have ample time to get ready for the party. According to my sister, the drive usually takes them 4-5 hours in traffic. My brother-in-law wanted to leave late to avoid the traffic so after shopping for some more stuff at a nearby mall, we left Avenel at around 9PM.

We had to take two cars as with 2 car seats and 4 adults, we won't fit in the Lexus (plus strollers and luggage). So my brother-in-law, Jeff, drove the Honda with my niece, Madison, on the car seat and Leo accompanying him.

My sister, Claudine, drove the Lexus (which was such a nifty car. I love that SUV), with my nephew, Liam, on the carseat and me beside him at the back.

View Larger Map

According to Google Maps, the journey was 152 miles if we took the I-95 North (which we did). As the rush hour was over, we only traveled that span of miles in 2 hours and 30 minutes. We arrived in CT by 1130PM.

I love road trips here in the US (as long as I'm not driving) as you get to see different things. Too bad we drove at night as I was not able to see much but I really appreciate the scenery. My eyes tried to look at so many things and to store them in my brain hopefully I'll be able to remember them.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Day 8 - New York City!

After a good night's sleep at our home base in Avenel, we were up and about early the next day, Thursday. The night before, I listed down the places that I wanted to visit in NYC and gave them to my sister. Since her husband works in NYC, he planned the route for us.

First things first, we had to catch the 116 bus from Woodbridge that would take us to Port Authority in NYC. Unlike Manila, buses have schedules and they are usually on time. We were running late as my sister had to feed her daughter and take her to day care. After that, my sister wanted to do some errands at the bank but the bank took their time.

When we finally got to the station, the bus was already there and ready to leave. We had Leo jump from the car and run after the bus. If we missed this bus, we had to wait for another hour for the next one! It was not rush hour so buses were far in between.

When we made it to Port Authority, we took the subway to the Museum of Natural History. The subway was not as pretty as that in DC. Nevertheless, it did not stop us from posing among its dingy walls.

I wanted to see this museum after seeing it in Ben Stiller's Night at the Museum. It somehow looked different than what was on the film. We entered the museum through the basement entrance from the subway. Entrance fee is a suggested $16. Being a suggestion, you have the option to pay less than that. Of course, giving just a $1 would give you raised eyebrows.

I was already ravenous so we stopped by the museum canteen to get some grub. My sister, Claudine and Leo got some healthy food while I chowed down on mac and cheese and fried mozarella. Unlike the food at the Smithsonian Museum, the food here was just so-so and nothing to rave about.

After fueling up, we tried to find our way to the main lobby and get a map. There were so many stuff to see. I just announced that I wanted to see dinosaur fossils, especially the T-Rex and I'm good to go. So after grabbing a map, we made our way across the building. As school is out for most of the kids in the US, we had to jostle our way through tourists with families to find our way around.

We got some nice shots but I'm glad that we finally saw the T-Rex/.

And these are fossils of a brontosaurus.

Got a nice picture of me and my sister, Claudine too.

After checking out other exhibits, my friend, MJ, who's based in NYC, called me and we agreed to meet up somewhere outside the museum. So we walked around and I got another picture outside the building.

We met up with MJ at Shake Shack where he treated us to some shakes and fries. Each shake was 1200 calories and you could feel it add to your weight as it goes down your gullet. Here's me with MJ.

From the American of Natural History, we took the subway to Rockefeller Center. MJ joined us and took over the guide reins from my sister who's not as familiar with NYC.

We got off the station nearest Rockefeller and while walking, I saw the offices of Simon and Schuster. Much to my companions' amusement, I just had to take a picture.

We finally reached the Rockefeller Plaza:

We saw the studio where some NBC shows are shot. Too bad there was no show ongoing at that time else we'll be extras outside the studio.

Here's a nice shot of me with all the buildings at the Plaza.

The area behind Leo and me (as shown in the second picture) is some sort of cafe. I think that's where they have the skating rink during winter.

From the Rockefeller Center, we walked to Fifth Avenue where the nice stores are located.

Saw Saks and Company,

and a few meters down is St. Patrick's Cathedral.

There were other famous brand names down the road such as Versace, Ferragamo, Hollister (with two half-naked men wearing trunks or shorts in front of the store), Fendi, Forever 21, Prada, Louis Vuitton and amidst that is the Trump Tower.

We finally reached the Apple Store where I got a picture below:

As we needed to catch the bus at Port Authority to meet with my brother-in-law, we rushed to the subway to catch the train going back to Carteret.

This was just our first day in NYC. Another post on our next visit.