Monday, February 28, 2011

Big Lights Will Inspire You... (NY Part 2)

So, where were we? Ah yes... Saturday!

So, we woke up the next morning a little hazy. But we had plans to visit Jen's Uncle Thom for lunch at his place in Chelsey. So off we went!

Turns out, we hit the jackpot! Being a costume designer in New York, Thom had the most amazing apartment ever! Featuring brick walls, hardwood floors, paintings he did himself, a winding stair and a rooftop garden, part of me wishes we could have stayed for more than just lunch! We had great conversations though, and he pointed us in the direction of our next adventure: the high line. The high line is an old strip of train tracks that were renovated and turned into a public park. Here we were planning to meet up with my Aunt Judy, who works at the New York Library. I had heard about the site from her, as she had taken my father here when he came to visit.

It was great to see my aunt, and I have to say, I would recommend seeing the high line to anyone! It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. A great view of the city, a wonderful way to meet new people, and most of all, a great way to spend time with the people you love! They even had a snow sculpture contest...

This one was the winner :)

After walking up and down the high line, catching up with my aunt while Jen and her cousin Lee strode behind us, Jen and I realized it was time to take our leave. We were going to be staying in the city tonight with our friend Kelsey, and we knew she had some great plans in store for us!

Here's Kelsey:

Hilarious, outrageous, a fashion photographer, an insomniac in the city that never sleeps. That's pretty much all you need to know :)

After unloading our things at her charming 7th floor apartment, we set off to visit my childhood neighbor Dani, and her boyfriend Henock.
"Where do they live?" Kelsey asked.
"WHAT? We should have left an hour ago!"
Apparently it takes an hour to get from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Oops.

But turns out all was well. When we finally arrived at Dani and Henock's amazing apartment in Brooklyn, just off a cobblestone suburbanite street, we were greeted with hugs and wine-- my two favorite things!

We spent a lot of time reminiscing about Michiganders, and how different they are from New Yorkers. Everything conflicts-- sense of humor, sense of urgency, sense of socializing... And apparently it was nice and refreshing for Dani, Henock and Kelsey to meet fellow Michiganders and connect in a way that they hadn't been able to in a long time. Jen and I were glad we could help!

After that, Dani and Henock wanted to take us to one of their favorite restaurants: Frankie's. Unfortunately, there was a pretty long wait, but Dani and Henock urged us that it was definitely worth it, so we put our name on the list and went next door to a local bar.

Dani and me

Jen and I thought this was so cool-- they served Founders brews! Founders is a local brewing company from my hometown, and it was wonderful to see something from home in such a big city!

After lifting our spirits at the bar, we went back to Frankie's and were seated just 5 minutes later. The meal was incredible, and I have to say it's a must if you're ever in Brooklyn!

Afterwards, Kelsey was planning on taking Jen and I to the clubs, but we realized quickly that our energy wasn't up to snuff, and neither was our attire. So we ended up just going back to Kelsey's, and enjoying a good night's sleep!

The next day was the final day of our trip. And we thought, what better way to end our trip than to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (for real this time)?! So that is what we did. And when we got off the subway, we made sure it was the right stop this time. And how could we miss it? It was a beautiful ferry station, with obvious signage and a wonderful view:

When we boarded the ferry, we saw an even better view of the Stat Lib:

And our first stop was at the site of the Statue, where we could go up to the top of the pedestal, and visit the museum exhibit.

Finally, the next and final stop on the ferry was at Ellis Island. Perhaps the most shocking thing I saw at this exhibit was the site where people stayed... the dormitories:

I also was deeply touched by this quote:

One thing that was disappointing was when we asked the help desk how we could look up our ancestors that may have come through Ellis Island. We had heard there was a book. However, we were told that unlike the movie Hitch suggests, there is no book. Dang it, Will Smith! :(

Finally, it was time to go home. And how perfect that when we were waiting for our last subway ride to the airport, an amazing band should be playing across the platform:

Our plane back was filled with knitting and laughing about all that we had done in just a few days. I would definitely recommend everything we did, and must admit that I truly believe every American MUST see New York! I'm already planning a trip to visit again this summer... :)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Taking a big bite out of the Big Apple

Once upon a time, I was skyping with my friend Jen.
Jen: I've never been to New York.
Josie: Me either.
Jen: Wanna go?
Josie: Yes.
Two months later, our plane took off for the Big Apple.

Both Jen and I had friends in the city, and made a pact to see all of them during our four day stint in the thriving metropolis. We were staying with two different friends in Manhattan, and visiting five more in various parts of the city. We were on a mission. We could not be stopped. So when we first arrived in the city that never sleeps, where do you think we went? To drop our stuff off at my friend Scott's apartment of course!

But what you don't know about Scott's abode is that it happens to be smack dab in the middle of the hubbub and chaos of the city of Manhattan. Also he's on the 40th floor of his apartment building. Also he has a giant sheet of glass for a wall, and he wakes up every morning to this:

It was prettttttty great. But Scott was still at work, and Jen and I knew exactly how to entertain ourselves. We were going to Time Square.

On our way, we realized how hungry we were, and stopped at a place called Harvest Brewery. We had fried bar food and enjoyed the local beer. Jen went with a classic IPA, and I went for their seasonal brew: pumpkin and chocolate stout. And mmmm boy, it was tasty!

Then, a few blocks later we reached it. Time Square! And it was just as overwhelming as it looks on TV.

After wandering aimlessly for a while, we walked to the famous Central Park. We were about to cross the street to the entrance when... we saw a Coach store. With Jen sporting both Coach boots and a Coach purse, we had to make an appearance! They complimented me on my boots too, and I got them at a local boutique in Traverse City, Michigan! So....... booyah.

But then we went across the street and meandered through the snowy unplowed paths of Central Park, which bikers said would take 6 hours to walk in its entirety.

We had just carved our names in the snow when Jen got a call from her cousin Lee, who lives in Brooklyn. He wanted to take us to dinner at a local Spanish restaurant. Tapas? Yes please!

The place was Tiapole, and it was incredible! It reminded me a lot of San Chez, a tapas bar in Grand Rapids where I grew up. Except it had a big-city feel to it, and our flamboyant waiter was hilarious! He gave us plenty of suggestions, and we were all open to trying new things, so we gladly welcomed them! From the sangria to the fried edamame to the flan for dessert, everything was delicious and very true to Spanish cuisine.

After that, we decided to go to the bar by Scott's apartment: McGary's. It was a splendid local dive bar, and I approve of the fact that Scott and his friends visit it often. It was open until 4 in the morning. We were able to be part of the closing time experience that night. Closing time... Time for you to go out to the places you will be from...

The next morning, Jen and I visited the famous Rockefeller Center! We passed Radio City Music Hall, and the NBC builing now famous because of 30Rock! Less than a block away, it was ice skating time!

After that, we spotted Anthropologie, a dangerous store with adorable clothes and less than kind prices. But Jen had never experienced the store before. I couldn't have that. Soooo... that happened. We also made a brief stop across the street at J. Crew.

After that, it was back to Time Square. Jen and I were back with a mission to get discount Broadway tickets for that evening! We waited in line by the TKTS Booth in the center of the square for an hour and a half. We were freezing, but it was worth it when we were able to get FOURTH ROW SEATS to the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA for 50% OFF! And that's how it's done.

Feeling extremely pleased with ourselves, but a little half-frozen, Jen and I set out to see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. We had gotten directions from what seemed to be a credible source. We were to go on the subway, and take Line 1 all the way to the end. The ferry station would be there and it would be impossible to miss.

We followed these directions, and just as we suspected, the exit from the train took us directly to a line for the ferry! We were immediately able to board the ship, and the best part? NO FEE! The ferry was free! We did notice something else strange. Nobody on this boat seemed to look like tourists. On the contrary, they seemed to be returning home after a long day's work. "Could this ferry be making other stops along the way to Ellis Island?" I asked Jen. "I don't know... Are you sure this is right?" Asked Jen.

Turns out we were on the Staten Island Ferry. Womp womp.

After having a good laugh, Jen and I put our feet up and decided to enjoy the ride. And we're so very glad we did! On the Staten Island Ferry you're able to get a great view of the city skyline, and even better, a view of the Statue of Liberty! We met a couple of other tourists from Mexico City who had made the same mistake, and we laughed together and took pictures, making the best of the situation and making friends in the meantime.

We got off the boat and took an hour or so to explore Staten Island. Turns out there's not much to do... at least within the vicinity of the ferry station. BUT! I would still recommend taking that free ferry ride for the spectacular scenery! And it was even better on the way back, when we could see the lights of the city at dusk.

We ventured back on the subway in a hurry, excited to have some dinner before going to see the Phantom of the Opera. Scott had picked out a good Italian place, and we were pushing our luck for time as it was. But fate would have it that on our way back, we stumbled across an H&M. It was inevitable! The siren song of the fairly priced graphic tees and skinny jeans were too much. So we went in. We called Scott and asked if it would be alright if we could just do dinner after the show. He accepted this proposal gleefully, excited at the fact that he would now be enjoying much cheaper fare.

After changing into our new clothes for the show, we headed out into the night! When we got to the theatre (The Majestic), we were ushered to our seats. Check out the view from the fourth row:

Being someone who had never seen a live production of this musical before, I was blown away. The man who played the Phantom (Hugh Panaro) was absolutely incredible! And Christine's voice- played by Sara Jean Ford- was one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard. But what do you expect from a New York Broadway show? All in all, an amazing performance.

To make up for our nice Italian dinner, we picked up some Dollar-a-Slice Pizza on the way back to Scott's apartment. His roommates had called to inform him that some friends were coming over that night, and they wanted to "go out later."

So we got back, met some new friends and played Catch Phrase-which is guaranteed to always be a good time (always)-and then headed out to a bar on 11th Ave. And it was the most crowded, packed place I've ever been. If you are in any way claustrophobic, this was NOT the place for you. And it wasn't for us either. There were about eight of us, on top of the hundreds of others packed into a 600 square-foot area. After about a minute and a half, we decided to bail.

We walked out the door, not knowing where we were headed. And I don't know how it happened, but somehow I was leading the group. So I went with my gut. I turned left. I went about two doors down, and saw a green neon sign that said "BAR" with an arrow pointing up a shady set of cement stairs. I went up the stairs, and it led me to a thick wooden door. Inside, it was a hole-in-the-wall bar, complete with arcade games, beaded doorways and PBR by the can. I was home. They also closed at 4 AM. Welcome to New York.

And the second half of my trip will be detailed in my next blog post... Coming soon. Stay tuned, folks!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Venice and New Friends

Wow. I was a little apprehensive about going to Venice this weekend, and I have no idea why! What a great weekend...

It was a group of eight girlfriends, some with back packs and hiking shoes, others with rolling luggage and high heels! We started the weekend off at the train station in Venice at 6:30 AM. It was actually perfect, because we wandered through the empty streets before the swarm of tourists-- and even locals-- were awake to crowd us. We went to Saint Mark's Square and there were literally two other people there. It was incredible... We got some great pictures!

After exploring for a bit, we went to our hotel to check in. The place was magnificent, right on the beach! After taking a nap on the sand and a shower break, we headed back to Saint Mark's Square again. This time, it was filled with tourists... and pigeons. Which is what most would expect at Saint Mark's. Some of you may remember my fear of birds-- (reference here: so needless to say, I'm glad we were able to see it in the morning, pigeon free.

When a pigeon almost landed on my shoulder, I ran away and somehow made it into Saint Mark's Basilica. There we were able to take a ride up this old elevator and see the tops of every building in Venice, I swear! It was about 5 euros for the ride, but worth every cent.

After that, we decided to continue being cliche, and took a gondola ride. I mean, come on! It's Venice! How could we not? ...Right?

Then we went to the famous Rialto Bridge, crossed it, and made our way to the Jewish ghetto.

At last, we took a water taxi back to the square at night. We even got to see some live bands playing outside for tables at restaurants. It was really delightful!

The next day, we visited the Correr Museum in (surprise, surprise) Saint Mark's Square. The museum ticket also gave us admission to the Doge's Palace. Both were pretty spectacular-- the museum for the art, and the palace for the history. We were able to cross through the Bridge of Sighs where, until about a century or two ago, prisoners would take their last walk from the prison in the palace to the execution site.

After that, we went shopping for about an hour. Then sadly, we took a water taxi back to the train station.

However, we spent some time with a couple of great people on the train ride back! It was a very friendly French Canadian couple that recognized one of my friends, and stopped to thank her for taking a picture of them on the Rialto bridge! We got to talking about the great hiking trails in Quebec (where they live), and we ended up exchanging contact information. Pretty amazing...

All in all, it was another incredible weekend in Italia!