Saturday October 24 to Friday October 30, 2015

A week in the Big Apple

In June of 2015 we had planned to take a short vacation and had New York City at the top of the list of places to go. Gary's second trip of the year to Zambia caused a bit of a wrinkle in the plans with it being extended though the time we were thinking to get away on vacation for the time that Linda had booked off for the earlier part of the summer.

We did arrange to go to London for 10 days in late August and started reconsidering another attempt on NYC when we found out that Gary's cousin Nicola was potentially going to be there in October with some friends to celebrate someone's birthday. Nicola arranged to stay longer in New York so that we could meet up with her once her friends made their way back to the UK. Our plans were to meet up on Monday October 26 so we decided to head to New York on Saturday October 24 for a couple of days on the city before meeting up with Nicola.

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  • Saturday October 24, 2015

    Travel to NYC and first walk around Manhattan

    We booked a limo to pick us up at 8:30am on Saturday morning, so we opted to pack on Friday evening to make the morning easier. We actually packed while we watched the Toronto Blue Jays lose to the Kansas City Royals in game 6 of the ALCS, thus ending their post season run. That part was sad, but the Peller Estates Ice Cuvée Rose we enjoyed while packing is a better memory from that evening.

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      The prep the night before did make Saturday morning a fairly relaxed affair and things went quite smoothly with the trip to the airport and passing through US Immigration at Pearson. The only part of the morning that was slow was passing through the security check. We did, though, have time to find a spot for breakfast before the flight. Our plane to New York was full, so it took a bit of time to get everyone's hand luggage stowed and we were a bit delayed leaving but once in the air it was a quick trip to LaGuardia. It was our first time arriving at this airport, and it felt like we had travelled back in time to the sixties - the airport is quite out dated. Gary was reminded of his travels through a variety of African airports - it looked very much like them. The line up at the taxi stand was huge by the time we exited the terminal, but there was a steady supply of taxis so the line moved steadily.

      The transfer to the hotel was an experience. Once the taxi crossed into Manhattan via the Williamsburg Bridge the traffic ground to a crawl. The Saturday traffic was quite heavy and the plethora of lane closures for construction made it much worse. Almost every intersection we went through suffered from extreme gridlock. The signs of “DON’T BLOCK THE BOX FINE +2 POINTS” seemed to have no effect on traffic - and neither did the police presence; there were plenty of cops stationed at the major intersections but they appeared to be doing nothing but watching the congestion. We did, though, eventually make it to our hotel.

      We had booked our stay in NYC at the Quin located just south of Central Park at W57th Street & 6th Avenue. The location was great and our first impressions were that this was going to be a terrific hotel for our time here. We had agreed with Nicola to book this location - she would relocate from her stay with her friends when she would meet up with us. Nicola had found the hotel choice through Small Luxury Hotels and became our collective first choice at the time of booking. It was interesting to receive an email from the Quin just before we left home that the hotel had been voted as one of the top 5 hotels in New York City by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler. When we arrived at the Quin our room wasn’t ready so we checked in and left our luggage to be stored and then set off to walk around a bit and to find a place to get some lunch.

      Our lunch choice turned out to be a great choice. We picked to eat at Obicà Mozzarella Bar and had a wonderful meal of small plates and nice wine to accompany their sampler plate of mozzarella. The service and atmosphere was good so it was truly a great start to the culinary side to this vacation. While we were having lunch we were called by someone at the Quin to let us know our room was ready. We made our way back to the hotel once we were done lunch and were pleased with our room on arrival. it would suit us quite nicely we thought. We quickly got settled in and even though we were full from lunch we thought it would be a good idea to book a dinner for the evening.

      The dinner reservation for this evening was at Beautique, and we both really enjoyed it. Both the service and food was excellent this choice followed up from our lunch quite nicely indeed. After dinner we decided to stroll down to see some of the city at night - including the action at Time Square and then night views of the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and St Patrick Cathedral - all nicely lit up in the NYC night sky. The late tour of Manhattan made for an interesting way to close out our first day on this week long vacation.

  • Sunday October 25, 2015

    Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art

    For our second day in New York City we decided to make a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and with its location we figured we could include a walk through Central Park. The day started out quite grey as we left our hotel in the morning in search of a place to grab some breakfast on our way to the park.

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      We stumbled on a place to have breakfast and were glad it happened. As we walked past the Plaza Hotel we decided to take a look in the Food Hall located on the lower level of hotel. After a lap around the hall to look at the options we decided on a wine bar called Vin Sur Vingt that also served breakfast. It was the perfect spot for what we wanted and we figured for sure we’d return at a time more appropriate to check out the wine bar side of Vin Sur Vingt.

      To get to Central Park from the Food Hall of the Plaza was just to cross the road called Central Park South and we were at the southern boundary of the park. Earlier in the morning we had looked up that it would take approximately 30 minutes to walk from the hotel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art through the park - but that only works if the purpose is to find the shortest route and walk directly. Once inside the park we found ourselves meandering to explore and enjoy. The sky was still grey at this point, but the park never the less was magnificent even in the dim light. We stood and watched the people ice skating at the open air Wollman Rink located at the south end of the park. It had opened for the season on the day we arrived to NYC, so it was nice to catch it in action. If you are a movie buff you will know Wollman Rink from the 2001 movie Serendipity - there are probably others, but that's the only one we remember. We meandered our way through Central Park to the Conservatory Water - the famed model yacht pond that we've all seen many times in movies. Our meandering continued to see Cleopatra's Needle before heading into the Met.

      We had a fabulous time exploring the Met, but it was pretty obvious that we'd need many trips here to see everything. In light of that we restricted our route to our "must see" things. It is an amazing place to visit. We’d have to say that our favourite part of the visit there was probably enjoying the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century European Painting Special Exhibition that was on display with the Robert Lehman Collection: some fantastic paintings in the collection.

      By the time we left the Met the sky colour had completely changed to brilliant blue with white fluffy clouds - a marked improvement from the conditions early. We made our way back into the park for a relaxing stroll. We did check out Strawberry Fields - the memorial landscape dedicated in honour of John Lennon. The area is close to the Dakota Apartments where Lennon lived in the latter part of his life and was the location where he was killed. We remember that incident clearly - we learned about it while on our honeymoon with it happening two days after we were married. The memorial mosaic Imagine in Strawberry Fields provides a central gathering spot. As we continued walking we could see many preparations for the upcoming New York City Marathon. We strolled by the lake and made our way to check out the famous Carousel before leaving the park in the area of the Central Park Zoo.

      Our route was planned to stop by the nearby Nespresso Boutique for some coffee to augment what was supplied each day at the Quin. It was already long past lunchtime by this point - verging on early dinner territory so we thought we should find a spot to grab something light now and plan for a late dinner. We did a search on one of our phones and settled on a wine bar near the Rockefeller Center. The whole experience turned out to be somewhat disappointing - it wasn't much of a wine bar, and the service was poor. The food we had was nice enough, but that was about the only positive. It might have been a bit better had we sat inside - like most people there we sat outside and had to contend with many annoying little flies the whole time.

      Our late dinner made up for the less than stellar experience earlier. We booked it at the Wayfarer connected with the hotel and had a wonderful dinner with some great service in an atmosphere that suited us perfectly to close out our Sunday in NYC.

  • Monday October 26, 2015

    Top of the Rock, meeting up with Nicola and the Metropolitan Opera

    For our third day in NYC we knew we'd be meeting up at some point with Gary's cousin Nicola after she had transferred to the Quin from the rented apartment that she was sharing with her friends. In advance of that we thought we’d take advantage of the day’s great weather forecast to head to the Rockefeller Center to enjoy some of the view of the city from its observation levels known as Top of the Rock.

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      We stopped for breakfast first at the famed Bouchon Bakery near the Rockefeller Center and from there watched some of the action from NBC’s live telecast of the Today Show from its studio located quite close to the bakery. In hindsight we’d say we should have first gone to purchase our tickets to head up to the Top of the Rock because the tickets we did purchase were for a bit more than an hour from our purchase time. We did make good use of the time delay by taking a walk to the nearby Bryant Park and the adjacent and impressive New York Public Library Main Branch.

      At the appointed time we made our way back to the Rockefeller Center and up to the observations decks. The views were indeed impressive and the weather was perfect for wonderful clear views of Manhattan. We lingered to soak in the views and really enjoyed the time there. We made a pit stop back at the hotel and then decided to return to Vin Sur Vingt to grab some lunch and sample some of the wines that they had on offer. We were glad we had made it back here to smile the lunch & wine bar aspect of this place having enjoyed it previously for breakfast.

      We had been communicating with Nicola throughout the day and met up later in the afternoon as we prepared for dinner & drinks in advance of our evening at the Metropolitan Opera. The choice for the earlier part of the evening was Ardesia - billed as a casual food and wine bar located in Hell’s Kitchen. It turned out to be a fabulous choice - with very tasty small plates that we shared together with some wonderful wines. Our server was terrific and we had good conversations with him throughout the evening. We timed our departure from Ardesia so that we had about 30 minutes ahead of the start of the opera. That worked out quite well with it taking us just under 20 minutes to walk to the Lincoln Center from the restaurant.

      Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is an amazing venue which looks so impressive on the approach to the Metropolitan Opera House from the main plaza of the complex of buildings that make up this centre for the performing arts. The grandeur continues on the inside the Opera House with a wonderful atmosphere in the luxurious lobby. The performance at the Metropolitan Opera for this evening was Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot and we had booked our tickets in the Grand Tier to get a wonderful view of this rather expansive production. We were treated to an incredible evening. We could probably go on and on about the evening but suffice to say that this was such a memorable event and a significant highlight of our time in New York City.

      One thing would could have done better was the after opera time - we hadn't planned a place to go after but we really should have done so. Without finding a suitable option on our route we opted to head back to the hotel to have a bottle of wine we had purchased previously in a nearby wine shop. We did have plans for an early start to day 4, so we weren't going to make this a particularly late night...and we didn't have far to travel after the wine.

  • Tuesday October 27, 2015

    Brooklyn, Chelsea Market and Aquavit

    Our plan for day 4 was to travel to Brooklyn. We met early with Nicola for breakfast at Wayfarer (the restaurant attached to the hotel) and then hit the New York City subway system to navigate our way to our intended destination - what is the the largest of the five New York City boroughs by population, second largest to Queens by area and the second in density only to its very densely populated neighbour of Manhattan.

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      We had figured the best place to start out in Brooklyn was the Williamsburg neighbourhood - primarily to check out the Mast Brothers - chocolate makers that started in Brooklyn before expanding to London and Los Angeles. Before reaching Mast Brothers we got to enjoy some of the trendy style that makes up Brooklyn today - with lots of interesting shops and cafes and restaurants. We did spend a bit of time in one very cool shop called Whisk that was selling all manner of unique and groovy kitchenware, tableware and barware. Had we driven instead of flown to NYC we could have easily seen ourselves loading up on stuff in this store. We did find some small things to buy…was pretty much impossible to leave that shop without something.

      Mast Brothers was an incredible experience from first step inside the store. What will remain a longterm memory is the intense wave of chocolate aroma that greeted us as we opened the door. The store is minimalist in nature and looks very trendy indeed. We found out that they booked tours of the operation on the hour, so we booked the next available one and then decided to head out to see bit more of the sights before the tour time.

      Very close to Mast is a restaurant/wine bar that we wanted to see - Camlin. Our server at Ardesia the night before had mentioned this was a sister restaurant of theirs so we were immediately interested in checking it out. We had thought we’d be able to have lunch here while in Brooklyn but found out it only opened daily at 4:00pm. Our plans for dinner that evening precluded us staying in Brooklyn long enough to have something there once it was open. Definitely on the list for another visit.

      Before heading back to Mast Brothers we did enjoy the view of Manhattan across the East River and wandered along the shore a bit until it was time to get back for the chocolate tour. The tour started with a small glass of a non-alcoholic chocolate beer that was actually quite good. From that we learned of their precess from the raw cacao beans all the way to the finished product and also learned Mast’s philosophy behind the chocolate making. The tour ended with a taste of a number of their current range of chocolates and the whole ting was enjoyable. We stayed a bit longer in the store to decide on just how much chocolate we were going to carry around for the day - which turned out to be quite a bit. Good stuff, indeed.

      Our plan was to walk back over the Brooklyn Bridge to get to Manhattan, but we weren’t that close. With the help of the Maps app on Gary’s phone we did get a route to the bridge and figured it would be okay to walk. As our route took us closer and closer to a large complex of building we figured we might not be heading in the right direction, but the Maps app kept on directing us that way. When we reached a boom gate with two security guards all doubt was removed - Apple’s Maps app was attempting to take us the shortest route right through what once was the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The only problem being that we weren’t allowed to walk through this area even though it ceased being a Navy yard in 1966. Our reasonable walking route now became much longer as we had to back track and then walk all the way around the 200 acre ex-Navy yard. In hindsight we would have been wise to find a taxi at this point, but we trudged along and finally made our way to the famous bridge that spans the East River. The day had turned grey by this point, but it was still a very enjoyable walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

      On the Manhattan side of the bridge we grabbed a taxi to take us to the Chelsea Market for a look around and a chance to get something to eat. We settled on Corkbuzz for some wine and sharing plates that we all really enjoyed. We did a bit of shopping/browsing at the market after Corkbuzz and then grabbed another taxi back to the hotel.

      For dinner this evening we had booked a table at Aquavit, a Scandinavian restaurant that had come highly recommended. Our expectations were high for this dinner and the two Michelin starred restaurant delivered on all counts. The evening and every aspect of the meal was fabulous. This would end up being our last formal dinner with Nicola on this trip - originally we were scheduled to leave NYC together on Friday evening, but for business reasons Nicola needed to return to the UK sooner. Aquavit made for a fitting venue for such a meal.

  • Wednesday October 28, 2015

    USS Intrepid, B&H Photo and saying farewell to Nicola

    The weather forecast for day 5 was looking like it would be the worst of our week in NYC courtesy of what was left of the weather system that had been Hurricane Patricia. Our first look out the window in the morning confirmed it was going to be a rainy day indeed. Nicola had some shopping/errands to take care of before leaving, so we arranged to meet up with her in the afternoon.

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      Weather notwithstanding, we set off in the morning to visit the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum located in and around the former aircraft carrier USS Intrepid berthed on the Hudson River not too far from our hotel. It was raining lightly as we walked towards it, but evidence suggested the rain would get much heavier as the day progressed. The heavier rain came before we made it all the way to the Intrepid, so it was nice to see that the location to line up for tickets was located inside a building near the aircraft carrier.

      We started our tour on the aircraft carrier itself. USS Intrepid was launched in 1943 and served during both World War II and the Vietnam War as well as being used during the tense times of the Cold War and as a recovery vessel for NASA’s space program. The exhibits, displays and ship details onboard Intrepid are nicely arranged and one gets a fantastic look at the history of this ship and its crew. On the top open flight desk there is an amazing display of aircraft - mostly American, but not exclusively so. The only down side to looking at these incredibly crafts for this day was the rainy weather - and with that the flight deck was very slippery. It was worth it to see them, though - especially the very impressive Lockheed A-12 - the faster and higher flying predecessor of the better known Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

      Also on the flight deck but thankfully in an enclosure is the prototype for NASA’s Space Shuttle program - the Space Shuttle Orbiter Enterprise on display together we an assortment of space related exhibits. It was awesome to get to see Enterprise, but it is so big that it is actually hard to get a full view of the shuttle. When we finished there we left the aircraft carrier and took a quick look at the Concorde parked on the pier next to the ship but because of the weather we opted to skip a tour of the guided missile submarine USS Growler berthed next to USS Intrepid. The whole visit was well worth the time. Maybe next time we will go on a dry sunny day, though.

      Our next stop was what Gary would call Photographer’s Heaven - B&H Photo Video. At 70,000 square feet, this two floor shop is truly amazing for anyone remotely interesting is photography or video and our time there was well worth the visit. Gary had bought things from B&H online before, but it was a treat to get to go to the store itself.

      After B&H we hopped on the subway back to our hotel to refresh and change before we met up with Nicola. Our meeting place was The Modern - located at MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art) for some sharing plates and wine. We timed it right; getting there to get a spot at the bar just before it got very crowded. We had a lovely time with some decent wine and very nice food. We walked back to the hotel so that Nicola could get ready to head to the airport, and we had chilled some sparkling wine to share together before she left. It was an interesting wine. When we were at the Chelsea Market, Gary had a long conversation with one of the staff at the Chelsea Wine Vault - initially about Gary’s search for a California sparkling wine called Domaine Carneros. The store didn’t have that particular wine but the fellow spoke very highly of a méthode champenoise sparkling wine from New Mexico that was only US$18 - and that was less than most glasses of wine at any of the wine bars we had been to so far. It was great value and a nice way for us bid adieu to Nicola.

      After Nicola left in a taxi to take her to the airport we decided to take a walk. It was still raining, but not quite so heavily. We tried to get into a wine bar we like the look of for some light bites…but it was so incredibly busy. In the end we opted to go to a local market for some nice sushi, smoked salmon, cheeses and wine to finish off our evening back at the Quin.

  • Thursday October 29, 2015

    911 Memorial, Battery Park, walking the High Line and Petrossian

    Day 6 in NYC would clearly be the most emotional of the week for us as we planned this day to visit the National September 11 Memorial & Museum - the site of the former World Trade Center complex until the terror attack of September 11, 2001. We'd consider it one of those must do things while in New York.

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      We took the subway from near our hotel down to the area and approached the Memorial Plaza from the south to first look at the Waterfall/Reflecting Pool set in the footprint of the south tower then the same for the north tower. The names of the 2977 people killed in the attack of September 11, 2001 and 6 people killed in the bombing of February 26, 1993 are inscribed on bronze plates that surround both pools. To see name after name after name puts the numbers into perspective.

      After we had viewed the Reflecting Pools we purchased tickets to head inside the museum. The museum is below ground level, and is bounded on one side by the part of the original retaining wall used to hold back the water from the Hudson River and covers the area around the foundation levels for the two towers. We ended up spending quite a bit of time in the museum to look through the many many artifacts, images, videos and audio recordings assembled together. Once can honestly say that this is a very moving and fitting remembrance of those who lost their lives in this attack that changed our world in such a significant way. It is not something to enjoy, but rather something to solemnly experience. The last time we had been in a memorial that evoked such emotion and memories was that of the Yad Vashem - the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

      We left the 911 Memorial site and walked to Battery Park. Our first thought was to get something to eat, so we stopped at Pier A Harbor House for lunch. The building itself is quite impressive - being constructed between 1884 and 1886 and with it today being the only surviving historic pier in NYC. The Statue of Liberty is visible from the pier, but the haziness of the early afternoon made it not that clear of a view. We wandered around Battery Park and it was only then that we realized that the The Sphere - the large bronze sculpture that was once placed in the centre of the World Trade Center Plaza between the two towers had now been moved to Battery Park in its slightly damage condition together with an eternal flame as a memorial. It is amazing that will all that happened around it that The Sphere wasn’t completely destroyed on September 11.

      We hopped back on the subway to take us as close to the southern end of the High Line so that we could walk this 2.33 km long linear park built on the last remaining section of a disused elevated railroad track. It is certainly an enjoyable walk with some nice views here and there. At times it hardly looks like one is walking through the Meatpacking district of NYC. We existed the High Line at the northern end near the Javits Convention Center and from there we made our way back to the hotel for a rest and refresh before dinner.

      Dinner for this evening was at Petrossian located not far from our hotel in the historic Alwyn Court Building - that is a truly impressive looking building. One very cool thing was that Petrossian had the sparkling wine that Gary had been searching to try: Domaine Carneros - so, of course we selected that as an aperitif. We went with a tasting menu for the evening that on balance was good but not spectacular. The thing we will probably remember the most is that we did pay a rather handsome premium to have white truffle added to our main course of the dinner.

      Following dinner we wandered slowly back to our hotel for our last night in this amazing city. The good news at this point is we still would have at least a part of a day more to enjoy New York before needing to head to LaGuardia for the flight home.

  • Friday October 30, 2015

    Bryant Park, New York Public Library and last stroll around NYC

    We rose early on our last day to pack before breakfast with a view to maximize our available time in NYC. After breakfast we walked down to Bryant Park on what was the first day of the Christmas themed Winter Village at Bryant Park. We had earlier seen some of the preparation but this was the day it was set to open. It was a beautiful day as we walked to the park and strolled around the boutique shops arranged throughout the park.

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      Linda did find some interesting jewelry to buy at one of the boutique shops and the stool around the park was very enjoyable. We ducked back into the new York Public Library and took in the Public Eye Photo exhibit - a fascinating display of photographs of people, places and events that make up New York City. The concept being that photographs are always social…so this retrospective covering 175 years is true social media.

      From the library we walked to Grand Central Station to take in this amazing building that was first opened in 1871. From there we made one final walking tour of this part of the city until we decided to head back to the Food Hall of the Plaza Hotel to try Pizza Rollio for a late lunch. We had seen the restaurant on a previous trip to the Food Hall and thought it would be good to try for lunch sometime. This being our last day made it an easy choice to head there. We were glad we had tried this unique version of pizza that originated in Manila, Philippines. Once we were finished we recognized that pretty much our time in New York was finished too. We walked back to the hotel to collect our luggage and arrange for a taxi to take us to LaGuardia Airport.

      Leaving NYC late in the afternoon/early evening was never going to be an easy thing. It being a Friday probably made it a bit worse. And with the New York City marathon being readied for the weekend it was probably worse still. All that to say it took us quite a bit of time to get out of the city on our way to the airport. Our taxi driver was fearless in his attack on any small opening in the road - so he did his best with a difficult situation. Once we got to the bridge to head over the East River it was clear and easy driving all the way to the airport. With that our week in New York City was finished - a wonderful time in an incredible city.

      It had been a long time between this visit and the one that preceded it - the next trip to New York City will be set much closer indeed.

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About WHITEonline

WHITEonline is the digital home of Gary & Linda White. We’ve been married since 1980 and live just outside Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Linda was born and raised in Toronto while Gary was born in London, England and moved to Canada at the age of 11. We enjoy travelling and taking photos while we travel. WHITEonline provides the opportunity to share some of our photos & experiences.

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