New York City Vacation (R and R for you military types)

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After a busy and successful two months of campground hosting at Killens Pond State Park in Kent County Delaware, Connie and I gave ourselves a four day mini-vacation in New York City. One of the benefits of having retired from the Navy is our access to temporary lodging on military installations around the country. Given the incredible high cost of hotel rooms in New York, this is on benefit that has retained its value. We paid for four nights about what we would have paid for just one night in a typical Manhattan hotel. That said, we did have to commute each day from Staten Island. However, that was no great disadvantage as the ferry is free and the parking at the ferry landing was only seven dollars per day. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, so allow me to back up and provide some details.

We had made arrangements with the volunteer coordinator at Killens Pond to leave the motorhome on our spot for the four days we would be in the city. So, we felt pretty confident that the coach was safe and we did not have to worry about trying to drive it in the traffic around the city. We also had no idea whether we would have been able to park the motorhome anywhere near where we were staying. There are no campgrounds near where we wanted to be, therefore taking the motorhome and living in it was never really in the equation.

The drive in the car from the park to Fort Wadsworth Coast Guard Station was uneventful. I did pay attention to what it would be like to drive the motorhome up there for future reference. It did not look too daunting. Upon our arrival at the Coast Guard station we went to the Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Office to check in where we met Monica McBrady who would prove to be a font of information. Monica has lived on station for three years and worked at her job the last two. She has spent many hours learning her job and the city she so cheerfully promotes. She completed the check-in process to include giving us a packet of information that would get us started on finding our way around. She also acted as the agent for the MTA and sold us two one-week unlimited passes for the subway and bus systems. Even though we would be there only four days, these tickets were the right answer. We saved money from the individual pay as you go plan plus the luxury of not having to deal with purchasing either daily tickets or per ride tickets.

Following the directions provided by Monica we found our home for the next three nights which was one half of a duplex town home that has been converted to temporary quarters. The unit is pretty old, but very well maintained and equipped with modern and comfortable furniture. An unadvertised highlight was access to pay as you go high speed internet access. We never did learn who sponsors the connection, but it was available and it was secure. We would use the internet for a variety of things during our stay, so it was good to have.

After getting moved in, we drove to the Staten Island Ferry Landing and caught the next ferry to Manhattan. The Staten Island Ferry goes past the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Governor’s Island enroute to the Battery Park area of Manhattan. So, every time we made the crossing we had the opportunity to look at these historically important landmarks and reflect on our roots. The number one subway train terminates at the south end of the island underneath the ferry landing. So, upon disembarking the boat one just has to walk to the escalator and go down one level to catch a train which will be along soon after the boat arrives.

That first afternoon we took the subway to Times Square and walked to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in order to visit the USO. One of the concerns we had going into this trip was the daytime temperatures were predicted to be high enough to warrant wearing shorts. However, the wearing of shorts is not necessarily the appropriate thing to do when going out to dinner in most uptown and midtown neighborhoods. So, we had hoped to find lockers for rent at the USO so we could take nicer clothes in with us to return to later in the day when we were getting ready to go to dinner. The USO did not have any lockers and the nice ladies working there told us that all the old public locker locations had been removed after September 11, 2001. There was one place they knew of away from mass transit, but it closed too early in the day to be of any use to us. So, we shifted to plan B. Plan B caused us to wear long pants on Wednesday and not worry about it from then on.

After our stop at the USO we took a walking tour of the Times Square area just soaking in the atmosphere. It was late enough in the day that many people were coming out of work thereby crowding the sidewalks with fast moving folks trying to get home, to the subway or off to an early dinner somewhere. It was fun to watch. After about an hour of walking around and trying to not look too much like tourists, we caught the number one train south to the financial district for a walk to South Street Seaport in search of a restaurant. For orientation purposes, the South Street Seaport is on the southeast edge of the island. It occupies Pier 16 through 18 at a minimum. In the recent past it was the home for the city’s waterfront fish market. However, that facility moved to Brooklyn a few years ago. Now there are tour boats that operate from the area and a rather large mall has been developed within a former warehouse. Of course there are a number of restaurants and we were going to find one. Connie often tells stories about how we have walked the streets of most major cities we have visited around the world looking for just the right restaurant. Well this evening we must have either been really hungry or we had walked too long getting there, because our only discriminator was that we would not eat at a chain restaurant. That being the case, we walked past an Uno, and stopped at the very next restaurant, Seaport Café. We took a quick look at the menu, but paid little attention to the tables near the entrance to see what the place looked like. To get to the bottom line, we wasted a meal. The food was mediocre at best and the free entertainment on the pier was nearly painful. We would later find a ton of really good looking restaurants within several hundred yards of this one.

After dinner we walked back to the ferry landing where we caught a boat in fairly short order back to Staten Island. On the return trip we sat on the starboard side of the boat so we could see the landmarks at night. The only one that is lighted is the Statue of Liberty. I will tell you that in all our trips back and forth across that body of water I never tired of seeing the great lady. She looked different each and every time we crossed.

By the time we got back to our quarters we were pretty tired, but we felt that we had in fact given ourselves a bonus bit of touring by making the effort to go into the city for the evening.

On Wednesday we went back to see our new friend Monica so we could buy tickets for the Gray Line Tours. One of the things we have learned through the years is that taking the tour buses around large cities you can learn some history and figure out where to go while out on your own. Many of the tours have a hop on hop off policy that allows you to get off at any stop and get on another bus either at that stop or any other stop to continue your tour. In city like New York you can spend days doing the tour bus thing for several hours a day and then go off on your own to visit specific sites. We bought the 72 Summer Special offered by Gray Line Tours (a company we have grown very comfortable with over the years). Our tickets gave us unlimited access to all the loops the company offers plus a bonus boat tour with their partner, Circle Line. On Manhattan there are two main routes, the Downtown Loop and the Uptown Loop. These two loops overlap for a few stops in Midtown in the Times Square area. There is another smaller loop that goes to the Cloisters in the far north part of Manhattan Island. Another loop takes you from Manhattan over to Brooklyn. This tour really spotlights the difference between these two Burroughs of the city. Finally, the Gray Line offers a shuttle from the Uptown Loop to the Westside Waterfront and the passenger ship terminal.

Connie and I were most interested in the Uptown and Downtown Loops as we wanted to spend most of our limited time on Manhattan. As we had anticipated the Gray Line bus tour guides provided us with some interesting facts and history of the city. We found ourselves sort of staying on board when we had really good guides rather than going it alone on foot.

We got on the bus near the ferry landing and took it up the east side past the South Street Seaport (where we learned about all the restaurants we did not find the night before) into and through China Town where we learned there are more Chinese living than anywhere else in the world outside of China itself, along the edge of the East Village. Eventually we turned to the west towards and around Rockefeller Center on the way to the southern edge of Central Park. From there the bus heads south towards Times Square where we got off and transferred to the Uptown Loop bus. The Uptown Loop goes north along the west edge of Central Park into Harlem and returns along the east edge of Central Park. Of course both routes take you past hundreds of historically significant landmarks as well as tourist significant landmarks. When we got back to the south end of Central Park we got off and took a stroll through a very small portion of the park. There were a lot of things that surprised and or amazed me about Manhattan, but I didn’t even expect the hills of South Central Park.

We had a date in Harlem for dinner with our Grand-niece, Annie, a teacher in Brooklyn and a student (masters program) somewhere on Manhattan and our Grand-nephew, Nick, (cousin to the Grand-niece) who works in Mid-town for a large insurance company. These young people are great representatives of their generation and make us proud even though we had absolutely nothing to do with their development. Annie is in training for the New York City Marathon and has my full respect having completed three marathons while in my forties. How she finds time to prepare to teach, teach, go to school, study, and train for a marathon is absolutely beyond me. Having lived in the city longer than Nick, we gave her the option of picking the restaurant we would all meet at for dinner. However, she is a vegetarian, so Nick was worried that he would have to eat grass and tofu. Annie picked Café Largo on Broadway between 137th and 138th Streets. After walking around in lower Central Park for awhile, Connie and I found the subway and took the number one train to Harlem. We easily found the restaurant, but we were over an hour early, so we took off walking the streets of Harlem and getting a ground level sense of this neighborhood. We eventually wound up at Riverside Park which offers a wide diversity of activities for the people living in Harlem. I was really impressed with the sports complex which includes a full football/soccer field with nine lane running track and all the normal field event areas seen in track and field complexes. While it was nice to see such a wonderful facility in this inner city park, I was even more impressed with the number of people using the facility as we walked passed, but also the “gentle” wear that can be seen on the track indicating that it is used a lot. Track and field are not the only activities available in this park, though. There is a swimming pool, a gymnasium, ice rink and who knows what else. Of particular interest was a large community garden where every plot was crowded with all sorts of locally grown crops. Harlem is known for a lot of negatives not the least of which is that it is home to some of our nation’s poorest people. It was uplifting to wander away from where the bus tours and see that even in this impoverished area there is such a wonderful place to escape to while improving one’s fitness.

Meanwhile we were getting a pretty good workout of our own by walking around, so we headed back towards the restaurant. We got back too early yet again, so we just hung out down the street watching people while waiting for Nick to arrive. Finally, at 7 PM we went to the restaurant and a good glass of wine to enjoy while we continued our wait.

Nick and Annie arrived within minutes of one another and we moved from the bar to the dining room. We had a great evening catching up with the “kids” and what they have been up to and enjoying wonderful dinners. By the way, there were ample dishes to satisfy all eating types, so Nick did not have to eat grass and tofu. He even got to take Connie’s and my leftovers with him as we both picked non-vegetarian dishes leaving Annie with only her own leftovers to take home. It was a great evening with great company and outstanding food. The bonus for us was that we got to spend more time with Nick as he rode the same train we did on our way back to Battery Park to catch the ferry. Nick rode as far as Times Square where he transferred to a cross town train to get to his neighborhood.

We got back to our quarters a little later than we would have preferred as we had a date with ourselves at Rockefeller Center Plaza and the Today Show early the next morning. It seemed that my head hit the pillow about the same time the alarm went off indicating time to get up again. While it was not quite that bad, it was still a short sleep. There were complications from the get go. On Wednesday we learned that the New Kidz on the Block and Ne Yo were to be in concert during the show. Historically that means it is very difficult to get near the barriers and close to the “principles” of the show. Realistically we had to get there well before the show’s 7 AM start time in order to get a good place to stand. Well, that was out of the question. We decided we would set the alarm for 6 AM and get there when we got there. We ultimately arrived at about 8:30, just in time to watch the last two numbers by NKB and Ne Yo. We were behind the second barrier meaning we could sort of see the temporary stage, but we could not see what was going on at ground level inside the front barrier. When the concert ended we just sort of hung around to see what would happen next. Most everyone left the plaza leaving only diehards watching the monitors on the exterior perimeter of the studio. Eventually Ne Yo appeared at the door in street clothes. He was recognized by some of the few fans remaining and he came over to have his photo taken with fans and to sign a few autographs before his security personnel pushed him towards his awaiting limo. As we watched all that action (I think I even got a picture of Connie in the vicinity of Ne Yo) I couldn’t help but notice that the barriers were being repositioned. Eventually, the stage hands called us all over to the barrier to make a little crowd for Chris Cimino, NBC 4 Weatherman, who was substituting for Al Roker this day. Soon Chris came out and worked the little crowd while waiting his cue to give the weather forecast. When we realized we would be in the eye of the camera, I was only able to call Connie’s sister Barbara to get her to tune in and watch us looking like all those people who are seen in the background of the Today Show. We had fun.

By the way, before I forget, there will be a link to a photo album at the end of this article. There are a lot of building photos and a few shots of real people, so read on and then take a look at my representation of the New York City experience.

Following our debut on the Today Show, we went over to the NBC Experience and wandered through the gift shop. After finding the all important restrooms, we bought tickets and took the elevators to the Top of the Rock and the view of New York from 69 floors above the street. It was a bit of a foggy day so the view was not the best. However, the diminished visibility also caused a no line situation. Therefore, we were able to purchase our tickets and immediately board the elevator. For some reason it takes three elevators to get all the way to the top. Once on top we were not disappointed even a little over the reduced visibility. We could see plenty well enough to get a great feel for the enormous size of this city.

After returning to street level we walked down 5th Ave to Macy’s. Of course we were not going to be doing any shopping this early in the day, so it was a walk for exercise more than anything else. We found our Gray Line friends and got on the Downtown Loop bus and took it to the World Trade Center site. The bus lets you off within a block of St Paul’s Chapel a tiny historic church sandwiched between modern office buildings and hotels just to the east of where the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood. Miraculously this tiny church had no damage from the multiple explosions associated with the attack on the World Trade Center. The trees on the cemetery provided enough of a buffer to protect not only the building from flying debris, but also the windows from the concussion of the explosions. Eventually the chapel would be used as a rest area for first responders and a place for counseling and reflecting for those same first responders as the events unfolded. Currently the chapel is home for countless pieces of memorabilia from that tragic time in our history. Each day there is a short memorial service held in the chapel to remember those who lost their lives on that horrible day in our history.

From there we went to the original Backstage Deli for lunch. We picked this deli for a couple of reasons. It seemed to have some historic significance by its name and it had a second story seating area that allowed a view into the construction site where the towers once stood. After lunch we took a walk around the perimeter of the site to get a better perspective of its size. I think every American who has the ability to get to New York City should visit this site and realize that for as powerful a nation as we are we are not entirely invincible. The events of 9/11 stand as stark reminders that we must stay vigilant at all times if we are to remain a free and open society.

The construction site is still below street level. There are some seven stories to be built below grade and then a single tower will rise to 1776 feet above ground. Not all of that building will be occupied, but I honestly do not remember to what level it will be occupied. In addition to the single tower there will be several shorter buildings including a memorial to all those who lost their lives in the attack.

By the way, it seems that there still is no firm decision on exactly what will be built on the site as you possibly learned if you caught any of the coverage of the memorial activities that took place this September 11.

Following this sobering scene we walked back up the hill to catch the bus and continue our tour. When we got to the South Street Seaport stop we got off. Our reason for visiting the seaport again was to take advantage of the summer special included in our tour bus tickets. There were three different boat tours we could choose from. Our choice was the one hour harbor tour which leaves from pier 16 and heads up the East River to north of the Manhattan Bridge then back to the south and around the lower end of the island, north into the Hudson River to just past Rockefeller Park. After another U-turn we passed within yards of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. I don’t know if it was because the boat we were on, the Zephyr was less stable or a combination of lower stability and close range, but my photos of the statue were no better than the ones I had taken from the Staten Island Ferry.

We had decided to not take the boat trip to the Statue of Liberty and get off to walk around the grounds and take photos from really close up since you can no longer go into the statue. The time required to go to and from the island plus the time on the ground just didn’t seem worth the effort without climbing inside.

The boat trip was wonderful and like every other part of our touring we were immersed in the history of the area.

When the Zephyr returned to pier 16 we took a closer look at the mall in the former warehouse on pier 17 while we got our shore legs back under ourselves. Then we headed back to the bus stop to catch the Downtown Loop bus to go one stop to Chinatown so we could walk to Little Italy. Geographically that just seems wrong, but as it turns out Little Italy is northwest of Chinatown. However, the first bus to come around the corner was the last Gray Line tour bus of the day heading over to Brooklyn. It was a bit early to go to dinner, so we decided to take the Brooklyn tour, freeing up some time the next day. This would end up being a good and bad idea. Good, because we learned a lot about the differences between Manhattan and Brooklyn and as I said we freed up time for Friday. Bad because we got stuck in rush hour traffic and had a bit of a motor mouth for a tour guide. The guide was a nice enough guy, and he really knows the city and loves his job. The problem was that with the traffic as tough as it was he had way too much time on his hands and therefore, started reading the signs on the building as we went by. I mean things like the services provided at the dry-cleaners and the menu boards outside the pizza places. It got to be too much for me, then I took a little nap leaving Connie to make sure I didn’t miss anything really important. I have to say that even though I did nap a little, I came away from the tour with a much better appreciation for Brooklyn than before taking the tour.

By the time we got back to South Street Seaport, we were pretty hungry. We had to wait longer than the normal 15 minutes for the next bus on the Downtown Loop. I suspect that all the buses get a little behind schedule during the rush hour period. When we did get on the bus, we knew we would go only one stop so we didn’t even try to go to the upper level. But, again, due to the time of day we found ourselves pretty well sandwiched into the back of the bus and very nearly missed our stop as the guide was in a bit of a hurry to get back to Times Square. Fortunately, there were people at the stop trying to get on, so the driver had to stop.

Our walk thru Chinatown was interesting. I have never been to China, but I have to think that New York’s Chinatown has to be a pretty close representation of a typical Chinese neighborhood. The transition from Chinatown to Little Italy happens fairly abruptly. We were talking as we walked and Connie wondered out loud whether or not we would cross a street from Chinatown into Little Italy, or would we see a slow transition from one to the other over several blocks. It was nearly abrupt. There was a block that had one Italian name on it among all the Chinese businesses and the very next block was all Italian.

Our purpose for going to Little Italy was to find a restaurant my brother had recommended from a visit to the city he had made some six or more years ago. He gave the restaurant a rave review and has sent everyone he knows is going to New York to the place. I remember him telling me very specifically that the food was to die for and the fare was low. Well, either there has been a jump in the cost of the ingredients that go into Italian food, or John’s memory has failed. Make that half of his memory, because the food was every bit as good as he indicated it would be. The cost was easily twice what I expected, but I did not walk out feeling cheated. We dined well and we had wonderful service in a classic small Italian restaurant. We were reminded of our experiences in Italy as we enjoyed our evening. The hard part was having leave food on my plate without taking home any leftovers.

From there we walked further south and west and caught our favorite subway train, the number one train, back to the Staten Island Ferry Landing. We slept well again that night.

On Friday we got up and while one showered the other worked on packing so we could move across the parking lot to the Navy Lodge. We got over there about 10:30 and found that our room would be ready within the half hour. Given that short time line we decided to pay another visit to the Coast Guard Exchange to pick up a few things and kill some time. We moved into our new room on time and once everything was in the room we were once again on the road heading to St. George to catch the Staten Island Ferry bound for Manhattan one more time.

Since we had done the Brooklyn tour on Thursday we decided we would try to take in at least one museum on Friday. Our late start due to the move limited our choices somewhat unless we wanted to rush. Of course we had to eat lunch so, just as soon as we got off the train in Mid-town we were on the lookout for another deli we hadn’t already been to. We found one almost immediately and enjoyed yet another great lunch. Following lunch we consulted our map and headed for the International Center of Photography (ICP) at 43rd St and 6th Ave. As has been our habit of late, we asked as we were preparing to pay the admission fee whether or not the museum offered a military discount. To our surprise there was no charge for anyone in the military or retired. We promised to spend some money in the gift shop in thanks for their generosity. The ICP is currently featuring several Japanese photographers both current and from early in the twentieth century. I found some of work to be very impressive, such as stop action photography of flying rock during mining operations. There were hundreds of images to study and our time was somewhat limited so I may not have studied any of them as thoroughly as I should have. However, I was rather underwhelmed by most of what I saw. Once again I came away with a feeling that my rather casual work was no worse than the representations of the life works of so many professional photographers. My puzzlement that began at the Georgia Okeefe gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico grew as I studied the work of these great artists. This may seem a bit childish, but I feel that the difference between a successful photographic artist and an avid amateur such as me is a good agent and an even better business plan. Now, before I start getting a lot of hate mail, I must qualify that statement to exclude portraiture photographers. There is a special talent those folks have to capture an image of their subject that serves as a resume of the subject. Many of the images I studied at the ICP violated most of the basic rules of photography from the rules of thirds to being too busy to having soft focus where sharp focus would have been better and on and on. A great majority of the images appeared to be nothing more than snapshots.

Now, having said all of that I invite any and all criticism of the photo album I have linked to this article. I may split the images into a pair of albums in order to separate those that were taken from the various tour buses we were on. I am calling that body of work “New York City as Seen From the Upper Deck of a Tour Bus”. The second album will include some images that were taken from ground level where I tried to capture the hustle and bustle of New Yorkers going about their business. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed collecting them I really do want your feedback positive or negative on the albums.

Another of the people we wanted to see while in the City was one of the Loons and Larks that Connie corresponds with on a nearly daily basis. Jess is a lifelong New Yorker living in Brooklyn. I had never met her before, but Connie had an opportunity to get to know her in person during one of the Loons and Larks get togethers some years ago. As it turns out Jess and I have a lot in common, so we hit it off well from the very beginning. She is a photographer among other wonderful traits. She is also a community minded person who has managed community gardens all over New York City. We met up with Jess at a little restaurant in the East Village. Connie and I arrived early enough to get a feel for the atmosphere of the place from a perch in the bar. I found the view to be outstanding (good looking bar tender) and the food that kept passing by on the way to hungry diners looked pretty darned good as well. When Jess arrived she joined us in the bar for a beer and then we moved outside to the patio where we could more easily hear one another while enjoying the atmosphere of the East Village.

We had a wonderful evening talking, eating and drinking. However, like all good things this evening too came to an end with hugs around and then a bit of a walk to the train to get back to the ferry landing. As you can imagine there was more talking and eating than drinking because we had to navigate the streets and be able to read a map in order to get ourselves safely back to Staten Island. It was really a great way to spend our last night in New York City.

As we got off the train a few blocks from the ferry landing we could see the vertical beams of light pointing skyward from the World Trade Center site. I tried very hard to capture those beams with my little Sony Cybershot digital camera. Making the job even more difficult my internal gyros were slightly off if you know what I mean. After several attempts I finally got a recognizable photo. It is not professional quality by any means, but it holds special meaning for me.

When we got back to Staten Island I took the time to take a few photos of the 9/11 memorial built between the ferry landing and the home of the Staten Island Yankees. But I think the images I may very well be the proudest of for the entire trip are the images of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in the fog and rain.

One more note about my photography from this trip. All the images were captured with the Sony Cybershot. I used that camera not so much for its simplicity or great results, but because it is easy to carry while not looking completely like a tourist. I am sure I could have taken more technically accurate photos with my Nikon D-40 and all the versatility it brings to the game, but I didn’t want to carry it day in and day out while trying to get familiar with the City. If I ever decide to get more seriously involved in photography I may very well get to the point of carrying a big camera with me where ever I go.

We thoroughly enjoyed our short four days of touring and dining in New York City. We had a wonderful time that could have only been topped by more time and more adventures. For all of you who have experienced New York City you know that we only scratched the surface during our visit. However, we intend to return and experience a whole different side of the City.

To catch up, we returned to Killens Pond State Park in the driving rains of what remained of Hurricane Faye. The park had put out a voluntary evacuation notice. Lisa, the volunteer coordinator was worried about our motorhome and called us to let us know what was going on. Of course there was nothing we could do until we got back. When we did return the weather was absolutely horrid. We dodged raindrops getting from the car to the coach and then sort of waited the weather out. We did turn on the TV to learn what we could. When the rain let up a bit I ran out and started disconnecting services. Of course I turned off the power just as the weather man was saying that the storm had essentially passed and we were to be in the clear within minutes. Not knowing that, we moved the motorhome out from under the trees and onto solid ground where we would be a little safer. With the generator running we tuned the satellite dish and found The Weather Channel so we could finally learn our fate. Sure enough the storm was over. Not a big loss, as we were that much closer to getting underway the following morning. It also gave us an open window to have dinner with our fellow camp host and now friend Klea.

Klea was the glue that held the group of volunteers together this summer. She was able to get us the tools we needed to do our jobs as well as get the work assignments rebalanced such that there was more equity of work across the group of us. More important though, was that Klea is one of those wonderful people liking people and as she did with us makes everyone feel wanted and needed. We are truly lucky to have met and gotten to know this wonderful woman.

After a wonderful dinner with Klea we settled in for our last night in Delaware. The next day we drove to the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula for a two night layover before continuing our journey to Kings Bay, GA where we are now.

This posting is a few months overdue for reasons I cannot explain. My only lame excuse is that I had to edit some 400 photos and then decide which I would or should upload to Google Albums to share in this posting. I had a terrible time pausing everything else that was going on in my life to make the time to do that work. Today has been a very rainy and gloomy day and therefore one suited for such a task. I hope you enjoyed the tour.

Stay tuned for whatever is to come.



1 thought on “New York City Vacation (R and R for you military types)”

  1. Great blog! I am worn out just reading about all your activity…you are in much better shape than I am…LOL


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